The March Hare and the Dormouse and the Hatter were seated at a very neglected-looking tea-table; they were evidently in agonised consideration of something—even the Dormouse, which was asleep, had a note of interrogation in its tail.
“No room!” they shouted, as soon as they caught sight of Alice.
“There’s lots of room for improvement,” said Alice, as she sat down.
“You’ve got no business to be here,” said the March Hare.
“And if you had any business you wouldn’t be here, you know,” said the Hatter; “I hope you don’t suppose this is a business gathering. What will you have to eat?” he continued.
Alice looked at a long list of dishes with promising names, but nearly all of them seemed to be crossed off.
“That list was made nearly seven years ago, you know,” said the March Hare, in explanation.
“But you can always have patience,” said the Hatter. “You begin with patience and we do the rest.” And he leaned back and seemed prepared to do a lot of rest.
“Your manners want mending,” said the March Hare suddenly to Alice.
“They don’t,” she replied indignantly.
“It’s very rude to contradict,” said the Hatter; “you would like to hear me sing something.”
Alice felt that it would be unwise to contradict again, so she said nothing, and the Hatter began:
Dwindle, dwindle, little war.
How I wonder more and more.
As about the veldt you hop
When you really mean to stop.
“Talking about stopping,” interrupted the March Hare anxiously, “I wonder how my timepiece is behaving.”
He took out of his pocket a large chronometer of complicated workmanship, and mournfully regarded it.
“It’s dreadfully behind the times,” he said, giving it an experimental shake. “I would take it to pieces at once if I was at all sure of getting the bits back in their right places.”
“What is the matter with it?” asked Alice.
“The wheels seem to get stuck,” said the March Hare. “There is too much Irish butter in the works.”
“Ruins the thing from a dramatic point of view,” said the Hatter; “too many scenes, too few acts.”
“The result is we never have time to get through the day’s work. It’s never even time for a free breakfast-table; we do what we can for education at odd moments, but we shall all die of old age before we have a moment to spare for social duties.”
“You might lose a lot if you run your business in that way.” said Alice.
“Not in this country,” said the March Hare. “You see, we have a Commission on everything that we don’t do.”
“The Dormouse must tell us a story,” said the Hatter, giving it a sharp pinch.
The Dormouse awoke with a start, and began as though it had been awake all the time: ” There was an old woman who lived in a shoe—”
“I know,” said Alice. “she had so many children that she didn’t know what to do.”
“Nothing of the sort,” said the Dormouse, “you lack the gift of imagination. She put most of them into Treasuries and Foreign Offices and Boards of Trade, and all sorts of unlikely places where they could learn things.”
“What did they learn?” asked Alice.
“Painting in glowing colours, and attrition, and terminology (that’s the science of knowing when things are over), and iteration (that’s the same thing over again), and drawing—-”
“What did they draw?”
“Salaries. And then there were classes for foreign languages. And such language!” (Here the March Hare and the Hatter shut their eyes and took a big gulp from their tea-cups.) “However, I don’t think anybody attended to them.”
The Dormouse broke off into a chuckle which ended in a snore, and as no one seemed inclined to wake it up again Alice thought she might as well be going.
When she looked back the Hatter and the March Hare were trying to stiffen the Dormouse out into the attitude of a lion guardant. “But it will never pass for anything but a Dormouse if it will snore so,” she remarked to herself.