The tall man with the pale eyebrows was getting out of a car.

Will turned aside at once, casually, and looked in the window of the jeweler’s shop beside him. He saw the man’s reflection look around, settle the knot of his tie, and go into the lawyer’s office. As soon as he’d gone in, Will moved away, his heart thudding again. There wasn’t anywhere safe. He drifted toward the university library and waited for Lyra.

FIVE

AIRMAIL PAPER

“Will,” said Lyra.

She spoke quietly, but he was startled all the same. She was sitting on the bench beside him and he hadn’t even noticed.

“Where did you come from?”

“I found my Scholar! She’s called Dr. Malone. And she’s got an engine that can see Dust, and she’s going to make it talk—”

“I didn’t see you coming.”

“You weren’t looking,” she said. “You must’ve been thinking about something else. It’s a good thing I found you. Look, it’s easy to fool people. Watch.”

Two police officers were strolling toward them, a man and a woman on the beat, in their white summer shirtsleeves, with their radios and their batons and their suspicious eyes. Before they reached the bench, Lyra was on her feet and speaking to them.

“Please, could you tell me where the museum is?” she said. “Me and my brother was supposed to meet our parents there and we got lost.”

The policeman looked at Will, and Will, containing his anger, shrugged as if to say, “She’s right, we’re lost, isn’t it silly.” The man smiled. The woman said: “Which museum? The Ashmolean?”

“Yeah, that one,” said Lyra, and pretended to listen carefully as the woman gave her instructions.

Will got up and said, “Thanks,” and he and Lyra moved away together. They didn’t look back, but the police had already lost interest.

“See?” she said. “If they were looking for you, I put ’em off. ’Cause they won’t be looking for someone with a sister. I better stay with you from now on,” she went on scoldingly once they’d gone around the corner. “You en’t safe on your own.”

He said nothing. His heart was thumping with rage. They walked along toward a round building with a great leaden dome, set in a square bounded by honey-colored stone college buildings and a church and wide-crowned trees above high garden walls. The afternoon sun drew the warmest tones out of it all, and the air felt rich with it, almost the color itself of heavy golden wine. All the leaves were still, and in this little square even the traffic noise was hushed.

She finally became aware of Will’s feelings and said, “What’s the matter?”

“If you speak to people, you just attract their attention,” he said, with a shaking voice. “You should just keep quiet and still and they overlook you. I’ve been doing it all my life. I know how to do it. Your way, you just—you make yourself visible. You shouldn’t do that. You shouldn’t play at it. You’re not being serious.”

“You think so?” she said, and her anger flashed. “You think I don’t know about lying and that? I’m the best liar there ever was. But I en’t lying to you, and I never will, I swear it. You’re in danger, and if I hadn’t done that just then, you’d’ve been caught. Didn’t you see ’em looking at you? ’Cause they were. You en’t careful enough. If you want my opinion, it’s you that en’t serious.”

“If I’m not serious, what am I doing hanging about waiting for you when I could be miles away? Or hiding out of sight, safe in that other city? I’ve got my own things to do, but I’m hanging about here so I can help you. Don’t tell me I’m not serious.”

“You had to come through,” she said, furious. No one should speak to her like this. She was an aristocrat. She was Lyra. “You had to, else you’d never find out anything about your father. You done it for yourself, not for me.”

They were quarreling passionately, but in subdued voices, because of the quiet in the square and the people who were wandering past nearby. When she said this, though, Will stopped altogether. He had to lean against the college wall beside him. The color had left his face.

“What do you know about my father?” he said very quietly.

She replied in the same tone. “I don’t know anything. All I know is you’re looking for him. That’s all I asked about.”

“Asked who?”

“The alethiometer, of course.”

It took a moment for him to remember what she meant. And then he looked so angry and suspicious that she took it out of her rucksack and said, “All right, I’ll show you.”

And she sat down on the stone curb around the grass in the middle of the square and bent her head over the golden instrument and began to turn the hands, her fingers moving almost too quickly to see, and then pausing for several seconds while the slender needle whipped around the dial, flicking to a stop here and there, and then turning the hands to new positions just as quickly. Will looked around carefully, but there was no one near to see; a group of tourists looked up at the domed building, an ice cream vendor wheeled his cart along the pavement, but their attention was elsewhere.

Lyra blinked and sighed, as if she were waking after a sleep.

“Your mother’s ill,” she said quietly. “But she’s safe. There’s this lady looking after her. And you took some letters and ran away. And there was a man, I think he was a thief, and you killed him. And you’re looking for your father, and—”

“All right, shut up,” said Will. “That’s enough. You’ve got no right to look into my life like that. Don’t ever do that again. That’s just spying.”

“I know when to stop asking,” she said. “See, the alethiometer’s like a person, almost. I sort of know when it’s going to be cross or when there’s things it doesn’t want me to know. I kind of feel it. But when you come out of nowhere yesterday, I had to ask it who you were, or I might not have been safe. I had to. And it said . . . ” She lowered her voice even more. “It said you was a murderer, and I thought, Good, that’s all right, he’s someone I can trust. But I didn’t ask more than that till just now, and if you don’t want me to ask any more, I promise I won’t. This en’t like a private peep show. If I done nothing but spy on people, it’d stop working. I know that as well as I know my own Oxford.”

“You could have asked me instead of that thing. Did it say whether my father was alive or dead?”

“No, because I didn’t ask.”

They were both sitting by this time. Will put his head in his hands with weariness.

“Well,” he said finally, “I suppose we’ll have to trust each other.”

“That’s all right. I trust you.”

Will nodded grimly. He was so tired, and there was not the slightest possibility of sleep in this world. Lyra wasn’t usually so perceptive, but something in his manner made her think: He’s afraid, but he’s mastering his fear, like Iorek Byrnison said we had to do; like I did by the fish house at the frozen lake.

“And, Will,” she added, “I won’t give you away, not to anyone. I promise.”

“Good.”

“I done that before. I betrayed someone. And it was the worst thing I ever did. I thought I was saving his life actually, only I was taking him right to the most dangerous place there could be. I hated myself for that, for being so stupid. So I’ll try very hard not to be careless or forget and betray you.”

He said nothing. He rubbed his eyes and blinked hard to try and wake himself up.

“We can’t go back through the window till much later,” he said. “We shouldn’t have come through in daylight anyway. We can’t risk anyone seeing. And now we’ve got to hang around for hours . . . . ”

“I’m hungry,” Lyra said.

Then he said, “I know! We can go to the cinema!”

“The what?”

“I’ll show you. We can get some food there too.”

There was a cinema near the city center, ten minutes’ walk away. Will paid for both of them to get in, and bought hot dogs and popcorn and Coke, and they carried the food inside and sat down just as the film was beginning.

Source: www.StudyNovels.com