“Where are you going, child?” asked the Queen of Hearts, when Alice curtsied, bidding both her and the King goodbye.
“I really have no idea,” Alice admitted, curtsying again, trying to decide which of the two doors might lead her out from the building, the easiest.
Seeing her dilemma, the King said,” It matters not which one you take, both doors will lead you, make no mistake.” (Once again Alice found herself wondering why the King was speaking in rhyme).
Raising an eyebrow, she said, “Both doors will lead me out?”
“Yes,” said the King. “For sure you will walk right out from here, but tread carefully lest Life and Death might hear.”
“Life and Death? You mean that frightful, skeletal thing?” Alice asked the fear patently obvious in her young voice.
The King, however, offered Alice no reply, he just strolled over to another one of his wardrobes and, opening its door, stepped into it. He was gone.
Turning her attention to the Queen of Hearts, Alice tried asking her, to see if she knew anything about Life and Death, but snoring loudly, having fallen asleep on her throne as fast as the King had disappeared into yet another one of his Travelling Palaces, she was of no use.
“I shan’t risk waking her,” Alice whispered. “Going by her mood when fully awake, I dread to think of how cranky she must be when awoken, and especially so before she is good and ready. No, I will have to work this out for myself, taking nothing for granted.”
Just then, from out of the corner of her eye, Alice saw the same little mouse as before, running along the skirting board. “Perhaps that little mouse can tell me where the White Rabbit’s house is located. To be sure, I can’t be that far away, after all of the travelling I have done.”
Alice got down onto her hands and knees (thinking it easier to follow a mouse in this manner), following the fast-moving rodent. Stopping at a hole in the wall, in the corner of the room, she said, “That’s a mouse hole if ever I saw one.” Alice lowered her head, trying to see into its dark interior.
“Excuse me! I said excuse me!”
Shuffling round, to see who was addressing her, Alice was pleasantly surprised to see that it was the Cheshire Cat – and wearing a fine white coloured coat and pants, no less.
“Hello, Cat,” she said with a smile. “What are you doing, here?”
Giving Alice a disapproving look, without even bothering to return her greeting, the Cat said, “I was chasing after that mouse, if you must know. It was to be my supper, but it will surely be many miles away from here by now.” The Cat hissed, displaying its annoyance at missing its intended meal.
“I am terribly sorry to have been the cause of you missing your supper,” Alice apologised. “Not that it makes any difference; I haven’t eaten since I met Father Christmas.” Scratching her head, Alice struggled to remember when she had actually met the old man, “It was last October, I think.”
Grinning, the Cat replied, “That is a long time, considering it’s now well into December.”
Once again, on hearing that it was actually December, Alice fought hard with her memory, trying to remember where the time might have gone. But after trying hard for more than five minutes, she was still none the wiser, so returning to her conversation with the grinning Cat, she said, “If it pleases you, Cat, I might be able to find you something to eat in my Travelling Palace…” Delving a hand into her apron pocket, Alice withdrew the brass key and showed it the Cat.
Edging back apiece, the Cat hissed again, saying, “I prefer to find food by own means, and I can certainly do without suffering from travel sickness in one of those hideous things.” He pointed a paw at one of the wardrobes and began fading away.
“I have no time for that game, now!” Alice retorted. “Will you please reappear?”
Grinning, a scrawny little tail dangling from out of its mouth, the Cheshire Cat reappeared,
“Oh, you didn’t – you can’t have,” said Alice, in shock at the sight of the tail wriggling, so.
Speaking though his grin, the Cat replied, “Why not? I am a cat, you know!”
Choosing her words carefully, for fear he might suddenly swallow the unfortunate mouse, Alice said, “Have you not considered that this poor mouse might be the very same one I met in Wonderland?”
Although still grinning, the Cat’s face displayed a hint of remorse. “The same one?” he asked.
“Yes, the very same one,” said Alice, feeling she might be getting through to the bold feline.
“Did you know him well?” the Cat asked (Alice thought she saw a bit more remorse appearing on the Cat’s grinning face).
“Quite well,” she replied, “and well enough to know that he has a lifelong fear of cats…”
At Alice’s last remark, what little remorse the Cheshire Cat might or might not have been feeling suddenly vanished, and he said, “That’s how we cats like it.” The mouse’s tail began wriggling about in a most agitated manner.
Feeling the situation was now desperate, that the poor mouse might at any moment be eaten alive, Alice begged the Cat to release it, making a promise to find it a Grand Supper, far better than a scrawny old mouse.
“If I let it go,” said the Cat through its tightly clenched teeth, “you will find me a Grand Supper?”
“Yes, yes,” said Alice, panicking that the poor mouse might be eaten alive.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Will there be fish in my Grand Supper?” the Cat asked, his grip on the mouse loosening a touch.
“Yes, as much as you can eat,” Alice promised (though, in truth, she had absolutely no idea where she might find some).
“In that case,” said the Cat, releasing its grip on the rodent, “the mouse is free.” Running across to Alice, the mouse began thanking her for saving its life.
Picking up the small creature, immediately recognising it as the very same mouse she had met in the pool of tears, Alice said, “Hello again, I am so pleased to see you, and all in the one piece.”
The Mouse shuddered at the thought of being in more than one piece. Then sizing up Alice, it said, “My how you’ve grown, the last time I saw you, you were no taller than a grasshopper’s knee.”
“And you recited the ‘Mouse’s Tail’.”
“Hmm,” the Mouse replied, remembering her less than polite reception of his epic story.
“My supper?” said the Cat, butting in.
“I beg your pardon,” said Alice (you see, she had already forgotten about her promise to find the Cat a Grand Supper).
“If I have to wait any longer,” he said, “it will be past December and well into January before I have eaten.”
“I am so sorry, Cat,” said Alice, in fright that she could be so unthinking to a dumb animal.
“I heard that,” the Cat warned, giving her a curt look, for thinking of him as something that was so blatantly untrue, and also quite hurtful.
“It was just a figure of speech,” Alice explained; perplexed at how the Cat had been able to read her thoughts, in the first place. “Though in this case,” she explained, “it was a figure of thought, I think…”
Returning her attention to the Mouse, Alice asked was it also hungry. It said that it was. After placing the Mouse into her apron pocket, Alice asked the Cat to lead the way out from the building (although Alice assumed the Cat knew the way, she had no intention of taking it for granted).
Although it was still snowing heavily outside, and bitterly cold to boot, there was no sign to be seen of Life and Death, so pulling her coat tightly closed and tugging hard on her hat (the wind was blowing wildly by now) Alice followed the Cat through the bleak wintry landscape. Beneath Alice’s coat, tucked up snug in her apron pocket, the Mouse was fast asleep, oblivious to the extreme weather that she and the Cat were forced to endure.
“I know that I should be following my nose,” thought Alice, “but the Cat is following his – that must surely be as good.” Just then, stepping into a deep drift of snow, Alice felt the cold particles making their way down the inside of her boots. “I do hope it’s not too far,” she said, pulling herself out, running awkwardly, and trying to catch up with the free-thinking feline. Squinting, trying to see the Cat, Alice said, “I wish his clothes were of another colour. White is just so hard to see in this snow.”
Unhearing, the Cat kept up his fast pace, fading in and out at regular intervals. In fact they were so regular Alice suspected he was doing it on purpose, to annoy her.
After trekking through the snow for a good thirty minutes, the Cat suddenly stopped, allowing Alice to finally catch up.
Still grinning, he said, “Well?”
“Well – what?” she asked, in surprise that he had stopped, let alone be asking her questions.
“Where is my Supper?”
“Your Supper?” said Alice, looking about herself, wondering where she could hope to procure the promised Grand Supper, in so bleak a landscape.
His yellow eyes narrowing, the Cat hissed, “I have brought you this far, now it’s your turn – you did promise…”
“I know, I hadn’t forgotten,” said Alice, telling a white lie (for she had in truth completely forgotten about the promised meal).
“Where is the Mouse?” asked the Cat licking his lips as he spoke. Alice was sure she saw little dribbles of saliva running down from them).
Fearing for the Mouse’s safety, Alice wished that she had all the food necessary for the promised Grand Supper. She wished and she wished, and then she wished some more until after what seemed like an eternally of wishing she heard the sound of bells ringing, ringing joyfully from somewhere high above her.
“Look!” shouted the Cat, pointing into the snowy sky, with a paw. “Is that who I think it is?” he asked, meowing with excitement.
“It’s Father Christmas – I am sure of it!” Alice shouted, taking off her hat and waving it even though she saw nothing at all. “But I can’t see him, for all this snow!”
Seeing her consternation, the Cat said, “Don’t you mind, my dear, us cats have far better eyesight than you humans – even that of little girls. I can see him clearly enough for us all. He’s up there, believe me.”
Although believing the Cat, Alice’s eyes continued (but in vain) to search the wintry sky for signs of Father Christmas and his sky vehicle.
As the sound of the sleigh bells grew louder, Alice’s heart beat faster and faster, until she feared at any moment it might jump out from her chest and leave her totally heartless. “I do hope he arrives soon,” she said holding her chest, trying to calm her speeding heart, and hoping that the sound of it didn’t awaken the sleeping mouse.
“Can you see him, now?” asked the Cheshire Cat, surprised that she was still trying to the fast-approaching sleigh.
“No, Cat, I cannot see a thing through all this snow,” Alice bemoaned, worried that she might miss the arrival of the old man.
Pointing a paw, the Cat said, “Look, he’s close to us now. He’s over there, to the left.”
Alice looked to the left, but she saw nothing.
“Get back!” the Cat suddenly shouted, slapping Alice with one of its paws, scratching her face.
Falling hard to the ground, Alice almost disappeared into the thick layer of snow. “Why did you do that?” she asked, struggling to her feet and rubbing the painful scratch, only to be struck down again by the troublesome feline. The sound of sleigh bells, reindeer and a jolly old man laughing away heartily, whizzing past just over their heads, told her why; Father Christmas was landing.
Pulling herself up, Alice said, “I do wish you would stop doing that, I shall be covered all over in cuts and bruises if you continue.” The Cat’s yellow eyes narrowed, showing its disgust at the ungrateful young girl. “Now, will you please tell me why you did that?” she insisted. “And can you please tell me what is going on, for I am now finding it hard to see anything at all.” Fumbling about with her outstretched hands, Alice searched for the Cat.
Waving a paw in front of Alice’s face (she was totally oblivious to it), the Cat realised that she was blind. And although he was a cat, and quite capable of being hard and cruel whenever it suited, he was also a kindred spirit far from home, so taking her by the hand, he told Alice that the sleigh had just landed, and offered to lead her to it.
Although she was blind, Alice had no idea that she was, thinking the heavily falling snow being the reason she could see. She said, “Thank you, Cat, I don’t know what would have happened if you had not been here to guide me through all this snow with your excellent eyesight.” Guiding her towards the sleigh, the Cat remained silent.
“Well, what have we got here?” asked Father Christmas when he saw Alice and the Cat emerging from the whiteout.
“Is that really you, Father Christmas?” Alice asked. “This snowstorm is so terribly heavy I cannot see a thing, and if it were not for the Cat helping me I might be lost somewhere deep within it.”
Laughing amicably, the old man took hold of Alice and lifted her into his sleigh. As the Cat jumped in beside her, Father Christmas tucked them warmly into the bench seat. Then grabbing hold of the reins, he shouted, “Rarr,” rarr.” And with that, the sky vehicle sped fast along the icy cold surface, rising into the snowy sky and disappearing far over the horizon.