The HMS Dolphin, an aging 90-gun first rate, was once the pride of the Royal Navy, taking its name from the steely-eyed dolphin figurehead fastened to its bow. For over thirty years she had made her presence known throughout the Pacific, serving several prominent navy captains and having been captured and recaptured at least twice. Her figurehead, whom the sailors nicknamed Lucy, was now home to many barnacles and had a slight crack running down the length of her spine. The most noticeable change, however, was in her facial expression. The once stern, uncompromising gaze had given way to a tired, almost sullen stare, and you couldn't help but catch a glimpse of sorrow as she cut through the water.
One day on her way back from an escort mission the Dolphin encountered a pod, seven strong, of actual dolphins as they began swimming alongside Lucy, seemingly recognizing her, and leaping out of the water joyously. One dolphin in particular took a liking to Lucy, a small but energetic young calf. Over the next six weeks the calf followed Lucy around everywhere, jumping with her in the waves as the Dolphin meandered the Pacific. Lucy seemed to warm to her new friend and little by little her visage began to soften. Her eyes started to betray an abstract fondness for the calf, and her mournful gaze had regained a glimmer of hope. Eventually they became inseparable and the calf, who had taken to Lucy as its mother (some of the crew speculated), never left her side.
Wednesday, 23 April, 1703 was a bitter night. The sea was rough and a number of the crew who had earlier had a row with the captain over the waning food supplies had gathered on deck to get drunk. The isolation of life at sea often gives way to a cruel boredom, as on that night one sailor suggested they catch the dolphin calf who had been following them for the many weeks prior, for fun. In a drunken haze they readied a harpoon over the bow, took aim at the calf and fired. The harpoon pierced the calf's dorsal fin and the crew hauled it on deck. When one sailor sliced the dorsal fin off completely, it began to yelp incessantly. The crew took turns beating and kicking the calf with cheers and laughter, while it struggled and floundered around the deck. After at least twenty minutes it stopped, exhausted and sheepishly resigned to its fate. The crew, now bored of the game, threw the calf over the bow to die and resigned below deck to their stupors and sleep.
In the night they were woken by a short crack and a loud splash. Hurrying on deck, they discovered that Lucy had broken herself off of the bow and plunged into the precarious waters beneath. "It's about time," quipped one of the sailors, "maybe now we can get a mermaid." Laughter erupted on deck, shortly interrupted by a thunderous crack which began to split the HMS Dolphin down the middle. The panicking seamen ran about in every direction, clinging to the mast and rigging, desperately trying to get away from the widening chasm as the Dolphin cleaved in two.
One sailor recalled a story his father once told him of a songbird that lived in a quiet churchyard. The congregation caged the bird and put it on display in the very same courtyard it once sang so liberally. When after a cold night the bird died, the church bells sang with an awful clarity: "After joy... sorrow."
The HMS Dolphin was never found. There were no survivors.