The guards rushed the Hatter from the Court yard and away from the Queen before she could change her mind. The gleaming black gates opened and the Hatter was shoved out onto the dirt path.
The gates slammed shut behind him as if putting an exclamation point in the Queen’s ruling. When he turned to look back, the two guards had already disappeared and he was once again all alone. The Hatter headed down the lonesome path mumbling to himself. “Where can I find a piano player in Wonderland? It’s hard enough to find anyone sane to talk to, let alone someone who can play an instrument. I’m going to end up losing my head over something I have no control over.”
The Hatter passed a murder of crows along the way and they were heckling him. “The Queen is going to get you this time Hatter. She’s had it out for you for years.”
Another crow responded, “Yea, ever since the ridiculous tea party with that girl who escaped Wonderland, the Queen has wanted to get rid of you.”
“Don’t you filthy birds have anything better to do than harass me? You know all the locals. Isn’t there anyone that can play the piano?”
The lead crow glared down his beak, “Even if we did know someone, we would never help you. If the Queen found out we were helping she would have our heads on a platter.”
The Hatter didn’t respond, instead he continued down the path to his home. Dark clouds seemed to be following him on his journey which made his mood even gloomier.
Meanwhile, back at The Queen’s Court…
“Two days and I will finally be rid of that looney Hatter.” The Queen said to her entire council.
The Cheshire Cat vanished from his position next to the Queen and reappeared in front of her, “Pardon me, your Majesty, but might I suggest someone keep an eye on the Hatter. Just to make sure he doesn’t do anything sneaky.”
The Queen looked quizzically at the Cat, “And just who do you suggest do that? Surely, you aren’t volunteering for the task.”
“As a matter of fact, I am suggesting myself. I can watch without being seen. I’m the best candidate for the job.”
“Well, since you’re so confident in your ability to not be seen or heard, I will grant you permission.” The Queen responded with a bit of concern.
The Cheshire Cat turned to leave, but then swung back around, “One more thing, your Majesty… allow the Hatter to have a few more days to prepare himself. Lord knows that if he needs to play the piano, he will have to teach himself.”
The Queen was not too thrilled with this proposal, but was feeling charitable for the moment since she was able to beat The Hare by cheating, “Fine, but just know that I’m only doing this because you have been an integral asset to my Court.”
“Thank you, my Queen. I will relay the message to the Hatter, then disappear from sight. Of course, I will still be watching his every move for you.” The Cheshire Cat winked and grinned before leaving in a puff of smoke.
Once he was home, the Hatter just paced around the room. He thumped his fist against his head repeating the same thing over and over, “what can I do and who can I get help from?”
No one wanted to be aligned with the Hatter after the tea party incident (more on this at another time). The Queen never really forgave him for befriending the girl who visited Wonderland for a period of time and disrupted the cycle of things.
While pondering such questions, the Hatter went to his extensive book collection on the second floor and found a tattered, old book on playing the piano. It just happened to be a coincidence that he had a book on this very topic. It wasn’t surprising tho, considering the amount of space the Hatter dedicated to his books.
He plopped himself into the giant, mauve, wingback chair in his study and scanned the pages of Piano for Beginners. The Hatter spent the next few hours trying to memorize musical notes and how to play a few songs. Oddly enough, he had an Upright Piano among his collection of antiques. It was situated along the far wall of his study.
The Hatter dusted off the piano and opened the book of music. He attempted to follow the notes and play The ‘Moonlight’ Sonata. The first couple of tries were a complete disaster. It came out sounding like someone’s pet was stomping on the piano keys.
After several tries, he was about to give up when out of thin air the Cheshire Cat appeared on top of the one book case. Always curious, the Cat looked on with that unnerving smile of his.
The Hatter acknowledged his visitor and said, “What are you doing here? Did the Queen send you to check up on me?”
“Not at all my dear Hatter. I heard the horrendous noise coming from this direction and needed to see if someone or something was being tortured.” The Cat replied mockingly.
“You work for the Queen and everyone knows it. Is she waiting for you to report back about how bad I am or that I’m not searching for someone to play? If that’s it, then just get it over with so this torture will end. She can have my head.” The Hatter said dejectedly.
The Cheshire Cat sympathetically responded, “Goodness no… if anything, this visit is out of pure curiosity. You should know by now that altho everyone, including the Queen, believes I am her greatest supporter and acquaintance, the truth is I am my own hired gun. I do not answer to any one single person. I do as I please. I play both sides for my own entertainment.”
“Well, that’s being brutally honest. So, why are you actually here? It can’t be to help me.”
“That is where you are wrong Hatter. You see, I do like watching the Queen torture people, but I also like seeing the Queen be tortured. Quite frankly, she isn’t the nicest person in Wonderland.” The Cat batted his eyes and folded his paws under his chin. That grating smile seemingly growing larger by the moment.
“So, what does that mean for me? I either teach myself to play or find someone. I don’t have time to do both so I’m learning as best I can.” The Hatter seemed quite agitated at this point.
The Cheshire Cat disappeared from the bookcase and reappeared on top of the piano. “I have a brilliant plan. All we have to do is get some help.”
The Hatter’s slumped down, “Who will help tho? Ever since the incident, everyone stays as far away from me as possible.”
“Leave everything to me” the Cat exclaimed with the usual ear to ear grin.
“That’s what I was afraid you were going to say.” The Hatter said as he pondered what this scheme was going to cost him if he somehow didn’t lose his head.
The Cat clapped his paws together excitedly, “Good, now that we have that settled… I convinced the Queen to give you a few more days to prepare/find someone to play.”
“How… what? Why? I mean… thank you!” The Hatter, altho hesitant, was glad to hear he was granted more time for this impossible task. The only catch was that the Cat was now involved. Whether the Queen knew this or not was a whole different story.
The Cheshire Cat feeling very pleased with himself exclaimed… “Let’s get to work!”
Curious, surprised and unsure of what was about to happen, the Hatter said, “Where do we begin?”
“Leave all of that to me.” The Cheshire Cat responded. He slowly began to evaporate. Just as his toothy grin was about to vanish he said to himself quietly “This is going to be the best stunt I’ve ever pulled off.”
Alone once again, the Hatter was excited. At the same time he was nervous, because seriously, who in their right mind would trust the Cheshire Cat. It was his only option at this point so all he could think was “What do I have to lose?”