But I couldn't hide the amused ghost of a smile on my lips at hearing the familiar phrase.
"Certainly, Alice," agreed the Mad Hatter. "Er, Melody. My apologies. We're all feeling a bit- out of sorts, don't you know. The Cheshire's transformation into such an awful creature was a bit alarming, see. I suppose you're the one he's been waiting for. 'A new Alice.' Imagine. Mind, I don't know what he wants he wants with you... we'll stay close to you during your meeting; let me just call on the White Rabbit, I'm sure he'd be most delighted to see you... 'a new Alice,' just imagine that... well, enough chatter, off with you!"
And so saying, he whisked my hand and scampered nimbly up a tree. He stared at the ground for a moment then cupped his hands together. "WHITE RABBIT!" he hollered crossly. My ears rang and a felt a little faint. I was beginning to feel a bit uncertain about my meeting with the Cheshire Cat from my beloved old volume. Sounded like he was wreaking quite a bit of havoc in Wonderland.
I spied a glint of something golden, hugged my knees to my chest and squinted. That wasn't- it was. The pocket-watch. A bit dented, a bit the worse for wear, but still ticking, though a bit erratically. Then again, this was Wonderland. You had to expect everything to be different.
The White Rabbit came to join us, looking shabby, harried, and a bit gray. He was aging. "I'm late, I'm late, for a very important date," he mumbled. "Let me have a look at that," demanded the Mad Hatter, and snatched the pocket-watch before the rabbit had a chance to protest.
I looked curiously at the gleaming instrument. It appeared to be extremely confusing, but fascinating at the same time. Little numbers, large numbers, and medium-sized numbers were jumbled up together across the face, as well as dots and spirals and funny shapes. There were no clock hands.
"When's this important date?" demanded the Hatter.
"Fivety-eight, at the Raspberry time, during the Queen's croquet hour."
"Why, it's fivety-seven, now!"
"Yes, see? I'm late already!" shrieked the agitated White Rabbit. He caught sight of me and cocked his head.
"And who's the little girl?"
"Meet Melody Summer," answered the Hatter jovially, "Ali-"
"Melody Summer! Oh, my buttons!" The rabbit was looking at me like I was going to explode.
"Why, I must escort her to see the Cheshire Cat immediately! That's the important date I was talking about! My, but he'll be ever so angry..."
"Go, go," agreed the Hatter.
"Not till you give me back the pocket-watch."
"Oh, alright," he said resignedly, handing it over with disappointment showing plainly in his eyes. "What a pretty piece of wood. It's a pity. Right then, Melody! Off you go! The Cheshire admires promptness in young ladies."
"Thank you, Hatter, I'll take it from here," announced the White Rabbit, grabbing hold of my arm. It had been pulled so much today already that it was beginning to be quite red and sore. Oh well, Lillian could take care of it when I got back... if I ever went back.
We had not been running two minutes when the White Rabbit paused. He knocked on the door of a funny little house sitting near us, covered with moss. He knocked repeatedly and I amused myself with watching the brilliant orange, pink and blue flowers which kept trying to sniff me.
The door opened, and I beheld a most curious sight: a disembodied feline frown hanging in midair. He spoke, in gruff but pompous tones.
"Mr. Rabbit, what is your business at the Castle?"
"I bear the new Alice, sir," answered my guide respectfully, making a short bow.
"Oh." The Cheshire Cat's voice changed immediately and the rest of his body began to appear as he turned toward me.
"You may now leave us, Rabbit."
"Melody Summer," said the Cheshire.
"Yes," I agreed hesitantly.
"How are you enjoying your visit so far, m'dear?"