Mary races back to her room and excitedly tells Martha that she's been with Dickon and thinks he's beautiful. Martha is confused and says that she's never thought of Dickon as handsome, but Mary assures her that she loves his face. They discuss gardening and then Martha asks if Mary has a place to plant her flowers. She says that Mary shouldn't ask the head gardener, Mr. Roach, and should ask Ben Weatherstaff instead. She also assures Mary that if Mary finds someplace out of the way, nobody will care if she plants things there.
Martha's assurance that choosing an out-of-the-way spot won't bother anyone is all Mary needs to feel like she has permission to work in the secret garden. It suggests that anything outside the cultivated realm of the manor is beyond piquing anyone's attention, which at this point, the secret garden is—and, it should be noted, Mary is as well.
As Mary grabs her hat to go back outside, Martha says that Mr. Craven is back and wants to see her. Mary turns white as Martha explains that Mother spoke to Mr. Craven in town and suggested he see Mary before he goes away again. Mary is relieved to learn that this next trip is supposed to last until fall or winter, which leaves her ample time to "watch the secret garden come alive."
Mary's fear at meeting Mr. Craven speaks to her distrust of authority figures like him, given that her parents in India never made her feel safe or secure or indeed like she mattered at all. Her desire to be alone during his next trip reinforces her fear and distrust.
Mrs. Medlock enters and tells Mary to put on her best dress and brush her hair. Martha helps her and then Mary silently follows Mrs. Medlock. Mrs. Medlock leaves Mary with Mr. Craven, who's sitting in an armchair in front of a fire. Mary notices that Mr. Craven isn't a hunchback; his shoulders are just a bit crooked. When he finally calls her to approach, she thinks that he'd be handsome if he didn't look so miserable and worried. He asks if she's well and then apologizes for forgetting to engage a governess.
Realizing that Mr. Craven could be a very handsome man if it weren't for his expression again shows Mary the consequences of being either angry or pleasant: it can fundamentally influence how inviting a person looks. The lack of a hunchback also disproves the rumors she previously heard about Mr. Craven, which reminds Mary that she shouldn't believe everything she hears.
Mary chokes a little bit on her words, but Mr. Craven encourages her to speak. She says that she doesn't want a governess, and Mr. Craven muses that Mrs. Sowerby, Martha's mother, said that Mary doesn't need one yet. Mary insists that Mrs. Sowerby knows about children, and boldly says that she wants to play outside so she can get stronger. She talks about her jump rope and assures Mr. Craven that she's not doing anything wrong. He seems put off by the anxiety in her face and to calm her, says that Mrs. Sowerby stopped him on the moor, said that Mrs. Craven had been a kind woman, and told him that Mary should be allowed to play outside.
What Mr. Craven has to say about Mrs. Sowerby situates her as an expert on childrearing. It's telling then that what Mrs. Sowerby believes it most important is independent play outside, as she knows that this will help Mary develop a sense of independence and curiosity, grow strong, and learn to think of others aside from herself. Bringing up Mrs. Craven on the moor also suggests that for Mr. Craven, reminders of his late wife are still very powerful, and that he's still grieving.
Mr. Craven tells Mary she can go where she likes and asks if she'd like any dolls or toys. Mary asks for some earth to plant a garden, which seems to shock Mr. Craven. She goes on and says that she used to make pretend gardens in India. Mr. Craven paces, tells Mary that she can have as much earth as she wants, and then calls Mrs. Medlock to take Mary away. He tells Mrs. Medlock to feed Mary and let her run outside, and that Mary can visit Mrs. Sowerby. Mrs. Medlock is pleased that this all means she'll be required to do little for Mary, and she's also pleased that she'll get to see Mrs. Sowerby, as the two went to school together.
Mrs. Medlock's assessment of all of this suggests that she's much like Mary's parents in her desire to actively not care for children. However, the novel implies that because Mrs. Medlock doesn't want to care for children in England, she doesn't do as much damage, as Mary can run outside and heal without adult supervision here in a way that she couldn't in India.
As soon as Mary is back in her room, she excitedly tells Martha all the good news and that Mr. Craven is nice, just miserable. She races back to the garden and discovers that Dickon is gone. However, she finds a paper stuck to a tree with a picture of a bird's nest and a note from Dickon saying that he will come back.
The drawing of the nest shows Mary that Dickon understands that this is a sacred place for her where she's going to grow, develop, and eventually, be ready to leave the nest.