This fanfiction is based on the characters as seen in the Lucy Simon/Marsha Norman musical version of The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It takes place ten years before the events in the...
The woman moaned, badly injured in the fall. Panicked, the man gathered the woman's broken body into his arms and carried her into the house, without any thought to his own infirmity.
"Archie..." The woman said weakly. "Our baby..."
And she passed out.
Archibald Craven and his beloved wife Lily were passing the afternoon together in the garden, as was their custom.
It was Lily's favorite garden, the one Archie had given her, when he'd offered her everything he owned. The garden, and his devotion was all Lily had ever wanted. She had that, and soon, she would also have their child.
Lily sat on a branch of the old tree that stood in the middle of the garden. She loved to sit there and look at the beautiful roses she'd worked so diligently to cultivate. At first, Archie was a bit concerned that perhaps the tree would not be strong enough to support her, but she'd laughingly reminded him that since the tree had been there so long already, it was sturdy enough, and that he shouldn't worry. Archie accepted that fairly easily, after all, he could never have refused her anything.
"Archie!" Lily lilted. "What shall we call him?"
"Him?" Archie smiled. "Now Lily, how can you be so sure? It could be a girl, you know!"
Very soon now, the Cravens expected a welcome addition to their family, and they were both ecstatic at the prospect.
"Don't you want a son, Archie? I thought all men wanted one!" She answered, giggling.
"Well, of course I want a son, Lily, but if it is a girl...well, I shall be happy either way, as long as I always have you!"
Lily blushed slightly. The look in her husband's eyes was so earnest. Even now, she could see an echo of his former sadness. She loved Archie so, but she often had to reassure him that she would always be there, since he had been alone for so long before they were married.
"I'll never leave you, Archie, but I am certain to give you a son, and since you haven't offered any opinion on the subject... What if we were to name him...Colin?"
"Colin." Archie repeated. It was true, he hadn't thought much about what to call the child.
"Yes. Colin!" Lily's large, expressive eyes twinkled. "It's such a musical name. I should feel like singing every time I speak it!"
Archie smiled, all traces of sadness lost in those beautiful eyes.
"A fine name. Colin it is, then...and if it's a girl?"
"It won't be!" Lily began to laugh, and Archie joined her.
It was then that the tree gave way underneath her, and Archie's world gave way as well.
Archie's brother Dr. Neville Craven was immediately sent for. He came as quickly as he could, but it proved to be of little avail.
"Thank God you're here, Neville!" Archie said raggedly when the doctor arrived. "See, Lily?" Archie continued frantically. "Everything is going to be just fine...isn't that right, Neville? Lily is going to be all right!" Archibald Craven never took his eyes off his wife, who lay writhing on the bed, alarmingly pale and moaning softly.
Neville took one look at Lily and turned quite pale himself. Lily's injury was severe, possibly crippling, but not necessarily life threatening, were it not for her condition. As it was, Lily was very weak. The baby was not quite ready to come yet, but labor had already begun. There was no turning back.
Tears threatened to spring to Neville's eyes, but he could not allow either his patient or his brother to see them, and he composed himself. He managed to say, in an almost normal tone, "I'll do what I can."
After examining her, Dr. Craven was quite sure that Lily would not survive. However, it was his opinion that the baby could possibly be saved. Indeed, as painful as it was, saving the child would have to be Neville's main priority. He only hoped that Lily could hold on long enough to bring the child into the world.
Neville remembered the first time he saw Lily. It was many years ago. She was a pretty young girl with a sweet disposition and easy laughter. Even as a girl, Lily loved working out of doors, in a garden. Neville would often see her working in a garden in the nearby valley. He was instantly captivated, but although he often exchanged small talk with her in passing, he would eventually come to regret that he did not actively pursue her...but what did he have to offer her?
If only he had been the one to inherit Misselthwaite Manor when Father died. Instead, Archibald, who was the older brother, became Lord of the Manor, for all the good that did him.
Already shy and a bit reclusive, and ashamed of his crooked back which stooped his posture, Archie used the house as yet another excuse to hide himself away. Things would have been very different if Neville had gotten the house.
At least Neville's education had been seen to. Soon, he would go to London to study medicine. Then perhaps, he'd be able to suitably provide for a wife. For Lily, if he'd had his way.
It was not to be. By the time he'd returned to Yorkshire to establish his medical practice, Archie and Lily had already met and begun their courtship, and no matter what Neville might have said or done, Lily never saw; never loved anyone but Archie. Archie, who never so much as looked at a girl seriously for fear of rejection, was courting the girl of Neville's dreams.
As for Lily, she simply never knew, and the truth be told, hadn't even realized that the charming young man she'd occasionally spoken to in passing was her beloved's brother.
The pain was almost too much for Neville to bear, yet he said nothing, instead immersing himself in his work. The pain did eventually subside somewhat, and then, Neville noticed the change in his brother. Archie was no longer a recluse, and had in fact, begun to take an interest in the outside world.
Because of Lily, Archibald Craven was a happy man, and in spite of his own feelings for Lily, Neville was able to take some small consolation in his brother's happiness. He had no wish to take that away from him. Neville was finally beginning to come to terms with the situation...but what did that matter now? Lily was dying, and there was nothing he could do.
"Please wait outside, Archie." Neville said grimly.
"No!" Archie cried. "I won't leave her!"
"There's nothing for you to do here, Archie, please..." Neville began.
"I'll be all right, Archie..." Lily said, very weakly. "Do as he asks..."
"The moment anything happens, I'll send for you." Neville promised.
Archie looked from his wife to his brother, then resigned, he said, "I'll be right outside." And he left the room.
Archie took a chair from the study and placed it outside the bedroom door. He sat down for awhile, then grew restless and began pacing. He remembered the beautiful spring day when he'd first met Lily, and the next day, even more lovely, when he'd realized he loved her.
"Oh, Archie, they're beautiful!" Lily gushed as she admired the basket of flowers he had given her. "How did you know? Roses are my favorite! Most people just assume that I would prefer lilies!" She laughed at her own joke.
Archie smiled. He'd been smiling quite a lot today. Lily had that effect on people. "They're so lovely, Archie, where did they come from?"
"I have several gardens on the grounds where I live at Misselthwaite Manor. Surely you've seen the house on the hill?"
"Yes, of course!" She replied.
"I wanted to thank you for yesterday. You were very kind, Lily, more than I deserve."
"Nonsense!" Lily retorted. "You are a kind man, of course you deserve kindness. In fact, I'd like to share my tea with you again. Today, if I may be so bold."
"Really, I couldn't."
"Archibald Craven, I insist." It was amazing how she seemed to feel at ease with him already. "Please?" She continued. "It would make me very happy."
"Well, all right then." Archie relented, in truth, glad for the invitation. "Still, there must be something I can do for you."
Lily thought for a moment. "Well...I'd love to see your gardens someday."
Archie smiled yet again. "Then you certainly will!"
How lucky Archie had been to have seen Lily while riding home that day. Tired from his journey, he stopped at her garden gate and asked if he could stop there for awhile. Not only did she allow him to stay, she invited him to join her for tea. He was dumbstruck by the innocent beauty of her eyes, but more importantly, her complete acceptance of him. She never saw the gloomy cripple that he was certain others saw. Lily could see inside Archie's soul. And better still, she did not run. As the days went on, she came to dwell there.
Every day, he brought her a fresh basket of roses, and every day, she shared her tea with him. By winter, Archie had asked for her hand, and although Lily's sister Rose greatly disapproved, and Archie's brother Neville's reaction to the news was somewhat less than enthusiastic, Archie and Lily were married. The very next year, Lily gave Archie the news that she was with child.
Archibald Craven had never been so happy in his entire life. His loneliness, largely self-imposed, had finally ended. But, if anything should happen to Lily... No! He couldn't think that way. If anyone could save her, Neville could. Archie had to believe that. He had to have something to hold on to.
"What could be taking so long?" Archie said to himself. "Oh, dear God, something must have gone wrong! Lily!" He wanted to break down the bedroom door at once, but was stopped by the very faint sound of a baby's cry.
"Please God, let my Lily be all right!" He sobbed, sinking into the chair as he waited for Neville to open the door.
Moments later, the bedroom door opened. It had been several hours since Neville had asked Archie to leave, and now, the sun was just coming up over the moor. Neville emerged from the room, white faced. Archie stood up anxiously.
"You have a son, Archie." Neville sounded drained. "The child is very small and weak. There is a chance that he may not survive..."
"And Lily?" Neville shook his head almost imperceptibly. Alarmed, Archie quickly brushed past him to his wife's side.
Lily lay in the bed, smiling wanly, holding the tiny, frail baby in her arms.
"Archie...look...isn't he beautiful?"
Lily tried to lift the tiny, sickly baby into his father's arms, but she was too weak, and Archie had to take the child quickly so that Lily wouldn't drop him.
"Our son...our...Colin...he's so beautiful...just like you..."
"Oh no, Lily...not like me. You are going to be a wonderful mother. Look at him, Lily, he needs you...I need you. Open your eyes and look!"
But Lily's beautiful, hazel eyes had closed for the last time.
The baby began to cry pitifully, and Archie became even more agitated. "Lily, darling, I know you need to rest now, but please...I beg you. Open your eyes so I'll know you won't leave me..."
"Archie..." Neville said gently, as he signalled the nurse to take Colin away. Archie relinquished the child with little difficulty, but he continued to plead with Lily, whose lovely face had begun to turn gray.
"Lily, you promised you'd never leave me! Colin needs a mother, what are we to do?!"
"Archie..." Neville tried again, but Archibald Craven was in another world. He continued speaking to Lily in an increasingly desperate tone. "We were going to grow old together! How can you just leave me like this?!" Tears flowed unchecked down Archie's cheeks, as he began to shake Lily in a futile attempt to rouse her.
Neville Craven could take no more. He grieved for Lily as well, and to watch his brother's sad display was too much for him to bear. He took Archie by the shoulders. "Archie, she's gone. Come away!" Archie whirled around, swinging wildly, landing a solid blow to Neville's mouth, causing Neville to drop to his knees in shock.
"How could you let her die?" Archie turned on his brother. "I trusted you, and you let her die! You might as well have killed her!"
"How dare you!" Neville seethed, as he pressed his hand to his bleeding lips. "I did everything I could do for her! Do you think I wanted her to die?!" A tear broke loose from Neville's firm control. He blinked it away, but Archie had already seen it, and was duly ashamed.
"Neville, forgive me." Archie said as he extended his hand to help his brother to his feet. "I've accused you when it's clear that I'm the one to blame. I never should have allowed..."
"I am so dreadfully sorry, Archie, you must believe me, but it was neither your fault nor mine. Lily was just...too weak." The doctor paused to compose himself yet again. "You have a son now, and he needs a father. Think of that."
"A son?" Archie spoke again. "Not a son, a cripple. You said it yourself, Neville. He may not survive. And if he does, what then? Will he be a cripple? Will he be doomed to a lonely existence such as my own? I couldn't bear it...not now!"
Neville remained silent for a moment, then continued evenly.
"I won't lie to you, Archie. Colin may well be crippled. We shall have to wait and see. However, I intend to do all I can to see to it that he lives. That's all I can promise for now."
"Very well." Archie replied, as he turned again toward his beloved Lily, and kissed her cold lips for the last time. Archie's face was now entirely devoid of expression as he quietly left the room.
Neville quietly and discreetly made the funeral arrangements. He wired the sad news to Lily's sister, Rose in India. Rose had been expecting as well, and as it happened, Rose was giving birth to her daughter Mary, just as Lily was being buried.
Lily wore a simple blue dress, one of her favorites that she had often worn when she and Archie spent their afternoons in the garden. The service was beautiful in its simplicity, and there were many mourners, as she was well thought of. Finally, Lily's coffin was lowered into the ground. Archie watched as they finished the burial. He lingered by the grave afterwards, and stayed long after everyone else was gone.
Late in the evening, days after Lily's funeral, Archibald Craven quietly entered the nursery. Colin lay in his crib, peacefully sleeping at last. Dr. Craven sat in a chair close by. He too was sleeping, from exhaustion, rather than by intention. It had been a difficult day. The baby had been fussy and colicky throughout. Even so, the child was still fragile and required special care. The nurse who had been doing most of the work, had suddenly resigned. She could no longer bear the sadness of the household, and she found that she disliked Dr. Craven immensely, so she was gone early that morning. Not trusting any of the other present staff, with Archie nowhere to be seen, there was nothing else to do than to cancel all other engagements, and spend the entire day caring for the child. Neville continued to doze restlessly as Archie leaned over the crib to look at Colin.
In the dim light, Colin almost seemed to him a normal, healthy baby. "Would God that were true..." Archie whispered to himself. "Colin...I'm leaving." He continued, addressing the child. "Though you surely won't even know I'm gone."
Archie gently stroked Colin's soft, fine hair. "Your uncle here will take good care of you, and soon you'll have another nurse..." When he arrived home minutes before, he was informed in a note that the nurse was gone, but there was little he could do about it now.
"Oh, if only your mother had lived. Perhaps I would never have to leave...." Archie's grief threatened to swallow him up. He looked at his son once more as he quietly moved toward the door. "Goodbye, Colin." He whispered.
"Archie? Where are you going?"
Archie stopped, a bit startled to hear his brother speak.
"Sorry, Neville. I didn't mean to wake you. I'm going to Paris. The train leaves tonight. I have to get away. You'll take care of Colin and the house until I return, won't you?"
"Well, of course I will..." Neville answered automatically as he followed Archie out of the nursery. "Someone has to!" He added under his breath.
He closed the door gently behind him, then continued. "When will you be returning? And come to that, Archie, when were you planning to tell me you were leaving? If I hadn't awakened..."
"I left you detailed instructions..."
"That is not the point."
Archie sighed. "Again, I apologize, Neville. I promise we'll talk at length when I return." He paused. "There is one more favor I would ask of you."
"What is it?"
"See to it that the staff is told. No one is ever to enter Lily's garden again. By my order. I've already locked it, and buried the key. I'm sure you understand..." He paused sadly for a moment. "When I return, I'll remind them myself, but for now, I haven't the time. It's better this way."
Neville nodded. On this point the brothers agreed.
"Goodbye, Neville. No need to see me out."
Archie left. It would be the first of many such journeys.