‘What about this book?’ asked Meggie.
‘I shouldn’t think this one was ever in a church,’ replied Elinor. ‘More likely it was made for a very rich man to enjoy. It’s almost six hundred years old.’ There was no missing the pride in her voice. ‘People have committed murder for such a book. Luckily, I only had to buy it.’
As she spoke these last words she turned abruptly and looked at Dustfinger, who had followed them into the library, soundless as a prowling cat. For a moment Meggie thought Elinor would send him back into the corridor, but Dustfinger stood in front of the shelves looking so impressed, with his hands behind his back, that he gave her no reason to turn him out, so she just cast him a final distrustful glance and turned back to Mo.
He was standing at one of the reading desks with a book in his hand. Its spine hung only by a couple of threads. He held it very carefully, like a bird with a broken wing.
‘Well?’ asked Elinor anxiously. ‘Can you save it? I know it’s in terrible shape, and I’m afraid the others aren’t in a much better way, but …’
‘Oh, that can all be put right.’ Mo put the book down and inspected another. ‘But I think it will take me at least two weeks. If I don’t have to get hold of more materials, which could mean I need more time. Will you put up with us that long?’
‘Of course.’ Elinor nodded, but Meggie noticed the glance she cast at Dustfinger. He was still standing beside the shelves near the door and seemed entirely absorbed in looking at the books, but Meggie sensed that he had missed none of what was said behind his back.
There were no books in Elinor’s kitchen, not one, but they ate an excellent supper there at a wooden table that came, so Elinor assured them, from the scriptorium of an Italian monastery. Meggie doubted it. As far as she knew, the monks had worked at desks with sloping tops in the scriptoria of their monasteries, but she kept this information to herself. Instead, she took another slice of bread, and was just wondering how nice the cheese standing on the supposed scriptorium table would be when she noticed Mo whispering something to Elinor. Since Elinor’s eyes widened greedily, Meggie concluded that they could only be discussing a book, and she immediately thought of brown paper, a pale green linen binding, and the anger in Mo’s voice.
Beside her, Dustfinger surreptitiously slipped a slice of ham into his rucksack for Gwin’s supper. Meggie saw a round nose emerge from the rucksack, snuffling in the hope of more delicacies. Dustfinger smiled at Meggie when he noticed her looking at him and gave Gwin some more ham. He didn’t seem to find anything odd about Mo and Elinor’s whispering, but Meggie was sure the two of them were planning something secret.
After a short time Mo rose from the table and went out. Meggie asked Elinor where the bathroom was – and followed him.
It was a strange feeling to be spying on Mo. She couldn’t remember ever doing it before – except last night, when Dustfinger had arrived. And the time when she had tried to find out whether Mo was Father Christmas. She was ashamed of stealing after him like this, but it was his own fault. Why was he hiding the book from her? And now he might be going to give it to this Elinor – a book Meggie wasn’t allowed to see! Ever since Mo had hurriedly hidden it behind his back, Meggie hadn’t been able to get it out of her head. She had even looked for it in Mo’s bag before he loaded his things into the van, but she couldn’t find it.
She just had to see it before it disappeared, maybe into one of Elinor’s display cases! She had to know why it meant so much to Mo that, for its sake, he would drag her all the way here.
He looked round once more in the entrance hall before leaving the house, but Meggie ducked down behind a chest just in time. The chest smelled of mothballs and lavender. She decided to stay in hiding there until Mo came back. He’d be sure to see her if she went out of doors. Time passed painfully slowly, as it always does when you’re waiting for something with your heart thumping hard. The books in the white bookcases seemed to be watching Meggie, but they said nothing to her, as if they sensed that there was only one book Meggie could think about just now.
Finally, Mo came back carrying a package wrapped in brown paper. Perhaps he’s just going to hide it here, thought Meggie. Where could you hide a book better than among ten thousand others? Yes, Mo was going to leave it here and then they’d drive home again. But I would like to see it, thought Meggie, just once, before it’s put on one of those shelves I’m supposed to stay three paces away from.
Mo passed her so close that she could have touched him, but he didn’t notice her. ‘Meggie, don’t look at me like that!’ he sometimes told her. ‘You’re reading my thoughts again.’
Now he looked anxious – as if he wasn’t quite sure he was doing the right thing. Meggie counted slowly to three before following her father, but a couple of times Mo stopped so suddenly that Meggie almost ran into him. He didn’t return to the kitchen but went straight to the library. Without looking back once, he opened the door with the Venetian printer’s mark on it, and closed it quietly behind him.
So, there stood Meggie among all the silent books, wondering whether to follow him and ask him to show her the book. Would he be very angry? She was just about to summon up all her courage and go after him when she heard footsteps – rapid, firm footsteps, quick and impatient. That could only be Elinor. Now what?
Meggie opened the nearest door and slipped through it. A four-poster bed, a wardrobe, silver-framed photographs, a pile of books on the bedside table, a catalogue lying open on the rug, its pages full of pictures of old books. She was in Elinor’s bedroom. Heart thudding, she listened for noises outside; she could hear Elinor’s energetic footsteps and then the sound of the library door closing for the second time. Cautiously, she slipped out into the corridor again. She was still standing outside the library, undecided, when she felt a hand suddenly laid on her shoulder from behind. Another hand stifled her cry of alarm.
‘It’s only me!’ breathed Dustfinger into her ear. ‘Keep quiet or we’re both in trouble, understand?’
Meggie nodded, and Dustfinger slowly took his hand away from her mouth. ‘Your father’s going to give the old witch that book, right?’ he whispered. ‘Has he taken it out of the van? Tell me. He did have it with him, didn’t he?’
Meggie pushed him away. ‘I don’t know!’ she snapped. ‘Anyway, what business is it of yours?’
‘What business is it of mine?’ Dustfinger laughed quietly. ‘Well, perhaps I’ll tell you some time. But just now all I want to know is whether you’ve seen it.’
Meggie shook her head. She didn’t know herself why she was lying to Dustfinger. Perhaps because he had pressed his hand over her mouth a little too hard.
‘Meggie, listen to me!’ Dustfinger looked at her intently. His scars were like pale lines that someone had drawn on his cheeks: two slightly curved marks on the left cheek, a third and longer line on the right cheek running from ear to nostril. ‘Capricorn will kill your father if he doesn’t get that book!’ hissed Dustfinger. ‘Kill him, do you understand? Didn’t I tell you what he’s like? He wants the book, and he always gets what he wants. It’s ridiculous to believe it will be safe from him here.’