Midsummer Day dawned. About the same moment that it did, Howl crashed in through the door with such a noise that Sophie shot up in her cubbyhole, convinced that the Witch was hot on his heels.
“They think so much about me that they always play without me!” Howl bellowed. Sophie realized that he was only trying to sing Calcifer’s saucepan song and lay down again, whereupon Howl fell over the chair and caught his foot in the stool so that it shot across the room. After that, he tried to go upstairs through the broom cupboard, and then the yard. This seemed to puzzle him a little. But finally he discovered the stairs, all except the bottom one, and fell up them on his face. The whole castle shook.
“What’s the matter?” Sophie asked, sticking her head through the banister.
“Rugby Club Reunion,” Howl replied with thick dignity. “Didn’t know I used to fly up the wing for my university, did you, Mrs. Nose?”
“If you were trying to fly, you must have forgotten how,” Sophie said.
“I was born to strange sights,” said Howl, “things invisible to see, and I was just on my way to bed when you interrupted me. I know where all past years are, and who cleft the Devil’s foot.”
“Go to bed, you fool,” Calcifer said sleepily. “You’re drunk.”
“Who, me?” said Howl. “I assure you, my friends, I am cone sold stober.” He got up and stalked upstairs, feeling for the wall as if he thought it might escape him unless he kept in touch with it. His bedroom door did escape him. “What a lie that was!” Howl remarked as he walked into the wall. “My shining dishonesty will be the salvation of me.” He walked into the wall several times more, in several different places, before he discovered his bedroom door and crashed his way through it. Sophie could hear him falling about, saying that his bed was dodging.
“He is quite impossible!” Sophie said, and she decided to leave at once.
Unfortunately, the noise Howl made woke Michael up, and Percival, who was sleeping on the floor in Michael’s room. Michael came downstairs saying that they were so thoroughly awake that they might as well go out and gather the flowers for the Midsummer garlands while the day was still cool. Sophie was not sorry to go out into the place of flowers for one last time. There was a warm, milky haze out there, filled with scent and half-hidden colors. Sophie thumped along, testing the squashy ground with her stick and listening to the whirrings and twitters of the thousands of birds, feeling truly regretful. She stroked a moist satin lily and fingered one of the ragged purple flowers with long, powdery stamens. She looked back at the tall black castle breasting the mist behind them. She sighed.
“He made it much better,” Percival remarked as he put an armful of hibiscus into Michael’s floating bath.
“Who did?” said Michael.
“Howl,” said Percival. “There were only bushes at first, and they were quite small and dry.”
“You remember being here before?” Michael asked excitedly. He had by no means given up his idea that Percival might be Prince Justin.
“I think I was here with the Witch,” Percival said doubtfully.
They fetched two bathloads of flowers. Sophie noticed that when they came in the second time, Michael spun the knob over the door several times. That must have had something to do with keeping the Witch out. Then of course there were the Midsummer garlands to make. That took a long time. Sophie had meant to leave Michael and Percival to do that, but Michael was too busy asking Percival cunning questions and Percival was very slow at the work. Sophie knew what made Michael excited. There was a sort of air about Percival, as if he expected something to happen soon. It made Sophie wonder just how much in the power of the Witch he still was. She had to make most of the garlands. Any thoughts she might have had about staying and helping Howl against the Witch vanished. Howl, who could have made all the garlands just by waving his hand, was now snoring so loudly she could hear him right through in the shop.
They were so long making the garlands that it was time to open the shop before they had finished. Michael fetched them bread and honey, and they ate while they dealt with the tremendous first rush of customers. Although Midsummer Day, in the way of holidays, had turned out to be a gray and chilly day in Market Chipping, half the town came, dressed in fine holiday clothes, to buy flowers and garlands for the festival. There was the usual jostling crowd out in the street. So many people came into the shop that it was getting on for midday before Sophie finally stole away up the stairs and through the broom cupboard. They had taken so much money, Sophie thought as she stole about, packing up some food and her old clothes in a bundle, that Michael’s hoard under the hearthstone would be ten times the size.
“Have you come to talk to me?” asked Calcifer.
“In a moment,” Sophie said, crossing the room with her bundle behind her back. She did not want Calcifer raising an outcry about that contract.
She stretched out her hand to unhook her stick from the chair, and somebody knocked at the door. Sophie stuck, with her hand stretched out, looking inquiringly at Calcifer.
“It’s the mansion door,” said Calcifer. “Flesh and blood and harmless.”
The knocking came again. This always happens when I try to leave! Sophie thought. She turned the knob orange-down and opened the door.
There was a carriage in the drive beyond the statues, pulled by a goodish pair of horses. Sophie could see it round the edges of the very large footman who had been doing the knocking.
“Mrs. Sacheverell Smith to call upon the new occupants,” said the footman.
How very awkward! Sophie thought. It was the result of Howl’s new paint and curtains. “We’re not at h—” she began. But Mrs. Sacheverell Smith swept the footman aside and came in.
“Wait with the carriage, Theobald,” she said to the footman as she sailed past Sophie, folding her parasol.
It was Fanny—Fanny looking wonderfully prosperous in cream silk. She was wearing a cream silk hat trimmed with roses, which Sophie remembered only too well. She remembered what she had said to that hat as she trimmed it: “You are going to have to marry money.” And it was quite clear from the look of her that Fanny had.
“Oh, dear!” said Fanny, looking round. “There must be some mistake. This is the servants’ quarters!”
“Well—er—we’re not really quite moved in yet, Madam,” Sophie said, and wondered how Fanny would feel if she knew that the old hat shop was only just beyond the broom cupboard.
Fanny turned round and gaped at Sophie. “Sophie!” she exclaimed. “Oh, good gracious, child, what’s happened to you? You look about ninety! Have you been very ill?” And, to Sophie’s surprise, Fanny threw aside her hat and her parasol and all of her grand manner and flung her arms round Sophie and wept. “Oh, I didn’t know what had happened to you!” she sobbed. “I went to Martha and I sent to Lettie, and neither of them knew. They changed places, silly girls, did you know? But nobody knew a thing about you! I’ve a reward out still. And here you are, working as a servant, when you could be living in luxury up the hill with me and Mr. Smith!”