- at which Cake tries birthday cake and meets two famous rabbits -
Cake was so excited he could hardly find words. He'd just been invited to tea for the first time in his life. It hadn't been a formal invitation, exactly. What had happened was that he overheard the Lady at breakfast, asking Miss Nellie if she'd like to have a tea party with her friends for her birthday? And Miss Nellie had replied "You would," meaning she would. And would she like to invite Cake and Crumb? And she had replied "You would," meaning she would, and so the matter was settled. There would be a tea party at 10:30, as soon as Miss Nellie finished her breakfast, and as soon as the Lady could set the table and make the tea and round up all the guests. Cake could hardly stay on the window sill. And once when the Lady left the room, he recklessly considered making a run for the table to help Miss Nellie finish her dreaded porridge.
But the Lady came back before he could act, so now he sat, positively trembling, unable to vent any of his feelings, forced to sit dumbly and wait for the Lady to fetch him, when he jolly well wanted to have a look in the mirror and perhaps jump onto the interweb for a quick refresher of tea party etiquette. He wondered what Crumb was thinking. Had she much experience with tea? He supposed she had; she seemed to know about everything. He watched the Lady lay out the cloth and set the flowers and china in their places. Ah, there was one large cup, and one smaller cup, and one, two, three, four very small cups and saucers. Four? Why four? Cake counted in his mind. No, he and Crumb were only two. That was quite right. Surely they didn't each get two cups of tea? And if so, did one hold a cup in each hand and alternate drinking from both? Or did one drink one of the cups first, and then move on to the second cup? Oh dear, he really felt quite beyond his depth. If only he'd had some warning of the tea party he would have read all about it. He was most unprepared. Confound that lady and her eternal fussing!
The Lady was slicing a tiny pink cake and dishing out pieces onto small plates. And here was Miss Nellie, wearing a new birthday dress and cardigan, looking very smart. The Lady went out of the room again and Cake looked down at himself. He wasn't wearing his kitchen apron today, thankfully; he was entirely without dress. He desperately wished the Lady would mark the occasion by presenting him with a bowtie or the like. That would look fine. He had dreams of a jacket and waistcoat, but he would be quite content to have a necktie. At this moment, the Lady returned, carrying two rabbits whom Cake didn't recognize. Miss Nellie stood, tugging at the table cloth, anxious to have her tea and cake. The Lady set the unknown rabbits beside two cups of tea and two plates of cake and then came and lifted Cake and Crumb from their spots on the window.
Now everyone was seated. The Lady made introductions. The White Rabbit? But surely not, Cake thought. The White Rabbit from the book? Outside of being a very great age by this point, what would he be doing here, of all places? My goodness, but he must be over one hundred years old! And dressed so well, though the clothes were showing their years, Cake thought. A bit outdated, a bit yellowed, but very elegant for their time. Cake couldn't wear purple or wine tones himself; they clashed with his coat, but he did admire a hare who could. Oh, how he wished the Lady had given him a necktie! To be forced to sit at tea with The White Rabbit wearing nothing at all! How common, how simple, how juvenile, the White Rabbit must think him! He was brought back to himself by a very small sniff issuing from his right side. It was Crumb, who was sitting quite still, just as he was, waiting to be asked to help herself to the refreshments. She was sniffing, it seemed, in response to the Lady's introduction of the second rabbit, "The Easter Bunny."
The Easter Bunny? That little thing? Oh tosh, what was the world coming to? He was having tea with The White Rabbit AND the Easter Bunny and he wasn't wearing a stitch, though he was rather glad he wasn't wearing whatever sort of head ribbon the Easter Bunny had tied round her ears. He wasn't sure if it was functional or decorative, but he thought perhaps it was meant to be artistic, as she seemed rather aloof and her frock was stained with paint. She was hiding under the flower arrangement as if she didn't want to be there. And he was sure he saw her lip curl as she watched Miss Nellie drop cake into her tea. But that couldn't be! My goodness, though, if that was the Easter Bunny.... Perhaps she was new to the job and hadn't quite warmed up to it yet. He couldn't very well see how she carried all the eggs and candy on those spindly little legs. He had always imagined the Easter Bunny as a stout, matronly type of rabbit. This little thing had just refused cake because she was on a "cleanse." She was only eating "soft greens and fruit." There was another sniff from his left side.
The Lady invited Cake and Crumb to try the cake. Miss Nellie had already spilled her cup of tea and eaten all her frosting and was now trying to stir his tea with her cake fork. "Try it! Try it!" She urged Cake, and pressed his nose down towards a plate of cake. Which did smell delightful, now that he was up close. He took a bite. In that moment everything else, the manners and the world-famous rabbits and his lack of a necktie, all Cake's earthly cares, floated away. Oh heaven! So this was cake! What a miraculous creation! Why had he wasted so much of his life without it? He took another bite, and another. He knew now why folks went on getting older, despite all the drawbacks: it was for the birthday cake. Of course a body could survive another year with the prospect of a whole cake of their own to greet them on the other side.
Cake's cake was disappearing rapidly, and Crumb began to sniff loudly, hoping to call him back to himself. He had rather lost all restraint and was now shoveling cake frenziedly, using his paws and a large silver fork in turn. The Easter Bunny, who had remained reserved and rather disdainful throughout the pleasantries, was now watching Cake with wide, horrified eyes. The White Rabbit was peering at Cake from beneath his bushy eyebrows and over the top of his teacup rather wisely, as though he had met his kind of animal before. And indeed he had met at least one little girl in his life who enjoyed cake as almost as much as Cake the Rabbit was at this moment. The White Rabbit himself had never much cared for cake; it was too messy. It soiled one's gloves, and he was particular about his gloves. He preferred a nice, crisp biscuit. Ah, well. He was past the age of expecting too much, especially from young people. This young mother knew nothing of tea, that was clear enough. She hadn't offered milk or sugar. And the tea itself seemed to be some sort of greenish hue.
Now Miss Nellie, having finished her own cake, had grown antsy, and was excused to play. The Lady, after gulping down the last of her (cold) tea, hurried after her to help her find the book she wanted and make sure her hands were clean. Cake was just eating the last of his cake when he noticed they were alone. He thought he may have rather lost his manners a few moments ago while he was eating his cake, and it took all his self-control to walk past the remaining birthday cake and introduce himself to The White Rabbit and the Easter Bunny.
"It's wonderful to meet you, sir," said Cake, taking The White Rabbit's paw enthusiastically between his own. "I'm an awfully big admirer of you, of course what young rabbit isn't? You do such wonderful work - But I can't tell you what an honor it is, and what a very handsome waistcoat you have! You MUST give me the name of your tailor! I'm afraid all my own clothes are being cleaned at the moment - terrible inconvenience, of course - I was invited today on VERY short notice - but I couldn't refuse - I've known little Miss Nellie since birth, as it was - 'Uncle Cake-y' she calls me, and you know what little girls are! Of course you do, of course you do! - so I came as I'm made, you might say, haha! " Here Cake motioned apologetically to his naked limbs, and noticed that he was covered in cake crumbs and bits of icing.
"I say, DO forgive me, madam! Cake the Rabbit, your servant," said Cake, extending his paw and brushing crumbs off his chest with the other.
"Charmed," returned the Easter Bunny, tonelessly, extending a limpid paw. "You enjoy refined sugar," she said flatly, motioning to the cake.
"Er, well, the cake, you mean? Oh, yes, rather. Of course I relish my greens as much as the next rabbit, but every now and then a bit of 'refined sugar,' as you say, is just the thing! I was feeling rather peckish before the tea - low blood sugar, you know - er, well. Jolly! Yes. Well .... This is your peak season, isn't it?" asked Cake. "However did we manage to steal you away from all your preparations?"
"Hmmm?" the Easter Bunny asked, turning her head slowly back towards Cake. "Oh, for sure. I'm totally shattered. The kids will get what they get, I suppose. You can't force art, you know? It's a process. Everyone's always like 'Oh, Marigold's favorite color is pink! Can you do something in pink for her?' and 'Oh, Julian's favorite thing is dinosaurs. Can you do something with dinosaurs for him?' I can't even begin..... They don't get it. It doesn't work like that. I'm just the vessel through which it passes, right? If they don't like the eggs, they just weren't ready to receive them, you know?"
Cake's eyes grew wide as he listened to this speech and he nodded vaguely as if he understood, but just then he heard the Lady saying she had to get something from the kitchen. Hastily he backtracked to his side of the table and sat down again beside Crumb. The Lady filled a glass with water, looked at the clock, murmured something about "lunch" and "mess," and left the room again. In a moment she was back and picked up The White Rabbit and the Easter Bunny from the table, carrying them into the next room.
"Well!" sniffed Crumb in her most scandalized whisper. "What do you make of all THAT? I don't believe for a second that she's the REAL Easter Bunny. What business does SHE have working around children? She doesn't even like them! What's she going to put in their baskets? Prunes? Dates? A bouquet of leafy greens? What's she talking about a CLEANSE??? I'll give her a CLEANSE! 'Oh, I'm not eating refined sugar,' " Crumb simpered, flailing her paws around.
"Shhhhh! My dear Crumb, try to keep your voice down! She's only in the next room! But I DO wish we'd had some warning of all this. The Lady might have told us last night so I would have had time to prepare myself. How was my comportlement? Was I right in my manners?" Cake asked anxiously.
"Well, if diving headfirst into your cake and stuffing with your paws is part of comportment, you did admirably," Crumb said mercilessly. "And if ringing old rabbit's hands off while covered in crumbs and telling bald lies and dropping clangers left and right is comportment, then yes; you were very 'right' in your manners."
Cake hung his head. "Oh, Crumb. I'm afraid I lost my head today. I did make an utter fool of myself, didn't I? I was so anxious for everything to go well, and then The White Rabbit and the Easter Bunny showed up and I felt rather out of my league. And ashamed not to have any fine clothes. And then the cake. Ah, the cake. I say, the cake!" exclaimed Cake, turning around to look over his shoulder. "The cake is still there! Just sitting there, half a cake! Do you think the Lady would notice if I just sliced off a small piece? Or perhaps I could take a bit from both sides... would that be less noticeable?"
"Cake! You'll do no such thing! I absolutely forbid you to lay a paw on that cake! Of COURSE she'll notice. She always notices when the Man sneaks food, doesn't she? Now pull yourself together! You must let the cake go. There will be more birthdays and more cakes in the future. And more tea parties, too, if you haven't completely turned the Lady off them with your very fine comportment. So! You want some clothes, do you? And I want a few things myself. We must see what we can do about that. I have an idea," and Crumb proceeded to lay out her plan.
This is how the Lady found them when she came to clear the table, side by side, Cake's head bent down towards Crumb, as if they were talking. "Poor Cake," she said, brushing the crumbs off him. The little girl had pushed him head-first into a plate of cake. She hoped all the frosting would come off.