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There were once 2 ugly old women who lived in a crumbling cottage in the country. They were getting too old to cope and lived in terror of the Workhouse. One day they were out digging in their vegetable patch when they heard an odd little cry coming from the spindly carrots. One old woman bent down as far as her bad back would allow.

“Sis! Heaven be praised. There is a tiny child amongst the carrots!” she exclaimed, and she caught the creature in her shaky old hand.

“Look at it. Did you ever see such a little oddity?”

The child was only 6 inches tall, with eyes as green as the gooseberries on the bush and long hair the colour of the carrots.

“She might be a fairy!”

“Then don’t let her escape.”

The old woman clutched the tiny child so tightly that she cried.

“Sh!” said the old woman, shaking her like a salt cellar. “Don’t you dare make that noise. You’re to do what we say, do you hear?”

They waddled indoors and put the tiny child in the biscuit tin for safe keeping. The child beat her tiny hands on the inside of the tin.

“You can drum until your hands fall off,” cackled the old woman. “You’re at our mercy now. We want fairy wishes, don’t we, sis? What shall we have for the first wish, eh? I think I’d like a new silk gown.”

“And I wouldn’t say no to a pair of satin slippers,” said the other old woman. “Size 5 1/2, wide fitting, if you please.”

They sat back expectantly but there wasn’t a silk gown or satin slipper in sight. They frowned and peeped inside the biscuit tin. The child was crouching on a custard cream, crying.

“Don’t cry, you’ll make the biscuits soggy. Come along, grant our wishes at once. What’s the matter with you? You’re not much use for a fairy. Or aren’t you a fairy after all? You’re not very pretty, are you? And you haven’t got wings and a wand. Call you a fairy!”

“Oh dear, I could so do with a pair of satin slippers,” said the other old woman. “Shall we take it back to the carrot patch and set it free, sis?”

But they decided to keep the tiny child in the tin just in case she could come in useful. She started growing rapidly on her diet of custard cream and bourbon biscuits. She soon found the tin a tight fit. They tried her out in the wastepaper basket and eventually kept the child in the cupboard under the stairs with all the brooms and brushes. They tied her on a long lead and once a day let her out of the cupboard to do all the cleaning. And all the washing and ironing. And then they made her cook the vegetable stew for supper. She might not be a fairy but she came in handy as a servant and they didn’t have to pay her any wages.

The child grew white and weak and spent most of her time in the broom cupboard sleeping although it was hard to clear herself sufficient space to curl up properly. She scrabbled about the cupboard and found, right at the back, a strange pair of black buckled shoes. She slipped one on her left foot, and one on her right. They fitted perfectly. Her green eyes glowed in the dark.

When the old women opened the cupboard in the morning the child stepped out in her new black buckled shoes. They grew larger and larger in the daylight, and the child grew with them. Soon she was towering above the two old women, her head pressed up against the ceiling. She lifted her left foot and stamped hard on one old woman. Then she lifted her right foot and stamped hard on the other.

Then she marched out of the cottage in her great black shoes, left right, left right—and she never went back.


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