ONCE there was a gentleman who married, for his second wife, the proudest and most haughty woman that was ever seen. She had been married before, and already had two daughters who were exactly like her in all things. He had likewise, by his first wife, a young daughter, but of unequalled goodness and sweetness of temper, which she took from her mother, who was the best creature in the world. This sweet little girl missed her mother, who had died, terribly much.
No sooner was the wedding ceremony over, than the new wife began to show herself in her true colors. She could not bear the goodness of the gentleman’s pretty girl, and especially as she made her own daughters appear the more horrid. She made her do the meanest jobs in the house: the girl scoured the dishes and tables, and scrubbed the stepmother’s bathroom, and those of her daughters; she slept in a little attic, upon a wretched straw bed, while her sisters lay upon beds with the softest pillows, in fine rooms, with floors covered with beautiful carpets, and walls on which hung looking-glasses so large that they might see themselves at their full length from head to foot.
The poor girl bore all patiently, and dared not tell her father, who would have been angry with her; for his new wife ruled him entirely. When the little girl had done her work, she used to go into the chimney-corner, and sit down among cinders and ashes, which led her to be called Cinderwench; but the youngest step-daughter, who was not quite so rude and unkind as the eldest, called her Cinderella. However, Cinderella, even though she was dressed in rags, was a hundred times prettier than her sisters, though they were always dressed very richly.
It happened that the King’s son gave a ball, and invited all finest gentlemen and ladies of the city. Our young misses were also invited, for they were always to be seen at fashionable parties. They were truly delighted at this invitation, and wonderfully busy in choosing such gowns, petticoats, and head-clothes as might suit them. This was a new trouble to Cinderella; for it was she who washed and ironed her sisters’ clothes and got all their things ready. Meanwhile, the sisters talked all day long of nothing but what they should wear to the ball.
“For my part,” said the eldest, “I will wear my red velvet suit with French trimming.”
“And I,” said the youngest, “shall have my usual petticoat; but then, to make amends for that, I will put on my gold-flowered gown, and my diamond belt, which is far from being the most ordinary one in the world.”
But in truth, they were still not absolutely sure what would be best to wear to the ball, so they sent for the best fashion designer they could find to advise on their evening dresses, and they had their nails maniqured at Mademoiselle de la Poche.
Cinderella was likewise called up to them for advice, for she had excellent judgement, and advised them always for the best, indeed, and offered her services to make up their hair, which they were very willing she should do. As she was doing this, they said to her:
“Cinderella, would you not be glad to go to the ball?”
“Alas!” said she, “you only jeer me; it is not for a poor girl like me to go there.”
“You’re quite right,” replied they; “it would make the people laugh to see a Cinderwench at a ball.”
Anyone but Cinderella would have dressed their heads all wrong, but she was very good, and dressed them perfectly well.
The step-sisters were almost two days without eating, so much were they thrilled and excited. They broke above a dozen corsettes in trying to be laced up tightly, so that they might have a fine slender shape, and they were continually at their looking-glass. At last the happy day came; they went to Court, and Cinderella followed them with her eyes as long as she could, and when she had lost sight of them, she fell a-crying.