And so she made the dolls.
Camille was the first, a delicate, pale doll who she dressed in lace and taffeta. Then came Valentine, the gentleman, dashing in crimson velvet and gold braid, and finally little Annette, wide-eyed, sweet-faced and innocent. The girl took her meals with the dolls, sitting them in chairs at the table and chatting to them as she ate; in the evenings she sat with them around the hearth, enjoying their company while she read or sewed, and when it was time for bed they slept on the window seat in her room, tucked comfortably among pillows and embroidered cushions. With them to talk to and spend time with the girl was rarely ever lonely, and she came to care for the dolls as if they were real people.
It was on the first day of summer that another figure entered the girl's life. That morning, as she was slowly brushing out her long hair, she happened to glance out the window. It was then that she saw the young man. Face down on the grass, his clothes and hair stained garnet with blood, he lay as still as a corpse in the sunlight. She rushed out of the house and into the garden and found him, though bruised and bleeding, still alive. Bringing him inside, she laid him on her bed, treating his wounds and washing the dirt from his skin.
Despite her care the young man remained unconscious, and she sat beside him all afternoon and into the night, afraid that he might never wake. For three days she kept constant vigil there, alert for the any sign of life. During those long hours, as he lay still and doll-like beside her, she began to talk to him, just as she would have Annette, Camille or Valentine. She told him about herself, of her life, of her shyness and loneliness, of her garden, her house, her dolls. Soon he became as familiar and dear to her as her three companions were.
At dawn on the fourth day he finally woke. The girl was delighted. She made him tea and hot soup and as he ate he told her his story. He was a tinker, making his living traveling from place to place, repairing pots and pans, sharpening blades and bringing the latest news from out of town. Thieves had attacked him on the road, robbed and beaten him and abandoned him in the woods. With the last of his strength he'd stumbled through the forest and at last had found her garden, only to collapse from exhaustion where she had found him.
During the following weeks the girl rarely left the tinker's side. As she had sat beside him those three days the girl had grown used him, and found that now she felt little of the fear she would have before. After so long in isolation having a real person to talk to was strange and wonderful, and she never tired of hearing his thoughts and feelings or stories of the places he'd been and the marvelous things he'd seen.
The young man had also lived a solitary life, with no family and no home to come back to each night, always moving, never staying in one place long enough to settle. He had grown lonely like that, though perhaps he hadn't realized it, and he found the company as delicious as she did. They spent their days around his bedside, telling each other of themselves and their lives, and he found he would have been happy to listen to her talk for ever. In the mornings when she went out to tend her garden he would move to the window to watch her, happy for just a glimpse of her.
As he grew stronger he began helping with housework and working on the garden with her, and as the weeks passed he grew well again. He could have left then and headed back down the road he'd started on and returned to his former lifestyle. Yet he stayed, unable to bear the thought of leaving her behind.
One day as the girl sat weeding in the garden he kneeled down beside her, holding a folded up handkerchief in his outstretched hands. Opening it she saw the seeds, and as he poured them into her hands he told her of the flowers that they would become. By day the buds stayed closed, wrapped up in their petals like pale sleepers, but at night they blossomed, opening wide to glow in the moonlight. He said he'd seen them years ago on his travels and, buying a pack of seeds, had promised himself that if he finally found a place to settle and make a home he would plant them there. He pressed the seeds into her hand, clasping it his own, and asked her to plant them for him. Then, leaning close, he whispered that he loved her and placed his kiss upon her trembling lips.
During the long days and weeks with him the girl had also fallen in love. But, afraid he would soon tire of such a simple and solitary life and leave, she had kept her feelings hidden, nursing her love in secret like a little flower. With his words it blossomed inside her until she thought she would burst with happiness and love. She sobbed into his shoulder in joy and relief, and he held her against him and tenderly kissed her tears away.
With her beloved beside her the girl no longer needed the dolls for company, but they were still her dear friends and she could not bear the thought of parting with them. Instead she moved them to a new home in a window seat overlooking the garden, and once a year, on the anniversary of the tinker's arrival, she dressed them in their best clothes and had a lovely dinner with them just as they had before.
Then when the moon was high she and her love would slip into the garden, walking bare foot, with the moonlight dappling spots of silver on their skin. The air still hung heavy with the fading fragrance of peonies, roses and lilies and above the stars glimmered like a string of pearls in the sky. Lit up like stars themselves in the dark, the girl and the tinker would meander slowly through the garden, fireflies floating in the air around them. It was then that the moonflowers, for that was what they were called, would bloom, unfurling to glow white and ethereal in the moonlight. Each evening the flowers blossomed anew, revealing their beauty again and again, and it seemed that every morning the love of the girl and the tinker blossomed again too, growing more and more beautiful with each dawn.