Stories from Wagner Told to the Children - C. E. Smith

The Flying Dutchman

Many many years ago a Norwegian skipper named Daland was sailing homeward one evening after a long and successful voyage.

His heart was filled with longing for the sight of his only child, the beautiful dark-eyed Senta. And as he walked back and forward on the narrow deck of his swift sailing ship, he thought joyfully, "To-night I shall be home, and shall hold in my arms once more, my beloved daughter."

As night fell, the wind began to sing and hum among the snowy sails; dark clouds scudded across the starry sky, and every now and again heavy rain fell with a hissing noise on the deck.

"It is only a squall," the captain shouted to his crew, "and will go as suddenly as it has come." But by midnight the singing of the wind had risen to an angry shriek. The masts swayed and bent beneath the burden of the wind-filled sails, and huge waves crested with foam raced madly onward, lashed by the fury of the rising wind.

Daland soon knew that this was no passing squall, but a storm in which it would be dangerous if not impossible to sail past the rocky headland, beyond which lay the sandy bay he had hoped to reach that night. With a disappointed heart he gave orders that the sails should be closely reefed. He then altered the vessel's course and steered for the shelter of a rocky cove. Under its lee he could wait till the storm was past.

"Never do I remember a storm so sudden and so fierce," he said to the sailors. "Heaven help all those who are on the open sea this night."

Scarcely had he spoken when a flash of lightning, closely followed by a loud peal of thunder, lit up for an instant the angry sea, and from the helmsman came the cry, "Ship ahoy, ship ahoy!"

Daland rushed to his vessel's side and saw the lights of another ship entering the cove. He heard a clear voice of command ring from the stranger's deck. A heavy anchor was let down, and soon the new corner swayed on the heaving waters close beside the Norwegian vessel. Worn and battered the stranger's ship appeared—a gloomy ship with blood-red sails, which the sailors were silently lowering.

Captain on shipboard


No sound of voices was heard on board, no laughter to tell of rejoicing over deliverance from the terrors of the storm. In silence the vessel lay, and the Norwegian sailors, who had been eager to offer words of question and of welcome, turned away from a crew which appeared so unfriendly.

But presently the captain hailed Daland and invited him to come aboard, and in the stranger's cabin they spent the long night hours. Then, as the sun rose, the storm slowly died away.

"I have wandered much," said the stranger to Daland, "over unknown and distant seas. Wealth of gold and silver and pearls is mine safely hidden in secret coffers within these cabin walls. But now I long for rest and home. How gladly would I give half my treasure could I find a maiden who would love me truly, and be my wife. In Norway I mean to seek her, for they tell me that the maidens of Norway are loving and fair. What sayest thou who knowest them, noble Daland?"

Daland was greatly attracted by the stranger's noble look and manner. His face was very handsome, with delicate, clear-cut features that looked as if they were carved in ivory, so colourless was the skin. But it was the stranger's eyes that fascinated Daland most; dark, beautiful eyes that Daland felt were the saddest he had ever seen.

Daland's own eyes shone with eagerness when he heard of the treasures of gold and pearls hidden so close beside him, and his thoughts flew to Senta.

It is not for me, noble stranger, to say whether our maidens are as thou believest, but I have a daughter at home, and if thou wilt come with me to-morrow, for thyself thou canst judge if she be fair, and well can I vouch that she is loving."

The stranger readily agreed to sail with Daland next day, and they parted. But Daland could not sleep for thinking of the riches that might so soon be his. How often he had longed to find a noble and wealthy husband who would be worthy of yenta. Surely never had a storm brought such good fortune to any captain.

At sunrise the two ships weighed anchor, and in the golden light of dawn they left the shelter of the little cove, and steered for the rocky headland beyond which lay the sandy bay where Daland lived.

High on the rocky cliffs, which rose like a wall on two sides of the sandy bay, stood Daland's home. It was a low white house, standing back from the edge of the cliff in a garden, and well sheltered by the pine trees which clothed the steep hill slopes for many and many a mile.

Senta's mother had died when she was a baby, leaving the little dark-eyed daughter to keep her memory green in the heart of her sailor husband. And Daland, as he looked now on his daughter, saw again the fair young maiden whom he had loved and wooed eighteen years ago. The love of both husband and father he now lavished on his child.

During his long absences at sea Dame Mary, his mother's old nurse, kept Senta company and looked after the house. In the long winter evenings the village maidens would gather in the big kitchen beside the open fireplace where pine logs blazed with a cheery sputter. Then, while their spinning wheels hummed busily, Dame Mary told tale after tale of fairy and witch and wanderer whose doings had been the delight of her own youthful days. Many a ballad she had taught to Senta.

"The child is over fond of these old-world songs," she would say to Daland, half complainingly, "and her wheel stands idle while she sings, which is not the way my mother taught me should the hours be spent."

But the father always met these complaints with a smile.

"Let be, let be, Dame Mary," he would say, "Senta is still but a child. There will be time enough to spin when she has outgrown this love of childish tale and ballad."

And indeed, few could have found it in their heart to scold the lovely, dream-eyed maiden. Except in song her voice was rarely heard, and her slender, graceful form moved silently about the house and garden. But Senta's favourite haunt was the edge of the rocky cliff at the foot of which rolled the sea.

Here she would sit hour after hour watching for the first glimpse of her father's ship, she told Dame Mary; for Senta knew that her old nurse would not understand if she spoke of the fascination which drew her again and again to watch the play of light and shadow on the face of the silent sea.

And when the storm winds blew, and the roar of the great waves as they hurled themselves against the rocky cliffs was heard in the low white house in its sheltered garden, then the tumult of the wind and sea seemed to enter Senta's blood. She would roam from room to room in a fever of unrest, longing to be like the sea-gulls that floated on airy wings in the heart of the hurricane.

On the wall of the kitchen there hung a portrait which was noticed by every visitor and which Daland thought was strangely out of keeping with the simple furniture in the big old room. No one could be quite sure whence it had come; but Dame Mary, who knew most old tales connected with the family, believed that Daland's grandfather had brought it home as his share of the spoil from a wrecked ship that had drifted into the bay. "And a sad-faced, wicked-looking man I think he is," she used to add. "I feel sure he has had dealings with the Evil One." Then Dame Mary would make the sign of the cross and mutter a prayer that Heaven would keep her from such a sin.

But Senta loved the picture. To her the man's face was filled with deep sadness and longing without any sign of evil, and there welled up in her heart a great pity for the sorrow which was graven so deeply, and a longing that by her love she might in some way have lessened it.

Many a time when Dame Mary was busy at the other end of the house Senta would sit with folded hands gazing at the picture, her eyes filled with dreams. For long she had wondered what sorrow there could be so great as to bring that look of sadness into a man's face. But now she knew.

One wintry evening, when the storm raged more fiercely than usual, and shook the walls of the low white house, Dame Mary had told a tale of one whose face, Senta thought, might have looked like the portrait on the wall.

It was a tale of the sea, of a night of tempest and hurricane long, long ago, when a ship with close-reefed sails and anxious crew was struggling to round the Cape of Good Hope, that cape of storms so dreaded by all who sail the sea. Again and again the howling wind and the angry sea drove the vessel back, but with each defeat the captain's anger rose, and again he would renew his efforts to round the point. All night they battled, and when morning drew near a worn and weary sailor ventured to ask the captain, "Shall we not give in and run for the shelter of the bay?"

But with blazing eyes and angry voice the captain shouted with a terrible oath, "May I double the Cape this night even if afterwards I must sail for ever."

And the wish was heard. An evil voice spoke mockingly in the captain's ear, "In winter and summer, in storm and sunshine shalt thou sail, ever longing for rest, even the rest of death, and ever condemned to fare onward. Only one hope is thine. Each time that seven years pass thou mayst land, and shouldst thou find a maiden who will love thee unto death and join her lot with thine, then shalt thou be free."

Many and many a time had the seven years' truce arrived, and with hopeful heart the captain had sought for the maiden who should free him from his fate, but the search had always been in vain.

By sailors the "Flying Dutchman," as the captain came to be called, was dreaded, as bad luck and storms were sure to follow in his track.

And so shunned by man, and under the curse of heaven, he wandered from age to age across the homeless sea.

Senta loved this tale better than all others, and in her heart she wished that hers had been the chance to offer her love and her life to save the wanderer.

But besides Dame Mary there was one who little liked the maiden's dreamy fancies. Erick, the young huntsman, had loved Senta since they had played together as children. He was poor, and Daland, he knew, had higher hopes for the future of his only child than to wed her to a penniless hunter. But Senta liked well the handsome, fearless youth, and only three days before, Erick had drawn from her the avowal that no living person came nearer in her regard than he. Filled with hope, he now longed for Daland's home-coming that he might ask his leave to woo his daughter.

Great were the joy and excitement when word was brought that Daland's ship and another were entering the bay. The village maidens ran to the beach to welcome the travellers, while Senta and Dame Mary made ready a plentiful meal in the big old kitchen.

"Daughter, I bring thee a good friend whom I hope thou wilt heartily welcome," was Daland's greeting to Senta as he clasped her in his arms.

And when Senta raised her head from her father's bosom the colour fled from her cheeks, and surprise and fear filled her heart. Before her there stood the living image of the portrait on the wall. The man with the saddest of sad faces was by her side, and a low, tired voice was begging for welcome.

"It seems to me as if I had known him all my life," said Senta to Daland, giving her hand to the stranger, who gazed with eager eyes at the fair young face so steadfast and loving.

Right happy was the meal that sunny morning. Daland was overjoyed to be once more at home, and he had noticed with pleasure how heartily the shy Senta had welcomed his new friend.

"I shall let him tell his own tale," he said to himself. "With a young girl like Senta that handsome face will more quickly win approval than mention of gold or jewels." And his eyes sparkled as he thought of the good fortune that lay before his child.

Dame Mary was always tearfully thankful to see her master safe home again. During her long life she had seen many ships sail bravely from the harbour away to the crimson west, but she could never forget that not always had they come back again, and the fishing village held many homes where wives and daughters mourned for those gone down in the great waters.

To the stranger the sight of this peaceful home life was like a glimpse of heaven, and as he looked on Senta's sweet face once more a gleam of hope stole into his heart, and he made up his mind to tell her his pitiful tale.

And for Senta the whole world thrilled with happiness. The hero of her dreams sat by her side, and she knew in her heart that behind ,the beautiful face of her father's guest lay hidden a depth of sorrow which she alone could sound.

In the garden, alone with the stranger, she listened while he told the tale of his weary wanderings under the evil spirit's curse, and his voice faltered as he said, "Senta, couldest thou love me with a love faithful even unto death, that deliverance might be mine?"

And the sadness in his face gave place to a look of joy and hope as the maiden answered, "I have loved thee for long with the strongest love of my heart, and faithfully will I follow thee even unto death."

By evening it was known in all the village that Senta was betrothed to the captain of the stranger ship, and that Daland had found a noble and wealthy son-in-law for his only child. By his orders the villagers carried food and wine to the sailors of both ships, that they might feast and drink good luck to the coming bridal.

With right goodwill the men on Daland's ship made merry, and sounds of song and laughter floated across the bay. But presently it was noticed that silence reigned among the stranger crew. Not a rope was moved, not a voice was heard till after the sun had set. Then strange mutterings as of a coming storm filled the air; the blood-red sails of the gloomy ship fluttered as with wind in the still evening, and blue flames were seen to flicker round the bows of the mysterious vessel. No sailors were seen, but harsh voices sang songs of murder and hate and wickedness, while hideous laughter followed each cruel verse.

The sailors in Daland's ship grew silent, and fear struck a chill to their hearts.

"I know that ship," whispered an old sailor, who had come from the village to welcome his grandson; "it is the Flying Dutchman, and her captain and crew are under the power of the Evil One. God send that no ill-gotten treasure will tempt Daland to give his daughter to one so doomed." And the sailors crossed themselves and went below in fear.

Erick the huntsman, who had been on the hills all day, and had just come on board to join the merry-makers, heard all that was said by the old sailor. In great misery he went ashore to seek for Daland, and warn him of the true nature of his guest.

On the cliffs he saw Senta gazing seaward with dreamy, unseeing eyes.

"Is it true, Senta," he asked, "that thou hast promised to marry the stranger captain?"

"Erick, it had to be," answered Senta. "All my life have I been waiting for him, and now my heart calls me to follow him throughout the world."

"And what of thy promise to me, false maiden?" burst from Erick angrily. "Knowest thou that this man is under a curse, and that earth and sea alike refuse shelter to him who hath made a vow to the Evil One? Thy love is mine! But three days have passed since thou toldest me that no living person came nearer to thy heart than I. As my promised bride I claim thee now."

Erick seized Senta's hands to draw her to him. As he did so a dark shadow came from a corner of the rocky cliff, and a voice of deepest sadness was heard to say, "Thou too art false, and I am lost, lost, lost."

The Flying Dutchman


It was the voice of the stranger, who now ran down to the beach calling, "To ship, to ship! Once more to sea we go!" and as the captain sprang on board, the blood-red sails of the gloomy boat were hoisted by the ghostly crew, and the vessel put out to sea.

Senta stood for a minute, spellbound by the stranger's sad words, then she cried, "Stay, O "stay! I am thine and thine only, I will go with thee even unto death!"

But the captain heard her not, already the blood-red sails of the ship were stiffening to the breeze, and the white foam flew from the vessel's bow.

Senta cast a farewell look at the low white house and garden, and at the brave young huntsman lover who stood by her side. Then she ran along the cliff to where it overhung the sea, and crying, "I come, I come!" she threw herself down into the restless waves.

As she fell a beam of light shot from the rosy clouds which still lingered in the sunset sky, and those who were watching saw the vessel disappear, while the forms of Senta and the Flying Dutchman, with hands closely clasped, ascended on the golden pathway towards the glories of the West.

And all knew that Senta's faithful love had set the wanderer free, and he might now find rest.