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But Saccard's enthusiasm was only increased by the extravagance of Madame Caroline's conceptions, and matters even became worse when, on beginning to read some books about the East, he opened a history of Bonaparte's Egyptian expedition. The memory of the Crusades already haunted him, the memory of that return of the West to its cradle the East, that great movement which had carried extreme Europe back to the original country, still in full flower, and where there was so much to learn. But he was struck still more by the towering figure of Napoleon, going thither to wage war, with a grand and mysterious object. Though he had talked of conquering Egypt, of installing a French establishment there, and of thus placing the commerce of the Levant in the hands of France, he had certainly not told all; and in all that was vain and enigmatical about the expedition, Saccard fancied he could detect some mysterious, hugely ambitious project, an immense empire refounded, Napoleon crowned at Constantinople as Emperor of the East and the Indies, thus realising the dream of Alexander, and rising to a greater height than even C?sar and Charlemagne. Had he not said at Saint Helena, in speaking of Sidney Smith, the general who had stopped him before Saint Jean d'Acre: 'That man ruined my fortune'? And it was this gigantic thought of conquering the East, the scheme which the Crusaders had attempted, and which Napoleon had been unable to accomplish, that inflamed Saccard; though, in his case, it was to be a rational conquest, effected by the double agency of science and money. Since civilisation had flown from the East to the West, why should it not come back towards the East, returning to the first garden of humanity, to that Eden of the Hindustan peninsula which had fallen asleep beneath the fatigue of centuries? He would endow it with fresh youth; he would galvanise the earthly paradise, make it habitable again by means of steam and electricity, replace Asia Minor in the centre of the world, as a point of intersection of the great natural highways that bind the continents together.[Pg 77] And it was no longer a question of gaining millions, but milliards and milliards.

After that, Hamelin and he engaged in long conversations every morning. Vast as was their hope, the difficulties that presented themselves were numerous and colossal. The engineer, who had been at Beyrout in 1862, at the very time of the horrible butchery of the Maronite Christians by the Druses—a butchery which had necessitated the intervention of France—did not conceal the obstacles which would be encountered among those populations, who were ever battling together, delivered over to the tender mercies of the local authorities. However, he had powerful relations at Constantinople, where he had assured himself the support of the Grand Vizier, Fuad Pasha, a man of great merit, an avowed partisan of reforms, from whom, he flattered himself, he would obtain all necessary grants. On the other hand, whilst prophesying the inevitable bankruptcy of the Ottoman Empire, he saw a rather favourable circumstance in its unlimited need of money, in the loans which followed one upon another from year to year: for although a needy Government may offer no personal guarantee, it is usually quite ready to come to an understanding with private enterprises, if it can detect the slightest profit in them. And would it not be a practical way of solving the eternal and embarrassing Eastern question to interest the empire in great works of civilisation, and gradually lead it towards progress, that it might no longer constitute a monstrous barrier between Europe and Asia? What a fine patriotic r?le the French Companies would play in all this!

Then, one morning, Hamelin quietly broached the secret programme to which he sometimes alluded, and which he smilingly called the crowning of his edifice.

'When we have become the masters,' said he, 'we will restore the kingdom of Palestine, and put the Pope there. At first we might content ourselves with Jerusalem, with Jaffa as a seaport. Then Syria will be declared independent, and can be annexed. You know that the time is near when it will be impossible for the Papacy to remain at Rome under the[Pg 78] revolting humiliations in store for it. It is for that day that we must have all in readiness.'

Saccard listened open-mouthed whilst Hamelin said these things in a thoroughly unaffected way, actuated solely by his deep Catholic faith. The financier himself did not shrink from extravagant dreams, but never would he have gone to such a point as this. This man of science, apparently so cold, quite astounded him. 'It's madness!' he cried. 'The Porte won't give up Jerusalem.'

'Oh! why not?' quietly rejoined Hamelin. 'It is always in such desperate need of money! Jerusalem is a burden to it; it would be a good riddance. The Porte, you know, often can't tell what course to take between the various sects which dispute for possession of the sanctuaries. Moreover, the Pope would have true supporters among the Syrian Maronites, for you are not unaware that he has established a college for their priests at Rome. In fact, I have thought the matter over carefully, have calculated everything, and this will be the new era, the triumphant era of Catholicism. It may be said that we should be sending the Pope too far away, that he would find himself isolated, thrust out of European affairs. But with what brilliancy and authority would he not radiate when once he was enthroned in the holy places, and spoke in the name of Christ from the very land where Christ Himself spoke! That is his patrimony, there should be his kingdom. And, rest easy, we will build this kingdom up, firm and powerful; we will put it beyond the reach of political disturbances, by basing its budget—guaranteed by the resources of the country—on a vast bank for the shares of which the Catholics of the entire world will scramble.'

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Saccard, who had begun to smile, already attracted by the magnitude of the project, although not convinced, could not help christening this bank with a joyous 'Eureka! The Treasury of the Holy Sepulchre, eh? Superb! There you have it!'

But just then his eyes met those of Madame Caroline, beaming with common-sense. She was smiling also, but like[Pg 79] one who is sceptical, even a little vexed. She felt ashamed of his enthusiasm.

'All the same, my dear Hamelin,' said he, 'it will be best for us to keep secret this crowning of the edifice, as you call it. Folks might make fun of us. And, besides, our programme is already a terribly heavy one; it is a good plan to reserve the final result, the glorious ending, for the initiated alone.'

'Undoubtedly; such has always been my intention,' declared the engineer. 'That shall be the mystery.'

And thereupon, that very day, they finally decided to turn the portfolio of schemes to account, to launch the whole huge series of projects. They would begin by founding a small financial establishment, to promote the first enterprises; then success aiding, they would, little by little, subjugate the market and conquer the world.

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The next day, as Saccard went up to take some order from the Princess d'Orviedo respecting the Institute of Work, he remembered the dream that he had for a moment cherished of becoming this queen of charity's prince-consort, the mere dispenser and manager of the fortune of the poor. And he smiled, for he now thought all that a little silly. He was built to make life, not to dress the wounds that life has made. And now he was about to find himself at work again, in the thick of the battle of interests, in the midst of that race for happiness which has brought about the very progress of humanity, from century to century, towards greater joy and greater light.