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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Man-Servant and the Water-Elves
By Jón Árnason (1819–1888)
 
From ‘Icelandic Legends’: Translation of George E. J. Powell and Eiríkr Magnússon

IN a large house, where all the chief rooms were paneled, there lived once upon a time a farmer, whose ill-fate it was that every servant of his that was left alone to guard the house on Christmas Eve, while the rest of the family went to church, was found dead when the family returned home. As soon as the report of this was spread abroad, the farmer had the greatest difficulty in procuring servants who would consent to watch alone in the house on that night; until at last, one day a man, a strong fellow, offered him his services, to sit up alone and guard the house. The farmer told him what fate awaited him for his rashness; but the man despised such a fear, and persisted in his determination.  1
  On Christmas Eve, when the farmer and all his family, except the new man-servant, were preparing for church, the farmer said to him, “Come with us to church; I cannot leave you here to die.”  2
  But the other replied, “I intend to stay here, for it would be unwise in you to leave your house unprotected; and besides, the cattle and sheep must have their food at the proper time.”  3
  “Never mind the beasts,” answered the farmer. “Do not be so rash as to remain in the house this night; for whenever we have returned from church on this night, we have always found every living thing in the house dead, with all its bones broken.”  4
  But the man was not to be persuaded, as he considered all these fears beneath his notice; so the farmer and the rest of the servants went away and left him behind, alone in the house.  5
  As soon as he was by himself he began to consider how to guard against anything that might occur; for a dread had stolen over him, in spite of his courage, that something strange was about to take place. At last he thought that the best thing to do was, first of all to light up the family room; and then to find some place in which to hide himself. As soon as he had lighted all the candles, he moved two planks out of the wainscot at the end of the room, and creeping into the space between it and the wall, restored the planks to their places, so that he could see plainly into the room and yet avoid being himself discovered.  6
  He had scarcely finished concealing himself, when two fierce and strange-looking men entered the room and began looking about.  7
  One of them said, “I smell a human being.”  8
  “No,” replied the other, “there is no human being here.”  9
  Then they took a candle and continued their search, until they found the man’s dog asleep under one of the beds. They took it up, and having dashed it on the ground till every bone in its body was broken, hurled it from them. When the man-servant saw this, he congratulated himself on not having fallen into their hands.  10
  Suddenly the room was filled with people, who were laden with tables and all kinds of table furniture, silver, cloths, and all, which they spread out, and having done so, sat down to a rich supper, which they had also brought with them. They feasted noisily, and spent the remainder of the night in drinking and dancing. Two of them were appointed to keep guard, in order to give the company due warning of the approach either of anybody or of the day. Three times they went out, always returning with the news that they saw neither the approach of any human being, nor yet of the break of day.  11
  But when the man-servant suspected the night to be pretty far spent, he jumped from his place of concealment into the room, and clashing the two planks together with as much noise as he could make, shouted like a madman, “The day! the day! the day!”  12
  On these words the whole company rose scared from their seats, and rushed headlong out, leaving behind them not only their tables, and all the silver dishes, but even the very clothes they had taken off for ease in dancing. In the hurry of flight many were wounded and trodden under foot, while the rest ran into the darkness, the man-servant after them, clapping the planks together and shrieking, “The day! the day! the day!” until they came to a large lake, into which the whole party plunged headlong and disappeared.  13
  From this the man knew them to be water-elves.  14
  Then he returned home, gathered the corpses of the elves who had been killed in the flight, killed the wounded ones, and, making a great heap of them all, burned them. When he had finished this task, he cleaned up the house and took possession of all the treasures the elves had left behind them.  15
  On the farmer’s return, his servant told him all that had occurred, and showed him the spoils. The farmer praised him for a brave fellow, and congratulated him on having escaped with his life. The man gave him half the treasures of the elves, and ever afterward prospered exceedingly.  16
  This was the last visit the water-elves ever paid to that house.  17
 
 
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