A man once had a wife who was the kindest woman in the world. They had a daughter who was gentle, good and loving. Then the girl's mother died and her father married another wife, who was proud, harsh and bad-tempered. She also had been married before and had two daughters, quite as unpleasant as herself.
The stepmother quickly showed her nasty nature. She hated anything good about the girl because it showed up everything bad about her daughters.
'Do this,' she snapped, 'do that.'
There were always the hardest jobs for the girl, cleaning the dishes and scrubbing the tables and sweeping the floors.
'Upstairs to bed!' snapped her stepmother at the end of the day, almost before the poor girl had finished her supper. So she climbed wearily up to a garret at the very top of the house, where she lay on a rough straw bed. Meanwhile her stepsisters slept on soft mattresses in fine rooms with mirrors long enough to see themselves full length.
There she lay, too miserable and frightened to tell her father. He was away for weeks on end and would have scolded her for telling tales, for he believed every world his new wife said.
When the girl could rest for a moment from her work, she used to go and sit exhausted in the corner by the chimney, to keep warm by the cinders of of the fire. The elder sister called her Cinder-girl, but the younger sister, who was a little but not a lot more kind than the other, called her Cinderella.
The trouble was that both sisters were extremely jealous, for Cinderella was much more beautiful than they, despite her shabby clothes. So, when the king's son gave a ball at the nearby castle and they received an invitation, they were immensely proud and delighted at the chance to wear their splendid clothes.
They made a great fuss deciding which clothes to wear. This meant more work for Cinderella, who had to clean and iron their clothes and starch their ruffles. No sooner had she prepared one costume that they said:
'No, no, not that one. I have quite decided against that one. This one, now. I much prefer it.'
'You stupid girl,' they shrieked. 'Not that one. My red velvet suit, the one with the French trimming.'
'My other petticoat, silly,' they screamed. 'My gold flowered clock and my diamond belt. That's what I need to catch the prince's eye.'
'We must send for the best milliner in town,' they said. They did so, and ordered special make-up and the strangest beauty-patches for their faces.
'What a sight!' said Cinderella when she saw them.
'What's that, girl?' snapped their mother.
'What a wonderful sight!' said Cinderella quickly.
'I should say so,' their mother said. 'You'll never look so good.'
'Would you not like to go to the ball?' asked the sisters.
'Oh, I should,' replied Cinderella, looking at their brightly painted faces, 'but I would not dare to go with you.'
'Quite right,' they said. 'People would laugh if a cinder-girl went to the palace ball.'
In spite of their unkindness, Cinderella helped them dress on the evening of the ball. She made sure their hair was straight and their gowns had no creases. They asked her advice on all sorts of little details, for she had many good ideas on how to make them look more pretty. They had eaten nothing for nearly two days, partly because they were so excited and partly so that they could fit into their tight new dresses. They broke innumerable laces tying themselves in.
When they set off for the palace, Cinderella watched them go, she could not help feeling very sad.
Her godmother found her crying by the cinders. She was a fairy godmother.
'What's the matter, child?' she asked.
'I wish, I wish that I could . . .' Then Cinderella broke into tears again and could say no more.
'You wish to go to the ball? Is that it?' asked her godmother.
'Oh, yes, I do,' said Cinderella and cried again.
'It's not crying,' said her godmother. 'Let's see what we can do. Bring me a pumpkin from the garden.'
Cinderella brought in a pumpkin and her godmother scraped out the inside and struck it with her wand. The pumpkin turned into a fine gilded coach.
Next the found six white mice in the mousetrap. As Cinderella let each out in turn, she touched them with her wand and they turned into six fine horses, all of them a mouse-colored dapple-grey.
'Now for the coachman,' she said. They found a rat in the rat-trap, with very fine whiskers. He was turned into the fattest, jolliest coachman you ever did see with the greatest moustache in the world.
Finally, they found six lizards in the garden. These became six footmen dressed in gold and silver uniforms who jumped up behind the coach to complete the outfit.
'Are you pleased?' the godmother asked.
'Oh, I'm very pleased, think you,' said Cinderella. 'Could you do something about my clothes as well? I can't go to the ball dressed in these rags, can I?'
Her godmother agreed that it would not be right and touched her with the wand. Immediately, Cinderella's rags were turned into the most magnificent ball grown, decorated with jewels and cloth of gold. There was also a pair of glass slippers for her to wear.
'Don't stay out after midnight,' warmed her godmother, as Cinderella climbed into the coach. 'If you do, your coach, horses, coachman, footmen and clothes will all be turned into a pumpkin, six mice, a rat, six lizards and old rags.'
'I promise,' Cinderella said, and left.
What a stir there was at the ball when the arrived! The prince himself helped her down from the coach, believing her to be some great princess. The guests stopped dancing and the musicians ceased their playing when the entered. All gazed in wonder, though the ladies were more concerned to note the fashion of her clothes.
Eve the king, who was really quite old, leaned over to the queen and murmured that he had never seen such a lovely creature.
'Thank you, my dear,' said the queen and patted his hand, much to the king's surprise.
The prince danced with Cinderella all evening and never took his eyes off her, even when she sat down with her sisters for a while. She talked to them very politely, thoroughly enjoying herself because they did not recognize her.
When the clock struck a quarter to twelve, she quickly said goodbye, curtseyed to the prince and left for home in her glittering coach. She thanked her godmother for her kindness and told her all that happened.
'The prince asked me to dance again tomorrow night,' she said. 'Do let me go.'
'Remember to leave by midnight,' said her godmother.
At that moment the stepsisters returned from the ball. Cinderella yawned and rubbed her eyes as she unlocked the door.
'Is it that late already?' she said sleepily.
The sisters were wide awake and full of gossip. They told Cinderella about the strange princess.
'Does no one know her?' Cinderella asked, trying not to show much interest.
'No one,' they replied. 'The prince is desperate to find out her name.'
'Oh, yes,' said Cinderella. Then, even though she knew they would not help, she asked, 'Would you lend me one of your dresses so that I may see her for myself?'
'Good heavens,' laughed the sisters. 'What an absurd idea. Do you take us for a pair of fools, to lend our clothes to a cinder-girl?'
The next evening the sisters went to the ball again. They left Cinderella at home once more, but she arrived not long afterwards in her fine coach, dressed in an even finer ball gown than the night before.
She danced all night with the young prince and enjoyed herself so much that she was still dancing when the clock struck the first note of midnight.
Before the prince could stop her, she ran from the room as nimbly as a deer, but as she ran she dropped a glass slipper and the prince paused to pick it up.
He asked the guards at the castle gates, 'Did you see a princess leave just now?'
'No, sir,' they replied. 'Only a country girl who ran down the road.'
Cinderella was home by the time her sisters came back. She yawned again and asked about the ball. They told her all the news but she only smiled a little to herself.
A few days after, the prince announced with a great sound of trumpets that he would marry the girls whose foot would fit the slipper he now held. Of course, everyone was keen to try their luck, whether or not they thought the slipper was theirs. Princesses in the castle tried it on. Duchesses at court stretched it and strained. Ladies throughout the land were disappointed, and so were the two sisters when they failed to squeeze their fat feet into the slender slipper.
'Let me try it, jus for fun,' said Cinderella.
'You!' laughed the sisters. 'A pumpkin would fit you better!'
The prince's servant who brought the slipper looked carefully at Cinderella and saw that she was very beautiful.
'It's only fair that she should have a go,' he said. 'My orders are that everyone must try.'
The slipper fitted perfectly.
The sisters were even more astonished when Cinderella took the other slipper from her pocket and put that on the other foot. Then the fairy godmother appeared and touched Cinderella with her wand, turning all her rags into a rich dress. The sisters recognized the princess of the nights before and at once begged her forgiveness for all their unkindness.
She forgave them, of course, and they all made friends. Then Cinderella was taken to the young prince and they were married a day or two later. The prince and princess were very happy. So were the two sisters, who came to live in the castle and were married, on the same day, to two great lords at court.