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|The Silver Chair(Chronicles of Narnia #4) by C.S.Lewis|
BEHIND THE GYM
IT was a dull autumn day and Jill Pole was crying behind the gym.
She was crying because they had been bullying her. This is not going to be a school story, so I shall say as little as possible about Jill's school, which is not a pleasant subject. It was "Co-educational," a school for both boys and girls, what used to be called a "mixed" school; some said it was not nearly so mixed as the minds of the people who ran it. These people had the idea that boys and girls should be allowed to do what they liked. And unfortunately what ten or fifteen of the biggest boys and girls liked best was bullying the others. All sorts of things, horrid things, went on which at an ordinary school would have been found out and stopped in half a term; but at this school they weren't. Or even if they were, the people who did them were not expelled or punished. The Head said they were interesting psychological cases and sent for them and talked to them for hours. And if you knew the right sort of things to say to the Head, the main result was that you became rather a favourite than otherwise.
That was why Jill Pole was crying on that dull autumn day on the damp little path which runs between the back of the gym and the shrubbery. And she hadn't nearly finished her cry when a boy came round the corner of the gym whistling, with his hands in his pockets. He nearly ran into her.
"Can't you look where you're going?" said Jill Pole.
"All right," said the boy, "you needn't start - " and then he noticed her face. "I say, Pole," he said, "what's up?"
Jill only made faces; the sort you make when you're trying to say something but find that if you speak you'll start crying again.
"It's Them, I suppose - as usual," said the boy grimly, digging his hands farther into his pockets.
Jill nodded. There was no need for her to say anything, even if she could have said it. They both knew.
"Now, look here," said the boy, "there's no good us all - "
He meant well, but he did talk rather like someone beginning a lecture. Jill suddenly flew into a temper (which is quite a likely thing to happen if you have been interrupted in a cry).
"Oh, go away and mind your own business," she said. "Nobody asked you to come barging in, did they? And you're a nice person to start telling us what we all ought to do, aren't you? I suppose you mean we ought to spend all our time sucking up to Them, and currying favour, and dancing attendance on Them like you do."
"Oh, Lor!" said the boy, sitting down on the grassy bank at the edge of the shrubbery and very quickly getting up again because the grass was soaking wet. His name unfortunately was Eustace Scrubb, but he wasn't a bad sort.
"Pole!" he said. "Is that fair? Have I been doing anything of the sort this term? Didn't I stand up to Carter about the rabbit? And didn't I keep the secret about Spivvins - under torture too? And didn't I - "
"I d-don't know and I don't care," sobbed Jill.
Scrubb saw that she wasn't quite herself yet and very sensibly offered her a peppermint. He had one too. Presently Jill began to see things in a clearer light.
"I'm sorry, Scrubb," she said presently. "I wasn't fair. You have done all that - this term."
"Then wash out last term if you can," said Eustace. "I was a different chap then. I was - gosh! what a little tick I was."
"Well, honestly, you were," said Jill.
"You think there has been a change, then?" said Eustace.
"It's not only me," said Jill. "Everyone's been saying so. They've noticed it. Eleanor Blakiston heard Adela Pennyfather talking about it in our changing room yesterday. She said, `Someone's got hold of that Scrubb kid. He's quite unmanageable this term. We shall have to attend to him next.'"
Eustace gave a shudder. Everyone at Experiment House knew what it was like being "attended to" by Them.
Both children were quiet for a moment. The drops dripped off the laurel leaves.
"Why were you so different last term?" said Jill presently.
"A lot of queer things happened to me in the hols," said Eustace mysteriously.
"What sort of things?" asked Jill.
Eustace didn't say anything for quite a long time. Then he said:
"Look here, Pole, you and I hate this place about as much as anybody can hate anything, don't we?"
"I know I do," said Jill.
"Then I really think I can trust you."
"Dam' good of you," said Jill.
"Yes, but this is a really terrific secret. Pole, I say, are you good at believing things? I mean things that everyone here would laugh at?"
"I've never had the chance," said Jill, "but I think I would be."
"Could you believe me if I said I'd been right out of the world - outside this world - last hols?"
"I wouldn't know what you meant."
"Well, don't let's bother about that then. Supposing I told you I'd been in a place where animals can talk and where there are - er - enchantments and dragons - and well, all the sorts of things you have in fairy-tales." Scrubb felt terribly awkward as he said this and got red in the face.
"How did you get there?" said Jill. She also felt curiously shy.
"The only way you can - by Magic," said Eustace almost in a whisper. "I was with two cousins of mine. We were just - whisked away. They'd been there before."
Now that they were talking in whispers Jill somehow felt it easier to believe. Then suddenly a horrible suspicion came over her and she said (so fiercely that for the moment she looked like a tigress):
"If I find you've been pulling my leg I'll never speak to you again; never, never, never."
"I'm not," said Eustace. "I swear I'm not. I swear by everything."
(When I was at school one would have said, "I swear by the Bible." But Bibles were not encouraged at Experiment House.)
"All right," said Jill, "I'll believe you."
"And tell nobody?"
"What do you take me for?"
They were very excited as they said this. But when they had said it and Jill looked round and saw the dull autumn sky and heard the drip off the leaves and thought of all the hopelessness of Experiment House (it was a thirteen-week term and there were still eleven weeks to come) she said:
"But after all, what's the good? We're not there: we're here. And we jolly well can't get there. Or can we?"
"That's what I've been wondering," said Eustace. "When we came back from That Place, Someone said that the two Pevensie kids (that's my two cousins) could never go there again. It was their third time, you see. I suppose they've had their share. But he never said I couldn't. Surely he would have said so, unless he meant that I was to get back? And I can't help wondering, can we - could we - ?"
"Do you mean, do something to make it happen?"
"You mean we might draw a circle on the ground - and write in queer letters in it - and stand inside it - and recite charms and spells?"
"Well," said Eustace after he had thought hard for a bit. "I believe that was the sort of thing I was thinking of, though I never did it. But now that it comes to the point, I've an idea that all those circles and things are rather rot. I don't think he'd like them. It would look as if we thought we could make him do things. But really, we can only ask him."
"Who is this person you keep on talking about?"
"They call him Aslan in That Place," said Eustace.
"What a curious name!"
"Not half so curious as himself," said Eustace solemnly. "But let's get on. It can't do any harm, just asking. Let's stand side by side, like this. And we'll hold out our arms in front of us with the palms down: like they did in Ramandu's island - "
"I'll tell you about that another time. And he might like us to face the east. Let's see, where is the east?"
"I don't know," said Jill.
"It's an extraordinary thing about girls that they never know the points of the compass," said Eustace.
"You don't know either," said Jill indignantly.
"Yes I do, if only you didn't keep on interrupting. I've got it now. That's the east, facing up into the laurels. Now, will you say the words after me?''
"What words?" asked Jill.
"The words I'm going to say, of course," answered Eustace. "Now - "
And he began, "Aslan, Aslan, Aslan!"
"Aslan, Aslan, Aslan," repeated Jill.
"Please let us two go into - "
At that moment a voice from the other side of the gym was heard shouting out, "Pole? Yes. I know where she is. She's blubbing behind the gym. Shall I fetch her out?"
Jill and Eustace gave one glance at each other, dived under the laurels, and began scrambling up the steep, earthy slope of the shrubbery at a speed which did them great credit. (Owing to the curious methods of teaching at Experiment House, one did not learn much French or Maths or Latin or things of that sort; but one did learn a lot about getting away quickly and quietly when They were looking for one.)
After about a minute's scramble they stopped to listen, and knew by the noises they heard that they were being followed.
"If only the door was open again!" said Scrubb as they went on, and Jill nodded. For at the top of the shrubbery was a high stone wall and in that wall a door by which you could get out on to open moor. This door was nearly always locked. But there had been times when people had found it open; or perhaps there had been only one time. But you may imagine how the memory of even one time kept people hoping, and trying the door; for if it should happen to be unlocked it would be a splendid way of getting outside the school grounds without being seen.
Jill and Eustace, now both very hot and very grubby from going along bent almost double under the laurels, panted up to the wall. And there was the door, shut as usual.
"It's sure to be no good," said Eustace with his hand on the handle; and then, "O-o-oh. By Gum!!" For the handle turned and the door opened.
A moment before, both of them had meant to get through that doorway in double quick time, if by any chance the door was not locked. But when the door actually opened, they both stood stock still. For what they saw was quite different from what they had expected.
They had expected to see the grey, heathery slope of the moor going up and up to join the dull autumn sky. Instead, a blaze of sunshine met them. It poured through the doorway as the light of a June day pours into a garage when you open the door. It made the drops of water on the grass glitter like beads and showed up the dirtiness of Jill's tear-stained face. And the sunlight was coming from what certainly did look like a different world - what they could see of it. They saw smooth turf, smoother and brighter than Jill had ever seen before, and blue sky, and, darting to and fro, things so bright that they might have been jewels or huge butterflies.
Although she had been longing for something like this, Jill felt frightened. She looked at Scrubb's face and saw that he was frightened too.
"Come on, Pole," he said in a breathless voice.
"Can we get back? Is it safe?" asked Jill.
At that moment a voice shouted from behind, a mean, spiteful little voice. "Now then, Pole," it squeaked. "Everyone knows you're there. Down you come." It was the voice of Edith Jackle, not one of Them herself but one of their hangers-on and tale-bearers.
"Quick!" said Scrubb. "Here. Hold hands. We mustn't get separated." And before she quite knew what was happening, he had grabbed her hand and pulled her through the door, out of the school grounds, out of England, out of our whole world into That Place.
The sound of Edith Jackle's voice stopped as suddenly as the voice on the radio when it is switched off. Instantly there was a quite different sound all about them. It came from those bright things overhead, which now turned out to be birds. They were making a riotous noise, but it was much more like music - rather advanced music which you don't quite take in at the first hearing - than birds' songs ever are in our world. Yet, in spite of the singing, there was a sort of background of immense silence. That silence, combined with the freshness of the air, made Jill think they must be on the top of a very high mountain.
Scrubb still had her by the hand and they were walking forward, staring about them on every side. Jill saw that huge trees, rather like cedars but bigger, grew in every direction. But as they did not grow close together, and as there was no undergrowth, this did not prevent one from seeing a long way into the forest to left and right. And as far as Jill's eye could reach, it was all the same - level turf, darting birds with yellow, or dragonfly blue, or rainbow plumage, blue shadows, and emptiness. There was not a breath of wind in that cool, bright air. It was a very lonely forest.
Right ahead there were no trees: only blue sky. They went straight on without speaking till suddenly Jill heard Scrubb say, "Look out!" and felt herself jerked back. They were at the very edge of a cliff.
Jill was one of those lucky people who have a good head for heights. She didn't mind in the least standing on the edge of a precipice. She was rather annoyed with Scrubb for pulling her back - "just as if I was a kid", she said and she wrenched her hand out of his. When she saw how very white he had turned, she despised him.
"What's the matter?" she said. And to show that she was not afraid, she stood very near the edge indeed; in fact, a good deal nearer than even she liked. Then she looked down.