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Fiona Wright

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Recent stories by Fiona Wright
· Beyond the Secret Garden, chapters 5-8
· Beyond the Secret Garden: Chapters 1-4
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Beyond the Secret Garden, Chapters 9-12
By Fiona Wright
Friday, August 15, 2008

Rated "PG13" by the Author.

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My attempt at creating a sequel to 'The Secret Garden'.

Chapter 9

Later that evening, unable to sleep, Mary Lennox lay awake, listening to the sound of the rain.

The rain had begun a short while after she had returned with Dickon, and now it was falling light and steady, drumming a constant beat on her windowpane.

Usually, the sound of the rain would have been enough to help lull her to sleep, but tonight she found sleep was far away.

She shivered, thinking wistfully of a fire which had long since gone out, and cast her mind back over the events of the day. The young woman was not surprised to find herself thinking of the smiling, trustworthy face of her oldest childhood friend.

Dickon had walked her back to the house, after he had found her alone in the garden. She remembered now, the feel of his arm – strong and sturdy like one of his moor ponies and how he had cheered her with his constant reassurances. He is the only person who is kind to me at the moment, she thought bitterly. He is the only person who understands.

Dickon Sowerby, she had to admit, now that she thought about it, had changed over the last couple of years. He had matured from a dreamy moor boy, with a penchant for wild creatures, to a capable and confident young man – now under gardener to Ben Weatherstaff. She smiled as she recalled his sense of humour – that was something that hadn't changed. She would never forget the first time she met him when he ate a live worm in front of her, even going as far as saying 'mmmm' as he did so, as if he had just eaten one of the finest delicacies known to man!

And yet for all his humour and quiet confidence, there was a sensitive side to Dickon. She had always known how much he cared for his 'creatures' as he liked to call them – never telling anyone where he had found a thrush's nest, and taking in an orphaned lamb, but his behaviour towards her this evening, had been the first time she had witnessed his softer, gentler side. Perhaps I am dear to him, she wondered,like one of his creatures. For an inexplicable reason, she found herself glowing with pleasure at the thought.

Tomorrow, I will see him tomorrow, she reminded herself, knowing that sleep would be a long time coming.

The rain continued to come down.


Mary Lennox was not the only one who lay awake that night.

Archibald Craven lay in his grand bed, watching the last embers glowing dimly in the fireplace. For once his mind was not on his crooked back, or on the petty worries that owning a large estate entailed. Instead, he was thinking about his niece, and recalling their earlier conversation.

He had been meaning to give his neice a chance at a 'proper' education for a long time, but she had seemed so happy that he had let it be, promising himself every time that 'the next year' would be the one where she would begin attending school in London.

However, recently, certain events had brought his neices growing maturity to his attention.

The servants of Misselthwaite were not known for their subtlty, and he had overheard snatches of conversations surrounding his Niece – how she liked to go into the Secret Garden alone, and the only person she would admit would be Dickon Sowerby, the moor boy.

Of course, this had been going on for years, but lately Archie had begun to get concerned about his Niece's penchant for the company of Dickon Sowerby.

It wasn't that he didn't like the Sowerbys, god forbid! Dickon Sowerby's Mother, Susan Sowerby had been a great friend of his wifes. He just had to admit to himself that Mary was growing up. She was almost sixteen, and in a few years time, would be settling down and getting married.

'The girl is simply too wild, sir.' His dutiful housekeeper had pointed out to him a few months hence, frowning at the appearance of her young mistress. 'Perhaps she needs t' be sent away so she can learn proper manners? There is not much for children here. If you'll beg my pardon for saying so sir, but perhaps you've grown too fond of the girl?'

At the time, Archie had felt a huge dilemma in the thought of sending her away. She does so love it here, he had mused to himself. What harm can there be in allowing her to stay? She reminded him so much of his Lilias – lost to him so long ago. It was in the glow of her cheeks, of her wild hair which fell to the small of her back. Mrs Medlock was right – he had grown too fond of her, and this had blinded him to the reality of the situation. Mary Lennox had been born into the gentry, she would one day become a woman of means, and therefore it was time for her to be introduced into society – to learn the skills that a woman of her standing would need. He had therefore decided to send her to London, to stay with her cousin and the Sutherland family – old family friends who had affirmed to him that they would do everything in their power to morph young Miss Mary Lennox from a wild creature into a young lady he would be proud of.

Archie sighed and closed his eyes, willing himself not to think of the happy and carefree young woman who ran through the gardens with ease, with her hair blowing free behind her, her cheeks rosy with merriment.


The news of my departure began innocently enough, Mary thought ironically.

It had all begun over a cup of tea and a warm Muffin, served by the fireside in her Uncle's study.

'Mary, you know that Dr Sullivans daughter, Samantha, is your age and will be entering society at the end of this year, once she turns sixteen.' Her Uncle had said, staring at her over the rim of his tea-cup.

'Yes Uncle', she had replied, wondering why he was bringing up the Sutherlands, of all people. Mary knew very little of the Sutherland family, apart from the fact that they lived in London, and that Colin lived with them. She had never really cared to know much else.

'You know Mary, when your parents died, I was appointed your legal guardian – and as such, it is my responsibility to see that you are cared for in the correct manner, and given a thorough education. Mary, I'm afraid that I have not been fulfilling the obligations to your parents in a major respect – that of preparing you for entering your place in society, as other young women begin to do at your age.'

Was it her imagination, or did her Uncle look uncomfortable? she wondered. Perhaps he is trying to tell me he wants to get me a governess, she thought, shuddering.

'I'm not like other young women.' she had snapped back. 'And I certainly don't want or need a governess. How dull!'

She sat back in her chair, eyeing her Uncle warily. Suddenly the muffin she had been eating did not taste so nice anymore, and she set it down on her plate.

'I was not talking about getting you a Governess, Mary. I merely wished to tell you what a ... yes, what a pity it is, that you are stuck out here.' The older man said, making a sweeping gesture with his hands 'In the middle of nowhere, while other young ladies are given the opportunity to present themselves to society. I must tell you, I know that your parents would have been very upset to think that their daughter was still running wild at the age of almost sixteen years.'

'What do I care what my parents would have thought?' She retorted. 'They never cared about me, they only wished that I would go away so they could continue with their parties. Besides,' she found her voice rising 'they're dead!'

She saw her Uncle flinch at the mention of her departed parents, and she immediately felt sorry. Not sorry that she had said it, but sorry that he should hear it and that it had hurt him.

He set his cup down, and leaned closer to her.

'My dear girl, please, don't make this more difficult than it has to be. You are growing up, you are no longer a child. You must learn how to behave like a lady... I'm... I'm sorry.' he finished, softly.

Mary felt tears spring to her eyes.

'What do you mean, Uncle?'

'I mean...' he took a deep breath ...'you are to depart for London in three weeks hence. It is only in such an environment that you will develop the necessary skills.'

'London?' She said, barely breathing.

'Yes, you will be staying with the Sutherland family, and with your Cousin. You will attend a finishing school their – it has been all arranged. It is something that most young women of your standing do, so I hear. The Sutherland family have a daughter of a similar age to you, who will also be -'

'Stop! I don't want to hear any more!' she cried. 'You can't make me go! I won't go!'

Without noticing what she was doing, she jumped up from her seat, and made towards the door, her eyes blazing with anger. If Mary had still been in India, her Ayah's would have known this was the time to stay out of her way.

'Mary, you must go. It is all arranged.'

'No! I won't! you'll have to drag me there!' Now her tears were falling freely, streaming down her face and over her blotchy cheeks. 'Oh please don't make me go! don't... don't take me away from the one thing I truly love!'

With one final sob, she left her Uncle in startled silence, pushed the door open, and found her feet taking her towards the one place she knew she could find peace.


Mary Lennox awoke to the sound of head housekeeper, Mrs Medlock, talking in conspiratorial whispers to one of the chambermaids.

She grimaced as she woke, her head felt heavy, as though it had been stuffed full of cotton wool. She hadn't realised she'd drifted off, but was certain that she couldn't have got more than a few hours sleep. What are they talking about? the girl thought, irritably.

'Now this gown.' she heard the old housekeeper say 'Fit for the country, maybe, but...'

'What are you doing, Mrs Medlock?' she said, sitting up. 'Those are my gowns.'

'Yes, they are. And I have been given explicit instructions to go through these and decide what is appropriate for London and what is not. I assume you are aware of your imminent departure?'

'I won't be going anywhere, Medlock. So you might as well save yourself the trouble and put them back in the wardrobe.'

'I'm afraid it's not up to you.' the old housekeeper replied, with a steely expression, once again going to the wardrobe in what Mary knew was to take out even more gowns. 'I am under strict orders from your Uncle. He has given me the joyous', she said sarcastically 'task, of making sure your wardrobe is suitable for your new life. As I'm sure you're aware – you will be leaving Misselthwaite in less than a month, for London.'

'No one can make me go if I don't want to.' the young woman said, with resolute determination in her voice. Jumping out of bed, she said. 'Go through my wardrobe if you wish, but it will all be a waste of time.' Shrugging off her nightgown, she quickly grabbed a plain dress from her bed, and pulled it over her head with practised ease. Sitting down to slip her feet into her gardening boots, she was barely aware of the dark look the housekeeper gave her. I am going to see Dickon, the girl thought, and he will help me... he will help make everything better.

 

Chapter 10:

An awkward encounter

Breathing crisp spring air into her lungs, the young woman made her way through the shaded walk, towards the Secret Garden.

She felt her heart pound furiously, as she thought of Mrs Medlock, the interferring old housekeeper, going through her gowns. She just can't wait to see the back of me, the girl thought, feeling her ire rise once again at the image of the old women tossing aside her gardening clothes, as if they were nothing but rags.

Still, she did have a morning with Dickon to look forward to. And spring happened to the busiest time in the garden.

Perhaps the snowdrops will have finally begun to flower? she wondered.

The young man who had been in her thoughts, was busy in the garden when she arrived, and when he caught sight of her, he smiled broadly.

'I see tha' has finally managed to drag thyself out 'a bed!' he exclaimed, coming over to meet her. The young lad was wearing his usual attire – work pants and a loose shirt, which she noticed was coming untucked from his trousers. He was covered in smudges of dirt, and he wiped his brow absently as he strode over, leaving a streak of soil across his forehead. She smiled back at him. He looked fresh and earthy – like a child of the soil.

'Just because some of us don't get up before the crack of dawn, does not mean that I'm lazy.' she insisted, giving way to his joking. Their interactions were generally light hearted, with the two of them taking pleasure in each other's company. Dickon laughed lightly, before giving her the run-down of the morning's events.

'Well, I was lookin' under th' tree', he said, pointing towards one of the Apple trees, 'an' I noticed th' crocuses are startin' to come up. So I've been doin' some weedin' t' make sure that they have enough room t' poke their heads up. Eh! tis hard work this mornin'.'

Mary listened to him chatter on, feeling the familiarity of his voice ease her feelings of frustration and nervous anticipation. She watched the young man as he spoke, noticing in particular the brilliance of his blue eyes, and how they sparkled. He met her gaze and she looked away quickly, suddenly embarrassed to have been caught staring.

'So I was sayin' tha' perhaps we have a bit t' do t'day, Miss Mary.' Dickon said. 'A good thing you're dressed for it t'day.' he said, looking her over. She sensed the mire in his voice and looked down, taking in her rumpled appearance.

'Dickon! what a terrible thing to say to a lady!'

'Ah, but not a lady yet...' he trailed off, suddenly self-conscious. 'I mean... er...'

'That's alright.' she sighed 'You know Dickon, they all think they can send me away and make me into “a lady” but I don't think I want to be a lady. If being a lady means wearing fancy gowns and paying calls and never getting my hands dirty, than I don't want to be one! I would much prefer to stay as I am, with the garden, and you, and...'

She looked up and found his eyes.

'Not everyone wants ye to leave, Miss Mary', he said sadly. She found herself starting to tremble, and blinded to hold back tears. I wish he wouldn't look at me like that, she thought. It makes me feel worse than ever about leaving. Without warning, a tear made it's way down her cheek, and she angrily wiped it away with her sleeve, feeling foolish, but unable to control the emotion that surged up inside her. She couldn't remember ever having cried in front of Dickon.

Dickon noticed her tears and immediately walked over and put his arm around her, drawing her close. She hesitated at first, and then leaned into him, feeling his firm body through his shirt. His touch was comforting, and she felt her heart slow as he whispered over and over again 'Hush lass, it will all work out. Hush now, Miss Mary.'

How can I leave Dickon? she wondered, feeling an infintite sadness come over her. She saw herself, in years hence, bored and alone at countless dinner parties and other meaningless social gatherings. Swamped in lace, with her hands encased in gloves, with servants following her every order. Trapped like a bird in a cage with nowhere to go, no escape, no garden... and no Dickon. She cried in frustration and anger, but felt herself soothed somewhat by his gentle words and his arm around her shoulder.

In time her tears stopped, and she sniffed and wiped her eyes one final time, trying to regain her composure.

'Ah, I'm sorry Dickon', she said, her voice still trembling. 'I'm just so upset right now with everyone, and I feel so angry.'

He looked down on her then and smiled softly 'Although something tells me yer not angry at everyone', he said in a soft voice, and tightened his arm around her.

'No Dickon, of course not', she said sadly, then looked up at him 'You are my dearest friend, I hope you know that'. His gaze became serious, and he said to her in a voice barely above a whisper 'And you are mine, Miss Mary.'

That was the first moment it happened, she reflected later that night. Something like magic passed between us both. The kind of magic that you feel when you are immersed in beauty – when you see life and all it's possibilities around you.

She looked into his eyes and saw their deep infinity, a strange feeling passed over her, as she did so. She had never felt anything like it before, and it left her wishing that the moment would last forever. If only I could remain with Dickon, with his arm around me, thought the young woman. It was an odd feeling, but a lovely one. She felt something else, too. An urgency, a feeling of wanting to move closer, of wanting to... Suddenly overwhelmed, she moved away, and stood awkwardly, not knowing what to do. She reached up, feeling a blush overcoming her cheeks.

Mary was not the only one who had felt the moment which passed between them. Dickon had felt it too, and the young man drew away and began gathering up his gardening tools. She looked at him in confusion, noticing the lack of eye contact.

'Ah... excuse me, Miss Mary, but I have to...'

'Oh, don't worry, Dickon', She broke in, her voice unnaturally high. 'You have to report for duty, and everything. Er... I have to go too,' she smiled, but it felt false 'I think Mrs Medlock wants to take me into the village to... to find some new gowns.'

Yes, that will do as an explanation, she thought, feeling the need to suddenly run and hide from the awkwardness that surrounded them.

At that, she got up and turned away, heading towards the door of the garden, and feeling horribly confused. When she reached the door, she turned around to look back, and saw him looking towards her with a searching expression on his face. Not knowing what else to do, feeling her heart racing and emotions in turmoil, she pulled the door open, slipped through the ivy covered walls, and was gone.

 

Chapter 11:

Resolutions

The weeks flew by for Mary Lennox, in a series of dress fittings, outings to the village, and general preparations for her immenant departure. The end of March was fast approaching, and with it, Mary thought, the end of her days of freedom in the garden.

The young woman felt confused whenever she turned her thoughts towards the garden, as they inevitably drew towards Dickon. The two of them hadn't really spoken since that awkward moment they had shared. Their conversation mainly consisted of greetings, and a few spoken sentences. Dickon had kept his distance, and Mary hers – yet she couldn't help feeling confused over what had happened between them.

The way I feel about Dickon has changed, she realised one morning, soon after it had happened. She recalled how he had looked in the garden that day. His clothes rumpled, his forehead smudged with dirt. She recalled one of her first impressions of him, and smiled. 'Like an angel', she had thought back then. He is still like an angel, she pondered, or perhaps it is just that he is so free and happy? There was just something so appealing about his smile. 'Oh!' she cried, banging her fist on her pillow in frustration. 'I don't understand how I feel about him!'

Whenever Mary was alone, she would replay that moment over and over in her mind, savouring it like a guilty pleasure. She would recall how his arm had felt around her shoulders, the nearness of him, the warmth of his body... and the look in his eyes. More than anything, she remembered those eyes, and the feeling of magic that had passed through her when he had leant his face closer to hers. Almost as if ... he had wanted to kiss me, she thought, then quickly tried to push the idea from her mind. Of course, it was the thought that she always came back to, again and again as she lay alone in her bed at night. In her imaginings, she thought of him not pulling away, but instead leaning closer towards her, flushing at the unexpected feelings this caused within her body.

As the weeks passed, she began to experience an intense longing to see him. Just to be able to watch him. The awkward silences were too much to bear. She wanted to see Dickon, but didn't want to deal with the awkwardness it entailed. The young woman knew that something had happened on that day in the garden, but she didn't understand what, or how she could bring things back to the way they had been before. More than that – she didn't know if she wanted to. Things were changing between her and Dickon, and it left her feeling both scared and excited.

She found herself using an excuse possible to sneak out of the house and watch him work. She would watch as he chatted amicably to Ben Weatherstaff, noting the tilt of his cap upon his head and the casual and relaxed way he laughed as he leant on his spade. She would watch him as he went about his duties in the garden, smiling inwardly as she listened to him sing to himself when he thought no one was watching. She longed to speak to him, but didn't know where to begin and worried about how he felt. Did he feel embarrassed over what had happened? Was he too busy to talk to her? she wasn't sure. So she continued to watch Dickon from the shadows, unsure of how to proceed.

When she wasn't watching Dickon, she was engaged in more mundane duties within the house. Mrs Medlock had taken it upon herself to instruct the young lady how to 'behave like a lady' in all respects. Almost overnight, the young woman found her freedom curtailed and her days filled with endless monologues and instruction on the 'proper' way to do things. Mary wondered if her head would burst open in frustration, after the amount of times she had been told 'Ladies do not run through coridoors', or 'Ladies do not grip a teacup as though it were an ale mug!' She longed to escape to the solitude that the garden provided, but was afraid to do so, for fear of meeting Dickon there alone.

Worse than the criticism, the young woman thought, is having to be laced into a corset each day and feel as though your breath is cut off.

Mrs Medlock had jumped at the opportunity to 'finally' attire her young charge in correct clothing. The result was lengthened skirts and tight-lacing, and Mary also discovered that her gardening boots were not considered 'lady-like' either.

'Mrs Medlock! my scalp aches. Why do I have to wear my hair in this manner?' she complained one morning.

'I had no choice but to pin it back severely, child. Especially after you took it upon yourself to untie your hair yesterday. These pins,' she said, inserting another into the hair of the wincing girl, 'will ensure that it stays tidy.'

'And I can barely breathe in a corset.'

'Tight lacing, my girl, is something all women must endure.' was the housekeepers sardonic reply.

She looked miserably at herself in the mirror on her dresser, watching the entourage behind her as her hair was 'fixed' for the day. Mrs Medlock was busy giving orders to Sarah, her personal maid, and the young servant looked scared out of her wits. Sarah Sowerby, a cousin of Dickon's, had taken Martha's place when Martha had left to be married.

I would rather be a servant than a lady, she thought with sadness. I feel like a caged bird.

'Time to stand up, my dear.' The housekeeper said briskly.

She watched as Sarah fetched the corset and held her breath in frustration. She dreaded the daily tight lacing.

She groaned as she felt the bones of the corset tighten around her tender flesh. Really, it was just like being caged in, she thought. Mrs Medlock always jerked the strings so hard, almost as though she enjoyed it.

After the corset came the new gown – a day gown of plain blue cotton. She had been fitted at the local dressmakers in the village, and a whole new wardrobe had been ordered for London. Girls in London, she had been told, had many gowns. She felt silly in her new clothes, and not at all comfortable, and wondered bitterly if Dickon would even recognise her when she next saw him in the garden. The exact fitting of the gown meant that it was impossible for her to loosen the corset she wore underneath. She felt her ire rising at the thought of another long and boring day spent in pain and discomfort.

She looked wistfully out the window at the new day that was dawning. The sky was impossibly light, and she could see swallows swooping on the breeze, almost as though they were dancing on the wind. A pang of sadness swept through her, as she remembered that she was going to be leaving the beauty of the moors behind. 'I wonder if this is how Colin felt when he was kept inside all those years?' the young woman thought. 'Did he ever spend his days by his window – as I am doing now, wishing that he could be outside dancing through the heather like the birds of the moor?'

Mrs Medlock and Sarah had departed the room, leaving Mary alone with her thoughts. 'To think that in two weeks time I shall be in London. How horrid!' she shuddered and walked over to her wardrobe.

Carefully, the young woman took out her old gardening boots, which she had pushed to the back of the wardrobe, away from the disapproving eyes of Mrs Medlock. They shan't stop me this time, she thought. I must find Dickon and make things right between us.

 

 

Chapter 12:

When the rain comes...

Mary Lennox walked quickly towards the garden, a slight frown marring her smooth forehead.

She had decided to make things right between her and Dickon, but where should she begin? she frowned as she walked down the steps that led to the entrance of the mansion. They had barely spoken since that afternoon in the garden, and she had no idea whether she would be able to catch Dickon by himself. These days, the young lad was working under the watchful eye of Ben Weatherstaff and the other gardeners.

Somehow, I will make him come to me, she resolved.

As she walked, she did not notice the storm clouds that were gathering overhead. She had other things on her mind.


She swung the door of the secret garden open, and was greeted by an abundance of fresh, new growth. How long it is since I have been in here! she gasped, as she marveled at the beauty that nature had provided. Almost overnight, some of the empress of India lilies and croucoses had flowered, and a multitude of snowdrops provided a carpet of green flecked with white. She breathed deeply, standing and absorbing the serenity.

If only Dickon were here! I wonder, could the magic bring Dickon to the garden?

Feeling a little childish, and glad that no one was there to watch her, she moved to the middle of the garden, and spread her arms skyward. Tilting her head back, she exclaimed 'Magic, Magic! come and help!'

Perhaps it would work better if I thought of Dickon as I said the words?

She thought of all the times she had spent with Dickon in the garden. Of the conversations they had had. Of summer days spent both working, then resting – content to be in each other's company. She recalled his dazzling smile and bright blue eyes, and then the way they made her feel inside.

I must see him today. I must!

Lifting her arms high above her head, she spoke again.

'Magic, magic! come and help! bring Dickon to me!'

'If tha' wanted t' see me, tha' only needed t' have asked.'

She spun around, her cheeks burning red with embarrassment, and saw Dickon standing a few metres away, amusement on his features.

'You're here!' she spluttered. 'But -'

'Aye. I'm here. As tha' asked.' he paused, a sly grin beginning to form. 'After all, how could I resist the summonin' o' magic?' he paused, to look at her, and then continued. 'Especially when tha' spell is cast by one sa' beautiful.'

She frowned, and then looked down, realising that she was wearing a new gown that Dickon had not seen her in before. I must look like quite the lady, she realised.

'Well, now that you're here, perhaps you could help me with the weeding.' she said, at a loss of what to say, and desperate to move on from the embarrassment of the previous moment. Without meeting his gaze, she cast her hands across the garden. 'As you can see, it has been seriously neglected.'

Dickon chuckled. 'Tha' canna use magic t' make it tidy?'

She glowered at him, desperate to move past her embarrassment. He nodded and smiled 'verra well then. I can spare a wee bit o' time.'

He began to set up his gardening tools, and she moved away until she was standing a few metres behind him. Her cheeks still burned red, but relief quelled her raging heart. The awkwardness of the past couple of weeks seemed to have disappeared. It was just like old times. Although, she thought inwardly, my feelings have changed since then.

She found she could barely take her eyes off the young man who so carefully tended the garden. She watched as he rolled up his shirtsleeves, revealing strong forearms. She admired the breadth of his shoulders and wished to run her fingers along the muscle to see what he felt like. She was unsure of what she wanted, she only knew that being around him was both torturous and lovely, all at the same time.

They weeded in silence for around half an hour, and then Dickon stood up and stretched.

'I have t' be goin' back.' he said. 'But I have somethin' t' show thee.'

She stood up to meet the young lad who was standing beside her, and felt her heartbeat begin to race. There is magic here, right now. I can feel it.

Her heart seemed to catch in her throat as he reached his hand towards her.

'Come.'

She took his hand, and once again felt the magic pass through her. His hand felt strong and warm, and together they walked across to where Dickon had been gardening.

'Look, Miss Mary. Th' first rose o' spring.'

She beheld it, and gasped. 'Oh Dickon! it's beautiful.' She bent her head down to smell it, and the scent mingled appropriately with the smell of spring – fresh and lovely – hinting of warm days and nights which would soon arrive. She looked up, and caught Dickon smiling fondly at her. She barely noticed the sudden drop in air temperature, or the first drops of rain that fell upon her face.

'Well,' Dickon chuckled, as he wiped his brow. 'Spring is verra unpredictable!'

What began as a few drops soon increased to a steady downpour. Dickon took Mary's hand and the two young people took off across the lawn, towards the shelter of the trees. 'Quick, Dickon!' gasped Mary, and the two of them ran hand in hand towards the shelter of the large oak tree in the corner of the garden, laughing as they went.

It was dark under the tree, but the large branches provided shelter from the elements. Thunder clapped overhead and Mary busied herself in wiping the drops of water from her forehead.

'Do I look as wet as I feel?' she asked, grinning broadly.

'Aye! tha' is fair soaked t' th' skin!' the young man replied, flicking wet hair back from his face. His eyes were shining brightly as he spoke, and Mary herself felt refreshed, energised somehow. She shrugged in humourous acceptance.

'Oh well. Mrs Medock is bound to have my head now!'

'Here, let me help.' Dickon offered, reaching his hand up to her face to wipe away the raindrops that lingered there. She smiled, enjoying his touch, and his closeness, watching his brow frown in consternation. Absently, he removed a starch handkerchief from his pocket, and used it to wipe her cheek.

'I hope that isn't a used handkerchief, Dickon.' She reprimanded crossly, barely noticing that her voice was shaking.

'O course not.' Dickon grinned, and continued to wipe the water from her brow. His touch felt soft and gentle.

'There. I think tha's got it.'

Without knowing how, or why, she found herself reaching up to brush a strand of wet hair away from his forehead.

'You are barely in better shape, Dickon Sowerby.' she said with a trembling voice, as his eyes met hers. She traced a fingertip down the edge of his face, along his jaw – watching the subtle astonishment that graced the young man's face. His cheeks were covered in raindrops, and the water from his hair was forming little rivulets. She brushed one of these away absently, and drew in her breath sharply at the tingling she felt run through her fingers. His gaze was deep and permeating, and there was something else, something that made her want to drink in those eyes of his, and tear her gaze away – all at the same time. Instead, she remained where she was. Both unmoving, uncertain of what to do next – both having come to a crossroads where they had to make a move – one way or the other.

The moment seemed to stand still just then, as though just for a moment it could last forever, she later thought to herself. Something was building between herself and Dickon, she could feel it. And, she thought, she felt powerless to stop it.

The moment stretched out before them, then Dickon leaned his face down towards hers.

Of course, he had kissed her on the cheek many times before, and at first Mary thought that this was what he intended to do now. But instead of his lips brushing against her cheek they flitted gently across her mouth. She gasped in surprise, unable to move at the feelings that coursed through her body.

He pulled his face away, then looked towards her with a mixture of longing and confusion.

Mary felt herself move towards him, and, barely believing what she was doing, reached up and kissed him firmly on the mouth.

He returned her kiss, and she felt his arms encircle her waist. She had never kissed anyone before, and she could barely believe the sensations she was feeling. Dickon's mouth felt warm on hers, and he was still caressing her cheek with his hand, softly and smoothly. All she knew was that she never wanted him to stop.


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