Chapter 8 - The Queen's Croquet-Ground
The first thing Alice comes across in the garden is a rose tree, where three gardeners are busily painting its white roses red. Alice asks them what they are doing, and the gardeners explain that they were supposed to plant a red rose tree here, but they made a mistake, and are trying to cover it up so the Queen won't notice and cut off their heads. As they talk, Alice notices that these are unusual gardeners -- they seem to be giant playing cards, with arms, legs, and heads sticking out from their card bodies.
A large procession approaches, and the frightened gardeners fling themselves onto the ground to hide. A long parade of people marches into the garden. All of them are really playing cards: the club cards are soldiers, the diamond cards are courtiers (or noblemen), and the heart cards are the children of the King and Queen. (The spade cards were the gardeners.)
Last come the king and queen cards of various suits, followed at last by the Knave (or Jack) of Hearts, and the King and Queen of Hearts themselves. The Queen turns out to be a terrifying person. She never speaks below a roar, and whenever anyone makes her angry, she screams, "Off with his head!" She sentences Alice to execution, but the anxious King calms her down. However, when she discovers what the gardeners have done to the roses, she orders that their heads be cut off too. But Alice saves the three cards by hiding them in a flower pot.
Alice is invited to join the croquet game. In the crowd of people, she meets the always-nervous White Rabbit, who informs her that the Duchess arrived late and has now been sentenced to death for boxing the Queen's ears. (Boxing someone's ears means to slap them upside the head.)
Soon, the croquet game starts. (Croquet is a well-known lawn game which was very popular in England in Lewis Carroll's time. It normally involves using mallets to knock balls through little wire arches stuck into the ground.) The Queen's croquet game, however, is very strange: instead of balls, the players use live hedgehogs, and the mallets are flamingoes, while the arches are formed by the Queen's soldiers bending over (remember the soldiers are just giant playing cards). Alice has trouble because her hedgehog keeps wandering away, and she can't get her flamingo to hold still enough to hit anything with. None of the other players seem to play by any rules, and to top it all off, the Queen keeps sentencing her guests to death.
In the middle of this horrible party, Alice suddenly notices a grin hovering in the air, and is glad to realize it must be the Cheshire Cat -- now she'll have someone to talk to. When the Cat's head has finished appearing, Alice starts to complain to it about the game. It listens very sympathetically, though Alice fortunately notices the Queen passing close by just as she is about to tell the Cat her opinion of her, and diplomatically changes what she was about to say.
The King is alarmed by the Cheshire Cat's hovering head, so the Queen sentences it to execution. Alice has to leave the scene to go chase her hedgehog, which has wandered off again and gotten into a fight. By the time she gets back, an argument has broke out -- the Queen's executioner says he can't behead the Cat because it doesn't have a body, so there's nothing to cut the head off of. When asked for her opinion, all Alice can think of is to say that the Cat belongs to the Duchess. So the Queen sends the executioner to fetch the Duchess out of prison. But by the time he comes back, the Cat's head has faded completely away, and he runs around hopelessly looking for it.
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