‘Elinor, you’re driving me bonkers! Do sit down again,’ said Mo.
‘No, I won’t!’ she snapped back. ‘I’ll go mad myself if I stay sitting down.’
Mo made a face and put his arm round Meggie’s shoulders. ‘All right, let’s leave her to it!’ he whispered. ‘By the time she’s covered ten kilometres she’ll fall down exhausted. But you ought to get some sleep now. You can have my bed. It’s not as bad as it looks. If you close your eyes very tight you can imagine you’re Wilbur the pig sleeping comfortably in his sty …’
‘Or Wart sleeping in the grass with the wild geese.’ Meggie couldn’t help yawning. How often she and Mo had played this game! ‘Which book can you think of? Which part have we forgotten? Oh yes, that one! It’s ages since I thought about that story …!’ Wearily, she lay down on the prickly straw.
Mo pulled his sweater off over his head and covered her up with it. ‘You need a blanket all the same,’ he said. ‘Even if you’re a pig or a goose.’
‘But you’ll freeze.’
‘And where will you and Elinor sleep?’ Meggie yawned again. She hadn’t realised how tired she was.
Elinor was still pacing from wall to wall. ‘What’s all this about sleeping?’ she said. ‘We’re going to keep watch, of course.’
‘All right,’ murmured Meggie, burying her nose in Mo’s sweater. He’s back with me, she thought, as drowsiness weighed down her eyelids. Nothing else matters. And then she thought: Oh, if only I could read some more of that book! But Inkheart was in Capricorn’s hands – and she didn’t want to think of him now, or she would never get to sleep. Never …
Later, she didn’t know how long she had slept. Perhaps her cold feet woke her, or the itchy straw under her head. Her watch said four o’clock. There was nothing in the windowless room to tell her whether it was night or day, but Meggie couldn’t imagine that the night was over yet. Mo was sitting near the door with Elinor. They both looked tired and anxious, and they were talking in low voices.
‘Yes, they still think I’m a magician,’ Mo was saying. ‘They gave me that ridiculous name – Silvertongue. And Capricorn is firmly convinced I can repeat the trick any time, with any book at all.’
‘And … and can you?’ asked Elinor. ‘You weren’t telling us the whole story earlier, were you?’
Mo didn’t answer for a long time. ‘No,’ he said at last. ‘Because I don’t want Meggie thinking I’m some kind of a magician too.’
‘So you’ve – well, read things out of a book quite often?’
Mo nodded. ‘I always liked reading aloud, even as a boy, and one day, when I was reading Tom Sawyer to a friend, a dead cat suddenly appeared on the carpet, lying there stiff as a board. I only noticed later that one of my soft toys had vanished. I think both our hearts missed a beat, and my friend and I swore to each other, sealing the oath with blood like Tom and Huck, that we’d never tell anyone about the cat. After that, of course, I kept trying again in secret, without any witnesses, but it never seemed to happen when I wanted. In fact, there didn’t seem to be any rules at all, except that it only happened with stories I liked. Of course I kept everything that came out of books, except for the snozzcumber I got out of the book about the friendly giant. It stank too much. When Meggie was still very small, things sometimes came out of her picture books: a feather, a tiny shoe. We put them in her book-box, without telling her where they came from, otherwise she’d never have picked up a book again for fear the giant serpent with toothache or some other alarming creature might appear! But I’d never, never managed to bring anything living out of a book, Elinor. Until that night.’ Mo looked at the palms of his hands, as if seeing there all the things his voice had lured out of books. ‘Why couldn’t it have been some nice creature if it had to happen? Something like – oh, Babar the elephant. Meggie would have been enchanted.’
Yes, I certainly would, thought Meggie. She remembered the little shoe, and the feather as well. It had been emerald green, like the plumage of Dr Dolittle’s parrot Polynesia.
‘Well, it could have been worse.’ Typical Elinor! As if it wasn’t bad enough to be locked up in a tumbledown house far away from ordinary life, surrounded by black-clad men with faces like birds of prey and knives in their belts. But obviously Elinor really could imagine something worse. ‘Suppose Long John Silver had suddenly appeared in your living room, striking out with his wooden crutch?’ she whispered. ‘I think I prefer this Capricorn after all. You know what? When we’re home again – in my house, I mean – I’ll give you a really nice book. Winnie the Pooh, for instance, or maybe Where the Wild Things Are. I really wouldn’t mind one of those monsters. I’ll sit you down in my most comfortable armchair, make you a coffee, and then you can read aloud. How about it?’
Mo laughed quietly, and for a moment his face didn’t look quite so careworn. ‘No, Elinor, I shall do no such thing. Although it sounds very tempting. But I swore never to read aloud again. Who knows who might disappear next time? And perhaps there’s some unpleasant character we never noticed even in the Pooh books. Or suppose I read Pooh himself out of his book? What would he do here without his friends and the Thousand-Acre-Wood? His poor little heart would break, like Dustfinger’s.’
‘Oh, for goodness’ sake!’ Elinor impatiently dismissed this idea. ‘How often do I have to tell you that fool has no heart? Very well, then. Let me ask you another question, because I’d very much like to know the answer.’ Elinor lowered her voice, and Meggie had to strain her ears to make out what she was saying. ‘Who was this Capricorn in his own story? The villain of the piece, I suppose, but can you tell me any more about him?’
Meggie would have liked to know more about Capricorn too, but Mo was suddenly not very forthcoming. All he would say was, ‘The less you know about him, the better.’ Then he fell silent. Elinor kept on at him for a while, but Mo evaded all her questions. He simply did not seem to want to talk about Capricorn. Meggie could see from his face that his thoughts were somewhere else entirely. At some point Elinor nodded off, curled up on the cold floor as if trying to keep herself warm with her own body. But Mo went on sitting there with his back against the wall.
As Meggie felt herself drift off to sleep again, Mo’s face stayed with her in her slumbers. It emerged in her dreams like a dark moon with figures leaping from its mouth, living creatures – fat, thin, large, small, they hopped out and ran away in a long line. A woman, scarcely more than a shadow, was dancing on the moon’s nose – and suddenly the moon smiled.
The Betrayer Betrayed
It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed … He wanted … to shove a marshmallow on a stick in the furnace, while the flapping pigeon-winged books died on the porch and lawn of the house. While the books went up in sparkling whirls, and blew away on a wind turned dark with burning.
Some time near daybreak the feeble light from the electric bulb that had helped them through the night flickered out. Mo and Elinor were asleep near the locked door, but Meggie lay in the dark with her eyes open, feeling fear ooze out of the cold walls. She listened to Elinor’s breathing, and her father’s, and more than anything wished for a candle – and a book to keep the fear away. It seemed to be everywhere, a malicious, disembodied creature that had just been waiting for the light to go out so that it could steal close to her in the darkness and take her in its cold arms. Meggie sat up, fought for breath, and crawled over to Mo on all fours. She curled up in a ball beside him the way she used to when she was little, and waited for the light of dawn to come in under the door.