Pink Carnation Theatre brings you the gingery conclusion of Bunny & Biscuits: A Very Dorrington Valentine’s Day….
Miles missed the boat.
By the time he climbed stiffly down from the sedan chair, it was well past midnight. Usually, the sight of the torches burning on either side of his front door filled him with a warm and fuzzy feeling of contentment—it was rather a wonderful thing to have a home and a home with a Henrietta in it—but tonight, he was cold straight through, tired down to his bones, and feeling increasingly dejected. Even that blasted lock of hair that always got into his eyes had lost its bounce.
He’d made a muck of everything.
Miles trudged up the stairs to the front door, wishing he’d behaved—well, with more panache. Richard would never have stamped his foot and whined like a three year old. He would have swirled his cape and said, “Fear not!” and whisked off into the night to apprehend the spies and annul Penelope’s marriage and probably leave a mocking note on someone’s pillow while he was at it. While he had damp breeches from an unfortunate attempt to run after the boat. Note to self: keep an eye on the edge of the pier at all times. He was vaguely aware of smelling slightly of rotting fish.
Nothing said love quite like day old haddock.
“Sir!” His butler, Stwyth, opened the door with rather more force than necessary. His hair stood up in its usual points on the side of his bald pate. He caught a whiff of Miles’ smell and his nose twitched slightly. “Sir.”
“I know, Stwyth, I know,” said Miles wearily. “Trust me, I—what’s all this?”
The front hall was alight. Someone had placed candles on the treads of the stairs, long tapers, one after the other, creating a trail of light that led around the bend in the stair to the regions above.
“I couldn’t possibly say, sir,” said Stwyth, his twin peaks of hair quivering with excitement.
Huh. Miles had arranged his Valentine’s Day feast with Downey what now seemed like years ago, before they had left for Penelope’s wedding, but he had never said anything about candles. He had been too focused on the comestibles to consider the niceties of mood lighting. Perhaps Downey had decided to be creative? But that wasn’t the least bit like Downey. The only place Downey exercised his artistic side was within the folds of Miles’ cravat, where he gave full reign to the frustrated artist who lurked within, often to the detriment of Miles’ chin.
There was something perched on the fourth stair up, something small and floppy. Miles took a step forward. It looked like a dog, but Miles knew better. He knew that it was, in fact….
Miles had given the stuffed animal to Henrietta when she was still in swaddling clothes. Stuffed animal and mistress hadn’t been parted since, except for the one regrettable incident when Lady Uppington had handed the admittedly grungy Bunny to the laundress. Bunny had returned a shocking shade of bright white. Henrietta was disconsolate. Bunny hadn’t been washed since, but remained happily grubby and perpetually on a chair in their bedroom.
Miles felt a quiver of trepidation. Henrietta wouldn’t abandon Bunny, would she? No matter how angry she was with him—Bunny was Bunny.
“I believe the animal bears a note, sir,” said Stwyth, since Miles seemed incapable of movement.
“Er, yes! Right! Quite!” Rather gingerly, Miles extracted the note from the bunny’s fuzzy grasp.
It said, Follow the biscuits.
It was only then that Miles noticed something hanging from the bannister. It was a biscuit. Miles freed it from its ribbon cradle and took a bite. Not just a biscuit. One of Cook’s biscuits.
Miles could feel a grin starting to spread across his grimy face. “I guess I’d better follow the biscuits, hadn’t I, Stwyth?’
“I believe that would be advisable, sir,” said Stwyth, but Miles was already halfway up the stairs, bounding from biscuit to biscuit, snuffing out the candles as he went.
The trail ended in front of the bedroom door, where overlapping biscuits had been arranged in the shape of a heart. Miles scooped up the plate and flung open the bedroom door.
“Hen!” he began, and almost choked on a mouthful of biscuit.
Downey had followed his instructions to the letter. Tall candelabra burned on either side of the windows and a table had been set with all of Henrietta’s favorite foods: silver bowls of cream whipped into soft peaks, dotted with red berries (Henrietta had very firm feelings about the proper ratio of berries to cream, with the cream very much in the ascendant), candied fruits sparkling with sugar, and champagne cooling in a silver bucket.
Most importantly, there was Henrietta, in the blue silk dressing gown he liked the most, the reddish tints in her hair gleaming in the candlelight, her legs curled up underneath her in the comfy chair that had been moved into the optimal position between the fire and the bed.
Everything was exactly as he’d imagined it—minus the oysters. And with rather more ginger biscuits.
Miles tried to say something, inhaled biscuit crumbs the wrong way, and began to choke.
“Miles?” Henrietta scrambled up from her chair, showing a rather nice expanse of leg, which he would have enjoyed if he’d had the breath to appreciate it, and began pounding him on the back. “Miles? Are you all right? And what IS that smell?”
Miles rested his hands on his knees, chest heaving and eyes watering. “Haddock,” he gasped.
“Bless you,” said Henrietta. “Good heavens. Did you go swimming?”
“Off the pier,” said Miles, straightening. He looked his wife in the eye. “I missed the boat, Hen.”
Henrietta wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him on the nose. “You are so good to me,” she said fervently.
Miles tried to look at his wife and succeeded in going cross-eyed. “Huh?” She seemed to have missed a crucial point. “Hen, I missed the boat.”
“What you mean,” said Henrietta, her blue silk skirt swishing fetchingly as she went to the table to fetch the champagne bottle, which dripped trails of melted ice all down the front of her silk dressing gown, “is that you acceded to my ridiculous request even though it was a silly idea in the first place. I shouldn’t have asked you. And I should have listened when you tried to tell me about—about all this.” She wafted the dripping champagne bottle in the direction of the table and candles, nearly knocking over a burning taper. “I came home and found it all set up. I felt like—what IS the female equivalent of a cad?”
“I’m not sure there is one.” Miles felt rather as though he’d lost the script somewhere along the line. Wasn’t he supposed to be apologizing and declaring his love and all that sort of thing?
Instead, Henrietta was wrestling with the champagne bottle, right next to a plate of biscuits and berries arranged in the shape of a heart with his name spelled out in hothouse raspberries.
“Well,” said his wife, “if there wasn’t before, there is now and I’m it. Do you think cad-ette has a good ring to it? Or perhaps caderina.”
“Steady on there!” The champagne bottle was pointing right at the pane of the window. “Let me.”
Henrietta relinquished the bottle. “See?” said Henrietta emphatically. “This is exactly what I mean.”
“About what?” The cork popped neatly out of the bottle with a happy little fizz. Miles smelled champagne, ginger biscuit, and Henrietta’s floral soap, a distinctly heady combination. He had drowned and gone to Henrietta heaven.
On second thought, it he were in Heaven, his breeches wouldn’t be quite so itchy. He could still feel the sand squelching between his toes.
Henrietta held out her glass to him. “The champagne bottle—tonight—everything. You’re always there to make things right for me, even before I realize I need righting. You go off on fool’s errands to keep me from getting my feet cold. Who needs dragon’s heads when they have this?”
“Er, Hen?” Miles looked dubiously at the champagne bottle. It appeared to still be full. “Are you haven’t been knocking this back?”
“I’m not foxed,” said Henrietta. She accepted a brimming glass from him, licking the champagne off her hand when it sloshed over the side. “I’m just—well, I’m rather dizzy about you.”
“What?” That licking thing was a little distracting. “Dizzy?” Was that a good thing? And didn’t she mind that he smelled like dead fish?
Henrietta stepped closer, dead fish or no dead fish, and put a hand on his grimy lapel. “I just want you to know that you do matter. You matter more to me than anyone. What you said, about my always paying more attention to everyone else—”
“Never mind that.” Best not to revisit that, not when she was looking at him like that and her robe was clinging to her like that. He was fairly certain she wasn’t wearing anything under it. “Let’s just drink our champagne and get on with the I love you bit. If you would go and sit in the chair, over there….”
“No,” said Henrietta. That was his Henrietta. She’d always been good at standing her ground; it was the reason why he’d spent half his youth playing dolls instead of toy soldiers. Henrietta would just look at him and say “no” and there they’d be. “You were right. It’s true.” She put a hand on his arm, regardless of the lingering crustiness from his fall off the pier. “I have been taking you for granted.”
“No, you haven’t!” said Miles, indignant on her behalf.
Henrietta popped a strawberry in his mouth. “Yes, I have. I’ve been trying to pretend that everything is exactly the same as it was—and it’s not. We’re an us now. And that’s a good thing.” She took a deep breath and clasped her hands together. “Isn’t it.”
“Mm-hmm.” Miles swallowed the strawberry and grabbed for her hands. “That’s exactly what this is all about. I wanted to make a grand gesture, a proper grand gesture without spies or Turnip—”
“—or one of my friends popping up,” Henrietta provided.
Miles nodded. “I wanted to make up for not giving you any of the things that you ought to have had: a proper proposal, a proper wedding.”
“I liked our improper wedding!” said Henrietta. “Well, aside from the way Richard was scowling. I was afraid he was going to go after you with a fish knife.”
Miles decided it was time to turn the conversation away from fish. “And the worst of it is,” he said, “I never had the chance to tell you properly how I love you.”
Henrietta scrunched her nose at him. “But you do,” she said. “Every day. Every time you bring me my morning chocolate, every time you fetch my books from Hatchard’s so I don’t have to go out into the cold—every time you carry my parcels or go shopping with my mother.”
“But that’s nothing special,” he said, bewildered.
Henrietta smiled up at him. “You only think that because you’re you,” she said. She stood on her tiptoes to press her lips to his cheek. “You, Mr. Dorrington, have an extremely generous soul.”
“You’re so good to be good to,” said Miles, rather incoherently. “It make me happy to make you happy. When you’re happy you get this little glint—I can’t describe it precisely—yes, that one, just like that.”
Henrietta gave him one of her Henrietta looks, the slightly supercilious one. “A glint?”
“It’s like a glow, but more glint-y,” explained Miles. “Never mind. The point is that I think you’re rather wonderful, and if I could, I’d go back and do it all again, the right way around.”
Henrietta did that glint-y thing. “You mean you’d propose before we got married?” She shook her head. “That would be silly. I prefer us the way we are, harum scarum and topsy turvy.” She tilted her head to one side. “Or what was that that Turnip called us that time? Havey cavey.”
“We are not havey cavey,” said Miles sternly. “Even if we are rather topsy turvy.”
If they were going to topsy turvy….
Struck by a sudden idea, he thrust his champagne glass into her hand. Hang on,” he said, and bolted for the door.
Henrietta made a face at him, shrugged, and sipped philosophically from his glass.
Miles returned holding Bunny by the feet. “Ooops,” he said, and turned Bunny right side up. “All right. This goes here”—he put Bunny down on a footstool—“and you go here”—he shepherded Henrietta into a chair—“and I go here.” He plopped down onto the floor at Henrietta’s feet.
Ooops, he’d landed right on the squeaky floorboard.
“Miles… what are you doing?”
Miles wafted Henrietta back into her chair. “Just stay there. Henrietta Anne Selwick, if we weren’t already married, would you marry me?”
Henrietta snorted champagne bubbles up her nose. “You brought my stuffed animal as a witness?”
Miles looked at her gravely. “You would never lie in front of Bunny.”
“Get up you, fool,” said Henrietta, but she was smiling as she said it. “Of course, I would marry you. I hid behind a bush for you! I made a complete cake of myself for you.”
“I take it that’s a yes?” Miles didn’t wait for her to answer; he swept her up off the chair with a happy whooshing noise.
Henrietta wrapped her arms around his neck. “We have Bunny and biscuits,” she said. “How could we possibly go wrong?”
Happy Valentine’s Day, all!