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mated our courage; and we sustained that of the soldiers by cherishing in them the hope of being able, in a short time, to revenge themselves on those who had abandoned them. . . . In the evening our hearts and our prayers, by a feeling natural to the unfortunate, were turned towards Heaven. Surrounded by inevitable dangers, we addressed that invisible Being who has established the order of the universe. Our vows were fervent and we experienced from our prayers the cheering influence of hope. It is necessary to have been in similar situations before one can rightly imagine what a charm, to the hearts of the sufferers, is the sublime idea of a God protecting the unfortunate.
During the first night the wind increased, and the sea became so boisterous that the waves roared and gushed across the raft. A few ropes were stretched for the people to cling to, but many of them were washed to and fro, or caught and cruelly hurt between the grinding timbers. Others were flung into the sea. Twenty of the company had perished before dawn. Two ship's boys and a baker, after bidding farewell to their comrades, threw themselves into the ocean as the easier end.
Already the minds of some of the castaways were affected. They saw visions of ships, of green shores, of loved ones at home. With the return of day and calmer waters the emotion of hope strongly revived, and their manifold woes were forgotten while they gazed landward and waited for sight of a sail.
The night again brought clouds and squally weather, which agitated the ocean and swept the raft. In a wailing mass the people were dashed to and fro, and the pressure was such that several were suffocated. The ruffianly soldiers and sailors broached the wine-casks, and so lost what wits they had not been deprived of by terror. They insanely attacked the other survivors, and by spells a battle raged all night long with sabers, knives, and bayonets. The brave M. Correard had fallen into a swoon of exhaustion, but was aroused by the cries of "To arms, comrades! Rally, or we are lost!" He assembled a small force of loyal laborers and a few officers and led them in a charge. The
rebels surrounded them, but were beaten back after much bloodshed.
There was one woman on the raft, and the villains had thrown her overboard during the struggle, together with her husband, who had heroically defended her. M. Correard, gashed with saber-wounds as he was, leaped into the sea with a rope and rescued the wife, while Lavilette, "the head workman," swam after the husband and hauled him to the raft.
The first thing the poor woman did, after recovering her senses, was to acquaint herself with the name of the person who had saved her and to express to him her liveliest gratitude. Finding that her words but ill reflected her feelings, she recollected that she had in her pocket a little snuff and instantly offered it to him. Touched with the gift, but unable to use it, M. Correard gave it to a wounded sailor, which served him two or three days. But it is impossible to describe a still more affecting scene,-the joy this unfortunate couple testified when they were again conscious, at finding they were both saved.
The woman was a native of the Swiss Alps who had followed the armies of France as a sutler, or vivandière, for twenty years, through many of Napoleon's campaigns. Bronzed, intrepid, facing death with a smile and a gesture, she said to M. Correard:
I am a useful woman, you see, a veteran of great and glorious wars. Therefore, if you please, continue to preserve my life. Ah, if you knew how often I have ventured upon the field of battle and braved the bullets to carry assistance to our gallant men! Whether they had money or not I always let them have my goods. Sometimes a battle would deprive me of my poor debtors; but after the victory others would pay me double or triple for what they had consumed before the engagement. Thus I came in for a share of their victories.
It was a lull of the dreadful conflict among these pitiful castaways that moved M. Savigny to exclaim:
The moon lighted with her melancholy rays this disastrous raft, this narrow space on which were found united so many torturing anxieties, so many cruel anxieties, a
madness so insensate, a courage so heroic, and the most generous, the most amiable sentiments of nature and humanity.
Another night came, and the crazed mutineers made an attack even more savage. It was not a struggle for food or one impelled by the blind instinct of survival. They wished to destroy themselves as well as others, for they tried to cut the lashings of the raft and to tear it apart. They were so many ravening beasts who fought with teeth and fists as well as with weapons. Those who resisted displayed many instances of brave and beautiful self-sacrifice. One of the faithful laborers was seized by four of the rebels, who were about to kill him, but Lavilette, formerly a sergeant of Napoleon's Old Guard, rushed in and subdued them with the butt of a carbine and so saved the victim of their rage. A young lieutenant fell into the hands of these maniacs, and again there were volunteers to rush in against overwhelming numbers and effect a rescue, regardless of their grievous wounds. Bleeding and exhausted, M. Coudin had fallen upon a barrel, but he still held in his arms a twelve-year-old sailor-boy whom he was trying to shield from harm. The rebels flung them both into the sea, but M. Coudin clung to the lad and insisted that he be placed upon the raft before he permitted himself to be assisted.
During this period of lamentable combat among men who should have been brothers and comrades in tribulation, as many as sixty of them were drowned or died of their wounds. Only two of these belonged to the little party of finely tempered souls who had shown themselves to be greatly heroic. They had withstood one onslaught after another, and there were never more than twenty of them, caring for one another, untouched by the murderous delirium which had afflicted the rest of them. True, they saw phantasms and talked wildly, but the illusions were peaceful. M. Correard imagined that he was traveling through the lovely fruitful fields of Italy. One of the officers said to him, calmly: "I recollect that we were abandoned by the boats, but there is no cause for anxiety.
I am writing a letter to the Government, and in a few hours we shall be saved." And while they were babbling of the cafés of Paris and Bordeaux, and ordering the most elaborate meals, they chewed the leather of the shoulder-belts and cartridge-boxes, their shoes, and famine took its toll of them.
On the fourth day a dozen more had died, and the survivors were "extremely feeble and bore upon their faces the stamp of approaching dissolution." Shipwrecked crews have lived much longer than this without food, but the situation of these sufferers was uncommonly dreadful. And yet one of them could say:
This day was serene and the ocean slumbered. Our hearts were in harmony with the comforting aspect of the heavens and received anew a ray of hope. A shoal of flying fish passed under our raft and as there was an infinite number of openings between the pieces which composed it, the fish were entangled in great numbers. We threw ourselves upon them and took about two hundred and put them in an empty barrel. This food seemed delicious but one man would have required a score. Our first emotion was to give thanks to God for this unhoped for favor.
An ounce of gunpowder was discovered, and the sunshine dried it so that with a steel and gun-flints a fire was kindled in a wetted cask, and some of the little fish were cooked. This was the only food vouchsafed them, a mere shadow of sustenance among so many, but "the night was made tolerable and might have been happy if it had not been signalized by a new massacre."
A mob of Spaniards, Italians, and negroes had hatched a plot to throw all the others into the sea, and so obtain the raft and what wine was left. The black men argued that the coast was near, and that they could traverse it without danger from the natives, and so act as guides. The leader of this renewed outbreak was a Spaniard, who placed himself behind the mast, made the sign of the cross with one hand, waved a knife in the other, and invoked the name of God as the signal to rush forward and begin the affray. Two loyal French sailors who were forewarned of
the eruption lost not a moment in grappling with this pious desperado, and he was tossed into the sea along with an Asiatic of gigantic stature who was suspected to be another ringleader. A third leader of the mob, the Italian servant of an infantry officer, perceiving that the plot was discovered, armed himself with a boarding-ax, hacked his way free, and plunged into the ocean.
The rest of the mutineers were hardier madmen, and they fought wildly in the attempt to kill one of the officers, under the delusion that he was a Lieutenant Danglas, whom they had hated for his harsh manners while aboard the Medusa. They were repulsed at length, but when morning came only thirty persons remained alive of the one hundred and fifty who had left the frigate. Under the torrid sun, parched and burning and starved, these pitiable creatures had been destroying one another night after night. Glimpses of reason prevailed, as when two soldiers were caught in the act of stealing wine from the only cask left, and were put to death after a summary court martial, conducted with singular regard for form and ceremony.
Among those who mercifully passed out at the end of a week was the sailorboy, whose name was Léon. M. Savigny describes it so tenderly that the passage seems worthy of quotation:
He died like a lamp which ceases to burn for want of aliment. All spoke in favor of this young and amiable creature who merited a better fate. His angelic form, his musical voice, the interest inspired by an age so infantile, increased still more by the courage he had shown and the services he had performed (for he had already made, in the preceding year, a campaign in the East Indies), moved us all with the deepest pity for this young victim. Our old soldiers, and all the people in general, did everything they could to prolong his existence. Neither the wine of which they deprived themselves without regret, nor all the other means they employed, could arrest his melancholy doom, and he expired in the arms of M. Coudin who had not ceased to give him the most unwearied attention. While he had strength to move he ran incessantly from one side to the other, loudly calling for his mother, for water and for food. He trod upon the feet
and legs of his wounded companions who, in their turn, uttered cries of anguish but these were rarely mingled with threats or reproaches. They pardoned all that the poor little lad caused them to suffer.
When the number of the living was reduced to twenty-seven, a solemn discussion was held, and a conclusion reached upon which it is not for us to pass judgment. It was evident that fifteen of the number were likely to live a few days longer, which gave them a tangible hope of salvation. The other twelve were about to die, all of them severely wounded and bereft of reason! There was still some wine in the last cask. To divide it with these twelve was to deprive the fifteen stronger men of the chance of survival. It was decided to give these dying people to the merciful obliteration of the sea.
Among those whose feeble spark of life was snuffed out in this manner was that militant woman, the sutler who had followed Napoleon to the plains of Italy. Both she and her husband had been fatally hurt during the last night of mutiny, and so they went out of life together, which was as they would have wished it. More than once in war the hopelessly wounded have been put out of the way in preference to leaving them in the wake of a retreat or burdening a column with them. In this tragedy of the sea the decision was held to be justifiable when the French Government investigated the circumstances. Painful and abhorrent as it may appear, the incident should not be permitted to cloud the nobility and humanity displayed by many of these unhappy people.
With so few of them remaining, they were able to assemble themselves upon a little platform raised in the center of the raft, and to fashion a slight protection with bits of plank and spars and pieces of sail, but in rough weather they were almost continually immersed. To rehearse their sufferings in detail would be to repel the reader. It is only in fiction that shipwreck can be employed as a theme for romance and adventure. The reality is apt to be stark and grim. It is more congenial to remember such fine bits as this, when they had huddled
upon the tiny platform in the final days until his strength failed. The vessel of their agony:
grew larger through half an hour of tears and supplications, and then its course was altered and it dropped below the sky-line. Despair overwhelmed them. They laid themselves down under a covering of sail-cloth and refused to look at the ocean which had mocked them so. It was proposed to write their names and a brief account of their adventures upon a plank, and affix it to the mast on the chance that the tidings might reach their Government and their families in France.
On this new theatre we resolved to meet death in a manner becoming Frenchmen and with perfect resignation. Our time was almost wholly spent in talking of our beloved and unhappy country. All our wishes, our prayers, were for the prosperity of France.
It was the indomitable M. Correard who assured his comrades that his presentiment of rescue was still unshaken, that a series of events so unheard of could not be destined to oblivion, and that Providence would preserve a few at least to tell to the world the melancholy story of the raft. In the bottom of a sack were found thirty cloves of garlic, which were distributed as a precious alleviation, and there was rejoicing over a little bottle of toothwash containing cinnamon and aromatics. A drop of it on the tongue produced an agreeable feeling,
and for a short time removed the thirst which destroyed us. Thus we sought with avidity an empty vial which one of us possessed and in which had once been some essence of roses. Every one, as he got hold of it, respired with delight the odor it exhaled, which imparted to his senses the most soothing impressions. Emaciated by privations, the slightest comfort to us was a supreme happiness.
On the ninth day they saw a white butterfly of a species familiar to the gardens of France, and it fluttered to rest on the mast. It was a harbinger of land and an omen of deliverance in their wistful sight. Other butterflies visited them, but the winds and currents failed to set them in close to the coast, and there was never a glimpse of a sail. They existed in quietude, with no more brawls or mutinies, until thirteen days had passed since the wreck of the Medusa. Then a captain of infantry, scanning the sea with aching eyes, descried the gleam of canvas.
Soon they were able to see that it was a brig, and they took it to be the Argus of their own squadron, which they had been hoping would be sent in search of them. They made some little flags of fragments of cloth, and a seaman climbed to the top of the mast and waved them
It was the master gunner who crawled out two hours later and trembled as he gazed at the brig, which had made a long tack and was now steering straight toward the raft. The others dragged themselves to their feet, forgetting their sores and wounds and weakness, and embraced one another. From the foremast of the brig flew a flag which they recognized as the ensign of France, and they cried, as you might have expected of them:
"Is it, then, to Frenchmen that we shall owe our deliverance?"
The Argus rounded to no more than half a pistol-shot from the raft, while the crew, "ranged upon the deck and in the shrouds announced to us by the waving of their hands and hats the pleasure they felt at coming to the assistance of their unfortunate countrymen." Tenderly transferred aboard the brig, the survivors were almost killed with kindness, for they were placed between-decks, too near the galley, and almost roasted by the heat. "Those who did not belong to the navy were laid upon cables wrapped in flags, and placed under the fire of the kitchen." During the night the space caught fire, and they almost perished before they were dragged out. Two days later they were set ashore at the colonial port of St. Louis, several still delirious. They felt a peculiar gratitude toward M. Renaud, surgeon of the Argus.
Five persons of the fifteen saved alive by the brig "were unable to recover from their fatigue" and died at St. Louis. Only ten men, therefore, of the one hundred and fifty who had left the frigate on this dreadful raft survived to return to France.