THE WOOD BETWEEN THE WORLDS
UNCLE ANDREW and his study vanished instantly. Then, for a moment, everything became muddled. The next thing Digory knew was that there was a soft green light coming down on him from above, and darkness below. He didn't seem to be standing on anything, or sitting, or lying. Nothing appeared to be touching him. "I believe I'm in water," said Digory. "Or under water." This frightened him for a second, but almost at once he could feel that he was rushing upwards. Then his head suddenly came out into the air and, he found himself scrambling ashore, out on to smooth grassy ground at the edge of a pool.
As he rose to his feet he noticed that he was neither dripping nor panting for breath as anyone would expect after being under water. His clothes were perfectly dry. He was standing by the edge of a small pool - not more than ten feet from side to side in a wood. The trees grew close together and were so leafy that he could get no glimpse of the sky. All the light was green light that came through the leaves: but there must have been a very strong sun overhead, for this green daylight was bright and warm. It was the quietest wood you could possibly imagine. There were no birds, no insects, no animals, and no wind. You could almost feel the trees growing. The pool he had just got out of was not the only pool. There were dozens of others - a pool every few yards as far as his eyes could reach. You could almost feel the trees drinking the water up with their roots. This wood was very much alive. When he tried to describe it afterwards
Digory always said, "It was a rich place: as rich as plumcake."
The strangest thing was that, almost before he had looked about him, Digory had half forgotten how he had come there. At any rate, he was certainly not thinking about Polly, or Uncle Andrew, or even his Mother. He was not in the least frightened, or excited, or curious. If anyone had asked him "Where did you come from?" he would probably have said, "I've always been here." That was what it felt like - as if one had always been in that place and never been bored although nothing had ever happened. As he said long afterwards, "It's not the sort of place where things happen. The trees go on growing, that's all."
After Digory had looked at the wood for a long time he noticed that there was a girl lying on her back at the foot of a tree a few yards away. Her eyes were nearly shut but not quite, as if she were just between sleeping and waking. So he looked at her for a long time and said nothing. And at last she opened her eyes and looked at him for a long time and she also said nothing. Then she spoke, in a dreamy, contented sort of voice.
"I think I've seen you before," she said.
"I rather think so too," said Digory. "Have you been here long?"
"Oh, always," said the girl. "At least - I don't know a very long time."
"So have I," said Digory.
"No you haven't, said she. "I've just seen you come up out of that pool."
"Yes, I suppose I did," said Digory with a puzzled air, "I'd forgotten."
Then for quite a long time neither said any more.
"Look here," said the girl presently, "I wonder did we ever really meet before? I had a sort of idea - a sort of picture in my head - of a boy and a girl, like us - living somewhere quite different - and doing all sorts of things. Perhaps it was only a dream."
"I've had that same dream, I think," said Digory. "About a boy and a girl, living next door - and something about crawling among rafters. I remember the girl had a dirty face."
"Aren't you getting it mixed? In my dream it was the boy who had the dirty face."
"I can't remember the boy's face," said Digory: and then added, "Hullo! What's that?"
"Why! it's a guinea-pig," said the girl. And it was - a fat guinea-pig, nosing about in the grass. But round the middle of the guinea-pig there ran a tape, and, tied on to it by the tape, was a bright yellow ring.
"Look! look," cried Digory, "The ring! And look! You've got one on your finger. And so have I."
The girl now sat up, really interested at last. They stared very hard at one another, trying to remember. And then, at exactly the same moment, she shouted out "Mr Ketterley" and he shouted out "Uncle Andrew", and they knew who they were and began to remember the whole story. After a few minutes hard talking they had got it straight. Digory explained how beastly Uncle Andrew had been.
"What do we do now?" said Polly. "Take the guineapig and go home?"
"There's no hurry," said Digory with a huge yawn.
"I think there is," said Polly. "This place is too quiet. It's so - so dreamy. You're almost asleep. If we once give in to it we shall just lie down and drowse for ever and ever."
"It's very nice here," said Digory.
"Yes, it is," said Polly.
"But we've got to get back." She stood up and began to go cautiously towards the guinea-pig. But then she changed her mind.
"We might as well leave the guinea-pig," she said. "It's perfectly happy here, and your uncle will only do something horrid to it if we take it home."
"I bet he would," answered Digory. "Look at the way he's treated us. By the way, how do we get home?"
"Go back into the pool, I expect."
They came and stood together at the edge looking down into the smooth water. It was full of the reflection of the green, leafy branches; they made it look very deep.
"We haven't any bathing things," said Polly.
"We shan't need them, silly," said Digory. "We're going in with our clothes on. Don't you remember it didn't wet us on the way up?"
"Can you swim?"
"A bit. Can you?"
"Well - not much."
"I don't think we shall need to swim," said Digory "We want to go down, don't we?"
Neither of them much liked the idea of jumping into that pool, but neither said so to the other. They took hands and said "One - Two - Three - Go" and jumped. There was a great splash and of course they closed their eyes. But when they opened them again they found they were still standing, hand in hand, in the green wood, and hardly up to their ankles in water. The pool was apparently only a couple of inches deep. They splashed back on to the dry ground.
"What on earth's gone wrong?" said Polly in a frightened voice; but not quite so frightened as you might expect, because it is hard to feel really frightened in that wood. The place is too peaceful.
"Oh! I know," said Digory, "Of course it won't work. We're still wearing our yellow rings. They're for the outward journey, you know. The green ones take you home. We must change rings. Have you got pockets? Good. Put your yellow ring in your left. I've got two greens. Here's one for you."
They put on their green rings and came back to the pool. But before they tried another jump Digory gave a long "O-ooh!"
"What's the matter?" said Polly.
"I've just had a really wonderful idea," said Digory. "What are all the other pools?"
"How do you mean?"
"Why, if awe can get back to our own world by jumping into this pool, mightn't we get somewhere else by jumping into one of the others? Supposing there was a world at the bottom of every pool."
"But I thought we were already in your Uncle Andrew's Other World or Other Place or whatever he called it. Didn't you say - "
"Oh bother Uncle Andrew," interrupted Digory. "I don't believe he knows anything about it. He never had the pluck to come here himself. He only talked of one Other World. But suppose there were dozens?"
"You mean, this wood might be only one of them?"
"No, I don't believe this wood is a world at all. I think it's just a sort of in-between place."
Polly looked puzzled. "Don't you see?" said Digory. "No, do listen. Think of our tunnel under the slates at home. It isn't a room in any of the houses. In a way, it isn't really part of any of the houses. But once you're in the tunnel you can go along it and come into any of the houses in the row. Mightn't this wood be the same? - a place that isn't in any of the worlds, but once you've found that place you can get into them all."
"Well, even if you can - " began Polly, but Digory went on as if he hadn't heard her.
"And of course that explains everything," he said. "That's why it is so quiet and sleepy here. Nothing ever happens here. Like at home. It's in the houses that people talk, and do things, and have meals. Nothing goes on in the inbetween places, behind the walls and above the ceilings and under the floor, or in our own tunnel. But when you come out of our tunnel you may find yourself in any house. I think we can get out of this place into jolly well Anywhere! We don't need to jump back into the same pool we came up by. Or not just yet."
"The Wood between the Worlds," said Polly dreamily. "It sounds rather nice."
"Come on," said Digory. "Which pool shall we try?"
"Look here," said Polly, "I'm not going to try any new pool till we've made sure that we can get back by the old one. We're not even sure if it'll work yet."
"Yes," said Digory. "And get caught by Uncle Andrew and have our rings taken away before we've had any fun. No thanks."
"Couldn't we just go part of the way down into our own pool," said Polly. "Just to see if it works. Then if it does, we'll change rings and come up again before we're really back in Mr Ketterley's study."
"Can we go part of the way down?"
"Well, it took time coming up. I suppose it'll take a little time going back."
Digory made rather a fuss about agreeing to this, but he had to in the end because Polly absolutely refused to do any exploring in new worlds until she had made sure about getting back to the old one. She was quite as brave as he about some dangers (wasps, for instance) but she was not so interested in finding out things nobody had ever heard of before; for Digory was the sort of person who wants to know everything, and when he grew up he became the famous Professor Kirke who comes into other books.
After a good deal of arguing they agreed to put on their green rings ("Green for safety," said Digory, "so you can't help remembering which is which") and hold hands and jump. But as soon as they seemed to be getting back to Uncle Andrew's study, or even to their own world, Polly was to shout "Change" and they would slip off their greens and put on their yellows. Digory wanted to be the one who shouted "Change" but Polly wouldn't agree.
They put on the green rings, took hands, and once more shouted "One - Two - Three - Go". This time it worked. It is very hard to tell you what it felt like, for everything happened so quickly. At first there were bright lights moving about in a black sky; Digory always thinks these were stars and even swears that he saw Jupiter quite close - close enough to see its moon. But almost at once there were rows and rows of roofs and chimney pots about them, and they could see St Paul's and knew they were looking at London. But you could see through the walls of all the houses. Then they could see Uncle Andrew, very vague and shadowy, but getting clearer and more solid-looking all the time, just as if he were coming into focus. But before he became quite real Polly shouted "Change", and they did change, and our world faded away like a dream, and the green light above grew stronger and stronger, till their heads came out of the pool and they scrambled ashore. And there was the wood all about them, as green and bright and still as ever. The whole thing had taken less than a minute.
"There!" said Digory. "That's alright. Now for the adventure. Any pool will do. Come on. Let's try that one."
"Stop!" said Polly - "Aren't we going to mark this pool?"
They stared at each other and turned quite white as they realized the dreadful thing that Digory had just been going to do. For there were any number of pools in the wood, and the pools were all alike and the trees were all alike, so that if they had once left behind the pool that led to our own world without making some sort of landmark, the chances would have been a hundred to one against their ever finding it again.
Digory's hand was shaking as he opened his penknife and cut out a long strip of turf on the bank of the pool. The soil (which smelled nice) was of a rich reddish brown and showed up well against the green. "It's a good thing one of us has some sense," said Polly.
"Well don't keep on gassing about it," said Digory. "Come along, I want to see what's in one of the other pools." And Polly gave him a pretty sharp answer and he said something even nastier in reply. The quarrel lasted for several minutes but it would be dull to write it all down. Let us skip on to the moment at which they stood with beating hearts and rather scared faces on the edge of the unknown pool with their yellow rings on and held hands and once more said "One - Two - Three - Go!"
Splash! Once again it hadn't worked. This pool, too, appeared to be only a puddle. Instead of reaching a new world they only got their feet wet and splashed their legs for the second time that morning (if it was a morning: it seems to be always the same time in the Wood between the Worlds).
"Blast and botheration!" exclaimed Digory. "What's gone wrong now? We've put our yellow rings on all right. He said yellow for the outward journey."
Now the truth was that Uncle Andrew, who knew nothing about the Wood between the Worlds, had quite a wrong idea about the rings. The yellow ones weren't "outward" rings and the green ones weren't "homeward" rings; at least, not in the way he thought. The stuff of which both were made had all come from the wood. The stuff in the yellow rings had the power of drawing you into the wood; it was stuff that wanted to get back to its own place, the in-between place. But the stuff in the green rings is stuff that is trying to get out of its own place: so that a green ring would take you out of the wood into a world. Uncle Andrew, you see, was working with things he did not really understand; most magicians are. Of course Digory did not realize the truth quite clearly either, or not till later. But when they had talked it over, they decided to try their green rings on the new pool, just to see what happened.
"I'm game if you are," said Polly. But she really said this because, in her heart of hearts, she now felt sure that neither kind of ring was going to work at all in the new pool, and so there was nothing worse to be afraid of than another splash. I am not quite sure that Digory had not the same feeling. At any rate, when they had both put on their greens and come back to the edge of the water, and taken hands again, they were certainly a good deal more cheerful and less solemn than they had been the first time.
"One - Two - Three - Go!" said Digory. And they jumped.