by Anxious Owl
What if Cinderella thought she was the ugly stepsister? A twist on a classic fairy tale.
| In the morning, I went to join the children in the nursery. Mathieu was chasing Collette around the room.
“Give me back my pony!” he screamed. Collette ran away, taking his toy horse with her.
She sped around the room until she slammed into my legs, and fell, dropping the horse. I grunted and rubbed by legs as Mathieu picked up his toy and hugged it towards him. I knelt down and took the little girl by the shoulders.
“Collette! You mustn’t steal your brother’s toys,” I told her.
“Why not? He steals mine!” she pouted, eyeing her brother, happily playing with his horse.
“He must stop too. You two will be much happier if you ask before using each other’s toys.”
“But I’m bored! And he wouldn’t let me play with his horse,” she crossed her arms.
“Well he was playing with it first. Instead of fighting over the horse, I think we should all play a game together.” At this Mathieu perked up.
“What game?” His sister repeated.
“Well in this game, Collette you would be a princess.” She grinned at this. “But princesses never steal. So if we play, you must promise not to steal you brother’s toys again.” She nodded, hardly listening to me.
“I will be the princess!”
“What will I be?” Mathieu asked.
“You will be the brave knight.”
“Can I ride a horse?”
“Of course! Knights are all excellent riders.”
“Then what will you be Miss Dwizewa?” Mathieu struggled to say my name.
“You can call me Izzy,” I told him.
“What will you be Izzy?” Collette jumped in.
“I will be the evil ogre!” I said and without any more warning, I grabbed Collette and carried her to the corner of the room, letting out fake roars.
“Save me Mathieu!” she screamed.
I played with them, the way I used to play with Bella when she was little. I took Collette back to my evil lair and attacked her with tickles. Then Mathieu came charging in to save the day, brandishing a wooden sword and riding an imaginary horse. I chased him away, tickling him too when I caught him, until he had to run away and regroup. Then, he came again. I chased him and tickled him again until he turned his wooden sword on me, and jabbed it at my chest. Then stumbling and groaning I gave my most dramatic death, and collapsed on the floor.
I stilled my breathing and waited. The children cheered and Mathieu took Collette out of the ring of blocks I had trapped her in. They celebrated, until they noticed I wasn’t moving. They came over and poked me, but I didn’t move.
“You killed her!” Collette shrieked.
“It was pretend!” Mathieu protested.
Then I sprang up roaring and chased them about the nursery again. They screamed and giggled and ran.
In the afternoon, I interviewed with the Fontainbleus. They asked me more in depth questions about my upbringing and education and my opinions on this or that.
“And have you read Chaucer?”
“And do you paint?”
“Do you have an example of your work?”
Blushing I brought out a few paintings. It was by far my weakest subject, but I knew my work would be passable. Lady Fontainbleu looked at the work and nodded curtly.
“And how is your arithmetic?” Lord Fontainbleu asked.
“Would you be so kind as to complete these equations?”
They handed me a sheet of math questions. I completed them carefully and handed it back. This kind of questioning and quizzing continued for several hours.
By dinnertime I was exhausted. The family supped together and I joined. I sat quietly, letting my mind go blank and Collette and Mathieu told their parents excitedly about playing princess and ogre earlier that day.
“Can we play again tomorrow Izzy?” Mathieu asked.
“I’m afraid I’ll be leaving in the morning,” I told him.
The Children let out a collective “Awww”.
“Can’t you stay one more day?” Collette whined.
“You are more than welcome to stay another day, Drizzella,” Lady Fontainbleu said. “I’m sure you would like some time to rest before traveling again.”
I thought about going home, and watching Andrew come to visit Bella again. Or hearing Bella wish he would come again, and talking about the visit with the Queen.
“If I can get a note to my driver, I will stay another day,” I smiled.
“Yay! Can we play princess and ogre again tomorrow then?” Mathieu shouted.
“I will show you a new game tomorrow,” I told him. He gasped. I smiled.
After dinner, I was writing a note to Fred to send with the evening post, when Colligne came to tell me that Lord Fontainbleu wished to see me. I finished my note and gave it to Colligne before going to the Lord’s study.
“Ah Drizzella!” he looked up when I came in. His wife was standing beside him.
“You wished to see me?” I asked.
“Yes. I was going to wait to write to you after you had left, but I’m not sure I see the point in waiting. We wish to offer you the post of governess immediately.”
I couldn’t stop myself from grinning. I had done it. After a moment of silence, Lady Fontainbleu asked,
“May we take your silence as an acceptance of the post?”
Before I could answer, Lord Fontainbleu said,
“I’ve drawn up some terms,” and pushed a piece of paper across his desk. I took it and read it. My eyes widened. They were offering me extremely generous compensation in addition to room and board.
“We thought you might like to have some money to send home,” Lady Fontainbleu said.
“This is extremely generous!” I said.
“Then you are pleased?”
“Excellent! We wish you to begin as soon as possible. Can you have your things sent here?”
I felt a nervous flutter. I wasn’t sure I was ready to commit so quickly to something so momentous. I suddenly wanted to go home, and speak to Mother, and Georgina. I wanted to say goodbye to Ana and Bella.
“If you don’t mind, I would like to go home first. I would like to explain the arrangement to my mother in person, and make my own arrangement to have my things transferred.”
“As you wish,” Lord Fontainbleu nodded. He did not seem too upset by my request.
“May I keep this?” I held up the paper. I wanted to show Mother.
“Of course,” he said.
“Thank you,” I told them. “Thank you so much!”
Lord Fontainbleu smiled his big mustachioed smile, and Lady Fontainbleu smiled her tight-lipped one.
I left, and fell asleep happily rereading my employment offer.
The next day I slept late, and took my breakfast in bed. I spent a few hours in the afternoon playing with Mathieu and Collette. Instead of Princess and Ogre we played merchants and pirates, which was much the same game except that Mathieu and Collette had to defend their merchant ship from me as I pretended to be a pirate.
In the afternoon, I decided to take a walk in the Fontainbleu’s gardens. I had never seen anything like the Fontainbleu garden. It was like an organized forest. Trees were configured to make specific paths that led to secluded fountains and benches overlooking flowerbeds. I wandered the tree avenues for an hour or so before I found a flower bed full of lavender and hyacinth. Sunlight was streaming through the overhanging trees and warmed the bench on the edge of the glade. So I sat there and brought out The Iliad and breathed in the sweetness of the flowers. I read there for another few hours, until the sun began to set and dusk crept into the forest garden. Then I made my way back to the house.
Andrew would love this garden. I thought as I went. It’s just like the forest. I breathed in the cool evening air. It reminded me of the time we had stood talking on his balcony. That seemed so far away here. The Fontainbleu estate was like a different world, one I could be very happy in.
It seemed no time at all before Fred was hoisting my luggage back into the carriage early the next morning.
“Do you have to go Izzy?” Collette asked as she watched. I laughed.
“I’ll be back soon,” I told her.
“Yes, do you know when we may expect your return?” Lady Fontainbleu asked.
“I expect I will be back within two weeks. I will write from home to keep you informed, if that is alright,” I said.
“Very well,” Lord Fontainbleu said.
“Have a safe trip,” his wife added.
“Thank you,” I smiled at them. “I will see you soon!”
“Are you ready miss?” Fred asked me. I nodded, and let him help me into the carriage. Then we drove away towards the dawn. When we were a few miles from the house, Fred stopped the carriage. I jumped out and climbed up to the driver’s seat with him.
“What do you think, Drizzella?” he asked me.
“I think this is my new home,” I grinned, then I told him that I had gotten the job. My triumph was evident.
“Congratulations Drizzella!” he said, smiling back at me. Then I proceeded to tell him about Collette and Mathieu and how we had played, and about the garden, and how kind the Fontainbleu’s had been.
“It seems like you found what you were looking for,” he said, when I had finished.
I was giddy.
“Yes,” I nodded.
Finally, as it was growing late into the afternoon, home came into sight. In the distance I could see something black and shiny standing out against the graying ivy-covered walls. As we rode into the yard, it became clear that it was the royal carriage standing outside our house. Again.
“The prince for Bella again?” Fred said.
“I suppose so,” I answered.
I felt a strange twisting in my gut. Perhaps because I was remembering the cold way Andrew looked at me the last time I’d seen him.
I went into the house as Fred took my luggage down from the carriage. His highness must not have arrived much earlier than us because the entire family was still standing in the entryway. Even Clara had come on this visit.
They all turned to look as I entered. I blushed. I was sure my hair was mussed and my dress dirty from the journey.
“Hello,” I said meekly.
“Izzy! You’re back!” Ana grinned and came forward and hugged me. Fred came in behind me with my luggage. Ana and Fred met eyes as he set my things down. He grinned his crooked smile, and Anastasia smiled prettily. I had a letter from Fred for her tucked in my pocket. I watched them happily, until I noticed his highness was looking at me. I curtsied.
“Hello your highness” I said. “Hello Princess Clara”
“You are returned from your interview then?” Andrew asked politely. He didn’t seem really interested though.
“Where did you go?” Clara asked.
“I went to meet a family in need of a governess,” I smiled at her.
“Why?” she cocked her head.
“Because I am going to be their governess,” I looked for Mother. I had meant to tell her the good news first. She looked on in approval. I couldn’t wait to show her the compensation agreement in my pocket.
Clara however, looked at me quizzically.
“Why would you be a governess?” she scrunched her nose.
“Don’t you like your governess?”
“No,” Clara crossed her arms. “She is a mean old German lady and she smells like sauerkraut.”
“I’m sorry you’ve had such a terrible experience. I intend to save these children from a similar fate.”
“I still don’t get it,” she said. Andrew was still looking at me.
“Did you like the children?” he asked. I couldn’t help but smile, remembering Collette and Mathieu.
“Very much,” I nodded.
“Very good,” he nodded curtly back.
“Well I think we best go in to tea,” Mother said.
“I would like to go wash up first Mother,” I said as I began to head for the stairs.
“Drizzella! Don’t be rude to their highnesses. Come to tea,” she called. I sighed, and futilely tried to pat down my hair as we walked in.
“You don’t need me to look bad for Bella to look beautiful,” I whispered to Mother as we went in.
“Every bit helps darling,” she whispered back through smiling teeth.
So we went in and poured the tea.
“It’s a bit cold in here today,” Mother commented. “Will one of you fetch Fred to start a fire?”
“I can do it,” I said. “I’m already quite dirty anyways.”
Mother nodded and I got up and kneeled in the fireplace. It took me a few tries, but I lit the kindling. I blew on the tiny flame to help it grow, only to have cinders fly back in my face. I breathed some in, which sent me into a terrible coughing fit. Once again everyone was looking at me. As if my dusty travel clothes weren’t embarrassing enough, now I was covered in soot and hacking away.
“Excuse me,” I said, when I finally caught my breath. Then I turned back to building the fire, and retook my seat.
“How have you been, Bella?” Andrew asked.
“Quite well your highness. I had a lovely time in the palace gardens last week. It has quite inspired me to spend more time in our own garden. I may even take up some gardening of my own,” Bella flashed her pearly white smile as she said it.
“But it’s fall,” said Clara. Bella smile disappeared.
“Yes well, not immediately,” Bella looked down at her.
“How do you like to spend your time Anastasia?” Clara asked.
“I love horses,” Ana said. “So I often spend my free time riding, or helping tend to them.”
“I like horses too,” Clara said precociously. Then she elbowed Andrew in the ribs.
“Oh, yes. Clara is an accomplished equestrian. Her riding master says she is one of the best students he has ever had,” Andrew recited. Clara smiled charmingly. I tried to hide a smile.
“Perhaps we can ride together some time, then, if your highness wishes,” Ana told Clara.
“I would like that very much,” she answered.
“Bella is also a very good rider,” Mother chimed in.
“Well she can come too,” Clara sipped her tea. “And Drizzella too, if she likes.”
“Of course your highness,” I said.
“Can I see your horses?” Clara asked.
“Clara, I’m sure they don’t want to show us their stables,” Andrew said.
“But I want to see the horses,” Clara pouted.
“We can take a trip to the stables if your highness wishes,” Mother said.
“We can?” Ana brightened up.
“Of course, his highness is welcome to any part of our home.”
“Let’s go then!” Clara insisted. Andrew shrugged. So we all rose, and began to walk towards the stables.
Once we were outside, I ran to catch up with the prince. He was walking alone, at the head of the group, and I wanted to talk to him in relative privacy. Just as I was about to reach him, though, I tripped on my dress and stumbled forward.
“Woah,” Andrew caught me before I fell.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” I said as I caught my balance. “You always seem to have to catch me when I fall.”
“It seems that way,” Andrew almost seemed to smile, but he didn’t let himself.
“I wanted to talk to you, if I may,” I said.
“Why is that?”
It occurred to me that I didn’t know how to articulate what it was I meant to say. I hesitated.
“Well, it’s just things seem a little different since we visited the palace and I just wanted to make sure that everything was ok.”
Andrew only stared at me. His silence confirmed my suspicions that something was wrong, I just wasn’t sure what.
“I hope I haven’t done anything to offend your highness,” I said, worriedly picking at the mud stuck to my dress.
“No. No you haven’t offended me,” he said. He seemed tired.
“Then,” I trailed off. He did not seem to want to explain himself. Finally, he clasped his hands behind his back and studied the ground as he walked.
“I’m going to ask Bella to marry me,” he said gravely. I gulped. It was like a slap in the face. I knew that this was coming, but hearing him say it was harder than I had imagined.
“Of course, your highness can do whatever you wish,” I said. He squinted at me.
“No. I can’t,” he said. I wasn’t sure what he meant. “But you do whatever you wish, regardless of the consequences,” he said. “You certainly should not be named for drizzle, Drizzella, because there’s a fire in you- even if it’s sometimes obscured by dust, or cinders,” for a moment, his expression softened and he wiped some cinders from my cheek.
My heart pounded fast when he touched me.
But then the warmth in his eyes was gone again.
“I will give a ball in a week’s time, and your sister will be the guest of honor. I’ll ask her there,” he told me.
“How lovely, she’ll be thrilled,” I tried to sound enthusiastic, but I wasn’t sure I was convincing.
“Isn’t this what you wanted?” his eyes searched mine. I couldn’t think with his blue eyes boring into mine. Especially when he looked at me like that with his brow wrinkled in concern. I couldn’t even breathe. I broke from his gaze and looked at my shoes.
“Of course,” I could only whisper it. “Of course it’s what I want.”
By that time, we had reached the stables. We went in, and Anastasia introduced Clara to all of the horses. She greeted each of them as if they were human, and patted their necks.
“They’re beautiful,” she said when she had seen the last horse. Ana smiled proudly.
“Our stable hand is the best there is,” she said. “He’s wonderful. He chooses all the horses very carefully. You see, before he buys one, he interviews the horse breeders about every detail of the horse’s heritage, the mare and the stud, and the parents of each of those horses, how long they lived and such,”
Ana began to tell Clara everything Fred would have told her if he had been there. For the second time, I got to hear the story Fred’s horse-care philosophy. Mother was frowning, and Clara was beginning to look bored. So, as we began to walk back to the house, I joined them.
“Ana is quite enthusiastic about our master of horses, is she not?” I winked at Ana.
“Unusually so,” Clara said. I smirked. Anastasia glared at me.
“Don’t you think Bella and your brother look wonderful together?” I said, pointing ahead of us at the couple. Clara shrugged.
“Bella is so pretty. I’ve always envied her beauty,” I sighed.
“You’re beautiful too!” Clara said, frowning. I frowned back. No one thought I was beautiful.
“Not as beautiful as Bella,” I said instead.
“So?” asked Clara.
So maybe if I had been the beautiful sister, the prince would be planning to ask me to marry him. Maybe if I had been the beautiful sister instead of the studious sister I would be the one happily clinging to his arm right then.
We returned to the house, and their highnesses took their leave.
Over the next few days, I began to pack my things. I pressed every dress I owned, all my books, all my painting and embroidery supplies into boxes and valises. All my brushes, cosmetics, language teaching books, and even my old play dolls were packed away. Then we loaded them all up on a cart, and Fred drove them to the Fontainbleus’ estate. Then Fred would return and take me in the carriage. I was to go the day after the ball. Poor Fred would have to drive the family to the ball, wait for them all night, and then take me early the next morning.
The day Fred left with my things, I went to visit Georgina in her home. She was lying on a settee when I arrived.
“Don’t get up!” I told her as she moved to stand.
“Don’t you want any tea?” she asked me.
“I can get it,” I said. When I returned I told her, “You are witnessing one of the last few times I will complete a household chore.”
“So you’re going then? With the Fontainbleus? They asked you to be their governess?”
“Did you like them then?” she shifted in her seat. I handed her a pillow.
“Lord and Lady Fontainbleu were a bit stiff, and very quiet. But I adored the children,” I told her. “Though they didn’t like my teeth,” I confessed, I tapped absentmindedly on my front teeth. Georgina laughed. I picked up some embroidery she had abandoned and began to stitch.
“Children have a tendency to be blunt. Blunt but honest, at least,” she said. She smiled at me. “Except you. You always lied to spare feelings, for as long as I can remember. Your mother used to look in the mirror and find wrinkles on her face, but you insisted you didn’t see any. And when Bella had the chickenpox, and she cried because her face was covered in blotches, you told her that polka-dots were the latest fashion and that all the other girls would be jealous,” she laughed. I laughed too.
“I don’t remember that,” I said.
“I remember it like it was yesterday. I can’t believe that you’re already grown. You won’t believe yourself, how these children you’ll take charge of will grow. In the blink of an eye they’ll be off, engaged or nearly so, or having children of their own.”
“Andrew is going to ask Bella to marry him at the ball,” I told her.
“Oh honey,” she took my hand. “Are you ok?”
“Of course!” I pasted on a smile. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
She only looked at me sympathetically.
“Are you going to go to the ball?” she asked. I shook my head. I just couldn’t.
“I need to get up early the next day to leave for the Fontainbleus.”
“Drizzella,” Georgina did not believe my excuse. I shrugged.
“It will be fine. Mother won’t mind. I don’t think Bella will miss me either. She’ll have plenty of people there congratulating her and I’d rather talk to her alone before I leave.”
“Will you talk to her?” Georgina raised an eyebrow. I poked at my embroidery with the needle.
“Well, I’ll have to say goodbye to her,” I said, not looking up.
“But won’t you go to the ball to see the prince? Won’t he miss you?”
“He won’t care.” I started to embroider again.
“Drizzella.” Georgina, again, said sternly.
“Why are you doing this to yourself?”
“Keeping yourself from being happy”
“What do you mean? I am very happy. Soon I’ll be in the country and be a governess, just like I wanted.”
“You are running away. And you know it.”
“Running from what?”
Georgina’s exasperation was clear.
“The prince! How you feel about him.” I paused for a moment. I hadn’t expected her to attack me so bluntly with the truth.
“How I feel about him?” I asked.
The look on Georgina’s face told me there was no use denying anything. I sighed.
“It doesn’t matter how I feel. He’s going to marry Bella. There’s nothing I can do.”
“You could tell him how you feel,” she stated.
I was horrified at the idea. He would think me ridiculous.
“I can’t!” I protested.
“Drizzella,” Georgina looked me in the eye. “No one is going to hand you anything in this life. If you want something, go and get it. If you love the prince, you have to go and tell him.”
“But he doesn’t love me! It doesn’t matter what I tell him, he loves Bella.”
“How do you know?”
“He’s about to propose to her! He’ll only laugh at me if I tell him,” I said, looking down at my lap.
“If he laughs, he is not the man I think he is.”
I poked another hole in the embroidery. I could not imagine Andrew laughing meanly at anyone.
“And so what if he does laugh? You will come back and leave the next morning and never see him again,” Georgina continued.
The thought of telling Andrew how I felt was paralyzing. Knots were twisting in my stomach.
“I can’t. I just can’t. Even if he doesn’t laugh, he’ll turn me away. I couldn’t bear it. And I just can’t watch him propose to Bella. I can’t.”
“Drizzella, what if he feels the same way?”
“He doesn’t,” I shook my head.
“You don’t know that.”
“I do. I’d only get in the way and then Bella would be furious and Mother would be cross with me for ruining the night and we’d lose the house and it would be my fault.”
“The prince knows his own heart, and if he does not that is not your fault. The house is not your responsibility, Izzy.”
I shook my head again.
“I can’t do it.”
“Izzy, all you ever talk about these days is being in charge of your own fate. Are you really going to let your Mother and your sister decide your future like this? I thought you were braver.”
I poked through embroidery and pricked myself.
“Well I’m not,” I said sullenly. “I’m not going to the ball, and then I’m leaving for the Fontainbleu’s estate. I won’t change my mind,” I said.
Georgina’s disappointment was splayed across her face. It hurt, but I was determined not to waiver. She sighed and turned back to her tea.
“I thought you were braver,” she muttered. We sat in silence for a moment. Then I got up and left without saying goodbye.