The Duke's Children, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 6

Major Tifto

Major Tifto had lately become a member of the Beargarden Club, under the auspices of his friend Lord Silverbridge. It was believed, by those who had made some inquiry into the matter, that the Major had really served a campaign as a volunteer in the Carlist army in the north of Spain. When, therefore, it was declared by someone else that he was not a major at all, his friends were able to contradict the assertion, and to impute it to slander. Instances were brought up — declared by these friends to be innumerable, but which did, in truth, amount to three of four — of English gentlemen who had come up from a former Carlist war, bearing the title of colonel, without any contradiction or invidious remark. Had this gallant officer appeared as Colonel Tifto, perhaps less might have been said about it. There was a little lack of courage in the title which he did choose. But it was accepted at last, and, as Major Tifto, he was proposed, seconded, and elected at the Beargarden.

But he had other points in his favour besides the friendship of Lord Silverbridge — points which had probably led to that friendship. He was, without doubt, one of the best horsemen in England. There were some who said that, across country, he was the very best, and that, as a judge of hunters few excelled him. Of late years he had crept into credit as a betting-man. No one supposed that he had much capital to work with, but still, when he lost a bet he paid it.

Soon after his return from Spain, he was chosen as Master of the Runnymede Fox Hounds, and was thus enabled to write the letters M.F.H. after his name. The gentlemen who rode in the Runnymede were not very liberal in their terms, and had lately been compelled to change their Master rather more frequently than was good for that quasi-suburban hunt; but now they had fitted themselves well. How he was to hunt the county five days a fortnight, finding servants and horses, and feeding the hounds, for eight hundred pounds a year, no one could understand. But Major Tifto not only undertook to do it, but did it. And he actually succeeded in obtaining for the Runnymede a degree of popularity which for many years previous it had not possessed. Such a man — even though no one did know anything of his father or mother, though no one had ever heard him speak of a brother or a sister, though it was believed that he had no real income — was felt by many to be the very man for the Beargarden; and when his name was brought up at the committee, Lord Silverbridge was able to say so much in his favour that only two blackballs were given against him. Under the mild rule of the club, three would have been necessary to exclude him; and therefore Major Tifto was now as good a member as anyone else.

He was a well-made little man, good-looking for those who like such good looks. He was light-haired and blue-eyed, with regular and yet not inexpressive features. But his eyes were small and never tranquil, and rarely capable of looking at the person who was speaking to him. He had small, well-trimmed, glossy whiskers, with the best-kept mustache, and the best-kept tuft on his chin which were to be seen anywhere. His face still bore the freshness of youth, which was a marvel to many, who declared that, from facts within their knowledge, Tifto must be far on the wrong side of forty. At a first glance you would hardly have called him thirty. No doubt, when, on close inspection, you came to look into his eyes, you could see the hand of time. Even if you believed the common assertion that he painted — which it was very hard to believe of a man who passed the most of his time in the hunting-field or on a race-course — yet the paint on his cheeks would not enable him to move with the elasticity which seemed to belong to all his limbs. He rode flat races and steeple chases — if jump races may still be so called; and with his own hounds and with the Queen’s did incredible things on horseback. He could jump over chairs too — the backs of four chairs in a dining-room after dinner — a feat which no gentleman of forty-five could perform, even though he painted himself ever so.

So much in praise of Major Tifto honesty has compelled the present chronicler to say. But there were traits of character in which he fell off a little, even in the estimation of those whose pursuits endeared him to them. He could not refrain from boasting — and especially from boasting about women. His desire for glory in that direction knew no bounds, and he would sometimes mention names, and bring himself into trouble. It was told of him that at one period of his life, when misfortune had almost overcome him, when sorrow had produced prostration, and prostration some expression of truth, he had owned to a friend his own conviction that could he have kept his tongue from talking of women, he might have risen to prosperity in his profession. From these misfortunes he had emerged, and, no doubt, had often reflected on what he himself had then said. But we know that the drunkard, though he hates drunkenness, cannot but drink — that the gambler cannot keep from the dice. Major Tifto still lied about women, and could not keep his tongue from the subject. He would boast, too, about other matters — much to his own disadvantage. He was, too, very ‘deep’, and some men, who could put up with his other failings, could not endure that. Whatever he wanted to do he would attempt round three corners. Though he could ride straight, he could do nothing else straight. He was full of mysteries. If he wanted to draw Charter Wood he would take his hounds out of the street at Egham directly in the other direction. If he had made up his mind to ride Lord Pottlepot’s horse for the great Leamington handicap, he would be sure to tell even his intimate friends that he was almost determined to take the ‘baronet’s’ offer of a mount. This he would do even when there was no possible turn in the betting to be affected by such falsehood. So that his companions were apt to complain that there was no knowing where to have Tifto. And then, they who were old enough in the world to have had some experience in men, perceived that peculiar quality of his eyes, which never allowed him to look anyone in the face.

That Major Tifto should make money by selling horses was, perhaps, a necessity to his position. No one grumbled at him because he did so, or thought that such a pursuit was incompatible with his character as a sporting gentleman. But there were some who considered that they had suffered unduly under his hands, and in their bargains with him had been made to pay more than a proper amount of tax for the advantages of his general assistance. When a man has perhaps made fifty pounds by using a ‘straight tip’ as to a horse at Newmarket, in doing which he had of course encountered some risks, he feels he ought not be made to pay the amount back into the pockets of the ‘tipper’, and at the same time to find himself saddled with the possession of a perfectly useless animal. In this way there were rocks in the course through which Tifto was called on to steer his bark. Of course he was anxious, when preying upon his acquaintances, to spare those who were useful friends to him. Now and again he would sell a serviceable animal at a fair price, and would endeavour to make such a sale in favour of someone whose countenance would be a rock to him. He knew his business well, but yet there would be mistakes.

Now, at this very moment, was the culmination of the Major’s life. He was Master of Runnymede Hounds, he was partner with the eldest son of a Duke in the possession of that magnificent colt, the Prime Minister, and he was a member of the Beargarden. He was a man who had often been despondent about himself, but was now disposed to be little triumphant. He had finished his season well with the Runnymede, and were it not that, let him work as he would, his expenses always exceeded his means, he would have been fairly comfortable.

At eight o’clock Lord Silverbridge and his friend met in the dining-room of the Beargarden. ‘Have you been here before?’ asked the Lord.

‘Not in here, my Lord. I just looked in at the smoking-room last night. Glasslough and Nidderdale were there. I thought we should have got up a rubber, but they didn’t seem to see it.’

‘There is whist there generally. You’ll find out all about it before long. Perhaps they are a little afraid of you.’

‘I’m the worst hand at cards, I suppose, In England. A dash at loo for about an hour, and half-a-dozen cuts at blind hookey — that’s about my form. I know I drop more than I pick up. If I knew what I was about I should never touch a card.’

‘Horses; eh, Tifto?’

‘Horses, yes. They’ve pretty good claret, here, eh, Silverbridge?’ He could never hit off his familiarity quite right. He had my-Lorded his young friend at first, and now brought out the name with a hesitating twang, which the young nobleman appreciated. But then the young nobleman was quite aware that the Major was a friend for club purposes, and sporting purposes, and not for home use.

‘Everything of that kind is pretty good here,’ said the Lord.

‘You were saying — horses.’

‘I dare say you deal better with them than cards.’

‘If I didn’t I don’t know where I should be, seeing what a lot pass through my hands in the year. Anyone of our fellows who has a horse to sell thinks that I am bound to buy him. And I do buy ’em. Last May I had forty-two hunters on my hands.’

‘How many of them have you got now?’

‘Three. Three of that lot — though a goodish many have come up since. But what does it amount to? When I have anything that is very good, some fellow that I like gets it from me.’

‘After paying for him?’

‘After paying for him! Yes, I don’t mean that I make a fellow a present. But the man who buys has a deal the best of it. Did you ever get anything better than that spotted chestnut in your life?’

‘What, old Sarcinet?’

‘You had her for one hundred and sixty pounds. Now, if you were on your oath, what is she worth?’

‘She suits me, Major, and of course I shouldn’t sell her.’

‘I rather think not. I knew what that mare was well enough. A dealer would have had three hundred and fifty pounds for her. I could have got the money easily if I had taken her down into the shires, and ridden her a day or two myself.’

‘I gave you what you asked.’

‘Yes, you did. It isn’t often that I take less than I ask. But the fact is, about horses. I don’t know whether I shouldn’t do better if I never owned an animal at all but those I want for my own use. When I am dealing with a man I call a friend, I can’t bear to make money of him. I don’t think fellows give me all the credit they should do for sticking to them.’ The Major, as he said this, leaned back in his chair, put his hand up to his mustache, and looked sadly away into the vacancy of the room, as though he were meditating sorrowfully on the ingratitude of the world.

‘I suppose it’s all right about Cream Cheese?’ asked the Lord.

‘Well; it ought to be.’ And now the Major spoke like an oracle, leaning forward on the table, uttering his words in a low voice, but very plainly, so that not a syllable might be lost. ‘When you remember how he ran at the Craven with 9st 12lb on him, that it took Archbishop all he knew to beat him with only 9st 2lb, and what the lot at Chester are likely to be, I don’t think that there can be seven to one against him. I should be very glad to take it off your hands, only the figures are a little too heavy for me.’

‘I suppose Sunflower’ll be the best animal there?’

‘Not a doubt of it, if he’s all right, and if his temper will stand. Think what a course Chester is for an ill-conditioned brute like that! And then he’s the most uncertain horse in training. There are times he won’t feed. From what I hear, I shouldn’t wonder if he don’t turn up at all.’

‘Solomon says he’s all right.’

‘You won’t get Solomon to take four to one against him, nor yet four and a half. I suppose you’ll go down my Lord?’

‘Well, yes; if there’s nothing else doing just then. I don’t know how it may be about this electioneering business. I shall go and smoke upstairs.’

At the Beargarden there were — I was going to say, two smoking-rooms; but in truth the house was a smoking-room all over. It was, however, the custom of those who habitually played cards, to have their cigars and coffee upstairs. Into this sanctum Major Tifto had not yet been introduced, but now he was taken there under Lord Silverbridge’s wing. There were already four or five assembled, among whom was Mr Adolphus Longstaff, a young man of about thirty-five years of age, who spent very much of his time at the Beargarden. ‘Do you know my friend Tifto?’ said the Lord. ‘Tifto, this is Mr Longstaff, whom men within the walls of this asylum sometimes call Dolly.’ Whereupon the Major bowed and smiled graciously.

‘I have heard of Major Tifto,’ said Dolly.

‘Who has not?’ said Lord Nidderdale, another middle-aged young man, who made one of the company. Again the Major bowed.

‘Last season I was always intending to get down to your country and have a day with the Tiftoes,’ said Dolly. ‘Don’t they call your hounds the Tiftoes?’

‘They shall be called so if you like,’ said the Major. ‘And why didn’t you come?’

‘It always was such a grind.’

‘Train down from Paddington every day at 10.30.’

‘That’s all very well if you happen to be up. Well, Silverbridge, how’s the Prime Minister?’

‘How is he, Tifto?’ asked the noble partner.

‘I don’t think there’s a man in England just at present enjoying a very much better state of health,’ said the Major pleasantly.

‘Safe to run?’ asked Dolly.

‘Safe to run! Why shouldn’t he be safe to run?’

‘I means sure to start.’

‘I think we mean him to start, don’t we, Silverbridge?’ said the Major.

There was something perhaps in the tone in which the last remark was made which jarred a little against the young lord’s dignity. At any rate he got up and declared his purpose of going to the opera. He should look in, he said, and hear a song from Mademoiselle Stuffa. Mademoiselle Stuffa was the nightingale of the season, and Lord Silverbridge, when he had nothing else to do, would sometimes think that he was fond of music. Soon after he was gone Major Tifto had some whisky-and-water, lit his third cigar, and began to feel the glory of belonging to the Beargarden. With Lord Silverbridge, to whom it was essentially necessary that he should make himself agreeable at all times, he was somewhat overweighted as it were. Though he attempted an easy familiarity, he was a little afraid of Lord Silverbridge. With Dolly Longstaff he felt that he might be comfortable — not, perhaps, understanding that gentleman’s character. With Lord Nidderdale he had previously been acquainted, and had found him to be good-natured. So he sipped his whisky, he became confidential and comfortable.

‘I never thought so much about her good looks,’ he said. They were talking of the singer, the charm of whose voice had carried Lord Silverbridge away.

‘Did you ever see her off the stage?’ asked Nidderdale.

‘Oh dear yes.’

‘She does not go about very much, I fancy,’ said someone.

‘I dare say not,’ said Tifto. ‘But she and I have had a day or two together, for all that.’

‘You must have been very much favoured,’ said Dolly.

‘We’ve been pals ever since she has been over here,’ said Tifto, with an enormous lie.

‘How do you get on with her husband?’ asked Dolly — in the simplest voice, as though not in the least surprised at his companion’s statement.

‘Husband!’ exclaimed the Major; who was not possessed of sufficient presence of mind to suppress all signs of ignorance.

‘Ah,’ said Dolly; ‘you are not probably aware that your pal has been married to Mr Thomas Jones for the last year and a half.’ Soon after that Major Tifto left the club — with considerable enhanced respect for Mr Longstaff.

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