The Pit Town Coronet: A Family Mystery, Volume 3 (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. III.

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.

CONTENTS.

CHAP. PAGE

I.--AFTER SEVENTEEN YEARS 1

II.--AT MONTE CARLO 25

III.--AN ANONYMOUS LETTER 52

IV.--PALLIDA MORS 76

V.--A LITTLE RED BOX 100

VI.--LUCIUS HAGGARD IS BEWILDERED 131

VII.--ENTER MR. BROOKES 158

VIII.--THE HOLLOW BEECH TREE 179

IX.--MR. CAPT LEAVES SERVICE 203

THE PIT TOWN CORONET.

CHAPTER I.

AFTER SEVENTEEN YEARS.

Seventeen uneventful years had passed and had streaked Georgie Haggard'sabundant chestnut locks with grey. A lovely woman still. The innocent,healthful, girlish beauty had developed into the sweet matronly dignitywhich is so frequently seen among the happy wives and mothers of theEnglish aristocracy. Haggard was still proud of his wife, because evenhe couldn't fail to see her beauty; and as for the old lord, he idolizedher much as old Squire Warrender had idolized her twenty years ago atThe Warren. Georgie Haggard was not demonstrative. Always quiet, she wasrather timid and subdued in her husband's presence; but with the oldlord, though perhaps a little more staid and dignified than of yore, shewas still the lovely and affectionate woman of the old happy times. Herswas the beauty of the happy mother, the sweet matronly loveliness whichis perhaps the more touching when tinged by the slight dash of sadnesswhich idealises it and saves it from the commonplace. The smile was notever present, but it was none the less beautiful and touching from itsrarity.

Reginald Haggard and his family had been installed at Walls End Castleever since Lord Hetton's death. They had come originally upon a visit;Mrs. Haggard's health had suddenly broken down, and at the old lord'surgent entreaty the visit had been indefinitely prolonged. AlthoughHaggard was, as we know, a wealthy man, he could not afford to disregardany suggestion of his great-uncle. At first he had looked on the wholething as a confounded nuisance; he had objected to his wife that theymight make themselves ridiculous by a too abject obedience to the whimsof the old nobleman.

But after all it was not so very bad for the Haggards. Lord Pit Towntook care to make it very apparent to everybody that it was at hisspecial desire that Haggard and his family remained at the Castle.He let it be very plainly perceived that he considered ReginaldHaggard almost as his son, as well as his heir; for the permanentunder-secretary at the Home Office, at the conclusion of his officialduties, had quite enough to occupy his mind with his eternal whist atthe club till the small hours of the morning. The odd trick was far moreto him than the possession of Walls End Castle and the Pit Town title.But Mr. Lancelot Haggard remained a plain esquire till his death, whichoccurred seven years after that of the unfortunate Lord Hetton. Whenhis man-servant opened the study door one morning, for he had found thebedroom empty, he saw Lancelot Haggard seated at the whist table, uponwhich the four hands of an unfinished game were spread. Pole's ”Treatiseon Whist” lay open at ”The Echo of the Call,” the candles had burnt outin their sockets, there were tricks turned, and three cards were alreadyplayed of another one; and Lancelot Haggard sat bolt upright, the fourthcard between his fingers, stone dead, but with a peaceful smile upon hislips.

Reginald Haggard, then, was practically in the position of Lord PitTown's son. Of course he was but plain Mr. Haggard still. He had got ridof his father's place, thus ”washing his hands,” as he had threatened,”of the whole bag of tricks;” for though Cunningham, the Scotch steward,had succeeded in screwing three per cent. out of the place, yet he hadmade himself so terribly unpopular in the process that he resigned indespair in order to emigrate to New Zealand, and so become, as hephrased it, his ”ain mon again.” When the steward resigned Haggard hadbeen very glad indeed of the excuse to send the place to the hammer. Aset of rooms in the huge mansion of the old lord in Grosvenor Square hadbeen placed at Haggard's disposal, and though he frequently ran up totown, his _pied-a-terre_ was at the house which would one day be hisown, and the Haggards had no regular establishment in London. As forGeorgie Haggard herself, she invariably passed a portion of the summerwith her father at The Warren. She usually made her annual visitaccompanied only by the two boys, for Haggard invariably absentedhimself in the summer either for Norway fishing, lengthy yacht voyages,or as one of a little party of men of his own kidney, who sought theirsport further afield and went lion-hunting in South Africa, shootingthe hippopotamus on the White Nile, or chasing the fast-disappearingbuffalo upon the American prairies. But as a rule he would get home forthe shooting. Year by year the head of game in the Walls End preserves,under Haggard's fostering care, had increased. In the old lord's nameHaggard had invited every year a select little party of crack shots; hegave them a couple of days' _battue_ shooting, the other four in thestubble and among the turnips, and at the end of the week they went awayto ”wipe each others' eyes” over some other man's birds. For some yearsthe bags made at these little annual gatherings had been noted in thedaily papers. Haggard himself not infrequently headed the list, for hewas an enthusiastic sportsman and a brilliant shot.

Reginald Haggard at five-and-forty had quieted down. Years and years agohe had taken his name off the books at the Pandemonium; he no longergambled, and he took a great interest in politics, as became a man whowas destined, in the ordinary course of events, and at no very distantdate, to become one of our hereditary legislators. Of course Haggard hadmany friends, or rather acquaintances, all of whom were ready to kootooand truckle to the man who would be the next Earl of Pit Town; men whomhe would invite to dinner, and who would entertain him; generally men ofhis own age, or club-room bucks with wrinkled cheeks; men whose clotheswere always in the fashion, and who as a rule ate and drank rather morethan was good for them; men who rode in the park on three hundred guineahacks, and who might be seen in the Drive in big mail-phaetons withBrobdingnagian lamps, or driving noisy and rather miscellaneous partieson their four-in-hands towards Richmond.

I don't know what Haggard would have done without that invaluableesquire of his body, Mr. Maurice Capt. Capt accompanied him everywhere;he had camped out with him in the Rockies, and his culinary skill therehad more than made up for the deficiencies of Bull-headed Bill, thehalf-bred titular cook of the expedition. Capt was a silent man, and hisfellow servants were never able to extract any gossip from himrespecting his master's wanderings. But Haggard was lucky in retainingone real friend; his old _fidus Achates_, Lord Spunyarn, was his friendstill; still a bachelor, no longer the unsuccessful amateur athlete offormer days, but developed into a full-blown philanthropist, the friendof mankind in general, but of the destitute East-ender in particular.

Ever since Georgie Haggard, in her just indignation, had banished hercousin from her presence, Miss Lucy Warrender, still a handsome woman,had led a wandering life; the dove had found no rest for the sole ofher foot. Homeless and friendless, though her intimates andacquaintances were innumerable, she was as restless and erratic in hermovements as the Wandering Jew. Miss Warrender was always in evidenceupon the Ascot Lawn; she was to be seen at Brighton during the season,at German watering-places, at Deauville, Biarritz, and Eastbourne orScarborough in the summer, and occasionally even for a few days at TheWarren, where she invariably appeared at Christmas. For Lucy Warrenderhad eight hundred a year of her own, which she had inherited from thecolonel, her father. I am afraid she had become a confirmed old maid;she had flirted and philandered till she was thirty, and there wereplenty of the very smartest people who were quite ready to flirt withher now, for Lucy Warrender still retained her good looks, her dreamyblonde beauty, and her eyes still sparkled as of old. We have said LucyWarrender was homeless and friendless, and she had developed two mastervices: to drown her troubles she gambled as only a woman can gamble, andshe drugged herself with chloral and other abominations to procure atemporary forgetfulness of a black shadow that incessantly pursued her.The man Capt knew of the long-buried secret, and he persistentlyblackmailed the unhappy Lucy Warrender; but Capt was far too wise a manto kill the goose with the golden eggs. He considered that if he droveher to extremity, and the trick which had been played upon ReginaldHaggard should ever become a public scandal, that he had nothing to gainbut everything to lose. He knew that the English laws against what theFrench call _chantage_ were severe; he also knew enough of his master tobe quite certain that if Haggard's just indignation were once aroused,he would be pursued with relentless ferocity. So he contented himselfwith plundering Lucy Warrender, and kept her secret; not because he wasnot perfectly ready to betray it, but because he saw no way of bringinghis knowledge to a better market.

As for the two young men, for they had already ceased to be adolescents,they were certainty physically decidedly above the average. Lucius, theelder, was, as we know, Lucy Warrender's child. His whole soul waswrapped up in the fact that a few short years would see him thepossessor of the courtesy title and heir to his supposed father's amplemeans and old Lord Pit Town's incalculable wealth. The young fellow hadeven developed a taste for art, simply because he felt it was hisbounden duty to be able to appreciate the innumerable treasures whichmust inevitably soon be his very own. Young Lucius Haggard had beenpetted and spoiled from his earliest infancy, he had had his way ineverything; his nurses, his schoolmasters and his tutors had bowed downto him; good-looking young fellow that he became in after years, a factof which he was perfectly aware; he was flattered and toadied to by thegolden youth of both sexes, and by most of his elders, who ought to haveknown better, to an extent sufficient to have turned the head of anyordinary young man of well-regulated mind. But Lucius Haggard's was nota well-regulated mind. He was of his father's religion, but he carriedthe religion further. Reginald Haggard was a self-worshipper, a mandetermined to get the greatest amount of pleasure and amusement out ofthis world, regardless of consequences to others, a man for whom trumpswere continually turning up, a man who felt he was a brazen pot amongthe earthen ones floating down the stream, and to whom the annihilationof the weaker vessels was a matter of utter indifference. Like Napoleon,he believed in his star, and he had been right in doing so, for when attwo-and-twenty he had been turned out to take his chance, he hadrapidly become the possessor of wealth far beyond his needs; a littlelater, after a short period of enjoyment of the free wild life inAmerica, he had returned to draw the prize in the matrimonial lottery,which somehow inevitably falls to the lot of such as he. The good liveswhich stood between him and the Pit Town peerage had all dropped, andnothing now remained between him and what he considered his rights butone frail old man. But the young Lucius had never for an instant beensubmitted to the healthy influence of even temporary poverty, hisexistence had never even been troubled by so much as a crumpled roseleaf; the consequence was that his selfishness was utter and unaffected,that he did not even wear it as a garment, but that it was absolutely apart of himself. A tall handsome young fellow enough, fairly clever, whodid not conceal that he thought himself rather superior to the rest ofthe world, and the rest of the world took pretty good care to coincidein the young fellow's opinion.

As for George Haggard, he was the anti-type of Lucius. Equallygood-looking, he was the picture of old Squire Warrender in his youth;his fair chestnut hair curled in profusion over his broad squareforehead. He was a muscular youth who shone at school and at theuniversity, in the cricket field and upon the river alike. But he was nomere athlete, for he had a taste for reading, and he never forgot thefact, which his father was continually pressing upon his mind, that he,as a younger son, would have to get his own living. And George Haggardwas ambitious; he meant if possible to force his way into the arena ofpolitical life, and had already determined to make a struggle for nameand fame at the Bar. But though George Haggard was ambitious, his was anaffectionate disposition; he idolized his mother, and he truckled to noone, not even to his father or the old earl. George Haggard knew wellenough that he would be a comparatively poor man--a pauper, as hisbrother pleasantly put it, but only a pauper from the point of view ofLucius Haggard, the probable future possessor of immense wealth, for TheWarren acres would assuredly be his, and had George Haggard so willedit, nothing would have been easier for him than to sit and twiddle histhumbs and wait for old Squire Warrender's death; but as we have said,George Haggard was ambitious.

The great new gallery at Walls End Castle, the Grecian temple which Dr.Wolff had designed over twenty years before, was now less offensive tothe eye externally. It was a Grecian temple still, but itsspick-and-spanness had passed away. Two old gentlemen arm-in-arm slowlywalked down the principal saloon, the one a big grey-haired man whoseface was disfigured with many scars; as he walked he gesticulated, andhe spoke with a strong German accent in a loud voice. By his side ambledhis friend and companion of many years, a very old man this, who stoopedconsiderably and leant frequently upon a crutch-handle stick; the twomen were John, Earl of Pit Town, and Dr. Wolff.

”I never thought, Wolff, that I should be spared to fill the last spaceon these walls. I certainly never expected to see the termination of mylabours. In art one cannot be too exacting. We made up our minds yearsago that there should be nothing doubtful here, and here is the onlyremaining space filled at last, and filled, as it should be, by amasterpiece. Yes,” said the old nobleman, as he rubbed his hands, ”thankheaven there is nothing doubtful here. Nothing remains for me now,Wolff, but to leave the treasures that it has been the labour of my lifeto accumulate; my sight isn't what it was.”

”No man is what he was, my good friend and master, but it is not well tobe sad. You set yourself a great task years ago, an almost superhumantask. He is aggomblished.”

”No, not accomplished yet, Wolff. I have only got through a part of it.I have caught my white elephant, but what am I to do with him? I knowtoo well that my natural heir looks upon the contents of these galleriesbut as so many hundred thousand pounds' worth of hard cash. He is anhonest man, and makes no secret of it.”

”But his son, my lord, the young Mr. Lucius?”

”Ah! he is a mystery, Wolff, that I have failed to fathom. We have knownhim, my friend, since he was a little child. I can't tell why, Wolff, Ihave never trusted him. Perhaps the aged are over-suspicious. I confessto you that if I thought he loved art for art's sake, he should have mypictures, as he will ultimately have my title and what goes with it.”

”You can tie them up, my lord.”

”Yes, I know I can tie them up, but then the pictures I've loved wouldsuffer. Who will care for them, Wolff, when you and I are gone?”

”You have sometimes talked, my lord, of giving them _en bloc_ to thenation.”

”Yes, Wolff, I did once think of that; but since that time I have seenthat real Chamber of Horrors, the National Portrait Gallery. I shouldnot like to send her there,” he said, as he pointed to the portrait ofwicked Bab Chudleigh, who simpered and smiled at him from the wall. ”No,Wolff, I shouldn't like my pictures to be hawked about as loans to oneEast End or provincial exhibition after another, to be sneered at bycrowds of unappreciating yokels. It's a very heavy responsibility,Wolff.”

At this moment Reginald Haggard entered the gallery.

”I hear, my lord,” he said, as he shook hands with the old nobleman,”that you have hung the last long-sought treasure this morning. Is itreally so?”

The old lord nodded.

”I suppose you will begin the weeding process now?” continued Haggard.

The old man drew himself up a little stiffly. ”If you can indicate to meanything that is unworthy, you will confer an obligation; but I thinkyou'll find it difficult. In my opinion, Haggard,” he continued, ”and inthe opinion of others far better able to judge than I am, there isnothing here requiring weeding out.”

Haggard slightly flushed.

”I can only plead my ignorance,” he said; ”it is what most connoisseursdo.”

”Yes, there you're quite right; but most men begin collecting as theamusement of their old age. I began it sixty years ago, and I'm afraidmy long life's labour is over, and that, useless old man that I am, I'velived too long already.”

”You look upon things in a melancholy light, my lord.”

”No man is pleased when he finds his occupation gone; and perhaps it's alittle sad to me to find that you care for none of these things.”

”I know you wouldn't wish me to affect an interest I do not feel,” saidHaggard with an ingenuous smile.

”No, there you're right. For we should find him out, shouldn't we,Wolff?”

The doctor of philosophy laughed. ”It is our business to detect shams,”he said. ”Yes, I think we should have found you out.”

”Then, Dr. Wolff, you'd better try your skill on Lucius; he poses as aman of taste, I don't.”

At that moment the two young men entered the gallery.

”Here he is to answer for himself,” said Haggard; ”and I'll leave himto your tender mercies. If he be a sham Priest of Art, unfrock him byall means, Dr. Wolff,” said Haggard with a laugh, as he sauntered away.

The two young men greeted their aged relative with respect, and noddedfamiliarly to Dr. Wolff.

”I verily believe, my lord, that this younger brother of mine has nosoul,” said young Lucius Haggard; ”he actually tells me that thecontemplation of pictures produces in him naught but headache.”

”And a pain in the neck, Lucius; don't forget the pain in the neck,”said his brother.

”Yes, his pain in his neck was his other symptom. He declares he seesmore beauty in a sunlit rustic hedge than in a landscape by ClaudeLorraine.”

”And I added to my criminality, I fear, Dr. Wolff, by declaring that Ionly liked a picture when it gave pleasure to my eyes, as does thewicked wanton on the wall yonder,” he added, kissing the tips of hisfingers to Mistress Barbara Chudleigh.

”Ach, my young friend, do not glory in being a _Philister_,” sighed Dr.Wolff.

”I fear, George, yours is but a low and sensuous ideal, if Sir Peter'scommonplace masterpiece is all that rouses your enthusiasm. Why, amidstso much that is beautiful, so much that is spiritual, so much thatappeals to the higher nature, you should pick out the one commonplacebit in the whole collection, I can't imagine,” said Lucius with a sneer.

”You may call it commonplace if you like, Lucius. All I know is, thatwhatever else she may have been, if Bab Chudleigh was like that picture,she must have very closely resembled an angel.”

”And have you seen them then, these angels, young sir, that you speak soconfidently?” said the German doctor, as a great smile ran over hisscarred face.

”Seen them? of course I have--hundreds of them. So did you, Dr. Wolff,when you were my age, and I have no doubt so did his lordship there,”said the boy with a glance at the old lord, who was peering into apicture at some distance. ”I'll be bound that Lucius here sees theangels of his dream-fancies by the dozen. He goes in for poetry, youknow, and all that sort of thing, though I for my own part would rathernot see his angels, for I haven't been educated up to the pitch whereone admires the beauty of decay, as Lucius has, the creatures with thepointed chins, the sandy towzled hair, the great hungry eyes, theuncomfortable poses, the deficiency of adipose tissue and the prehensiletoes. I can't say that I appreciate green shadows under the eyes, nor doI see anything poetic in a bilious air. But all these things are verydear to Lucius, at least he says so. No, give me nature and BabChudleigh, and I'll make Lucius a present of art and his bony angels,and all Mr. Swinburne's clutching horrors into the bargain.”

”Thank you, George; it's very noble and generous on your part to handover to me what you can't appreciate.”

”My dear Lucius, we all have our failings. You go in for art and theartificial, while nature is enough for me.”

”When you are my age,” said Lucius with the superior wisdom of an elderbrother, ”you will cease to judge by externals, I trust. You will havelearned to peep behind the veil, and you will see the real soul seatedon its throne.”

”Bosh!” said George shortly.

And so the idle talk went on, and Lucius continued to pose, while theworshipper of nature took pains to fit on the Philistine's skin tighterthan ever.