Home > The Graveyard Book(5)

The Graveyard Book(5)
Author: Neil Gaiman

“I don’t think that they had tomatoes when he comes from,” said Bod. “And that’s just how they talk then.”

Scarlett was happy. She was a bright, lonely child, whose mother worked for a distant university teaching people she never met face-to-face, grading English papers sent to her over the computer, and sending messages of advice or encouragement back. Her father taught particle physics, but there were, Scarlett told Bod, too many people who wanted to teach particle physics and not enough people who wanted to learn it, so Scarlett’s family had to keep moving to different university towns, and in each town her father would hope for a permanent teaching position that never came.

“What’s particle physics?” asked Bod.

Scarlett shrugged. “Well,” she said. “There’s atoms, which is things that is too small to see, that’s what we’re all made of. And there’s things that’s smaller than atoms, and that’s particle physics.”

Bod nodded and decided that Scarlett’s father was probably interested in imaginary things.

Bod and Scarlett wandered the graveyard together every weekday afternoon, tracing names with their fingers, writing them down. Bod would tell Scarlett whatever he knew of the inhabitants of the grave or mausoleum or tomb, and she would tell him stories that she had been read or learned, and sometimes she would tell him about the world outside, about cars and buses and television and aeroplanes (Bod had seen them flying high overhead, had thought them loud silver birds, but had never been curious about them until now). He in his turn would tell her about the days when the people in the graves had been alive—how Sebastian Reeder had been to London Town and had seen the Queen, who had been a fat woman in a fur cap who had glared at everyone and spoke no English. Sebastian Reeder could not remember which queen she had been, but he did not think she had been queen for very long.

“When was this?” Scarlett asked.

“He died in 1583, it says on his tombstone, so before then.”

“Who is the oldest person here. In the whole graveyard?” asked Scarlett.

Bod frowned. “Probably Caius Pompeius. He came here a hundred years after the Romans first got here. He told me about it. He liked the roads.”

“So he’s the oldest?”

“I think so.”

“Can we make a little house in one of those stone houses?”

“You can’t get in. It’s locked. They all are.”

“Can you get in?”

“Of course.”

“Why can’t I?”

“The graveyard,” he explained. “I got the Freedom of the Graveyard. It lets me go places.”

“I want to go in the stone house and make little houses.”

“You can’t.”

“You’re just mean.”




Scarlett put her hands into the pocket of her anorak and walked down the hill without saying good-bye, convinced that Bod was holding out on her, and at the same time suspecting that she was being unfair, which made her angrier.

That night, over dinner, she asked her mother and father if there was anyone in the country before the Romans came.

“Where did you hear about the Romans?” asked her father.

“Everybody knows,” said Scarlett, with withering scorn. “Was there?”

“There were Celts,” said her mother. “They were here first. They go back before the Romans. They were the people that the Romans conquered.”

On the bench beside the old chapel, Bod was having a similar conversation.

“The oldest?” said Silas. “Honestly, Bod, I don’t know. The oldest in the graveyard that I’ve encountered is Caius Pompeius. But there were people here before the Romans came. Lots of them, going back a long time. How are your letters coming along?”

“Good, I think. When do I learn joined-up letters?”

Silas paused. “I have no doubt,” he said, after a moment’s reflection, “that there are, among the many talented individuals interred here, at least a smattering of teachers. I shall make inquiries.”

Bod was thrilled. He imagined a future in which he could read everything, in which all stories could be opened and discovered.

When Silas had left the graveyard to go about his own affairs, Bod walked to the willow tree beside the old chapel, and called Caius Pompeius.

The old Roman came out of his grave with a yawn. “Ah. Yes. The living boy,” he said. “How are you, living boy?”

Bod said, “I do very well, sir.”

“Good. I am pleased to hear it.” The old Roman’s hair was pale in the moonlight, and he wore the toga in which he had been buried, with, beneath it, a thick woolen vest and leggings because this was a cold country at the edge of the world, and the only place colder was Caledonia to the North, where the men were more animal than human and covered in orange fur, and were too savage even to be conquered by the Romans, so would soon be walled off in their perpetual winter.

“Are you the oldest?” asked Bod.

“The oldest in the graveyard? I am.”

“So you were the first to be buried here?”

A hesitation. “Almost the first,” said Caius Pompeius. “Before the Celts there were other people on this island. One of them was buried here.”

“Oh.” Bod thought for a moment. “Where’s his grave?”

Caius pointed up the hill.

“He’s up at the top,” said Bod.

Caius shook his head.

“Then what?”

The old Roman reached down and he ruffled Bod’s hair. “In the hill,” he said. “Inside it. I was first brought here by my friends, followed in their turn by the local officials and the mimes, who wore the wax faces of my wife, taken by a fever in Camulodonum, and my father, killed in a border skirmish in Gaul. Three hundred years after my death a farmer, seeking a new place to graze his sheep, discovered the boulder that covered the entrance, and rolled it away, and went down, thinking there might be treasure. He came out a little later, his dark hair now as white as mine…”

“What did he see?”

Caius said nothing, then, “He would not speak of it. Or ever return. They put the boulder back, and in time, they forgot. And then, two hundred years ago, when they were building the Frobisher vault, they found it once more. The young man who found the place dreamed of riches, so he told no one, and he hid the doorway behind Ephraim Pettyfer’s casket, and went down one night, unobserved, or so he thought.”

“Was his hair white when he came up?”

“He did not come up.”

“Um. Oh. So, who is buried down there?”

Caius shook his head. “I do not know, young Owens. But I felt him, back when this place was empty. I could feel something waiting even then, deep in the hill.”

“What was he waiting for?”

“All I could feel,” said Caius Pompeius, “was the waiting.”

Scarlett was carrying a large picture book, and she sat next to her mother on the green bench near the gates, and she read her book while her mother inspected an educational supplement. She enjoyed the spring sunshine and she did her best to ignore the small boy who waved at her first from behind an ivy-covered monument, then, when she had resolved to no longer look at the monument, the boy popped up—literally, like a jack-in-a-box—from behind a tombstone (Joji G. Shoji, d. 1921, I was a stranger and you took me in). He gestured towards her, frantically. She ignored him.

Eventually she put her book down on the bench.

“Mummy? I’m going for a walk, now.”

“Stay on the path, dear.”

She stayed on the path until she was round the corner, and she could see Bod waving at her from further up the hill. She made a face at him.

“I’ve found things out,” said Scarlett.

“Me too,” said Bod.

“There were people before the Romans,” she said. “Way back. They lived, I mean, when they died they put them underground in these hills, with treasure and stuff. And they were called barrows.”

“Oh. Right,” said Bod. “That explains it. Do you want to come and see one?”

“Now?” Scarlett looked doubtful. “You don’t really know where one is, do you? And you know I can’t always follow you where you go.” She had seen him slip through walls, like a shadow.

In reply, he held up a large, rusted, iron key. “This was in the chapel,” he said. “It should open most of the gates up there. They used the same key for all of them. It was less work.”

She scrambled up the hillside beside him.

“You’re telling the truth?”

He nodded, a pleased smile dancing at the corners of his lips. “Come on,” he said.

It was a perfect spring day, and the air was alive with birdsong and bee hum. The daffodils bustled in the breeze and here and there on the side of the hill a few early tulips nodded. A blue powdering of forget-me-nots and fine, fat yellow primroses punctuated the green of the slope as the two children walked up the hill toward the Frobishers’ little mausoleum.

It was old and simple in design, a small, forgotten stone house with a metal gate for a door. Bod unlocked the gate with his key, and they went in.

“It’s a hole,” said Bod. “Or a door. Behind one of the coffins.”

They found it behind a coffin on the bottom shelf—a simple crawl space. “Down there,” said Bod. “We go down there.”

Scarlett found herself suddenly enjoying the adventure rather less. She said, “We can’t see down there. It’s dark.”

“I don’t need light,” said Bod. “Not while I’m in the graveyard.”

“I do,” said Scarlett. “It’s dark.”

Bod thought about the reassuring things that he could say, like “there’s nothing bad down there,” but the tales of hair turning white and people never returning meant that he could not have said them with a clear conscience, so he said, “I’ll go down. You wait for me up here.”

Scarlett frowned. “You shouldn’t leave me,” she said.

“I’ll go down,” said Bod, “and I’ll see who’s there, and I’ll come back and tell you all about it.”

He turned to the opening, bent down, and clambered through on his hands and knees. He was in a space big enough to stand up in, and he could see steps cut into the stone. “I’m going down the steps now,” he said.

“Do they go down a long way?”

“I think so.”

“If you held my hand and told me where I was walking,” she said, “then I could come with you. If you make sure I’m okay.”

“Of course,” said Bod, and before he had finished speaking the girl was coming through the hole on her hands and her knees.

“You can stand up,” Bod told her. He took her hand. “The steps are just here. If you put a foot forward you can find it. There. Now I’ll go first.”

“Can you really see?” she asked.

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