The author of this story, David Benedictus, was featured in Inklette’s first issue. Click here to read his interview.
Author Statement: “This story is an abandoned attempt at a sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll.”
Chapter One: Into the Clouds
It was a long time between lunch and tea, and there was nothing to do. The housemaid had been taken sick and there would probably be no scones for tea. Alice’s sister was in the hammock under the chestnut tree and seemingly asleep; at least when Alice called to her she failed to reply.
‘I don’t see much point in a sister,’ Alice thought, ‘if all she does is eat and sleep. She’ll get fat and people will laugh at her and serve her right! And we never finished our game of snakes and ladders and if she had been winning she would have insisted on finishing. But Alice had hidden the dice and her sister had grown bored with looking for it.
Alice sat down at the piano and began practising her exercise piece which was called: ‘Mevagissey: An Idyll’ but there were too many sharps and flats and her left hand seemed not to know what her right hand was doing so she left the piano and reopened the book where she had put the bookmark in, and read a sentence which she was sure she had read before. The book was about the Kings and Queens of England and was full of dates.
‘What’s the good of dates?’ wondered Alice and she must have wondered out loud because her question was answered in a croaky voice:
‘If there weren’t any dates you would never have been born and if you had never been born you would not be here to ask that question.’
Surprised as Alice was to have had her question answered (and, she could not help thinking, in rather a rude manner) she was even more startled when she realised that the croaky voice emerged from the beak of a large bird – some kind of crow, she thought – and that the bird was perched on the arm of her chair with its sleek head on one side and a rather mean eye staring at her.
‘Well anyway,’ said Alice, ‘I don’t think that’s any way to start a conversation. We haven’t even been introduced.’
‘No time for all that now,’ the bird croaked, ‘not if we are to be there in time.’
‘Where? And in time for what?’
‘Too many questions,’ cackled the crow, ‘too many questions. Hop up!’
Before she knew it Alice found herself on the bird’s back, hanging on for dear life, as the bird sailed towards the clouds. One of these was in the shape of a castle with battlements and a drawbridge.
‘I do hope we’re not going to land there,’ Alice thought. ‘It doesn’t look at all prepossessing.’
But almost as if it could read her thoughts the bird altered course and made directly for the very darkest patch of cloud. There was an unexpected gust of wind and Alice’s hair blew across her face, stinging her eyes. There was a rumble of thunder.
‘If you can hear the thunder you are safe from the lightning,’ Alice thought, ‘or is it the other way about? If you hear the bark does that mean that the dog won’t bite? Oh really . . .’
But by then the crow and Alice were sailing through the darkness and being buffeted about in a quite shocking manner.
‘What’s your name?’ shouted Alice but before the bird could answer her question – if indeed it had heard it at all – a gust of wind caught them amidships and Alice found herself falling through the clouds which were becoming thicker all the time until they were almost solid like marshmallow or porridge with lumps in it, when suddenly she landed on one of the bumps with quite a jolt.
It was raining and so cold that Alice’s first thought was to try to find shelter, but all at once:
‘Come along! Come along!’ cried a Beadle – at least Alice thought he must be a Beadle because he was carrying an ornamental staff and that’s what Beadles did according to the A-Z book – ‘Everyone’s waiting for you’.
‘I didn’t think anyone knew I was here,’ said Alice, and then added: ‘Did you know that one of your mother-of-pearl buttons is missing? I could sew it on for you if you like.’
‘It’s gone,’ said the Beadle, who had long gingery whiskers which seemed to be growing longer all the time, ‘they peck them off, you know. You don’t have a spare, I suppose?’
‘I can’t answer questions when I’m so wretchedly cold and wet, and it isn’t really fair of you to ask them.’
‘You started it,’ said the Beadle. ‘Besides it isn’t really fair of you to keep everybody waiting.’
‘Why can’t they start without me?’
At this moment two storks landed, one either side of Alice. They were carrying between them a wicker basket from which they took the coronation regalia which consisted of: a heavy purple robe (rather creased) and a crown and sceptre (rather battered). As they removed Alice’s wet dress and replaced it with the robe they chattered to one another just as if Alice was not there.
‘She’s rather thin,’ said the first stork, whose name was Mangle. ‘They ought to have warned us.’
Worzel replied: ‘It’s too late now. We’ll just have to do the best we can. Hold still, child, so we can put on the coronation robes.’
‘I would be still,’ said Alice, ‘if you didn’t both keep messing me about. I’m not a doll you know. Ow!’
Mangle had been tugging at her hair which was in knots as a result of the buffeting it had received, and was having some difficulty affixing the crown. Eventually it was secured on the top of her head, although rather skew-whiff.
‘It’ll have to do,’ said Worzel, ‘there’s no more time.’
‘How can there be no more time?’ Alice wanted to know. ‘If there wasn’t any more time tomorrow would never come.’
‘No more it does,’ grunted the Beadle. ‘But it never goes neither.’
‘What about yesterday?’ Alice wanted to know.
‘Too many questions! Too many questions!’ cried the storks in unison. ‘Now come along. That’s quite enough flapping about.’
And with the Beadle strutting ahead of them, tossing his staff into the air, and (usually) catching it, the storks led Alice to a pair of very grand double doors painted gold and with ormolu handles.
‘It wasn’t me who was flapping about,’ thought Alice, ‘or should it be I? Leastways I wasn’t flapping as much as they were.’
Chapter Two: Time For a Coronation
The doors opened on a vast and noisy assembly of animals dressed as people and people dressed as animals. Indeed you had to look carefully to work out which was which. On the floor a carpet, divided into coloured squares, stretched as far as the eye could see. When Alice appeared the onlookers fell silent and a haughty-looking giraffe stepped forward and cleared its throat. It bent its neck to take a closer look at Alice and then murmured:
‘Well, well, well . . .’
Then it straightened its neck again.
‘This seems to be the body,’ it continued.
‘I beg your pardon,’ said Alice crossly. (‘Granted,’ muttered the giraffe). ‘But I would have you know that I am not a body and I would thank you to call me by my proper name, which is Alice.’
‘Alice by name and Alice by nature,’ muttered a short, fat man dressed as a porker. He had had to remove an apple from his mouth before he spoke.
‘And what does that mean?’ Alice demanded.
‘Nothing, dear,’ said the fat man, ‘things don’t have to mean anything unless they choose to.’
‘Well, they do when I say them,’ said Alice, adjusting her crown, which really needed several pins to keep it in place, but there were none. ‘For example if I were to say: Take Him Away! I would expect . . .’
Before she had finished the sentence several beetles dressed as ushers scuttled up and removed the porker, no matter that he oinked most piteously. Another beetle sidled up with his cap in his hand and said to Alice: ‘That will be half a crown.’
‘She doesn’t carry money,’ the giraffe explained, ‘it would be beneath her.’
‘And everything is beneath you, I suppose,’ said Alice.
Just then a few deep chords played on an organ resounded and everybody adjusted their position until they were in two rows with an aisle between them, and at the end of the aisle the giraffe holding a large black book with gold tooling .
‘Do you take this man?’ the giraffe inquired in a sonorous voice.
‘What man?’ Alice replied rather crossly.
‘Wrong page,’ said the giraffe. ‘But are you sure you don’t want to get married?’
‘Even if I did there isn’t a man and there isn’t a ring and I thought the storks said these were coronation robes.’
At this the organ stopped abruptly and the giraffe cleared its throat once more.
‘Quite right. Coronation it is then. The game is on. But if you ever feel like getting married. . .’
‘How ridiculous!’ Alice cried. ‘I’m sure Dinah will never believe me when I tell her about this. And you need some lozenges for that cough.’
‘I had some,’ said the giraffe sadly, ‘but they got lost half way down.’
‘And while we’re on the subject why hasn’t anyone given me anything to eat?’
‘Through there,’ said the usher, whose name was Dawkins, and pointed to a small green garden gate that was partially concealed by ivy and convolvulus. On the gate was painted a sign which read Open Me. Alice lifted the latch and the gate opened to reveal a fine mahogany door which also bore a sign – albeit an engraved copper one – saying Open Me. As Alice pushed this door a third one was revealed and then a fourth and indeed so many doors that Alice muttered ‘I’ve had quite enough of this.’
‘You have?’ inquired the next door, a blue and yellow slatted affair, the sort you might find on a bathing machine. ‘What about us?’ But when Alice pushed this one open she was confronted by a tall green ladder with red slats.
‘Well really,’ Alice thought, ‘everybody knows that red and green are clashing colours.’ Nonetheless she put her foot on the first rung and climbed and climbed until she found herself on a platform where a large table covered with a linen cloth had been laid in readiness.
Chapter Three: A Queer Sort of Meal
There was just the one chair at the table and Alice, who found herself to be uncommonly hungry, sat in it. In front of her there was a large dish and upon it a table napkin. Lifting it up Alice uncovered piles of shrimps with wedges of lemon and a large pepperpot.
‘Splendid!’ thought Alice but no sooner had she picked up a shrimp than it uttered a high-pitched squawk and the words: ‘Not me! That one!’ But when she tried the next one she received the same response. Soon enough there was a babble of shrill voices and all of the shrimps crying out: ‘Not me! That one! Not me!’ Worst of all they had begun shaking their little heads.
‘Well really,’ thought Alice, ‘this is the queerest thing. But I can hardly eat them after they have been talking to me.’ So giving up on the shrimps she helped herself to a slice of brown bead and butter from which the crusts had been elegantly removed.
‘I wouldn’t if I were you,’ said a gruff voice and for the first time Alice observed a large brown bear slumped in a deck chair.
‘Well you’re not, so there!’ said Alice, so hungry that she had quite forgotten her manners, and took a bite. Almost at once the crown tumbled off her head and her hair, which had been so buffeted by the wind, began to curl in tendrils around her head and even over her face.
‘Don’t say I didn’t warn you,’ said the bear.
‘I wasn’t going to,’ said Alice.
‘In any case,’ growled the bear, ‘it’s rude to speak with your mouth full and your hair is a fright!’
‘I wish I could control it,’ said Alice, ‘but it seems to have acquired a life of its own.’
‘Hair today, but not gone tomorrow,’ said the bear and cackled horribly. Bears are not good at laughing because they get few opportunities to practise. ‘If you want to stop it growing you have to recite a poing.’
‘I don’t know any poings. Poems, I mean. Not all the way through.’
‘Then make one up of course. I should have thought that was obvious,’ and all the shrimps joined it:
‘Make one up! Make one up for us! Oh do.’
Removing her hair from in front of her eyes and wishing that she had a kirby grip to keep it in place, Alice stood up and announced:
‘Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary.’
‘Know it!’ cried the shrimps, waving their antennae in the air.
‘Alright then,’ said Alice, ‘how about Little Bo Peep?’
‘Who couldn’t sleep and counted sheep,’ offered the bear.
‘No, no, that’s not right at all!’ Alice stamped her foot. ‘It would be easier if you didn’t all keep interrupting.’ And she did her best to empty her mind of all preconceptions then announced:
‘The Snake That Lost Its Tail
One morning in April the snake took a walk
From his garden in Ringamaree
But the first thing he saw when he opened the door
Was the glittering sun on the sea.
I would walk if I could down the path through the wood
But I’m pretty well certain to fail
For no one would guess that a snake could progress
With a ring on the end of his tail.’
At this point in the poem when Alice was beginning to feel quite pleased with herself and thinking that she ought to write it down to give to her governess when she got back home that she was interrupted by the sound of sobbing. It was the shrimp who had spoken first, and whose name was Desmond. Through his sobs he managed to ask:
‘Was it a curtain ring or a wedding ring?’
‘How will he get by?’ another asked.
‘It could happen to any of us,’ said a third.
‘If we had tails.’
And rather grotesquely the shrimps wriggled around in the dish trying to see if they had tails or not.
‘Go on,’ growled the bear, ‘finish it! It’s very rude to leave a poem unfinished.’
‘Well it’s very rude of them’ Alice replied, ‘to keep on interrupting.’
‘Finish it! Finish it!’ squeaked the shrimps.
‘The bread or the poem?’
‘The bread, of course.’
‘Shan’t!’ said Alice, trying once more to control her hair.’
‘Then we will,’ said the shrimps and chanted together as if they were chanting their thrice times table:
‘If a snake has no tail
He will go out and buy one
Bring it home in a pail -’
The bear chimed in: ‘It is bigger than my one.’
The shrimps continued: ‘And when he gets home
He will try to attach it
With nails and some paste – ’
Again the bear came in with: ‘In case I might snatch it!’
‘I have had quite enough of this foolishness,’ remarked Alice having to raise her voice to be heard, ‘and not nearly enough of the bread-and-butter. Where should I go to meet sensible folk?’
‘Doesn’t matter much which way you go,’ the bear growled, ‘because there aren’t any sensible folk.’
‘They passed a law against it, ‘said the shrimps.
‘The fools of course, but then they couldn’t find a seal to seal it with so they used a haddock instead. Which isn’t strictly legal.’
‘Such nonsense!’ cried Alice. ‘It comes, I suppose, of having your heads in the clouds. Well, I shall go in search of a hairdresser before my hair becomes entirely out of order.’
‘Through there,’ said the bear, ‘and follow the bouncing ball.’
‘I shall not be going through any more of those stupid doors, or my name is not Alice.’
The bear, whose name was Bruno by the way, (all bears are born with the name Bruno, or Bruin for short, although some of them forget) was pointing at a large rubber ball striped in purple and yellow.
‘Purple and yellow!’ thought Alice, ‘such colours they use up here; green and grey would have been far better,’ but she followed the ball nonetheless as it cheerfully bounced alongside a ditch first one side and then the other, so that Alice found herself straddling the ditch with her arms outstretched to help her keep her balance and hopping as if engaged in an elaborate dance.
Chapter Four: The Concert
As Alice followed the ball she could hear the sound of a mighty orchestra which grew ever louder as she approached.
‘That’s called a crescendo,’ she muttered, ‘and when it gets quieter it’s called a diminuendo, but I wonder what it’s called when it stays much the same.’
‘It’s called a racket,’ said a scarecrow.
‘That’s true enough,’ Alice replied.
The scarecrow had bony arms and legs and was wearing three hats, each of which was older and more battered than the others.
‘But can that be correct?’ Alice wondered, ‘they can’t all be the oldest.’
‘I don’t see why not,’ said the scarecrow in a high-pitched voice.
‘Were you reading my thoughts?’
‘Some of them. I’ve got three brothers and we’re all the youngest.’
‘But that can’t be correct,’ thought Alice (but this time out loud), ‘they can’t all be the youngest. It’s all rubbish.’
‘Indeed it is but then again that’s what we are. We’re half brothers, so four becomes two, and if you have two then one is younger than the other unless they are twins.’
‘If they are twins – if you are twins, I mean – they could hardly be half-brothers.’
‘Half and half, half and half,’ screeched the scarecrow, until the screech turned into a cackle or the sort of a caw which you might expect from an angry rook, and then it spun round on its post faster and faster until it disappeared into a hole in the ground from which a puff of greenish smoke wafted into the air and on the side of which a single hat remained. Picking it up and balancing it atop her burgeoning hair Alice said.
‘One can’t hold a proper conversation with anybody around here. I think it’s quite impolite of them and I shall tell them so.’
‘It’s impolite to steal hats,’ said the voice of the scarecrow, but no matter how hard Alice looked she could no longer see him.
* * * * * *
By now the music had become very loud; indeed it sounded more as if the musicians were tuning up than playing real music. An officious woman dressed in a court uniform with buttons down the front grabbed Alice’s arm and pinched it.
‘Found you at last!’
‘I didn’t know you were looking for me. And there’s no need to pinch.’
‘You are Alice, are you?’
‘Tell me your name first.’
‘It’s Waldegrave,’ said the woman.
‘How do you do, Waldegrave? I’m Alice.’ And she held out the arm which had not been pinched.
‘It’s not how but when,’ was the reply, ‘and when is now, so follow me.’
‘I was following the ball.’
‘You can’t have the ball until after the concert, and we can’t have the concert without a conductor, so hurry along now, please.’
The amphitheatre was set into a hillside – cradled thought Alice – and seated there was the most curious collection of animals – more curious than any she could have imagined. There were horses with harps and cats with clarinets and tapirs with trumpets (two to each, one to carry and one to blow) and pigs at pianos and moles with marimbas and a donkey with side drums, one for each hoof. Indeed every time Alice looked there appeared to be more and more musicians until the hillside was black with them.
A gnu stood up, put down his fiddle, and held out a hoof.
‘I’m the leader of the orchestra,’ he said, ‘and we are ready for our rehearsal, if you please, maestro.’
What a very polite animal, Alice thought. The gnu directed Alice to the podium and she climbed up three steps. A baton was awaiting her, and a music stand in front of a brass rail, so highly polished that Alice could see her face in it, howsoever it was slightly distorted and made her cheeks appear puffed out like a chipmunk.
‘We are to begin with the adagio,’ the gnu continued, ‘followed by the vivace, and then the tutti.’
‘You may begin with what you please,’ Alice remarked, and I might be able to conduct you better if I could see through all this hair. Immediately the gnu clapped his hoofs together and a buffalo lumbered up carrying in front of him two swordfish. Within less time than it takes to tell they had sliced off a good deal of Alice’s hair, leaving her with quite a neat fringe, as you can see in the picture. There was a smattering of applause from the musicians.
‘The adagio is in common time,’ said the gnu, ‘four beats to the bar.’
‘It will get as many as it deserves,’ said Alice, raising the baton. A hush descended on the amphitheatre, then, as she lowered the stick, such a concatenation of noise as can hardly be imagined.
‘Stop it! Stop it at once!’ cried Alice, covering her ears.’ That is quite awful.’
‘On the contrary it is the best we have ever done,’ said the gnu. ‘It is sublime.’
‘Then all I can say is that you ought to be ashamed of yourselves. You haven’t even tuned your instruments.’
‘Tuned them? Certainly not.’
At this the entire string section, comprising a good many of the smaller antelope family, rose to their feet, and, laying their instruments on the ground, advanced on Alice.
‘You’re not a conductor at all,’ some of them shouted.
‘You can’t even conduct yourselves properly without me,’ said Alice, and, using her baton to beat a way through the bushes, left the amphitheatre with more haste than was quite dignified. For a few minutes she fancied that she could hear them pursuing her, but then the cacophony of banging and blowing and scraping and plucking suggested that they had resumed what they were pleased to call their music-making without a conductor.
‘I hope you are proud of yourself,’ remarked Waldegrave stepping out from behind a lilac bush. ‘It will take me hours to quieten them down now, and some of them may refuse their supper.’
‘Which is nothing to me,’ said Alice firmly as she placed her right foot carefully on the first of a series of stepping stones over a fast-flowing stream. As she drew her second foot level with the first she was startled to find that the stone was not a stone at all. But the shell of a giant tortoise and that it was carrying her downstream.
Chapter Five: the Arithmetic Test
The river became broader and faster with white wavelets flapping at Alice’s ankles, and, since she had nothing to help her keep her balance she stretched her arms out as if walking the tightrope.
‘Can you not go a little more slowly?’ she asked the tortoise.
‘I go with the flow,’ said the tortoise poking his head briefly out of the water, ‘and there’s an end of it. Whoops!’
He had failed to see the waterfall until they were on the very edge of it. When he did:
‘Here we go!’ he cried.
As the two of them flew through the air Alice thought that the tortoise was more like a turtle because she remembered reading somewhere that turtles like water and tortoises do not. She was on the point of asking the tortoise (or turtle) whether he was a turtle (or tortoise) when the two of them disappeared into a maelstrom of foam and froth and numerous small fishes.
It was a few moments before Alice could catch her breath, and as soon as she could she found herself on a grassy bank where the giraffe was standing over her with a sheet of lined paper and a badly chewed pencil.
‘Oh, so it’s you again,’ said the giraffe, ‘but what happened to your hair?’
‘What didn’t happen?’ replied Alice.
‘There are a great many answers to that, such as it didn’t turn into spaghetti and it didn’t start talking in Swahili. But it doesn’t matter much because you’re just in time for the arithmetic test.’
‘I don’t want to take a test,’ said Alice, ‘and certainly not while I am dripping wet and even less -’ Here she stopped abruptly. ‘Do I win a prize?’ It occurred to Alice that since she was apparently the only person or animal to be taking the test, if there were a prize she would surely win it.
‘You get a booby prize if you come last and a first prize if you come first.’
‘Which is better?’ Alice asked.
‘First prize is a box of chocolates and booby prize is two boxes of chocolates.’
‘But that’s not fair!’ cried Alice.
‘It’s perfectly fair,’ said the giraffe. ‘You’d be pleased to win a box of chocolates, wouldn’t you?’
‘I would if they were peppermint creams.’
‘And you’d be doubly pleased if you won two.’
‘Well yes, I suppose I would.’
‘So that’s what mathematics is all about. Question 1.’
Alice raised her pencil and wrote down ‘1’.
‘What is one times two times three times four times five?’
‘I wish you would go a little more slowly, Giraffe. Everybody is in such a frightful hurry up here.’
‘Times six times seven times eight times nine times ten,’ the giraffe concluded.
‘Could you start again at the beginning?’
‘I could start again at the end. But I can’t remember how it all began.’
‘Well then,’ said Alice sticking out her tongue, ‘don’t bother!’
‘No bother,’ the giraffe continued. ‘Times twelve times eleven – ’ And on he droned until he was quite out of breath.
‘What’s question two?’ Alice asked. (But she was thinking: if all the questions are as hard as the first one I shall come last and get two boxes so that’s all right!)
‘Question two is the same as question one, except that it’s in French.’
‘And question three? Or is it trois?’
‘What’s nuppence of tuppence? And question four is substraction: what do you get if you take away seven chickens from six ducks?’
‘What about fractions?’ asked Alice who had been learning these at school and much preferred them to decimals.’
‘I think they’re vulgar,’ said the giraffe. ‘Last question: what is the price of a penny stamp?’
‘I can do that one,’ thought Alice and was just about to write down ‘One Penny’ when the giraffe added:
‘I want the answer in feet and inches please.’
‘I don’t think you know any mathematics at all,’ said Alice and, crumpling up her piece of paper in frustration, threw it at the giraffe, who caught it in its soft mouth, chewed it a few times, then swallowed it with evident pleasure.
‘Don’t you want the booby prize?’ the giraffe asked at length.
Alice admitted cautiously: ‘I do like prizes. I won one once.’
‘What was it for?’
‘It was for coming top of course.’
‘No “of course” about it. Top of what?’
‘I came top of the class and the class came top of the school and the school came top of the town but the town only came seventy-third in the country.’
‘Well here’s your prize then,’ said the giraffe and handed Alice a square box tied with a pink ribbon.
‘I do hope,’ thought Alice, ‘that it’s peppermint creams.’ But when she opened the wrapping inside all she could find was an empty box.
‘There’s nothing in it!’ she cried to the giraffe who was doing deep breathing exercises.
‘There is,’ said the giraffe as he strolled away covering the ground with surprising speed. ‘There’s peppermint creams minus peppermint creams!’
‘Well thank you very much,’ cried Alice sarcastically, ‘minus thank you very much!’
But the giraffe was nowhere to be seen.
Chapter Six: The Children of Mevagissey
‘At least I’ve still got the ribbon,’ Alice said aloud, ‘and it will do very nicely to keep my hair in order if it gets wild again.’
But the ribbon kept wriggling in her hand until it finally got free and leapt onto the ground. The more Alice tried to grasp it the more elusive it became, until she found herself chasing it down a narrow, cobbled street.
‘Why,’ she thought to herself, ‘this is quite like Mevagissey.’
But at length she could run no more – it had been a most energetic day – and so she sat down on a water-barrel to recover.
‘Even if I can’t catch the ribbon I ought to be able to catch my breath!’
Coming up the street towards her was a crocodile of children and Alice was not at all surprised when they stopped in front of her. The boys were wearing sailor suits and the girls pink party frocks, their hair tied with pink ribbon.
‘We are from Meva,’ said the boys.
‘We are from Gissy,’ said the girls.
Then all the children formed a ring around Alice, and, swaying first to the left and then to the right, sang the following song:
The sometime King of Normandy
Whose hair was going grey
Loved nothing much but butterscotch
And crunched it every day.
His queen said: ‘Darling, how I wish
You’ld take a stick of liquorice,’
But all the king replied was ‘Pish!
I wish you’ld go away.’
The sometime King of Burgundy
Who lived in Bantry Bay
Loved nothing more than on the floor
To sleep his life away.
‘My dear,’ his queen insists, ‘if this
‘Is what you really, really wish,
Then take a stick of liquorice.’
But all the King replied is ‘Pish!
Why don’t you go away?’
The present King of Timbuktu
Whose cat is wont to stray
Devised a rather pretty dish
And filled it full of cream and fish
But all the cat replied was: ‘Pish!’
And slowly strolled away.
‘I feel rather sorry for the King of Timbuktu,’ said Alice. ‘He did all he could for the cat.’
‘He said he did,’ chanted the boys.
‘Probably not true,’ added the girls.
‘Well, I’m sure that Dinah would never treat me like that. Once she brought me a mouse as a present, but I told her off severely, and she never did it again.’
‘We think a mouse would be a grand present,’ said the boys who had very round faces and dimpled cheeks.
‘Have you brought us a present?’ inquired the girls. Alice now noticed that they were all wearing earrings that glistened in the sun. Now why had she not noticed that before?
‘I would have given you the ribbon if it had let me catch it.’
‘We’ve got ribbons,’ said the girls.
‘Haven’t you got anything else?’ asked the boys.
The girls said: ‘Something small would do,’ and one of them added: ‘Like a pomegranate.’
‘But a pomegranate isn’t small,’ said Alice.
‘A small one is,’ said the girl who had spoken before.
‘Or a Pomeranian,’ said a boy, whom Alice now noticed was wearing a kilt.
‘Or a possibility,’ somebody else suggested.
‘I don’t see how you could give someone a possibility,’ said Alice growing quite exasperated. ‘It’s not a thing at all!’
‘Of course it is!’ cried the girls. ‘Don’t you know anything?’
‘I expect the King of Timbuktu has got several,’ said a girl with especially large feet.
‘Because people kept giving them to him,’ said several of the children. ‘But not you, because you’re too mean.’
‘I think you’re all very rude,’ Alice exclaimed. ‘It’s rude to ask for presents, and it’s even ruder to complain when you don’t get any. I shall have nothing more to do with you!’ And with this remark Alice took hold of a corner of the grass lawn upon which they were standing, and gave it a hefty tug. This had the effect of sending them all tumbling into one another like skittles. ‘No less than what you deserve.’
DAVID BENEDICTUS’ work includes Return to the Hundred Acre Wood (2009), an autobiography titled Dropping Names (2005), The Fourth of June (1962) and You’re a Big Boy Now (1963) that was made into a film by Francis Ford Coppola. David Benedictus was educated at Eton College, University of Oxford and the University of Iowa. He has worked for the Royal Shakespeare Company and BBC Radio. He currently lives in Hove.