Two men, Abel and Eric, are popular in Pencastle. They grew up together as both companions and enemies, and are now in love with the same girl, Sarah. Sarah is flattered but sometimes annoyed at this. Her mother intervenes and confronts the two men, with the idea that they both put the money they have together toward a house for her, and then toss for Sarah. Abel balked at this idea at first, as he figured he would stand a better chance were Sarah to choose for herself. But rather that him saying he was afraid of the contest, it was settled.
The three went off to be alone, and then after bickering back and forth a bit held the coin toss. It resulted in Abel's favor. Eric scowled and Abel took Sarah in his arms, and she believed that perhaps fortune had rightly interpreted the desires of her heart.
Abel tries to make peace with Eric but Eric will have none of it. He warns Abel that he might not be able to marry Sarah come one year's time. Abel sails off to Bristol to try to make good his investment of the pool of money. He writes one letter to Sarah telling her that he's been successful. Meanwhile Eric is always around, and the letter dashes his hopes, but he regains them again when another one does not come. He assails Sarah with all kinds of scenarios which she should marry him instead, like perhaps Abel got married or died.
A terrible storm hits and Eric sees off in the distance a ship wreck. He ventures out there, and throws his rope at someone he saw in the water during a flash of lightning. He pulls the person to safety, and realizes it is Abel. Seeing Abel's relief a wave of passion filled Eric's heart, and in a moment of hate lets the rope go, and Abel falls back into the sea. He denies to the harbor master that there was anyone who drifted in.
The next day he talks to Sarah only briefly. He stays mostly to himself over the next week, with most people thinking he was just being shy as his wedding was coming up. The day before the wedding was to be he gets a visit from the chief boatman, who thinks he is discreetly informing him of his comrade's being lost at sea.
The next day Eric prepared for his wedding calmly, and the ceremony went smoothly. As they walked back from the church to his cottage, she screamed, pointing to the river bed.
The tide had washed the body of Abel upon the rocks. His hand seemed to be outstretched toward Sarah, with the palm open as if extended to receive hers.