Meggie opened the book and leafed through the pages until she found the big ‘N’ with the animal that looked so like Gwin sitting on it.
‘Meggie! I’m talking to you!’ Elinor shook her roughly by the shoulders. ‘Who were you talking about just now?’
‘Capricorn.’ Meggie just whispered the name. Danger seemed to cling to it – to every single letter of it.
‘Capricorn. Go on. I’ve heard you mention that name a couple of times before. But who, for goodness’ sake, is this Capricorn?’
Meggie closed the book, stroked the binding, and looked at it from all sides. ‘It doesn’t give the title on the cover,’ she murmured.
‘No, not on the cover or inside.’ Elinor rose and went to her wardrobe. ‘There are a good many books where you can’t find the title straight away. After all, it’s a relatively modern habit to put it on the cover. When books were still bound so that the spines curved inwards the title might be on the side, if anywhere, but in most cases you found it out only when you opened the book. It wasn’t until bookbinders learned to make rounded spines that the title moved to the front of the book.’
‘Yes, I know!’ said Meggie impatiently. ‘But this isn’t an old book. I know what old books look like.’
Elinor looked at her ironically. ‘Oh, I apologise! I was forgetting you’re a real little expert. But you’re right, yes, this book isn’t very old. It was published almost exactly thirty-eight years ago. Ridiculously young for a book!’ She disappeared behind her open wardrobe door. ‘But of course it has a title all the same. It’s called Inkheart. I suspect your father intentionally bound it so that no one could identify it just from looking at the cover. You don’t even find the title on the first page, and when you look carefully you see that he’s removed it – the title page.’
Elinor’s nightdress landed on the carpet, and Meggie saw a pair of tights being put on over her bare legs.
‘We have to go to the police again,’ said Meggie.
‘What for?’ Elinor threw a sweater over the wardrobe door. ‘What are you going to tell them? Didn’t you notice the way those two policemen looked at us last night?’ Elinor imitated them: ‘“Oh yes, what was that again, Signora Loredan? Someone broke into your house after you’d been kind enough to switch off the burglar alarm? And then this amazingly cunning burglar stole just one book, although there are books worth millions in your library, and they took this girl’s father away after he’d offered to go with them in any case? Yes, very interesting. And it seems that these men were working for a man called Capricorn. Doesn’t that mean goat or something?” Heavens above, child!’ Elinor emerged from behind the wardrobe door. She was wearing an unattractive check skirt and a caramel-coloured sweater that made her look as pale as dough. ‘Everyone living around this lake thinks I’m crazy, and if we go back to the police with this story, then the news that Elinor Loredan has finally flipped will be all over the place. Which just goes to show that a passion for books is extremely unhealthy.’
‘You dress like an old granny,’ said Meggie.
Elinor looked down at herself. ‘Thank you very much,’ she said, ‘but comments on my appearance are uncalled-for. Anyway, I could be your granny. With a little stretch of the imagination.’
‘Have you ever been married?’
‘No, why would I want to? And could you now kindly stop making personal remarks? Hasn’t your father ever taught you that it’s bad manners?’
Meggie did not reply. She wasn’t sure herself why she had asked the question. ‘This book is very valuable, isn’t it?’ she asked.
‘What, Inkheart?’ Elinor took it from Meggie’s hand, stroked the binding and then gave it back. ‘I think so. Although you won’t find a single copy in any of the catalogues or lists of valuable books. But I’m sure that many collectors would offer your father a very great deal of money if word got around that he has what may be the only copy. Actually, I found out quite a lot about it, and I believe it’s not just a rare book but a good one too. I can’t give an opinion on that. I scarcely managed a dozen pages last night. When the first fairy appeared I fell asleep. I never was particularly keen on stories full of fairies and dwarves and all that stuff.’
Elinor went round behind the wardrobe door again, obviously to look at herself in a mirror. Meggie’s comment on her clothes seemed to be bothering her after all. ‘Yes, I think it is very valuable,’ she repeated thoughtfully. ‘Although it’s almost forgotten now. Hardly anyone seems to remember what it’s about, hardly anyone seems to have read it. You can’t even find it in libraries. But now and then these strange stories about it do crop up: they say it’s been forgotten only because all the copies that still existed were stolen. I expect that’s nonsense. Although it’s not just plants and animals that die out, so do books. Quite often, I’m sorry to say. I’m sure you could fill a hundred houses like this one to the roof with all the books that have disappeared for ever.’ Elinor closed the wardrobe door again, and pinned up her hair with clumsy fingers. ‘As far as I know the author’s still alive, but obviously he’s never done anything about getting his book reprinted – which strikes me as odd. I mean, you write a story so that people will read it, don’t you? Well, perhaps he doesn’t like his own story any more, or perhaps it just sold so badly that no publisher was willing to bring it out again. How would I know?’
‘All the same, I don’t think they stole it just because it’s valuable,’ muttered Meggie.
‘You don’t?’ Elinor laughed out loud. ‘My word, you really are your father’s daughter! Mortimer could never imagine people doing something bad for money, because money has never meant much to him. Do you have any idea what a book can be worth?’
Meggie looked at her crossly. ‘Yes, I do. But I still don’t think that’s the reason.’
‘I do. And Sherlock Holmes would think so too. Have you ever read those books, by the way? Wonderful stuff. Specially on rainy days.’ Elinor slipped her shoes on. She had strangely small feet for such a sturdily built woman.
‘Perhaps there’s some kind of secret in it,’ murmured Meggie, thoughtfully caressing the close-printed pages.
‘You mean something like invisible messages written in lemon juice, or a map hidden in one of the pictures showing where to find treasure?’ Elinor sounded so sarcastic that Meggie felt like wringing her short neck.
‘Why not?’ Meggie closed the book again and put it firmly under her arm. ‘Why else would they take Mo too? The book would have been enough.’
Elinor shrugged her shoulders.
Of course she can’t admit she never thought of that, Meggie told herself scornfully. She always has to be right!
Elinor looked at Meggie as if she had guessed her thoughts. ‘Listen, I tell you what, why don’t you read it?’ she said. ‘You really might find something that you don’t think belongs in the story. A few extra words here, a couple of unnecessary letters there – and there’s your secret message. The signpost pointing to the treasure. Who knows how long it will be before your father comes back? You’ll have to do something to pass the time here.’