The little girl behind the window
Once upon a time, in a grey and cold country, there was a king who loved a little girl.
The girl was so pretty that the king had fallen in love with her. Because he always wanted her beside him, he cast a spell on her and she was transformed into a doll. He offered her necklaces and velvet hairpins and, every night, he spent a long time with her. He lay by her side and caressed her with such passion that the doll almost choke.
When the sun rose, the king went away and the doll was left alone. The room door was not closed. The doll could go out and even run away, but, as she thought the king would be brokenhearted, she dared not do it. Her cotton legs prevented her from walking and, as she had no mouth, she was afraid to get lost and not be able to ask for the way back.
So, when the king left, she sat by the window, her face against the cold glass pane, looking sadly at the street. That’s how her lips eventually disappeared. First, they became transparent, like the glass, and then they vanished completely.
Her days went by, endless and gloomy.
One day, she saw a little boy playing in a garden. How she wished she could go to him! But because she had no mouth, she could not even call him.
With a heavy heart, she spent the following days spying her new neighbour, hidden behind a curtain. In the evening, the king, alarmed by the sadness of the doll, held even tighter and tried to cast away the grief that petrified her long lashes and darkened her eyes. Sometimes, his grip was so strong that she felt deeply frightened.
One day, the little boy felt he was being watched and, climbing the balcony, called out for the doll. At first, the strange little girl behind the curtain refused to show herself. But when he pretended that he was going away, she opened the window with her eyes full of anguish. Although she was dumb, she tried to mime her story. The boy did not understand everything but he guessed the depth of her suffering and understood her most insistent request: the doll wanted a mouth. How could he find such a thing?
Fortunately, the boy’s mother was a fairy. Together, they walked around the winter gardens that were still asleep, and they found out, at the corner a wall, two small violets that were just beginning to blossom. The boy took them gently and the mother put the two buds on the white skin of the doll, one on top of the other.
The doll opened her blue lips and stammered, ‘My legs are made of cotton. I need stronger legs to be able to run!’ The boy and her mother made her a pair of legs out of a birch branch. They were thin but solid.
The doll played all day long with her friend. When the evening came, he went home. However, the doll could not make up her mind whether to return to the king’s house. The truth was that she did not want to go back any more...
When the king came home, he looked for her everywhere. While he was looking, his huge shadow cast horrific reflexions on the curtains and his hands looked like claws... Hidden behind a hedge, the doll was trembling. Despair ate at her heart, but fear stopped her from pushing the door open and having to stand the king’s hands and kisses all over her body, as well as his censures.
Filled with cold and with nowhere to go, she nested against the withered bark of an old oak tree. She tried to sleep under a carpet of dead leaves. She was certainly going to die there. The wind cast his frozen fingers all over her and penetrated her skin as snow needles that would certainly kill her before daybreak.
Suddenly, a hand caressed her face. Someone lifted her from the ground and the doll felt she was flying. She landed gently on a bed that seemed like an ocean of feathers, under a wonderfully warm quilt that smelt of lilies and lavender.
She woke up in the morning with the soft hand of the fairy caressing her hair. She stayed there for the rest of the day.
As soon as the sky became black and the stars began to shine, the fairy waited for the king to return. When he arrived home, he sat on a garden bench, where he remained for hours, as if he had been covered by an ice cloak. As soon as the fairy moved towards him, he ran away, hiding his face. That was when she saw that he did not have a mouth either.
The following day, when he sat on the bench again, the doll approached him slowly. She heard the beating of her heart and the voice of the fairy that was encouraging her. With her trembling little body, she gave the man two buds. Then she ran to hide behind a bush of peonies. The king, surprised, allowed the fairy to place the petals where his mouth should have been. A big silence ensued and then a sigh was heard, as deep as the blowing wind presaging rain.
The king began to whisper and to tell his story. He spoke all night long. The fairy listened to him, and so did the trees. The nightingales kept silent and neither did the owls hunt that night. At daybreak, the king shut up. A tear ran down his face, a tear the fairy took with her finger tip and let fall over the sleeping doll that immediately changed into a real little girl. She began to touch her rosy arms and legs, without believing they were real. Then she got up and started to dance!
Without a single noise, the sun cleared the clouds and rolled them up at a corner of the horizon. He stretched a torn beam and tickled the noses of those who were still sleeping.
The king was punished with the loss of his kingdom and his crown. He had to depart to the frozen lands of the Big North with a view to obtaining a pardon. Before going, the king, who had become a man like any other, kissed a lady on the doorstep of his house. The little girl thought the lady was the fairy, but the boy called her to play with him and she ran towards the garden.
La petite fille derrière la fenêtre
Draguignan, Lo Païs d’Enfance, 2002
(Translation and adaptation)