But, alas! the day came when Picciola began to droop and wither. She seemed about to die. The poor prisoner was frantic with grief and cried, “Is my little one, my joy, my hope, the only thing for which I live, to be taken from me?” Searching, he found that as Picciola had grown taller her stem had had grown larger, and now there was not room enough for it in the crevice between the stones. Her sap,—her life blood,—was running away, as the rough edges of the stones cut into her delicate stem. Nothing could save her but to lift those cruel stones. The prisoner tore at them with his weak hands. Weeping, he begged the jailer to raise them, but the jailer could do nothing. No one but the king could cause them to be lifted. But how could the prisoner ask the king? The king was far away. The prisoner must send a letter to him, but he had no pen, ink or paper; so he wrote on his handkerchief with a bit of charred wood and begged, not for his own life, but for the life of Picciola,—that the king would cause the stones that were killing her to be raised.
When the king read the prisoner’s letter he said, “No man who is really wicked could care so much for a little, simple flower. I will not only have the stones raised that are killing his Picciola, but I will pardon him. He shall be free because of the love he bears his plant.”
So the prisoner left his lonely cell carrying with him his Picciola,—his little one whom he had saved and who in turn had set him free.
The room was dark, the fire was out and a little girl sat crying all alone in the ashes. “I want to go to the party too!” she sobbed. “I want to dance and wear a pretty dress, but my dress is ragged. My sisters have gone and left me. Nobody wants me. It’s so dark here I’m afraid. Oh! I’m so cold.” The tears ran down the face of this forlorn little girl and fell in the ashes at her feet. Poor child! Poor little maid! She had to wash and scrub and dust, while her sisters did nothing but wear pretty clothes and go to all the parties. They never thought of taking her with them. She was only fit to blacken their boots and to mend their dresses. Because her hands and her hair were sometimes gray and dusty from tending the fire and sweeping the hearth, they called her Cinderella. She had helped her sisters to dress that very night, smiling all the time, but now that they were gone, Cinderella could keep back the tears no longer. She was sobbing as if her heart would break, when suddenly she heard a noise, the room was filled with light and, right in front of her stood a curious little old woman, with a long stick in her hand. She had pointed shoes on her feet and a tassel in her cap.
“You shall go to the party!” said the queer little creature, stamping her foot on the floor. “You have always been a good child. You have as much right to go as your sisters. You shall go! and you shall wear a pretty dress and ride in a fine carriage too, so dry your eyes, my dear, and bring me the biggest yellow pumpkin you can find in the garden,” said the fairy; for this little old woman was really a fairy.