“WAKE up, Digory, wake up, Fledge,” came the voice of Polly. “It has turned into a toffee tree. And it’s the loveliest morning.”
The low early sunshine was streaming through the wood and the grass was grey with dew and the cobwebs were like silver. Just beside them was a little, very darkwooded tree, about the size of an apple tree. The leaves were whitish and rather papery, like the herb called honesty, and it was loaded with little brown fruits that looked rather like dates.
“Hurrah!” said Digory. “But I’m going to have a dip first.” He rushed through a flowering thicket or two down to the river’s edge. Have you ever bathed in a mountain river that is running in shallow cataracts over red and blue and yellow stones with the sun on it? It is as good as the sea: in some ways almost better. Of course, he had to dress again without drying but it was well worth it. When he came back, Polly went down and had her bathe; at least she said that was what she’d been doing, but we know she was not much of a swimmer and perhaps it is best not to ask too many questions. Fledge visited the river too but he only stood in midstream, stooping down for a long drink of water and then shaking his mane and neighing several times.
Polly and Digory got to work on the toffee-tree. The fruit was delicious; not exactly like toffee – softer for one thing, and juicy – but like fruit which reminded one of toffee. Fledge also made an excellent breakfast; he tried one of the toffee fruits and liked it but said he felt more like grass at that hour in the morning. Then with some difficulty the children got on his back and the second journey began.
It was even better than yesterday, partly because every one was feeling so fresh, and partly because the newly risen sun was at their backs and, of course, everything looks nicer when the light is behind you. It was a wonderful ride. The big snowy mountains rose above them in every direction. The valleys, far beneath them, were so green, and all the streams which tumbled down from the glaciers into the main river were so blue, that it was like flying over gigantic pieces of jewellery. They would have liked this part of the adventure to go on longer than it did. But quite soon they were all sniffing the air and saying “What is it?” and “Did you smell something?” and “Where’s it coming from?” For a heavenly smell, warm and golden, as if from all the most delicious fruits and flowers of the world, was coming up to them from somewhere ahead.
“It’s coming from that valley with the lake in it,” said Fledge.
“So it is,” said Digory. “And look! There’s a green hill at the far end of the lake. And look how blue the water is.”
“It must be the Place,” said all three.
Fledge came lower and lower in wide circles. The icy peaks rose up higher and higher above. The air came up warmer and sweeter every moment, so sweet that it almost brought the tears to your eyes. Fledge was now gliding with his wings spread out motionless on each side, and his hoofs pawing for the ground. The steep green hill was rushing towards them. A moment later he alighted on its slope, a little awkwardly. The children rolled off, fell without hurting themselves on the warm, fine grass, and stood up panting a little.
They were three-quarters of the way up the hill, and set out at once to climb to the top. (I don’t think Fledge could have managed this without his wings to balance him and to give him the help of aflutter now and then.) All round the very top of the hill ran a high wall of green turf. Inside the wall trees were growing. Their branches hung out over the wall; their leaves showed not only green but also blue and silver when the wind stirred them. When the travellers reached the top they walked nearly all the way round it outside the green wall before they found the gates: high gates of gold, fast shut, facing due east.
Up till now I think Fledge and Polly had had the idea that they would go in with Digory. But they thought so no longer. You never saw a place which was so obviously private. You could see at a glance that it belonged to someone else. Only a fool would dream of going in unless he had been sent there on very special business. Digory himself understood at once that the others wouldn’t and couldn’t come in with him. He went forward to the gates alone.
When he had come close up to them he saw words written on the gold with silver letters; something like this:
Come in by the gold gates or not at all, Take of my fruit for others or forbear, For those who steal or those who climb my wall Shall find their heart’s desire and find despair.
“Take of my fruit for others,” said Digory to himself. “Well, that’s what I’m going to do. It means I mustn’t eat any myself, I suppose. I don’t know what all that jaw in the last line is about. Come in by the gold gates. Well who’d want to climb a wall if he could get in by a gates.` But how do the gates open?” He laid his hand on them: and instantly they swung apart, opening inwards, turning on their hinges without the least noise.
Now that he could see into the place it looked more private than ever. He went in very solemnly, looking about him. Everything was very quiet inside. Even the fountain which rose near the middle of the garden made only the faintest sound. The lovely smell was all round him: it was a happy place but very serious.
He knew which was the right tree at once, partly because it stood in the very centre and partly because the great silver apples with which it was loaded shone so and cast a light of their own down on the shadowy places where the sunlight did not reach. He walked straight across to it, picked an apple, and put it in the breast pocket of his Norfolk jacket. But he couldn’t help looking at it and smelling it before he put it away.
It would have been better if he had not. A terrible thirst and hunger came over him and a longing to taste that fruit. He put it hastily into his pocket; but there were plenty of others. Could it be wrong to taste one? After all, he thought, the notice on the gate might not have been exactly an order; it might have been only a piece of advice – and who cares about advice? Or even if it were an order, would he be disobeying it by eating an apple? He had already obeyed the part about taking one “for others”.
While he was thinking of all this he happened to look up through the branches towards the top of the tree. There, on a branch above his head, a wonderful bird was roosting. I say “roosting” because it seemed almost asleep; perhaps not quite. The tiniest slit of one eye was open. It was larger than an eagle, its breast saffron, its head crested with scarlet, and its tail purple.
“And it just shows,” said Digory afterwards when he was telling the story to the others, “that you can’t be too careful in these magical places. You never know what may be watching you.” But I think Digory would not have taken an apple for himself in any case. Things like Do Not Steal were, I think, hammered into boys’ heads a good deal harder in those days than they are now. Still, we can never be certain.
Digory was just turning to go back to the gates when he stopped to have one last look around. He got a terrible shock. He was not alone. There, only a few yards away from him, stood the Witch. She was just throwing away the core of an apple which she had eaten. The juice was darker than you would expect and had made a horrid stain round her mouth. Digory guessed at once that she must have climbed in over the wall. And he began to see that there might be some sense in that last line about getting your heart’s desire and getting despair along with it. For the Witch looked stronger and prouder than ever, and even, in a way, triumphant; but her face was deadly white, white as salt.
All this flashed through Digory’s mind in a second; then he took to his heels and ran for the gates as hard as he could pelt; the Witch after him. As soon as he was out, the gates closed behind him of their own accord. That gave him the lead but not for long. By the time he had reached the others and was shouting out “Quick, get on, Polly! Get up, Fledge”, the Witch had climbed the wall, or vaulted over it, and was close behind him again.
“Stay where you are,” cried Digory, turning round to face her, “or we’ll all vanish. Don’t come an inch nearer.”
“Foolish boy,” said the Witch. “Why do you run from me? I mean you no harm. If you do not stop and listen to me now, you will miss some knowledge that would have made you happy all your life.”
“Well I don’t want to hear it, thanks,” said Digory. But he did.
“I know what errand you have come on,” continued the Witch. “For it was I who was close beside you in the woods last night and heard all your counsels. You have plucked fruit in the garden yonder. You have it in your pocket now. And you are going to carry it back, untasted, to the Lion; for him to eat, for him to use. You simpleton! Do you know what that fruit is? I will tell you. It is the apple of youth, the apple of life. I know, for I have tasted it; and I feel already such changes in myself that I know I shall never grow old or die. Eat it, Boy, eat it; and you and I will both live forever and be king and queen of this whole world – or of your world, if we decide to go back there.”
“No thanks,” said Digory, “I don’t know that I care much about living on and on after everyone I know is dead. I’d rather live an ordinary time and die and go to Heaven.”
“But what about this Mother of yours whom you pretend to love so?”
“What’s she got to do with it?” said Digory.
“Do you not see, Fool, that one bite of that apple would heal her? You have it in your pocket. We are here by ourselves and the Lion is far away. Use your Magic and go back to your own world. A minute later you can be at your Mother’s bedside, giving her the fruit. Five minutes later you will see the colour coming back to her face. She will tell you the pain is gone. Soon she will tell you she feels stronger. Then she will fall asleep – think of that; hours of sweet natural sleep, without pain, without drugs. Next day everyone will be saying how wonderfully she has recovered. Soon she will be quite well again. All will be well again. Your home will be happy again. You will be like other boys.”
“Oh!” gasped Digory as if he had been hurt, and put his hand to his head. For he now knew that the most terrible choice lay before him.
“What has the Lion ever done for you that you should be his slave?” said the Witch. “What can he do to you once you are back in your own world? And what would your Mother think if she knew that you could have taken her pain away and given her back her life and saved your Father’s heart from being broken, and that you wouldn’t – that you’d rather run messages for a wild animal in a strange world that is no business of yours?”
“I – I don’t think he is a wild animal,” said Digory in a dried-up sort of voice. “He is – I don’t know – “
“Then he is something worse,” said the Witch. “Look what he has done to you already; look how heartless he has made you. That is what he does to everyone who listens to him. Cruel, pitiless boy! you would let your own Mother die rather than – “
“Oh shut up,” said the miserable Digory, still in the same voice. “Do you think I don’t see? But I – I promised.”
“Ah, but you didn’t know what you were promising. And no one here can prevent you.”
“Mother herself,” said Digory, getting the words out with difficulty, “wouldn’t like it – awfully strict about keeping promises – and not stealing – and all that sort of thing. She’d tell me not to do it – quick as anything – if she was here.”
“But she need never know,” said the Witch, speaking more sweetly than you would have thought anyone with so fierce a face could speak. “You wouldn’t tell her how you’d got the apple. Your Father need never know. No one in your world need know anything about this whole story. You needn’t take the little girl back with you, you know.”
That was where the Witch made her fatal mistake. Of course Digory knew that Polly could get away by her own ring as easily as he could get away by his. But apparently the Witch didn’t know this. And the meanness of the suggestion that he should leave Polly behind suddenly made all the other things the Witch had been saying to him sound false and hollow. And even in the midst of all his misery, his head suddenly cleared, and he said (in a different and much louder’ voice):
“Look here; where do you come into all this? Why are you so precious fond of my Mother all of a sudden? What’s it got to do with you? What’s your game?”
“Good for you, Digs,” whispered Polly in his ear. “Quick! Get away now.” She hadn’t dared to say anything all through the argument because, you see, it wasn’t her Mother who was dying.
“Up then,” said Digory, heaving her on to Fledge’s back and then scrambling up as quickly as he could. The horse spread its wings.
“Go then, Fools,” called the Witch. “Think of me, Boy, when you lie old and weak and dying, and remember how you threw away the chance of endless youth! It won’t be offered you again.”
They were already so high that they could only just hear her. Nor did the Witch waste any time gazing up at them; they saw her set off northward down the slope of the hill.
They had started early that morning and what happened in the garden had not taken very long, so that Fledge and Polly both said they would easily get back to Narnia before nightfall. Digory never spoke on the way back, and the others were shy of speaking to him. He was very sad and he wasn’t even sure all the time that he had done the right thing; but whenever he remembered the shining tears in Aslan’s eyes he became sure.
All day Fledge flew steadily with untiring wings; eastward with the river to guide him, through the mountains and over the wild wooded hills, and then over the great waterfall and down, and down, to where the woods of Narnia were darkened by the shadow of the mighty cliff, till at last, when the sky was growing red with sunset behind them, he saw a place where many creatures were gathered together by the riverside. And soon he could see Aslan himself in the midst of them. Fledge glided down, spread out his four legs, closed his wings, and landed cantering. Then he pulled up. The children dismounted. Digory saw all the animals, dwarfs, satyrs, nymphs, and other things drawing back to the left and right to make way for him. He walked up to Aslan, handed him the apple and said:
“I’ve brought you the apple you wanted, sir.
“WAKE up, Digory, wake up, Fledge,” came the voice of Polly. “It has turned into a toffee tree. And it’s the loveliest morning.”