Somebody had told the King's son that a beautiful Princess whom nobody knew was coming; and so, when the coach stopped at the palace door, there he was, ready to help her out. He led her into the hall, and all the fine people who were there stood aside to let her pass. Nobody could help looking at her. "Ha! how handsome she is! Ha! how handsome she is!" said one to another.
The King himself, old as he was, whispered to the Queen that he had never seen so fair a maiden; and all the ladies were busy looking at her clothes and planning how they would make theirs after the same pattern. Then the music struck up, and the King's son led her out to dance with him; and she danced with so much modesty and grace that everybody thought her more lovely than before.
By and by a fine supper was served, but the young Prince could not eat a mouthful, he was so busy thinking of her. Cinderella went and sat down by her sisters, and was very civil and kind to them; and this made them proud and glad, for they did not know her, and they thought it a grand thing to be noticed by so fine a lady.
While she was talking to them she heard the clock strike a quarter to twelve, and she remembered what the fairy had told her about staying till midnight. So she made haste to bid the King and Queen good night, and then, getting into her coach, she was driven home.
She met the fairy at the door and thanked her for her kindness; and the good fairy told her that she might go the next night to the Queen's ball, to which the Prince had invited her.
A few minutes later, the two sisters came home and found Cinderella sitting in the chimney corner, rubbing her eyes and seeming to be very sleepy.
"Ah, how long you have stayed!" she said.
"Well, if you had been there you would have stayed as long," said one of the sisters. "The prettiest Princess that you ever saw was there; and she talked with us and gave us bonbons."
"Who was she?" asked Cinderella.
"That's just what everybody would like to know," said the elder, whose name was Charlotte.
"Yes, the King's son would give the world to know who she is," said the younger, whose name was Caroline.
"I wish I could see her," said Cinderella. "Oh, dear Miss Charlotte, won't you let me go to-morrow? And, Miss Caroline, won't you lend me your yellow dress to wear?"
"What, lend my yellow dress to a cinder maid!" cried Caroline. "I'm not so foolish as that!" And the two sisters went proudly to their rooms.
The next night came, and the two sisters were at the ball, and so was Cinderella; and everybody thought her more beautiful than before. "Now remember twelve o'clock," were the fairy's last words when she started.
The young Prince was very kind to her, and time flew fast. The dancing was delightful, and the supper was fine, and nobody thought of being tired. But, before she had stayed half as long as she wished, Cinderella heard the clock begin to strike twelve. She rose up and ran from the room like a wild deer. The Prince followed her; but when he reached the street he saw nobody there but a ragged little cinder girl whom he would not have touched for the world.
Cinderella reached home, tired, frightened, and cold, without carriage, coachman, or footman; nothing was left of all her finery but one of her little glass slippers; the other she had dropped in the King's hall as she was running away.
When the two sisters came home, Cinderella asked them if they had had a good time at the ball, and if the pretty Princess had been there.
"Yes," they told her; "but when it struck twelve she ran away without bidding anybody good night; and she dropped one of her little glass slippers in the hall—the prettiest slipper that anybody ever saw. The King's son picked it up and put it into his pocket, as though it was the rarest treasure in the world. But nobody could find out which way the Princess went."
Cinderella climbed up the stairs to her wretched bed in the attic; and the next day she was at work, sweeping and scrubbing, as hard as ever.
And now, what do you think happened next? The King's son sent men with trumpets all through the land to invite every young lady to try the little glass slipper; and he declared that he would marry the one whose foot the slipper would just fit.
Of course, hundreds and hundreds of young ladies tried it; but their feet were ever and ever so much too big. You would have laughed to see the two sisters try it, and to hear their sighs when they had to give it up. Cinderella was very much amused, for she knew all the time that it was her slipper.
"Let me see if it will fit me," she said at last.
"What, you? Bah!" cried Charlotte, laughing.
"Go into the kitchen and clean the grates," said Caroline; and both of them tried to keep her from touching the slipper.
But the man who had been sent with the slipper said that he had orders to let every maiden in the land make the trial. So Cinderella sat down on a three-legged stool, and he put the slipper on her foot, and it fitted her as if it had been made of wax. And then she drew from her pocket the other slipper, and put it on her other foot.
At the same moment, in came the fairy with her wand; and she touched Cinderella, and she was no longer a cinder maid but a beautiful young lady clad in silk and satin.
And now the two sisters found that she was the pretty Princess whom they had seen at the ball; and they threw themselves at her feet to ask pardon for the unkind way in which they had treated her. She lifted them up kindly, and said that she forgave them, and wished them always to love her.
Some time afterwards, the young Prince and Cinderella were married; and they lived together happily for many, many years. As for the two sisters, Cinderella gave them rooms in the palace; and they left off their cross, ugly ways, and by and by became the wives of two rich dukes who were friends of the Prince.