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The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials) – Episode 9
Chapter Nine, Episode Nine, Part Nine.
Over the next few days, Lyra concocted a dozen plans and dismissed them impatiently; for they all boiled down to stowing away, and how could you stow away on a narrowboat? To be sure, the real voyage would involve a proper ship, and she knew enough stories to expect all kinds of hiding places on a full-sized vessel: the lifeboats, the hold, the bilges, whatever they were; but she’d have to get to the ship first, and leaving the fens meant traveling the gyptian way.
And even if she got to the coast on her own, she might stow away on the wrong ship. It would be a fine thing to hide in a lifeboat and wake up on the way to High Brazil.
Meanwhile, all around her the tantalizing work of assembling the expedition was going on day and night. She hung around Adam Stefanski, watching as he made his choice of the volunteers for the fighting force. She pestered Roger van Poppel with suggestions about the stores they needed to take: Had he remembered snow goggles? Did he know the best place to get arctic maps?
The man she most wanted to help was Benjamin de Ruyter, the spy. But he had slipped away in the early hours of the morning after the second roping, and naturally no one could say where he’d gone or when he’d return. So in default, Lyra attached herself to Farder Coram.
“I think it’d be best if I helped you, Farder Coram,” she said, “because I probably know more about the Gobblers than anyone else, being as I was nearly one of them. Probably you’ll need me to help you understand Mr. de Ruyter’s messages.”
He took pity on the fierce, desperate little girl and didn’t send her away. Instead he talked to her, and listened to her memories of Oxford and of Mrs. Coulter, and watched as she read the alethiometer.
“Where’s that book with all the symbols in?” she asked him one day.
“In Heidelberg,” he said.
“And is there just the one?”
“There may be others, but that’s the one I’ve seen.”
“I bet there’s one in Bodley’s Library in Oxford,” she said.
She could hardly take her eyes off Farder Coram’s daemon, who was the most beautiful daemon she’d ever seen. When Pantalaimon was a cat, he was lean and ragged and harsh, but Sophonax, for that was her name, was golden-eyed and elegant beyond measure, fully twice as large as a real cat and richly furred. When the sunlight touched her, it lit up more shades of tawny-brown-leaf-hazel-corn-gold-autumn-mahogany than Lyra could name. She longed to touch that fur, to rub her cheeks against it, but of course she never did; for it was the grossest breach of etiquette imaginable to touch another person’s daemon. Daemons might touch each other, of course, or fight; but the prohibition against human-daemon contact went so deep that even in battle no warrior would touch an enemy’s daemon. It was utterly forbidden. Lyra couldn’t remember having to be told that: she just knew it, as instinctively as she felt that nausea was bad and comfort good. So although she admired the fur of Sophonax and even speculated on what it might feel like, she never made the slightest move to touch her, and never would.
Sophonax was as sleek and healthy and beautiful as Farder Coram was ravaged and weak. He might have been ill, or he might have suffered a crippling blow, but the result was that
he could not walk without leaning on two sticks, and he trembled constantly like an aspen leaf. His mind was sharp and clear and powerful, though, and soon Lyra came to love him for his knowledge and for the firm way he directed her.
“What’s that hourglass mean, Farder Coram?” she asked, over the alethiometer, one sunny morning in his boat. “It keeps coming back to that.”
“There’s often a clue there if you look more close. What’s that little old thing on top of it?”
She screwed up her eyes and peered.
“That’s a skull!”
“So what d’you think that might mean?”
“Death…Is that death?”
“That’s right. So in the hourglass range of meanings you get death. In fact, after time, which is the first one, death is the second one.”
“D’you know what I noticed, Farder Coram? The needle stops there on the second go-round! On the first round it kind of twitches, and on the second it stops. Is that saying it’s the second meaning, then?”
“Probably. What are you asking it, Lyra?”
“I’m a thinking – ” she stopped, surprised to find that she’d actually been asking a question without realizing it. “I just put three pictures together because…! was thinking about Mr. de Ruyter, see….And I put together the serpent and the crucible and the beehive, to ask how he’s a getting on with his spying, and – ”
“Why them three symbols?”
“Because I thought the serpent was cunning, like a spy ought to be, and the crucible could mean like knowledge, what you kind of distill, and the beehive was hard work, like bees are always working hard; so out of the hard work and the cunning comes the knowledge, see, and that’s the spy’s job; and I pointed to them and I thought the question in my mind, and the needle stopped at death….D’you think that could be really working, Farder Coram?”
“It’s working all right, Lyra. What we don’t know is whether we’re reading it right. That’s a subtle art. I wonder if – ”
Before he could finish his sentence, there was an urgent knock at the door, and a young gyptian man came in.
“Beg pardon, Farder Coram, there’s Jacob Huismans just come back, and he’s sore wounded.”
“He was with Benjamin de Ruyter,” said Farder Coram. “What’s happened?”
“He won’t speak,” said the young man. “You better come, Farder Coram, ’cause he won’t last long, he’s a bleeding inside.”
Farder Coram and Lyra exchanged a look of alarm and wonderment, but only for a second, and then Farder Coram was hobbling out on his sticks as fast as he could manage, with his daemon padding ahead of him. Lyra came too, hopping with impatience.
The young man led them to a boat tied up at the sugar-beet jetty, where a woman in a red flannel apron held open the door for them. Seeing her suspicious glance at Lyra, Farder Coram said, “It’s important the girl hears what Jacob’s got to say, mistress.”
So the woman let them in and stood back, with her squirrel daemon perched silent on the wooden clock. On a bunk under a patchwork coverlet lay a man whose white face was damp with sweat and whose eyes were glazed.
“I’ve sent for the physician, Farder Coram,” said the woman shakily. “Please don’t agitate him. He’s in an agony of pain. He come in off Peter Hawker’s boat just a few minutes ago.”
“Where’s Peter now?”
“He’s a tying up. It was him said I had to send for you.”
“Quite right. Now, Jacob, can ye hear me?”
Jacob’s eyes rolled to look at Farder Coram sitting on the opposite bunk, a foot or two away.
“Hello, Farder Coram,” he murmured.
Lyra looked at his daemon. She was a ferret, and she lay very still beside his head, curled up but not asleep, for her eyes were open and glazed like his.
“What happened?” said Farder Coram.
“Benjamin’s dead,” came the answer. “He’s dead, and Gerard’s captured.”
His voice was hoarse and his breath was shallow. When he stopped speaking, his daemon uncurled painfully and licked his cheek, and taking strength from that he went on:
“We was breaking into the Ministry of Theology, because Benjamin had heard from one of the Gobblers we caught that the headquarters was there, that’s where all the orders was coming from….”
He stopped again.
“You captured some Gobblers?” said Farder Coram.
Jacob nodded, and cast his eyes at his daemon. It was unusual for daemons to speak to humans other than their own, but it happened sometimes, and she spoke now.
“We caught three Gobblers in Clerkenwell and made them tell us who they were working for and where the orders came from and so on. They didn’t know where the kids were being taken, except it was north to Lapland….”
She had to stop and pant briefly, her little chest fluttering, before she could go on.
“And so them Gobblers told us about the Ministry of Theology and Lord Boreal. Benjamin said him and Gerard Hook should break into the Ministry and Frans Broekman and Tom Mendham should go and find out about Lord Boreal.”
“Did they do that?”
“We don’t know. They never came back. Farder Coram, it were like everything we did, they knew about before we did it, and for all we know Frans and Tom were swallowed alive as soon as they got near Lord Boreal.”
“Come back to Benjamin,” said Farder Coram, hearing Jacob’s breathing getting harsher and seeing his eyes close in pain.
Jacob’s daemon gave a little mew of anxiety and love, and the woman took a step or two closer, her hands to her mouth; but she didn’t speak, and the daemon went on faintly:
“Benjamin and Gerard and us went to the Ministry at White Hall and found a little side door, it not being fiercely guarded, and we stayed on watch outside while they unfastened the lock and went in. They hadn’t been in but a minute when we heard a cry of fear, and Benjamin’s daemon came a flying out and beckoned to us for help and flew in again, and we took our knife and ran in after her; only the place was dark, and full of wild forms and sounds that were confusing in their frightful movements; and we cast about, but there was a commotion above, and a fearful cry, and Benjamin and his daemon fell from a high staircase above us, his daemon a tugging and a fluttering to hold him up, but all in vain, for they crashed on the stone floor and both perished in a moment.
“And we couldn’t see anything of Gerard, but there was a howl from above in his voice and we were too terrified and stunned to move, and then an arrow shot down at our shoulder and pierced deep down within….”
The daemon’s voice was fainter, and a groan came from the wounded man. Farder Coram leaned forward and gently pulled back the counterpane, and there protruding from Jacob’s shoulder was the feathered end of an arrow in a mass
of clotted blood. The shaft and the head were so deep in the poor man’s chest that only six inches or so remained above the skin. Lyra felt faint.
There was the sound of feet and voices outside on the jetty.
Farder Coram sat up and said, “Here’s the physician, Jacob. We’ll leave you now. We’ll have a longer talk when you’re feeling better.”
He clasped the woman’s shoulder on the way out. Lyra stuck close to him on the jetty, because there was a crowd gathering already, whispering and pointing. Farder Coram gave orders for Peter Hawker to go at once to John Faa, and then said:
“Lyra, as soon as we know whether Jacob’s going to live or die, we must have another talk about that alethiometer. You go and occupy yourself elsewhere, child; we’ll send for you.”
Lyra wandered away on her own, and went to the reedy bank to sit and throw mud into the water. She knew one thing: she was not pleased or proud to be able to read the alethiometer – she was afraid. Whatever power was making that needle swing and stop, it knew things like an intelligent being.
“I reckon it’s a spirit,” Lyra said, and for a moment she was tempted to throw the little thing into the middle of the fen.
“I’d see a spirit if there was one in there,” said Pantalaimon. “Like that old ghost in Godstow. I saw that when you didn’t.”
“There’s more than one kind of spirit,” said Lyra reprovingly. “You can’t see all of ’em. Anyway, what about those old dead Scholars without their heads? I saw them, remember.”
“That was only a night-ghast.”
“It was not. They were proper spirits all right, and you know it. But whatever spirits’s moving this blooming needle en’t that sort of spirit.”
“It might not be a spirit,” said Pantalaimon stubbornly.
“Well, what else could it be?”
“It might be…it might be elementary particles.” She scoffed.
“It could be!” he insisted. “You remember that photomill they got at Gabriel? Well, then.”
At Gabriel College there was a very holy object kept on the high altar of the oratory, covered (now Lyra thought about it) with a black velvet cloth, like the one around the alethiometer. She had seen it when she accompanied the Librarian of Jordan to a service there. At the height of the invocation the Intercessor lifted the cloth to reveal in the dimness a glass dome inside which there was something too distant to see, until he pulled a string attached to a shutter above, letting a ray of sunlight through to strike the dome exactly. Then it became clear: a little thing like a weathervane, with four sails black on one side and white on the other, that began to whirl around as the light struck it. It illustrated a moral lesson, the Intercessor explained, and went on to explain what that was. Five minutes later Lyra had forgotten the moral, but she hadn’t forgotten the little whirling vanes in the ray of dusty light. They were delightful whatever they meant, and all done by the power of photons, said the Librarian as they walked home to Jordan.
So perhaps Pantalaimon was right. If elementary particles could push a photomill around, no doubt they could make light work of a needle; but it still troubled her.
It was Tony Costa, waving to her from the jetty.
“Come over here,” he called. “You got to go and see John Faa at the Zaal. Run, gal, it’s urgent.”
She found John Faa with Farder Coram and the other leaders, looking troubled.
John Faa spoke:
“Lyra, child, Farder Coram has told me about your reading of that instrument. And I’m sorry to say that poor Jacob has just died. I think we’re going to have to take you with us after all, against my inclinations. I’m troubled in my mind about it, but there don’t seem to be any alternative. As soon as Jacob’s buried according to custom, we’ll take our way. You understand me, Lyra: you’re a coming too, but it en’t an occasion for joy or jubilation. There’s trouble and danger ahead for all of us.
“I’m a putting you under Farder Coram’s wing. Don’t you be a trouble or a hazard to him, or you’ll be a feeling the force of my wrath. Now cut along and explain to Ma Costa, and hold yourself in readiness to leave.”
The next two weeks passed more busily than any time of Lyra’s life so far. Busily, but not quickly, for there were tedious stretches of waiting, of hiding in damp crabbed closets, of watching a dismal rain-soaked autumn landscape roll past the window, of hiding again, of sleeping near the gas fumes of the engine and waking with a sick headache, and worst of all, of never once being allowed out into the air to run along the bank or clamber over the deck or haul at the lock gates or catch a mooring rope thrown from the lockside.
Because, of course, she had to remain hidden. Tony Costa told her of the gossip in the waterside pubs: that there was a hunt the length of the kingdom for a little fair-haired girl, with a big reward for her discovery and severe punishment for anyone concealing her. There were strange rumors too: people said she was the only child to have escaped from the Gobblers, and she had terrible secrets in her possession. Another rumor said she wasn’t a human child at all but a pair of spirits in the form of child and daemon, sent to this world by the infernal powers in order to work great ruin; and yet another rumor said it was no child but a fully grown human, shrunk by magic and in the pay of the Tartars, come to spy on good English people and prepare the way for a Tartar invasion.
Lyra heard these tales at first with glee and later with despondency. All those people hating and fearing her! And she longed to be out of this narrow boxy cabin. She longed to be north already, in the wide snows under the blazing Aurora. And sometimes she longed to be back at Jordan College, scrambling over the roofs with Roger with the Steward’s bell tolling half an hour to dinnertime and the clatter and sizzle and shouting of the kitchen….Then she wished passionately that nothing had changed, nothing would ever change, that she could be Lyra of Jordan College forever and ever.
The one thing that drew her out of her boredom and irritation was the alethiometer. She read it every day, sometimes with Farder Coram and sometimes on her own, and she found that she could sink more and more readily into the calm state in which the symbol meanings clarified themselves, and those great mountain ranges touched by sunlight emerged into vision.
She struggled to explain to Farder Coram what it felt like.
“It’s almost like talking to someone, only you can’t quite hear them, and you feel kind of stupid because they’re cleverer than you, only they don’t get cross or any thing…. And they know such a lot, Farder Coram! As if they knew everything, almost! Mrs. Coulter was clever, she knew ever such a lot, but this is a different kind of knowing….It’s like understanding, I suppose….”
He would ask specific questions, and she would search for answers.
“What’s Mrs. Coulter doing now?” he’d say, and her hands would move at once, and he’d say, “Tell me what you’re doing.”
“Well, the Madonna is Mrs. Coulter, and I think my mother when I put the hand there; and the ant is busy – that’s easy, that’s the top meaning; and the hourglass has got time in its meanings, and partway down there’s now, and I just fix my mind on it.”
“And how do you know where these meanings are?”
“I kind of see ’em. Or feel ’em rather, like climbing down a ladder at night, you put your foot down and there’s another rung. Well, I put my mind down and there’s another meaning, and I kind of sense what it is. Then I put ’em all together. There’s a trick in it like focusing your eyes.”
“Do that then, and see what it says.”
Lyra did. The long needle began to swing at once, and stopped, moved on, stopped again in a precise series of sweeps and pauses. It was a sensation of such grace and power that Lyra, sharing it, felt like a young bird learning to fly. Farder Coram, watching from across the table, noted the places where the needle stopped, and watched the little girl holding her hair back from her face and biting her lower lip just a little, her eyes following the needle at first but then, when its path was settled, looking elsewhere on the dial. Not randomly, though. Farder Coram was a chess player, and he knew how chess players looked at a game in play. An expert player seemed to see lines of force and influence on the board, and looked along the important lines and ignored the weak ones; and Lyra’s eyes moved the same way, according to some similar magnetic field that she could see and he couldn’t.
The needle stopped at the thunderbolt, the infant, the serpent, the elephant, and at a creature Lyra couldn’t find a name for: a sort of lizard with big eyes and a tail curled around the twig it stood on. It repeated the sequence time after time, while Lyra watched.
“What’s that lizard mean?” said Farder Coram, breaking into her concentration.
“It don’t make sense….! can see what it says, but I must be misreading it. The thunderbolt I think is anger, and the child …I think it’s me…l was getting a meaning for that lizard thing, but you talked to me, Farder Coram, and I lost it. See, it’s just floating any old where.”
“Yes, I see that. I’m sorry, Lyra. You tired now? D’you want to stop?”
“No, I don’t,” she said, but her cheeks were flushed and her eyes bright. She had all the signs of fretful overexcitement, and it was made worse by her long confinement in this stuffy cabin.
He looked out of the window. It was nearly dark, and they were traveling along the last stretch of inland water before reaching the coast. Wide brown scummed expanses of an estuary extended under a dreary sky to a distant group of coal-spirit tanks, rusty and cobwebbed with pipework, beside a refinery where a thick smear of smoke ascended reluctantly to join the clouds.
“Where are we?” said Lyra. “Can I go outside just for a bit, Farder Coram?”
“This is Colby water,” he said. “The estuary of the river Cole. When we reach the town, we’ll tie up by the Smoke-market and go on foot to the docks. We’ll be there in an hour or two….”
But it was getting dark, and in the wide desolation of the creek nothing was moving but their own boat and a distant coal barge laboring toward the refinery; and Lyra was so flushed and tired, and she’d been inside for so long; and so Farder Coram went on:
“Well, I don’t suppose it’ll matter just for a few minutes in the open air. I wouldn’t call it fresh; ten’t fresh except when it’s blowing off the sea; but you can sit out on top and look around till we get closer in.”
Lyra leaped up, and Pantalaimon became a seagull at once, eager to stretch his wings in the open. It was cold outside, and although she was well wrapped up, Lyra was soon shivering. Pantalaimon, on the other hand, leaped into the air with a loud caw of delight, and wheeled and skimmed and darted now ahead of the boat, now behind the stern. Lyra exulted in it, feeling with him as he flew, and urging him mentally to provoke the old tillerman’s cormorant daemon into a race. But she ignored him and settled down sleepily on the handle of the tiller near her man.
There was no life out on this bitter brown expanse, and only the steady chug of the engine and the subdued splashing of the water under the bows broke the wide silence. Heavy clouds hung low without offering rain; the air beneath was grimy with smoke. Only Pantalaimon’s flashing elegance had anything in it of life and joy.
As he soared up out of a dive with wide wings white against the gray, something black hurtled at him and struck. He fell sideways in a flutter of shock and pain, and Lyra cried out, feeling it sharply. Another little black thing joined the first; they moved not like birds but like flying beetles, heavy and direct, and with a droning sound.
As Pantalaimon fell, trying to twist away and make for the boat and Lyra’s desperate arms, the black things kept driving into him, droning, buzzing, and murderous. Lyra was nearly mad with Pantalaimon’s fear and her own, but then something swept past her and upward.
It was the tillerman’s daemon, and clumsy and heavy as she looked, her flight was powerful and swift. Her head snapped this way and that – there was a flutter of black wings, a shiver of white – and a little black thing fell to the tarred roof of the cabin at Lyra’s feet just as Pantalaimon landed on her outstretched hand.
Before she could comfort him, he changed into his wildcat shape and sprang down on the creature, batting it back from the edge of the roof, where it was crawling swiftly to escape. Pantalaimon held it firmly down with a needle-filled paw and looked up at the darkening sky, where the black wing flaps of the cormorant were circling higher as she cast around for the other.
Then the cormorant glided swiftly back and croaked something to the tillerman, who said, “It’s gone. Don’t let that other one escape. Here – ” and he flung the dregs out of the tin mug he’d been drinking from, and tossed it to Lyra.
She clapped it over the creature at once. It buzzed and snarled like a little machine.
“Hold it still,” said Farder Coram from behind her, and then he was kneeling to slip a piece of card under the mug.
“What is it, Farder Coram?” she said shakily.
“Let’s go below and have a look. Take it careful, Lyra. Hold that tight.”
She looked at the tillerman’s daemon as she passed, intending to thank her, but her old eyes were closed. She thanked the tillerman instead.
“You oughter stayed below” was all he said.
She took the mug into the cabin, where Farder Coram had found a beer glass. He held the tin mug upside down over it and then slipped the card out from between them, so that the creature fell into the glass. He held it up so they could see the angry little thing clearly.
It was about as long as Lyra’s thumb, and dark green, not black. Its wing cases were erect, like a ladybird’s about to fly, and the wings inside were beating so furiously that they were only a blur. Its six clawed legs were scrabbling on the smooth glass.
“What is it?” she said.
Pantalaimon, a wildcat still, crouched on the table six inches away, his green eyes following it round and round inside the glass.
“If you was to crack it open,” said Farder Coram, “you’d find no living thing in there. No animal nor insect, at any rate. I seen one of these things afore, and I never thought I’d see one again this far north. Afric things. There’s a clockwork running in there, and pinned to the spring of it, there’s a bad spirit with a spell through its heart.”
“But who sent it?”
“You don’t even need to read the symbols, Lyra; you can guess as easy as I can.”
‘”Course. She en’t only explored up north; there’s strange things aplenty in the southern wild. It was Morocco where I saw one of these last. Deadly dangerous; while the spirit’s in it, it won’t never stop, and when you let the spirit free, it’s so monstrous angry it’ll kill the first thing it gets at.”
“But what was it after?”
“Spying. I was a cursed fool to let you up above. And I should have let you think your way through the symbols without interrupting.”
“I see it now!” said Lyra, suddenly excited. “It means air, that lizard thing! I saw that, but I couldn’t see why, so I tried to work it out and I lost it.”
“Ah,” said Farder Coram, “then I see it too. It en’t a lizard, that’s why; it’s a chameleon. And it stands for air because they don’t eat nor drink, they just live on air.”
“And the elephant – ”
“Africa,” he said, and “Aha.”
They looked at each other. With every revelation of the alethiometer’s power, they became more awed by it.
“It was telling us about these things all the time,” said Lyra. “We oughter listened. But what can we do about this un, Farder Coram? Can we kill it or something?”
“I don’t know as we can do anything. We shall just have to keep him shut up tight in a box and never let him out. What worries me more is the other one, as got away. He’ll be a flying back to Mrs. Coulter now, with the news that he’s seen you. Damn me, Lyra, but I’m a fool.”
He rattled about in a cupboard and found a smokeleaf tin about three inches in diameter. It had been used for holding screws, but he tipped those out and wiped the inside with a rag before inverting the glass over it with the card still in place over the mouth.
After a tricky moment when one of the creature’s legs escaped and thrust the tin away with surprising strength, they had it captured and the lid screwed down tight.
“As soon’s we get about the ship I’ll run some solder round the edge to make sure of it,” Farder Coram said.
“But don’t clockwork run down?”
“Ordinary clockwork, yes. But like I said, this un’s kept tight wound by the spirit pinned to the end. The more he struggles, the tighter it’s wound, and the stronger the force is. Now let’s put this feller out the way….”
He wrapped the tin in a flannel cloth to stifle the incessant buzzing and droning, and stowed it away under his bunk.
It was dark now, and Lyra watched through the window as the lights of Colby came closer. The heavy air was thickening into mist, and by the time they tied up at the wharves alongside the Smokemarket everything in sight was softened and blurred. The darkness shaded into pearly silver-gray veils laid over the warehouses and the cranes, the wooden market stalls and the granite many-chimneyed building the market was named after, where day and night fish hung kippering in the fragrant oakwood smoke. The chimneys were contributing their thickness to the clammy air, and the pleasant reek of smoked herring and mackerel and haddock seemed to breathe out of the very cobbles.
Lyra, wrapped up in oilskin and with a large hood hiding her revealing hair, walked along between Farder Coram and the tillerman. All three daemons were alert, scouting around corners ahead, watching behind, listening for the slightest footfall.
But they were the only figures to be seen. The citizens of Colby were all indoors, probably sipping jenniver beside roaring stoves. They saw no one until they reached the dock, and the first man they saw there was Tony Costa, guarding the gates.
“Thank God you got here,” he said quietly, letting them through. “We just heard as Jack Verhoeven’s been shot and his boat sunk, and no one’d heard where you was. John Faa’s on board already and jumping to go.”
The vessel looked immense to Lyra: a wheelhouse and funnel amidships, a high fo’c’sle and a stout derrick over a canvas-covered hatch; yellow light agleam in the portholes and the bridge, and white light at the masthead; and three or four men on deck, working urgently at things she couldn’t see.
She hurried up the wooden gangway ahead of Farder Coram, and looked around with excitement. Pantalaimon became a monkey and clambered up the derrick at once, but she called him down again; Farder Coram wanted them indoors, or below, as you called it on board ship.
Down some stairs, or a companionway, there was a small saloon where John Faa was talking quietly with Nicholas Rokeby, the gyptian in charge of the vessel. John Faa did nothing hastily. Lyra was waiting for him to greet her, but he finished his remarks about the tide and pilotage before turning to the incomers.
“Good evening, friends,” he said. “Poor Jack Verhoeven’s dead, perhaps you’ve heard. And his boys captured.”
“We have bad news too,” said Farder Coram, and told of their encounter with the flying spirits.
John Faa shook his great head, but didn’t reproach them.
“Where is the creature now?” he said.
Farder Coram took out the leaf tin and laid it on the table. Such a furious buzzing came from it that the tin itself moved slowly over the wood.
“I’ve heard of them clockwork devils, but never seen one,” John Faa said. “There en’t no way of taming it and turning it back, I do know that much. Nor is it any use weighing it down with lead and dropping it in the ocean, because one day it’d rust through and out the devil would come and make for the child wherever she was. No, we’ll have to keep it by, and exercise our vigilance.”
Lyra being the only female on board (for John Faa had decided against taking women, after much thought), she had a cabin to herself. Not a grand cabin, to be sure; in fact, little more than a closet with a bunk and a scuttle, which was the proper name for porthole. She stowed her few things in the drawer below the bunk and ran up excitedly to lean over the rail and watch England vanish behind, only to find that most of England had vanished in the mist before she got there.
But the rush of water below, the movement in the air, the ship’s lights glowing bravely in the dark, the rumble of the engine, the smells of salt and fish and coal spirit were exciting enough by themselves. It wasn’t long before another sensation joined them, as the vessel began to roll in the German Ocean swell. When someone called Lyra down for a bite of supper, she found she was less hungry than she’d thought, and presently she decided it would be a good idea to lie down, for Pantalaimon’s sake, because the poor creature was feeling sadly ill at ease.
And so began her journey to the North.
To be continued……..
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