‘Mo!’ whispered Meggie. ‘You’ve got to tell Dustfinger! You’ve got to tell him he can’t go back.’
But Mo shook his head. ‘He won’t want to listen, I promise you. I’ve tried more than a dozen times. Perhaps it wouldn’t be a bad idea to bring him together with Fenoglio after all. He might well be more likely to believe his creator than me.’ With a sigh, he brushed a few cake crumbs off Fenoglio’s kitchen table. ‘There was a picture in Inkheart,’ he murmured, raising the palm of his hand over the table-top as if to conjure up the picture itself. ‘It showed a group of women standing under an arched gateway, in splendid clothes as if they were going to a party. One of them had hair as fair as your mother’s. You can’t see the woman’s face in the picture, she has her back turned, but I always imagined it was her. Crazy, isn’t it?’
Meggie placed her hand on his. ‘Mo, promise you won’t go back to the village!’ she said. ‘Please! Promise me you won’t try to get the book back.’
The second hand on Fenoglio’s kitchen clock was dividing time into painfully small segments.
At last Mo answered. ‘I promise,’ he said.
‘Look at me and say it!’
He did. ‘I promise!’ he repeated. ‘There’s just one more thing I want to discuss with Fenoglio, and then we’ll go home and forget about the book. Happy now?’
Meggie nodded. Although she wondered what else there could be to discuss.
Fenoglio returned with a tearful Pippo on his back. The other two children followed their grandfather, looking crestfallen. ‘Holes in the cake and now a dent in his forehead too. I think I ought to send the lot of you home!’ Fenoglio told them crossly as he put Pippo down on a chair. Then he rummaged around in the big cupboard until he found a plaster, which he stuck none too gently on his grandson’s cut forehead.
Mo pushed his chair back and stood up. ‘I’ve changed my mind,’ he said. ‘I’ll take you to Dustfinger after all.’
Fenoglio turned to him in surprise.
‘Perhaps you can make it clear to him once and for all that he can’t go back,’ Mo continued. ‘Goodness knows what he might do next! I’m afraid it could be dangerous for him – and I do have this idea, rather a weird idea, but I’d like to talk to you about it.’
‘Weirder than what I’ve heard already? I’d say that’s hardly possible!’ Fenoglio’s grandchildren had disappeared into the cupboard again. Giggling, they closed the doors. ‘Very well, I’ll listen to your idea,’ said Fenoglio. ‘But I want to see Dustfinger first!’
Mo looked at Meggie. It wasn’t often that he broke a promise, and he clearly felt far from comfortable about it. Meggie could understand that only too well. ‘He’s waiting in the square,’ said Mo hesitantly. ‘But let me talk to him first.’
‘In the square here?’ Fenoglio’s eyes widened. ‘That’s wonderful!’ With one stride he was standing in front of the little mirror hanging next to the kitchen door, running his fingers through his black hair almost as if he were afraid Dustfinger might be disappointed by his creator’s appearance. ‘I’ll pretend I don’t see him until you call me,’ he said. ‘Yes, that’s the thing to do.’
There was a clattering in the cupboard, and Pippo stumbled out in a jacket that came down to his ankles and a hat so large that it had slipped right over his eyes.
‘Of course!’ Fenoglio took the hat off Pippo’s head and put it on his own. ‘That’s it! I’ll take the children with me. A grandfather with three grandchildren – nothing about that sight to make anyone uneasy, is there?’
Mo just nodded and pushed Meggie out into the narrow passage.
As they walked down the street leading back to the square and their car, Fenoglio followed a few metres behind them, with his grandchildren running and jumping around him like three puppies.
Shivers Down the Spine and a Foreboding
And that’s when she put her book down. And looked at me. And said it: ‘Life isn’t fair, Bill. We tell our children that it is, but it’s a terrible thing to do. It’s not only a lie, it’s a cruel lie. Life is not fair, and it never has been, and it’s never going to be.’
The Princess Bride
Dustfinger sat on the chilly stone steps, waiting. He felt sick with fear; but he wasn’t quite sure of what. Perhaps the war memorial behind him reminded him too much of death. He had always been afraid of death, which he imagined as cold, like a night without fire. Now, however, he dreaded something else even more. Its name was sorrow, and it had been stalking him like a second shadow ever since Silvertongue lured him into this world. Sorrow that made his limbs heavy and turned the sky grey.
Beside him, the boy was running up and down the steps. Up and down, tirelessly, with light feet and a cheerful face, as if Silvertongue had read him straight into Paradise. What could be making him so happy? Dustfinger looked round at the narrow houses, pale yellow, pink, peach, the dark green shutters at the windows and the rust-red tiles on the roofs, an oleander flowering in front of a wall as if its branches were on fire, cats stalking past the warm walls. Farid stole up to one of them, stroked its grey fur and put it on his lap, although it dug its claws into his thighs.
‘You know what people do to keep the numbers of cats down around here?’ Dustfinger stretched his legs and blinked up at the sun. ‘When winter comes they take their own cats indoors for safety, then they put out dishes of poisoned food for the strays.’
Farid still fondled the grey cat’s pointed ears. But his face was rigid and grim, not a trace left of the happiness that had just made it look so soft and open. Dustfinger glanced quickly aside. Why had he said that? Had the happiness on the boy’s face upset him so much?
Farid let the cat go and climbed the steps to the memorial.
He was still sitting there on the wall, legs drawn up, when the other two came back. Silvertongue had no book with him, and he looked strained – his guilty conscience was clearly visible on his face.
Why? What could have made Silvertongue look so guilty? Dustfinger glanced suspiciously around without knowing quite what he was looking for. Silvertongue’s face always showed his feelings; he was an open book that any stranger could read. His daughter was different. It wasn’t so easy to make out what was going on in her mind. But now, as she came towards him, Dustfinger thought he saw something like concern in her eyes, perhaps even pity … What had that writer fellow said to make the girl look at him like that?
He got up and brushed the dust off his trousers.
‘No copies left, am I right?’ he asked, when the two of them had reached him.
‘You’re right. They’ve all been stolen,’ Silvertongue replied. ‘Years ago.’
His daughter never took her eyes off Dustfinger.
‘Why are you staring at me like that, princess?’ he snapped. ‘Do you know something I don’t?’
Bull’s-eye. An accidental one, too. He hadn’t wanted to score a bull’s-eye at all, certainly not a direct hit on an uncomfortable truth. The girl bit her lip, still looking at him with that same mixture of pity and concern.