Once upon a time, there lived near a great city, a very worthy gentleman with his wife. They loved each other tenderly, as married people do; and they had not been wedded very long, before there was a pretty little baby girl in the nursery; so both the parents were very happy. But their joy did not last long. The young mother fell ill of a fever, and died.
The poor husband was at first dreadfully grieved at his loss; but as time wore on, his sorrow became less violent; and when two years had passed away, he at last made up his mind to marry again.
There was a disadvantage about this marriage. The new wife was a widow, and she brought with her into the house two great, rude girls.
These girls were nearly ten years older than the gentleman's own pretty little daughter, and the poor child soon began to lead a very dreary life among her new relations. They slighted her and teased her at first; and when they found the poor child bore it patiently, they went on from bad to worse; from contempt and mocking to downright ill-treatment.
But, you will ask, why did not the gentleman look after his daughter? He was so disappointed in his new wife, and so disgusted with the rude girls, who would not listen to him, and who were encouraged by their mother in their naughtiness, that he soon fell sick. For six or seven months he lingered on, getting weaker and weaker; and then he died, and his poor little daughter was left, it seemed, without a friend in the world.
After her father's death, the poor little girl's life was a very hard one. As she grew up, she became very pretty; and the prettier she became, the more the sisters seemed to hate her. She was treated quite like a servant, and made to help in all the drudgery of the house; so while the two elder sisters flaunted in silks and satins, the young one went about in a plain cotton gown, but with a look of kindness and modesty in her face which no money could purchase for the bold, harsh daughters of the widow.
When her household drudgery was over for the day, the poor young girl would go into the kitchen, and sit down quietly in the chimney corner among the cinders. This habit procured for her the name of "Cinderwench" from that ill-natured girl, her eldest sister; while the younger, a little more polite, called her "Cinderella"--certainly the prettier name of the two.
Years went on, and Cinderella became prettier, and her step- sisters were more unkind than ever. They were never weary of tormenting the poor girl, and had not even the sense to see that every one disliked them for it. They would dress themselves out in great state to go to balls and parties, and were not at all ashamed to ask Cinderella to help them to dress. Then, when she had taken the greatest pains with them, these unkind girls would say some harsh word or other to her, as they went down stairs. And I wish every one who reads this story (especially every little girl) to reflect what harm is sometimes done by unkind words, hastily uttered. Never allow yourselves to be harsh in your speech, and even give up the last word rather than disregard this piece of good advice.
One day the two sisters received a little note on scented rose- colored paper which made them hold their heads up higher than ever, and become more insolent and rude to every body than they had been before. This note was an invitation to a grand state dress ball, given by the king's son. You can not imagine how elated the two sisters were. And it was wonderful how these girls, who were usually as lazy as ever they could be, became quite busy when their vanity was fairly roused. They found plenty of work for Cinderella, who, after her household drudgery was done, had to starch, iron, trim, sew, and cut out for them; and when she had done her very best, they scolded her for her trouble. But when the day of the ball really came, there was indeed a time of hurry- skurry and hurly-burly. The sisters, whose usual hour for rising was half past ten, found they could very well get up at six; and at a quarter past, they rang for Cinderella. They continued to dress by easy stages, all day long. I verily believe that poor girl got no dinner at all that day. As Cinderella was fastening the dress of one of her sisters, the other, who sat by, said:--"Pray, Cinderella, would you not like to go to the ball?" "Nay," replied Cinderella, "you are only mocking me. It is not for such as I to go to parties and balls." "Very true," said the ill-natured girl, "people would stare, I dare say, to see a Cinderella dancing at a ball." This was all the return Cinderella got for her toil since six o'clock in the morning.
At last they drove off in a fine carriage, with a coachman and two footmen in handsome liveries; and Cinderella was left to retire to her dark, dismal kitchen. For some time she stood sorrowfully in a corner, thinking a great deal about the gay, merry ball, to which she would gladly have gone. The more she thought about it, the more sorrowful and sad she became; at length she sat down in a corner and fairly began to cry.
How long she sat thus she did not know; but she seemed to have sobbed herself into a doze; and when she woke up, she saw before her a beautiful lady. "My dear Cinderella," said this lady, "I am your godmother." Cinderella wondered at this, because she had never seen the lady before. "I do not like to see you so unhappy; tell me what you are crying about?" Cinderella could only sob out-- "Because those great girls are very unkind to me; and because I want--I want--" "You want to go to the ball, Cinderella; is not that the truth? Well, be a good girl and I will send you. But first of all we must get you a coach and horses to take you there, and proper clothes to go in. Go into the garden and fetch me a pumpkin."
Cinderella was very much surprised at this request; but the lady, who looked like what she was--a fairy--seemed so completely in earnest, that the girl at once did as she was told. The fairy cut a hole in the pumpkin and scooped it out, leaving only the rind. Then she touched it once with her wand, and it stood there like the beautiful carriage you see in the picture. "What shall we do for horses, my dear?" said she. "Just go and bring me the large mouse-trap out of the pantry."
Cinderella went for the trap. There were six little mice in it poking their little noses up against the bars, and trying to get out. At her godmother's desire, Cinderella lifted up the door of the trap very gently, so that the mice might come hopping out one by one. As they did so, the fairy touched each of them with her wand, and turned them into handsome coach horses, with arching necks and long tails, and splendid harness all plated with gold!
Well, my dear child," said the fairy, "here are a carriage and horses, at least as handsome as your sisters'; but now we want a coachman and a postillion. Go and see if there are no rats in the rat-trap."
Off tripped Cinderella, and soon returned in triumph, bearing the rat-trap in her hand. There were two rats in it; one a big rat with a fine beard, and the other a dapper fellow with a slim waist and a short body. The fairy touched these two rats with her wand; and the little one was transformed into a herald, to walk at the horses' heads with a trumpet in his hand to give notice of their approach; while the big one appeared as a handsome coachman, with a splendid state livery embroidered with gold. Footmen were now required to complete the equipage, and Cinderella was directed by the fairy to bring in six lizards which she would find behind the garden watering-pot. The lizards were brought, and by the touch of the wonderful wand the four largest were changed into tall footmen, with gorgeous liveries to match the coachman's; the two smaller lizards became pages to walk beside the carriage doors; and the whole of them sprang at once into their respective positions with the agility of practical servants.
"Well, Cinderella," said her godmother, "are you not pleased with your equipage for appearing at the ball?"
"Yes, indeed," replied Cinderella; "but--" and she glanced down at the shabby dress she had on at the time. Her godmother understood her meaning. "You do not think you can go in those clothes, my dear?--neither shall you," said the fairy. Once more the wand came into play; in an instant Cinderella's shabby attire changed to a beautiful dress of silk, with precious stones here and there. To crown all, the godmother produced a pair of beautiful slippers of spun glass, that glittered like diamonds, and gave them to Cinderella to put on.
"Now," said the fairy to Cinderella, as she stood admiring her costly attire in an ecstasy of delight; "I have an injunction to lay upon you. You must be back here by twelve o'clock at night; for if you remain beyond that hour at the ball your coach will return to the form of a pumpkin, your coachman become a rat, your horses mice, your footmen and pages lizards, and your beautiful dress vanish away."
Cinderella promised punctually to obey her godmother's directions. Who would not have promised in such a case? The footmen handed her into the coach, the coachman snapped his whip, and off they drove in grand style.
There was no small stir at the palace when the splendid carriage drove up; and great indeed was the interest displayed when Cinderella alighted. The news was quickly carried to the prince, that a beautiful princess (for such her equipage appeared to proclaim her) had arrived. The prince went out to receive her, and conducted her into the ball-room. The eyes of all present were at once fixed on Cinderella; the prince leading her out to dance with him, displayed her beauty to the admiration of all, which was much increased by the grace and dignity of her carriage. In fact, she made an impression on all present; but far the deepest on the young prince.
A magnificent supper was served, at which Cinderella was seated next her sisters and conversed with them. The condescension of the beautiful stranger was highly pleasing and flattering to the vanity of the sisters, and they partook of the fruits she proffered them with a relish which would have been somewhat embittered had they known the truth.
The warning voice of the clock told eleven and three-quarters, when Cinderella, mindful of her godmother's injunction, arose, and with a graceful curtsy hastened to her carriage. The prince hurried after her, begged of her to renew her visit on the following evening, saw her to her carriage, and returned to the company very dull, and evidently disinclined to prolong the festivities. Cinderella arrived home in time to receive the approval of her godmother and a promise from her of further support; but a loud rap at the door announced the arrival of the sisters, and, assuming the appearance of having been awakened out of a sound sleep, she hastened to admit them. The sisters had no sooner entered the house than they commenced an animated conversation on the subject of the visit of the "beautiful princess" to the palace; and having no other listeners at the time, their vanity compelled them to make a confidant of the neglected Cinderella. To her they enlarged upon the beauty, affability, and evident wealth of the unknown princess, and triumphantly displayed some of the fruit they had received from her hands, which they preserved in remembrance of the great occasion.
On their informing Cinderella that the princess was expected again on the following evening, the sly puss ventured very humbly to solicit her proud sisters for the loan of a cast-off dress to enable her to satisfy the curiosity they had excited in reference to the beautiful stranger, by accompanying them to the palace on the following evening. "A dress, indeed!" was the reply; "you had better look to your pots and pans, Miss Cinderella, and leave balls and parties to your betters."
The next evening the two sisters went to the ball again, and Cinderella appeared there not long afterwards, dressed even more splendidly than on the first night. The prince had been watching for her ever since the first carriage drew up. He never left her side the whole of the evening; would dance with no one else; and paid her such compliments that Cinderella's cheeks flushed, and she hardly dared to lift her eyes from the ground. Not that she felt unhappy, either; oh no!
But what with the dancing, the brilliant lights, the supper, and the prince's attentions, she forgot her godmother's injunction about being home at twelve o'clock. The evening slipped away as if Time indeed had wings; and greatly surprised was Cinderella when the first stroke of twelve rang upon her ear. Up she started; and never waiting even to so much as curtsy to the guests, she ran from the ball-room as fast as she could. And it was well she did so; for with the last stroke of twelve, the beautiful dress of gold brocade feel from her, and she found herself clad in her old dingy working dress. The prince pursued her, but she was too quick for him; only, as she left the ballroom, one of her little glass slippers fell off. The prince received it from the courtier who picked it up, and kept it as a great treasure. Cinderella ran home, and reached her house, panting and out of breath, in very different style from the state in which she had left the first ball.
Cinderella had a very short time to wait before her sisters returned from the party; for the ball broke up early, because the prince was dull and vexed. She again met her sisters, rubbing her eyes with a weary yawn. She asked them how they were entertained, and whether the elegant princess had been there again. "Yes," they replied; and added, that at twelve o'clock she had suddenly started up and left the ball-room; whereupon the prince had appeared to lose all pleasure in the party, and every thing flagged, until at last the guests took their leave.
The prince dreamt all night of his beautiful partner, and rose the next morning thinking of her. He seemed to lose his taste for all the sports and amusements in which he had delighted, to the astonishment and grief of the old king, his father. All day long he lay stretched on a sofa, thinking of the fair princess; and when he returned to his pillow at night, it was only to dream of her again. He had really no way of finding out who she was or where she lived, for she had not shown her card of invitation at the door; indeed, no one had thought of asking her for it, her equipage was so splendid. At last a bright idea struck him, and he thought he had hit upon a good plan. It was this:--
"That the King's son would marry any lady who should be found able to wear the glass slipper that had been dropped at the late ball."
He had noticed that his unknown had a pretty little foot; and in due course thought that if he only got the length of her foot he could soon make matters right with the fair one. So the herald went round the city, and made the announcement in due form.
Many a lady tried to make the glass slipper fit her, but in vain; for you see it was of glass, and would not bend like an elastic overshoe. First one lady and then another tried in vain, but they were all obliged to dismiss the herald, and to renounce their hopes of obtaining the prince's hand.
Among others, Cinderella's sisters endeavored to wear the slipper; but it was too short for them. Then Cinderella came forward, and modestly inquired if she might be permitted to try on the slipper. Her sisters received her request with a shout of laughter; but the herald looked gravely at her sweet face, and said his orders were to let ANY ONE WHO LIKED try on the slipper; so he let Cinderella, while the sisters looked on with an ugly sneer.
In a moment it was slipped on! The little shoe sat on Cinderella's little foot as if it were a skin of glass; and the sisters looked on speechless with amazement. But how much was their wonder increased to observe Cinderella quietly put her hand in her pocket and draw forth the other slipper which she had carried with her ever since the famous night of the ball.
Now, at last, the sisters began to see in Cinderella's face some resemblance to the beautiful and condescending lady whose notice they were so proud and happy to attract at the ball.
It was now quite plain that Cinderella was, by some mysterious agency, the beautiful princess whom the prince had fallen in love with at the ball; and the herald returned joyfully to the palace to announce his success.
You may well imagine the sudden revulsion of feeling which took place in the breasts of the hitherto proud and arrogant sisters. Wonder, which for a few moments held their senses in suspense, gave way to remorse, humiliation and unavailing regret. Their vanity had received a blow, and their arrogance a rebuke, which completely humiliated them, and thus they were about to retire from their injured step-sister's presence, all overcome with a confusion which at once checked the well-turned but hollow compliments and excuses they would fain have uttered; but Cinderella detained them, and told her sisters to forget the past as readily and willingly as she would; she also firmly assured them that prosperity would never make her forget the ties of relationship which bound them together, and begged of them to command any interest she might possess in furthering their future welfare and happiness. This last unhoped for and noble act made the first and deepest impression their worldly natures ever received, and for once in their lives a grateful and sincere tear dimmed their eyes.
A royal escort soon arrived to take Cinderella to the palace, and great was the joy of the prince to behold her again. To him Cinderella appeared more beauteous than ever. That no chance should again separate them, he at once offered her his hand in marriage, thus lending to her future the prospect of becoming queen when he should succeed to the throne; which, judging from the very advanced age and failing health of the good old king, promised to be at no very distant day.
Cinderella consented to become his wife; and their marriage was celebrated with a degree of royal pomp and splendor that furnished the chroniclers of the period with ample materials to fill the page of history.
Cinderella, we need scarcely add, more than fulfilled her promise to her sisters. A place of honor was assigned them at the wedding banquet; they were, through the liberality of Cinderella, enabled to eclipse the whole of the guests by the beauty of their dress.
As for Cinderella herself--need I say she lived happily? Not only had she every thing that she wished for in the way of worldly riches and glory, but she had what was better still--a good husband to protect her, and friends who loved her.
And any of my little lady readers who are as amiable as Cinderella, will be sure to get kind friends to love them, even though they may not marry princes, or have fairy godmothers and pumpkin coaches.
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