Howl's Moving Castle (Howl's Moving Castle 1) - Page 32

All strange wonders that befell thee,

And swear

No where

Lives a woman true, and fair.

If thou— ”

Howl had gone a terrible white. Sophie could see sweat standing on his face. “Thank you,” he said. “Stop there. I won’t trouble you for the rest. Even the good woman is untrue in the last verse, isn’t she? I remember now. Silly of me. John Donne, of course.” Miss Angorian lowered the book and stared at him. He forced up a smile. “We must be going now. Sure you won’t change your mind about supper?”

“I will not,” said Miss Angorian. “Are you quite well, Mr. Jenkins?”

“In the pink,” Howl said, and he hustled Michael and Sophie away down the stairs and into the horrible horseless carriage. The invisible watchers in the houses must have thought Miss Angorian was chasing them with a saber, if they judged from the speed with which Howl packed them into it and drove off.

“What’s the matter?” Michael asked as the carriage went roaring and grinding uphill again and Sophie clung to bits of seat for dear life. Howl pretended not to hear. So Michael waited until Howl was locking it into its shed and asked again.

“Oh, nothing,” Howl said airily, leading the way back to the yellow house called RIVENDELL. “The Witch of the Waste has caught up with me with her curse, that’s all. Bound to happen sooner or later.” He seemed to be calculating or doing sums in his head while he opened the garden gate. “Ten thousand,” Sophie heard him murmur. “That brings it to about Midsummer Day.”

“What is brought to Midsummer Day?” asked Sophie.

“The time I’ll be ten thousand days old,” Howl said. “And that, Mrs. Nose,” he said, swinging into the garden of RIVENDELL, “is the day I shall have to go back to the Witch of the Waste.” Sophie and Michael hung back on the path, staring at Howl’s back, so mysteriously labeled WELSH RUGBY. “If I keep clear of mermaids,” they heard him mutter, “and don’t touch a mandrake root—”

Michael called out, “Do we have to go back into that house?” and Sophie called, “What will the Witch do?”

“I shudder to think,” Howl said. “You don’t have to go back in, Michael.”

He opened the wavy-glass door. Inside was the familiar room of the castle. Calcifer’s sleepy flames were coloring the walls faintly blue-green in the dusk. Howl flung back his long sleeves and gave Calcifer a log.

“She caught up, old blueface,” he said.

“I know,” said Calcifer. “I felt it take.”

Chapter 12

In which Sophie becomes Howl’s old mother.

Sophie did not see much point in blackening Howl’s name to the King, now that the Witch had caught up with him. But Howl said it was more important than ever. “I shall need everything I’ve got just to escape the Witch,” he said. “I can’t have the King after me as well.”

So the following afternoon Sophie put on her new clothes and sat feeling very fine, if rather stiff, waiting for Michael to get ready and for Howl to finish in the bathroom. While she waited, she told Calcifer about the strange country where Howl’s family lived. It took her mind off the King.

Calcifer was very interested. “I knew he came from foreign parts,” he said. “But this sounds like another world. Clever of the Witch to send the curse in from there. Very clever all round. That’s magic I admire, using something that exists anyway and turning it round into a curse. I did wonder about it when you and Michael were reading it the other day. That fool Howl told her too much about himself.”

Sophie gazed at Calcifer’s thin blue face. It did not surprise her to find Calcifer admired the curse, any more than it surprised her when he called Howl a fool. He was always insulting Howl. But she never could work out if Calcifer really hated Howl. Calcifer looked so evil anyway that it was hard to tell.

Calcifer moved his orange eyes to look into Sophie’s. “I’m scared too,” he said. “I shall suffer with Howl if the Witch catches him. If you don’t break the contract before she does, I won’t be able to help you at all.”

Before Sophie could ask more, Howl came dashing out of the bathroom looking his very finest, scenting the room with roses and yelling for Michael. Michael clattered downstairs in his new blue velvet. Sophie stood up and collected her trusty stick. It was time to go.

“You look wonderfully rich and stately!” Michael said to her.

“She does me credit,” said Howl, “apart from that awful old stick.”

“Some people,” said Sophie, “are thoroughly self-centered. This stick goes with me. I need it for moral support.”

Howl looked at the ceiling, but he did not argue.

They took their stately way into the streets of Kingsbury. Sophie of course looked back to see what the castle was like here. She saw a big, arched gateway surrounding a small black door. The rest of the castle seemed to be a blank stretch of plastered wall between two carved stone houses.

Tags: Diana Wynne Jones Howl's Moving Castle Fantasy
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