Quite a number of them were going past; and the noise was considerable, but they were marching in sixes and sevens and didn’t seem to be guided by any fixed word of command, so that the effect was not so imposing as it might have been. Some of them, Alice noticed, had the letters “I.L.” embroidered on their tunics and headpieces and other conspicuous places (“I wonder,” she thought, “if it s marked on their underclothing as well”); others simply had a big “L,” and others again were branded with a little “e.” They got dreadfully in each others way, and were always falling over one another in little heaps, while many of the mounted ones did not seem at all sure of their seats. “They won*t go very far if they don’t fall into better order,’* thought Alice, and she was glad to find herself the next minute in a spacious hall with a large marble staircase at one end of it. The White King was sitting on one of the steps, looking rather anxious and just a little uncomfortable under his heavy crown, which needed a good deal of balancing to keep it in its place.
“Did you happen to meet any fighting men?” he asked Alice.
“A great many — two or three hundred, I should think.”
“Not quite two hundred, all told,” said the King, referring to his note-book.
“Told what?” asked Alice.
“Well, they haven’t been told anything, exactly — yet. The fact is,” the King went on nervously, “we’re rather in want of a messenger just now. I don’t know how it is, there are two or three of them about, but lately they have always been either out of reach or else out of touch. You don’t happen to have passed any one coming from the direction of Berkeley Square?” he asked eagerly.
Alice shook her head.
“There’s the Primrose Courier, for instance,” the King continued reflectively, “the most reliable Messenger we have; he understands all about Open Doors and Linked Hands and all that sort of thing, and he’s quite as useful at home. But he frightens some of them nearly out of their wits by his Imperial Anglo-Saxon attitudes. I wouldn’t mind his skipping about so if he’d only come back when he’s wanted.”
“And haven’t you got any one else to carry your messages?” asked Alice sympathetically.
“There’s the Unkhaki Messenger,” said the King, consulting his pocket-book.
“I beg your pardon,” said Alice.
“You know what Khaki means? ” I suppose.
“It s a sort of colour,” said Alice promptly; “something like dust.”
“Exactly,” said the King; “thou dost — he doesn’t. That’s why he’s called the Unkhaki Messenger.”
Alice gave it up.
“Such a dear, obliging creature,” the King went on, “but so dreadfully unpunctual. He’s always half a century in front of his times or half a century behind them, and that puts one out so.”
Alice agreed that it would make a difference.
“It’s helped to put us out quite six years already,” the King went on plaintively; “but you can’t cure him of it. You see he will wander about in byways and deserts, hunting for Lost Causes, and whenever he comes across a stream he always wades against the current. All that takes him out of his way, you know; he’s somewhere up in the Grampian Hills by this time.”
“I see,” said Alice; “that’s what you mean by being out of touch. And the other Messenger is—”
“Out of reach,” said the iting. “Precisely.”
“Then it follows—-” said Alice.
“I don’t know what you mean by ‘it,'” interrupted the King sulkily. “No one follows. That
is why we stick in the same place. DON’T!” he suddenly screamed, jumping up and down in his agitation. “Don’t do it, I say.”
“Do what>” asked Alice, in some alarm.
“Give advice. I know you’re going to. They’ve all been doing it for the last six weeks. I assure you the letters I get ”
“I wasn’t going to give you advice,” said Alice indignantly, “and as to letters, you’ve got too much alphabet as it is.”
“Why, you’re doing it now,” said the King angrily. “Good-bye.”
As Alice took the hint and walked away towards the door she heard him calling after her in a kinder tone: “If you should meet any one coming from the direction of Berkeley Square—-“