ALICE'S ADVENTURES, IN A NUTSHELL by M.R. Branwen
from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
ALICE HAD BEGUN TO THINK that very few things indeed were really impossible, so many out-of-the-way things had happened lately.
She walked a little and then found herself, at last, in a beautiful garden, among bright flower-beds and cool fountains. A large rose-tree stood near the entrance of the garden: the roses growing on it were white, but there were three gardeners at it -- shaped oblong and flat, with their hands and feet at the corners -- busily painting them red.
She was a little startled by seeing a Cheshire Cat sitting on a bough of a tree a few yards off. The Cat only grinned when it saw Alice. It looked good-natured, she thought: still it had VERY long claws and a great many teeth, so she felt that it ought to be treated with respect.
‘Cheshire Puss,’ she began, rather timidly, ‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’
‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.
‘I don’t much care where–’ said Alice.
‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.
‘–so long as I get SOMEWHERE,’ Alice added as an explanation.
‘Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, ‘if you only walk long enough.’
Alice felt that this could not be denied, so she tried another question.
‘What sort of people live about here?’
‘In THAT direction,’ the Cat said, waving its right paw round, ‘lives a Hatter: and in THAT direction,’ waving the other paw, ‘lives a March Hare. Visit either you like: they’re both mad.’
‘But I don’t want to go among mad people,’ Alice remarked.
‘Oh, you can’t help that,’ said the Cat: ‘we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.’
‘How do you know I’m mad?’ said Alice.
‘You must be,’ said the Cat, ‘or you wouldn’t have come here. Do you take tea with the Queen to-day?’
‘I should like it very much,’ said Alice, ‘but I haven’t been invited yet.’
‘You’ll see me there,’ said the Cat, and vanished.
Across the garden was a table set out under a tree. The table was a large one, but the occupants were crowded together at one corner of it: ‘No room! No room!’ they cried out when they saw Alice coming.
‘There’s PLENTY of room!’ said Alice indignantly, and she sat down in a large arm-chair at one end of the table.
Alice looked round the table; the March Hare and the Hatter were having tea at it. A Dormouse was sitting between them, fast asleep, and the other two were using it as a cushion, resting their elbows on it, and talking over its head.
‘Have some wine,’ the March Hare said in an encouraging tone.
There was nothing on the table but tea.
‘I don’t see any wine,’ she remarked.
‘There isn’t any,’ said the March Hare.
‘Then it wasn’t very civil of you to offer it,’ said Alice angrily.
‘It wasn’t very civil of you to sit down without being invited,’ said the March Hare.
The Hatter opened his eyes very wide on hearing this; but all he SAID to Alice was, ‘YOU should say what you mean.’
‘I do,’ Alice hastily replied; ‘at least–at least I mean what I say–that’s the same thing.’
‘Not the same thing a bit!’ said the Hatter. ‘You might just as well say that “I see what I eat” is the same thing as “I eat what I see”!’
Alice considered a little, and then said, ‘I shouldn’t be hungry, you know.’
‘Suppose we change the subject,’ the Doormouse interrupted, yawning. ‘I’m getting tired of this. I vote the young lady tells us a story.’
‘I’m afraid I don’t know one,’ said Alice, rather alarmed at the proposal, as she helped herself to some tea and bread-and-butter. ‘I don’t think–’
‘Then you shouldn’t talk,’ said the Hatter.
This piece of rudeness was more than Alice could bear: she got up in great disgust. At this moment the Dormouse, who had been anxiously looking across the garden, called out ‘The Queen! The Queen!’ There was a sound of many footsteps, and Alice looked round, eager to see the Queen.
First came ten soldiers carrying clubs; these were all shaped like the three gardeners: next the ten courtiers; these were ornamented all over with diamonds, and walked two and two, as the soldiers did. After these came the royal children; there were ten of them, and the little dears came jumping merrily along hand in hand, in couples: they were all ornamented with hearts. Next came the guests, mostly Kings and Queens, and among them Alice recognised the White Rabbit: it was talking in a hurried nervous manner, smiling at everything that was said, and went by without noticing her. Then followed the Knave of Hearts, carrying the King’s crown on a crimson velvet cushion; and, last of all this grand procession, came THE KING AND QUEEN OF HEARTS.
When the procession came opposite to Alice, they all stopped and looked at her, and the Queen said severely ‘Who is this?’ She said it to the Knave of Hearts, who only bowed and smiled in reply.
‘Idiot!’ said the Queen, tossing her head impatiently; and, turning to Alice, she went on, ‘What’s your name, child?’
‘My name is Alice, so please your Majesty,’ said Alice very politely; but she added, to herself, ‘Why, they’re only a pack of cards, after all. I needn’t be afraid of them!’
‘And who are THESE?’ said the Queen, pointing to the tea party.
‘How should I know?’ said Alice, surprised at her own courage. ‘It’s no business of MINE.’
The Queen turned crimson with fury, and, after glaring at her for a moment like a wild beast, the King laid his hand upon her arm, and timidly said ‘Consider, my dear: she is only a child!’
‘Get up!’ said the Queen, in a shrill, loud voice, and the Hare, the Hatter and the Doormouse instantly jumped up, and began bowing to the King, the Queen, the royal children, and everybody else.
‘Leave off that!’ screamed the Queen. ‘You make me giddy. What HAVE you been doing here?’
‘May it please your Majesty,’ said the March Hare, ‘we were asking riddles–’
‘Off with his head!’ said The Queen, without even looking round.
‘I’ll fetch the executioner,’ said the King.
Alice began to feel very uneasy: to be sure, she had not as yet had any dispute with the Queen, but she knew that it might happen any minute, ‘and then,’ thought she, ‘what would become of me? They’re dreadfully fond of beheading people here; the great wonder is, that there’s any one left alive!’
The procession moved on, three of the soldiers remaining behind to execute the unfortunate tea party, who ran to Alice for protection.
‘You shan’t be beheaded!’ said Alice, and she hid them behind a large flower-pot that stood near. The three soldiers wandered about for a minute or two, looking for them, and then quietly marched off after the others.
‘Are their heads off?’ shouted the Queen.
‘Their heads are gone, if it please your Majesty!’ the soldiers shouted in reply.
Alice was looking about for some way of escape, and wondering whether she could get away without being seen, when she noticed a curious appearance in the air: it puzzled her very much at first, but, after watching it a minute or two, she made it out to be a grin, and she said to herself ‘It’s the Cheshire Cat: now I shall have somebody to talk to.’
‘How do you like the Queen?’ said the Cat in a low voice, as soon as there was mouth enough for it to speak with.
‘Not at all,’ said Alice: ‘she’s so extremely–’
‘Who ARE you talking to?’ said the King, going up to Alice, and looking at the Cat’s head with great curiosity.
‘It’s a friend of mine–a Cheshire Cat,’ said Alice: ‘allow me to introduce it.’
‘I don’t like the look of it at all,’ said the King: ‘however, it may kiss my hand if it likes.’
‘I’d rather not,’ the Cat remarked.
‘Don’t be impertinent,’ said the King, ‘and don’t look at me like that!’ He got behind Alice as he spoke.
‘A cat may look at a king,’ said Alice. ‘I’ve read that in some book, but I don’t remember where.’
‘Well, it must be removed,’ said the King very decidedly, and he called the Queen, who was passing at the moment, ‘My dear! I wish you would have this cat removed!’
The Queen had only one way of settling all difficulties, great or small. ‘Off with his head!’ she said.
A large crowd collected round the Cheshire Cat: there was a dispute going on between the executioner, the King, and the Queen, who were all talking at once, while all the rest were quite silent, and looked very uncomfortable.
Finally Alice was appealed to by all three to settle the question, and they repeated their arguments to her, though, as they all spoke at once, she found it very hard indeed to make out exactly what they said.
The executioner’s argument was, that you couldn’t cut off a head unless there was a body to cut it off from: that he had never had to do such a thing before, and he wasn’t going to begin at HIS time of life.
The King’s argument was, that anything that had a head could be beheaded, and that you weren’t to talk nonsense.
The Queen’s argument was, that if something wasn’t done about it in less than no time she’d have everybody executed, all round. (It was this last remark that had made the whole party look so grave and anxious.)
Alice could think of nothing else to say but ‘It belongs to the Duchess: you’d better ask HER about it.’
‘She’s in prison,’ the Queen said to the executioner: ‘fetch her here.’ And the executioner went off like an arrow.
The Cat’s head began fading away the moment he was gone, and, by the time he had come back with the Duchess, it had entirely disappeared; so the King and the executioner ran wildly up and down looking for it.
‘You can’t think how glad I am to meet you, you dear thing!’ said the Duchess, as she tucked her arm affectionately into Alice’s, and they walked off together.
M.R. BRANWEN is the senior reader of unsolicited fiction at Harvard Review. Her poetry has been published in Thieves Jargon, Harvard Summer Review, and the ever fascinating Metazen (www.metazen.ca). She lives in Los Angeles, CA where she attempts (and usually fails) to find time to do her own writing. On the whole, her little lit mag (i.e., this little lit mag) is exceeding her expectations in every way and she hopes you like it, too.