Page:Paine--Lost ships and lonely seas.djvu/101

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
71
THE FRIGATE MEDUSA
or reproaches. They freely 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 rescue. 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 doomed 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. The execution of this decree was undertaken by three soldiers and a sailor, chosen by lot, while the others wept and turned away their faces.

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 wounded during the last night of the 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