Fenoglio got up and went over to her. ‘There, there!’ he said, putting his arms round her and letting her bury her face in his jacket. It was made of rough fabric and smelled of pipe tobacco. ‘I’ll think of something!’ he whispered to Meggie. ‘After all, I invented these villains. It’ll be an odd thing if I can’t get rid of them. Your father had an idea, but …’
Meggie raised her face, wet with tears, and looked at him hopefully, but the old man shook his head. ‘Later. Now, tell me what makes Capricorn so interested in your father. Is it something to do with the way he reads aloud?’
Meggie nodded and wiped the tears from her eyes. ‘He wants Mo to read aloud to him here, to bring someone out of a book, an old friend.’
Fenoglio gave her a handkerchief. A few crumbs of tobacco fell from it when she blew her nose. ‘A friend? Capricorn has no friends.’ The old man frowned. Then Meggie felt him suddenly take a deep breath.
‘Who is it?’ she asked, but Fenoglio just mopped a tear off her cheek.
‘Someone I hope you’ll never meet except between the covers of a book,’ he said evasively. Then he turned and began pacing up and down. ‘Capricorn will be back soon,’ he added. ‘I must think how best to confront him.’
But Capricorn did not come. Darkness fell outside, and still no one had fetched them from their prison. They weren’t even brought anything to eat. It grew cold when the night air came in through the hole in the wall, and they huddled side by side on the hard floor to keep warm.
‘Is Basta still very superstitious?’ Fenoglio asked at some time in the night.
‘Yes, very,’ replied Meggie. ‘Dustfinger likes winding him up about it.’
‘Good,’ murmured Fenoglio. But he would say no more.
As I never saw my father or my mother … my first fancies regarding what they were like, were unreasonably derived from their tombstones. The shape of the letters on my father’s gave me an odd idea that he was a square, stout, dark man with curly black hair. From the character and turn of the inscription ‘Also Georgiana Wife of the Above’ I drew a childish conclusion that my mother was freckled and sickly.
Dustfinger set out when the night could grow no darker. The sky was overcast, with not a single star shining. Only the moon showed occasionally between the clouds, as thin as a slice of lemon.
Dustfinger was glad of such darkness, but the boy jumped whenever a twig brushed his face.
‘For heaven’s sake, I should have left you with the marten after all!’ Dustfinger snapped as Farid clutched his arm in fright yet again. ‘You’ll give us away yet with your teeth chattering like that. Look ahead of you. That’s what ought to scare you – guns, not ghosts.’
Before them, only a little way off now, lay Capricorn’s village. The new floodlights poured light as bright as day over the grey houses.
‘And they say that this electricity of theirs is a blessing!’ whispered Dustfinger as they skirted the car park. A bored-looking guard was strolling round among the parked vehicles. Yawning, he leaned against the truck in which Cockerell had brought the goats back that afternoon, and put on a pair of earphones.
‘Excellent! An army could march up now and he wouldn’t hear it!’ muttered Dustfinger. ‘If Basta were here he’d discipline the man for that – shut him up in Capricorn’s cowsheds for three days with nothing to eat.’
‘Why don’t we go over the rooftops?’ All the fear had gone from Farid’s face. The guard with his shotgun didn’t alarm the boy half as much as his imaginary ghosts. Dustfinger could only shake his head over such foolishness. But the rooftop idea wasn’t stupid. A vine that hadn’t been pruned for years grew up one of the houses beside the car park. As soon as the guard wandered over to the other side of the area, swaying in time to the music that was filling his ears, Dustfinger clambered up its woody branches. The boy climbed even better than he did, and proudly offered him a hand once he was up on the roof. They moved on stealthily like stray cats, past chimneys, aerials and Capricorn’s floodlights, which were angled downwards and left everything behind them in the cover of darkness. Once, a shingle came loose under Dustfinger’s boots, but he managed to catch it just in time, before the terracotta tile could fall and break in the street below.
When they reached the square where the church and Capricorn’s house stood they let themselves down from a gutter. For a few breathless moments Dustfinger ducked behind a stack of empty fruit crates, looking out for guards. Both the square itself and the narrow alley to one side of Capricorn’s house were bathed in light. A black cat was sitting on the edge of the well outside the church. Basta’s heart would probably have missed a beat at the sight of it, but Dustfinger was much more concerned about the guards outside Capricorn’s house. Two of them were lounging by the entrance. It was one of these, a small, sturdy man, who had found Dustfinger four years ago in a town up in the north, just as he was about to give his last show. He and two companions had dragged the fire-eater back here, where Capricorn had, in his own characteristic way, questioned him about Silvertongue and the book.
The two guards were arguing, and as they were so absorbed Dustfinger plucked up his courage, took a few rapid steps, and disappeared down the alley beside Capricorn’s house. Farid followed him, as soundless as his own shadow come to life.
Capricorn’s house was a large, bulky building which might once have been the village hall, a disused monastery or a school. All the windows were dark, and there were no other guards to be seen in the alley. But Dustfinger remained watchful. He knew the guards liked to lurk in dark doorways, invisible as ravens at night in their black suits. Indeed, Dustfinger knew almost everything about Capricorn’s village. He had walked these streets often enough since Capricorn brought him here to look for Silvertongue and the book. Whenever he felt the sharp pangs of homesickness he had come back here to his old enemies, where he didn’t feel quite so out of place. Even his fear of Basta’s knife couldn’t keep him away.
Dustfinger picked up a flat stone, beckoned Farid to his side, and threw the stone down the alley. Nothing moved. As he had hoped, the guard was doing his rounds. Dustfinger hurried to the high wall behind which Capricorn’s garden lay: vegetable beds, fruit trees and herbs, protected by the wall from the cold wind that sometimes blew from the nearby mountains. Dustfinger had often entertained the maids as they hoed the beds. There were no floodlights in the garden, no guards either – who’d steal vegetables? – and only a door with a grating over it, a door that was locked at night, that led from the yard into the house. The dog kennels lay beyond the wall too, but when Dustfinger swung himself up and over they were empty. The dogs had not come back from the hills. They’d shown more sense than Dustfinger expected, and Basta obviously hadn’t got new dogs yet. Stupid of him. Stupid Basta.
Dustfinger signalled to the boy to follow him, and stole past the carefully tended beds until he had reached the back door with the grating. The boy looked at him questioningly when he saw the solid bars, but Dustfinger just laid a finger to his lips and looked up at one of the windows on the second floor. The shutters, black as night, were open. Dustfinger mewed in so lifelike a fashion that several cats answered, but nothing moved behind the window. Dustfinger cursed under his breath, listened to the sounds of the night for a moment, then imitated the shrill cry of a bird of prey. Farid jumped and pressed close to the wall of the house. This time, something did move behind the upstairs window. A woman leaned out of it. When Dustfinger waved to her she waved back – and then quickly disappeared.