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Inkheart, Page 2

Cornelia Funke

  Her father was sitting at the kitchen table making sandwiches for the journey. When she came into the kitchen he looked up briefly and smiled at her, but Meggie could see he was worried about something. ‘Mo, we can’t go away now!’ she said. ‘The school holidays don’t start for another week!’

  ‘Well, it won’t be the first time I’ve had to go away on business in your term-time.’

  He was right about that. In fact, he went away quite often, whenever an antique dealer, a book collector or a library needed a bookbinder and commissioned Mo to restore a few valuable old books, freeing them of dust and mould or dressing them in new clothes, as he put it. Meggie didn’t think the word ‘bookbinder’ described Mo’s work particularly well, and a few years ago she had made him a notice to hang on his workshop door saying ‘Mortimer Folchart, Book Doctor’. And the book doctor never called on his patients without taking his daughter too. They had always done that and they always would, never mind what Meggie’s teachers said.

  ‘How about chicken-pox? Have I used that excuse already?’

  ‘Yes, last time. When we had to go and see that dreary man with the Bibles.’ Meggie scrutinised her father’s face. ‘Mo. Is it … is it because of last night we have to leave?’

  For a moment she thought he was going to tell her everything – whatever there was to tell. But then he shook his head. ‘No, of course not,’ he said, putting the sandwiches he had made in a plastic bag. ‘Your mother has an aunt called Elinor. We visited her once, when you were very small. She’s been wanting me to come and put her books in order for a long time. She lives beside a lake in the north of Italy, I always forget which lake, but it’s a lovely place, a day’s drive away.’ He did not look at her as he spoke.

  Meggie wanted to ask: but why do we have to go now? But she didn’t. Nor did she ask if he had forgotten that he was meeting someone at midday. She was too afraid of the answers – and she didn’t want Mo to lie to her again.

  ‘Is this aunt as peculiar as the others?’ was all she said. Mo had already taken her to visit various relations. Both he and Meggie’s mother had large families whose homes, so far as Meggie could see, were scattered over half of Europe.

  Mo smiled. ‘Yes, she is a bit peculiar, but you’ll get on with her all right. She has some really wonderful books.’

  ‘So how long are we going to be away?’

  ‘It could be quite some time.’

  Meggie sipped her cocoa. It was so hot that she burned her lips, and had to quickly press the cold blade of a knife to her mouth.

  Mo pushed his chair back. ‘I have to pack a few more things from the workshop,’ he said. ‘It won’t take long. You must be very tired, but you can sleep once we’re in the van.’

  Meggie just nodded and looked out of the kitchen window. It was a grey morning. Mist drifted over the fields at the foot of the nearby hills, and Meggie felt as if the shadows of the night were still hiding among the trees.

  ‘Pack up the food and take plenty to read!’ Mo called from the hall. As if she didn’t always! Years ago he had made her a box to hold her favourite books on all their journeys, short and long, near and far. ‘It’s a good idea to have your own books with you in a strange place,’ Mo always said. He himself always took at least a dozen.

  Mo had painted the box poppy-red. Poppies were Meggie’s favourite flower. They pressed well between the pages of a book, and you could stamp a star-shaped pattern on your skin with their pepper-pot seed capsules. He had decorated the box and painted Meggie’s Treasure Chest in lovely curly lettering on the lid. The box was lined with shiny black taffeta, but you could hardly see any of the fabric because Meggie had a great many favourite books, and she always added another whenever they travelled anywhere. ‘If you take a book with you on a journey,’ Mo had said when he put the first one in her box, ‘an odd thing happens: the book begins collecting your memories. And forever after you have only to open that book to be back where you first read it. It will all come into your mind with the very first words: the sights you saw in that place, what it smelled like, the ice-cream you ate while you were reading it … yes, books are like flypapers. Memories cling to the printed page better than anything else.’

  He was probably right, but there was another reason why Meggie took her books whenever they went away. They were her home when she was somewhere strange – familiar voices, friends that never quarrelled with her, clever, powerful friends, daring and knowledgeable, tried and tested adventurers who had travelled far and wide. Her books cheered her up when she was sad, and kept her from being bored while Mo cut leather and fabric to the right size, and re-stitched old pages that over countless years had grown fragile from the many fingers leafing through them.

  Some of her books always went away with Meggie. Others were left at home because they weren’t right for where she was going, or to make room for new, unknown stories that she hadn’t yet read.

  Meggie stroked their curved spines. Which books should she take this time? Which stories would help to drive away the fear that had crept into the house last night? I know, thought Meggie, why not a story about telling lies? Mo told her lies. He told terrible lies, even though he knew that every time he told one she looked hard at his nose. Pinocchio, thought Meggie. No, too sinister. And too sad. But she wanted something exciting, a story to drive all other thoughts out of her head, even the darkest. The Witches, yes. She’d take the bald-headed witches who turn children into mice – and The Odyssey, with the Cyclops and the enchantress who transforms his warriors into pigs. Her journey could hardly be more dangerous than his, could it?

  On the left-hand side of the box there were two picture books that Meggie had used when she was teaching herself to read – five years old, she’d been, and you could still see where her tiny forefinger had moved over the pages – and right at the bottom, hidden under all the others, were the books Meggie had made herself. She had spent days sticking them together and cutting up the paper, she had painted picture after picture, and Mo had to write what they were underneath them. An Angel With a Happy Face, from Meggi for Mo. She had written her name herself, although back then she always left the ‘e’ off the end. Meggie looked at the clumsy lettering and put the little book back in the box. Mo had helped her with the binding, of course. He had bound all her home-made books in brightly patterned paper, and he had given her a stamp for the others so that she could print her name and the head of a unicorn on the title page, sometimes in black ink and sometimes in red, depending how she felt. But Mo had never read aloud to her from her books. Not once.

  He had tossed Meggie up in the air, he had carried her round the house on his shoulders, he had taught her how to make a bookmark of blackbird’s feathers. But he had never read aloud to her. Never once, not a single word, however often she put books on his lap. Meggie just had to teach herself how to decipher the black marks and open the treasure chest.

  She straightened up. There was still a little room in the box. Perhaps Mo had a new book she could take, a specially big, fat, wonderful book …

  The door to his workshop was closed.

  ‘Mo?’ Meggie pressed the handle down. The long table where he worked had been swept clean, with not a stamp, nor a knife in sight. Mo had packed everything. Had he been lying after all?

  Meggie went into the workshop and looked around. The door to the Treasury was open. The Treasury was really just a lumber-room, but Meggie had given the little cubby-hole that name because it was where her father stored his most precious materials: the finest leather, the most beautiful fabrics, marbled paper, stamps to print patterns in gold on soft leather … Meggie put her head round the open door and saw Mo covering a book with brown paper. It was not a particularly large book, and not especially fat. The green linen binding looked worn, but that was all Meggie could see, because Mo quickly hid the book behind his back as soon as he noticed her.

  ‘What are you doing here?’ he snapped.

  ‘I—’ For a moment Meggie was speech
less with shock, Mo’s face was so dark. ‘I only wanted to ask if you had a new book for me. I’ve read all the ones in my room, and …’

  Mo passed his hand over his face. ‘Yes, of course. I’m sure I can find something,’ he said, but his eyes were still saying: go away, go away, Meggie. And the brown paper crackled behind his back. ‘I’ll be with you in a moment,’ he said. ‘I have a few more things to pack. OK?’

  A little later he brought her three books, but the one he had been covering with brown paper wasn’t one of them.

  An hour later, they were taking everything out into the yard. Meggie shivered when she stepped out of doors. It was a chilly morning after the night’s rain, and the sun hung in the sky like a pale coin lost by someone high up in the clouds.

  They had been living in the old farmhouse for just under a year. Meggie liked the view of the surrounding hills, the swallows’ nests under the roof, the dried-up well that yawned darkly as if it went straight down to the Earth’s core. The house itself had always been too big and draughty for her liking, with all those empty rooms full of fat spiders, but the rent was low and Mo had enough space for his books and his workshop. There was a hen-house outside, and the barn, which now housed only their old camper van, would have been perfect for a couple of cows or a horse. ‘Cows have to be milked, Meggie,’ Mo had said when she suggested keeping a couple. ‘Very, very early in the morning. Every day.’

  ‘Well, what about a horse?’ she had asked. ‘Even Pippi Longstocking has a horse, and she doesn’t have a stable.’

  She’d have been happy with a few chickens or a goat, but they too had to be fed every day, and she and Mo went away too often for that. So Meggie had only the ginger cat who sometimes came visiting when it couldn’t be bothered to compete with the dogs on the farm next door. The grumpy old farmer who lived there was their only neighbour. Sometimes his dogs howled so pitifully that Meggie put her hands over her ears. It was twenty minutes by bike to the nearest village, where she went to school and where two of her friends lived, but Mo usually took her in the van because it was a lonely ride along a narrow road that wound past nothing but fields and dark trees.

  ‘What on earth have you packed in here? Bricks?’ asked Mo as he carried Meggie’s book-box out of the house.

  ‘You’re the one who says books have to be heavy because the whole world’s inside them,’ said Meggie, making him laugh for the first time that morning.

  The camper van, standing in the abandoned barn like a solid, multicoloured animal, was more familiar to Meggie than any of the houses where she and Mo had lived. She never slept more deeply and soundly than in the bed he had made in it for her. There was a table too, of course, a kitchen tucked into a corner and a bench to sit on. When you lifted the seat of the bench there were travel guides, road maps and well-worn paperbacks under it.

  Yes, Meggie was fond of the van, but this morning she hesitated to get in. When Mo finally went back to the house to lock the door, she suddenly felt that they would never come back here, that this journey was going to be different from any other, that they would drive further and further away, in flight from something that had no name. Or at least none that Mo was about to tell her.

  ‘Very well, off we go south,’ was all he said as he got behind the steering wheel. And so they set off, without saying goodbye to anyone, on a morning that still seemed much too early and smelled of rain.

  But Dustfinger was waiting for them at the gate.


  Going South

  ‘Beyond the Wild Wood comes the Wild World,’ said the Rat. ‘And that’s something that doesn’t matter, either to you or to me. I’ve never been there, and I’m never going, nor you either, if you’ve got any sense at all.’

  Kenneth Grahame,

  The Wind in the Willows

  Dustfinger must have been waiting in the road beyond the wall. Meggie had picked her precarious way along the top of that wall hundreds of times, up to the rusty hinges of the gate and back again, eyes tightly closed so that she could get a clearer view of the tiger she’d imagined waiting in the bamboo at the foot of the wall, his eyes yellow as amber, or the foaming rapids to her right and her left.

  Only Dustfinger was there now, but no other sight could have made Meggie’s heart beat faster. He appeared so suddenly that Mo almost ran him down. He wore only a sweater, and he was shivering, with his arms folded over his chest. His coat was probably still damp from last night’s rain, but his hair was dry now – a ruffled, sandy mop above his scarred face.

  Mo swore under his breath, switched off the engine and got out of the van.

  Smiling his strange smile, Dustfinger leaned back against the wall. ‘Where are you going in such a hurry, Silvertongue? Didn’t we have a date?’ he asked. ‘You stood me up like this once before, remember?’

  ‘You know why I’m in a hurry,’ replied Mo. ‘For the same reason as last time.’ He was still standing by the open door of the van, looking tense, as if he couldn’t wait for Dustfinger to get out of the way. But Dustfinger pretended not to notice Mo’s impatience.

  ‘Then may I know where you’re going?’ he enquired. ‘It took me four years to find you last time, and if luck hadn’t been on your side Capricorn’s men would have got to you first.’ When he glanced at Meggie she stared back icily.

  Mo was silent for a while. ‘Capricorn is in the north,’ he answered at last. ‘So we’re going south. Or has he taken up residence somewhere else now?’

  Dustfinger looked down the road. Last night’s rain shone in the potholes. ‘No, no,’ he said. ‘No, he’s still in the north. Or so I hear, and since you’ve obviously made up your mind to go on refusing him what he wants I’d better go south myself as fast as I can. Heaven knows I don’t want to be the one to give Capricorn’s men the bad news. So, if you’d give me a lift part of the way? … I’m ready to leave.’ The two bags he picked up from where they stood by the wall looked as if they’d been all round the world a dozen times. Apart from the bags, Dustfinger had nothing but his rucksack with him.

  Meggie compressed her lips.

  No, Mo, she thought, no, let’s not take him! But she had only to look at her father to know that his answer would be different.

  ‘Oh, come on, Silvertongue!’ said Dustfinger. ‘What am I going to tell Capricorn’s men if I fall into their hands?’

  He looked lost, standing there like a stray dog. And hard as Meggie tried to see something sinister about him she couldn’t, not in the pale morning light. All the same, she didn’t want him to go with them. Her face showed that very clearly, but neither of the two men took any notice of her.

  ‘Believe me, I couldn’t keep the fact that I’ve seen you from them for very long,’ Dustfinger continued. ‘And anyway …’ he hesitated before completing his sentence, ‘you still owe me, don’t you?’

  Mo bowed his head. Meggie saw his hand closing more firmly round the open door of the van. ‘If you want to look at it like that,’ he said, ‘yes, I suppose I do still owe you.’

  The relief was plain to see on Dustfinger’s scarred face. He quickly hoisted his rucksack over his shoulders and came over to the van with his bags.

  ‘Wait a minute!’ cried Meggie, as Mo moved to help him. ‘If he’s coming with us then I want to know why we’re running away. Who is this man called Capricorn?’

  Mo turned to her. ‘Meggie,’ he began in the tone she knew only too well: Meggie, don’t be so silly, it meant. Come along now, Meggie.

  She opened the van door and jumped out.

  ‘Meggie, for heaven’s sake! Get back in! We have to leave!’

  ‘I’m not getting back in until you tell me.’

  Mo came towards her but Meggie slipped away, and ran through the gate into the road.

  ‘Why won’t you tell me?’ she cried.

  The road was deserted, as if there were no other human beings in the world. A slight breeze had risen, caressing Meggie’s face and rustling in the leaves of the lime tree that grew by
the roadside. The sky was still wan and grey, and refused to clear.

  ‘I want to know what’s going on!’ cried Meggie. ‘I want to know why we had to get up at five o’clock, and why I don’t have to go to school. I want to know if we’re ever coming back, and I want to know who this Capricorn is!’

  When she spoke the name Mo looked round as if the man with the strange name, the man he and Dustfinger obviously feared so much, might step out of the empty barn next moment as suddenly as Dustfinger had emerged from behind the wall. But the yard was empty, and Meggie was too furious to feel frightened of someone when she knew nothing about him other than his name. ‘You’ve always told me everything!’ she shouted at her father. ‘Always.’

  But Mo was still silent. ‘Everyone has a few secrets, Meggie,’ he said at last. ‘Now, come along, do get in. We have to leave.’

  Dustfinger looked first at Mo, then at Meggie, with an expression of incredulity on his face. ‘You haven’t told her?’ Meggie heard him ask in a low voice.

  Mo shook his head.

  ‘But you have to tell her something! It’s dangerous for her not to know. She’s not a baby any more.’

  ‘It’s dangerous for her to know too,’ said Mo. ‘And it wouldn’t change anything.’

  Meggie was still standing in the road.

  ‘I heard all that!’ she cried. ‘What’s dangerous? I’m not getting in until you tell me.’

  Mo still said nothing.

  Dustfinger looked at him, uncertain for a moment, then put down his bags. ‘Very well,’ he said. ‘Then I’ll tell her about Capricorn myself.’

  He came slowly towards Meggie, who involuntarily stepped back.

  ‘You met him once,’ said Dustfinger. ‘It’s a long time ago, you won’t remember, you were so little.’ He held his hand at knee-height in the air. ‘How can I explain what he’s like? If you were to see a cat eating a young bird I expect you’d cry, wouldn’t you? Or try to help the bird. Capricorn would feed the bird to the cat on purpose, just to watch it being torn apart, and the little creature’s screeching and struggling would be as sweet as honey to him.’

  Meggie took another step backwards, but Dustfinger kept advancing towards her.

  ‘I don’t suppose you’d get any fun from terrifying people until their knees were so weak they could hardly stand?’ he asked. ‘Nothing gives Capricorn more pleasure. And I don’t suppose you think you can just help yourself to anything you want, never mind what or where. Capricorn does. Unfortunately, your father has something Capricorn has set his heart on.’

  Meggie glanced at Mo, but he just stood there looking at her.

  ‘Capricorn can’t bind books like your father,’ Dustfinger went on. ‘In fact, he’s not much good at anything except terrifying people. But he’s a master of that art. It’s his whole life. I doubt if he himself has any idea what it’s like to be so paralysed by fear that you feel small and insignificant. But he knows just how to arouse that fear and spread it, in people’s homes and their beds, in their heads and their hearts. His men spread fear abroad like the Black Death, they push it under doors and through letterboxes, they paint it on walls and stable doors until it infects everything around it of its own accord, silent and stinking like