Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 33.djvu/419

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405
SKETCH OF PAUL BERT.

too dear, and the use of petroleum being a "barbarous expedient," he was anxious to know whether it would not be possible for him to make the Red River, which flows past the capital, produce the required illumination. "Would the expense be great?" he asked. "Only think, if we 'succeeded, we should be ahead of England and Japan! . . . Answer, and answer quickly; my days are numbered." This letter was deposited, by vote, in the archives of the Academy of Sciences at Paris.

During the first months, of his stay in Tonquin, M. Bert enjoyed the best of health. But the constant friction which existed be- tween himself and the military authorities worried him, and the climate of Hanoi wore upon him. He concealed, as much as pos- sible, the fact that he was becoming ill, and was anxious that none but good reports should go out concerning the country. When called to go to Anam in September, it was remarked on board the steamer that "he was ever full of that good humor which he had the gift of communicating to others. He was always surrounded by a little circle of friends, who left him the stronger and the bet- ter advised. At table his marvelous appetite contrasted curiously with the dejected features and languishing airs of his traveling companions, and it seemed as yet impossible to believe in his un- foreseen, sudden death." "It is difficult," says the author of a let- ter in the "Republique Frangaise," describing a "Last Interview" with him at this time, "to form any idea of the indefatigable activity which M. Bert had displayed ever since his departure from France. At Hanoi he was shut up in his room early in the morning till his family came to call him to breakfast. In the middle of the hot day, at the hour which even the most robust dedicate to rest and quiet, he was found at his work, which only ended at five, with the end of the day. At five—his family were waiting patiently for him; they were all going to drive out to- gether, but the time passes, and M. Bert does not appear. He is looked for everywhere, and at last he comes, only to tell his friends that an officer is dying at the hospital, or that one of his function- aries is ill, and that he must go and see them both. At the Hanoi hospital, whence the French soldiers and travelers are buried who have died in the neighborhood, M. Bert followed each cofiin to its last resting-place. Times without number he has walked through this hospital, distributing books and medicines, and bringing such consolation which only those can fully appreciate who have been ill away from their own country and their own people,"

Two weeks before his death he telegraphed confidentially to M. de Freycinet that he was ill, and it would be well to appoint his successor. M. de Freycinet replied that it would be better for him to rest, and that his retirement would be detrimental to the public interests; and he responded: " You are right; better die at