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?”
Cinderella looked at her with wonder. “I am weeping,” she said, “because my sisters have gone to the ball without me, and because I wished to go too.”
“Then dry your tears,” said the little old woman, “I am your fairy godmother, and if you are a good girl and do exactly as I say, there is nothing you can wish for that you shall not have. Run to the garden and fetch me a pumpkin; and let me see the mousetrap; if there are six fine fat mice in it they will be of use.”
Cinderella got out the mousetrap as she was told, and there were exactly six mice in it. She also hurried out to the garden and fetched the biggest, roundest pumpkin she could find.
“That is well,” said the godmother. “And now the rattrap.”
Cinderella brought the trap and there was a rat in it.
“And now,” said the godmother, “we are ready to begin.”
She touched the pumpkin with her wand, and at once it turned into a magnificent golden coach, lined throughout with pale yellow satin; she touched the mice and they became six handsome sleek gray horses to draw the coach. She touched the rat with her wand and he was turned into a coachman in a livery of scarlet and gold lace. He mounted to the box of the coach, and gathered up the reins, and sat there, whip in hand, waiting.
“Footmen! Footmen!” cried the godmother impatiently. “Where shall we get them!” Her sharp eyes glanced this way and that, and presently, in the crack of the wall, she espied two lizards. “The very thing,” said she. A touch of her wand and they were changed to footmen with powdered wigs and cocked hats. They sprang up and took their places behind the coach. “And now,” said the fairy, “all is ready, and no one has a finer coach in which to go to the ball. Do you not agree with me?”
“But, Godmother, my rags! I could not go to the ball in rags, no matter how fine my coach,” cried Cinderella.
“Wait a bit! I have not done yet.” The godmother touched Cinderella’s rags with her wand, and at once they were changed to a gown of white satin embroidered with pearls. There were diamonds in her hair, and her clumsy shoes were changed to glass slippers that exactly fitted her little feet.
Cinderella wondered, and her heart was filled with joy. The satin gleamed about her like moonshine, and the diamonds shone as bright as the tears she had shed.
“Now, my child, you can go to the ball,” said the godmother. “But remember this: My fairy charm can only last till twelve o’clock. At the last stroke of twelve these fine clothes will change into rags; the coach will again become a pumpkin, the horses mice, and the coachman and footman a rat and lizards as they were before; so by twelve you must be home again.”
Cinderella promised to obey, and then she stepped into the coach and rolled away to the ball.
When she reached the palace the music was sounding and the Prince was about to choose a partner for the dance. All the ladies waited anxiously, each hoping she would be the one to be chosen. Many beauties were there, and it was hard to say which was the loveliest. But when Cinderella entered the room no one had eyes for anyone but her. She was far fairer than the fairest, as the crescent moon is lovelier than the stars.
The Prince came to her and took her by the hand. “You shall be my partner in the dance,” said he, “for never have I seen anyone as fair as you.”
From then on the Prince would dance with no one but Cinderella, and none could wonder nor blame him, for she was so beautiful that the heart melted at sight of her.
The Prince begged her to tell him her name and whence she came, but she would not, and when the castle clock struck the quarter before twelve she managed to slip away from him, and run out to her coach. She sprang into it, the rat coachman cracked his whip, and away they went, and the Prince did not know what had become of her.
When the stepsisters came home, Cinderella was again sitting in the corner beside the fire, dressed in her rags.
“Was it a beautiful ball?” she asked.
“Yes, it was a fine ball indeed,” said the sisters, and they began to tell her about it.
“And whom did the Prince dance with?” asked Cinderella.
“Oh, he danced with a strange princess who came in just after the ball began. The Prince had bowed to us and smiled, and he might have chosen one of us as his partner, but after she came he had eyes for no one else. She must be a very great princess indeed, but no one could find out who she was, not even the Prince himself, though he begged and entreated her to tell him. She slipped away before the ball was over, and no one knew where she went. The Prince was like one distracted. To-morrow night another ball is to be given, for the Prince hopes the Princess may come again and that he may find out who she is.”
Cinderella sighed. “Oh, my dear sisters, let me go with you to-morrow, I beg of you. One of your old dresses would do for me to wear.”
But the sisters laughed and jeered. “You the cinder-wench!” they cried. “No, no, the kitchen is the place for you. We would die of shame if any of those fine folk saw you.” Then they bade her unfasten their dresses and help them to bed. They must get to sleep and be fresh and handsome for the second ball.
The next night the stepsisters dressed again, and drove away to the ball, and more than ever did Cinderella long to go with them.
Scarcely had they gone, however, when the fairy godmother appeared in the kitchen.
“Well,” said she, “I suppose you would like to go to this ball, too.”
“Oh, dear Godmother, if I only could!” cried Cinderella.
The godmother bade Cinderella bring her the pumpkin, the mice, the rat, and the lizards. Again she changed them into the grand coach, the horses, driver, and footmen, all complete. She then touched Cinderella’s rags with her wand, and they were changed into a dress even more beautiful than the one she had worn the night before. She stepped into the coach and rolled away to the ball.
It was her Fairy Godmother!
The Prince had been watching for her impatiently, and the moment she entered the room he hurried forward and took her by the hand.
“Why did you leave me so suddenly?” he asked her. “I sought you everywhere and could not sleep all night for thinking of you.”
He then again led her to a place in the dance, and he would dance with no one else.
As it drew on toward midnight Cinderella became very uneasy. She tried to slip away without being seen, but the Prince followed her everywhere she went. At last she made some excuse and sent him away for a moment. Then she drew her cloak around her and sped down the stairs and out to where her coach was waiting. She sprang into it and rolled away. But half-way home she heard the castle clock begin to strike the hour. As the last stroke sounded the coach melted away from around her,
and a yellow pumpkin lay at her feet; the horses changed into mice and ran away, squealing; the coachman became a rat, and the lizards made haste to hide in the crack of a wall. Cinderella, in her rags, had barely time to run back to the kitchen and take her place beside the fire before the door opened and her stepsisters swept into the room.