Alice and Lucy were two little dolls in a very grand dolls-house. It was so grand that in the bedrooms upstairs the beds had silk covers and matching curtains and tapestry rugs on the floor, and wardrobes with opening doors, and a nursery with a baby doll in a cradle. There was a library full of books with real, though tiny, writing in them, and a music room with a harp and a grand piano, and a dining room where a mother and father doll sat at a table with a silver teapot and tiny porcelain cups. Downstairs, there was a kitchen and a dairy and a room just for arranging flowers, and two bicycles, and a tiny porcelain dog.
Alice and Lucy were dressed in very elegant clothes with shoes and even little socks, and matching ribbons in their hair. Alice had a pocket with a tiny sewing kit in it with real silver scissors, and Lucy had a hair brush and a handkerchief.
Although the dolls-house was very grand, it was also very dusty because no-one had played with it for a long time, since the children had grown up and got married. Alice and Lucy’s dresses were quite dirty, and their hair was covered in so much dust that you couldn’t tell that it was golden underneath.
The dolls-house stood on a high shelf in the playroom of the house, waiting for the day when the grown-up children had children of their own and brought them to play with it. Then one day a wicked magician in disguise came to visit the people in the house. After dinner when no-one was looking, he popped Alice and Lucy into his pocket and stole them away.
Now this magician wasn’t a real magician. He knew lots of tricks with cards and empty boxes that actually had pigeons hiding inside them, but he couldn’t do any real magic except for one thing. He had a tiny emerald bottle that he had gotten from a real magician who had fallen on hard times. In the bottle was an elixir. Just a single drop of this elixir could turn a doll into a living thing, whether the doll was made of wood or porcelain, or even paper or rags.
As soon as he got back to his house, he took the emerald bottle from the string around his neck where he kept it, and gave both Alice and Lucy a tiny drop of the elixir. Suddenly Alice and Lucy were alive. They looked at each other in astonishment. “What’s happened to us?” said Alice. She touched her face and moved her arms and her legs for the first time since she had been made.
“Oh,” said Lucy, “I must wash my hair!”
The magician smiled evilly at them and said, “Now you will work for me.” He tied strings to Lucy and Alice’s arms and legs that seemed as big as ropes to them because there were so tiny, and he made them act in his puppet theatre. He took the puppet theatre to fairs and festivals all over the country. People would buy tickets to see Lucy and Alice walking and dancing and brushing each other’s hair, all things that were very easy for Alice and Lucy to do, but the people in the audience were always amazed because they thought the magician was pulling the strings very cleverly.
At night he put the girls into an old brown suitcase and locked it up tight.
Alice and Lucy didn’t like being put into a suitcase and they didn’t like being made to dance around and pretend to play a toy piano day after day. They didn’t like it when the magician made them pretend to fight and hit each other with the hair brush and pull each other’s hair while people laughed at them. They especially didn’t like the magician poking them with a stick to make them dance faster or pull each other’s hair harder.
Alice said to Lucy, “This is terrible. We must think of a way to escape.”
Lucy said, “But how can we escape? All day we are tied up with ropes on our hands and feet, and at night we’re locked in this nasty old suitcase with all these old, broken puppets.”
Alice said, “We must think of something.” She thought and thought, while Lucy practised her dancing. The next morning she said to Lucy, “I’ve thought of a plan. We must pretend to be unwell, and tell the magician that the ropes on our hands and feet are too tight, and he must loosen them or we’ll die.”
Lucy clapped her hands. “And as soon as he does, we’ll run away!”
Alice said, “If we did that, then he would just find more dolls and use the elixir to turn them into his slaves. We must steal the elixir too.”
Lucy said, “But how can we ever get the bottle from around his neck?”
Alice said, “While he is eating his dinner, I will sing for him until he falls asleep. Then you must take my scissors and climb up and cut the string and take the bottle.”
Lucy turned quite pale with fright. “Why don’t I do the singing and you do the climbing?” she said.
“Because even though you sing just as well as I do, you are much better at climbing than I am,” Alice said, which was quite true so Lucy agreed.
The next evening when the magician was getting his dinner, they both lay down looking tired and worn out. The magician kicked them with his boot and said, “What’s wrong with you?”
Alison said faintly, “Our legs and arms hurt. We can hardly lift them, these ropes are so tight.”
The magician didn’t want anything to happen to his little puppets, or he would stop making money, so he loosened the ropes a little.
“Thankyou,” said Alice, giving him a smile. “I feel much better. Would you like me to sing for you?”
“Very well,” said the magician. He sat down to eat his dinner, and Alice began singing. She sang her sweetest songs, until she saw that the magician’s head was drooping over his plate, getting lower and lower as he went to sleep. Alice made a sign to Lucy. Very, very quietly, Lucy slipped the ropes off her hands and feet and began climbing up the magician’s chair.
Up and up she went, while Alice sang and the magician snored. When she reached the top, she took Alice’s silver scissors and reached over to his neck. Very carefully, she cut the string that held the emerald bottle. She went to grab the bottle but it slipped out of her hand and fell.
Alice’s heart leapt into her throat and her voice wobbled. The magician jerked awake suddenly, saying, “What? What’s happening?” The scissors slipped and made the tiniest cut in his neck. To Lucy’s horror, it was not blood that came out but sawdust.
The magician jumped to his feet with a yell, clutching at his neck, but sawdust poured out in a light, steady stream. His head fell forward, then his body folded up and he lay in a lifeless heap of rags on the floor.
Alice gasped. “He was no more than a doll like us!” she said.
Lucy picked up the emerald bottle. “Anyway,” she said, “we are free and we have the elixir.”
They took each other’s hands and set off for home. Then a thought struck Alice. She ran back to the old brown suitcase. One of the broken puppets was a dog with one of its legs missing. She gave it a drop of the elixir and it sprang into life, jumping and barking with excitement. The girls climbed onto its back and it carried them all the way home.
Lucy and Alice spent the rest of their days in the grand dolls-house, happily sweeping and dusting and playing the piano and riding the bicycles and cooking in the kitchen and playing with the dog. When children came once again to play with the dolls-house, they pretended to be dolls again, of course, but the children always marvelled to each other how warm and alive-looking the dolls seemed. Alice and Lucy just smiled to themselves and said nothing.
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