Mary did not miss her mother at all. After
all she had not really known her mother. So now, after the death of her parents, she thought
only of herself. She hoped she was going to live with nice people who would let her do
whatever she wanted. At first she was taken to the home of the
local English minister. He had five children who were always quarreling and snatching toys
from each other. Mary hated staying at their crowded, messy house. She was so disagreeable
to the children that, after the first day or two, nobody would play with her.
One day Mary was playing by herself under a tree. She was pretending to make a garden,
just as she had been doing the day cholera broke out. One of the little boys, Basil,
stood nearby watching her. “You are going to be sent home at the end
of the week,” Basil said to her. “And we’re all glad about it.”
“I’m glad too,” answered Mary. “Where is home?” “You don’t know where home is?” Basil said
scornfully. “It’s England of course. You are going to live with your uncle, Mr. Archibald
Craven.” Mary frowned. “I don’t know anything about
him.” “Of course you don’t. You don’t know anything,”
said Basil. “But I heard Father and Mother talking about him. He lives in a big, old
house called Misselthwaite Manor. No one goes near him. He’s a hunchback and he’s horrid.”
“I don’t believe you.” Mary turned her back and stuck her fingers in her ears because
she didn’t want to hear any more. But she thought it over a great deal afterward. What
sort of place was she going to? What would her uncle be like? What was a hunchback anyway?
What did one look like? Mary made the long voyage to England under
the care of an officer’s wife who was taking her children to boarding school. The officer’s
wife was too busy with her own little boy and girl to pay much attention to Mary.
In London the officer’s wife handed Mary over to Mrs. Medlock, the woman who was the housekeeper
at Misselthwaite Manor. “My word! She’s a plain little thing!” exclaimed
Mrs. Medlock. “And we’d heard her mother was a beauty.”
“Perhaps she will improve as she grows older,” said the officer’s wife.
The two women thought that Mary could not hear them because she was standing a little
apart from them, but she heard every word. She thought Mrs. Medlock was the most disagreeable-looking
woman she had ever seen. The next day they had to catch the train to Yorkshire. When
they walked through the station, Mary tried to keep as far away from her as possible.
She did not want anyone to think that she was Mrs. Medlock’s daughter.
Once they were settled on the train, Mrs. Medlock said, “Do you know anything about
your uncle?” “No,” Mary replied.
“Well,” said Mrs. Medlock. “I suppose you should be told something to prepare yourself.
You are going to a strange place.” Mary said nothing. She didn’t care what this
awful woman had to say about her uncle’s house. “The house is six hundred years old,” said
Mrs. Medlock. “It’s on the edge of the moor, and there are nearly a hundred rooms, though
most of them are closed up and locked.” Mary began to listen. It sounded so different
from India, and anything new interested her. But she did not want to look interested.
“Mr. Craven has a crooked back,” Mrs. Medlock went on. “He was a sour young man, and did
nothing good with his money and his big house until he married.”
Now Mary was really interested. She’d never thought of a hunchback as married.
“His wife was a sweet, pretty thing, and he would have done anything for her. People said
she married him for his money, but she didn’t. And when she died . . .”
“She died?” Mary exclaimed. She remembered a fairy tale about a poor hunchback and a
beautiful princess. Suddenly she felt sorry for Mr. Craven.
“Yes, she died,” said Mrs. Medlock. “And that made him even stranger. He cares about nobody.
He won’t see people. “Most of the time he travels, but when he’s at Misselthwaite Manor,
he shuts himself up in the west wing. He won’t let anybody near him but his old servant,
Pitcher.” Mrs. Medlock was right. Mary was going to
a strange place indeed.