Also, of course, the wife died tragically, shortly thereafter.
Even though the man was devastated at the loss of his beloved wife, he remained devoted to his daughter, reading her works of great literature, teaching her how to play countless musical instruments, and encouraging what became her greatest passion, to paint as if Botticelli had come back to life. They lived happily in their well-appointed castle, which was surrounded by a dense forest, so, of course, it had no Internet access.
From time to time, Ella’s father (let’s call him “Bob”) had to leave their forest paradise to make large amounts of money. While he was gone, Ella would fill her days painting in her studio, or serenading their servants (you can’t keep up a reputable castle in these stories without servants, you know) on the tuba, or cavorting with the forest creatures who gathered to listen to her play waltzes and gavottes on her tuba.
After all these years living with his darling Ella, now a kind and beautiful young woman, Bob began to wish for more, shall we say, adult female company. One day he returned from a long trip, and as had become her custom, Ella met him at the front door.
“Oh Father!” Ella said, “I’m so glad you’re home! Look at this wonderful portrait I’ve done of my chipmunk, Horace! I really think I’ve captured his zest for walnuts,” she said, thrusting the still wet painting under his nose. “It will be perfect in the dining room.” In truth, the house was full to bursting with all the paintings Ella had done during her father’s long absences.
“I have a wonderful…um…surprise for you,” Bob said, wiping a smudge of raw umber off of his nose. “I know how lonely it must be when I leave, so…”
“Oh Father, I’m never lonely here! The servants are so kind and then there are my forest friends- Horace the chipmunk, Mr. Wuffles the Bunny…”
“Ha ha!” said Bob. “Yes, yes, you have your little furry friends but…um…well, I got married and now you have a new mother and two new brothers! Isn’t that marvelous?”
Just then, the carriage door burst open and a tall, austere woman emerged, followed by two young men, one tall and lanky, the other short and rather round. The woman looked around, sniffed, and stalked into the front hall. “Get the bags, Bob.”
“Of course, my love,” Bob said as he began to unload the many bags from the back of the carriage.
“But Father, can’t those…um…healthy looking young men carry their own bags in?” Ella said, raising an eyebrow.
“Oh my darling girl,” said Bob, staggering under the weight of the suitcases and trunks, “they are much too delicate and refined to carry luggage. Their mother has had such a tragic life. She may have indulged them just the tiniest bit. You will soon grow to love them, and they will adore you as I do! I’m pretty sure it will all turn out alright.”
When Bob was at home, his wife Ursula treated Ella with courtesy, even if her smile never reached beyond her mouth. But the minute Bob left on another business trip, Ursula and her sons, Hector and Jared, would be rude to the servants, say cruel and insulting things to Ella, drink many bottles of fine wine from her father’s cellar, and leave sprawling wreckage and mess in the great dining hall before staggering off to bed.
The servants tried to endure this as best they could, because they loved Ella and her father, but each time he returned from a trip, another one of the servants had quietly left. Word had spread to the village, and Ella could find no one else to work for them. She quietly began to pick up the slack. Her one joy was painting in her studio. There she could shut out the sounds of crashing and cursing that now seemed to fill the castle at all hours of the day and night.
“All right, Mr. Wuffles…just turn your head a little to the left…” As Mr. Wuffles turned his head, the studio door slammed open and Ursula stalked in, with Jared and Hector oozing in behind her.
“Get that rodent out of my house!” Ursula shrieked. Mr. Wuffles did not wait for a more forceful invitation and hopped out through the open window. Ursula shoved a telegram under Ella’s nose. “Your father is dead, that deserting wretch! Things are going to change around here!”
Ella turned ashen and collapsed onto her chair. “My beloved father is dead?”
“Things are definitely going to change around here,” said Jared, as he leered at Ella.
“I think they’ve been changing for a while,” thought Ella.
That night, when Ella put dinner on the table in the grand dining room (for by this time, the cook had left, as had the butler and all the footmen, not to mention the house maids) she noticed there were only three chairs. And they were filled by Ursula, Hector, and Jared.
“Wha…where am I to sit?” Ella said, a catch in her throat as she looked at her smirking stepbrothers.
“Oh, I think you would be much more comfortable in the kitchen, don’t you think? That way it will be so much easier for you when we need our plates or glasses refilled. We’ll just…ring for you when we need something,” said Ursula.
“Ting-a-Ling,” said Hector.
“Ringy-dingy” said Jared.
“This is all too much,” said Ella. “I think I’ll just go to my room. I miss my father so much!”
“Oh, and about your room,” said Ursula. “Jared and Hector needed more space for their…studies. I gave your bedroom to Jared and your studio to Hector. They will be so much more comfortable now. You can sleep in the kitchen. Think how warm and cozy it will be there!”
“But…my paintings and my paints and brushes! Where did you put them all?” Ella looked around the room. “And where are the rest of my paintings that were hanging here? What have you done with them?” Just then she noticed a bright glow from a bonfire outside.
With her head down and tears threatening to stream from her eyes, she walked slowly to the kitchen, to the sound of cruel laughter accompanying the snapping and crackling of burning canvas and frames from outside the window.
Who knows how long things would have continued in this fashion? Ella spent her days slaving over the stove, or picking up after Hector and Jared, who seemed to delight in creating as much mess as possible. Her one remaining pleasure was spending a few minutes a day in the woods beyond hearing distance from the house, with Horace the chipmunk, Mr. Wuffles the bunny, and a stray cat with emerald green eyes who had recently begun hanging around. Ella played the tuba for them as they danced and tried to make her laugh.
“Thank goodness my tuba didn’t burn.” Said Ella. “Thank you so much for saving it!” Mr. Wuffles laid his head against Ella’s leg. “Your singed ear fur has grown back nicely!”
Just then, her friend Betty Blue Jay flew down with a rolled up paper in her beak.
“What is this?” said Ella as she unrolled the paper. It was a poster for a Ball that was to take place in a few days. “ Express Your Bo-Ho Self at The Bohemian Ball” Ella read. “This sounds wonderful! Oh if only I could go! Maybe they wouldn’t mind if I went…”
That night, as she was serving dinner to Ursula and her sons, (she just couldn’t think of them as her brothers) she heard them talking about the ball, and her heart sank. If they were going, there was no way they would allow her to go.
“I heard that the ball is being given by the King to look for a husband for his daughter the Princess!” said Ursula.
“She couldn’t do any better than to pick me, “said Hector, not noticing the large blob of avocado that had slid off his toast, which was now residing in the middle of his shirt.
“What would she want with someone as large and lumpy as you?” sneered Jared. “I’m sure she would prefer someone more sublimely irresistible, such as myself.”
“You malevolent weasel!” cried Hector, launching a spoonful of mashed potatoes and gravy at Jared, hitting him square on his sharp nose. He was choking with laughter as Jared leapt over the table and pushed Hector’s face in his soup bowl.
Ella couldn’t help laughing, even as she knew this was a big mistake. Three pairs of eyes glowered at her. “Oh crap,” she thought.
“So… about this Bohemian Ball…” Ella began.
“Surely you don’t think I would allow you to go and disgrace my family, do you?” Ursula fumed. Besides. You’ll have so much to do here to clean up after this mess you have caused. I’ll not have you ruin my sons’ chances to marry the Princess with you showing up looking like a scullery maid! The very idea!
The night of the ball arrived, and true to Ursula’s word, they had left such a mess in the dining room that Ursula, Jared, and Hector had been gone for hours by the time Ella had everything cleaned up.
“I’ll never get to the ball now! It’s too late and I haven’t any way to get there, even if I had something to wear!” tears ran down Ella’s cheek. She felt the sandpaper tongue of the stray cat, lick the tears from her cheek. “I really wish I had some paints. It would give me some small pleasure to make a painting right now.” The cat’s paw pushed a large piece of charcoal that had fallen from the stove, toward Ella. She picked up the charcoal.
Ella laughed. “Well, you can just call me Cinderella!”
“Oh, kitty, but what shall I draw on? I have no paper or canvas anymore.”
The cat looked at the charcoal in Ella’s hand, and then at the large vacant wall in the entry hall where Ella’s paintings once hung, and then back at Ella.
She started drawing as if she was starving (which she was) and as if there was no time left to lose, (which there wasn’t.) She drew a fanciful carriage, shaped like a pumpkin. She drew six fine black horses, with bells on their harnesses. She drew a driver and footmen. The cat kept bringing her more charcoal and Ella didn’t care that she was now covered in charcoal dust. Ella kept drawing till there was almost no more empty wall. “What am I missing, Miss Kitty?”
The cat just arched an eyebrow at her, and looked at her in that inscrutable way of cats.
“Of course! How could I forget?” laughed Ella.
And Ella drew a self-portrait, in which she was dressed in the most elaborate ball gown.
“Fini!...Oh my, that was fun, but I am no closer to going to the ball than I ever was,” Ella said sadly. “But it was so wonderful to draw again. I don’t even care how mad they’ll be when they return and see what I’ve done. Thank you for showing me that there is still joy to be had, Miss Kitty.” Ella leaned down and kissed the cat on the top of its head.
The instant Ella’s lips touched the top of the cat’s head, there was a blinding flash of light and smoke and the cat transformed into a most magical creature, wearing a steam-punky sort of leather bustier, lace gloves, and a long feathery tutu, and plumes of ostrich feathers in her raven hair. “What the…” said Ella. “Who are you???”
“Duh! I’m your Fairy Godmother, of course,” she purred. “Let’s get this show on the road! There’s not a second to spare.” She pointed her magical wand at the drawings, and each time she did, a flash of light and a small shower of plaster dust filled the air. Before Ella knew it, there was a golden carriage, with six shining black horses standing in the middle of the hall. The driver looked suspiciously like Mr. Wuffles, and when he winked at her, she knew this was true.
“Sorry about the plaster. My bad! I’m a little rusty… oh yes! Your dress!” Ella’s Fairy Godmother pointed her wand at the self-portrait of Ella and with a slight *Poof* Ella was wearing the dress she had drawn not an hour before.
I could tell you what happened at the ball, about how everyone wondered who Ella was, about how she laughed and danced all night (even with the Princess!), about who went home with whom, and whether Ursula and her wretched brood spent the entire evening in the corner bickering over who would ask the Princess to dance.
But wouldn’t you rather go and find out for yourself?
The Bohemian Ball: A Costume Ball
From Roma to Pre-Raphaelite, Belle Epoque to Free Spirit (or whatever makes you feel fabulous)
Thursday, January 18th 2018
7PM -10 PM
1515 Shoreview Drive
For tickets and more information: http://www.islandartscouncil.org/island-bohemians.html
Or the Island Bohemians Facebook Page