The Flying Dutchman
A storm on the ocean is a fearful thing to see. It roars, it flashes, it
races huge waves mountain-high one after the other, it dashes them
furiously against the sharp rocks, it howls, it blows, and it tosses
great ships about as though they were tiny toys.
Once, long, long ago there was just such a storm as this off the Cape of
Good Hope, that most southern point of Africa. For the Evil Spirit who
ruled the seas in those days, and who had many servants to do his
bidding, had ordered one of them, the Wind Storm, to sweep over the
waters far and wide. Perhaps the Evil Spirit wanted to add to the
treasures that he had gathered from all the ships he had
wrecked--treasures that he kept far beneath the water.
At any rate, the Wind Storm did as he was told. He lashed the mighty
waves into anger so that they crashed against the jagged rocks of the
Cape, and all the ships that were abroad scudded swiftly along before
him in fear.
"Go home," whistled the Wind Storm through the sails. "Go back to your
safe harbors. There is no room for you on this sea. I need it
And the ships scurried into their harbors--all but one. The captain of
that ship was not afraid of the Wind Storm nor of the Evil Spirit,
either, for that matter. His ship was strong, and so was his will. He
was determined to go around the Cape. He stood at the prow while the
ship rocked violently to and fro. The salt spray dashed over him, but
still he defied the Wind Storm.
"I will not go back," he cried, and he swore a mighty oath. "I'll sail
on and round that Cape if I sail forever."
Now the Evil Spirit happened to be lurking beneath the angry waters,
and he heard the oath.
"Very well," cried he. "Sail on forever and ever, then! Sail on until
you find a maiden fair who will be willing to die for love of you!"
And so it came to pass. Through all the long years that followed, the
ship sailed on and on. In fair or foul weather, over smooth or stormy
seas, under blue or gray skies, the strange voyage continued year after
Sometimes the captain in his despair would steer straight for the craggy
rocks, hoping to be dashed to pieces, but the rocks would not harm his
ship. He steered in the path of terrible pirates, but when the pirates
saw the ship, they crossed themselves and hurried away. The blustering
tempest would not harm it, nor the eddying whirlpool. It just sailed on
The sailors, who had been young and lively, grew old and silent. Their
hearts were as gray as their heads, for though the days grew into
weeks, the weeks into years, the years into centuries, still there was
no rest for them. Their faces became as white as ghosts, and some say
that the blood left their bodies and crept into the sails. At any rate,
the strong, white ship turned black and weather-beaten, and the strong,
white sails, red, red as blood.
Only the captain remained forever young and handsome, and each seven
years as the ship sailed into some harbor, he was allowed to go on shore
to seek the maiden fair who would deliver him and his crew from their
fate and set them at rest. But alas! no such maiden had he ever found.
Many maidens had he met and loved, and many had loved him, too, but to
be true to him forever and to die for him,--that was quite another
And so each time "The Flying Dutchman" had gone on again, until once at
the end of a seven years' period he came to the coast of Norway.
Heigho, heigho! sang the sailors of a gay Norwegian bark as they cast
anchor in a sheltered bay on the coast of Norway to escape the tempest,
which had been tossing them about on the open sea. What though the south
wind had driven them a few miles out of their course? The sunrise of
another day would find them safe at home after their long voyage. In
fancy, they could already see the dear ones on the shore, waving,
smiling, welcoming! So "heigho, heigho for to-morrow!" sang they.
Only Daland, the captain, was full of gloom. Impatient was he, also, for
had he not expected to spend that very night by his own fireside with
his daughter Senta? And now to wait here, so near and yet so far, with a
raging sea between him and his peaceful home, was an ordeal, indeed. To
battle with those angry waves had been no easy task, either. A little
sleep would not harm him, thought he.
Now you must know that in those days the seas were full of dread pirates
and bold robbers who prowled about seeking plunder, and so, before
Daland lay down to sleep, he called his steersman and bade him keep
sharp watch. The steersman did--for a little while. But he, too, was
tired. First he sang right lustily a merry song about the distant climes
where he had traveled, and of the kind winds that would send him back to
his sweetheart. Soon, however, his voice faltered; it grew fainter and
fainter. His head nodded once, twice. He, too, was asleep.
Then, while no one watched, slowly, quietly, out of the west, came an
old weather-beaten vessel with red, red sails, straight into that very
bay. Only you and I know whence it came, and how endless had been its
wanderings. So silently did it sail, so ghostly were its movements, that
no one on all Daland's boat heard a single sound. No one heard the
noiseless dropping of the anchor, the lowering of those red, red sails.
Nor did any one hear the sigh of relief with which the worn sailors
crept away to their berths, nor see the hope and longing that lit their
pale faces as they saw their captain spring eagerly to the shore.
Perhaps the captain stamped too heavily up and down on the wet sand,
glad to feel the solid earth under his feet once more. Perhaps he raised
his arms to heaven and cried aloud to God to help him now find the
maiden fair who would love him truly forever. Why, I do not know, but
just then Daland awoke with a start.
A strange vessel alongside! How he chided the drowsy steersman! A
strange captain on the shore! Quickly he leaped to the sand to greet
"Whence come you?" asked Daland, "and whither are you going?"
The Dutchman replied but little. "Holland," he said, "and a wanderer
seeking shelter for his vessel from the storm." Home he had none, nor
wife, nor child, and gladly would he pay of his treasures for one night
at somebody's hospitable hearth.
And while Daland was marveling at this strange tale, and had begun to
tell of his own home so near and yet so far away, the stranger, at a
sign, had received a huge chest from his ship and was opening it before
If "all the wild flowers of the forest, all the lilies of the prairie,"
all the glorious colors of sunrise and sunset, if the rainbow itself,
had been packed away in a chest to be suddenly opened before you,
perhaps you would have been surprised, too. Gold was there, and silver
was there, and the white sheen of pearls, and the bright sparkle of
diamonds, and the deep glow of rubies, all there dancing, glittering, in
Daland's astonished eyes. Was this some marvelous dream? When he found
that the treasure was real, he remembered Senta, and offered the
Dutchman his home for the night, telling him that his daughter ...
The Dutchman caught the word "daughter." Had Daland a daughter? Would he
give her to him for a wife? And Daland, who had been thinking what a
fine husband such a man, with a ship full of treasures, would be for his
daughter, lost no time, and said yes.
Then hope came again to the heart of the Dutchman. He was impatient to
see this maiden who, he silently prayed, might be the one to deliver him
from his fate. And while he prayed, the wind changed, the clouds broke,
a ray of sunshine peeped through, the sea became smooth as glass.
"You'll see her this day," said Daland.
And so, bidding the sailors raise anchor, Daland went aboard his boat,
the Dutchman aboard his, and with a heigho, heigho, they sailed out of
Daland's home stood, as a sailor's home should, near the sea. Through
its white-curtained windows one could see far out over the blue water,
to the broad horizon, where ships hovered like white birds against the
Inside the house all was as sweet and clean as the willing hands of old
Marie, the house-keeper, could make it. The walls, rough and unpainted,
were almost covered with flat blue maps and sailor's charts, save where,
over the wide doorway, a single picture hung.
It was the picture of a man; a man with a pale face, a long, black
beard, and strange, foreign-looking clothes. But I do not need to tell
you who he was. You know the story behind those melancholy eyes that
looked out so sadly from the picture. You have heard it this very day.
Had you entered that sunny room on a certain afternoon long, long ago,
you would have seen a group of happy girls, under the direction of
Marie, all diligently spinning. And, had you stopped to listen, you
would have heard merry chatter and light-hearted snatches of song
mingled with the whir-r, whir-r, whir-r-r of those quick-turning wheels.
How they joked, and laughed, and sang, those girls of long ago!
Did I say all? No, not all. For there was one who sat quite apart, her
idle hands in her lap, her young face uplifted, and her dreaming eyes
fixed on the portrait over the door. She was Senta, the daughter of
Once, when Senta was very young, old Marie had told her the history of
that pale man in the picture, and the sadness of his fate, and that of
his unhappy crew, had touched her tender heart. And, because she was an
imaginative girl, who fancied strange things, the picture of the Flying
Dutchman, wandering over unknown seas, came back to her mind again and
again. She thought of him by day; she dreamed of him by night. She even
began to imagine that God had destined her to be that maiden fair whose
love would deliver him from his mournful roaming. But certainly she
never breathed such a strange thought to a single soul.
Until that day! Then, as all the busy girls laughingly teased her for
her idleness, and twitted her for being in love with a mere shadow
instead of with the real, strong, young hunter Eric, who wanted to marry
her, she grew impatient. To still their chatter, she cried out
"Oh, girls, cease your foolish songs and your spinning! I am tired of
all the humming and buzzing. Do you want me to join you? Listen, and
I'll sing the ballad of the Flying Dutchman. Then you'll know why his
sad fate touches my heart."
Senta began her singing. The girls stopped their wheels to listen, and
as they listened, their eyes grew round with wonder. They, too, pitied
the poor captain and his unhappy crew. But when Senta described these
aimless wanderings that nothing could change except that maiden fair who
would be willing to die for love, the girls interrupted her.
"Oh!" cried they. "Where in all the world is there such a maiden?"
"Here!" answered Senta, and she sang:
"Angel above, oh! bring to me
The pale man sailing o'er the sea!"
Do you wonder that all the girls, even Marie, started up in alarm when
they heard that strange prayer? No doubt they thought Senta had gone out
of her mind. Loudly they called, until Eric the hunter came running into
the room. He reasoned, he pleaded with Senta, but all in vain. She could
think of nothing but the story of the man whose picture hung on the
Just when the excitement was greatest, a cry from without told of the
approach of Daland's boat. There was no time for foolish thoughts, then.
A meal must be prepared, the table set, the glasses filled! Away hurried
the girls and old Marie.
In a moment Daland was at the door. Who was that pale visitor, so
strangely like the picture above his head, entering behind him? Senta
stared from one to the other. She could scarcely greet her father. She
knew at once who this stranger was, just as you know and as I know. But
Daland knew not.
He, proud and happy, thinking of that ship full of treasures, lost no
time in telling Senta that this was the man he had chosen to be her
husband on the morrow, if she were willing.
Senta was quite willing, for had she not loved this stranger for a long,
long time? As for the Flying Dutchman, he gazed into those trusting
eyes, and was filled with a great joy and a greater hope. Often when
tossed about on the cruel waves had he dreamed of a maiden just as
fair, just as pure as this one who now stood before him. If she would
but be constant, all would be well, thought he. And, as he gazed, he
heard her sweet voice saying,
"Whoever thou art, whatever thy fate,
I will be thy love, I will be thy mate."
The marriage feast was quickly prepared. The jolly sailor boys, the
pretty peasant girls, all lent helping hands, and soon the merrymaking
on board the gayly lighted ship began. Only on the black ship with the
red sails was there darkness and silence.
Suddenly a young girl walked hastily down to the shore. It was Senta,
the daughter of Daland, and closely following her, came Eric the hunter.
He begged her to hearken to his wooing once more. He pleaded with her to
give up that mysterious stranger who had come between them. Had she
forgotten all her promises? Must her father's rash command be obeyed?
Because Eric was an old friend, and because Senta was a kind-hearted
girl, she listened patiently to all that he had to say. Not that a
single word could have altered her determination to live and to die, if
need be, for the Flying Dutchman. She loved him too well for that.
Even while she listened to Eric, she thought tenderly of her new lover
and of how good God had been to allow her to be the maiden fair who
would relieve his endless suffering.
Perhaps it was just that tender thought showing in her face that the
Dutchman mistook for regret. For, at that very moment, when Eric was
pleading so earnestly, and Senta was listening so patiently, the
Dutchman came down to the shore.
He looked first at Eric, then at Senta, and like a flash came the
thought that here was another girl who would not keep her promise.
There had been so many like that. He did not stop to ask or to reason.
Frantic with disappointment and despair, he rushed blindly over the
rocks toward his ship.
"To sea! To sea forevermore!" cried he.
Now, you know Senta had not ceased loving him at all. So, although Eric
tried to detain her, she ran swiftly after the Dutchman. She clung to
him, crying out her love, and vowing eternal faithfulness again and
again. So loudly did she cry, that Daland and Marie came hurrying, too.
The Dutchman managed to loosen her arms, to free himself. He waved her
back, and a great change came over his face. Gone were all thoughts of
himself and of his sad fate. He thought only of this pure maiden who was
willing to die for his sake. He knew now that he loved her too well to
let her pay such an awful price. Rather would he sail on and on
Warning her not to come nearer, he leaped into his boat. Then, as the
gray sailors unfurled the red, red sails and the black ship plunged
forward, he stretched out his arms and told who he was. "The Flying
Dutchman am I, the Scourge of the Sea," he shouted.
Daland, Marie, Eric, crossed themselves and looked after him in horror.
Not so, Senta. She had always known who he was. She would save him. She
would be faithful until death. With a glad cry, she leaped forward and
cast herself into the seething sea.
The waves closed over her. And as they closed a strange thing happened.
At the very same moment, the black ship, the red sails, the sailors, all
disappeared. Only a rosy light lay over the water where they had been.
And in that rosy light, which ascended from the blue water to the blue
sky, were seen, in close embrace, the angel forms of the Flying Dutchman
and his maiden fair, floating onward and upward, toward their eternal
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