“Because of your father?”
“Yeah. ’Cause he’s doing the same kind of work.”
“Yes, quite. Do you understand it?”
“Some of it.”
“Your father’s looking into dark matter, then?”
“Has he got as far as Dr. Malone?”
“Not in the same way. He can do some things better, but that engine with the words on the screen—he hasn’t got one of those.”
“Is Will staying with your friends as well?”
And she stopped. She knew at once she’d made a horrible mistake.
So did they, and they were on their feet in a moment to stop her from running out, but somehow Dr. Malone was in the way, and the sergeant tripped and fell, blocking the way of the inspector. It gave Lyra time to dart out, slam the door shut behind her, and run full tilt for the stairs.
Two men in white coats came out of a door, and she bumped into them. Suddenly Pantalaimon was a crow, shrieking and flapping, and he startled them so much they fell back and she pulled free of their hands and raced down the last flight of stairs into the lobby just as the porter put the phone down and lumbered along behind his counter calling out, “Oy! Stop there! You!”
But the flap he had to lift was at the other end, and she got to the revolving door before he could come out and catch her.
And behind her, the lift doors were opening, and the pale-haired man was running out, so fast, so strong—
And the door wouldn’t turn! Pantalaimon shrieked at her: they were pushing the wrong side!
She cried out in fear and turned herself around, hurling her little weight against the heavy glass, willing it to turn, and got it to move just in time to avoid the grasp of the porter, who then got in the way of the pale-haired man, so Lyra could dash out and away before they got through.
Across the road, ignoring the cars, the brakes, the squeal of tires; into this gap between tall buildings, and then another road, with cars from both directions. But she was quick, dodging bicycles, always with the pale-haired man just behind her—oh, he was frightening!
Into a garden, over a fence, through some bushes—Pantalaimon skimming overhead, a swift, calling to her which way to go; crouching down behind a coal bunker as the pale man’s footsteps came racing past, and she couldn’t hear him panting, he was so fast, and so fit; and Pantalaimon said, “Back now! Go back to the road—”
So she crept out of her hiding place and ran back across the grass, out through the garden gate, into the open spaces of the Banbury Road again; and once again she dodged across, and once again tires squealed on the road; and then she was running up Norham Gardens, a quiet tree-lined road of tall Victorian houses near the park.
She stopped to gain her breath. There was a tall hedge in front of one of the gardens, with a low wall at its foot, and she sat there tucked closely in under the privet.
“She helped us!” Pantalaimon said. “Dr. Malone got in their way. She’s on our side, not theirs.”
“Oh, Pan,” she said, “I shouldn’t have said that about Will. I should’ve been more careful—”
“Shouldn’t have come,” he said severely.
“I know. That too . . . ”
But she hadn’t got time to berate herself, because Pantalaimon fluttered to her shoulder, and then said, “Look out—behind—” and immediately changed to a cricket again and dived into her pocket.
She stood, ready to run, and saw a large, dark blue car gliding silently to the pavement beside her. She was braced to dart in either direction, but the car’s rear window rolled down, and there looking out was a face she recognized.
“Lizzie,” said the old man from the museum. “How nice to see you again. Can I give you a lift anywhere?”
And he opened the door and moved up to make room beside him. Pantalaimon nipped her breast through the thin cotton, but she got in at once, clutching the rucksack, and the man leaned across her and pulled the door shut.
“You look as if you’re in a hurry,” he said. “Where d’you want to go?”
“Up Summertown,” she said, “please.”
The driver was wearing a peaked cap. Everything about the car was smooth and soft and powerful, and the smell of the old man’s cologne was strong in the enclosed space. The car pulled out from the pavement and moved away with no noise at all.
“So what have you been up to, Lizzie?” the old man said. “Did you find out more about those skulls?”
“Yeah,” she said, twisting to see out of the rear window. There was no sign of the pale-haired man. She’d gotten away! And he’d never find her now that she was safe in a powerful car with a rich man like this. She felt a little hiccup of triumph.
“I made some inquiries too,” he said. “An anthropologist friend of mine tells me that they’ve got several others in the collection, as well as the ones on display. Some of them are very old indeed. Neanderthal, you know.”
“Yeah, that’s what I heard too,” Lyra said, with no idea what he was talking about.
“And how’s your friend?”
“What friend?” said Lyra, alarmed. Had she told him about Will too?
“The friend you’re staying with.”
“Oh. Yes. She’s very well, thank you.”
“What does she do? Is she an archaeologist?”
“Oh . . . she’s a physicist. She studies dark matter,” said Lyra, still not quite in control. In this world it was harder to tell lies than she’d thought. And something else was nagging at her: this old man was familiar in some long-lost way, and she just couldn’t place it.
“Dark matter?” he was saying. “How fascinating! I saw something about that in The Times this morning. The universe is full of this mysterious stuff, and nobody knows what it is! And your friend is on the track of it, is she?”
“Yes. She knows a lot about it.”
“And what are you going to do later on, Lizzie? Are you going in for physics too?”
“I might,” said Lyra. “It depends.”
The chauffeur coughed gently and slowed the car down.
“Well, here we are in Summertown,” said the old man. “Where would you like to be dropped?”
“Oh, just up past these shops. I can walk from there,” said Lyra. “Thank you.”
“Turn left into South Parade, and pull up on the right, could you, Allan,” said the old man.
“Very good, sir,” said the chauffeur.
A minute later the car came to a silent halt outside a public library. The old man held open the door on his side, so that Lyra had to climb past his knees to get out. There was a lot of space, but somehow it was awkward, and she didn’t want to touch him, nice as he was.
“Don’t forget your rucksack,” he said, handing it to her.
“Thank you,” she said.
“I’ll see you again, I hope, Lizzie,” he said. “Give my regards to your friend.”
“Good-bye,” she said, and lingered on the pavement till the car had turned the corner and gone out of sight before she set off toward the hornbeam trees. She had a feeling about that pale-haired man, and she wanted to ask the alethiometer.
Will was reading his father’s letters again. He sat on the terrace hearing the distant shouts of children diving off the harbor mouth, and read the clear handwriting on the flimsy airmail sheets, trying to picture the man who’d penned it, and looking again and again at the reference to the baby, to himself.
He heard Lyra’s running footsteps from some way off. He put the letters in his pocket and stood up, and almost at once Lyra was there, wild-eyed, with Pantalaimon a snarling savage wildcat, too distraught to hide. She who seldom cried was sobbing with rage; her chest was heaving, her teeth were grinding, and she flung herself at him, clutching his arms, and cried, “Kill him! Kill him! I want him dead! I wish Iorek was here! Oh, Will, I done wrong, I’m so sorry—”
“What? What’s the matter?”
“That old man—he en’t nothing but a low thief. He stole it, Will! He stole my alethiometer! That stinky old man with his rich clothes and his servant driving the car. Oh, I done such wrong things this morning—oh, I—”