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Protect Your Melon and Other Things

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Disclaimer: Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass is the original creation of Lewis Carroll as are
the characters who appear here or are mentioned. They are not mine and are only 'borrowed for the purposes of the story.
The same goes for the Dr. Seuss character, Bartholomew.

For jougetsu's request in Round 3 of the Once upon a Time Exchange

"Protect Your Melon and Other Things"

Bartholomew Cubbins had escaped the more dire consequences of his rather spectacular display of haberdashery. To be honest even he had not anticipated that this would be happen and even at this late date he still had to wonder if it had had more to do with his own wherewithal or even something beyond his control had been at work. It was odd that the King, who had seemed so affable and approachable had now become brusque and hostile.

The jailors never hurried to bring him his bread and water and he was allowed few visitors. It was really too bad that he had not been allowed to kept the strands of fabric, yards of muslin, and wool, in colors as varied in colors of maroon, and cobalt blue and canary yellow, and chequered black and white silk. He felt around in his pockets and in the folds of his tunic and found a bit of leftover fabric.

He stood up and stretched. rubbing at the sore spot on the back of his neck where he had been struck with a blunt instrument. That done he glanced up toward the only slit window. He thought that if he could push the stool over there, tie enough of the material together in order to climb out of the window.

As he was in the midst of doing this his attention was arrested by a flickering of light, not given off by the one candle he was allowed to have.

Encounter

At first he thought it was just his over-active imagination playing tricks on him, then when it became too pronounced to dismiss his got off his stool to investigate. The glow grew brighter and brighter and he saw a pair of slit green/gold eyes appear, then a pair of pointed ears and tail, and a wide toothy grin.

Bartholomew was vaguely aware that he should be frightened, but somehow that did not register at all. Finally when he was on the verge of reaching out to touch the not quite substantial shimmering spot; the entire creature became solidly visible.

"Greetings," said the cat. For that was what it was.

"Hi, Cat," replied Bartholomew. For how else did one address a cat?

The creature did not seem to mind as it mock-attentively washed it whiskers with its long pink tongue. "I suppose that this is a bit startling for you, being accustomed to the humdrum mundanity of non-talking felines and whatnot."

"Actually, ah, no. I have heard of talking cats, in fact my favorite story ever since I was a kid was the story of Duke Ellington and his cat. But, I've never imagined that I would ever actually encounter one." Sir, do you have a name?"

"Indeed, Indeed, You may call me the Cheshire Cat," it purred.

"To what do I owe the honor?"

"Well, it has come to my attention that you are in a bit of a pickle and I've come to get you out of it."

"That is awfully kind of you, but I had a plan."

"A plan?"

"I was in the midst of climbing out of yonder window," the young man pointed to it, "when you ah, appeared.

"Ah, yes, what then?"

Bartholomew scratched at his chin, and shrugged. "I ah, was kind of making it up as I went along. Perhaps when I returned home I could ask my friends and family for the money to pay off the debts I've incurred from the ah, hat incident.

"This sounds like an interesting romp indeed; but for now, come closer and put your hand on my back."

"What for?" the young man asked.

"You are to come with me. You can tell me all about the hat incident when we arrive."

"Arrive?" Was all he was able to get out when in a puff of smoke and the feeling of falling from a very high up place swept over him and he knew no more.

When the king's guards arrived for a belated delivery of the prisoner's bread and wine they found an empty cell, and a kicked over stool and pieces of torn fabric scattered all over like petals in a windstorm.

 

**** Interlude
When he came to; the young man realized that he was stood in the midst of the most beautiful garden he had ever seen. When he turned around he saw that the garden was on the south end of a sprawling palace vaguely reminiscent of the King's residence which had so recently been the site of his own most recent troubles.

He shook his head and glanced about for the whereabouts of his benefactor. He finally saw the Cheshire Cat up in the branches of a maple tree.

"There you are, Sir. Where are we?"

"Wonderland," the Cat replied.

"Where is that?"

"Under the ground, of course as anyone with a lick of sense would know. We have a ways to go. I think we should walk there until you recover from the trip here."

"Now that you mention it," the young man said. "I do feel a bit woozy, I am famished and very thirsty. Will be there aught to eat and drink where we're going?"

"As to food and drink, well, if you like tea and scones. Come now." ***
It was a long walk and Bartholomew had to stop every now and again to rest, and the Cat was seemingly quite patient, only disappearing and then reappearing in the branches of various trees for varying lengths of time.
He never questioned where his guide went or what he did. He knew from long experience that cats were notoriously unpredictable. And he was feeling that if they did not find a place that the Cat said he had to go and meet the person that Cat said he had to meet soon, well, he would just sink down into the tall grass and clover and sleep for a year and a day.

The Cheshire Cat appeared at his elbow, "It's just a little further now.."

Eventually they reached a grove where a large trestle table had been set up and laid out for afternoon tea. Several figures were gathered around it, engaged in conversation. One was man-sized who wore a tattered coat and slacks and had a tall skinny hat with a pointed tip and figures that Bartholomew could have sworn were measurements.

The other was a hare or an extremely big rabbit siting on a chair on its hind legs. The third figure was not sitting in a chair at all, but rather had ensconced itself inside a cracked tea-cup and was even now engaged in spreading jam on a cracker with a miniature knife.

"Ah, Mister Cat, are you certain that this is the right place?" he asked.

"As certain as I am that day follows night, and night follows day," replied the Cheshire Cat." Greetings, Hatter."

"Hatter?"

"You have a talent for haberdashery, if I am not mistaken," the Cat remarked.

"I do."Uhm, I do not wish to be impolite, but as to food and drink..."

"Have some tea, and scones. But no tarts, the last person who tried to steal Her Majesty's tarts... Well, let's just say he ended up in a very bad way."

"In Jail?"

The young man sat down and reached for a cup and saucer and then the tea kettle and poured himself some tea. It was hot and sweet and it went down smoothly as he drank it all.

The Hare seemed a bit put out but said nothing contenting himself with a sidelong glare at the newcomer.

"Hatter, attend me!" The Cat said loudly.

"What? What?" The Hatter stuttered. "What this now. Oh, it's you, Cheshire You old rascal. You should know better than to interrupt me when I am engaged in my tea party."

"It's always tea party with you," replied the Cat. You could stop for a moment, you know?"

"Why?" the Hatter asked.

"Because I've brought someone to met you."

"Oh?"

"Yes, Bartholomew, the Mad Hatter, Hatter, this is Bartholomew."

"Mad?"

"Oh, I should not worry over much about that, we're all mad here. You're mad, I'm mad, he's mad. In his case it might be more than a title." The Cat shrugged.

"Why did you bring him? In an aside that was not as quiet as he no doubt intended it to be; the Hatter asked the Cheshire Cat, "Why did you bring him? And is he related to that, you know Who?"

"I brought him because he came to my attention, even through the veils that separate our world from all the others. And, well, he needed help."

"You, old bean, are not one noted for your, ah, charity cases." What kind of help?"

The Hatter came forward and took the young man's hand, pumping it up and down for a good solid minute or two. "Nice to met you."

The young man wiped the crumbs of a delicious pear scone from his mouth, stood up and came over to where the Hatter stood with the Cat. "Nice to met you, too. ah, What did you say your name was?'

"Bartholomew."

"Right, Bartholomew." Mind if I call you Bart?"

"Not at all," replied the young man.

"Where did you say you were from?"

"I, ah didn't say. You see, I never imagined that there might be other worlds adjacent to ours. I just read about them but I think secretly I always believed that it might be possible."

"The Cat brought you here from your world."

"Yes."

"Why?"

"I don't know. He just said that I had to meet you and that I would be mutually beneficial."

"Are you really a Hatter? I do have ah, more than a little talent and experience in that area. In fact, too much talent if truth be told."

At the mention of the word haberdashery a light was kindled in the Mad Hatter's eyes and his posture markedly improved. He tugged at the collar of his periwinkle blue cravat and shuffled his feet in his size ten shoes.
"You know your way around fabrics, measurements, and whatnot, Bart."

"I do, You see my family comes from a long line of haberdashers, we're all in the same guild so to speak. In fact, as the Cheshire Cat has probably told you it was that incident with the King that led to our accquaintance."
"What happened?"

"Well, it all started with a royal commission to make 500 hats for the king, the Queen, and the royal family and the royal guard. And when the time came to make the delivery something went dreadfully awry.
As I was making my way up the royal procession to the front gates of the palace suddenly all the hats we had made began to fly hither and yon, And before I knew it, all the hats were everywhere. It was inconceivable, Sir, simply inconceivable."

"I believe you," the Mad Hatter replied. "Remarkable. In fact, I should think that I will make you an offer."

The Mad Hatter did a fancy little jig step and laughed. "Mister Bart, I have a wonderful idea."

"Yes?"

"Is there anyone waiting for you back home?" Anyone you are promised to?"

"No, just my family." It's a large family and they don't have nearly enough to money to pay off the debts incurred from the 500 hats fiasco."

"Capital! exclaimed the Mad Hatter. Then it's settled. How would you like to stay and become my journeyman apprentince?"

"In making hats?"

"Not just hats, but ties, cravats, silk stockings, you name it. The world is your oyster! What do you say, young man?"

"I say, Well, okay, then."

"Excellent, have some tea."

Just then the Doormouse began to sing in a reedy, thin but not untuneful voice the opening strains of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star."

In the midst of this no one noticed the disappearance of the Cheshire Cat.
***