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Title: The Mysterious Key And What It Opened
Author: Louisa May Alcott





Chapter I

THE PROPHECY

  _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,
Richard?"

"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
in England."

"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."

"I'll come."

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
impulse.

"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
Richard."

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
threshold.

"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
thankfulness.

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
day.

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.




Chapter II

PAUL


"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,"
whispered Hester.

"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_,

_Yours sincerely_,

_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
surprise.

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
doubt vanished.

"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?"

"Yes."

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
cheek.

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?"

"London."

"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
things."

"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
keeper's lodge.

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!"




Chapter III

SECRET SERVICE


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
of everyone.

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
outside.

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
mistress.

"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.

"What is that you'll keep, lad?" said a voice behind him.

"I'll keep my word to my lady, and do my best to restore this book, Mrs.
Hester," he answered, quickly recovering himself.

"Ah, that's the last book poor Master read. I hid it away, but my lady
found it in spite of me," said Hester, with a doleful sigh.

"Did he die suddenly, then?" asked the boy.

"Dear heart, yes; I found him dying in this room with the ink scarce dry
on the letter he left for my lady. A mysterious business and a sad one."

"Tell me about it. I like sad stories, and I already feel as if I
belonged to the family, a loyal retainer as in the old times. While you
dust the books and I rub the mold off this old cover, tell me the tale,
please, Mrs. Hester."

She shook her head, but yielded to the persuasive look and tone of the
boy, telling the story more fully than she intended, for she loved
talking and had come to regard Paul as her own, almost.

"And the letter? What was in it?" asked the boy, as she paused at the
catastrophe.

"No one ever knew but my lady."

"She destroyed it, then?"

"I thought so, till a long time afterward, one of the lawyers came
pestering me with questions, and made me ask her. She was ill at the
time, but answered with a look I shall never forget, 'No, it's not
burnt, but no one shall ever see it.' I dared ask no more, but I fancy
she has it safe somewhere and if it's ever needed she'll bring it out.
It was only some private matters, I fancy."

"And the stranger?"

"Oh, he vanished as oddly as he came, and has never been found. A
strange story, lad. Keep silent, and let it rest."

"No fear of my tattling," and the boy smiled curiously to himself as he
bent over the book, polishing the brassbound cover.

"What are you doing with that pretty white wax?" asked Lillian the next
day, as she came upon Paul in a quiet corner of the garden and found him
absorbed in some mysterious occupation.

With a quick gesture he destroyed his work, and, banishing a momentary
expression of annoyance, he answered in his accustomed tone as he began
to work anew, "I am molding a little deer for you, Miss Lillian. See,
here is a rabbit already done, and I'll soon have a stag also."

"It's very pretty! How many nice things you can do, and how kind you are
to think of my liking something new. Was this wax what you went to get
this morning when you rode away so early?" asked the child.

"Yes, Miss Lillian. I was ordered to exercise your pony and I made him
useful as well. Would you like to try this? It's very easy."

Lillian was charmed, and for several days wax modeling was her favorite
play. Then she tired of it, and Paul invented a new amusement, smiling
his inexplicable smile as he threw away the broken toys of wax.

"You are getting pale and thin, keeping such late hours, Paul. Go to
bed, boy, go to bed, and get your sleep early," said Hester a week
afterward, with a motherly air, as Paul passed her one morning.

"And how do you know I don't go to bed?" he asked, wheeling about.

"My lady has been restless lately, and I sit up with her till she
sleeps. As I go to my room, I see your lamp burning, and last night I
got as far as your door, meaning to speak to you, but didn't, thinking
you'd take it amiss. But really you are the worse for late hours,
child."

"I shall soon finish restoring the book, and then I'll sleep. I hope I
don't disturb you. I have to grind my colors, and often make more noise
than I mean to."

Paul fixed his eyes sharply on the woman as he spoke, but she seemed
unconscious of it, and turned to go on, saying indifferently, "Oh,
that's the odd sound, is it? No, it doesn't trouble me, so grind away,
and make an end of it as soon as may be."

An anxious fold in the boy's forehead smoothed itself away as he left
her, saying to himself with a sigh of relief, "A narrow escape; it's
well I keep the door locked."

The boy's light burned no more after that, and Hester was content till a
new worry came to trouble her. On her way to her room late one night,
she saw a tall shadow flit down one of the side corridors that branched
from the main one. For a moment she was startled, but, being a woman of
courage, she followed noiselessly, till the shadow seemed to vanish in
the gloom of the great hall.

"If the house ever owned a ghost I'd say that's it, but it never did, so
I suspect some deviltry. I'll step to Paul. He's not asleep, I dare say.
He's a brave and a sensible lad, and with him I'll quietly search the
house."

Away she went, more nervous than she would own, and tapped at the boy's
door. No one answered, and, seeing that it was ajar, Hester whisked in
so hurriedly that her candle went out. With an impatient exclamation at
her carelessness she glided to the bed, drew the curtain, and put forth
her hand to touch the sleeper. The bed was empty. A disagreeable thrill
shot through her, as she assured herself of the fact by groping along
the narrow bed. Standing in the shadow of the curtain, she stared about
the dusky room, in which objects were visible by the light of a new
moon.

"Lord bless me, what is the boy about! I do believe it was him I saw in
the--" She got no further in her mental exclamation for the sound of
light approaching footsteps neared her. Slipping around the bed she
waited in the shadow, and a moment after Paul appeared, looking pale and
ghostly, with dark, disheveled hair, wide-open eyes, and a cloak thrown
over his shoulders. Without a pause he flung it off, laid himself in
bed, and seemed to sleep at once.

"Paul! Paul!" whispered Hester, shaking him, after a pause of
astonishment at the whole proceeding.

"Hey, what is it?" And he sat up, looking drowsily about him.

"Come, come, no tricks, boy. What are you doing, trailing about the
house at this hour and in such trim?"

"Why, Hester, is it you?" he exclaimed with a laugh, as he shook off her
grip and looked up at her in surprise.

"Yes, and well it is me. If it had been any of those silly girls, the
house would have been roused by this time. What mischief is afoot that
you leave your bed and play ghost in this wild fashion?"

"Leave my bed! Why, my good soul, I haven't stirred, but have been
dreaming with all my might these two hours. What do you mean, Hester?"

She told him as she relit her lamp, and stood eyeing him sharply the
while. When she finished he was silent a minute, then said, looking half
vexed and half ashamed, "I see how it is, and I'm glad you alone have
found me out. I walk in my sleep sometimes, Hester, that's the truth. I
thought I'd got over it, but it's come back, you see, and I'm sorry for
it. Don't be troubled. I never do any mischief or come to any harm. I
just take a quiet promenade and march back to bed again. Did I frighten
you?"

"Just a trifle, but it's nothing. Poor lad, you'll have to have a
bedfellow or be locked up; it's dangerous to go roaming about in this
way," said Hester anxiously.

"It won't last long, for I'll get more tired and then I shall sleep
sounder. Don't tell anyone, please, else they'll laugh at me, and that's
not pleasant. I don't mind your knowing for you seem almost like a
mother, and I thank you for it with all my heart."

He held out his hand with the look that was irresistible to Hester.
Remembering only that he was a motherless boy, she stroked the curly
hair off his forehead, and kissed him, with the thought of her own son
warm at her heart.

"Good night, dear. I'll say nothing, but give you something that will
ensure quiet sleep hereafter."

With that she left him, but would have been annoyed could she have seen
the convulsion of boyish merriment which took possession of him when
alone, for he laughed till the tears ran down his cheeks.




Chapter IV

VANISHED


He's a handsome lad, and one any woman might be proud to call her son,"
said Hester to Bedford, the stately butler, as they lingered at the hall
door one autumn morning to watch their young lady's departure on her
daily ride.

"You are right, Mrs. Hester, he's a fine lad, and yet he seems above his
place, though he does look the very picture of a lady's groom," replied
Bedford approvingly.

So he did, as he stood holding the white pony of his little mistress,
for the boy gave an air to whatever he wore and looked like a gentleman
even in his livery. The dark-blue coat with silver buttons, the silver
band about his hat, his white-topped boots and bright spurs, spotless
gloves, and tightly drawn belt were all in perfect order, all becoming,
and his handsome, dark face caused many a susceptible maid to blush and
simper as they passed him. "Gentleman Paul," as the servants called him,
was rather lofty and reserved among his mates, but they liked him
nonetheless, for Hester had dropped hints of his story and quite a
little romance had sprung up about him. He stood leaning against the
docile creature, sunk in thought, and quite unconscious of the watchers
and whisperers close by. But as Lillian appeared he woke up, attended to
his duties like a well-trained groom, and lingered over his task as if
he liked it. Down the avenue he rode behind her, but as they turned into
a shady lane Lillian beckoned, saying, in the imperious tone habitual to
her, "Ride near me. I wish to talk."

Paul obeyed, and amused her with the chat she liked till they reached a
hazel copse; here he drew rein, and, leaping down, gathered a handful of
ripe nuts for her.

"How nice. Let us rest a minute here, and while I eat a few, please pull
some of those flowers for Mamma. She likes a wild nosegay better than
any I can bring her from the garden."

Lillian ate her nuts till Paul came to her with a hatful of late flowers
and, standing by her, held the impromptu basket while she made up a
bouquet to suit her taste.

"You shall have a posy, too; I like you to wear one in your buttonhole
as the ladies' grooms do in the Park," said the child, settling a
scarlet poppy in the blue coat.

"Thanks, Miss Lillian, I'll wear your colors with all my heart,
especially today, for it is my birthday." And Paul looked up at the
blooming little face with unusual softness in his keen blue eyes.

"Is it? Why, then, you're seventeen; almost a man, aren't you?"

"Yes, thank heaven," muttered the boy, half to himself.

"I wish I was as old. I shan't be in my teens till autumn. I must give
you something, Paul, because I like you very much, and you are always
doing kind things for me. What shall it be?" And the child held out her
hand with a cordial look and gesture that touched the boy.

With one of the foreign fashions which sometimes appeared when he forgot
himself, he kissed the small hand, saying impulsively, "My dear little
mistress, I want nothing but your goodwill--and your forgiveness," he
added, under his breath.

"You have that already, Paul, and I shall find something to add to it.
But what is that?" And she laid hold of a little locket which had
slipped into sight as Paul bent forward in his salute.

He thrust it back, coloring so deeply that the child observed it, and
exclaimed, with a mischievous laugh, "It is your sweetheart, Paul. I
heard Bessy, my maid, tell Hester she was sure you had one because you
took no notice of them. Let me see it. Is she pretty?"

"Very pretty," answered the boy, without showing the picture.

"Do you like her very much?" questioned Lillian, getting interested in
the little romance.

"Very much," and Paul's black eyelashes fell.

"Would you die for her, as they say in the old songs?" asked the girl,
melodramatically.

"Yes, Miss Lillian, or live for her, which is harder."

"Dear me, how very nice it must be to have anyone care for one so much,"
said the child innocently. "I wonder if anybody ever will for me?"

  "_Love comes to all soon or late,
    And maketh gay or sad;
  For every bird will find its mate,
    And every lass a lad,_"

sang Paul, quoting one of Hester's songs, and looking relieved that
Lillian's thoughts had strayed from him. But he was mistaken.

"Shall you marry this sweetheart of yours someday?" asked Lillian,
turning to him with a curious yet wistful look.

"Perhaps."

"You look as if there was no 'perhaps' about it," said the child, quick
to read the kindling of the eye and the change in the voice that
accompanied the boy's reply.

"She is very young and I must wait, and while I wait many things may
happen to part us."

"Is she a lady?"

"Yes, a wellborn, lovely little lady, and I'll marry her if I live."
Paul spoke with a look of decision, and a proud lift of the head that
contrasted curiously with the badge of servitude he wore.

Lillian felt this, and asked, with a sudden shyness coming over her,
"But you are a gentleman, and so no one will mind even if you are not
rich."

"How do you know what I am?" he asked quickly.

"I heard Hester tell the housekeeper that you were not what you seemed,
and one day she hoped you'd get your right place again. I asked Mamma
about it, and she said she would not let me be with you so much if you
were not a fit companion for me. I was not to speak of it, but she means
to be your friend and help you by-and-by."

"Does she?"

And the boy laughed an odd, short laugh that jarred on Lillian's ear and
made her say reprovingly, "You are proud, I know, but you'll let us help
you because we like to do it, and I have no brother to share my money
with."

"Would you like one, or a sister?" asked Paul, looking straight into her
face with his piercing eyes.

"Yes, indeed! I long for someone to be with me and love me, as Mamma
can't."

"Would you be willing to share everything with another person--perhaps
have to give them a great many things you like and now have all to
yourself?"

"I think I should. I'm selfish, I know, because everyone pets and spoils
me, but if I loved a person dearly I'd give up anything to them. Indeed
I would, Paul, pray believe me."

She spoke earnestly, and leaned on his shoulder as if to enforce her
words. The boy's arm stole around the little figure in the saddle, and a
beautiful bright smile broke over his face as he answered warmly, "I do
believe it, dear, and it makes me happy to hear you say so. Don't be
afraid, I'm your equal, but I'll not forget that you are my little
mistress till I can change from groom to gentleman."

He added the last sentence as he withdrew his arm, for Lillian had
shrunk a little and blushed with surprise, not anger, at this first
breach of respect on the part of her companion. Both were silent for a
moment, Paul looking down and Lillian busy with her nosegay. She spoke
first, assuming an air of satisfaction as she surveyed her work.

"That will please Mamma, I'm sure, and make her quite forget my naughty
prank of yesterday. Do you know I offended her dreadfully by peeping
into the gold case she wears on her neck? She was asleep and I was
sitting by her. In her sleep she pulled it out and said something about
a letter and Papa. I wanted to see Papa's face, for I never did, because
the big picture of him is gone from the gallery where the others are, so
I peeped into the case when she let it drop and was so disappointed to
find nothing but a key."

"A key! What sort of a key?" cried Paul in an eager tone.

"Oh, a little silver one like the key of my piano, or the black cabinet.
She woke and was very angry to find me meddling."

"What did it belong to?" asked Paul.

"Her treasure box, she said, but I don't know where or what that is, and
I dare not ask any more, for she forbade my speaking to her about it.
Poor Mamma! I'm always troubling her in some way or other."

With a penitent sigh, Lillian tied up her flowers and handed them to
Paul to carry. As she did so, the change in his face struck her.

"How grim and old you look," she exclaimed. "Have I said anything that
troubles you?"

"No, Miss Lillian. I'm only thinking."

"Then I wish you wouldn't think, for you get a great wrinkle in your
forehead, your eyes grow almost black, and your mouth looks fierce. You
are a very odd person, Paul; one minute as gay as any boy, and the next
as grave and stern as a man with a deal of work to do."

"I _have_ got a deal of work to do, so no wonder I look old and grim."

"What work, Paul?"

"To make my fortune and win my lady."

When Paul spoke in that tone and wore that look, Lillian felt as if they
had changed places, and he was the master and she the servant. She
wondered over this in her childish mind, but proud and willful as she
was, she liked it, and obeyed him with unusual meekness when he
suggested that it was time to return. As he rode silently beside her,
she stole covert glances at him from under her wide hat brim, and
studied his unconscious face as she had never done before. His lips
moved now and then but uttered no audible sound, his black brows were
knit, and once his hand went to his breast as if he thought of the
little sweetheart whose picture lay there.

He's got a trouble. I wish he'd tell me and let me help him if I can.
I'll make him show me that miniature someday, for I'm interested in that
girl, thought Lillian with a pensive sigh.

As he held his hand for her little foot in dismounting her at the hall
door, Paul seemed to have shaken off his grave mood, for he looked up
and smiled at her with his blithest expression. But Lillian appeared to
be the thoughtful one now and with an air of dignity, very pretty and
becoming, thanked her young squire in a stately manner and swept into
the house, looking tall and womanly in her flowing skirts.

Paul laughed as he glanced after her and, flinging himself onto his
horse, rode away to the stables at a reckless pace, as if to work off
some emotion for which he could find no other vent.

"Here's a letter for you, lad, all the way from some place in Italy. Who
do you know there?" said Bedford, as the boy came back.

With a hasty "Thank you," Paul caught the letter and darted away to his
own room, there to tear it open and, after reading a single line, to
drop into a chair as if he had received a sudden blow. Growing paler and
paler he read on, and when the letter fell from his hands he exclaimed,
in a tone of despair, "How could he die at such a time!"

For an hour the boy sat thinking intently, with locked door, curtained
window, and several papers strewn before him. Letters, memoranda, plans,
drawings, and bits of parchment, all of which he took from a small
locked portfolio always worn about him. Over these he pored with a face
in which hope, despondency, resolve, and regret alternated rapidly.
Taking the locket out he examined a ring which lay in one side, and the
childish face which smiled on him from the other. His eyes filled as he
locked and put it by, saying tenderly, "Dear little heart! I'll not
forget or desert her whatever happens. Time must help me, and to time I
must leave my work. One more attempt and then I'm off."

       *       *       *       *       *

"I'll go to bed now, Hester; but while you get my things ready I'll take
a turn in the corridor. The air will refresh me."

As she spoke, Lady Trevlyn drew her wrapper about her and paced softly
down the long hall lighted only by fitful gleams of moonlight and the
ruddy glow of the fire. At the far end was the state chamber, never used
now, and never visited except by Hester, who occasionally went in to
dust and air it, and my lady, who always passed the anniversary of Sir
Richard's death alone there. The gallery was very dark, and she seldom
went farther than the last window in her restless walks, but as she now
approached she was startled to see a streak of yellow light under the
door. She kept the key herself and neither she nor Hester had been there
that day. A cold shiver passed over her for, as she looked, the shadow
of a foot darkened the light for a moment and vanished as if someone had
noiselessly passed. Obeying a sudden impulse, my lady sprang forward and
tried to open the door. It was locked, but as her hand turned the silver
knob a sound as if a drawer softly closed met her ear. She stooped to
the keyhole but it was dark, a key evidently being in the lock. She drew
back and flew to her room, snatched the key from her dressing table,
and, bidding Hester follow, returned to the hall.

"What is it, my lady?" cried the woman, alarmed at the agitation of her
mistress.

"A light, a sound, a shadow in the state chamber. Come quick!" cried
Lady Trevlyn, adding, as she pointed to the door, "There, there, the
light shines underneath. Do you see it?"

"No, my lady, it's dark," returned Hester.

It was, but never pausing my lady thrust in the key, and to her surprise
it turned, the door flew open, and the dim, still room was before them.
Hester boldly entered, and while her mistress slowly followed, she
searched the room, looking behind the tall screen by the hearth, up the
wide chimney, in the great wardrobe, and under the ebony cabinet, where
all the relics of Sir Richard were kept. Nothing appeared, not even a
mouse, and Hester turned to my lady with an air of relief. But her
mistress pointed to the bed shrouded in dark velvet hangings, and
whispered breathlessly, "You forgot to look there."

Hester had not forgotten, but in spite of her courage and good sense she
shrank a little from looking at the spot where she had last seen her
master's dead face. She believed the light and sound to be phantoms of
my lady's distempered fancy, and searched merely to satisfy her. The
mystery of Sir Richard's death still haunted the minds of all who
remembered it, and even Hester felt a superstitious dread of that room.
With a nervous laugh she looked under the bed and, drawing back the
heavy curtains, said soothingly, "You see, my lady, there's nothing
there."

But the words died on her lips, for, as the pale glimmer of the candle
pierced the gloom of that funeral couch, both saw a face upon the
pillow: a pale face framed in dark hair and beard, with closed eyes and
the stony look the dead wear. A loud, long shriek that roused the house
broke from Lady Trevlyn as she fell senseless at the bedside, and
dropping both curtain and candle Hester caught up her mistress and fled
from the haunted room, locking the door behind her.

In a moment a dozen servants were about them, and into their astonished
ears Hester poured her story while vainly trying to restore her lady.
Great was the dismay and intense the unwillingness of anyone to obey
when Hester ordered the men to search the room again, for she was the
first to regain her self-possession.

"Where's Paul? He's the heart of a man, boy though he is," she said
angrily as the men hung back.

"He's not here. Lord! Maybe it was him a-playing tricks, though it ain't
like him," cried Bessy, Lillian's little maid.

"No, it can't be him, for I locked him in myself. He walks in his sleep
sometimes, and I was afraid he'd startle my lady. Let him sleep; this
would only excite him and set him to marching again. Follow me, Bedford
and James, I'm not afraid of ghosts or rogues."

With a face that belied her words Hester led the way to the awful room,
and flinging back the curtain resolutely looked in. The bed was empty,
but on the pillow was plainly visible the mark of a head and a single
scarlet stain, as of blood. At that sight Hester turned pale and caught
the butler's arm, whispering with a shudder, "Do you remember the night
we put him in his coffin, the drop of blood that fell from his white
lips? Sir Richard has been here."

"Good Lord, ma'am, don't say that! We can never rest in our beds if such
things are to happen," gasped Bedford, backing to the door.

"It's no use to look, we've found all we shall find so go your ways and
tell no one of this," said the woman in a gloomy tone, and, having
assured herself that the windows were fast, Hester locked the room and
ordered everyone but Bedford and the housekeeper to bed. "Do you sit
outside my lady's door till morning," she said to the butler, "and you,
Mrs. Price, help me to tend my poor lady, for if I'm not mistaken this
night's work will bring on the old trouble."

Morning came, and with it a new alarm; for, though his door was fast
locked and no foothold for even a sparrow outside the window, Paul's
room was empty, and the boy nowhere to be found.




Chapter V

A HERO


Four years had passed, and Lillian was fast blooming into a lovely
woman: proud and willful as ever, but very charming, and already a belle
in the little world where she still reigned a queen. Owing to her
mother's ill health, she was allowed more freedom than is usually
permitted to an English girl of her age; and, during the season, often
went into company with a friend of Lady Trevlyn's who was chaperoning
two young daughters of her own. To the world Lillian seemed a gay,
free-hearted girl; and no one, not even her mother, knew how well she
remembered and how much she missed the lost Paul. No tidings of him had
ever come, and no trace of him was found after his flight. Nothing was
missed, he went without his wages, and no reason could be divined for
his departure except the foreign letter. Bedford remembered it, but
forgot what postmark it bore, for he had only been able to decipher
"Italy." My lady made many inquiries and often spoke of him; but when
month after month passed and no news came, she gave him up, and on
Lillian's account feigned to forget him. Contrary to Hester's fear, she
did not seem the worse for the nocturnal fright, but evidently connected
the strange visitor with Paul, or, after a day or two of nervous
exhaustion, returned to her usual state of health. Hester had her own
misgivings, but, being forbidden to allude to the subject, she held her
peace, after emphatically declaring that Paul would yet appear to set
her mind at rest.

"Lillian, Lillian, I've such news for you! Come and hear a charming
little romance, and prepare to see the hero of it!" cried Maud
Churchill, rushing into her friend's pretty boudoir one day in the
height of the season.

Lillian lay on a couch, rather languid after a ball, and listlessly
begged Maud to tell her story, for she was dying to be amused.

"Well my, dear, just listen and you'll be as enthusiastic as I am,"
cried Maud. And throwing her bonnet on one chair, her parasol on
another, and her gloves anywhere, she settled herself on the couch and
began: "You remember reading in the papers, some time ago, that fine
account of the young man who took part in the Italian revolution and did
that heroic thing with the bombshell?"

"Yes, what of him?" asked Lillian, sitting up.

"He is my hero, and we are to see him tonight."

"Go on, go on! Tell all, and tell it quickly," she cried.

"You know the officers were sitting somewhere, holding a council, while
the city (I forget the name) was being bombarded, and how a shell came
into the midst of them, how they sat paralyzed, expecting it to burst,
and how this young man caught it up and ran out with it, risking his own
life to save theirs?"

"Yes, yes, I remember!" And Lillian's listless face kindled at the
recollection.

"Well, an Englishman who was there was so charmed by the act that,
finding the young man was poor and an orphan, he adopted him. Mr. Talbot
was old, and lonely, and rich, and when he died, a year after, he left
his name and fortune to this Paolo."

"I'm glad, I'm glad!" cried Lillian, clapping her hands with a joyful
face. "How romantic and charming it is!"

"Isn't it? But, my dear creature, the most romantic part is to come.
Young Talbot served in the war, and then came to England to take
possession of his property. It's somewhere down in Kent, a fine place
and good income, all his; and he deserves it. Mamma heard a deal about
him from Mrs. Langdon, who knew old Talbot and has seen the young man.
Of course all the girls are wild to behold him, for he is very handsome
and accomplished, and a gentleman by birth. But the dreadful part is
that he is already betrothed to a lovely Greek girl, who came over at
the same time, and is living in London with a companion; quite
elegantly, Mrs. Langdon says, for she called and was charmed.
This girl has been seen by some of our gentlemen friends, and they
already rave about the 'fair Helene,' for that's her name."

Here Maud was forced to stop for breath, and Lillian had a chance to
question her.

"How old is she?"

"About eighteen or nineteen, they say."

"Very pretty?"

"Ravishing, regularly Greek and divine, Fred Raleigh says."

"When is she to be married?"

"Don't know; when Talbot gets settled, I fancy."

"And he? Is he as charming as she?"

"Quite, I'm told. He's just of age, and is, in appearance as in
everything else, a hero of romance."

"How came your mother to secure him for tonight?"

"Mrs. Langdon is dying to make a lion of him, and begged to bring him.
He is very indifferent on such things and seems intent on his own
affairs. Is grave and old for his years, and doesn't seem to care much
for pleasure and admiration, as most men would after a youth like his,
for he has had a hard time, I believe. For a wonder, he consented to
come when Mrs. Langdon asked him, and I flew off at once to tell you and
secure you for tonight."

"A thousand thanks. I meant to rest, for Mamma frets about my being so
gay; but she won't object to a quiet evening with you. What shall we
wear?" And here the conversation branched off on the all-absorbing topic
of dress.

When Lillian joined her friend that evening, the hero had already
arrived, and, stepping into a recess, she waited to catch a glimpse of
him. Maud was called away, and she was alone when the crowd about the
inner room thinned and permitted young Talbot to be seen. Well for
Lillian that no one observed her at that moment, for she grew pale and
sank into a chair, exclaiming below her breath, "It is Paul--_my_ Paul!"

She recognized him instantly, in spite of increased height, a dark
moustache, and martial bearing. It was Paul, older, graver, handsomer,
but still "her Paul," as she called him, with a flush of pride and
delight as she watched him, and felt that of all there she knew him best
and loved him most. For the childish affection still existed, and this
discovery added a tinge of romance that made it doubly dangerous as well
as doubly pleasant.

Will he know me? she thought, glancing at a mirror which reflected a
slender figure with bright hair, white arms, and brilliant eyes; a
graceful little head, proudly carried, and a sweet mouth, just then very
charming, as it smiled till pearly teeth shone between the ruddy lips.

I'm glad I'm not ugly, and I hope he'll like me, she thought, as she
smoothed the golden ripples on her forehead, settled her sash, and shook
out the folds of her airy dress in a flutter of girlish excitement.
"I'll pretend not to know him, when we meet, and see what he will do,"
she said, with a wicked sense of power; for being forewarned she was
forearmed, and, fearing no betrayal of surprise on her own part, was
eager to enjoy any of which he might be guilty.

Leaving her nook, she joined a group of young friends and held herself
prepared for the meeting. Presently she saw Maud and Mrs. Langdon
approaching, evidently intent on presenting the hero to the heiress.

"Mr. Talbot, Miss Trevlyn," said the lady. And looking up with a
well-assumed air of indifference, Lillian returned the gentleman's bow
with her eyes fixed full upon his face.

Not a feature of that face changed, and so severely unconscious of any
recognition was it that the girl was bewildered. For a moment she
fancied she had been mistaken in his identity, and a pang of
disappointment troubled her; but as he moved a chair for Maud, she saw
on the one ungloved hand a little scar which she remembered well, for he
received it in saving her from a dangerous fall. At the sight all the
happy past rose before her, and if her telltale eyes had not been
averted they would have betrayed her. A sudden flush of maidenly shame
dyed her cheek as she remembered that last ride, and the childish
confidences then interchanged. This Helen was the little sweetheart
whose picture he wore, and now, in spite of all obstacles, he had won
both fortune and ladylove. The sound of his voice recalled her thoughts,
and glancing up she met the deep eyes fixed on her with the same steady
look they used to wear. He had addressed her, but what he said she knew
not, beyond a vague idea that it was some slight allusion to the music
going on in the next room. With a smile which would serve for an answer
to almost any remark, she hastily plunged into conversation with a
composure that did her credit in the eyes of her friends, who stood in
awe of the young hero, for all were but just out.

"Mr. Talbot hardly needs an introduction here, for his name is
well-known among us, though this is perhaps his first visit to England?"
she said, flattering herself that this artful speech would entrap him
into the reply she wanted.

With a slight frown, as if the allusion to his adventure rather annoyed
him, and a smile that puzzled all but Lillian, he answered very simply,
"It is not my first visit to this hospitable island. I was here a few
years ago, for a short time, and left with regret."

"Then you have old friends here?" And Lillian watched him as she spoke.

"I had. They had doubtless forgotten me now," he said, with a sudden
shadow marring the tranquillity of his face.

"Why doubt them? If they were true friends, they will not forget."

The words were uttered impulsively, almost warmly, but Talbot made no
response, except a polite inclination and an abrupt change in the
conversation.

"That remains to be proved. Do you sing, Miss Trevlyn?"

"A little." And Lillian's tone was both cold and proud.

"A great deal, and very charmingly," added Maud, who took pride in her
friend's gifts both of voice and beauty. "Come, dear, there are so few
of us you will sing, I know. Mamma desired me to ask you when Edith had
done."

To her surprise Lillian complied, and allowed Talbot to lead her to the
instrument. Still hoping to win some sign of recognition from him, the
girl chose an air he taught her and sang it with a spirit and skill that
surprised the listeners who possessed no key to her mood. At the last
verse her voice suddenly faltered, but Talbot took up the song and
carried her safely through it with his well-tuned voice.

"You know the air then?" she said in a low tone, as a hum of
commendation followed the music.

"All Italians sing it, though few do it like yourself," he answered
quietly, restoring the fan he had held while standing beside her.

Provoking boy! why won't he know me? thought Lillian. And her tone was
almost petulant as she refused to sing again.

Talbot offered his arm and led her to a seat, behind which stood a
little statuette of a child holding a fawn by a daisy chain.

"Pretty, isn't it?" she said, as he paused to look at it instead of
taking the chair before her. "I used to enjoy modeling tiny deer and
hinds in wax, as well as making daisy chains. Is sculpture among the
many accomplishments which rumor tells us you possess?"

"No. Those who, like me, have their own fortunes to mold find time for
little else," he answered gravely, still examining the marble group.

Lillian broke her fan with an angry flirt, for she was tired of her
trial, and wished she had openly greeted him at the beginning; feeling
now how pleasant it would have been to sit chatting of old times, while
her friends dared hardly address him at all. She was on the point of
calling him by his former name, when the remembrance of what he had been
arrested the words on her lips. He was proud; would he not dread to have
it known that, in his days of adversity, he had been a servant? For if
she betrayed her knowledge of his past, she would be forced to tell
where and how that knowledge was gained. No, better wait till they met
alone, she thought; he would thank her for her delicacy, and she could
easily explain her motive. He evidently wished to seem a stranger, for
once she caught a gleam of the old, mirthful mischief in his eye, as she
glanced up unexpectedly. He did remember her, she was sure, yet was
trying her, perhaps, as she tried him. Well, she would stand the test
and enjoy the joke by-and-by. With this fancy in her head she assumed a
gracious air and chatted away in her most charming style, feeling both
gay and excited, so anxious was she to please, and so glad to recover
her early friend. A naughty whim seized her as her eye fell on a
portfolio of classical engravings which someone had left in disorder on
a table near her. Tossing them over she asked his opinion of several,
and then handed him one in which Helen of Troy was represented as giving
her hand to the irresistible Paris.

"Do you think her worth so much bloodshed, and deserving so much
praise?" she asked, vainly trying to conceal the significant smile that
would break loose on her lips and sparkle in her eyes.

Talbot laughed the short, boyish laugh so familiar to her ears, as he
glanced from the picture to the arch questioner, and answered in a tone
that made her heart beat with a nameless pain and pleasure, so full of
suppressed ardor was it:

"Yes! 'All for love or the world well lost' is a saying I heartily agree
to. La belle Helene is my favorite heroine, and I regard Paris as the
most enviable of men."

"I should like to see her."

The wish broke from Lillian involuntarily, and she was too much confused
to turn it off by any general expression of interest in the classical
lady.

"You may sometime," answered Talbot, with an air of amusement; adding,
as if to relieve her, "I have a poetical belief that all the lovely
women of history or romance will meet, and know, and love each other in
some charming hereafter."

"But I'm no heroine and no beauty, so I shall never enter your poetical
paradise," said Lillian, with a pretty affectation of regret.

"Some women are beauties without knowing it, and the heroines of
romances never given to the world. I think you and Helen will yet meet,
Miss Trevlyn."

As he spoke, Mrs. Langdon beckoned, and he left her pondering over his
last words, and conscious of a secret satisfaction in his implied
promise that she should see his betrothed.

"How do you like him?" whispered Maud, slipping into the empty chair.

"Very well," was the composed reply; for Lillian enjoyed her little
mystery too much to spoil it yet.

"What did you say to him? I longed to hear, for you seemed to enjoy
yourselves very much, but I didn't like to be a marplot."

Lillian repeated a part of the conversation, and Maud professed to be
consumed with jealousy at the impression her friend had evidently made.

"It is folly to try to win the hero, for he is already won, you know,"
answered Lillian, shutting the cover on the pictured Helen with a sudden
motion as if glad to extinguish her.

"Oh dear, no; Mrs. Langdon just told Mamma that she was mistaken about
their being engaged; for she asked him and he shook his head, saying
Helen was his ward."

"But that is absurd, for he's only a boy himself. It's very odd, isn't
it? Never mind, I shall soon know all about it."

"How?" cried Maud, amazed at Lillian's assured manner.

"Wait a day or two and, I'll tell you a romance in return for yours.
Your mother beckons to me, so I know Hester has come. Good night. I've
had a charming time."

And with this tantalizing adieu, Lillian slipped away. Hester was
waiting in the carriage, but as Lillian appeared, Talbot put aside the
footman and handed her in, saying very low, in the well-remembered tone:

"Good night, my little mistress."




Chapter VI

FAIR HELEN


To no one but her mother and Hester did Lillian confide the discovery
she had made. None of the former servants but old Bedford remained with
them, and till Paul chose to renew the old friendship it was best to
remain silent. Great was the surprise and delight of our lady and Hester
at the good fortune of their protege, and many the conjectures as to how
he would explain his hasty flight.

"You will go and see him, won't you, Mamma, or at least inquire about
him?" said Lillian, eager to assure the wanderer of a welcome, for those
few words of his had satisfied her entirely.

"No, dear, it is for him to seek us, and till he does, I shall make no
sign. He knows where we are, and if he chooses he can renew the
acquaintance so strangely broken off. Be patient, and above all things
remember, Lillian, that you are no longer a child," replied my lady,
rather disturbed by her daughter's enthusiastic praises of Paul.

"I wish I was, for then I might act as I feel, and not be afraid of
shocking the proprieties." And Lillian went to bed to dream of her hero.

For three days she stayed at home, expecting Paul, but he did not come,
and she went out for her usual ride in the Park, hoping to meet him. An
elderly groom now rode behind her, and she surveyed him with extreme
disgust, as she remembered the handsome lad who had once filled that
place. Nowhere did Paul appear, but in the Ladies' Mile she passed an
elegant brougham in which sat a very lovely girl and a mild old lady.

"That is Talbot's fiancee," said Maud Churchill, who had joined her.
"Isn't she beautiful?"

"Not at all--yes, very," was Lillian's somewhat peculiar reply, for
jealousy and truth had a conflict just then. "He's so perfectly absorbed
and devoted that I am sure that story is true, so adieu to our hopes,"
laughed Maud.

"Did you have any? Good-bye, I must go." And Lillian rode home at a pace
which caused the stout groom great distress.

"Mamma, I've seen Paul's betrothed!" she cried, running into her
mother's boudoir.

"And I have seen Paul himself," replied my lady, with a warning look,
for there he stood, with half-extended hand, as if waiting to be
acknowledged.

Lillian forgot her embarrassment in her pleasure, and made him an
elaborate curtsy, saying, with a half-merry, half-reproachful glance,
"Mr. Talbot is welcome in whatever guise he appears."

"I choose to appear as Paul, then, and offer you a seat, Miss Lillian,"
he said, assuming as much of his boyish manner as he could.

Lillian took it and tried to feel at ease, but the difference between
the lad she remembered and the man she now saw was too great to be
forgotten.

"Now tell us your adventures, and why you vanished away so mysteriously
four years ago," she said, with a touch of the childish imperiousness in
her voice, though her frank eyes fell before his.

"I was about to do so when you appeared with news concerning my cousin,"
he began.

"Your cousin!" exclaimed Lillian.

"Yes, Helen's mother and my own were sisters. Both married Englishmen,
both died young, leaving us to care for each other. We were like a
brother and sister, and always together till I left her to serve Colonel
Daventry. The death of the old priest to whom I entrusted her recalled
me to Genoa, for I was then her only guardian. I meant to have taken
leave of you, my lady, properly, but the consequences of that foolish
trick of mine frightened me away in the most unmannerly fashion."

"Ah, it was you, then, in the state chamber; I always thought so," and
Lady Trevlyn drew a long breath of relief.

"Yes, I heard it whispered among the servants that the room was haunted,
and I felt a wish to prove the truth of the story and my own courage.
Hester locked me in, for fear of my sleepwalking; but I lowered myself
by a rope and then climbed in at the closet window of the state chamber.
When you came, my lady, I thought it was Hester, and slipped into the
bed, meaning to give her a fright in return for her turning the key on
me. But when your cry showed me what I had done, I was filled with
remorse, and escaped as quickly and quietly as possible. I should have
asked pardon before; I do now, most humbly, my lady, for it was
sacrilege to play pranks _there_."

During the first part of his story Paul's manner had been frank and
composed, but in telling the latter part, his demeanor underwent a
curious change. He fixed his eyes on the ground and spoke as if
repeating a lesson, while his color varied, and a half-proud,
half-submissive expression replaced the former candid one. Lillian
observed this, and it disturbed her, but my lady took it for shame at
his boyish freak and received his confession kindly, granting a free
pardon and expressing sincere pleasure at his amended fortunes. As he
listened, Lillian saw him clench his hand hard and knit his brows,
assuming the grim look she had often seen, as if trying to steel himself
against some importunate emotion or rebellious thought.

"Yes, half my work is done, and I have a home, thanks to my generous
benefactor, and I hope to enjoy it well and wisely," he said in a grave
tone, as if the fortune had not yet brought him his heart's desire.

"And when is the other half of the work to be accomplished, Paul? That
depends on your cousin, perhaps." And Lady Trevlyn regarded him with a
gleam of womanly curiosity in her melancholy eyes.

"It does, but not in the way you fancy, my lady. Whatever Helen may be,
she is not my fiancee yet, Miss Lillian." And the shadow lifted as he
laughed, looking at the young lady, who was decidedly abashed, in spite
of a sense of relief caused by his words.

"I merely accepted the world's report," she said, affecting a nonchalant
air.

"The world is a liar, as you will find in time" was his abrupt reply.

"I hope to see this beautiful cousin, Paul. Will she receive us as old
friends of yours?"

"Thanks, not yet, my lady. She is still too much a stranger here to
enjoy new faces, even kind ones. I have promised perfect rest and
freedom for a tune, but you shall be the first whom she receives."

Again Lillian detected the secret disquiet which possessed him, and her
curiosity was roused. It piqued her that this Helen felt no desire to
meet her and chose to seclude herself, as if regardless of the interest
and admiration she excited. "I _will_ see her in spite of her refusal,
for I only caught a glimpse in the Park. Something is wrong, and I'll
discover it, for it evidently worries Paul, and perhaps I can help him."

As this purpose sprang up in the warm but willful heart of the girl, she
regained her spirits and was her most charming self while the young man
stayed. They talked of many things in a pleasant, confidential manner,
though when Lillian recalled that hour, she was surprised to find how
little Paul had really told them of his past life or future plans. It
was agreed among them to say nothing of their former relations, except
to old Bedford, who was discretion itself, but to appear to the world as
new-made friends--thus avoiding unpleasant and unnecessary explanations
which would only excite gossip. My lady asked him to dine, but he had
business out of town and declined, taking his leave with a lingering
look, which made Lillian steal away to study her face in the mirror and
wonder if she looked her best, for in Paul's eyes she had read
undisguised admiration.

Lady Trevlyn went to her room to rest, leaving the girl free to ride,
drive, or amuse herself as she liked. As if fearing her courage would
fail if she delayed, Lillian ordered the carriage, and, bidding Hester
mount guard over her, she drove away to St. John's Wood.

"Now, Hester, don't lecture or be prim when I tell you that we are going
on a frolic," she began, after getting the old woman into an amiable
mood by every winning wile she could devise. "I think you'll like it,
and if it's found out I'll take the blame. There is some mystery about
Paul's cousin, and I'm going to find it out."

"Bless you, child, how?"

"She lives alone here, is seldom seen, and won't go anywhere or receive
anyone. That's not natural in a pretty girl. Paul won't talk about her,
and, though he's fond of her, he always looks grave and grim when I ask
questions. That's provoking, and I won't hear it. Maud is engaged to
Raleigh, you know; well, he confided to her that he and a friend had
found out where Helen was, had gone to the next villa, which is empty,
and under pretense of looking at it got a peep at the girl in her
garden. I'm going to do the same."

"And what am _I_ to do?" asked Hester, secretly relishing the prank,
for she was dying with curiosity to behold Paul's cousin.

"You are to do the talking with the old woman, and give me a chance to
look. Now say you will, and I'll behave myself like an angel in return."

Hester yielded, after a few discreet scruples, and when they reached
Laburnum Lodge played her part so well that Lillian soon managed to
stray away into one of the upper rooms which overlooked the neighboring
garden. Helen was there, and with eager eyes the girl scrutinized her.
She was very beautiful, in the classical style; as fair and finely
molded as a statue, with magnificent dark hair and eyes, and possessed
of that perfect grace which is as effective as beauty. She was alone,
and when first seen was bending over a flower which she caressed and
seemed to examine with great interest as she stood a long time
motionless before it. Then she began to pace slowly around and around
the little grass plot, her hands hanging loosely clasped before her, and
her eyes fixed on vacancy as if absorbed in thought. But as the first
effect of her beauty passed away, Lillian found something peculiar about
her. It was not the somewhat foreign dress and ornaments she wore; it
was in her face, her movements, and the tone of her voice, for as she
walked she sang a low, monotonous song, as if unconsciously. Lillian
watched her keenly, marking the aimless motions of the little hands, the
apathy of the lovely face, and the mirthless accent of the voice; but
most of all the vacant fixture of the great dark eyes. Around and around
she went, with an elastic step and a mechanical regularity wearisome to
witness.

What is the matter with her? thought Lillian anxiously, as this painful
impression increased with every scrutiny of the unconscious girl. So
abashed was she that Hester's call was unheard, and Hester was unseen as
she came and stood beside her. Both looked a moment, and as they looked
an old lady came from the house and led Helen in, still murmuring her
monotonous song and moving her hands as if to catch and hold the
sunshine.

"Poor dear, poor dear. No wonder Paul turns sad and won't talk of her,
and that she don't see anyone," sighed Hester pitifully.

"What is it? I see, but don't understand," whispered Lillian.

"She's an innocent, deary, an idiot, though that's a hard word for a
pretty creature like her."

"How terrible! Come away, Hester, and never breathe to anyone what we
have seen." And with a shudder and sense of pain and pity lying heavy at
her heart, she hurried away, feeling doubly guilty in the discovery of
this affliction. The thought of it haunted her continually; the memory
of the lonely girl gave her no peace; and a consciousness of deceit
burdened her unspeakably, especially in Paul's presence. This lasted for
a week, then Lillian resolved to confess, hoping that when he found she
knew the truth he would let her share his cross and help to lighten it.
Waiting her opportunity, she seized a moment when her mother was absent,
and with her usual frankness spoke out impetuously.

"Paul, I've done wrong, and I can have no peace till I am pardoned. I
have seen Helen."

"Where, when, and how?" he asked, looking disturbed and yet relieved.

She told him rapidly, and as she ended she looked up at him with her
sweet face, so full of pity, shame, and grief it would have been
impossible to deny her anything.

"Can you forgive me for discovering this affliction?"

"I think I could forgive you a far greater fault, Lillian," he answered,
in a tone that said many things.

"But deceit is so mean, so dishonorable and contemptible, how can you so
easily pardon it in me?" she asked, quite overcome by this forgiveness,
granted without any reproach.

"Then you would find it hard to pardon such a thing in another?" he
said, with the expression that always puzzled her.

"Yes, it would be hard; but in those I loved, I could forgive much for
love's sake."

With a sudden gesture he took her hand saying, impulsively, "How little
changed you are! Do you remember that last ride of ours nearly five
years ago?"

"Yes, Paul," she answered, with averted eyes.

"And what we talked of?"

"A part of that childish gossip I remember well."

"Which part?"

"The pretty little romance you told me." And Lillian looked up now,
longing to ask if Helen's childhood had been blighted like her youth.

Paul dropped her hand as if he, read her thoughts, and his own hand went
involuntarily toward his breast, betraying that the locket still hung
there.

"What did I say?" he asked, smiling at her sudden shyness.

"You vowed you'd win and wed your fair little lady-love if you lived."

"And so I will," he cried, with sudden fire in his eyes.

"What, marry her?"

"Aye, that I will."

"Oh Paul, will you tie yourself for life to a--" The word died on her
lips, but a gesture of repugnance finished the speech.

"A what?" he demanded, excitedly.

"An innocent, one bereft of reason," stammered Lillian, entirely
forgetting herself in her interest for him.

"Of whom do you speak?" asked Paul, looking utterly bewildered,

"Of poor Helen."

"Good heavens, who told you that base lie?" And his voice deepened with
indignant pain.

"I saw her, you did not deny her affliction; Hester said so, and I
believed it. Have I wronged her, Paul?"

"Yes, cruelly. She is blind, but no idiot, thank God."

There was such earnestness in his voice, such reproach in his words, and
such ardor in his eye, that Lillian's pride gave way, and with a broken
entreaty for pardon, she covered up her face, weeping the bitterest
tears she ever shed. For in that moment, and the sharp pang it brought
her, she felt how much she loved Paul and how hard it was to lose him.
The childish affection had blossomed into a woman's passion, and in a
few short weeks had passed through many phases of jealousy, hope,
despair, and self-delusion. The joy she felt on seeing him again, the
pride she took in him, the disgust Helen caused her, the relief she had
not dared to own even to herself, when she fancied fate had put an
insurmountable barrier between Paul and his cousin, the despair at
finding it only a fancy, and the anguish of hearing him declare his
unshaken purpose to marry his first love--all these conflicting emotions
had led to this hard moment, and now self-control deserted her in her
need. In spite of her efforts the passionate tears would have their way,
though Paul soothed her with assurances of entire forgiveness, promises
of Helen's friendship, and every gentle device he could imagine. She
commanded herself at last by a strong effort, murmuring eagerly as she
shrank from the hand that put back her fallen hair, and the face so full
of tender sympathy bending over her:

"I am so grieved and ashamed at what I have said and done. I shall never
dare to see Helen. Forgive me, and forget this folly. I'm sad and
heavyhearted just now; it's the anniversary of Papa's death, and Mamma
always suffers so much at such times that I get nervous."

"It is your birthday also. I remembered it, and ventured to bring a
little token in return for the one you gave me long ago. This is a
talisman, and tomorrow I will tell you the legend concerning it. Wear it
for my sake, and God bless you, dear."

The last words were whispered hurriedly; Lillian saw the glitter of an
antique ring, felt the touch of bearded lips on her hand, and Paul was
gone.

But as he left the house he set his teeth, exclaiming low to himself,
"Yes, tomorrow there shall be an end of this! We must risk everything
and abide the consequences now. I'll have no more torment for any of
us."




Chapter VII

THE SECRET KEY


"Is Lady Trevlyn at home, Bedford?" asked Paul, as he presented himself
at an early hour next day, wearing the keen, stern expression which made
him look ten years older than he was.

"No, sir, my lady and Miss Lillian went down to the Hall last night."

"No ill news, I hope?" And the young man's eye kindled as if he felt a
crisis at hand.

"Not that I heard, sir. Miss Lillian took one of her sudden whims and
would have gone alone, if my lady hadn't given in much against her will,
this being a time when she is better away from the place."

"Did they leave no message for me?"

"Yes, sir. Will you step in and read the note at your ease. We are in
sad confusion, but this room is in order."

Leading the way to Lillian's boudoir, the man presented the note and
retired. A few hasty lines from my lady, regretting the necessity of
this abrupt departure, yet giving no reason for it, hoping they might
meet next season, but making no allusion to seeing him at the Hall,
desiring Lillian's thanks and regards, but closing with no hint of
Helen, except compliments. Paul smiled as he threw it into the fire,
saying to himself, "Poor lady, she thinks she has escaped the danger by
flying, and Lillian tries to hide her trouble from me. Tender little
heart! I'll comfort it without delay."

He sat looking about the dainty room still full of tokens of her
presence. The piano stood open with a song he liked upon the rack; a bit
of embroidery, whose progress he had often watched, lay in her basket
with the little thimble near it; there was a strew of papers on the
writing table, torn notes, scraps of drawing, and ball cards; a
pearl-colored glove lay on the floor; and in the grate the faded flowers
he had brought two days before. As his eye roved to and fro, he seemed
to enjoy some happy dream, broken too soon by the sound of servants
shutting up the house. He arose but lingered near the table, as if
longing to search for some forgotten hint of himself.

"No, there has been enough lock picking and stealthy work; I'll do no
more for her sake. This theft will harm no one and tell no tales." And
snatching up the glove, Paul departed.

"Helen, the time has come. Are you ready?" he asked, entering her room
an hour later.

"I am ready." And rising, she stretched her hand to him with a proud
expression, contrasting painfully with her helpless gesture.

"They have gone to the Hall, and we must follow. It is useless to wait
longer; we gain nothing by it, and the claim must stand on such proof as
we have, or fall for want of that one link. I am tired of disguise. I
want to be myself and enjoy what I have won, unless I lose it all."

"Paul, whatever happens, remember we cling together and share good or
evil fortune as we always have done. I am a burden, but I cannot live
without you, for you are my world. Do not desert me."

She groped her way to him and clung to his strong arm as if it was her
only stay. Paul drew her close, saying wistfully, as he caressed the
beautiful sightless face leaning on his shoulder, "_Mia cara_, would it
break your heart, if at the last hour I gave up all and let the word
remain unspoken? My courage fails me, and in spite of the hard past I
would gladly leave them in peace."

"No, no, you shall not give it up!" cried Helen almost fiercely, while
the slumbering fire of her southern nature flashed into her face. "You
have waited so long, worked so hard, suffered so much, you must not lose
your reward. You promised, and you must keep the promise."

"But it is so beautiful, so noble to forgive, and return a blessing for
a curse. Let us bury the old feud, and right the old wrong in a new way.
Those two are so blameless, it is cruel to visit the sins of the dead on
their innocent heads. My lady has suffered enough already, and Lillian
is so young, so happy, so unfit to meet a storm like this. Oh, Helen,
mercy is more divine than justice."

Something moved Paul deeply, and Helen seemed about to yield, when the
name of Lillian wrought a subtle change in her. The color died out of
her face, her black eyes burned with a gloomy fire, and her voice was
relentless as she answered, while her frail hands held him fast, "I will
not let you give it up. We are as innocent as they; we have suffered
more; and we deserve our rights, for we have no sin to expiate. Go on,
Paul, and forget the sentimental folly that unmans you."

Something in her words seemed to sting or wound him. His face darkened,
and he put her away, saying briefly, "Let it be so then. In an hour we
must go."

On the evening of the same day, Lady Trevlyn and her daughter sat
together in the octagon room at the Hall. Twilight was falling and
candles were not yet brought, but a cheery fire blazed in the wide
chimney, filling the apartment with a ruddy glow, turning Lillian's
bright hair to gold and lending a tinge of color to my lady's pallid
cheeks. The girl sat on a low lounging chair before the fire, her head
on her hand, her eyes on the red embers, her thoughts--where? My lady
lay on her couch, a little in the shadow, regarding her daughter with an
anxious air, for over the young face a somber change had passed which
filled her with disquiet.

"You are out of spirits, love," she said at last, breaking the long
silence, as Lillian gave an unconscious sigh and leaned wearily into the
depths of her chair.

"Yes, Mamma, a little."

"What is it? Are you ill?"

"No, Mamma; I think London gaiety is rather too much for me. I'm too
young for it, as you often say, and I've found it out."

"Then it is only weariness that makes you so pale and grave, and so bent
on coming back here?"

Lillian was the soul of truth, and with a moment's hesitation answered
slowly, "Not that alone, Mamma. I'm worried about other things. Don't
ask me what, please."

"But I must ask. Tell me, child, what things? Have you seen any one? Had
letters, or been annoyed in any way about--anything?"

My lady spoke with sudden energy and rose on her arm, eyeing the girl
with unmistakable suspicion and excitement.

"No, Mamma, it's only a foolish trouble of my own," answered Lillian,
with a glance of surprise and a shamefaced look as the words reluctantly
left her lips.

"Ah, a love trouble, nothing more? Thank God for that!" And my lady sank
back as if a load was off her mind. "Tell me all, my darling; there is
no confidante like a mother."

"You are very kind, and perhaps you can cure my folly if I tell it, and
yet I am ashamed," murmured the girl. Then yielding to an irresistible
impulse to ask help and sympathy, she added, in an almost inaudible
tone, "I came away to escape from Paul."

"Because he loves you, Lillian?" asked my lady, with a frown and a half
smile.

"Because he does _not_ love me, Mamma." And the poor girl hid her
burning cheeks in her hands, as if overwhelmed with maidenly shame at
the implied confession of her own affection.

"My child, how is this? I cannot but be glad that he does _not_ love
you; yet it fills me with grief to see that this pains you. He is not a
mate for you, Lillian. Remember this, and forget the transient regard
that has sprung up from that early intimacy of yours."

"He is wellborn, and now my equal in fortune, and oh, so much my
superior in all gifts of mind and heart," sighed the girl, still with
hidden face, for tears were dropping through her slender fingers.

"It may be, but there is a mystery about him; and I have a vague dislike
to him in spite of all that has passed. But, darling, are you sure he
does not care for you? I fancied I read a different story in his face,
and when you begged to leave town so suddenly, I believed that you had
seen this also, and kindly wished to spare him any pain."

"It was to spare myself. Oh, Mamma, he loves Helen, and will marry her
although she is blind. He told me this, with a look I could not doubt,
and so I came away to hide my sorrow," sobbed poor Lillian in despair.

Lady Trevlyn went to her and, laying the bright head on her motherly
bosom, said soothingly as she caressed it, "My little girl, it is too
soon for you to know these troubles, and I am punished for yielding to
your entreaties for a peep at the gay world. It is now too late to spare
you this; you have had your wish and must pay its price, dear. But,
Lillian, call pride to aid you, and conquer this fruitless love. It
cannot be very deep as yet, for you have known Paul, the man, too short
a time to be hopelessly enamored. Remember, there are others, better,
braver, more worthy of you; that life is long, and full of pleasure yet
untried."

"Have no fears for me, Mamma. I'll not disgrace you or myself by any
sentimental folly. I do love Paul, but I can conquer it, and I will.
Give me a little time, and you shall see me quite myself again."

Lillian lifted her head with an air of proud resolve that satisfied her
mother, and with a grateful kiss stole away to ease her full heart
alone. As she disappeared Lady Trevlyn drew a long breath and, clasping
her hands with a gesture of thanksgiving, murmured to herself in an
accent of relief, "Only a love sorrow! I feared it was some new terror
like the old one. Seventeen years of silence, seventeen years of secret
dread and remorse for me," she said, pacing the room with tightly locked
hands and eyes full of unspeakable anguish. "Oh, Richard, Richard! I
forgave you long ago, and surely I have expiated my innocent offense by
these years of suffering! For her sake I did it, and for her sake I
still keep dumb. God knows I ask nothing for myself but rest and
oblivion by your side."

Half an hour later, Paul stood at the hall door. It was ajar, for the
family had returned unexpectedly, as was evident from the open doors and
empty halls. Entering unseen, he ascended to the room my lady usually
occupied. The fire burned low, Lillian's chair was empty, and my lady
lay asleep, as if lulled by the sighing winds without and the deep
silence that reigned within. Paul stood regarding her with a great pity
softening his face as he marked the sunken eyes, pallid cheeks, locks
too early gray, and restless lips muttering in dreams.

"I wish I could spare her this," he sighed, stooping to wake her with a
word. But he did not speak, for, suddenly clutching the chain about her
neck, she seemed to struggle with some invisible foe and beat it off,
muttering audibly as she clenched her thin hands on the golden case.
Paul leaned and listened as if the first word had turned him to stone,
till the paroxysm had passed, and with a heavy sigh my lady sank into a
calmer sleep. Then, with a quick glance over his shoulder, Paul
skillfully opened the locket, drew out the silver key, replaced it with
one from the piano close by, and stole from the house noiselessly as he
had entered it.

That night, in the darkest hour before the dawn, a figure went gliding
through the shadowy Park to its most solitary corner. Here stood the
tomb of the Trevlyns, and here the figure paused. A dull spark of light
woke in its hand, there was a clank of bars, the creak of rusty hinges,
then light and figure both seemed swallowed up.

Standing in the tomb where the air was close and heavy, the pale glimmer
of the lantern showed piles of moldering coffins in the niches, and
everywhere lay tokens of decay and death. The man drew his hat lower
over his eyes, pulled the muffler closer about his mouth, and surveyed
the spot with an undaunted aspect, though the beating of his heart was
heard in the deep silence. Nearest the door stood a long casket covered
with black velvet and richly decorated with silver ornaments, tarnished
now. The Trevlyns had been a stalwart race, and the last sleeper brought
there had evidently been of goodly stature, for the modern coffin was as
ponderous as the great oaken beds where lay the bones of generations.
Lifting the lantern, the intruder brushed the dust from the
shield-shaped plate, read the name RICHARD TREVLYN and a date, and, as
if satisfied, placed a key in the lock, half-raised the lid, and,
averting his head that he might not see the ruin seventeen long years
had made, he laid his hand on the dead breast and from the folded shroud
drew a mildewed paper. One glance sufficed, the casket was relocked, the
door rebarred, the light extinguished, and the man vanished like a ghost
in the darkness of the wild October night.




Chapter VIII

WHICH?


"A Gentleman, my lady."

Taking a card from the silver salver on which the servant offered it,
Lady Trevlyn read, "Paul Talbot," and below the name these penciled
words, "I beseech you to see me." Lillian stood beside her and saw the
line. Their eyes met, and in the girl's face was such a sudden glow of
hope, and love, and longing, that the mother could not doubt or
disappoint her wish.

"I will see him," she said.

"Oh, Mamma, how kind you are!" cried the girl with a passionate embrace,
adding breathlessly, "He did not ask for me. I cannot see him yet. I'll
hide in the alcove, and can appear or run away as I like when we know
why he comes."

They were in the library, for, knowing Lillian's fondness for the room
which held no dark memories for her, my lady conquered her dislike and
often sat there. As she spoke, the girl glided into the deep recess of a
bay window and drew the heavy curtains just as Paul's step sounded at
the door.

Hiding her agitation with a woman's skill, my lady rose with
outstretched hand to welcome him. He bowed but did not take the hand,
saying, in a voice of grave respect in which was audible an undertone of
strong emotion, "Pardon me, Lady Trevlyn. Hear what I have to say; and
then if you offer me your hand, I shall gratefully receive it."

She glanced at him, and saw that he was very pale, that his eye
glittered with suppressed excitement, and his whole manner was that of a
man who had nerved himself up to the performance of a difficult but
intensely interesting task. Fancying these signs of agitation only
natural in a young lover coming to woo, my lady smiled, reseated
herself, and calmly answered, "I will listen patiently. Speak freely,
Paul, and remember I am an old friend."

"I wish I could forget it. Then my task would be easier," he murmured in
a voice of mingled regret and resolution, as he leaned on a tall chair
opposite and wiped his damp forehead, with a look of such deep
compassion that her heart sank with a nameless fear.

"I must tell you a long story, and ask your forgiveness for the offenses
I committed against you when a boy. A mistaken sense of duty guided me,
and I obeyed it blindly. Now I see my error and regret it," he said
earnestly.

"Go on," replied my lady, while the vague dread grew stronger, and she
braced her nerves as for some approaching shock. She forgot Lillian,
forgot everything but the strange aspect of the man before her, and the
words to which she listened like a statue. Still standing pale and
steady, Paul spoke rapidly, while his eyes were full of mingled
sternness, pity, and remorse.

"Twenty years ago, an English gentleman met a friend in a little Italian
town, where he had married a beautiful wife. The wife had a sister as
lovely as herself, and the young man, during that brief stay, loved and
married her--in a very private manner, lest his father should disinherit
him. A few months passed, and the Englishman was called home to take
possession of his title and estates, the father being dead. He went
alone, promising to send for the wife when all was ready. He told no one
of his marriage, meaning to surprise his English friends by producing
the lovely woman unexpectedly. He had been in England but a short time
when he received a letter from the old priest of the Italian town,
saying the cholera had swept through it, carrying off half its
inhabitants, his wife and friend among others. This blow prostrated the
young man, and when he recovered he hid his grief, shut himself up in
his country house, and tried to forget. Accident threw in his way
another lovely woman, and he married again. Before the first year was
out, the friend whom he supposed was dead appeared, and told him that
his wife still lived, and had borne him a child. In the terror and
confusion of the plague, the priest had mistaken one sister for the
other, as the elder did die."

"Yes, yes, I know; go on!" gasped my lady, with white lips, and eyes
that never left the narrator's face.

"This friend had met with misfortune after flying from the doomed
village with the surviving sister. They had waited long for letters, had
written, and, when no answer came, had been delayed by illness and
poverty from reaching England. At this time the child was born, and the
friend, urged by the wife and his own interest, came here, learned that
Sir Richard was married, and hurried to him in much distress. We can
imagine the grief and horror of the unhappy man. In that interview the
friend promised to leave all to Sir Richard, to preserve the secret till
some means of relief could be found; and with this promise he returned,
to guard and comfort the forsaken wife. Sir Richard wrote the truth to
Lady Trevlyn, meaning to kill himself, as the only way of escape from
the terrible situation between two women, both so beloved, both so
innocently wronged. The pistol lay ready, but death came without its
aid, and Sir Richard was spared the sin of suicide."

Paul paused for breath, but Lady Trevlyn motioned him to go on, still
sitting rigid and white as the marble image near her.

"The friend only lived to reach home and tell the story. It killed the
wife, and she died, imploring the old priest to see her child righted
and its father's name secured to it. He promised; but he was poor, the
child was a frail baby, and he waited. Years passed, and when the child
was old enough to ask for its parents and demand its due, the proofs of
the marriage were lost, and nothing remained but a ring, a bit of
writing, and the name. The priest was very old, had neither friends,
money, nor proofs to help him; but I was strong and hopeful, and though
a mere boy I resolved to do the work. I made my way to England, to
Trevlyn Hall, and by various stratagems (among which, I am ashamed to
say, were false keys and feigned sleepwalking) I collected many proofs,
but nothing which would satisfy a court, for no one but you knew where
Sir Richard's confession was. I searched every nook and corner of the
Hall, but in vain, and began to despair, when news of the death of
Father Cosmo recalled me to Italy; for Helen was left to my care then.
The old man had faithfully recorded the facts and left witnesses to
prove the truth of his story; but for four years I never used it, never
made any effort to secure the title or estates."

"Why not?" breathed my lady in a faint whisper, as hope suddenly
revived.

"Because I was grateful," and for the first time Paul's voice faltered.
"I was a stranger, and you took me in. I never could forget that, nor
tie many kindnesses bestowed upon the friendless boy. This afflicted me,
even while I was acting a false part, and when I was away my heart
failed me. But Helen gave me no peace; for my sake, she urged me to keep
the vow made to that poor mother, and threatened to tell the story
herself. Talbot's benefaction left me no excuse for delaying longer, and
I came to finish the hardest task I can ever undertake. I feared that a
long dispute would follow any appeal to law, and meant to appeal first
to you, but fate befriended me, and the last proof was found."

"Found! Where?" cried Lady Trevlyn, springing up aghast.

"In Sir Richard's coffin, where you hid it, not daring to destroy, yet
fearing to keep it."

"Who has betrayed me?" And her eye glanced wildly about the room, as if
she feared to see some spectral accuser.

"Your own lips, my lady. Last night I came to speak of this. You lay
asleep, and in some troubled dream spoke of the paper, safe in its
writer's keeping, and your strange treasure here, the key of which you
guarded day and night. I divined the truth. Remembering Hester's
stories, I took the key from your helpless hand, found the paper on Sir
Richard's dead breast, and now demand that you confess your part in this
tragedy."

"I do, I do! I confess, I yield, I relinquish everything, and ask pity
only for my child."

Lady Trevlyn fell upon her knees before him, with a submissive gesture,
but imploring eyes, for, amid the wreck of womanly pride and worldly
fortune, the mother's heart still clung to its idol.

"Who should pity her, if not I? God knows I would have spared her this
blow if I could; but Helen would not keep silent, and I was driven to
finish what I had begun. Tell Lillian this, and do not let her hate me."

As Paul spoke, tenderly, eagerly, the curtain parted, and Lillian
appeared, trembling with the excitement of that interview, but conscious
of only one emotion as she threw herself into his arms, crying in a tone
of passionate delight, "Brother! Brother! Now I may love you!"

Paul held her close, and for a moment forgot everything but the joy of
that moment. Lillian spoke first, looking up through tears of
tenderness, her little hand laid caressingly against his cheek, as she
whispered with sudden bloom in her own, "Now I know why I loved you so
well, and now I can see you marry Helen without breaking my heart. Oh,
Paul, you are still mine, and I care for nothing else."

"But, Lillian, I am not your brother."

"Then, in heaven's name, who are you?" she cried, tearing herself from
his arms.

"Your lover, dear!"

"Who, then, is the heir?" demanded Lady Trevlyn, springing up, as
Lillian turned to seek shelter with her mother.

"I am."

Helen spoke, and Helen stood on the threshold of the door, with a hard,
haughty look upon her beautiful face.

"You told your story badly, Paul," she said, in a bitter tone. "You
forgot me, forgot my affliction, my loneliness, my wrongs, and the
natural desire of a child to clear her mother's honor and claim her
father's name. I am Sir Richard's eldest daughter. I can prove my birth,
and I demand my right with his own words to sustain me."

She paused, but no one spoke; and with a slight tremor in her proud
voice, she added, "Paul has done the work; he shall have the reward. I
only want my father's name. Title and fortune are nothing to one like
me. I coveted and claimed them that I might give them to you, Paul, my
one friend, always, so tender and so true."

"I'll have none of it," he answered, almost fiercely. "I have kept my
promise, and am free. You chose to claim your own, although I offered
all I had to buy your silence. It is yours by right--take it, and enjoy
it if you can. I'll have no reward for work like this."

He turned from her with a look that would have stricken her to the heart
could she have seen it. She felt it, and it seemed to augment some
secret anguish, for she pressed her hands against her bosom with an
expression of deep suffering, exclaiming passionately, "Yes, I _will_
keep it, since I am to lose all else. I am tired of pity. Power is
sweet, and I will use it. Go, Paul, and be happy if you can, with a
nameless wife, and the world's compassion or contempt to sting your
pride."

"Oh, Lillian, where shall we go? This is no longer our home, but who
will receive us now?" cried Lady Trevlyn, in a tone of despair, for her
spirit was utterly broken by the thought of the shame and sorrow in
store for this beloved and innocent child.

"I will." And Paul's face shone with a love and loyalty they could not
doubt. "My lady, you gave me a home when I was homeless; now let me pay
my debt. Lillian, I have loved you from the time when, a romantic boy, I
wore your little picture in my breast, and vowed to win you if I lived.
I dared not speak before, but now, when other hearts may be shut against
you, mine stands wide open to welcome you. Come, both. Let me protect
and cherish you, and so atone for the sorrow I have brought you."

It was impossible to resist the sincere urgency of his voice, the tender
reverence of his manner, as he took the two forlorn yet innocent
creatures into the shelter of his strength and love. They clung to him
instinctively, feeling that there still remained to them one staunch
friend whom adversity could not estrange.

An eloquent silence fell upon the room, broken only by sobs, grateful
whispers, and the voiceless vows that lovers plight with eyes, and
hands, and tender lips. Helen was forgotten, till Lillian, whose elastic
spirit threw off sorrow as a flower sheds the rain, looked up to thank
Paul, with smiles as well as tears, and saw the lonely figure in the
shadow. Her attitude was full of pathetic significance; she still stood
on the threshold, for no one had welcomed her, and in the strange room
she knew not where to go; her hands were clasped before her face, as if
those sightless eyes had seen the joy she could not share, and at her
feet lay the time-stained paper that gave her a barren title, but no
love. Had Lillian known how sharp a conflict between passion and pride,
jealousy and generosity, was going on in that young heart, she could not
have spoken in a tone of truer pity or sincerer goodwill than that in
which she softly said, "Poor girl! We must not forget her, for, with all
her wealth, she is poor compared to us. We both had one father, and
should love each other in spite of this misfortune. Helen, may I call
you sister?"

"Not yet. Wait till I deserve it."

As if that sweet voice had kindled an answering spark of nobleness in
her own heart, Helen's face changed beautifully, as she tore the paper
to shreds, saying in a glad, impetuous tone, while the white flakes
fluttered from her hands, "I, too, can be generous. I, too, can forgive.
I bury the sad past. See! I yield my claim, I destroy my proofs, I
promise eternal silence, and keep 'Paul's cousin' for my only title.
Yes, you are happy, for you love one another!" she cried, with a sudden
passion of tears. "Oh, forgive me, pity me, and take me in, for I am all
alone and in the dark!"

There could be but one reply to an appeal like that, and they gave it,
as they welcomed her with words that sealed a household league of mutual
secrecy and sacrifice.

They _were_ happy, for the world never knew the hidden tie that bound
them so faithfully together, never learned how well the old prophecy had
been fulfilled, or guessed what a tragedy of life and death the silver
key unlocked.



THE END





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