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Fairy Tales
Thom and Willie


Thom and Willie, two young fisher-mates of Lunna, in Shetland, were rivals for the hand of the fair Osla, daughter of Jarm. Now it so happened that, one October afternoon, they took their hand-lines and went out fishing together in their boat. Towards dusk the wind rose, and it soon blew so hard as to compel the young men to run for the nearest shelter—a haven in the islet of Linga in Whalsay Sound, which they happily reached in safety. The islet was uninhabited, and the fishermen had with them neither food nor the means of kindling a fire. They had, however, a roof over their heads; for there was a hut, or lodge, on the island, used by fishermen in the fair weather season, but deserted since the close of that period. For two days the storm raged without ceasing, and at last the situation of the castaways began to grow very serious. However, on the morning of the third day, a little before daybreak, Willie, who was awake before his companion, discovered that the weather had faired, and that the wind blew in a favouring direction. Upon this, without rousing Thom, he proceeded to the boat, which lay safely hauled up upon the shore, and by dint of great exertion managed to launch her single-handed. Meantime Thom had awoke; and, at last, as Willie did not come back, he followed him to the noust, or place where boats are drawn up. And here a sight met his view which filled him with dismay. The yawl had disappeared from her place; but, raising his eyes he beheld her already far out at sea and speeding before the breeze in the direction of Lunna. At this sight poor Thom gave way to despair. He realised that his comrade had basely and heartlessly deserted him; he knew that it was not likely that the islet would be visited until the fishing season should have come round again; and he had small hopes of help from any exertions on his behalf which might be made by his friends, seeing that they would be in ignorance where to look for him. Amid melancholy thoughts and forebodings the day passed slowly, and at hightfall he betook himself to his shake-down of straw within the lodge. Darkness closed in, and he slept. But, towards the small hours of the morning, he was suddenly awakened; when great was his astonishment to see that the hut was lighted up with a strange illumination, whilst a queer inhuman hum and chatter, accompanied by the patter of many pairs of little feet and the jingle of gold and silver vessels, smote upon his ear. A fairy banquet was, in fact, in course of preparation in the lodge. Thom raised himself noiselessly upon his elbow, and watched the proceedings. With infinite bustle and clatter, the table was at last laid. Then there entered a party of trows, who bore between them in a chair, or litter, a female fairy, to whom all appeared to pay honour. The company took seats, and the banquet was on the point of commencing, when in a moment the scene of festivity was changed to one of wild alarm and confusion. A moment more, and Thom learnt to his cost the cause of the sudden change. The presence of a human being had been detected, and at a word from their queen the "grey people," swarming together, were about to rush upon the intruder. But in this trying juncture Thom did not lose his presence of mind. His loaded fowling-piece lay by his side, and, as the fairies rushed upon him, he raised it to his shoulder and fired. In an instant the light was extinguished, and all was darkness, silence, and solitude.

Let us now return to the perfidious Willie. Reaching Lunna in safety, he related a tragic tale (which he had invented on the voyage), to account for the absence of his comrade; and, finding that his story was believed, he began anew, without much loss of time, to urge his suit with the fair Osla. Her father, Jarm, regarded him with favour; but the maiden herself turned a deaf ear to all his entreaties. She felt that she could not love him; and, besides, she was haunted by a suspicion that Thom, in whose welfare she felt a tender interest, had been the victim of foul play. Pressure was, however, put upon her, and in spite of her objections, an early day was fixed for the wedding. The poor girl was in great distress. However, one night, when she had cried herself to sleep, she dreamed a dream, the result of which was that next morning she proceeded to the house of Thom’s parents, and begged them to join her in a search for their missing son. This, notwithstanding their love for him, they were somewhat reluctant to do; arguing that, even supposing him to have been abandoned, as she divined, upon one of the rocky islets of the coast, he must ere now have perished from exposure and starvation. But the girl persisted in her entreaties, which at last prevailed. A boat was manned, and by Osla’s direction was steered towards Linga, upon approaching which, sure enough, as the girl had predicted, it was discovered that the islet had a human tenant. Thom met his friends on the beach, and when the first eager greetings had passed, surprise was expressed at the freshness and robustness of his appearance. But this surprise increased tenfold when, in recounting his adventures, he explained that, during the latter days of his isolation, he had supported life upon the remains of the scarcely-tasted fairy banquet, adding that never in his life before had he fared so delicately. On their return to Lunna, the party were received with rejoicings; and it is scarcely necessary to add that Thom and Osla were soon made man and wife. From that time forward Willie prospered no more. The loss of his health and fortune followed that of his good name, and he sank ere long into an early and unregretted grave.


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