Dustfinger ran his finger along the edge of the table. ‘All I’m going to tell you is that he wants this book. And that’s why you’d better give it to him. I once knew his men to stand outside a man’s house for four nights running just because Capricorn took a fancy to the man’s dog.’
‘Did he get the dog?’ asked Meggie quietly.
‘Of course,’ replied Dustfinger, looking at her thoughtfully. ‘Believe me, no one sleeps soundly with Capricorn’s men standing outside the door looking up at their window – or their children’s window. Capricorn usually gets what he wants within a couple of days, maximum.’
‘Disgusting!’ said Elinor. ‘He wouldn’t have got my dog.’
Dustfinger examined his fingernails again, smiling.
‘Stop grinning like that!’ snapped Elinor. And, turning to Meggie, she added, ‘You’d better pack a few things! We set off within the hour. It’s about time you got your father back. Even if I don’t like having to leave the book with this Capri-what’s-his-name. I hate to see books fall into the wrong hands.’
They were going in Elinor’s estate car, although Dustfinger would have preferred to travel in Mo’s camper van.
‘Nonsense, I’ve never driven anything like that,’ said Elinor, dumping in Dustfinger’s arms a cardboard box full of provisions for the journey. ‘Anyway, Mortimer’s locked the van.’
Meggie saw that Dustfinger had an answer on the tip of his tongue, but chose to keep it to himself. ‘Suppose we have to spend the night somewhere?’ he asked, carrying the box over to Elinor’s car.
‘Heavens above, who said anything about that? I intend to be back here tomorrow morning at the latest. I hate leaving my books on their own for more than a day.’
Dustfinger rolled his eyes up at the sky, as if more sense might be expected there than in Elinor’s head, and began clambering into the back seat, but Elinor stopped him. ‘No, wait, you’d better drive,’ she said, handing him her car keys. ‘You’re the one who knows where we’re going.’
But Dustfinger gave her back the keys. ‘I can’t drive,’ he said. ‘It’s bad enough sitting in a car, never mind driving it.’
Elinor got behind the steering wheel, shaking her head. ‘Well, you’re an oddity and no mistake!’ she said as Meggie climbed into the passenger seat beside her. ‘And I hope you really do know where Meggie’s father is, or you’ll find out that this Capricorn of yours isn’t the only person to be frightened of around here!’
Meggie wound down her window as Elinor started the engine. She looked back at Mo’s van. It felt bad leaving it behind here, worse than leaving a house, even this one. Strange as a place might be, the camper van meant that Mo and she always had a bit of home with them. Now that was gone too, and nothing was familiar any more except the clothes in her travelling bag in the boot of the estate car. She had also packed a few things for Mo – and two of her books.
‘Interesting choice!’ Elinor had commented when she lent Meggie a bag for the books, an old-fashioned one made of dark leather that you could sling over your shoulder. ‘These stories about the ill-made knight, and people with hairy feet going on a long journey to dark places. Have you read them both?’
Meggie had nodded. ‘Lots of times,’ she smiled at Elinor’s descriptions, stroking the bindings before she put the books in the bag. She could remember every detail of the day when Mo had rebound them.
‘Oh dear, don’t look so dismal!’ Elinor had said, looking at her with concern. ‘You just wait – our journey isn’t going to be half as bad as those hairy-footed people’s quest. It will be much shorter too.’
Meggie would have been glad to feel as sure of that herself. The book that was the reason for their own journey was in the boot, under the spare tyre. Elinor had put it in a plastic bag. ‘Don’t let Dustfinger see where it is!’ she urged Meggie, before putting it into her hands. ‘I still don’t trust him.’
But Meggie had decided to trust Dustfinger. She wanted to trust him. She needed to trust him. Who else could lead her to Mo?
‘But to the last question,’ Zelig replied, ‘he probably flew to beyond the Dark Regions, where people don’t go and cattle don’t stray, where the sky is copper, the earth iron, and where the evil forces live under roofs of petrified toadstools and in tunnels abandoned by moles.’
Isaac Bashevis Singer,
Naftali the Storyteller
The sun was already high in the cloudless sky when they set off. Soon the air was so hot and muggy in Elinor’s car that Meggie’s T-shirt was sticking to her skin with sweat. Elinor opened her window and passed a bottle of water round. She herself was wearing a knitted jacket buttoned up to her chin, and when Meggie wasn’t thinking of Mo or Capricorn she wondered whether Elinor might melt away inside it.
Dustfinger sat on the back seat, so silent that you could almost have forgotten he was there. He had put Gwin on his lap. The marten slept while Dustfinger’s hands restlessly stroked his fur, passing over it again and again. Now and then Meggie turned to look at him. He was usually gazing out of the window indifferently, as if he were looking straight through the mountains and trees, houses and rocky slopes passing by outside. His expression seemed perfectly empty, as if he were thinking of something far away, and once, when Meggie glanced round, there was such sadness on his scarred face that she quickly turned to look out of the windscreen ahead of her.
She would have liked to have an animal on her own lap during this long, long journey. Perhaps it would have driven away the dark thoughts that insisted on coming into her mind. Outside, the world was a place of gently unfolding mountains rising higher and higher. Sometimes it seemed as if they would crush the road between their grey and rocky sides. But worse than the mountains were the tunnels. Pictures seemed to lurk in them that not even Gwin’s warm body could have kept at bay. They seemed to be hiding there in the darkness, waiting for Meggie: pictures of Mo in some dark, cold place, and of Capricorn … Meggie knew it must be Capricorn, although his face was different every time.
She tried reading for a while, but soon noticed that she wasn’t taking in a word of what she read, so she gave it up and stared out of the window like Dustfinger. Elinor chose minor roads without much traffic on them. ‘Otherwise the driving gets so boring,’ she said. It made no difference to Meggie. She just wanted to arrive. She looked impatiently at the mountains, and the houses where other people lived. Sometimes, through the window of a car coming the other way, she caught a glimpse of a stranger’s face, and then it was gone, like a book you open then close at once. When they were driving through one village she saw a man by the roadside sticking a plaster on the grazed knee of a tearful little girl. He was stroking her hair comfortingly, and Meggie couldn’t help remembering how often Mo had done that for her, how he sometimes chased all round the house, cursing when he couldn’t find a plaster in time. The memory brought tears to her eyes.
‘Heavens above, it’s quieter in here than in a Pharaoh’s burial chamber!’ said Elinor at some point. (Meggie thought she said ‘Heavens above’ rather a lot.) ‘Couldn’t one of you at least say something now and then? “Oh, what a lovely landscape!”, for instance, or, “That’s a very fine castle!” If you keep as deathly quiet as this I’ll be falling asleep at the wheel any minute now.’ She still hadn’t undone a single button of her knitted jacket.