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[This is kluge.]Where some ideas are stranger than others...

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The Moonspeaker:
Where Some Ideas Are Stranger Than Others...

CHAPTER FOUR: THE RABBIT SENDS IN A LITTLE BILL

It was the White Rabbit, trotting slowly back again, and looking anxiously about as it went, as if it had lost something; and she heard it muttering to itself, "The Duchess! The Duchess! Oh my dear paws! Oh my fur and whiskers! She'll get me executed, as sure as ferrets1 are ferrets! Where can I have dropped them, I wonder?" Alice guessed in a moment that it was looking for the fan and the pair of white kid-gloves, and she very good-naturedly began hunting about for them, but they were nowhere to be seen — everything seemed to have changed since her swim in the pool; and the great hall, with the glass table and the little door, had vanished completely.

Very soon the Rabbit noticed Alice, as she went hunting about, and called out to her, in an angry tone, "Why, Mary Ann2, what are you doing out here? Run home this moment, and fetch me a pair of gloves and a fan3! Quick now!" And Alice was so much frightened4 that she ran off at once in the direction it pointed to, without trying to explain the mistake that it had made.

"He5 took me for his housemaid," she said to herself as she ran. "How surprised he'll be when he finds out who I am! But I'd better take him his fan and gloves — that is, if I can find them." As she said this, she came upon a neat little house6, on the door of which was a bright brass plate with the name "W. RABBIT" engraved upon it. She went in without knocking7, and hurried upstairs, in great fear lest she should meet the real Mary Ann, and be turned out of the house before she had found the fan and gloves.

"How queer it seems," Alice said to herself, "to be going messages for a rabbit! I suppose Dinah'll be sending me on messages next!" And she began fancying the sort of thing that would happen: "'Miss Alice! Come here directly, and get ready for your walk!'8 'Coming in a minute, nurse! But I've got to watch this mouse-hole till Dinah comes back, and see that the mouse doesn't get out.' Only I don't think," Alice went on, "that they'd let DInah stop in the house if it began ordering people about like that!"

By this time she had found her way into a tidy little room with a table in the window, and on it (as she had hoped) a fan and two or three pairs of tiny white kid-gloves: she took up the fan and a pair of the gloves, and was just going to leave the room, when her eye fell upon a little bottle that stood near the looking-glass9. There was no label this time with the words "DRINK ME," but nevertheless she uncorked it and put it to her lips. "I know something interesting is sure to happen," she said to herself, "whenever I eat or drink anything: so I'll just see what this bottle does. I do hope it'll make me grow large again, for really I'm quite tired of being such a tiny little thing!"10

It did so indeed, and much sooner than she had expected: before she had drunk half the bottle, she found her head pressing against the ceiling, and had to stoop to save her neck from being broken11. She hastily put down the bottle12, saying to herself "That's quite enough — I hope I sha'n't grow any more — As it is, I ca'n't get out at the door — I do wish I hadn't drunk quite so much!"

Alas! It was too late to wish that! She went on growing, and growing, and very soon had to kneel down on the floor: in another minute there was not even room for this, and she tried the effect of lying down with one elbow against the door, and the other arm curled round her head. Still she went on growing, and, as a last resource, she put one arm out of the window and one foot up the chimney, and said to herself "Now I can do no more, whatever happens. What will become of me?"

Luckily for Alice, the little magic bottle had now had its full effect, and she grew no larger: still it was very uncomfortable, and, as there seemed to be no sort of chance of her ever getting out of the room again, no wonder she felt unhappy.

"It was much pleasanter at home," thought poor Alice, "when one wasn't always growing larger and smaller, and being ordered about by mice and rabbits. I almost wish I hadn't gone down that rabbit-hole — and yet — and yet — it's rather curious, you know, this sort of life! I do wonder what can have happened to me! When I used to read fairy tales, I fancied that kind of thing never happened, and now here I am in the middle of one! There ought to be a book13 written about me, that there ought! And when I grow up, I'll write one — but I'm grown up now," she added in a sorrowful tone: "at least there's no room to grow up any more here."

"But then," thought Alice, "shall I never get any older than I am now? That'll be a comfort, one way — never to be an old woman14 — but then — always to have lessons15 to learn! Oh, I shouldn't like that!"

"Oh, you foolish Alice!" she answered herself. "How can you learn lessons in here? Why, there's hardly room for you, and no room at all for any lesson books!"

And so she went on, taking first one side and then the other, and making quite a conversation of it altogether; but after a few minutes she heard a voice outside, and stopped to listen.

"Mary Ann! Mary Ann!" said the voice. "Fetch me16 my gloves this moment!" Then came a little pattering of feet on the stairs. Alice knew it was the Rabbit17 coming to look for her18, and she trembled till she shook the house, quite forgetting that she was now about a thousand times as large as the Rabbit, and had no reason to be afraid of it.

Presently the Rabbit came up to the door, and tried to open it; but, as the door opened inwards19, and Alice's elbow was pressed hard against it, that attempt proved a failure. Alice heard it20 say to itself "Then I'll go round and get in at the window."

"That you wo'n't!" thought Alice, and, after waiting till she fancied she heard the Rabbit just under the window, she suddenly spread out her hand, and made a snatch in the air. She did not get hold of anything, but she heard a little shriek and a fall, and a crash of broken glass, from which she concluded that it was just possible it had fallen into a cucumber-frame21, or something of the sort.

Next came an angry voice — the Rabbit's — "Pat! Pat! Where are you?" And then a voice she had never heard before, "Sure then I'm here! Digging for apples22, yer honour!"

"Digging for apples, indeed!" said the Rabbit angrily. "Here! Come and help me out of this!" (Sounds of more broken glass.)

"Now tell me, Pat, what's that in the window?"

"Sure, it's an arm, yer honour!" (He pronounced it "arrum."23)

"An arm, you goose! Who ever saw one that size? Why, it fills the whole window!"

"Sure, it does, yer honour: but it's an arm for all that."

"Well, it's got no business there, at any rate: go and take it away!"24

There was a long silence after this and Alice could only hear whispers now and then; such as "Sure, I don't like it, yer honour, at all, at all!" "Do as I tell you you coward!", and at last she spread out her hand again, and made another snatch in the air. This time there were two little shrieks, and more sounds of broken glass. "What a number of cucumber-frames there must be!" thought Alice. "I wonder what they'll do next! As for pulling me out of the window, I only wish they could! I'm sure I don't want to stay in here any longer!"

She waited for some time without hearing anything more: at last came a rumbling of little cart-wheels, and the sound of a good many voices all talking together: she made out the words: "Where's the other ladder? — Why, I hadn't to bring but one. Bill's got the other — Bill! Fetch it here, lad! — Here, put 'em up at this corner — No, tie 'em together first — they don't reach half high enough yet — Oh, they'll do well enough. Don't be particular — Here, Bill! Catch hold of this rope — Will the roof bear? — Mind that loose slate25 — Oh, it's coming down! Heads below!" (a loud crash) — Now, who did that? — It was Bill, I fancy — Who's to go down the chimney? — Nay, I sha'n't! You do it! — That I wo'n't, then! — Bill's got to go down — Here, Bill! The master says you've got to go down the chimney!"

"Oh! So Bill's got to come down the chimney, has he?" said Alice to herself. "Why, they seem to put everything upon Bill! I wouldn't be in Bill's place for a good deal: this fireplace is narrow, to be sure; but I think I can kick a little!"26

She drew her foot as far down the chimney as she could, and waited till she heard a little animal (she couldn't guess of what sort it was) scratching and scrambling about in the chimney close above her: then, saying to herself "This is Bill", she gave one sharp kick, and waited to see what would happen next.

The first thing she heard was a general chorus of "There goes Bill!" then the Rabbit's voice alone — "Catch him, you by the hedge!" then silence, and then another confusion of voices — "Hold up his head — Brandy27 now — Don't choke him — How was it, old fellow? What happened to you? Tell us all about it!"

Last came a little feeble, squeaking voice ("That's Bill," thought Alice), "Well, I hardly know — No more, thank ye; I'm better now — but I'm a deal too flustered to tell you — all I know is, something comes at me like a Jack-in-the-box,28 and up I goes like a sky-rocket!"29

"So you did, old fellow!" said the others.

"We must burn the house down!" said the Rabbit's voice. And Alice called out, as loud as she could, "If you do, I'll set Dinah at you!"30

There was a dead silence instantly, and Alice thought to herself "I wonder what they will do next! If they had any sense, they'd take the roof off." After a minute or two, they began moving about again, and Alice heard the Rabbit say "A barrowful will do, to begin with."31

"A barrowful of what?" thought Alice. But she had not long to doubt, for the next moment a shower of little pebbles32 came rattling in at the window, and some of them hit her in the face. "I'll put a stop to this," she said to herself, and shouted out "You'd better not do that again!", which produced another dead silence.

Alice noticed, with some surprise, that the pebbles were all turning into little cakes33 as they lay on the floor, and a bright idea came into her head. "If I eat one of these cakes," she thought, "it's sure to make some change in my size; and, as it ca'n't possibly make me larger, it must make me smaller,34 I suppose."

So she swallowed one of the cakes, and was delighted to find that she began shrinking directly. As soon as she was small enough to get through the door, she ran out of the house, and found quite a crowd of little animals and birds waiting outside. The poor little Lizard, Bill, was in the middle, being held up by two guinea-pigs35, who were giving it something out of a bottle. They all made a rush at Alice the moment she appeared; but she ran off as hard as she could, and soon found herself safe in a thick wood.

"The first thing I've got to do," said Alice to herself, as she wandered about in the wood, "is to grow to my right size again: and the second thing is to find my way into that lovely garden. I think that will be the best plan."

It sounded an excellent plan, no doubt, and very neatly and simply arranged: the only difficulty was, that she had not the smallest idea how to set about it; and, while she was peering about anxiously among the trees, a little sharp bark just over her head made her look up in a great hurry.

An enormous puppy36 was looking down at her with large round eyes, and feebly stretching out one paw, trying to touch her. "Poor little thing!" said Alice, in a coaxing tone, and she tried hard to whistle to it; but she was terribly frightened all the time at the thought that it might be hungry, in which case it would be very likely to eat her up in spite of all her coaxing.

Hardly knowing what she did, she picked up a little bit of stick, and held it out to the puppy: whereupon the puppy jumped into the air off all its feet at once, with a yelp of delight, and rushed at the stick, and made believe to worry it: then Alice dodged behind a great thistle, to keep herself from being run over; and, the moment she appeared on the other side, the puppy made another rush at the stick, and tumbled head over heels in its hurry to get hold of it: then Alice, thinking it was very like having a game of play with a cart-horse37, and expecting every moment to be trampled under its feet, ran around the thistle again: then the puppy began a series of short charges at the stick, running a very little way forwards each time and a long way back, and barking hoarsely all the while, till at last it sat down a good way off, panting, with its tongue hanging out of its mouth, and its great eyes half shut.

This seemed to Alice a good opportunity for making her escape: so she set off at once, and ran till she was quite tired and out of breath, and till the puppy's bark sounded quite faint in the distance.

"And yet what a dear little puppy it was!" said Alice, as she leant against a buttercup to rest herself, and fanned herelf with one of the leaves. "I should have liked teaching it tricks very much, if — if I'd only been the right size to do it! Oh dear! I'd nearly forgotten that I've got to grow up again! Let me see — how is to be managed? I suppose I ought to eat or drink38 something or other; but the great question is 'What?'"

The great question certainly was "What?" Alice looked at all round her at the flowers and the blades of grass, but she coud not see anything that looked like the right thing39 to eat or drink under the circumstances. There was a large mushroom40 growing near her, about the same height as herself; and, when she had looked under it, and on both sides of it, and behind it, it occurred to her that she might as well look and see what was on top of it.

She stretched herself up on tiptoe, and peeped over the edge of the mushroom, and her eyes immediately met those of a large blue caterpillar41, that was sitting on the top, with its arms folded, quietly smoking a long hookah42, and taking not the smallest notice of her or anything else.

Annotations

  1. Ferrets are small carnivorous animals, and there have been domesticated species for so long zoologists continue to argue when and how humans came to tame them. Ferrets have been used to hunt rabbits, hence the White Rabbit's connection between them and the Red Queen. They are slender animals, and at first glance can seem surprisingly rodent-like. Apparently they have occasionally been trained to string electric cables through small spaces and conduits.
  2. Another name often imposed on slaves, especially those working as domestics. This was partly a continuation of imposing names on domestic servants whether they were slaves or not that had been thoroughly established by the victorian period if not before. Women weren't the only ones subject to this degrading practice; in some establishments, butlers were called 'James' no matter what their names might actually be. Obviously it was about putting 'inferiors' in their 'place', and even more so in the case of servants with more significant responsibilities, as butlers and housekeepers did. A more recent example of this practice was referring to all sleeping car porters working for the Pullman Co., the majority of whom were black, as George. It took twelve years to end this racist practice.
  3. The importance of gloves and a fan for the White Rabbit seems pretty mystifying, even for Wonderland, unless, contrary to common assumption, our friend the White Rabbit is female rather than male. Mind you, this means we are assuming victorian-era social and gender rules, which makes the White Rabbit quite a peculiar muddle, unless he is a rarely recognized dig at Oscar Wilde and those who aped his dress sense.
  4. Alice remains not merely unsure of her place in Wonderland, but terrified of the White Rabbit!
  5. Well, since Alice seems quite sure the White Rabbit is male, this seems as likely a reason as any for that to be the general consensus of readers and critics.
  6. A neat little house, instead of a rabbit hole! Perhaps the rabbit hole is the walk in entrance to the basement, in which case there has been a fair-sized flood the White Rabbit is soon to learn about.
  7. Since this is a country house and there are servants, the front door is unlocked. Doors on houses where the owners or renters can afford servants probably aren't left unlocked anymore, even if they are in the country.
  8. 'Nurse' seems to be Alice's nanny, the main person in charge of upper class victorian children until around the age of seven or eight, when boys were packed off to boarding schools and girls fell under the tutelage of governesses. According to David N. Durant's Where Queen Elizabeth Slept and What the Butler Saw: A Treasury of Historical Terms From the Sixteenth Century to the Present, such children typically saw their parents only once a day if their parents were home. A sedate walk was one of the acceptable forms of exercise for small children and girls, supervised at first by the nanny and later by the governess.
  9. Today we usually refer to 'looking-glasses' as mirrors. 'Looking-glass' developed in response to the fact that there was more than one type of 'glass' in use. Among the others are drinking glasses, burning glasses, and spyglasses. When you run into terms for objects modified by adjectives, this often means the objects in question are fairly new and/or only recently widely available. This is certainly true of glass mirrors, which were not common household items until the late 1700s to 1800s. Before that, mirrors were commonly pieces of polished metal or even stone, which is why 'mirror' is the older term and the newfangled 'looking-glass' was soon dropped. 'Mirror' derives from a word root meaning 'a wonder' in Latin, as do the words 'miracle' and 'miraculous.'
  10. Is Alice tired of being small, a common and understandable complaint of small children everywhere? Unlike the previous bottle, Alice doesn't worry about the bottle's contents being poisonous, since on balance a poison isn't something kept by a looking-glass, which is presumably in a bedroom or dressing room.

    But this does beg a question: what does the White Rabbit need with all this stuff to grow and shrink by?

  11. At first it seems like the contents of this bottle might be different from the bottle in the rabbit hole, but this needn't be the case. The room may simply have a much lower ceiling than the hall, which is not uncommon in house construction today.
  12. It's a wonder Alice didn't just drop it, although perhaps she feared it would shatter and add to her troubles. Victorian patent medicine bottles were shaped much like medicine bottles today, especially those containing syrups. The glass versions have thick sides and can be remarkably sturdy provided you don't drop them on a floor covered in tiles or flags. Patent medicines often included the last gasp of treating illness by sympathy or antipathy and the balancing of humours (black bile, yellow bile, blood, and phlegm). Many of them were banned because they were poisonous or dangerously addictive, and others roundly denounced because they did nothing. Travelling pedlars selling patent medicines are the original 'snake oil' salesmen. Ironically, 'snake oil' was the name of a medicine that worked, a Chinese remedy for joint pain.
  13. And of course, there was a book written about her, or at least, Alice's Wonderland incarnation. Since then, a number of books have been written about Alice Liddell herself, unfortunately mainly through the prism of her relationship with Lewis Carroll.
  14. Ageism was of course alive and well when Alice in Wonderland was written, with all of its undercurrents of fear of death. Fear of aging was especially poignant for women, who on one hand could still all too easily die young due to a whole range of infectious diseases and unsanitary medical practices around childbirth, but who could end up impoverished and confined if they outlived their means of support.
  15. As noted in the previous chapter, around the age of seven or eight a governess would become responsible for teaching girls. Before that, the nanny likely provided basic instruction insofar as she was able, as they were not as likely to be educated young women whose families had become impoverished.
  16. In canada at least, 'fetch' is so indelibly associated with dogs that almost no fluent english speaker would dream of using it with a person unless they intended to make an insult. The word is actually very old, coming from the germanic foundations in english, which can be gauged from the 'tch' ending. Today there is a german verb fechsen referring to gathering wine grapes, based on the same root.
  17. Do we dare wonder why the Rabbit didn't start suspecting something was amiss when the whole house stated shaking while he was trying to make his way up the stairs?
  18. I haven't yet found anything to confirm my suspicion that Alice's reaction here may have inspired the Monty Python crew to make the ultimate monster of 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail' a fanged white rabbit.
  19. Doors open inwards for quite practical reasons, although those reasons are not necessarily as relevant for interior doors as exterior ones. If exterior doors customarily opened outwards, it would be all too easy for people to become trapped inside buildings by snow, debris, or even high winds when they need to get out.
  20. The omniscient narrator is somewhat less confused in the pronoun department for the moment.
  21. Here's the definition you've been waiting for! The original cucumber frame is a sort of mini-greenhouse better known as a cold frame. The earliest versions were constructed of panes of glass set into wooden frames. 'Cucumber frame' is a current term for frames used to 'train' cucumber vines (sit! heal! oops, heel!), which otherwise have a habit of becoming inconveniently tangled from a human gardener perspective. It may seem like Tenniel's illustration ought to make this obvious, but such frames are so unfamiliar to city dwellers like myself that the illustration looks more like a strange window arrangement or a winter cover for a basement window.

    Hilariously, I have finally found an edition of Alice In Wonderland that provides this definition: the 1992 Norton Critical edition edited by Donald J. Gray.

  22. Potatoes are referred to as 'pommes-de-terre' in French, literally, 'ground apples.'
  23. For those with any knowledge of latin cases, this must sound suspiciously like a pun. '-arum' is the genitive plural case ending for first declension nouns. I have just learnt that the "arrum" reference is in fact a dialect usage by Carroll, albeit indirectly.

    Then again, there is one more potential explanation, or at least possible pun Carroll could well have had in mind. "Arum" is also the name of a plant called "cuckoo-pint" or "wake-robin" according to my copy of Skeat's Etymolgical Dictionary of the English Language. The cuckoo-pint is pretty and not uncommonly used as an ornamental plant, but is also entirely poisonous.

  24. If only we could just throw away anything that we considered out of place! In any event, the White Rabbit seems to think this is just a random arm someone has stuck in the window to vex him.
  25. Slate is a rock that breaks in convenient plates or slabs. It starts out as a sedimentary rock deposited under water, and then gets altered by heat and pressure. It is typically a dark grey or near black colour although it can be green, reddish-brown, or even purple, and was once commonly used to make writing slates for school children. Writing slates were used throughout much of the history of one-room schools, but were finally superseded by paper notebooks when they became cheap enough. And as the story says, slates are also used to cover rooves. They were and are typically attached by nailing (presumably the nail holes are predrilled).>
  26. The fireplace must be an impressive one for such a small house. Such fireplaces are ever more rare in this time when more energy efficiency is a must. The occupation of chimney sweep has certainly fallen on hard times as a result. Without their efforts to remove coal, oil deposits, and general debris, the chimneys themselves could easily burst into flames.
  27. The word 'brandy' derives from 'brandewijn' burnt wine, once better known as aqua vitae. Aqua vitae was what you got after distilling wine enough for it to burn if a flame was set to it. Brandy is actually colourless, as are all distilled liquors, but readily absorbs colour from the casks it is kept in before bottling, or from additional ingredients added after distillation. Brandy was and sometimes still is considered a restorative after a shock because its high alcohol content gives an immediate sensation of heat and warmth.
  28. A 'jack-in-the-box' is the well known toy consisting of a box with a crank on the side; you turn the crank, it plays 'pop goes the weasel', and out pops an obnoxious little clown figure. They are becoming mercifully hard to find these days.
  29. The earliest 'sky-rockets' were fireworks, as we would expect. Fireworks were invented by the Chinese, where they became a staple of new year's celebrations, when their noise and smoke was believed to chase out any bad energy or spirits hanging around from the old year. That said, fireworks were an offshoot of the invention of gunpowder for military purposes and so fireworks are making a silk purse out of a sow's ear, really. They were introduced to Europe from China sometime in the 13th century.
  30. At long last, Alice seems to have accepted the fact that her cat isn't going to be popular in Wonderland – except that how is anybody going to know who or what Dinah is in this crowd, unless a bunch of the folks in it came from the group of animals Alice was in the Pool of Tears with?
  31. Following on the fireworks and gunpowder theme, gunpowder was certainly and fireworks probably shipped in barrels, the premiere shipping container until quite recently. Where there was extra concern about dry contents staying dry or dribbling out of the barrels, the barrels were made by different means with better wood, and the contents were placed in an inner paper sack. As anyone who likes to read in the bath knows, paper loves water, especially in the form of steam or vapour.
  32. Still on the theme of fireworks, the different gunpowder pellets that go into them are pressed into different shapes based on what colour they'll be when they go off, what type of effect they're best for, and so on.
  33. Some more little cakes, this time small enough to be construed as pills by the suspicious.
  34. Under the circumstances though, it wouldn't be such a bad thing for Alice to get bigger. Then she could simply pop the roof off herself.
  35. Guinea pigs are native to south america, where they are still considered good eating. Europeans, finding them too cute to eat, brought them back to europe and began breeding them as pets. They are social animals, and so they are usually sold in pairs. In the wild, they live in small groups, and take over empty burrows rather than digging their own.
  36. Could this be that 'little bright eyed terrier' that lives near Alice's house? Terriers, like border collies, vary quite remarkably in appearance, although in the case of terriers part of that variability comes from being bred into a whole range of types. On average they're small dogs with all sorts of energy. Some breeds are bred for intelligence, for example the Jack Russel terrier, which has become more famous among children who grew up in the 1990's watching the television program 'Wishbone.' The program features a Jack Russel terrier playing the main character in a whole range of stories and novels. Tragically, 'Alice in Wonderland' is not one of them.
  37. Cart horses are definitely large, 178 centimetres tall and sometimes almost the same size around. They must have been quite popular with pub crawlers at one time, because they were the main horses used to draw the carts that brought ale from breweries to taverns.
  38. There is a trend: what Alice drinks makes her larger, and what she eats makes her smaller, as long as it's ordinary food, as we'll soon see.
  39. Presumably Alice is still looking for more ordinary food and drink, or else a conveniently placed garden. Then again, the likelihood of her finding something other than plain water to drink is rather small.
  40. Hallucinogenic mushrooms are a well-known means of having the apparent experience of growing or shrinking to peculiar sizes. Sacred art in africa of extraordinary age depicts people stretched as if seen in a funhouse mirror, long limbed and with long necks surprisingly reminiscent of Tenniel's illustration of Alice in chapter two. So in a way, it's no wonder the mushroom has caused more modern slings and arrows at Lewis Carroll's books than anything else.
  41. Bright colouring may be pleasing to the human eye, but insect eating animals and birds know that a brightly coloured insect is a bad tasting one. There are also appears to be some relationship between the colouring of a caterpillar and its eventual butterfly form, which needn't be the case.
  42. The hookah is a smoking pipe that uses water to filter the smoke, and came originally from india, contrary to the more common expectation that it would be from turkey. Another of its commonly used names in victorian-era literature is 'narghile.' The knock off version is the rather plunky-named bong. Hookah smoking was an event in and of itself, as there was no smoking it for only ten minutes or so: it was at least a forty minute commitment, encouraging a dreamy, abstracted state even without any narcotic additions.
Copyright © C. Osborne 2017
Last Modified: Friday, August 1, 2014 23:28:38