TRAGEDY OF THE SEIGNIORY
WAS a house on the outskirts of Viger called,
by courtesy, the Seigniory. Passing down
one of the side-streets you caught sight of it,
set upon a rise, having nothing to do with the
street, or seemingly with any part of the town.
Built into the bank, as it was, the front had
three storeys, while the back had but two.
The lower flat, half cellar, half kitchen, was
lighted from a broad door and two windows facing
the south-east. Entrance to the second floor
was had by a flight of steps to a wide gallery
running completely across the front of the house.
Then, above this second storey, there was a sharply-peaked
roof, with dormer-windows. The walls of
the kitchen storey were rough stone, while the
upper part had been plastered and overlaid with
a buff-coloured wash; but time had cracked off
the plaster in many places, and showed the solid
With all the ravages of time
upon it, and with all its [Page 69] old
surroundings gone, it yet had an air of some distinction.
With its shoulder to the street, and its independent
solidity, it made men remember days gone by, when
it was only a farm-house on the Estate of the
Rioux family. Yet of that estate this old
house, with its surrounding three acres of land,
was all that remained; and of the retainers that
once held allegiance to this proud name, Louis
Bois was the last.
Living alone in the old house,
growing old with it, guarding some secret and
keeping at a proper distance the inquisitive and
loquacious villagers, had given Louis also some
distinction. He was reported an old soldier,
and bore about the witness of it in a wooden leg.
He swore, when angry, in a cavalier fashion, using
the heavier English oaths with some freedom.
His bravery, having never been put to proof, rested
securely upon these foundations. But he
had a more definite charm for the villagers; he
was supposed to have money of his own, and afforded
the charming spectacle of a human being vegetating
like a plant, without effort and without trouble.
Louis Bois had grown large in his indolence, and
towards the end of his career he moved with less
frequency and greater difficulty. His face
was round and fat; the hair had never grown on
it, and the skin was fine and smooth as an orange,
without wrinkles, but marked with very decided
pores. The expression of amiability that
his mouth promised was destroyed by an eye of
suspicious restlessness. About fifteen years
before the time of his release Louis had been
[Page 70] sworn to his post by
the last of the Rioux family—Hugo Armand Theophile.
This young man, of high spirit
and passionate courage, found himself, at the
age of twenty-five, after two years of intermittent
study at a Jesuit College, fatherless, and without
a sou to call his own. Of the family estate,
the farm-house, round which Viger had closed,
was all that remained, and from its windows this
fiery youth might look across the ten acres that
were his, over miles of hill and wood to which
his grandfather had been born. This vista
tortured him for three days, when he sold seven
of his acres, keeping the rest from pride.
Then he shook off the dust of Viger, but not before
swearing Louis Bois, who was old enough to be
his father, and love him as such, to stay and
watch the forlorn hope of the Rioux Estate until
he, the last of the line, should return and redeem
his ancient heritage. He would be gone ten
years, he said; and Louis reflected with pride
that his own money would keep him that long, and
At first he kept the whole
house open, and entertained some of his friends;
but he soon discovered that he lost money by that,
and gradually he boarded up the windows and lived
in the kitchen and one room of the upper flat.
He was a sensitive being, this,
and his master's idea had taken hold upon him.
His burly frame contained a faint heart; he had
no physical courage; and he was as suspicious
as a savage. Moreover, he was superstitious,
as superstitious as an old wife, and odd occurrences
made him [Page 71] uneasy.
If he could have been allowed to doze on his gallery
in the sun all his days, and sleep secure of dreams
and visitations all his nights, his life might
have been bearable. The first three years
of his stewardship were comparatively uneventful.
He traced his liege's progress through the civilized
world by the post-mark on his letters, which sometimes
contained a bill of exchange, of which the great
and safe back of Bardé Brothers took charge.
As yet his master had not captured a treasure
ship; but seven years remained.
At the beginning of his fourth
year something happened which disturbed Louis'
existence to its centre. An emissary of
the devil, in the guise of a surveyor, planted
his theodolite, and ran a roadway which took off
a corner of his three acres, and for this he received
only an arbitrator's allowance. In vain
he stumped up and down his gallery, and in vain
his English oaths—the roadway went through.
To add to his trouble, the letters from the wanderer
ceased. Was he dead? Had he forgotten?
No more money was coming in, and Louis had the
perpetual sight of the alienated lands before
One day, when he was coming
home from the bank, his eye caught a poster that
made him think; it was an announcement of a famous
lottery. Do what he would he could not get
it out of his head; and that evening, when he
was cooking his supper, he resolved to make money
after a fashion of his own. He saw himself
a suddenly rich man, the winner of the seventy-five-thousand-dollar
prize. [Page 72] He felt
his knee burn under him, and felt also what a
dead thing his wooden leg was.
He began to venture small sums
in the lottery, hoarding half his monthly allowance
until he should have sufficient funds to purchase
a ticket. Waiting for the moment when he
could buy, and then waiting for the moment when
he could receive news of the drawing, lent a feverish
interest to his life. But he failed to win.
With his failure grew a sort of exasperation—he
would win, he said, if he spent every cent he
owned. He had moments when he suspected
that he was being duped, but he was always reassured
upon spelling out the lottery circular, where
the drawing by the two orphan children was so
At last, after repeated failures,
he drew every cent of his own that he could muster,
and bought a whole ticket. He never rested
a moment until the returns came. He had
days of high spirits, when he touched his gains
and saw them heaped before him, and other days
of depression when he cursed his ill luck, and
saw blanks written everywhere. When he learned
the result his last disappointment was his greatest.
He had drawn a blank.
He was in a perfect fury of
rage, and went off to bed cursing like a sea-pirate.
When he took off his wooden leg, he took it by
the foot and beat the floor with the knee-end
until he got some relief. Could he have
captured, he would have murdered the innocent
orphan children. He swore never to be tempted
again, but the morning when [Page 73]he
took that oath, April was bleak on the hills,
and a tardy spring circled in cold sunshine, leaving
the buds suspended.
When May came, his hope again
blossomed. Slowly and certainly his mind
approached that money he had in trust for his
master, until, one sultry day in June, he saw
his way to success, and felt his conscience lulled.
That afternoon he dozed on the gallery and dreamed.
He felt he was in Heaven, and the heaven of his
dreams was a large Cathedral whose nave he had
walked somewhere in his journeyings. He
saw the solemn passages, the penetrating shafts
of light, the obscure altar rising dimly in the
star-hung alcove; and from the glamour round the
altar floated down a magnificent angel, and with
a look of perfect knowledge in his eyes shamed
him for his base resolve. Slowly, as Louis
quailed before him, he dwindled, shimmering in
the glory shaken from his vesture, until he grew
very faint and indistinct, and dissolved slowly
into light. Then his vision swayed aside,
and he saw his own gallery, and a little cream-coloured
dog, that sat with his back half-turned towards
him, eyeing him over his shoulder. Superstitious
Louis shuddered when he saw this dog. He
thought there was something uncanny about him;
but to a casual observer he was an ordinary dog
of mixed blood. He had a sharp nose and
ears, piercing eyes, straight, cream-coloured
hair rather white upon the breast, and a tail
curled down upon his back. He was a small
dog; an intense nervousness animated his every
movement. [Page 74]
Louis was afraid to drive him
away, and so long as he saw him he could not forget
his dream and the reproof he had had from heaven;
gradually he came to believe the animal was a
spirit in canine form. His reasons for this
were that the dog never slept, or at least never
seemed to sleep. All day long he followed
Louis about. If he dozed in his chair the
dog laid his nose between his paws and watched
him. If he woke at night his eyes burned
in the darkness. Again, he never seemed
to eat anything, and he was never heard to utter
Louis, half-afraid of him,
gave him a name; he called him Fidele. He
also tried to coax him, but to no purpose.
The dog never approached him except when he went
to sleep; then he would move nearer to him.
At last he got greater confidence; and Louis awoke
from a doze one day to find him gnawing his wooden
leg. He tried to frighten him off; but Fidele
had acquired the habit and stuck to it.
Whenever Louis would fall asleep, Fidele would
approach him softly and chew his leg. Perhaps
it was the soft tremor that was imparted to his
fleshy leg from the gnawing of the wooden one;
but Louis never slept more soundly than when this
was progressing. He saw, however, with dismay,
his hickory support vanishing, and to avoid wasting
his money on wooden legs he covered the one he
had with brass-headed tacks. In the end
the dog came to be a sort of conscience for him.
He could never look at his piercing eyes without
thinking of the way he had been warned.
To pay for his recklessness
Louis had to live on a [Page 75] pittance
for years; just enough to keep himself alive.
He might have lost his taste for gambling, through
this rigour, and his temptation to use his master's
money might never have returned; but in his lottery
business he had made a confidant of one of the
messengers of the Bardé Bank. The fellow's
name was Jacques Potvin. He was full of
dissimulation; he loved a lie for its own sake;
he devoured the simple character of Louis Bois.
Whenever they met, Louis was treated to a flushed
account of all sorts of escapades—thousands made
in a night—tens of thousands by a pen-stroke.
At last, as a crowning success,
Jacques Potvin himself had won a thousand dollars
in a drawing that Louis could not participate
in. This was galling. To have that
money lying idle; never to hear from his master
Rioux, who was probably dead, and to see chance
after chance slip by him. He gave his trouble
to Potvin! Potvin took the weight lightly
and threw it over his shoulder:
"Bah!" he said.
"If I had that money under my fingers, I
would be a rich man before the year was out."
The fever was in Louis' blood
again. He tossed a sleepless night, and
then resolved desperately. He shut Fidele
up in the attic, and went off and bought a ticket
with his master's money. When he came back
from the bank, the first thing he saw was Fidele
seated in one of the dormer-windows, watching
him. It would be six months before he could
get any news of his venture; six months of Fidele
and an accusing conscience.
Half the time was scarcely
over when, to his horror and [Page 76]
joy, came a letter from his master.
It was dated at Rio. He was on his way home;
he would arrive in about six months. The
probable failure of his scheme gave Louis agony
now. He would have to face his master, who
would arrive at Christmas if his plans were discharged,
with a rifled bank account. On the other
hand, if he should be successful!—Oh! that gold,
how it haunted him!
One night, on the eve of his
expectation, Louis fell asleep as he was cooking
his supper. He slept long, and when he awoke
his stove was red-hot. He started up, staring
at something figured on the red stove door.
It was only the number of the
stove, but it was also the number of his ticket.
He waited, after that, in perfect serenity, and
when his notice came he opened it with calmness.
He had won the seventy-five-thousand-dollar prize.
He went off hot foot to Potvin.
"Of course," he said,
"I'll have them send it to the Bardé Bank."
"Just keep cool,"
see Potvin. "Of course you'll do nothing
of the sort."
"Why? Wait and see.
The Imperial Bank is safe enough for you."
Louis had the money sent to
the Imperial Bank.
A short time after this, when
Louis passed the Bardé Bank, a crowd of people
were besieging the doors and reading the placards;
the Bank had suspended payment. [Page
77] The shrewdness of Potvin had saved
his seventy-five thousand.
When he next met Jacques, he
hugged him to his heart. Jacques laid his
finger on his nose:
"Deeper still," he
said. "I know, I know that the
Imperial itself is totterish. This affair
of the Bardés has made things shaky; see?
Everything is on three legs. If I were you,
now; if I were you, I'd just draw that
seventy-five thousand dollars and lay it away
in a strong-box till this blows over."
"But," said Louis,
in a panic, "I have no strong-box."
"But I have,"
Louis laid his hands on his
shoulders, and could have wept.
Christmas passed, but no sign
of Hugo Armand Theophile. But the second
week in January brought a letter, two days old,
from New York. Rioux would be in Viger in
a week at the latest. Louis was in great
spirits. He planned a surprise for his master.
He went off to find Jacques Potvin, but Jacques
was not to be found.
Louis arranged that Jacques
was to meet him at a tavern called "The Blue
Bells" the next day.
"But," said Jacques,
when they met, "this is absurd. What
do you want the money for?"
"Never mind, I want it,
"But think; seventy-five
"I want it for a few days.
Just the money—myself—I—is it not mine?"
Someone in the next compartment
rose, and put his [Page 78] ear
to the partition. The voices were low, but
he could hear them well. Listening intently,
his eyes seemed to sink into his head, and burn
"Well, so it is,"
concluded Jacques. "I will get it for
you. But we'll have to do the thing quietly,
very quietly. I'll drive out to Viger tomorrow
night, say. I'll meet you at that vacant
field next the church, at eleven, and the money
will be there."
The listener in the next compartment
withdrew hastily, and mingled with the crowd at
the bar. That night he wandered out to Viger.
He observed the church and the vacant lot, and
saw that there were here and there hollows under
the sidewalk, where a man might crouch.
He afterward wandered about
for a while, and found himself in front of the
old farm-house. A side window of the second
storey was filled with the flicker of a fire.
A ladder leaned against the wall and ran up past
the window. He hesitated whether to ascend
the gallery-steps or the ladder. He chose
the ladder. With his foot on the lowest
rung, he said:
"If I hadn't this little
scheme on hand I would go in, but—"
He went up the ladder and looked
in at the window. Louis Bois was asleep
before the fire. Fidele lay by his side.
The man caught the dog's eye.
Louis woke nervously, and saw
a figure at the window. The only thing he
discerned distinctly was a white sort of cap.
In his sudden fear, seeking something to throw,
he [Page 79] touched Fidele,
and without thinking, he hurled him full at the
The dog's body broke the old
sash and crashed through the glass. The
fellow vanished. When Louis had regained
his courage, he let Fidele in. There was
not a scratch on him. He lay down about
ten yards from Louis, and looked at him fixedly.
The old soldier had no sleep
that night, and no peace the next day.
The next night was wild.
Louis looked from his window. The moon was
shining brightly on the icy fields that glared
with as white a radiance; over the polished surface
drifted loose masses of snow, and clouds rushed
across the moon.
He took his cloak, his stick,
and a dirk-knife, and locking Fidele in, started
forth. A few moments after he reached the
rendezvous, Jacques drove up in a berlin.
"Here it is," Jacques
said, pressing a box into his hands, "the
key that hangs there will open it. I must
be off. Be careful!"
Jacques whirled away in the
wind. There was not a soul to be seen.
Louis clutched his knife, and turned toward home.
He had not left the church very far behind, when
he thought he heard something moving. A
cloud obscured the moon. A figure leaned
out from under the sidewalk and observed him.
A moment later it sprang upon the pathway and
Louis was sure someone was
there; half looking round, he made a swipe in
the air with his knife. It encountered [Page
80] something. Looking round fairly
he saw a man with a whitish cap stagger off the
sidewalk and fall in the snow.
Hurrying on, he looked back
a moment later, and saw the figure of the man,
receding, making with incredible swiftness across
the vacant space.
Louis once out of sight, the
man doubled with the rapidity of a wounded beast,
and after plunging through side-streets was again
in front of the farm-house. He ascended
the ladder with some difficulty, and entered the
room by the window. Where he expected to
find his faithful steward, there was only a white
dog that neither moved or barked, and that watched
him fixedly as he fell, huddled and fainting,
on the bunk.
A few minutes later Louis reached
home. The sickness of fear possessed him.
He staggered into the room and sat before the
fire, trying to control himself. When he
was calmer, he found himself clutching the box.
He threw off his cloak and took the key to fit
it in the lock. The key was too large.
In vain he fussed and turned—it would not go in.
He shook the box; nothing rattled or moved.
A horrid suspicion crossed his mind. What
if Jacques had stolen the money! What if
there was nothing in the box!
He seized the poker in a frenzy
and beat the box open. It was empty—empty—empty!
His hand went round in it mechanically,
while he gazed, wild with conjecture. Then,
with an oath he flung the box on the fire and
turned away. The disturbed brands shot a
glow into every part of the room, and Louis [Page
81] saw by one flash a grey Persian-lamb
cap, which he recognized, lying on the floor.
By the next, he saw the head, from which it had
rolled, pillowed on his bunk.
He tried to utter a cry, but
sank into his chair stricken dumb; for death had
not yet softened the lines of desperate cunning
on the face, which, in spite of the scars of a
wild life, he recognized as that of Hugo Armand
The look of that cap as he
had seen it through the window; the glimpse he
had of it a few minutes ago, when he swept his
knife back through the air; the face of his master—dead;
the thought of himself, duped and robbed, fixed
him in his chair, where he hung half-lifeless.
Everything reeled before him,
but in a dull glare he saw Fidele, his nose between
his extended paws, and his eyes fixed keenly upon
him. They seemed to pierce him to the soul,
until their gleam, which had followed him for
so many years, faded out with all the familiar
lines and corners of his room, engulfed in one
intense, palpitating light.
The people who broke open the
house saw the unexplained tragedy of the Seigniory,
but they did not find Fidele, nor was he ever
seen again. [Page 82]