You don’t know about me, without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but that ain’t no matter. That book was made by Mr Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Dustfinger and Farid were waiting for them in the car park when they left the hotel. Over the nearby hills, a warm wind was slowly driving rain-clouds towards the sea. Everything seemed grey today, even the houses with their bright colour-washed walls and the flowering shrubs in the streets. Mo took the coastal road, which Elinor had said was built by the Romans, and followed it further west.
All through the drive the sea lay to their left, its water stretching to the horizon, sometimes hidden by houses, sometimes by trees, but this morning it didn’t look half as inviting as it had on the day when Meggie had come down from the mountains with Elinor and Dustfinger. The grey of the sky cast a dull reflection on the blue waves, and the sea-spray foamed like dirty dishwater. Several times, Meggie found her gaze wandering to the hills on her right. Capricorn’s village was hidden somewhere among them. Once she even thought she saw its pale church tower in a dark fold of the hills, and her heart beat faster, although she knew that it couldn’t possibly be Capricorn’s church. Her feet remembered all too well how long that endless journey down the mountainside had been.
Mo was driving faster than usual, much faster. He could obviously hardly wait to reach their destination. After a good hour they turned off the coast road and followed a narrow, winding lane through a valley grey with buildings. Glasshouses covered the hills here, their panes painted white for protection against the sun that was now hidden behind clouds. Only when the road went uphill did the country on both sides turn green again. The buildings gave way to natural meadowland, and stunted olive trees lined the road, which forked unexpectedly a couple of times. Mo had to keep consulting the map he had bought, but finally the right name appeared on a sign.
They drove into a small village, little more than a square, a few dozen houses, and a church that looked very much like Capricorn’s. When Meggie got out of the car she saw the sea far below. The waves were so rough on this overcast day that, even from this distance, she could see the breakers. Mo had parked in the village square beside the memorial for the dead of two world wars. The list of names was long for such a small place. Meggie thought there were almost as many names as the village had houses.
‘You can leave the car unlocked. I’ll keep an eye on it,’ said Dustfinger, as Mo was about to lock up. He threw his rucksack over his shoulder, put the sleepy Gwin on his chain, and sat on the steps in front of the war memorial. Farid sat down beside him without a word. Meggie looked uneasily at them both as she followed Mo.
‘Remember, you promised not to mention me!’ Dustfinger called after them.
‘Yes, all right!’ replied Mo.
Farid was playing with matches again. Meggie caught him at it when she looked round once more. By now he could extinguish the burning matches with his mouth quite well, but all the same Dustfinger took the box of matches away from him, and Farid looked sadly at his empty hands.
Meggie had met many people who loved books, sold them, collected them, printed them or, like her father, prevented them from falling apart, but she had never before met anyone who wrote the words that filled all a book’s pages. She didn’t even know the names of the authors of some of her favourite stories, let alone what they looked like. She had seen only the characters who emerged from the words to meet her, never the writer who had made them up. It was just as Mo had said: in general one thought of writers as dead or very, very old. But the man who opened the door to them, after Mo had rung the bell twice, was neither. That is, he was certainly quite old, at least in Meggie’s eyes: in his mid-sixties or even older. His face was wrinkled like a turtle’s, but his hair was black, without a trace of grey (she was to find out later that he dyed it), and he didn’t look at all fragile. On the contrary: he planted himself so impressively in the doorway that Meggie was instantly tongue-tied. Luckily Mo was not.
‘Signor Fenoglio?’ he asked.
‘Yes?’ The face looked less forthcoming than ever. There was disapproval in every line of it. But Mo seemed undaunted.
‘I’m Mortimer Folchart,’ he introduced himself, ‘and this is my daughter Meggie. I’m here about one of your books.’
A boy appeared at the door beside Fenoglio, a little boy of about five, and a small girl joined them on the other side of the doorway. She stared curiously, first at Mo, then at Meggie. ‘Pippo’s picked the chocolate chips out of the cake,’ Meggie heard her whisper as she looked anxiously up at Mo. When his eyes twinkled at her she disappeared behind Fenoglio’s back, giggling. But Fenoglio himself still looked anything but friendly.
‘All the chocolate chips?’ he growled. ‘Very well, I’m coming. You go and tell Pippo he’s in serious trouble.’ The little girl nodded and ran away, obviously happy to be the bearer of bad news. The small boy clung to Fenoglio’s leg.
‘A very particular book,’ Mo went on. ‘Inkheart. You wrote it quite a long time ago, and unfortunately I can’t buy a copy anywhere now.’ With the man’s icy stare still resting on her father, Meggie could only marvel that the words didn’t freeze on Mo’s lips.
‘Oh yes. So?’ Fenoglio crossed his arms. The girl appeared on his left again. ‘Pippo’s hiding,’ she said.
‘That won’t do him any good,’ said Fenoglio. ‘I can always find him.’ The little girl scurried off again. Meggie heard her in the house, calling to the chocolate thief. Fenoglio, however, turned back to Mo. ‘So what do you want? If you’re planning to ask me clever questions of some kind about the book, forget it. I don’t have time for that sort of thing. Anyway, as you said yourself, I wrote it ages ago.’
‘No, there’s only one question I was going to ask. I’d like to know if you still have any copies, and if so may I buy one from you?’
The old man’s expression was no longer quite so forbidding as he inspected Mo. ‘How extraordinary. You must be really keen on the book,’ he murmured. ‘I’m flattered. Although,’ he added, and his face darkened again, ‘I hope you’re not one of those idiots who collect rare books just because they’re rare, are you?’
Mo couldn’t help smiling. ‘No,’ he said. ‘I want to read it, that’s all. I just want to read it.’
Fenoglio braced an arm against the door frame and looked at the house opposite as if he feared it might collapse at any moment. The street where he lived was so narrow that Mo could have touched both sides at once if he stretched his arms out. Many of the houses were built of coarse blocks of sandy grey stone, like the houses in Capricorn’s village, but here there were flowers in window boxes and pots of plants on the steps, and many of the shutters looked as if they had been freshly painted. There was a pram outside one house, a moped leaning against the wall of another, and voices floated into the street from open windows. Capricorn’s village probably looked like this once, thought Meggie.
An old woman passing by looked suspiciously at the strangers. Fenoglio nodded to her, murmured a brief greeting, and waited until she had vanished behind a green-painted front door. ‘Inkheart,’ he said. ‘That really is a long time ago. And it’s odd that you should be asking about that one, of all my books.’