Once upon a time there lived a man and his wife. They had a beautiful daughter. At first, they didn’t notice that her right leg was a little shorter than the left, and that she would grow up to walk with a limp. They lived happily, never lacking anything, until one day the wife fell ill and died. Her husband grieved for a long time, but soon realised that he would need a new wife and his daughter a stepmother. He met a widow with two daughters. They got along well and married shortly after.
Because the girl’s father was away a good deal, her stepmother took over caring for the house and the girls. She treated her two daughters with a lot of love, but the stepdaughter was forced into servitude and made to carry out menial chores. She had to clean the house all day long, so she was constantly covered in cinders — hence her nickname: Cinderella.
Cinderella was forced to sleep on an old straw-filled mattress, while her stepmother and her daughters enjoyed the luxury of silk sheets. They competed as to who could give Cinderella the hardest time; they also made fun of her limp. Cinderella bore the abuse for a long time until, one day, news came that the King was organising a ball at which his son would choose his wife, the future Queen. All the girls from the kingdom were invited to attend.
Of course, this caused quite a stir at Cinderella’s home. She helped her stepsisters get ready for the ball. ‘Would you like to go to the ball as well, Cinderella? But how would you dance when you can’t even walk?’ they teased. ‘No, that would not be something for me,’ she replied shyly, although she really wanted to go too. ‘Of course not,’ the sisters laughed. ‘Just think what people would say seeing you all tattered and dirty, and with a limp.’ Cinderella held back the tears and kept quiet. She continued to help them try on their dresses and jewellery.
The big day finally arrived. The two sisters could barely fit into the beautiful gowns they had chosen to charm the Prince with. Cinderella helped them tie the straps at the back that would make them look thinner, and then walked them to their carriage fighting back the tears. Once the sisters had left, she could no longer hold back and broke down in despair.
‘Don’t cry. Try to take things into your own hands,’ said a beautifully dressed woman standing before her. It was the Fairy Godmother her mother had sent to look after her.
‘Would you like to go to the ball or not?’
‘But how would I dance when I can’t even walk?’ she cried.
‘That shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Would you like to go?’
‘Of course I would!’ said Cinderella.
‘Then let’s hurry!’
The Fairy Godmother waved her magic wand and immediately began to transform Cinderella from a servant into a beautiful girl in a precious dress with gold and silver linings and the most beautiful jewels.
‘Something’s missing,’ said the Fairy Godmother and gave Cinderella a pair of beautiful slippers. Slippers of such beauty could not to be found anywhere else in the whole world.
‘These are special slippers,’ said the Fairy Godmother. ’You will be able to dance in them.’
‘Really?’ asked Cinderella. She put them on and took a few tentative steps. Her limp had disappeared. ‘Amazing,’ she gushed and span around the room. Cinderella was really to go to the ball.
‘But remember,’ warned the Fairy Godmother, ‘you must be back by midnight because that’s when the spell will be broken.’ With that, she waved goodbye.
Cinderella turned heads as soon as she arrived. Everyone at the ball wondered who the beauty in the precious dress was – she had seemed to come from nowhere. The Prince took her hand and they danced the evening away. People were in awe. When the clock turned a quarter to midnight, Cinderella took her leave. At home, the Fairy Godmother was already waiting.
‘It was amazing,’ said Cinderella. ‘I’d like to go tomorrow as well.’
‘We will arrange it, don’t worry about that,’ smiled the Fairy Godmother and helped her get into her old clothes again.
Cinderella’s family soon returned and all she could hear them talk about was the mysterious beauty who had charmed everyone at the ball, but who was known to no one.
‘She must have come from far away,’ one of the sisters said. ‘Otherwise someone would have known her name.’
‘Maybe we’ll never see her again,’ said the second sister.
‘Who are you talking about?’ asked Cinderella, trying to look as if she’d been woken up by their arrival.
‘Only about the most beautiful girl our Kingdom has ever seen!’ said the sisters.
The following evening the sisters went to the ball once again. But so did Cinderella. She looked even more stunning and everyone admired her. The Prince would not let her out of his sight. He kept showering her with compliments, so much so that she forgot about the time. When the clock struck midnight, she thought it was only eleven. When she realised her mistake, she started running, losing her right slipper in the rush. The carriage was gone, the spell was broken, her dress had changed back to dirty old rags again, and she barely made it home before her sisters. Again, they could talk of nothing else but the mysterious princess.
Cinderella heard that the Prince had tried to run after her and that the guards had told him that they hadn’t seen any princess walk by, only a poor insignificant wretch with a limp. She also heard they had found her lost slipper. She hid the other one under her bed. It was the only trace she had left behind, but the Prince would not let the matter go. He was overjoyed to have found the slipper, but couldn’t help but notice its thick sole. He called his adviser and showed him the slipper. ‘Why does this shoe have such a thick sole?’ he asked. The adviser thought for a second, then said: ‘I once saw a shoemaker make a very similar shoe for a man who had one leg shorter than the other, so that he could walk normally.’ The Prince then thought to himself: ‘This beauty’s right leg must be shorter than her left. So when she’s not wearing special shoes, she must have a limp … So what? Find her!’
In few short hours word got out that the Prince would marry the girl whose foot fit the slipper. All the duchesses tried on the slipper, but it didn’t fit; they were followed by the noblewomen, but again no luck. The rest of the women then tried it on, until the Prince’s men reached Cinderella’s home. The two sisters tried desperately to make the slipper fit, but their feet were too big for the delicate glass shoe.
‘May I try it as well?’ asked Cinderella. The two sisters chuckled. ‘Looks like this tramp wants to be a princess,’ they mocked.
But the instructions the men had received from the Prince were clear: every girl had to try on the slipper. Of course, when Cinderella tried it on, it was a perfect fit.
Everyone was stunned. Then she produced the other slipper for good measure. The Fairy Godmother appeared and transformed Cinderella’s clothes into the beautiful dress she had worn at the castle. There was no doubt. They had found the princess.
‘Come, Princess,’ said one of the Prince’s men. ‘You must come with us so that we can get the wedding preparations started.’
‘I will not marry the Prince,’ Cinderella said quietly.
‘But why on earth not?’ everyone asked in shock.
‘I will not marry the Prince’, Cinderella repeated, ‘because I want to marry the neighbour’s farmhand. We will live in the forest among the trees and the animals. I don’t want to live in a castle.’
‘Why did you come to the ball then?’ asked one of the Prince’s men.
Cinderella smiled and replied: ‘I just wanted to dance!’