One Upon a time there was a grand country house called Taplows, and in this elegant abode their lived a lovely young lady called Grace, once upon a time Grace had spent her days caring for her lovely young master Harry, but then one day the lovely young Harry had a nasty trip down the stairs and poor little Gracie was blamed. Shunned by the lord of the manor who was so distraught with his son's death he locked himself away and became a recluse, the estate slowly fell to rack and ruin, most of the staff leaving for pastures new or to go and work at the palace, till only Gracie, the housekeeper and two other girls were left.
Now Grace was as fair a young lass as ever there was but instead of the life of plenty that she deserved she was forced by her evil-housekeeper Flora Ryan to work long hours in the scullery; slaving away night and day over her pots and pans and piles of laundry. She never had any time to herself, and she never had any friends as the evil Flora Ryan told them to stay away and not to mix with the lovely Grace, and they never tried being far too jealous of her beauty. So they kept her working her young fingers to the bone, and paid her barely enough to send home to her poor old mum, so her clothes had become worn and frayed; often she would sit in her scullery and dream of the way life used to be before Lord Harry had died, ignoring the spiteful taunts of Esther as she called her Scullarella.
Till one day as Gracie slaved away over her pots and pans there was a sudden commotion in the driveway, looking out the window she stared in wonder at the glorious coaches that were arriving in the courtyard and all the people, lords and servants that were arriving. Gasping in surprise when one lad, the handsomest chap she had ever seen glanced up and caught her looking. Blushing to herself she returned his shy wave before starting out of her scullery as she headed down the stairs as quick as she could but before she could be seen in her dirty rags the evil housekeeper appeared and told her to hide herself away.
"We wouldn't want you scaring away our only guests for years now would we?"
Flora Ryan insisted sending the tearful Grace away before she could mutter her reply, reminding her that while the guests where here she was to work only at night, and then only by candle light as she must not be discovered by their visitors.
So for night after night Grace worked her young fingers to the bone, scurrying about the house doing not only her chores but those of Simpering Susan and Spiteful Esther the other maids who were far too excited talking about the wonderful leaving party for all the servants than to do their limited tasks. It was the thought of this party that kept her going….Perhaps she would meet that handsome young lad again, and they could dance the night away, true she didn't have anything special like the other girls but she did have her Sunday dress still safe at the bottom of her trunk, she had hardly worn it since she had arrived and the party would be a good chance.
So the day before the leaving party, she summoned up the courage to approach the formidable housekeeper, timidly knocking on her parlour door. Sharply Flora Ryan summoned her in, sneering down her nose at the young maid and her bedraggled appearance, whilst she preened herself in front of her mirror in the hope she would catch the visiting Butler's, a Mr Corey, eye.
"What do you want Grace-May?"
"Please Mrs Ryan I came to ask permission to go to the party…"
"You go a party with respectable folk?" The housekeeper snorted shaking her head.
"But please Mrs Ryan I want to go so badly!"
"Alright then Grace-May…"She agreed before pulling out a roll of paper that unwound to the floor. "You can go to the party…But only if you complete all these chores first!"
"But…But…But Mrs Ryan that's impossible I won't be able to get any sleep at all!"
"Oh well if you preferred to lounge around in bed…."
"No, no I'll do it, I'll finish the list and then I can go?"
"Well if you do…" The housekeeper trailed off evilly watching as the excited maid darted out of her office, knowing in her black and evil heart she would never finish in time, it simply wasn't humanly possible.
However what the lazy Flora Ryan hadn't counted on was Gracie's spirit and determination, scurrying from room to room, still keeping her presence hidden she worked none stop through out the day and night and day again until only a few hours before the party would start she had finally completed everything on the long list. So exhausted but ecstatic Gracie trundled off back to see the mean housekeeper, completed list in hand.
"I've done it Mrs Ryan…All of it like you said!"
"What all of it?" The Housekeeper exclaimed shocked so stunned that she inadvertently smudged far too much rouge across her pale cheek.
"So I can go to the party like you said?"
"Well….That depends! Do you have something else to wear I won't have you showing my girls up?"
"I have a different dress…Its my best, I think it will be alright." Grace replied softly cowering into the corner as the housekeeper stormed past her and up to her tiny attic room, which she shared with a large family of spiders, searching through her trunks until she came across the delicate little brown dress.
"Oh you cannot possibly be seen in this!" Flora Ryan exclaimed. "Why its practically threadbare it wouldn't be decent girl!" She added giving the sleeves a sharp tug and tearing the material off in her hand whilst Grace looked on horrified.
"See it's falling apart in my hand! No you had better stay here, I won't have you appearing half naked and ruining this houses reputation! And to make sure that you do…"
She added determinedly she moved to the door, rustling her great big ring of keys for the right one and slamming the door shut in Grace's face, turning the key in the lock before heading down to amuse herself with that rather dashing Mr Corey.
Sobbing in disappointment Grace collapsed on her rag bed clutching her ruined dress to her eyes to mop up her tears, she would never get to dance with that handsome footman, after all even if she could escape from her room he would surely never even glance at her wearing such attire.
However before she could despair too long there was the sound of twinkling music and a sudden blast of light illuminating the room.
"Do not cry my child." An ethereal voice sounded, causing the girl to glance up before jumping to her feet in shock. Glancing up at her sloping ceiling, which was now being filled to bursting by the largest looking fairy that Grace had ever heard of, even her chins wobbled when she smiled down at the young girl.
"I am Mrs Diggins, your fairy godmother, I am here to grant the deepest wish of your heart!" The fairy muttered.
"Oh my!" Grace gasped thinking of all the things that she could wish for to change her life, but if it had to be the deepest wish then all she wanted at this point, more than any other was to go to that party and dance with that handsome lad. "I want to go to the ball Fairy godmother!"
"Your wish is granted!" Mrs Diggins exclaimed reaching behind her back to reveal a glittering walking stick, which she waved dangerously around almost taking poor Gracie's head off. Then with a poof of smoke Grace's rags turned into a lovely light blue dress, made from the lightest silky fabric and it fitted perfectly emphasising her tiny waist and generous curves; the lightest of silken shawls draped round her shoulders. Her hair had been put up so that delicate ringlets dropped down past her ears, which sported tiny little pearl drops and on her feet were the smartest of little boots.
"But the door is locked and Mrs Ryan has the key?"
"Hmmm and it's true you cannot magic iron!" The fairy Mrs Diggins insisted before a brilliant plan struck her. "You can go out the window!"
"But we're so high up!" Grace gasped leaning out the widow and panicking at the drop.
"That is not a problem for me deary!" Mrs Diggins exclaimed before directing her magic walking stick towards the nearby rose garden and Grace gasped as the roses began to grow, twirling up the wall of the house until they framed her window.
"Oh and don't worry deary I made them thornless…Oh but Gracie…" She called out as the girl quickly descended from sight. "Remember the magic will only last until midnight…"
Once on the ground Grace made her way round to the courtyard, laughing in delight at the gay banners and rousing music as couples whirled round the floor. Hiding her face as their housekeeper stormed past intent on tracking down the poor butler who it appeared was trying to drown his sorrows in the bottom of a barrel of beer.
However she wasn't left in her corner for long as that handsome footman spotted her face and headed straight over.
"Hello my lovely, my name is George and who might you be?"
"Oh my name isn't important." Grace whispered back, blushing deeply at his intense gaze.
"Well Little Miss mystery would you care to dance?"
Nodding her agreement Grace allowed herself to be drawn away by her prince charming and into the fun filled gala of an evening.
And so the innocent the fun might have remained but at around ten to twelve the poor butler, Mr Corey, in his desperation to escape from the every grasping claws of Flora Ryan unseated himself and went sprawling back over the now empty beer barrel and his cries of pain quickly interrupted the merry making. Ever quick and light on her feet little Grace darted over and with George's help assisted the drunken butler to his feet.
"Oh my arm…My shoulder…Oh somebody get me a Doctor!" The Butler exclaimed he was in such agony.
"Wait I can help!" Grace replied, quickly and expertly popping his dislocated shoulder back into place before furnishing him with a makeshift sling from her delicate shawl.
It was then of course that the evil housekeeper spotted Grace and her face clouded in anger and tried to force the pretty young girl away from her intended, sure that the lass was setting her cap at the butler.
"You…Didn't I tell you to stay in your room." She hissed so only Grace could hear, scaring the girl so badly that she slipped away from George's tender grasp and darted back round the house, ignoring his pleas to wait she lost him round the Orangery reaching the rose vines just in time to hear the church bells start to toll midnight.
Panicking she scrambled up the wall, her pretty new dress ripping on the branches as the thorns returned and the magic began to fade. Panting she finally heaved herself back over her windowsill as the climbing roses withered and died, sitting down on her bed she gazed around her spartan room, content with the memories of a dance with that handsome footman George.
So her adventure might of ended where is not for the desperate love that a certain young footman had discovered in his tender heart. He wasn't daunted and persuaded the somewhat soft butler to assist him on his quest, as after all surely they could make use of such a clever lass who was as nimble with her fingers as her marbles.
And so they started their search, offering the post of deputy-housekeeper to any lass that could come forward and tie a sling so fast and quickly as clever Gracie. They searched high and low, through every Taplows member of staff and even every house in Tappleton before returning to Taplows dejected and disappointed. It was only as hey were loading up their trunks to leave that the faithful George suddenly heard a whispered urging.
"Look up young fellow, a mumbler you may be but you'll do just fine for my little Gracie!"
Glancing up once more up at the old building scanning the windows for her lovely face he caught a reflection of the topmost one and then he knew that was where she was. Calling on the butler they both scampered inside the housekeeper hot on their heels, until she finally cut them off and stood defensively in front of the secluded maid's bedroom door.
"Get out of our way Madam!" Mr Corey exclaimed.
"But sir what do you want with an old attic? There is nothing in there! If you want to look at a bedroom well then perhaps…."
"Then there is certainly no harm in showing us then is there!" George retorted, drawing himself up to his own height before snatching the keys from the housekeeper's belt, and forcing the unlocked door open with a flourish.
Huddled in the corner Grace pulled her tattered cap over her dirty puffy, from all the crying, face and avoided the intruders, expecting it to be the evil housekeeper and her maids come to taunt her.
"Excuse me Miss." The butler suddenly spoke up. "But my sling needs adjusting, would you be so kind?"
Confused Grace got to her feet, avoiding George's stunned expression at her condition, convinced he would no longer like her as herself, she simply crossed the room and altered the sling to fit better.
"That's our girl Mr Corey!" George exclaimed gleefully, reaching out and catching the surprised Gracie into a hug and twirling her round. "You're coming with us!"
"What is your name Miss?" The Butler asked gravely.
"Grace May sir, but I don't understand….Go where? I'm not being dismissed am I?"
"No you're going to come away with us Miss May. We have need of a lady with your skill."
"And we're going to live Happily ever after!" George added offering her his arm before escorting her down the stairs, slamming the door on the furious Flora Ryan forever!