Alice in Wonderland Chapter 8: The Queen's Croquet-Ground
Just inside the garden is a large rose tree covered with white blossoms. Three gardeners are hard at work painting the roses red. When the gardeners see Alice they bow low. Alice asks them why they are painting the roses. One of the gardeners speaks up; the tree should have been a red rose tree and not a white one. They are painting the roses to avoid angering the queen and having their heads cut off. Suddenly the gardeners spot the Queen across the garden and they throw themselves flat on the ground.
In the Queen's entourage, there are ten soldiers carrying clubs. Then there are ten children, decorated with hearts. Then there are guests, which include mostly kings and queens but also the White Rabbit. Then comes the Knave of Hearts and finally the King and Queen of Hearts appear. The soldiers, the children, and the kings and queens are all oblong and flat.
When the procession reaches Alice, everyone stops and looks at her until the Queen demands to know who she is. Alice tells the Queen her name and reassures herself that she need not be intimidated, since the company is nothing but a pack of playing cards. Pointing at the gardeners on the ground, the Queen asks Alice who they are. When Alice informs the Queen that she wouldn't know because it's not her affair, she sends the Queen into a rage. The Queen screams "'Off with her head!'" Chapter 8, pg. 54 But Alice shuts her up by telling her firmly that this is nonsense.
The King of Hearts tries to calm his wife, but, still furious, the Queen turns her attack back toward the three face-down cards, whom she forces to rise. She demands to know what they were doing, but before they can answer, she orders their beheading. Alice hides the cards to save them from this fate, so when the Queen asks her soldiers if the offending cards' heads are off, the soldiers truthfully answer that the cards' heads are gone.
That settled, the Queen turns back to Alice and asks if she can play croquet. Alice says she can, so the whole company moves off toward the croquet ground. When Alice notices that the White Rabbit is beside her, she asks him where the Duchess is. It turns out that she has been sentenced to be beheaded for boxing the Queen's ears. Alice finds this hilarious, but before she can find out more, the croquet game begins. Never has Alice seen such a bizarre set-up for croquet: the grounds are strange, the balls are live hedgehogs, and the mallets are live flamingoes. Some of the cards bend over to serve as wickets.
This version of croquet turns out to be extraordinarily difficult, since the hedgehogs refuse to stay curled in ball form and the flamingoes, who seem utterly confused by the whole game, are even less easily managed than the hedgehogs. To make matters even more confusing for Alice, everyone plays at once without waiting for his or her turn. Soon the Queen becomes frustrated and furious and issues almost constant orders for somebody's head to be chopped off. This begins to make Alice rather uneasy so she decides it would probably be best to sneak away before the Queen gets angry with her.
While looking for a way to escape, Alice sees something strange in the air. It is an appearance that gradually turns into the Cheshire Cat's grin, which asks how Alice is doing. Finally the whole head of the cat appears and Alice complains that she doesn't think that this game has any rules--and if it does, then no one is abiding by them fairly. She goes on to tell the Cat that she doesn't like the Queen a bit, but when she sees the Queen hovering nearby, she pretends to be praising her.
The King soon sidles up and asks her who this large hovering cat's head might be. He doesn't like the look of it and declares it should be removed. The Queen tries to settle this the way she settles everything and orders that the Cat be beheaded. Alice turns back to the game for a while but remains confused and frustrated. Turning back toward the Cheshire cat, she finds a crowd around it arguing over whether or not a head can be cut off if there is no body to begin with. It falls to Alice to settle the dispute, and she decides that, since it is the Duchess' cat, the Duchess would be the one to ask. Before the Duchess can be fetched from prison, the cat disappears entirely and the crowd, with nothing better to do, returns to the croquet game.