Cover Missing
Contents
Cover
About the Book
Title Page
Dedication
Epigraph
Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight
Chapter Nine
Chapter Ten
Chapter Eleven
Chapter Twelve
Chapter Thirteen
Chapter Fourteen
Chapter Fifteen
Chapter Sixteen
About the Author
Also by Penelope Farmer
Copyright
Also by Penelope Farmer
CHARLOTTE SOMETIMES
ABOUT THE BOOK
When Hugh is given a new cupboard, little does he know the secret it holds or how it will affect him and all his friends. Because the cupboard changes things – sometimes dangerously – and if it has the power to change a wallet into a pig, imagine what it can turn Hugh’s friend Penn into!
And then there are Hugh’s dreams; or are they really dreams?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Penelope Farmer lives in Birmingham and has two grown-up children. She is the author of many books, including A Castle of Bone, Charlotte Sometimes and The Summer Birds.

A CASTLE OF BONE

Penelope Farmer
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A CASTLE OF BONE
AN RHCP DIGITAL EBOOK 978 1 446 45195 3
Published in Great Britain by RHCP Digital,
an imprint of Random House Children’s Publishers UK
A Penguin Random House Company
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This ebook edition published 2011
This edition with revisions, first published in 1992
Copyright © Penelope Farmer 1972, 1992
First Published in Great Britain
Red Fox 9780099267187
The right of Penelope Farmer to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
This ebook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorized distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author’s and publisher’s rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.
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A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
For Judy with love,
and for Sandy Hayhurst
who made writing this book possible.
. . . And bones of solidness froze
Over all his nerves of joy . . .
WILLIAM BLAKE
The achievement of Manwyddan the wise
After lamentation and fiery wrath
Was a construction of the bone fortress of
Oeth and Anoeth.
WELSH TRIAD
CHAPTER ONE
“What’s that noise?” asked Jean. They all stood staring at the cupboard. Penn against the light looked huge – his hair edged by light, blazed, caught sun, almost reflected it.
“What noise?” Penn asked.
“But there’s nothing,” Hugh said, “except my wallet.” Penn’s sister Anna had just put it there, then closed the cupboard door.
“Oh wait, oh listen,” timid Anna said.
And there was a noise; very small at first; rustlings, tappings, scrapings – but gradually louder, like a tree Hugh thought, a tree growing inside the cupboard, its branches dragging, rapping against the door, blown by some hidden wind. In a moment the sound, increasing, was of neither tree nor wind, it was a huge sound booming within those narrow wooden walls, some huge form banging and racketing in there. And he heard another sound also, as loud as the first, but tighter, shriller, which sounded, only it could not be, like the squealing of a pig.
Penn as usual took Hugh’s decision for him; leaned forward, pulled open both the cupboard doors; within the instant of the click a large white sow fell out, rolled over, picked itself up and blundered, terrified, across the room – quite unmistakably a real pig, with hanging dugs and crude, prehistoric-looking skin; Hugh, though dazed, could see the little bristles that edged its ears, saw the blue symbol stamped on its flank, like the price mark stamped on supermarket goods; as it missed Anna by inches, knocked over his cluttered chair –
“Hugh, the door, watch out,” Penn yelled, too late, because the pig which had not for one moment ceased to squeal, dashed through, turned sideways and fell down the first and narrowest flight of stairs. Hugh diving to Penn’s shout, was unable to check the movement of his hand, slammed the door shut, and as he opened it again the pig fell down more stairs, crashed with full bulk, dangerously, against quivering bannisters, careered along the landing, down a third flight, thundered its feet on the wooden hall floor then shot out of the door into the front garden, Penn and the others in confused pursuit.
Hugh saw Jean’s cat bolt upright on a flowerbed watching them; he saw the pig now lurching but still swift enough, run out through the open garden gate. Jean was wailing like a little girl.
“It’ll get run over, it’ll get run over.”
“We’d better try heading it to the park,” shrieked Penn.
The gate crashed shut behind them with a clash of iron. The wooden fence shivered all along its length. The black cat watching had not shifted fractionally.
“Your ma must have heard,” Penn was saying breathlessly to Hugh.
“She might not. I think she’s out. Jesus, just look at it” – he saw the pig weave erratically across the road – “something’s going to hit it soon.”
“At least they slow down here – but on the main road . . .” Penn took speed again. Ahead of him the pig took speed too, its tail uncurled by speed streaming out behind, and by good luck turned right (the way they needed if they were to drive it towards the park), first kept to the pavement for twenty yards or so, then swerved diagonally towards the traffic island in the middle of the road, where at last it paused. Perhaps the blink of the orange beacons had bewildered it. A car almost halted at the crossing too; thought better of it, jerked on; the pig as immediately decided to move. Pig squeal met brake squeal – whether pig actually met car was impossible to tell, but its flight continued more furiously than ever, while everywhere along the road people stopped and turned and heads shot from cars. Anna and Jean slowed, panting. Hugh entangled himself with a woman and a yellow dog. Even Penn was not close enough to head the pig up the first road leading to the park, and would have failed at the second probably, had not the pig itself swerved wildly and taken that road of its own accord.
There was a gate at the far end. It was designed to keep deer from getting out of the park, so might not normally have let in a pig, only a man happened to be holding it open for a woman with a pram. Neither noticed the pig until it careered past them; at which the startled man let the gate swing back, barring the pig’s exit to the road, but leaving its entrance clear into the park. It ran itself once, frantically, into the iron bars. The second time freely, easily, it ran out, through the trees towards a patch of summer bracken – white pig they saw, black trees, green bracken. Then the pig vanished. They did not see it any more. Almost at once they ceased to hear it squeal.
CHAPTER TWO
It had taken Hugh and his father most of the morning to find that cupboard. Hugh’s room had sloping corners and a window looking into the ash tree, but till now it had had no cupboard, and in one of her periodic domestic agitations his mother had declared that he needed one and sent them both out to look. Hugh, having better things to do with a Saturday at the beginning of the summer holidays, argued that he had hung his clothes on hooks for years, so what, suddenly, was wrong with hooks now? And if he must have a cupboard, why did he, Hugh, have to help look for it? A cupboard was a cupboard, was a cupboard. He did not mind what it looked like. His father said that hooks were adequate but cupboards better; that Hugh with his artistic pretensions should know better than anyone that function should not be divorced from appearance, and if he did not know this was it not about time he learnt? Furthermore, he said, jamming on the battered green felt hat that he wore regardless, both winter and summer, he was not basically interested in buying a cupboard for Hugh either; a fact Hugh would never have guessed from the amount of unlikely and unsuitable shops he seemed prepared to explore in search of it.
They had found themselves at last, both hot and cross and bored, outside a junk shop in a little street that ran down towards the river. There was a trestle table on the pavement with a heap of old music sheets on it, torn and dog-eared, another heap of scratched 78-speed records, a tray of battered, shineless jewellery, chipped plates, chipped cups, stacked precariously, also a cardboard box which said 6X20 Country Vegetable in two-inch-high blue letters and held an assortment of bleached and dusty books. ANTIQUES the board above the door said. “Junk,” shouted Hugh’s father, striding under the board and into the shop, turning impatiently to beckon Hugh after him.
Inside Hugh sneezed twice, rapidly. It was at least as radical a change of environment as would have been plunging under the sea. Every sense shocked, retreated, reorganized itself. His skin at chill produced goose pimples, his nose sneezed at dust and mould and damp and another, sweeter, but as aged smell, and his eyes seemed to fade in the dim, furred, almost tangible light. To his ears the sounds that escaped from the outside world seemed distorted, like sounds at the far end of a narrow tunnel.
Never in his life had he seen so many things crammed into so small a space – furniture piled up, pictures fitted together on the walls without an inch between them, every table and chair heaped with smaller objects, spoons and ornaments and candlesticks, fans and necklaces, inkwells and ash trays, books and more records. Even the ceiling was crowded, hung with chairs and tables, like angular creepers, among which Hugh’s father had to duck his head. The shop altogether was like a forest, Hugh thought, a close dark jungle. But a forest without life; nothing moved in it. For a moment with a shock Hugh saw a white face watching them, but it was a china face on a china head, with blind white eyes and a pale, straw-like wig.
There was a gramophone as well as records. Hugh would not have recognized the rectangular black box, but his father did. Snatching a record from the pile and setting it on the green baize turntable, he fitted a handle into a slot and wound up the gramophone. As the turntable spun round, scratchy but lively music began to jitter across the shop.
The old man stood between a low cupboard and a tall chair watching them. They did not see him come, nor where he had come from. There were gaps between objects, here and there, but nothing as defined as a doorway, though there must have been some way into the back of the shop, Hugh thought.
“We’re looking for a cupboard,” he shouted, guiltily, above the music. For his father, jigging to it, rapturously, still seemed to have noticed nothing. “That cupboard,” he said pointing. His eyes fleeing beyond the old man, he had noticed the cupboard for the first time.
The old man had come nearer then and taken off the needle arm and stopped the gramophone. The music left a shadow of itself, then was altogether gone. Yet it was still, to that, to the sound of something called Dinah’s Ragtime Boogie – conjuring from some unexpected corner of his memory irrelevant images of feathered and beaded ladies jigging rhythmically among potted palms – that Hugh saw it – his cupboard – for the first time.
Immediately he had never in his life wanted anything as much as he wanted that, not even his first box of proper oil paints.
It was extraordinary that he could have wanted the cupboard so much. “It’s monstrous, abominable,” his father said. And Hugh could not have denied it if he tried. Yet that had not made any difference to him. And his father was so bored with the search by now that he did not bother to argue the point for long; at least it was a cupboard and cheap at that. A cupboard he had, after all, been instructed to find.
CHAPTER THREE
The houses were joined, a pair, tall, pointed and curious; either unsymmetric without the other. Their windows had stonework like eyebrows over them. Along this road all the houses were in pairs but no pair was like any other one, the gables different in particular, some as curvilinear and plump as in this pair they were angular and sharp. The right-hand house had recently been converted and Penn and Anna’s parents had bought the flat made of the top two floors. All the paint on this house was new, builders’ sand and ladders still littering the garden at the front of it. But Hugh’s and Jean’s parents had lived in the whole of the left-hand house as long as Jean at least could remember, and it had not been painted for easily as long as that. The paint was a faded pink, the stonework yellowish. Rhubarb and custard Penn called it when he wanted to annoy Hugh.
The cupboard arrived there that evening, long after Hugh had given up hope of it. The sun – a fire between crimson and scarlet – squatted on the skyline as they carried it in through the garden gate; two men in stained white aprons, oily-headed, who mopped themselves and complained bitterly, in dualogue, when it came to lugging the thing up three flights of Victorian stairs. How in all the supernatural . . . could it be so heavy they wondered, and indeed Hugh wondered too, for as cupboards go it did not look particularly heavy. Its doors, swung open, looked thin as matchboard.
“Shoddy, there you are, Hugh, I told you so,” declared his father with gloomy satisfaction. “Ain’t known another like it, for weight not,” the balder of the two men said as he closed his fingers round Hugh’s father’s inevitably flamboyant tip.
“It’s hideous, monstrous,” Hugh’s father said with enjoyment, examining the cupboard carefully again.
But when Hugh went to bed that night, his clothes were still strewn about the room. He did not know what had stopped him putting them away in the cupboard. Not laziness certainly, though he was usually lazy about such things. But some odd reluctance that he did not try to explain.
And in bed, when he shut his eyes, the empty cupboard assumed . . . in the darkness . . . What it assumed did not frighten, so much as exhilarate him; his heart thumped extraordinarily. Yet he would not let himself analyse what he felt, he forced his mind away into pictures, images.
He began to try to visualize the cupboard. He had tried before, that morning, after they had bought it. His father had decided to have a drink and Hugh had sat on the wall overlooking the river with a glass of Coca-cola beside him, trying to remember what the cupboard looked like.
But he had not been able to. If momentarily he had caught some detail, immediately he had attempted to fit another to it, it would slide away again. He had had a very strong feeling of it, yet could not translate this visually; which had annoyed him because as a rule he was not only observant, but practised consciously retaining what he observed, in order to use it in his painting. He had come to do this almost automatically. Yet now in bed though he had seen the cupboard once again, when he tried to visualize it, still no picture came into his mind.
Instead he saw other images from that morning beside the river: the Coca-cola – a dark elliptical liquid in the glass with a small white moon in it of reflected light – when he had raised his eyes from that, there had been across the river a group of trees, and now in bed that image crowded out the nearer one. They were a group of willows and alders, the alders darker, dourer-looking than the pollarded willow trees.
The group seemed to be closing in on him, rushing towards him through his head. In a moment he could focus on one tree only, in a moment more could see only an area of trunk quite close to him. He reached out a hand, involuntarily. He touched wood. His fingers scraped on, scraped up, wood bark. He opened his eyes. He was standing among alder trees, facing one trunk, one tree. When he took his hand away from it there was green, from the bark, beneath his fingernails.
The trees that morning which had stood in line, now encircled him, and there were no willows, only alder trees – there was a fire too in the middle of the grove, burning fiercely, with hints of blue and green flame. A girl sat by the fire, feeding it big and little sticks. Hugh could not see her face because her head was bent away from him, but she had very black, very straight, hair and a red dress and bare white feet.
He realized that he himself was still wearing pyjamas. Seeing the girl, he clutched the jacket about him for it was flapping open, having lost all but one of its buttons. (He had told his mother about the buttons, several times – “Oh, I’ll sew them on for you, love,” she had said each time, but the jacket had always come back from being washed, neatly folded but still buttonless. Jean would have sewed them on, if he had asked, but Hugh had never remembered to ask her.)
The girl made no move. She did not look at Hugh. He was not even sure that she had noticed him. The river ran beyond the alder grove, and on the other side of it, near the bridge, a man stood fishing. Beyond the river was the hill.
There was no town now. The hill was bare except for a few trees, and on top of it a square and turreted castle. The falling sun caught one side fleetingly and made the turrets look as if they had been painted red.
The instant Hugh saw this castle he knew he had to reach it. He began to move but meanwhile the girl poked at the fire so violently that it glared for a moment with brilliant light, with particularly bright and fiery heat, and the heat felt like a wall through which he had to break. It receded behind him afterwards. Immediately he pulled himself through what felt like another wall – of what he did not know, only that it was hostile to him – and so passed out of the ring of alder trees.
He did not look at the girl again. He had never properly seen her face, but the way she had moved stirred some memory in him, which was quickly gone.
He crossed the river then, by the bridge, not the arched stone bridge that he knew, but a flat wooden one, standing on wooden piles driven into the river-bed. Though broad enough to take a cart or chariot it had no sides to it. It felt curiously comfortable and warm to Hugh’s bare feet, as if it was alive, with warm blood in it.
The sun was vanishing behind the hill. Clutching his jacket round him Hugh went on, through chillier air and fading light, thorns and stones attacking his feet, his legs beginning to ache. He could not see the castle any more. It might have been the slope which hid his view, it might have been the growing darkness. He went on anyway, climbing steeply now.
CHAPTER FOUR
The next morning, Sunday, Hugh’s mother at breakfast pointed out what dirty nails he had.
“They’re green, Hugh. They’re disgusting. Whatever have you been doing?”
Hugh thought: I had green nails in my dream.
His mother did not often notice such things. But when she did it was with a vehemence that made him immediately rebellious, even about things to which he was usually indifferent. He and his mother were like two loose ends of charged wire these days, touched together they sparked dramatically. So now, he rushed from the kitchen, shouting, and ran upstairs as noisily as he could, slamming the bathroom door on his way past.
The noise chastened him a little. He flung himself down on his bed with a feeling of anti-climax, regretting his half-eaten and now unobtainable breakfast. Almost immediately he picked himself up and went down to the bathroom on the half-landing and scrubbed his nails clean. By the time he started back upstairs to his room, he was feeling perfectly calm, though the tips of his fingers were smarting.
At the third step up he began to have a most odd sensation. He had been thinking about the cupboard, waiting empty, in his room. And suddenly it was as if the idea of it had gone outside his mind; it was as if it was pulling him from his room, while at the same time something else tried to drag him back. This something Hugh recognized after a moment as his own alarm; making him resist the pull ahead, as the gravity of an object makes it resist the contrary pull of a magnet, until he recognized what it was; then, fear lessening, the pull became irresistible and he went on up and in. To find what? Nothing as far as he could tell that was not entirely ordinary. The sun had sought out and lit the cupboard making it look cheaper, more featureless than ever. A bird shifted in the ash tree outside the window. In order to create some movement, anything, to release and justify the tension he had felt, Hugh picked up a shirt and flung it on his unmade bed.
Shortly afterwards Penn arrived to see Hugh and with him Anna, to see Jean. All of them drifted into Hugh’s room to look at the new cupboard.
“It’s not much to look at, is it though?” Jean had said.
The pig emerged from the cupboard not long afterwards.
When the pig had finally disappeared, they continued walking through the park. No one suggested it – no one at first said anything. They had just looked at each other and walked on, over rough grass and reddish, stony paths. Even Penn had lost his ebullience, and Jean did not attempt her usual underrunning commentary of sensible suggestions and sensible explanations. They were all stunned; partly by fear, not so much of the pig itself, but of its inexplicable appearance; partly by simple astonishment. They were much more frightened now than previously because at first there had been no time for fear.
“What would we have done with it if we had caught it?” Penn said, at last. “Perhaps it’s just as well we didn’t.”
“We couldn’t possibly have caught it,” Jean said.
They were walking on open ground just here, at almost the highest point of the park. Two men were trying to fly kites – South American bird kites – scarlet, widespread, magnificent. But there was scarcely enough wind, the birds tugged up occasionally as if about to soar, then more often dipped, fluttered, dived back to earth.
“As if they were wounded,” Anna said. They went through a gate into the plantation. There was a stream there and water plants, rushes and irises and orange flags, and trees, birch trees mostly, dappled, insubstantial-looking, some black and white, others with bark as satiny and wood as rough, but with a russet, even purplish sheen on them; trees like snake skin, Hugh thought.
“Like giraffe’s legs,” Anna said.
“Whatever are you talking about?” Penn asked.
“Enormously tall giraffes,” said Hugh.
“They mean the birch trees, I think,” said Jean.
“Don’t be an idiot, Ann,” Penn spoke with such scorn that Hugh came in to rescue Anna, though it was impossible to tell from her face whether she needed rescuing or not.
“What do you think happened, Penn? That pig, I mean.”
“I can’t believe it did happen. It’s impossible,” said Penn.
“But it did; we know it did,” said Jean.
“Of course I know it happened. I never said it didn’t. I just said it seems impossible. There must be some logical explanation. There always is a logical reason if you look hard enough. You’d think a car impossible if you didn’t look inside the bonnet.”
“Clever Penn,” said Jean, a mixture of admiration and sarcasm in her voice. Perhaps, just, admiration more.
“It could have been magic,” Anna said.
“Oh, Ann. I said