Curiouser and Curiouser: Pig and Pepper

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Chapter 6

For a minute or two she stood looking at the house, and wondering what to do next, when suddenly a footman in livery came running out of the wood, with the face of a fish and rapped loudly at the door with his knuckles. It was opened by another footman in livery, with a round face, and large eyes like a frog; and both footmen, Alice noticed, had powdered hair that curled all over their heads. She was curious to know what was going on and crept a little way out of the wood to listen.

The Fish-Footman began by producing from under his arm a great letter, nearly as large as himself, and this he handed over to the other, saying, in a solemn tone, ‘For the Duchess. An invitation from the Queen to play croquet.’ The Frog-Footman repeated, in the same solemn tone, only changing the order of the words a little, ‘From the Queen. An invitation for the Duchess to play croquet.’

Then they both bowed low, and their curls got entangled together. Alice laughed so loud that she had to take some steps backwards into the forest to keep them from hearing her; and when she next peeped out the Fish-Footman was gone, and the other was sitting on the ground near the door, staring up into the sky. Alice went up to the door and knocked.

‘There’s no sort of use in knocking,’ said the Footman, ‘for two reasons. First, because I’m on the same side of the door as you are; Second, because they’re making such a noise inside, no one could possibly hear you.’

From inside Alice could hear a wild howling, sneezing and occasionally huge crashes of things being broken. ‘Please, then,’ said Alice, ‘how am I to get in?’

‘ARE you to get in at all?’ said the Footman.

At this Alice decided she had had enough of the puzzling remarks from the creatures she had met today and so she opened the door and went in.

The walls were a vibrant lemon yellow but Alice could barely see them as the room was so full of smoke. The Duchess was sitting at a small wooden table, nursing a bundle. Standing at the stove, under a rack of washing suspended from the ceiling, the cook tentatively stirred a concoction which Alice presumed was soup. Leaning over the pot to get a better look Alice began to sneeze terribly.

There’s certainly too much pepper in that soup!’ Alice said to herself, as well as she could for sneezing. There was definitely too much of it in the air. Even the Duchess sneezed occasionally; and as for the baby, it was sneezing and howling alternately without a moment’s pause. The only things in the kitchen that did not sneeze, were the cook, and a large cat which was sitting on the hearth and grinning from ear to ear.

‘Please would you tell me,’ said Alice, ‘why your cat grins like that?’

‘It’s a Cheshire cat,’ said the Duchess, ‘and that’s why. Pig!’ She said the last word with such sudden violence that Alice quite jumped; but she saw in another moment that it was addressed to the baby.

‘Here! you may nurse it a bit, if you like!’ the Duchess said to Alice, flinging the baby at her as she spoke. `I must go and get ready to play croquet with the Queen,’ and she hurried out of the room. The cook threw a frying-pan after her as she went out, but it just missed her. Alice caught the baby with some difficulty, as it was a queer-shaped little creature, and held out its arms and legs in all directions, `just like a star-fish,’ thought Alice. The poor little thing was snorting like a steam-engine when she caught it and kept doubling itself up and straightening itself out again. Alice struggled to contain the child but after a minute or so had figured out a suitable position and set about walking it through the house in an attempt to settle him.

She started upon entering the next room, it was as if she had walked into a completely different building entirely. Strange alcoves ran along both sides – to her left was what looked like a tiled kitchen behind a wooden counter – ‘H NUTTALL MAKER ROCHDALE’ was written upon one of the tiles. To her right was something even more curious – a large cart, brightly coloured with reds, blues and yellows with the elaborately painted sign ‘ROAST POTATOES’.

The baby grunted and Alice looked very anxiously into its face to see what was the matter with it. There could be no doubt that it had a VERY turned-up nose, much more like a snout than a real nose; also its eyes were getting extremely small for a baby: altogether Alice did not like the look of the thing at all. Alice was just beginning to think to herself, ‘Now, what am I to do with this creature when I get it home?’ when it grunted again, so violently, that she looked down into its face in some alarm. This time there could be NO mistake about it: it was neither more nor less than a pig, and she felt that it would be quite absurd for her to carry it further. She placed the pig-baby on the tiled floor by the roast potato cart and walked towards the door. ‘If it had grown up,’ she said to herself, ‘it would have made a dreadfully ugly child: but it makes rather a handsome pig, I think.’

And she began thinking over other children she knew, who might do very well as pigs, she was a little startled by seeing the Cheshire Cat sitting on a bough of a tree a few yards off. The Cat only grinned when it saw Alice. It looked good- natured, she thought, still it had VERY long claws and a great many teeth, so she felt that it ought to be treated with respect.

“Cheshire Puss,” she began, rather timidly, “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“What sort of people live about here?”

“In THAT direction,” the Cat said, waving its right paw round, “lives a Hatter: and in THAT direction,” waving the other paw, “lives a March Hare. Visit either you like: they’re both mad.”  “But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.

“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”

“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.

“You must be,”said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.

“will you play croquet with the Queen to-day?”

“I should like it very much,” said Alice, “but I haven’t been invited yet.”

“You’ll see me there,” said the Cat, vanishing quite slowly, beginning with the end of the tail, and ending with the grin, which remained sometime after the rest of it had gone.

She had not gone much farther before she came in sight of the house of the March Hare: she thought it must be the right house, because the chimneys were shaped like ears and the roof was thatched with fur. She walked up towards it rather timidly, saying to herself “Suppose it should be raving mad after all! I almost wish I’d gone to see the Hatter instead. “


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Discover and Play

Chapter 6 Featured Object:

Cat Dish
Earthenware dish painted with a cheerful cat
Made by Andrew McGarva, Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire

I wish you wouldn’t keep appearing and vanishing so suddenly: you make one quite giddy.”

“All right,” said the Cat; and this time it vanished quite slowly, beginning with the end of the tail, and ending with the grin, which remained some time after the rest of it had gone.

“Well! I’ve often seen a cat without a grin,” thought Alice; “but a grin without a cat! It’s the most curious thing I ever saw in my life!”

The Cheshire Cat with its disconcerting grin is one of the most memorable characters in the book, not least for its remarkable habit of appearing and disappearing. However, the phrase “to grin like a Cheshire cat” was in popular use at least eighty years before Carroll used it, appearing in A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue published in 1788. As for the meaning of the phrase, opinion is divided with many fanciful suggestions.