There she sat, hands folded in her lap, scarcely looking up. Couples swirled by, smiling, laughing, chatting and delighting. The music beckoned a response but there was no one to lead her to the dance. Little Mary was unadorned and to say she was plain was to do her a kindness. Her dress was old and faded and even in its prime it had been nothing to talk of. Her clumsily arranged hair was more like straw than silk. Her best efforts to improve herself were of little use. She was a ragdoll among china beauties, a sparrow among swans, and an ugly stepsister among glittering Cinderellas. How she even came to be at the ball no one knew—Mary herself was surprised. And yet there she was—sure that seated she would stay.
Time passed and Mary drooped further still. She became well acquainted with her well-worn shoes and the cracks in the floor. She sat and stared. After some time, Mary—lost in thought, became aware of a voice calling her name.
Mary looked up into a most handsome face—smiling—with bright, dancing eyes. She looked in disbelief. It was the prince—the host of the ball! The prince was speaking to her—calling her name! Why he was speaking to her of all people and how he even knew her name, she couldn’t fathom. Nervously she managed a quick,
“Mary, may I lead you to the dance?”
“Mary, it would give me great pleasure if you would come and dance with me.”
Mary caught her breath and hesitantly held out her hand. The prince led her to the floor. The room became silent as jaws dropped and polished peacocks watched on indignantly.
“Your Highness, I don’t know how to dance,” Mary whispered.
“Don’t worry, Mary”, soothed the prince, “I will lead you—just follow me and I’ll teach you as we go.”
The prince signalled for the music to begin. He spoke instructions softly to Mary and gently led her. Mary stumbled. She pulled in the wrong direction. She trod many times on the prince’s feet. The music kept playing and the couple kept dancing. Mary had barely looked into the prince’s eyes—afraid to look and fearful of seeing nothing but pity. But when she did look she saw something quite different—she saw love. Mary relaxed and allowed the prince to truly lead her. She found herself more light-footed and she moved with greater ease. The music itself captivated her and she was swept along by it. Though Mary had barely noticed, others looked on with wonder at how gracefully she moved across the floor. Yet, her movements were not the only thing catching eyes. Mary’s hair seemed smoother and softer. Her face was changed—aglow with a new beauty. And that old dress appeared fuller, brighter and richer. Soon Mary and the prince were the only ones dancing. All else looked on in amazement and wonder. They moved as one—carried along by the music. No longer was it the prince and plain little Mary. Now it was a lord and his lady—a king and his queen. Mary shimmered in an exquisite gown. Her hair shone like gold—adorned with a glistening tiara. Mary’s face was beauty itself—her eyes were as jewels and her lips like wine. Far from being “little Mary”, she stood tall and full of grace. The greatest change was the unceasing smile on her face and the rapturous delight that shone in her eyes. Mary was transformed in the arms of her lord and king.