Now, there was a maiden who lived in that village who was not at any risk of being chosen for a fairy bride. She had been born ugly.
In fact, the day her mother went into labor, Saint Winifred was passing through. The laboring woman said to her husband, with perspiration glancing her brow, “Go and tell the saint to come hither. I would that she be present at this babe’s deliver and baptism and beg of her a blessing for the child.”
When the baby was delivered, however, they saw that she was homely: not from any clear deformity but from a lack of harmony among her tiny features, as if she had been pieced haphazardly together, and without care.
When they placed her in her mother’s arms, the woman was very distressed. But Saint Winifred had pity on the child. She took the little mewling thing and, blessing her, prayed unto God that for what she lacked in looks he would give back in skill. And so the babe grew to childhood, and it was said that there was not a thing done or made by the work of human hands that she could not perform. But her favorite of all these was the tiny, embroidery, like the web of a spider, and she always carried with her a fine silver needle.
The year of the fairy offering, an oppressive heat settled on the land. And the maiden’s mother was again with child, and she carried heavily and was weary.
“Oh, that this babe would come soon,” said her mother.
But the lass said, “Be careful, Mother, lest you rush the babe before its time.”
And so it was that in the very heat of summer, the woman’s second child was born, and this one was lovely, with a well-sculpted nose and brow, and perfect little lips like a flower bud.
The lass held the babe swaddled in her arms and told her father to send for the priest immediately, lest the faeries snatch her away before she could receive baptism. So he departed.
The baby slept, and the lass laid her in her cradle.
Now the lass’s mother was not as young as she had been, and bringing that pretty child into the world sucked the strength from her.
“Daughter,” she told the lass, “this heat will surely kill me. Go and open all the doors and windows, so that perhaps a breeze or breath may turn over the stuffy air, like an old mattress, and bring me some refreshment.”
But the lass hesitated, saying, “Mother, I daren’t open the windows and doors and expose our little babe before the priest arrives.”
“Daughter,” said her mother, “you are a good and faithful girl. I trust your watchful eyes on the little babe. No harm will befall her.”
So the lass parted the shutters and swung wide the doors, and the opening up of the room gave her mother some comfort, and she slept.
Now the ugly lass drew her chair near the cradle where the new baby slept and took up her spindle. While she worked, pulling and spinning her flax with dexterity, she ever kept an eye on her little sister, sleeping in the peace of one who knows heaven.
Just then a rush of air, like great wings beating, blew through the house and slammed closed the doors and windows. The calamity so startled the lass that she dropped her spindle. It clattered upon the hearth and rolled beneath the baby’s cradle.
The lass stooped and reached for the spindle, but though she had seen it roll beneath, she could not now detect where it settled. At last she rose, bewildered, and as she now stood over the cradle, she peered into the bundled covers. But something about the lumpy shape alarmed her. She put out her hand and parted the coverlet—only to find an oblong block of crumbling peat instead of the child.
By the time the priest arrived, the lass and her mother were pale and sallow, their cheeks streaked with tears.