This is one of two Christmas books at Zeugma’s Project Gutenberg post today. I’ve only read what’s posted here but it looks just delightful. At Gutenberg.
The Escape of Alice
A Christmas Fantasy
By Vincent Starrett
The red linen covers opened slightly, and a little girl slipped out, leaving behind her a curious vacancy in one of the familiar pictures signed with Mr. Tenniel’s initials. She looked about her with bright, alert eyes, hoping no one had been a witness to her desertion, and then carefully began to climb down. She need not have alarmed herself, for she was no bigger than a minute, and clearer eyes than those of the rheumatic old antiquarian who kept the shop would have been needed to comprehend her departure. Fortunately, the shelf onto which she had emerged was not high, and by exercising great caution the little girl was able to reach the floor without mishap.
Still watching the old man closely, she reached a hand into the pocket of her print dress and produced a few crumbs of cake, which she immediately ate. Almost instantly she began to grow, and, in a moment, from a tiny little mite of three or four inches, she had shot up into as tall a schoolgirl of thirteen as the proudest parent could wish. The ascent, indeed, was so rapid that before she quite realized what had happened, there was her head on a level with the shelf upon which, only an instant before, she had been standing; and there was the prison from which she had escaped. “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” read the gold letters over the door.
She plucked the volume from its place, and advanced with it toward the guardian of the bookshop.
“If it is not too high,” said Alice, “I think I shall take this.”
The old bookseller, whose wits had been woolgathering for many years, would not have admitted for worlds that he had not heard her enter the shop. He took the book from her hand.
“You choose wisely,” he said, and patted the red covers lovingly. “Alice—the ageless child! It is one of the greatest compendiums of wit and sense in literature. There are only two books to match it. You shall have it for fifteen cents, for it is far from new, and I see what I had not noticed before, that the frontispiece is missing.”
“And what are the other two?” asked Alice, eagerly.
“When you are older you will read them,” said the old bookman. “They are called ‘Don Quixote’ and ‘The Pickwick Papers’.”
Then very suddenly Alice blushed, for she remembered that she could not pay. Timidly, she handed back the red-covered volume.
“I am sorry,” she said, “but I have no money. I don’t know why I was so stupid as to come away without any.”
“Money!” cried the antiquarian. “Did I ask you money for this book? Forgive me! It is a habit I have fallen into for which I am very sorry. Money is the least important thing in the world. Only the worthless things are to be had for money. Those things which are beyond price—thank God!—are to be had for the asking. Take it, child! Tomorrow is Christmas day. I should be grieved indeed if there were no Alice for you on Christmas day—as grieved as if there were no Santa Claus.”
There was something so unearthly about this strange old man that Alice wondered if she were not yet in Wonderland. With a sobriety quite out of keeping with her usually merry disposition, she thanked him and went forth into the snow-clad streets.