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Vain hope! Fearful, idle illusion! There is no such thing more upon earth as eternal fidelity, One hope alone is left me, one hope alone which nothing can destroy. However long the seed of earth endure, it must come to final dissolution. Day of Judgment, end of the world! When shall you dawn upon my night? When shall it sound, the trump of doom, at which the earth will crumble away?
When all the dead arise, then shall I pa.s.s into nothingness. O ye worlds, a term to your course! Eternal void, receive me!" From the hold of the phantom-ship the unseen crew echo his prayer: "Eternal void, receive us!"
He is leaning against a rock, absorbed in sombre meditation, when Daland, emerging from the cabin to take a look at the weather, becomes aware of the looming neighbour. He rouses the sleep-drunken mate. The latter, shocked wide-awake by the conviction of negligence, catches up a speaking-trumpet and calls to the strange ship lying at anchor close by, "Who is there?" There comes no sound in reply, save from the echo. "Answer!" shouts the mate; "Your name and colours!"
Silence, as before. "It appears they are quite as lazy as we!" Daland remarks, finding nothing particularly noteworthy in the unresponse, since his own crew are asleep too after their long toil. Catching sight of the dark figure on sh.o.r.e which he rightly takes to be the captain, he prevents the mate's further investigation, and turns his questions to this one: "Halloo, seaman! Give your name!
Your country?" The answer comes after a long pause, almost as if the speaker had lost the habit of human intercourse and uttered himself with difficulty. "I have come from afar. Do you, in such stress of weather, deny me anchorage?"--"G.o.d forbid! The seaman knows the friendly courtesies of hospitality!" cries Daland. Joining the stranger ash.o.r.e, "Who are you?" he asks. "Hollander."--"G.o.d be with you! So you too were driven by the hurricane on to the bare rocky coast? I had no better fate. My home is but a few miles from here; I had nearly reached it when I was forced to turn and sail away. Tell me, whence are you come? Has your ship sustained damage?"--"My ship is strong, nor likely to meet with damage,"
the Hollande, answers, as drearily as mysteriously; "Driven by storms and adverse winds I have been wandering over the face of the waters--how long? I hardly could tell. I have long ceased to count the years. I hardly could name all the lands I have approached. One land alone, the one which of all I long for, I can never find,--the land of home! Grant me for a short period the hospitality of your house, and you shall not rue the act of friendliness. My ship is richly laden with treasures from every region and lat.i.tude. If you will traffic with me, you may be sure of your advantage."--"How wonderful!" says Daland, impressed; "Am I to take you at your word?
An evil star, it would seem, has so far pursued you. I am ready to do what I can to serve you. But--may I ask what is the cargo of your ship?" The Hollander makes a sign to the watch. His sailors bring ash.o.r.e a chest. "The rarest treasures you shall see, precious pearls and n.o.blest gems," the stranger speaks to the wide-eyed Daland. "See for yourself, and be convinced of the value of the price I offer for the hospitality of your roof." The lid of the chest is lifted. Daland stares amazed at the contents. "What? Is it possible? These treasures?--But who is so rich as to have an equivalent to tender?"--"Equivalent? I have told you--I offer this for a single night's lodging. What you see, however, is an insignificant portion of that which the hold of my ship contains. Of what avail to me is the treasure? I have neither wife nor child, and my home I can never find. All my riches I will give you, if you will afford me a home with you and yours." Daland cannot believe that he hears aright. "Have you a daughter?" inquires the Hollander. "I have, indeed, a most dear child."--"Let her be my wife!" Again Daland cannot believe his ears, cannot be sure whether he is asleep or awake. It is suggested later that he cares unduly for wealth; but, without supposing him avaricious, we can realise how what is offered at this moment should seem such to his simple sailor mind that a man must be outright mad not to grasp at it for the inconceivable happiness and splendour of himself and house. No flesh-and-blood girl, no daughter of the common fellow he is, can to his mind be a reasonable equivalent, really, for the ma.s.s of riches proposed in exchange for her. Daland nor she had probably in all their lives owned a precious stone. And this chest is full to the brim of jewels, and that ship contains more still a hundred-fold, and the man asking for his daughter's hand is clearly a hypochondriac, infinitely sea-weary, who sees in the prospect of home and settled life the whole desire of his heart, cloyed with riches and sick of wandering.
If he, Daland, should hesitate, the suitor might change his mind. As for the daughter, she will either see the thing as he sees it,--how could human woman see it differently?--or, dutiful, will be ruled by his superior wisdom. "Indeed, stranger, I have a lovely daughter; devoted to me with the most faithful filial love. She is my pride, my highest wealth, my comfort in evil days, my joy in good."--"May her love," the Hollander exclaims with feeling, "never fail her father! True to him, she will be true likewise to her husband."--"You give jewels, priceless pearls," remarks Daland, with an attempt at dignity that does his self-respect good, no doubt, without greatly impressing us, "but the greatest treasure of all is a faithful wife!"--"And you will give me such a one?"--"You have my word. Your fate moves my sympathy. Freehanded as you are, you give a.s.surance of magnanimity and high-mindedness. The like of you I have ever wished for son-in-law, and even were your fortune not so great, I would choose no other."--"My thanks. And shall I see the daughter this very day?"--"The next favourable wind will take us home. You shall see her, and if she pleases you..."--"She shall be my wife.--Will she prove to be my angel?" he sighs aside; "Do I still permit myself the folly of an illusion that an angel's heart will pity me? Hopeless as I am, I yet follow the lure of hope!"
"The wind is propitious, the sea is calm. We will heave anchor at once, and speedily reach home," says Daland. "If I may beg,--do you sail ahead," the Hollander suggests. "The wind is fresh, but my crew is spent. I will let them rest awhile and then will follow."--"But our wind?"--"Will continue for some time blowing from the south. My ship is swift and will surely overtake yours."--"You believe so?
Very well! Let it be as you wish. Farewell, and may you meet my child before the end of day!" The sailors have lifted the anchor and set the sails. Daland goes on board. With the crew singing cheerily together, the Norwegian ship starts upon the homeward course. The Hollander returns to his silent deck.
The scene is next laid in the interior of Daland's house, the large living-room, where a flock of girls sit around the fire with their spinning-wheels. Beside the maps and pictures of nautical interest forming the natural decoration of a sea-captain's house, there hangs on the wall the picture of a pale black-bearded man, dressed in the Spanish fashion of years long gone.
The girls are spinning busily, singing while they work. They are the sweethearts of the lads on Daland's ship, and their song is of sailors at sea who are thinking of maidens at home, and if diligent turning of the spinning-wheel might influence the wind--oh, but they would speedily be back in harbour!
One only of the young girls in the room is not working; Senta, letting her wheel stand idle, leans back abstractedly in a great armchair, with her eyes fixed upon the picture of the pale man.
Her old nurse, Mary, who spins diligently herself and keeps the rest at their task, chides her, not very severely, for her idleness.
The girls in their song have been felicitating themselves that if they are zealous at their spinning their lovers will give them the golden earnings they bring home from the south. "You naughty child," Mary says to Senta, at the end of the song, "if you do not spin, you will receive no present from your _Schatz!_" Senta's companions laugh at this. "There is no need for her to hurry. Her sweetheart is not out at Sea. He brings home no gold, he brings home game. Everyone knows in what the fortune of a huntsman consists!"
Senta does not stir; it is doubtful if she have heard. Without removing her eyes from the picture of the pallid man, she hums softly to herself certain fragment of old ballad. "Look at her!"
the nurse takes fuller account of her att.i.tude and abstraction; "Look at her! Always in front of that picture! Do you intend to dream away your whole young life before that portrait?" Senta answers gently, still without taking her eyes from the pale face: "Why did you tell me who he is, and relate his story?... The unhappy soul!" At the heavily burdened sigh upon which she utters the last words, "G.o.d have you in His care!" exclaims Mary, vaguely troubled.
But the girls, who are in merry mood, laugh again. "Why, why, what is that we hear? She sighs for the pale man! There you see what a picture can do. She is in love. Please Heaven no mischief result!
Erik is somewhat hot of temper. Please G.o.d he do no damage! Say not a word, else, aflame with wrath, he may shoot the rival from the wall!" Their chatter finally reaching her consciousness, Senta turns to them, annoyed. "Oh, keep still! Stop your silly laughing!
Do you wish to make me really cross?" Further to tease her, they drown her voice with the refrain of their spinning-song: "Mutter and hum, good little wheel, cheerily, cheerily turn! Spin, spin a thousand threads, good little wheel, mutter and hum!"--"Do stop that foolish song," begs Senta, "my ears are dazed with your muttering and humming. If you wish me to attend, find something better to do!"--"Very well," say the girls, "then sing yourself!" As a bird to the nest, Senta returns to the subject engrossing her mind.
"Hear what I suggest: let Mary sing us the ballad." All understand what ballad is meant. "G.o.d forbid!" cries the nurse; "It is likely I will do it! Children, let the Flying Dutchman rest!"--"Yet how often have I heard the ballad from you!" sighs Senta; and, as the nurse continues obdurate, "I will sing it myself," she decides, "and do you girls listen. Could I but bring home to your hearts the wretchedness of the poor soul's fate, it could not fail to move you to compa.s.sion!" The girls accept the offer with delight, push aside their spinning-wheels and gather around the singer.
Only the old nurse, whose instinct has somehow caught alarm, and who has conceived a curious dislike and fear of this pallid hero of legend, refuses her countenance and testily goes on spinning by herself in the chimney-corner.
"Have you met the ship on the seas," sings Senta, "blood-red of sail and black of mast? Upon the high deck, the pale man, the ship's master, keeps incessant watch.--Hui! How the wind blows! Yohohey!--Hui!
How it sings in the stays! Yohohey!--Hui! Like an arrow flies the ship, without stop, without rest! Yet might deliverance one day come to the pale man, could he find a woman upon earth who should love him faithfully until death. Oh, when, pale sea-farer, when shall you find her? Pray to Heaven that a woman soon may keep her troth to him!
"With contrary wind, in the rage of the storm, he determined to double a cape. He cursed and swore in mad mood: 'Not to all eternity will I desist!'--Hui! And Satan heard it. Yohohey!--Hui! Took him at his word. Yohohey!--Hui! And now, a lost soul, he sails the seas, without stop, without rest. How the unhappy man, however, might find deliverance upon earth, an angel of the Lord showed him,--how he might earn eventual salvation. Oh, that you might, pale sea-farer, find it! Pray to Heaven that a woman soon may keep her troth to him!
"He casts anchor every seven years, and to woo a woman comes ash.o.r.e.
But never yet has he found a faithful one.--Hui! Spread the sails!
Yohohey!--Hui! Lift the anchor! Yohohey!--Hui! False love, false troth! Back to sea, without stop, without rest!..." Senta who has been singing with a spirit and expressiveness full unusual as applied to a threadbare old ballad, has at this point reached such a pitch of emotion that her voice fails and she sinks in her chair exhausted.
The girls, whom her earnestness has impressed into a realisation of the facts sung by her, who have for a moment had through her eyes the vision of that lost soul's wretchedness, take up the ballad where she drops it, and sing on in tones which confess the contagion of her sympathy: "Ah, where tarries she, to whom G.o.d's angel might guide you? Where shall you find her who will be your own true and loyal love until death?" With an air of illumination, Senta starts to her feet and finishes the song with words which rise inspired to her lips: "Let me be that woman! My truth shall work your deliverance! G.o.d's angel guide you to me! Through me you shall reach salvation!" She speaks so pa.s.sionately, appears so strangely, that her companions feel a sort of puzzled alarm. The old nurse, frightened, rushes to her side with the cry: "Heaven help us!"
and all together they try to bring her to her normal self, calling in tones of protest, "Senta! Senta!"
Unnoticed of the rest, Erik, the huntsman, has during the last moments been standing in the doorway. He has heard Senta's exclamation, witnessed her strange condition, and affected by it differently from all the others cries, heart-struck, "Senta, Senta, are you determined to destroy me?"--"Oh, help us, Erik," the others appeal to him; "She is out of her senses!" The nurse, who has felt her blood unaccountably running chill, turns angrily to the picture on the wall: "Abominable picture, out of the house you shall go just as soon as the father comes home!"--"The father has arrived,"
Erik informs them; "From the cliff I saw his ship come in." All minds veer promptly from the subject which had been engrossing them, to this delightful one of the arrival. The girls are for running to the harbour upon the instant. Mary prevents them. "Stop!
Stop! You shall remain quietly at home. The sailor-folk will be arriving with hollow stomachs. To the kitchen and cellar! No time to waste! Let curiosity torment you as it may, first of all go and do your duty!" She drives them before her from the room, and follows.
Senta is going, too, but Erik bars the way, pleading, "Stay, Senta, stay for a moment! Release me from this torture--or, if you will, destroy me quite!" She affects, as the simplest girl must, not to understand. "Erik, what is it?"--"Oh, Senta, speak, say what is to become of me! Your father is coming home. Before starting upon a new voyage, he is sure to wish to carry out what he so often has spoken of..."--"And what is that?"--"To give you a husband.
My heart with its unchanging love, my humble fortune, my hunter's luck, these things being all I have to offer, will not your father repulse me? And if my heart breaks with its misery, tell me, Senta, who is there will speak a word for me?" He pleads warmly, young Erik; he is at that age and point in life when not to obtain the woman he has set his heart upon seems a calamity such as will extinguish the sun, make the rest of life worthless; when refusal signifies destruction, and he is not ashamed of this as a weakness, but proud of it as a strength, and uses it as the most pertinent argument, and feels no abjectness in confessing himself at the mercy of a girl, a toy in her frail hands. He is the only lover of this type in the Wagnerian a.s.sortment, and, it happens, the only one who fails. Senta, we are permitted to divine, had not always felt as removed from him as at this moment. It is but lately, no doubt, with the turning perhaps of her seventeenth year, at some fuller opening into womanhood, that her romantic dream has taken such possession of her, and his warm-blooded urgent love become something to withdraw from, without clearly formulated reason, by an instinct.
She tries now to silence him, to put him off with the excuse that she must hurry to her father. But he is not to be put off. To detain her, he reproaches. "You wish to avoid me!"--"I must go to the harbour!"--"You shrink from me?"--"Oh, let me go!"--"You shrink from the wound which yourself you made, the madness of love you inspired? Oh, you shall hear me in this hour, shall hear the last question I will ask. When my heart is breaking with anguish, will not Senta herself speak a word for me?" She applies herself then to quiet and comfort such evident suffering; he is after all flesh-and-blood and close at hand, the other a dream. Her sentiments besides are not very clear even to herself. "Do you doubt my heart?" she asks rea.s.suringly; "Do you doubt that it is full of kindness toward you? What is it, tell me, makes you so unhappy? What suspicion darkens your mind?"--"Oh, your father's heart is set upon riches.
And you, Senta, how should I count upon you? Do you ever grant one of my requests? Do you not daily hurt and afflict my heart?"--"Afflict your heart?..." she asks in wonder. "What am I to think?" he goes on to show the jealous core of his unhappiness; "That picture..."--"What picture?..."--"Will you renounce your extravagant imaginings?"--"Can I keep from my face the compa.s.sion I feel?"--"And that ballad... you sang it again to-day."--"I am a child," she excuses herself, "and sing I know not what! Are you afraid of a song, a picture?"--"You are so pale!" he replies, studying her face dubiously; "Tell me, have I no reason to be afraid?"--"Should I not be moved by the terrible doom of that unhappiest man?"--"But my sufferings, Senta, do they no longer move you?"--"Oh, vaunt not your sufferings!" she cries, almost impatiently; "What can your sufferings be? Do you know what the fate is of that poor soul?" She draws him before the picture, and while indicating it to him gazes raptly at it herself; "Can you not feel the woe, the inexpressible deep misery in the eyes which he turns upon me? Oh, the calamity which robbed him eternally of rest, the sense of it pierces my heart!" Veritable alarm seizes Erik at the earnestness she exhibits, an alarm to something more vital even than his alert jealousy, a terrible fear for her as apart from himself. "Woe's me!" he exclaims, "I am reminded of my ill-boding dream! G.o.d have you in his care, Satan has cast his toils about you!"--"What frightens you so?"
she asks wearily. It is as if excess of emotion had brought on an immense fatigue; she sinks exhausted in the grand-sire's chair.
"Let me tell you of it, Senta. It is a dream, hear and be warned by it." She leans back with closed eyes, and as he narrates it is as if having fallen asleep she saw in dream what he describes.
"Upon the high cliff I lay dreaming. Beneath me I saw the expanse of the sea; I could hear the surf where it breaks foaming against the beach. I espied a foreign ship close to sh.o.r.e, a strange ship, extraordinary. Two men drew toward land. One of them, I saw it, was your father."--"And the other?" she asks, like a somnambulist, without opening her eyes. "I recognised him well enough, with his black doublet and pale face...."--"And his mournful glance...."
she adds, still with closed eyes. Erik points at the picture: "The sea-man there."--"And I?..." she asks. "You came out of the house.
You ran to meet your father. But hardly had you reached the pair, when you cast yourself at the feet of the stranger. I saw you clasp his knees...." "He lifted me...."--"To his breast. Pa.s.sionately you clung to him, and kissed him ardently...."--"And then?" He gazes at her with a sort of terror, as at something unnatural, in her appearance of sleep. "I saw you fly together over the sea."
She seems to wake with a start. "He is looking for me!" she cries in tones of extraordinary conviction, "I shall see him! My destiny it is to perish with him!" Erik recoils: "Horrible! Ha, I see it full plainly at last, she is gone from me! My dream boded true!" In uncontrollable despair he flees from the house. Senta, her excitement gradually dying, remains gazing at the picture. She is murmuring softly to herself the burden of the ballad: "Ah, may you, pale sea-farer, find her! Pray to Heaven that a woman soon may keep her troth to him!"--when the door opens and Daland and the Hollander appear at the threshold. Serita's eyes turn from the picture to the stranger entering. A cry escapes her lips and her eyes fasten on his face. His eyes, too, as he slowly steps into the room, bend steadfastly upon hers. They gaze as if the same spell had fallen upon both.
The father, after a moment watching from the doorway, waiting for his daughter to run as usual to greet him, speaks, not altogether displeased: "My child, you see me standing at the door, and, what is this? No embrace? No kiss? You stand in your place as if bewitched?
Do I deserve, Senta, such a welcome?"--"G.o.d be with you!" she murmurs faintly, and, as he comes nearer, asks underbreath, without removing her eyes from the figure--the counterpart of the picture on the wall, "Father, speak, who is the stranger?" The father smiles: "You are eager to know? My child, give kind welcome to the stranger. A sea-man he is, like myself, and solicits our hospitality. Homeless for long years, incessantly bound on long voyages, in far-off lands he has gathered vast treasures. An exile from home, he offers rich compensation for a place at the fireside. Speak, Senta, should you be sorry that the stranger should dwell with us?" To the Hollander, while the daughter without a word's reply continues in her fixed contemplation of his face, he speaks aside: "Tell me, did I praise her too highly? Now you see her in person, does she rightly please you? Must I add more still to my overflowing praise? Confess that she is an ornament to her s.e.x!" The Hollander answers by an expressive gesture, his eyes fast all the while upon the maiden's face. The father turns anew to the daughter, and, without further preamble: "My child, let it please you to show favour to this man. He requests a goodly gift from your heart. Reach him your hand, for he shall be your bridegroom. If you are of a like mind with your father, to-morrow he shall be your husband." She shrinks, painfully, at this bluntness and precipitancy. The father, not noticing, unpockets jewels to show her. "Look at this circlet, behold these clasps.
The sum of his possessions makes these the merest trifle. How, my precious child, should you not care for them? And it will all be yours for the exchanging of rings with him. But... neither of you speaks...." He looks at them in turn. They have neither heeded nor heard, they are lost in contemplation of each other. "Am I in the way?" They do not hear that either. "I clearly am," he says to himself. "The best will be to leave them alone together." With a parting private word to the daughter: "May you win this n.o.ble man!
Believe me, such good fortune is not common!" and to the Dutchman: "I leave you to yourselves, and betake myself away. Believe me, fair as she is, she is no less true than fair!" he discreetly withdraws.
The strange predestined lovers stand for long moments steadily gazing at each other, almost unconsciously, without motion to draw nearer--or further apart. Each of them voices his thoughts, not speaking to the other, but, dreamily, to himself. He murmurs: "As if out of the distance of long-past days speaks to me the semblance of this maiden. Even such as through dread eternities I dreamed her, I behold her now here before my eyes. From the black depths of my night I too have ventured to raise my longing eyes upon a woman. Satan's malice left me a living heart, alas, that I might never lose consciousness of my torment. The sullen glow which I feel burning in my breast, should I, unhappy man, call it love?
Ah, no, the longing it is for redemption! Oh, might redemption be my portion through such an angel as she is!" And she speaks, to herself, half-aloud: "Have I sunk into a wonderful dream? Is this which I see an illusion? Or have I until this moment lived in a world of dream, and is this the day of awakening? He stands before me, his features stamped with sorrow. His unparalleled sufferings silently call to me. Can the voice of deepest pity deceive? As I have so often beheld him he stands before me now. This sorrow which burns within my bosom, this going out of desire toward him, what must I call it? Oh, that the salvation which he goes seeking without rest might reach the unhappy man through me!"
He moves a little nearer to her at last, and asks with the simplicity and sincerity which befit the hour so fraught with fate, "Will you not reject your father's choice? That which he promised--what?
shall it hold good? Could you forever give yourself to me? You could hold out your hand to the stranger? I might, after a life of torment, find in your truth the long craved-for peace?" She answers upon the instant, singularly sure of her heart: "Whoever you may be, and whatever ruin your cruel fate reserve for you, and whatever the destiny I thereby call upon myself, my obedient duty shall ever be to my father's wish."--"What, so unconditionally? My sorrows, is it possible, have moved you to such deep compa.s.sion?"--"Sorrows how measureless!" she exclaims to herself. "Oh, might I bring you consolation for those!" And he, overhearing: "Oh, gentlest sound through the warring darkness! An angel are you! The love of an angel can still the pain even of lost souls! If I may hope for salvation, Almighty, let it be through this angel!" But in the uplift of hope reviving, a remembrance gives him pause,--remembrance of the whole condition of his deliverance; and, a strain of solemnity mingling with his grateful tenderness, he warns her: "Could you apprehend the fate which, in belonging to me, with me you must share, you would pause to consider the sacrifice you bring in vowing to be true. Your youth would flee shuddering at prospect of the fate to which you would have doomed it, if the fairest virtues of womankind, if sacred fidelity and truth, be not yours." She replies with no less a.s.surance than before, and her air of exalted inspiration: "Well do I know the high duties of woman. Be comforted, unhappy man!
Let fate do justice of those who defy her decree. In my soul is written the supreme law of truth, and unto him to whom I pledge my faith this one truth it is which I give: Truth until death!"
Like balm the words fall upon his wounded spirit. The powers of darkness, it seems, are to be defeated; the evil star, it seems, has set and the star of hope arisen. "Ye angels," he calls to them, "who had quite forsaken me, confirm her heart in its constancy!"
And she, her heavenly pity prays: "Let him have reached home at last! Let his ship rest here eternally in port!"
Daland re-enters. "By your leave, my people outside can hardly wait. Upon each home-coming, you must know, we hold a merry-making.
I would fain add to the cheer of the feast, and am come, with that in mind, to ask if it might not be I made into a betrothal feast?--As far as I see," he turns to the Hollander, "you have wooed to your heart's purpose?--And you, my child," to Senta, "are you ready, too?" Senta with solemn resolution reaches her hand to the Dutchman.
"Here is my hand, and here, never to repent it, I plight my troth until death!" The Hollander, taking her hand, cries defiance to the mockery of h.e.l.l through this fast truth of hers. At Daland's summons thereupon, "To the feast, and let every one to-day make merry!" the three turn to go and take share--even, incredibly, the Dutchman,--in legitimate human rejoicings.
Close by Daland's house lies the rock-bound bay into which his ship and the Dutchman's have come to anchor. The two crafts are seen in the clear night, lying at a short distance from each other, hard by the sh.o.r.e. The Norwegian is brightly illuminated, the sailors are on deck making holiday. The Hollander presents a striking contrast: not a light does it show, not a sound issues from it; it looms shadowy and forbidding.
"Steersman, leave the watch!" sing the roistering Norway lads; "Furl the sails! Anchor fast! Come along, steersman! No wind is there to fear nor adverse coast, and we mean to be right jolly.
Each of us has a sweetheart on sh.o.r.e, excellent tobacco and superior brandy-wine. Rocks and storms are far outside, we laugh at rocks and storms! Steersman, come and drink!" They dance on deck, marking time with their heavy boots.
From Daland's house comes the bevy of girls we know, laden with generous baskets of food and drink. Finding their sweethearts so merrily employed, "Just look at them!" they say; "As we live, they are dancing! The ladies do certainly seem superfluous!" With a playful feint of pique they pa.s.s without further notice the lighted, noisy ship, and go toward the Hollander, whose blood-tinted sails and black masts form but a grim silhouette against the star-sown sky. "Hi, girls,--stop! Where are you going?" the simple-minded sailors cry after them. But the girls do not abandon their small vengeance of serving the strangers first. "You have a mind to fresh wine, have you not? And is not your neighbour to have something too?
Are the liquor and the feast to be solely for you?" The young mate rises to the occasion and has a fling at these suddenly-inst.i.tuted rivals: "Indeed, indeed, take something, do, to the poor lads. They appear to be quite faint with thirst!" All turn their attention squarely now to the foreign ship and take account of the strangeness of its conditions. "Not a sound on board! And see, not a light! No sign of the crew!"--"Halloo, sea-folk!" the maidens shout, "Halloo!
Do you need lights? Where are you? We cannot see...."--"Don't wake them," chaff the Norwegians, "they are still asleep!" The girls go close to the ship and shout again. "Halloo, sea-folk! Halloo, answer!" There is along silence. The sailor-lads have the laugh now on the girls. "Ha, ha! In very truth, they are dead. They are in no need of food and drink." But the girls will not accept their defeat.
"What?" they continue calling to the invisible Dutch crew; "Are you so lazy as to have gone already to bed? Is it not holiday-time for you, too?"--"They lie fast in their lairs," jest the Norwegians; "like dragons they guard their treasure!"--"Halloo, sea-folk!"
persist the girls; "Do you not wish for golden wine? Surely you are thirsty?"--"They do not care to drink, they do not care to sing," the sailor-lads tease; "there is no light burning in all their ship!"--"Say," the girls continue addressing the unresponding crew, "have you no sweethearts on land? Do you not wish to come and dance on the friendly sh.o.r.e?"--"They are already old, they are pale instead of ruddy," put in the sailors, "and their sweethearts, they are dead!"--"Halloo!" the girls call louder, "Seafolk, wake up! We are bringing you food and drink to heart's content!" The sailors good-humouredly unite in chorus: "They are bringing you food and drink to heart's content!" Another long pause, unbroken by the faintest sound from the Dutch ship. The girls are becoming uneasy. "It is a fact," they speak lower, struck; "They seem to be all dead. They do not need food and drink." But the boys feel jollier than ever. "You have heard of the Flying Dutchman," they cry, by way of wild joke; "His ship, big as life and true to life, you behold there!"--"Then don't wake the crew!" say the girls; "They are ghosts, we could swear!" The sailor-lads take their turn now shouting questions, humourously intended, at the sombre hull: "How many hundreds of years have you already been at sea? Storm and rocks have no terrors for you! Have you no letters, no commissions for sh.o.r.e? We will see that they come to our great-great-grandfathers'
hands!" In the extravagance of fun, finally, raising their voices to the very loudest, "Halloo, sea-folk!" they cry; "Spread your sails! Give us a specimen of the Flying Dutchman's speed!" At the prolonged silence following, the girls shrink away, at last really frightened. "They do not hear. It makes our flesh creep. They do not want anything. Why do we continue to call?"--"That is it, you girls," the sailors heartily agree, "let the dead rest in peace! And let us who are alive be happy!" The girls hand up to them the savoury baskets. "There, take, since your neighbours disdain it."--"But what? Are you not coming on board yourselves?" inquire the sailors, when the girls do not as expected follow. It is early still; they will return a little later, they promise, Till then let the boys drink and dance, but be careful not to disturb the repose of their weary neighbours!
When the girls have returned to the house, the sailors open the hampers and l.u.s.tily fall to, casting playful thanks to those dumb neighbours for this double share of victuals and wine. In the lightness of their hearts they sing, and to the verses of their rollicking "Steersman, leave the watch!" clash their goblets noisily together.
Absorbed in their carousal, they have not remarked a beginning of movement on the ship close by and in the water immediately around it. This rises and falls in a mysterious violent swell, which rocks the awakening ship, while the rest of the sea is calm. Storm-wind whistles and howls among the rigging, though the night elsewhere is still and bright. Livid fire flares up in the place of the watch-light, bringing into distinctness the black cordage and spectral crew. The latter seem to come to life in the weird illumination, and with hollow voices suddenly entone a sea-song of strange intervals and cadences, disquieting to ears of warm flesh and blood. "Yohohey!
Yohohohey!--Huissa! The storm drives us to land!--Huissa! Sail in! Anchor loose!--Huissa! Run into the bay!--Black captain, go ash.o.r.e! Seven years are over, sue for the hand of a golden-haired maiden. Golden-haired maiden, be true to him, be true! Cheerily, cheerily, bridegroom, today! The storm-wind howls wedding-music, the ocean dances to the tune.--Hui! Hark! His whistle sounds. Captain, are you back again?--Hui! Hoist the sail! Your bride, say, where is she?--Hui! Off, to sea! Captain, captain, you have no luck in love! Ha, ha, ha! Blow, storm-wind, howl away! No damage can you do to our sails! Satan has charmed them, they will not rend in all eternity!"
The Norwegian sailors, suspending their own clamour, have looked and listened in an increasing wonder, which gradually turns to horror. To overcome the superst.i.tious fear they frankly own to, they start singing together with all their might, to drown their terror as well as the voices of the rival singers. The two sharply contrasting sea-songs strive one against the other for a few moments, then the Norwegians, giving up the contention, retire from deck to the last man, tremulously making the sign of the cross. As they disappear below, the Dutchmen break into a fearful yell of derision,--and instantly darkness and complete silence reinvade the ship, while perfect calm falls upon the sea. For a long interval the scene so crowded and noisy a moment before, remains empty and still.
Senta comes hurriedly from the house, followed by Erik, both in great agitation. He has learned of her betrothal to the stranger.
"What have I heard?" he cries in incredulous anguish; "O G.o.d, what have I seen? Is it a delusion? Can it be truth? Can it be fact?"--"Ask not, Erik," she falters, in anguish, too; "I must not answer."--"Just G.o.d! There can be no doubt of it. It is truth! What unholy power swept you along? What force so quickly prevailed with you to make you break this devoted heart? Was it your father? Ha, he brought the bridegroom home with him. I recognised him. I forboded what is coming to pa.s.s. But you? Is it possible? You give your hand to the man who has hardly more than crossed your doorstep?"--"Oh, say no more!" pleads the girl, torn by the sight of his sorrow, and her necessity to refuse the only possible comfort, "Be silent!
I must! I must!..."--"Oh, that docility, blind as your act!" he raves; "You were glad, at a beck from your father, to follow. With a blow you crush the life out of my heart!"--"No more! No more!"
she tries to stop him; "I must not see you again, must not think of you. High duty commands it!"--"What high duty? Is it not a higher duty still to observe that which you once swore to me,--eternal constancy?"--"What?..." she cries, in utmost dismay; "You say that I swore eternal constancy to you?"--"Oh, Senta," he goes on, subdued by her shocked amazement, sorrowfully to explain the simple rhetoric of his misstatement, "will you deny it? Do you refuse to remember that day when you called me to you in the valley? When in order to gather the upland flowers for you I endured dangers and labours innumerable? Do you remember how from the steep rocks on the sh.o.r.e we watched your father departing? He sailed upon the white-winged ship, and confided you to my care. When your arm encircled my neck, did you not own once more your love for me? That which thrilled me at the pressure of your hand, tell me, was it not the a.s.surance of your constancy?"