Alice Part 3

V.

This wood was different from the last. It was large and dim and the trees were more real-looking. Here and there were giant mushrooms that glowed faintly with a dim phosphorescence. Alice wondered if she would bump into any other famous characters soon.

After a time, she heard what sounded like drunken singing somewhere ahead, and the clinking of china cups.

Surely it couldn’t be…?

She came out into a clearing in the wood.

There was a large wooden table, set out as though for a tea party, and at the head of the table sat the Mad Hatter. His eyes were closed as though dozing, but he nodded along as if in a trance to some jazz music that came from a small digital radio. The March Hare was dipping crumpets into a bowl of cream, hiccupping and singing softly to himself. She noticed the Dormouse curled up on the table, snoozing next to the teapot.

When the March Hare saw Alice he started, and threw a crumpet at the Hatter. The Hatter’s eyes snapped open and focused on Alice.

“Alice!” he cried. “How lovely to see you!”

Alice had that odd, out-of-place feeling again. “There must be a mistake,” she began, “I’m not your Alice –.”

The Hatter looked down and patted his pockets in confusion, then checked himself.

“I never said you were, I just greeted you as Alice because I know you are an Alice!”

“He calls everybody that,” said the March Hare, hiccoughing.

“Please, sit down, sit down, and have a cup of tea!” said the Hatter.

Alice sat at the table, the opposite end from the Mad Hatter. She pushed a pile of dirty cups and saucers away from her.

“You must have been here a long time. There are cups and plates everywhere.”

“Time?! There is no Time here, Alice, except the present. For here it is forever five, and forever tea-time! Will you have a crumpet?”

“Um, okay,” said Alice, hoping secretly it would be served on a clean plate.

The March Hare threw her a crumpet, which she caught one-handed, and he giggled.

“Be a lamb, old sport, and throw her the butter too,” said the Hatter.

“It’s okay!” said Alice. “No really – I’ll get it myself.”

As she rose to get the butter, she looked around the table and saw there were many empty places with clean cups and saucers set in front of them, as though they were expecting guests.

“Who are they for?”

“Why, they’re for us. We merely move on a place when we’re finished.”

“What happens when you run out of places?”

Here the Hatter looked alarmed, and the March Hare started singing loudly while banging the table with his teaspoon:

“Twinkle, twinkle little bat!
Twinkle, twinkle little bat!
Twinkle, twinkle little bat!
Twinkle, twinkle little bat!”

The Dormouse stirred and mumbled in his sleep.

“Don’t mind the Hare,” the Hatter said confidentially to Alice through the uproar. “He has OCD.”

“Now, let’s change the subject,” he said, louder this time. “How about a riddle? They’re always fun! Pray, can you tell me, Alice, why a raven is like a writing desk?” The March Hare quietened down.

“I know the answer to that!” Alice said eagerly, thinking that here was a riddle she could answer at last. “It’s because Edgar Allan Poe wrote on both.”

The Hatter’s eyes widened and he took a small tatty notebook from his waistcoat pocket. He flicked through its pages and said, “That’s quite a good answer. Better than the one Mr Carroll gave… He said they both produce a few notes, though very flat, and you can’t put either of them wrong-end-first…”

Alice’s ears pricked at the mention of “Mr Carroll”.

“Wait – “Mr Carroll”? Do you mean Lewis Carroll?”

“The very same.”

“Is he here then?”

“Oh no, he’s not here. You can’t see him, can you? He lives in the White Tower.” And as he said it Alice could hear the capital letters dropping into place of their own accord.

“Yes, a nice chap,” The Hatter continued, “An inventor.”

“He invented you,” thought Alice.

“Tart?” said the March Hare.

Alice started. “What? Oh, no thank you.”

“Bread and butter? Battenberg? Biscuit?”

“I’m fine, thank you, really.”

“How about more tea?”

Alice looked at her empty teacup. “I haven’t got any tea yet. How can I have more?”

“You can’t have less. But you can always have more than none.”

Ah, semantics. Alice decided not to argue, and reached for the teapot instead.

“Selfie!” cried the March Hare, and he produced a smartphone from his waistcoat pocket and snapped a photo of them at arm’s length.

“This can go on my Instagammon account,” he said, looking at his phone.

Well, this was a Wonderland full of surprises.

The March Hare then pulled out a bottle of whiskey from his other waistcoat pocket.

“A drop of whiskey for your tea?” he asked Alice.

The Mad Hatter giggled like a twelve-year-old who was in on something naughty.

“I’m fine, thank you,” said Alice.

“Suit yourself,” said the Hare, and he took a big swig from the bottle, then passed it to the Hatter. The Dormouse hiccoughed in his sleep.

“I think now would be an excellent time for a sing-song!” announced the Hatter. “Who’s with me?”

And here the March Hare consented with a drunken “Hurrah!” The Hatter did not wait for further encouragement, but leapt up onto the table, upsetting tea things as he did so, and he began to caper about as he sang, merrily:

“Oh, better far to live and die
Under tea’s influence – I fly! –
Then play a well-betrodden part
With a hatter’s head and a hatter’s heart.
Away to the “normal” world go you,
Where people still lace-up their shoes
But I’ll be true to the thing I be
And shout: “A hatter – that is me!”

“For I am a hatter – hurrah!
And it is, it is a glorious thing
To be a hatter! Hurrah!

“When I sally forth to pour my tea
I call myself the royal “we”
And eat a few more tarts, it’s true,
Than a cultured hatter ought to do.
But even the Queen on her high-class throne,
If she wants to call her crown her own,
Must manage somehow to get through
More scrumptious tarts than ever I do.

“For I am a hatter – hurrah!
And it is, it is a glorious thing
To be a hatter! Hurrah!

“For I am a hatter – hurrah!
And it is, it is a glorious thing
To be a hatter! HURRAH!!!”

Alice was left with a slight ringing in her ears after this little display. Amazingly, the Dormouse hadn’t woken up. She wondered how he could sleep through such a racket. She gently prodded him with the end of her teaspoon. He giggled, said “Fudge!” then carried on snoring.

When they had settled down again (although the March Hare kept intermittingly banging the table and shouting “Hurrah!”) she asked the question that had been on her mind.

“How do I get to the White Tower from here?”

“You must go through the Dark Forest yonder,” said the Hatter mysteriously, waving an arm in a vague direction behind him.

“Is it far?”

The Hatter took out a pocket watch and consulted it.

“Seven steps from here,” he said decisively.

But Alice knew the tower was more than just a few steps away.

“The White Knight will show you the way,” continued the Hatter.

“Seven steps,” muttered the Dormouse in his sleep. “Seven steps”.

It made no sense to Alice, but she wasn’t going to argue with these eccentrics. At least she had something to go on: she knew she had to go through the Dark Forest, and the White Knight would show her the way – or was the Hatter simply talking nonsense? If ever there was a warning for the effects of too much caffeine, he was it.

She rose from her seat.

“Don’t go!” cried the Hatter. “Stay and have your tea!”

“Or at least a Bakewell tart,” said the Hare.

“I want to find Lewis Carroll. I need to speak to him,” said Alice. And as she said it, she knew it was true, though she didn’t know why.

“At least don’t go without provisions!” cried the Hatter. “You’ll need all your strength in the Dark Forest.”

And here they began to ply her with biscuits and cakes, cramming them into the pockets of her cardigan. The March Hare tried to give her a teapot to carry, but she flatly refused this. And so, with her pockets full of crumbling sweetmeats, she thanked them for their kindness and went on her way.

“What do they do if they need to sleep?” wondered Alice. For she got the strong impression, you know, that they never left that table.