They forced him to drink a couple of spoonfuls of rum, and wrapped him up warmly. Each man contributed some of his own bedding. Then the Gaffer called to morning prayers, and the three sound men dropped on their knees with him. Now, whether by reason of their joy at Long Ede’s recovery, or because the old man was in splendid voice, they felt their hearts uplifted that morning with a cheerfulness they had not known for months. Long Ede lay and listened dreamily while the passion of the Gaffer’s thanksgiving shook the hut. His gaze wandered over their bowed forms—“The Gaffer, David Faed, Dan Cooney, the Snipe, and—and George Lashman in his bunk, of course—and me.” But, then, who was the seventh? He began to count. “There’s myself—Lashman, in his bunk— David Faed, the Gaffer, the Snipe, Dan Cooney . . . One, two, three, four—well, but that made seven. Then who was the seventh? Was it George who had crawled out of bed and was kneeling there? Decidedly there were five kneeling. No: there was George, plain enough, in his berth, and not able to move. Then who was the stranger? Wrong again: there was no stranger. He knew all these men—they were his mates. Was it—Bill? No, Bill was dead and buried: none of these was Bill, or like Bill. Try again—One, two, three, four, five—and us two sick men, seven. The Gaffer, David Faed, Dan Cooney—have I counted Dan twice? No, that’s Dan, yonder to the right, and only one of him. Five men kneeling, and two on their backs: that makes seven every time. Dear God—suppose—”
The Gaffer ceased, and in the act of rising from his knees, caught sight of Long Ede’s face. While the others fetched their breakfast-cans, he stepped over, and bent and whispered—
“Tell me. Ye’ve seen what?”
“Seen?” Long Ede echoed.
“Ay, seen what? Speak low—was it the sun?”
“The s—” But this time the echo died on his lips, and his face grew full of awe uncomprehending. It frightened the Gaffer.
“Ye’ll be the better of a snatch of sleep,” said he; and was turning to go, when Long Ede stirred a hand under the edge of his rugs.
“Seven . . . count . . .” he whispered.
“Lord have mercy upon us!” the Gaffer muttered to his beard as he moved away. “Long Ede; gone crazed!”
And yet, though an hour or two ago this had been the worst that could befall, the Gaffer felt unusually cheerful. As for the others, they were like different men, all that day and through the three days that followed. Even Lashman ceased to complain, and, unless their eyes played them a trick, had taken a turn for the better. “I declare, if I don’t feel like pitching to sing!” the Snipe announced on the second evening, as much to his own wonder as to theirs. “Then why in thunder don’t you strike up?” answered Dan Cooney, and fetched his concertina. The Snipe struck up, then and there—“Villikins and his Dinah”! What is more, the Gaffer looked up from his “Paradise Lost,” and joined in the chorus.