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CHAPTER VIII

The Queen's Croquet-Ground


A large rose-tree stood near the entrance of the garden: the
roses growing on it were white, but there were three gardeners at
it, busily painting them red. Alice thought this a very curious
thing, and she went nearer to watch them, and just as she came up
to them she heard one of them say, `Look out now, Five! Don't go
splashing paint over me like that!'

`I couldn't help it,' said Five, in a sulky tone; `Seven jogged
my elbow.'

On which Seven looked up and said, `That's right, Five! Always
lay the blame on others!'

`YOU'D better not talk!' said Five. `I heard the Queen say only
yesterday you deserved to be beheaded!'

`What for?' said the one who had spoken first.

`That's none of YOUR business, Two!' said Seven.

`Yes, it IS his business!' said Five, `and I'll tell him--it
was for bringing the cook tulip-roots instead of onions.'

Seven flung down his brush, and had just begun `Well, of all
the unjust things--' when his eye chanced to fall upon Alice, as
she stood watching them, and he checked himself suddenly: the
others looked round also, and all of them bowed low.

`Would you tell me,' said Alice, a little timidly, `why you are
painting those roses?'

Five and Seven said nothing, but looked at Two. Two began in a
low voice, `Why the fact is, you see, Miss, this here ought to
have been a RED rose-tree, and we put a white one in by mistake;
and if the Queen was to find it out, we should all have our heads
cut off, you know. So you see, Miss, we're doing our best, afore
she comes, to--' At this moment Five, who had been anxiously
looking across the garden, called out `The Queen! The Queen!'
and the three gardeners instantly threw themselves flat upon
their faces. There was a sound of many footsteps, and Alice
looked round, eager to see the Queen.

First came ten soldiers carrying clubs; these were all shaped
like the three gardeners, oblong and flat, with their hands and
feet at the corners: next the ten courtiers; these were
ornamented all over with diamonds, and walked two and two, as the
soldiers did. After these came the royal children; there were
ten of them, and the little dears came jumping merrily along hand
in hand, in couples: they were all ornamented with hearts. Next
came the guests, mostly Kings and Queens, and among them Alice
recognised the White Rabbit: it was talking in a hurried nervous
manner, smiling at everything that was said, and went by without
noticing her. Then followed the Knave of Hearts, carrying the
King's crown on a crimson velvet cushion; and, last of all this
grand procession, came THE KING AND QUEEN OF HEARTS.

Alice was rather doubtful whether she ought not to lie down on
her face like the three gardeners, but she could not remember
ever having heard of such a rule at processions; `and besides,
what would be the use of a procession,' thought she, `if people
had all to lie down upon their faces, so that they couldn't see it?'
So she stood still where she was, and waited.

When the procession came opposite to Alice, they all stopped
and looked at her, and the Queen said severely `Who is this?'
She said it to the Knave of Hearts, who only bowed and smiled in reply.

`Idiot!' said the Queen, tossing her head impatiently; and,
turning to Alice, she went on, `What's your name, child?'

`My name is Alice, so please your Majesty,' said Alice very
politely; but she added, to herself, `Why, they're only a pack of
cards, after all. I needn't be afraid of them!'

`And who are THESE?' said the Queen, pointing to the three
gardeners who were lying round the rosetree; for, you see, as
they were lying on their faces, and the pattern on their backs
was the same as the rest of the pack, she could not tell whether
they were gardeners, or soldiers, or courtiers, or three of her
own children.

`How should I know?' said Alice, surprised at her own courage.
`It's no business of MINE.'

The Queen turned crimson with fury, and, after glaring at her
for a moment like a wild beast, screamed `Off with her head!
Off--'

`Nonsense!' said Alice, very loudly and decidedly, and the
Queen was silent.

The King laid his hand upon her arm, and timidly said
`Consider, my dear: she is only a child!'

The Queen turned angrily away from him, and said to the Knave
`Turn them over!'

The Knave did so, very carefully, with one foot.

`Get up!' said the Queen, in a shrill, loud voice, and the
three gardeners instantly jumped up, and began bowing to the
King, the Queen, the royal children, and everybody else.

`Leave off that!' screamed the Queen. `You make me giddy.'
And then, turning to the rose-tree, she went on, `What HAVE you
been doing here?'

`May it please your Majesty,' said Two, in a very humble tone,
going down on one knee as he spoke, `we were trying--'

`I see!' said the Queen, who had meanwhile been examining the
roses. `Off with their heads!' and the procession moved on,
three of the soldiers remaining behind to execute the unfortunate
gardeners, who ran to Alice for protection.

`You shan't be beheaded!' said Alice, and she put them into a
large flower-pot that stood near. The three soldiers wandered
about for a minute or two, looking for them, and then quietly
marched off after the others.

`Are their heads off?' shouted the Queen.

`Their heads are gone, if it please your Majesty!' the soldiers
shouted in reply.

`That's right!' shouted the Queen. `Can you play croquet?'

The soldiers were silent, and looked at Alice, as the question
was evidently meant for her.

`Yes!' shouted Alice.

`Come on, then!' roared the Queen, and Alice joined the
procession, wondering very much what would happen next.

`It's--it's a very fine day!' said a timid voice at her side.
She was walking by the White Rabbit, who was peeping anxiously
into her face.

`Very,' said Alice: `--where's the Duchess?'

`Hush! Hush!' said the Rabbit in a low, hurried tone. He
looked anxiously over his shoulder as he spoke, and then raised
himself upon tiptoe, put his mouth close to her ear, and
whispered `She's under sentence of execution.'

`What for?' said Alice.

`Did you say "What a pity!"?' the Rabbit asked.

`No, I didn't,' said Alice: `I don't think it's at all a pity.
I said "What for?"'

`She boxed the Queen's ears--' the Rabbit began. Alice gave a
little scream of laughter. `Oh, hush!' the Rabbit whispered in a
frightened tone. `The Queen will hear you! You see, she came
rather late, and the Queen said--'

`Get to your places!' shouted the Queen in a voice of thunder,
and people began running about in all directions, tumbling up
against each other; however, they got settled down in a minute or
two, and the game began. Alice thought she had never seen such a
curious croquet-ground in her life; it was all ridges and
furrows; the balls were live hedgehogs, the mallets live
flamingoes, and the soldiers had to double themselves up and to
stand on their hands and feet, to make the arches.

The chief difficulty Alice found at first was in managing her
flamingo: she succeeded in getting its body tucked away,
comfortably enough, under her arm, with its legs hanging down,
but generally, just as she had got its neck nicely straightened
out, and was going to give the hedgehog a blow with its head, it
WOULD twist itself round and look up in her face, with such a
puzzled expression that she could not help bursting out laughing:
and when she had got its head down, and was going to begin again,
it was very provoking to find that the hedgehog had unrolled
itself, and was in the act of crawling away: besides all this,
there was generally a ridge or furrow in the way wherever she
wanted to send the hedgehog to, and, as the doubled-up soldiers
were always getting up and walking off to other parts of the
ground, Alice soon came to the conclusion that it was a very
difficult game indeed.

The players all played at once without waiting for turns,
quarrelling all the while, and fighting for the hedgehogs; and in
a very short time the Queen was in a furious passion, and went
stamping about, and shouting `Off with his head!' or `Off with
her head!' about once in a minute.

Alice began to feel very uneasy: to be sure, she had not as
yet had any dispute with the Queen, but she knew that it might
happen any minute, `and then,' thought she, `what would become of
me? They're dreadfully fond of beheading people here; the great
wonder is, that there's any one left alive!'

She was looking about for some way of escape, and wondering
whether she could get away without being seen, when she noticed a
curious appearance in the air: it puzzled her very much at
first, but, after watching it a minute or two, she made it out to
be a grin, and she said to herself `It's the Cheshire Cat: now I
shall have somebody to talk to.'

`How are you getting on?' said the Cat, as soon as there was
mouth enough for it to speak with.

Alice waited till the eyes appeared, and then nodded. `It's no
use speaking to it,' she thought, `till its ears have come, or at
least one of them.' In another minute the whole head appeared,
and then Alice put down her flamingo, and began an account of the
game, feeling very glad she had someone to listen to her. The
Cat seemed to think that there was enough of it now in sight, and
no more of it appeared.

`I don't think they play at all fairly,' Alice began, in rather
a complaining tone, `and they all quarrel so dreadfully one can't
hear oneself speak--and they don't seem to have any rules in
particular; at least, if there are, nobody attends to them--and
you've no idea how confusing it is all the things being alive;
for instance, there's the arch I've got to go through next
walking about at the other end of the ground--and I should have
croqueted the Queen's hedgehog just now, only it ran away when it
saw mine coming!'

`How do you like the Queen?' said the Cat in a low voice.

`Not at all,' said Alice: `she's so extremely--' Just then
she noticed that the Queen was close behind her, listening: so
she went on, `--likely to win, that it's hardly worth while
finishing the game.'

The Queen smiled and passed on.

`Who ARE you talking to?' said the King, going up to Alice, and
looking at the Cat's head with great curiosity.

`It's a friend of mine--a Cheshire Cat,' said Alice: `allow me
to introduce it.'

`I don't like the look of it at all,' said the King:
`however, it may kiss my hand if it likes.'

`I'd rather not,' the Cat remarked.

`Don't be impertinent,' said the King, `and don't look at me
like that!' He got behind Alice as he spoke.

`A cat may look at a king,' said Alice. `I've read that in
some book, but I don't remember where.'

`Well, it must be removed,' said the King very decidedly, and
he called the Queen, who was passing at the moment, `My dear! I
wish you would have this cat removed!'

The Queen had only one way of settling all difficulties, great
or small. `Off with his head!' she said, without even looking
round.

`I'll fetch the executioner myself,' said the King eagerly, and
he hurried off.

Alice thought she might as well go back, and see how the game
was going on, as she heard the Queen's voice in the distance,
screaming with passion. She had already heard her sentence three
of the players to be executed for having missed their turns, and
she did not like the look of things at all, as the game was in
such confusion that she never knew whether it was her turn or
not. So she went in search of her hedgehog.

The hedgehog was engaged in a fight with another hedgehog,
which seemed to Alice an excellent opportunity for croqueting one
of them with the other: the only difficulty was, that her
flamingo was gone across to the other side of the garden, where
Alice could see it trying in a helpless sort of way to fly up
into a tree.

By the time she had caught the flamingo and brought it back,
the fight was over, and both the hedgehogs were out of sight:
`but it doesn't matter much,' thought Alice, `as all the arches
are gone from this side of the ground.' So she tucked it away
under her arm, that it might not escape again, and went back for
a little more conversation with her friend.

When she got back to the Cheshire Cat, she was surprised to
find quite a large crowd collected round it: there was a dispute
going on between the executioner, the King, and the Queen, who
were all talking at once, while all the rest were quite silent,
and looked very uncomfortable.

The moment Alice appeared, she was appealed to by all three to
settle the question, and they repeated their arguments to her,
though, as they all spoke at once, she found it very hard indeed
to make out exactly what they said.

The executioner's argument was, that you couldn't cut off a
head unless there was a body to cut it off from: that he had
never had to do such a thing before, and he wasn't going to begin
at HIS time of life.

The King's argument was, that anything that had a head could be
beheaded, and that you weren't to talk nonsense.

The Queen's argument was, that if something wasn't done about
it in less than no time she'd have everybody executed, all round.
(It was this last remark that had made the whole party look so
grave and anxious.)

Alice could think of nothing else to say but `It belongs to the
Duchess: you'd better ask HER about it.'

`She's in prison,' the Queen said to the executioner: `fetch
her here.' And the executioner went off like an arrow.

The Cat's head began fading away the moment he was gone, and,
by the time he had come back with the Dutchess, it had entirely
disappeared; so the King and the executioner ran wildly up and down
looking for it, while the rest of the party went back to the game.




Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Category:
Children's literature
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