Curiouser and Curiouser: The Queen’s Croquet-Ground

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Chapter 8

A large rose-tree stood near the entrance of the garden: the roses growing on it were white, but there were three gardeners at it, busily painting them red. As Alice approached, she heard one of them say “Look out now, Five! Don’t go splashing paint over me like that!”

“I couldn’t help it,” said Five, in a sulky tone; “Seven jogged my elbow.” On which Seven looked up and said, “That’s right, Five! Always lay the blame on others!”
“You’d better not talk!” said Five. “I heard the Queen say only yesterday you deserved to be beheaded!”

When his eye chanced to fall upon Alice, as she stood watching them, and he checked himself suddenly: the others looked round also, and all of them bowed low.

“Would you tell me,” said Alice, a little timidly, “why you are painting those roses?”

Five and Seven said nothing, but looked at Two. Two began in a low voice, “Why the fact is, you see, Miss, this here ought to have been a red rose-tree, and we put a white one in by mistake; and if the Queen was to find it out, we should all have our heads cut off, you know. So you see, Miss, we’re doing our best, afore she comes, to—” At this moment Five, who had been anxiously looking across the garden, called out “The Queen! The Queen!” and the three gardeners instantly threw themselves flat upon their faces. There was a sound of many footsteps, and Alice looked round, eager to see the Queen.

Soon the garden began to fill with people, all of which were adorned with the symbols of playing cards; ten royal children ornamented with hearts, Kings and Queens of diamonds, spades, and clubs. Finally, the King and Queen of hearts arrived. Alice was rather doubtful whether she ought not to lie down on her face like the three gardeners but thought it would be silly as she would miss the view of the procession through the beautiful garden. Alice especially appreciated a fountain that was made up of a giant stone head with a plant balanced on top. There were rows and rows of plants lining.

The queen stopped in front of Alice and barked “What’s your name, child?”
“My name is Alice, so please your Majesty,” said Alice very politely.
The Queen then turned her attention to the three gardeners “What have you been doing here?”
“May it please your Majesty,” said Two “we were trying…”
“I see!” said the Queen, who had been examining the roses. “Off with their heads!” and the procession moved on, three of the soldiers remaining behind to execute the unfortunate gardeners, who ran to Alice for protection.

Alice scooped up the gardeners and put them into a large flower-pot that stood near “I shan’t let them behead you.” The three soldiers wandered about looking for them for a time, then quietly marched off after the others. “Are their heads off?” shouted the Queen. “Their heads are gone, if it please your Majesty!” the soldiers shouted in reply.

 “Can you play croquet?” she posed, this time to Alice. “Yes!” shouted Alice. “Come on, then!” roared the Queen, and Alice joined the procession.

“Get to your places!” boomed the Queen’s voice and people began running about in all directions, tumbling against each other; until they settled down and the game began. Alice thought she had never seen such a curious croquet game in her life; the balls were live hedgehogs, the mallets live flamingoes, and the soldiers had to double themselves up and to stand on their hands and feet, to make the arches.

It was very difficult to putt with a flamingo and Alice’s hedgehogs were another matter entirely, she soon concluded that it was going to be a very difficult game indeed. The players all played at once without waiting for turns, fighting for the hedgehogs; and in a very short time the Queen was furiously shouting “Off with his head!” or “Off with her head!”

Alice began to feel very uneasy: it wouldn’t be long she was sure until the queen demanded “off with her own head.” Looking around for a way to escape something caught her eye above a wooden pergola in the centre of the garden, after a minute or so a familiar smile had materialised in the air.

“The Cheshire Cat!” she exclaimed “now I shall have somebody to talk to.”
“How are you getting on?” said the Cat, as soon as there was mouth enough for it to speak with. Alice waited till the whole head appeared, and then put down her flamingo, and began an account of the game, feeling very glad she had someone to listen. The Cat seemed to think that there was enough of it now in sight, and no more of it appeared.

“How do you like the Queen?” said the Cat in a low voice.
“Not at all,” said Alice: “she’s so extremely—” Just then she noticed that the Queen was close behind her, listening: so she went on, “—likely to win, that it’s hardly worth while finishing the game.” The Queen smiled and passed on.

All the time they were playing the Queen never left off shouting “Off with his head!” or “Off with her head!” Those whom she sentenced were taken into custody by the soldiers, who of course had to stop being arches to do this, so that by the end of half an hour or so there were no arches left, and all the players, except the King, the Queen, and Alice, were in custody and under sentence of execution. Then the Queen left off, quite out of breath, and said to Alice, “Have you seen the Mock Turtle yet?”
“No,” said Alice. “I don’t even know what a Mock Turtle is.”
“Come on, then,” said the Queen, “and he shall tell you his history,”

As they walked off together, Alice heard the King say in a low voice, to the company generally, “You are all pardoned.”
Out of the garden they walked and through a hall until they reached a place full of the bones from the most wondrous creatures. In the midst of the bones was the Gryphon, lying fast asleep. “Up, lazy thing!” said the Queen, “and take this young lady to see the Mock Turtle, and to hear his history. I must go back and see after some executions I have ordered;” and she walked off, leaving Alice alone with the Gryphon.

The Gryphon sat up and rubbed its eyes: then it watched the Queen till she was out of sight: then it chuckled. “What fun!” said the Gryphon, half to itself, half to Alice.
“What is the fun?” said Alice.
“Why, she,” said the Gryphon. “It’s all her fancy, that: they never executes nobody, you know.”
They had not gone far before they saw the Mock Turtle in the distance, sitting sad and lonely on a little ledge of rock, they made their way over to him and the Gryphon spoke:
“This here young lady, she wants for to know your history, she do.”
“I’ll tell it her,” said the Mock Turtle in a deep, hollow tone: “sit down, both of you, and don’t speak a word till I’ve finished.”

So they sat down, and nobody spoke for some minutes. Alice thought to herself, “I don’t see how he can ever finish, if he doesn’t begin.” But she waited.
“The world was once full of great creatures like me.” The turtle began.
He gestured towards some scattered bones.
“When we were little,” the Mock Turtle went on, “we went to school in the sea. The master was an old Turtle—we used to call him Tortoise—”
“Why did you call him Tortoise, if he wasn’t one?” Alice asked.
“We called him Tortoise because he taught us,” said the Mock Turtle.
“He taught us about the humans and the progress they were making.” He gestured to a glass box filled with some stone tools, and an axe with a long wooden handle.
“my particular favourite were the arrowheads, the intricate little stones had been carved very neatly.” He exclaimed “and by hand no less.”
The Mock Turtle looked conflicted, a look of half admiration half sadness on his face.
“that’s enough about tools,” said the Gryphon “tell her about the Ro-mans.”
The Mock Turtle sighed and gestured towards the glass box.

Alice was amazed to see that the tools were gone and had been replaced by a variety of coins and intricate gold items.
There was a beautiful gold ring with a coloured stone set into it. Alice turned her attention to the coins each one was engraved with tiny letters and the head of a great bearded man.

“That’s Tetricus” voiced the Mock Turtle “ he was an emperor from 271 to 274AD, he surrended the Battle of Châlons” he began to regale the story of the battle and Alice found herself daydreaming about the things Ro-mans would have bought with the coins, when a cry of “The trial’s beginning!” was heard in the distance.

“Come on!” cried the Gryphon taking Alice by the hand. “we can’t be late!”

Continue the Story

Discover and Play

Chapter 8 Featured Objects:

Untitled [garden with ornamental hedges, flowers and female figure, 1929
Charles William Brown (1882-1961)

After Alice leaves the Mad Hatter’s Tea party, she finds a door in a tree that leads to the long hall, and the little glass table, upon which is the little golden key. Alice uses the key to unlock the door leading to the garden, after walking down a little passage she finds herself in a “beautiful garden , among the bright flower-beds and the cool fountains.

Staffordshire-born miner and amateur artist C.W Brown’s paintings range widely in subject matter from depictions of early 20th-century mining and industry in the Potteries, to local and imaginary scenes. This watercolour painting of a beautiful garden may have been inspired by the artist’s visits to Trentham Gardens.

19th Century Playing Cards

In the Queen’s Croquet-Ground Alice encounters the Queen of Hearts and her court. Everyone looks like playing cards. The Queen and the royal family are Hearts, her soldiers are Clubs, the courtiers are Diamonds, and the gardeners are Spades. When Alice first meets the gardeners they are hastily painting white roses red.

Why the fact is, you see, Miss, this here ought to have been a red rose-tree, and we put a white one in by mistake; and if the Queen was to find it out, we should all have our heads cut off, you know. So you see, Miss, we’re doing our best, afore she comes, to — “ At this moment Five, who had been anxiously looking across the garden, called out “The Queen! The Queen!” and the three gardeners instantly threw themselves flat upon their faces.

The concept of cards with suits originated in China, and spread to Europe via the Islamic World. Many variations of the suits developed. The earliest ones in Europe were the ‘Latin’ suits of Italy, Spain and Portugal which consisted of coins, clubs, cups and swords. In Germany the suits became acorns, leaves, hearts and bells. This influenced French and English cards which became the most widespread suits around the world bearing hearts, diamonds, clubs and spades.

Chapter 8 Blogs, games and activities:

The Secrets of Playing Cards

The Secrets of Playing Cards

Find out about the history of playing card sets in the museum's collection