When the Skipper Was Taken by the Evil One
Journey By Night
Dead drunk as usual, the captain had come back on board by the time evening fell, after he’d spent a couple of hours at the inn, cursing and raging. Cursing and threatening, he had wobbled across the plank to the ship’s boy, ordering him to raise the sails and hurry up. The boy had obeyed without argument.
The skipper stood, somewhat unstable, at the helm. And so they sailed out of the harbour accompanied by a strong North-easterly.
They’d barely reached the open sea before the skipper gave the wheel to the boy, shuffled to the afterhold and, with many curses, lowered himself into it. The boy closed the hatch after the skipper, reduced the sails and calmly returned to his place at the helm. ‘That must surely be the last time,’ he thought, ‘as soon as the drunkard has slept it off, I’ll tell him he’ll have to look for another boy. The people in Harderwijk would start to associate me with him. Aren’t they already saying that he’s sold his soul to the devil to ensure he’ll always have a good load...and if that should turn out to be true...you wouldn’t even want to think about it. Many things can happen out at sea.’
A Strange Visitor
He heard the sound of voices coming from the afterhold. At first he thought he could recognise the voice of the captain, but no, there was another voice, laughing loudly and cursing. Carefully he opened the hatch a little and peered downwards. To his great astonishment he saw the skipper sitting at the table with a strange black gentleman, busy playing dice, a large jug of Dutch gin and two glasses standing between them. After each throw of the dice the captain furiously banged his hand on the little table, so hard, that everything clattered, and then the black gentleman laughed. In great fear the boy closed the hatch again, and laid a heavy hawser on it. He didn’t feel at all at ease and failed to understand how the black gentleman could’ve made his way on board.
Now it was as if the ship wouldn’t listen to the wheel, sailing around in a large circle instead. In the meantime the shouts and laughter from below continued, and then it was suddenly silent. That silence was even more unpleasant for the boy, as it made him uncertain, and he felt he had to keep looking around in the darkness. He was startled by the slightest rustle of the sails and peered all around in the dark. The old familiar Zuiderzee had never seemed as big and strange and hostile as it did now. She appeared as a large black hole, gaping around him like an eternal emptiness. And, good God!...the ship started to sink. Was he only imagining it? No, it wasn’t his imagination. The ship was sinking; it was sinking fast and with a strange swishing sound. It must have sprung a leak.
He wanted to go below to convince himself, overcame his fear to take the hawser from the hatch and open it. But when he had opened it a crack a disgusting smell came from the dark space down below and a pale, skinny hand with crooked, grabbing fingers made its way through the crack. With superhuman strength he managed to push the frightful claw back inside with the edge of the hatch, which he now shut thoroughly. He covered it with everything heavy he could find.
Suddenly the wind howled through the rigging and all the woodwork creaked. One leap and he was standing behind the wheel again, holding the tiller with all his strength; but there below in the dark waters behind him the rudder was being pulled. Mad with fear he let out a loud scream. Almighty God help! We’re sinking.
The wind lessened and once again he could see the white heads of foam on the dark calm sea, over which the ship calmly sailed on before the wind. With his handkerchief he wiped the sweat of fear from his forehead and it took a long time before his pounding heart had quieted down.
A Discovery After Dawn
In the wide beyond the dawn flashed like a swan-pale bird across the water. Their destination appeared hazily on the horizon. Small waves regularly splashed up against the ship. With the returning light of the young day he recovered his self-control. He must’ve imagined it all and the skipper was most likely asleep in his berth. He would call him on deck to take over the helm.
He moved the hatch aside and called into the afterhold. No answer. Again and more loudly he called, but it remained silent. Impatiently he threw the hatch aside and lowered himself into it so he could firmly shake the skipper out of his stupor. With one movement the door of the berth opened. It was empty. The bedding was lying exactly where he’d placed it the day before. The skipper had disappeared. Only the empty jug of gin was lying on the floor, rolling back and forth with the movement of the ship. Two broken glasses and a dice were lying next to it. The other dice was lying on the little table, and there wasn’t a trace of the skipper anywhere.
Again the fear of the previous night crept up on him and, deadly stunned, he wanted to go back upstairs; but suddenly he saw that the glass in one of the portholes was missing...and...a handful of the skipper’s hair was stuck to the woodwork, together with a bloodstain.
It had been true after all, that the Evil one had come for him this night.
No matter how much they later scrubbed or painted, the bloodstain kept coming back, until they replaced the entire porthole.
From Legends of the Veluwe/Veluwsche Sagen by Gust van de Wall Perné, published in 1910-1912 by Scheltens & Giltay and translated by Eva Weggelaar