The Count's Millions HTML version

Chapter 13.
Few people have any idea of the great number of estates which, in default of heirs to
claim them, annually revert to the government. The treasury derives large sums from this
source every year. And this is easily explained, for nowadays family ties are becoming
less and less binding. Brothers cease to meet; their children no longer know each other;
and the members of the second generation are as perfect strangers as though they were
not united by a bond of consanguinity. The young man whom love of adventure lures to a
far-off country, and the young girl who marries against her parents' wishes, soon cease to
exist for their relatives. No one even inquires what has become of them. Those who
remain at home are afraid to ask whether they are prosperous or unfortunate, lest they
should be called upon to assist the wanderers. Forgotten themselves, the adventurers in
their turn soon forget. If fortune smiles upon them, they are careful not to inform their
relatives. Poor--they have been cast off; wealthy--they themselves deny their kindred.
Having become rich unaided, they find an egotistical satisfaction in spending their money
alone in accordance with their own fancies. Now when a man of this class dies what
happens? The servants and people around him profit of his loneliness and isolation, and
the justice of the peace is only summoned to affix the seals, after they have removed all
the portable property. An inventory is taken, and after a few formalities, as no heirs
present themselves, the court declares the inheritance to be in abeyance, and appoints a
This trustee's duties are very simple. He manages the property and remits the income to
the Treasury until a legal judgment declares the estate the property of the country,
regardless of any heirs who may present themselves in future.
"If I only had a twentieth part of the money that is lost in this way, my fortune would be
made," exclaimed a shrewd man, some thirty years ago.
The person who spoke was Antoine Vaudore. For six months he secretly nursed the idea,
studying it, examining it in all respects, weighing its advantages and disadvantages, and
at last he decided that it was a good one. That same year, indeed, assisted by a little
capital which he had obtained no one knew how, he created a new, strange, and untried
profession to supply a new demand.
Thus Vaudore was the first man who made heir-hunting a profession. As will be
generally admitted, it is not a profession that can be successfully followed by a craven. It
requires the exercise of unusual shrewdness, untiring activity, extraordinary energy and
courage, as well as great tact and varied knowledge. The man who would follow it
successfully must possess the boldness of a gambler, the sang-froid of a duelist, the keen
perceptive powers and patience of a detective, and the resources and quick wit of the
shrewdest attorney.
It is easier to decry the profession than to exercise it. To begin with, the heir-hunter must
be posted up with information respecting unclaimed inheritances, and he must have