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In fact, it was this that interested Saccard—the growing sadness of Madame Caroline, whose hearty gaiety was dimmed by the discouragement into which she saw her brother falling. She was to some extent the man of the household; George, who greatly resembled her physically, though of slighter build, had a rare faculty for work, but he became absorbed in his studies, and did not like to be roused from them. Never had he cared to marry, not feeling the need of doing so, his adoration of his sister sufficing him. This whilom student of the Polytechnic School, whose conceptions were so vast, whose zeal was so ardent in everything he undertook, at times evinced such simplicity that one would have deemed him rather stupid. Brought up, too, in the narrowest Romanism he had kept the religious faith of a child, careful in his observance of all rites and ceremonies like a thorough believer; whereas his sister had regained possession of herself by dint of reading and learning during the long hours when he was plunged in his technical tasks. She spoke four languages; she had read the economists and the philosophers, and had for a time been moved to enthusiasm by socialistic and evolutionary theories. Subsequently, however, she had quieted down, acquiring—notably by her travels, her long residence among far-off civilisations—a broad spirit of tolerance and well-balanced common-sense. Though she herself no longer believed, she retained great respect for her brother's faith. There had been one explanation between them, after which they had never referred to the matter again. She, with her simplicity and good-nature, was a woman of real intelligence; and, facing life with extraordinary courage, with a gay bravery which withstood the cruel blows of fate, she was in the habit of saying that a single sorrow alone remained within her—that of never having had a child.

Saccard was able to render Hamelin a service—some little work which he secured for him from some investors who[Pg 58] needed an engineer to report upon the output of a new machine, and thus he forced an intimacy with the brother and sister, and frequently went up to spend an hour with them in their salon, their only large room, which they had transformed into a work room. This room remained virtually bare, for its only furniture consisted of a long designing table, a smaller table covered with papers, and half a dozen chairs. Books were heaped up on the mantel-shelf, whilst on the walls an improvised decoration enlivened the blank space—a series of plans, of bright water-colour drawings, each held in place by four tacks. The plans were those which Hamelin had gathered together in his portfolio of projects; they were the notes he had taken in Syria, the bases on which he hoped to build up all his future fortune; whereas the water-colours were the work of Madame Caroline—Eastern views, types, and costumes which she had noted while accompanying her brother about, which she had sketched with keen insight into the laws of colour, though in a very unpretending way. Two larger windows overlooking the garden of the Beauvilliers mansion admitted a bright light to illumine these straggling designs, typical of another life, of an ancient society sinking into dust, which the plans, firmly and mathematically outlined, seemed about to put upon its feet again, supported, as it were, by the solid scaffolding of modern science. And Saccard, when he had rendered himself useful, with that display of activity which made him so charming, would often linger before the plans and water-colours, seduced, and continually asking for fresh explanations. Vast schemes were already germinating in his brain.

One morning he found Madame Caroline seated alone at the little table which she used as her desk. She was dreadfully sad, her hands resting among her papers.

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'What can you expect?' said she, 'things are turning out very badly. I am brave, but everything seems about to fail us at once; and what distresses me is the powerlessness to which misfortune reduces my poor brother, for he is not valiant, he has no strength except for work. I thought of getting another situation as governess, that I might at least help him.[Pg 59] But I have sought, and found nothing. Yet I cannot go out working as a charwoman.'

Never had Saccard seen her so upset, so dejected. 'The devil! you have not come to that!' he cried.

She shook her head, and evinced great bitterness against life, which she usually accepted so jovially, even when at its worst. And Hamelin just then coming in with the news of a fresh disappointment, big tears ran slowly down her cheeks. She spoke no further, but sat there, her hands clenched on the table, her eyes wandering away into space.

'And to think,' said Hamelin, 'that there are millions awaiting us in the East, if someone would only help me to make them!'

Saccard had planted himself in front of a plan representing a view of a pavilion surrounded by vast store-houses. 'What is that?' he asked.

'Oh! something I did for my amusement,' explained the engineer. 'It's the plan of a dwelling at Beyrout for the manager of the Company which I dreamed of, you know, the United Steam Navigation Company.'

He became animated, and went into fresh particulars. During his stay in the East, he had noticed how defective were all the transport services. The various companies established at Marseilles were ruining one another by competition, and were unable to provide vessels in sufficient number or of sufficient comfort. One of his first ideas, the very basis indeed of his many enterprises, was to syndicate these services, to unite them in one vast, wealthy company, which should exploit the entire Mediterranean, and acquire the sovereign control thereof, by establishing lines to all the ports of Africa, Spain, Italy, Greece, Egypt, Asia, and even the remotest parts of the Black Sea. It was a scheme worthy at once of a shrewd organiser and a good patriot; it meant the East conquered, given to France, to say nothing of the close relations which it would establish with Syria, where lay the vast field of his proposed operations.

'Syndicates,' murmured Saccard—'yes, nowadays the future seems to lie in that direction. It is such a powerful form of[Pg 60] association! Three or four little enterprises, which vegetate in isolation, acquire irresistible vitality and prosperity as soon as they unite. Yes, to-morrow belongs to the association of capital, to the centralised efforts of immense masses. All industry and commerce will end in a single huge bazaar, where a man will provide himself with everything.'

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He had stopped again, this time before a water-colour which represented a wild locality, an arid gorge, blocked up by a gigantic pile of rocks crowned with brambles. 'Oh! oh!' he resumed, 'here is the end of the world. There can be no danger of being jostled by passers-by in that nook.'

'A Carmel gorge,' answered Hamelin. 'My sister sketched it while I was making my studies in that neighbourhood,' and he added simply: 'See! between the cretaceous limestone and the porphyry which raised up that limestone over the entire mountain-side, there is a considerable vein of sulphuretted silver—yes, a silver mine, the working of which, according to my calculations, would yield enormous profits.'

'A silver mine?' repeated Saccard eagerly.

Madame Caroline, with her eyes still wandering far away, had overheard them amid her fit of sadness, and, as if a vision had risen before her, she said: 'Carmel, ah! what a desert, what days of solitude! It is full of myrtle and broom, which make the warm air balmy. And there are eagles continually circling aloft—and to think of all this silver, sleeping in that sepulchre, beside so much misery, where one would like to see happy multitudes, workshops, cities spring up—a whole people regenerated by toil.'

'A road could easily be opened from Carmel to Saint Jean d'Acre,' continued Hamelin. 'And I firmly believe that iron, too, would be found there, for it abounds in all the mountains in the neighbourhood. I have also studied a new system of extraction, by which large savings could be made. All is ready; it is only a matter of finding the capital.'

'The Carmel Silver Mining Company!' murmured Saccard.

But it was now the engineer who, with raised eyes, went from one plan to another, again full of this labour of his life, seized with fever, at thought of the brilliant future which was[Pg 61] sleeping there while want was paralysing him. 'And these are only the small preliminary affairs,' he continued. 'Look at this series of plans; here is the grand stroke, a complete railway system traversing Asia Minor from end to end. The lack of convenient and rapid communication, that is the primary cause of the stagnation into which this rich country has sunk. You would not find a single carriage road there, travel and transport being invariably effected by means of mules or camels. So imagine the revolution if the iron horse could penetrate to the confines of the desert! Industry and commerce would be increased tenfold, civilisation would be victorious, Europe would at last open the gates of the East. Oh! if it interests you, we will talk of it in detail. And you shall see, you shall see!'

And such was his excitement that he could not refrain from straightway entering into explanations. It was especially during his journey to Constantinople that he had studied his projected railway system. The great, the only difficulty was presented by the Taurus mountains; but he had explored the different passes, and asserted that a direct and comparatively inexpensive line was possible. However, it was not his intention to make the system complete at one stroke. On obtaining a full grant from the Sultan, it would be prudent at the outset to merely lay down the mother line, from Broussa to Beyrout, by way of Angora and Aleppo. Later on, they might lay down branch lines from Smyrna to Angora, and from Trebizond to Angora, by way of Erzeroum and Sivas. 'And after that, and after that,' he continued; but, instead of finishing, he contented himself with a smile, not daring to tell how far he had carried the audacity of his projects.