Cranes are not the first choice for croquet mallets; this became perfectly obvious but one minute into the first chukka of the All Wonderland championships at Womblegon.
In all of her previous games Alice had utilized the rose breasted flamingo whose bill shape was decidedly favorable for control and accuracy. The cranes pointed beak, although sufficiently long, was missing the useful hammer head and upturned end. The cranes body was smaller, not having the roundness of either a flamingo or bagpipe, making it exceeding difficult to successfully tuck under the elbow for either a good swing or long harmonious chanter chord.
Sir Charles Didicoy was nothing if not an extremely bad sportsman. Whilst most gentlemen would do almost anything rather than cheat Charlie was as bent as a hairpin and twice as cheap. Not for the first time Alice had caught him casually side kicking the hedgehogs in line with the hoops and even trying to bribe them with fat juicy earthworms to roll more favorably.
“I do not cheat! Never, ever!”
Sir Charles face was full of obvious falsehood, like a clock that had just struck the hour at quarter past.
“Umpire. We need an umpire.”
Alice was not in the mood for argument or apology. An official umpires ruling was warranted.
“What’s the problem?”
The umpire was not at all as Alice expected. Rather than wearing a regulation white coat and hat he was dressed in a purple mouse-hair morning suit and a very ornately beribboned top hat priced at half a guinea.
‘Are you an official umpire? Surely, your that same Hatter I met before?”
The question seemed very reasonable to Alice but seemed to enrage the colorful recipient whose nose turned a bright shade of puce.
“Obviously, to both the former and the latter!”
The man showed the label pinned to his in his lapel that read umpire.
“I have a label on my knickers that says St. Michael but they are not the least religious.”
The game behind Alices was becoming impatient. To make matters worse the Queen of Hearts had spied the snarl up and was pointing and yelling quite menacingly from the royal box. Alice decided to forgo the question of the Hatter’s qualifications and simply utilize his expertise.
“Sir Charles is cheating.”
Hatter grinned gleefully and started to walk away.
“No, I don’t think you understand. He is breaking the rules.”
“That’s a very serious charge. Can you prove such a supposition?”
Alice thought for an instance then caught a movement out of the corner of her eye. Sir Charles was again nudging a hedgehog with the outside of his white sports pump. Not wishing to forewarn him he was undone Alice merely pointed to the offending limb.
“You see that? You witness that malarkey?”
“I will check the rulebook almost immediately.”
A hedgehog hit the umpires beribboned top hat very squarely knocking it some distance away.
“You have very ginger colored hair I must say!’
“And peppermint striped underwear!”
Hatter seemed very proud of his retort as he casually retrieved his chapeau.
“OFF WITH THEIR HEADS!”
Instantly everyone barring Alice dropped to their hands and knees shaking exceeding violently.
Alice turned and curtsied prettily and of course immediately brought a happy smile to the Queens previously rage filled face.
“Why Alice my dear child. I really didn’t know it was you. Who shall I have beheaded first?”
The Queens executioner started twirling his axe hopefully. It had been several hours since the edge had been tested properly.
“Well your Majesty, Sir Charles was cheating, and the Hatter was being silly but I am not sure that either deserves to lose their noggin.”
“No place for softness when dealing with miscreants Alice dear. Breaking a rule is breaking a rule after all.”
“I was waiting for Hatter’s umpiring decision about the rule infringement.”
“What say you Hatter?”
“I was just mentioning it being tea-time your Majesty. Difficult to make a decision without a good brew.”
The executioner had gotten bored and was lining up hedgehogs in order to take some practice swings.
“Waste of good hedgehog if you ask me your Majesty. Much better covered in clay and baked for an hour or so.”
Sir Charles Didicoy was quite the expert at hedge row cuisine.
“Are you the same Charlie Didicoy who sold me two lame horse for my coach?”
The Queens eyes were burning into Sir Charles like a pair of acetylene torches.
“Never me your Majesty, was my brother Giuseppe, or maybe Cesare.”
The Hatter had taken the opportunity to link arm in arm with Alice and wander towards the edge of the field of play.
“Do you prefer Indian or China tea Alice?”
“Oh, Indian most certainly. China always seems to make me thirstier.”
“A very sensible answer. Myself I take China in the A.M. and Indian in the P.M. for that exact reason.”
They were now beyond the tree line and out of sight.
“Will the Queen be very angry when she realizes we are gone?”
“It all depends.”
“Well yes I am sure it does Hatter, but perhaps a guess?”
Alice decided that was probably the best answer she would get so let the matter slide into vagary.
“But the primary, Hatter. I must attend the primary.”
The Hatter shrugged without moving his shoulders in the slightest.
“As you wish, Alice, but tea cannot wait for such frivolities.”
The Hatter continued into the copse whistling jauntily whilst Alice turned back towards the shoreline.