There was once an honest gentleman who was left a widower with one little daughter, the image of her mother, beautiful in face and lovely in temper. He thought it well to marry again, for he was lonely and he wished for some one who should take care of his child. But though his second wife was a handsome woman she was very haughty, and she had two daughters by a former marriage, who were as proud and disagreeable as herself. The lady appeared very well before the wedding, but no sooner was that over than she began to show her evil temper. She could not bear her step-daughter, who was so amiable that her own ill-natured children seemed more disagreeable than before, and she compelled the poor girl to do all the drudgery of the household. It was she who washed the dishes, and scrubbed down the stairs, and polished the floors in my lady's chamber, and in those of the two pert misses, her daughters; and while the latter slept on good feather-beds in elegant rooms furnished with full-length looking-glasses in which they could admire themselves all day long, their sister lay in a wretched garret on an old straw mattress. Yet the poor thing bore this ill treatment very meekly, and did not dare complain to her father, for he was so blind to his wife's faults that he would only have scolded the child.
When her work was done, she used to sit in the chimney-corner amongst the cinders, so that the two sisters give her the nickname of Cinderella, or, the cinder-wench; yet, for all her shabby clothes, Cinderella was a hundred times prettier than they, let them be dressed ever so magnificently.
It happened that the king's son gave a ball to which he invited all the rich and grand; and as our two young ladies made a great figure in the world, they were to be at the ball, and perhaps would dance with the prince. So they were at once very busy choosing what head-dress and which gown would be the most becoming. Here was fresh work for poor Cinderella; for it was she, forsooth, who was to starch and get up their ruffles, and iron all their fine linen; and they talked of nothing but their fine clothes all day long. "I," said the elder, "shall put on my red velvet dress, with my point-lace trimmings." "And I," said the younger sister, "Shall wear my ordinary petticoat, but shall set it off with my gold brocaded train and my circlet of diamonds, and what can be finer than that?" They sent for a clever tire-woman, for they were to have double rows of quilling on their caps, and they bought a quantity of elegant ribbons and bows. They called in Cinderella, to take her advice, as she had such good taste; and Cinderella not only advised them well, but offered to dress their hair which they were pleased to accept. While she was thus busied, the sisters said to her, "And pray, Cinderella, would you like to go to the ball?" "Nay, you are mocking me," replied the poor girl: "it is not for such as I to go to balls." "True enough," rejoined they; "folks would laugh to see a cinder-wench at a court ball."
Any other but Cinderella would have dressed their hair awry to spite them for their rudeness; but she was so good-natured that she went on and dressed them more becomingly than ever they had been in their lives before. The two sisters were so delighted that they scarcely ate a morsel for a couple of days. And besides, it was not easy to eat much, for they were laced tight, to make their waists as slender as possible; indeed, more than a dozen stay-laces were broken in the attempt. But they were perfectly contented to spend their whole time before a looking-glass, where they nodded their plumes, and turned and turned to see how they looked behind.
The long-wished-for evening came at last, and off they set. Cinderella's eyes followed them as long as she could, and then she sat down and began to weep. Her god-mother now appeared, and seeing her in tears inquired 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 her godmother, who was a fairy. "Indeed I do!" said Cinderella, with a sigh. "Well, girl, you shall go," said her godmother. "Run quick and fetch me a pumpkin from the garden." Cinderella flew to gather the finest pumpkin she could find, though she could not understand how it could possibly help her to go to the ball. But her godmother, scooping it quite hollow, touched it with her wand, when it was immediately changed into a gilt coach. She then went to the mouse-trap where she found six live mice, and bidding Cinderella let them out one by one, she changed each mouse into a fine dapple gray horse by a stroke of her wand. But what was she to do for a coachman? Cinderella proposed to look for a rat in the rat-trap. "That's a good thought," quoth her godmother; "so go and see." Back came Cinderella with the rat-trap, in which were three large rats. The fairy chose one that had a tremendous pair of whiskers, and forthwith changed him into a coachman with the finest mustachios ever seen.
"Now," said she, "go into the garden, and bring me six lizards, which you will find behind the watering-pot." These were no sooner brought, than, lo! with a touch of the wand they were turned into six footmen, with laced liveries, who got up behind the coach just as naturally as if they had done nothing else all their lives. The Fairy then said to Cinderella: "Now here is your coach and six, your coachman and your footmen, all to take you to the ball; are you not pleased?" "But must I go in these dirty clothes?" said Cinderella, timidly. Her godmother smiled and just touched her with her wand, when her shabby clothes were changed to a dress of gold and silver tissue, all decked with precious stones. Then she put upon her feet the prettiest pair of glass slippers ever seen. Cinderella now got into the carriage, after having been warned by her godmother upon no account to prolong her stay beyond midnight, for if she should remain a moment longer at the ball her coach would again become a pumpkin, her horses mice, her footmen lizards, while her beautiful clothes would become the shabby gown of the poor girl that sat among the cinders. Cinderella promised she would not fail to leave the ball before midnight, and set off in an ecstasy of delight.
When she arrived it was in such state that the king's son, hearing that some great princess, unknown at court, had just appeared, went to hand her out of her carriage, and brought her into the hall where the company was assembled. The moment she appeared all voices were hushed, the violins ceased playing, and the dancing stopped short, so great was the sensation produced by the stranger's beauty. A confused murmur of admiration fluttered through the crowd, and each was fain to exclaim, "How surpassingly lovely she is!" Even the king, old as he was, could not forbear admiring her like the rest, and whispered to the queen that she was certainly the fairest and comeliest woman he had seen for many a long day. As for the ladies, they were all busy examining her head-dress and her clothes, in order to get similar ones the very next day, if indeed, they could meet with stuffs of such rich patterns, and find work-women clever enough to make them up.
After leading her to the place to which her rank seemed to entitle her, the king's son requested her hand for the next dance, when she displayed so much grace that her beauty was heightened, and people said they had not praised her half enough before. An elegant supper was brought in, but the young prince was so taken up with gazing at the fair stranger, that he did not touch a morsel. Cinderella went and sat by her sisters, sharing with them the oranges and citrons the prince had offered her, much to their surprise and delight, for they felt highly flattered, never dreaming who it really was.
When Cinderella heard the clock strike three quarters past eleven, she made a low courtesy to the whole assembly, and retired in haste. On reaching home, she found her godmother, and after thanking her for the delight she had enjoyed she ventured to express a wish to return to the ball on the following evening, as the prince had requested her to do. She was still eagerly telling her godmother all that had happened at court, when her two sisters knocked at the door. Cinderella went and let them in, pretending to yawn and stretch herself, and rub her eyes and saying, "How late you are!" just as if she had been waked up out of a nap, though, one may readily believe, she had never felt less disposed to sleep in her life. "If you had been to the ball," said one of the sisters, "you would not have thought it late. There came the most beautiful princess that ever was seen, who loaded us with polite attentions, and gave us oranges and citrons."
Cinderella inquired the name of the princess. But they replied that nobody knew her name, and that the king's son was in great trouble about her, and would give the world to know who she could be. "Is she, then, so very beautiful!" said Cinderella, smiling. "Ah! how I should like to see her! Oh, do my Lady Javotte, lend me the yellow dress you wear every day, that I may go to the ball and have a peep at this wonderful princess." "A likely story, indeed!" cried Javotte, tossing her head disdainfully, "that I should lend my clothes to a dirty cinder-wench like you!" Cinderella expected to be refused, and was not sorry for it, as she would have been very much puzzled what to do had her sister really lent her the dress she begged to have.
On the following evening the sisters again went to the court ball, and so did Cinderella, dressed even more magnificently than before. The king's son never once left her side, and spent his whole time in waiting upon her. He talked so charmingly, and whispered so many delicate speeches, that the young lady was nothing loath to listen to him; she forgot all else, she forgot her godmother's warning. Eleven o'clock came, but she did not notice the striking; the half-hour struck, but still Cinderella sat by the prince. Then the great clock sounded the midnight stroke; up sprang Cinderella and like a startled fawn fled from the palace. The prince started to follow her, but she was too swift for him; only, as she flew she dropped one of her glass slippers, which he picked up very eagerly. The last stroke died away as Cinderella reached the great staircase that led from the palace. In a twinkling the gay lady was gone, and only a shabby cinder-wench went running down the steps. The splendid coach and six, driver and footmen, had vanished; only a pumpkin lay on the ground, and a rat, six mice, and six lizards scampered off. Cinderella reached home, quite out of breath; but of all her magnificence nothing remained save a little glass slipper, the fellow to the one she had lost. The sentinels at the palace-gate were closely questioned as to whether they had not seen a princess coming out; but they answered they had seen no one except a shabbily-dressed girl, who appeared to be a peasant rather than a young lady.
When the two sisters returned from the ball, Cinderella asked them whether they had been well entertained, and whether the beautiful lady was there? They replied that she was; but that she had run away as soon as midnight had struck, and so quickly as to drop one of her dainty glass slippers, which the king's son had picked up, and was looking at most fondly during the remainder of the ball; indeed, it seemed beyond a doubt that he was deeply in love with the beautiful creature to whom it belonged.
They spoke truly enough; for, a few days afterwards, the king's son caused a proclamation to be made, by sound of trumpet, all over the kingdom, that he would marry her whose foot should be found to fit the slipper exactly. So the slipper was first tried on by all the princesses; then by all the duchesses; and next by all the person belonging to the court; but in vain. Then it was carried to all the fine houses, and it came at last to the two sister, who tried with all their might to force their feet into the fairy-like slipper, but with no better success. Cinderella, who was present, now laughed, and said, "Suppose I were to try?" Her sisters ridiculed such an idea; but the gentleman who was appointed to try the slipper looked attentively at Cinderella, and perceiving how beautiful she was, said that it was but fair she should do so, as he had orders to try it on every young maiden in the kingdom. So Cinderella sat down, and put her foot on a stool to have the slipper tried on, while her sisters looked on contemptuously; but no sooner did she put her little foot to the slipper, than she drew it on, and it fitted like wax. The sisters stood amazed; but their astonishment increased tenfold when Cinderella drew the fellow slipper out of her pocket, and put that on. Her godmother then made her appearance, and touching Cinderella's clothes with her wand, made them once more the robes of a princess, but even more splendid than those which she had worn at the ball.
Her two sisters now recognized her for the beautiful stranger they had seen, and falling at her feet, implored her forgiveness for their unworthy treatment, and all the insults they had heaped upon her head. Cinderella raised them, saying, as she embraced them, that she not only forgave them with all her heart, but wished that they might always love her. The gentleman in waiting led her to the palace of the young prince, who was overjoyed at discovering the beautiful maiden, and thought her more lovely than ever. So they were married, and Cinderella, who was as good as she was beautiful, and wished every one about her to be happy, allowed her sisters to lodge in the palace, and gave them in marriage, that same day, to two lords belonging to the court.