September 21st. The Year Of Our Lord 1803.
I stood upon those aureate shores, so longed for whilst out at sea, yet now so loathed as they had revealed the impossible. For the siren was no siren at all. She was no maiden of the sea, no ethereal creature. She was human, quite as human as you or I. With a brace of legs and no more mystery surrounding her existence than a footman’s powdered wig. The sole questions that remained were how she came to be amongst us, and what had led her to guise herself as such a seraph!
However for now such enquiries were beyond my power, for I was all shocked and astonished silence; had I been an elegant female, as the charlatan before me plainly was, I should doubtless have surrendered myself to an apoplexy of nervous hysteria some moments prior. But as it was I did little more than stand as still as though I were held in the stocks, with my usually handsome features arranged in such a fashion that I hoped, ardently, would convey my confusion. However, upon reflection, I fear that, perchance, the expression bore a strong resemblance to an imbecile who has been struck quite dumb. But no matter, for I am doubtful that much heed was paid to my visage at such a time as this. Thus I was contented for now to do little more than regard her with all the incredulity of one so lately betrayed.
All about me the crew had taken up young Frank’s curses and oaths on account of the ill fortune that the presence of this wretched woman, the ethereal siren as was, on board the HMS Forsaken had brought upon us (You may wonder at how aptly named our vessel was, gentlemen of the admiralty, and you must allow me to assure you that, though it would seem to have been named on account of some wicked and unnatural premonition, such was not the case). The profane utterances of Master Frank were increasing in timbre until one found oneself astonished that a voice that was far better suited to an elderly and inebriated rustic could issue from so small a powder monkey. I shall not relate his words to you for it was punishment enough to listen once without having to endure the torment of recounting the coarse refrain to you hither.
I shall spare myself, therefore, and say simply that, at length their odious and objectionable curses not only acquired the melody of a sea chanty (someone had recovered my fiddle from the wreckage of the Forsaken, and though they played very ill indeed it was possible to recognise the hornpipe) it also restored me to my senses enough to find my voice. While my first speech was rendered wholly nonsensical, even to my ears, by my shaken sensibilities my next endeavour was more eloquent.
“Madam, pray, what is the meaning of this trickery? For you are a coquette and a minx indeed to dress yourself in this mythical guise and prey upon the whims and follies of others.” Said I with decided authority for one so fair. “Such an artful deceit is an abomination upon your character, for no honourable woman would lower herself to such schemes.Your reputation must lie in ruins for ever more, such calumnious falsehoods are very dreadful indeed.”
She did not answer me, but continued to look upon me wit a gaze so very unintelligible that it was as unearthly as the creature I had believed her to be, but one hour since. Vexed by her lack of reply I continued in a tone that I was desirous would convey to her the mortification of wounded pride and sentiments of betrayal to which she had very lately exposed me. “Madam, you are culpable of deceit of the acutest kind; have you nought to say?”
Plainly she did not, thus I was free to continue with my disquisition and I was glad of it, for I had grown to enjoy venting such considerable spleen upon her.
“Your deportment, madam, has been nought but scandalous vulgarity. Aboard the HMS Forsaken I offered you every comfort. I endeavoured to ensure that you would want for nothing. I did not waver in my attentions to you, and yet, you have done nothing save lie to me. You were all pretence, all in jest. Did my efforts mean so little to you? Did I mean so little?”
Upon the close of this speech I became aware that the men all about us had fallen silent and were regarding me with a peculiar scrutiny. I suddenly feared that I had revealed too much, as my oration had been quite candid, and I blushed to think that I had betrayed the true feelings I harboured for this harlot (the siren as was) as surely as she had betrayed our trust. I hastily endeavoured to conceal the openness within my address;
” You, wretch, have insulted Captain Quaid and every man of this ship in every way possible, and now must have something to say.”
Where before I had been all impassioned sentiment, this last shewed a cold disdain that astonished me and I was gratified at my abilities to be so very unfeeling.
Yet still she was silent and I grew to believe that she may be quite mute. Afore I could express this belief to the company at large, however, I recalled to mind her likeness to Robert Roberts and Master Frank’s assurances that Roberts had been all drunken folly, singing and dancing a cotillion upon the decks in the depths on a moonless night, illuminated only by the ships lamps, and I knew it must have been her. She was no mute.
These recollections returned to me also each of the occasions that I, upon approaching her quarters, had heard the peculiar sounds of light-footed movement from behind the parlour door. Her preference of the chaise over the ornate water casket in her cabin. Each revealed to me yet another falsehood, another purposeful attempt to deceive those she ought have counted amongst her friends.
And then, in a fashion reminiscent of a father whose youngest and favoured daughter has been drawn in by the charming and amiable manners of a libertine only to be cast asunder like a broken chia cup, I was overwhelmed by a vexation, the like of which I had ne’er before known.
Stepping forth in a manner, which by every fall of my right foot would express my fury and the fact that as I looked down upon her still impassive visage, I did indeed find myself to be of the ardent belief that she was the cause of all our misfortunes.
“Madam.” Said I. “I too find myself to be of the ardent belief that you are the cause of all our misfortunes. You have brought ruination down upon us. and for such a misdeed we ought cast you out into the ocean from whither you claim to belong”
I believe that in my eagerness to have the harpy full comprehend my intentions I may have performed, with both hands and feet, a small jig.
Such a return to our familiar means of communicating meant that we understood another perfectly and the composition of her beauteous features altered instantaneously until they shewed the fear that my words had been designed to induce.
Then, for the first time in all our acquaintance she spake. But as soon as the words flew from her lips I became aware, with rueful pangs, of an obstacle to our future happiness far greater than my earlier belief that she was not human; she was French.
She cast herself, with abandon, into an oration of her own. Despite my many accomplishments and my acquaintance with the modern languages, the speed at which she spake and the particular cadence of her voice, unused for some time now, rendered it nigh on impossible to transliterate every swiftly uttered word. Instead what I relay, gentlemen, is a greatly abridged account (for like many females of the French persuasion, once she found her voice she was quite disinclined to relinquish it) of what I could deduce from her tone,wild gesticulations and what words were fathomable.
Her name, I soon learned was Marie Caroline Antoinette of the House of Bourbon (such an abundance of names seems to speak of an over indulgent and indecisive parent, would not you agree Sirs?). She was, fortunately, but half a French personage, for her Pappa had been an English gentlemen. However her mother was not only French but of such elevated lineage that she was of courtly nobility and had the further misfortune of being a relation (the exact nature of the connexion eluded me) to the unhappy Queen Consort of France, Marie Antoinette.
While the connexion was not of the closest kind it would seem that it was sufficient enough in nature to mean that she was tried for treason aside of her lofty cousin. However before the good woman, who it would seem was culpable of little more than wearing to large a number of jewels, could face the same fate as the unlucky queen at the hands of revolting churls, she fled with her daughter.
The ladies were pursued as though they were little more than poaching urchins caught out by a game-keep of violent temper, by the Sans-Culottes (gentlemen of the admiralty, I confess I find it unfathomable that any faction that deems it fitting and indeed advisable, to call themselves such a name as “without Breeches” are paid any heed or showed any favour, even amongst the peasants)
Their intent to reunite with the lady’s husband, Earl Brackendale of -Shire, who was attending to his plantations in the indies, whether t’was the western or eastern indies also eluded me, but it was the indies none the less. Mademoiselle Marie Caroline Antoinette then related to all present, in what I took to be the prettiest language at her disposal, how toilsome and complex such a journey would be for a lady who, was not only so celebrated throughout France and the continent, but also had a handsome price upon her equally handsome head.
“There are not many who will offer aid or refuge.” Said she in her exceedingly french French.
Thus it was that Marie Caroline Antoinette of the House of Bourbon was raised in this peripatetic life, as they journeyed hither and thither in a fashion that was better suited to the wandering fortune tellers than to ladies of high rank; until, at length they gained safe passage to the Indies.
When she concluded this portion of her tale, I was yet left with that most singular question which remained most decidedly unanswered. Leaving her little time to regain her composure after so lengthy a disquisition, I enquired in a tone which was a good deal more civil than my last, (for who, upon hearing of such high birth and consequence, would not return instinctively to the adherence of the conventions of polite propriety? Such a fellow would, like as as not, be no gentleman) how it came to be that we had discovered her atop a rock on an isle of tropical climbs, with her true selfhood so wholly concealed by the guise of a maiden of the sea? For that remained as the most mysterious of mysteries.
To Be Continued …