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CHAPTER III

A Caucus-Race and a Long Tale


They were indeed a queer-looking party that assembled on the
bank--the birds with draggled feathers, the animals with their
fur clinging close to them, and all dripping wet, cross, and
uncomfortable.

The first question of course was, how to get dry again: they
had a consultation about this, and after a few minutes it seemed
quite natural to Alice to find herself talking familiarly with
them, as if she had known them all her life. Indeed, she had
quite a long argument with the Lory, who at last turned sulky,
and would only say, `I am older than you, and must know better';
and this Alice would not allow without knowing how old it was,
and, as the Lory positively refused to tell its age, there was no
more to be said.

At last the Mouse, who seemed to be a person of authority among
them, called out, `Sit down, all of you, and listen to me! I'LL
soon make you dry enough!' They all sat down at once, in a large
ring, with the Mouse in the middle. Alice kept her eyes
anxiously fixed on it, for she felt sure she would catch a bad
cold if she did not get dry very soon.

`Ahem!' said the Mouse with an important air, `are you all ready?
This is the driest thing I know. Silence all round, if you please!
"William the Conqueror, whose cause was favoured by the pope, was
soon submitted to by the English, who wanted leaders, and had been
of late much accustomed to usurpation and conquest. Edwin and
Morcar, the earls of Mercia and Northumbria--"'

`Ugh!' said the Lory, with a shiver.

`I beg your pardon!' said the Mouse, frowning, but very
politely: `Did you speak?'

`Not I!' said the Lory hastily.

`I thought you did,' said the Mouse. `--I proceed. "Edwin and
Morcar, the earls of Mercia and Northumbria, declared for him:
and even Stigand, the patriotic archbishop of Canterbury, found
it advisable--"'

`Found WHAT?' said the Duck.

`Found IT,' the Mouse replied rather crossly: `of course you
know what "it" means.'

`I know what "it" means well enough, when I find a thing,' said
the Duck: `it's generally a frog or a worm. The question is,
what did the archbishop find?'

The Mouse did not notice this question, but hurriedly went on,
`"--found it advisable to go with Edgar Atheling to meet William
and offer him the crown. William's conduct at first was
moderate. But the insolence of his Normans--" How are you
getting on now, my dear?' it continued, turning to Alice as it
spoke.

`As wet as ever,' said Alice in a melancholy tone: `it doesn't
seem to dry me at all.'

`In that case,' said the Dodo solemnly, rising to its feet, `I
move that the meeting adjourn, for the immediate adoption of more
energetic remedies--'

`Speak English!' said the Eaglet. `I don't know the meaning of
half those long words, and, what's more, I don't believe you do
either!' And the Eaglet bent down its head to hide a smile:
some of the other birds tittered audibly.

`What I was going to say,' said the Dodo in an offended tone,
`was, that the best thing to get us dry would be a Caucus-race.'

`What IS a Caucus-race?' said Alice; not that she wanted much
to know, but the Dodo had paused as if it thought that SOMEBODY
ought to speak, and no one else seemed inclined to say anything.

`Why,' said the Dodo, `the best way to explain it is to do it.'
(And, as you might like to try the thing yourself, some winter
day, I will tell you how the Dodo managed it.)

First it marked out a race-course, in a sort of circle, (`the
exact shape doesn't matter,' it said,) and then all the party
were placed along the course, here and there. There was no `One,
two, three, and away,' but they began running when they liked,
and left off when they liked, so that it was not easy to know
when the race was over. However, when they had been running half
an hour or so, and were quite dry again, the Dodo suddenly called
out `The race is over!' and they all crowded round it, panting,
and asking, `But who has won?'

This question the Dodo could not answer without a great deal of
thought, and it sat for a long time with one finger pressed upon
its forehead (the position in which you usually see Shakespeare,
in the pictures of him), while the rest waited in silence. At
last the Dodo said, `EVERYBODY has won, and all must have
prizes.'

`But who is to give the prizes?' quite a chorus of voices
asked.

`Why, SHE, of course,' said the Dodo, pointing to Alice with
one finger; and the whole party at once crowded round her,
calling out in a confused way, `Prizes! Prizes!'

Alice had no idea what to do, and in despair she put her hand
in her pocket, and pulled out a box of comfits, (luckily the salt
water had not got into it), and handed them round as prizes.
There was exactly one a-piece all round.

`But she must have a prize herself, you know,' said the Mouse.

`Of course,' the Dodo replied very gravely. `What else have
you got in your pocket?' he went on, turning to Alice.

`Only a thimble,' said Alice sadly.

`Hand it over here,' said the Dodo.

Then they all crowded round her once more, while the Dodo
solemnly presented the thimble, saying `We beg your acceptance of
this elegant thimble'; and, when it had finished this short
speech, they all cheered.

Alice thought the whole thing very absurd, but they all looked
so grave that she did not dare to laugh; and, as she could not
think of anything to say, she simply bowed, and took the thimble,
looking as solemn as she could.

The next thing was to eat the comfits: this caused some noise
and confusion, as the large birds complained that they could not
taste theirs, and the small ones choked and had to be patted on
the back. However, it was over at last, and they sat down again
in a ring, and begged the Mouse to tell them something more.

`You promised to tell me your history, you know,' said Alice,
`and why it is you hate--C and D,' she added in a whisper, half
afraid that it would be offended again.

`Mine is a long and a sad tale!' said the Mouse, turning to
Alice, and sighing.

`It IS a long tail, certainly,' said Alice, looking down with
wonder at the Mouse's tail; `but why do you call it sad?' And
she kept on puzzling about it while the Mouse was speaking, so
that her idea of the tale was something like this:--

`Fury said to a
mouse, That he
met in the
house,
"Let us
both go to
law: I will
prosecute
YOU. --Come,
I'll take no
denial; We
must have a
trial: For
really this
morning I've
nothing
to do."
Said the
mouse to the
cur, "Such
a trial,
dear Sir,
With
no jury
or judge,
would be
wasting
our
breath."
"I'll be
judge, I'll
be jury,"
Said
cunning
old Fury:
"I'll
try the
whole
cause,
and
condemn
you
to
death."'


`You are not attending!' said the Mouse to Alice severely.
`What are you thinking of?'

`I beg your pardon,' said Alice very humbly: `you had got to
the fifth bend, I think?'

`I had NOT!' cried the Mouse, sharply and very angrily.

`A knot!' said Alice, always ready to make herself useful, and
looking anxiously about her. `Oh, do let me help to undo it!'

`I shall do nothing of the sort,' said the Mouse, getting up
and walking away. `You insult me by talking such nonsense!'

`I didn't mean it!' pleaded poor Alice. `But you're so easily
offended, you know!'

The Mouse only growled in reply.

`Please come back and finish your story!' Alice called after
it; and the others all joined in chorus, `Yes, please do!' but
the Mouse only shook its head impatiently, and walked a little
quicker.

`What a pity it wouldn't stay!' sighed the Lory, as soon as it
was quite out of sight; and an old Crab took the opportunity of
saying to her daughter `Ah, my dear! Let this be a lesson to you
never to lose YOUR temper!' `Hold your tongue, Ma!' said the
young Crab, a little snappishly. `You're enough to try the
patience of an oyster!'

`I wish I had our Dinah here, I know I do!' said Alice aloud,
addressing nobody in particular. `She'd soon fetch it back!'

`And who is Dinah, if I might venture to ask the question?'
said the Lory.

Alice replied eagerly, for she was always ready to talk about
her pet: `Dinah's our cat. And she's such a capital one for
catching mice you can't think! And oh, I wish you could see her
after the birds! Why, she'll eat a little bird as soon as look
at it!'

This speech caused a remarkable sensation among the party.
Some of the birds hurried off at once: one old Magpie began
wrapping itself up very carefully, remarking, `I really must be
getting home; the night-air doesn't suit my throat!' and a Canary
called out in a trembling voice to its children, `Come away, my
dears! It's high time you were all in bed!' On various pretexts
they all moved off, and Alice was soon left alone.

`I wish I hadn't mentioned Dinah!' she said to herself in a
melancholy tone. `Nobody seems to like her, down here, and I'm
sure she's the best cat in the world! Oh, my dear Dinah! I
wonder if I shall ever see you any more!' And here poor Alice
began to cry again, for she felt very lonely and low-spirited.
In a little while, however, she again heard a little pattering of
footsteps in the distance, and she looked up eagerly, half hoping
that the Mouse had changed his mind, and was coming back to
finish his story.




Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Category:
Children's literature
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