Howl's Moving Castle (Howl's Moving Castle 1) - Page 23

“Are you sure you won’t come in for a taste of my honey?” asked Mrs. Fairfax. “I use it in nearly all my spells, you know.” And she was off again, this time about the magical properties of honey. Michael and Sophie walked purposefully down the path to the gate and Mrs. Fairfax drifted behind them, talking away and sorrowfully straightening plants that the dog had bent as she talked. Sophie meanwhile racked her brains for a way to find out how Mrs. Fairfax knew Lettie was Lettie, without upsetting Michael. Mrs. Fairfax paused to gasp a bit as she heaved a large lupine upright.

Sophie took the plunge. “Mrs. Fairfax, wasn’t it my niece Martha who was supposed to come to you?”

“Naughty girls!” Mrs. Fairfax said, smiling and shaking her head as she emerged from the lupine. “As if I wouldn’t recognize one of my own honey-based spells! But as I said to her at the time, ‘I’m not one to keep anyone against their will and I’d always rather teach someone who wants to learn. Only,’ I said to her, ‘I’ll have no pretense here. You stay as your own self or not at all.’ And it’s worked out very happily, as you see. Are you sure you won’t stay and ask her for yourself?”

“I think we’d better go,” Sophie said.

“We have to get back,” Michael added, with another nervous look toward the orchard. He collected the seven-league boots from the hedge and set one down outside the gate for Sophie. “And I’m going to hold on to you this time,” he said.

Mrs. Fairfax leaned over her gate while Sophie inserted her foot in the boot. “Seven-leaguers,” she said. “Would you believe, I’ve not seen any of those for years. Very useful things for someone your age, Mrs. Er—I wouldn’t mind a pair myself these days. So it’s you Lettie inherits her witchcraft from, is it? Not that it necessarily runs in families, but as often as not—”

Michael took hold of Sophie’s arm and pulled. Both boots came down and the rest of Mrs. Fairfax’s talk vanished in

the Zip! and rush of air. Next moment Michael had to brace his feet in order not to collide with the castle. The door was open. Inside, Calcifer was roaring, “Porthaven door! Someone’s been banging on it ever since you left.”

Chapter 9

In which Michael has trouble with a spell.

It was the sea captain at the door, come for his wind spell at last, and not at all pleased at having to wait. “If I miss my tide, boy,” he said to Michael, “I shall have a word with the Sorcerer about you. I don’t like lazy boys.”

Michael, in Sophie’s opinion, was far too polite to him, but she was feeling too dejected to interfere. When the captain had gone, Michael went to the bench to frown over his spell again and Sophie sat silently mending her stockings. She had only the one pair and her knobby feet had worn huge holes in them. Her gray dress by this time was frayed and dirty. She wondered whether she dared cut the least-stained bits out of Howl’s ruined blue-and-silver suit to make herself a new skirt with. But she did not quite dare.

“Sophie,” Michael said, looking up from his eleventh page of notes, “how many nieces have you?”

Sophie had been afraid Michael would start asking questions. “When you get to my age, my lad,” she said, “you lose count. They all look so alike. Those two Letties could be twins, to my mind.”

“Oh, no, not really,” Michael said, to her surprise. “The niece in Upper Folding isn’t as pretty as my Lettie.” He tore up the eleventh page and made a twelfth. “I’m glad Howl didn’t meet my Lettie,” he said. He began on his thirteenth page and tore that up too. “I wanted to laugh when that Mrs. Fairfax said she knew who Howl was, didn’t you?”

“No,” said Sophie. It had made no difference to Lettie’s feelings. She thought of Lettie’s bright, adoring face under the apple blossom. “I suppose there’s no chance,” she asked hopelessly, “that Howl could be properly in love this time?”

Calcifer snorted green sparks up the chimney.

“I was afraid you’d start thinking that,” Michael said. “But you’d be deceiving yourself, just like Mrs. Fairfax.”

“How do you know?” said Sophie.

Calcifer and Michael exchanged glances. “Did he forget to spend at least an hour in the bathroom this morning?” Michael asked.

“He was in there two hours,” said Calcifer, “putting spells on his face. Vain fool!”

“There you are, then,” said Michael. “The day Howl forgets to do that will be the day I believe he’s really in love, and not before.” Sophie thought of Howl on one knee in the orchard, posing to look as handsome as possible, and she knew they were right. She thought of going to the bathroom and tipping all Howl’s beauty spells down the toilet. But she did not quite dare. Instead, she hobbled up and fetched the blue-and-silver suit, which she spent the rest of the day cutting little blue triangles out of in order to make a patchwork sort of skirt.

Michael patted her shoulder kindly as he came to throw all seventeen pages of his notes onto Calcifer. “Everyone gets over things in the end, you know,” he said.

By this time it was clear Michael was having trouble with his spell. He gave up the notes and scraped some soot off the chimney. Calcifer craned round to watch him in a mystified way. Michael took a withered root from one of the bags hanging on the beams and put it in the soot. Then, after much thought, he turned the doorknob blue-down and vanished for twenty minutes into Porthaven. He came back with a large, whorled seashell and put that with the root and the soot. After that he tore up pages and pages of paper and put those in too. He put the lot in front of the human skull and stood blowing on it, so that soot and bits of paper whirled all over the bench.

“What’s he doing, do you think?” Calcifer asked Sophie.

Michael gave up blowing and started mashing everything, paper and all, with a pestle and mortar, looking at the skull expectantly from time to time. Nothing happened, so he tried different ingredients from bags and jars.

“I feel bad about spying on Howl,” he announced as he pounded a third set of ingredients to death in a bowl. “He may be fickle to females, but he’s been awfully good to me. He took me in when I was just an unwanted orphan sitting on his doorstep in Porthaven.”

“How did that come about?” asked Sophie as she snipped out another blue triangle.

“My mother died and my father got drowned in a storm,” Michael said. “And nobody wants you when that happens. I had to leave our house because I couldn’t pay rent, and I tried to live in the streets, but people kept turning me off doorsteps and out of boats until the only place I could think of to go was somewhere everyone was too scared of to interfere with. Howl had just started up in a small way as Sorcerer Jenkin then. But everyone said his house had devils in it, so I slept on his doorstep for a couple of nights until Howl opened the door one morning on his way to buy bread and I fell inside. So he said I could wait indoors while he got something to eat. I went in, and there was Calcifer, and I started talking to him because I’d never met a demon before.”

“What did you talk about?” said Sophie, wondering if Calcifer had asked Michael to break his contract too.

Tags: Diana Wynne Jones Howl's Moving Castle Fantasy
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