There were three chairs at the head of the table; the Red and White Queens had taken two of them, but the middle one was empty. Alice sat down, rather uncomfortable at the silence, and longing for someone to speak.
At last the Red Queen began. “You’ve missed the soup and fish,” she said. “Put on the joint!” And the waiters set a leg of mutton before Alice, who looked at it rather anxiously, as she had never had to carve one before.
“You look a little shy; let me introduce you to that leg of mutton,” said the Red Queen. “Alice — Mutton; Mutton — Alice.” The leg of mutton got up in the dish and made a little bow to Alice; and she returned the bow, not knowing whether to be frightened or amused.
“May I give you a slice?” she said, taking up the knife and fork, and looking from one Queen to the other.
“Certainly not,” the Red Queen said, very decidedly; “it isn’t etiquette to cut anyone you’ve been introduced to. Remove the joint!” And the waiters carried it off, and brought a large plum-pudding in its place.
“I won’t be introduced to the pudding, please,” Alice said rather hastily, “or we shall get no dinner at all. May I give you some?”
But the Red Queen looked sulky, and growled, “Pudding — Alice; Alice — Pudding. Remove the pudding!” and the waiters took it away before Alice could return its bow.
However, she didn’t see why the Red Queen should be the only one to give orders, so, as an experiment, she called out, “Waiter! Bring back the pudding!” and there it was again in a moment, like a conjuring trick. It was so large that she couldn’t help feeling a little shy with it, as she had been with the mutton; however, she conquered her shyness by a great effort, and handed a slice to the Red Queen.
“What impertinence!” said the Pudding. ” I wonder how you’d like it, if I were to cut a slice out of you, you creature!”
Alice could only look at it and gasp.
“Make a remark,” said the Red Queen: “it’s ridiculous to leave all the conversation to the pudding!”
“Do you know, I’ve had such a quantity of poetry repeated to me to-day,” Alice began, a little frightened at finding that, the moment she opened her lips, there was dead silence, and all eyes were fixed upon her; “and it’s a very curious thing, I think — every poem was about fishes in some way. Do you know why they’re so fond of fishes, all about here?”
She spoke to the Red Queen, whose answer was a little wide of the mark. “As to fishes,” she said, very slowly and solemnly, putting her mouth close to Alice’s ear, “her White Majesty knows a lovely riddle — all in poetry — all about fishes. Shall she repeat it?”
“Her Red Majesty’s very kind to mention it,” the White Queen murmured into Alice’s other ear, in a voice like the cooing of a pigeon. “It would be such a treat! May I?”
“Please do,” Alice said very politely. The White Queen laughed with delight, and stroked Alice’s cheek. Then she began:
“‘First the fish must be caught.’
That is easy: a baby, I think, could have caught it.
‘Next, the fsh must be bought.’
That is easy: a penny, I think, would have bought it.
‘Now cook me the fish!’
That is easy, and will not take more than a minute.
‘Let it lie in a dish!’
That is easy, because it already is in it.
‘Bring it here! Let me sup!’
It is easy to set such a dish on the table.
‘Take the dish-cover up!’
Ah that is so hard that I fear I’m unable!
For it holds it like glue —
Holds the lid to the dish, while it lies in the middle:
Which is easiest to do,
un-dish-cover the fish, or dish-cover the riddle?”
“Take a minute to think about it, then and guess,” said the Red Queen. “Meanwhile, we’ll drink your health — Queen Alice’s health!” she screamed at the top of her voice, and all the guests began drinking it directly, and very queerly they managed it: some of them put their glasses upon their heads like extinguishers, and drank all that trickled down their faces — others upset the decanters, and drank the wine as it ran off the edges of the table — and three of them (who looked like kangaroos) scrambled into the dish of roast mutton, and began to lap up the gravy, “just like pigs in a trough!” thought Alice.