It was the birthday of the Infanta, the daughter of the King of Spain. She was twelve years old. The little princess was playing with her friends in the sun-filled palace garden. From a window in the palace, the king watched her. The Infanta looked just like her mother. The king thought sadly about his young French queen. She died soon after her child was born, before she saw the beautiful flowers in the garden and the fruit on the trees.
His love was great, and he could not hide her body in the ground. So an Egyptian doctor worked on her body. It stayed as fresh after death as it was in life. Twelve years later, it still lay in the small palace church. Once every month the king went there and fell down on his knees by her side. He called out, “My queen! My queen!”
Today, the king watched the Infanta playing in the garden. Memories of his married life returned to him. The Infanta had the same pretty ways as the queen. She moved her head in the same way when she talked. She had the same proud, beautiful mouth, the same wonderful smile. But the king felt very sad. He could not enjoy the children laughing or the sunny garden. When the Infanta looked up again at the window, he was not there.
“Why has he gone away,” she said, “when I want him to stay with me on my birthday? Where is he? Has he has gone to that dark little church where I cannot go? He is very silly! The sun is shining so brightly and everyone is so happy!”
She walked to a big tent to watch her birthday show. Don Pedro, her uncle, went with her. The Camarera went too. She was a great lady who looked after the Infanta. At the show, some boys rode on wooden horses, dressed in bright clothes. An Indian man played music on a pipe and made magic. He covered the sand with a cloth, and a tree grew up out of it. Then flowers grew on the tree. He brought eggs out of his nose. Then he took one egg and changed it into a little bird. The bird flew away, and the children were excited and happy.
Some schoolboys did a beautiful dance. Then some Africans sat in a ring and played music. Another man brought in a dog. The animal stood up on its back legs and danced.
But the funniest thing was the dancing of an ugly little dwarf. He had very short legs and a very big head. The children laughed and laughed at him. The Camarera told the Infanta to be quieter. A princess must not laugh so loudly.
The dwarf was found by two rich Spanish men when he was running wild in the forest. His father happily sold his ugly child to them, and they took him to the palace as a surprise for the Infanta. There was one very funny thing about the dwarf. He did not seem to know how strange and ugly he looked. He seemed quite happy! When the children laughed, he laughed too.
The Infanta was very amused by him. He could not keep his eyes off her; he seemed to dance just for her. At the end of his dance, she took a white rose out of her hair and threw it to him. He caught the flower and kissed it. Then he put his hand on his heart and went down on one knee in front of her. He was smiling, and his little eyes were bright.
The Infanta laughed at this for a long time. She wanted the dwarf to dance again. But the Camarera said, “The sun is too hot. The Infanta should go back to the palace for her birthday dinner. The dwarf can dance again for you later.” So the Infanta went back to the palace, and the other children followed her.
The little dwarf was very, very proud. He ran out into the garden, kissed the white rose and jumped up and down happily. He told the flowers: “The Infanta has given me this beautiful white rose. She wants me to dance for her a second time.” They moved their heads, but they did not seem to hear him. He told the birds, but did not stop singing. Perhaps their song was about him and lnfanta.
“The Infanta has given me a white rose and she loves me. Oh, I want to be with her in the palace. I can be her friend and play with her and teach her nice things. I can make a pipe and play music on it for her. I can teach her how to call the birds. Yes! She must come to the forest and play with me. We will dance on the fresh grass. When she is tired, I will find a soft bank of flowers for her. Then she can rest on it.”
He looked at the palace. The doors and windows were shut to keep out the midday heat. Then he saw a little door which was open. He went through it. He was in a beautiful room. There was gold everywhere, and the floor was made of coloured stones. But the little Infanta was not there.
The dwarf came to a second room. In the centre there was a big round table with red books on it. This was the room where the government officers met. The little dwarf was afraid, but he thought of the pretty Infanta. “I must continue,” he said, “and find her. I will tell her that I love her. I will ask her to come away with me after my dance. I know that she will come to the forest with me.” He smiled as he thought of it.
He went into the next room. This was the brightest and the most beautiful of all the rooms. The tables and chairs were made of silver, and the floor was of sea-green stone. But he was not alone!
He saw someone — a small person — standing in the shadow at the other end of the room. Watching him! He shouted with excitement, and moved out into the sunlight. As he moved, the other one moved too. He saw it clearly. This was not the Infanta! It was a terrible, ugly thing. It was not shaped like other people. It had short legs and long arms, and its big head was covered with long black hair. He looked angrily at it, and it looked angrily back at him. He laughed, and it laughed. He went towards it, and it came to meet him.
“What is it?” He looked at the rest of the room. He could see everything in this wall of clear water. Every picture, every chair, every table. He took the white rose and kissed it. That other one had a rose too! It kissed it and pressed it to its heart. He was looking at himself in a mirror!
When he realized this, he fell down on the floor. He cried. He was the ugly one! The children laughed at him, not with him. The little Infanta did not love him; she only laughed at his ugliness.
“Why didn’t they leave me in the forest? There were no mirrors there and I never knew. Why didn’t my father kill me? Why did he sell me so other people could laugh at me?”
Hot tears poured down his face. He pulled the white rose to pieces and threw the pieces away. The other one did the same. When he looked at it, it looked at him with a face full of pain. He covered his eyes and lay in the shadow.
When the Infanta and her friends came into the room, they saw the ugly little dwarf. He was lying on the floor and hitting it with his hands in the strangest way. They shouted happily and stood round and watched.
“His dancing was very funny,” said the Infanta, “but this is funnier.”
The little dwarf did not look up. He lay there, crying very quietly. Then he made a strange noise and put his hand on his side. Then he fell back and lay there.
“That was wonderful!” said the Infanta. “But now you must dance for me.”
“Yes,” cried the children. “Get up and dance!” But the little dwarf did not answer.
The Infanta was angry and called her uncle. He was walking with the king’s doctor in the garden outside.
“My funny little dwarf is not listening to me,” she cried. “You must wake him up. Tell him to dance for me!”
Don Pedro hit the dwarf. “You must dance,” he said. “The Infanta of Spain wants to see you dance.”
But the little dwarf did not move. The king’s doctor looked at the dwarf and put his hand on the little man’s heart. “Oh, princess,” he said, “your funny little dwarf will never dance again. That is very sad, because he is very, very ugly. Even the king laughed at him.”
“Why won’t he dance again?” asked the Infanta.
“Because his heart is broken. He did not want to live, and he is dead.”
The Infanta was angry. “In future,” she cried, “I will only play with people who have no hearts.” And she ran out into the garden.