Following a brief but fierce sea battle the HMS Baci limped back to the coast of Patagonia seeking a place for repairs. Night found her still plying the turbulent coastal waters, every man jack of the crew scouting the coast for a sheltered inlet. Lightning flashed and St. Elmo’s fire danced on the ship’s yards. It was during an extended lightning display that Degas L’Amour, currently hanging precariously from the bowsprit, spotted a “Sea Maiden” swimming earnestly to and fro before the Baci. At first he thought she too was in peril, but that concern vanished when she rolled onto her back and beckoned the sailor and ship to follow. L’Amour was instantly enamored and convinced succor was at hand.
Captain Fitzwillie would have none of it, sure she was a siren bent on destruction. Sir Edmund Roberts, the naturalist, fairly laughed in the captain’s face, remarking that any fool knew sirens to be mythical confabulations while “Sea Maidens” were recorded fact and benevolent by documentation and concluding that they were about to crash onto the rocks and debating if she were fish or fowl was cutting it a bit fine.
So follow her they did that dark and stormy night, past towering rocks and barely visible reefs through a narrow cleft that broadened into a becalmed shelter. The next morning repairs were hastily accomplished and when the storm abated the Baci rode the falling tide back into the open sea.
Captain Fitzwillie had L’Amour put into irons until they were well away, so certain was he that his prime seaman would attempt to rejoin his “sea love”. It appeared she too was heart broken for she lay on a plateau of rock neat in the channel entrance, her back to the ship in what Sir Edmund later learned was the classic “Sea Maiden” pose for heartache and defiant refusal to let others witness her grief. Gnarly Dan, the eldest salt aboard allowed that she would remain there until her lover returned or perish doing so, “for a Sea Maiden loves but once and that be forever.”
Captain Fitzwillie released L’Amour three days later and Sir Edmund encouraged the distraught sailor to not only give the Sea Maiden her common name but also provide the naturalist’s description of her attributes – thus giving voice to the seaman’s lament and also dampening the growing criticism that Sir Edmund’s descriptions were repetitive and uninspired at best.
Maidenus Folornica – “Diane”
June 21, 1832, Patagonia Coast
Then in L’Amour’s hand:
The most beautiful Sea Maiden appeared like an angel in the midst of the worst storm ever. Her eyes were the color of the ocean after a spring rain, her lips the luscious pink of the setting sun. She was perfection in length and her breasts were proud and matched and topped by…
It is unknown if L’Amour succumbed and was unable to finish or if the pen was snatched from him, for the description , now in Sir Edmund’s hand, concludes: Medium height. Medium weight. Dark hair.
Degas L’Amour and the captain’s launch were lost in clam waters several nights later.