Curiouser and Curiouser: The Caucus-Race

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Chapter 3

“But what IS a Caucus-race, exactly?” asked Alice.

“Well, I think the best way to explain what a Caucus-race is, is to have a Caucus-race!” said the Dodo, already marking out a racecourse in a sort of circle. There was no: ‘ready, set, go!’. Instead, they ran whenever they liked, and left off when they liked, so it was not very easy to know when the race was over.

However, after running for half an hour or so, when everyone was dry again, the Dodo called out: “The race is over!” and all the creatures crowded around it, panting and asking: “But who has won?”
“EVERYBODY has won!” the dodo said, “and all must have prizes!”

Prizes?! All Alice could think to do was put a hand into her pocket, pull out a bag of comfits, and began handing them out. There was one each for everyone, except for Alice herself.

“But she must have a prize herself, you know!” said the Mouse.

“Of course,” the Dodo replied, very gravely indeed. “What else have you got in your pocket?”
Only a thimble,” said Alice, sadly.
“Hand it to me,” said the Dodo. They all crowded around her once more, while the Dodo presented the thimble. “We beg your acceptance of this elegant thimble.”

Alice thought the whole thing to be very absurd; and being unable to conjure any words, she simply bowed and took the thimble. They found some comfy chairs and sat down again next to the ghost child, back in the now tear-less case room, and begged the mouse to tell them more stories.

“You promised to tell me your history,” Alice enquired, “you know, why it is you hate C and D?”

The mouse, clearing his throat, began to talk of all sorts of non-sensical things. Alice soon found her thoughts drifting away, thinking instead of Dinah, which lead her to say aloud, to nobody in particular: “I wish I had our Dinah here, I know I do!”

“And who is Dinah, if I might venture to ask the question?” said the Lory.
“Dinah’s our cat!” Alice replied eagerly, excited to talk about her pet. “And she’s so good at catching mice you can’t think! And oh, if you could see her after the birds! Why, she’ll eat a little bird as soon as look at it!”

Alice’s words caused a remarkable sensation among the party. Some of the birds hurried off at once. The old Magpie began wrapping itself up, while a Canary pulled its children away to bed. One after another the creatures left and Alice was alone. Here she began to cry again, for she felt very lonely and low-spirited. After a while, however, she heard a familiar pattering of footsteps in the distance. Eagerly, she looked up…

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When Alice cries a large pool of tears, she falls into the water along with birds, and other animals. Alice leads them to shore but soon upsets the party by fondly recalling the activities of her family cat.

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 … 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.

The real danger to the canaries used in this cage came not from cats, but from dangerous underground gases. Before electronic sensors where introduced, miners would carry a canary in a small cage. The birds were particularly sensitive to toxic gases such as carbon monoxide which is colourless, odourless and tasteless. Any sign of distress from the canary was a clear sign that the conditions were unsafe and that miners should be evacuated.

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