The Brown Fairy Book
The Elf Maiden
Once upon a time two young men living in a small village fell in love with the same girl.
During the winter, it was all night except for an hour or so about noon, when the darkness
seemed a little less dark, and then they used to see which of them could tempt her out for
a sleigh ride with the Northern Lights flashing above them, or which could persuade her
to come to a dance in some neighbouring barn. But when the spring began, and the light
grew longer, the hearts of the villagers leapt at the sight of the sun, and a day was fixed
for the boats to be brought out, and the great nets to be spread in the bays of some islands
that lay a few miles to the north. Everybody went on this expedition, and the two young
men and the girl went with them.
They all sailed merrily across the sea chattering like a flock of magpies, or singing their
favourite songs. And when they reached the shore, what an unpacking there was! For this
was a noted fishing ground, and here they would live, in little wooden huts, till autumn
and bad weather came round again.
The maiden and the two young men happened to share the same hut with some friends,
and fished daily from the same boat. And as time went on, one of the youths remarked
that the girl took less notice of him than she did of his companion. At first he tried to
think that he was dreaming, and for a long while he kept his eyes shut very tight to what
he did not want to see, but in spite of his efforts, the truth managed to wriggle through,
and then the young man gave up trying to deceive himself, and set about finding some
way to get the better of his rival.
The plan that he hit upon could not be carried out for some months; but the longer the
young man thought of it, the more pleased he was with it, so he made no sign of his
feelings, and waited patiently till the moment came. This was the very day that they were
all going to leave the islands, and sail back to the mainland for the winter. In the bustle
and hurry of departure, the cunning fisherman contrived that their boat should be the last
to put off, and when everything was ready, and the sails about to be set, he suddenly
'Oh, dear, what shall I do! I have left my best knife behind in the hut. Run, like a good
fellow, and get it for me, while I raise the anchor and loosen the tiller.'
Not thinking any harm, the youth jumped back on shore and made his way up the steep
hank. At the door of the hut he stopped and looked back, then started and gazed in horror.
The head of the boat stood out to sea, and he was left alone on the island.
Yes, there was no doubt of it--he was quite alone; and he had nothing to help him except
the knife which his comrade had purposely dropped on the ledge of the window. For
some minutes he was too stunned by the treachery of his friend to think about anything at