Home > The Graveyard Book(8)

The Graveyard Book(8)
Author: Neil Gaiman

Bod shrugged and shook his head.

“Name the different kinds of people,” said Miss Lupescu. “Now.”

Bod thought for a moment. “The living,” he said. “Er. The dead.” He stopped. Then, “…Cats?” he offered, uncertainly.

“You are ignorant, boy,” said Miss Lupescu. “This is bad. And you are content to be ignorant, which is worse. Repeat after me, there are the living and the dead, there are day-folk and night-folk, there are ghouls and mist-walkers, there are the high hunters and the Hounds of God. Also, there are solitary types.”

“What are you?” asked Bod.

“I,” she said sternly, “am Miss Lupescu.”

“And what’s Silas?”

She hesitated. Then she said, “He is a solitary type.”

Bod endured the lesson. When Silas taught him things it was interesting. Much of the time Bod didn’t realize he had been taught anything at all. Miss Lupescu taught in lists, and Bod could not see the point to it. He sat in the crypt, aching to be out in the summer’s twilight, under the ghost moon.

When the lesson was done, in the foulest of moods, he fled. He looked for playmates, but found no one and saw nothing but a large grey dog, which prowled the gravestones, always keeping its distance from him, slipping between gravestones and through shadows.

The week got worse.

Miss Lupescu continued to bring Bod things she had cooked for him: dumplings swimming in lard; thick reddish-purple soup with a lump of sour cream in it; small, cold boiled potatoes; cold garlic-heavy sausages; hardboiled eggs in a grey unappetizing liquid. He ate as little as he could get away with. The lessons continued: for two days she taught him nothing but ways to call for help in every language in the world, and she would rap his knuckles with her pen if he slipped up, or forgot. By the third day she was firing them at him,


“Au secours.”

“Morse Code?”

“S-O-S. Three short dots, three long ones, three short ones again.”


“This is stupid. I don’t remember what a night-gaunt is.”

“They have hairless wings, and they fly low and fast. They do not visit this world, but they fly the red skies above the road to Ghûlheim.”

“I’m never going to need to know this.”

Her mouth pinched in tighter. All she said was, “Night-Gaunt?”

Bod made the noise in the back of his throat that she had taught him—a guttural cry, like an eagle’s call. She sniffed. “Adequate,” she said.

Bod could not wait until the day that Silas returned.

He said, “There’s a big grey dog in the graveyard sometimes. It came when you did. Is it your dog?”

Miss Lupescu straightened her tie. “No,” she said.

“Are we done?”

“For today. You will read the list I give you tonight and remember it for tomorrow.”

Miss Lupescu’s lists were printed in pale purple ink on white paper, and they smelled odd. Bod took the new list up onto the side of the hill and tried to read the words, but his attention kept sliding off it. Eventually he folded it up and placed it beneath a stone.

No one would play with him that night. No one wanted to play or to talk, to run and climb beneath the huge summer moon.

He went down to the Owenses’ tomb to complain to his parents, but Mrs. Owens would not hear a word said against Miss Lupescu, on, as far as Bod was concerned, the unfair grounds that Silas had chosen her, while Mr. Owens simply shrugged and started telling Bod about his days as a young apprentice cabinetmaker, and how much he would have loved to have learned about all the useful things that Bod was learning, which was, as far as Bod was concerned, even worse.

“Aren’t you meant to be studying, anyway?” asked Mrs. Owens, and Bod squeezed his fists together and said nothing.

He stomped off into the graveyard, feeling unloved and underappreciated.

Bod brooded on the injustice of it all, and wandered through the graveyard kicking at stones. He spotted the dark grey dog, and called to it to see if it would come over and play with him, but it kept its distance, and Bod, frustrated, threw a clump of mud towards it, which broke on a nearby gravestone, and scattered earth everywhere. The big dog gazed at Bod reproachfully, then stepped away into the shadows, and was gone.

The boy walked back down the southwest side of the hill, avoiding the old chapel: he did not want to see the place that Silas wasn’t. Bod stopped beside a grave that looked the way he felt: it was beneath an oak that had once been struck by lightning, and now was just a black trunk, like a sharp talon coming out of the hill; the grave itself was waterstained and cracked, and above it was a memorial stone on which a headless angel hung, its robes looking like a huge and ugly tree-fungus.

Bod sat down on a clump of grass, and felt sorry for himself, and hated everybody. He even hated Silas, for going away and leaving him. Then he closed his eyes, and curled into a ball on the grass, and drifted into a dreamless sleep.

Down the street and up the hill came the Duke of Westminster, the Honorable Archibald Fitzhugh, and the Bishop of Bath and Wells, slipping and bounding from shadow to shadow, lean and leathery, all sinews and cartilage, wearing raggedy clothes all a-tatter, and they bounded and loped and skulked, leapfrogging over dustbins, keeping to the dark side of hedges.

They were small, like full-size people who had shrunk in the sun; they spoke to each other in undertones, saying things like, “If Your Grace has any more blooming idea of where we is than us do, I’d be grateful if he’d say so. Otherwise, he should keep his big offal-hole shut,” and “All I’m saying, Your Worship, is that I knows there’s a graveyard near to here, I can smell it,” and “If you could smell it then I should be able to smell it, ’cos I’ve got a better nose than you have, Your Grace.”

All this as they dodged and wove their way through suburban gardens. They avoided one garden (“Psst!” hissed the Honorable Archibald Fitzhugh. “Dogs!”) and ran along the top of the garden wall, scampering over it like rats the size of children. Down into the high street, and up the road to the top of the hill. And then they were at the graveyard wall, and they went up it like squirrels up a tree, and they sniffed the air.

“’Ware dog,” said the Duke of Westminster.

“Where? I dunno. Somewhere around here. Doesn’t smell like a proper dog anyway,” said the Bishop of Bath and Wells.

“Somebody couldn’t smell this graveyard neither,” said the Honorable Archibald Fitzhugh. “Remember? It’s just a dog.”

The three of them leapt down from the wall to the ground, and they ran, using their arms as much as their legs to propel themselves through the graveyard, to the ghoul-gate by the lightning tree.

And beside the gate, in the moonlight, they paused.

“What’s this when it’s at home, then?” asked the Bishop of Bath and Wells.

“Lumme,” said the Duke of Westminster.

Bod woke then.

The three faces staring into his could have been those of mummified humans, fleshless and dried, but their features were mobile and interested—mouths that grinned to reveal sharp, stained teeth; bright beady eyes; clawed fingers that moved and tapped.

“Who are you?” Bod asked.

“We,” said one of the creatures—they were, Bod realized, only a little bigger than he was—“is most important folk, we is. This here is the Duke of Westminster.”

The biggest of the creatures gave a bow, saying, “Charmed, I’m sure.”

“…and this is the Bishop of Bath and Wells—”

The creature, which grinned sharp teeth and let a pointed tongue of improbable length waggle between them, did not look like Bod’s idea of a bishop: its skin was piebald and it had a large spot across one eye, making it look almost piratical. “…and I ’ave the honor to be ther ’onorable Harchibald Fitzhugh. Hat your service.”

The three creatures bowed as one. The Bishop of Bath and Wells said, “Now me lad, what’s your story, eh? And don’t tell any porkies, remember as how you’re talkin’ to a bishop.”

“You tell him, Your Worship,” said the other two.

So Bod told them. He told them how no one liked him or wanted to play with him, how no one appreciated him or cared, and how even his guardian had abandoned him.

“Blow me down,” said the Duke of Westminster, scratching his nose (a little dried-up thing that was mostly nostrils). “What you need is to go somewhere the people would appreciate you.”

“There isn’t anywhere,” said Bod. “And I’m not allowed out of the graveyard.”

“You needs an ’ole world of friends and playfellows,” said the Bishop of Bath and Wells, wiggling his long tongue. “A city of delights, of fun and magic, where you would be appreciated, not ignored.”

Bod said, “The lady who’s looking after me. She makes horrible food. Hard-boiled egg soup and things.”

“Food!” said the Honorable Archibald Fitzhugh. “Where we’re going the food’s the best in the whole world. Makes me tum rumble and me mouf water just thinking about it.”

“Can I come with you?” asked Bod.

“Come with us?” said the Duke of Westminster. He sounded shocked.

“Don’t be like that, Yer Grace,” said the Bishop of Bath and Wells. “’Ave a blinking ’eart. Look at the little mite. ’Asn’t ’ad a decent meal in ’e don’t know ’ow long.”

“I vote to take him,” said the Honorable Archibald Fitzhugh. “There’s good grub back at our place.” He patted his stomach to show just how good the food was.

“So. You game for adventure?” asked the Duke of Westminster, won over by the novel idea. “Or do you want to waste the rest of your life here?” and with bony fingers he indicated the graveyard and the night.

Bod thought of Miss Lupescu and her awful food and her lists and her pinched mouth.

“I’m game,” he said.

His three new friends might have been his size, but they were far stronger than any child, and Bod found himself picked up by the Bishop of Bath and Wells and held high above the creature’s head, while the Duke of Westminster grabbed a handful of mangy-looking grass, shouted what sounded like “Skagh! Thegh! Khavagah!” and pulled. The stone slab that covered the grave swung open like a trapdoor, revealing a darkness beneath.

“Quick now,” said the duke, and the Bishop of Bath and Wells tossed Bod into the dark opening, then leapt in after him, followed by the Honorable Archibald Fitzhugh and then, with one agile bound, by the Duke of Westminster, who, as soon as he was inside, called out, “Wegh Khârados!” to close the ghoul-gate, and the stone crashed down above them.

Bod fell, tumbling through the darkness like a lump of marble, too startled to be scared, wondering how deep the hole beneath that grave could possibly be, when two strong hands caught him beneath the armpits and he found himself swinging forward through the pitch-blackness.

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