The 21st Day Of September, The Year of Our Lord 1803.
I yet stood fast and was quite decided upon remaining thus until the coquette before me answered the question I had put, candidly, before her. How was it come to be that we had discovered her upon the reef in the guise of a mermaid?
Plainly she understood my intentions perfectly, for she turned all of her attentions upon me, in spite of the presence of the crew and Captain Quaid himself, who had gathered all about her now and were all in raptures at her tale. Indeed some appeared so afflicted by her account that they were weeping. Though, in truth, I believe this frailty may have been caused by Roberts. For he was all obliging, affable good nature in consenting to transliterating her soliloquy for those who could speak no foreign tongues. Roberts was a wordsmith of a considerable ability, with a flair for descriptive prose to which I have yet to see an equal. He related it now to the crew in a fashion that was tenfold more poetic and eloquent than the lady herself, and, ten to one, if it were transcribed, his speech would have made a far superior novel to any of Mrs F Burney.
His words were rendered quite doubly moving by Mr Burns, who had taken up my fiddle and played a mournful melody which was exactly calculated to match the sentiments of the lady’s story. The lady continued in a voice which, while it was still afflicted with the inflection of the French vernacular, was mercifully not so swift, to elucidate that as she and her mother sailed toward the Indies the Captain of their vessel had been taken ill. This foolish Captain had failed to set a course afore he fell into a fever so shocking that he found himself gripped by the belief that he was become a goat. Thus the ship was adrift in hostile waters and caught betwixt fighting frigates. it was sunk and, greatly afeared of being discovered by the French, she had feigned death and waited for peril to pass afore reaching the sanctuary of the isle upon which we had found her and altered her appearance to that of the siren. Confess I know not how these last had been arranged, for hither she had employed a good many words with which neither I nor Mr Roberts were familiar.
And that, gentlemen of the admiralty is all that came to pass betwixt her residing in France and our discovery of a “Siren”. By the by you need not concern yourselves with the fate of her Mamma, for it would seem that fortune favoured her and she was rescued by the English.
It may perhaps astonish you to learn that, upon the close so lamentable a tale, I was not, as were so many in the crew, overcome by sentiments of pity, but rather by those of betrayal, which had not left me since first I saw her feet. My visage indubitably reflected this anguish, for she now rose to her afore mentioned feet, standing before me still in her muslin gown, and spake in english with redoubled tones of earnest fervour.
“Pray, forgive me Mr Matelot. You have been the very essence of genteel civility and your kind attentions have led me to count you, most gladly, amongst my closest friends. I am all shame and mortification at having conducted myself thus. Pray, Sir forgive me.”
I was gratified to see that she blushed until her complexion was of a hue which exactly conveyed her shame and mortification at conducting herself thusly. Yet despite the undoubted veracity and feeling in her apology I was not inclined towards forgiveness.
“Mademoiselle Marie Caroline Antoinette, I am not inclined towards forgiveness. You have done nought but deceive me since first we met. you are a stranger to me Madam.” With these words I prepared to take my leave of her, and though such a leave taking would leave me with no option save for that of perambulating along the beach, I found that it was preferable to remaining in the presence of this charlatan, who was indeed akin to a stranger before me.
Yet I had not yet taken one step when she spake again, her english but tolerably adequate and far better suited to a common rustic, and I wondered at a young lady of such rank and consequence showing such wanton neglect to her schooling and our fair tongue.
“Mr Matelot, pray, do not dismiss me thus. Sir, do me the honour of affording me the chance to explicate myself further.”
I acquiesced and remained whither I was. However, it would seem that her command of English did not extend so far as the expressing of her finer sentiments and as she returned to speaking French, it was rendered necessary for Roberts’ to recommence his transliteration of her speech in the prettiest words at his disposal.
“I grant you that I wilfully deceived you, but I would not have wilfully wounded you.” Robert’s related, after but a moments delay. “There is still a price upon my head and I confess I was greatly afeared of the guillotine. But since the moment you presented me with the first trinket I have longed to reveal myself to you. Indeed as we boarded the Forsaken I was quite decided upon doing so. Each token of your affection, which you subsequently gave did nought but strengthen my resolve. However the recollection of that wicked blade hath prevented me from ever summoning the courage. But I can see now that I was a fool indeed not to take you into my confidence. I hope, now, most fervently that you may forgive my coward’s vices and pray that I have not lost your good opinion forever.”
She fell silent and Roberts’ succumbed to the desire to sing a tune of his own invention, while I found myself able to do little more than gaze upon her, for her words (though perchance more candid than can be considered prudent for a woman) had made me truly glad that she was, in fact human. For if you, gentlemen of the admiralty, will permit me to speak quite pain, I knew myself to be wholly and irretrievably in love with Mademoiselle Marie Caroline Antoinette, the siren as was, despite her evident lack of fortune and her connexion to exiled French nobility.
So over come was I that I found myself falling directly upon bended knee and asking if she would do me the honour of giving me her hand in marriage.
I shall not keep you in suspense gentlemen, and shall tell you at once that her answer was exactly what it ought to be. Both affirmative in nature and deeply affected by her every happy sentiment. As we, the happy couple, rejoiced, our thoughts, along with those of the crew, seemed to turn in a unison so particular to sailors, to our current and inescapable predicament. That of being shipwrecked upon so very foreign an isle entirely sans hope escape. Well, gentlemen, as I am quite certain that above one of your number has had the misfortune to have endured such a thing, I feel I scarcely need describe the profundity of our hopelessness.
To evade the dreadful anguish that had descended upon us we were as one as we concluded we ought divert our attentions. Captain Quaid, having indubitably noted this yearning to engage our thoughts elsewhere, stood before us and said; “Gentlemen, lady, there is to be a wedding, let us think on those delights.”
And with that, every man among us cast himself into the task of arranging every particular for our marriage (We had concluded that this ought not be deferred by another moment and would take place by the close of the day) with the violent zeal that would far more commonly be associated with the battling of our French foe.
It was not long afore the carpenters had fashioned an elegant arch beneath which the vows might be read. It was only as I glanced upon this beauteous arch so swiftly formed from the trees of the tropics that I realised, with pangs of regret and renewed despair, that we had no parson. Indeed, I could not recollect when last I had seen the reverend of the Forsaken, and it seemed, now, to be some not inconsiderable amount of time since we had been forced to endure one of his sermons. While, in truth, this had not caused me any distress or inconvenience, I know felt the absence keenly.
The pangs subsided as I recalled that there was one other among our party who had the power to unite a couple in matrimony. Therefore I was all eager zeal as I hastened to the captain’s side.
“Captain Quaid Sir,” Said I in earnest. “You, as our master and commander hold it within your power to declare us wed. Pray, Sir, might you oblige us with a wedding ceremony?”
If I believed that, with the recollection of the Captain’s authority, we could soon be wed, then I was very greatly mistaken. The Captain’s response to my behest filled me with wretched melancholy anew.
“Nay, Matelot, my good fellow.” Said he. “I am all sadness in telling you and your bride that a captain is in possession of elevated powers only when aboard his ship. And I am sure I need not remind you that the Forsaken has been claimed by the sea, she is gone and I am master and commander of nought now save my own soul. I cannot marry you while we stand hither upon these shores without a vessel.”
This was grave news indeed to a couple as close to matrimony as we were. We remained whither we were, suffering from a torment to which I have no desire to describe. How cruel to be denied not only the hope of escape from these deuced shores, but denied also the prospect of so happy a unification.
I was upon the very brink of running mad, (for what else could be done now?) when quite suddenly (indeed it was with so little warning that it was nigh on vulgarity) I found myself to be in possession of an idea of incalculable brilliance. I was silent for above five and twenty minutes as I formulated the particulars of my scheme. My silence soon grew to be of such an alarming profundity that my betrothed grew anxious and Mr Burns bid young Frank to strike my visage to rouse me from my stupefaction. As the diminutive Frank did smite me, which he accompanied with a cry of “What deuced devilry has caught you knave?” I was once more reunited with that happiest of sentiments, hope.
“Gentlemen, Frank, Mademoiselle Of Bourbon I know how we can arrange it so that it may all pass off. We must build raft!” Declared I.
To be continued …