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Cinderella's Step-Sister Part 2
A Great Stone Castle
Ella’s daily chores included keeping the fireplaces, clean and ready for burning, keeping the quarters in immaculate condition as well as caring for and laundering our personal effects. I do not know when that child slept.
Over the years, Ella worked diligently with no complaints. Yet, Annabelle’s dislike for her grew. One morning we came upon our younger half-sister in Annabelle’s apartment. Annabelle was furious as Ella was to be finished her chores in the room before the mid-day meal as she felt it would upset her sensitive constitution if she had to look upon such a ragamuffin. Ella generally complied with this quite diligently, for her own peace of mind. However, this particular morning, cleaning the night’s ashes from the grates, Ella had fallen asleep in the fireplace. We discovered Ella curled up in a corner of the fireplace like a small cat, her dirty slender arm under her head for a pillow and rivulets of clean spots ran down her ash-encrusted face. Startled, I wondered at the life our half-sister lived. Annabelle, on the other hand, began to scream like she had found a rat or worse in her room instead of our half-sister, bringing all within hearing range running.
Ella woke with a frightened start. Instantly realizing what happened she jumped to her feet, cracking her head in the fireplace sending her once again stumbling into the remaining ash. Scrambling Ella caught her tattered, filthy gown on a corner of the grate and tore one whole side of the skirt apart from her bodice. Finally freeing herself from the grip of the fireplace, she stood before us; looking every bit the urchin Annabelle always treated her as.
Once Annabelle had her desired audience, she immediately turned from feigned fright to irrepressible rage. On and on she raged, “How dare such a little horror use her private chambers as a place to neglect her duty by slumbering?” Sister berated her mercilessly, till I thought the veins on her forehead were actually going to pop.
Mother came in just at that moment and stood horrified at the dreadful scene. Annabelle was completely distraught, while Ella in a frightful state stood calmly before the fireplace. At the doorway the servants were relishing in the spectacle, which upset Mother even more, if that, could even have been possible. She quickly dispersed all except myself and the housekeeper. Whirling around Mother demanded to know what had happened.
The explanation took some time as Annabelle was quite beside herself, frequently falling into very ladylike swoons. Nevertheless in the end the story came out, somewhat embellished and confused which Annabelle aided by her loud sniffling and moaning. Not even seeing me, Mother called for the lady-in-waiting to care for Annabelle till she could decide what to do. The Housekeeper tried in vain to excuse Ella but to no avail. Finally, she too stood by quietly afraid of Mother’s anger.
Ella, herself said not a word, since her first startled cry, which bewildered me. At first I thought maybe the poor thing could just not comprehend what had taken place. Yet upon watching her I got the distinct feeling she knew very well the circumstance and kept quiet out of sympathy for Annabelle. This revelation flabbergasted me. I watched carefully realizing there was not one sign of bitterness on her face or in her demeanor. In fact, the more ludicrous the situation became, the more serenity Ella displayed. My estimation of my half-sister Ella grew by leaps and bounds that afternoon.
Abruptly, Mother called Ella and the Housekeeper before her. Mother made sure the Housekeeper knew what a disgracefully inferior job had been done in the training up of Ella and who would be responsible for this complete failure. Warming to her subject Mother then soundly rebuked Ella for the appalling lack of respect and appreciation she had for all that had done for her since we had come to live in the house.
I was a bit confused by all this, for as far as I could see, all we had done was load the poor thing down with chores and miseries.
As punishment, Mother decided, since Ella seemed to like the comfort of the fireplace grate, she would no longer sleep in her comfortable garret bed in the north tower.
Comfortable bed! It was comprised of an old straw mattress and two ragged blankets.
Mother ordered the bed removed and Ella would henceforth sleep in the fireplace with one blanket.
The Housekeeper stern look betrayed her but she wisely kept her counsel to herself. Annabelle laughed in delight at the dismal prospect, while I, well I was in complete disbelief. My head swam at realizing the total lack of compassion I was discovering in my family.
Mother gazed stonily at Ella waiting for a response of some kind. If she was expecting grief or remorse Mother would be disappointed as Ella thanked her for the kindness and benevolence to one who did not deserve it. Mother dismissed Ella, cautioning her that no more laziness would be tolerated. Ella nodded respectfully and hurried out to finish her remaining chores. Housekeeper escaped at the same time. I was struck by the gentleness with which Ella treated Mother and puzzled by it too.
From that day, Annabelle called Ella, Cinder-Ella, in honor of her profound slide into further disgrace. Soon the name began to catch on for Annabelle would not allow anyone to call her Ella in her presence and it was not long before Ella was just Cinderella.
To be continued...