Our childhood dreams can be fickle. As the daughter of a Baron, I knew what I was to become--an aristocrat, married off to a wealthy landowner with a mansion that would need looking after and servants awaiting orders. But I dreamed of so much more. There was a world out there that didn't order me to wear petticoats and scratchy lace or to appear at balls in low-cut dresses so as to attract suitors.
Out there, there was someone who would take me away from all this.
And of course, there was the girl the glass slipper belonged to.
But my dreams led me to become the maidservant of the most sought-after beauty in the land. No longer was I a baroness, I was a lowly servant, whom no one in my family would speak to.
But I am traveling in leaps and bounds.
A few years after I received the glass slipper, I turned sixteen. I had grown into my looks--long, brown hair, gleaming like chocolate in the light, big brown eyes, and pale, pale white skin. Suitors were lining up out the door to court me, but I would have none of them. I spent most of my time locked up in the attic, playing with the glass slipper.
My governess was angry with my father for permitting me to ignore all the eligible young men vying for my hand. As she put it one night (she had no idea sound traveled so well in our old home), "Arabella will waste away her years until she is nothing more than a spinster, and then what will you do with her?"
And then my father was summoned to join the King in London. He had no choice but to leave, and I was alone for five months.
At the end of these, my governess, with the consent of my father, had arranged a marriage with a neighboring baron's son. He was wealthy, young, handsome, but had an empty head, and I would have none of it. I left a week before my wedding, leaving only a note for my father and a letter of apology to Charles.
I lost my title and became a peasant, struggling to stay alive. All I took with me were some small scraps of food and the glass slipper. I was lucky to get an engagement in the house of the Duchess Hortensia, serving her daughter, Elizabeth.
And that's how it is that I found myself kneeling at the hem of Ella's ballgown, trying to get the petticoat even.
"Good god, Arabella," she sighed, running a hand through her long, brown hair, "why must I go to this ball?"
"My lady, your father demands it," I replied, not really paying attention. Ella had a tendency to twitch and I didn't want to upset all the work I'd already finished.
The door swung open and I stood, afraid it might be the Duke. Instead it was the new coachman, who was responsible for seeing Ella to the ball.
"Lady Elizabeth?" he asked, a question in his voice. He looked from me, to her, and back to me. I raised an eyebrow in surprise. It's true I was dressed like the servant of a duchess--in elaborate finery--and it's also true that we did resemble each other very much, both with brown eyes, brown hair, and fair skin, as well as delicate bone structure and small lips, but really. Gerald had always said I was mousy.
And then Ella did the most extraordinary thing.
"'Tis her," she said, pushing me forward. "She was so kind as to help me with my gown."
"May we have a moment?" I asked the coachman, who ducked out into the hall with a nod of his head and closed the door behind him.
"My lady, please excuse my frankness, but what in the name of god are you doing?"
"Arabella, don't you see? This is perfect! We look so alike! You can go in my place. I've noticed how you carry yourself--you must come from a noble family of some kind. You're well-educated, and you know our family. With a little makeup to fix your complexion and some shoes to make you taller..."
"I beg you to reconsider," I said slowly, feeling discomfort creep into my veins and trying not to take offense at her criticism of my appearance.
"I ask you--no, I command you--to go to this ball in my place."
An hour later, I was wearing her gown and stepping into her carriage, and was no longer Arabella, but Ella, the most beautiful maiden in England. As snow fell around me, I gripped the brass railing and wondered what would shortly become of me.