Howl's Moving Castle (Howl's Moving Castle 1) - Page 47

“Wizard Suliman started it a year ago,” Howl said, turning toward the castle. “I think his notion was to make the Waste flower and abolish the Witch that way. He brought hot springs to the surface and got it growing. He was doing very nicely until the Witch caught him.”

“Mrs. Pentstemmon said some other name,” Sophie said. “He came from the same place as you, didn’t he?”

“More or less,” said Howl. “I never met him, though. I came and had another go at the place a few months later. It seemed a good idea. That’s how I came to meet the Witch. She objected to it.”

“Why?” said Sophie.

The castle was waiting for them. “She likes to think of herself as a flower,” Howl said, opening the door. “A solitary orchid, blooming in the Waste. Pathetic, really.”

Sophie took another look at the crowded flowers as she followed Howl inside. There were roses, thousands of them. “Won’t the Witch know you’re here?”

“I tried to do the thing she’d least expect,” Howl said.

“And are you trying to find Prince Justin?” Sophie asked. But Howl slithered out of answering by racing through the broom cupboard, shouting for Michael.

Chapter 18

In which the scarecrow and Miss Angorian reappear.

They opened the flower shop the next day. As Howl had pointed out, it could not have been simpler. Every early morning, all they had to do was to open the door with the knob purple-down and go out into the swimming green haze to gather flowers. It soon became a routine. Sophie took her stick and her scissors and stumped about, chatting to her stick, using it to test the squashy ground or hook down sprays of high-up choice roses. Michael took an invention of his own which he was very proud of. It was a large tin tub with water in it, which floated in the air and followed Michael wherever he went among the bushes. The dog-man went too. He had a wonderful time rushing about the wet green lanes, chasing butterflies or trying to catch the tiny, bright birds that fed on the flowers. While he dashed about, Sophie cut armloads of long irises, or lilies, or frondy orange flowers, or branches of blue hibiscus, and Michael loaded the bath with orchids, roses, starry white flowers, shiny vermilion ones, or anything that caught his fancy. They all enjoyed this time.

Then, before the heat in the bushes grew too intense, they took the day’s flowers back to the shop and arranged them in a motley collection of jugs and buckets which Howl had dug out of the yard. Two of the buckets were actually the seven-league boots. Nothing, Sophie thought as she arranged shocks of gladiolus in them, could show how completely Howl had lost interest in Lettie. He did not care now if Sophie used them or not.

Howl was nearly always missing while they gathered flowers. And the doorknob was always turned black-down. He was usually back for a late breakfast, looking dreamy, still in his black clothes. He would never tell Sophie which suit the black one really was. “I’m in mourning for Mrs. Pentstemmon,” was all he would say. And if Sophie or Michael asked why Howl was always away at that time, Howl would look injured and say, “If you want to talk to a schoolteacher, you have to catch her before school starts.” Then he would disappear into the bathroom for the next two hours.

Meanwhile Sophie and Michael put on their fine clothes and opened the shop. Howl insisted on the fine clothes. He said it would attract custom. Sophie insisted they all wore aprons. And after the first few days, when the people of Market Chipping simply stared through the window and did not come into the shop, the shop became very popular. Word had gone round that Jenkins had flowers like no flowers ever seen before. People Sophie had known all her life came and bought flowers by the bundle. None of them recognized her, and that made her feel very odd. They all thought she was Howl’s old mother. But Sophie had had enough of being Howl’s old mother. “I’m his aunt,” she told Mrs. Cesari. She became known as Aunt Jenkins.

By the time Howl arrived in the shop, in a black apron to match his suit, he usually found it quite busy. He made it busier still. This was when Sophie began to be sure that the black suit was really the charmed gray-and-scarlet one. Any lady Howl served was sure to go away with at least twice the number of flowers she asked for. Most of the time Howl charmed them into buying ten times as much. Before long, Sophie noticed ladies peering in and deciding not to come into the shop when they saw Howl there. She did not blame them. If you just want a rose for a buttonhole, you do not want to be forced to buy three dozen orchids. She did not discourage Howl when Howl took to spending long hours in the workshed across the yard.

“I’m setting up defenses against the Witch, before you ask,” he said. “By the time I’ve finished, there will be no way she can get into any part of this place.”

There was sometimes a problem with leftover flowers. Sophie could not bear to see them wilting overnight. She found she could keep them fairly fresh if she talked to them. After that, she talked to flowers a lot. She got Michael to make her a plant-nutrition spell, and she experimented in buckets in the sink, and in tubs in the alcove where she used to trim hats. She found she could keep some plants fresh for days. So of course she experimented some more. She got the soot out of the yard and planted things in it, muttering busily. She grew a navy-blue rose like that, which pleased her greatly. Its buds were coal black, and its flowers opened bluer and bluer until they became almost the same blue as Calcifer. Sophie was so delighted with it that she took roots from all the bags hanging on the beams and experimented with those. She told herself she had never been happier in her life.

This was not true. Something was wrong, and Sophie could not understand what. Sometimes she thought it was the way no one in Market Chipping recognized her. She did not dare go and see Martha, for fear Martha would not know her either. She did not dare tip the flowers out of the seven-league boots and go and see Lettie for the same reason. She just could not bear either of her sisters to see her as an old woman.

Michael went off with bunches of spare flowers to see Martha all the time. Sometimes Sophie thought that was what was the matter with her. Michael was so cheerful, and she was left on her own in the shop more and more often. But that did not seem to be quite it. Sophie enjoyed selling flowers on her own.

Sometimes the trouble seemed to be Calcifer. Calcifer was bored. He had nothing to do except to keep the castle gently drifting along the lanes of grass and round the various pools and lakes, and to make sure that they arrived in a new spot, with new flowers, every morning. His blue face was always leaning eagerly out of the grate when Sophie and Michael came in with their flowers. “I want to see what it’s like out there,” he said. Sophie brought him tasty smelling leaves to burn, which made the castle room smell as strongly as the bathroom, but Calcifer said what he really wanted was company. They went into the shop all day and left him alone.

So Sophie made Michael serve in the shop for at least an hour every morning while she went and talked to Calcifer. She invented guessing games to keep Calcifer occupied when she was busy. But Calcifer was still discontented. “When are you going to break my contract with Howl?” he asked more and more often.

And Sophie put Calcifer off, “I’m working on it,” she said. “It won’t be long now.” This was not quite true. Sophie had stopped thinking of it unless she had to. Whe

n she put together what Mrs. Pentstemmon had said with all the things Howl and Calcifer had said, she found she had some strong and rather terrible ideas about that contract. She was sure that breaking it would be the end of both Howl and Calcifer. Howl might deserve it, but Calcifer did not. And since Howl seemed to be working quite hard in order to slither out of the rest of the Witch’s curse, Sophie wanted to do nothing unless she could help.

Sometimes Sophie thought it was simply that the dog-man was getting her down. He was such a doleful creature. The only time he seemed to enjoy himself was when he chased down the green lanes between the bushes every morning. For the rest of the day he trudged gloomily about after Sophie, sighing deeply. As Sophie could do nothing about him either, she was rather glad when the weather grew hotter and hotter toward Midsummer Day and the dog-man took to lying in patches of shade out in the yard, panting.

Meanwhile the roots Sophie had planted had become quite interesting. The onion had become a small palm tree and was sprouting little onion-scented nuts. Another root grew into a sort of pink sunflower. Only one was slow to grow. When at last it put out two round green leaves, Sophie could hardly wait to see what it would grow into. The next day it looked as if it might be an orchid. It had pointed leaves spotted with mauve and a long stalk growing out of the middle with a large bud on it. The day after that, Sophie left the fresh flowers in the tin bath and hurried eagerly to the alcove to see how it was getting on.

The bud had opened into a pink flower like an orchid that had been through a mangle. It was flat, and joined to the stalk just below a round tip. There were four petals sprouting from a plump pink middle, two pointing downward and two more halfway up that stuck out sideways. While Sophie stared at it, a strong scent of spring flowers warned her that Howl had come in and was standing behind her.

“What is that thing?” he said. “If you were expecting an ultraviolet violet or an infra-red geranium, you got it wrong, Mrs. Mad Scientist.”

“It looks to me like a squashed-baby flower, Michael said, coming to look.

It did too. Howl shot Michael an alarmed look and picked up the flower in its pot. He slid it out of the pot into his hand, where he carefully separated the white, thready roots and the soot and the remains of the manure spell, until he uncovered the brown, forked root Sophie had grown it from. “I might have guessed,” he said. “It’s mandrake root. Sophie strikes again. You do have a touch, don’t you, Sophie?” He put the plant carefully back, passed it to Sophie, and went away, looking rather pale.

So that was almost all the curse come true, Sophie thought as she went to arrange the fresh flowers in the shopwindow. The mandrake root had had a baby. That only left one more thing: the wind to advance an honest mind. If that meant Howl’s mind had to be honest, Sophie thought, there was a chance that the curse might never come true. She told herself it served Howl right anyway, for going courting Miss Angorian every morning in a charmed suit, but she still felt alarmed and guilty. She arranged a sheaf of white lilies in a seven-league boot. She crawled into the window to get them just so, and she heard a regular clump, clump, clump from outside in the street. It was not the sound of a horse. It was the sound of a stick hitting the stones.

Tags: Diana Wynne Jones Howl's Moving Castle Fantasy
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