Chapter I — The ball is announced
In a humble cottage at the edge of a wood in a tiny kingdom lived a widowed woman. Her name was Sarah, and she shared her home with her two daughters and her stepdaughter. They worked very hard and had very little, but their home was full of love and good will and they were happy.
Sarah’s daughters, Beatrice and Margaret, were gentle-spirited girls who lent themselves to creating beauty in their modest home. Beatrice, the older daughter, was gifted to sew beautiful clothing and tapestries from even the simplest materials. Margaret, the younger daughter, tended the family’s garden and grew the most beautiful and exotic flowers in the village, which she used to decorate their home in a way that was a wonder to all who saw it. Sarah’s stepdaughter, Ella, was in many ways the very opposite of the other girls. She had an adventurous and boundless spirit and an inquisitive mind.
Every day they lived, there was much work to do. They had to grow most of their own food, since they could rarely afford to buy from anyone else. They had to maintain their own house, fix anything that would break, and tend their few animals. When chores were done, Beatrice and Margaret would meticulously clean themselves up and change clothes before taking up their hobby projects. But Ella couldn’t wait to get out of the house and go into town, where there was so much to see and learn. She so often showed up in the village square still dusty and disheveled from chores that people said she looked like she had slept in the cinders all night. Eventually, she earned the nickname “Cinderella”, which she bore with pride.
Once in town, she loved nothing more than to go from place to place and talk to everyone she could. She knew every merchant, every craftsman, every farmer. She knew how they plied their trade and how much they paid in taxes. She talked to the mothers as they walked through the marketplace, to the children who played in the square, to the widows, orphans, and beggars. She knew how they lived their daily lives and how they handled hard times, which were many. She would share her observations with them and occasionally even helped neighbors come together and resolve disagreements. The townsfolk would jokingly say, “Cinderella should be king.”
After her hours spent in the village, she would come home bubbling over with stories of everything she had seen and everyone she had met. Her stepmother and stepsisters would marvel at her adventures as they all ate dinner. Sarah was a magnificent cook and managed to make every meal seem like a sumptuous feast.
And so they lived, simply but joyfully. The years passed, and the girls grew to be lovely maidens. One warm spring day, early in the morning, they were starting into chores. There was much to do, for the next day would be a special day, Cinderella’s birthday. Sarah gathered the ingredients and started preparing for the birthday meal, while Beatrice, Margaret, and Cinderella did the housework. They were interrupted by a knock at their door. The visitor was one of the king’s own pages, bearing a message: “The young ladies of this house are commanded to appear before His Majesty the King and His Highness the Crown Prince at a formal dance tonight.”
There was a flutter of excitement through the house. “A royal ball! Imagine!”, Margaret squealed.
The page continued. “His Highness Prince Charming will look over every damsel in the kingdom and select from them his bride. Miss Beatrice and Miss Margaret must be at the palace tonight at eight o’clock, by command of His Majesty the King.”
Sarah looked puzzled, “You say EVERY damsel in the kingdom? What about Miss Ella?”
“No one else from this house is on the list. Perhaps your other daughter is not of age. Only young ladies who have reached the age of eighteen will attend.”
Beatrice exclaimed, “But Cinderella’s eighteenth birthday is tomorrow! Surely she can be included!”
“I am powerless to do other than as I am commanded. I can make no exceptions. Miss Beatrice and Miss Margaret, appear at the palace as you have been ordered. Do not be late. Good day.” And with that he left.
Chapter II — The stepsisters plan to go the ball
Cinderella said, “What an odd event!”
“It certainly is unusual,” Sarah observed. “Royal marriages have always been arranged by the royal family. The brides and grooms are always members of the nobility. Is Prince Charming really going to consider every young lady in the kingdom?”
“But can you imagine how the evening will look?”, Cinderella continued. “The daughters of the noblemen will be in their expensive gowns and fine jewels, while poor peasant girls appear in their humble dresses. They’ll be shamed. It’s not fair!”
“I hadn’t even thought of that!”, Margaret said. “Perhaps we shouldn’t go!”
“Margaret, we weren’t invited to come,” Beatrice reminded her, “we were commanded. We dare not be absent.” Margaret grew quiet as she understood the seriousness of her sister’s comment.
“Don’t worry about anyone else who’s there,” their mother said. “Just go and enjoy yourselves. I’ve heard that the palace is very beautiful. And I’m sure the food will be splendid.”
“And imagine all that you could see!”, Cinderella exclaimed. “The members of the royal court, the king’s advisors. To see their protocol, how they run the kingdom, how it all works . . . It would be worth getting snubbed by the rich girls.”
“You really want to be there, don’t you, Cinderella,” Margaret sighed.
Cinderella sighed, too. “I really do. Why must they be so inflexible?”
“Thus has it ever been,” Sarah said, “Thus will it ever be.”
” ‘Thus has it ever been.’ That’s what everyone always says,” Cinderella grumbled. “I believe that someday things will be different. Someday I’ll see the palace, talk to those who are in power. Perhaps I’ll meet the king someday.”
“Perhaps you’ll BE the king someday,” Margaret teased, and Cinderella laughed.
“Well, I have work to do,” Beatrice declared. “Even if we’re peasants, we don’t have to be ashamed when we go to the palace. I’m going to make gowns for us that will be worthy of wearing before the king!”
“What will you use for cloth?”, her mother asked. It went without saying that they couldn’t afford to buy any.
“We still have the satin blankets from our christenings, right? And the dresses we wore at confirmation? If you will let me use those and our holiday tablecloth, I can make the gowns. I already have some ideas for the designs.”
Margaret got excited. “Oh, Beatrice, I know you’ll make something marvelous! I’ll get some flowers from the garden and do hair arrangements for us! Won’t this be fun!”
They gathered the materials and handed them to Beatrice. She took them and grabbed Margaret’s hand. “Come with me. I’ll need your help with the cutting and stitching.”
“Should I help, too?” Cinderella offered.
“I don’t think it would be fair to make you work on gowns for a party that you can’t attend,” Beatrice said. “You can go on into town. Your subjects await you!”
Sarah laughed. “Go ahead, dear; you’ve done enough chores for the day,” she said. “I’ll be working on the food for tomorrow, and I want it to be a surprise to you, anyway.”
Cinderella smiled at her stepsisters. “I’ll be back at sundown to see you off.” She kissed Sarah and then fled out the door.
Chapter III — Cinderella goes into town; The stepsisters depart for the ball
In town, all the young ladies, and their parents, were talking excitedly about the royal ball. There was hardly room for anyone else in the marketplace, with all the women seeking out the jewelers and perfumers. The dressmakers had already sold everything they had in stock, so everyone was hoping to embellish the clothes they already had.
Cinderella was hoping to talk about other things besides the ball, but it was the only topic of discussion in town. So she listened to all the speculation about the palace, the king and the prince, who might be the prince’s choice for a bride. Some of the wealthier girls snickered when she said that her stepsisters would be wearing dresses they made themselves. Cinderella loved to be a part of anything interesting, and now, unable to attend the ball, she was feeling more and more left out. She was glad when the day began to wane. For once, she was eager to get back home.
When she walked in the door of the cottage, Sarah was sitting and resting.
“Have they already left?”, Cinderella asked.
“No, they’re still in the back room. The last time I saw either of them was when Margaret went out to gather flowers.” They sat and waited. Finally they heard Beatrice’s voice. “We’re ready! Is Cinderella back yet?”
“Yes, I’m here!”, she called out.
They stepped into the room together. Sarah and Cinderella both gasped.
The gowns were amazing. The dresses had none of the sparkly baubles that were the fashion of the day, but the designs were fresh and original and beautifully complemented Beatrice’s womanly figure and Margaret’s delicate frame. The trimming was not excessive and was creatively placed to accentuate the designs.
Their hairdos were equally exquisite. The styles matched their faces perfectly and looked stately and grand, but at the same time youthful and feminine. Beatrice’s hair was adorned with flowers of ivory and blue. Margaret’s flowers were lavender and pink. Both of them absolutely glowed.
Sarah finally spoke. “You both look radiant. I can hardly believe it.”
Cinderella said, “Amazing work.”
Beatrice and Margaret both smiled. They couldn’t help but feel beautiful.
Sarah asked Beatrice, “Did you make cloaks as well?”
Beatrice’s smile grew wider. “It will be a warm night; I don’t think we’ll need cloaks. So I set aside the rest of the material for something else.”
“Tomorrow, I will make a gown for Cinderella. That will be my birthday gift.”
Cinderella laughed nervously. “What would I do with a fancy gown? I’d just get it filthy!”
Margaret said, “You could wear it on special occasions. Or the next time they have a village dance, perhaps one of the young men will want to escort you.”
Cinderella just blushed.
“You’re VERY pretty, Cinderella,” Beatrice said. “In the right dress, you could enter a room and every eye would be on you.”
“You’re a grown woman now,” Margaret told her, “like it or not.”
Cinderella changed the subject. “Tell me EVERYTHING that you see at the palace! Try to talk to everyone! Even the guards and the servants!”
Sarah chided, “Let them enjoy the night in their own way.”
“You’re right,” Cinderella laughed. “I shouldn’t order them around any more than the king should.”
Cinderella hugged her stepsisters and wished them well. “We’ll tell you all about it!”, they promised. They walked out the door and joined all the other young ladies who were on their way to the palace.
Chapter IV — The fairy appears to Cinderella and her stepmother
Cinderella sat next to her stepmother. “They looked so lovely,” she said. “Do you think it could be possible that someone in our own family might actually be the next princess?”
“I don’t know,” Sarah laughed, “There will be a lot of girls there.”
“I so wish I could go,” Cinderella said, resting her head on Sarah’s shoulder. “To be there, seeing the spectacle, seeing the crowd . . .”
“Wearing a beautiful gown?”, Sarah suggested.
“No!”, Cinderella declared.
“Dancing with a handsome man?”, Sarah went on.
“No! Well . . . maybe that, too.”
Sarah stroked her head. “I know you think those things are frivolous, but one needn’t think about important things all the time. Make room in your life for frivolity and fun and daydreams.”
“I would love to go to the ball,” Cinderella sighed.
“And you will go,” a voice said.
Sarah and Cinderella looked up. Before them stood a curious figure robed in gold and holding a wand.
“Cinderella, you’re going to the ball tonight,” the stranger said.
Cinderella was stunned. “Who are you?”, she asked.
“I hope you believe in fairy godmothers, because that is what I am. Now, as I said, you’re going to the king’s ball.”
“I am? But I don’t even have . . .”
“A dress to wear? It is done,” and with a wave of the fairy’s wand Cinderella’s shabby dress and headscarf were transformed into a splendid ball gown and a bejeweled tiara, with her hair beautifully arranged as well. Cinderella rarely wore shoes, but now dainty glass slippers adorned her feet.
Sarah was astonished. “Cinderella, I have never seen you look so lovely.” She took her stepdaughter by the hand and led her to the looking-glass.
Cinderella barely recognized the woman she saw in the glass. She looked at the reflection for a long time.
“And,” said the fairy, “we’ll get you there quickly.” She looked out their window into the garden. With another wave of her wand one of their large squashes was turned into an elegant carriage. Next, she turned four field mice into horses and one into a coachman.
“Into the carriage, child,” the fairy told her. But Sarah interrupted, “Please, may I give Cinderella one more item to wear?” The fairy nodded.
Sarah reached up to a high shelf and brought down a little bundle wrapped in a cloth. “I was going to give this to you tomorrow for your birthday. I think you should wear it now.”
Cinderella opened the cloth. Inside was a gold chain, from which hung a small but beautiful emerald. “It belonged to your mother,” Sarah said gently.
“My mother,” Cinderella whispered reverently as she fingered the necklace. “My mother.”
With her stepmother’s help, Cinderella put on the necklace. “My mother,” she said. “I wish I could have known her.”
“I feel like I do know her,” Sarah said, “for your father told me many times that you are the very spirit and image of your mother. It was like she never left, he would say. I know she would be proud of the woman you’ve become.”
Cinderella gazed in the looking-glass once more. “Mother,” she whispered again. Then she walked with her stepmother out of the house and toward the carriage. The sight and sound of the horses aroused her from her reverie. She bounded excitedly into the coach.
The fairy warned her, “The magic only lasts until midnight, so you must not stay too long. And you must tell no one who you are.”
“Not even my stepsisters?”, Cinderella pleaded.
“No one,” the fairy said sternly.
“All right,” Cinderella sighed.
Sarah approached the coach and gave her stepdaughter a kiss. “Have a wonderful time, my dear.”
Cinderella smiled. “I promise to have FUN!”
The coachman cracked his whip, and the carriage started off toward the palace.
Chapter V — Cinderella arrives at the ball
Cinderella sat silent as the coach traveled up the hill. As they got nearer to the palace, she could see the parade of young ladies slowly walking up the steps of the brightly lit entryway. Some laughed and chatted, others looked suspiciously at the women they saw as rivals. She could even see Beatrice and Margaret walking in. Their uniquely designed outfits stood out in the crowd, and Cinderella couldn’t help but chuckle when she noticed the jealous glances that some of the ladies cast toward her stepsisters.
By the time the carriage reached the palace steps, the dancing had already begun inside. The coachman opened the door of the coach and led Cinderella out by the hand. She stopped just shy of entering the Grand Hall and looked inside. The palace was even bigger than she had imagined. Servants ran about frantically carrying trays of food and drink, trying to cater to the demands of the partygoers. Some of the nobility had accompanied their daughters to the ball, hoping to get them noticed by the prince. Young women were everywhere, many that Cinderella knew, many that she had never seen before. Soldiers and young men of the king’s court were there dancing with some of the young ladies, favoring the prettiest and best-dressed ones. The girls in the humbler clothes stood near the walls. The king and queen were seated at one end of the hall, talking to the Palace Guards and watching the festivities. But where was the prince?
Cinderella finally spotted His Highness Prince Charming, accompanied by guards as he walked around the room. He certainly was as handsome as people had said. He was mingling and talking to the young ladies. He was speaking to all of them, the rich ones, the poor ones, the pretty ones, the plain ones. Cinderella held her breath when she saw the prince meeting Beatrice and Margaret. He greeted them each with a friendly smile and spoke briefly, but then moved on.
Finally, Cinderella told the coachman that she was ready to join the party. As she entered the Grand Hall, she quickly caught the attention of all who were near her. By the time she reached the center of the room, every eye was on her. She felt nervous, but held her head high. It was a good thing that her stepsisters were at the far end of the hall, for she was afraid they might recognize her if they were any closer.
As soon as the prince saw Cinderella, he had eyes for no other. He walked slowly toward her, not looking to the left or to the right. Cinderella felt flushed when he touched her hand. Without taking her eyes off of him, she managed to execute a decent curtsy.
“It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Madam,” the prince said in a subdued voice.
“And an honor to meet you, Your Highness,” Cinderella replied softly.
“May I have this dance?”
“I would be delighted.”
He took Cinderella in his arms, and they began to dance.
Chapter VI — Cinderella and the prince
As they danced, the prince did little but gaze at her, so Cinderella tried to make conversation. “What a lovely affair this is,” she said.
“I’m certainly having a wonderful time now,” Prince Charming said with a smile.
“And it’s brought such excitement to the kingdom. Perhaps it will be the beginning of a new custom.”
The prince sighed. “There is no chance of that. The royal court fought furiously to stop me from doing this. I had to beg the king for the privilege of choosing my own bride. I was granted this, but I will be expected all the more to do what is demanded of me henceforth.”
“But you are the crown prince,” Cinderella said, “and someday you will be king. Surely you’ll be able to do as you please.”
“The king is more bound than anyone else in the kingdom,” the prince replied. “There are protocols and customs that are not even to be questioned, much less changed. ‘Thus has it ever been, thus will it ever be.’ That is what they always tell me. ‘The kingdom demands it.’ ”
“Who demands it?”, said Cinderella. “The people of the kingdom have a far different idea of what they want from the crown.”
The prince looked at her quizzically, “How would a lady like yourself know what is on the minds of the commonfolk?”
Cinderella realized that the prince thought she was a noblewoman. She remembered her promise to the fairy that she must not reveal her identity, so she simply said, “There is much that can be learned if one takes the time to listen. Everyone has something to teach.”
The prince gestured toward the peasant girls at the side of the room. “Those ladies over there. Their fathers are farmers and laborers and perhaps even servants in my palace. Without the work they do, I would not be what I am, the kingdom would not be what it is. And yet they are shunned by the very people who rely on them. They are treated almost like property of the kingdom. I am told to believe that they have neither the wit nor the desire to be anything more. But I do not believe that.”
“The heart of every man desires to be free,” Cinderella said, “to control his own destiny. If men are given a say in the matters that control their lives, this kingdom could become the most glorious that has ever been seen. Our king could show the world what it is to be a leader, rather than a ruler. And if the king won the loyalty and devotion of the populace, I dare say it would be difficult for the court to withstand him in anything he wanted to do.”
“There are so many things that I wish to do,” the prince said.
They continued to dance, oblivious to everything except each other. As the festivities continued, everyone could see that Prince Charming was completely enthralled with this beautiful and mysterious woman. They tried to imagine the romantic dialogue the couple must be engaged in. Little could anyone imagine that they were actually discussing how to establish a system of taxation that would not burden the poor, or the role that town councils could play in adjudicating local disputes.
As the evening went on, they left off discussing matters of state and turned to lighter subjects. They chatted and laughed. Cinderella had never felt so merry.
“You are the most delightful woman I have ever met,” the prince told her.
Cinderella didn’t know what to say. Just then she heard the clock strike the first stroke of midnight.
“Oh, no!”, she cried. “I must go!” She ran off, through the hall, and out the doors.
The prince ran after her. “Wait! Tell me who you are! Don’t leave!”
In her haste, she lost one of her glass slippers on the palace steps. She dared not turn back to retrieve it. She took off the other slipper and ran toward the carriage.
The prince had lost sight of her in the darkness. The only trace of her that was left was the glass slipper laying on the steps. He picked it up and stared at it.
Just as Cinderella had almost reached the coach, the clock finished striking twelve. The horses and the coachman turned back into field mice and scampered away, leaving Cinderella, in her old housedress, staring at a squash. She tucked the glass slipper into the pocket of her dress, picked up the squash, and ran home.
Chapter VII — Cinderella and the stepsisters return home
When she arrived home, Sarah was waiting at the door.
“Cinderella! I heard the clock strike! Were you caught?”
“Almost, but I got away just in time.”
Cinderella breathlessly told her stepmother all about her adventure, and about the prince. No sooner had she finished the tale than they heard the voices of Beatrice and Margaret as they approached the cottage.
“They’re back already?”, Cinderella cried, “I thought the ball would go on for hours more!” She jumped up and rushed off to bed.
Sarah tried to look calm as her daughters walked in. “The ball is over already? I hope you had a good time.”
The sisters told their mother about the dance, and the prince, and the beautiful lady who had captured his heart.
“He wanted no other company but hers,” Margaret said, “but then suddenly she left the ball in a great hurry. The prince tried to run after her, but couldn’t catch her. When he came back inside, he looked heartbroken.”
Beatrice agreed. “He had no more interest in dancing, or in speaking to anyone. He left the hall soon after. Oh, I hope he is not too disappointed. He seems like such a nice gentleman.”
“My word!”, Sarah said, “You had quite an evening! Well, off to bed, my darlings. Tomorrow is a big day.”
They kissed their mother good night and headed to bed, quietly so as not to wake Cinderella.
But Cinderella was not asleep. She lay in her bed, thinking about the night, the ball, and, most of all, the prince. At that moment, she would have given anything to be back in his arms. A tear rolled down her cheek, and she realized that she was in love, but in love with a man that she might never see again.
Chapter VIII — The prince seeks out Cinderella
The next morning, they celebrated Cinderella’s birthday with a delightful meal. Everyone was merry. Cinderella tried to act festive, but at times she seemed moody, gazing out the window.
“Cinderella, you’ve never been a daydreamer before!”, Margaret giggled. “Are you thinking about getting old?”
Cinderella smiled and brought her attention back to her family. She turned to Sarah. “This is the most delicious cake I have ever eaten.”
“It’s even better than the pastries they were serving at the palace,” Beatrice chimed in.
In the middle of the meal, there was a knock at the door. When Sarah opened the door, they saw a soldier. He was carrying a glass slipper. Behind him was the king’s entire entourage, including the king himself, with Prince Charming at his side. Cinderella didn’t know what to do. Her heart raced at the sight of the prince, but she feared the punishment that might await her for coming to the ball against the king’s orders. She stepped back into a corner of the room where she would be hidden from view.
The soldier spoke. “Every maiden in the kingdom has been ordered to try on this slipper. The damsel on whom it fits will wed the prince. Miss Beatrice and Miss Margaret, come forward.”
Both sisters knew that the slipper was not theirs, but they also knew that they must not disobey. Beatrice tried first, but the slipper was a bit too small for her. Margaret tried next, but on her the slipper was a bit too large.
Cinderella knew that this was a crucial moment, perhaps one of the most important ever in her life. She took a deep breath and summoned her courage. Stepping forward, she spoke to the soldier, “May I try it on?”
When the prince saw her, his jaw dropped, and she knew that he recognized her. Beatrice and Margaret were confused, but Cinderella gave them a knowing look, and they held their peace.
The soldier said, “No one else from this house is . . .”
The prince interrupted him. “Let her try it on,” he said firmly.
The soldier looked at Sarah. “What is this one’s name?”
“Her name is Ella,” Sarah told him.
“My name is Cinderella,” Cinderella demanded. She sat down and tried on the slipper. It fit perfectly. She then reached into her pocket and brought out the other slipper and put it on as well.
The king approached her. “Cinderella, you say? How old are you, my child?”
Cinderella smiled sweetly. “I’m eighteen, Your Majesty” she said.
The king stood straighter. “Well, then, Miss Cinderella. You are commanded to return with us to the palace. There is much work to do.”
“NO!”, said the prince. “She is NOT commanded!” He looked at Cinderella. “The heart of every man — and woman — desires to be free. I will only accept her if she comes of her own free will.” He knelt before the poor peasant girl and spoke slowly. “Cinderella, will you be my wife?”
She took his hand. “Yes, I will.”
Margaret gasped. “Princess Cinderella,” she said in wonder.
“Queen Cinderella,” Beatrice said.
Sarah wept as she embraced her stepdaughter.
Cinderella turned to Beatrice. “You had said that you wanted to make a dress for me.”
Beatrice was overcome. “It will be the most beautiful wedding gown the kingdom has ever seen. I promise you, I won’t rest until it’s perfect.”
As they walked out of the cottage toward the king’s carriage, Cinderella was startled to see the fairy standing by an oak tree.
The prince approached the fairy and bowed his head. “Thank you so much,” he said.
Cinderella was puzzled. “How do you know her?”, she asked.
The fairy laughed. “Cinderella, don’t you know that fairies only come to the aid of those who are miserable and lonesome? I’m not your godmother. I’m his godmother. I promised him that if he followed my instructions, I would bring him his true soul mate.” The fairy gave them both her blessing, and the procession to the palace began. The king’s trumpeters heralded the arrival of the new princess, to the delight of the citizens.
Cinderella saw to it that her stepmother and stepsisters were well placed within the king’s court. Sarah ran the palace kitchen, and Beatrice became the dressmaker for all of the ladies of the court, with her work so much in demand that she became quite wealthy. And Margaret became the envy of every lady in the kingdom when she was chosen to be Princess Cinderella’s personal handmaiden (she was, of course, retitled “handmatron” after her marriage to a duke). Everywhere Cinderella went, Margaret was with her. And everything Cinderella did, from entertaining dignitaries to talking with beggars, Margaret made sure that she looked beautiful while she was doing it.
Prince Charming and Princess Cinderella were blessed with many children and eventually became the king and queen. They reigned long and well, and were more loved by the citizenry than any monarchs before or since.