The Pit Town Coronet: A Family Mystery, Volume 1 (of 3)

THE PIT TOWN CORONET:

A Family Mystery.

by

CHARLES J. WILLS,

Author of”In the Land of the Lion and Sun,” etc.

In Three Volumes.

VOL. I.

Ward and Downey,12, York Street, Covent Garden, London, W.C.1888

[The right of translation is reserved, and the Dramatic Copyrightprotected.]

Printed byKelly and Co., Gate Street, Lincoln's Inn Fields, W.C.;and Middle Mill, Kingston-on-Thames.

THE PIT TOWN CORONET.

INSCRIBED TO EDMUND YATES, Esq.

CONTENTS.

CHAP. PAGE

I.--IN THE ROSE GARDEN 1

II.--THE CROQUET PARTY 26

III.--THE VILLAGE DORCAS 45

IV.--WALLS END CASTLE 67

V.--AT THE PANDEMONIUM CLUB 96

VI.--GEORGIE'S WEDDING 118

VII.--LORD MAYOR'S DAY 138

VIII.--AT THE CASTLE 161

IX.--ANASTATIA'S COURTSHIP 182

X.--ROME.--THE BALLO PAPAYANI 205

XI.--A MEETING IN THE GOOD OLD STYLE 229

XII.--THE VILLA LAMBERT 256

THE PIT TOWN CORONET.

CHAPTER 1.

IN THE ROSE GARDEN.

Big Reginald Haggard had been exceedingly attentive to the elder of twovery pretty girls of the name of Warrender. Both families came from theeastern counties. The Warrenders had inhabited The Warren, or at allevents the older portion of the house, for nearly four centuries. Theywere harmless people. They manfully stuck to their ancestral acres offat Essex land. The present head of the family farmed the greater partof the estate himself, as his fathers had done before him. Many aWarrender had held the rich living of King's Warren, and the parson,whoever he might be, and the reigning Squire Warrender were always thetwo greatest men in King's Warren village and parish.

In the rather old-fashioned garden at The Warren sat a young lady, anopen book upon her lap; the book was not a novel, it was anargumentative work, a book which dealt with the social problems of theday. But, alas! the book which Georgina Warrender had brought out withthe serious intention of reading, for the Warrenders of either sex,though always soft-hearted, were a hard-headed race, lay upside downupon her lap. The fact is that she was weighing a man in the balance, aninteresting occupation for a lady, and, alas! finding him a littlewanting. Georgie Warrender had received a great deal of attention duringthe London season. Her people were well-to-do, the ancestral freeholdswere unencumbered, her family was eminently respectable and well known,her connections unimpeachable; but Miss Warrender's principal attractionto those who had the privilege of her acquaintance outside the world ofballs, dinner parties and musical evenings, was the sturdyopen-heartedness of her character, which often distinguishes wellbrought-up young ladies who have been reared in an atmosphere at onceintelligent and healthy, but not ultra-intellectual. Miss Warrender hadno craze. She played and sang sufficiently well, but not well enough tobe a terror to the home circle. She drew and sketched, as a pastime, butshe had no desire to compete with professional artists, nor was herconversation interlarded with the jargon of the craft. Her reading hadbeen carefully directed by her governess, Miss Hood, who had remained todischarge the onerous duties of chaperon, guide, philosopher, and, aboveall, friend to Georgie Warrender and her cousin Lucy.

Lucy Warrender was Georgie's cousin on the father's side. ColonelWarrender, as the younger brother, was naturally intended for thefamily living of King's Warren. But fiery young George Warrenderdeclined the Church altogether, so he was sent to Hailybury, and then hebecame a soldier of John Company, and was soon known as Fighting GeorgeWarrender, and by dint of following his own bent attained the colonelcyof a native regiment. Then he had a good determined shake at the pagodatree. And then he made a fool of himself, for just as he had come downto Bombay, having made up his mind to take two years' leave, he wassmitten by the blonde beauty of a newly-imported ”spin,” fresh from theboarding-school; and being an impulsive man, Colonel George Warrendermarried the little boarding-school miss, and changed his mind about hisfurlough. Within a year his daughter Lucy was born. And then the choleracame to Bebreabad, swept off Colonel Warrender and his pale-facedchild-wife; and the little Lucy, his orphan daughter, came home at oncein charge of an ayah in the Company's ship ”Lord Clive.” On her arrivalSquire Warrender pitied the little misery, as she was called byeverybody, and treated her as his own daughter. There was but two years'difference between the girls, and they looked upon each other assisters. The squire's wife had died within a year of his daughter'sbirth, so that practically neither of the cousins had ever known amother's care. Squire Warrender's wife had been a local beauty, and herportrait, which hung in Mr. Warrender's study, represented a lovelinessof no common type.

Both the girls rode well, but neither was horsey nor doggy. One of thegreatest attractions in everybody's eyes about Georgie Warrender was heropenness; she never had a secret from Miss Hood, her father, or hercousin. In fact, secrecy was foreign to her nature. As to herappearance, she was a fine, well-developed, thoroughly English girl,fully justifying the raptures and rhapsodies of her numerous admirers.But it is not with her appearance that we are at present concerned, butwith the subject of her meditations.

That subject was a serious one, for in her pocket was a formal proposalfrom Reginald Haggard, whom she had known as ”Big Reginald Haggard” fromher childhood. It is probably an axiom that every English girl, underordinary circumstances, accepts her first offer; the reason of this isnot very manifest, but it is nevertheless a fact, and its being a factis doubtless one of the causes of the numerous ill-assorted matches thatconstantly take place. But Miss Warrender, now twenty years of age, hadbeen an exception to the rule. During her first and successful Londonseason, now just over, she had refused three serious offers. The firstwas from an impecunious young barrister, who had attained some repute inthe literary world, and had very nearly killed himself in the process.Mr. Baliol had admired Miss Warrender, had made careful inquiries as toher father's position, had discovered that the two girls would probablybe the old man's heiresses, and had promptly proposed to Georgie. He hadbeen as promptly refused. Mr. Baliol was in no wise disconcerted. Heimmediately proceeded to dedicate his new novel, ”A Woman's FickleHeart,” ”to Miss G---- W----, in token of respectful admiration.” Baliolscored another success at the circulating libraries, and at once ceasedto trouble himself any more about Miss G---- W----.

Georgina's second proposal was of a more serious nature. Young LordSpunyarn had made her an offer. Lord Spunyarn desired an ornamentalwife. To him the ideal Lady Spunyarn was a young person respectablyconnected, good-tempered, and of prepossessing appearance. Not one iotadid Spunyarn care for money, birth or brains; of money he had plenty andto spare: as to birth, was he not Lord Spunyarn? as to brains, cleverwomen were considered bores by his lordship. The young nobleman likedGeorgie Warrender, and he liked her people. Though rejected, rather tohis astonishment, it made no difference in his friendship with thefamily. ”It's an awful bore, you know. Unluckily they all know it at theclub--I mean that I was going to make you an offer--and I heard that oneof the society journals had the announcement of our engagement alreadyin type. You see, I was to have dined here to-morrow. If you don't mind,I'll come all the same.” He did come, did full justice to the dinner,sat next to Georgie, whom he took down, and the pair, thoroughlyheartwhole, had a great deal to say to each other.

Georgina's next experience was of a more comic character; her conquestwas no longer a nobleman, but a ”noble.” Jones di Monte-Ferrato was aMaltese noble. He possessed certain rights of nobility in the island,his income was derived from the sale of Maltese oranges; in fact he wasthe titular head of Jones and Co., the well-known fruit house of ThamesStreet. In Thames Street, Jones di Monte-Ferrato said nothing about hisnobility, he was ”our Mr. Jones.” But on his visiting cards was aportentous crown, and Jones di Monte-Ferrato habitually wore a coloured_boutonniere_ in his frock coat; being red, this decoration waspopularly supposed to be the Legion of Honour: it had been purchasedhowever, and purchased cheaply, from the Pope. Jones' nobility carriedhim far in Maida Vale and Bayswater. Needless to tell, Miss Warrenderwould have nothing to say to him.

To say that Georgie Warrender was perfectly heartwhole as she unfoldedHaggard's letter, is nothing but the truth. Of course she liked youngHaggard, but so did every one. Haggard had enjoyed an extraordinarypopularity. Related as he was to the Earl of Pit Town, he was a welcomeguest in the best houses. He had been a dancing man, and could dancewell, was exceedingly good-looking, and consequently a catch at thesmall and earlies and also at more elaborate entertainments. When a veryyoung man he had been a detrimental, having rapidly dissipated hislittle fortune. Penniless, he went to America; in eight years hereturned, well off, as good-looking as ever, and with the possibility,the extremely unlikely possibility, of one day succeeding to the earldomof Pit Town. There are some men who always fall on their feet, some menfor whom fortune is never tired of turning up trumps; Haggard was one ofthese men. When it is said that Haggard was a man of the world in itsbroadest sense, nothing remains to tell. If he had a religion at all itwas the worship of his own dear self. Big Reginald remembered GeorgieWarrender as a chit of twelve; he met her again one of the brightestornaments of London society; he heard her spoken of there as handsomeMiss Warrender; and just as he would have longed for a very valuablehunter to carry his sixteen stone to hounds, so he desired to obtainGeorgie's hand; because without doubt she was the handsomest,healthiest, pleasantest and most unexceptionable girl it had ever beenhis good fortune to come across.

The letter seemed honest enough, it was short and to the point.

”DEAR MISS WARRENDER,

”You will probably not be surprised at my addressing you on a subject important to us both. We have known each other since the time when you were a little girl and I was a big bad boy. I don't trouble you with business matters, but I have spoken to Mr. Warrender and fully satisfied him on that head. It is with his approbation that I ask you to become my wife. I know that the very remote possibility of a coronet will not weigh with you, but I do think you ought to let it count against my disadvantages. You will get this at breakfast time. I shall ride over about eleven to urge my suit in person; may I hope that your good nature will spare me the negative I doubtless deserve, and that you will give me a chance?

”Yours very affectionately,

”REGINALD HAGGARD.”

As Georgie replaced the letter in its envelope she blushed; had Haggardbeen indifferent to her she would not have hung out this signal ofdistress. It is impossible to follow the course of reasoning of awoman's mind. Georgie Warrender was no raw girl to be caught by the meregood looks of big Reginald. But first impressions go a great way; sheremembered the young fellow in the reckless daring of his first youth;she remembered, too, her feeling of pity when she heard of theprodigal's banishment to a far country to feed the proverbial swine.Georgie remembered, too, the triumphant return of that prodigal some sixmonths ago. She had been pleased at the prodigal's attentions, and sheknew that many girls, of far greater social pretensions than her own,would willingly have accepted the addresses of the bronzed, curly-headedgiant with the big moustache. Perhaps she would have been wiser had shetaken counsel with Miss Hood, or had she deliberated more calmly. ButGeorgie was a self-reliant girl. Even now she heard the measured treadof her lover's hack as he trotted up to the hall door of The Warren. Shelooked at her watch, it wanted five minutes of the hour. Miss Warrendersmiled at her lover's excessive punctuality; his impatience boded wellshe thought.

Another instant and he is striding down the path of the rose garden; ahappy look is on his face, though it is slightly pale with suppressedexcitement. Georgie Warrender's pink roses attain a damask hue as sherises to greet him.

Fortune, fickle goddess, still befriends her favourite. There was nooutward sign of hesitation or diffidence about Haggard, as he held outhis hand to Miss Warrender.

”It's very good of you to see me; I'm afraid I don't deserve it,” hesaid, seating himself beside her on the rustic bench, and, man-like,commencing to bore holes in the gravel with the stout ash-plant which hecarried. Youth and maid decorously continued to gaze upon the ground andto critically study their own foot coverings. Haggard was a man wholooked well in any dress, but the grey tweed suit which he wore, theartistic bit of red of his loosely-tied sailor's knot, his big grey felthat, his leggings also of tweed, even his stout but well-made lace-upboots seem to give the young giant the needful halo of romance. This,the usual morning dress of a young English gentleman in the country, iswhat is generally selected as the costume of the hero of an Adelphidrama, when that wonderful young man is discovered in his virtuous homeprior to the commencement of his numerous sufferings and hair-breadthescapes. As for Georgie, the conventional French muslin set off herfaultless figure, a large Leghorn hat protected her delicate complexionfrom the sun's rays, her magnificent hair was worn in the rather severeGrecian style, but then the big plait at the back was all her own, andthe bronze chestnut locks, tightly strained as they were around herhead, disclosed the small shell-like ear, that sign of breeding which itis impossible to counterfeit. Probably Georgie Warrender had been rightwhen, as a girl, she had declined to have those pretty ears pierced. Ifwe accept the hypothesis that beauty unadorned is adorned the most, thenGeorgie in her native loveliness was, indeed, highly decorated. But shewas nervous in this formal _tete-a-tete_; this showed itself in herheightened colour, which was still maintained, and in the occasionalmovement of her delicately fashioned little bronze shoes. As Sir JohnSuckling said long ago:

”Her feet beneath her petticoat, Like little mice peeped in and out, As though they feared the light.”

The quotation is somewhat hackneyed, perhaps; but it ran throughReginald Haggard's mind, as he prodded his stick into the gravel.

”I'm afraid, Miss Warrender, that I have betrayed you into a_tete-a-tete_. Your father wished me luck, and told me I should find youhere, while your cousin informed me that we should be _quite_undisturbed. May I hope that you will give me a chance; that possibly,after a time, I may not altogether be indifferent to you, Georgie?”Again the rosy flush mantled on the girl's tell-tale cheek. Haggardcontinued, ”Of course you have seen, dear Georgie, that I have beenvery hard hit this season, for a lazy ne'er-do-weel like myself to danceattendance at every entertainment that Miss Warrender graced with herpresence, must have made the state of my affections pretty manifest Isuppose. We have known each other a long time. I have never doneanything mean or dirty that I know of, Georgie. Of course I was a youngfool, and kicked up my heels as young fools do. But I think I have hadall the nonsense knocked out of me. My roving life in Mexico and mychase after the almighty dollar have sobered me. Can you trust me,Georgie? I'll be good to you, upon my word I will. Good to you and proudof you, if you'll only give me the chance. You are too clever for me toattempt to argue you into it. But, dear Georgie, I love you as I neverloved any woman breathing, and not with the mere passing fancy of a boy.I have seen the world and a good deal of life, the gilded and the seamysides. Tell me, Georgie. May I hope? Will you give me a chance?”

Georgie looked into his eyes and smiled. He had spoken it trippingly onthe tongue, though seemingly spontaneous, it had been well thought out;for Haggard was an actor, a leading gentleman, well experienced inlovers' _roles_. It is not meant by this that Haggard was what the oldsong calls a ”star-breasted villain.” But Georgie Warrender was not byany means his first love. Haggard looked upon Georgie as a valuableacquisition; from the physical point of view she was the finest,freshest, fairest girl he had come across. And he coveted her as anamateur covets a picture; that it may belong to him, and that others mayfruitlessly desire his pearl of great price. True, no sordidconsideration influenced Haggard. Can we call this love? Let us becharitable and do so. But we will also be just and qualify. It was loveof the nineteenth century, of the society type.

”You pay me a great compliment, Mr. Haggard, a very undeservedcompliment. I cannot pretend to be taken by surprise, for, as you say,your attentions _have_ been very marked. What am I to say to you? With agirl it is a very serious matter; for once we give our hearts, at leastsome of us, Mr. Haggard, we give them for good and all. A mistake oncemade, in our case, cannot be set right. Our affections once given awayto a man, and perhaps afterwards flung aside, then leave us with nothingto bestow but our miserable selves. Are you quite sure you have made upyour mind, and that you won't want to change it?” she said, looking uparchly in his face.

But his teeth were set, and the muscles of his massive jaw were workinghard, as he gazed intently on the gravel at his feet. It was evidentlyno laughing matter with Haggard. The muscles of his jaw had worked in asimilar way only a week ago, when he stood on the grand stand at Epsom,and saw the favourite, whom he had backed heavily, almost ”collared” onthe post; but the favourite had won, and Dark Despair had failed to landthe odds of sixty to one laid against him. So had the muscles ofReginald Haggard's jaw worked when he had ”bluffed” Don Emmanuel Garciaat the almost historical game of poker, which they had played atChihuahua. Haggard had only held knave high, about as small a hand as apoker player can hold; he had successfully ”bluffed” the Mexican, andwon. He is bluffing now, for hearts are trumps at the game that is beingplayed; and we, who look over the cards of both hands, can see that bigReginald's at least is a poor one. Will he win? Of course he will. Whatchance has Georgie Warrender against so experienced a player? The stakeswere Haggard's before he had cut or shuffled the cards.

”Sure, Georgie? of course I'm sure. I may hope, then? I may dare tohope?”

Wise man as he was, he carried the place by a determined rush. He tookher hand in his, the taper little fingers were not withdrawn.

”Georgie, darling, how can I thank you? I am not good at this sort ofthing.”

If he had not attained perfection in the art of love, it was certainlynot for want of practice; for if the truth be told, the big Lothariohabitually made love to every pretty woman he met; and if there was nopretty woman, then to the least unprepossessing one of those present.The rest of the conversation went on much as such conversations usuallydo. Haggard swore eternal constancy. Georgie confessed that she”supposed she did care for him.” But this modified sympathy did notsatisfy Haggard; he pleaded for something more explicit.

”I have always liked you, Mr. Haggard,” she said, for Georgie could notyet bring herself to address her lover by his Christian name; ”but Ifear I must seem a very poor creature after all the dashingSouth-American beauties, to say nothing of the many recognized successesof the past season.”

”But you were the success of the past season, Georgie. Everybody knowsit. Why, they raved about you. You must know very well that MadameHortense made a little fortune with the 'Warrender' hat.”

”Ah, that was Lucy's idea, not mine, Mr. Haggard.”

”A very charming idea, Georgie, but never so charming as when you woreit.”

Georgie Warrender rose and made him a low courtesy. ”I see you deal insugared compliments,” she said.

He got up and offered his arm.

The hideous and snobbish custom of taking a lady's arm had not then beeninvented. And to do him justice, even if it had, Haggard was too much ofa gentleman to have attempted it. For customs borrowed from the habitsof the _demi monde_ would have been sadly out of place with a girl likeGeorgie Warrender. With her cousin it might have been different; butwith Georgie the thing would have been impossible.

As the extent of his own good luck began to dawn upon Haggard, he feltthat the world had indeed gone very well with him; for as he had marcheddown the walk of the old-fashioned rose garden that morning, for thefirst time in his life he had felt diffident of success; for the firsttime in his life he now vowed in his fickle mind to be true to thesmiling girl who, in the bright glamour of a first love, hung soconfidingly on his arm. Of course he vowed eternal constancy. At lovers'perjuries they say Jove laughs, and well might the whole Olympian chorushave joined in the loud guffaw with which the king of all the godsdoubtlessly greeted the protestations of Fortune's favourite. As eachdrank deep draughts of the subtle poison from the other's eyes, theirglances grew brighter, and they were only awakened from the dream thatcomes to us all, at least once in our lifetimes, by the imperious clashof the luncheon-bell. Old Mr. Warrender and Lucy appeared upon the lawn,and the broad smile on her father's face and Lucy's merry laugh told thehappy pair that they might spare any explanation. Georgie, in the prideof her honest love, disdained to take her hand from the young man's arm.With womanly dignity she advanced to meet her delighted father. Hekissed her on the forehead, and then the blushing girl took refuge inher cousin's affectionate embrace.

”Be good to her, my boy,” said Squire Warrender, his honest voice alittle broken as he thought of the old days of his own too short-livedhappiness, and of the proud dead beauty, Georgie's mother. It was ashort speech, but it rang in Reginald Haggard's ears for many a year.

Will he be good to her? He should be. If not good to her, surelyReginald Haggard will be less than a dog.