The Book of Dust: The Secret Commonwealth (Book of Dust, Volume 2) (3 page)

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“Go and see Dr. Bell. Then write home.”

Dr. Bell was Miriam’s moral tutor, a sort of pastoral guide and mentor. She was a brusque but kindly woman; she’d know what the college could do to help.

“Good,” said Lyra. “And tell me what happens.”

“I will,” Miriam promised.

Lyra sat there for a few minutes after Miriam had gone, chatting to George, regretfully turning down his offer of work in the Christmas vacation, finishing her pint mug of tea. But eventually came the time when she and Pan were alone again.

“What did he tell you?” she said to him, meaning Miriam’s dæmon.

“What she’s really worried about is her boyfriend. She doesn’t know how to tell him because she thinks he won’t like her if she isn’t rich. He’s at Cardinal’s. Some kind of aristocrat.”

“So we spent all that time and effort and she didn’t even tell me the thing she was worried about most? I don’t think much of that,” Lyra said, gathering up her shabby coat. “And if that’s how he feels, he’s not worth it anyway. Pan, I’m sorry,” she said, surprising herself as much as him. “You were just going to tell me what you saw last night, and I didn’t have time to answer before.” She waved to George as they left.

“I saw someone being murdered,” he said.

Lyra stood still. They were outside the coffee merchant’s, by the entrance to the Covered Market, and the air was full of the smell of roasting coffee.

“What did you say?” she said.

“I saw two men attack another man and kill him. It was down by the allotment gardens near the Royal Mail depot….”

As she walked slowly out into Market Street and headed back towards St. Sophia’s, he told her the whole story.

“And they seemed to know about separation,” he said. “The man who was killed and his dæmon. They could do it. She must have seen me on the branch, and she flew straight up—well, with an effort, because he was hurt—and she wasn’t frightened or anything, I mean, not frightened of me being alone, like most people would be. And he was the same.”

“And this wallet? Where is it now?”

“In our bookshelves. Next to the German dictionary.”

“And what was it he said?”

“He said, ‘Take it away—don’t let them get it—it’s all up to you and your…’ And then he died.”

“All up to us,” she said. “Well, we’d better have a look at it.”

* * *

They turned on the gas fire in her study-bedroom at St. Sophia’s, sat at the table, and switched on the little anbaric lamp, because the sky was gray and the light was gloomy.

Lyra took out the wallet from the bookshelf. It was a simple one-fold wallet without a clasp, the whole thing little bigger than her palm. There had originally been a raised grain in the leather, like that of morocco, but most of that was worn away to a greasy smoothness. It might once have been brown too, but it was nearly black now, and marked in several places by Pan’s gripping teeth.

She could smell it: a faint, slightly pungent, slightly spicy smell, like that of a man’s cologne mixed with sweat. Pan waved a paw in front of his nose. She examined the outside carefully for any mark or monogram, but there was none.

She opened the wallet and again found it perfectly normal, perfectly ordinary. There were four banknotes, six dollars and a hundred francs in all—not a large sum. In the next pocket she found a train ticket for the return journey from Paris to Marseilles.

“Was he French?” said Pan.

“Don’t know yet,” said Lyra. “Look, here’s a picture.”

From the next pocket in the wallet she took out a grubby and much-handled card attesting to the identity of the owner, with a photogram showing the face of a man of forty, possibly, with black curly hair and a thin mustache.

“That’s him,” Pan said.

The card had been issued by His Majesty’s Foreign Office to Anthony John Roderick Hassall, who was a British citizen, and whose birth date showed him to be thirty-eight years old. The dæmon photogram displayed a small hawk-like bird of prey. Pan gazed at the pictures with intense interest and pity.

The next thing she found was a small card she recognized, because she had one identical to it in her own purse: it was a Bodleian Library card. Pan made a small noise of surprise.

“He must have belonged to the university,” he said. “Look, what’s that?”

It was another card, this one issued by the university Department of Botany. It certified Dr. Roderick Hassall as a member of staff of the Department of Plant Sciences.

“Why would they want to attack him?” Lyra said, not expecting an answer. “Did he look rich, or was he carrying something, or what?”

“They did say…,” said Pan, trying to remember. “One of them—the killer—he was surprised that the man wasn’t carrying a bag. It sounded as if they’d been expecting him to. But the other man, the one who’d been wounded, wasn’t interested in thinking about that.”


Was
he carrying a bag? Or a briefcase, or a suitcase, or anything?”

“No. Nothing.”

The next paper she found was much folded and refolded, and reinforced with tape along the creases. It was headed LAISSEZ-PASSER.

“What’s that?” said Pan.

“A kind of passport, I think…”

It had been issued by the Ministry of Internal Security of the Sublime Porte of the Ottoman Empire, at Constantinople. It said in French, English, and Anatolian that Anthony John Roderick Hassall, botanist, of Oxford, Brytain, was to be allowed to travel through the realms of the Ottoman Empire, and that the authorities were to give him assistance and protection whenever needed.

“How big is the Ottoman Empire?” said Pan.

“Enormous. Turkey and Syria and Lebanon and Egypt and Libya and thousands of miles east as well. I think. Wait, here’s another….”

“And one more behind that.”

The other two documents had been issued by the Khanate of Turkestan, including the regions of Bactria and Sogdiana, and the prefecture of Sin Kiang in the Celestial Empire of Cathay. They said much the same thing, in much the same way, as the laissez-passer from the Ottoman Empire.

“They’re out of date,” said Lyra.

“But the Sin Kiang one is earlier than the Turkestan one….That means he was coming from there, and it took him…three months. It’s a long way.”

“There’s something else in here.”

Her fingers had found another paper hidden in an inside pocket. She tugged it out and unfolded it to find something quite different from the rest: a leaflet from a steamship company advertising a cruise to the Levant on a vessel called the SS
Zenobia.
It was issued by the Imperial Orient Line, and the English-language text promised
A world of romance and sunshine.

“A world of silks and perfumes,”
Pan read,
“of carpets and sweetmeats, of damascened swords, of the glint of beautiful eyes beneath the star-filled sky…”

“Dance to the romantic music of Carlo Pomerini and his Salon Serenade Orchestra,”
Lyra read. “
Thrill to the whisper of moonlight on the tranquil waters of the Mediterranean
….How can moonlight whisper?
An Imperial Orient Levantine Cruise is the gateway to a world of loveliness
….Wait, Pan, look.”

On the back there was a timetable showing the dates of arrival and departure at various ports. The ship would leave London on Thursday, April 17, and return to Southampton on Saturday, May 23, calling at fourteen cities en route. And someone had circled the date Monday, May 11, when the
Zenobia
called at Smyrna, and drawn a line from that to the scribbled words
Café Antalya, Süleiman Square, 11 a.m.

“An appointment!” said Pan.

He sprang from the table to the mantelpiece and stood, paws against the wall, to scrutinize the calendar that hung there.

“It’s not this year—wait—it’s next year!” he said. “Those are the right days of the week. It hasn’t happened yet. What are we going to do?”

“Well…,” said Lyra, “we really ought to take it to the police. I mean, there’s no doubt about that, is there?”

“No,” said Pan, jumping back onto the table. He turned the papers around to read them more closely. “Is that everything in the wallet?”

“I think so.” Lyra looked through it again, pushing her fingers down into the pockets. “No—wait—there’s something here….A coin?”

She turned the wallet upside down and shook it. It wasn’t a coin that fell out, but a key with a round metal tag attached to it, bearing the number 36.

“That looks like…,” said Pan.

“Yes. We’ve seen one of those….We’ve had one of those. When was it?”

“Last year…the railway station…”

“Left luggage!” Lyra said. “He put something in a left-luggage locker.”

“The bag they thought he ought to be carrying!”

“It must be still there.”

They looked at each other with wide eyes.

Then Lyra shook her head. “We should take this to the police,” she said. “We’ve done what anyone would have done, we’ve looked to see who it belonged to and—and…”

“Well, we could take it to the Botanic Garden. The Plant Sciences place. They’d know who he was.”

“Yes, but we know that he was killed. So it’s really a matter for the police. We’ve got to, Pan.”

“Mm,” he said. “S’pose so.”

“But there’s no reason why we shouldn’t copy a few things. The dates of his journey, the appointment in Smyrna…”

She wrote them down.

“Is that everything?” he said.

“Yes. I’ll try and get them all back in the right places, and then we’ll go to the police station.”

“Why are we doing this? Really? Copying these things down?”

She looked at him for a moment and then turned back to the wallet. “Just being curious,” she said. “It’s none of our business, except that we know how it came to be there in the rushes. So it is our business.”

“And he did say it was all up to us. Don’t forget that.”

She turned off the fire, locked the door, and they set off for the main police station in St. Aldate’s, with the wallet in her pocket.

* * *

Twenty-five minutes later, they were waiting at a counter while the duty sergeant dealt with a man who wanted a fishing license and who wouldn’t accept that it was the river authority that issued them, and not the police. He argued at such length that Lyra sat down on the only chair and prepared to wait till lunchtime.

Pan was sitting on her lap, watching everything. When two other policemen came out of a back office and stopped to talk by the counter, he turned to look at them, and a moment later Lyra felt his claws dig into her hand.

She didn’t react. He’d tell her what it was about in a moment, and so he did, flowing up to her shoulder and whispering:

“That’s the man from last night. That’s the killer. I’m certain of it.”

He meant the taller and heavier of the two policemen. Lyra heard the man say to the other, “No, it’s overtime, completely legitimate. All done by the book. There’s no doubt about it.”

His voice was unpleasant, harsh and thick-sounding. He had a Liverpool accent. At the same moment, the man who wanted the fishing license said to the duty sergeant as he turned away, “Well, if you’re sure, I’ve got no choice. But I’ll want it in writing.”

“Come back this afternoon, and my colleague who’ll be on the desk then will give you a document all about it,” said the sergeant, winking at the other two.

“All right, I will. I’m not giving up.”

“No, don’t do that, sir. Yes, miss? How can I help you?”

He was looking at Lyra, and the other two policemen were watching.

She stood up and said, “I don’t know if I’ve come to the right place, but my bicycle was stolen.”

“Yes, this is the right place, miss. Fill in this form and we’ll see what we can do.”

She took the paper he handed her and said, “I’m in a bit of a hurry. Can I bring it back later?”

“Anytime, miss.”

Her inquiry not being very interesting, he turned away and joined the conversation about overtime. A moment later, Lyra and Pan were out in the street again.

“Well, what do we do now?” said Pan.

“Go to the left-luggage place, of course.”

* * *

But Lyra wanted to see the riverbank first. As they walked across Carfax and down towards the castle, she went over the story with Pan again, each of them being so scrupulously polite and attentive to the other that it was almost painful. Everyone else Lyra could see in the streets or the shops, everyone she’d spoken to in the market, was perfectly at ease with their dæmon. The café owner George’s dæmon, a flamboyant rat, sat in the breast pocket of his apron, passing sardonic comments on everything around her, just as she’d done when Lyra was a small child, completely content with George as he was with her. Only Lyra and Pan were unhappy with each other.

So they tried very hard. They went to the allotment gardens and looked at the gate in the high fence around the Royal Mail depot, where the second attacker had climbed over, and at the path from the railway station that the victim had come along.

It was a market day, and as well as the sound of railway cars being shunted in the sidings, and the noise of someone using a drill or a grinder to repair a machine in the Royal Mail building, Lyra heard the mooing of cattle from the pens in the distance. There were people everywhere.

“Someone might be watching us,” she said.

“I suppose they might.”

“So we’ll just wander along as if we’re daydreaming.”

She looked around slowly. They were standing in the area between the river and the allotments, a roughly tended open meadow where people strolled or picnicked in the summer, or bathed from the riverbank, or played football. This part of Oxford wasn’t home territory for Lyra, whose allegiance had lain mostly with the urchins of Jericho, half a mile north. She had fought many battles with the gangs from around here, from St. Ebbe’s, in the days before she went to the Arctic and left her world altogether. Even now, a young woman of twenty, educated, a student of St. Sophia’s, she felt an atavistic fear of being in enemy territory.

She set off slowly, crossing the grass to the riverbank, trying to look as if she were doing anything other than looking for a murder site.

They stopped to look at a train loaded with coal coming slowly down from their right towards the wooden bridge over the river. Trains never crossed it fast. They heard the trundle of the coal trucks over the bridge, and watched the train swing away to the left on the branch line that made for the gasworks, and into the siding next to the main building where the furnaces roared day and night.

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