Mystery at Girton
Disclaimer: Lucy Pevensie and her siblings, together with all other characters and places from the Chronicles of Narnia are the creation of C. S. Lewis. Cambridge University and its |associated colleges, including Girton are real places, but all the staff and students depicted herein are fictional. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is coincidental.
Chapter 1: The Roommate
"It's not exactly Cair Paravel, is it?"
Peter Pevensie laughed at his younger sister's comment. He had to agree that Girton College was not at all like the wonderful castle he and the others lived in when they were Kings and Queens in Narnia. A redbrick neo-Tudor building, constructed in the middle of the last century, it was also a far cry from the gothic elegance of his own college.
"Not much," he agreed. "Rather different from King's as well, but then we are the best in Cambridge!"
"You mean the most famous," Lucy corrected him, "and that's only because of the choir."
"Well it is a wonderful choir," Peter insisted. "But it's not just the Chapel and choir King's is renowned for. We also get the best academic results of any college." He grinned, deciding to tease Lucy a little. "I don't think Girton actually had a single graduate last year!"
"Now that's hardly fair," Lucy protested, as Peter opened the boot of his car and heaved out her suitcase. "Girton only became part of the University officially two years ago. We'll have our first graduates this year, then we'll see just how well King's compares!"
"Yes we will see!" Peter replied, putting the suitcase down. "Do you want me to come inside with you?"
Lucy shook her head. "I'll be fine Peter. I'm a big girl now!"
"I know," Peter sighed. "I can hardly believe you're eighteen already and starting at University."
"I have been eighteen before," Lucy reminded him. "I've been much older than that, actually!"
"Yes, but you've weren't at college then," Peter said. "You weren't apart from the rest of us."
"Well I won't be that far away from you and Ed," Lucy assured him. "It's only a quick bus ride to the main University campus and I'll have to come every day for lectures and laboratory work."
Peter couldn't resist teasing her again. "I never thought you would study something like pharmacology. My sister the mad scientist!"
Lucy returned the teasing in kind. "Better than being a dotty antiquarian like you, stuck in old books and manuscripts all day!"
"I like old manuscripts," her brother declared. "Much more interesting than all those smelly chemicals!" Becoming serious again he said regretfully, "I'd better be going."
Lucy just nodded, her eyes looking suspiciously moist.
Stepping forward, Peter kissed his sister's forehead and drew her into an affectionate hug.
"Aslan protect you, dear sister!"
"And you, brother!"
Lucy watched as Peter got back into his car and started the engine. He gave her a final wave then sped off, the car soon disappearing from sight.
She turned round and slowly made her way towards the college. Passing through the tower gate a short walk brought Lucy out into a quadrangle of buildings surrounding a well-manicured lawn. Just to her left was a small building she identified from her map of the college as the Porter's Lodge, where she had been instructed to report on arrival.
There was an open hatchway set in the wall of the Lodge and sitting behind it was a middle-aged man with prematurely silver hair, dressed rather splendidly in a scarlet uniform with gold buttons and tassels.
"Good morning, Miss," he greeted her politely. "How can I help you?"
"I'm a new student," Lucy informed him. "I was told to report here."
"You're name, Miss?" The Porter enquired, opening a notebook bound in red leather.
"Lucy Pevensie," he muttered, thumbing through the notebook. "Ah yes, here we are. You received the letter we sent, Miss Pevensie?"
"Letter?" Lucy stared at him blankly.
"The College sent you a letter at the beginning of last week," he informed her. "You didn't receive it?"
Lucy shook her head. "I've been staying with my cousin for the last week."
"Oh dear!" he exclaimed. "That's really very unfortunate. Well the long and short of it is that you'll be having to share your room."
Lucy frowned. "I thought we each got an individual room?"
"Normally, yes," the Porter told her. "But the number of applicants has increased dramatically over the past two years. Until the new accommodation wing is built, the administration has decided to double up some of the larger rooms to accommodate additional students."
"Oh that's fine," Lucy assured him. "I don't mind sharing with another girl."
"You haven't met her yet!" He scowled unpleasantly. "It really isn't proper, a nice English girl like you, having to room with someone of her sort."
Lucy was surprised by the hostility in his tone. She presumed from his words that her roommate was a foreigner, but the antagonistic attitude was rather strong, even for the usually insular British. She wondered if this girl might be German. Although the war had ended five years ago, anti-German sentiment was still very strong among some people and that might explain the Porter's disapproval.
"I'll show you to your room. Wait a moment please" He disappeared inside the building and Lucy could hear him asking someone to stand in for him. A few seconds later he came out of a nearby door. Indicating that she should follow him, the Porter set off along the narrow path that ran parallel to the lawn, Lucy trailing a little behind him.
"As you will be sharing, your study bedroom will have two beds and extra furniture, including individual storage for clothes and other possessions," he informed her, "but I'm afraid you will have to share a dressing table. Cooking in your room is not allowed, but tea and other hot beverages may be prepared and a small gas ring has been provided for this purpose."
"Meals will be in the Dining Hall." He pointed across the quad and Lucy turned to see a large building with a gable roof, built of the same redbrick as the rest of the college. "Mealtimes have been posted on the bulletin boards in all the common rooms and you should remember that you will only be served in the Dining Hall on presentation of a valid Ration Book. Academic gowns must be worn at mealtimes and all formal college occasions. A gown is available in your room and wearing it is also mandatory at university lectures. If you lose your gown it will not be replaced until payment of the appropriate fine,"
"How much?" Lucy queried nervously, trying her best to absorb all this information.
"Twelve shillings," he replied and Lucy winced, fervently promising herself she would take great care of her gown.
"College gates are locked at midnight, but there is a ten o'clock curfew and admittance after this will require payment of a two shilling fine. Entertaining male visitors in your room is strictly forbidden," he looked at Lucy sternly, "and any infringement of this rule will result in immediate suspension. Male visitors may be entertained in your common room with permission from a member of staff."
By now they had come to the far end of the quadrangle and the Porter opened a door and beckoned Lucy inside. They ascended a stairway and then turned right into a wide corridor, painted white with portraits stationed at intervals on the walls, all of female subjects.
"This is the Emily Davis Wing of the College dormitories," he informed her. "This is your dorm's common room," he pointed at the nearest door, "and the bathroom is at the end of the corridor."
He led her to the second door on the right and opened it without knocking. "This will be your room."
Lucy followed him inside. It was a fairly large room with three arched windows at the far end that looked out onto the college quadrangle. A dressing table with a large mirror stood in front of the windows and looking round Lucy saw a wardrobe, two beds and two desks along with some chairs and a couple of Chester drawers. There was a small table at the side of the room with a portable gas ring alight and a kettle boiling.
A girl had been sitting beside the table and she stood up when they entered. She was about Lucy's height and her clothes were typical of an English girl in her late teens, not that dissimilar to what Lucy was wearing, but her olive skin and dark hair and eyes at once betrayed her origins from the Indian subcontinent. It suddenly dawned on Lucy that the Porter's hostility to her roommate was a result not of national but of racial prejudice.
"Well, I'll leave you to get unpacked," the Porter said, and with a dark look at the Indian girl he left, closing the door behind him.
Lucy laid her suitcase on the nearest bed and turned to face her new roommate.
"Hello," she said, offering her hand. "I'm Lucy Pevensie."
After just a slight hesitation, the girl took Lucy's hand and shook it.
"Sumita Chatterjee," she introduced herself. Her voice sounded typically English, although there was a slight accent. It did not sound Indian though, and Lucy could not quite place it
Despite the fact that they had only just met, Lucy already found herself liking this girl. She rather reminded her of Aravis, but it was not just in appearance that she resembled the Calormene Tarkeenha who had become a noblewoman of Archenland. She had the same proud and dignified way of carrying herself but also the same reserve, the same slight hesitation and uncertainty Lucy had seen in Aravis when they first met. Her thoughts were interrupted by the shrill whistle of the kettle boiling.
"I was just making some tea," Sumita explained, turning off the gas ring. "Would you like some?"
"Thank you," Lucy replied. "That would be lovely."
Sumita busied herself getting a teapot and cups and saucers as Lucy settled herself in one of the chairs.
"Sumita is a beautiful name," Lucy said.
"Thank you!" the Indian girl replied, looking a bit surprised. "It means 'friendly'"
"Friendly" Lucy said thoughtfully. "And are you? Friendly I mean."
"I hope so!" Sumita answered. "How do you take your tea?"
"Oh, milk and one sugar, please." Lucy watched as Sumita stirred the cup and then passed it to her before taking a chair herself.
"Thank you!" She took a small sip. "What subject are you reading?" she asked.
"Pharmacology," her roommate replied.
"Really?" Lucy was delighted by that information. "So am I!"
"I suppose that's why they put us together," Sumita suggested. She also looked extremely pleased.
"I expect so." Lucy took another sip of her tea. "Well I really hope you live up to your name then. It would be good to have someone friendly beside me during lectures!"
Sumita did not reply for a few moments. "What about your name," she asked at last. "Lucy means 'light' doesn't it?"
Lucy smiled at that. "Yes it does."
"I think light is what I need most," Sumita muttered, more to herself than Lucy.
"Why, are you living in darkness?" Lucy asked, half joking.
"Oh, I didn't mean anything really," the girl exclaimed, suddenly looking rather uncomfortable. "You don't want to worry about my problems."
"No, I'd like to know," Lucy told her. She hadn't been serious before but now she was concerned, seeing that something was really bothering Sumita. She reached out and squeezed the girl's hand encouragingly. "Please?"
Sumita sighed but nodded in acquiescence. "All right," she said, then took a sip of tea before speaking again.
"Well I was born in India, in Bombay actually, but I've spent very little time there since I was a small child," she explained. "I've lived in South Africa with my mother and uncle since I was eight, and for the last seven years I attended a boarding school here in England. I'm really European I suppose, in everything that counts. I certainly couldn't be comfortable with Indian culture anymore. The last time I was back there I was subjected to a lot of disapproval because I've picked up all sorts of Western habits and mannerisms they don't like. There's quite a lot of resentment in India against Indians who've adopted European culture and dress, at least with women, they don't seem to mind it with men so much."
Sumita took another sip of tea before continuing. "But sometimes I'm not sure I belong in England either. You noticed the Porter's attitude?" Lucy nodded sympathetically. "A lot of people are like that. Some English people are really nice and seem to accept me without any problems, but a lot of them just can't look past the fact that I'm Indian, a foreigner of a different race, and can't see me as a person." Sumita frowned, staring into the depths of her teacup. "That's why I sometimes I feel as though I am actually living in darkness, caught between two different cultures, two different worlds and not really belonging to either of them."
Lucy remained silent for quite a while because Sumita's words had struck a deep chord with her. Lucy knew she would always be a Narnian Queen; nothing could ever change that. But the fact was that Narnia did not really need her anymore, not as a ruler anyway, the mantle of sovereign responsibility had passed on to Caspian's heirs. Lucy fully accepted that, accepted that her home was in England now. She was not sure what Aslan wanted her to do here but felt certain He had some purpose for her and was determined to fulfil it. That was one of the reasons she was here at Girton to study pharmacology. But it was hard sometimes. Living all those years as a Queen in Narnia had changed her in ways that sometimes made it difficult to fit in. There were advantages of course. Her experiences had given her a wealth of wisdom and of insight into human motivation that most people three or four times her age could not match. But the drawback was she sometimes found it a little hard to relate to people her own age. Looking at her new roommate she felt they were in some ways kindred spirits, because Lucy also at times felt caught between two worlds without fully belonging to either.
"I think," Lucy said carefully, breaking the long silence at last, "that what we both need is a really good friend, someone to rely on in this new place we find ourselves in. Perhaps we could be that for each other?" Lifting her teacup, Lucy held it up, offering a toast. "Friends?" she asked hopefully.
Sumita looked at her in astonishment, then a delighted smile appeared on her face and she lifted her own cup in response.
"Friends!" she agreed, and the two girls clinked their teacups together and drank to set the seal on their pact.
Lucy looked round at the room that would be her home for most of the next three years then back at Sumita. Starting college was an intimidating experience, but she had already accomplished one of the most important things, she had made a friend. Whatever else might be in store for her, Lucy was sure now she would enjoy studying at Cambridge.