Once upon a time, there lived an unhappy young boy. His father had died, and his mother had brought home another man, a widower with two sons. His new stepfather didn’t like the boy one little bit. All the good things, kind words and special privileges were for his own sons. They got fashionable clothes, delicious food and special treats. But for the poor unhappy boy, there was nothing at all. No nice clothes but only his stepbrothers’ hand-me downs. No special dishes but only leftovers to eat. No privileges or even rest, for he had to work hard all day, grocery shopping, cooking, washing clothes and keeping the whole house clean. Only when evening came was he allowed to sit for a while alone by the cinders of the kitchen fire.
During these long evenings alone, he used to cry and talk to the cat. The cat said, “Meow”, which really meant, “Cheer up! You have something neither of your stepbrothers have, and that is beauty.”
What the cat said was quite true. Even dressed in rags with his face grimy from the cinders, he was an attractive young man, while no matter how elegant their clothes, his stepbrothers were still clumsy and ugly, and always would be.
One day, beautiful new clothes, shoes and jewellery began to arrive at the house. The Queen was holding a ball and the stepbrothers were getting ready to attend. They were continually standing in front of the mirror. The boy had to help them to dress up in all their finery. He didn’t dare ask, “What about me?” for he knew very well what the answer to that would be: “You? My dear boy, you’re staying at home to wash the dishes, scrub the floors and turn down the beds for your stepbrothers. They will come home tired and very sleepy.”
After the brothers and their father had left for the ball, the poor boy brushed away his tears and sighed to the cat. “Oh dear, I’m so unhappy!” and the cat murmured, “Meow”.
Just then a flash of light flooded the kitchen and a fairy appeared. “Don’t be alarmed, young boy,” said the fairy. “The wind blew me your sighs. I know you are longing to go to the ball. And so you shall!”
“How can I, dressed in rags?” the poor boy replied. “The servants will turn me away!” The fairy smiled. With a flick of his magic wand, the poor boy found himself wearing the most beautiful clothing, the loveliest ever seen in the realm.
“Now that we have settled the matter of what to wear,” said the fairy, “we’ll need to get you coach. A real gentleman would never go to a ball on foot! Quick! Get me a pumpkin!” he ordered.
“Oh, of course,” said the poor boy, rushing away.
Then the fairy turned to the cat. “You, bring me seven mice!”
The poor boy soon returned with a fine pumpkin and the cat with seven mice she had caught in the cellar. “Good!” exclaimed the fairy. With a flick of his magic wand – wonder of wonders! – the pumpkin turned into a sparkling coach and the mice became six white horses, while the seventh mouse turned into a coachwoman, in a beautiful dress and carrying a whip. The poor boy could hardly believe his eyes.
“I shall present you at Court. You will soon see that the Princess, in whose honour the ball is being held, will be enchanted by your good looks. But remember! You must leave the ball at midnight and come home. For that is when the spell ends. You will turn back into a pumpkin, the horses will become mice again and the coachwoman will turn back into a mouse. And you will be dressed again in rags and wearing clogs instead of these splendid dancing shoes! Do you understand?”
The boy smiled and said, “Yes, I understand!”
When the boy entered the ballroom at the palace, a hush fell. Everyone stopped in mid-sentence to admire his elegance, his beauty and grace.
“Who can that be?” people asked each other. The two stepbrothers also wondered who the newcomer was, for never in a month of Sundays would they ever have guessed that the beautiful boy was really their stepbrother who talked to the cat!
Then the Princess set eyes on his beauty. Walking over to him, she curtsied and asked him to dance. And to the great disappointment of all the young gentlemen, she danced with the boy all evening.
“Who are you, beautiful young man?” the Princess kept asking him.
But the poor boy only replied: “What does it matter who I am! You will never see me again anyway.”
“Oh, but I shall, I’m quite certain!” she replied.
The poor boy had a wonderful time at the ball, but, all of a sudden, he heard the sound of a clock: the first stroke of midnight! He remembered what the fairy had said, and without a word of goodbye he slipped from the Princess’ arms and ran down the steps. As he ran he lost one of his dancing shoes, but not for a moment did he dream of stopping to pick it up! If the last stroke of midnight were to sound...oh, what a disaster that would be! Out he fled and vanished into the night.
The Princess, who was now madly in love with him, picked up his dancing shoe and proclaimed that she would marry the man whose foot the slipper would fit. She said to her ministers, “Go and search everywhere for the boy that fits this shoe. I will never be content until I find him!” So the ministers tried the shoe on the foot of all the boys.
When a minister came to the house where the boy lived with his stepfather and stepbrothers, the minister asked if he could try the shoe on the young men in the household. The two stepbrothers couldn’t even get a toe in the shoe. When the minister asked if there were any other young men in the household, the stepfather told her. “No”. However, just then the cat caught her attention, tugging at her trouser leg and leading her to the kitchen.
There sat the poor boy by the cinders. The minister tried on the slipper and to her surprise, it fit him perfectly.
“That awful untidy boy simply cannot have been at the ball,” snapped the stepfather. “Tell the Princess she ought to marry one of my two sons! Can’t you see how ugly the boy is! Can’t you see?”
Suddenly he broke off, for the fairy had appeared.
“That’s enough!” he exclaimed, raising his magic wand. In a flash, the boy appeared in a beautiful outfit, shining with youth and good looks. His stepfather and stepbrothers gaped at him in amazement, and the ministers said, “Come with us, handsome young man! The Princess awaits to present you with her engagement ring!” So the boy joyfully went with them. The Princess married him in a few days later, and they lived happily ever after.
And as for the cat, she just said “Meow!”