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The Bone Magician

F. E. Higgins

  Praise for The Black Book of Secrets:

  ‘This clever, atmospheric debut, about kindness and cruelty, with its richly drawn and sometimes grotesque characters, its mysteries, its magic and its surprising climax, is a piece of perfectly constructed, old-fashioned storytelling of the most compelling kind’

  Sunday Times Children’s Book of the Week

  ‘A deliciously rich mix of Gothic nastiness . . . and black humour . . . Higgins’s prose has terrific verve, with glittering descriptive flashes . . . It’s a bravura debut’


  ‘You are in for a terrific read . . .The fierce yet sophisticated denouement of this excellent debut leaves you longing for a sequel’

  The Times

  ‘Beautifully written . . . this imaginative extravaganza also offers food for thought’

  Times Educational Supplement

  Also by F. E. Higgins

  The Black Book of Secrets



  First published 2008 by Macmillan Children’s Books

  This electronic edition published 2008 by Macmillan Children’s Books

  a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited

  20 New Wharf Road, London N1 9RR

  Basingstoke and Oxford

  Associated companies throughout the world

  ISBN 978-0-230-71401-4 in Adobe Reader format

  ISBN 978-0-230-71400-7 in Adobe Digital Editions format

  Copyright © F. E. Higgins 2008

  The right of F. E. Higgins to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

  You may not copy, store, distribute, transmit, reproduce or otherwise make available this publication (or any part of it) in any form, or by any means (electronic, digital, optical, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of the publisher. Any person who does any unauthorized act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.

  A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

  Visit to read more about all our books and to buy them. You will also find features, author interviews and news of any author events, and you can sign up for e-newsletters so that you’re always first to hear about our new releases.

  To Andy

  – Anon.

  ‘And none could rival the Beast in its ugliness’

  Anon., ‘The Tale of the Hideous Beast’, from

  Houndsecker’s Tales of Faeries and Blythe Spirits

  Boane magycke – anciente praktise of raiysing deade bodyies

  Jonsen’s dictionary, c. 1625


  A Note from F. E. Higgins



  Pin’s Journal

  Chapter One

  Strange Company

  Chapter Two

  Grave Matters

  Chapter Three

  A Death in the Family

  Chapter Four

  Goddfrey Gaufridus

  Chapter Five

  Memento Mori

  Chapter Six

  Pin’s Journal

  Chapter Seven

  A Good Profession

  Chapter Eight

  A Watery End

  Chapter Nine

  Deodonatus Snoad

  Chapter Ten

  Article from the Urbs Umida Daily Chronicle

  Chapter Eleven

  Home Sweet Home

  Chapter Twelve

  An Evening’s Entertainment

  Chapter Thirteen

  Pin’s Journal

  Chapter Fourteen

  A Chance Encounter

  Chapter Fifteen

  Beag Hickory

  Chapter Sixteen

  Article from the Urbs Umida Daily Chronicle

  Chapter Seventeen

  A Late Supper

  Chapter Eighteen

  Beag Tells a Story

  Chapter Nineteen

  A Disturbed Night

  Chapter Twenty

  Pin’s Journal

  Chapter Twenty-One

  A Tale and a Deal

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  Aluph Buncombe

  Chapter Twenty-Three

  A Gruesome Discovery

  Chapter Twenty-Four

  Rudy Idolice

  Chapter Twenty-Five

  The Gluttonous Beast

  Chapter Twenty-Six


  Chapter Twenty-Seven


  Chapter Twenty-Eight

  Article from the Urbs Umida Daily Chronicle

  Chapter Twenty-Nine

  Pin’s Journal

  Chapter Thirty

  Be Careful What You Wish For

  Chapter Thirty-One

  A Queer Collection

  Chapter Thirty-Two

  Pin’s Journal

  Chapter Thirty-Three

  Bumps in the Night

  Chapter Thirty-Four

  Under Cover

  Chapter Thirty-Five


  Chapter Thirty-Six

  ‘Nature creates nothing without a purpose’

  Chapter Thirty-Seven

  Pin’s Journal

  Chapter Thirty-Eight

  A Difficult Task

  Chapter Thirty-Nine

  Juno Tells a Story

  Chapter Forty

  Article from the Urbs Umida Daily Chronicle

  Chapter Forty-One

  Pin’s Journal

  Chapter Forty-Two


  A Note from F. E. Higgins

  Appendix I

  The Princess and the Toad

  Appendix II

  The Shaking Spider

  A Note from F. E. Higgins

  When we last met, I was snowbound in Pachspass, the ancient mountain village where Ludlow Fitch and Joe Zabbidou had such trouble in The Black Book of Secrets. While I waited for the thaw, intending to follow in their footsteps, I uncovered the seeds of another story in a city to the south. Its name was Urbs Umida and that is where I went, for I had to see the place from which young Ludlow had fled his evil ma and pa.

  Hardly altered by time, the River Foedus flows silently as ever through the heart of the City. The north side has flourished, but the south side is practically abandoned. After three days of searching, using what sparse clues I had from Ludlow’s memoirs, I found the narrow alley where Lembart Jellico, Ludlow’s good friend, had kept his pawnshop. To my surprise, the shop was still standing and occupied, by a Mr Ethelred Jelco, who dealt in antiques. It was he who sold me the exquisite wooden box containing the battered remnants of Pin’s Journal and the articles from the Chronicle wherein I first read of Benedict Pantagus and Juno.

  The Bone Magician is neither a sequel to The Black Book of Secrets, nor a prequel. It is what I like to call a ‘paraquel’. The events in this story took place at the same time as the adventures of Joe Zabbidou and Ludlow Fitch in Pagus Parvus. To read this story it is not necessary to know what came before, but perhaps after this you will want to go back to find out.

  As ever, it is not my place to advise you, only to reveal to you what I know.

  F. E. Higgins



  Pin’s Journal

  How I have come to hate this place of evil, this city of nightmares. Urbs Umida they call it, Dank City, and well it deserves its name. It has taken everything that was precious to me. But I shall leave one day, soon, when I know the truth. I shall pass through those gates and it would please me greatly to not look
back. Imagine, never again to inhale the stink of rot and decay, never again to see despairing eyes in the shadows, and never again to hear the name Deodonatus Snoad or to read the lies from his poisonous quill.

  Fiends, but this place is cold. Winter marches on, the last day of February today . Ah, I can write no more, my fingers are numb. I want to sleep, to wrap myself in darkness. Sometimes I think that maybe this is the dream and that soon I will open my eyes and everything will be the way it was. But then, when such small hope has dared to surface in my heart, I smell the river and I know that her stench is very real.

  Chapter One

  Strange Company

  A corpse on the cusp of putrefaction could hardly be considered the most entertaining company on a winter’s evening, but Pin Carpue didn’t do what he did for the conversation. He did it for the money. Tonight, however, things were different. If the body he was watching – her name, when alive, was Sybil – had revived and tried to engage him in some sort of discourse, he couldn’t have replied even if he had wanted to.

  For Pin had just succumbed to a soporific drug.

  Hardly able to move, certainly unable to speak, he lay in a semi-comatose haze on a bench in the corner of the dark room. The last thing his soggy brain recalled was leaving his lodgings. As for his immediate whereabouts, it was a mystery.

  With a supreme effort Pin finally managed to open his heavy eyes. He stared into the gloom, but it was difficult to make any sense of his surroundings when he had double vision. His thoughts were like clouds floating in the sky, shapeless and gently moving. Overall, he decided, this feeling, this woozy buzzing between his ears, was not wholly unpleasant.

  Somewhere in the room soft voices were whispering and, if Pin had allowed them, they would have lulled him back to sleep. But another part of him was conscious enough to know that he wanted to stay awake. For any other boy it most certainly would have been beyond his capabilities to keep his eyes open under such difficult circumstances, but Pin was used to staying awake until the early hours. It was part of the job.

  The job of watching corpses.

  He also had a powerful ally in his pocket, a glass phial, full to the brim with the waters of the River Foedus. It was a distasteful job, gathering her noxious liquid, but now he was silently thankful that he had filled it earlier. If he could only reach it! His fingers, usually nimble, were like soft rubber and he fumbled just trying to lift the flap of his coat pocket. Eventually he managed to grasp the phial and bring it out. He rested before he engaged in the next struggle, removing the stopper. His hand couldn’t do it, so, with a tremendous effort, he raised the bottle to his mouth, though his arm felt as if it was moving through deep water, and pulled the cork out with his teeth. He took a long, deep sniff and immediately his eyes began to smart and the inside of his nose stung sharply as if he had bitten down on a mustard seed.

  ‘Fiends,’ he exclaimed in his head and blinked. But the brew had the desired effect and a second sniff brought him slowly back to his senses. Thus slightly revived, though quite exhausted, Pin focused his mind on his situation.

  Now he remembered where he was. This was the Cella Moribundi, the waiting room for the dead, in Mr Gaufridus’s basement. For some reason he had been drugged by those people, the three shadows that were moving around at the table in the centre of the room. He did not think to try to escape, his deadened limbs would not have allowed it. Besides, he had a feeling that they were not interested in him but in the body lying on the table.

  ‘He’s waking up.’

  The girl’s voice sent a shot of panic through Pin’s veins. He could see a figure moving slowly towards him out of the darkness. Inside he was gripped with fear and tried to cry out, but he was unable. So he closed his eyes tightly. If she thought he was asleep she might leave him alone. He knew when she was right beside him. She smelt of juniper and the sleeping drug, aromas he would not easily forget. Pin felt her sweet breath on his face.

  ‘Give him some more,’ instructed a man’s voice.

  ‘No, I think he is still under,’ she said finally. Then all was quiet.

  Slowly, cautiously, Pin dared to open his eyes again. The waters of the Foedus and the lingering effect of the girl’s drug were a potent combination, leaving him in a sort of in-between world. He noticed that the candles had been relit and from the voices he knew there was the old man, the girl and a younger man (he sounded like a southerner). In his present state there was little he could do. So he lay back to watch, wholly entranced, the strange drama that was about to play out in front of him.

  Chapter Two

  Grave Matters

  Only a few hours earlier Pin had been in complete possession of his senses. He left his lodgings in Old Goat’s Alley after a small supper of ale, bread and a piece of fish on the turn and trudged off through a shower of hail that was rapidly turning to snow. Pin was always glad to see the back of the place. Old Goat’s Alley was considered the worst street south of the River Foedus which, if you knew what the rest of the streets were like, was a frightening thought. Whereas other streets might have a redeeming feature or two, perhaps a slight slope to allow the ever-present sludgy waters to flow away, or a more even distribution of potholes, there was nothing that could be said in favour of Old Goat’s Alley.

  The tall, narrow houses were poorly constructed, hurriedly built and squeezed into any space available. The rooms had been divided and subdivided so many times that each house was labyrinthine within. This made it very difficult for the constables when chasing criminals. As did the numerous exits and narrow alleys behind the houses. The buildings leaned slightly forward, which gave cause for alarm if you looked up. It also meant that large amounts of snow slid off periodically into the street below. Few people did look up, however, weighed down as they were with their cares (and ever mindful of the pickpockets). Old Goat’s Alley was badly lit, which made it a haven for every sort of criminal that existed. Some nights the lamplighter wouldn’t turn up at all and although this was inconvenient for a few, it must be said that many inhabitants were happy to carry out their business in the dark.

  As for the rest of the City, certainly on the south side of the river, most pavements were in a state of disrepair and the streets themselves were little more than a mire of noxious debris, churned up daily by the horses and carts that wheeled through and the herds of cattle, pigs and sheep that were driven along on market day. Each evening the mire froze on account of the extreme temperatures that were currently being experienced. It was a winter like no other.

  Barton Gumbroot’s lodging house was towards the end of the alley. It was a filthy hovel which Barton had split into as many rooms as possible to maximize rental income. Pin was always uneasy about returning to his room, day or night. His fellow residents were without exception a strange lot and each had particularly nasty features or habits, often both. As for Barton Gumbroot, Pin wouldn’t trust the man as far as he could throw him. It was well known that he practised as a tooth surgeon, another lucrative profession, down in the cellar. Night and day everyone heard the shrieks but no one had the stomach to investigate. In fact, Barton had intimated on more than one occasion that he would take a tooth or two in exchange for a week’s rent, but Pin had refused. All this and more was going round Pin’s head as he hurried along beside the river. Just before the Bridge he stopped at the top of a set of stone steps that led down to the water.

  ‘The rich really are different,’ he thought ruefully as he looked across the water. The Foedus was always a foul smelling river, but the odour was hardly noticeable on the north side because of the prevailing wind. Thus even the air the rich breathed was better. From his vantage point Pin could make out the silhouettes of their fine houses. He didn’t need daylight to know what they looked like: double-fronted with sparkling glass, fancy woodwork and glossy doors, polished brasswork and red tiles and frowning gargoyles.