by Lady Charlotte
Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess called Ella. In fact, she was the most beautiful princess in the whole world, and one day, a handsome prince came riding by, and fell head over heels in love with her, and proposed to her on the spot. And Princess Ella accepted. This was because the handsome prince was not only handsome, but also very rich and powerful, and Ella was a total snob.
Once she had married the handsome prince, she became even snobbier. In fact, it was not long before she was the haughtiest, rudest, most arrogant member of the royal family that the poor servants in the palace had ever had to deal with. Ella was UNSPEAKABLY horrid! But the people that Ella was beastliest of all to were not the maids or the footmen, but her own step-mother and step-sisters. They had come to live with her in the palace when Ella had got married, and now they were having the most horrible time. It broke the step-mother's heart, for she found herself quite helpless. Both she and her daughters were very humble and sweet, and naturally would never have dared answer the imperious Ella back.
One day, the handsome Prince, Ella's husband, decided to throw a ball. This was to be a very important occasion, for all the other Princes from around the world were being invited. The handsome Prince hoped to be voted Prince of the Year, a title which was due to be awarded that very night, and the ball was designed to wipe the floor with the opposition. Because Ella was so beautiful and haughty, he hoped that having her on his arm would help him to clinch the title. Naturally, Ella hoped so too.
When her step-mother and two step-sisters asked if they could possibly go to the ball as well, Ella laughed in their faces. "No," she answered, "you are far too humble and sweet, and you would bore all the Princes and Princesses to tears. You will work as my maids from now on, helping to get me as beautiful as possible for the ball, and on the big night itself you will stay in my private chambers, and I will ring you if I need anything, a diamanté fan, perhaps, or a mink stole. BUT OTHERWISE YOU ARE NOT TO SHOW YOUR SPINSTERISH FACES!!!!" And then she laughed, and swept off to go and do something haughty. And the humble step-mother and her daughters all cowered and sobbed.
The day of the ball arrived. The step-mother and her daughters were kept busy, preparing Princess Ella's beautiful dress, and polishing her jewels. They were no longer permitted to wear their own clothes, but had to dress as maids, and no one would guess, looking at them, that they had not been servants all their lives. They all felt very sad, and as the music of violins wafted up to them from the ornamental gardens below, and the first rumbling of carriages could be heard from the palace drive, an occasional tear might be seen trickling down their cheeks.
It was five to seven in the evening. At seven, Princess Ella was due to arrive in her chambers, to be dressed. Suddenly there was a flash of light, and a shower of silver stars! A fairy had appeared! "Have no fear," she told the terrified step mother. "for I am your god-mother! And I have come here to tell you that you SHALL all go to the ball!"
And with that, she touched the step-mother with her wand, and then her two daughters, and there were more flashes of light, and more showers of stars. And when the three women had blinked and rubbed their eyes, they saw that they were dressed in the most beautiful gowns, and that they had diamonds in their hair, and slippers made of glass on their feet! And the fairy godmother smiled. And then she said, "But there is only one thing missing! If you are to go to the ball, then you must have a maid!"
At that very moment, who should walk into the chamber but the haughty Princess Ella? The fairy godmother smiled. She touched Princess Ella with her wand. There was another flash of light, and another shower of stars. Again, the stepmother and her two daughters rubbed their eyes. When they opened them again, they saw an astonishing sight!!
There was Princess Ella - but oh, how changed! Gone was her beautiful dress - in its place was a neat but dowdy maid's uniform, identical to the uniforms that all the maids would be wearing at the ball that very night! Gone was her exquisitely coiffured long hair - in its place was a short, brutally cut bob, more suited to a servant girl who would have to get up early every morning, and scurry straight off to her work. Gone was her diamond tiara - in its place was a white cap with streamers, the mark of her new status. Gone were her soft, lily-white hands - in their place were the raw, cracked hands of a menial. Gone was her makeup - now she looked almost plain! And gone were her glass slippers - in their place were wooden clogs.
"Wha... wha... wha..." Princess Ella was lost for words. "Why you..." And with that she leapt, fingernails outstretched, at the fairy godmother.
But the fairy godmother tapped her lightly with her wand. "Be still, girl!" she ordered. Princess Ella froze. "Now listen to me carefully. Your stepmother and your stepsisters WILL be going to the ball. And so will you. You will be going as their maid. It will be your job to attend to them and their every need. Oh, you will hop when they so much as arch an eyebrow, girl, for if you do not, then I will make sure that everyone at that ball, your husband, his courtiers, his guests, all the Princes, will recognise who you are - and you will be forever ruined? Do you understand, girl?"
Princess Ella nodded. "Yes," she answered furiously.
"Better. Now curtsey to your new mistresses, and introduce yourself, girl."
Princess Ella turned bright red. But somehow, she forced herself to do it. Lifting the plain cotton skirt of uniform, she curtsied to her stepmother and stepsisters in turn. And the three of them blushed, and didn't quite know what to do, but then one of them asked Princess Ella to fetch a fan for her, and Princess Ella scurried to do it, and then the step-sister smiled, and cried out, "It's true, it's true, Princess Ella really IS our maid!"
"Yes," smiled the fairy godmother. "She really is. But no one will notice that she is really Princess Ella, until the clock strikes midnight - so, girl, you must remember, be in your room by then!"
And down the step-mother and two step-sisters swept to the ball, and all eyes were upon them, and everyone was whispering, "Who ARE those three beautiful women?" But no one had eyes for Princess Ella at all. Only the head footman, who scolded her for standing idly when there were drinks to be served, and who slapped her when Princess Ella neglected to call him "Sir". And Princess Ella would have wept, except that there was no time, for she was too busy scurrying this way and that, answering her mistresses' summons. Her two step-sisters, she saw, were being courted by two handsome princes, and they sent her up to their chambers, to fetch them cloaks. Princess Ella brought the cloaks back down, and pinned them to her step-sisters shoulders, and she had thought that the Princes might look at her, pay her even a second's attention, but no, she was just a servant, and they gave her not a glance.
And then as midnight approached, there was a sudden booming of a gong. It was time for the announcement of the Prince of the Year! Everyone fell silent, as the judge cleared his throat. "Your Royal Highness, Lords, Ladies and gentlemen - as you know, we give the award of Prince of the Year only to the most deserving candidate. A candidate who can throw a perfect, flawless ball. I think that, this year, you will all agree, there can be only one choice." He turned to the handsome Prince. "Our unanimous choice for Prince of the Year is..."
At that very moment, the clock started ringing midnight. Princess Ella's blood ran cold. She was standing with a tray of drinks, serving the judges, and everyone could see her.
One, two, three, the bells sounded.
Princess Ella dropped the tray.
Four, five, six.
The drinks went flying all over the judges.
Seven, eight, nine.
She turned, and pushed her way through the scandalised crowds, making for the grand staircase.
She ran up the stairs.
One of her wooden clogs fell off.
She made it to her chambers. She threw herself, sobbing, onto her bed. From down below, she could hear the tumult of outraged guests. But Princess Ella didn't care. All that mattered was that no one would ever know that she had been a maid.
But in the morning, she found that the scandalous behaviour of the mysterious maid had caused her husband, the handsome Prince, to lose his title of "Prince of the Year". He was apoplectic. He issued a proclamation to everyone in the palace, swearing on all that was most sacred to him that the woman who had lost him his title would be demoted to the position of Deputy Junior Under Scullery Maid, the most menial position in the whole palace, and would stay in the kitchens for the rest of her life. And in order to find out who the maid had been, he ordered that everyone in the palace try on the wooden clog, the same wooden clog which Ella had accidentally left on the staircase the night before.
All the servants in the palace had to try it on. But the shoe didn't fit any of them The handsome Prince was very puzzled. But then the step-mother, who had been consoling him in his disappointment all night and morning, suggested that he try the courtiers, and even the royal ladies too. The handsome Prince accepted her advice. EVERYONE in the palace had to try the wooden clog - even the step mother, even her two daughters. But still it didn't fit. The handsome Prince was very disappointed. "That's everyone!" he said.
"Not everyone," answered the step-mother sweetly.
"Why, who is there left?"
"Your bride, Princess Ella."
The Prince frowned. Then he turned to Princess Ella, who had turned very pale.
"Please," she stammered, "this is ridiculous."
`Try it," the Prince ordered.
"PUT IT ON!!!!!!"
All the court was watching. Hands shaking, Princess Ella took the clog. She extended a dainty foot. She closed her eyes. She slipped the clog on. A gasp of amazement from the Court. Then a tumult of disbelief. The clog was a perfect fit!!!!
The handsome Prince gazed at her in blank fury. Then, in a single brute gesture, he ripped her gown and silk underclothes off. Princess Ella cowered and shuddered in shame. Stripped naked in front of the goggling eyes of the court, she screamed as the handsome Prince lashed her with a whip. Meanwhile, a steward had brought her a pile of stinking clothes. They were the rags of a scullery maid. Another steward had brought a pair of shears. He began hacking at her hair. Five minutes later, the haughty Princess Ella was uncrecognisable. Dressed as a scullery maid and shaved bald, she had to endure the laughter of courtiers who had always hated her for her arrogance, and relished her fall. Then they all parted, falling away on both sides. The Cook was striding towards Princess Ella, with a bucket and mop in either hand. "Come on, girl!" he bellowed. "There is work to be done!"
Everyone else lived happily ever after. The stepmother married the handsome Prince. Her two daughters married the two Princes they had met at the ball. The fairy godmother had the satisfaction of a job well done.
Only Princess Ella, whipped every day, chained to her mop, sleeping in the cinders, ended up wretchedly. Of course, no one ever forgot that she had once been a Princess, but they no longer called her Princess Ella. Instead, they called her Cinderella, and she lived humbly ever after.