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Nell by the hand, in spite of all Kate's loud, passionate cries, sed her from the cottage, and pointing to a stack of straw outside the cottage, told Kate that till the whole of it was plaited Nell should never return, but that if the work was done in twelve months she should have one free wish as payment for her industry. Kate stamped, and bade them begone: she would not work—not she! she was glad to be rid of Nell; though I must say her heart was a little sad when she found there was not a trace of them left.
The two first days Kate found bread and fruit enough in the house without her working for them; but soon, alas ! she needs must plait for her living. So she went to work in no very good temper, and sobbed very much as she thought how lonely she was. Every day she worked enough for the next day's meals, and so went on for weeks and months.
Summer came, and the merry birds and sweet flowers about made Kate's loneliness a little less lonely. She kept herself almost from the wish to have Nell back again, though she would find herself thinking often how lone and sad she was, and that she had no one to thank for all her troubles but herself. But when the long, wintry, cold nights came, she could no longer master her sorrow, and would frequently sit down and weep; yet Kate was still too proud to obey the old woman's command.
Gradually the neighbours dropped off in their custom, and as Nell was no longer there with her kind words and soft answers, few came near the cottage to buy her plaiting; and so at last one evening, after a great flood of tears, she seriously set to work at the straw from the stack outside the cottage. She worked and worked till her fingers ached, and then went to bed thinking of poor absent Nell. In the morning, how great was her surprise to see in the place of her work fruit for her morning's breakfast. With a better heart she toiled through the day, and in the evening felt happier than she had done for a long time. A month passed, and every night her work was gone, and her day's meal left in its stead, and the stack seemed to decrease beyond belief.
Once, towards the end of the winter, the night was very cold, and as she sat up working late, she laid down her work and prayed earnestly if only once more to see Nell
. The next day the old woman stood at the door, just as if she had been sent for, and she told the trembling Kate that she should now have one single wish for the work she had done. Kate wished for once in her life with all her heart, and it was to see poor Nell. The old woman mumbled as she went to the door. Presently she brought in Nell, and Kate sprang into her arms. Then the old woman, who was no less than a fairy, said something about beauty being but matter of opinion, and squeezed some herb juice over both of them. Kate became more beautiful than ever, and Nell as beautiful as Kate. The straw was all worked up, and the old woman sailed away in the sky.