Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

The Ruby in the Smoke

Philip Pullman



  By Philip Pullman

  The Sally Lockhart Quartet

  The Ruby in the Smoke The Shadow in the North The Tiger in the Well The Tin Princess

  His Dark Materials

  Northern Lights

  The Subtle Knife

  The Amber Spyglass Lyra's Oxford

  Once Upon a Time in the North The New Cut Gang

  Thunderbolt's Waxwork The Gas-Fitters' Ball Contemporary Novels

  The Broken Bridge The Butterfly Tattoo The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ Books with Pictures and Fairy Tales

  The Scarecrow and his Servant Spring-Heeled Jack Count Karlstein

  The Firework Makers' Daughter I Was A Rat!

  Puss in Boots




  Grimm Tales: For Young and Old Plays

  Frankenstein (adaptation)

  Sherlock Holmes and the Limehouse Horror




  About the Author

  Born in Norwich in 1946, Philip Pullman is a world-renowned writer. His novels have won every major award for children's fiction, and are now also established as adult bestsellers. The His Dark Materials trilogy came third in the BBC's "Big Read" competition to find the nation's favourite book. In 2005 he was awarded the Astrid Lingren Memorial Award, the world's biggest prize for children's literature. Philip is married with two grown-up children, and lives in Oxford.

  "Stories are the most important thing in the world. Without stories, we wouldn't be human beings at all"


  For Marina and Sonia




  Chapter TwoTHE WEB


  Chapter FourTHE MUTINY


  Chapter SixMESSAGES






  Chapter TwelveSUBSTITUTION


  Chapter FourteenARMS AND THE GIRL

  Chapter FifteenTHE TURK'S HEAD


  Chapter SeventeenKING JAMES'S STAIRS

  Chapter EighteenLONDON BRIDGE

  Chapter NineteenTHE EAST INDIA DOCKS

  Chapter TwentyTHE CLOCK-TOWER

  Chapter One


  On a cold, fretful afternoon in early October, 1872, a hansom cab drew up outside the offices of Lockhart and Selby, Shipping Agents in the financial heart of London, and a young girl got out and paid the driver.

  She was a person of sixteen or so - alone, and uncommonly pretty. She was slender and pale, and dressed in mourning, with a black bonnet under which she tucked back a straying twist of blonde hair that the wind had teased loose. She had unusually dark brown eyes for one so fair. Her name was Sally Lockhart; and within fifteen minutes, she was going to kill a man.

  She stood looking up at the building for a moment, and climbed the three steps and entered. There was a drab corridor facing her, with a porter's office on the right, where an old man sat in front of a fire reading a Penny Dreadful. She tapped on the glass, and he sat up guiltily, thrusting the magazine down beside his chair.

  "Beg pardon, miss," he said. "Didn't see yer come in."

  "I've come to see Mr Selby," she said. "But he wasn't expecting me."

  "Name, please, miss?"

  "My name is Lockhart. My father was ... Mr Lockhart."

  He became friendlier at once.

  "Miss Sally, is it? You been here before, miss!"

  "Have I? I'm sorry, I don't remember..."

  "Must've been ten year ago at least. You sat by my fire and had a ginger biscuit and told me all about your pony. You forgotten already? Dear me ... I was very sorry to hear about your father, miss. That was a terrible thing, the ship going down like that. He was a real gentleman, miss."

  "Yes... Thank you. It was partly about my father that I came. Is Mr Selby in? Can I see him?"

  "Well, I'm afraid he ain't, miss. He's in the West India Docks on business. But Mr Higgs is here - the Company Secretary, miss. He'll be glad to talk to you."

  "Thank you. I'd better see him, then."

  The porter rang a bell, and a small boy appeared, like a sudden solidification of all the grime in the Cheapside air. His jacket was torn in three places, his collar had come adrift from the shirt, and his hair looked as if it had been used for an experiment with the powers of electricity.

  "What d'yer want?" said this apparition, whose name was Jim.

  "Mind yer manners," said the porter. "Take this young lady up to see Mr Higgs, and smartish. This is Miss Lockhart."

  The boy's sharp eyes took her in for a moment, and then flicked back suspiciously to the porter.

  "You got my Union Jack," he said. "I seen yer hide it when old Higgsy come in earlier."

  "I ain't," said the porter, without conviction. "Get on and do as yer told."

  "I'll have it," said the boy. "You wait. You ain't stealing my property. Come on," he added to Sally, and withdrew.

  "You'll have to forgive him, Miss Lockhart," said the porter. "He weren't caught young enough to tame, that one."

  "I don't mind," said Sally. "Thank you. I'll look in and say goodbye before I go."

  The boy was waiting for her at the foot of the staircase.

  "Was the boss your old man?" he said as they climbed.

  "Yes," she said, meaning to say more, but not finding the words.

  "He was a good bloke."

  It was a gesture of sympathy, she thought, and felt grateful.

  "Do you know anyone called Marchbanks?" she said. "Is there a Mr Marchbanks who works here?"

  "No. Never heard the name before."

  "Or - have you ever heard..."

  They were near the top of the stairs now, and she stopped to finish the question.

  "Have you ever heard of The Seven Blessings?"


  "Please," she said. "It's important."

  "No, I ain't," he said. "Sounds like a pub or summat. What is it?"

  "It's just something I heard. It's nothing. Forget it, please," she said, and moved up to the top of the stairs. "Where do I find Mr Higgs?"

  "In 'ere," he said, knocking thunderously at a panelled door. Without waiting for an answer, he opened it and called, "Lady to see Mr Higgs. Name of Miss Lockhart."

  She entered, and the door closed behind her. The room was full of a fug of cigar smoke, and an atmosphere of polished leather, mahogany, silver inkwells, drawers with brass handles, and glass paperweights. A portly man was trying to roll up a large wall-map on the other side of the room, and gleaming with effort. His pate gleamed, his boots gleamed, the Masonic seal on the heavy gold watch-chain over his paunch gleamed, and his face was shiny with heat, and red with years of wine and food.

  He finished rolling the map, and looked up. His expression became solemn and pious.

  "Miss Lockhart? Daughter of the late Matthew Lockhart?"

  "Yes," said Sally.

  He spread out his hands.

  "My dear Miss Lockhart," he said, "I can only say how sorry, how truly sorry, all of us were to hear of your sad loss. A fine man; a generous employer; a Christian gentleman; a gallant soldier; a ... umm; a great
loss, a sad and tragic loss."

  She inclined her head.

  "You are very kind," she said. "But I wonder if I could ask you something?"

  "My dear!" He had become expansive and genial. He pulled out a chair for her, and stood with his broad backside to the fire, beaming like an uncle. "Anything that is in my power will be done, I guarantee!"

  "Well, it's not that I want anything done - it's simpler than that - it's just... Well, did my father ever mention a Mr Marchbanks? Do you know anyone of that name?"

  He appeared to consider it with great attention. "Marchbanks," he said. "Marchbanks ... there is a ship's chandler in Rotherhithe called that - spelt Mar-jo-ri-banks, you know. Would that be the one? I don't recall your poor father ever having dealings with him, though."

  "It may be," said Sally. "Do you know his address?"

  "Tasmania Wharf, I believe," said Mr Higgs.

  "Thank you. And there was something else. It sounds silly... I shouldn't be bothering you, really, but--"

  "My dear Miss Lockhart! Anything that can be done, will be done. Just tell me how I can help."

  "Well - have you ever heard the phrase The Seven Blessings?"

  Then something extraordinary happened.

  Mr Higgs was a large, well-fed man, as we have remarked; so perhaps it was not Sally's words so much as the years of port, and Cuban cigars, and rich dinners that preceded them which made him crumple at the heart and gasp for air. He took a step forward - then darkness flooded his face, his hands clutched at his waistcoat, and he fell with a crash to the Turkey carpet. One foot kicked and twitched five times, hideously. His open eye was pressed to the carved claw-foot of the chair she sat in.

  She did not move. Nor did she scream, or faint; her only actions were to draw back the hem of her dress from where it brushed the shiny dome of his skull and to breathe deeply, several times, with her eyes shut. Her father had taught her this as a remedy for panic. He had taught her well; it worked.

  When she was calm again, she stood up carefully and stepped away from the body. Her mind was in turmoil, but her hands - she noticed - were perfectly steady. Good, she thought. When I am frightened, I can rely on my hands. The discovery pleased her absurdly: and then she heard a loud voice in the corridor.

  "Samuel Selby, Shipping Agent. Got that?" it said.

  "No Mr Lockhart?" said another voice, more timidly.

  "There ain't no Mr Lockhart. Mr Lockhart's lying in a hundred fathoms of water in the South China Sea, blast him. I mean, rest his soul. Paint him out, d'ye hear me? Paint him out! And I don't like green. A nice cheerful yeller for me, with them curly lines all round. Stylish. Got that?"

  "Yes, Mr Selby," was the reply.

  The door opened, and the owner of the first voice came in. He was a short, stout man with a quiff of straw-coloured hair, and ginger Dundreary whiskers that clashed unpleasantly with the high colour of his cheeks. He looked around - and failed to see the body of Mr Higgs, which was concealed from him by the broad mahogany desk. Instead, his fierce little eyes rested on Sally.

  "Who are you?" he demanded. "Who let you in?"

  "The porter," she said.

  "What's your name? What d'ye want?"

  "I am Sally Lockhart. But--"


  He gave a low whistle.

  "Mr Selby, I--"

  "Where's Higgs? He can deal with you. Higgs! Come out here!"

  "Mr Selby, he's dead..."

  He fell silent, and saw where she was pointing. Then he came round the desk.

  "What's going on? When did this happen?"

  "A moment ago. We were talking, and suddenly - he fell. Perhaps his heart... Mr Selby, may I sit down?"

  "Oh, go on, then. Damn fool. Not you, him. Why can't he have the decency to die on his own floor? I suppose he is dead? Have you looked?"

  "I don't think he can still be alive."

  Mr Selby hauled the body aside, and peered into the dead man's eyes, which stared unpleasantly upwards. Sally said nothing.

  "Dead as mutton," said Mr Selby. "Have to call the police now, I suppose. Blast it. What did you want here, anyway? They packed up all your father's stuff and sent it off to the lawyer. There ain't nothing here for you."

  Something prompted Sally to be careful. She took out a handkerchief and dabbed at her eyes.

  "I - I just wanted to see my father's office," she said.

  Mr Selby grunted suspiciously, and opened the door and yelled downstairs for the porter to call a policeman. A clerk passing the open door with an armful of ledgers looked in, craning his neck. Sally stood up.

  "May I leave now?"

  "Not likely," said Mr Selby. "You're a witness, you are. You'll have to have your name and address took, and turn up at the inquest. What d'you want to see the office for, anyway?"

  Sally sniffed loudly, and dabbed more extravagantly at her eyes. She wondered if she might venture a sob. She wanted to be away and to think; and she was beginning to be afraid of this fierce little man's curiosity. If mentioning The Seven Blessings had really killed Mr Higgs, she had no wish to risk Mr Selby's reaction.

  But the crying was a good idea. Mr Selby was not subtle enough to suspect it, and waved her away in distaste.

  "Oh, go and sit in the porter's room," he said impatiently. "The copper'll want a word with you, but there's no point in hanging about here snivelling. Go on, go downstairs."

  She left. On the landing two or three clerks had gathered, and stared after her with great curiosity.

  In the porter's room she found the office-boy, reclaiming his Penny Dreadful from behind the post-box.

  " 'S all right," he said. "I won't give yer away. I heard yer kill old Higgsy, but I ain't going to tell them."

  "I didn't!" she said.

  "Course yer did. I 'eard through the door."

  "You were listening! That's horrible."

  "I didn't mean to. I felt tired all of a sudden, so I leant against the door, and somehow the words seemed to come through," he said with a grin. "He died o' fright, old Higgsy. Struck dead with terror. Whatever Seven Blessings is, he knew all right. You better be careful who you ask about it."

  She sat down in the porter's chair.

  "I just don't know what to do," she said.

  "Do about what?"

  She looked at his bright eyes and determined face, and decided to trust him.

  "It's this," she said. "It arrived this morning." She opened her bag and took out a crumpled letter. "It was posted from Singapore. That was the last place my father was, before the ship sank... But it's not his writing. I don't know who it's from."

  Jim opened it. The letter said:

  "Blimey," he said. "Tell you what - he can't spell."

  "D'you mean my name?"

  "What's your name?"


  "No. This." He pointed to the word CHATTUM.

  "What should it be? Do you know it?"

  "C - H - A - T - H - A - M, o' course. Chatham in Kent."

  "I suppose it could be."

  "An' this Marchbanks lives there. Bet yer. That's why he puts it in. 'Ere," he said, seeing Sally glance upwards, "you don't want to worry about old Higgsy. 'Cause if you hadn't said it to him, someone else would've, eventually. He was guilty of something. Hundred to one. And old Selby is, too. You ain't said anything to him?"

  She shook her head. "Only to you. But I don't even know your name."

  "Jim Taylor. And if yer wants to find me, it's 13 Fortune Buildings, Clerkenwell. I'll help yer."

  "Will you really?"

  "You bet."

  "Well, if... If you hear anything, write to me care of Mr Temple, of Lincoln's Inn."

  The door opened, and the porter came in.

  "Are you all right, miss?" he said. "What a terrible thing - here, you," he said to Jim, "stop skulking in here. The copper wants a doctor sent for, to certify the death. Go on, hop it, and find a doctor."

  Jim winked at Sally and left. The porter went straight
for the post-box, and cursed when he found nothing behind it.

  "Young blackguard," he muttered. "I might have known it. Would you like a cup o' tea, miss? I don't suppose Mr Selby thought of that, did he?"

  "No thank you. I ought to be going. My aunt will be getting anxious... Did the policeman want to see me?"

  "I expect he will in a minute. He'll come down here when he wants yer. What - er - how was it that Mr Higgs--"

  "We were talking about my father," said Sally, "and he suddenly..."

  "Weak heart," said the porter. "My brother was took the same last Christmas. He ate a big dinner and lit a cigar, and fell face down in the bowl o' nuts. Oh, I beg yer pardon, miss. I don't mean to dwell on it."

  Sally shook her head. Presently the policeman came and took her name and address, and then left. She stayed a minute or two longer with the old porter; but remembering Jim's warning, she said nothing to him about the letter from the East Indies. Which was a pity, because he might have been able to tell her something.

  So it was not Sally's intention to kill - despite the gun she carried in her bag. The real cause of Mr Higgs's death, the letter, had arrived only that morning, forwarded by the lawyer to the house in Peveril Square, Islington, where Sally was living. The house belonged to a distant relative of her father's, a grim widow called Mrs Rees; Sally had been living there since August, and she was unhappy about it. But she had no choice. Mrs Rees was her only living relative.

  Her father had died three months before, when the schooner Lavinia had sunk in the South China Sea. He had gone out there to look into some odd discrepancies in the reports from the company's agents in the Far East - something that had to be investigated on the spot, and could not be checked from London. He had warned her before he went that it might be dangerous.

  "I want to speak to our man in Singapore," he had said. "He's a Dutchman called van Eeden. I know he's trustworthy. If by some chance I don't come back, he'll be able to tell you why."

  "Couldn't you send someone else?"

  "No. It's my firm, and I must go myself."

  "But Father, you must come back!"

  "Of course I will. But you must be prepared for - for anything else. I know you'll do it bravely. Keep your powder dry, my girlie, and think of your mother..."

  Sally's mother had died during the Indian Mutiny, fifteen years before - shot through the heart by a sepoy's rifle, at the same instant that a bullet from her pistol killed him. Sally was a few months old - their only child. Her mother had been a wild, stormy, romantic young woman, who rode like a Cossack, shot like a champion and smoked (to the scandal of the fascinated Regiment) tiny black cheroots in an ivory holder. She was left-handed, which was why she was holding the pistol in her left hand, which was why she was clasping Sally with the right, which was why the bullet that struck her heart missed the baby; but it grazed her little arm, and left a scar. Sally could not remember her mother, but she loved her. And since then she had been brought up by her father - oddly, in the view of various busybodies; but then, Captain Matthew Lockhart's leaving the Army to take up the unlikely career of shipping agent was odd enough in itself. Mr Lockhart taught his daughter himself in the evenings, and let her do as she pleased during the day. As a result, her knowledge of English Literature, French, History, Art and Music was non-existent, but she had a thorough grounding in the principles of military tactics and book-keeping, a close acquaintance with the affairs of the Stock Market, and a working knowledge of Hindustani. Furthermore, she could ride well (though her pony would not agree to the Cossack procedure); and for her fourteenth birthday her father had bought her a little Belgian pistol, the one she carried everywhere, and taught her to shoot. She was now nearly as good a shot as her mother. She was solitary, but perfectly happy; the only blight on her childhood was the Nightmare.