September the 20th, The Year Of OUr Lord 1803.
No sooner had Captain Quaid given the order for all on board to rally to their posts to battle the French frigate drawing ever nigh, than the ship, our own HMS forsaken had descended into a cacophony of nonsensical disorder. Men ran hither and thither either above or below decks to tend either canon or sail. Messrs Burns and Smith turned our vessel about until we were headed quite decidedly towards our enemy.
We had, at length, become accustomed to the French manner of engaging in hostilities, which involved a surprising amount of timorous pusillanimity and retreat for men so very settled upon conquering the world. Thus we were greatly astonished when we noted their purposeful advance. Familiar as we were with attacking only the rear of a ship as it endeavoured to disappear, such an approach was unforeseen and left our starboard side quite unguarded.
The confusion upon the deck was full redoubled as every man, save me, attempted to make ready that part of the ship. Loading as many canons as was within their power. All the while the captain paced about the deck calling orders, not one of which I followed as I stood fast upon my preferred floor timber. Indeed, so acquainted were my feet with that particular board, that they had worn a deep groove into it’s tarnished facade.
As my Captain attempted to stir me from my place with calls of “Mr Matelot Sir, move yourself from there. take your position!” I tightened my grasp upon a rope that held me fast. As the French vessel nigh on drew aside ours and the blasts began to rain down I anchored myself further. Captain Quaid struggled through the flying spilikins of wood and, finding himself at my side, cried in tones of admirable vexation;
“Matelot Sir, take your position! … Have you been struck dumb and mute? Such languor verges upon mutiny!” Then, as I still would not be dissuaded from hither; “For the love of God man, take a gun!”
Soon enough he grew to understand that I had sense enough not to leap into peril thus, and took his leave of me, wholly intent upon addressing the battle that had commenced.
What ensued was an affray of a length and tedium as prodigious as a sunday sermon delivered by a parson whose accomplishments include neither wit, not brevity.
Gentleman of the admiralty I am not at all desirous of afflicting either you or myself with grievous ennui by recalling each blow in a truly canonical fashion. I beseech you to believe me Sirs, that it was enough to have lived through it once without the punishment of prolixity. Furthermore, the skirmish was so chaotic an affair as to render recollection of the particulars nigh on impossible, some of our crew may have perished but whom they were I could not say. I believe all that truly need be said upon the matter is that both English and French fought with admirable and courageous zeal.
Somewhere betwixt the canon fire and the cries of the wounded I quite suddenly recalled the Siren. I quickly became alarmed that she would be all alarm at the violent skirmish which raged all about her. I abandoned my position upon that plank and hastened below decks as fast as the volitant shards of detritus would permit.
Once within her chamber I immediately launched into efforts to convey the perils that now lay above. Employing, as I oft did, that peculiar little dance which I believe to the onlooker would resemble an elegant if spirited amalgam of the cotillion and the quadrille. The dear creature, who had been reclining once more with a novel in hand, seemed to shew no inclination towards losing her composure. Yet when I performed the intricate step that transliterated as “The French”, her countenance altered apace, and she was soon overwhelmed by what could only be described as the hysterics. She soon cast herself into a faint with the decided avidity of a countess who’s carriage has been halted by a highwayman.
Although I was all sympathy, for who amongst us has not been desirous of succumbing to oblivion when faced with our French foe, I found myself greatly perplexed that a maiden of the sea could so full understand the repugnance of Napoleon’s men. As the fair creature swooned upon her chaise I thought back to all I had learned from my own dear Mamma upon the frailty of ladies nerves, and recalled that one of the most superlative physics was the fortified wine. Regrettably I had nought about my person but rum, and such an inebriating liquor would surely only cause her to worsen. However it was well known amongst the men that Captain Quaid had an abundance of such intoxicants.
Taking my hurried leave from her parlour I traversed the ship to the captain’s quarters and made myself free to take a decanter of his finest wine. However, as I was returning to her side a canon blast burst into the side of the Forsaken deep below me, shaking the hull with violent tremors exactly calculated to throw a lesser man than me off his feet. While the sound conveyed the fact that the ship was not alarmingly damaged, it indicated that the Forsaken would soon be in want of reparation. And I only hoped that such a need would not prove greatly disadvantageous in our current affray.
It took not above one hour to restore the siren to her usual spirits. Having reassured her that we would indubitably be beating the French, and myself that the torment of her nerves was not so parlous as to prove detrimental to her health, I returned to the decks and the well worn timber upon which I frequently stood.
I know not exactly what had occurred during my absenteeism, but I believe I can confidently assert that the crew of the HMS Forsaken were generally considered to be victorious. The French frigate whose name and specific particulars I do not recall sailed away broken in both body and spirit. Though young Frank seemed to be the only one amongst us not to have suffered a wound of the flesh (even I had taken a splinter to the visage). A fact the boy seemed wholeheartedly determined to celebrate by engaging in a solitary Hornpipe whilst performing one and twenty sea chanties.
Yet despite our triumph, it soon became apparent that we had been cast into a far greater peril than we had just confronted. Messrs Burns and Smith hastened toward the Captain at a pace that was all indicative of the fact that they had failed in their task to hold the ship fast and that we were now faced with a new and terrible danger.
“Captain Quaid, Sir.” Said they as one. “We have failed in our task of holding the ship fast and we are now faced with a new and terrible danger.”
Word soon came that during the fracas our vessel had been haled forcibly and lamentably far off course, and into hostile and turbulent waters. All about us the squally clouds gathered the sky grew caliginous. It was felt with each and every man aboard that we were sailing into a swiftly burgeoning tempest. The storm shaken waves grew larger until the fell over the ships sides washing the decks with their tumultuous and tenebrous water. The crews best efforts to hold fast were rendered wholly futile as the maelstrom began and the already damaged HMS Forsaken was pitched steeply within.
Once more we found ourselves clinging to whatever we could as the vast ship rolled and listed one side to t’other as though it was a young lady torn betwixt the attentions of two wealthy beaus. Then, with a sudden crest of waves we saw a sight that sunk our spirits as surely as it would sink the Forsaken, not one hundred yards from us; a reef.
The vast rock strewn skerry was protruding from the ocean as though it was the jaws of some mighty beast. A notion that was given further credence by the fulminations of lightning that struck it. Indeed Frank was quite decided upon the fact that it was such a one.
“It be a deuced beast, an accursed monstrous being bent upon sending every blessed soul to the locker! Damnation to it all, we be damned! It be the Kraken!” Cried he in fearful tones.
I am quite certain that Captain Quaid was all desirous of offering reassurance by means of a stout denial of the existence of such beasts, but such repudiations were beyond his power on account of the ethereal creature currently residing in my quarters.
Thus instead he turned his glance upon the less paranoiac men amongst us and called; “Tis a shoal, a ledge of rock! Make all haste we must …”
His next words were inaudible over the caterwaul of the wind, which by it’s very next fearsome gust swept the Forsaken and cast it with astounding force upon that treacherous reef.
Caught as she was, like a stag in a poacher’s snare, betwixt the waves and rocks the ship was quite torn apart as the swell and froth pounded her bough against the reef. We had been entirely and irrefutably shipwrecked.
With the ship fracturing and degenerating all about us, we had little choice but to grasp whatever was to hand that we believed would, like as not, float and endeavour to stay together.
I had soon settled upon a large portion of the captain’s own quarters which had come away and still bore and elegant couch of velvet and brocade, and was endeavouring to tether myself to Mr Roberts barrel, when I saw her. The maiden of the sea had escaped the wreckage and was returned to the ocean.
Yet despite all her mystical attributes and her tail, I could see well enough that she floundered, struggling against the cresting waves. It was quite plain; the siren was drowning.
To Be Continued …