The Grand Duke sat in the drawing room of the chateau, pretending to doze, while the hideous Tremayne daughters grackled like gulls over a crust of bread. The lovely young maiden he’d expected to find at this house hadn’t arrived, and he’d begun to suspect Lady Tremayne of hiding her. Not that he would dare accuse the minor noblewoman of anything so uncouth as kidnapping. Still, he suspected that she suspected he suspected her. Even so, he didn’t allow his mounting nervousness to show, instead feigning a regal ennui, while all the while his insides drew up like a tax collector’s purse.
To give himself breathing room, he had already read the entire proclamation, though that certainly wasn’t necessary, and now he was allowing the daughters all the time in the world to try to squeeze their enormous flapping feet into the tiny slipper. He was rapidly losing hope that the girl he’d come to find would ever show. This didn’t change the fact that he simply couldn’t leave without her – it was more than his life was worth.
Lady Tremayne stood nearby, smiling obsequiously and watching him narrowly. The daughters fought like baboons over the shoe, while the Grand Duke nodded and made snoring sounds in the armchair. What would he do if she didn’t show? He’d be ruined. Exiled! Or worse!
“Drusilla dear, give Anastasia a chance,” Lady Tremayne said in her soft, oily voice.
“But she’s already had her chance! Now it’s my turn!” Mme. Drusilla screeched like a fishwife.
“Quietly, girls,” Lady Tremayne admonished. “You’ll wake His Grace.”
Finally, one of the girls nearly broke the precious slipper, causing the Grand Duke to leap out of the chair in alarm. And so, of course, he could no longer pretend to be asleep. He reluctantly prepared to depart. Hobbs the footman rushed to open the door for him. Once beyond that portal, all his careful plans would come crashing down. He felt the door was opening upon a prison cell rather than the bright morning air. He paused with his foot upon the threshold and turned.
“You are the only ladies in the household, I presume?” he asked hopelessly.
“There’s no one else, Your Grace,” Lady Tremayne responded smoothly.
He sighed in resignation. His failure would likely cost him his head. “Quite so. Good day,” he said, stalling a moment longer, searching the room one last time, praying she might be hiding behind a tattered tapestry. “Good Day,” he repeated and turned to go.
And then he heard her familiar lilting voice calling to him from the top of the stairs. “Your Grace! Your Grace! Wait!” she cried as she hurried down. “May I try it on?”
Masking his relief with a haughty demeanor, the Grand Duke strode toward the stair. Lady Tremayne looked aghast, but quickly recovered. “Oh, pay no attention to her. She’s only the scullery maid,” she said as she stepped into His Grace’s path.
“Madame, my orders were to interview every maiden!” the Duke said petulantly and pushed by her.
“Come my child,” he said to the lovely young girl now descending the stairs toward him. She was blond, angelic, barefoot and dressed in shameful rags. One glance at her dainty feet and tiny pink toes and he thought his heart would stop.
At a sign from the Grand Duke, Hobbs the footman rushed forward with the slipper. But Lady Tremayne, in a final act of desperation, cruelly stuck out her walking stick and tripped him as he passed. The slipper tumbled through the air and smashed into a thousand pieces on the marble floor at the foot of the stairs.
“Oh no!” the Duke cried, seeing all his plans smashed into as many tiny shards as the glass slipper. “The king! What will he say?”
Lady Tremayne smiled in grim satisfaction.
“But perhaps, if it would help…” the girl began.
“No, no! Nothing can help now,” the Duke wept as he picked up the fragments of the slipper and clutched them to his breast, almost forgetting himself in his grief. “Nothing!”
“But you see, I have the other slipper,” the girl said as she removed a tiny glass shoe from the pocket of her tattered apron.
The Grand Duke leaped to his feet, took the slipper from the maid’s hand, and guided it onto her tiny outstretched foot. It fit as though made for her. Lady Tremayne gasped in surprise. Mmes. Drusilla and Anastasia burst into anguished tears.
“Oh, no!” they wept. “Not her!”
The Grand Duke was saved! “Come with me, my child, at once,” he shouted joyfully. “Away, to the castle! The prince and the king await!”
Hobbs the footman took the slipper as the Duke lifted the barefoot young woman over the shards of the first broken slipper and danced with her to the door. The Tremayne girls cried like a pair of peacocks hanging upside-down while being beaten with buggy whips. Lady Tremayne clutched at her throat as though all the air had been sucked from the room.
The Duke set the beautiful young maid on her feet outside the door. She turned and looked back at her step mother and two step sisters. “Goodbye, Step Mother,” she said sweetly. “I shan’t ever forget you.”
Taking her by the hand, the Duke led her to his waiting carriage – a small, black four wheeler with a pair of restless white horses in silver harness. Hobbs rushed ahead to open the door for them, while the driver lifted the reins and smiled as though at some secret joke. The Duke and the maid climbed into the carriage. Hobbs handed the slipper to the Duke, closed the door, and climbed on behind. The driver cracked his whip and the carriage lurched into motion.
Cinderella looked back at the chateau where she’d spent her entire miserable life, and at the three people who had made her entire life so miserable. They stood at the door, the sisters loudly blaming each other and exchanging frightful thudding bare-knuckled blows. Lady Tremayne stared after Cinderella as though she suspected the girl of arranging the whole unlikely affair.
Cinderella sank back in the soft cushions of the carriage seat and propped her feet in the Duke’s lap. “Christ, I’m glad that’s over,” she sighed. “Do you know, the bitch actually locked me in the tall tower! I was sure she recognized me in that dress last night.”
“But that was a brilliant stroke, Cindy, pulling out the second slipper when the old bat tripped Hobbs and broke the first one. I could have murdered her then, I swear to God,” the Duke said as he massaged Cinderella’s dainty pink toes. “Hobbs really is a clumsy oaf. I shall have him hanged when we get home.”
Cinderella glanced around at the inside of the carriage, frowning. “Why are you riding around in this ratty old heap? Where is your carriage?”
“Still being repainted,” the Duke said. “We could hardly drive up in that white-and-gold monstrosity from last night. People might suspect our collusion.”
As the Grand Duke sat with Cinderella’s feet in his lap, he recalled the first time he’d seen her – barefoot and lovely, walking through the market with a new mop, a string of louts stumbling over their tongues behind her. She was enchanting to behold, even amidst such squalor. But more than her exquisite beauty, her dainty feet were what truly captured his heart and his imagination, the way the mud squeezed between her toes, the shapely curve of her ankle.
He’d ordered his coachman to follow her at a safe distance until they were well outside the village. On a lonely stretch of road leading up to her family chateau, they’d caught up to her. The Duke offered her a ride and she’d accepted with a shy smile. A perfect picture of innocence, childlike and pure, she’d climbed inside and sat down with the mop between her mud-spattered legs.
But she, of course, had seen through the Duke from the very beginning, taken the measure of him and guessed at his most secret desires. “Take me for a ride,” she’d said even before the carriage set off. “I don’t want to go home right away.”
“Won’t your mother be worried?” he’d asked.
“My mother is dead. I live with my Step Morther. But I don’t care. All she can do is beat me when I get home,” she’d said with a sigh. “She’ll do that no matter when I arrive.”
“Your step mother beats you, child?”
“Every day,” she’d said. “My step sisters, too. I wouldn’t mind so much, if only they were pretty. For you see, they make me undress first. My wicked step mother believes that sin is best driven out when the sinner stands naked as Eve beside the Tree of Knowledge with the fruit still upon her lips, ashamed and exposed.”
The Duke had sat up at this news, his mind whirling. He had rapped the roof of the carriage and shouted directions to the coachman.
They’d gone to the deer park behind the castle. The old king never hunted there anymore and the prince was away at school. And as Cinderella crouched there on all fours on the floor of his grand coach with her bedraggled skirt flung up over her back, she’d whispered huskily into his ear, “Oh Dooky Dooky, tish I’m tea.” And he’d gone mad, simply mad, promising her anything, everything within his power.
They planned the whole thing that night, right there in the coach in the middle of the deer park, surrounded by trees and rutting deer. Mostly, Cinderella had planned it, with here and there a suggestion from the Duke. The glass slippers, especially, had been her idea. But for the most part, she wasn’t sure how or even if the Duke could pull it off, not until last night when the dress and slippers arrived at the back door, with a note saying that a coach and four would pick her up after her step mother had departed.
“What are we going to tell everyone now?” the Duke asked as Cinderella dug her toes into his crotch. He squirmed with delight and lightly stroked her trim ankles.
“People are suckers for romance and magic,” she laughed. “We’ll tell them my fairy godmother visited me, fixed me up with the coach and four, footman, coachman, dress and slippers. That I had to leave the ball before the stroke of midnight because that’s when the magic spell would end. And that I lost a slipper as I fled.”
“They’ll never believe it,” the Duke said.
“Oh, but they will, Dooky dear. People love fairy tales, gobble them up by the bookload. Every scullery maid from here to Provence dreams of being carried away by a handsome prince. By tomorrow night, they’ll be singing my story throughout the kingdom – but only if you tell them, dear sweet Dooky of mine. You’re my fairy godmother.”
“Fairy godmother indeed!” the Duke laughed thoughtfully.
Digging her toes deeper into the Duke’s pants, Cinderella continued, “The king did as I expected, ordering you to find the maiden who wore the slipper and declaring that she would marry the prince. That was the whole point of my leaving the slipper behind.”
“I see it now, though at the time, I wondered why you insisted on glass slippers,” the Duke said.
“Glass slippers can’t be stretched. And who else in the kingdom has feet as small as mine?”
“Or as delicious?” the Duke groaned in delight. “Besides, the prince is simply mad about you, can’t live without you, he says. So you’re set.”
“That’s another thing that worried me, Dooky,” Cinderella said. This pet name of hers gave the Duke a wonderful tickly feeling inside. He pressed himself against her probing toes and she smiled. “How in heaven’s name did you know the prince would fall for me? Everything hinged on that, and to be honest, I had my doubts.”
“Well, you are a lovely girl, my child,” the Duke said a bit breathlessly. “But if I may be so bold, I happen to know that the prince and I share a… particular fancy,” he said.
Cinderella raised her foot and twinkled her pert, fleshy digits before the Duke’s nose. “These?” she giggled.
“Indeed!” the Duke sighed lustily. His tongue darted out and briefly probed between her toes. “That’s another reason why the glass slippers were so perfect. I knew as soon as the prince caught sight of your marvelous toes, he wouldn’t be able to resist.” He slurped her big toe into his mouth and sucked it greedily.
“Oh, those horrible slippers! I couldn’t get out of them soon enough. Let me tell you, it wasn’t easy dropping that slipper on the stair so it looked like an accident. I thought I was going to pull the damn thing off.” She extracted her toe from his mouth like a cork from a bottle, then returned her foot to his lap. He stiffened in his seat and bit his lower lip. His monocle dropped from his eye. “Even so, the Prince might have chosen another girl before I even arrived at the ball. There must be a hundred girls in the kingdom with small feet,” Cinderella said.
“Thankfully, yes, though none so tiny or so fine. I must confess, I resorted to magic, my love,” the Duke said shudderingly. “Before the ball, I slipped the prince a love potion infused with your pubic hair. Just to make doubly sure this would work.”
“Oh Dooky!” Cinderella shrieked. “I wondered what you wanted with that! I thought it was just another of your silly fancies.”
“I love it when you call me Dooky, Cindy,” the Duke sighed.
“And I love you, Dooky dear. Once more unto the breach, before I’m married? For old time’s sake?”
He nodded and rapped his knuckles on the roof of the carriage. “To the deer park!” he shouted.
Cinderella slipped out of her skirt, while the Duke unbuttoned his trousers. She untied her apron and flung it on the seat. The Duke leaned back to watch her while he fondled himself. She ripped her blouse apart so that the cheap buttons popped in every direction. One struck him on the monocle with a tiny tik.
“I won’t need that anymore,” she giggled and flung the tattered blouse out the window of the moving carriage.
“Put on the apron, my dear,” the Duke said. “It becomes you.”
She obliged with a sly smile, then resumed her seat across from him, settling her long blond hair so that it lay across her small, pert breasts. She picked up the glass slipper, considered it a moment, then hung it from his noble rod of office.
“It’s yours,” she said. “A gift from me to thee.”
“Thank you, my princess,” he sighed.
In the years to come, Princess Cinderella never forgot the Grand Duke and all he’d done for her. Neither did she forget her step mother, the Lady Tremayne, or the shrill harpies that were her step sisters, Drusilla and Anastasia. The story of her ill treatment at their hands had already spread far and wide by the time her honeymoon was over. But everyone was amazed at Cinderella’s generosity and kindness, for she always made sure that the Lady Tremayne and her two wretched daughters were invited to the very best parties and balls.
T’was not kindness that inspired Cinderella to place them at the top of her invitation list. Well she knew that Lady Tremayne had spent the last penny of her father’s fortune years ago and could ill afford the expensive dresses and jewelry required of those invited to the castles and chateaus of the kingdom’s nobles. Cinderella made sure that only a pittance of the allowance the king allotted to Lady Tremayne, as a royal cousin of the princess, ever found its way into her grasping claws. Instead, every Christmas she sent the lion’s share of Lady Tremayne’s allowance to the Grand Duke, wrapped up in a bundle along with a generous supply of her own soiled underwear. Mme. Drusilla and Mme. Anastasia grew ever more hideous as the unkind years passed, and they never married – Cindy made sure of that as well. And so at each party the three Tremayne women arrived wearing patched rags and paste jewels, and the entire kingdom thought Cinderella a saint for inviting them.
But Lady Tremayne knew, even if her idiot daughters didn’t, that Cinderella’s kindness was the cruelest punishment of all.
© 2007 Jeff Crook