The three masts and bowsprit, along with their rigging, looked to be intact, with the sails furled. With the wind fallen to a slight breeze, she unwrapped the scarf from her face and eyes and could see that most of the ship's hull was embedded in the ice. Roxanna's father had been a sea captain who had commanded clipper ships in the tea trade to China, and as a young girl she had seen thousands of ships of all types of rigs and sails arrive and depart Boston, but the only time she had seen a ship like the one encrusted with ice was in a painting that hung in her grandfather's house.
The ghostly ship was old, very old, with a huge rounded stern bearing windows and quarter galleries that hung over the water. She had been built long, narrow, and deep. A good 140 feet in length with at least a 35-foot beam, Roxanna estimated. Like the ship she had seen in the painting. This one had to be an 800-ton British Indiaman of the late eighteenth century.
She turned from the ship and waved her scarf to attract her husband and crew. One caught the movement on the ice out of the corner of his eye and alerted the others. They quickly began running across the broken ice toward her, with Captain Mender in the lead. Twenty minutes later, the crew of the Paloverde had reached her, shouting joyously at finding her alive.
Usually a quiet, taciturn man, Mender showed uncharacteristic emotion when he swept Roxanne into his arms, tears frozen to his cheeks, and kissed her long and lovingly. "Oh God!" he muttered, "I thought you were dead. It's truly a miracle you survived."
A whaling master at the age of twenty-eight, Bradford Mender was thirty-six and on his tenth voyage when his ship had become locked in the Antarctic ice. A tough, resourceful New Englander, he stood six feet tall and was big all over, weighing in at close to 225 pounds. His eyes were a piercing blue and his hair was black; a beard ran from ears to chin. Stern but fair, he never had a problem with officers and crew that he couldn't handle efficiently and honestly. A superb whale-hunter and navigator, Mender was also a shrewd businessman who was not only master of his ship but its owner as well.
"If you hadn't insisted I wear the Eskimo clothing you gave me, I would have frozen to death hours ago."
He released her and turned to the six members of his crew who surrounded them, cheered that the captain's wife had been found alive. "Let us get Mrs. Mender back to the ship quickly and get some hot soup in her."
"No, not yet," she said, clutching him by the arm and pointing. "I've discovered another ship."
Every man turned, their eyes following her outstretched arm.
"An Englishman. I recognized her lines from a painting in my grandfather's parlor in Boston. It looks like a derelict."
Mender stared at the apparition, which was ghostly white under its tomb of ice. "I do believe you're right. She does have the lines of a very old merchantman from the 1770s."
"I suggest that we investigate, Captain," said the Paloverde's first mate, Nathan Bigelow. "She may still contain provisions that will help us survive till spring."
"They would have to be a good eighty years old," Mender said heavily.
"But preserved by the cold," Roxanna reminded him.
He looked at her tenderly. "You've had a hard time, dear wife. I'll have one of the men escort you back to the Paloverde."
"No, husband," Roxanna said resolutely, her fatigue banished, "I intend to see what there is to see." Before the captain could protest, she took off down the slope of the hummock to the pack ice and set off toward the abandoned vessel.
Mender looked at his crew and shrugged. "Far be it from me to argue with a curious woman."
"A ghost ship," murmured Bigelow. "A great pity she's forever locked in the ice, or we could sail her home and apply for salvage rights."
A Man Called Intrepid author dies aged 89(Dec 03 2013) William Stevenson, a journalist and author who drew on his close ties with intelligence sources to write two best-selling books in the 1970s, A Man Called...