The Dollmaker by D.E. Berthiaume
Once upon a time; in 18th century Paris a young girl was wandering around the streets that she had gotten herself lost in, it was well after the time she should be home and she was frightful of what her mother would think if she did not find her way home soon. After some time she noticed she had walked by this doll shop at least twice previously, so she stops to contemplate her situation, her eye being caught by the dolls in the window she becomes entranced for some time. Realizing it was quite late she thought it was odd the shops lights were still on and walks up to the door placing a small hand with quite plain fingernails on the door handle and turns it noting that it was indeed open. She steps in hesitantly looking for the shop keeper and spots him over by the fireplace cooking what appears to be his dinner for the evening, she clears her throat and says in her softly lilting voice “Excuse me Sir, are you still open?”
Startled, the elderly man turns to the girl probably a bit too quickly for his age, as he had to grab onto the back of the chair near him to remain standing. He looks at the young girl with the bluest of blue eyes and smiles kindly at her. In a fruity voice (means his voice is deep and strong in a pleasant way) he says to her “I am, come on in my child you look like you are cold and hungry. Would you like some of my soup? It seems I have made too much for myself this eve”. She nods gently her golden locks that frame her thin oval face bouncing lightly she takes a small step towards the inviting warmth of the fire. Motioning her to the chair his hand is resting on he turns back to the fireplace grabbing two bowls of bread and begins ladling soup into them as she crosses and gratefully sits close to the warmth emanating from the fireplace.
After placing one bowl in front of her with real of silverware, her family could only afford wooden utensils. He had decided to use his good silverware this evening since he had such a beautiful young woman for his guest. Looking at the fine spoon, she smiles and thinks to herself that she will one day also own such fine utensils. Sitting down across the table from her the kind grey haired man looks at her with his hazel eyes and picks up his spoon to begin eating. As she follows his lead and grabs her own spoon, he once again speaks with his fruity voice and asks her “so what brings a beautiful young lady as you to my shop at this ungodly hour?” Eager to begin eating this fragrant soup she tells him her story of how she became lost between bites, as he nodded from time to time while listening to her story it goes unnoticed by her that he has not eaten at all. After she has finished eating her soup and breaking off pieces of the bread bowl and eating its soaked contents he gets up and quickly clears the table while suggesting to her that she stay the evening since it is already dark outside. Agreeing quickly as she is rather tired and hardly thinking about her worried mother at the point, she lets out a small yawn betraying how tired she is.
After he finishes cleaning up he leads her up the stairs towards the sleeping area. Stepping into a small room where her blue eyes take everything in; how sparse it is with an inviting bed neatly made with a duvet with a pretty blue flower pattern, and on the nightstand next to the bed is a beautiful doll with auburn hair, dressed in a nice green Victorian dress; that is 3 years out of style by now. She turns to him replying in a modulated voice; so as not to betray how lovely this room is comparison to the one she shares with her sisters, she thanks him noticing he is crouched by the bed while he is slipping a bed warmer underneath it, she gasps in surprise not used to sleeping in a heated bed.
Hearing her gasp he looks towards her and smiles at the expression of joy on her face. Using the nightstand as leverage to stand back up he smiles warmly and asks her to please make the bed in the morning before she comes down for breakfast and then leaves the room quietly closing the door behind him. She gingerly takes off her modest dress that is 1 size too large for her. She wrinkles her nose in concern that she must look like a popper (Old term for beggar) to him she smiles brightly after deciding to leave on her under coats so she would have less to wiggle into in the morning and quickly climbs into the still slightly chilly bed but happy to feel it warming up already in the center of it. Smiling she nods off thinking about tomorrow when she gets to gloat to her sisters that she had slept in a heated bed alone for the night.
The next morning she woke up early, wiggled back into her dress and made the bed just as the kindly doll maker asked her to. She goes downstairs to find a bowl of porridge waiting for her on the table still steaming. Sitting down in front of it she quietly eats it while wondering where the doll maker was at when she hears noises coming from what she can see from her spot to be hos workshop. After finishing her bowl and washing both the bowl and the spoon she walks to his shop full of curiosity about the sounds coming from it. Standing in the door way she is entranced by all the tables and what appears to be some kind of wooden block he is pouring a white liquid into (Liquid porcelain into a wooden mold). Hearing her enter he asks “So it is time for you to go is it?” she starts to nod then realizes his back is still towards her so she pipes up “Yes Sir, I must get home today” as her eyes remain glued on to the work he is doing seemingly oblivious to the fact she has not left yet.
After several hours, her legs began to tire, sitting in the chair nearby she adjusts the dress to keep it from bunching underneath her. Curiously, recalling that while enthralled by the wonders of the shop he had placed it there. Startled awake some time later she is surprised to see him standing up and looking at her, he clears his throat before saying in a parched voice “Seems another day has gone by and I find you are in need a meal and bed once again young lady”. Her cheeks warming up in embarrassment as she realizes she had failed to return home today. Following him as walks past her into the next room, she fails to notice that once again there is a cauldron of soup waiting for him to ladle into bread bowls for them. He places a warm bowl before her with his fine silverware then sitting across from her, she fails to notice that he still does not eat while watching her devour the dinner this time polishing off the bits of the bread bowl.
After finishing, she politely thanks him once more for a fine meal and a nice bed, then heads up the stairs to the bedroom once more. Closing the door and quickly stripping off the bed she looks at the curious doll beside the bed closer than she had the previous night noticing its life like details, especially in the eyes and wonders at the miracle of his artistry. Impressed she climbs into the bed noticing that it is already warm she looks underneath it to see the bed warmer already there full of freshly hot coals, thinking it a bit odd since she had never seen him go upstairs to place it there she snuggles up under the covers smiling thinking nothing more of this oddity.
The next morning she awake once again refreshed and early, climbed out of the bed noticing that her dress was gone replaced with a new crimson one (well new to her). Spotting a note on it she snatches it up quickly and reads; thankful that her mother had been able to teach her how to; “I had to go out to run some errands. You’re dress looked worse for wear and at least a size too large for you, I think you will find this one a perfect fit it was my daughters and she was your size and no longer has a need for it. Please enjoy the bowl of porridge I left for you by the fireplace before you leave - A poor Doll Maker”
She hurriedly gets dress and heads downstairs spotting the porridge right where the note said it was keeping warm next to the fire; eats it in the awkward silence of his shop then washes the bowl and spoon leaving them in the sink to dry. Heading towards the door she glances around the shop one last time looking at all the dolls her eyes picking out details, the different hues of reds, browns and blond hairs, The various styles of the dresses noticing that they are all fashionable styles 3 years ago. She leaves through the door determined to return to visit him one day soon and maybe be able to purchase one of his cheaper dolls. Although from the looks of them surely he creates for the rich and noble, she frowns to herself at this thought, which quickly turns into a small smile as she realizes she knows where she is and heads back home as quick as her legs will carry her.
Once she got home, her mother and sisters noticed the new dress right away and began to dote upon her immediately. They quickly became concerned about where she has been and how she acquired the new dress that she is wearing. After listening to her story and explaining where she was her mother frowns and tells her that there has been no doll shop in that area for several years now. She squirms and grimaces in disappointment as her sisters snicker at her discomfort as her mother asks her to stop lying about where she has been, so she describes the doll maker and the dolls to them and her mother send her off to do her chores outraged and confused as to why her daughter is obviously lying.
After months of doing her chores and schoolwork under the watchful eye of her mother, she finally is able to run off to find the shop again. Running off in the right direction she finally spots the doll makers shop. However, she is saddened to find it closed, looking through the window seeing years of dust and cobwebs inside. Spotting an elderly woman walking nearby, she asks politely “why has the doll maker closed his shop and left”. Taking in the young girls’ appearance the woman notices that she is still young, but nearly old enough to marry. With a note of sadness in her voice she says “I’m sorry darlin’ but the doll maker that owned this shop died years ago of a broken heart and loneliness after losing his wife and child.” and continues on her way.
Not believing the elderly woman, she quickly runs into the doll store. Looking around in dismay she notices that the bowl and spoon that she had left in the sink was curiously dust free as it had been a couple months since she was last here. She walks over to his workshop and collapses into the chair she sat in previously to watch him at work coughing as the dust swirls in the air around her weeping from the loss. When she finally stops sobbing, she wipes her wet dust covered eyes and looks around the room once more noticed a lone candle lighting something up on the table it sits on.
She stands up disturbing the dust that had settled onto her as she wept, and notices the doll that he had left put together but unpainted or dressed is now gone. she walks over to the table with the candle on it and gasps in surprise as she sees a doll sitting on it as if only just finished that looks just like her, right down to the crimson dress he gave her, her golden blond locks and the bluest eyes she has ever seen; remember back then her poor family would not have been able to afford a mirror so only saw her own eyes from reflections in the water. She picks of the doll and a piece of paper falls out of its sleeve, clutching the doll to her dress she collapses on the floor fighting back the tears as she picks up the note and reads it. “I knew you would come back to the shop, Thank you for giving an old man the peace and happiness of your curiosity once more. Please take this doll home with you and cherish her. A poor Doll Maker”. Clutching the doll to her chest with both arms now she begins to weep once more in the dust filled workshop.