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 17: An Unexpected Ally
Lucy gathered up her notes and textbooks then put on her coat. She glanced briefly in the mirror and winced at her appearance. Despite the make-up she had applied the dark shadows under her eyes were still obvious to anyone who looked closely.
Nearly a week had now passed since Sumita's disappearance and they were still no closer to finding her. Peter and Edmund had done their best to help her but none of them had come up with anything and they still couldn't think of any possible suspects.
Lucy shook her head irritably. There was no point in thinking about this now and she needed to get on with her work. As there were no lectures this morning, Lucy had decided to spend a couple of hours in the library, catching up with the course assignments she was behind with. She felt it would be easier to do this somewhere other than her room, which was a constant reminder of her missing friend. And perhaps concentrating for a while on something else would help her return to the problem with a fresh perspective.
Just as she was about to leave, there was a knock at the door.
"Come in!" Lucy called out.
The door opened and to Lucy's surprise Alice Pearson entered.
"Um… excuse me," the girl said hesitantly. "I was wondering…" Her voice trailed off.
"What is it?" Lucy regarded her curiously. It was obvious Pearson wanted something, but Lucy didn't understand why she had come to her; they were not exactly friends. But then she realised she probably knew Pearson better than any other girl at Girton. As far as Lucy knew she had no close friends here; the girl's acerbic personality hardly encouraged anyone to be friendly.
"I was wondering if you could loan me some mascara." Pearson said at last.
Lucy stared at her blankly for a moment. That was hardly what she had expected. Then with a shrug she went to her dressing table and picking up a small gold tube handed it to the other girl.
"It's just plain black," she said apologetically.
"That's fine." Pearson replied. "I'll return it to you in a minute."
"There's no hurry," Lucy told her. "I don't often use it anyway."
Pearson started to leave the room, hesitated then turned back to face Lucy.
"Still no sign of your little friend, eh?"
"You mean Sumita?" Lucy stared at her coldly. Then she sighed and ran a hand through her hair, unable to maintain her stoic façade. "No, there isn't and I'm really worried now."
Pearson shrugged. "Oh, I shouldn't worry. From what I saw Saturday evening she's not in any danger!"
She turned to leave again, but before she had taken more than two paces she was seized from behind and slammed into the wall. Pearson let out a little shriek of fear, the tube of mascara falling from her hand and rolling away un-regarded.
"What do you mean?" Lucy hissed. "Did you see Sumita on Saturday evening?"
"Let me go!" Pearson protested. She struggled to free herself, but Lucy was much stronger and seizing the other girl's wrists pinned her to the wall.
Alice Pearson whimpered, staring back at Lucy with a look of terror in her eyes.
"I saw her when I going home for Sunday in my father's car. A man was carrying her into a house about half a mile from here. I couldn't see his face but they looked very lovey dovey, the way she was leaning on his shoulder."
Lucy released the other girl and stepped back, her face impassive but her mind whirling, trying to make sense of this startling new information.
"What's wrong?" Pearson's tone was mocking. Now that Lucy had released her she was recovering some of her characteristic sarcasm. "Spoiled your rose tinted view of your darkie friend, have I? Well, you needn't worry. She'll be back when she's tired of him. These people have no control over their lower instincts!"
Lucy realised Pearson believed she had seen Sumita with a lover. Obviously Sumita had been semi-conscious, possibly drugged when she was being carried and the blond girl had interpreted what she saw in line with her own prejudices. She didn't bother trying to persuade her otherwise; there were more urgent things to deal with.
"Where is this house?"
Pearson shrugged. "I told you, about half a mile from here."
"Take me there!" Lucy demanded.
"Are you mad?" Pearson burst out. "I haven't got time and there would be no point anyway. Chattergee wouldn't thank you for intruding on her little love nest!"
Lucy glared at her. "Just so you're aware of it Pearson, Sumita's disappearance is the subject of a police investigation. So either you show me or you will have to show them!"
Pearson stared at her, clearly astonished.
"Well?" Lucy said. "Are you going to cooperate or do I call the police?"
"All right, all right!" Pearson said hurriedly. "I think I can remember how to get there."
"Come on then!"
Lucy started to leave the room, hesitated, and then went to the drawer in her bedside table. Opening it, she took out the knife Peter had given her and slipped it into her pocket.
"I thought you were in a hurry," Pearson said in exasperation.
Lucy didn't bother to offer any explanation. She left her room, Pearson trailing reluctantly behind her. To Pearson's further annoyance Lucy stopped at the Porter's Lodge to use the telephone. She was unable to contact either Mark or her brothers, but she left a message for all three, explaining briefly that she knew where Sumita was and giving the address that her reluctant companion had been able to provide.
Alice Pearson seemed annoyed once more at the delay. Lucy thought it rather ironic, considering how reluctant she had been to help. She supposed Pearson regarded the entire thing as a farce and wanted it done with as soon as possible.
Lucy felt a little twinge of guilt at involving Pearson in something that could very well be dangerous. But she needed her help to find the place quickly and the girl's attitude did little to evoke sympathy.
They walked out of the college gate, their journey taking them into the leafy outer suburbs of Cambridge. Twenty minutes later, Lucy found herself outside a detached house at the end of an avenue. It was fronted by a neat garden enclosed by a fence and looked exactly like a thousand other, perfectly normal, suburban houses.
"Are you sure his is the right house?" Lucy asked
Pearson nodded. Lucy walked around to where the wall of the house ran alongside the side street. There were a couple of windows at about waist height and the second had a latch that seemed rather loose. Taking out the knife Peter had given her, Lucy was able to force it open.
"What are you doing?" Pearson hissed.
"Breaking in." Lucy replied calmly. "What does it look like?"
"Are you crazy?" The other girl exclaimed. "That's illegal!"
"You don't have to stay." Lucy told her patiently. "You've brought me here and now you can go if you like."
"No!" Pearson replied, shaking her head. "I want to find out what all this is about."
"All right then." Lucy swung her leg over the windowsill and clambered inside, in the process catching her stocking on a protruding nail and laddering it badly. Pearson followed her, cursing under her breath at the exertion.
"I've laddered my stockings," Pearson complained.
"So have I." Lucy shrugged. "It doesn't matter."
"Easy for you to say," the other girl grumbled. "You're only wearing nylons but mine are silk. They cost ten shillings a pair!"
Lucy ignored her, looking round at the room they found themselves in. It was obviously a sitting room, quite lavishly furnished with a sofa and chairs, a coffee table and drinks cabinet and a radio-gramophone in the corner; everything looked immaculate.
Opening the door, Lucy found herself in a narrow hallway with several doors and a flight of stairs leading to the upper part of the house. Under the stairs was a wooden door that probably led to a cellar. Lucy decided to explore there first.
"What are you doing?" Pearson asked in a whisper as Lucy opened the door under the stairs.
"I think this leads to a cellar," Lucy replied, also whispering. "Let's try here first."
Her guess about the cellar proved correct. There was a light switch just inside the door and when she pressed it the space below was illuminated.
Cautiously, the two girls descended the stone steps and found themselves in a wine cellar. Wine racks filled with dusty bottles crowded the narrow space. Lucy examined some of the bottles curiously. They included some of France's greatest wines, such a Château Latour and Romanee LaTache, as well as Rieslings from some of the great German vineyards like Steinberg and Sonnenuhr.
"However owns this place, he or she was good taste in wine," Lucy muttered.
"There's another door over there," Alice Pearson said suddenly.
Lucy looked where Pearson was pointing and saw an old wooden door set into the wall that presumably led to another part of the cellar. She walked over and opened it, but the interior was in complete darkness. There was a switch next to the door and when Lucy pressed it a light bulb lit up inside. She gasped in horror at the sight that met her eyes.
It was a tiny stone room, with no furnishing except a wooden table and chair. Sitting in the chair, her head lolling to one side, gagged and bound hand and foot with ropes was someone Lucy recognised at once.
Lucy rushed over to her friend. She sighed with relief as a quick examination showed Sumita was at least still alive, although she was deeply unconscious and seemed to have been sedated. Her friend was still wearing the dress from Saturday night, but it was now filthy and crumpled. Sumita herself was in a worse condition. Her hair was grubby and tangled, she looked thin and haggard and there were livid bruises on her face. Cold fury filled Lucy's heart as she realised her friend had been starved and beaten for nearly a week. She silently vowed that whoever was responsible would pay and pay dearly!
"Chattergee!" Lucy looked round at the sound of Pearson's voice to see her standing in the doorway of Sumita's cell, her eyes wide with horror. "What happened to her?"
Lucy's voice was harsh as she replied. "She's been kept a prisoner here and been beaten and starved for the last six days!"
"Why would anyone do such a terrible thing?"
"Why should you care?" Lucy asked bitterly. The glare she directed at Alice Pearson was cold and hard. "She's only another darkie! Why should you bother about what happens to her?"
"I didn't mean…" Pearson stammered, then fell silent. She hung her head looking confused and a little ashamed.
Lucy's expression softened. She realised Alice Pearson was probably more unthinking than callous. She had heard a little about the girl's background. She came from a wealthy upper-class family that had connections with the British Administration in India before Independence. Lucy guessed Pearson had only been parroting the prejudices she had been brought up with; prejudices there had been little opportunity for her to question.
"Why don't you remove the ropes and gag and try to make Sumita more comfortable?" She suggested gently. "I'm going to look around upstairs and see if I can find any clues about who's behind this."
Leaving Pearson to look after Sumita, Lucy climbed the cellar stair and started looking through the ground floor of the house. Besides the sitting room there was a bathroom and kitchen, both immaculate and quite luxurious, but there was no indication of who this house belonged to.
Lucy was just about to go upstairs when she heard a faint scream from the open cellar door. She rushed down the stairs and raced across the wine cellar. The door to Sumita's cell was still open, but Alice Pearson lay crumpled in the doorway. A dark figure was bending over her, holding a gauze pad.
The figure straightened up and turned around, and Lucy found herself staring into the mocking face of Mortimer Johnson!