And she sobbed so passionately he thought that hearts really did break, and hers was breaking now, for she fell to the ground wailing and shuddering, and Pantalaimon beside her became a wolf and howled with bitter grief.
Far off across the water, children stopped what they were doing and shaded their eyes to see. Will sat down beside Lyra and shook her shoulder.
“Stop! Stop crying!” he said. “Tell me from the beginning. What old man? What happened?”
“You’re going to be so angry. I promised I wouldn’t give you away, I promised it, and then . . . ” she sobbed, and Pantalaimon became a young clumsy dog with lowered ears and wagging tail, squirming with self-abasement; and Will understood that Lyra had done something that she was too ashamed to tell him about, and he spoke to the dæmon.
“What happened? Just tell me,” he said.
Pantalaimon said, “We went to the Scholar, and there was someone else there—a man and a woman—and they tricked us. They asked a lot of questions and then they asked about you, and before we could stop we gave it away that we knew you, and then we ran away—”
Lyra was hiding her face in her hands, pressing her head down against the pavement. Pantalaimon was flickering from shape to shape in his agitation: dog, bird, cat, snow-white ermine.
“What did the man look like?” said Will.
“Big,” said Lyra’s muffled voice, “and ever so strong, and pale eyes . . . ”
“Did he see you come back through the window?”
“No, but . . . ”
“Well, he won’t know where we are, then.”
“But the alethiometer!” she cried, and she sat up fiercely, her face rigid with emotion, like a Greek mask.
“Yeah,” said Will. “Tell me about that.”
Between sobs and teeth grindings she told him what had happened: how the old man had seen her using the alethiometer in the museum the day before, and how he’d stopped the car today and she’d gotten in to escape from the pale man, and how the car had pulled up on that side of the road so she’d had to climb past him to get out, and how he must have swiftly taken the alethiometer as he’d passed her the rucksack . . . .
He could see how devastated she was, but not why she should feel guilty. And then she said: “And, Will, please, I done something very bad. Because the alethiometer told me I had to stop looking for Dust—at least I thought that’s what it said—and I had to help you. I had to help you find your father. And I could, I could take you to wherever he is, if I had it. But I wouldn’t listen. I just done what I wanted to do, and I shouldn’t . . . . ”
He’d seen her use it, and he knew it could tell her the truth. He turned away. She seized his wrist, but he broke away from her and walked to the edge of the water. The children were playing again across the harbor. Lyra ran up to him and said, “Will, I’m so sorry—”
“What’s the use of that? I don’t care if you’re sorry or not. You did it.”
“But, Will, we got to help each other, you and me, because there en’t anyone else!”
“I can’t see how.”
“Nor can I, but . . . ”
She stopped in midsentence, and a light came into her eyes. She turned and raced back to her rucksack, abandoned on the pavement, and rummaged through it feverishly.
“I know who he is! And where he lives! Look!” she said, and held up a little white card. “He gave this to me in the museum! We can go and get the alethiometer back!”
Will took the card and read:
SIR CHARLES LATROM, CBE
“He’s a sir,” he said. “A knight. That means people will automatically believe him and not us. What did you want me to do, anyway? Go to the police? The police are after me! Or if they weren’t yesterday, they will be by now. And if you go, they know who you are now, and they know you know me, so that wouldn’t work either.”
“We could steal it. We could go to his house and steal it. I know where Headington is, there’s a Headington in my Oxford too. It en’t far. We could walk there in an hour, easy.”
“Iorek Byrnison would go there straightaway and rip his head off. I wish he was here. He’d—”
But she fell silent. Will was just looking at her, and she quailed. She would have quailed in the same way if the armored bear had looked at her like that, because there was something not unlike Iorek in Will’s eyes, young as they were.
“I never heard anything so stupid in my life,” he said. “You think we can just go to his house and creep in and steal it? You need to think. You need to use your bloody brain. He’s going to have all kinds of burglar alarms and stuff, if he’s a rich man. There’ll be bells that go off and special locks and lights with infrared switches that come on automatically—”
“I never heard of those things,” Lyra said. “We en’t got ’em in my world. I couldn’t know that, Will.”
“All right, then think of this: He’s got a whole house to hide it in, and how long would any burglar have to look through every cupboard and drawer and hiding place in a whole house? Those men who came to my house had hours to look around, and they never found what they were looking for, and I bet he’s got a whole lot bigger house than we have. And probably a safe, too. So even if we did get into his house, we’d never find it in time before the police came.”
She hung her head. It was all true.
“What we going to do then?” she said.
He didn’t answer. But it was we, for certain. He was bound to her now, whether he liked it or not.
He walked to the water’s edge, and back to the terrace, and back to the water again. He beat his hands together, looking for an answer, but no answer came, and he shook his head angrily.
“Just . . . go there,” he said. “Just go there and see him. It’s no good asking your scholar to help us, either, not if the police have been to her. She’s bound to believe them rather than us. At least if we get into his house, we’ll see where the main rooms are. That’ll be a start.”
Without another word he went inside and put the letters under the pillow in the room he’d slept in. Then, if he were caught, they’d never have them.
Lyra was waiting on the terrace, with Pantalaimon perched on her shoulder as a sparrow. She was looking more cheerful.
“We’re going to get it back all right,” she said. “I can feel it.”
He said nothing. They set off for the window.
It took an hour and a half to walk to Headington. Lyra led the way, avoiding the city center, and Will kept watch all around, saying nothing. It was much harder for Lyra now than it had been even in the Arctic, on the way to Bolvangar, for then she’d had the gyptians and Iorek Byrnison with her, and even if the tundra was full of danger, you knew the danger when you saw it. Here, in the city that was both hers and not hers, danger could look friendly, and treachery smiled and smelled sweet; and even if they weren’t going to kill her or part her from Pantalaimon, they had robbed her of her only guide. Without the alethiometer, she was . . . just a little girl, lost.
Limefield House was the color of warm honey, and half of its front was covered in Virginia creeper. It stood in a large, well-tended garden, with shrubbery at one side and a gravel drive sweeping up to the front door. The Rolls-Royce was parked in front of a double garage to the left. Everything Will could see spoke of wealth and power, the sort of informal settled superiority that some upper-class English people still took for granted. There was something about it that made him grit his teeth, and he didn’t know why, until suddenly he remembered an occasion when he was very young. His mother had taken him to a house not unlike this; they’d dressed in their best clothes and he’d had to be on his best behavior, and an old man and woman had made his mother cry, and they’d left the house and she was still crying . . . .
Lyra saw him breathing fast and clenching his fists, and was sensible enough not to ask why; it was something to do with him, not with her. Presently he took a deep breath.
“Well,” he said, “might as well try.”
He walked up the drive, and Lyra followed close behind. They felt very exposed.