There was a general clapping of hands at this: it as the first really clever thing the King had said that day.
“That proves his guilt,” said the Queen: “so, off with—”
“It proves nothing of the sort!” said Alice. “Why, you don’t even know what they’re about!”
“Read them,” said the King.
The White Rabbit put on his spectacles. “Where shall I begin, please your Majesty?” he asked.
“Begin at the beginning,” the King said gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” There was dead silence in the court, whilst the White Rabbit read out these verses:—
“They told me you had been to her,
And mentioned me to him:
She gave me a good character,
But said I could not swim.
He sent them word I had not gone
(We know it to be true):
If she should push the matter on,
What would become of you?
I gave her one, they gave him two,
You gave us three or more;
They all returned from him to you,
Though they were mine before.
If I or she should chance to be
Involved in this affair,
He trusts to you to set them free,
Exactly as we were.
My notion was that you had been
(Before she had this fit)
An obstacle that came between
Him, and ourselves, and it.
Don’t let him know she liked them best,
For this must ever be
A secret, kept from all the rest,
Between yourself and me.”
“That’s the most important piece of evidence we’ve heard yet,” said the King, rubbing his hands; “so now let the jury—”
“If any one of them can explain it,” said Alice (she had grown so large in the last few minutes that she wasn’t a bit afraid of interrupting him), “I’ll give him sixpence. I don’t believe there’s an atom of meaning in it.”
The jury all wrote down on their slates, “She doesn’t believe there’s an atom of meaning in it,” but none of them attempted to explain the paper.
“If there’s no meaning in it,” said the King, “that saves a world of trouble, you know, as we needn’t try to find any. And yet I don’t know,” he went on, spreading out the verses on his knee, and looking at them with one eye; “I seem to see some meaning in them, after all. ’–said I could not swim–’ you can’t swim, can you?” he added, turning to the Knave.
The Knave shook his head sadly. “Do I look like it?” he said. (Which he certainly did not, being made entirely of cardboard.)
“All right, so far,” said the King, and he went on muttering over the verses to himself: “‘We know it to be true’–that’s the jury, of course–‘If she should push the matter on’–that must be the Queen–‘What would become of you?’–What, indeed!–‘I gave her one, they gave him two’–why, that must be what he did with the tarts, you know—”
“But it goes on “they all returned from him to you,’” said Alice.
“Why, there they are!” said the King triumphantly, pointing to the tarts on the table. “Nothing can be clearer than that. Then again–‘before she had this fit’–you never had fits, my dear, I think?” he said to the Queen.
“Never!” said the Queen furiously, throwing an inkstand at the Lizard as she spoke. (The unfortunate little Bill had left off writing on his slate with one finger, as he found it made no mark; but he now hastily began again, using the ink, that was trickling down his face, as long as it lasted.)
“Then the words don’t fit you,” said the King, looking round the court with a smile. There was a silence.
“It’s a pun!” the King added in an angry tone, and everybody laughed. “Let the jury consider their verdict,” the King said, for about the twentieth time that day.
“No, no!” said the Queen. “Sentence first– verdict afterwards.”
“Stuff and nonsense!” said Alice loudly. “The idea of having the sentence first!”
“Hold your tongue!” said the Queen, turning purple.
“I won’t!” said Alice.
“Off with her head!” the Queen shouted at the top of her voice. Nobody moved.