"The Secret Garden," Vocabulary from Chapters 7-12

Mary Hodgson Burnett's beloved "The Secret Garden" finds a way to make its surly protagonist, Mary Lennox, happy in a way that rings true (etext found here). Learn this word list that focuses on Nature.

Here are links to our lists for the novel: Chapters 1-6, Chapters 7-12, Chapters 13-17, Chapters 18-22, Chapters 23-27

Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. wistful
    showing pensive sadness
    "Could I ever get there?" asked Mary wistfully, looking through her window at the far-off blue.
  2. pert
    characterized by a lightly saucy or impudent quality
    Very soon she heard the soft rustling flight of wings again and she knew at once that the robin had come again. He was very pert and lively, and hopped about so close to her feet, and put his head on one side and looked at her so slyly that she asked Ben Weatherstaff a question.
    "Pert" also means "impudent" but the robin's rudeness is characterized more by an exuberant ("joyously unrestrained") love of life. Ben describes it this way: "He likes to hear folk talk about him. An' curious--bless me, there never was his like for curiosity an' meddlin'. He's always comin' to see what I'm plantin'..."
  3. perennial
    a plant lasting for three seasons or more
    It was bare of flowers because the perennial plants had been cut down for their winter rest, but there were tall shrubs and low ones which grew together at the back of the bed, and as the robin hopped about under them she saw him hop over a small pile of freshly turned up earth.
  4. baffle
    hinder or prevent, as an effort, plan, or desire
    The ivy was the baffling thing. Howsoever carefully she looked she could see nothing but thickly growing, glossy, dark green leaves.
    "Baffle" also means "be a mystery or bewildering to"--both definitions fit the situation because Mary is wondering what's underneath all the ivy, and she is disappointed to see nothing but leaves. The wild ivy, in addition to being a sign of the secret garden's neglect, is meant to prevent people from finding the locked door.
  5. gust
    a strong current of air
    The sun was shining and a little wind was blowing--not a rough wind, but one which came in delightful little gusts and brought a fresh scent of newly turned earth with it.
  6. trill
    a note that alternates with another note a semitone above it
    The robin flew from his swinging spray of ivy on to the top of the wall and he opened his beak and sang a loud, lovely trill, merely to show off.
  7. tendril
    slender structure by which some plants attach to an object
    There were other trees in the garden, and one of the things which made the place look strangest and loveliest was that climbing roses had run all over them and swung down long tendrils which made light swaying curtains, and here and there they had caught at each other or at a far-reaching branch and had crept from one tree to another and made lovely bridges of themselves.
  8. mantle
    anything that covers
    There were neither leaves nor roses on them now and Mary did not know whether they were dead or alive, but their thin gray or brown branches and sprays looked like a sort of hazy mantle spreading over everything, walls, and trees, and even brown grass, where they had fallen from their fastenings and run along the ground.
    "Hazy" means "filled with fog or mist"--the gray or brown branches give the appearance of fog or mist, and the use of the adjective "hazy" for the noun "mantle" emphasizes the mysterious nature of the secret garden. To prevent this hazily mysterious, somewhat dead garden from seeming scary and hopeless, there is this description: "The sun was shining inside the four walls and the high arch of blue sky over this particular piece of Misselthwaite seemed even more brilliant and soft..."
  9. urn
    a large vase that usually has a pedestal or feet
    There seemed to have been grass paths here and there, and in one or two corners there were alcoves of evergreen with stone seats or tall moss-covered flower urns in them.
  10. immensely
    to an exceedingly great extent or degree
    She went from place to place, and dug and weeded, and enjoyed herself so immensely that she was led on from bed to bed and into the grass under the trees.
  11. smother
    deprive of oxygen and prevent from breathing
    She had been actually happy all the time; and dozens and dozens of the tiny, pale green points were to be seen in cleared places, looking twice as cheerful as they had looked before when the grass and weeds had been smothering them.
  12. astonished
    filled with the emotional impact of overwhelming surprise
    The bulbs in the secret garden must have been much astonished. Such nice clear places were made round them that they had all the breathing space they wanted, and really, if Mistress Mary had known it, they began to cheer up under the dark earth and work tremendously.
    The adjective "astonished," the noun phrase "breathing space," and the verb phrase "cheer up" personify the bulbs, which strengthens the connection between Nature and the human natures of the gardeners. The more Mary works in the garden, the better her nature becomes. Even Ben, who's surly because he's lonely, is joyfully proud of his gardening and the robin. And the sweetest character in the novel is Dickon, who has the closest relationships to all forms of nature.
  13. fascinating
    capable of arousing and holding the attention
    She worked and dug and pulled up weeds steadily, only becoming more pleased with her work every hour instead of tiring of it. It seemed to her like a fascinating sort of play.
  14. flightiness
    the trait of acting unpredictably
    "That's like him," snapped Ben Weatherstaff. "Makin' up to th' women folk just for vanity an' flightiness. There's nothin' he wouldn't do for th' sake o' showin' off an' flirtin' his tail-feathers. He's as full o' pride as an egg's full o' meat."
    Ben is punning on the word "flightiness"--while he is focused on its unpredictable appearances and proud flirting with many females, he is also talking about a bird that has the power of flight.
  15. alight
    settle or come to rest
    He flew right up to the handle of Ben Weatherstaff's spade and alighted on the top of it.
  16. scowl
    frown with displeasure
    He dragged out another weed and scowled at it.
  17. tremulous
    quivering as from weakness or fear
    And on the trunk of the tree he leaned against, a brown squirrel was clinging and watching him, and from behind a bush nearby a cock pheasant was delicately stretching his neck to peep out, and quite near him were two rabbits sitting up and sniffing with tremulous noses--and actually it appeared as if they were all drawing near to watch him and listen to the strange low little call his pipe seemed to make.
  18. scamper
    run or move about quickly or lightly
    He moved so slowly that it scarcely seemed as though he were moving at all, but at last he stood on his feet and then the squirrel scampered back up into the branches of his tree, the pheasant withdrew his head and the rabbits dropped on all fours and began to hop away, though not at all as if they were frightened.
  19. intently
    with strained or eager attention
    He moved quite close to the bush with the slow movement Mary had noticed before, and then he made a sound almost like the robin's own twitter. The robin listened a few seconds, intently, and then answered quite as if he were replying to a question.
  20. flout
    treat with contemptuous disregard
    "He wouldn't come near thee if he didn't," answered Dickon. "Birds is rare choosers an' a robin can flout a body worse than a man.
  21. fledge
    grow feathers
    "I've lived on th' moor with 'em so long. I've watched 'em break shell an' come out an' fledge an' learn to fly an' begin to sing, till I think I'm one of 'em. Sometimes I think p'raps I'm a bird, or a fox, or a rabbit, or a squirrel, or even a beetle, an' I don't know it."
  22. lichen
    a plant occurring in crusty patches on tree trunks or rocks
    He stepped over to the nearest tree--an old, old one with gray lichen all over its bark, but upholding a curtain of tangled sprays and branches.
  23. reverent
    feeling or showing profound respect or veneration
    Mary touched it herself in an eager, reverent way.
  24. thrive
    grow vigorously
    "They've run wild," he said, "but th' strongest ones has fair thrived on it.
  25. exultant
    joyful and proud especially because of triumph or success
    "There!" he said exultantly. "I told thee so. There's green in that wood yet. Look at it."
  26. industrious
    characterized by hard work and perseverance
    They were working industriously round one of the biggest standard roses when he caught sight of something which made him utter an exclamation of surprise.
  27. naught
    a quantity of no importance
    There's naught as nice as th' smell o' good clean earth, except th' smell o' fresh growin' things when th' rain falls on 'em. I get out on th' moor many a day when it's rainin' an' I lie under a bush an' listen to th' soft swish o' drops on th' heather an, I just sniff an, sniff.
  28. stoutly
    in a resolute manner
    "I'll come every day if tha' wants me, rain or shine," he answered stoutly. "It's the best fun I ever had in my life--shut in here an' wakenin' up a garden."
  29. quaver
    give off unsteady sounds
    "Might I," quavered Mary, "might I have a bit of earth?"
  30. falter
    speak haltingly
    "To plant seeds in--to make things grow--to see them come alive," Mary faltered.

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