He, however, calmed their fears, and exposed his projects to them, and the seances always ended by a vote of confidence in the future of the undertaking. Favre certainly did not dissimulate the difficulties that he should have to conquer, but he execrated those who were timorous and always tried to put confidence into those who surrounded him. But, singular phenomenon, he ended by deceiving himself and, at certain times, it would not have been easy to prove to him that the St. Gothard was not the most easy undertaking in the world. Those who have lived around him know the jokes that he sometimes made at the expense of poor Gothard, which paid him back with interest, however, and did not allow itself to be pierced so easy after all.
Such confidence as existed in the first years, however, was not to exist for ever. The tunnel advanced, the heading deepened, but at the price of what troubles, and especially of how many expenses! Day by day one could soon count the probable deficit in the affair and the silent partners began to get a glimpse of the loss of the eight millions of securities that had had to be deposited with the Swiss Federal Council. For Favre personally the failure of the enterprise would have been ruin for his fortune was not so large as has been stated. To fears which Favre possessed more on account of the associates that he had engaged in the enterprise than for himself, came to join themselves those troubles with the Germans that he had spoken to me about on the first day. The St. Gothard Company, whose troubles are so celebrated, and whose inactivity lasted until the reconstruction of the affair, was seemingly undertaking to make Favre, who was directing the only work then in activity, bear all the insults that it had itself had to endure. And yet, amid these multiple cares, the contractor of the tunnel did not allow himself to become disheartened.
Constantly at the breach he lived at his works, going from the gigantic adit of Goschenen to the inundated one of Anolo, constantly on the mountain, having no heed of the icy and perilous crossing, and passing days in the torrential rain that was flooding the tunnel. Who of us does not picture him in mind as he reached the inn at night, with his high boots still soaking wet, and his gray beard full of icicles to take his accustomed seat at the table, and, between courses, to tell some story full of mirth, some joke from the other works whence he had come, which made us laugh immoderately, and brought a smile to the faces of the German engineers.
It is a singular coincidence that this confidence in his own work, despite all the struggles borne, was shared likewise by another man than Favre - by Germano Sommeiller, the creator of the Mont Cenis Tunnel. When the work of the first piercing of the Alps was yet in the period of attacks and incredulity, Sommeiller wrote his brother the following letter: "Always keep me posted my dear Leander, as to what the laughers are saying and remember the proverb that 'he will laugh well who laughs last!' The majority of the people, even engineers, are rubbing their hands in expectation of the colossal fiasco that awaits us, and it is for that that the envious keep somewhat silent. I will predict to you that as soon as success is assured everybody will mount to the house tops and say 'I told you so! It was an idea of my own!' What great geniuses are going to spring from the earth! I am in haste, so adieu, courage, energy, silence and especially cheerfulness! And especially cheerfulness!" Perhaps this cheerfulness of strong minds is the invincible weapon of those who, like Sommeiller and Favre, fight against apathy or the bad faith of their adversaries! Like Favre however Sommeiller had not the pleasure of being present at the consecration of his glory, for at the Mont Cenis banquet as at the St. Gothard the place reserved for the creator of the great work was empty.
As disastrous as was the enterprise from a financial point of view what a triumph for Favre would have been the day on which he traversed from one end to the other that 15 kilometers of tunnel that he had walked over step by step since the first blow of the pick had struck the rock of the St. Gothard! But such a satisfaction was not to be reserved for him. Suddenly, on the 19th of July, 1879, less than seven years after the beginning of the work, and six months before the meeting of the adits, in the course of one of his visits to the tunnel Favre was carried off by the rupture of a blood vessel. A year before that epoch, I had left the enterprise, Favre having confided to me the general supervision over the manufacture of dynamite that he had undertaken at Varallo Pombia for the needs of his tunnel, but my friend M. Stockalper, engineer in chief of the Goschenen section, who accompanied Favre on his fatal subterranean excursion, has many a time recounted to me the sad details of his sudden death.
For months before it must be said Favre had been growing old. The man of broad shoulders and with head covered with thick hair in which here and there a few silver threads showed themselves, and who was as straight as at the age of twenty years, had begun to stoop, his hair had whitened and his face had assumed an expression of sadness that it was difficult for him to conceal. As powerful as it was this character had been subjugated. The transformation had not escaped me. Often during the days that we passed together he complained of a dizziness that became more and more frequent. We all saw him rapidly growing old. On the 19th of July, 1879, he had entered the tunnel with one of his friends, a French engineer who had come to visit the work, accompanied by M. Stockalper. Up to the end of the adit he had complained of nothing, but, according to his habit, went along examining the timbers, stopping at different points to give instructions, and making now and then a sally at his friend, who was unused to the smell of dynamite. In returning he began to complain of internal pains. "My dear Stockalper," said he, "take my lamp, I will join you." At the end of ten minutes not seeing him return, M. Stockalper exclaimed, "Well! M. Favre, are you coming?" No answer.
The visitor and engineer retraced their steps, and when they reached Favre he was leaning against the rocks with his head resting upon his breast. His heart had already ceased to beat. A train loaded with excavated rock was passing and on this was laid the already stiff body of him who had struggled up to his last breath to execute a work all science and labor. A glorious end, if ever there was one!
Favre died in the full plenitude of his forces at less than fifty four years of age, and I can say, without fear of contradiction, that he was universally and sincerely regretted by all those who had worked at his side. Still at the present time when a few of us old colleagues of Goschenen, Airolo or Altorf meet, it is not without emotion that we recall the old days, the joyful reunions at which he cheered the whole table with his broad and genial laugh. - Maxime Helene, in La Nature.