"Now, recite. Shoulders back, head up, enunciate."
The caterpillar sat on top of the mushroom, taking a long drag on his hookah. Charlotte was taking lessons in etiquette from the caterpillar, a strange and quick tempered creature. The petite child corrected her posture and cleared her throat. She didn't understand why she had to take lessons from someone who could be so rude at times on how to be polite and elegant. Still, she knew better than to disagree with her mother. She took a deep breath and began.
"How doth the little crocodile
Improve his shining tail,
And pour the waters of the Nile
On every golden scale!
How cheerfully he seems to grin
How neatly spreads his claws,
And welcomes little fishes in,
With gently smiling jaws!"
The girl grinned, proud of herself. She waited patiently, just like the caterpillar, Absolem, had taught her to. She tried not to wiggle or sway but, being only eight years old, it quickly became difficult. Absolem's face became red with anger as he stared at Charlotte, wisps of smoke slowly escaping his lips.
"Young child," said the caterpillar, knowing that releasing all of his anger at the noble wasn't a wise choice. His pay for teaching the girl was helping him afford his addiction. Still, Charlotte deserved to be corrected. No one in their right mind, though there weren't many sane people in Wonderland, wanted to hear a princess recite such foolishness when something else was expected. "That was not what I taught you the other day!" he spat, smoke shaping into the letters he spoke.
"Why, yes sir, I do realize that. It's just that the one about the bee wasn't particularly interesting. So, I improved it," said the princess. Smoke was almost pouring from his ears at this point. He became more furious each second that passed.
"Try again. No more silliness this time," Absolem said, taking another drag at his hookah. His composure could easily snap around this child if he wasn't careful.
Charlotte sighed. She had been so proud of her playful rhyme. She hadn't thought it to be silliness. Charlotte climbed upon mushrooms to ensure the caterpillar would hear her this time. Proudly, she stood atop a mushroom next to Absolem. Rolling her shoulders and slightly parting her feet, she started again.
"How doth the little busy Bee
Improve each shining Hour,
And gather Honey all the day
From every opening Flower!
How skillfully she builds her Cell!
How neat she spreads the Wax!"
Charlotte paused. She noticed that the caterpillar's mind was wondering elsewhere, not truly listening to her. She took that opportunity to use her imagination to continue the poem how she wanted.
"And flies around without a sound
Until swatted by a man!
Splattered against the walls
Less honey will be made
With mourning in the honeycomb halls
They must work harder every day!"
The caterpillar's attention snapped towards the child. His face turned a shade scarlet she had never known to be possible.
"Wrong! Wrong! You will never be a proper princess! You're too full of idiocy!" He reached a hand out and smacked the child across the cheek. "Away with you! What is wrong with you!"
Charlotte didn't flinch. Tears threatened to burn at her eyes, but she held them back. There was so much confusion she felt. What had she really done wrong? Why would he hit her? She climbed onto the mushroom where the caterpillar was perched.
"You, sir! You are the issue! Why take lessons in properness from someone so rude? You will never be a gentleman! I doubt you ever have!" Charlotte marched off into the woods
He sat there, hookah in hand, flabbergasted. That girl had insulted him. That child had called him rude and impolite. He wasn't angered by this, he didn't even feel offended. Maybe she was right.
He took another puff of colored smoke, watching it linger in the air. That child had a mouth on her but definitely had a point. He chuckled and began to sing.
Maybe that Madigan princess wasn't so bad after all.