This story is best read as a continuation of Mazy Rings, Troublesome Things, though reading that story is not necessary.
Polly addressed the letter carefully, feeling a fresh burst of satisfaction with the ploy they had come upon two years past. She and Digory had quickly realised that sending letters to him in school from Polly Plummer was the sort of thing sure to make tutors, matrons, and headmasters sternly stare down their noses over horn-rimmed glasses and make alarming Hrrrm Harumph noises. The boys in his form would tease and bully him if a girl was writing to him who was not a sister or his mother.
She had once tried to pretend to be his sister, but her parents had seen the post from Polly Kirke and had come to very much the wrong conclusion. Digory was no longer the criminal her parents had thought him to be during that summer. Their alternative was far worse. Her parents had decided that Digory was not the wrong sort of boy at all because he was rich now and lived on a fine estate with stables, kennels, hot-houses, vineries, and a stately home with a grand ballroom, an enormous library, and suits of armor in queer, empty rooms. When they said the words eligible match she tried to not roll her eyes because if they knew it was not like that at all they might not let her go and stay with Digory over the hols.
More distressing still was that after seeing the letter she had addressed from Polly Kirke, her mother had taken her upstairs and, with much blushing and stammering, whispered where babies came from. Mother had said, "And of course, Polly, this is only something for a husband and a wife after holy matrimony before God and your families and you must wait until you are married to Digory. You must firmly tell him 'no' and cross your legs like a lady."
Polly did not like to lie and was not sure if saying nothing was actually a falsehood, or merely a technical omission. Digory would know. Regardless, she deemed it better to nod and make appropriate noises. She did not tell Mother that she already knew that offspring resulted from sexual intercourse between a male and female of the same species. This she had deduced after reading works by Mr. Darwin and others. Curious for more information, she and Digory had found books about humans in his family's library last summer. She could read some of the French book, Digory could read most of the German book, and the pictures were clear enough. They both decided it really was all very messy and not something interesting at all, even to do with your best friend. They had closed the books and gone out to the river for a swim instead.
After that fuss, Polly addressed and signed her letters P. Plummer and she made her handwriting a little rougher so that no one would think a girl was writing to Digory Kirke. Because someone at school might very well be rude and read her letters to him, she was also careful to not talk of any of the boring things girls of her station were expected to learn to do, like sewing, dancing, giving instructions to servants on folding linens and polishing plate, and what fork to use with the fish course at fancy dinners. Her letters instead were full of her descriptions of visits to the London Zoo, the Geological Society, the British Museum, and the things she learned to blow up in chemistry classes – they were supposed to be learning to make soufflés in her London day school but her instructor was quite mad.
She had also learned more about sexual intercourse at the Zoo and Museum but didn't write to Digory about that, either. He was not interested in it at all, unless there were pictures or statues of naked people and even then he was only looking at them to translate the Greek or Latin inscriptions. Polly had not decided if she was interested in naked people or being naked with someone yet, but knew she wasn't interested in it with Digory. And Polly really did not want her parents reading her letters in the hopes of finding love sonnets (Polly shuddered at the thought), and instead finding discussions of what the garter snakes or bears had been doing.
Digory's parents were happy to see her over the hols as she was the only girl Digory ever spoke to at all and they thought she was a good match, too. (How they both hated those words.) She came from a respectable family, had all her teeth, was well-spoken, and pretty enough, though she and Digory would both become annoyed when his mother tried to make her look like a Gibson Girl. So long as both her parents and his believed they were on their way to love, marriage, and many babies, they would not object to the (properly supervised) time they spent together. As they both had no interest in kissing one another, or anything else of that sort, that wasn't a problem, either.
Polly put her sealed letter away for posting in the morning. The house was quiet save for the ticking clock and the scurry of a mouse in the rafters overhead that connected all the houses in the row. It was time to turn off the lamps and go to bed.
A light flickering on the other side of the garden wall caught her eye. She leaned forward from her desk and squinted out the window. After that summer, she had moved her bedroom to a smaller room on the side of the house that gave her, when it was light out, a view of the splendid Apple Tree in Miss Ketterley's garden. In this way, she could watch the Tree and see how its leaves would sometimes quiver even when there was no wind.
Miss Ketterley lived in the house by herself now – the Kirkes had moved to the splendid country manor and taken Uncle Andrew with them. Once, Polly had been watching the tree shake on a clear, windless spring day. Miss Ketterley had been in the garden watching the tree, too. She turned suddenly and Polly knew that Miss Ketterley had seen her.
It was too late and dark to see much tonight from her window but there was surely someone skulking about the Apple Tree who should not be doing so. Polly shoved her boots on and hurried down the stairs and out the back door of the house. She had her pocketknife at her belt, a shrill policeman's whistle, and grabbed an iron poker from the fireplace on the way.
At the far end of the yard, she had rigged a bin and dug a foothold into the wall so that she could climb it without too much effort. These days, though, the gate was usually open. She wondered if Miss Ketterley's maid was careless.
Going as quietly as she could, in the dark, and Polly knew her way between the houses very well and didn't need any more light, she crept along the wall. She could hear the tree moving in a wind that was not blowing in London.
She froze, hearing the unmistakable sound of someone digging in dirt.
"I say!" she announced, loudly enough for the ne'er-do-well on the other side of the wall to hear her. "You should stop what you are doing immediately. I have a knife and a club and shall summon the police!"
"Oh dry up, Polly!" Miss Ketterley's voice said from the other side. "The gate's open. Come on over."
Polly marched through the gate.
Miss Ketterley was wearing mannish trousers, boots, and a long coat. She was wearing gloves and was on her hands and knees, digging up the dirt around the Apple Tree with a trowel. She had a lantern throwing a very narrow beam on to the ground and there was already a Green Ring humming and shining in the pool of light.
"What are you doing, Miss Ketterley?" Polly said very sternly. She was very angry that Miss Ketterley was disturbing the place where she and Digory had buried the Rings.
"Isn't that obvious?" She turned over a clump of earth. "Ah! There you are!" She lifted her trowel and slid a Yellow Ring on to the grass next to the Green one.
Polly was glad to see that Miss Ketterley was being careful and used her trowel to slide both Rings into a small, wooden box that was very old, carved with strange symbols and so very curious.
"You know what they are?" Polly asked.
Miss Ketterley snorted and stood. "Of course I do. Where do you think Andrew got the dirt to make them?"
"He said he made them from the dust of Atlantis."
"He got that much right. But he was meddling in things he did not understand and could not control."
"And you can?"
Polly was skeptical and did not think the Rings should be meddled with at all and certainly not by someone who was not sensible. Though, Miss Ketterley had always been the very sensible, ordinary, maiden aunt who crocheted doilies, fed the cats too much, always had a carpet bag, map, and umbrella, wore appropriate walking shoes, and took trips to the seaside twice a year.
"Mrs. Lefay trained me, not Andrew. I had the gift and he did not but then it hurt Mabel and I was through."
Polly felt a stirring of excitement. She had thought Uncle Andrew simply mad, and Jadis had said he was a very poor magician, but there was obviously more to this than she had suspected. "Are you a Magician?"
"If you mean formally trained in Magic, no."
How did one become formally trained? Was there a school? Miss Ketterley continued before Polly could ask the question.
"Magic never leaves you, though it does become rusted with disuse. I dusted it off and oiled up some parts that I haven't used in a long time. Andrew was forced to leave his books, papers, and experiments here –and I've been studying them. I decided I was ready to get the Rings and try to use them."
Polly remembered Aslan's words and that it would be terribly wrong to use the Rings. On the other hand, there were so many worlds besides Narnia that she could return to.
"Why do you want to use them?" Polly asked carefully.
"I have studied. I am old enough, hopefully wise enough, and confident enough in my skills to manage this. And there is that… well, she wasn't a woman, was she?"
"No. Her name was Jadis. From Charn."
"So that is what she is calling herself now."
"You know her?"
"No!" Miss Ketterley scoffed. "But she's wicked and I'm not surprised she stirred up trouble, again. I knew Mabel was sick with no ordinary illness. I knew that creature was part of its cause and I knew no cure could be found here. I never expected that you and Digory would find it, though." Sounding very sincere, she said, "Thank you for saving my sister."
"Digory did it, too. It was our mission, together."
Miss Ketterley looked skeptical. "Boys are weak. Men are weaker."
"In general, I do not disagree," Polly replied. "But I don't think you know Digory as well as I do and do not think he is weak at all."
"Perhaps. And now we come to it. I am going to try the Rings and see if I can find that thing that hurt my sister and keep her from doing it again."
"She is very strong," Polly said feelingly. "And powerfully magical. Maybe immortal."
"Then we warn others," Miss Ketterley said. With her gloved hand she put the Green Ring in her right coat pocket and the Yellow Ring in her left. Polly immediately approved of these very sensible measures.
"You have a police whistle, a pocketknife, and an iron poker, and are wearing boots. I think you are ready for an adventure, Polly."
"Yes," Polly said. "I rather think I am."
Because Liz deserves all the good things!