The atmosphere was as noticeable as the noise when Alice got in, and seemed to be heavily charged with pepper. There was a faint whiff of burning incense, and some candles that had just been put out were smouldering unpleasantly. Quite a number of Articles were strewn about on the floor, some of them more or less broken. The Duchess was seated in the middle of the kitchen, holding, as well as she could, a very unmanageable baby that kept wriggling itself into all manner of postures and uncompromising attitudes. At the back of the kitchen a cook was busily engaged in stirring up a large cauldron, pausing every now and then to fling a reredos or half a rubric at the Duchess, who maintained an air of placid unconcern in spite of the combined fractiousness of the baby and cook and the obtrusiveness of the pepper.
“Your cook seems to have a very violent temper,” said Alice, as soon as a lull in the discord enabled her to make herself heard.
“Drat her!” said the Duchess.
“I beg your pardon,” said Alice, not quite sure whether she had heard aright; “your Grace was remarking—”
“Pax vobiscum, was what I said,” answered the Duchess; “there’s nothing like a dead language when youVe dealing with a live volcano.”
“But aren’t you going to do something to set matters straight a bit?” asked Alice, dodging a whole set of Ornaments that went skimming through the air, and watching with some anxiety the contortions of the baby, which was getting more difficult to hold every moment.
“Of course something must be done,” said the Duchess, with decision, “but quietly and gradually—the leaden foot within the velvet shoe, you know.”
Alice seemed to recognise the quotation, but she did not notice that anything particular was being done. “At the rate you’re going, it will be years before you get settled,” she remarked.
“Perhaps it will,” said the Duchess resignedly. “T’m paid by the year, you know. Festina lente, say I.”
“But surely you can keep some sort of order in your Establishment.?” said Alice. “Why don’t you exert your authority?”
“My dear, it takes me all the exertion I can spare to have any authority. I give orders, and it’s my endeavour not to see that they’re disobeyed.
I’m sure I’ve given this child my Opinion — but there, you might as well opine to a limpet. As to the cook—- ”
Here the cook sent the pepper-pot straight at the Duchess, who broke off in a violent fit of sneezing. In the midst of the commotion the baby suddenly disappeared, and as the cook had taken up a new caster labelled “cayenne” Alice thought she might as well go and see where it had gone to. As she slipped out of the kitchen she heard the Duchess gasping between her sneezes, “Must … be done quietly . . . and . . . gradually.”
“What happened to the baby?” asked the Cheshire Cat, appearing suddenly a few minutes later.
“It went out — to roam, I think,” said Alice.
“I always said it would,” said the Cat.