Mender nodded at a closed door toward the aft end of the passageway. "The captain's cabin. I shudder to think what we may find in there."
"Maybe nothing," said one of the crewmen nervously. "Everybody probably fled the ship and trekked off along the coast northward."
Roxanna shook her head. "I can't imagine anyone leaving such a beautiful animal to die on board alone."
The men forced open the door to the captain's cabin and entered, to a gruesome sight. A woman dressed in clothing from the mid to late seventeen hundreds sat in a chair, her dark eyes open and staring with great sadness at the form of a small child lying in a crib. She had frozen to death while in deep sorrow at losing what appeared to be her young daughter. In her lap was an open Bible turned to the Psalms.
The tragic sight numbed Roxanna and the crew of the Paloverde. Her enthusiasm at exploring the unknown had suddenly evaporated into a feeling of anguish. She stood there with the others in silence, their hushed breath misting in that crypt of a cabin.
Mender turned and walked into an adjoining cabin and found the captain of the ship, who he rightly assumed was the dead woman's husband. The man was seated at a desk, slumped in a chair. His red hair was coated by ice and his face was dead white. One hand was still clutching a quill pen. A sheet of paper lay before him on the desk. Mender brushed away the frost and read the wording.
August 26, 1779
It has been five months since we were trapped in this accursed place after that storm drove us far off our course to the south. Food gone. No one has eaten for ten days. Most of the crew and passengers dead. My little daughter died yesterday, my poor wife only an hour ago. Whoever should find our bodies, please notify the directors of the Skylar Croft Trading Company of Liverpool of our fate. All is at an end. I shall soon join my beloved wife and daughter.
Master of the Madras
The leather-bound logbook of the Madras lay to one side of Captain Hunt on the desk. Mender carefully dislodged it from the ice that froze the rear cover to the wooden desktop and placed the book in-
side his heavy coat. Then he stepped from the cabin and closed the door.
"What did you find?" asked Roxanna.
"The body of the captain."
"It's all so terrible."
"I imagine there is worse to see."
The words were prophetic. They divided up and went from cabin to cabin. The more exquisite passengers' accommodations were in the roundhouse, an expansive space with quarter galleries and windows partitioned into various-sized cabins in the stern below the poop deck. Passengers booked empty space. They had to furnish their cabin themselves, providing couches, beds, and chairs, all lashed down in anticipation of heavy weather. Wealthy passengers often brought such personal possessions as bureaus, bookshelves, and musical instruments, including pianos and harps. Here the searchers found nearly thirty bodies in various positions of death. Some died sitting upright, some lay in bed, while others were sprawled on the deck. All looked as if they had peacefully dozed off.
Roxanna was unsettled by those whose eyes were open. The color of their irises seemed enhanced by the pure white faces surrounding them. She cringed when one of the Paloverde's crewmen reached out and touched the hair of one of the ladies. The frozen hair made a strange crackling noise and broke off in the crewman's hand.
The great cabin on the deck below the more elegant roundhouse staterooms looked like a morgue after a disaster. Mender saw any number of dead, mostly men, many of them British military officers in uniform. Forward was the steerage cabin, which was also filled with frozen corpses in hammocks slung over ship's supplies and luggage in the steerage compartment.
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