Etherington, Edgar and Ellis Maltravers were triplet sons of a minor Yorkshire baron. They were home for a much-needed respite from the Season before the shooting season began in Scotland. An invitation had arrived from a neighbouring aristocrat who was giving a ball for HRH the Princess Maria, only daughter of the Duke of , a beautiful and virtuous eighteen, who would inherit a castle in Cumbria and the money to run it. Rumour speculated that Maria’s father was anxious to see his daughter married before at least one of her virtues was lost.
Yorkshire was unseasonably cold. Ellis, known as Cinderellis because his brothers used him as a dogsbody, was sitting by the state-of-the-art kitchen range darning socks while his brothers ordered him around.
‘Have you removed the red wine stain on my white waistcoat, Cinderellis?’
‘Send to Cobb the Bootmaker for new evening shoes, Cinderellis.’
‘I could do with a new pair myself,’ observed Ellis.
There was silence as Etherington and Edgar stared at him.
‘My tails are shabby, too. The trousers fit quite well, though, as I’ve not put on any weight since we were at Camford university.’
‘I hope you aren’t imagining that the invite includes you,’ said Edgar, negligently brushing an imaginary piece of fluff from his Armani jeans.
‘It says to The Maltravers.’
‘Ah, but it doesn’t include Ellis, does it Edgar?’
‘Certainly not, Etherington. The duke must have one of us in mind for Maria, don’t you think?’
‘Naturally. So that’s that, Cinderellis. No ball for you. We don’t want you spoiling our pitch.’
The youngest triplet sighed. Had he really imagined he would go to the ball?
When the two men went off on the appointed evening in a haze of expensive aftershave, Ellis slumped in front of the state-of-the-art kitchen range. Life could be very unfair, he was thinking, when suddenly there was a flash of light.
‘Lightening,’ he said aloud. ‘I hope it doesn’t spoil Maria’s evening.’
‘Stupid boy,’ said a cross voice. ‘As if Maria’s fairy godmother would permit that. Now as for you, what do you think you are doing, lolling around when you should be in the line-up waiting to shake her hand and asking her for a dance?’
‘I wasn’t invited,’ Ellis protested.
‘Oh, yes you were.’
‘Oh, no I… Was I?’
‘Certainly. You are quite the most presentable of the Maltravers’ triplets.’
‘I won’t inherit.’
‘That doesn’t matter. Maria will and what she needs is a husband who loves her and will always be faithful. Now, stand up.’
There was a flash, and as Ellis stood, his jeans (Etherington’s cast-off Guccis) were transformed into smart tails, complete with white tie and waistcoat while his patent shoes gleamed like black satin.
‘Let’s go,’ said his fairy godmother to the stunned young man.
Ellis gulped and said, ‘There’s only the old Land Rover and I had to use it this morning to take the dogs to the vet. One of them was sick. I haven’t had time to …’
There was another flash and the scruffy Land Rover outside was transformed into a black Rolls Royce.
‘I say!’ exclaimed Ellis.
‘Eek,’ squeaked a mouse, running across the gravel by the car.
Another flash, and in the driving seat sat a chauffeur in green and gold livery.
‘Now, my boy, all this is yours, but only until midnight. It is important that you are out of the duke’s house by the last stroke of twelve for the chauffeur will have become a mouse again, the Rolls Royce a Land Rover and you will once more be clad in those awful jeans. Do I make myself clear?’
‘Yes, Godmother,’ he replied meekly.
Ellis was just in time to join the end of the line-up of bachelors waiting to be presented to the princess. He was standing next to Edgar, but no one would have taken them for brothers. Edgar, himself, would have sworn that he had never met the man whom he could not see as a rival.
HRH the Princess Maria gazed at the line of men and her heart sank. All but three she had met before and she had already dismissed them as husband-material. Yet she nodded graciously when each unknown stepped forward.
The first was too fat. He eats and drinks too much, she said to herself.
The second was too supercilious. He will take over my inheritance and take no notice of me, she thought.
But the third was just right.
The princess put her hand into that of Ellis Maltravers and the couple stepped on to the dance floor, into each other’s arms.
‘Who is he?’ Etherington asked.
‘Where has he come from?’ asked Edgar.
No one had an answer.
Ellis and Maria were dancing together in a haze of blissful joy. ‘I could dance all night,’ whispered Maria, when the grandfather clock on the stairs by the ballroom door began to chime.
At first Ellis took little notice. ONE. TWO. Then, suddenly remembering his godmother’s warning, he looked at his wrist watch, a Piaget. The hands were on twelve. THREE.
‘I have to go,’ he muttered. FOUR. He brought Maria’s hand to his lips and kissed it. FIVE. Then breaking away from her, he fled from the room. SIX. SEVEN, pushing past couples who were impeding his way, quite ignoring their protests. EIGHT. He had to get out of there before midnight. NINE.
But such was the crush that at the top of the stairs his right shoe slipped from his foot. TEN. There was no time to pick it up. ELEVEN.
The Rolls Royce was at the bottom of the steps, the chauffeur holding open the door. TWELVE.
There was no flash this time, but the car Ellis leaped into had become a dirty Land Rover.
‘Eek!’ The little mouse, bewildered at its change of fortunes, scurried into a flower bed.
There was no debonair young man dressed in tails, only a scruffy one who had no business to be anywhere other than the stable yard.
Maria was left desolate. ‘Oh, Daddy, will I ever see him again?’
Her father, the duke, handed her a black patent shoe. ‘Mm,’ he said. ‘There may be a way. Whoever this shoe fits must be the man you danced with. We shall find him and you shall marry him. If he is suitable,’ he added sternly.
An advert appeared in the major newspapers: A black patent shoe was left behind after the Duke of
’s ball. HRH the Princess Maria is anxious to meet its owner with a view to marriage. Any young man wishing to be considered is invited to try on the shoe asap.
‘Well,’ said Etherington. ‘I wondered what had happened to my new patent shoes.’
Edgar said, ‘So that’s where I left it.’
‘Notify the duke, Cinderellis. Say that we are only too happy to oblige.’
Twenty eligible men tried on the black patent shoe. It fitted none. One afternoon a limousine drew up to the Maltravers’ door. Out stepped HRH the Duke of
, his daughter, HRH the Princess Maria, and a footman carrying a cushion on which rested a black patent shoe.
‘Me, first,’ insisted Etherington. But the shoe was too small.
‘My turn,’ said Edgar pompously. The shoe slipped off his foot.
‘Is there no other young man in your family?’ asked the duke. He was beginning to despair. His daughter looked so unhappy.
‘No,’ said Etherington and Edgar in unison.
‘Actually, yes,’ said Lord Maltravers, who had suddenly remembered that his beloved but long-dead wife had given birth to triplets. ‘Where is – er – Ellis?’
‘I am here,’ spoke up Ellis bravely. He took off his tatty trainer and put his foot into the shoe. It fitted perfectly.
‘Impossible!’ chorused Etherington and Edgar.
‘Not so,’ said Ellis, ‘for here is its pair.’ From a cupboard he took the other shoe and put it on his foot.
At that moment there was a flash and before them stood his fairy godmother who waved her wand. Instantly Ellis’s clothes were transformed into the latest fashionable jeans and casual jacket.
‘My dearest love,’ Ellis exclaimed, as he took the princess into his arms.
‘My hero,’ Maria cried.
‘Ahh,’ said the duke and Lord Maltravers, while Etherington and Edgar ground their teeth in frustration.
The wedding was attended by the great and the good. The reception was a lavish affair in a huge marquee on the lawn of the bride’s home. The married couple set off that evening in a carriage drawn by two white horses.
Alone, at a 5-star hotel, Ellis sighed appreciatively as he took in the luxurious apartment, the matching piled-up luggage containing all they would need for a sumptuous honeymoon, his beautiful bride.
But Maria was hurriedly divesting herself of her designer wedding gown. ‘We don’t have much time to change,’ she said. ‘Your clothes are on the bed.’ Wearing only a plain white bra and briefs, she dragged on trousers and a shirt.
Ellis frowned as he saw the large backpack, the new but cheap jeans, the T-shirt, the used suede jacket. ‘These?’ On the floor were thick socks and a pair of Doc Martens boots.
‘I’ll explain. We’re married but we don’t know each other. I’ll give you a year and a day as we travel the world to prove to me that we are meant to be together. Otherwise, I’ll divorce you.’
He swallowed. ‘Travel the world. In cheap jeans?’
‘We have economy tickets on a flight to Buenos Aires leaving tomorrow morning. When they realise we are missing they will assume we have gone east, following convention. We have passports in assumed names. I obtained those easily. We also have £500 each to last us.’
‘This suite must cost all of that,’ he was aghast.
‘We shall have to find work. I can teach English as a foreign language.’
He sighed. ‘I can wash, clean and cook. I suppose.’ No change there, then, but it was not what he was expecting.
‘I knew you would see it my way. And in a year and a day we shall take possession of my castle in Cumbria, start a family and live there forever.’
Was it a happy ending? But that’s another story.

© A V Denham  -  2017