Howl's Moving Castle (Howl's Moving Castle 1) - Page 29

“When you’ve quite finished nosing,” Howl called. His gray-and-scarlet finery was all misted with drizzle. He was dangling a bunch of strange keys, most of which were flat and yellow and seemed to match the houses. When Sophie came down the path, he said, “We need to be dressed in keeping with this place.” His finery blurred, as if the drizzle round him had suddenly become a fog. When it came into focus again, it was still scarlet-and-gray, but quite a different shape. The dangling sleeves had gone and the whole outfit was baggier. It looked worn and shabby.

Michael’s jacket had become a waist-length padded th

ing. He lifted his foot, with a canvas shoe on it, and stared at the tight blue things encasing his legs. “I can hardly bend my knee,” he said.

“You’ll get used to it,” said Howl. “Come on, Sophie.”

To Sophie’s surprise, Howl led the way back up the garden path toward the yellow house. The back of his baggy jacket, she saw, had mysterious words on it: WELSH RUGBY. Michael followed Howl, walking in a kind of tight strut because of the things on his legs. Sophie looked down at herself and saw twice as much skinny leg showing above her knobby shoes. Otherwise, not much about her had changed.

Howl unlocked the wavy-glass door with one of his keys. It had a wooden notice hanging beside it on chains. RIVENDELL, Sophie read, as Howl pushed her into a neat, shiny hall space. There seemed to be people in the house. Loud voices were coming from behind the nearest door. When Howl opened that door, Sophie realized that the voices were coming from magic colored pictures moving on the front of a big, square box.

“Howell!” exclaimed a woman who was sitting there knitting.

She put down her knitting, looking a little annoyed, but before she could get up, a small girl, who had been watching the magic picture very seriously with her chin in her hands, leaped up and flung herself at Howl. “Uncle Howell!” she screamed, and jumped halfway up Howl with her legs wrapped round him.

“Mari!” Howl bawled in reply. “How are you, cariad? Been a good girl, then?” He and the little girl broke into a foreign language then, fast and loud. Sophie could see they were very special to one another. She wondered about the language. It sounded the same as Calcifer’s silly saucepan song, but it was hard to be sure. In between bursts of foreign chatter, Howl managed to say, as if he were a ventriloquist, “This is my niece, Mari, and my sister, Megan Parry. Megan, this is Michael Fisher and Sophie—er—”

“Hatter,” said Sophie.

Megan shook hands with both of them in a restrained, disapproving way. She was older than Howl, but quite like him, with the same long, angular face, but her eyes were blue and full of anxieties, and her hair was darkish. “Quiet now, Mari!” she said in a voice that cut through the foreign chatter. “Howell, are you staying long?”

“Just dropped in for a moment,” Howl said, lowering Mari to the floor.

“Gareth isn’t in yet,” Megan said in a meaning sort of way.

“What a pity! We can’t stay,” Howl said, smiling a warm, false smile, “I just thought I’d introduce you to my friends here. And I want to ask you something that may sound silly. Has Neil by any chance lost a piece of English homework lately?”

“Funny you should say that!” Megan exclaimed. “Looking everywhere for it, he was, last Thursday! He’s got this new English teacher, see, and she’s very strict, doesn’t just worry about spelling either. Puts the fear of God into them about getting work in on time. Doesn’t do Neil any harm, lazy little devil! So here he is on Thursday, hunting high and low, and all he can find is a funny old piece of writing—”

“Ah,” said Howl. “What did he do with that writing?”

“I told him to hand it in to this Miss Angorian of his,” Megan said. “Might show her he tried for once.”

“And did he?” Howl asked.

“I don’t know. Better ask Neil. He’s up in the front bedroom with that machine of his,” said Megan. “But you won’t get a word of sense out of him.”

“Come on,” Howl said to Michael and Sophie, who were both staring round the shiny brown-and-orange room. He took Mari’s hand and led them all out of the room and up the stairs. Even those had a carpet, a pink-and-green one. So the procession led by Howl made hardly any noise as it went along the pink-and-green passage upstairs and into a room with a blue-and-yellow carpet. But Sophie was not sure the two boys crouched over the various magic boxes on a big table by the window would have looked up even for an army with a brass band. The main magic box had a glass front like the one downstairs, but it seemed to be showing writing and diagrams more than pictures. All the boxes grew on long, floppy white stalks that appeared to be rooted in the wall at one side of the room.

“Neil!” said Howl.

“Don’t interrupt,” one of the boys said. “He’ll lose his life.”

Seeing it was a matter of life and death, Sophie and Michael backed toward the door. But Howl, quite unperturbed at killing his nephew, strode over to the wall and pulled the boxes up by the roots. The picture on the box vanished. Both boys said words which Sophie did not think even Martha knew. The second boy spun round, shouting, “Mari! I’ll get you for that!”

“Wasn’t me this time. So!” Mari shouted back.

Neil whirled further round and stared accusingly at Howl. “How do, Neil?” Howl said pleasantly.

“Who is he?” the other boy asked.

“My no-good uncle,” Neil said. He glowered at Howl. He was dark, with thick eyebrows, and his glower was impressive. “What do you want? Put that plug back in.”

“There’s a welcome in the valleys!” said Howl. “I’ll put it back when I’ve asked you something and you’ve answered.”

Neil sighed. “Uncle Howell, I’m in the middle of a computer game.”

“A new one?” asked Howl.

Tags: Diana Wynne Jones Howl's Moving Castle Fantasy
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