Once upon a time, there were two little girls. They weren't particularly pretty, and they were certainly in no way rich, but they were good children. They were that rare thing, a pair of sisters that, though they weren't twins, always agreed on everything. They didn't have a father, he had died when they were only very small, and they didn't remember him. But they had a mother who loved them very much, and that was all they needed. They lived with her in a little house a long way from town, a house made of wood nailed together quickly, by their poor father who had been a soldier. Their mother promised them a new father, who could take care of them very well.
Their mother had been very busy, going out every day, until one day their mother came home to them and said to them; "I am going to get married, and you will have a new daddy!"
The girls danced for joy, for themselves and for their mother. Their mother continued.
"He is a rich widower who lives in town in a big, big house, and you know what's best of all? He has a little daughter, about the same age as you!" Their mother smiled at them as they jumped around their little house.
A short time later, maybe several months, when the girls had begun to forget about their new father, and thought maybe it was a game their mother had invented, she gave the two girls two new, lovely dresses. "It's the wedding today," she said. "Get dressed up. And then, after the wedding, while your new daddy and I are on honeymoon, you will go to the house and get settled in! You'll love it there, I promise you." They loved their mother so much then for giving them all this. So they dressed in red velvet while she dressed in white silk, and she led them out onto a silver coach outside. The horses, white and proud, whinnied as the two girls leapt into the coach. They laughed and giggled all the way there, and looked at their mother. She had never looked more beautiful.
As they stepped off the coach in the beautifully decorated chapel, they caught their first glimpse of the people who would soon be their step-father and step-sister. The man looked kindly, as did the little girl all dressed up in pale blue lace and satin. The eldest sister saw how pretty she was, and felt a little envious, but only for a second.
As the service went on, the three girls all sat on the same pew, sat there as they all became sisters by law. The younger one considered it. They looked so different, this new sister with her blonde curls and blue eyes, compared to herself and her true sister, with their plain and normal faces. This time it was the younger sister who felt a pang of envy, but once again it disappeared like frost on a sunny morning. As they whispered, it seemed to all three that they would get on very well, and as they watched their shared parents drive off in the silver coach, while the congregation threw confetti, they all got into the other coach, a plain one, that was waiting for them to take them home.
The two sisters gasped as they saw their new house. It was huge and grand, and so very, very beautiful. Maids greeted them as they stepped in, and took them to their huge rooms. But the best thing of all was when they opened the wardrobes. A million beautiful dresses hung there for them.
"All mine?" whispered one to the maid who had taken her to her room. The maid nodded. "Where is my sister?"
"She is in her room," said the maid.
The girl was puzzled. Her room? Weren't they going to share? The grief and puzzlement were short-lived, however, as she tried on all her new dresses.
The mother and the father returned quite soon, and life together was lovely for a while. Then their mother became greedy and obsessed with the money she had, and after that their step-father fell ill and died. All three girls were very upset, but the mother comforted her children.
"Don't worry, you'll have beautiful dresses forever, my loves," she whispered to them as they and their step-sister cried at the funeral. She had no tears in her eyes. "You'll never have to live in poverty again." She didn't comfort the girl who was not her child. "You're no business of mine," she snapped, and all three were afraid of her for a moment.
Though the will had stated that the three girls were to inherit the money and the estates (he had loved them equally and dearly, even though two were not his own), the mother took it all for herself. She became mean with her money, and insisted that the girls all do chores, to save paying so many servants, so that they could keep on having expensive food and beautiful dresses.
One day, as the girls were cleaning the kitchen, the eldest girl decided she didn't want to clean the fire out today. She turned to her step-sister.
"Will you clean the ashes and cinders out for me?" she asked, and the girl agreed, with such a sweet look on her face the other decided she must not mind doing all these chores. In fact, she convinced herself, she probably enjoyed it. She told her sister this, and, after a little consideration, she agreed, and they came to a decision. The next day they asked their step-sister to do all their chores for them. She accepted with such grace they were sure she didn't mind.
So this continued until they were all grown women, and soon the step-sister's clothes were rags. But the mother would not buy her new ones, and she held her own children closest. They grew no more pretty, they were still as plain as any normal poor girl, but the step-daughter grew more beautiful daily. The mother tried to feed that spark of envy in her daughter's breasts, but it was not to be.
One day a messenger came on a white horse. For a moment the youngest daughter liked to imagine it was one of the horses that had pulled the carriage taking her to the wedding as she ran down the stairs to meet him. The messenger jumped off the horse, handed her an envelope, bowed, climbed back on his mount, and rode away.
As she ran up the stairs, she opened the letter, and read it aloud. Her sister and mother, and her step-sister, ran to her immediately. It was an invitation to a royal ball to decide who would marry the prince, a fickle young man who was attracted only by beauty, but was a prince so that made it alright. The mother was extremely excited with the thought that one of her children could become royalty, and they were quite excited too. But their step-sister gave no indication she had any desire to go at all, and simply went back to her duties.
"Silly girl," said the eldest as the two of them skipped upstairs to decide what to wear. "I'm sure the prince would love her, being so pretty and all."
When both girls went to their rooms and looked in the mirror, that pang of jealousy ached again for seconds, and they wondered how the prince could ever love them.
The night of the ball came quickly, and the sisters brushed their hair a final time, and adjusted their skirts, and all the other things they knew they should do. Then their mother collected them from their rooms, and took them outside into their plain black coach. Their step-sister was left cooking vegetables for supper, just as she said she wished to do.
When they reached the ball, they found it packed with young women like them, all vying for the prince. They both gave up quickly, but everyone else was persistent right up until a beautiful young lady in a sparkling gown arrived and stole his heart. He danced with no-one else all night. When midnight struck and the girls became tired, she ran away and the prince followed her. They decided there was no point in them staying after that, and went home tired and aching from the dancing. The eldest decided to see how her step-sister was, and found her fast asleep on the floor of the kitchen. She decided not to tell her mother, because she didn't want her to be beaten.
They heard nothing about the ball for weeks, and they wondered if the prince was going to marry the beautiful girl he had met or not. Then there was a knock at the door again, and to the sisters' (and their mother's) amazement, a royal fanfare. "Could it be he noticed us?" said one sister. "He noticed us at the ball, and he's finally come to see who we were!"
Indeed, the prince was at the door, with a page carrying a velvet cushion. On the cushion was a beautiful silver shoe.
"My one true love lost this shoe when she left the ball at midnight!" said the prince, voice full of sorrow. "I have vowed to marry whatever maiden this shoe fits!"
The mother smiled a calculating smile. "Do you wish my daughters to try the shoe?" The prince looked at them disdainfully.
"Oh, alright," he said after a while, sounding rather annoyed. "Try it on, I doubt it'll fit, you've both got feet like boats by the look of it."
The mother took the shoe, and hurried her daughters into the kitchen. The other girl was off cleaning in the other rooms. The mother took a meat cleaver from the shelf.
"If it doesn't fit, I'll make it fit," she said, eyes narrowed.
The elder sister tried first, but it didn't fit, and then the younger tried, but it didn't fit her either. They braced themselves for the blow of the knife, when their step-sister walked down the stairs into the kitchen.
"Oh, my shoe!" she said brightly. "I wondered where it had got to." And with that, she walked out to see the prince, and they were married and lived happily ever after for about a month until he fell in love with someone prettier.