The story was soon about the town, and was the one matter for discussion in all racing quarters. About the town! It was about England, about all Europe. It had travelled to America and the Indies, to Australia and the Chinese cities before two hours were over. Before the race was run the accident was discussed and something like the truth surmised in Cairo, Calcutta, Melbourne, and San Francisco. But at Doncaster it was so all-pervading a matter that down to the tradesmen’s daughters and the boys at the free-school the town was divided into two parties, one party believing it to have been a ‘plant’, and the other holding that the cause had been natural. It is hardly necessary to say that the ring, as a rule, belonged to the former party. The ring always suspects. It did not behove even those who would win by the transaction to stand up for its honesty.
The intention had been to take the horse round a portion of the outside of the course near to which his stable stood. A boy rode him and the groom and Tifto went with him. At a certain spot on their return Tifto had exclaimed that the horse was going lame in his off fore-foot. As to this exclamation the boy and two men were agreed. The boy was then made to dismount and run for Mr Pook; and as he started Tifto commenced to examine the horse’s foot. The boy saw him raise the off fore-leg. He himself had not found the horse lame under him, but had been so hustled and hurried out of the saddle by Tifto and the groom that he had not thought on that matter till he was questioned. So far the story told by Tifto and the groom was corroborated by the boy — except as to the horse’s actual lameness. So far the story was believed by all men — except in regard to the actual lameness. And so far it was true. Then, according to Tifto and the groom, the other foot was looked at, but nothing was seen. This other foot, the near fore-foot, was examined by the groom, who declared himself to be so flurried by the lameness of such a horse at such a time, that he hardly knew what he saw or what he did not see. At any rate then in his confusion he found no cause of lameness; but the horse was led into the stable as lame as at tree. Here Tifto found the nail inserted into the very cleft of the frog of the near fore-foot, and so inserted that he could not extract it till the farrier came. That the farrier had extracted the nail from the part of the foot indicated was certainly a fact.
Then there was the nail. Only those who were most peculiarly privileged were allowed to see the nail. But it was buzzed about the racing quarters that the head of the nail — and old rusty, straight, and well-pointed nail — bore on it the mark of a recent hammer. In answer to this it was alleged that the blacksmith in extracting the nail with his pincers, had of course operated on its head, had removed certain particles of rust, and might easily have given it the appearance of having been struck. But in answer to this the farrier, who was a sharp fellow, and quite beyond suspicion in the matter, declared that he had very particularly looked at the nail before he extracted it — had looked at it with the feeling that something base might too probably have been done — and that he was ready to swear that the clear mark on the head of the nail was there before he touched it. And then not in the stable, but lying under the little dung-heap away from the stable-door, there was found a small piece of broken iron bar, about a foot long, which might have answered for a hammer — a rusty bit of iron; and amidst the rust of this there was found such traces as might have been left had it been used in striking such a nail. There were some who declared that neither on the nail nor on the iron could they see anything. And among these was the Major. But Mr Lupton brought a strong magnifying-glass to bear, and the world of examiners was satisfied that the marks were there.
It seemed however to be agreed that nothing could be done. Silverbridge would not lend himself at all to those who suspected mischief. He was miserable enough, but in this great trouble he would not separate himself from Tifto. ‘I don’t believe a word of all that,’ he said to Mr Lupton.
‘It ought to be investigated at any rate.’
‘Mr Pook may do as he likes, but I will have nothing to do with it.’
Then Tifto came to him swaggering. Tifto had to go through a considerable amount of acting, for which he was not very well adapted. The Captain would have done it better. He would have endeavoured to put himself altogether into the same boat with his partner, and would have imagined neither suspicion or enmity on his partner’s part till suspicion or enmity had been shown. But Tifto, who had not expected that the matter should be allowed to pass over without some inquiry, began by assuming that Silverbridge would think of evil of him. Tifto, who at this moment would have given all that he had in the world not to have done the deed, who now hated the instigator of the deed, and felt something almost akin to love for Silverbridge, found himself to be forced by circumstances to defend himself by swaggering. ‘I don’t understand all this that’s going on, my Lord,’ he said.
‘Neither do I,’ replied Silverbridge.
‘Any horse is subject to an accident. I am, I suppose, as great a sufferer as you are, and deuced sight less able to bear it.’
‘Who said anything to the contrary? As for bearing it, we must take it as it comes — both of us. You may as well know now as later that I have done with racing — for ever.’
‘What do you do you tell me that for? You can do as you like and I can do as I like about that. If I had my way about the horse this never would have happened. Taking a horse out at that time in the morning — before a race!’
‘Why, you went out with him yourself.’
‘Yes; —-by Pook’s orders. You allowed Pook to do just as he pleased. I should like to know what money Pook had got on it, and which way he laid it.’ This disgusted Silverbridge so much that he turned away and would have no more to say to Tifto.
Before one o’clock, at which hour it was stated nominally that the races would commence, general opinion had formed itself — and general opinion had nearly hit the truth. General opinion declared that the nail had been driven in wilfully — that it had been done by Tifto himself, and that Tifto had been instigated by Captain Green. Captain Green perhaps overacted his part a little. His intimacy with the Major was well known, and yet, in all this turmoil, he kept himself apart as though he had no interest in the matter. ‘I have got my little money on, and what little I have I lose,’ he said in answer to inquiries. But everyone knew that he could not but have a great interest in a race, as to which the half owner of the favourite was a peculiarly intimate friend of his own. Had he come down to the stables and been seen about the place with Tifto it might have been better. As it was, though he was very quiet, his name was soon mixed up in the matter. There was one man who asserted it as a fact known to himself that Green and Villiers — one Gilbert Villiers — were in partnership together. It was very well known that Gilbert Villiers would win two thousand five hundred pounds from Lord Silverbridge.
Then minute investigations was made into the betting of certain individuals. Of course there would be great plunder, and where would the plunder go? Who would get the money which poor Silverbridge would lose? It was said that one at least of the large bets made on that Tuesday evening could be traced to the same Villiers though not actually made by him. More would be learned when the settling-day should come. But there was quite enough already to show that there were many men determined to get to the bottom of it if possible.
There came upon Silverbridge in his trouble a keen sense of his position and a feeling of the dignity which he ought to support. He clung during great part of the morning to Mr Lupton. Mr Lupton was much his senior and they had never been intimate; but now there was comfort in his society. ‘I am afraid you are hit heavily,’ said Mr Lupton.
‘Something over seventy thousand pounds.’
‘Looking at what will be your property it is of course nothing. But if —’
‘If you go to the Jews for it then it will become a great deal.’
‘I shall certainly not do that.’
‘Then you may regard it as a trifle,’ said Lupton.
‘No, I can’t. It is not a trifle. I must tell my father. He’ll find the money.’
‘There is no doubt about that.’
‘He will. But I feel at present that I would rather change places with the poorest gentleman I know than have to tell him. I have done with races, Lupton.’
‘If so, this will have been a happy day for you. A man in your position can hardly make money by it, but he may lose so much! If a man really likes the amusement — as I do — and risks no more that what he has in his pocket, that may be very well.’
‘At any rate I have done with it.’
Nevertheless he went to see the race run, and everybody seemed to be touched with pity for him. He carried himself well, saying as little as he could of his own horse, and taking, or affecting to take, great interest in the race. After the race he managed to see all those to whom he has lost heavy stakes — having to own to himself as he did so that not one of them was a gentleman to whom who should like to give his hand. To them he explained that his father was abroad — that probably his liabilities could not be settled till after his father’s return. He however would consult his father’s agent and would then appear on settling-day. They were all full of their blandest courtesies. There was not one of them who had any doubt as to getting his money — unless the whole thing might be disputed on the score of Tifto’s villainy. Even then payment could not be disputed unless it was proved that he who demanded the money had been one of the actual conspirators. After having seen his creditors he went away up alone to London.
When in London he went to Carlton Terrace and spent the night in absolute solitude. It had been his plan to join Gerald for some partridge-shooting at Matching, and then to go yachting till such time as he should be enabled to renew his suit to Miss Boncassen. Early in November he would again ask her to be his wife. These had been his plans. But now it seemed that everything was changed. Partridge-shooting and yachting must be out of the question till this terrible load was taken off his shoulders. Soon after his arrival at the house two telegrams followed him from Doncaster. One was from Gerald. ‘What is all this about Prime Minister? Is it a sell? I am so unhappy.’ The other was from Lady Mabel — for among other luxuries Mrs Montacute Jones had her own telegraph-wire at Killancodlem. ‘Can this be true? We are all so miserable. I do hope it is not much.’ From which he learned that his misfortune was already known to all his friends.
And now what was he to do? He ate his supper, and then without hesitating for a moment — feeling that if he did hesitate the task would not be done on that night — he sat down and wrote the following letter.
‘Carlton Terrace, Sept. 14, 18-.
‘MY DEAR MR MORETON,
‘I have just come up from Doncaster. You have probably heard what has been Prime Minister’s fate. I don’t know whether any horse has been such a favourite for the Leger. Early in the morning he was taken out and picked up a nail. The consequence was he could not run.
‘Now I must come to the bad part of my story. I have lost seventy thousand pounds! It is no use beating about the bush. The sum is something over that. What am I to do? If I tell you that I shall give up racing altogether I dare say you will not believe me. It is a sort of thing a man always says when he wants money; but I feel now I cannot help saying it.
‘But what shall I do? Perhaps, if it be not too much trouble, you will come up to town and see me. You can send me a word by the wires.
‘You may be sure of this. I shall make no attempt to raise the money elsewhere, unless I find that my father will not help me. You will understand that of course it must be paid. You will understand also what I must feel about telling my father, but I shall do so at once. I only wait till I can hear from you.
‘Yours faithfully, ‘SILVERBRIDGE.’
During the next day two despatches reached Lord Silverbridge, both of them coming as he sat down to his solitary dinner. The first consisted of a short but very civil note.
‘Messrs Comfort and Criball present their compliments to the Earl of Silverbridge.
‘Messrs C and C beg to offer their apologies for interfering, but desire to inform his Lordship that should cash be wanting to any amount in consequence of the late races, they will be happy to accommodate his Lordship on most reasonable terms at a moment’s notice, upon his Lordship’s simple bond.
‘Lord Silverbridge may be sure of absolute secrecy.
‘Crasham Court, Crutched Friars, Sept 15, 18-.’
The other despatch was a telegram from Mr Moreton, saying that he would be in Carlton Terrace by noon on the following day.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55