At this moment the King, who had been for some time busily writing in his note-book, cackled out ‘Silence!’ and read out from his book, ‘Rule Forty-two. ALL PERSONS MORE THAN A MILE HIGH TO LEAVE THE COURT.’
Everybody looked at Alice.
‘I’M not a mile high,’ said Alice.
‘You are,’ said the King.
‘Nearly two miles high,’ added the Queen.
‘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 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,’ said the Queen.
‘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.’
These were the verses the White Rabbit read:—
‘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.