Hazel and Holly — Dinnertime Drama, Part One
Previous: Masked Revelry, Part Two
Red-faced servants carried massive bowls and platters of food into the dining room from a swinging door that Hazel assumed led to the kitchen. From beyond the door came shouts and cries, a few clanging pots, and then shattering glass. A few more servants bolted into the dining room, placed their trays onto a sideboard before hurrying away in the opposite direction.
Hawthorn, once again glamored, sat at the head of a long table. He smiled to the guests sitting around it. “Do forgive the ruckus, but I assure you the meal will be worth it.” He snapped his fingers.
When nothing happened, he turned to the butler standing near one of the sideboards, and raised his eyebrows.
Merrick coughed, but remained still.
Hawthorn gave a nervous laugh. “That would be now, Merrick.” When the butler remained still, Hawthorn cast another worried glance to his guests and then, to Merrick, hissed, “Please!”
“Very good, sir,” Merrick said.
Hawthorn smoothed his hair and put on another smile. His gaze fell on Hemlock and Hazel lingering near the door, and he waved a hand. “Come, now, brother. We are not animals who eat our meals while standing. Come and sit, as is proper.”
Hemlock rolled his eyes. Turning towards Hazel, he extended an arm. “Shall we?”
Hazel tightened her jaw and straightened her back. Before she could answer, Holly bounced forward and said, “Yes, we shall!”
She scooted past Hazel and Hemlock and to one of the chairs closest to Hawthorn. It was occupied by a woman in a purple dress wearing a parrot mask. Holly reached into her pocket and pulled out a little pinecone. She rolled it between her fingertips and lifted her hand.
“Holly, don’t you dare!” Hazel said.
The room quieted as everyone turned to look at her, and Hazel’s face flushed. Judging by the color of Holly’s neck, her sister did the same.
“But… Hazel!” Holly mewled.
Hazel marched to an empty seat at the other end of the table and sat down. Hemlock sat down next to her, taking his position at the end of the table opposite Hawthorn. Holly, putting the pinecone back in her pocket, let out a heavy breath and sat down across from Hazel.
Merrick and a few young men in heavily starched, black and purple livery made their way around the table, presenting various dishes to the guests. One tray held a collection of herring stuffed with pickled radishes and leeks. Hazel and Hawthorn took one herring each, but Holly shook her head and waved the servant away.
Judging by the food, the theme of the evening seemed to be “stuffed.” There were stuffed pheasants and stuffed parcels of ham; cakes filled with cream and melons carved into jewelry boxes that were then filled with an array of colorful fruits. There were stuffed gourds and stuffed lettuce leaves; walnut shells filled with tiny diced vegetables, and vegetables filled with finely chopped nuts.
Hazel tried to be polite and take a little of everything that was presented her, but there seemed to be no end to the food and she refused to heap her plate like a glutton. Holly, however, had no such reservations. She took everything that she fancied, which was mostly the fruit and nut and vegetable dishes. She seemed particularly fond of the mushrooms carved into the likeness of pinecones, and grabbed hold of the servant’s sleeve before he walked off so she could help herself to another serving.
Conversation around the table turned to a murmur as the guests tried to eat around their masks. Those with half-masks that covered only their eyes, held up most of the dinnertime conversation, while those with full masks tried to gracefully navigate food behind their facial coverings and pretend they were making a good job of it.
It was all so ridiculous. Hazel wanted nothing to do with such folly and removed her mask. Gasps rippled around the room; several guests dropped their forks onto their plates with unceremonious clangs.
Hawthorn closed his eyes and covered his mouth with an embroidered linen napkin. “Merrick!” he cried.
Merrick hustled over to Hazel and grabbed her by the arm. “You will come with us,” he said.
“What? What on earth for?”
“Propriety, madame, and your dismissal of it.”
“Propriety can stuff it. I’m sure there’s a cabbage leaf here somewhere for that.”
Hawthorn covered his eyes while, with his other hand, he waved at the air. “Is she gone yet?”
“I’m right here you perfumed oaf.”
A few women covered their mouths as they gasped. The woman in the green dress and dragonfly mask fell out of her chair as she fainted.
Holly watched the whole affair while munching on a stuffed fig, dribbling crumbs of toasted bread and nuts.
Hemlock tried to hide a smile behind his wine glass, but Hazel still saw it.
“Does this amuse you?” she said, annoyed.
“I am afraid, my dear woman, that it does. Greatly.”
She stood up. “I am not here for your amusement.”
Merrick took the opportunity of her standing and pulled her towards the door.
A rage filled Hazel. She would not be silenced, not among these self-important buffoons. She yanked her arm out of Merrick’s grasp and, before he could grab hold of her again, marched towards the table and pulled off the mask of the first woman she came to.
“Tansy, how nice to see you,” Hazel said.
Tansy’s cheeks bloomed red and she reached for the mask. Hazel threw it across the room, sending Tansy to scuttle after it.
Hazel moved on to the next woman and yanked off her mask as well, and the next one. One masked woman got up and tried to run from the room, but Holly tackled her and pulled off her mask and held it up like a trophy.
The other women seemed frozen by Hazel’s advance, blinking at each other from behind their masks before Hazel tore it off of them. No one seemed to know what to do in the face of such impropriety. Merrick remained by the door, his arms pulled close to his body as his features twisted in abject horror.
Hazel came to Hawthorn. “You,” she growled.
“Merrick?” he quailed, still covering his eyes with his hand. “What’s happening?”
Hazel pulled off his mask. He clutched at it, trying to bring it back to his face, but Hazel refused to let go. She then rapped him on the skull with a knuckle, and Hawthorn cried out and let go of the mask as he put a hand to his head.
“You… you struck me,” he said. “Am… am I bleeding? Merrick! Am I bleeding?” He pulled his hand away and blinked at his fingers, seemingly confused at the absence of blood. He returned his hand to his head and repeated the process.
“I barely touched you,” Hazel said.
With his hand affixed to his head, Hawthorn rose from his chair and thrust a finger at her. “How dare you come here with your… your brutish ways. Merrick, escort her out.” He checked his fingers again.
“I’ll escort her,” Hemlock said, rising from his chair.
Hazel glared at him, but her fury had faded, and she no longer wanted anything more to do with these people. “Come on, Holly.”
Holly clutched the stolen mask to her chest and, walking to the table, grabbed a handful of figs and stuffed them into a pocket. Then she and Hazel followed Hemlock out the door.
Yet instead of leading them toward the hallway and to the front door, Hemlock crossed the ballroom and opened a door that led into a library. He motioned for them to step inside. Hazel hesitated, but Holly, munching on a fig, walked right on ahead and into the room. Hazel tightened her jaw and lifted her chin.
“I only want to talk,” Hemlock said. “Please.”
Hazel’s mouth worked soundlessly as she tried to find the words to refuse him. But she couldn’t refuse. If he was telling the truth in knowing about her father, than she needed to find out what that was.
She let out a breath, and then followed Holly into the library.