She tore up a sheet and wrapped it around and around, clamping it down over the wounds as tight as she could. He gritted his teeth, but he couldn’t help the tears. He brushed them away without a word, and she said nothing.
When she’d finished, he said, “Thank you.” Then he said, “Listen. I want you to take something in your rucksack for me, in case we can’t come back here. It’s only letters. You can read them if you want.”
He went to the bedroom, took out the green leather writing case, and handed her the sheets of airmail paper.
“I won’t read them unless—”
“I don’t mind. Else I wouldn’t have said.”
She folded up the letters, and he lay on the bed, pushed the cat aside, and fell asleep.
Much later that night, Will and Lyra crouched in the lane that ran along beside the tree-shaded shrubbery in Sir Charles’s garden. On the Cittàgazze side, they were in a grassy park surrounding a classical villa that gleamed white in the moonlight. They’d taken a long time to get to Sir Charles’s house, moving mainly in Cittàgazze, with frequent stops to cut through and check their position in Will’s world, closing the windows as soon as they knew where they were.
Not with them but not far behind came the tabby cat. She had slept since they’d rescued her from the stone-throwing children, and now that she was awake again she was reluctant to leave them, as if she thought that wherever they were, she was safe. Will was far from sure about that, but he had enough on his mind without the cat, and he ignored her. All the time he was growing more familiar with the knife, more certain in his command of it; but his wound was hurting worse than before, with a deep, unceasing throb, and the bandage Lyra had freshly tied after he woke up was already soaked.
He cut a window in the air not far from the white-gleaming villa, and they came through to the quiet lane in Headington to work out exactly how to get to the study where Sir Charles had put the alethiometer. There were two floodlights illuminating his garden, and lights were on in the front windows of the house, though not in the study. Only moonlight lit this side, and the study window was dark.
The lane ran down through trees to another road at the far end, and it wasn’t lighted. It would have been easy for an ordinary burglar to get unobserved into the shrubbery and thus to the garden, except that there was a strong iron fence twice as high as Will, with spikes on the top, running the length of Sir Charles’s property. However, it was no barrier to the subtle knife.
“Hold this bar while I cut it,” Will whispered. “Catch it when it falls.”
Lyra did as he said, and he cut through four bars altogether, enough for them to pass through without difficulty. Lyra laid them one by one on the grass, and then they were through, and moving among the bushes.
Once they had a clear sight of the side of the house, with the creeper-shaded window of the study facing them across the smooth lawn, Will said quietly, “I’m going to cut through into Ci’gazze here, and leave the window open, and move in Ci’gazze to where I think the study is, and then cut back through to this world. Then I’ll take the alethiometer out of that cabinet thing and I’ll close that window and then I’ll come back to this one. You stay here in this world and keep watch. As soon as you hear me call you, you come through this window into Ci’gazze and then I’ll close it up again. All right?”
“Yeah,” she whispered. “Both me and Pan’ll look out.”
Her dæmon was a small tawny owl, almost invisible in the dappled shadows under the trees. His wide pale eyes took in every movement.
Will stood back and held out the knife, searching, touching the air with the most delicate movements, until after a minute or so he found a point at which he could cut. He did it swiftly, opening a window through into the moonlit land of Ci’gazze, and then stood back, estimating how many steps it would take him in that world to reach the study, and memorizing the direction.
Then without a word he stepped through and vanished.
Lyra crouched down nearby. Pantalaimon was perched on a branch above her head, turning this way and that, silent. She could hear traffic from Headington behind her, and the quiet footsteps of someone going along the road at the end of the lane, and even the weightless movement of insects among the twigs and leaves at her feet.
A minute went by, and another. Where was Will now? She strained to look through the window of the study, but it was just a dark mullioned square overhung with creeper. Sir Charles had sat inside it on the window seat only that morning, and crossed his legs, and arranged the creases in his trousers. Where was the cabinet in relation to the window? Would Will get inside without disturbing anyone in the house? Lyra could hear her heart beating, too.
Then Pantalaimon made a soft noise, and at the same moment a different sound came from the front of the house, to Lyra’s left. She couldn’t see the front, but she could see a light sweeping across the trees, and she heard a deep crunching sound: the sound of tires on gravel, she guessed. She hadn’t heard the car’s engine at all.
She looked for Pantalaimon, and he was already gliding ahead silently, as far as he could go from her. He turned in the darkness and swooped back to settle on her fist.
“Sir Charles is coming back,” he whispered. “And there’s someone with him.”
He took off again, and this time Lyra followed, tiptoeing over the soft earth with the utmost care, crouching down behind the bushes, finally going on hands and knees to look between the leaves of a laurel.
The Rolls-Royce stood in front of the house, and the chauffeur was moving around to the passenger side to open the door. Sir Charles stood waiting, smiling, offering his arm to the woman who was getting out, and as she came into view Lyra felt a blow at her heart, the worst blow since she’d escaped from Bolvangar, because Sir Charles’s guest was her mother, Mrs. Coulter.
Will stepped carefully across the grass in Cittàgazze, counting his paces, holding in his mind as clearly as he could a memory of where the study was and trying to locate it with reference to the villa, which stood nearby, stucco-white and columned in a formal garden with statues and a fountain. And he was aware of how exposed he was in this moon-drenched parkland.
When he thought he was in the right spot, he stopped and held out the knife again, feeling forward carefully. These little invisible gaps were anywhere, but not everywhere, or any slash of the knife would open a window.
He cut a small opening first, no bigger than his hand, and looked through. Nothing but darkness on the other side: he couldn’t see where he was. He closed that one, turned through ninety degrees, and opened another. This time he found fabric in front of him—heavy green velvet: the curtains of the study. But where were they in relation to the cabinet? He had to close that one too, turn the other way, try again. Time was passing.
The third time, he found he could see the whole of the study in the dim light through the open door to the hall. There was the desk, the sofa, the cabinet! He could see a faint gleam along the side of a brass microscope. And there was no one in the room, and the house was silent. It couldn’t be better.
He carefully estimated the distance, closed that window, stepped forward four paces, and held up the knife again. If he was right, he’d be in exactly the right spot to reach through, cut through the glass in the cabinet, take out the alethiometer and close the window behind him.
He cut a window at the right height. The glass of the cabinet door was only a hand’s breadth in front of it. He put his face close, looking intently at this shelf and that, from top to bottom.
The alethiometer wasn’t there.
At first Will thought he’d got the wrong cabinet. There were four of them in the room. He’d counted that morning, and memorized where they were—tall square cases made of dark wood, with glass sides and fronts and velvet-covered shelves, made for displaying valuable objects of porcelain or ivory or gold. Could he have simply opened a window in front of the wrong one? But on the top shelf was that bulky instrument with the brass rings: he’d made a point of noticing that. And on the shelf in the middle, where Sir Charles had placed the alethiometer, there was a space. This was the right cabinet, and the alethiometer wasn’t there.
Will stepped back a moment and took a deep breath.
He’d have to go through properly and look around. Opening windows here and there at random would take all night. He closed the window in front of the cabinet, opened another to look at the rest of the room, and when he’d taken careful stock, he closed that one and opened a larger one behind the sofa through which he could easily get out in a hurry if he needed to.