La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust #1)(14)

by Philip Pullman

She mixed the cocoa powder with a little sugar and poured in the hot milk, making some for herself as well. The boy knew so much already that she had to trust him. There was little choice.

“You got a lot of books,” he said as she came back. “Are you a scholar?”

“Yes, I am. At St. Sophia’s.”

“Are you an historian?”

“Sort of. A historian of ideas, I suppose. An historian.” She switched on the standard lamp beside the fire, and instantly the room became warmer, the weather outside darker and colder. “Malcolm, this message…”

“Yeah? Yes?”

“Have you made a copy of it?”

He blushed. “Yes. But I’ve hidden it,” he said, “under a floorboard in my bedroom. No one knows that space is there.”

“Will you do something? Will you burn your copy?”

“Yes. I promise.”

His dæmon and hers had established a friendship already, it seemed: Jesper was sitting on top of a glass case of ornaments and curiosities, and Asta, in the form of a goldfinch, was perching there too as he quietly explained about the Babylonian seal, the Roman coin, the harlequin.

“Is there anything you want to ask me?” she said.

“Yes. Lots. Who made the acorn?”

“Well, that I don’t know. I think they’re sort of standard issue.”

“What’s the instrument? When I asked how you knew it was me that had the acorn, you said there was an instrument. Is that the althee—almeth—”

“The alethiometer…yes.”

She explained what it was and how it worked, and he followed closely.

“A-lee-thee-ometer…Is that the only one there is?”

“No. There were six originally. The others are all in other universities. Except one, anyway, which is lost.”

“Why don’t they make another one? Or lots of them?”

“They don’t know how to anymore.”

“They could take it apart and look. If they didn’t know how to make a clock, and they had one that worked, they could take it apart very carefully and make a drawing of every separate part and how they joined up, and then make more parts like that and make another clock. It’d be complicated, but it wouldn’t be hard.”

This was all safe. If she could keep him on this subject, she’d have nothing to worry about.

“I think there’s more to it than that,” she said. “I think parts of it are made of an alloy that can’t be made anymore. Perhaps the metal’s very rare—I don’t know. Anyway, nobody has.”

“Oh. That’s interesting. I’d like to have a look at it someday. How things fit together—I love looking at that.”

“Where do you go to school, Malcolm?”

“Ulvercote Elementary. That’s the old name for Wolvercote.”

“Where will you go when you leave that school?”

“What school, you mean? I dunno if I will. Prob’ly if I get an apprenticeship…Maybe my dad would like me just to work at the Trout.”

“What about going to a senior school?”

“I don’t think they’ve thought of that.”

“Would you like to? Do you like school?”

“Yes, I prob’ly would. Yes, I would. But it’s not very likely.”

His dæmon was listening closely. She flew to his shoulder and whispered something, and he very slightly shook his head. Hannah pretended not to see and bent to put a log on the fire.

“What did the message mean by the ‘Rusakov field’?” said Malcolm.

“Ah. Well, I don’t really know. It’s not necessary for me to know everything when I consult the alethiometer. It seems to know what it needs to.”

“ ’Cause the message said, ‘When we try measuring one way, our substance evades it and seems to prefer another, but when we try a different way, we have no more success.’ ”

“Have you memorized the whole message?”

“I didn’t set out to. I’ve just read it so much, it memorized itself. Anyway, what I was going to say was, that sounds a bit like the uncertainty principle.”

She felt as if she was walking downstairs in the dark and had just missed a step.

“How do you know about that?”

“Well, there’s lots of scholars come to the Trout, and they tell me things. Like the uncertainty principle, where you can know some things about a particle, but you can’t know everything. If you know this thing, you can’t know that thing, so you’re always going to be uncertain. It sounds like that. And the other thing it says, about Dust. What’s Dust?”

Hannah hastily tried to recall what was public knowledge and what was Oakley Street knowledge, and said, “It’s a kind of elementary particle that we don’t know much about. It’s not easy to examine, not just because of what it says in this message, but because the Magisterium…D’you know what I mean by the Magisterium?”

“The sort of chief authority of the Church.”

“That’s right. Well, they strongly disapprove of any investigations into Dust. They think it’s sinful. I don’t know why. That’s one of the mysteries that we’re trying to solve.”

“How can knowing something be sinful?”

“A very good question. Do you talk to anyone at school about this sort of thing?”

“Only my friend Robbie. He doesn’t say very much, but I know he’s interested.”

“Not to the teachers?”

“I don’t think they’d understand. It’s just that being at the Trout, I can talk to all kinds of people.”

“Very useful too,” Hannah said. An idea was beginning to form in her mind, but she tried to push it away.

“So you think when he mentions Dust, he’s talking about elementary particles?” said Malcolm.

“I expect so. But it’s not my area, and I don’t know for sure.”

He stared into the fire for a while. Then he said, “If Mr. Luckhurst was the person who passed the acorn back and forth from you, then…”

“I know. How am I going to contact the—the other people? There’s another way. I’ll have to use that.”

“Who are the other people?”

“I can’t tell you because I don’t know.”

“How was it all set up in the first place?”

“Someone asked me to help.”

He sipped his chocolatl and seemed to be considering things deeply.

“And the enemy,” he said carefully, “that’s the Consistorial Court, isn’t it?”

“Well, you’ve seen enough to realize that, and you’ve seen how dangerous they are. Promise me you won’t do anything else to link you with me or the tree by the canal. Anything dangerous at all.”

“I can promise to try,” he said, “but if it’s secret, I won’t know if I’m doing anything dangerous or not.”

“Fair enough. And you won’t tell anyone what you know already?”

“Yes, I can promise that.”

“Well, that’s a relief to me.”

But all the time the idea kept nagging at her.

“Malcolm,” she said, “when those two CCD men came to the Trout and arrested Mr….”

“Mr. Boatwright. But he got away.”

“Yes, him. They weren’t asking about this sort of thing, were they?”

“No. They asked about a man who came to the Trout a few nights before. With the ex–lord chancellor. A man with a black mustache.”

“Yes, I remember you mentioned him. You do mean the ex–lord chancellor of England? Lord Nugent? Not just someone who was nicknamed the lord chancellor, as a joke?”

“Yes, it was Lord Nugent, all right. Dad showed me his picture in the paper later.”

“D’you know why the CCD men were asking about him? Was it about a baby?”

Malcolm was taken aback. He’d been on his guard not to say anything about Lyra, as Sister Fenella had advised him; but then the old lady had realized that lots of people knew already, and she’d said that perhaps it didn’t matter.

“Er…how d’you know about the baby?” he said.

“Is it something secret? To tell the truth, I heard someone talking about it when I was in the Trout yesterday. Somebody was saying that the nuns…I can’t remember exactly, but a baby came into it somehow.”

“Well,” he said, “seeing as how you’ve heard of it already…” He told her how it had begun, from the three guests peering through the window of the Terrace Room to his glimpse of the little baby Lyra and her fierce dæmon.

“Well, that is interesting,” she said.

“You know the law of sanctuary?” he said. “ ’Cause Sister Fenella told me about sanctuary, and I wondered if they were going to put the baby there because of that. And she said there were some colleges that could do sanctuary as well.”