There was once a girl named Ella who was so gentle and beautiful that everyone who knew her loved her, except those who should have loved her best, and those were her stepmother and her stepsisters.
Her own mother had died while she was quite young, and then her father had married again. This new wife had two daughters of her own, and she wished them to have everything and Ella to have nothing. The stepmother dressed her own children in fine clothes, and they sat about and did nothing all day, but Cinderella worked in the kitchen and had nothing but rags to wear, and because she often sat close to the ashes to warm herself her sisters called her Cinderella.
Now the King and Queen of that country had only one son, and they were very anxious for him to marry, but he had never seen anyone whom he wished to have for a bride. At last they determined to give a great ball, and to ask to it all the fairest ladies in the land.
They hoped that among them all the Prince might see someone whom he would choose. All the grand people of the city were invited, and Cinderella’s stepmother and her stepsisters were asked with all the rest.
The stepsisters were very much excited over it. They were both so handsome that they hoped one of them might be chosen by the Prince. They had often watched from the windows to see him riding by, and he was so gay and gallant that anyone might have been glad to marry him.
All sorts of fine things were bought for the sisters to wear, satins and velvets and laces and jewels, feathers for their hair, and glittering fans for them to carry, and the stepmother’s dress was no less fine than theirs.
Cinderella sighed and sighed. “I wish I might go to the ball, too, and see that handsome Prince and all the lovely ladies,” she said.
“You!” cried the sisters, laughing. “A pretty sight you would be at the ball; you with your rags and your sooty hands.”
“Go scour your pots and pans,” cried the stepmother. “That is all you are fit for, you cinder-wench.”
So Cinderella went back to her work, but as she scrubbed and rubbed the tears ran down her cheeks so fast she could hardly see.
The night of the ball the sisters dressed themselves in all their finery and came into the kitchen to show themselves to Cinderella; they hoped to make her envious. They swept up and down the room and spread their gowns and smiled and ogled while Cinderella admired them. After they tired of her admiration they and the stepmother stepped into a fine coach and rolled gayly away to the ball.
But Cinderella sat in a corner by the fire and wept and wept.
Suddenly, as she wept, a little old woman in a high-pointed hat and buckled shoes appeared in the kitchen, and where she came from no one could have told. Her eyes shone and twinkled like two stars, and she carried a wand in her hand.
“Why are you so sad, my child,” she asked; “and why do you weep so bitterly?”