The Duke's Children, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 75

The Major’s Story

By the end of March Isabel was in Paris, whither she had forbidden her lover to follow her. Silverbridge was therefore reduced to the shifts of a bachelor’s life, in which his friends seemed to think that he ought now to take special delight. Perhaps he did not take much delight in them. He was no doubt impatient to commence that steady married life for which he had prepared himself. But nevertheless, just at present, he lived a good deal at the Beargarden. Where was he to live? The Boncassens were in Paris, his sister was at Matching with a houseful of other Pallisers, and his father was again deep in politics.

Of course he was much in the House of Commons, but that also was stupid. Indeed everything would be stupid till Isabel came back. Perhaps dinner was more comfortable at the club than at the House. And then, as everybody knew, it was a good thing to change the scene. Therefore he dined at the club, and though he would keep his hansom and go down to the House again in the course of the evening, he spent many long hours at the Beargarden. ‘There’ll very soon be an end of this as far as you are concerned,’ said Mr Lupton to him one evening as they were sitting in the smoking-room after dinner.

‘The sooner the better as far as this place is concerned.’

‘This place is as good as any other. For the matter of that I like the Beargarden since we got rid of two or three not very charming characters.’

‘You mean my poor friend Tifto,’ said Silverbridge.

‘No; — I was not thinking of Tifto. There were one or two here who were quite as bad as Tifto. I wonder what has become of that poor devil?’

‘I don’t know in the least. You heard of that row about the hounds?’

‘And his letter to you.’

‘He wrote to me — and I answered him, as you know. But whither he vanished or what he is doing, or how he is living, I have not the least idea.’

‘Gone to join those other fellows abroad I should say. Among them they got a lot of money — as the Duke ought to remember.’

‘He is not with them,’ said Silverbridge, as though he were in some degree mourning over the fate of his unfortunate friend.

‘I suppose Captain Green was the leader in all that.’

‘Now it is all done and gone I own to a certain regard for the Major. He was true to me till he thought I snubbed him. I would not let him go down to Silverbridge with me. I always thought that I drove the poor Major to his malpractice.’

At this moment Dolly Longstaff sauntered into the room and came up to them. It may be remembered that Dolly had declared his purpose of emigrating. As soon as he heard that the Duke’s heir had serious thoughts of marrying the lady whom he loved he withdrew at once from the contest, but, as he did so, he acknowledged that there could be no longer a home for him in the country which Isabel was to inhabit as the wife of another man. Gradually, however, better thoughts returned to him. After all, what was she but a ‘pert poppet’? He determined that marriage ‘clips a fellow’s wings confoundedly’, and so he set himself to enjoy life after his old fashion. There was perhaps a little swagger as he threw himself into a chair and addressed the happy lover. ‘I’ll be shot if I didn’t meet Tifto at the corner of the street.’

‘Tifto!’

‘Yes, Tifto. He looked awfully seedy, with a greatcoat buttoned up to his chin, a shabby hat and gloves.’

‘Did he speak to you?’ asked Silverbridge.

‘No; — nor I to him. He hadn’t time to think whether he would speak or not, and you may be sure I didn’t.’

Nothing further was said about the man, but Silverbridge was uneasy and silent. When his cigar was finished he got up saying that he should go back to the House. As he left the club he looked about him as though expecting to see his old friend, and when he had passed through the first street and had got into the Haymarket there he was! The Major came up to him, touched his hat, asked to be allowed to say a few words. ‘I don’t think it can do any good,’ said Silverbridge. The man had not attempted to shake hands with him, or affected familiarity; but seemed to be thoroughly humiliated. ‘I don’t think I can be of any service to you, and therefore I had rather decline.’

‘I don’t want you to be of any service, my Lord.’

‘Then what’s the good?’

‘I have something to say. May I come to you tomorrow?’

Then Silverbridge allowed himself to make an appointment, and an hour was named at which Tifto might call into Carlton Terrace. He felt that he almost owed some reparation to the wretched man — whom he had unfortunately admitted among his friends, whom he had used, and to whom he had been uncourteous. Exactly at the hour named the Major was shown into the room.

Dolly had said that he was shabby — but the man was altered rather than shabby. He still had rings on his fingers and studs in his shirt, and a jewelled pin in his cravat — but he had shaven off his moustache and the tuft from his chin, and his hair had been cut short, and in spite of his jewellery there was a hang-dog look about him. ‘I’ve got something that I particularly want to say to you, my Lord.’ Silverbridge would not shake hands with him, but could not refrain from offering him a chair.

‘Well; — you can say it now.’

‘Yes; — but it isn’t so very easy to be said. There are some things, though you want to say them ever, so you don’t quite know how to do it.’

‘You have your choice, Major Tifto. You can speak or hold your tongue.’

Then there was a pause, during which Silverbridge sat with his hands in his pockets trying to look unconcerned. ‘But if you’ve got it here, and feel it as I do,’— the poor man as he said this put his hand upon his heart — ‘you can’t sleep in your bed till it’s out. I did that thing that they said I did.’

‘What thing?’

‘Why, the nail! It was I lamed the horse.’

‘I am sorry for it. I can say nothing else.’

‘You ain’t so sorry for it as I am. Oh no; you can never be that, my Lord. After all what does it matter to you.’

‘Very little. I meant that I was sorry for your sake.’

‘I believe you are, my Lord. For though you could be rough you was always kind. Now I will tell you everything, and then you can do as you please.’

‘I wish to do nothing. As far as I am concerned the matter is over. It made me sick of horses, and I do not wish to have to think of it again.’

‘Nevertheless, my Lord, I’ve got to tell it. It was Green who put me up to it. He did it just for the plunder. As God is my judge it was not for the money I did it.’

‘Then it was revenge.’

‘It was the devil got hold of me, my Lord. Up to that I had always been square — square as a die! I got to think that your Lordship was upsetting. I don’t know whether your Lordship remembers, but you did put me down once or twice rather uncommon.’

‘I hope I was not unjust.’

‘I don’t say you was, my Lord. But I got a feeling on me that you wanted to get rid of me, and I all the time doing the best I could for the ‘orses. I did do the best I could up to that very morning at Doncaster. Well; — it was Green put me up to it. I don’t say I was to get nothing; but it wasn’t so much more than I could have got by the ‘orse winning. And I’ve lost pretty nearly all that I did get. Do you remember, my Lord,’— and now the Major sank his voice to a whisper — ‘when I come up to your bedroom that morning?’

‘I remember it.’

‘The first time?’

‘Yes; I remember it.’

‘Because I came twice, my Lord. When I came first it hadn’t been done. You turned me out.’

‘That is true, Major Tifto.’

‘You was very rough then. Wasn’t you rough?’

‘A man’s bedroom is generally supposed to be private.’

‘Yes, my Lord — that’s true. I ought to have sent your man first. I came then to confess it all, before it was done.’

‘Then why couldn’t you let the horse alone?’

‘I was in their hands. And then you was so rough with me! So I said to myself I might as well do it — and I did it.’

‘What do you want me to say? As far as my forgiveness goes, you have it!’

‘That saying a great deal, my Lord — a great deal,’ said Tifto, now in tears. ‘But I ain’t said it all yet. He’s here; in London!’

‘Who’s here.’

‘Green. He’s here. He doesn’t think I know, but I could lay my hands on him tomorrow.’

‘There is no human being alive, Major Tifto, whose presence or absence could be a matter of more indifference to me.’

‘I’ll tell you what I’ll do, my Lord. I’ll go before any judge, or magistrate, or police-officer in the country, and tell the truth. I won’t ask even for a pardon. They shall punish me and him too. I’m in that state of mind that any change would be for the better. But he — he ought to have it heavy.’

‘It won’t be done by me, Major Tifto. Look here, Major Tifto, you have come here to confess that you have done me a great injury.’

‘Yes, I have.’

‘And you say you are sorry for it.’

‘Indeed I am.’

‘And I have forgiven you. There is only one way in which you can show your gratitude. Hold your tongue about it. Let it be as a thing done and gone. The money has been paid. The horse has been sold. The whole thing has gone out of my mind, and I don’t want to have it brought back again.’

‘And nothing is to be done to Green?’

‘I should say nothing — on that score.’

‘And he has got they say five-and-twenty thousand pounds clear money.’

‘It is a pity, but it cannot be helped. I will have nothing further to do with it. Of course I cannot bind you, but I have told you my wishes.’ The poor wretch was silent, but still it seemed as though he did not wish to go quite yet. ‘If you have said what you have got to say, Major Tifto, I may as well tell you that my time is engaged.’

‘And must that be all?’

‘What else?’

‘I am in such a state of mind, Lord Silverbridge, that it would be satisfaction to tell it all, even against myself.’

‘I can’t prevent you.’

Then Tifto got up from his chair, as though he were going. ‘I wish I knew what I was going to do with myself.’

‘I don’t know that I can help you, Major Tifto.’

‘I suppose not, my Lord. I haven’t twenty pounds left in all the world. It’s the only thing that wasn’t square that ever I did in all my life. Your Lordship couldn’t do anything for me? We was very much together at one time, my Lord.’

‘Yes, Major Tifto, we were.’

‘Of course I was a villain. But it was only once; and your Lordship was so rough with me! I am not saying but what I was a villain. Think of what I did for myself by that one piece of wickedness! Master of Hounds! Member of the club! And the horse would have run in my name and won the Leger! And everybody knew as your Lordship and me was together in him!’ Then he burst out into a paroxysm of tears and sobbing.

The young Lord certainly could not take the man into partnership again, nor could he restore to him either the hounds or his club — or his clean hands. Nor did he know in what way he could serve the man, except by putting his hand into his pocket — which he did. Tifto accepted the gratuity, and ultimately became an annual pensioner on his former noble partner, living on the allowance made him in some obscure corner of South Wales.

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