"Don't underestimate him!" she heard Dustfinger say. His voice was so different from Mo's. No one else in the world had a voice like her father's. Mo could paint pictures in the empty air with his voice alone.
"He'd do anything to get hold of it." That was Dustfinger again. "And when I say anything,' I can assure you I mean anything."
"I'll never let him have it." That was Mo.
"He'll still get his hands on it, one way or another! I tell you, they're on your trail."
"It wouldn't be the first time. I've always managed to shake them off before."
"Oh yes? And for how much longer, do you think? What about your daughter? Are you telling me she actually likes moving around the whole time? Believe me, I know what I'm talking about."
It was so quiet behind the door that Meggie scarcely dared breathe in case the two men heard her.
Finally, her father spoke again, hesitantly, as if his tongue found it difficult to form the words. "Then what do you think I ought to do?"
"Come with me. I'll take you to them." A cup clinked. The sound of a spoon against china. How loud small noises sound in a silence. "You know how much Capricorn thinks of your talents.
He'd be glad if you took it to him of your own free will, I'm sure he would. The man he found to replace you is useless."
Capricorn. Another peculiar name. Dustfinger had uttered it as if the mere sound might scorch his tongue. Meggie wriggled her chilly toes and wrinkled her cold nose. She didn't understand much of what the two men were saying, but she tried to memorize every single word of it.
It was quiet again in the workshop.
"Oh, I don't know," said Mo at last. He sounded so weary it tore at Meggie's heart. "I'll have to think about it. When do you think his men will get here?"
The word dropped like a stone into the silence.
"Soon," repeated Mo. "Very well. I'll have made up my mind by tomorrow. Do you have somewhere to sleep?"
"Oh, I can always find a place," replied Dustfinger. "I'm managing quite well these days, although it's still all much too fast for me." His laugh was not a happy one. "But I'd like to know what you decide. May I come back tomorrow? About midday?"
"Yes, of course. I'll be picking Meggie up from school at one-thirty. Come after that."
Meggie heard a chair being pushed back and scurried back to her room. When the door of the workshop opened she was just closing her bedroom door behind her. Pulling the covers up to her chin, she lay there listening as her father said good-bye to Dustfinger.
"And thank you for the warning anyway," she heard him add as Dustfinger's footsteps moved away, slowly and uncertainly, as if he were reluctant to leave, as if he hadn't said everything he'd wanted to say. But at last he was gone, and only the rain kept drumming its wet fingers on Meggie's window.
When Mo opened the door of her room she quickly closed her eyes and tried to breathe as slowly as you do in a deep, innocent sleep. But Mo wasn't stupid. In fact, he was sometimes terribly clever.
"Meggie, put one of your feet out of bed," he told her. Reluctantly, she stuck her toes out from under the blanket and laid them in Mo's warm hand. They were still cold.
"I knew it!" he said. "You've been spying. Can't you do as I tell you, just for once?" Sighing, he tucked her foot back underneath the nice warm blankets. Then he sat down on her bed, passed his hands over his tired face, and looked out of the window. His hair was as dark as moleskin. Meggie had fair hair like her mother, whom she knew only from a few faded photographs.
"You should be glad you look more like her than me," Mo always said. "My head wouldn't look good at all on a girl's neck." But Meggie wished she did look more like him. There wasn't a face in the world she loved more.
Copyright (c) 2004, Scholastic Books Inc. Reproduced with the permission of Scholastic Books
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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