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Mad as a Hatter

By Amelia Woodcock

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“I can’t go back to yesterday, because I was a different person then” ~Lewis Carroll

 

It was when we sat down for tea that it all began. My life had been normal. Everything was in tiptop shape at the cottage, and I was studying to be a teacher of English. My father was at the north end of the table and my mother at the south. My two sisters, Poppy and Berenice, sat on the east side snarling at my brother, Edmond, and I. We returned the favor from across the table, and they started kicking our shins with their pointy little feet. Their shiny white oxfords dug into our skin as we grimaced, causing Edmond to drop the scone he had been stuffing into his mouth.

Mother spotted our kerfuffle and shot a look at father. This was our cue to stop, as all of us were deathly afraid of our father.

After tea, my mother summoned me into the house to help her do the dishes as she sent my siblings off to play. I nabbed some delicate teacups and saucers off the table and moseyed in. When I walked in, my father was sitting at the kitchen table apparently waiting for me. This was never good. With his hawk eyes upon me, he began to speak, “Since you are the eldest, we have decided that you can handle this. The windmills were burnt down by a criminal earlier today.”

Mother burst into tears and ran out of the room with her face buried in a handkerchief, “Now I am out of a job and we can’t pay for your schooling. I’ve made arrangements for you to go to London and work for the Hatter. He will pay you a minimal wage that you will send back to us to help until I find a new occupation. You will be living with your aunt.”

This couldn’t be happening. I was only one year away from becoming a teacher. My life was going just as I had always dreamed it would. How could they be doing this to me? I don’t know anything about hats. No, I just can’t do it!

“If that’s what I must do,” I replied, “Then, I must.”

The next morning, I packed my suitcase full of squashed dreams and hopped the train to London.

I arrived at Gertrude’s late at night. As soon as her old eyes spotted me, she exclaimed, “You’d better go and meet the hatter,” and pointed across the street with a crooked finger.

I turned and my eyes fell upon the site that would change my life forever, the Millinery Shop. It was very small, but it was stuffed with bits and bobs of all sorts. There were five black top hats in the front window that radiated a sophisticated, glistening beauty. They all looked the same, but each was tilted a different way so they looked as if they were dancing. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad.

Gertrude scuffled across the sidewalk with my suitcases as I crossed the street with anxiety and made my way to the door. I grabbed the cold knob and opened the door to my future. The bell above the door rang to announce my presence. Inside, the Hatter, an elderly man with very wrinkled skin, sat at his desk carefully threading a needle with his shaky hands. He was constructing the most beautiful hat I’d ever seen. He peered out over his spectacles and squinted at me, “You’re late.”

“You know who I am?” I responded curiously.

“Of course I do. You’re Tarrant Hightopp, my new apprentice!”

This frazzled me, “I’m sorry Mister Hatter, sir, but I didn’t realize you were expecting me.”

“The March Hare predicted your arrival at twelve o’one and it is twelve o’ five,” he announced, and then frowned, “Oh, his pocket watch must be on the fritz again. That poor creature.”

The March Hare? This chap’s gone bonkers! He’s positively mad!

I stood there still as anything. I didn’t know how on earth to respond to that.

“Anyway,” the Hatter continued, “Do you have any prior knowledge of the art of hatting?”

“Not in the least,” I pronounced, “I’ve studied to be an English teacher and nothing else.”

He grinned, “Well then,” he said as his eyes widened, “You must know this! Why is a raven like a writing desk?”

I was bamboozled yet again. “I haven’t the slightest idea,” I told him.

He changed the subject without ever telling me the answer and said, “We’d better get started!”

He then proceeded to show me how to do all sorts of things. First, was threading the needle. “You just poke its eye with the thread and pull it tight! Don’t worry it won’t feel a thing,” he told me. After that, we sewed pieces of felt together to construct a hat. Next, he taught me how to sew all kinds of things onto hats. There were flowers and buttons and tulle. Not to mention feathers, lots of feathers! When we finished, he set me to the task of creating my first hat. It was not for a customer, but for myself. It could be anything I wanted. First, I measured my head, which was much larger than I’d thought. Then, I constructed a magnificent top hat. It was tall with a wide brim. It was a beautiful shade of green. I tied an orange band ‘round it, just above the brim, and tucked a small peacock feather under the band. When I put it on, it fit perfectly. It felt like the hat was part of me, like it belonged there. I gazed into a mirror that hung on the wall beside me with pride, at the beautiful work of art I’d just created. The hatter skipped back into the room and inspected my hat.

“Good work,” he told me, “But you forgot something.”

He rooted around in a set of drawers that were piled high with useless junk for a minute or so, tossing everything out behind him until he found what he’d been looking for. It was a price tag with something inscribed on it, “In this style 10/6.” He tucked it under the orange ribbon and fastened it with a hatpin. He explained to me that I’d created a hat of such good quality that it was worth ten shillings and sixpence. He wanted to show me that I had enough skill to make a living in the hatting profession. He also told me that if I ever came to trouble, my hat would help me. I wasn’t quite sure what he meant, but I guessed that he was telling me I could sell it if I needed money. With that, he sent me back home across the street.

I went to the hat shop every day for five months and paid attention to everything the hatter taught me. I’d become a master at the hatting profession, if I do say so myself. I noticed, though, that I’d started to speak like the Hatter did. I believe it was from spending so much time with him. I’d even started to tremble as he did. Sometimes, I would talk to the birds that visited outside the Millinery Shop. They told some interesting stories.

Then, one frigid, rainy morning, I crossed the street and tried opening the shop’s door, but it was locked. Stuck to the door was a note with two keys. I pulled them off and squinted at them. One key was labeled “Wonderland” and the other said “Hat Shop”. I used the hat shop key to open the door and drudged inside. My boots made squishing sounds and left mud on the floor. I took them off and walked, barefoot, to the hatter’s desk. His lamp was still lit from the day before, but he was nowhere to be found. I began to worry, as I unfolded the note. It was written in a very ornate, swirling font that could only be the handwriting of the Hatter. In the top corner, I noticed a medium sized tea stain. I read the note carefully:

 

Dear Tarrant,

 

It is about time that I tell you this. My home is not in this world. I live in Wonderland as the hatter to the White Queen. I believe that the Red Queen’s army is coming to take me away. By the time you’ve read this I’ve probably been doomed to a beheading.

I need you to use the key and go through the door to Wonderland. Drink the bottle in my desk drawer and it will give you the knowledge to find it. The March Hare will be waiting for you when you arrive. Tell him the riddle about the raven and the writing desk so he knows it’s you. He will fill you in on the details. I taught you everything you need to know. Everyone in Wonderland is counting on you! Hurry now!

 

Down with the bloody Red Queen!

~ Henry Hatter

 

The note was so urgent that I felt I had to do what the Hatter instructed. I grabbed the key to Wonderland and opened his desk drawer. I snatched out the bottle that said Drink Me and did just that. Suddenly, I was overcome by dizziness. Everything went black for a second. Then it happened. I could see the door. It was in the back of the shop behind a tattered red curtain. I grasped the key between my fingers, took a deep breath, and unlocked the door.

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Mad as a Hatter