Howl's Moving Castle (Howl's Moving Castle 1) - Page 46

Sophie looked at Michael to see what he thought. Michael was asleep, and so was the dog-man. Sophie looked at Calcifer instead, sleepily flickering among rosy logs with his orange eyes almost shut. She thought of Calcifer pulsing almost white, with white eyes, and then of Calcifer staring anxiously as he wobbled on the shovel. He reminded her of something. The whole shape of him did.

“Calcifer,” she said, “were you ever a falling star?”

Calcifer opened one orange eye at her. “Of course,” he said. “I can talk about that if you know. The contract allows me to.”

“And Howl caught you?” said Sophie.

“Five years ago,” said Calcifer, “out on Porthaven Marshes, just after he set up as Jenkin the Sorcerer. He chased me in seven-league boots. I was terrified of him. I was terrified anyway, because when you fall you know you’re going to die. I’d have done anything rather than die. When Howl offered to keep me alive the way humans stay alive, I suggested a contract on the spot. Neither of us knew what we were getting into. I was grateful, and Howl only offered because he was sorry for me.”

“Just like Michael,” said Sophie.

“What’s that?” Michael said, waking up. “Sophie, I wish we weren’t right on the edge of the Waste. I didn’t know we would be. I don’t feel safe.”

“Nobody’s safe in a wizard’s house,” Calcifer said feelingly.

Next morning the door was set to black-blob-down and, to Sophie’s great annoyance, it would not open at any setting. She wanted to see those flowers, Witch or no Witch. So she took out her impatience by fetching a bucket of water and scrubbing the chalked signs off the floor.

Howl came in while she was doing it. “Work, work, work,” he Said, stepping over Sophie as she scrubbed. He looked a little strange. His suit was still dense black, but he had turned his hair fair again. It looked white against the black. Sophie glanced at him and thought of the curse. Howl may have been thinking of it too. He picked the skull out of the sink and held it in one hand, mournfully. “Alas, poor Yorick!” he said. “She heard mermaids, so it follows there is something rotten in the state of Denmark. I have caught an everlasting cold, but luckily I am terribly dishonest. I cling to that.” He coughed pathetically. But his cold was getting better and it did not sound very convincing.

Sophie exchanged looks with the dog-man, who was sitting watching her, looking as doleful as Howl. “You should go back to Lettie,” she murmured. “What’s the matter?” she said to Howl. “Miss Angorian not going well?”

“Dreadfully,” said Howl. “Lily Angorian has a heart like a boiled stone.” He put the skull back in the sink and shouted for Michael. “Food! Work!” he yelled.

After breakfast they took everything out of the broom cupboard. Then Michael and Howl knocked a hole in the side wall of it. Dust flew out of the cupboard door and strange thumpings occurred. At last they both shouted for Sophie. Sophie came, meaningly carrying a broom. And there was an archway where the wall had been, leading to the steps that had always connected the shop and the house. Howl beckoned her to come and look at the shop. It was empty and echoing. Its floor was now tiled in black and white squares, like Mrs. Pentstemmon’s hall, and the shelves which had once held hats had a vase of waxed-silk roses and a small posy of velvet cowslips on them. Sophie realized she was expected to admire it, so she managed not to say anything.

“I found the flowers in the workshed out at the back,” said Howl. “Come and look at the outside.”

He opened the door into the street, and the same shop bell tinkled that Sophie had heard all her life. Sophie hobbled out into the empty early-morning street. The shop front had been newly painted green and yellow. Curly letters over the window said: H. JENKINS FRESH FLOWERS DAILY.

“Changed your mind about common names, haven’t you?” said Sophie.

“For reasons of disguise only,” said Howl. “I prefer Pendragon.”

“And where do the fresh flowers come from?” Sophie asked. “You can’t say that and then sell wax roses off hats.”

“Wait and see,” said Howl, leading the way back into the shop.

They went through and out into the yard Sophie had known all her life. It was only half the size now, because Howl’s yard from the moving castle took up one side of it. Sophie looked up beyond the brick walls of Howl’s yard to her own old house. It looked rather odd because of the new window in it that belonged to Howl’s bedroom, and it made Sophie feel odder still when she realized that Howl’s window did not look out onto the things she saw now. She could see the window of her own old bedroom, up above the shop. That made her feel odd too, because there did not seem to be any way to get up into it now.

As Sophie hobbled after Howl indoors again and up the stairs to the broom cupboard, she realized she was being very gruff. Seeing her own old home this way was giving her fearsome mixed feelings. “I think it’s all very nice,” she said.

“Really?” Howl said coldly. His feelings were hurt. He did so like to be appreciated, Sophie thought, sighing, as Howl went to the castle door and turned the knob to purple-down. On the other hand, she did not think she ever praised Howl, any more than Calcifer, and she wondered why she should start now.

The door opened. Big bushes loaded with flowers drifted gently past and stopped so that Sophie could climb down among them. Between the bushes, lanes of long, bright green grass led in all directions. Howl and Sophie walked down the nearest, and the castle followed them, brushing petals off as it went. The castle, tall and black and misshapen though it was, blowing its peculiar little wisps of smoke from one turret or another, did not look out of place here. Magic had been at work here. Sophie knew it had. And the castle fitted somehow.

The air was hot and steamy and filled with the scent of flowers, thousands of them. Sophie nearly said the smell reminded her of the bathroom after Howl had been in it, but she bit it back. The place was truly marvelous. Between the bushes and their loads of purple, red, and white flowers, the wet grass was full of smaller flowers: pink ones with only three petals, giant pansies, wild phlox, lupines of all colors, orange lilies, tall white lilies, irises, and myriad others. There were creepers growing flowers big enough for hats, cornflowers, poppies, and plants with strange shapes and stranger colors of leaves. Though it was not much like Sophie’s dream of a garden like Mrs. Fairfax’s, she forgot her gruffness and became delighted.

“You see,” said Howl. He swung out an arm and his black sleeve disturbed several hundred blue butterflies feasting on a bush of yellow roses. “We can cut

flowers by the armload every morning and sell them in Market Chipping with the dew still on them.”

At the end of that green lane the grass became squashy. Vast orchids sprouted under the bushes. Howl and Sophie came suddenly to a steaming pool crowded with water lilies. The castle veered off sideways round the pool and drifted down another avenue lined with different flowers.

“If you come out here alone, bring your stick to test the ground with,” Howl said. “It’s full of springs and bogs. And don’t go any further that way.”

He pointed southeast, where the sun was a fierce white disk in the misty air. “That’s the Waste over there—very hot and barren and full of Witch.”

“Who made these flowers, right on the edge of the Waste?” Sophie said.

Tags: Diana Wynne Jones Howl's Moving Castle Fantasy
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