by Reagan Cherrick
In the streets of London, there could be seen cabs, people walking, and street markets. In one of these cabs sat a girl with her father. She was a small, pretty thing, with long, curly blonde hair and blue eyes. Her father was tall, and had dark red hair and green eyes. He looked around as the cab stopped.
“Father?” It was the girl, whose name was Ella, looking at her father with serious eyes. “Father, is this our new house?”
Her father looked around. Yes, the place was a little dingy and yes, he would rather be in Ireland, but here he was, and here his daughter must stay.
“Yes, my love, this is our new home, where your new mother and your new sisters are waiting for you.”
He sighed and looked around. It was a dingy suburb with one fine house– this one. He looked at the doors as two maids opened them. A black-haired woman, her face wreathed in smiles, ran out. A girl followed, mincing her steps and swinging her hoop skirts in a dignified manner followed by a rosy girl about Ella’s age. Actually it was very funny to watch. The girl in the cab’s lips twitched. Her father opened the door to the cab and helped his daughter out. She was wearing a blue silk dress, and a fur cloak. As she stepped into the light it became apparent that she was about fifteen or sixteen years old. The woman’s smile faltered, but she shook her head and took the arm of the man.
“Ella, dear, could you find those fans I brought for your sisters, Elizabeth and Juliette?” he asked. Ella nodded, and ran to whisper something in the cabman’s ear. He nodded and went to unload the trunks which were tied on top of the cab’s roof. Ella meanwhile stoked the horse who was harnessed to the cab. She whispered to it, and tears came to her eyes. She hastily wiped them away as Juliette minced up the walkway, Elizabeth running to take Ella’s hands as their parents went inside.
“What a charming city, sister Ella,” remarked Elizabeth.
“Where do you keep your jewelry?” asked Juliette, stroking her chest where her neck had disappeared under necklaces too numerous to count.
Ella stared at her new sisters. “We are moving in the same as you,” she said, “I have never seen the inside of this house. Father picked it out last year when Mother died.” She stopped. Talking about Mother was still painful, because her five-year old brother had died as well, both killed by diphtheria. She wanted to run, but her new sisters kept talking.
“Where did you live before moving to this tiny city?” asked Juliette.
Ella took a deep breath and answered in her soft voice that was the envy of Juliette immediately. We lived in Ireland, in a castle on a cliff,” she closed her eyes, imagining the sound of the gulls and the crash of the waves on the rocks.
“A castle??? And we have to live in this hovel?” asked Juliette, disbelief in her voice.
Ella pressed on. “Father closed the house after Mother and…”
“Ever sense… Mother and… and little John died, Father couldn’t bear to see the place again.”
Juliette raised her eyebrows and felt it her duty to speak up as the oldest. “Ella, would you-”
The cabman tapped Ella on the shoulder. “Here’s your parcels, ma’m.”
“Oh, thank you Perks!” cried Ella, and gave him a kiss on the cheek.
“Do you like old Sage?” he asked, referring to the horse.
“Oh yes, she is perfectly lovely,” said Ella.
“Ma’m, she’s going to have a foal. Would you like to have it?”
“Oh, yes! And do call me Ella.”
Ella ran with her parcels down the walk. As she skipped up the stairs she almost ran into the butler, who had lived with them in Ireland.
“Hello Miss Ella, how are you today?”
“Very well, thank you. Where is my room?”
“Take the first stairway up five flights, the door with a stag.”
“Thank you very much.”
As Ella got used to having her stepmother sending her on errands, and Juliette ‘bossing the life out of her’ as the cook said, she grew happier. Sometimes Ella would ride her friends’ horses, for she was a great favorite among the cabman and their horses. Her father often went away for long periods of time, because he was a merchant.
Ella missed him, but every time he left he promised to stop by their old house and bring her something of her mother’s and to bring with him two bouquets of flowers for their loved one’s graves. Ella cried when he left, but was happy when he returned.
One terrible day, Ella had just got home from riding, when one of her father’s men knocked on the door. Ella opened the door, and he handed her a letter. Tipping his hat he hurried to the cab, ducking his head to keep dry from the rain. Ella ran to the stable, fear gripping her heart, and tore open the letter after locking the door. Her eyes filled with tears as she read the shaking hand writing.
I want to tell you before it is too late. I have hidden all your mother’s jewelry and all our family heirlooms, also some of the things you liked best in the secret room. There is a passageway under the floor of the butler’s pantry which leads to a huge underground cave. This cave has the foal that your cabman friend gave to me. The cave has fences and the floor has hay five feet deep. A gate will show you another passageway that leads to the beach. I want you to know that I love you so much. Enclosed is something your mother gave me when she knew she must depart. Be kind to your step-sisters and step-mother.
The gift was a package of dried roses.
Ella said nothing, but crept away and cried. When the maid, alarmed at the girl’s disappearance, came to her room and opened the door with a spare key, she found Ella sitting on her window seat, hugging a portrait of her father and crying.
“Ella, dear, what in the world could be the matter?” asked the bewildered woman, hugging Ella close to her chest.
“Mary, Papa, is- Oh Mary!” Ella cried, her face full of untold agony. Mary snatched up the crumpled letter and another letter which told the worst.
“Oh Ella, Ella,” Mary murmured, tears coming into her eyes, and the two girls cried together.
Presently Ella’s stepmother missed Mary, and knowing she and Ella were good friends she went to Ella’s room. Imagine her horror to find her stepchild actually hugging the maid, weeping all the time!
“Ella, sit up, and for pity’s sake, girl, stop crying!” she snapped.
Ella obeyed, then gave the official letter to her stepmother, hiding her letter under her apron. The stepmother, who, for sake of time we shall call her Lady E. Thorne, grew white, and she took a deep breath.
Six months later in Ireland…
Ella was at home. Lady Thorne had moved the family to the old family castle, and Ella was glad to be home. There was only one thing wrong. Lady Thorne had dismissed the household, which meant Ella must work, and Mary had to go. However, Ella still saw her often.
One day Ella, as usual, set the table, made breakfast, and called Lady Thorne and Elizabeth and Juliette. Lady Thorne and Elizabeth came at once, but Juliette had to be called ten times. When she finally arrived at the table, she was covered in silk shawls, bed caps, and other things that should have been in drawers. Ella sighed. Her sister was so messy, and always trying to clean up- just to fall asleep in the middle of it all. Ella said nothing, but Lady Thorne, looking sharply at Ella, bade her go and wash her face, and to take her plate, for she must eat only when the work was done. Ella, whose room was in the cold garrett, had slept next to the fire to keep warm. Tears were in her eyes, as Ella rose from the table, picking up her plate she ran to the kitchen.
Her tears blinded her, and she sobbed uncontrollably for a while. Finally she could bear it no longer. Wiping her eyes she ran to the stable where she kept her horse. Mounting quickly, Ella galloped to the forest which was nearby. As she trotted her horse Thicket, who was a gray stallion, she spied a baby squirrel, curled up on the ground as if in pain. Getting off Thicket as she did not want to scare the baby, she crept nearer.
The baby squirrel, she saw, had a broken leg. Ella went to Thicket, who had baskets of rags on either side. These rags were ripped up pieces of Elizabeth and Juliette’s silk, satin and velvet dresses for the seamstress to make into new gowns. Ella carefully made a soft bed, and ran to the squirrel. The baby’s parents hopped into the makeshift bed, which was a nest in the middle of the large basket. Ella picked up the little one, and bound his leg. She then stood up and placed the little baby in the basket next to his mother and father.
“There, and be careful not to sit on his leg,” she warned the baby’s parents. They nodded, and she covered them up with more fabrics. Taking a scarf, she tied down the fabrics from falling out or spilling onto the squirrel family. As she was trotting to get the squirrels used to the movement, she heard the cry of huntsmen and the blowing of horns. She gasped. Sky, a stag she had grown up with, was being hunted! Sky was the only stag for miles, and Ella was worried.
Ella gripped Thicket’s mane and urged him to a gallop. They entered a thicket where Sky was being held down by men, and a younger man in fancier clothes than the rest of the others, was approaching with a sword in his hand. Ella didn’t think. She threw herself off of Thicket, whispered something in his ear, and ran towards where Sky was about to be killed and hung on a young tree.
“Stop!” she yelled, as the dagger was raised. All the men looked with surprise at the young girl who told the prince not to kill his stag. Ella was not aware she had stopped the royal prince, but, seeing that the men still held Sky prisoner, she pushed them off of him, and stood back while the enormous white stag reared into the air. The prince, however, looked at Ella with a questioning look as she leaped onto Sky.
“He’s mine. Please don’t hunt here anymore,” she asked.
The prince nodded, and Ella, somewhat reassured, turned Sky towards home.
“Wait!” called the prince. Ella looked at him.
“Your horse, he ran away.”
“No, he didn’t,” Ella replied, “he went home.” Without another word, she mounted Sky and turned him towards home and left, Sky leaping over and around the trees so fast they were soon out of sight.
The prince looked after her far too long for the duke’s comfort.
At home, Ella mended the little squirrel’s leg, setting it into a splint. She decided to call him Cliff, and called his dad Nibbles, because he was always nibbling on something, and called Cliff’s mom Leaper, because she was always climbing or leaping onto the walls or furniture. She hid the family in the secret room in the house, and slept there.
The next day Ella was, as usual, making breakfast, when Lady Thorne entered the kitchen. Now, Ella liked Lady Thorne, and she was hurt when the lady had told her to do the chores.
“Ella, whenever you come to set the table, you have something black on your face. I do wish you would wash before you come before my daughters and I.”
“Ella, say yes my lady.”
Ella swallowed a cry, “Yes, my lady.”
“Thank you.” With that, Lady Thorne swept off to the dining room, which was a vast room with chairs and tables everywhere. Ella’s mother had hated the furniture, but her father had kept it as it had been in the family for years. Lady Thorne, on the other hand, loved the rooms, as they were just to her taste. (Ella’s father had, as the letter had said, hidden all her favorite pieces).
At the table Elizabeth and Juliette were arguing about gowns, jewelry and shoes. Ella wondered what all the excitement could be.
“Why, what in the world is happening?” she asked, setting down the biscuits and cream.
“Oh, don’t you wish you knew, Cinderella,” mocked Juliette, noting the ashes on Ella’s clothes.
“Ella, the prince’s grand ball will be held at Johnstown castle! The prince himself had asked that all the eligible ladies in the kingdom be present,” explained Elizabeth kindly, “and Juliette, you and Mother ought to be ashamed of yourselves, Ella is not going to be my slave. I shall help her with the chores and I really think it is unfair for her to do the work alone.” Ella smiled at Elizabeth, who was her favorite sister.
“Thank you, Elizabeth,” she whispered.
“No thanks to me, I was wondering why Mother didn’t hire someone to do some of the work,” answered Elizabeth, shooting a dark look at Lady Thorne, who stood up.
“Elizabeth, I forbid you to work.”
“No! Ella can’t do all the work, she’ll kill herself. I am going to help her, even if you choose to disinherit me.” Lady Thorne saw that Elizabeth was in earnest, and thought that Elizabeth would soon tire. She nodded and sat down.
“One more thing, Mother. Treat me like you treat Ella.” Lady Thorne nodded sourly. Elizabeth got up, and ran to change into better clothes.
Ella was feeling much better. With Elizabeth’s help the old castle was getting cleaner by the day. Lady Thorne saw the two girls as little more than slaves, even though one was her own flesh and blood. Elizabeth fumed at her mother, as Ella wanted to, but she didn’t, because her birth mother had originally taught her to be kind. Ella showed Elizabeth the secret room and passages. Elizabeth loved these, and often fed the squirrels and checked on little Cliff’s leg splint while Ella washed dishes or laundry. Elizabeth cooked food for Ella and herself, and did all their chores.
One day, the ball was announced to be that night, and Lady Thorne broke the news to the two girls that she wanted Elizabeth to go, but not Ella. Elizabeth gently pushed Ella towards the nearest passage, and then told her mother if Ella didn’t go, she wouldn’t go. Lady Thorne decided to not let any of them go, and she and Juliette rode off in a cab after they were ready, Juliette hissing nasty things in Elizabeth’s ear while her sister said goodbye. When the two girls saw they were alone, they hastily put on the gowns that Elizabeth had made, and then they rode off to the castle, Ella on Sky, and Elizabeth on Thicket. The animals had the power of turning black from sundown to midnight.
At the ball, the prince had been looking for the girl he had met in the forest, but lady after lady was announced, and still there was no sign of her. As the first dance drew nearer and nearer, he grew impatient. Finally there was no one left, and he slowly made his way down the steps to the hall. In the hall he met two girls in very lovely dresses. And then, all of a sudden, he gasped. One of them was the stag girl!
“May I have the first dance?” he asked.
Elizabeth gasped, and whispered into Ella’s ear, “Ella, that’s Prince Robert!”
Ella blushed, and whispered, “yes”.
The prince was delighted, and they walked into the ballroom, Elizabeth following. Lady Thorne fainted, Juliette pulled Elizabeth aside and told her that when they came home she would scratch her eyes out. Elizabeth only escaped when the prince’s elder brother, Prince William, asked her to dance. The two girls only danced with the princes. Suddenly the clock struck twelve, and Elizabeth pulled Ella aside.
“Ella, we have to go, remember, Sky and Thicket are only black until midnight: when the clock strikes twelve they’ll be their natural colors again.” Ella nodded, and the two girls, without another word to the princes, ran out the doors. The princes soon recovered their wits, mounted their horses, and followed the girls, with whom they had hopelessly fallen in love.
At home, Elizabeth and Ella changed into their usual rags, and were waxing the floor when Lady Thorne and Juliette came home, closely followed by guards.
Ella groaned and whispered to Elizabeth, “Elizabeth, I forgot to tell you, but I left my shoe at the palace! I was running when I tripped on a tiny statue, and my shoe came off. I was in such a hurry to get away, I didn’t pick it up!”
Elizabeth grabbed Ella’s hand as they heard feet in the parlor and a knock on the door.
“Come on, Ella, we’re going to get you to your prince,” Ella was about to answer, when Lady Thorne entered the room. “You will NOT enter the room with the princes,” she said, “My daughter is trying on the shoe. Go and herd the sheep.”
The two did. As they were riding, both on Thicket, they heard a thundering of hooves. It was the two princes. One had a girl on his horse.
Elizabeth set her teeth and jumped off of Thicket. She ran to the road so the cavalcade had to stop.“You think you have the right bride,” she told Ella’s prince, “but you’ve got my sister. Look in the shoe, I’ll bet you three sheep she cut off her toes.” The prince looked, and, sure enough, there were no toes, blood went everywhere, but the prince saw how he was fooled.
Elizabeth waved for Ella to come over. Ella came riding on Sky, and the prince proposed to her immediately. She accepted, and the other prince proposed to Elizabeth. As for Lady Thorne and Juliette, they were banished from the kingdom, but Juliette fell in love and married a rich nobleman, and they had a happy life after that. Ella and her prince and Elizabeth and her prince had a double wedding, and they had many children and lived happily ever after.