Ella stumbled out the back door, through the garden, and then fell onto the grass in front of her mother’s grave. Her mind reeled at the thought that her mother had been a witch.
And Irmgard was worried that Ella was a witch, too? Just the thought of it made her stomach turn.
No, no, thought Ella, she must have misunderstood. Or Irmgard’s fears had to be unfounded. Ella thought of her mother all those years ago and tried to imagine her as a witch. No, she thought, there could be no truth to Irmgard’s beliefs.
Then Ella remembered that the turtledoves and the other birds had helped with the lentils, but that by itself, she reasoned, was no proof of anything. As far back as she could remember, she had felt a closeness with birds. The turtledoves had been her friends ever since her mother’s death.
Ella thought about that for a moment. Irmgard’s jealousy of her mother explained a lot, but it also raised questions. A chill ran down Ella’s spine.
She shuddered and then chuckled. Her mother a witch? What nonsense! If her mother had been a witch, that would challenge all the terrible things she had heard about witches.
Ella closed her eyes, hoping to block out all thoughts of witches. This idea was too much to comprehend.
Her mind returned to Irmgard and her daughters hurrying out the door to go to the ball. Ella sighed. More than anything, she wanted to attend the king’s ball, but deep down she realized that Irmgard, Claudia, and Yvette were right. She was filthy, and her hair was a tangled mess. She had no beautiful dress, nor the proper shoes. If she went to the ball, everyone would surely laugh at her. She should just accept her fate as a household servant.
After a while, Ella sat up. The kitchen had yet to be cleaned for the evening. This was her life, and the sooner she accepted that, the less miserable she would be.
Ella found herself staring at the grave marker, saddened to think that her mother had forsaken her, offering her hope where none was justified. How mean to raise her daughter’s expectations only to have them dashed. How cruel to send the birds to sort lentils from ash when Irmgard would never allow Ella to go to the ball. She began to resent her mother, wishing she had never heard her last words.
Ella laughed. What had her mother said? “Possible for thee art all things, . . . but in thyself first thou must believe.” What foolishness, thought Ella, against the likes of Irmgard and her daughters.
“Of thyself be proud,” Ella recalled her mother saying, “but the help of others fail thee not to seek.”
Ella scoffed. She had asked for assistance. The turtledoves and the other birds had indeed helped, but a lot of good that had done. Irmgard and her daughters were off to experience the king’s ball, while she was left to clean the kitchen.
Maybe, thought Ella, I’m just not good enough to go to the ball. Maybe I’m not pretty enough. She knew that Claudia and Yvette were beautiful young women—at least Irmgard frequently told them so. Ella’s mother and father had told her that she was pretty, but Irmgard and her daughters treated Ella like she was an ogre.
Ella studied her hands. Her nails were dirty, but her fingers were long and slender. Her skin was dusty, but it glowed with vitality. She raked her fingers through her hair and cringed as they caught in grimy tangles, tugging at her scalp. For a dress and shoes, she had only a simple gray shift and clogs.
Ella glanced back at the hazel tree, which had grown so tall and strong over the years. Her mind raced as she realized that she, too, had matured. More of her mother’s words came flooding back to her, “. . . in thyself first thou must believe.”
Ella pondered that thought for a moment. Do I believe in myself? Irmgard and her daughters had repeatedly called her ugly, stupid, and lazy. I wonder, thought Ella, if I have come to accept that as truth?
Ella took a deep breath. First, I must believe in myself. But what should I believe? She thought of the king’s ball and how she would like to see the ballroom in the king’s castle. And hear music from the royal orchestra. And see ladies and gentlemen dressed in their finest. If I could see a grand ball just once, she thought, I would have a memory I could cherish my whole life, even if I never make it outside the house again.
Ella sighed. Who was she kidding? How could she possibly go to the ball?
Her mother’s words came back to her again. “Of thyself be proud, but the help of others fail thee not to seek.”
Proud? thought Ella. I’m anything but proud of being a household drudge. But am I being stubborn in not asking for help? I asked the turtledoves and the other birds for help in sorting the lentils from the ash. They certainly came to my aid.
But how could they help her now? she wondered. Whom would she ask? What should she ask for? How should she ask?
She hesitated, realizing the improbability of a happy outcome. Another disappointment might crush her spirit forever. Yet she knew she had to give it her very best try.
Ella selected a spot near the wall where she could see her mother’s tombstone, the hazel tree, and the whole garden beyond. Raising her arms and opening her hands, she gazed at the scene in front of her. She inhaled, closed her eyes, and felt the rush. “Mother dearest, Mother dearest, all creatures high and low, to the ball tonight go I must. Dirty and tangled must be I no more. A fair dress and shoes needeth I. All who loveth me, help make it so.”
Ella’s skin prickled with goose bumps. She closed her eyes, not daring to watch what might happen next.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish