The 31st of August, The Year Of Our Lord 1803.
I stood upon the aureate strand, wholly frozen in astounded disbelief, for what I looked upon simply could not be true. A Siren.
My eyes did nictate with rapidity as I attempted to rid myself of the illusion before me. While I was of course, entirely familiar with the mythology of the ocean. for what sailor has not heard the tales of men cast overboard; only to be rescued by a creature, half fish, half beauteous young woman, who looks upon him as though he is a single gentleman in possession of the largest fortune, before returning to the depths, ne’er to be seen again. I have long considered myself to be a man of rational thought, and had, like many before me understood these legends to be the convoluted inventions of men whose overexposure to the sea-salts and indulgence to their partiality for rum have had a ruinous affect upon their minds.
Yet here, upon this mysterious shore I was confronted by what I knew to be beyond possible. A maid of the sea, a siren. She sat still upon that rock, her eyes cast out upon the horizon, at the HMS Forsaken.
At length, as I gazed ahead of me I began to fear, most ardently for my sanity. For despite the hearty shake I gave to my own head, and zealous attempts to beg reason to return to me, the vision was all persistence in it’s refusal to desist. She remained before me.
I was soon quite decided upon the notion that the only way to rid myself of these troubling apparitions was to approach it. Thus I took a dozen steps in a manner so tentative, that no onlooker could doubt my feelings.
I had full expected this maiden to vanish as I drew closer, but each pace caused her to grow clearer, until it became inescapably evident that where her legs ought be there was a tail, long and silver in it’s pearlescent radiance, which would, perhaps, have been better suited to a marlin.
I had closed the gap betwixt us to no more that two yards, when my booted foot knocked against a half concealed seashell. I was not the only one caught quite off guard by the resounding noise. Ahead of me the Siren started. Her attentions, which afore had all been consumed solely by our vessel, were now full upon me. Her eyes turned expeditiously upon my visage and once again I was motionless. Held in her gaze I could not move. the tresses of her hair were as golden as the sun in the East Indies, and her eyes were of an azure hue that exactly matched the ocean from whence she came. I could do nought but look at this ethereal creature.
“Ahoy.” I called afore I could conclude whether or not I ought. She did not reply but, rather, condescended to incline her head. This response acted only to enforce the truth of her existence. But I still not allow myself full faith in my eyes.
Understanding that the most sound manner to truly ascertain if my mind was failing would require the benefit of company. Turning upon my heel I ran back along the shore as best I could. I had scarcely counted all the crew within my sights afore I called out in a fashion, which I believe was exactly calculated to express the nature of the miraculous happenings I had just witnessed.
“Gentlemen, Ahoy! I have just born witness to miraculous happenings!” Said I to the apparent alarm of the company before me. “Sirs I must implore you to accompany me at once! A maid of the sea! I have seen a siren!”
The men fell into a silence of such profundity that I believed it may prove itself, endless until Mr Burns Spake.
“Matelot, have you quite taken leave of your senses? There is no such thing, you, surely know these to be fantastical inventions of the disturbed.”
“Damnation to it all! Matelot hath run mad, he ought be taken to the asylum, or abandoned here, lord knows what malice he be capable of!” Young Frank was all superstitious distress as he attempted to conceal himself from my view by standing behind Mr Watson, a man of objectionable proportions.
“Nay Frank, he shall not be bound for the asylum just yet.” Said Mr Burns addressing the boy in tonnes of parental platitude, while still not removing his eyes from my visage. “He has simply been becalmed too long lad, tis all. I believe such lunacy can be simply remedied. Fetch the surgeon.”
He was rejoined by others amongst the men and soon a chorus of “The Surgeon, we need the surgeon, for there is Lunacy amongst us!” had broken out and was repeated as overzealously as though it were a favoured sea chanty.
The men began to advance upon me, their countenances all as hostile as though I was Napoleon himself, and plainly fearful that my affliction may spread. I knew that there was, still available to me, one method of ensuring they would accompany me. I quite simply pivoted and fled as though I were the most notorious of convicted men attempting to elude the noose.
Pursued as I was by, nigh on, half he crew I hastened back to the reef from whence I had come, with a rapidity that surprised even myself. When I rounded that corner I once more beheld her. Fearful that the apparition of so many sailors in the state of so disarranged unkempt habiliment as we were, may startle her, I discontinued my running and refrained from approaching any further. Instead, to ensure that the eye of every sailor who had accompanied me was drawn to her I raised my hand and cried “Behold, a siren!”
The crew too desisted in their approach and soon the animated calls of “Seize the lunatic!” and “Cast the madman into the ocean!” were replaced with “A maiden of the deep!” “Bless my soul! T’is a siren!”
Lieutenant Miller fell to his knees, removing his athwartship hat from his head he held it to his chest.
“I know not whether I ought to weep or pray!” Said he as his eyes began to fill with the salted tears of a man who is in the grips of nervous apoplexy. I confess that I found it wholly necessary to avert my eyes. For Lieutenant Miller’s visage is one to whom the sea air hath not been kind, and the act of abandoning himself to the feminine vice of hysterics was even crueler to his already unfortunate features.
Though my sea-fellows reactions did much to alert me to the frailty of their nerves and wit, it was also a great comfort to know that my own need no longer be doubted and thus, I now permitted myself to stare at the creature in sentiments of nought but wonderment.
Miller had not yet regained all his composure when he spake through girlish sobs; “The Captain ought be fetched.”
And fetched he was, together with the rest of the crew. At first Captain Quaid was all mistrustful disbelief.
“What is this trick Mr Matelot?” Said he in tonnes of jovial humour. “You mean to catch me out, you mean to take me for a fool but you shall not. For I can see quite plainly that it is Mr Robert’s in some villainous disguise.”
While it was true that the seraphical creature bore a striking resemblance to Midshipman Robert Roberts in the particulars of many a feature; I would have thought that the captain would have realised it to be an impossibility that it was anything other than a siren, not least because Roberts stood not one yard from him. But also because I hoped that Captain Quaid had been my commander long enough to know my qualities and vices and understand that recounting falsehood was not amongst them.
The necessity to articulate these notions was dispelled by Roberts standing before the captain and saying;
“Nay Sir, tis not I upon that reef.”
“Forsooth!” was the only utterance within the Captain’s power.
After we had fallen once more into an astounded silence which I believe endured for upwards of two hours, the Captain spake again.
“Gentlemen.” Said he. “I believe fortune has sent her to us! We shall take this mysterious creature with us and return to England. We shall indubitably be the most celebrated men of discovery in all that fair Isle and, perchance as far as three of the four corners of this world!” Said he in ardent animation.
“Damnation to it all!” Cried Frank as he, at last, rejoined us from his place of concealment behind Mr Watson. “Captain that creature be the deuce devil himself! Nay we cannot bring such witchcraft amongst us, it be a feculent curse I tell ye! If we take it with us upon our voyage we shall all be damned!”
The Captain looked upon young Frank with an air amused distaste, “Ah, the follies of youth.” Said he. He returned his gaze to the reef and it was not long afore he had dispatched the carpenters to begin carving an ornate casque (one and twenty times the size of the largest hip bath) which would be filled with water and as much oceanic flora and fauna as it would take to keep the siren content.
Captain Quaid then, addressed me.
“We ought inform her of our decision. Mr Matelot, pray, go and explicate our scheme to her.”
It was with feelings of surprise similar to those pangs I had endured upon first discovering the creature that I answered; “Captain! Sir, surely you cannot have forgot the obligations of convention? I could not very well approach the lady so very directly sans being made her acquaintance?!” Said I all aghast!
“Indeed, upon my word you are right! Simply because we hap’t to find ourselves upon this savage island doth not mean we ought conduct ourselves like savages.” Said he in a manner that, with every syllable conveyed his distress at having neglected such formalities. “But I am the Captain of the Forsaken, therefore I am of the supposition that I will do as well as any Master for Ceremonies and might perform the formal introductions without offence being given to either party.”
I nodded my hearty ascent and Captain Quaid ventured forth toward the siren. When he reached her he bowed low with all the elegant grace of refined manners. But before he had full raise his head to meet her eye he chanced to glance toward the horizon, thence he became, all at once rigidly motionless.
He drew his telescope from the pocket of his coat, and hastily it upon the oceans. Without withdrawing his eyes from the vista he ululated; “PIRATES! Pirates hoy! Picraroons headed towards us!”
To be continued …