A Lady Most Lovely
focus of a future project. However, for the moment I am speaking about America.”
    “America?” Tom repeated. “I thought you just completed a rail line there.”
    “America is a vast place, my friend,” Denault said, spreading his arms in an expansive gesture. “It is infinitely larger than Britain, and much further behind on railways. They’ve only just managed to reach the Mississippi River, the center of their big country. The next big push will be from Saint Louis to California. I’m telling you, the place is ripe for expansion.”
    Tom’s knowledge of American geography was sketchy, at best. “Granted, the tracks have not been built. But why build them? And why now?”
    “Good heavens, man! Haven’t you heard? There is gold in California, and rumors of silver in Nevada.”
    “I’m well aware of the gold in California,” Tom said drily. “It was the unsuccessful prospectors from California who first came looking for gold in Australia.”
    “And they found it! See what an advantage that was to you!” Denault exclaimed, pouncing on his words withenthusiasm. “Now you have a chance to invest it and turn your hard-earned gold into more money than you ever dreamed of. People are absolutely desperate to reach the West, and there is just no good way to get there. It takes months by wagon train, and the dangers are immense. The only other route is to go around Cape Horn, and you know how harrowing that is.”
    Tom considered this. Denault was right about Cape Horn—the passage across the violent icy seas at the tip of South America was just about the worst thing Tom had ever endured. It was the only time in his life he’d actually been seasick. He knew full well why people would avoid traveling that way if they could.
    Denault continued to speak excitedly. “We will be bringing more than just the railway. We will be giving employment to thousands of people, establishing towns, and enabling civilization to take root in that wild place.”
    “Are there really thousands of people available to build it? Does that much labor exist in America?”
    Denault shrugged. “Think of your own experience in Australia. How many people flooded into Melbourne and Ballarat when they learned there was important money to be made there?”
    Denault had a point, although to Tom’s way of thinking the chaos brought by all the newcomers had not necessarily been a good thing. “How many miles are we talking about? And aren’t there mountains somewhere between Saint Louis and California?” Tom thought of the steep cliffs and box canyons of the Blue Mountains, of how they’d only just managed to build a road through there with the endless labor of convict gangs. He could not even imagine trying to build a railway through it. Hehad no idea what the terrain of the Sierra Nevada was like, but a mountain was a mountain, after all.
    “There is a pass through the mountains,” Denault assured him. “We have a cracking good engineer who has figured out all those technical details.”
    “Are those the plans?” Tom asked, pointing to the table.
    “Yes, indeed.” Denault unrolled one of the large papers. “It’s drawn to scale, one inch per one hundred miles.”
    “One hundred!” Tom exclaimed. He looked at the map and tried to do a quick calculation in his head. “You are talking about thousands of miles.”
    “Just under two thousand.”
    “And what kind of land is it?” He knew England had many different kinds of terrain, including hills, valleys, moors, and bogs. Was America like that? Or was it more like the Bathurst Plains in Australia, which were wide and flat as far as the eye could see? He studied the map. “There are no geographical relief markings.”
    Denault gave him an impressed look. “You seem to be proficient at reading maps.”
    “I had to be,” Tom said. “Mining for gold will give a person experience in that kind of thing.”
    “You needn’t concern yourself with those details for this project,”

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