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Cinderella

CINDERELLA

The room was dark, the fire was out and a little girl sat crying all
alone in the ashes. “I want to go to the party too!” she sobbed. “I
want to dance and wear a pretty dress, but my dress is ragged. My
sisters have gone and left me. Nobody wants me. It’s so dark here I’m
afraid. Oh! I’m so cold.” The tears ran down the face of this forlorn
little girl and fell in the ashes at her feet. Poor child! Poor
little maid! She had to wash and scrub and dust, while her sisters did
nothing but wear pretty clothes and go to all the parties. They never
thought of taking her with them. She was only fit to blacken their
boots and to mend their dresses. Because her hands and her hair were
sometimes gray and dusty from tending the fire and sweeping the hearth,
they called her Cinderella. She had helped her sisters to dress that
very night, smiling all the time, but now that they were gone,
Cinderella could keep back the tears no longer. She was sobbing as if
her heart would break, when suddenly she heard a noise, the room was
filled with light and, right in front of her stood a curious little old
woman, with a long stick in her hand. She had pointed shoes on her
feet and a tassel in her cap.

“You shall go to the party!” said the queer little creature, stamping
her foot on the floor. “You have always been a good child. You have
as much right to go as your sisters. You shall go! and you shall wear
a pretty dress and ride in a fine carriage too, so dry your eyes, my
dear, and bring me the biggest yellow pumpkin you can find in the
garden,” said the fairy; for this little old woman was really a fairy.

The pumpkin was so large that Cinderella could hardly lift it. With a
nod of her pointed cap, the old woman touched it with her curious stick
and a carriage, a wonderful carriage, stood in its place. The
cushion’s were soft velvet ones, the windows were hung with curtains of
silk and there were silver handles on both the doors.

“Now quickly,” said the fairy, “bring me the traps from the cellar!”
There were six little shivering mice in one trap and two plump gray
rats in the other. “Open the doors!” said the old woman. As the six
mice crept slowly out she touched them, one at a time, with her long
stick, which was really a fairy wand, and in a minute each little mouse
was turned into a prancing gray horse that sprang to his place in front
of the carriage. Tap! Tap! went the wand, and the rats were nowhere
to be seen. In their place stood two big, tall men with shiny boots on
their feet and high hats on their heads. They jumped upon the box and
one of them caught the reins in his hands.

“Now one thing more, my dear,” said the fairy to Cinderella; “run into
the garden again and bring the six lizards you will find under a big
stone by the wall.” When the lizards were brought, the fairy touched
them too and, in a twinkling, they jumped up from the ground and stood
beside the carriage doors, three on one side and three on the
other,–six little footmen, with six little green coats on their backs
and six little red hats in their hands, all ready to help Cinderella
into her wonderful carriage.

Another touch of the old woman’s wand and Cinderella herself stood
dressed in a gown as blue as the blue sky above and all covered from
top to toe with shining silver stars. She was just going to step into
the carriage and drive away when, looking down, she saw that her feet
were quite bare, she had no shoes on. The fairy saw too. She smiled
and took a pair of little slippers from her pocket. They were all made
of glass and they were such tiny, tiny slippers that, when Cinderella
had put them on, she looked the most beautiful maiden in the whole wide
world. “Take good care of them, my dear,” said the old woman. “If you
want to be happy be careful how you use those little shoes. Now go,
child, but there is one thing you must remember,–when the clock
strikes twelve you must be at home again in this very room. If you are
not, all your beautiful things will vanish and you will be left alone
just a poor little, ragged cinder-maid.”

Cinderella promised to remember. She thanked the fairy and drove
quickly away. At last she reached the big house where the Prince was
giving the party. There was music and dancing in the great hall, but
when Cinderella walked in, everybody stopped dancing and looked at her.
They said, “What a pretty girl! Who is she? Where did she come from?
She must be a princess to wear such wonderful clothes! She has on such
a fine dress, she must surely be a princess!” When the Prince saw her,
he asked her to dance with him and, after that, he would dance with no
one else. But Cinderella remembered what the fairy had told her and,
just before midnight, she slipped away and was safe in the kitchen at
home when the clock struck twelve. No one had seen her leave the great
hall. No one had seen her drive away, but the Prince missed her the
moment she was gone and had the great house searched from top to
bottom, but not a trace of the pretty maiden could be found.

On the second night of the great party all happened as on the first.
Cinderella was made ready by the fairy and, when she reached the big
house on the hill, the Prince ran to welcome her. He would dance with
no one else as before and, when Cinderella vanished just before the
clock struck twelve, he was so unhappy that no one could comfort him.

Now the third and last night of the party had come. The Prince could
think of nothing but the pretty maid. “I must know who she is and
where she comes from, or I shall never be happy again. I will keep
fast hold of her hand to-night. She shall not slip away this time as
she has always done before,” said the Prince.

Never had Cinderella been as happy as on that evening, never had she
danced as well, never had the lights shone brighter or the music
sounded sweeter, never had the Prince been half as gay. Cinderella
danced on and on. She forgot the fairy, she forgot her promise, she
forgot the hour. The great clock in the hall ticked off the minutes.
It was nearly twelve, still Cinderella danced on without a thought.
The six gray horses pawed restlessly at the door. Louder and louder
grew the music, faster and faster flew the dancers, and the gayest of
them all was Cinderella as she whirled by on the arm of the happy
Prince. But, hark! What’s that? Above the noise of the dancing,
above the music and laughter, a sound is heard. It is the great clock
striking the hour of midnight.

Cinderella heard at last, at last she remembered. She snatched her
hand from the hand of the Prince. She rushed to the doorway, but she
tripped upon the mat and one of her little glass slippers fell off.
The Prince ran after her, but he stopped to pick up her slipper, and
when he reached the gateway the beautiful lady was nowhere to be seen.
All was dark and still, only a ragged beggar-maid, sobbing as if her
heart would break, went quickly away into the night. Poor, poor
Cinderella! Her wonderful carriage had vanished, her beautiful dress
was gone, nothing was left her but one tiny glass slipper. She stooped
and taking it from her foot she put it carefully into the pocket of her
ragged dress, and walked barefoot all the way home alone in the
darkness.

Time passed, the poor Prince could not sleep by night and could not
rest by day for he had lost his beautiful lady. He had her little
slipper and that was his only comfort. At last he said, “Whoever can
wear this slipper shall be my queen and queen of all my people.”

He took the precious slipper and he traveled far and near through all
the land. He stopped at every cottage and he stopped at every castle
and he begged every maiden whom he met to try it on. But, alas! he
found no one with foot small enough to wear it. At last, one day, he
stopped before the only house that, in all his kingdom, he had not
visited. Cinderella’s sisters hurried to meet him for it was at their
door he stood. They tried and tried to crowd their great feet into the
tiny slipper, but it was of no use. The Prince was turning sadly away
thinking, “I shall never see my beautiful lady again,” when he caught
sight of a face at the kitchen window. “Who is that?” he cried. “Oh,
it is only Cinderella! a poor kitchen maid,” said the sisters. “Let
her be brought! She too shall try the slipper!” said the Prince. “No!
no! She is too ragged and dirty to be seen. Do you think that a
cinder-maid can wear your shoe when we cannot get it on?” But the
Prince would have his way.

When Cinderella was brought, her dainty little foot slid into the glass
shoe as easily as though she had worn it all her life. She smiled and
took its mate from the pocket of her ragged dress. The Prince smiled
too and, looking into Cinderella’s face, he saw his long lost lady of
the party. With a cry of joy he lifted her, all ragged as she was,
upon his horse and the Prince and his chosen princess rode away.