O NCE upon a time there was a girl whose father and mother had died, and she had gone to live with a family of wealthy relatives. They did not like to be burdened with her and they treated her very badly, though she was the sweetest, best-tempered creature that ever was.
The lady of the house was proud and disagreeable, and she had two daughters who were very much like her. They made their poor relative work in the kitchen and do all the household drudgery. It was she who washed the dishes and scrubbed down the stairs and swept the floors. She had to sleep in the garret on a wretched bed of straw, while the rooms of the two sisters were very elegant, and were furnished with nice feather-beds and had full-length looking-glasses in which the young ladies could admire themselves all day long.
The poor girl bore her troubles with patience and never complained. When she had finished her day's work she used to sit in the chimney-corner on a low stool among the ashes and cinders, and so the sisters nicknamed her Cinderella. But Cinderella, in spite of hard work and shabby clothes, was a hundred times prettier than they were, decked out in all their finery.
It happened after a time that the king's son gave a grand ball which was to continue for two nights and to which he invited all persons of fashion for miles around; and as the two young ladies made a great figure in society they, of course, received invitations. "We shall certainly go," said they, "and perhaps we may have the chance to dance with the prince."
So they were wonderfully busy choosing such dresses as might be most becoming, and could talk of nothing but their fine clothes day in and day out. "I shall put on my red velvet dress with point lace trimmings," said the elder.
"And I," said the younger sister, "shall wear my gold-brocaded train and my circlet of diamonds."
Their preparations made no end of trouble for Cinderella, and she was kept constantly engaged in plaiting ruffles, sewing, arranging bows and ribbons, and in washing and ironing the sisters' linen. But she helped willingly all she could, and when the great day came, offered to dress the young ladies' hair. They were glad to have her do that, and while she was brushing and combing they said to her, "Cinderella, would not you like to go to the ball?"
"Yes," said she, "but so grand a ball as this is to be is not for such as I am."
"You are quite right," they said, "for every one would laugh to see a ragged kitchen girl there."
Cinderella finished the young ladies' hair and assisted them to dress, and they never before in their lives had been arrayed half so becomingly. Indeed, they were so delighted that at dinner-time they could scarcely eat a morsel; and, besides, it was not easy to eat much, for they had laced very tight to make their waists as slender as possible.
What they had said to Cinderella about the ball set her to thinking how nice it would be if she really could attend it, and finally she asked the sisters' mother, who chanced to come into the kitchen while she was washing the dinner dishes, to let her go.
"You, Cinderella!" exclaimed the lady. "Why! you are wearing the only dress you have and just look at it! What could put such an idea into your head? But, see here," said she, taking up a dish of peas that was on a shelf, "I will throw this basinful of peas into the ash-heap behind the house, and if you can get every pea picked out of the ashes in an hour's time you can go to the ball with my daughters."
Then the lady, followed by Cinderella, carried the peas out and threw them into the ashes. "Here is the basin," said she, handing it to the girl, "and you can go at your task as soon as you choose."
She returned to the house, and Cinderella stood looking at the ash-heap. "I could not find all those peas in a week's time," said she; "I must have help." And she began to call,
"Hither, hither, through the sky,
All you little songsters fly!
One and all, come help me quick,
Make haste, make haste—come pick, pick, pick!"
At once a great number of little birds came chirping and fluttering to the ash-heap and commenced to pick, pick, pick. Cinderella held the basin and they brought the peas one by one and dropped them into it. In a short time she had all the peas out of the ashes and carried them in to her mistress, overjoyed at the thought she could now go to the ball. But the lady said, "No, no, you haven't clothes. I spoke in jest before. You shall not go; for you would only put us to shame."
Evening came and the two young women set off for the ball, and Cinderella watched them until they were out of sight and then stood by the fire and wept. At this moment a good fairy appeared and asked her what was the matter.
"I wish—I wish—" began the poor girl, but her voice was choked with tears.
"You wish that you could go to the ball," interrupted the fairy.
"Indeed I do," said Cinderella, with a sigh.
"Well, then, stop crying," said the fairy, "and I think I can contrive to have you go not only this evening, but to-morrow evening, too. Run into the garden and bring me a pumpkin."
Cinderella hurried out and brought back the finest pumpkin she could find, though she could not imagine what the fairy wanted of it. But the fairy took a knife, scooped out the pumpkin quite hollow and touched it with her wand. Immediately it was changed into a splendid carriage. "Now," said the fairy, "isn't there a mouse-trap set in the storeroom?"
"Yes," replied Cinderella.
"Go and see if there are any mice in it," the fairy ordered.
Cinderella soon returned, bringing the trap with six mice inside. "Lift the trap door a little and let them out," said the fairy, and as the mice escaped from the trap she changed each one by a stroke of her wand into a fine dapple-gray horse.
"But what shall we do for a coachman?" asked the fairy. "There's likely to be a rat in the trap in the cellar if you could make a coachman out of him," suggested Cinderella.
"That's a good thought," the fairy responded. "So look at the trap without delay."
Cinderella was quickly back with the trap, and in it was a rat with a tremendous pair of whiskers. The fairy touched the rat with her wand and it became a fat jolly coachman with the smartest whiskers ever seen.
"The next thing for you to do," said the fairy to Cinderella, "is to go again to the garden. You will find two lizards behind the watering-pot. Bring them."
The lizards were no sooner brought than the fairy turned them into footmen with laced liveries, and they skipped up to a seat at the back of the coach just as naturally as if they had been footmen all their lives.
"Well," said the fairy, "here is your coach and six horses, your coachman and your footmen to take you to the ball. Are you not pleased?"
"Oh, yes!" replied Cinderella, "but must I go in these shabby clothes?"
The fairy smiled and tapped her with her wand, when her rags were changed to a dress of cloth of gold all decked with costly jewels. This done, she gave her a pair of the prettiest slippers in the world, made of glass.
"These slippers," said she, "I give you to keep always, but the other things are enchanted into the forms they have at present for only a short time."
Cinderella now got into the carriage, and as she was about to start the fairy said, "Do not on any account stay after midnight, for if you do the coach will be a pumpkin again, your horses mice, your coachman a rat, your footmen lizards, and your beautiful clothes the rags you wear every day."
Cinderella promised the fairy she would not fail to leave the ball before midnight, and drove away in an ecstasy of delight. When she arrived at the palace the guards and attendants were so struck by her magnificent equipage that they supposed her to be some rich princess. At once the carriage was surrounded by courtiers who assisted her to alight and conducted her to the ball-room. The moment she appeared all voices were hushed, the violins ceased playing, and the dancing stopped short. Everybody was admiring the stranger's beauty. "How handsome she is! How surpassingly lovely!" and similar expressions were heard on all sides, and the old king whispered to the queen that he had not seen so comely a young woman in many a long day.
All the ladies busied themselves in considering her clothes and head-dress, that they might have garments of the same pattern, provided they could find such rich materials and seamstresses capable of making them up. The prince came forward to receive Cinderella, and he so admired her beauty and manners that he promptly offered her his hand to dance. Cinderella, pleased beyond measure at this gracious reception and at the splendor of all she saw, danced with the greatest animation. The proud sisters, in whose home she lived, were vexed to have any one attract more attention than themselves; but they did not recognize the ragged kitchen girl in the superb garments she now wore.
A fine supper was presently served, and the young prince helped Cinderella to every delicacy, but was so taken up with gazing at the fair stranger that he did not eat anything himself. Time passed fast, and she never looked at the clock until it was a quarter to twelve. Immediately she rose, made a low courtesy to the whole assembly, and retired in haste. Her carriage was ready at the door of the palace and she jumped into it and drove home as fast as she could.
When she reached the house the coach, horses, and servants all disappeared and Cinderella found herself clothed in her old ragged gown. She waited beside the fire for the return of the sisters, eager to know what they would say; but she determined to tell them nothing of her own experiences. At length they came knocking at the door, and when Cinderella let them in she pretended to yawn, and rubbed her eyes, saying, "How late you are!" just as if she had been waked out of a nap.
"You would not have thought it late if you had been at the ball," said one of the sisters, "and seen the beautiful princess who was there."
"What princess was she?" asked Cinderella. "What was her name?"
"We do not know her name," was the reply; "nor does anybody, and the king's son would give a fortune to learn who she is."
"If she is so beautiful as all that, how I would like to see her!" exclaimed Cinderella. "Oh, my Lady Charlotte," said she, addressing the elder sister, "do lend me the yellow dress you wear every day, that I may put it on and go to the ball to-morrow evening and have a peep at this wonderful princess."
"What! lend my clothes to a common kitchen girl like you!" cried Miss Charlotte, "I wouldn't think of such a thing."
Cinderella expected to be refused, and was not sorry, for she would have been very much puzzled what to do had the yellow dress really been lent to her.
On the following evening the sisters again went to the court ball, and shortly after their departure the good fairy came to Cinderella and told her to prepare to go also. A touch of the fairy's wand served to clothe Cinderella even more richly than she had been clothed on the previous occasion. The equipage she had used the night before conveyed her to the palace, and she was ushered into the ball-room with every attention. The prince was rejoiced to see her and never once left her side the evening through. He talked so charmingly that she forgot all about the time, and the clock began to strike twelve when she thought it no more than eleven.
At once she sprang up and ran as nimbly as a deer out of the room, and was going in great haste down the broad staircase that led to the palace entrance when one of her slippers dropped off. She could not wait to pick it up, for the clock had reached its final stroke, and then in a twinkling she was a gay lady no more, but only a shabby kitchen girl hurrying down the steps. The splendid coach and six horses, the driver and footmen had vanished, and on the ground lay a scooped-out pumpkin, while six mice, a rat, and two lizards were scurrying away to find hiding-places.
Cinderella reached home quite out of breath, and of her grand apparel nothing remained save a little glass slipper. When the sisters returned from the ball Cinderella asked them whether they had been well entertained and whether the beautiful princess was there.
"Yes," they replied, "we enjoyed the ball very much and the princess was there, but she ran away just as the clock struck twelve, and no one knows who she is any more than they did before."
When Cinderella fled the prince had stood in amazement a moment and then pursued her, but she was too swift for him. However, as he was running down the stairway he noticed the little glass slipper that she had lost and he picked it up. Then he went on and questioned the guards at the palace gates whether they had seen a princess going out. "No," said they, "the only person who has passed out of the gates for over an hour is a poorly dressed girl just gone, and how such a person as she happened to be in the palace, we cannot tell."
The prince, during the days following, caused inquiries to be made everywhere for the princess, and when the search failed he grew ill with disappointment. Then the king, who dearly loved his son, called a council and asked his ministers what they thought ought to be done in order to discover the princess.
"It is my advice," said the chief minister, "that you should cause a proclamation to be made all over the kingdom that the prince will marry her whose foot the slipper he found will just fit."
This plan was adopted, and the slipper was tried on by all the noble ladies of the land—but in vain. Then it was carried from one fine house to another among the gentry, until at last it came to the home of the proud sisters. Each of them did all she possibly could to thrust her foot into the dainty slipper, but the attempt failed. Cinderella, who was present, now laughed and said, "Suppose I were to try."
The sisters ridiculed her. "What an idea!" they said, "to think of its fitting your clumsy foot."
But the gentleman who had brought the slipper looked at Cinderella and said that it was no more than fair she should have the chance she asked, for he had orders to let every young maiden in the kingdom who pleased try on the slipper. So Cinderella sat down while the sisters looked on contemptuously; yet no sooner did she put her little foot to the slipper than it went on at once and fitted like wax. The sisters were amazed, and their astonishment increased tenfold when Cinderella drew the mate to the slipper from her pocket and put it on the other foot.
Just at that moment the fairy appeared, and touching Cinderella's clothes with her wand made them once more the robes of a princess, and then the two sisters recognized her for the beautiful stranger they had seen at the ball.
Now the gentleman in waiting conducted Cinderella away to the palace of the prince. She was received by the prince with great joy, and in a short time they were married, and they lived happily ever after.