FRENCH GEODESY 129
overpass a large arm of the sea by observing signals installed upon some high mountain of a far-away isle. The enterprise was well con- ceived and well prepared; it failed however.
The French scientist encountered all sorts of difficulties of which he complains bitterly in his correspondence. "Hell," he writes, per- haps with some exaggeration, "hell and all the scourges it vomits upon the earth, tempests, war, the plague and black intrigues, are therefore unchained against me ! "
The fact is that he encountered among his collaborators more of proud obstinacy than of good will and that a thousand accidents re- tarded his work. The plague was nothing, the fear of the plague was much more redoubtable; all these isles were on their guard against the neighboring isles and feared lest they should receive the scourge from them. Mechain obtained permission to disembark only after long weeks upon the condition of covering all his papers with vinegar ; this was the antisepsis of that time.
Disgusted and sick, he had just asked to be recalled, when he died.
Arago and Biot it was who had the honor of taking up the unfin- ished work and carrying it on to completion.
Thanks to the support of the Spanish government, to the protection of several bishops and, above all, to that of a famous brigand chief, the operations went rapidly forward. They were successfully completed, and Biot had returned to France when the storm burst.
It was the moment when all Spain took up arms to defend her inde- pendence against France. Why did this stranger climb the mountains to make signals ? It was evidently to call the French army. Arago was able to escape the populace only by becoming a prisoner. In his prison his only distraction was reading in the Spanish papers the account of his own execution. The papers of that time sometimes gave out news pre- maturely. He had at least the consolation of learning that he died with courage and like a Christian.
Even the prison was no longer safe; he had to escape and reach Algiers. There, he embarked for Marseilles on an Algerian vessel. This ship was captured by a Spanish corsair, and behold Arago carried back to Spain and dragged from dungeon to dungeon, in the midst of vermin and in the most shocking wretchedness.
If it had only been a question of his subjects and his guests, the dey would have said nothing. But there were on board two lions, a present from the African sovereign to Napoleon. The dey threatened war.
The vessel and the prisoners were released. The port should have been properly reached, since they had on board an astronomer ; but the astronomer was seasick, and the Algerian seamen, who wished to make Marseilles, came out at Bougie. Thence Arago went to Algiers, traver- sing Kabylia on foot in the midst of a thousand perils. He was long