OWNERSHIP OF CHILDREN
"What time is it?" asked the Hatter, suddenly turning to the White Knight.
"Six o'clock," replied the White Knight, looking at his watch.
"Mercy!" cried Alice. "I had no idea it was so late! I shall have to run along home it's supper time."
The Hatter laughed.
"O, as for that," he said, "there's no hurry. Under our present system of Municipal Ownership of Everything, I can issue, as Mayor, a general order postponing the Municipal Supper Hour to seven or eight o clock. Still if you'd prefer to go home"
"I don't want to," said Alice courteously, "but I think I'd better. My mother would be worried not finding me in the nursery. You see, I left home without telling anybody where I was going."
Again the Hatter laughed.
"What foolishness!" he ejaculated. "That's the great trouble with the private ownership of children. It worries their poor mothers, keeps 'em from their daily Bridge parties, interferes with that freedom of action which is guaranteed to the individual by the contravention of the United States"
"Constitution, I guess you mean," suggested Alice.
"It used to be the Constitution," returned the Hatter, "but now it's the Contravention. It has been contravened so often in the past few years that our Reformed Language Commission at Washington has named it accordingly."
"It simply bears out what you said in your message approving the Public Ownership of Children Act passed by the Common Council last November, which I wrote for you, and consequently consider a very able document," said the White Knight.
"The Public Ownership of Children?" cried Alice, with a look of alarm on her face.
"Yes," said the Hatter. "Just as the Nation has gone in for paternalism, we here in Blunderland have gone in for maternalism. The children here belong to the city"
"But " Alice began.
"Now, don't bother," said the Hatter kindly. "It works very well. It has reduced children to a state of scientific control which is as careful and as effective as that of the street cleaning department or the public parks, and it has emancipated the mothers as well as materially decreased the financial obligations of the fathers."
Alice's lip quivered slightly, and she began to feel a little bit afraid of the Hatter.
"I want to go home," she whimpered.
"Certainly as you wish," said the Hatter. "We'll take you there at once. Come along."
Reassured by the Hatter's kindly manner Alice took her companion's outstretched hand and they walked along the highway together until they came to a handsome apartment house fronting upon a beautiful park, where the Hatter pressed an electric button at one side of the massive entrance. The response to the bell was immediate, and Alice was pleased to find that the person to answer was none other than the Duchess herself.
"Why, how-di-doo," said the Duchess affably. "Glad to see you again, Miss Alice."
"Thank you," said Alice. "It is very nice to be here. Do you live in this beautiful building?"
"Yes," said the Duchess. "You see, I've just been appointed Commissioner of Maternity. I'm what you might call the official mother of the town. Since that great Statesman, the Hatter" here the Duchess winked graciously at the March Hare "devised his crowning achievement in the Municipal Control of the Children and appointed me to be the Head of the Department, I have been stationed here."
"And a mighty good old mother she is!" ejaculated the Hatter with fervour.
"Palaverer!" said the Duchess coyly.
"Not at all," said the Hatter. "I speak not as a man, but as a Mayor, and what I say is to be construed as an official tribute to a faithful and deserving public servant."
"Servant, sir?" repeated the Duchess haughtily.
"In the American sense," said the Hatter with a low bow. "In the sense that the servant is as good as, if not better than the employer, Madam."
"That man's a perfect Dipsomaniac," said the March Hare.
"Diplomat, man diplomat," corrected the White Knight. "A dipsomaniac is a very different thing from a Diplomat. Consuls may be dipsomaniacs, but a Diplomat is a man worthy of Ambassadorial honours.
"Oh I see," said the March Hare. "Well he's a Diplomat all right, all right."
"How are things going to-day, Duchess?" asked the Hatter. "Children happy?"
"They will be in time," said the Duchess. "So many of them have been brought up so far on the Ladies' Home Journal system that it is hard to introduce the new Blunderland method without friction."
"I was afraid of that," said the Hatter. "How does the compulsory soda-water regulation work?"
"Splendidly," said the Duchess. "Since I started in in January to make the children drink five glasses of Vanilla Cream soda every day as a matter of routine and duty, sixty per cent. of them have come to hate it. I think that by the end of the year we shall have stamped out the love of soda almost entirely. The same way with caramels and other candies in place of beef. We have caramels for breakfast, gum-drops for dinner and marshmallows for tea, regularly, and last night seventeen of the children presented a petition asking for beefsteak, mutton chops and boiled rice. I have a firm conviction that when the new law, requiring beef to be sold at candy stores, and compelling those in charge of the young to teach them that boiled rice and hominy are bad for the teeth, goes into effect, we shall find the children clamouring for wholesome food as eagerly as they do now for things that ruin their little tummies."
"It's a splendid system and how are you meeting the matinee problem?" asked the March Hare.
"WHEN THEY THINK NOBODY'S LOOKING"
"Same way," said the Duchess. "Every Wednesday and Saturday afternoon we make 'em go to a matinee, rain or shine, whether they want to or not, and really it's pathetic to see how some of the little dears pine for a half-holiday with a hoople, and since I forbade the youngsters to even look at the back of a geography or a spelling book, it is most amusing to see how they sneak into the library and devour the contents of those two books when they think nobody's looking. I caught one of the boys reading an Arithmetic in bed last night, wholly neglecting his Jack Harkaway books that I had commanded him to read, and leaving his 'Bim, the Broncho Buster of Buffalo,' absolutely uncut.
"Fine!" chuckled the Hatter. "And now, my dear Duchess, will you oblige me by taking charge of Miss Alice? She has expressed a desire to go home and so I have brought her here."
"Certainly," said the Duchess. "I'll look after her."
"You'll excuse us, Alice," said the Hatter, politely. "We'd escort you further ourselves, but a question has come before the Municipal Ownership Caucus that we must settle before the meeting of the Common Council to-night. Certain of our members claim that they have a right to sell their votes for $500 apiece"
"Mercy!" cried Alice. "Why, that is that is terrible."
"It certainly is," said the March Hare ruefully. "It's more than terrible, it's rotten. Here I've been holding out for $1,250 for mine, and these duffers want to go in for a cut rate that will absolutely ruin the business."
"It's a very important matter," said the Hatter. "After all our striving to elevate the people we don't want them to make themselves too cheap. For my part I don't think they should let go of a vote on any question for less than $2,500."
"That's all right, Mr. Mayor," said the White Knight. "But you don't want to frighten capital, you know."
"Well, you and I disagree on that point," said the Mayor. "Capital isn't at all necessary to the success of our schemes. My watchword is Bonds, and as long as I have a printing press to print 'em, and a fountain pen to sign 'em I'm not going to be influenced one way or another by a feeling of subserviency to the capitalist class. Good night, Miss Alice. Glad to have met you and I hope you will have a pleasant time with the Duchess. Here," he added, taking a beautifully printed green and gold paper from his pocket, "here is a Blanket Mortgage 18% Deferred Debenture Bond on the Main Street Ferry of a par value of $100,000 payable in 3457, as a souvenir of your visit."
"A hundred thousand dollars," cried Alice. "For me?"
"No," corrected the Hatter. "A hundred thousand dollar bond. You don't get the money until 3457, and not then unless you present it in person to the City Treasurer."
With which munificent gift the Hatter respectfully bowed himself away and made on, followed by the March Hare.
"IF YOU GET INTO TROUBLE, USE THIS"
"Good-bye, Alice," said the White Knight sympathetically; and then thrusting a paper in her hand, he leaned forward and whispered into the little girl's ear, "If you get into trouble, use this."
"Thank you," said Alice. "What is it?"
"It's a temporary injunction issued by the Chief Justice restraining anybody from interfering with you," said the White Knight. "You may need it."
And the kindly old knight ran madly off up the street after the Mayor and the March Hare, and shortly disappeared around the corner.
"Now, my little dear," said the Duchess, "we'll take you home."
Seizing Alice by the hand the Duchess led the little traveller into the Municipal Nursery. Entering the elevator, they went up and up and up and up until Alice thought they would never stop. Finally on the 117th floor the elevator stopped. Alice and the Duchess alighted and entered a funny little flat, singularly enough labelled with Alice's own name.
"This is it," said the Duchess. "There is your bedroom, here is your parlour, and that is the bath-room. The apartment has running soda-water, hot and cold; you will find a refrigerator stocked with peanut brittle, molasses candy, and sugared fruits in the pantry. Your reading will consist of Lucy the Lace Vendor, or How the Laundress Became a Lady; the works of Marie Corelli; Factory Fanny, the Forger's Daughter, and any other unwholesome book you may want from the House of Correction Library. Playtime will begin at seven every morning and you will be compelled to dress and undress dolls until one, when your caramel will be given to you, after which you will skip the rope and read fairy stories until six. You must drink five glasses of soda-water every day and will not be allowed to go to bed before eleven o'clock at night. Hurry now, and get your hair mussed and your hands dirty for dinner. The first course of whipped cream and roasted chestnuts will be served promptly at six-thirty."
"But," cried Alice, "I don't want to stay here I want to go home."
"You are home," said the Duchess. "This is the Municipal Home of the Children of Blunderland."
"But I want my father and mother," whimpered Alice.
"The City is your father, my child, and I am officially your mother," said the Duchess.
"You are not!" cried Alice. "You are trying to kidnap me! I'll I'll call the police."
"The police can't arrest a city, my dear child, and as for me, as the Commissioner of Maternity I am immune from arrest," laughed the Duchess.
"Well, I just won't stay, that's all," cried Alice, stamping her foot angrily. "I don't want a city for a father, and I shan't have an official mother in place of a real one."
"SEIZING HER BY THE ARM"
The child ran toward the door, but the Duchess was too quick for her, seizing her by the arm.
"Let me go!" shrieked Alice.
"Never," snapped the Duchess.
And then the little girl thought of the piece of paper the White Knight had given her.
"I guess that will make you change your mind," she said, handing the injunction to her captor.
The Duchess read it carefully; her face paled, and she too stamped her foot.
"I'll see about this," she roared angrily, and in a moment she had gone, slamming the door so hard behind her that the building fairly shook. A moment later Alice followed, and in a short time was bounding down the stairway as fast as her little legs would carry her toward freedom, when all of a sudden she tripped and began to fall down, down, down O, would she never stop! And then, bump! Her fall was over, and strange to relate the little maid found herself sitting on the floor back in her own nursery in her own real home, with her mother bending over her.
"WHY HAVE I I REALLY FALLEN?"
"Dear me, Alice," said her mother. "I hope you haven't hurt yourself."
"No," said Alice. "Why have I I really fallen?"
"You most certainly have off the sofa," laughed her mother. "Where have you been?" she added. "In Wonderland again?"
"No," said Alice. "In Blunderland this time."
Which struck her father, when he heard the story of her adventures later, as a very apt and descriptive title for the M. O. Country.