Lord Edward's Mysterious Treasure

To Lord Edward Tremaine

Penworth Castle

Penworth, Dorset


Chateau de Morvan

                                                                        September 26, 1871

My dear Ned,

I hope this finds you well and a trifle bored with your dusty tomes, because I plan to tempt you to travel.

You may be surprised to find me writing to you from a chateau in Brittany, when the last time I saw you I was headed for steel mills in Belgium. Well, my esteemed and reclusive great-grandfather, the vicomte de Morvan, has summoned me and my cousins to his bedside—a command performance, as we all have hopes of an inheritance—and I invite you to join us.

The bait I hold out to you is that the old man is in his nineties, old enough to have been alive at the time of that Breton rebellion that so fascinates you. Yes, my friend, the Chouans—those peasants who rose up against the Revolution. Ancient history to me (and to most people), but he remembers it. He not only remembers it, but he obsesses over it and over his relatives who died with them.

I can almost see your eyes, bright with eagerness. And yes, we can also offer you a moldering pile of a castle filled with bundles of ancient letters and suchlike, as well as the meanderings of the old man. You know me. I would just as soon toss all those papers on the fire as so much antiquated trash, but I will restrain myself if you promise to come and relieve my own boredom.

                                                                        Ever yours,


PS I don’t know if this qualifies as an additional lure or not, but the old man seems to think there is a lost treasure hidden someplace in the chateau. This is probably just the fantasy of a very old man, but who knows?



To M. Antoine Morvan

Chateau de Morvan

Finistère, Brittany

                                                                        Penworth Castle

                                                                        September 29, 1871

Dear Tony,

I’ll be there within the week.




Six days later, Ned cursed himself for a romantic idiot. He could have traveled comfortably in the coach along with his valet and luggage, but no, he had to go on horseback to better explore the countryside of Finistère—that region called the end of the earth, the wild, westernmost part of France. And what had this adventure brought him thus far? Cold, wet misery.

The countryside was invisible, blanketed in a thick fog. He could barely see enough to keep his horse on the road, if one could call this muddy track a road.

But still… he could not shake the feeling that the fog also hid secrets, now just as it had done in the past. A dozen men—a hundred, a thousand—could be hidden in those woods, and no invading army would be able to see them until and unless they chose to be seen. And after they attacked, they could vanish into the mist again.

Eighty years ago the stubborn Chouans had done just that, resisting the armies of the Revolution. He could almost see the gray figures slipping between the trees. He could almost hear the owl’s call that had been their signal.

The fog wrapped him in silence, as if the rest of the world had simply vanished, dissolved in the gray mists around him. It also seeped through his coat and condensed on his collar, sending drips of water down his neck. His horse, a decent enough mount, tossed its head in understandable irritation. With a silent apology to the creature, he allowed it to move on, plodding doggedly ahead.

They finally crested a hill and everything changed.

Only wisps of fog lingered here, the rest left behind in the wooded valley. The road divided, one track leading down to the right where off in the distance a village of gray stone cottages with slate roofs circled a harbor, not very different from the fishermen’s villages in his native Dorset. But straight ahead of him—here was magic. Ancient stone walls rose out of the waves, a castle almost completely surrounded by the sea. He pulled up so abruptly that the horse objected, but he had to allow himself a chance to simply look. He stared, drinking in the eerie romance of the scene.

Could anything be more perfect?

The Chateau de Morvan looked like an enchanted palace, set as it was upon a rocky promontory—an island almost, connected to the mainland only by a narrow causeway that dipped so low it must be covered by the waves at times.

At the moment, those waves were gently lapping against the rocks with a shushing sound barely louder than the horse’s breathing, but he could imagine what it would be like in a storm. The chateau would be cut off, isolated.

The cliff merged into the stone of the ancient walls almost imperceptibly. It was difficult to tell where one began and the other ended, as if the castle had grown out of the rock. Behind the walls, he could see towers rising, a pair of crenellated medieval ones and several more fanciful turrets with conical roofs.

Ned gave a sigh of pure pleasure.

Then he laughed at himself. True, there were bits of fog clinging in tendrils to the castle, but to be truly romantic the scene needed a raging storm, with huge waves crashing high enough to reach the castle walls, cracks of thunder and flashes of lightning, winds howling like the cries of the damned, and torrents of rain lashing at the poor traveler seeking shelter. Now that would be dramatic.

The drama he was willing to save for another day. As it was, he felt quite cold and damp enough. The horse needed only permission to continue and set off with renewed energy down the road to the causeway, doubtless longing for a warm, dry stable and a bucket of oats. Ned could sympathize. He was looking forward to the warmth of a roaring fire himself.

However, warmth was not immediately forthcoming for either of them.

The heavy gate in the wall stood open, allowing passage through the thick fortification, but no one appeared to greet him when he arrived before the chateau itself. He faced a bizarre building: half a medieval castle, made of sturdy granite blocks with narrow slits of windows, and half a fanciful Baroque palace, no more than a few hundred years old. Yet it was the newer section that seemed to be crumbling into decay.

The chateau itself was set well back from the gate. A broad gravel road lined with beech trees—almost denuded of leaves at this season—led to a door as massive as the outer gate. It looked as if it had not been opened in centuries. The whole place seemed deserted. A bit of searching led Ned to the stables, which were in surprisingly good repair and housed what looked like a plow horse and a few decent-looking mounts, the only evidence that the chateau was indeed inhabited. In the absence of any grooms, he had to unsaddle and rub down his horse himself. At least he managed to find some oats, so he could leave the horse contentedly munching.

It then required several minutes of hammering on the nearest door to get the attention of someone within. Neither the high roof nor the stone pillars of the porte cochère offered any shelter from the damp. Irritation had replaced enchantment long before the door finally swung open, pulled by a desiccated old servitor in black who looked to be of an age with the castle.

“Lord Edward Tremaine,” snapped Ned, striding into the dark hall without waiting for an invitation. “I am expected.” He took off his hat to shake the water from it and gave himself an angry shake as well. The stone flags of the floor wouldn’t be bothered by the shower, but they offered no warmth either. An oil lamp in one corner offered the only illumination, and a pitiful pinpoint of light it was. The walls bore a pair of enormous paintings, brown with age, of what might once have been colorful crowds of people. Nothing provided any note of cheer.

It was hardly the welcome he had been expecting.

“Oh!” A soft, high sound floated down from above.

Ned looked up, and the scene was suddenly transformed. He beheld a vision atop the stone staircase that rose beside him. The princess imprisoned by the dragon in the enchanted tower. The lady awaiting rescue by a knight in shining armor. A vision of sweetness and light with golden ringlets, huge eyes, and a rosebud mouth shaping a circle of surprise. Her face was all he could see before she vanished into the greater darkness above.

She must have been an angel. No one had ever heard of a ghost with blonde ringlets.

He was still staring up, stupefied, when the aged servitor coughed slightly to get his attention. Bringing his attention back to the hall, Ned realized that the man wasn’t actually all that old or desiccated—just a bit cadaverous. There was another servant right behind him—a bit younger, but still with a lean and hungry look. The first one was dressed in black, like a butler, and the second was in some kind of livery. Both were watching him with extreme patience.

“If you would care to leave your things with Louis? M. Antoine is expecting you. I will take you to him.” The butler spoke in English, but with a French accent strong enough to sound almost comic. Or it might have seemed comic had his face borne even the trace of a smile, and had his words not sounded like a reproof. He took the hat from Ned’s hand and shook it again, before handing it to the footman and reaching up to remove Ned’s coat.

Ned was tempted to say he wanted to keep his coat. He wasn’t accustomed to being treated like a recalcitrant child, and the stone-flagged hall was both cavernous and chilly. But that would be foolish—especially since a wet coat would not keep him warm.

While the footman carried off his damp garments, Ned followed the butler first through a long, dusty hall to another set of stairs—he half expected dingy suits of armor festooned with cobwebs in the corners. Did anyone actually live in this place?