Chapter 9: Bread and a Bit of Plum Cake
"Hatter, did you really mean what you said back at the castle?" Alice inquired, still unable to comprehend the events that had been unfolded while the two were in the White King's Palace. While Hatter's gloomy behavior after informing him this would be her last visit to Wonderland was predictable, she never expected Hatter to act so passionately in her favor. He was even still gripping her hand and pulling her forward despite they were very far from the palace by now. Even though Alice had made up her mind about departing Wonderland for the last time, Hatter's words began to inflict her with doubt. Was she truly ready to grow up? She had thought so but now she was no longer so sure of herself.
"Of course I meant what I said," Hatter replied. "I would have liked to change my clothes since we will be in the presence of Time and well…look at me." He motioned to his torn coat and shirt. "But if we do stop by my house, we will never be able to visit Time and return home before dark." He then gazed down at Alice. "You really need a change of clothes as well." Alice frowned upon this remark until she gazed down upon her clothes to see they were torn and dirty. She figured Time must have been a very important citizen of Wonderland if even Hatter was worried about their appearance considering he was wearing clothes that did not match yesterday.
Alice could not help but to continue pondering Hatter's devotion. He was willing to face a man who he thought he had murdered all for the sake of Alice. Yet, what had Alice done to prevent such a thing from happening? Instead of asking people if there was a way to continue staying in Wonderland and growing up, she had only been concerned with how to leave. In a way, Alice could not help but to feel guilty. She had been so focused on leaving Wonderland when Hatter was willing to do anything in order to keep Alice from leaving. Her actions were not very well thought out: something a child would do.
"I guess I'm not ready to grow up," Alice thought aloud, a hint of disappointment in her voice. Hatter ceased his walking upon hearing Alice's dismayed tone. He let go of Alice's hand for the time being. Although Alice claimed she did not want to leave Wonderland, it was evident she still wished to grow up very much. Whether she would choose Wonderland or growing up (should she have to choose), Hatter was still unsure.
"Maybe not," Hatter replied. "But you will." It was something Hatter did not want to say. But what other choice did he have? As the White Knight had said, Hatter would not be able to cease Alice from growing up which was why there must have been a way for her to remain in Wonderland. There simply had to.
"But if I grow up, I shall have to leave," Alice could not help but to point out, a hint of fear present in her voice.
"Alice, don't think like that," Hatter reprimanded. "We'll find a way. As I said, Time will help us. He'll make it so you can grow up and stay in Wonderland." He spoke with the upmost confidence. However, Hatter was not entirely sure if Time would be able to grant Alice the ability to pass into adulthood and remain in Wonderland. The best he could do for now, until the two reached Time, would be to cheer Alice up. After all, if worse came to worse (and he did not like to think about this topic) and this was Alice's last visit, he wanted it to be a happy one.
Luckily for Hatter, his words comforted Alice. If Hatter had this much faith in Time, Alice truly believed he could assist her.
"Hatter, I'm glad you are going through such great lengths to help me," Alice said.
"Anything for you, Alice," Hatter found himself saying as he began to continue walking. As his feet continued to carry him forward, however, his mind froze after realizing what he had said. His heart began to pound. "You are one of my best friends, after all," Hatter attempted to add as calmly as possible but he could not help but to laugh nervously. He turned his head so he could see Alice's reaction, hoping she did not notice the underlining feelings he possessed in that statement. Luckily, he found Alice smiling.
"You are one of my best friends too Hatter," Alice replied. Hatter relaxed at Alice's reply. She was still much too naive to understand what he had been referring to. Or perhaps she never expected such an inclination from Hatter. After all, he had only discovered these feelings buried inside him just a few minutes ago. Either way, he was glad she had not caught on to his feelings. While he would like nothing more to tell Alice his feelings for her, he still knew this was not a proper action. After all, he was from Wonderland and she was from another world. Even if Alice could find a way to continue visiting Wonderland, he would never be able to become a part of her life the way he now wished to be. Instead, he would have to watch from afar as Alice grew and married within her own society. Still, he would much rather have her with him as much as possible as opposed to never seeing her again.
Contrary to Hatter's belief, while Alice did not understand Hatter's intentional meaning, she could not help but to blush at his comment. She found his actions and speech heartwarming. Everyone she had spoken to in Wonderland had eventually consented to her leaving. But not Hatter. She still could not believe that he was willing to do anything for her as long as it meant her continuing visits. A small bit of the sensation she often felt when around the White Knight was gradually beginning to form within her.
Alice quickened her pace so the two were walking side by side. The path they were walking along was beginning to become much smoother than the previous rocky formation. Alice guessed they must have been nearing a town of some sort. They were still in a lightly wooded area so Alice reasoned they could not have been too near the town. Almost as quickly as they had begun their journey again, Hatter stopped. He gazed up at the sun, shielding its intense rays with his hand.
"Hatter?" Alice inquired, wondering what exactly it was that he was doing. However, Hatter did not answer her. Instead, he removed a pocket watch from his coat and looked upon it. He glanced at its hands briefly before gazing at Alice.
"Alice, you wouldn't by any chance happen to have the time, would you?" Hatter inquired. Alice stared down at Hatter's watch which read six o'clock. This clearly was not the correct time. She then gazed up at the sky, also shielding her eyes from the sun.
"I suppose it's noon," Alice remarked. "Or perhaps an hour or so past."
"Oh dear! This is absolutely dreadful," Hatter remarked, a hint of disappointment in his voice.
"What do you mean? What's wrong," Alice inquired, becoming alarmed. She was afraid this perhaps might have something to do with their meeting Time.
"I have missed tea time!" Hatter exclaimed. Alice raised an eyebrow at this. Hatter was acting completely over dramatic for this type of situation. Nearly every hour of the day could be considered tea time for him.
"But Hatter, tea time is not for another couple of hours," Alice replied soothingly even though she knew Hatter would come up with some sort of explanation as to why tea time was at this precise hour.
"Alice, have you never heard of noon tea?" Hatter remarked, completely surprised that Alice had not the slightest notion as to what he was referring to. After visiting Wonderland for this long, he thought she would have known such an important fact.
"Why, no, I have not," Alice replied, now curious as to what he was referring to.
"It is a tradition for tea at noon. Everyone in Wonderland does. Tea at noon and then tea at six. Everyday. Of course, sometimes we have tea parties at midnight as well. Those are loads of fun. You really should attend a proper one," Hatter said, now going off, reminiscing about some of the most wonderful midnight tea parties in all of Wonderland in which even the Queen of Hearts would attend. The small, sleepover midnight tea party he and Alice had had the previous night was nothing compared to the proper ones. Of course, the two never really got to have tea at midnight either.
"Perhaps I will," Alice remarked calmly, hoping Hatter had forgotten his small crisis. Though, at the same time, she really wished she could attend a midnight tea party. From Hatter's brief description, it sounded like quite an event to attend.
"Well, I simply cannot miss noon tea," Hatter said, now returning to the previous conversation.
"But Hatter, how are you going to have tea now?" Alice inquired. Hatter drifted towards where a series of trees had been cut down: a large tree and two smaller ones. The stumps were arranged in such a way that it created a very low table with two seats. Hatter was satisfied with this perfect little area and sat down upon one of the stumps.
"This will do just fine," Hatter remarked, approving the tea table.
"But Hatter, how do you plan to have a noontime tea with no tea?" Alice inquired. To Alice's surprise, Hatter reached into his pocket to reveal a small bag of tea.
"I always bring one just in case. You never know when the need for tea will arise," Hatter explained. Alice wondered why he did not bother to reveal this bag of tea when the two were in the White Knight's chambers, for he had wanted tea then too. Oh well, he was mad after all.
"Well that's all very well but how are you going to have tea without a teacup?" Alice continued to question. As if on cue, Hatter once again reached into his pocket (the opposite one this time), pulling out a lavender tea cup.
"But you haven't got any water!" Alice protested. She did not even bother to ask how Hatter managed to fit a teacup in his pocket. Though from numerous experiments, I can tell you it is quite possible to fit a teacup in a pocket.
Much to Alice's surprise, Hatter did not seem to be bothered by the fact that there was no water. Placing the bag of tea into the teacup and resting the teacup on the main stump, Hatter walked off. For a moment, Alice was afraid she had offended Hatter. However, Hatter hastily returned to grab the teacup. Once again, Hatter dashed back to wherever it was he had walked off to. When he returned once more, there was water in the teacup.
"There was a stream not too far off," Hatter remarked upon his return.
"You can't be serious," Alice replied. This was all rather silly in Alice's eyes. Going to a stream with possibly unsanitary water for a mere cup of tea was absolutely absurd.
"Of course I am serious. Why wouldn't I be?" Hatter questioned, confused by Alice's remark. As long as he had the proper ingredients for tea making, why should he not enjoy the pleasure of tea?
"The water isn't even warm I'm sure," Alice pointed out.
"So? It's better than no tea at all," Hatter countered.
"Oh Hatter," Alice sighed, realizing there was absolutely no point in arguing with him. Hatter took his seat at the "table" without another word. He motioned for Alice to sit across from him. As a small smile crept over her, Alice sat at the other side of the stump table.
"I'm terribly sorry I only have one teacup," Hatter said apologetically. "Would you like some of the tea before me?" Alice laughed a little at his offering, recalling a time when Hatter, the March Hare, and the Dormouse would drink out of dirty cups. Drinking out of a teacup someone else had already used was no trouble for him.
"No thank you. You enjoy your tea Hatter."
"Are you sure you don't mind? It is rather rude of me to have tea in front of you when you have no tea at all," Hatter replied.
"It's all right Hatter, really." Of course, Alice was merely being polite as she really did not think it was a very good idea to attempt to drink tea without warm water. Then again, she had never tried any with cold water either. For all she knew, Hatter could have been concocting a most delicious tea. But Alice highly doubted that.
Alice watched with curiosity as Hatter attempted to make his tea. He glanced at her occasionally for he did find it rather awkward for her to be staring at him with such fascination even though she had done this countless of times prior. She had been especially curious once the two had gotten to know one another better and Hatter was not so rude to her anymore. He distinctly remembered her constantly pestering him with questions ranging from "how do you managed to drink tea so many times a day?" to "why do you have a tag still present in your hat?". It had taken a while for Hatter to become used to so many questions being asked of him, most of which he did not have an answer to. His heart sank at the recollection of these memories as there was the slight possibility this was all he would have left of Alice once she went back to her world after this visit. That made him very sad indeed.
Meanwhile, Alice felt as though she were under a spell of some sort. Watching Hatter attempt to create tea with the little resources he had was almost hypnotizing even though he was not doing much. The precision his tea making skills provided (no doubt from all the practice he had had over the years) caused Alice to believe he might actually be able to produce a decent cup of tea.
Hatter slowly placed the cup filled with tea (if it could even be called tea at this point). An expression of displeasure formed on his face as the concoction touched his tongue. Despite the horrible taste, Hatter swallowed. Alice could not help but to chuckle at this as the look of distaste was still present upon Hatter's features as he placed the cup down on the stump.
"Well...," Hatter began, not fully knowing what to make of what he had just tasted. It was cold, lacked the wonderful flavor of tea, and was utterly terrible. "...that wasn't the best cup of tea I've had."
"But was it the worse?" Alice questioned, smiling innocently.
"I don't know," Hatter confessed, surprised that he could not answer the question. "It has been an awful long time since I have tasted such terrible tea."
"When was the last time you tasted terrible tea?" Alice inquired.
"When the Dormouse hosted a tea party," Hatter answered quickly, recalling the situation. The March Hare and himself did not know the Dormouse well enough at the time to realize he would fall asleep so many times while attempting to make tea. Not to mention, when he awoke from his small slumbers, the Dormouse would forget what he was doing before he fell asleep. Who knows what was in that tea Hatter and the March Hare tasted. Hatter could have sworn there was a taste of jelly in his cup.
"That sounds like a rather interesting tea party," Alice replied.
"I suppose...though now the March Hare and I only host the tea parties." Hatter then looked up at the sky once more. "We really should be going now." After all, the noontime tea was meant to only last a few minutes. However, Hatter gazed down at his cup as if contemplating an important decision. "Even though it was such terrible tea, I simply don't have the heart to throw it away!" Alice merely shook her head with a smile. She then took the cup from its place on the stump. After waiting a moment to see if Hatter would protest, she dumped the tea onto the ground for him. Luckily, he didn't seem to mind so it really must not have been very good tea.
Alice handed the cup to Hatter who cleaned the remains of the disgusting tea with a handkerchief before placing it back in his pocket. The two then rose from the small table and were about to continue on their journey.
"Having a little noontime tea are we?" an all too familiar voice that appeared omnipresent called out to them. It did not take long for the Cheshire Cat's grin to form on the very table the tea party (if it could even be called a tea party) had occurred.
"We were just about to leave," Alice replied as the Cheshire Cat was still gathering himself on the table.
"Off to see Father Tic Toc I suppose?" the Cheshire Cat inquired slyly.
"As a matter of fact, we were," Hatter replied.
"You know, sometimes you can leave things behind but have them always with you at the same time," the Cheshire Cat remarked.
"What are you trying to say?" Hatter demanded, not wanting to solve the Cheshire Cat's speaking in riddles. He was not very good at riddles after all.
"You can't possibly leave something behind but have it always with you at the same time," Alice insisted.
"Oh but you can," the Cheshire Cat replied.
"Alice, I believe this kitty," Hatter began, clearly insulting the Cheshire Cat, "is referring to our future encounter with Time."
"Perhaps I am or perhaps I am not. Only time will tell," the Cheshire Cat replied, completely ignoring the Hatter's insult. Before the two could question him further, the Cheshire Cat was beginning to disappear once more. "By the way, you really should have waited to have your noontime tea. There's bread and a bit of plum cake just a little ways further," the Cheshire Cat added before completely vanishing.
"What did he mean by 'bread and a bit of plum cake' I wonder?" Hatter inquired, becoming more interested in the idea of having much finer tea than what he had just had.
"I suppose we should just keep walking towards Time," Alice suggested. Hatter merely nodded in agreement and the too continued on their journey to Time.
It did not take them long to discover what the Cheshire Cat had meant by "bread and a bit of plum cake" for the dirt path was now leading them to a small village of some sort. A crowd had manifested in the center of the town. Curious, Hatter and Alice pushed their way through the crowd to find a lion and a unicorn in the center of the crowd.
"Now see here," the Lion was saying. He fixed the pair of glasses that were on his nose so that he may have a better look of the Unicorn. "I am rather tired of having to beat you around the town. So why don't we just skip to the bread and plum cake?"
"Are you mad?" the Unicorn replied, offended by the Lion's suggestion. "There is no way I would give up the crown so easily for the sake of bread and plum cake!"
"What do you suppose is going on?" Alice wondered, not recalling that she had met both the Lion and the Unicorn on a previous journey to Wonderland.
"I haven't the slightest idea," Hatter admitted.
"Perhaps we should help them? If that is what the Cheshire Cat was referring to," Alice suggested.
"I suppose. I do really wish to have some bread and plum cake after all. They both go exceptionally well with tea," Hatter reasoned.
The Lion and the Unicorn were just about to begin their fight (to which, the Lion was moving rather sluggishly towards his opponent), when Alice and Hatter stepped into the center of the circle with them.
"There really is no need for the two of you to fight," Alice interjected, attempting to create harmony between the two parties.
"Of course there is a reason for us to fight! A mere monster such as yourself would never understand such an intellectual concept as politics," the Unicorn replied.
"But I'm no monster!" Alice exclaimed, offended at such a remark.
"Indeed," Hatter added, attempting to defend her. Of course, this was not the best way to defend someone who had just been called a monster.
"We really must fight for the crown," the Lion insisted even though moments ago he was protesting the matter.
"What crown?" Hatter inquired.
"Why, the White King's crown of course," the Unicorn answered as if this was a ridiculous question.
"So you both serve the Red King and are attempting to take the White King's crown?" Alice inquired. Though, if they were both on the side of the Red King, it really did not make much sense for them to fight over who would conquer the White King.
"Why, that's a silly thing to say," the Unicorn replied. "Of course we both serve the White King. Though, I should expect nothing less from a monster."
"But if you are both on the White King's side, why on earth should you want to take his crown? That's completely absurd!" Alice exclaimed.
"And Alice is not a monster. She's Alice," Hatter added.
"I do believe, the townspeople are providing the bread and plum cake," the Lion interjected as he pointed slowly towards a group of people who were setting a small table, placing bread and cake upon it.
"But we haven't even fought yet!" the Unicorn protested. Everything must go accordingly in his eyes. There were no short cuts.
"We might as well save our strength for when we get kicked out of town," the Lion replied reasonably.
"Have they got any tea with the bread and plum cake?" Hatter inquired. The simple look of the plum cake and bread was coaxing him to have some tea.
"I don't see why not," the Unicorn replied, appearing to now consent with the idea of having bread and plum cake.
Poor Alice became very confused by the sudden change of events. Though, she supposed since the fighting had ceased, there really was no point in sorting the matter out. By this time, Hatter had already made himself comfortable as he was now sitting at the table beside the Lion and the Unicorn. He was in the process of serving tea to everyone when Alice finally sat down. Aside from the tea, there was a bit of brown bread and white bread upon everyone's individual plate in addition to a small slice of plum cake.
"Does it not seem strange that no one else from the town is enjoying the small meal?" Alice could not help but to point out as the townspeople were waiting for the Lion and the Unicorn to finish.
"Oh, not to worry, they get their fair share," the Unicorn replied, taking a sip of tea.
"Indeed. Besides, they do not have to suffer the unfortunate event of being driven out of town everyday," the Lion added, eating some of his white bread.
"That is rather unfortunate," Hatter replied before taking a sip of his own tea. Judging from his expression, he was content with the taste and delighted by the fact he was now having proper tea.
"Yes, but if it is for the sake of the crown then it must be done," the Lion remarked, as if contradicting his previous statement once more.
"I suppose," Alice said, still not entirely sure why the two were fighting over the crown for their king in the first place.
"If I may, what brings two monsters such as yourselves to a town like this?" the Unicorn inquired.
"Two monsters?" Hatter could not help but to exclaim, nearly choking on his tea. He did not like the idea of being deemed a monster no more than Alice did.
"We're on our way to visit Time," Alice answered. She was now preparing to take a bite of the plum cake in addition to enjoying some tea.
"You don't say?" the Lion remarked, dipping some brown bread in his tea and then taking a bite of the soggy bread. Crumbs fell into the cup, remaining there, drifting within the tea.
"We do say," Hatter replied.
"How interesting. I don't believe I've ever met Time," the Unicorn stated though it was clear from the tone in his voice that he was not interested in the subject matter.
"Wasn't he murdered quite a while ago?" the Lion inquired. Hatter began to slowly sink into his seat as if not wanting to draw attention to himself. Of course, this only caused more attention on him.
"Actually, that was a mistake. He was never really murdered," Alice corrected. She could see from Hatter's behavior he clearly did not want to discuss the controversial matter and Alice did not blame him.
"No, no, no. I could have sworn he was murdered by some singer or a sort," the Lion insisted.
"Yes, I remember now," the Unicorn chimed in. "The Queen announced that he had been murdered. Poor fellow. I don't believe his murderer was ever brought to justice. That is the sad part of it all."
"They really should have shut whoever it was in jail before he had the chance to commit the crime!" the Lion exclaimed, nearly knocking his tea over.
"But he wasn't murdered!" Alice protested. "We wouldn't be going to see him if he was murdered."
"What a stupid thing to say. Of course you can visit Time even after he's been murdered. It's not like murdering him will stop Time," the Unicorn remarked.
"I don't believe I know what you mean," Alice replied, quite confused.
"See here: if you murder Time, time still continues on. It doesn't just stop all of a sudden. That's a mad way of thinking," the Unicorn answered. Hatter winced slightly at the Unicorn's answer as he was a man who had felt time had completely come to an end due to the murder of Time.
"He's quite right you know. Once Time is murdered, he'll just come back again," the Lion added.
"But then that means..." Alice began, attempting to reason the Lion and Unicorn's explanations. "Hatter! Did you really murder Time?"
"Of course not!" Hatter exclaimed, offended even Alice was considering such a crime. Then again, he had been certain he did murder Time at one point.
"Then, you murdered Time?" the Lion inquired, appalled by this new information.
"No!" Hatter returned, frantically attempting to defend himself. His constant exclamations however, appeared to only convince the Lion and the Unicorn that he was guilty.
"I knew there was something strange about these two monsters!" the Unicorn cried, ready to seize the two and force them to suffer for their crime even though it was only Hatter who could possibly be convicted.
However, the confrontation was cut short for it was now time for the townspeople to drive both the Lion and the Unicorn out of town. A swarm of people came charging towards the table filled with bread and plum cake. Hatter quickly grabbed Alice's wrist and pulled her away from the table. The two struggled to fight past the crowd as people came rushing in. The Lion's roar could be heard from behind them followed by a loud neigh of the Unicorn. Luckily, none of the townspeople bothered to attack the potential murderer of Time (for they were not eavesdropping on the conversation taking place at the table; that would be very rude indeed). While the people were too preoccupied with the Lion and the Unicorn, Alice and Hatter ran as far away from the town as they possibly could as though they were guilty of ending Time's life.