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The Trevern Treasure by Lucy Hardy

 

A garden in the west of England some two and a half centuries ago; an old-world garden, with prim yew hedges and a sundial, and, in one shady and sequestered nook, two persons standing; one, a man some forty years of age, tall and handsome, the other a lady of grace and beauty some fifteen years his junior. Both were cloaked and muffled and spoke in low and anxious tones.

“An anxious task well done, sweetheart,” the husband said at length, in tones of satisfaction; “and now, my darling, remember that this secret lies betwixt thou and I. Be heedful in keeping it—for thine own sake and that of our little babe. Should evil times arise, this hidden treasure may yet prove provision for our boy and for thee.” So saying, he drew her arm within his own and led her into the house.

Sir Ralph Trevern had strongly espoused the Royal cause from the commencement of the Civil troubles, and was now paying a hurried visit to his home, to conceal his chief valuables, and to arrange for the departure of his wife Sybil and his baby heir to Exeter; a town still loyal to the king, and where he hoped his wife and babe would be safer than in their remote Devonshire Manor House amid neighbours of Parliamentary sympathies.

At Exeter Sybil Trevern remained until the city was forced to capitulate in the spring of 1646; and then, widowed and landless (for Sir Ralph had fallen at Marston Moor and his estate had been confiscated), she was thankful to accept the invitation of some Royalist friends, who had accompanied the queen, Henrietta Maria, in her secret flight to France some while before, and journeyed, with her babe, to join them in Paris.

There was no opportunity for Sybil Trevern to return to her old home, now in the possession of enemies; and, remembering her husband's strict charge of secrecy, she was reluctant to mention the hidden treasure, even to her friends.

“I will reveal it to our boy when he is of an age to understand it,” thought Lady Trevern; but she never lived to see her son grow into manhood, or even into youth.

The trials and sorrows which had befallen her had told upon the gentle woman; and while the little Ralph was still a child, his mother passed into the Silent Land.

The concealment of valuables in secret places frequently results in misadventure. Sybil had often described to her little son the concealed valuables, which, if the exiled Royalists were ever able to re-visit England, she hoped to recover for herself and for him; and, in later years, Sir Ralph could still recall the enigmatical words in which his mother had (possibly with the idea that the rhyme might, as it did, cling to his childish memory) spoken to him of the hidden treasure.

    “Near the water, by the fern,
    The Trevern secret you shall learn,”

had often been whispered into his childish ears, and this rhyme was now the only clue that he possessed to the hiding-place of all that remained of his family's fortunes. The articles heedfully concealed by the elder Sir Ralph were of no small value. Besides papers and documents of some moment to the family, and some heirlooms (antique silver so prized as to have been exempted, even by the devoted Royalists, from contribution to the king's “war treasure chest,” for which the University of Oxford, and many a loyal family, had melted down their plate), Sir Ralph had hidden a most valuable collection of jewels, notably a necklace of rubies and diamonds, which had been a treasured possession of the Treverns since the days of Elizabeth, when one of the family had turned “gentleman adventurer,” become a companion of Drake and Hawkins, and won it as a prize from a Spanish galloon.

In his childhood, the present Sir Ralph had heard (from old servants as well as from his mother) descriptions of these treasured jewels; but the secret of their hiding-place now rested with the dead.

Sir Ralph grew to manhood, returned to England at the Restoration, and finally, after much suing and delay, succeeded in obtaining repossession of his small paternal estate. Then, for many months, did he devote himself to a careful, but utterly unavailing, search about his property, vainly seeking along the lake-side and all round the big pond for the concealed valuables—but never finding aught but disappointment. The neighbours said that the silent, morose man, who spent his days walking about the estate with bent head and anxious, searching eyes, had become a trifle crazed; and indeed his fruitless search after his hidden wealth had grown into a monomania.

As the years rolled by, Sir Ralph became a soured and misanthropic man; for his estate had returned to him in a ruinous and burthened condition, and the acquisition of his hidden treasure was really necessary to clear off incumbrances and to repair the family fortunes.

Lady Trevern often assured her husband that it was more than probable that the late Cromwellian proprietor had discovered the jewels during his occupancy, and that, like a prudent man, he kept his own counsel in the matter. But Sir Ralph still clung to the belief that somewhere in his grounds, “near the water and by the fern,” the wealth he now so sorely needed lay concealed. That in this faith Sir Ralph lived and died was proved by his will, in which he bequeathed to the younger of his two sons, “and to his heirs,” the jewels and other specified valuables which the testator firmly believed were still concealed somewhere about the Trevern property. The widowed Lady Trevern, however, was a capable and practically-minded woman, little inclined to set much value upon this visionary idea of “treasure trove.” She was most reluctant to see her sons waste their lives in a hopeless search after the missing property, and succeeded in impressing both her children with her own views regarding the utter hopelessness of their father's quest. And, as the years passed away, the story of the “Trevern Treasure” became merely a kind of “family legend.” The ferns said nothing, and the water kept its secret.

Fortune was not more kindly to the Treverns in the eighteenth century than she had been in the seventeenth. Roger Trevern, the elder son and inheritor of the estate, found it a hard struggle to maintain himself and his large family upon the impoverished property, while the younger son Richard, the designated heir of the missing treasure, became implicated in the Jacobite rising of 1715, was forced to fly to Holland after Mar's defeat, and died in exile, a few years after the disaster of Sherrifmuir, bequeathing a destitute orphan girl to his brother's charge.

Roger Trevern, a most kindly man, welcomed this addition to his already large family without a murmur; and little Mary Trevern grew up with her cousins, beloved and kindly treated by all in the household. It was only as the child grew into womanhood that a change came over Madam Trevern's feelings towards her young niece; for Madam Trevern was a shrewd and sensible woman, a devoted, but also an ambitious, mother. Much as she liked sweet Mary Trevern, she had no desire to see her eldest son, the youthful heir of the sadly encumbered estate, wedded to a portionless bride, however comely and amiable. And Dick Trevern had lately been exhibiting a marked preference for his pretty cousin, a fact which greatly disturbed his mother's peace of mind.

Mary herself knew this, and did not resent her aunt's feelings in the matter. The girl, as one of the elders among the children, had long been familiar with the story of the family straits and struggles, and could only acquiesce (though with a stifled sigh) in Madam Trevern's oft repeated axiom that “whenever Dick wedded, his bride must bring with her sufficient dowry to free the estate” from some of the mortgages which were crushing and crippling it. Mary knew that a marriage between herself and Dick could only result in bringing troubles upon both—and yet—and yet—love and prudence do not often go hand-in-hand—and although no word of actual wooing had ever passed between the young folk, both had, unfortunately, learned to love each other but too well. Wistfully did she think of that hidden treasure, now but a forlorn hope, yet all the hope she had.

“And had the poor child but a dowry there is none to whom I would sooner see our Dick wedded,” Madam Trevern once remarked to her husband; “for Molly is a good girl, and like a daughter to us already. But, Roger, 'tis but sheer midsummer madness to dream of such a marriage now; truly 'twould be but 'hunger marrying thirst.' Dick must seek for a bride who at least brings some small fortune with her; and is there not Mistress Cynthia at the Hall, young and comely, and well dowered, casting eyes of favour upon him already?”

Roger Trevern sighed a little; he honestly liked Mary, and would have welcomed her heartily as a daughter-in-law, though prudent considerations told him that his wife spoke truly regarding the hopelessness of such a marriage for his son.

And then Madam Trevern went on to discuss with her husband the scheme she had now much at heart, viz., the separation of the young folks by the transference of Mary to the family of a distant kinsman in London.

“You do but lose your youth buried here with us, child,” said Madam Trevern to Mary, with kindly hypocrisy one day, “while with our cousin Martin, who would be glad enough to take a bright young maid like thee to be companion to his ailing wife, thou mayst see the world, and perchance make a great marriage, which will cause thee to look down upon us poor Devon rustics.” But Mary wept silently, though she was ready, even willing, to go to London as desired.

It was the girl's last day in the old home; her modest outfit had been prepared and packed, and the old waggoner was to call on the morrow to convey Mary and her uncle (who was to be her escort to the wonderful, far-off “London town") to Exeter; whence, by slow and tedious stages, the travellers would reach the metropolis at last.

Dick, who had been astutely sent away from home for a few weeks, knew nothing of his cousin's intended departure—Madam Trevern had purposely schemed thus to escape any “farewells” between the young people, arranging Mary's London visit very suddenly; and “perhaps 'twas the wisest,” the girl sighed to herself as she wandered for the last time round the old, familiar garden, and seated herself, alone! on the mossy well curb, where she and Dick had so often sat and talked together on sweet summer evenings in the past.

Mary's heart was indeed sad within her, and visions of what “might have been” would keep welling up before her. Oh! if only some good fairy had been keeping back the secret of the hidden treasure to reveal it now, how happy it would be.

Her solitary musings were, however, put to flight by the appearance of the younger children, with whom she was a great favourite, and who had gained an hour's respite from their usual “bed-time” upon this, their cousin's last night at home. Tom, and Will, and Sally, and Ben, had indeed received the tidings of their beloved “Molly's” impending departure with great dismay; and their vociferous lamentations were hardly to be checked by their mother's assurances that one day “Cousin Molly” might come back to see them, when she was “a great lady, riding in her coach and six,” and would bring them picture-books and gilt gingerbread.

It was with a strange pang at her heart that Mary now submitted to the loving, if rather boisterous, caresses of the urchins who climbed her lap and clung around her neck.

But Mary had not chosen her quiet seat with a view to childhood's romps or she had chosen a safer one. As it was the shout of merriment was quickly followed by a sudden cry, a splash, and a simultaneous exclamation of dismay from Mary and the children. Will, the youngest, most troublesome, and therefore best beloved of the family, the four-years-old “baby,” had slipped on the curb of the well, overbalanced himself, and fallen in; dropping a toy into the water as he did so. In a moment Mary was on her feet. Seizing the bucket, she called the elder boys to work the windlass, and, with firm, but quiet instructions and a face as white as death, consigned herself to the unknown deep.

Near the bottom of the well, which was not very deep, she came upon her little cousin suspended by his clothes to a hook fastened in the well side. She was not long in disengaging the little fellow's clothes from the friendly hook, and was about to signal to be drawn up, when beneath the hook, and explanatory of it—“near the water, by the fern”—what was it? A large hole in the side of the well, and in it—the Trevern treasure, found at last!

Though the lapse of many years had rotted some of the leather covering of the jewel casket, the gems themselves, when lifted out, flashed forth in undimmed beauty; the silver cups and flagons, if discoloured, were still intact, and the papers in the metal case were well preserved.

These last proved of great importance to Roger Trevern, enabling him to substantiate his claim to some disputed property, which was quite sufficient to relieve his estate of all its embarrassments.

And as for Mary, she restored her youngest cousin to his mother's arms, and took the eldest to her own.

 
 
 

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