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Down and Out in Underland

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He would have been loathe to admit it, but Hamish Ascot had never stopped wondering what Alice Kingsleigh had been up to on his estate all of three years ago, the afternoon she had rejected his marriage proposal. Now that she had sent word to her family that she would not be returning to England for anything more than an occasional short visit, this question was becoming something of an obsession. Which explains why he was poking about with his cane in the garden on a bright summer morning, barely caring that he was getting the hems of his trousers wet.

“Dratted girl,” he muttered under his breath. “There's nothing here except flowers and trees. Whatever could have been so strange as to pull her away for hours and send her back more eccentric than ever?”

Reaching a large oak tree with protruding roots, Hamish peered down to see if there might be anything of interest among them. “Just a rabbit hole,” he said to himself. “But certainly a large one. I wonder if it houses a family of the creatures?”

Curious despite himself, he knelt down carefully and poked his head into the rabbit hole. And suddenly the earth beneath his knees was crumbling away and he was pitching forward into the darkness...sliding...falling...

And how the devil could he still be falling? And what was that—it looked for all the world like a candelabra. And a bed? Surely not. Bloody hell—his walking stick had just caught on a tangle of what looked for all the world like chair legs. He pulled at it, but to no avail. He kept falling, leaving behind a very nice cane that he had been quite proud of. Bugger. But still. This had to be one of those dreams where one is falling and wakes up before hitting the bottom, he thought.

Until he hit the bottom with quite a jar, finding himself on the floor of a very strange round room full of doors.

Now he was beginning to feel quite alarmed, although he would never admit it, even to himself. He circled the room, trying door after door but finding none unlocked, until he came to the one that stood only knee-high. He couldn't even get his shoulders through that one. If he'd had his cane, he would have thrashed the door in frustration, he thought.

This was making him tired, and he slumped to the floor next to a glass table in the center of the room, bumping it as he did so and knocking its contents onto the floor. This was of minor importance to him, though, once he saw the little blown-glass bottle sitting on the floor next to him. “That tag must be a label of ingredients,” he thought, but discovered that it read only “Drink Me.”

The first thought in his mind was poison. But then he reasoned that no one would really be that obvious if trying to get someone to drink poison. And what would be the point in poisoning a stranger? Besides, if he was really stuck in this room, he would die of starvation eventually anyway, so poison would merely speed up the process. Mostly, though, he was thirsty, and a nice liqueur would not be amiss.

“Sweet, almost too sweet,” he thought as he took a sip, and then his only thoughts were of the gobsmacked variety as he seemed to be shrinking, with a feeling of vertigo possibly worse than that which he had felt during his fall through the rabbit hole, leaving him in puddle of the clothes he had been wearing.

That was absurd, of course. This had to be a dream, he thought, even if dream logic didn't normally lend itself to solutions to problems, such as the fact that he now seemed to be the right size to fit through the small door, and was wearing a not-unattractive pair of tan trousers and daycoat. And that tiny gold key on the floor, which had fallen from the table when he bumped it—it seemed to be the key that fit that door. A small round cake had landed on the floor as well, and he absently stuffed both it and the cordial bottle (for such it must be) into his pockets. Even in dreams, one might enjoy refreshments, he thought.

And thus went Hamish Ascot into Underland, items in his pockets of whose significance he could not even begin to imagine, wearing magical clothing, into adventures that he would be hard-pressed to believe.