فصل 04-05

مجموعه: نیروی اهریمنی اش / کتاب: قطب نمای طلایی / فصل 3

فصل 04-05

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4 THE ALETHIOMETER

“I hope you’ll sit next to me at dinner,” said Mrs. Coulter, making room for Lyra on the sofa. “I’m not used to the grandeur of a Master’s lodging. You’ll have to show me which knife and fork to use.” “Are you a female Scholar?” said Lyra. She regarded female Scholars with a proper Jordan disdain: there were such people, but, poor things, they could never be taken more seriously than animals dressed up and acting a play. Mrs. Coulter, on the other hand, was not like any female Scholar Lyra had seen, and certainly not like the two serious elderly ladies who were the other female guests. Lyra had asked the question expecting the answer No, in fact, for Mrs. Coulter had such an air of glamour that Lyra was entranced. She could hardly take her eyes off her.

“Not really,” Mrs. Coulter said. “I’m a member of Dame Hannah’s college, but most of my work takes place outside Oxford.… Tell me about yourself, Lyra. Have you always lived at Jordan College?” Within five minutes Lyra had told her everything about her half-wild life: her favorite routes over the rooftops, the battle of the claybeds, the time she and Roger had caught and roasted a rook, her intention to capture a narrowboat from the gyptians and sail it to Abingdon, and so on. She even (looking around and lowering her voice) told her about the trick she and Roger had played on the skulls in the crypt.

“And these ghosts came, right, they came to my bedroom without their heads! They couldn’t talk except for making sort of gurgling noises, but I knew what they wanted all right. So I went down next day and put their coins back. They’d probably have killed me else.” “You’re not afraid of danger, then?” said Mrs. Coulter admiringly. They were at dinner by this time, and as Lyra had hoped, sitting next to each other. Lyra ignored completely the Librarian on her other side and spent the whole meal talking to Mrs. Coulter.

When the ladies withdrew for coffee, Dame Hannah said, “Tell me, Lyra—are they going to send you to school?”

Lyra looked blank. “I dun—I don’t know,” she said. “Probably not,” she added for safety. “I wouldn’t want to put them to any trouble,” she went on piously. “Or expense. It’s probably better if I just go on living at Jordan and getting educated by the Scholars here when they’ve got a bit of spare time. Being as they’re here already, they’re probably free.” “And does your uncle Lord Asriel have any plans for you?” said the other lady, who was a Scholar at the other women’s college.

“Yes,” said Lyra. “I expect so. Not school, though. He’s going to take me to the North next time he goes.”

“I remember him telling me,” said Mrs. Coulter.

Lyra blinked. The two female Scholars sat up very slightly, though their dæmons, either well behaved or torpid, did no more than flick their eyes at each other.

“I met him at the Royal Arctic Institute,” Mrs. Coulter went on. “As a matter of fact, it’s partly because of that meeting that I’m here today.”

“Are you an explorer too?” said Lyra.

“In a kind of way. I’ve been to the North several times. Last year I spent three months in Greenland making observations of the Aurora.”

That was it; nothing and no one else existed now for Lyra. She gazed at Mrs. Coulter with awe, and listened rapt and silent to her tales of igloo building, of seal hunting, of negotiating with the Lapland witches. The two female Scholars had nothing so exciting to tell, and sat in silence until the men came in.

Later, when the guests were preparing to leave, the Master said, “Stay behind, Lyra. I’d like to talk to you for a minute or two. Go to my study, child; sit down there and wait for me.” Puzzled, tired, exhilarated, Lyra did as he told her. Cousins the manservant showed her in, and pointedly left the door open so that he could see what she was up to from the hall, where he was helping people on with their coats. Lyra watched for Mrs. Coulter, but she didn’t see her, and then the Master came into the study and shut the door.

He sat down heavily in the armchair by the fireplace. His dæmon flapped up to the chair back and sat by his head, her old hooded eyes on Lyra. The lamp hissed gently as the Master said: “So, Lyra. You’ve been talking to Mrs. Coulter. Did you enjoy hearing what she said?”

“Yes!”

“She is a remarkable lady.”

“She’s wonderful. She’s the most wonderful person I’ve ever met.”

The Master sighed. In his black suit and black tie he looked as much like his dæmon as anyone could, and suddenly Lyra thought that one day, quite soon, he would be buried in the crypt under the oratory, and an artist would engrave a picture of his dæmon on the brass plate for his coffin, and her name would share the space with his.

“I should have made time before now for a talk with you, Lyra,” he said after a few moments. “I was intending to do so in any case, but it seems that time is further on than I thought. You have been safe here in Jordan, my dear. I think you’ve been happy. You haven’t found it easy to obey us, but we are very fond of you, and you’ve never been a bad child. There’s a lot of goodness and sweetness in your nature, and a lot of determination. You’re going to need all of that. Things are going on in the wide world I would have liked to protect you from—by keeping you here in Jordan, I mean—but that’s no longer possible.” She merely stared. Were they going to send her away?

“You knew that sometime you’d have to go to school,” the Master went on. “We have taught you some things here, but not well or systematically. Our knowledge is of a different kind. You need to know things that elderly men are not able to teach you, especially at the age you are now. You must have been aware of that. You’re not a servant’s child either; we couldn’t put you out to be fostered by a town family. They might have cared for you in some ways, but your needs are different. You see, what I’m saying to you, Lyra, is that the part of your life that belongs to Jordan College is coming to an end.” “No,” she said, “no, I don’t want to leave Jordan. I like it here. I want to stay here forever.”

“When you’re young, you do think that things last forever. Unfortunately, they don’t. Lyra, it won’t be long—a couple of years at most—before you will be a young woman, and not a child anymore. A young lady. And believe me, you’ll find Jordan College a far from easy place to live in then.” “But it’s my home!”

“It has been your home. But now you need something else.”

“Not school. I’m not going to school.”

“You need female company. Female guidance.”

The word female only suggested female Scholars to Lyra, and she involuntarily made a face. To be exiled from the grandeur of Jordan, the splendor and fame of its scholarship, to a dingy brick-built boardinghouse of a college at the northern end of Oxford, with dowdy female Scholars who smelled of cabbage and mothballs like those two at dinner!

The Master saw her expression, and saw Pantalaimon’s polecat eyes flash red.

He said, “But suppose it were Mrs. Coulter?”

Instantly Pantalaimon’s fur changed from coarse brown to downy white. Lyra’s eyes widened.

“Really?”

“She is by way of being acquainted with Lord Asriel. Your uncle, of course, is very concerned with your welfare, and when Mrs. Coulter heard about you, she offered at once to help. There is no Mr. Coulter, by the way; she is a widow. Her husband died very sadly in an accident some years ago; so you might bear that in mind before you ask.” Lyra nodded eagerly, and said, “And she’s really going to … look after me?”

“Would you like that?”

“Yes!”

She could hardly sit still. The Master smiled. He smiled so rarely that he was out of practice, and anyone watching (Lyra wasn’t in a state to notice) would have said it was a grimace of sadness.

“Well, we had better ask her in to talk about it,” he said.

He left the room, and when he came back a minute later with Mrs. Coulter, Lyra was on her feet, too excited to sit. Mrs. Coulter smiled, and her dæmon bared his white teeth in a grin of implike pleasure. As she passed her on the way to the armchair, Mrs. Coulter touched Lyra’s hair briefly, and Lyra felt a current of warmth flow into her, and blushed.

When the Master had poured some brantwijn for her, Mrs. Coulter said, “So, Lyra, I’m to have an assistant, am I?”

“Yes,” said Lyra simply. She would have said yes to anything.

“There’s a lot of work I need help with.”

“I can work!”

“And we might have to travel.”

“I don’t mind. I’d go anywhere.”

“But it might be dangerous. We might have to go to the North.”

Lyra was speechless. Then she found her voice: “Soon?”

Mrs. Coulter laughed and said, “Possibly. But you know you’ll have to work very hard. You’ll have to learn mathematics, and navigation, and celestial geography.” “Will you teach me?”

“Yes. And you’ll have to help me by making notes and putting my papers in order and doing various pieces of basic calculation, and so on. And because we’ll be visiting some important people, we’ll have to find you some pretty clothes. There’s a lot to learn, Lyra.” “I don’t mind. I want to learn it all.”

“I’m sure you will. When you come back to Jordan College, you’ll be a famous traveler. Now we’re going to leave very early in the morning, by the dawn zeppelin, so you’d better run along and go straight to bed. I’ll see you at breakfast. Goodnight!” “Goodnight,” said Lyra, and, remembering the few manners she had, turned at the door and said, “Goodnight, Master.”

He nodded. “Sleep well,” he said.

“And thanks,” Lyra added to Mrs. Coulter.

She did sleep, finally, though Pantalaimon wouldn’t settle until she snapped at him, when he became a hedgehog out of pique. It was still dark when someone shook her awake.

“Lyra—hush—don’t start—wake up, child.”

It was Mrs. Lonsdale. She was holding a candle, and she bent over and spoke quietly, holding Lyra still with her free hand.

“Listen. The Master wants to see you before you join Mrs. Coulter for breakfast. Get up quickly and run across to the lodging now. Go into the garden and tap at the French window of the study. You understand?” Fully awake and on fire with puzzlement, Lyra nodded and slipped her bare feet into the shoes Mrs. Lonsdale put down for her.

“Never mind washing—that’ll do later. Go straight down and come straight back. I’ll start your packing and have something for you to wear. Hurry now.”

The dark quadrangle was still full of the chill night air. Overhead the last stars were still visible, but the light from the east was gradually soaking into the sky above the Hall. Lyra ran into the Library Garden, and stood for a moment in the immense hush, looking up at the stone pinnacles of the chapel, the pearl-green cupola of the Sheldon Building, the white-painted lantern of the Library. Now that she was going to leave these sights, she wondered how much she’d miss them.

Something stirred in the study window and a glow of light shone out for a moment. She remembered what she had to do and tapped on the glass door. It opened almost at once.

“Good girl. Come in quickly. We haven’t got long,” said the Master, and drew the curtain back across the door as soon as she had entered. He was fully dressed in his usual black.

“Aren’t I going after all?” Lyra asked.

“Yes; I can’t prevent it,” said the Master, and Lyra didn’t notice at the time what an odd thing that was to say. “Lyra, I’m going to give you something, and you must promise to keep it private. Will you swear to that?” “Yes,” Lyra said.

He crossed to the desk and took from a drawer a small package wrapped in black velvet. When he unfolded the cloth, Lyra saw something like a large watch or a small clock: a thick disk of gold and crystal. It might have been a compass or something of the sort.

“What is it?” she said.

“It’s an alethiometer. It’s one of only six that were ever made. Lyra, I urge you again: keep it private. It would be better if Mrs. Coulter didn’t know about it. Your uncle—” “But what does it do?”

“It tells you the truth. As for how to read it, you’ll have to learn by yourself. Now go—it’s getting lighter—hurry back to your room before anyone sees you.” He folded the velvet over the instrument and thrust it into her hands. It was surprisingly heavy. Then he put his own hands on either side of her head and held her gently for a moment.

She tried to look up at him, and said, “What were you going to say about Uncle Asriel?”

“Your uncle presented it to Jordan College some years ago. He might—”

Before he could finish, there came a soft urgent knock on the door. She could feel his hands give an involuntary tremor.

“Quick now, child,” he said quietly. “The powers of this world are very strong. Men and women are moved by tides much fiercer than you can imagine, and they sweep us all up into the current. Go well, Lyra; bless you, child, bless you. Keep your own counsel.” “Thank you, Master,” she said dutifully.

Clutching the bundle to her breast, she left the study by the garden door, looking back briefly once to see the Master’s dæmon watching her from the windowsill. The sky was lighter already; there was a faint fresh stir in the air.

“What’s that you’ve got?” said Mrs. Lonsdale, closing the battered little suitcase with a snap.

“The Master gave it me. Can’t it go in the suitcase?”

“Too late. I’m not opening it now. It’ll have to go in your coat pocket, whatever it is. Hurry on down to the buttery; don’t keep them waiting.…”

It was only after she’d said goodbye to the few servants who were up, and to Mrs. Lonsdale, that she remembered Roger; and then she felt guilty for not having thought of him once since meeting Mrs. Coulter. How quickly it had all happened! But no doubt Mrs. Coulter would help her look for him, and she was bound to have powerful friends who could get him back from wherever he’d disappeared to. He was bound to turn up eventually.

And now she was on her way to London: sitting next to the window in a zeppelin, no less, with Pantalaimon’s sharp little ermine paws digging into her thigh while his front paws rested against the glass he gazed through. On Lyra’s other side Mrs. Coulter sat working through some papers, but she soon put them away and talked. Such brilliant talk! Lyra was intoxicated; not about the North this time, but about London, and the restaurants and ballrooms, the soirées at embassies or ministries, the intrigues between White Hall and Westminster. Lyra was almost more fascinated by this than by the changing landscape below the airship. What Mrs. Coulter was saying seemed to be accompanied by a scent of grownupness, something disturbing but enticing at the same time: it was the smell of glamour.

The landing in Falkeshall Gardens, the boat ride across the wide brown river, the grand mansion block on the Embankment where a stout commissionaire (a sort of porter with medals) saluted Mrs. Coulter and winked at Lyra, who sized him up expressionlessly.

And then the flat …

Lyra could only gasp.

She had seen a great deal of beauty in her short life, but it was Jordan College beauty, Oxford beauty—grand and stony and masculine. In Jordan College, much was magnificent, but nothing was pretty. In Mrs. Coulter’s flat, everything was pretty. It was full of light, for the wide windows faced south, and the walls were covered in a delicate gold-and-white striped wallpaper. Charming pictures in gilt frames, an antique looking-glass, fanciful sconces bearing anbaric lamps with frilled shades; and frills on the cushions too, and flowery valances over the curtain rail, and a soft green leaf-pattern carpet underfoot; and every surface was covered, it seemed to Lyra’s innocent eye, with pretty little china boxes and shepherdesses and harlequins of porcelain.

Mrs. Coulter smiled at her admiration.

“Yes, Lyra,” she said, “there’s such a lot to show you! Take your coat off and I’ll take you to the bathroom. You can have a wash, and then we’ll have some lunch and go shopping.…” The bathroom was another wonder. Lyra was used to washing with hard yellow soap in a chipped basin, where the water that struggled out of the taps was warm at best, and often flecked with rust. But here the water was hot, the soap rose-pink and fragrant, the towels thick and cloud-soft. And around the edge of the tinted mirror there were little pink lights, so that when Lyra looked into it she saw a softly illuminated figure quite unlike the Lyra she knew.

Pantalaimon, who was imitating the form of Mrs. Coulter’s dæmon, crouched on the edge of the basin making faces at her. She pushed him into the soapy water and suddenly remembered the alethiometer in her coat pocket. She’d left the coat on a chair in the other room. She’d promised the Master to keep it secret from Mrs. Coulter.… Oh, this was confusing. Mrs. Coulter was so kind and wise, whereas Lyra had actually seen the Master trying to poison Uncle Asriel. Which of them did she owe most obedience to?

She rubbed herself dry hastily and hurried back to the sitting room, where her coat still lay untouched, of course.

“Ready?” said Mrs. Coulter. “I thought we’d go to the Royal Arctic Institute for lunch. I’m one of the very few female members, so I might as well use the privileges I have.” Twenty minutes’ walk took them to a grand stone-fronted building where they sat in a wide dining room with snowy cloths and bright silver on the tables, and ate calves’ liver and bacon.

“Calves’ liver is all right,” Mrs. Coulter told her, “and so is seal liver, but if you’re stuck for food in the Arctic, you mustn’t eat bear liver. That’s full of a poison that’ll kill you in minutes.” As they ate, Mrs. Coulter pointed out some of the members at the other tables.

“D’you see the elderly gentleman with the red tie? That’s Colonel Carborn. He made the first balloon flight over the North Pole. And the tall man by the window who’s just got up is Dr. Broken Arrow.” “Is he a Skraeling?”

“Yes. He was the man who mapped the ocean currents in the Great Northern Ocean.…”

Lyra looked at them all, these great men, with curiosity and awe. They were Scholars, no doubt about that, but they were explorers too. Dr. Broken Arrow would know about bear livers; she doubted whether the Librarian of Jordan College would.

After lunch Mrs. Coulter showed her some of the precious arctic relics in the institute library—the harpoon with which the great whale Grimssdur had been killed; the stone carved with an inscription in an unknown language which was found in the hand of the explorer Lord Rukh, frozen to death in his lonely tent; a fire-striker used by Captain Hudson on his famous voyage to Van Tieren’s Land. She told the story of each one, and Lyra felt her heart stir with admiration for these great, brave, distant heroes.

And then they went shopping. Everything on this extraordinary day was a new experience for Lyra, but shopping was the most dizzying. To go into a vast building full of beautiful clothes, where people let you try them on, where you looked at yourself in mirrors … And the clothes were so pretty.… Lyra’s clothes had come to her through Mrs. Lonsdale, and a lot of them had been handed down and much mended. She had seldom had anything new, and when she had, it had been picked for wear and not for looks; and she had never chosen anything for herself. And now to find Mrs. Coulter suggesting this, and praising that, and paying for it all, and more … By the time they’d finished, Lyra was flushed and bright-eyed with tiredness. Mrs. Coulter ordered most of the clothes packed up and delivered, and took one or two things with her when she and Lyra walked back to the flat.

Then a bath, with thick scented foam. Mrs. Coulter came into the bathroom to wash Lyra’s hair, and she didn’t rub and scrape like Mrs. Lonsdale either. She was gentle. Pantalaimon watched with powerful curiosity until Mrs. Coulter looked at him, and he knew what she meant and turned away, averting his eyes modestly from these feminine mysteries as the golden monkey was doing. He had never had to look away from Lyra before.

Then, after the bath, a warm drink with milk and herbs; and a new flannel nightdress with printed flowers and a scalloped hem, and sheepskin slippers dyed soft blue; and then bed.

So soft, this bed! So gentle, the anbaric light on the bedside table! And the bedroom so cozy with little cupboards and a dressing table and a chest of drawers where her new clothes would go, and a carpet from one wall to the other, and pretty curtains covered in stars and moons and planets! Lyra lay stiffly, too tired to sleep, too enchanted to question anything.

When Mrs. Coulter had wished her a soft goodnight and gone out, Pantalaimon plucked at her hair. She brushed him away, but he whispered, “Where’s the thing?”

She knew at once what he meant. Her old shabby overcoat hung in the wardrobe; a few seconds later, she was back in bed, sitting up cross-legged in the lamplight, with Pantalaimon watching closely as she unfolded the black velvet and looked at what it was the Master had given her.

“What did he call it?” she whispered.

“An alethiometer.”

There was no point in asking what that meant. It lay heavily in her hands, the crystal face gleaming, the golden body exquisitely machined. It was very like a clock, or a compass, for there were hands pointing to places around the dial, but instead of the hours or the points of the compass there were several little pictures, each of them painted with extraordinary precision, as if on ivory with the finest and slenderest sable brush. She turned the dial around to look at them all. There was an anchor; an hourglass surmounted by a skull; a chameleon, a bull, a beehive … Thirty-six altogether, and she couldn’t even guess what they meant.

“There’s a wheel, look,” said Pantalaimon. “See if you can wind it up.”

There were three little knurled winding wheels, in fact, and each of them turned one of the three shorter hands, which moved around the dial in a series of smooth satisfying clicks. You could arrange them to point at any of the pictures, and once they had clicked into position, pointing exactly at the center of each one, they would not move.

The fourth hand was longer and more slender, and seemed to be made of a duller metal than the other three. Lyra couldn’t control its movement at all; it swung where it wanted to, like a compass needle, except that it didn’t settle.

“Meter means measure,” said Pantalaimon. “Like thermometer. The Chaplain told us that.”

“Yes, but that’s the easy bit,” she whispered back. “What d’you think it’s for?”

Neither of them could guess. Lyra spent a long time turning the hands to point at one symbol or another (angel, helmet, dolphin; globe, lute, compasses; candle, thunderbolt, horse) and watching the long needle swing on its never-ceasing errant way, and although she understood nothing, she was intrigued and delighted by the complexity and the detail. Pantalaimon became a mouse to get closer to it, and rested his tiny paws on the edge, his button eyes bright black with curiosity as he watched the needle swing.

“What do you think the Master meant about Uncle Asriel?” she said.

“Perhaps we’ve got to keep it safe and give it to him.”

“But the Master was going to poison him! Perhaps it’s the opposite. Perhaps he was going to say don’t give it to him.”

“No,” Pantalaimon said, “it was her we had to keep it safe from—”

There was a soft knock on the door.

Mrs. Coulter said, “Lyra, I should put the light out if I were you. You’re tired, and we’ll be busy tomorrow.”

Lyra had thrust the alethiometer swiftly under the blankets.

“All right, Mrs. Coulter,” she said.

“Goodnight now.”

“Goodnight.”

She snuggled down and switched off the light. Before she fell asleep, she tucked the alethiometer under the pillow, just in case.

5 THE COCKTAIL PARTY

In the days that followed, Lyra went everywhere with Mrs. Coulter, almost as if she were a dæmon herself. Mrs. Coulter knew a great many people, and they met in all kinds of different places: in the morning there might be a meeting of geographers at the Royal Arctic Institute, and Lyra would sit by and listen; and then Mrs. Coulter might meet a politician or a cleric for lunch in a smart restaurant, and they would be very taken with Lyra and order special dishes for her, and she would learn how to eat asparagus or what sweetbreads tasted like. And then in the afternoon there might be more shopping, for Mrs. Coulter was preparing her expedition, and there were furs and oilskins and waterproof boots to buy, as well as sleeping bags and knives and drawing instruments that delighted Lyra’s heart. After that they might go to tea and meet some ladies, as well dressed as Mrs. Coulter if not so beautiful or accomplished: women so unlike female Scholars or gyptian boat mothers or college servants as almost to be a new sex altogether, one with dangerous powers and qualities such as elegance, charm, and grace. Lyra would be dressed up prettily for these occasions, and the ladies would pamper her and include her in their graceful delicate talk, which was all about people: this artist, or that politician, or those lovers.

And when the evening came, Mrs. Coulter might take Lyra to the theater, and again there would be lots of glamorous people to talk to and be admired by, for it seemed that Mrs. Coulter knew everyone important in London.

In the intervals between all these other activities Mrs. Coulter would teach her the rudiments of geography and mathematics. Lyra’s knowledge had great gaps in it, like a map of the world largely eaten by mice, for at Jordan they had taught her in a piecemeal and disconnected way: a junior Scholar would be detailed to catch her and instruct her in such-and-such, and the lessons would continue for a sullen week or so until she “forgot” to turn up, to the Scholar’s relief. Or else a Scholar would forget what he was supposed to teach her, and drill her at great length about the subject of his current research, whatever that happened to be. It was no wonder her knowledge was patchy. She knew about atoms and elementary particles, and anbaromagnetic charges and the four fundamental forces and other bits and pieces of experimental theology, but nothing about the solar system. In fact, when Mrs. Coulter realized this and explained how the earth and the other five planets revolved around the sun, Lyra laughed loudly at the joke.

However, she was keen to show that she did know some things, and when Mrs. Coulter was telling her about electrons, she said expertly, “Yes, they’re negatively charged particles. Sort of like Dust, except that Dust isn’t charged.” As soon as she said that, Mrs. Coulter’s dæmon snapped his head up to look at her, and all the golden fur on his little body stood up, bristling, as if it were charged itself. Mrs. Coulter laid a hand on his back.

“Dust?” she said.

“Yeah. You know, from space, that Dust.”

“What do you know about Dust, Lyra?”

“Oh, that it comes out of space, and it lights people up, if you have a special sort of camera to see it by. Except not children. It doesn’t affect children.” “Where did you learn that from?”

By now Lyra was aware that there was a powerful tension in the room, because Pantalaimon had crept ermine-like onto her lap and was trembling violently.

“Just someone in Jordan,” Lyra said vaguely. “I forget who. I think it was one of the Scholars.”

“Was it in one of your lessons?”

“Yes, it might have been. Or else it might’ve been just in passing. Yes. I think that was it. This Scholar, I think he was from New Denmark, he was talking to the Chaplain about Dust and I was just passing and it sounded interesting so I couldn’t help stopping to listen. That’s what it was.” “I see,” said Mrs. Coulter.

“Is it right, what he told me? Did I get it wrong?”

“Well, I don’t know. I’m sure you know much more than I do. Let’s get back to those electrons.…”

Later, Pantalaimon said, “You know when all the fur stood up on her dæmon? Well, I was behind him, and she grabbed his fur so tight her knuckles went white. You couldn’t see. It was a long time till his fur went down. I thought he was going to leap at you.” That was strange, no doubt; but neither of them knew what to make of it.

And finally, there were other kinds of lessons so gently and subtly given that they didn’t feel like lessons at all. How to wash one’s own hair; how to judge which colors suited one; how to say no in such a charming way that no offense was given; how to put on lipstick, powder, scent. To be sure, Mrs. Coulter didn’t teach Lyra the latter arts directly, but she knew Lyra was watching when she made herself up, and she took care to let Lyra see where she kept the cosmetics, and to allow her time on her own to explore and try them out for herself.

Time passed, and autumn began to change into winter. From time to time Lyra thought of Jordan College, but it seemed small and quiet compared to the busy life she led now. Every so often she thought of Roger, too, and felt uneasy, but there was an opera to go to, or a new dress to wear, or the Royal Arctic Institute to visit, and then she forgot him again.

When Lyra had been living there for six weeks or so, Mrs. Coulter decided to hold a cocktail party. Lyra had the impression that there was something to celebrate, though Mrs. Coulter never said what it was. She ordered flowers, she discussed canapés and drinks with the caterer, and she spent a whole evening with Lyra deciding whom to invite.

“We must have the archbishop. I couldn’t afford to leave him out, though he’s the most hateful old snob. Lord Boreal is in town: he’ll be fun. And the Princess Postnikova. Do you think it would be right to invite Erik Andersson? I wonder if it’s about time to take him up.…” Erik Andersson was the latest fashionable dancer. Lyra had no idea what “take him up” meant, but she enjoyed giving her opinion nonetheless. She dutifully wrote down all the names Mrs. Coulter suggested, spelling them atrociously and then crossing them out when Mrs. Coulter decided against them after all.

When Lyra went to bed, Pantalaimon whispered from the pillow:

“She’s never going to the North! She’s going to keep us here forever. When are we going to run away?”

“She is,” Lyra whispered back. “You just don’t like her. Well, that’s hard luck. I like her. And why would she be teaching us navigation and all that if she wasn’t going to take us north?” “To stop you getting impatient, that’s why. You don’t really want to stand around at the cocktail party being all sweet and pretty. She’s just making a pet out of you.” Lyra turned her back and closed her eyes. But what Pantalaimon said was true. She had been feeling confined and cramped by this polite life, however luxurious it was. She would have given anything for a day with Roger and her Oxford ragamuffin friends, with a battle in the claybeds and a race along the canal. The one thing that kept her polite and attentive to Mrs. Coulter was that tantalizing hope of going north. Perhaps they would meet Lord Asriel. Perhaps he and Mrs. Coulter would fall in love, and they would get married and adopt Lyra, and go and rescue Roger from the Gobblers.

On the afternoon of the cocktail party, Mrs. Coulter took Lyra to a fashionable hairdresser’s, where her stiff dark blond hair was softened and waved, and her nails were filed and polished, and where they even applied a little makeup to her eyes and lips to show her how to do it. Then they went to collect the new dress Mrs. Coulter had ordered for her, and to buy some patent-leather shoes, and then it was time to go back to the flat and check the flowers and get dressed.

“Not the shoulder bag, dear,” said Mrs. Coulter as Lyra came out of her bedroom, glowing with a sense of her own prettiness.

Lyra had taken to wearing a little white leather shoulder bag everywhere, so as to keep the alethiometer close at hand. Mrs. Coulter, loosening the cramped way some roses had been bunched into a vase, saw that Lyra wasn’t moving and glanced pointedly at the door.

“Oh, please, Mrs. Coulter, I do love this bag!”

“Not indoors, Lyra. It looks absurd to be carrying a shoulder bag in your own home. Take it off at once, and come and help check these glasses.…”

It wasn’t so much her snappish tone as the words “in your own home” that made Lyra resist stubbornly. Pantalaimon flew to the floor and instantly became a polecat, arching his back against her little white ankle socks. Encouraged by this, Lyra said: “But it won’t be in the way. And it’s the only thing I really like wearing. I think it really suits—”

She didn’t finish the sentence, because Mrs. Coulter’s dæmon sprang off the sofa in a blur of golden fur and pinned Pantalaimon to the carpet before he could move. Lyra cried out in alarm, and then in fear and pain, as Pantalaimon twisted this way and that, shrieking and snarling, unable to loosen the golden monkey’s grip. Only a few seconds, and the monkey had overmastered him: with one fierce black paw around his throat and his black paws gripping the polecat’s lower limbs, he took one of Pantalaimon’s ears in his other paw and pulled as if he intended to tear it off. Not angrily, either, but with a cold curious force that was horrifying to see and even worse to feel.

Lyra sobbed in terror.

“Don’t! Please! Stop hurting us!”

Mrs. Coulter looked up from her flowers.

“Do as I tell you, then,” she said.

“I promise!”

The golden monkey stepped away from Pantalaimon as if he were suddenly bored. Pantalaimon fled to Lyra at once, and she scooped him up to her face to kiss and gentle.

“Now, Lyra,” said Mrs. Coulter.

Lyra turned her back abruptly and slammed into her bedroom, but no sooner had she banged the door shut behind her than it opened again. Mrs. Coulter was standing there only a foot or two away.

“Lyra, if you behave in this coarse and vulgar way, we shall have a confrontation, which I will win. Take off that bag this instant. Control that unpleasant frown. Never slam a door again in my hearing or out of it. Now, the first guests will be arriving in a few minutes, and they are going to find you perfectly behaved, sweet, charming, innocent, attentive, delightful in every way. I particularly wish for that, Lyra, do you understand me?” “Yes, Mrs. Coulter.”

“Then kiss me.”

She bent a little and offered her cheek. Lyra had to stand on tiptoe to kiss it. She noticed how smooth it was, and the slight perplexing smell of Mrs. Coulter’s flesh: scented, but somehow metallic. She drew away and laid the shoulder bag on her dressing table before following Mrs. Coulter back to the drawing room.

“What do you think of the flowers, dear?” said Mrs. Coulter as sweetly as if nothing had happened. “I suppose one can’t go wrong with roses, but you can have too much of a good thing.… Have the caterers brought enough ice? Be a dear and go and ask. Warm drinks are horrid.…” Lyra found it was quite easy to pretend to be lighthearted and charming, though she was conscious every second of Pantalaimon’s disgust, and of his hatred for the golden monkey. Presently the doorbell rang, and soon the room was filling up with fashionably dressed ladies and handsome or distinguished men. Lyra moved among them offering canapés or smiling sweetly and making pretty answers when they spoke to her. She felt like a universal pet, and the second she voiced that thought to herself, Pantalaimon stretched his goldfinch wings and chirruped loudly.

She sensed his glee at having proved her right, and became a little more retiring.

“And where do you go to school, my dear?” said an elderly lady, inspecting Lyra through a lorgnette.

“I don’t go to school,” Lyra told her.

“Really? I thought your mother would have sent you to her old school. A very good place …”

Lyra was mystified until she realized the old lady’s mistake.

“Oh! She’s not my mother! I’m just here helping her. I’m her personal assistant,” she said importantly.

“I see. And who are your people?”

Again Lyra had to wonder what she meant before replying.

“They were a count and countess,” she said. “They both died in an aeronautical accident in the North.”

“Which count?”

“Count Belacqua. He was Lord Asriel’s brother.”

The old lady’s dæmon, a scarlet macaw, shifted as if in irritation from one foot to another. The old lady was beginning to frown with curiosity, so Lyra smiled sweetly and moved on.

She was going past a group of men and one young woman near the large sofa when she heard the word Dust. She had seen enough of society now to understand when men and women were flirting, and she watched the process with fascination, though she was more fascinated by the mention of Dust, and she hung back to listen. The men seemed to be Scholars; from the way the young woman was questioning them, Lyra took her to be a student of some kind.

“It was discovered by a Muscovite—stop me if you know this already—” a middle-aged man was saying, as the young woman gazed at him in admiration, “a man called Rusakov, and they’re usually called Rusakov Particles after him. Elementary particles that don’t interact in any way with others—very hard to detect, but the extraordinary thing is that they seem to be attracted to human beings.” “Really?” said the young woman, wide-eyed.

“And even more extraordinary,” he went on, “some human beings more than others. Adults attract it, but not children. At least, not much, and not until adolescence. In fact, that’s the very reason—” His voice dropped, and he moved closer to the young woman, putting his hand confidentially on her shoulder. “—that’s the very reason the Oblation Board was set up. As our good hostess here could tell you.” “Really? Is she involved with the Oblation Board?”

“My dear, she is the Oblation Board. It’s entirely her own project—”

The man was about to tell her more when he caught sight of Lyra. She stared back at him unblinkingly, and perhaps he had had a little too much to drink, or perhaps he was keen to impress the young woman, for he said: “This little lady knows all about it, I’ll be bound. You’re safe from the Oblation Board, aren’t you, my dear?”

“Oh, yes,” said Lyra. “I’m safe from everyone here. Where I used to live, in Oxford, there was all kinds of dangerous things. There was gyptians—they take kids and sell ’em to the Turks for slaves. And on Port Meadow at the full moon there’s a werewolf that comes out from the old nunnery at Godstow. I heard him howling once. And there’s the Gobblers.…” “That’s what I mean,” the man said. “That’s what they call the Oblation Board, don’t they?”

Lyra felt Pantalaimon tremble suddenly, but he was on his best behavior. The dæmons of the two grownups, a cat and a butterfly, didn’t seem to notice.

“Gobblers?” said the young woman. “What a peculiar name! Why do they call them Gobblers?”

Lyra was about to tell her one of the bloodcurdling stories she’d made up to frighten the Oxford kids with, but the man was already speaking.

“From the initials, d’you see? General Oblation Board. Very old idea, as a matter of fact. In the Middle Ages, parents would give their children to the church to be monks or nuns. And the unfortunate brats were known as oblates. Means a sacrifice, an offering, something of that sort. So the same idea was taken up when they were looking into the Dust business.… As our little friend probably knows. Why don’t you go and talk to Lord Boreal?” he added to Lyra directly. “I’m sure he’d like to meet Mrs. Coulter’s protegée.… That’s him, the man with gray hair and the serpent dæmon.” He wanted to get rid of Lyra so that he could talk more privately with the young woman; Lyra could tell that easily. But the young woman, it seemed, was still interested in Lyra, and slipped away from the man to talk to her.

“Stop a minute.… What’s your name?”

“Lyra.”

“I’m Adèle Starminster. I’m a journalist. Could I have a quiet word?”

Thinking it only natural that people should wish to talk to her, Lyra said simply, “Yes.”

The woman’s butterfly dæmon rose into the air, casting about to left and right, and fluttered down to whisper something, at which Adèle Starminster said, “Come to the window seat.” This was a favorite spot of Lyra’s; it overlooked the river, and at this time of night, the lights across on the south bank were glittering brilliantly over their reflections in the black water of the high tide. A line of barges hauled by a tug moved upriver. Adèle Starminster sat down and moved along the cushioned seat to make room.

“Did Professor Docker say that you had some connection with Mrs. Coulter?”

“Yes.”

“What is it? You’re not her daughter, by any chance? I suppose I should know—”

“No!” said Lyra. “ ’Course not. I’m her personal assistant.”

“Her personal assistant? You’re a bit young, aren’t you? I thought you were related to her or something. What’s she like?”

“She’s very clever,” said Lyra. Before this evening she would have said much more, but things were changing.

“Yes, but personally,” Adèle Starminster insisted. “I mean, is she friendly or impatient or what? Do you live here with her? What’s she like in private?” “She’s very nice,” said Lyra stolidly.

“What sort of things do you do? How do you help her?”

“I do calculations and all that. Like for navigation.”

“Ah, I see.… And where do you come from? What was your name again?”

“Lyra. I come from Oxford.”

“Why did Mrs. Coulter pick you to—”

She stopped very suddenly, because Mrs. Coulter herself had appeared close by. From the way Adèle Starminster looked up at her, and the agitated way her dæmon was fluttering around her head, Lyra could tell that the young woman wasn’t supposed to be at the party at all.

“I don’t know your name,” said Mrs. Coulter very quietly, “but I shall find it out within five minutes, and then you will never work as a journalist again. Now get up very quietly, without making a fuss, and leave. I might add that whoever brought you here will also suffer.” Mrs. Coulter seemed to be charged with some kind of anbaric force. She even smelled different: a hot smell, like heated metal, came off her body. Lyra had felt something of it earlier, but now she was seeing it directed at someone else, and poor Adèle Starminster had no force to resist. Her dæmon fell limp on her shoulder and flapped his gorgeous wings once or twice before fainting, and the woman herself seemed to be unable to stand fully upright. Moving in a slight awkward crouch, she made her way through the press of loudly talking guests and out of the drawing room door. She had one hand clutched to her shoulder, holding the swooning dæmon in place.

“Well?” said Mrs. Coulter to Lyra.

“I never told her anything important,” Lyra said.

“What was she asking?”

“Just about what I was doing and who I was, and stuff like that.”

As she said that, Lyra noticed that Mrs. Coulter was alone, without her dæmon. How could that be? But a moment later the golden monkey appeared at her side, and, reaching down, she took his hand and swung him up lightly to her shoulder. At once she seemed at ease again.

“If you come across anyone else who obviously hasn’t been invited, dear, do come and find me, won’t you?”

The hot metallic smell was vanishing. Perhaps Lyra had only imagined it. She could smell Mrs. Coulter’s scent again, and the roses, and the cigarillo smoke, and the scent of other women. Mrs. Coulter smiled at Lyra in a way that seemed to say, “You and I understand these things, don’t we?” and moved on to greet some other guests.

Pantalaimon was whispering in Lyra’s ear.

“While she was here, her dæmon was coming out of our bedroom. He’s been spying. He knows about the alethiometer!”

Lyra felt that that was probably true, but there was nothing she could do about it. What had that professor been saying about the Gobblers? She looked around to find him again, but no sooner had she seen him than the commissionaire (in servant’s dress for the evening) and another man tapped the professor on the shoulder and spoke quietly to him, at which he turned pale and followed them out. That took no more than a couple of seconds, and it was so discreetly done that hardly anyone noticed. But it left Lyra feeling anxious and exposed.

She wandered through the two big rooms where the party was taking place, half-listening to the conversations around her, half-interested in the taste of the cocktails she wasn’t allowed to try, and increasingly fretful. She wasn’t aware that anyone was watching her until the commissionaire appeared at her side and bent to say: “Miss Lyra, the gentleman by the fireplace would like to speak to you. He’s Lord Boreal, if you didn’t know.”

Lyra looked up across the room. The powerful-looking gray-haired man was looking directly at her, and as their eyes met, he nodded and beckoned.

Unwilling, but more interested now, she went across.

“Good evening, child,” he said. His voice was smooth and commanding. His serpent dæmon’s mailed head and emerald eyes glittered in the light from the cut-glass lamp on the wall nearby.

“Good evening,” said Lyra.

“How is my old friend the Master of Jordan?”

“Very well, thank you.”

“I expect they were all sorry to say goodbye to you.”

“Yes, they were.”

“And is Mrs. Coulter keeping you busy? What is she teaching you?”

Because Lyra was feeling rebellious and uneasy, she didn’t answer this patronizing question with the truth, or with one of her usual flights of fancy. Instead she said, “I’m learning about Rusakov Particles, and about the Oblation Board.” He seemed to become focused at once, in the same way that you could focus the beam of an anbaric lantern. All his attention streamed at her fiercely.

“Suppose you tell me what you know,” he said.

“They’re doing experiments in the North,” Lyra said. She was feeling reckless now. “Like Dr. Grumman.”

“Go on.”

“They’ve got this special kind of photogram where you can see Dust, and when you see a man, there’s like all light coming to him, and there’s none on a child. At least, not so much.” “Did Mrs. Coulter show you a picture like that?”

Lyra hesitated, for this was not lying but something else, and she wasn’t practiced at it.

“No,” she said after a moment. “I saw that one at Jordan College.”

“Who showed it to you?”

“He wasn’t really showing it to me,” Lyra admitted. “I was just passing and I saw it. And then my friend Roger was taken by the Oblation Board. But—”

“Who showed you that picture?”

“My Uncle Asriel.”

“When?”

“When he was in Jordan College last time.”

“I see. And what else have you been learning about? Did I hear you mention the Oblation Board?”

“Yes. But I didn’t hear about that from him, I heard it here.”

Which was exactly true, she thought.

He was looking at her narrowly. She gazed back with all the innocence she had. Finally he nodded.

“Then Mrs. Coulter must have decided you were ready to help her in that work. Interesting. Have you taken part yet?”

“No,” said Lyra. What was he talking about? Pantalaimon was cleverly in his most inexpressive shape, a moth, and couldn’t betray her feelings; and she was sure she could keep her own face innocent.

“And has she told you what happens to the children?”

“No, she hasn’t told me that. I only just know that it’s about Dust, and they’re like a kind of sacrifice.”

Again, that wasn’t exactly a lie, she thought; she had never said that Mrs. Coulter herself had told her.

“Sacrifice is rather a dramatic way of putting it. What’s done is for their good as well as ours. And of course they all come to Mrs. Coulter willingly. That’s why she’s so valuable. They must want to take part, and what child could resist her? And if she’s going to use you as well to bring them in, so much the better. I’m very pleased.” He smiled at her in the way Mrs. Coulter had: as if they were both in on a secret. She smiled politely back and he turned away to talk to someone else.

She and Pantalaimon could sense each other’s horror. She wanted to go away by herself and talk to him; she wanted to leave the flat; she wanted to go back to Jordan College and her little shabby bedroom on Staircase Twelve; she wanted to find Lord Asriel— And as if in answer to that last wish, she heard his name mentioned, and wandered closer to the group talking nearby with the pretext of helping herself to a canapé from the plate on the table. A man in a bishop’s purple was saying: “… No, I don’t think Lord Asriel will be troubling us for quite some time.”

“And where did you say he was being held?”

“In the fortress of Svalbard, I’m told. Guarded by panserbjørne—you know, armored bears. Formidable creatures! He won’t escape from them if he lives to be a thousand. The fact is that I really think the way is clear, very nearly clear—” “The last experiments have confirmed what I always believed—that Dust is an emanation from the dark principle itself, and—”

“Do I detect the Zoroastrian heresy?”

“What used to be a heresy—”

“And if we could isolate the dark principle—”

“Svalbard, did you say?”

“Armored bears—”

“The Oblation Board—”

“The children don’t suffer, I’m sure of it—”

“Lord Asriel imprisoned—”

Lyra had heard enough. She turned away, and moving as quietly as the moth Pantalaimon, she went into her bedroom and closed the door. The noise of the party was muffled at once.

“Well?” she whispered, and he became a goldfinch on her shoulder.

“Are we going to run away?” he whispered back.

“ ’Course. If we do it now with all these people about, she might not notice for a while.”

“He will.”

Pantalaimon meant Mrs. Coulter’s dæmon. When Lyra thought of his lithe golden shape, she felt ill with fear.

“I’ll fight him this time,” Pantalaimon said boldly. “I can change and he can’t. I’ll change so quickly he won’t be able to keep hold. This time I’ll win, you’ll see.” Lyra nodded distractedly. What should she wear? How could she get out without being seen?

“You’ll have to go and spy,” she whispered. “As soon as it’s clear, we’ll have to run. Be a moth,” she added. “Remember, the second there’s no one looking …” She opened the door a crack and he crawled out, dark against the warm pink light in the corridor.

Meanwhile, she hastily flung on the warmest clothes she had and stuffed some more into one of the coal-silk bags from the fashionable shop they’d visited that very afternoon. Mrs. Coulter had given her money like sweets, and although she had spent it lavishly, there were still several sovereigns left, which she put in the pocket of the dark wolfskin coat before tiptoeing to the door.

Last of all she packed the alethiometer in its black velvet cloth. Had that abominable monkey found it? He must have done; he must have told her; oh, if she’d only hidden it better!

She tiptoed to the door. Her room opened into the end of the corridor nearest the hall, luckily, and most of the guests were in the two big rooms further along. There was the sound of voices talking loudly, laughter, the quiet flushing of a lavatory, the tinkle of glasses; and then a tiny moth voice at her ear said: “Now! Quick!”

She slipped through the door and into the hall, and in less than three seconds she was opening the front door of the flat. A moment after that she was through and pulling it quietly shut, and with Pantalaimon a goldfinch again, she ran for the stairs and fled.

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