The young countess did not exactly receive people notoriously tainted. She was too clever to commit such a blunder; but she bestowed her sweetest smiles upon all those equivocal Bohemians who represent all races, and whose revenues come much less from good acres in the broad sunlight than from the credulity and stupidity of mankind.
At first Count Ville-Handry had been rather shocked by this new world, whose manners and customs were unknown to him, and whose language even he hardly understood. But it had not taken long to acclimatize him.
He was the firm, the receiver of the fortune, the flag that covers the merchandise, the master, in fine, although he exercised no authority. All these titles secured to him the appearance of profound respect; and all vied with each other in flattering him to the utmost, and paying him court in the most abject manner. This led him to imagine that he had recovered the prestige he had enjoyed in former days, thanks to the skilful management of his first wife; and he assumed a new kind of grotesque importance commensurate with his revived vanity.
He had, besides, gone to work once more most industriously. All the business men who had called upon him before his marriage already reappeared now, accompanied by that legion of famished speculators, whom the mere report of a great enterprise attracts, like the flies settling upon a lump of sugar. The count shut himself up with these men in his study, and often spent the whole afternoon with them there.
“Most probably something is going on there,” thought Henrietta.
She was quite sure of it when she saw her father unhesitatingly give up the splendid suite of apartments in the lower story of the palace, which were cut up into an infinite number of small rooms. On the doors there appeared, one by one, signs not usually found in such houses; as, “Office,” “Board Room,” “Secretary,” “Cashier’s Room.”
Then office-furniture appeared in loads,—tables, desks, chairs; then mountains of huge volumes; and at last two immense safes, as large as a bachelor’s-lodging.
Henrietta was seriously alarmed, and knowing beforehand that no one in the house would answer her questions, she turned to M. de Brevan. In the most off-hand manner he assured her that he knew nothing about it, but promised to inquire, and to let her know soon.
There was no necessity; for one morning, when Henrietta was wandering about listlessly around the offices, which began to be filled with clerks, she noticed an immense advertisement on one of the doors.
She went up to it, and read:—
For the development of Pennsylvania petroleum wells.
Capital, Ten Million of Francs. Twenty Thousand Shares of 500 Francs each.
The Charter may be seen at the Office of M. Lilois, N. P.