They were Alexander Williamson, of Dundee, better known as The Gaffer; David Faed, also of Dundee; George Lashman, of Cardiff; Long Ede, of Hayle, in Cornwall; Charles Silchester, otherwise The Snipe, of Ratcliff Highway or thereabouts; and Daniel Cooney, shipped at Tromso six weeks before the wreck, an Irish-American by birth and of no known address.
The Gaffer reclined in his bunk, reading by the light of a smoky and evil-smelling lamp. He had been mate of the J. R. MacNeill, and was now captain as well as patriarch of the party. He possessed three books—the Bible, Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” and an odd volume of “The Turkish Spy.” Just now he was reading “The Turkish Spy.” The lamplight glinted on the rim of his spectacles and on the silvery hairs in his beard, the slack of which he had tucked under the edge of his blanket. His lips moved as he read, and now and then he broke off to glance mildly at Faed and the Snipe, who were busy beside the fire with a greasy pack of cards; or to listen to the peevish grumbling of Lashman in the bunk below him. Lashman had taken to his bed six weeks before with scurvy, and complained incessantly; and though they hardly knew it, these complaints were wearing his comrades’ nerves to fiddle-strings—doing the mischief that cold and bitter hard work and the cruel loneliness had hitherto failed to do. Long Ede lay stretched by the fire in a bundle of skins, reading in his only book, the Bible, open now at the Song of Solomon. Cooney had finished patching a pair of trousers, and rolled himself in his hammock, whence he stared at the roof and the moonlight streaming up there through the little trap-doors and chivying the layers of smoke. Whenever Lashman broke out into fresh quaverings of self-pity, Cooney’s hands opened and shut again, till the nails dug hard into the palm. He groaned at length, exasperated beyond endurance.
“Oh, stow it, George! Hang it all, man! . . .”
He checked himself, sharp and short: repentant, and rebuked by the silence of the others. They were good seamen all, and tender dealing with a sick shipmate was part of their code.
Lashman’s voice, more querulous than ever, cut into the silence like a knife—
“That’s it. You’ve thought it for weeks, and now you say it. I’ve knowed it all along. I’m just an encumbrance, and the sooner you’re shut of me the better, says you. You needn’t to fret. I’ll be soon out of it; out of it—out there, alongside of Bill—”
“Easy there, matey.” The Snipe glanced over his shoulder and laid his cards face downward. “Here, let me give the bed a shake up. It’ll ease yer.”
“It’ll make me quiet, you mean. Plucky deal you care about easin’ me, any of yer!”
“Get out with yer nonsense! Dan didn’ mean it.” The Snipe slipped an arm under the invalid’s head and rearranged the pillow of skins and gunny-bags.
“He didn’t, didn’t he? Let him say it then . . .”