"Well, I shan't go, at any rate," said Alice: "besides, that's not a regular rule: you invented it just now."
"It's the oldest rule in the book," said the King.
"Then it ought to be Number One," said Alice.
The King turned pale, and shut his note-book hastily.
"Consider your verdict," he said to the jury, in a low trembling voice.
"There's more evidence to come yet, please your Majesty," said the White Rabbit, jumping up in a great hurry: "this paper has just been picked up."
"What's in it?" said the Queen.
"I haven't opened it yet," said the White Rabbit; "but it seems to be a letter, written by the prisoner to--to somebody."
"It must have been that," said the King, "unless it was written to nobody, which isn't usual, you know."
"Who is it directed to?" said one of the jurymen.
"It isn't directed at all," said the White Rabbit: "in fact, there's nothing written on the _outside_." He unfolded the paper as he spoke, and added, "It isn't a letter, after all: it's a set of verses."
"Are they in the prisoner's handwriting?" asked another of the jurymen.
"No, they're not," said the White Rabbit, "and that's the queerest thing about it." (The jury all looked puzzled.)
"He must have imitated somebody else's hand," said the King. (The jury all brightened up again.)
"Please your Majesty," said the Knave, "I didn't write it, and they can't prove that I did: there's no name signed at the end."
"If you didn't sign it," said the King, "that only makes the matter worse. You _must_ have meant some mischief, or else you'd have signed your name like an honest man."
There was a general clapping of hands at this: it was the first really clever thing the King had said that day.
"That _proves_ his guilt, of course," said the Queen: "so, off with--"
"It doesn't prove anything 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 very gravely, "and go on till you come to the end: then stop."
There was dead silence in the court, while 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 dead 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 afterward."
"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.
"Who cares for _you_?" said Alice (she had grown to her full size by this time). "You're nothing but a pack of cards!"
At this the whole pack rose up into the air, and came flying down upon her; she gave a little scream, half of fright and half of anger, and tried to beat them off, and found herself lying on the bank, with her head in the lap of her sister, who was gently brushing away some dead leaves that had fluttered down from the trees upon her face.
"Wake up, Alice dear!" said her sister. "Why, what a long sleep you've had!"