Howl's Moving Castle (Howl's Moving Castle 1) - Page 48

Sophie’s heart was behaving oddly even before she dared look out of the window. There, sure enough, came the scarecrow, hopping slowly and purposefully down the center of the street. The rags trailing from its outstretched arms were fewer and grayer, and the turnip of its face was withered into a look of determination, as if it had hopped ever since Howl hurled it away, until at last it had hopped its way back.

Sophie was not the only one to be scared. The few people about that early were running away from the scarecrow as hard as they could run. But the scarecrow took no notice and hopped on.

Sophie hid her face from it. “We’re not here!” she told it in a fierce whisper. “You don’t know we’re here! You can’t find us. Hop away fast!”

The clump, clump of the hopping stick slowed as the scarecrow neared the shop. Sophie wanted to scream for Howl, but all she seemed to be able to do was to go on repeating, “We’re not here. Go away quickly!”

And the hop-hopping speeded up, just as she told it to, and the scarecrow hopped its way past the shop and on through Market Chipping. Sophie thought she was going to come over queer. But she seemed just to have been holding her breath. She took a deep breath and felt shaky with relief. If the scarecrow came back, she could send it away again.

Howl had gone out when Sophie went into the castle room. “He seemed awfully upset,” Michael said. Sophie looked at the door. The knob was black-down. Not that upset! she thought.

Michael went out too, to Cesari’s, that morning, and Sophie was alone in the shop. It was very hot. The flowers wilted in spite of the spells, and very few people seemed to want to buy any. What with this, and the mandrake root, and the scarecrow, all Sophie’s feelings seemed to come to a head. She was downright miserable.

“It may be the curse hovering to catch up with Howl,” she sighed to the flowers, “but I think it’s being the eldest, really. Look at me! I set out to seek my fortune and I end up exactly where I started, and old as the hills still!”

Here the dog-man put his glossy red snout round the door to the yard and whined. Sophie sighed. Never an hour passed without the creature checking up on her. “Yes, I’m still here,” she said. “Where did you expect me to be?”

The dog came inside the shop. He sat up and stretched his paws out stiffly in front of him. Sophie realized he was trying to turn into a man. Poor creature. She tried to be nice to him because he was, after all, worse off than she was.

“Try harder,” she said. “Put your back into it. You can be a man if you want.”

The dog stretched and straightened his back, and strained and strained. And just as Sophie was sure he was going to have to give up or topple over backward, he managed to rise to his hind legs and heave himself up into a distraught, ginger-haired man.

“I envy—Howl,” he panted. “Does that—so easily. I was—dog in the hedge—you helped. Told Lettie—I knew you—I’d keep watch. I was—here before in—” He began to double up again into a dog and howled with annoyance. “With Witch in shop!” he wailed, and fell forward onto his hands, growing a great deal of gray and white hair as he did so.

Sophie stared at the large, shaggy dog that now stood there. “You were with the Witch!” she said. She remembered now. The anxious ginger-haired man who had stared at her in horror. “Then you know who I am and you know I’m under a spell. Does Lettie know too?”

The huge, shaggy head nodded.

“And she called you Gaston,” Sophie remembered. “Oh, my friend, she has made it hard for you! Fancy having all that hair in this weather! You’d better go somewhere cool.”

The dog nodded again and shambled miserably into the yard.

“But why did Lettie send you?” Sophie wondered. She felt thoroughly put out and disturbed by this discovery. She went up the stairs and through the broom cupboard to talk to Calcifer.

Calcifer was not much help. “It doesn’t make any difference how many people know you’re under a spell,” he said. “It hasn’t helped the dog much, has it?”

“No, but—” Sophie began, but, just then, the castle door clicked and opened. Sophie and Calcifer looked. They saw the doorknob was still set to black-down, and they expected Howl to come through it. It was hard to say which of them was more astonished when the person who slid rather cautiously round the door turned out to be Miss Angorian.

Miss Angorian was equally astonished. “Oh, I beg your pardon!” she said. “I thought Mr. Jenkins might be here.”

“He’s out,” Sophie said stiffly, and she wondered where Howl had gone, if not to see Miss Angorian.

Miss Angorian let go of the door, which she had been clutching in her surprise. She left it swinging open on nothing and came pleadingly toward Sophie. Sophie found she had got up herself and come across the room. It seemed as if she was trying to block Miss Angorian off. “Please,” said Miss Angorian, “don’t tell Mr. Jenkins I was here. To tell you the truth, I only encouraged him in hope of getting news of my fiancé—Ben Sullivan, you know. I’m positive Ben disappeared to the same place Mr. Jenkins keeps disappearing to. Only Ben didn’t come back.”

“There’s no Mr. Sullivan here,” Sophie said. And she thought, That’s Wizard Suliman’s name! I don’t believe a word of it!

“Oh, I know that,” Miss Angorian said. “But this feels like the right place. Do you mind if I just look round a little to give myself some idea of the sort of life Ben’s leading now?” She hooked her sheet of black hair behind one ear and tried to walk further into the room. Sophie stood in the way. This forced Miss Angorian to tiptoe pleadingly away sideways toward the workbench. “How very quaint!” she said, looking at the bottles and the jars. “What a quaint little town!” she said, looking out of the window.

“It’s called Market Chipping,” Sophie said, and she moved round and herded Miss Angorian backward toward the door.

“And what’s up those stairs?” Miss Angorian asked, pointing to the open door to the stairs.

“Howl’s private room,” Sophie said firmly, walking Miss Angorian away backward.

“And what’s through that other open door?” Miss Angorian asked.

“A flower shop,” said Sophie. Nosy Parker! she thought.

Tags: Diana Wynne Jones Howl's Moving Castle Fantasy
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