The Duke's Children, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 49

The Major’s Fate

The affair of Prime Minister and the nail was not allowed to fade away into obscurity. Through September and October it was made matter for pungent inquiry. The Jockey Club was alive. Mr Pook was very instant — with many Pookites anxious to free themselves from suspicion. Sporting men declared that the honour of the turf required that every detail of the case should be laid open. But by the end of October, though every detail had been surmised, nothing had in truth been discovered. Nobody doubted but that Tifto had driven the nail into the horse’s foot, and that Green and Gilbert Villiers had shared the bulk of the plunder. They had gone off on their travels together, and the fact that each of them had been in possession of about twenty thousand pounds was proved. But then there is no law against two gentlemen having such a sum of money. It was notorious that Captain Green and Mr Gilbert Villiers had enriched themselves to this extent by the failure of Prime Minister. But yet nothing was proved!

That the Major had either himself driven the nail or seen it done, all racing men were agreed. He had been out with the horse in the morning and had been the first to declare that the animal was lame. And he had been with the horse till the farrier had come. But he had concocted a story for himself. He did not dispute that the horse had been lamed by the machinations of Green and Villiers — with the assistance of the groom. No doubt he said, these men, who had been afraid to face an inquiry, had contrived and had carried out the iniquity. How the lameness had been caused he could not pretend to say. The groom who was at the horse’s head, and who evidently knew how these things were done, might have struck a nerve in the horse’s foot with his boot. But when the horse was got into the stable, he, Tifto — so he declared — at once ran out to send for the farrier. During the minutes so occupied, the operation must have been made with the nail. That was Tifto’s story — and as he kept his ground, there were some few who believed it.

But though the story was so far good, he had at moments been imprudent, and had talked when he should have been silent. The whole matter had been a torment to him. In the first place his conscience made him miserable. As long as it had been possible to prevent the evil he had hoped to make a clean breast of it to Lord Silverbridge. Up to this period of his life everything had been ‘square’ with him. He had betted ‘square’, and had ridden ‘square’, and had run horses ‘square’. He had taken a pride in this, as though it had been a great virtue. It was not without great inward grief that he had deprived himself of the consolations of those reflections! But when he had approached his noble partner, his noble partner snubbed him at every turn — and he did the deed.

His reward was to be three thousand pounds — and he got his money. The money was very much to him — would perhaps have been almost enough to comfort him in his misery, had not those other rascals got so much more. When he heard that the groom’s fee was higher than his own, it almost broke his heart. Green and Villiers, men of infinitely lower standing — men at whom the Beargarden would not have looked — had absolutely netted fortunes on which they could live in comfort. No doubt they had run away while Tifto still stood his ground — but he soon began to doubt whether to have run away with twenty thousand pounds was not better than to remain with such small plunder as had fallen to his lot, among such faces as those which now looked upon him! Then when he had drunk a few glasses of whisky-and-water, he said something very foolish as to his power of punishing that swindler Green.

An attempt had been made to induce Silverbridge to delay the payment of his bets; — but he had been very eager that they should be paid. Under the joint auspices of Mr Lupton and Mr Moreton the horses were sold, and the establishment was annihilated — with considerable loss, but with great despatch. The Duke had been urgent. The Jockey Club, and the racing world, and the horsey fraternity generally, might do what seemed to them good — so that Silverbridge was extricated from the matter. Silverbridge was extricated — and the Duke cared nothing for the rest.

But Silverbridge could not get out of the mess quite so easily as his father wished. Two questions arose about Major Tifto, outside the racing world, but within the domain of the world of sport and pleasure generally, as to one of which it was impossible that Silverbridge should not express an opinion. The first question had reference to the mastership of the Runnymede hounds. In this our young friend was not bound to concern himself. The other affected the Beargarden Club; and as Lord Silverbridge had introduced the Major, he could hardly forbear from the expression of an opinion.

There was a meeting of the subscribers to the hunt in the last week of October. At that meeting Major Tifto told his story. There he was, to answer any charge which might be brought against him. If he had made money by losing the race — where was it and whence had it come? Was it not clear that a conspiracy might have been made without his knowledge; — and clear also that the real conspirators had levanted? He had not levanted! The hounds were his own. He had undertaken to hunt the country for this season, and they had undertaken to pay him a certain sum of money. He should expect and demand that sum of money. If they chose to make any other arrangement for the year following they could do so. then he sat down and the meeting was adjourned — the secretary having declared that he would not act in that capacity any longer, nor collect the funds. A farmer had also asserted that he and his friends had resolved that Major Tifto should not ride over their fields. On the next day the Major had his hounds out, and some of the London men, with a few of the neighbours, joined him. Gates were locked, but the hounds ran, and those who chose to ride managed to follow them. There are men who will stick to their sport though Apollyon himself should carry the horn. Who cares whether the lady who fills a theatre be or be not a moral young woman, or whether the bandmaster who keeps such excellent time in a ball has or has not paid is debts? There were men of this sort who supported Major Tifto; — but then there was a general opinion that the Runnymede hunt would come to an end unless a new master could be found.

Then in the first week of November a special meeting was called at the Beargarden, at which Lord Silverbridge was asked to attend. ‘It is impossible that he should be allowed to remain in the club.’ This was said to Lord Silverbridge by Mr Lupton. ‘Either he must go or the club must be broken up.’

Silverbridge was very unhappy on the occasion. He had at last been reasoned into believing that the horse had been the victim of foul play; but he persisted in saying that there was no conclusive evidence against Tifto. The matter was argued with him. Tifto had laid bets against the horse; Tifto had been hand and glove with Green; Tifto could not have been absent from the horse above two minutes; the thing could not have been arranged without Tifto. As he had brought Tifto into the club, and had been his partner on the turf, it was his business to look into the matter. ‘But for all that,’ said he, ‘I’m not going to jump on a man when he’s down, unless I feel sure that he is guilty.’

Then the meeting was held, and Tifto himself appeared. When the accusation was made by Mr Lupton, who proposed that he should be expelled, he burst into tears. The whole story was repeated — the nail, the hammer, and the lameness; and the moments were counted up, and poor Tifto’s bets and friendship with Green were made apparent — and the case was submitted to the club. An old gentleman who had been connected with the turf all his life, and who would not have scrupled, by square betting, to rob his dearest friend of his last shilling, seconded the proposition — telling all the story over again. Then Major Tifto was asked whether he wished to say anything.

‘I’ve got to say that I’m here,’ said Tifto, still crying, ‘and if I’d done anything of that kind, of course I’d have gone with the rest of ’em. I put it to Lord Silverbridge to say whether I’m that sort of fellow.’ Then he sat down.

Upon this there was a pause, and the club was manifestly of the opinion that Lord Silverbridge ought to say something. ‘I think that Major Tifto should not have betted against the horse,’ said Silverbridge.

‘I can explain that,’ said the Major. ‘Let me explain that. Everybody knows that I’m a man of small means. I wanted to ‘edge, I only wanted to ‘edge.’

Mr Lupton shook his head. ‘Why have you not shown me your book?’

‘I told you before that it was stolen. Green got hold of it. I did win a little. I never said I didn’t. But what has that to do with hammering a nail into a horse’s foot? I have always been true to you Lord Silverbridge, and you ought to stick up for me now.’

‘I will have nothing further to do with the matter,’ said Silverbridge, ‘one way or the other,’ and he walked out of the room — and out of the club. The affair was ended by a magnanimous declaration on the part of the Major that he would not remain in a club in which he was suspected, and by a consent on the part of the meeting to receive the Major’s instant resignation.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:43