Once upon a time in a land much like yours and mine, lived a young girl named Ella. She was born in a small house with her mother, Lily, and her father, a hardworking merchant.
Her mother was kind, loving, and patient, and her father was happy. They were a gracious family, who saw wonderful success. Such success allowed them to move into a large, four thousand-acre estate.
Ella loved the lily gardens around the estate and spent much of her time there. In these gardens she met an odd, yet charming array of friends: three blind mice, an uncountable number of birds, and a spider monkey named Zuzu, who had escaped from her wealthy neighbor’s menagerie.
Months after they arrived, however, Ella’s mother fell sick. She died shortly after, leaving a heartbroken husband.
After her death, he left on business more regularly and left Ella alone to grow into a woman of parallel kindness to her mother.
During one of his travels, Ella’s father met a woman. By the time he arrived home on the day of Ella’s 16th birthday, he was married once more.
The woman arrived in an extravagant horse-drawn carriage with her two daughters. The three ladies stepped out head-to-toe in silk, lace, gems, and fur. Ella smiled and greeted her new stepfamily but, disregarding her kindness, they huffed and hollered at the coachman.
“Goodness me” began the stepmother, “it’s like he purposefully drove over all those potholes.”
“And the rocks! My poor dress! Ruined at the seams!” screeched the eldest stepsister.
“I have bruises ALL over! And my haaair” whined the youngest.
Ella watched wide-eyed as the newcomers spent the next weeks changing everything about the estate. Walls were painted pink, grass was replaced with stone, and the lily gardens were removed and changed for rose ones.
As months passed, her father’s business began to decline. He turned solely to trade and was away for months at sea. While travelling, Ella was Cinderella, a name given to her by her terrible stepfamily. She cleaned, and cooked, and did everything for them. But when her father came home for short periods of time, Ella was Ella. She was ignored by her stepsisters but treated with false-kindness by her stepmother.
Ella never dared to tell her father about the wickedness of his new wife. She could not bear to have her poor father’s heart broken again.
One evening at dinner, her father sat beside his beloved Ella and whispered to her: “I received a letter today.”
“A letter? Who from?” she whispered back, avoiding the hot glare from her stepmother.
“The King,” he replied, smiling.
“The King!” exclaimed the stepmother.
“What does the King want with her?” screeched the eldest stepsister.
“Mother! I thought you said nooo animals in the house! Why is that THING in here?” whined the youngest.
“Cinder – I mean Ella… darling? Would you please get your monkey off the table?” the stepmother asked through clenched teeth.
Ella patted her lap and Zuzu hopped down. He grabbed a piece of bread from her plate and ran out of the large dining hall.
“What does it say?” the stepmother asked.
Ella’s father reached into his tailcoat, pulled out an engraved letter, and handed it to Ella. She read the handwritten words aloud: “On behalf of the King, Their Graces the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, you are invited to attend the Prince’s Masquerade Ball to be held in a fortnight.”
“Why that’s just two weeks away!” exclaimed the stepmother.
“TWO weeks?” chimed the stepsisters.
For the next two weeks, the women scampered around the house in frenzy; they could not contain their excitement. Ella took freedom’s opportunity to spend time with her father. They replanted a small lily garden behind manor.
On his last night at home, Ella’s father brought her a large box with a white ribbon on it.
“For you,” he said.
She opened it to find a pastel pink dress inside. She could, again, feel the glare from her stepmother.
“You must go to bed, dear Ella. We all have a big day tomorrow. The Prince’s decision will be the right one, I suspect. My eldest is ravishing! And we must all celebrate their soon-to-be marriage at the ball,” the stepmother exclaimed.
Ella bid a sad farewell to her father, scooped up the three blind mice hiding under her new dress, and ran up the stairs to her room. Zuzu and the rest of her tiny friends followed her.
“No animals in the –”
Ella shut her door before her stepmother could finish. Sleeping soundly that night, she had wonderful dreams of the prince and the ball.
The next morning, she awoke to loud shouts and screams.
“Cinderella!” screeched the eldest stepsister.
“Cinderellaaa!” whined the youngest.
Ella was again Cinderella – a slave to her stepfamily.
She swept the floors with the corn broom, washed the walls with the sponge, pruned the gardens with the cutters, and prepared breakfast, lunch, and afternoon tea. The ladies sat out in the rose garden on white chairs, hidden under an excessively frilly umbrella. Cinderella was called over.
“Bring down that gorgeous dress my dear husband bought,” her stepmother commanded shrewdly.
“The pink gown?” Cinderella asked.
“Correct. Bring it down at once,” she commanded again.
“Wrap it up in that pretty box!” the eldest quipped with a sly grin at her sister.
“With the WHITE ribbon on top!” the two stepsisters shouted in unison. They fell into a fit of laughter as their wicked mother sipped her tea indifferently.
For the rest of the day, Cinderella primped the ladies for the ball. The eldest stepsister wore Cinderella’s pastel pink gown and scolded her for working so slowly.
“Oh, goodness. She is ripe with jealousy, isn’t she?” Cinderella overheard the stepmother remark.
“Isn’t she just? Must be hard to see such a pretty gown look better on someone else,” screeched the eldest.
Cinderella curled their wigs, sewed their masquerade masks, hemmed their dresses, and powdered their faces.
Then the women left for the ball in the same extravagant horse-drawn carriage they had first arrived in.
Cinderella ran to her room and wept softly on her bed. She heard shuffles beside her and looked up to see her tiny friends. In front of them lay a mask.
“Did you make this for me?” she asked softly.
Zuzu pushed the mask closer.
She picked up the small mask and held it up to her face. She giggled. The mask was made up of twigs from the birds’ nests; it had lily petals sewn on – three had been sewn particularly poorly, but Cinderella knew the blind mice had tried their best.
She looked at her friends, wept, and said:
“If only I could go to the ball and wear your beautiful mask. I truly wish I could.”
Just then, a shower of golden glitter rained from the ceiling.
WHOOSH, WHOOSH, SWIRL, BAM!
“Oopsie! I can never make an entrance. Nice to meet ya lady, I’m your fairy friend. The name’s Fairy but you can call me… Well, you can call me Fairy. I never did get a nickname. Hah huh!” squealed a high-pitched little winged woman in a golden gown.
Cinderella and her friends backed away from the odd creature. The fairy whooshed and swirled around the room.
“Did I hear correctly? You wanna go to that big ball? It’s gonna be a big one! Hah huh! I’ve got just the dress for you… I do!”
And with one flick of her tiny golden wand Cinderella was dressed in a beautiful blue gown with gorgeous glass slippers. She grabbed her mask and hurriedly followed Fairy out of the manor.
Fairy whistled loudly and motioned Cinderella into the silver carriage.
“Now go, go, go! Or you’re going to be late! Don’t be late! Oopsie! Hah huh! Don’t forget lady, this only lasts until midnight… on the dot!”
Cinderella waved goodbye to her friends and the odd fairy creature. She held on tight as the silver carriage zoomed towards the King’s castle.
Once she arrived at the massive stone palace, she was escorted to the banquet hall. Upon entering the large golden-walled and ruby-floored room, Cinderella felt all eyes on her.
“Oh my!” and “What a wonder!” and “That mask is so strange!” and “Her extravagance is breathtaking!” were among the comments Cinderella heard as she passed by Dukes and Duchesses, Lords and Ladies, all dressed in the finest attire.
Suddenly, a handsome man bowed gently in front of her and asked to dance. His blue eyes glimmered behind his ruby-encrusted mask as she curtsied and took his outstretched hand.
She danced with him for the entire night. They discussed many things and the man was surprised at her knowledge about business.
“You enchant me. My grandfather desires that I spend my evening looking for the right woman, but I seem to have found her already,” the man said.
“Your grandfather?” Cinderella asked.
“Yes, surely you know him,” the man smiled.
Just as she was about to respond, Cinderella heard the large golden clock in the center of the banquet hall strike midnight.
As the clock began to countdown, Cinderella apologized hurriedly and ran as fast as she could out of the palace. She jumped into the silver carriage, dropping one of her glass slippers. She held on tightly as the carriage zoomed away from the palace.
Cinderella had a sleepless night, unable to get the image of the man’s blue eyes out of her mind.
The next morning she swept the floors with the corn broom, washed the walls with the sponge, pruned the gardens with the cutters, and began preparing breakfast. As she set the dining table, she could hear the wicked ladies complaining.
“Terrible ordeal that was!” screeched the eldest.
“QUITE horrid!” whined the youngest.
“The prince was with that woman all night.”
“It’s because you wore that uuugly pink dress.”
“Now, now, girls. Come eat your breakfast. And wipe that stunned look off your face, Cinderella. It doesn’t suit you,” said the stepmother.
Before they could be seated, a loud knock came at the door. The women rushed to the entrance and squealed at the sight of the royal doorman. Cinderella came behind the ladies slowly.
“Presenting the Prince of the Greatest Land of all Lands,” the doorman shouted. “The woman he seeks to marry wore this glass slipper,” he continued. The ladies squealed again.
“It’s a glass slipper!” Cinderella called out and moved closer. Her stepmother shoved her away.
“Who said that?” asked a familiar voice.
“I did!” the eldest stepsister cried.
Then, she tried the slipper on with no success: the slipper would not fit. Then, the youngest sister tried the slipper on. Again, no triumph came for her.
Cinderella knew she could not call out again – her stepmother would surely punish her if she did. So, she grabbed Zuzu and began to walk up the stairs.
“Who is that?” called the familiar voice. Cinderella turned around and caught a glimpse of the handsome blue eyes looking up at her. The man from the ball was the Prince.
“Ella,” she replied softly.
“Ella,” the prince repeated. He walked carefully into the manor and greeted her with an outstretched hand. He gently slipped the glass slipper on her foot: the perfect match.
Without a word, he led her away from her stunned wicked stepfamily and into the royal carriage. She motioned her tiny friends to follow. The prince looked at all the animals in the carriage and laughed.
“You are enchanting,” he said, looking into Ella’s eyes.
The two were married as soon as they could be and had a daughter, whom Ella named Lily. Once King and Queen, they disallowed anyone to capture exotic animals for captivity in menageries, set out laws that allowed the merchant class to prosper, and lived happily ever after.