Hazel and Holly — The Tiresome Trail
Previous: Willowed Remorse
Hazel and Holly waited in front of their cottage. Hazel stood near the road, her hands clenched as she watched for an approaching carriage. Holly sat on top of her luggage, resting her chin on her hand with her elbow propped on her knee.
“Who’s going to take care of the bees?” Holly said.
“Bees take care of themselves for the most part,” Hazel said. “But Aster said she’d check on them from time to time, and harvest the honey when it’s ready.”
“She’ll probably take it all for herself,” Holly said sullenly.
“She’s welcome to it. It’s not like we’ll be here to use any of it.”
“But what about the garden?”
“We’ll replant it when we return.”
Holly fell silent.
“You said you wanted to come,” Hazel said. “Why are you sulking?”
“I’m not sulking. It’s just… we’ve never left home before. It makes me sad thinking about it all dark and empty.”
Hazel looked down at the ground. “I know. Me too. But it’s just a house, Holly. It’s not what matters. We are. So as long as we stick together, we’ll be fine. All right?”
Holly wiped at her eyes and nodded. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a mouse. “And Chester too. Don’t forget about Chester.”
Hazel had to make an effort to keep herself from cringing. “Chester too.”
Holly smiled and ran her fingers over the mouse’s furry back.
“Besides,” Hazel said, “the house won’t be completely empty. Tum will still be in the cellar, won’t he?”
“Um, yeah,” Holly said and put Chester onto her shoulder.
A carriage rounded the bend in a cloud of dust. Hazel tightened her clasped hands as she backed away from the road and waited until the carriage slowed and stopped in front of them. The driver—a stout man with a handlebar mustache—hopped down from his seat and took Hazel’s luggage and started to load it on top of the carriage when the door opened and Hemlock stepped outside.
He smiled. “You ladies ready for an adventure?”
Holly remained sitting on her luggage as she stared at the ground.
“This isn’t exactly a joy ride, Hemlock,” Hazel said.
Hemlock cleared his throat. “Of course not. My apologies. Here, let me help with the luggage.” He walked up to Holly, but she remained sitting.
Hazel nudged her with a foot, and Holly looked up. “What? Oh, sorry,” she mumbled as she rose and stood next to Hazel.
Once the luggage had been loaded and tied down, Hazel, Holly, and Hemlock all climbed into the carriage. Hawthorn sat inside and, when Holly sat next to him, his back went rigid as he fixed his gaze out the window. Holly glanced at him, scooched away from him as far as she could, as she looked out her own window.
Hazel glanced between them. “Well, this is awkward,” she whispered to Hemlock.
Hemlock leaned close to her and whispered, “Hawthorn hasn’t really been the same since that day we had tea at your house. I don’t know what’s gotten into him.”
“This is going to be a long trip, isn’t it?”
Hemlock shrugged as he gave a crooked smile.
Silence hung between them as the coach rattled down the road. Hawthorn stared out his window as Holly did the same.
Desperate to coax some some semblance of a conversation out of them, Hazel said, “Your glamor looks quite robust today, Hawthorn.”
He said nothing as he continued to stare outside. Hemlock kicked him in the shin.
“Ow,” he said, rubbing his leg. He pouted.
“You’re brooding,” Hemlock said, “and being rude. Hazel was talking to you.”
“Oh,” Hawthorn said and straightened. “I apologize. What were you saying?”
Hazel gave a tight smile and shook her head. It was bad enough complementing Hawthorn on his glamor once, she didn’t really want to do it again. “I just said your glamor was well done.”
Hawthorn smoothed his hair, though his expression remained serious. He didn’t seem to take pleasure in the gesture as he usually did. “Ah, yes. Thank you.” He resumed staring out the window.
Hazel raised her eyebrows at Hemlock, but he just shrugged.
The journey was long and quiet. Hazel and Hemlock tried to make conversation, but with Holly and Hawthorn lost in their own worlds, it still felt awkward. After a while, they gave up, and Hemlock spent the rest of the journey reading a book while Hazel sat staring at Chester as he nestled himself in Holly’s hair. Hazel shivered.
The day waned and, as the sun began to set, the carriage slowed and stopped in front of an old inn.
Everyone climbed out of the carriage. Holly walked to a patch of grass and set Chester down and he scampered out of sight.
“Won’t he get lost?” Hemlock said.
“No, he’ll be fine.”
“He’s very resourceful,” Hazel said.
Hemlock raised his eyebrows. “Ah.”
Hawthorn sniffed and raised an embroidered kerchief to his nose. “What is this place?” he said, waving a hand towards the inn. “And what is that odor?”
“That ‘odor’ is called nature,” Hemlock said. “And this inn is where we’ll stay the night. There’s really nothing else between the Grove and Sarnum.”
“No, it’s not nature. It smells like dust and…” he sniffed again, “despair.”
“That’s not despair,” Holly said, “it’s horse dung and mildew. Despair is more spicy, like cloves and wet soot.” She beamed at him.
Hawthorn’s cheeks turned ruddy. “Oh,” he said and walked into the inn.
Holly’s smile faded. She mumbled something incoherent, and walked off towards where Chester had gone.
Hemlock said, “Have I gone completely mad, or did my brother just blush?”
Hazel nodded. “And through his glamor, too.”
“I’ve never seen him so flustered. Could this really be from what Holly said at tea? Since when does a woman’s admiration cause Hawthorn to become so unhinged?”
Hazel shrugged. “He’s your brother. I hardly know the man.”
Hemlock shuffled his feet. “Should we do something?”
“Do something? Like what?”
“I don’t know. It’s just so awkward. I feel helpless.”
Hazel grinned. “I’m sure they’ll figure it out.”
“I hope so.” He straightened his jacket. “For all our sakes. It’s painful watching them.”
The driver climbed to the roof of the carriage, untied the luggage, and began throwing the trunks and bags down onto the ground. Hazel backed away from the dust that was being kicked up just as Holly’s trunk dropped in front of her.
“What’s wrong?” Hemlock said.
Hazel put up a hand. “Shhh!” They both stood there, frozen. Even the driver had stopped throwing the bags from the carriage.
“Did you hear that?” Hazel said.
“No,” said Hemlock.
She opened the trunk, and there in with Holly’s dresses and petticoats was Tum.
He hopped out. “Finally. Isn’t too comfortable in there, even for a gnome.”
Hazel frowned. “Tum, what are you doing here?”
“Miss Holly said I could come along. Thought it for the best. Cellar gnomes aren’t much good in empty houses, and beer has a tendency to dry up that way.” He leaned over into the trunk and started rummaging around.
“What are you doing? Stop that,” she said, nudging at him with her foot, but Tum remained. She threw the lid closed, and Tum scrambled backwards to avoid getting struck by it.
“Hey!” he said. “You could’ve lopped my arms off!”
“That would have been a great tragedy.”
“That’s right. You remember that the next time you want old Tum to go spoiling. Can’t exactly do that without any arms.”
“You have feet.”
Tum opened his mouth but then snapped it shut, his expression perplexed.
Hazel drew herself up. “Just stay out of my way and out of my things. You’re Holly’s responsibility. If you’re going to steal anything, you steal from her. Otherwise we’re going to have a disagreement. Understand me?”
Tum waved a hand. “As you like. Though, spoiling can’t always be contained. It’s a passion, see? And passion goes where it pleases, like the wind.”
“Well, you keep your wind and passion away from me, and we’ll be just fine.” She thrust one of Holly’s smaller bags at him. “Make yourself useful in the meanwhile.”
Tum grabbed hold of it and grinned. “Tum’s always useful.” Then he scampered away with it and into the inn.
Hazel sighed and shook her head. To Hemlock, she said, “I hope you didn’t bring any valuables,” and followed Tum inside.
Next: Homeward Heart