A Cinderella Story

The true story of Cinderella.

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7. THE CHAPTER KNOWN AS THE SEVENTH

Cinderella hurried up the stairs, clutching her bucket and mop in one hand, holding up her long skirts with the other, panting inside the restriction of the tight leather bodice. When she was little she had merely thought the marble floors beneath the rugs in her father’s house beautiful, like so much else there; now as a maid she appreciated them as things that had to be kept clean. It was a dreary and a hard job, especially when you were tightly laced and had to bend over to turn back the rugs—but she wasn’t going to let her corset stop her doing anything she wanted to. She knew that many of the other kitchen staff resented her "aping the gentry" by tight-lacing and wanted to show that it stopped her working hard; to get the same treatment as the others, she had to work harder, and at the worst jobs too. Her stepmother saw to that.

She went into the gold drawing-room and sighed: someone had dropped a chocolate éclair on the carpet and trodden it in. Well, it wasn’t her chocolate, and she wasn’t being made responsible for carpets today: someone else could deal with it. Bracing herself, but taking things careful to avoid breaking the laces of her stays, she began pushing furniture aside.

The door to the next room was half open, but with the noise of moving furniture and mopping she didn’t realise that there was anyone in there until she fell to working in front of it. It was the rest of her family—well, the family that wasn’t hers any more, because three-quarters of it didn’t want anything to do with her. Her father was sitting at the head of the dining-room table holding a large sheet of thick creamy paper and studying it with a deep frown. Her stepmother in one of her usual elaborate and tightly-laced gowns was standing behind him, gazing at the paper with the besotted expression most women reserve for very small babies. Her stepsisters sat on either side of the table, both obviously fidgety with tension, but not daring to interfere.

"Imagine!" cooed the Grafin Eisenmieder. "Your first ball, darlings! You shall have the finest gowns and the tightest stays in the kingdom!"

"Mama, must we wear corsets?" Gudrun asked uncomfortably. She was wearing one of her usual shapeless dresses, as was her sister, and it was obviously that underneath it there was nothing more than a chemise and a lot of fat.

"Darling, sweetie, you must, I’m afraid. If you really want the Prince to fall in love with you, then you must be beautiful, and there is nothing a lady can do to make herself beautiful that is more effective than a really tight corset."

"It’s very gratifying to have this, I’m sure," Cinderella’s father said. "I haven’t been much in favour at court these last few years, I thought they’d forgotten me—but here it is, an invitation to me ‘and his wife and children.’"

Cinderella gasped at the door and her heart pounded at the busk of her tight leather bodice. Her father and his wife and children. He had only one surviving child…

"How hospitable of the King!" the Grafin said, putting her arms round her husband’s shoulders and squatting down with a mighty rustling of skirts and creaking of stays to kiss the back of his head. "New gowns for me and for the girls, and we’ll all four go together."

A faint spasm of doubt crossed Cinderella’s father’s face. She knew what he was thinking: her heart came into her mouth, her corset cut off all her remaining ability to breathe. "All ‘four’?" he said. "Don’t you think…"

"Who else did you think might go?" the Grafin said severely.

Cinderella’s father sighed. "No-one, I suppose."

Cinderella fainted. As she was leaning forward to listen round the door, she awoke to find that she had fallen into the dining room, and had tipped over her bucket while she was about it so that she was now lying in a puddle of soapy water. Nobody had offered her smelling salts or loosened her laces. As her vision came back into focus she realised that her stepmother was looming over her, staring down, a fierce look on her shadowed face. "Really!" she said.

Irma’s voice added "Mama, look at that! What can you do with a housemaid who faints?"

"Stop it out of her wages."

Gudrun interrupted, "But you don’t pay her anything, Mama!"

"Quiet, child!" The Grafin swished away and tugged on the bell. A servant was there in a moment, a footman: he must have been waiting outside. Cinderella heard her stepmother tell him to "take that out of here quickly!"

The footman came over and lifted her up: she still felt too weak to stand. "Courage," he whispered in her ear. As he helped her through the room she looked at her father and whimpered "Pappa?" but he looked the other way. A tear started down her cheek; and in her last glance before she was taken from the room she was sure she saw one on his cheek as well. With that she had to be content.

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