The Mysterious Key and What it Opened
By L. M. Alcott
_Trevlyn lands and Trevlyn gold,
Heir nor heiress e'er shall hold,
Undisturbed, till, spite of rust,
Truth is found in Trevlyn dust._
"This is the third time I've found you poring over that old rhyme. What
is the charm, Richard? Not its poetry I fancy." And the young wife laid
a slender hand on the yellow, time-worn page where, in Old English text,
appeared the lines she laughed at.
Richard Trevlyn looked up with a smile and threw by the book, as if
annoyed at being discovered reading it. Drawing his wife's hand through
his own, he led her back to her couch, folded the soft shawls about her,
and, sitting in a low chair beside her, said in a cheerful tone, though
his eyes betrayed some hidden care, "My love, that book is a history of
our family for centuries, and that old prophecy has never yet been
fulfilled, except the 'heir and heiress' line. I am the last Trevlyn,
and as the time draws near when my child shall be born, I naturally
think of his future, and hope he will enjoy his heritage in peace."
"God grant it!" softly echoed Lady Trevlyn, adding, with a look askance
at the old book, "I read that history once, and fancied it must be a
romance, such dreadful things are recorded in it. Is it all true,
"Yes, dear. I wish it was not. Ours has been a wild, unhappy race till
the last generation or two. The stormy nature came in with old Sir
Ralph, the fierce Norman knight, who killed his only son in a fit of
wrath, by a blow with his steel gauntlet, because the boy's strong will
would not yield to his."
"Yes, I remember, and his daughter Clotilde held the castle during a
siege, and married her cousin, Count Hugo. 'Tis a warlike race, and I
like it in spite of the mad deeds."
"Married her cousin! That has been the bane of our family in times past.
Being too proud to mate elsewhere, we have kept to ourselves till idiots
and lunatics began to appear. My father was the first who broke the law
among us, and I followed his example: choosing the freshest, sturdiest
flower I could find to transplant into our exhausted soil."
"I hope it will do you honor by blossoming bravely. I never forget that
you took me from a very humble home, and have made me the happiest wife
"And I never forget that you, a girl of eighteen, consented to leave
your hills and come to cheer the long-deserted house of an old man like
me," returned her husband fondly.
"Nay, don't call yourself old, Richard; you are only forty-five, the
boldest, handsomest man in Warwickshire. But lately you look worried;
what is it? Tell me, and let me advise or comfort you."
"It is nothing, Alice, except my natural anxiety for you - Well,
Kingston, what do you want?"
Trevlyn's tender tones grew sharp as he addressed the entering servant,
and the smile on his lips vanished, leaving them dry and white as he
glanced at the card he handed him. An instant he stood staring at it,
then asked, "Is the man here?"
"In the library, sir."
Flinging the card into the fire, he watched it turn to ashes before he
spoke, with averted eyes: "Only some annoying business, love; I shall
soon be with you again. Lie and rest till I come."
With a hasty caress he left her, but as he passed a mirror, his wife saw
an expression of intense excitement in his face. She said nothing, and
lay motionless for several minutes evidently struggling with some strong
"He is ill and anxious, but hides it from me; I have a right to know,
and he'll forgive me when I prove that it does no harm."
As she spoke to herself she rose, glided noiselessly through the hall,
entered a small closet built in the thickness of the wall, and, bending
to the keyhole of a narrow door, listened with a half-smile on her lips
at the trespass she was committing. A murmur of voices met her ear. Her
husband spoke oftenest, and suddenly some word of his dashed the smile
from her face as if with a blow. She started, shrank, and shivered,
bending lower with set teeth, white cheeks, and panic-stricken heart.
Paler and paler grew her lips, wilder and wilder her eyes, fainter and
fainter her breath, till, with a long sigh, a vain effort to save
herself, she sank prone upon the threshold of the door, as if struck
down by death.
"Mercy on us, my lady, are you ill?" cried Hester, the maid, as her
mistress glided into the room looking like a ghost, half an hour later.
"I am faint and cold. Help me to my bed, but do not disturb Sir
A shiver crept over her as she spoke, and, casting a wild, woeful look
about her, she laid her head upon the pillow like one who never cared to
lift it up again. Hester, a sharp-eyed, middle-aged woman, watched the
pale creature for a moment, then left the room muttering, "Something is
wrong, and Sir Richard must know it. That black-bearded man came for no
good, I'll warrant."
At the door of the library she paused. No sound of voices came from
within; a stifled groan was all she heard; and without waiting to knock
she went in, fearing she knew not what. Sir Richard sat at his writing
table pen in hand, but his face was hidden on his arm, and his whole
attitude betrayed the presence of some overwhelming despair.
"Please, sir, my lady is ill. Shall I send for anyone?"
No answer. Hester repeated her words, but Sir Richard never stirred.
Much alarmed, the woman raised his head, saw that he was unconscious,
and rang for help. But Richard Trevlyn was past help, though he lingered
for some hours. He spoke but once, murmuring faintly, "Will Alice come
to say good-bye?"
"Bring her if she can come," said the physician.
Hester went, found her mistress lying as she left her, like a figure
carved in stone. When she gave the message, Lady Trevlyn answered
sternly, "Tell him I will not come," and turned her face to the wall,
with an expression which daunted the woman too much for another word.
Hester whispered the hard answer to the physician, fearing to utter it
aloud, but Sir Richard heard it, and died with a despairing prayer for
pardon on his lips.
When day dawned Sir Richard lay in his shroud and his little daughter in
her cradle, the one unwept, the other unwelcomed by the wife and mother,
who, twelve hours before, had called herself the happiest woman in
England. They thought her dying, and at her own command gave her the
sealed letter bearing her address which her husband left behind him. She
read it, laid it in her bosom, and, waking from the trance which seemed
to have so strongly chilled and changed her, besought those about her
with passionate earnestness to save her life.
For two days she hovered on the brink of the grave, and nothing but the
indomitable will to live saved her, the doctors said. On the third day
she rallied wonderfully, and some purpose seemed to gift her with
unnatural strength. Evening came, and the house was very still, for all
the sad bustle of preparation for Sir Richard's funeral was over, and he
lay for the last night under his own roof. Hester sat in the darkened
chamber of her mistress, and no sound broke the hush but the low lullaby
the nurse was singing to the fatherless baby in the adjoining room. Lady
Trevlyn seemed to sleep, but suddenly put back the curtain, saying
abruptly, "Where does he lie?"
"In the state chamber, my lady," replied Hester, anxiously watching the
feverish glitter of her mistress's eye, the flush on her cheek, and the
unnatural calmness of her manner.
"Help me to go there; I must see him."
"It would be your death, my lady. I beseech you, don't think of it,"
began the woman; but Lady Trevlyn seemed not to hear her, and something
in the stern pallor of her face awed the woman into submission.
Wrapping the slight form of her mistress in a warm cloak, Hester
half-led, half-carried her to the state room, and left her on the
"I must go in alone; fear nothing, but wait for me here," she said, and
closed the door behind her.
Five minutes had not elapsed when she reappeared with no sign of grief
on her rigid face.
"Take me to my bed and bring my jewel box," she said, with a shuddering
sigh, as the faithful servant received her with an exclamation of
When her orders had been obeyed, she drew from her bosom the portrait of
Sir Richard which she always wore, and, removing the ivory oval from the
gold case, she locked the former in a tiny drawer of the casket,
replaced the empty locket in her breast, and bade Hester give the jewels
to Watson, her lawyer, who would see them put in a safe place till the
child was grown.
"Dear heart, my lady, you'll wear them yet, for you're too young to
grieve all your days, even for so good a man as my blessed master. Take
comfort, and cheer up, for the dear child's sake if no more."
"I shall never wear them again" was all the answer as Lady Trevlyn drew
the curtains, as if to shut out hope.
Sir Richard was buried and, the nine days' gossip over, the mystery of
his death died for want of food, for the only person who could have
explained it was in a state which forbade all allusion to that tragic
For a year Lady Trevlyn's reason was in danger. A long fever left her so
weak in mind and body that there was little hope of recovery, and her
days were passed in a state of apathy sad to witness. She seemed to have
forgotten everything, even the shock which had so sorely stricken her.
The sight of her child failed to rouse her, and month after month
slipped by, leaving no trace of their passage on her mind, and but
slightly renovating her feeble body.
Who the stranger was, what his aim in coming, or why he never
reappeared, no one discovered. The contents of the letter left by Sir
Richard were unknown, for the paper had been destroyed by Lady Trevlyn
and no clue could be got from her. Sir Richard had died of heart
disease, the physicians said, though he might have lived years had no
sudden shock assailed him. There were few relatives to make
investigations, and friends soon forgot the sad young widow; so the
years rolled on, and Lillian the heiress grew from infancy to childhood
in the shadow of this mystery.
"Come, child, the dew is falling, and it is time we went in."
"No, no, Mamma is not rested yet, so I may run down to the spring if I
like." And Lillian, as willful as winsome, vanished among the tall ferns
where deer couched and rabbits hid.
Hester leisurely followed, looking as unchanged as if a day instead of
twelve years had passed since her arms received the little mistress, who
now ruled her like a tyrant. She had taken but a few steps when the
child came flying back, exclaiming in an excited tone, "Oh, come quick!
There's a man there, a dead man. I saw him and I'm frightened!"
"Nonsense, child, it's one of the keepers asleep, or some stroller who
has no business here. Take my hand and we'll see who it is."
Somewhat reassured, Lillian led her nurse to one of the old oaks beside
the path, and pointed to a figure lying half hidden in the fern. A
slender, swarthy boy of sixteen, with curly black hair, dark brows, and
thick lashes, a singularly stern mouth, and a general expression of
strength and pride, which added character to his boyish face and
dignified his poverty. His dress betrayed that, being dusty and
threadbare, his shoes much worn, and his possessions contained in the
little bundle on which he pillowed his head. He was sleeping like one
quite spent with weariness, and never stirred, though Hester bent away
the ferns and examined him closely.
"He's not dead, my deary; he's asleep, poor lad, worn out with his day's
tramp, I dare say." "I'm glad he's alive, and I wish he'd wake up. He's
a pretty boy, isn't he? See what nice hands he's got, and his hair is
more curly than mine. Make him open his eyes, Hester," commanded the
little lady, whose fear had given place to interest.
"Hush, he's stirring. I wonder how he got in, and what he wants,"
"I'll ask him," and before her nurse could arrest her, Lillian drew a
tall fern softly over the sleeper's face, laughing aloud as she did so.
The boy woke at the sound, and without stirring lay looking up at the
lovely little face bent over him, as if still in a dream.
"_Bella cara_," he said, in a musical voice. Then, as the child drew
back abashed at the glance of his large, bright eyes, he seemed to wake
entirely and, springing to his feet, looked at Hester with a quick,
searching glance. Something in his face and air caused the woman to
soften her tone a little, as she said gravely, "Did you wish to see any
one at the Hall?"
"Yes. Is Lady Trevlyn here?" was the boy's answer, as he stood cap in
hand, with the smile fading already from his face.
"She is, but unless your business is very urgent you had better see
Parks, the keeper; we don't trouble my lady with trifles."
"I've a note for her from Colonel Daventry; and as it is _not_ a trifle,
I'll deliver it myself, if you please."
Hester hesitated an instant, but Lillian cried out, "Mamma is close by,
come and see her," and led the way, beckoning as she ran.
The lad followed with a composed air, and Hester brought up the rear,
taking notes as she went with a woman's keen eye.
Lady Trevlyn, a beautiful, pale woman, delicate in health and melancholy
in spirit, sat on a rustic seat with a book in her hand; not reading,
but musing with an absent mind. As the child approached, she held out
her hand to welcome her, but neither smiled nor spoke.
"Mamma, here is a - a person to see you," cried Lillian, rather at a loss
how to designate the stranger, whose height and gravity now awed her.
"A note from Colonel Daventry, my lady," and with a bow the boy
delivered the missive.
Scarcely glancing at him, she opened it and read:
_My Dear Friend_,
_The bearer of this, Paul Jex, has been with me some months and has
served me well. I brought him from Paris, but he is English born, and,
though friendless, prefers to remain here, even after we leave, as we do
in a week. When I last saw you you mentioned wanting a lad to help in
the garden; Paul is accustomed to that employment, though my wife used
him as a sort of page in the house. Hoping you may be able to give him
shelter, I venture to send him. He is honest, capable, and trustworthy
in all respects. Pray try him, and oblige_,
_J. R. Daventry_
"The place is still vacant, and I shall be very glad to give it to you,
if you incline to take it," said Lady Trevlyn, lifting her eyes from the
note and scanning the boy's face.
"I do, madam," he answered respectfully.
"The colonel says you are English," added the lady, in a tone of
The boy smiled, showing a faultless set of teeth, as he replied, "I am,
my lady, though just now I may not look it, being much tanned and very
dusty. My father was an Englishman, but I've lived abroad a good deal
since he died, and got foreign ways, perhaps."
As he spoke without any accent, and looked full in her face with a pair
of honest blue eyes under the dark lashes, Lady Trevlyn's momentary
"Your age, Paul?"
"Sixteen, my lady."
"You understand gardening?"
"Yes, my lady."
"And what else?"
"I can break horses, serve at table, do errands, read aloud, ride after
a young lady as groom, illuminate on parchment, train flowers, and make
myself useful in any way."
The tone, half modest, half eager, in which the boy spoke, as well as
the odd list of his accomplishments, brought a smile to Lady Trevlyn's
lips, and the general air of the lad prepossessed her.
"I want Lillian to ride soon, and Roger is rather old for an escort to
such a little horsewoman. Don't you think we might try Paul?" she said,
turning to Hester.
The woman gravely eyed the lad from head to foot, and shook her head,
but an imploring little gesture and a glance of the handsome eyes
softened her heart in spite of herself.
"Yes, my lady, if he does well about the place, and Parks thinks he's
steady enough, we might try it by-and-by."
Lillian clapped her hands and, drawing nearer, exclaimed confidingly, as
she looked up at her new groom, "I know he'll do, Mamma. I like him very
much, and I hope you'll let him train my pony for me. Will you, Paul?"
As he spoke very low and hastily, the boy looked away from the eager
little face before him, and a sudden flush of color crossed his dark
Hester saw it and said within herself, "That boy has good blood in his
veins. He's no clodhopper's son, I can tell by his hands and feet, his
air and walk. Poor lad, it's hard for him, I'll warrant, but he's not
too proud for honest work, and I like that."
"You may stay, Paul, and we will try you for a month. Hester, take him
to Parks and see that he is made comfortable. Tomorrow we will see what
he can do. Come, darling, I am rested now."
As she spoke, Lady Trevlyn dismissed the boy with a gracious gesture and
led her little daughter away. Paul stood watching her, as if forgetful
of his companion, till she said, rather tartly, "Young man, you'd better
have thanked my lady while she was here than stare after her now it's
too late. If you want to see Parks, you'd best come, for I'm going."
"Is that the family tomb yonder, where you found me asleep?" was the
unexpected reply to her speech, as the boy quietly followed her, not at
all daunted by her manner.
"Yes, and that reminds me to ask how you got in, and why you were
napping there, instead of doing your errand properly?"
"I leaped the fence and stopped to rest before presenting myself, Miss
Hester" was the cool answer, accompanied by a short laugh as he
confessed his trespass.
"You look as if you'd had a long walk; where are you from?"
"Bless the boy! It's fifty miles away."
"So my shoes show; but it's a pleasant trip in summer time."
"But why did you walk, child! Had you no money?"
"Plenty, but not for wasting on coaches, when my own stout legs could
carry me. I took a two days' holiday and saved my money for better
"I like that," said Hester, with an approving nod. "You'll get on, my
lad, if that's your way, and I'll lend a hand, for laziness is my
abomination, and one sees plenty nowadays."
"Thank you. That's friendly, and I'll prove that I am grateful. Please
tell me, is my lady ill?"
"Always delicate since Sir Richard died."
"How long ago was that?"
"Ten years or more."
"Are there no young gentlemen in the family?"
"No, Miss Lillian is an only child, and a sweet one, bless her!"
"A proud little lady, I should say."
"And well she may be, for there's no better blood in England than the
Trevlyns, and she's heiress to a noble fortune."
"Is that the Trevlyn coat of arms?" asked the boy abruptly, pointing to
a stone falcon with the motto ME AND MINE carved over the gate through
which they were passing.
"Yes. Why do you ask?"
"Mere curiosity; I know something of heraldry and often paint these
things for my own pleasure. One learns odd amusements abroad," he added,
seeing an expression of surprise on the woman's face.
"You'll have little time for such matters here. Come in and report
yourself to the keeper, and if you'll take my advice ask no questions of
him, for you'll get no answers."
"I seldom ask questions of men, as they are not fond of gossip." And the
boy nodded with a smile of mischievous significance as he entered the
A sharp lad and a saucy, if he likes. I'll keep my eye on him, for my
lady takes no more thought of such things than a child, and Lillian
cares for nothing but her own will. He has a taking way with him,
though, and knows how to flatter. It's well he does, poor lad, for
life's a hard matter to a friendless soul like him.
As she thought these thoughts Hester went on to the house, leaving Paul
to win the good graces of the keeper, which he speedily did by assuming
an utterly different manner from that he had worn with the woman.
That night, when the boy was alone in his own room, he wrote a long
letter in Italian describing the events of the day, enclosed a sketch of
the falcon and motto, directed it to "Father Cosmo Carmela, Genoa," and
lay down to sleep, muttering, with a grim look and a heavy sigh, "So far
so well; I'll not let my heart be softened by pity, or my purpose change
till my promise is kept. Pretty child, I wish I had never seen her!"
In a week Paul was a favorite with the household; even prudent Hester
felt the charm of his presence, and owned that Lillian was happier for a
young companion in her walks. Hitherto the child had led a solitary
life, with no playmates of her own age, such being the will of my lady;
therefore she welcomed Paul as a new and delightful amusement,
considering him her private property and soon transferring his duties
from the garden to the house. Satisfied of his merits, my lady yielded
to Lillian's demands, and Paul was installed as page to the young lady.
Always respectful and obedient, he never forgot his place, yet seemed
unconsciously to influence all who approached him, and win the goodwill
My lady showed unusual interest in the lad, and Lillian openly displayed
her admiration for his accomplishments and her affection for her devoted
young servitor. Hester was much flattered by the confidence he reposed
in her, for to her alone did he tell his story, and of her alone asked
advice and comfort in his various small straits. It was as she
suspected: Paul was a gentleman's son, but misfortune had robbed him of
home, friends, and parents, and thrown him upon the world to shift for
himself. This sad story touched the woman's heart, and the boy's manly
spirit won respect. She had lost a son years ago, and her empty heart
yearned over the motherless lad. Ashamed to confess the tender feeling,
she wore her usual severe manner to him in public, but in private
softened wonderfully and enjoyed the boy's regard heartily.
"Paul, come in. I want to speak with you a moment," said my lady, from
the long window of the library to the boy who was training vines
Dropping his tools and pulling off his hat, Paul obeyed, looking a
little anxious, for the month of trial expired that day. Lady Trevlyn
saw and answered the look with a gracious smile.
"Have no fears. You are to stay if you will, for Lillian is happy and I
am satisfied with you."
"Thank you, my lady." And an odd glance of mingled pride and pain shone
in the boy's downcast eyes.
"That is settled, then. Now let me say what I called you in for. You
spoke of being able to illuminate on parchment. Can you restore this old
book for me?"
She put into his hand the ancient volume Sir Richard had been reading
the day he died. It had lain neglected in a damp nook for years till my
lady discovered it, and, sad as were the associations connected with it,
she desired to preserve it for the sake of the weird prophecy if nothing
else. Paul examined it, and as he turned it to and fro in his hands it
opened at the page oftenest read by its late master. His eye kindled as
he looked, and with a quick gesture he turned as if toward the light, in
truth to hide the flash of triumph that passed across his face.
Carefully controlling his voice, he answered in a moment, as he looked
up, quite composed, "Yes, my lady, I can retouch the faded colors on
these margins and darken the pale ink of the Old English text. I like
the work, and will gladly do it if you like."
"Do it, then, but be very careful of the book while in your hands.
Provide what is needful, and name your own price for the work," said his
"Nay, my lady, I am already paid - "
"How so?" she asked, surprised.
Paul had spoken hastily, and for an instant looked embarrassed, but
answered with a sudden flush on his dark cheeks, "You have been kind to
me, and I am glad to show my, gratitude in any way, my lady."
"Let that pass, my boy. Do this little service for me and we will see
about the recompense afterward." And with a smile Lady Trevlyn left him
to begin his work.
The moment the door closed behind her a total change passed over Paul.
He shook his clenched hand after her with a gesture of menace, then
tossed up the old book and caught it with an exclamation of delight, as
he reopened it at the worn page and reread the inexplicable verse.
"Another proof, another proof! The work goes bravely on, Father Cosmo;
and boy as I am, I'll keep my word in spite of everything," he muttered.