As the great clock struck midnight, Cinderella flew down the sweeping stone steps of the palace; four… five… six. One shoe had slipped off on the top step, now she nearly tumbled down the last few steps; seven… eight… A strong hand reached out to steady her, she looked up at a pair of dark twinkling eyes.
‘Steady Miss, what’s the hurry?’ a deep voice asked. It was the coachman.
‘We must go,’ she cried ‘the coach…’
‘No hurry Miss, what about the Ball?’
Her heart seemed to stop as the chimes stopped, but the coach remained in all its splendour, the four grey horses stood tossing their heads proudly.
‘I don’t understand…’ Cinderella stammered.
‘Look Miss, the prince is waiting for you to have the last dance.’
She hardly dared take her eyes off the coach, but forced herself to look back at the golden light pouring from the great palace doors. There at the top of the steps stood the Handsome Prince, behind him his valet held aloft the beautiful shoe.
‘I shall be waiting here for you’ said the coachman, his rich husky voice sending a tingle down her spine.
Cinderella tried to walk gracefully back up the steps.
‘Princess, put this dainty shoe upon your pretty foot and let us dance again.’
The Prince twirled her back into the ballroom, but as his slender cool hands clasped her, all she could think of were the warm strong hands of the coachman. Something new had awoken in her and she wondered why she had thought the Prince so handsome earlier in the evening. Close to his perfumed powdered wig, she recalled the dark tousled hair of the other man. Glancing down at the whirling floor, she noticed the Prince’s boots had high heels, yet he stood only an inch taller than her. When she had first danced with him she had been relieved he had not asked her about herself; now she realised that was because he only talked about himself; how big his palace was, how many horses in his stable, how many princesses wanted to marry him. The words drifted over her as she thought of the man she had only spent one minute with. Now the Prince had glided her onto the balcony and she was relieved to glimpse her coach still there with its fine guardian. Cinderella felt something cold on her finger and glanced down to see a huge diamond ring; she realised what the Prince was saying.
‘…it will be a great privilege for you to marry me.’
A cold chill swept through her; hours ago she could only have dreamt of marrying a prince, now she realised she would be as much a prisoner in the palace as she was in the kitchen.
Jethro the swineherd patted the strong necks of the beautiful greys; they smelt of new mown hay and leather. How different from the pigs he had to tend every day. As the youngest son, he was never allowed to plough the fields or take Dobbin to market. This morning, as he cleaned out the pig pens, dreaming of meeting a beautiful girl, a blinding light had struck him and his Wizard Godfather had appeared.
‘You will meet a beautiful girl this evening, but you must return her home safely before sunrise.’
In a flash, Jethro found himself dressed in fine livery, seated on a golden coach, holding the reins of four fine horses. He truly had met the girl of his dreams, but she had met a prince. In a few hours the sun would rise and the coach and horses would be gone.
On the balcony, Cinderella managed to collect her thoughts.
‘Sire, I am greatly honoured; allow me to slip away and fetch my cape, then we may talk further, under the stars.’
She melted back into the crowded ballroom and soon she was creeping back to her coach.
‘We must leave immediately coachman, I cannot go home.’
Out of the coach window she caught a glimpse of the Prince, waiting on the balcony. Down the dark road the horses galloped on for many miles.
Now the horses were tiring and dawn could not be far away. Jethro knew he must stop the coach. He helped the princess down and showed her the twinkling lights of a town in the valley below. Cinderella felt they must have left the kingdom by now.
‘Princess, I have something I must tell you…’
‘Ssh, don’t speak, let us watch the sunrise together.’
Jethro knew his dream would be over in a few moments; he laid his jacket on the grass for her to sit on and moved close. As the first rays peeped over the horizon it happened; within seconds they were both sitting in dirty rags and turned apart in shame. On the grass behind them sat a large pumpkin and they glimpsed a flash of grey fur and long pink tails disappearing into the undergrowth. Nervously they turned back to look at each other properly in the dawn light. Jethro thought she was more beautiful than ever and Cinderella gazed admiringly at his rugged face. Marvelling, they exchanged their strange stories, but Jethro was in despair; how could he keep this girl and look after her?
Seeing his frown she said ‘Do you know anything about selling jewellery?’ and held up the magnificent diamond ring.
‘But first let us have breakfast’ she laughed, unwrapping a large bundle she still held, to reveal the white linen cloth she had whisked from one of the laden tables at the palace. As the new day started, they both knew more adventures lay ahead than they could have dreamed of yesterday morning.