“What’s wrong with it?” said Percival. “Why didn’t you want it?”
Sophie shuddered. Since the scarecrow was out on the road, she did not dare leave now. She picked up the watering can and stumped back to the mansion. A fluttering caught her eye as she went. She looked up at the building. The flutter was from long white curtains blowing from an open French window beyond the statues of the terrace. The statues were now clean white stone, and she could see curtains at most of the windows, and glass too. The shutters were now folded properly beside them, newly painted white. Not a green stain nor a blister marked the new creamy plaster of the house front. The front door was a masterpiece of black paint and gold scrollwork, centering on a gilded lion with a ring in its mouth for a doorknocker.
“Huh!” said Sophie.
She resisted the temptation to go in through the open window and explore. That was what Howl wanted her to do. She marched straight to the front door, seized the golden doorknob, and threw the door open with a crash. Howl and Michael were at the bench hastily dismantling a spell. Part of it must have been to change the mansion, but the rest, as Sophie well knew, had to be a listening-in spell of some kind. As Sophie stormed in, both their faces shot nervously round toward her. Calcifer instantly plunged down under his logs.
“Keep behind me, Michael,” said Howl.
“Eavesdropper!” Sophie shouted. “Snooper!”
“What’s wrong?” Howl said. “Do you want the shutters black and gold too?”
“You barefaced—” Sophie stuttered. “That wasn’t the only thing you heard! You—you—How long have you known I was—I am—?”
“Under a spell?” said Howl. “Well, now—”
“I told him,” Michael said, looking nervously round Howl. “My Lettie—”
“You!” Sophie shrieked.
“The other Lettie let the cat out of the bag too,” Howl said quickly. “You know she did. And Mrs. Fairfax talked a great deal that day. There was a time when everyone seemed to be telling me. Even Calcifer did—when I asked him. But do you honestly think I don’t know my own business well enough not to spot a strong spell like that when I see it? I had several goes at taking it off you when you weren’t looking. But nothing seems to work. I took you to Mrs. Pentstemmon, hoping she could do something, but she evidently couldn’t. I came to the conclusion that you liked being in disguise.”
“Disguise!” Sophie yelled.
Howl laughed at her. “It must be, since you’re doing it yourself,” he said. “What a strange family you are! Is your name really Lettie too?”
This was too much for Sophie. Percival edged nervously in just then, carrying the half-full bucket of weed-killer. Sophie dropped her can, seized the bucket from him, and threw it at Howl. Howl ducked. Michael dodged the bucket. The weed-killer went up in a sheet of sizzling green flame from floor to ceiling. The bucket clanged into the sink, where all the remaining flowers died instantly.
“Ow!” said Calcifer from under his logs. “That was strong.”
Howl carefully picked the skull out from under the smoking brown remains of the flowers and dried it on one of his sleeves. “Of course it was strong,” he said. “Sophie never does things by halves.” The skull, as Howl wiped it, became bright new white, and the sleeve he was using developed a faded blue-and-silver patch. Howl set the skull on the bench and looked at his sleeve ruefully.
Sophie had half a mind to stump straight out of the castle again, and away down the drive. But there was that scarecrow. She settled for stumping to the chair instead, where she sat and fell into a deep sulk. I’m not going to speak to any of them! she thought.
“Sophie,” Howl said, “I did my best. Haven’t you noticed that your aches and pains have been better lately? Or do you enjoy having those too?” Sophie did not answer. Howl gave her up and turned to Percival. “I’m glad to see that you have some brain after all,” he said. “You had me worried.”
“I really don’t remember very much,” Percival said. But he stopped behaving like a half-wit. He picked the guitar up and tuned it. He had it sounding much nicer in seconds.
“My sorrow revealed,” Howl said pathetically. “I was born an unmusical Welshman. Did you tell Sophie all of it? Or do you really know what the Witch was trying to find out?”
“She wanted to know about Wales,” said Percival.
“I thought that was it,” Howl said soberly. “Ah, well.” He went away into the bathroom, where he was gone for the next two hours. During that time Percival played a number of tunes on the guitar in a slow, thoughtful way, as if he was teaching himself how to, while Michael crawled about the floor with a smoking rag, trying to get rid of the weed-killer. Sophie sat in the chair and said not a word. Calcifer kept bobbing up and peeping at her, and going down again under his logs.
Howl came out of the bathroom with his suit glossy black, his hair glossy white, in a cloud of steam smelling of gentians. “I may be back quite late,” he said to Michael. “It’s going to be Midsummer Day after midnight, and the Witch may well try something. So keep all the defenses up, and remember all I told you, please.”
“All right,” Michael said, putting the steaming remains of the rag in the sink.
> Howl turned to Percival. “I think I know what’s happened to you,” he said. “It’s going to be a fair job sorting you out, but I’ll have a go tomorrow after I get back.” Howl went to the door and stopped with his hand on the knob, “Sophie, are you still not talking to me?” he asked miserably.
Sophie knew Howl could sound unhappy in heaven if it suited him. And he had just used her to get information out of Percival, “No!” she snarled.
Howl sighed and went out. Sophie looked up and saw that the knob was pointing black-down. That does it! she thought. I don’t care if it is Midsummer Day tomorrow! I’m leaving.
In which Sophie finds further difficulties in leaving the castle.