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Synopsis

Mary Lennox, a 10-year-old girl, is born in India to wealthy British parents. She is unwanted by her mother and father, and taken care of primarily by servants, who pacify her as much as possible to keep her out of the way. Spoiled with a temper, she is unaffectionate, angry, rude and obstinate. A cholera breakout in the manor kills Mary's parents and many servants. She is discovered alone but alive after the house is abandoned. She is sent to England to live with her uncle, Archibald Craven.
At first, Mary is her usual self, sour, disliking the large house, the people within it, and most of all the vast stretch of moor, which seems scrubby and gray after the winter. She is told that she must stay confined to her two rooms and that nobody will bother much with her and she must amuse herself. Martha Sowerby, her good-natured maidservant, tells Mary a story of the late Mrs. Craven, and how she would spend hours in a private garden growing roses. Later, Mrs. Craven was killed by an untimely accident, and Mr. Craven had the garden locked and the key buried. Mary is roused by this story and starts to soften her ill manner despite herself. Soon she begins to lose her disposition and gradually comes to enjoy the company of Martha, Ben Weatherstaff the gardener, and also that of a friendly robin redbreast to whom she attaches human qualities. Her appetite increases and she finds herself getting stronger as she plays by herself on the moor. Martha's mother buys Mary a skipping rope in order to encourage this, and she takes to it immediately. Mary's time is occupied by wondering about the secret garden and a strange crying that can sometimes be heard around the house which the servants ignore or deny.

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