We all know that very clever distich concerning the great fleas and the little fleas which tell us that no animal is too humble to have its parasite. Even Major Tifto had his inferior friend. This was a certain Captain Green — for the friend also affected military honours. Tifto, of whose antecedents no one was supposed to know anything. It was presumed of him that he lived by betting, and it was boasted by those who wished to defend his character that when he lost he paid his money like a gentleman. Tifto during the last year or two had been anxious to support Captain Green, and had always made use of this argument; ‘Where the D—— he gets his money I don’t know; — but when he loses it, there it is.’
Major Tifto had a little ‘box’ of his own in the neighbourhood of Egham, at which he had a set of stables a little bigger than his house, and a set of kennels a little bigger than his stables. It was here he kept his horses and hounds, and himself too when business connected with his sporting life did not take him to town. It was now the middle of August and he had come to Tally-ho Lodge, there to look after his establishments, to make arrangements for cub-hunting, and to prepare for the autumn racing campaign. On this occasion Captain Green was enjoying his hospitality and assisting him by sage counsels. Behind the little box was a little garden — a garden that was very little; but, still, thus close to the parlour window, there was room for a small table to be put on the grass-plat, and for a couple of armchairs. Here the Major and the Captain were seated about eight o’clock one evening, with convivial good things within their reach. The good things were gin-and-water and pipes. The two gentlemen had not dressed strictly for dinner. They had spent a great part of the day handling the hounds and the horses, dressing wounds, curing sores, and ministering to canine ailments, and had been detained over their work too long to think of their toilet. As it was they had an eye to business. The stables at one corner and the kennels at the other were close to the little garden, and the doings of a man and a boy who were still at their work could be directed from the armchairs on which the two sportsmen were sitting.
It must be explained that ever since the Silverbridge election there had been a growing feeling in Tifto’s mind that he had been ill-treated by his partner. The feeling was strengthened by the admirable condition of Prime Minister. Surely more consideration had been due to a man who had produced such a state of things?
‘I wouldn’t quarrel with him, but I’d make him pay his way,’ said the prudent Captain.
‘As for that, of course he does pay — his share.’
‘Who does all the work?’
‘The fact is, Tifto, you don’t make enough out of it. When a small man like you has to deal with a big man like that, he may take it out of him in one of two ways. But he must be deuced clever if he can get it both ways.’
‘What are you driving at?’ asked Tifto, who did not like being called a small man, feeling himself to be every inch a master of foxhounds.
‘Why, this! — Look at d —— fellow fretting that ‘orse with a switch. If you can’t strap a ‘orse without a stick in your hand, don’t you strap him at all, you —’ Then there came volley of abuse out of the Captain’s mouth, in the middle of which the man threw down the rubber he was using and walked away.
‘You come back,’ halloed Tifto, jumping up from his seat with his pipe in his mouth. Then there was a general quarrel between the man and his two masters, in which the man was at last victorious. And the horse was taken into the stable in an unfinished condition. ‘It’s all very well to say “Get rid of him”, but where am I to get anybody better? It has come to such a pass that now if you speak to a fellow he walks out of the yard.’
They then returned to the state of affairs, as it was between Tifto and Lord Silverbridge. ‘What I was saying is this,’ continued the Captain. ‘If you choose to put yourself up to live with a fellow like that on equal terms —’
‘One gentleman with another, you mean?’
‘Put it so. it don’t quite hit it off, but put it so. why then you get your wages when you take his arm and call him Silverbridge.’
‘I don’t want wages from any man,’ said the indignant Major.
‘That comes from not knowing what wages is. I do want wages. If I do a thing I like to be paid for it. You are paid for it after one fashion, I prefer the other.’
‘Do you mean he should give me — a salary?’
‘I’d have it out of him someway. What’s the good of young chaps of that sort if they aren’t made to pay? You’ve got this young swell in tow. He’s going to be about the richest man in England; — and what the deuce better are you for it?’ Tifto sat meditating, thinking of the wisdom of the wisdom which was being spoken. The same ideas had occurred to him. The happy chance which had made in intimate with Lord Silverbridge had not yet enriched him. ‘What is the good of chaps of that sort if they are not made to pay?’ The words were wise words. But yet how glorious he had been when he was elected at the Beargarden, and had entered the club as the special friend of the heir of the Duke of Omnium.
After a short pause, Captain Green pursued his discourse. ‘You said salary.’
‘I did mention the word.’
‘Salary and wages is one. A salary is a nice thing if it’s paid regular. I had a salary once myself for looking after a stud of ‘orses at Newmarket, only the gentleman broke up and it never went very far.’
‘Was that Marley Bullock?’
‘Yes; that was Marley Bullock. He’s abroad somewhere now with nothing a year paid quarterly to live on. I think he does a little at cards. He’d had a good bit of money once, but most of it was gone when he came my way.’
‘You didn’t make by him?’
‘I didn’t lose nothing. I didn’t have a lot of ‘orses under me without getting something out of it.’
‘What am I to do?’ asked Tifto. ‘I can sell him a horse now and again. But if I give him anything good there isn’t much to come out of that.’
‘Very little I should say. Don’t he put his money on his ‘orses?’
‘Not very free. I think he’s coming out freer now.’
‘What did he stand to win on the Derby?’
‘A thousand or two perhaps.’
‘There may be something got handsome out of that,’ said the Captain, not venturing to allow his voice above a whisper. Major Tifto looked hard at him but said nothing. ‘Of course you must see your way.’
‘I don’t quite understand.’
‘Race ‘orses are expensive animals — and races generally expensive.’
‘When so much is dropped, somebody has to pick it up. That’s what I’ve always said to myself. I’m as honest as another man.’
‘That’s of course, said the Major civilly.
‘But if I don’t keep my mouth shut, somebody’ll have my teeth out of my head. Every one for himself and God for us all. I suppose there’s a deal of money flying about. He’ll put a lot of money on this ‘orse of yours for the Leger if he’s managed right. There’s more to be got out of that than calling him Silverbridge and walking arm-in-arm. Business is business. I don’t know whether I make myself understood.’
The gentleman did not quite make himself understood; but Tifto endeavoured to read the riddle. He must in some way make money out of his friend Lord Silverbridge. Hitherto he had contented himself with the brilliancy of the connection; but now his brilliant friend had taken to snubbing him, and had on more than one occasion made himself disagreeable. It seemed to him that Captain Green counselled him to put up with that, but counselled him at the same time to — pick up some of his friend’s money. He didn’t think he could ask Lord Silverbridge for a salary. He who was Master of Foxhounds, and a member of the Beargarden. Then his friend had suggested something about the young Lord’s bets. He was endeavouring to unriddle all this with a brain that was already somewhat muddled with alcohol, when Captain Green got up from his chair and standing over the Major spoke his last words for that night as an oracle. ‘Square is all very well, as long as others are square with you; — but when they aren’t, then I say square be d-. Square! what comes of it? Work your heart out, and then it’s no good.’
The Major thought about it much that night, and was thinking about it still when he awoke on the next morning. He would like to make Lord Silverbridge pay for his late insolence. It would answer his purpose to make a little money — as he told himself — in any honest way. At the present moment he was in want of money, and on looking into his affairs declared to himself that he certainly impoverished himself by his devotion to Lord Silverbridge’s interests. At breakfast on the following morning he endeavoured to bring his friend back on to the subject. But the Captain was cross, rather than oracular. ‘Everybody,’ he said, ‘ought to know his own business.’ He wasn’t going to meddle or make. What he had said had been taken amiss. This was hard upon Tifto, who had taken nothing amiss.
‘Square be d-!’ There was a great deal in the lesson there enunciated which demanded consideration. Hitherto the Major had fought his battles with a certain adherence to squareness. If his angles had not all been perfect angles, still there had always been an attempt at geometrical accuracy. He might now and then have told a lie about a horse — but who that deals in horses has not done that? He had been alive to the value of underhand information from racing-stables, but who won’t use a tip if he can get it? He had lied about the expense of his hounds, in order to enhance the subscription of his members. Those were things which everybody did in his line. But Green had meant something beyond this.
As far as he could see out in the world at large, nobody was square. You had to keep your mouth shut, or your teeth would be stolen out of it. He didn’t look into a paper without seeing that on all sides of him men had abandoned the idea of squareness. Chairmen, directors, members of Parliament, ambassadors — all the world, as he told himself — were trying to get on by their wits. He didn’t see why he should be more square than anybody else. Why hadn’t Silverbridge taken him down to Scotland for the grouse?
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01