Sophie gaped at him. “Where did you come from? I saw you go out.”
“I meant you to,” said Howl. “You’d done your worst with Calc
ifer and poor Michael. It stood to reason you’d descend on me today. And whatever Calcifer told you, I am a wizard, you know. Didn’t you think I could do magic?”
This undermined all Sophie’s assumptions. She would have died rather than admit it. “Everyone knows you’re a wizard, young man,” she said severely. “But that doesn’t alter the fact that your castle is the dirtiest place I’ve ever been in.” She looked into the room past Howl’s dangling blue-and-silver sleeve. The carpet on the floor was littered like a bird’s nest. She glimpsed peeling walls and a shelf full of books, some of them very queer-looking. There was no sign of a pile of gnawed hearts, but those were probably behind or under the huge fourposter bed. Its hangings were gray-white with dust and they prevented her from seeing what the window looked out onto.
Howl swung his sleeve in front of her face. “Uh-uh. Don’t be nosy.”
“I’m not being nosy!” Sophie protested. “That room—!”
“Yes, you are nosy,” said Howl. “You’re a dreadfully nosy, horribly bossy, appallingly clean old woman. Control yourself. You’re victimizing us all.”
“But it’s a pigsty,” said Sophie. “I can’t help what I am!”
“Yes you can,” said Howl. “And I like my room the way it is. You must admit I have a right to live in a pigsty if I want. Now go downstairs and think of something else to do. Please. I hate quarreling with people.”
There was nothing Sophie could do but hobble away with her bucket clanking by her side. She was a little shaken, and very surprised that Howl had not thrown her out of the castle on the spot. But since he had not, she thought of the next thing that needed doing at once. She opened the door beside the stairs, found the drizzle had almost stopped, and sallied out into the yard, where she began vigorously sorting through piles of dripping rubbish.
There was a metallic clash! and Howl appeared again, stumbling slightly, in the middle of the large sheet of rusty iron Sophie had been going to move next.
“Not here either,” he said. “You are a terror, aren’t you? Leave this yard alone. I know just where everything is in it, and I won’t be able to find the things I need for my transport spells if you tidy them up.”
So there was probably a bundle of souls or a box of chewed hearts somewhere out here, Sophie thought. She felt really thwarted. “Tidying up is what I’m here for!” she shouted at Howl.
“Then you must think of a new meaning for your life,” Howl said. For a moment it seemed as if he was going to lose his temper too. His strange, pale eyes all but glared at Sophie. But he controlled himself and said, “Now trot along indoors, you overactive old thing, and find something else to play with before I get angry. I hate getting angry.”
Sophie folded her skinny arms. She did not like being glared at by eyes like glass marbles. “Of course you hate getting angry!” she retorted. “You don’t like anything unpleasant do you? You’re a slitherer-outer, that’s what you are! You slither away from anything you don’t like!”
Howl gave a forced sort of smile. “Well now,” he said. “Now we both know each other’s faults. Now go back into the house. Go on. Back.” He advanced on Sophie, waving her toward the door. The sleeve on his waving arm caught the edge of the rusty metal, jerked, and tore. “Damnation!” said Howl, holding up the trailing blue-and-silver ends. “Look what you’ve made me do!”
“I can mend it,” Sophie said.
Howl gave her another glassy look. “There you go again,” he said. “How you must love servitude!” He took his torn sleeve gently between the fingers of his right hand and pulled it through them. As the blue-and-silver fabric left his fingers, there was no tear in it at all. “There,” he said. “Understand?”
Sophie hobbled back indoors, rather chastened. Wizards clearly had no need to work in the ordinary way. Howl had shown her he really was a wizard to be reckoned with. “Why didn’t he turn me out?” she said, half to herself and half to Michael.
“It beats me,” said Michael. “But I think he goes by Calcifer. Most people who come in here either don’t notice Calcifer, or they’re scared stiff of him.”
In which Howl expresses his feelings with green slime.
Howl did not go out that day, nor for the next few days. Sophie sat quietly in the chair by the hearth, keeping out of his way and thinking. She saw that, much as Howl deserved it, she had been taking out her feelings on the castle when she was really angry with the Witch of the Waste. And she was a little upset at the thought that she was here on false pretenses. Howl might think Calcifer liked her, but Sophie knew Calcifer had simply seized on the chance to make a bargain with her. Sophie rather thought she had let Calcifer down.
This state of mind did not last. Sophie discovered a pile of Michael’s clothes that needed mending. She fetched out thimble, scissors, and thread from her sewing pocket and set to work. By that evening she was cheerful enough to join in Calcifer’s silly little song about saucepans.
“Happy in your work?” Howl said sarcastically.
“I need more to do,” Sophie said.
“My old suit needs mending, if you have to feel busy,” said Howl.
This seemed to mean that Howl was no longer annoyed. Sophie was relieved. She had been almost frightened that morning.
It was clear Howl had not yet caught the girl he was after. Sophie listened to Michael asking rather obvious questions about it, and Howl slithering neatly out of answering any of them. “He is a slitherer-outer,” Sophie murmured to a pair of Michael’s socks. “Can’t face his own wickedness.” She watched Howl being restlessly busy in order to hide his discontent. That was something Sophie understood rather well.
At the bench Howl worked a good deal harder and faster than Michael, putting spells together in an expert but slapdash way. From the look on Michael’s face, most of the spells were both unusual and hard to do. But Howl would leave a spell midway and dash up to his bedroom to look after something hidden—and no doubt sinister—going on up there, and then shortly race out into the yard to tinker with a large spell out there. Sophie opened the door a crack and was rather amazed to see the elegant wizard kneeling in the mud with his long sleeves tied together behind his neck to keep them out of the way while he carefully heaved a tangle of greasy metal into a special framework of some kind.