This seemed to Sophie the perfect way to get rid of Miss Angorian without really getting rid of her. She politely opened the door for her. Somehow—maybe it had to do with the defenses Howl had asked Michael to keep up—the knob had got turned round to purple-down. Outside was a misty blaze of sun and the drifting banks of red and purple flowers.
“What gorgeous rhododendrons!” Miss Angorian exclaimed in her huskiest and most throbbing voice. “I must look!” She sprang eagerly down into the marshy grass.
“Don’t go toward the southeast,” Sophie called after her.
The castle was drifting off sideways. Miss Angorian buried her beautiful face in a cluster of white flowers. “I won’t go far at all,” she said.
“Good gracious!” Fanny said, coming up behind Sophie. “Whatever has happened to my carriage?”
Sophie explained, as far as she could. But Fanny was so worried that Sophie had to turn the door orange-down and open it to show the mansion drive in a much grayer day, where the footman and Fanny’s coachman were sitting on the roof of the carriage eating cold sausage and playing cards. Only then would Fanny believe that her carriage had not been mysteriously spirited away. Sophie was trying to explain, without really knowing herself, how one door could open on several different places, when Calcifer surged up from his logs, roaring.
“Howl!” he roared, filling the chimney with blue flame. “Howl! Howell Jenkins, the Witch has found your sister’s family!”
There were two violent thumps overhead. Howl’s bedroom door crashed, and Howl came tearing downstairs. Lettie and Percival were hurled out of his way. Fanny screamed faintly at the sight of him. Howl’s hair was like a haystack and there were red rims round his eyes. “Got me on my weak flank, blast her!” he shouted as he shot across the room with his black sleeves flying
. “I was afraid she would! Thanks, Calcifer!” He shoved Fanny aside and hurled open the door.
Sophie heard the door bang behind Howl as she hobbled upstairs. She knew it was nosy, but she had to see what happened. As she hobbled through Howl’s bedroom, she heard everyone else following her.
“What a filthy room!” Fanny exclaimed.
Sophie looked out of the window. It was drizzling in the neat garden. The swing was hung with drops. The Witch’s waving mane of red hair was all dewed with it. She stood leaning against the swing, tall and commanding in her red robes, beckoning and beckoning again. Howl’s niece, Mari, was shuffling over the wet grass toward the Witch. She did not look as if she wanted to go, but she seemed to have no choice. Behind her. Howl’s nephew, Neil, was shuffling toward the Witch even more slowly, glowering in his most ferocious way. And Howl’s sister, Megan, was behind the two children. Sophie could see Megan’s arms gesturing and Megan’s mouth opening and shutting. She was clearly giving the Witch a piece of her mind, but she was being drawn toward the Witch too.
Howl burst out onto the lawn. He had not bothered to alter his clothes. He did not bother to do any magic. He just charged straight at the Witch. The Witch made a grab for Mari, but Mari was still too far away. Howl got to Mari first, slung her behind him, and charged on. And the Witch ran. She ran, like a cat with a dog after it, across the lawn and over the neat fence, in a flurry of flame-colored robes, with Howl, like the chasing dog, a foot or so behind and closing. The Witch vanished over the fence in a red blur. Howl went after her in a black blur with trailing sleeves. Then the fence hid both of them from sight.
“I hope he catches her,” said Martha. “The little girl’s crying.”
Down below, Megan put her arm round Mari and took both children indoors. There was no knowing what had happened to Howl and the Witch. Lettie and Percival and Martha and Michael went back downstairs. Fanny and Mrs. Fairfax were transfixed with disgust at the state of Howl’s bedroom.
“Look at those spiders!” Mrs. Fairfax said.
“And the dust on these curtains!” said Fanny. “Annabel, I saw some brooms in that passage you came through.”
“Let’s get them,” said Mrs. Fairfax. “I’ll pin that dress up for you, Fanny, and we’ll get to work. I can’t bear a room to be in this state!”
Oh, poor Howl! Sophie thought. He does love those spiders! She hovered on the stairs, wondering how to stop Mrs. Fairfax and Fanny.
From downstairs, Michael called, “Sophie! We’re going to look round the mansion. Want to come?”
That seemed the ideal thing to stop the two ladies from cleaning. Sophie called to Fanny and hobbled hurriedly downstairs. Lettie and Percival were already opening the door. Lettie had not listened when Sophie explained it to Fanny. And it was clear that Percival did not understand either. Sophie saw they were opening it purple-down by mistake. They got it open as Sophie hobbled across the room to put them right.
The scarecrow loomed up in the doorway against the flowers.
“Shut it!” Sophie screamed. She saw what had happened. She had actually helped the scarecrow last night by telling it to go ten times as fast. It had simply sped to the castle entrance and tried to get in there. But Miss Angorian was out there. Sophie wondered if she was lying in the bushes in a dead faint. “No, don’t,” she said weakly.
No one was attending to her anyway. Lettie’s face was the color of Fanny’s dress, and she was clutching Martha. Percival was standing staring, and Michael was trying to catch the skull, which was yattering its teeth so hard that it was threatening to fall off the bench and take a wine bottle with it. And the skull seemed to have a strange effect on the guitar too. It was giving out long, humming twangs: Noumm Harrummm! Noumm Harrummm!
Calcifer flamed up the chimney again. “The thing is speaking,” he said to Sophie. “It is saying it means no harm. I think it is speaking the truth. It is waiting for your permission to come in.”
Certainly the scarecrow was just standing there. It was not trying to barge inside as it had before. And Calcifer must have trusted it. He had stopped the castle moving. Sophie looked at the turnip face and the fluttering rags. It was not so frightening after all. She had once had fellow feeling for it. She rather suspected that she had just made it into a convenient excuse for not leaving the castle because she had really wanted to stay. Now there was no point. Sophie had to leave anyway: Howl preferred Miss Angorian.
“Please come in,” she said, a little croakily.
“Ahmmnng!” said the guitar. The scarecrow surged into the room with one powerful sideways hop. It stood swinging about on its one leg as if it was looking for something. The smell of flowers it had brought in with it did not hide its own smell of dust and rotting turnip.
The skull yattered under Michael’s fingers again. The scarecrow spun round, gladly, and fell sideways toward it. Michael made one attempt to rescue the skull and then got hastily out of the way. For as the scarecrow fell across the bench, there came the fizzing jolt of strong magic and the skull melted into the scarecrow’s turnip head. It seemed to get inside the turnip and fill it out. There was now a strong suggestion of a rather craggy face on the turnip. The trouble was, it was on the back of the scarecrow. The scarecrow gave a wooden scramble, hopped upright uncertainly, and then swiftly spun its body round so that the front of it was under the craggy turnip face. Slowly it eased its outstretched arms down to its sides.
“Now I can speak,” it said in a somewhat mushy voice.