Mo picked up his coffee cup. It still hurt when he moved his left arm. ‘We’ll get it over with tomorrow, Meggie,’ he said. ‘You heard Elinor – it’s not far away. And by the end of the day after that you’ll be back in Elinor’s huge bed, the one that a whole school class could sleep in.’ He was trying to make her laugh, but Meggie couldn’t. She looked at the strawberries on her plate. How red they were.
‘I’ll have to hire a car too, Elinor,’ said Mo. ‘Can you lend me the money? I’ll pay you back as soon as we meet again.’
Elinor nodded, her gaze lingering on Meggie. ‘You know something, Mortimer?’ she said. ‘I don’t think your daughter is very keen on books just now. I remember the feeling. Whenever my father got so absorbed in a book that we might have been invisible I felt like taking a pair of scissors and cutting it up. And now I’m as mad about them as he was. Oh well, that’s something to think about, eh?’ She folded her napkin and pushed her chair back. ‘I’m going upstairs to pack, and you can tell your daughter who Fenoglio is.’
Then she was gone, leaving Meggie at the table with Mo. He ordered another coffee, even though he usually drank no more than one cup.
‘What about your strawberries?’ he asked. ‘Don’t you want them?’
Meggie shook her head.
Mo sighed, and took one. ‘Fenoglio is the man who wrote Inkheart,’ he said. ‘It’s possible that as the author he will still have some copies. Indeed, it’s more than possible, it’s very probable.’
‘Oh, come on!’ said Meggie scornfully. ‘Capricorn’s sure to have stolen them long ago! He stole all the copies – you saw that!’
But Mo shook his head. ‘I don’t believe he will have thought of Fenoglio. You know, it’s a funny thing about writers. Most people don’t stop to think of books being written by people much like themselves. They think that writers are all dead long ago – they don’t expect to meet them in the street, or out shopping. They know their stories but not their names, and certainly not their faces. And most writers like it that way – you heard Elinor say it was quite hard for her to get hold of Fenoglio’s address. Believe me, it’s more than likely that Capricorn has no idea the man who wrote his story lives scarcely two hours’ drive away from him.’
Meggie wasn’t so sure. She thoughtfully pleated the tablecloth, then smoothed out the pale yellow fabric again. ‘All the same, I’d rather we went to Elinor’s house,’ she said. ‘I don’t see why …’ She hesitated, but then finished what she had been going to say. ‘I don’t see why you want the book so much. It’s no use anyway.’ My mother’s gone, she added in her thoughts. You tried to bring her back but it doesn’t work. Let’s go home.
Mo helped himself to another of her strawberries, the smallest of all. ‘The little ones are always the sweetest,’ he said, and put it in his mouth ‘Your mother loved strawberries. She couldn’t get enough of them, and was always terribly cross if it rained so much in spring that they rotted in her strawberry bed.’
A smile lit up his face as he looked out of the window again. ‘Just this one last shot, Meggie,’ he said. ‘Just this one. And the day after tomorrow we’ll go back to Elinor’s. I promise.’
A Night Full of Words
What child unable to sleep on a warm summer night hasn’t thought he saw Peter Pan’s sailing ship in the sky? I will teach you to see that ship.
When a Child on a Summer Morning
Meggie stayed in the hotel while Mo went to the hire-car firm to collect the car he had booked. She took a chair out on to the balcony, looked out over its white-painted railing to the sea shining like blue glass beyond the buildings, and tried to think of nothing, nothing at all. The sound of the traffic drifting up to her was so loud that she almost didn’t hear Elinor’s knock.
Elinor was already on her way down the corridor when Meggie opened the door. ‘Oh, you are there,’ Elinor said, coming back and looking rather embarrassed. She was hiding something behind her back.
‘Yes, Mo’s gone to fetch the hire car.’
‘I’ve got something for you – a goodbye present.’ Elinor produced a flat parcel from behind her back. ‘It wasn’t easy to find a book without any unpleasant characters in it, but I absolutely had to find one your father could read aloud to you without doing any damage. I don’t think anything can happen with this one.’
Meggie undid the flower-patterned gift wrapping. The cover of the book showed two children and a dog. The children were kneeling on a narrow piece of rock or stone, looking anxiously down at the abyss yawning beneath them.
‘They’re poems,’ explained Elinor. ‘I don’t know if you like that kind of thing, but I thought that if your father read them aloud they’d sound wonderful.’
Meggie opened the book. She read:
Oh, if you’re a bird be an early bird
And catch the worm for your breakfast plate.
If you’re a bird, be an early bird
But if you’re a worm, sleep late.
The words were like a little melody singing to her off the pages. She carefully closed the book. ‘Thank you, Elinor,’ she said. ‘I—I’m sorry I don’t have anything for you.’
‘Oh, and here’s something else you might like,’ said Elinor, taking another little parcel out of her new handbag. ‘Someone who devours books like you should have this one,’ she said. ‘But I think you’d better read it on your own. There are any number of villains in it. All the same, I think you’ll enjoy it. After all, there’s nothing like a few comforting pages of a book when you’re away from home, right?’
Meggie nodded. ‘Mo’s promised we’ll join you the day after tomorrow,’ she said. ‘But you’ll say goodbye to him too before you leave, won’t you?’ She put Elinor’s first present on the chest of drawers near the door and unwrapped the second. Meggie was pleased to see that it was a thick book.
‘Oh, never mind that. You do it for me!’ said Elinor. ‘I’m not good at saying goodbye. Anyway, we’ll be seeing each other again soon – and I’ve already told him to look after you. Oh, and never leave books lying about open,’ she added, before turning round. ‘It breaks their spines. But I expect your father’s told you that a thousand times already.’
‘More often than that,’ said Meggie, but Elinor had already gone. A little later Meggie heard someone dragging a case to the lift, but she didn’t go out into the corridor to see if it was Elinor. She didn’t like goodbyes either.
Meggie was very quiet for the rest of the day. Late in the afternoon Mo took her out for a meal in a little restaurant nearby. Dusk was falling when they came out again, and there were a great many people in the darkening streets. In one square the crowds were particularly dense, and as Meggie pushed her way through them with Mo she saw that they were standing round a fire-eater.
It was very quiet as Dustfinger let the burning torch lick his bare arms. But as soon as he bowed and the audience clapped Farid went round with a little silver dish, which was the only thing that didn’t quite seem to belong in these surroundings. Farid, however, looked much the same as the boys who lounged around on the beach nudging each other when girls passed by. His skin was a little darker, perhaps, and his hair a little blacker, but it would never have occurred to anyone looking at him that he had just slipped out of a story-book in which carpets could fly, mountains could open, and lamps granted wishes. He wore trousers and a T-shirt instead of his blue, full-length robe. He looked older in them. Dustfinger must have bought the clothes for him, as well as the shoes in which he walked very carefully, as if his feet weren’t quite used to them yet. When he saw Meggie in the crowd he gave her a shy nod and passed on quickly.