ONCE upon a time there lived a noble gentleman who had one dear little daughter. Poor child! her own kind mother was dead, and her father, who loved her very dearly, was afraid that his little girl was sometimes lonely. So he married a grand lady who had two daughters of her own, and who, he thought, would be kind and good to his little one. But no sooner did the stepmother enter her new home than she began to show her true character. Her stepdaughter was so much prettier and sweeter than her own children, that she was jealous of her, and gave her all the hard work of the house to do, whilst the two proud sisters spent their time at pleasant parties and entertainments.
The only pleasure the poor child had was to spend her evenings sitting in the chimney-corner, resting her weary limbs, and for this reason her sisters mockingly nicknamed her "Cinderella." The sisters' fine clothes made Cinderella feel very shabby; but, in her little torn frock and ragged shoes, she was a thousand times more lovely than they.
Now, it chanced that the King's son gave a grand ball, to which he invited all the lords and ladies in the country, and, amongst the rest, Cinderella's two sisters were asked. How pleased and excited they were when the invitation arrived! For days they could talk of nothing but the clothes they should wear and the grand folk they hoped to meet.
When at last the great day arrived, Cinderella was kept running about from early till late, decking the sisters, and dressing their hair.
"Don't you wish you were going to the ball?" said one of them.
"Indeed I do," sighed the poor little maid. The sisters burst out laughing. "A pretty spectacle you would be," they said rudely. "Go back to your cinders—they are fit company for rags." Then, stepping carefully into their carriage so that they might not crush their fine clothes, they drove away to the ball.
Cinderella went back to her chimney-corner, and tried not to feel envious, but the tears would gather in the pretty eyes, and trickle down the sorrowful little face.
"What are you crying for, child?" cried a silvery voice.
Cinderella started, and raised her eyes. Who could it be? Then in a moment she knew—it was her fairy Godmother!
"I do so want——" began Cinderella; then her sobs stopped her.
"To go to the ball," finished the Godmother. Cinderella nodded. "Well, leave off crying—be a good girl, and you shall go. Run quickly into the garden, and bring the largest pumpkin you can find.
Cinderella could not imagine how a pumpkin could help her to go to the ball, but her only thought was to obey her Godmother. In a few moments she was back again, with a splendid pumpkin. Her Godmother scooped out the inside—one much of the wand, and the pumpkin was a golden coach, lined with white satin.
"Now, godchild, quick—the mouse-trap from the pantry!”
"Here it is, Godmother," said Cinderella breathlessly.
One by one six fat sleek mice passed through the trap door. As each appeared, a touch of the wand transformed it into a cream-colored horse, fit for a queen.
"Now, Cinderella, can you find a coachman?"
"There is a large gray rat in the rat-trap—would he do, Godmother?"
"Run and fetch him, child, and then I can judge." So Cinderella ran to fetch the rat, and her Godmother said he was just made for a coachman; and I think you would have agreed with her had you seen him a moment later, with his powdered wig and silk stockings.
Six lizards from behind the pumpkin-frame became six footmen in splendid liveries—you would have thought they had been footmen all their lives. Cinderella was so excited that she could scarcely speak.
"Oh! Godmother," she cried, "it is all so lovely!" Then suddenly she thought of her shabby frock. "There is my white muslin," she said wistfully, "if—do you think——"
But before Cinderella could realize what was happening, her Godmother's wand tapped her lightly on the shoulder, and in place of the shabby frock, there was a gleam of satin, silver, and pearls.
Ah! who can describe a robe made by the fairies? It was white as snow, and as dazzling; round the hem hung a fringe of diamonds, sparkling like dew-drops in the sunshine. The lace about the throat and arms could only have been spun by fairy spiders. Surely it was a dream! Cinderella put her daintily-gloved hand to her throat, and softly touched the pearls that encircled her neck.
"Come, child," said the Godmother, "or you will be late."
As Cinderella moved, the firelight shone upon her dainty shoes.
"They are of diamonds," she said.
"No," answered her Godmother, smiling; "they are better than that—they are of glass, made by the fairies. And now, child, go, and enjoy yourself to your heart’s content. Only remember, if you stay at the palace one instant after midnight, your coach and servants will vanish, and you will be the little gray Cinderella once more!"
A few moments later, the coach dashed into the royal courtyard, the door was flung open, and Cinderella alighted. As she walked slowly up the richly-carpeted staircase, there was a murmur of admiration, and the King's son hastened to meet her. "'Never," said he to himself, "have I seen anyone so lovely!" He led her into the ball-room, where the King, who was much taken with her sweet face and pretty, modest manners, whispered to the Queen that she must surely be a foreign Princess.
The evening passed away in a dream of delight, Cinderella dancing with no one but the handsome young Prince, and being waited on by his own hands at supper-time. The two sisters could not recognize their ragged little sister in the beautiful and graceful lady to whom the Prince paid so much attention, and felt quite pleased and flattered when she addressed a few words to them.
Presently a clock chimed the three quarters past eleven, and, remembering her Godmother's warning, Cinderella at once took leave of the Prince, and, jumping into her coach, was driven rapidly home. Here she found her Godmother waiting to hear all about the ball. "It was lovely," said Cinderella; "and oh! Godmother, there is to be another to-morrow night, and I should so much like to go to it!"
"Then you shall," replied the kind fairy, and, kissing her godchild tenderly, she vanished. When the sisters returned from the ball, they found a sleepy little maiden sitting in the chimney-corner, waiting for them.
"How late you are!" cried Cinderella, yawning. "Are you not very tired?"
"Not in the least," they answered, and then they told her what a delightful ball it had been, and how the loveliest Princess in the world had been there, and had spoken to them, and admired their pretty dresses.
"Who was she?" asked Cinderella slyly.
"That we cannot say," answered the sisters. "She would not tell her name, though the Prince begged her to do so on bended knee."
"Dear sister," said Cinderella, "I, too, should like to see the beautiful Princess. Will you not lend me your old yellow gown, that I may go to the ball to-morrow with you?"
"What!" cried her sister angrily; "lend one of my dresses to a little cinder-maid? Don't talk nonsense, child!"
The next night, the sisters were more particular than ever about their attire, but at last they were dressed, and as soon as their carriage had driven away, the Godmother appeared. Once more she touched her godchild with her wand, and in a moment she was arrayed in a beautiful dress that seemed as though it had been woven of moon-beams and sunshine, so radiantly did it gleam and shimmer. She put her arms round her Godmother's neck and kissed and thanked her. "Goodbye, childie; enjoy yourself, but whatever you do, remember to leave the ball before the clock strikes twelve," the Godmother said, and Cinderella promised.
But the hours flew by so happily and so swiftly that Cinderella forgot her promise, until she happened to look at a clock and saw that it was on the stroke of twelve. With a cry of alarm she fled from the room, dropping, in her haste, one of the little glass slippers; but, with the sound of the clock strokes in her ears, she dared not wait to pick it up. The Prince hurried after her in alarm, but when he reached the entrance hall, the beautiful Princess had vanished, and there was no one to be seen but a forlorn little beggar-maid creeping away into the darkness.
Poor little Cinderella!—she hurried home through the dark streets, weary, and overwhelmed with shame.
The fire was out when she reached her home, and there was no Godmother waiting to receive her; but she sat down in the chimney-corner to wait her sisters’ return. When they came in they could speak of nothing but the wonderful things that had happened at the ball.
The beautiful Princess had been there again, they said, but had disappeared just as the clock struck twelve, and though the Prince had searched everywhere for her, he had been unable to find her. "He was quite beside himself with grief," said the elder sister, "for there is no doubt he hoped to make her his bride."
Cinderella listened in silence to all they had to say, and, slipping her hand into her pocket, felt that the one remaining glass slipper was safe, for it was the only thing of all her grand apparel that remained to her.
On the following morning there was a great noise of trumpets and drums, and a procession passed through the town, at the head of which rode the King's son. Behind him came a herald, bearing a velvet cushion, upon which rested a little glass slipper. The herald blew a blast upon the trumpet, and then read a proclamation saying that the King's son would wed any lady in the land who could fit the slipper upon her foot, if she could produce another to match it.
Of course, the sisters tried to squeeze their feet into the slipper, but it was of no use—they were much too large. Then Cinderella shyly begged that she might try. How the sisters laughed with scorn when the Prince knelt to fit the slipper on the cinder-maid's foot; but what was their surprise when it slipped on with the greatest ease, and the next moment Cinderella produced the other from her pocket. Once more she stood in the slippers, and once more the sisters saw before them the lovely Princess who was to be the Prince's bride. For at the touch of the magic shoes, the little gray frock disappeared for ever, and in place of it she wore the beautiful robe the fairy Godmother had given to her.
The sisters hung their heads with sorrow and vexation; but kind little Cinderella put her arms round their necks, kissed them, and forgave them for all their unkindness, so that they could not help but love her.
The Prince could not bear to part from his little love again, so he carried her back to the palace in his grand coach, and they were married that very day. Cinderella's stepsisters were present at the feast, but in the place of honor sat the fairy Godmother.
So the poor little cinder-maid married the Prince, and in time they came to be King and Queen, and lived happily ever after.