The Leger this year was to be run on the fourteenth of September, and while Lord Silverbridge was amusing himself with the dear at Crummie-Toddie and at Killancodlem with the more easily pursued young ladies, the indefatigable Major was hard at work in the stables. This came a little hard on him. There was the cub-hunting to be looked after, which made his presence at Runnymede necessary, and then that ‘pig-headed fellow, Silverbridge’, would not have the horse trained anywhere but at Newmarket. How was he to be in two places at once? Yet he was in two places, almost at once, cub-hunting in the morning at Egham and Bagshot, and sitting on the same evening at the stable-door at Newmarket, with his eyes fixed upon Prime Minister.
Gradually had he and Captain Green come to understand each other, and though they did at last understand each other, Tifto would talk as though there were no such correct intelligence; — when for instance he would abuse Lord Silverbridge for being pig-headed. On such occasions the Captain’s remark would generally be short. ‘That be blowed!’ he would say, implying that that state of things between the two partners in which such complaints might be natural, had now been brought to an end. But on one occasion, about a week before the race, he spoke out a little plainer. ‘What’s the use of going on with all that, before me? It’s settled what you’ve got to do.’
‘I don’t know that anything is settled,’ said the Major.
‘Ain’t it? I thought it was. if it aren’t you’ll find yourself in the wrong box. You’ve as straight a tip as a man need wish for, but if you back out you’ll come to grief. Your money’s all on the other way already.’
On the Friday before the race Silverbridge dined with Tifto at the Beargarden. On the next morning they went down to Newmarket to see the horse get a gallop, and came back the same evening. During all this time, Tifto was more than ordinarily pleasant to his patron. The horse and the certainty of the horse’s success were the only subjects mooted. ‘It isn’t what I say,’ repeated Tifto, ‘but look at the betting. You can’t get five to four against him. They tell me that if you want to do anything on the Sunday the pull will be the other way.’
‘I stand to lose twenty thousand pounds already,’ said Silverbridge, almost frightened by the amount.
‘But how much are you to win?’ said Tifto. ‘I suppose you could sell your bets for five thousand pounds down.’
‘I wish I knew how to do it,’ said Silverbridge. But this was an arrangement, which, if made just now, would not suit the Major’s views.
They went to Newmarket, and there they met Captain Green. ‘Tifto,’ said the young lord, ‘I won’t have that fellow with us when that horse is galloping.’
‘There isn’t an honester man, or a man who understands a horse’s pace better in all England,’ said Tifto.
‘I won’t have him standing alongside of me on the Heath,’ said his lordship.
‘I don’t know how I’m to help it.’
‘If he’s there I’ll send the horse in; — that’s all.’ Then Tifto found it best to say a few words to Captain Green. But the Captain also said a few words to himself. ‘D—— young fool; he don’t know what he’s dropping into.’ Which assertion, if you lay aside the unnecessary expletive, was true to the letter. Lord Silverbridge was a young fool, and did not at all know into what a mess he was being dropped by the united experience, perspicuity, and energy of the man whose company on the Heath he had declined.
The horse was quite a picture to look at. Mr Pook the trainer assured his Lordship that for health and condition he had never seen anything better. ‘Stout all over,’ said Mr Pook, ‘and not an ounce of what you may call flesh. And bright! just feel his coat, my Lord! That’s ‘ealth — that is; not dressing, nor yet macassar!’
And then there were various evidences produced of his pace — how he had beaten that horse, giving him two pounds, how he had been beated by that, but only a mile course; the Leger distance was just the thing for Prime Minister; how by a lucky chance that marvellous quick rat of a thing that had won the Derby had not been entered for the autumn race; how Coalheaver was known to have bad feet. ‘He’s a stout ‘orse, no doubt — is the ‘Eaver,’ said Mr Pook, ‘and that’s why the betting-men have stuck to him. But he’ll be nowhere on Wednesday. They’re beginning to see it now, my Lord. I wish they wasn’t so sharp-sighted.’
In the course of the day, however, they met a gentleman who was of a different opinion. He said loudly that he looked on the Heaver as the best three-year-old in England. Of course as matters stood he wasn’t going to back the Heaver with even money; — but he’d take twenty-five to thirty in hundreds between the two. All this ended in the bet being accepted and duly booked by Lord Silverbridge. And in this way Silverbridge added two thousand four hundred pounds to his responsibilities.
But there was worse than this coming. On the Sunday afternoon he went down to Doncaster, of course in the company with the Major. He was alive to the necessity of ridding himself of the Major; but it had been acknowledged that the duty could not be performed till after this race had been run. As he sat opposite to his friend on their journey to Doncaster, he thought of this in the train. It should be done immediately on their return to London after the race. But the horse, his Prime Minister, was by this time so dear to him that he intended if possible to keep possession of the animal.
When they reached Doncaster the racing-men were all occupied with Prime Minister. The horse and Mr Pook had arrived that day from Newmarket, via Cambridge and Peterborough. Tifto, Silverbridge, and Mr Pook visited him together three times that afternoon and evening; — and the Captain also visited the horse, though not in company with Lord Silverbridge. To do Mr Pook justice, no one could be more careful. When the Captain came round with the Major Mr Pook was there. But Captain Green did not enter the box — had no wise to do so, was of the opinion that on such occasions no one whose business did not carry him there should go near a horse. His only object seemed to be to compliment Mr Pook as to his care, skill, and good fortune.
It was on the Tuesday evening that the chief mischief was done. There was a club at which many of the racing-men dined, and there Lord Silverbridge spent his evening. He was the hero of the hour, and everybody flattered him. It must be acknowledged that his head was turned. They dined at eight and much wine was drunk. No one was tipsy, but many were elated; and much confidence in their favourite animals was imparted to men who had been sufficiently cautious before dinner. Then cigars and soda-and-brandy became common, and our young friend was not more abstemious than others. Large sums were named, and at last in three successive bets Lord Silverbridge backed his horse for more than forty thousand pounds. As he was making the second bet Mr Lupton came across to him and begged him to hold his hand. ‘It will be a nasty sum for you to lose, and winning it will be nothing to you,’ he said. Silverbridge took it good-humouredly, but said that he knew what he was about. ‘These men will pay,’ whispered Lupton; ‘but you can’t be sure what they’re at.’ The young man’s brow was covered with perspiration. He was smoking quick and had already smoked more than was good for him. ‘All right,’ he said. ‘I’ll mind what I’m about.’ Mr Lupton could do no more, and retired. Before the night was over bets had been booked to the amount stated, and the Duke’s son, who had promised that he would never plunge, stood to lose about seventy thousand pounds upon the race.
While this was going on Tifto sat not far from his patron, but completely silent. During the day and early in the evening a few sparks of the glory which scintillated from the favourite horse flew in his direction. But he was on this occasion unlike himself, and though the horse was to be run in his name had very little to say in the matter. Not a boast came out of his mouth during dinner or after dinner. He was so moody that his partner, who was generally anxious to keep him quiet, more than once endeavoured to encourage him. But he was unable to rouse himself. It was still within his power to run straight; to be on the square, if not with Captain Green, at any rate with Lord Silverbridge. But to do so he must make a clean breast with his Lordship and confess the intended sin. As he heard all that was being done, his conscience troubled him sorely. With pitch of this sort he had never soiled himself before. He was to have three thousand pounds from Green, and then there would be the bets he himself had laid against the horse — by Green’s assistance! It would be the making of him. Of what use had been all his ‘square’ work to him? And then Silverbridge had behaved so badly to him! But still, as he sat there during the evening, he would have given a hand to have been free from the attempt. He had no conception before that he could become subject to such misery from such a cause. He would make it straight with Silverbridge this very night — but that Silverbridge was ever lighting fresh cigars and ever having his glass refilled. It was clear to him that on this night Silverbridge could not be made to understand anything about it. And the deed in which he himself was to be the chief actor was to be done very early in the following morning. At last he slunk away to bed.
On the following morning, the morning of the day on which the race was to be run, the Major tapped on his patron’s door about seven o’clock. Of course there was no answer though the knock was repeated. When young men overnight drink as much brandy-and-water as Silverbridge had done, and smoke as many cigars, they are apt not to hear knocks at their door made at seven o’clock. But there was no time, not a minute, to be lost. Now, within this minute that was pressing on him, Tifto must choose his course. He opened the door and was standing at the young man’s head.
‘What the d — does this mean?’ said his Lordship angrily, as soon as his visitor had succeeded in waking him. Tifto muttered something about the horse which Silverbridge failed to understand. The young man’s condition was by no means pleasant. His mouth was furred by the fumes of tobacco. His head was aching. He was heavy with sleep, and this intrusion seemed to him to be a final indignity offered to him by the man whom he now hated. ‘What business have you to come in here?’ he said, leaning on his elbow. ‘I don’t care a straw for the horse. If you have anything to say send my servant. Get out!’
‘Oh; — very well,’ said Tifto; — and Tifto got out.
It was about an hour afterwards that Tifto returned, and on this occasion a groom from the stables, and the young Lord’s own servant, and two or three other men were with him. Tifto had been made to understand that the news was about to be communicated, must be communicated by himself, whether his Lordship were angry or not. Indeed, after what had been done his Lordship’s anger was not of much moment. In his present visit he was only carrying out the pleasant little plan which had been arranged for him by Captain Green. ‘What the mischief is up?’ said Silverbridge, rising in his bed.
Then Tifto told his story, sullenly, doggedly, but still in a perspicuous manner, and with words which admitted of no doubt. But before he told the story he had excluded all but himself and the groom. He and the groom had taken the horse out of the stable, it being the animal’s nature to eat his corn better after a slight exercise, and while doing so a nail had been picked up.
‘Is it much?’ asked Silverbridge, jumping still higher in his bed. Then he was told that it was very much — that the iron had driven itself into the horse’s frog, and that there was actually no possibility that the horse should be run that day.
‘He can’t walk, my Lord,’ said the groom in that authoritative voice which grooms use when they desire to have their own way, and to make their masters understand that they at any rate are not to have theirs.
‘Where is Pook?’ asked Silverbridge. But Mr Pook was also still in bed.
It was soon known to Lord Silverbridge as a fact that in very truth the horse could not run. Then sick with headache, with a stomach suffering unutterable things, he had, as he dressed himself, to think of his seventy thousand pounds. Of course the money would be forthcoming. But how would his father look at him? How would it be between him and his father now? after such a misfortune how would he be able to break that other matter to the Duke, and say that he had changed his mind about his marriage — that he was going to abandon Lady Mabel Grex and give his hand and a future Duchess’s coronet to an American girl whose grandfather had been a porter.
A nail in his foot! He had heard of such things before. He knew that such accidents had happened. What an ass must he have been to risk such a sum on the well-being and safety of an animal who might any day pick up a nail in is foot? Then he thought of the caution which Lupton had given him. What good would the money have done him had he won it? What more could he have than he now enjoyed? But to lose such a sum of money! With all his advantages of wealth he felt himself to be as forlorn and wretched as though he had nothing left in the world before him.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14