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Major Tifto and the Duke
'I beg your pardon, Silverbridge,' said the Major, entering the room, 'but I was looking for Longstaff.'
'He isn't here,' said Silverbridge, who did not wish to be interrupted by his racing friend.
'Your father, I believe?' said Tifto. He was red in the face but was in other respects perhaps improved in appearance by his liquor. In his more sober moments he was not always able to assume that appearance of equality with his companions which it was the ambition of his soul to achieve. But a second glass of whisky-and- water would always enable him to cock his tail and bark before the company with all the courage of my lady's pug. 'Would you do me the great honour to introduce me to his Grace?'
Silverbridge was not prone to turn his back upon a friend because he was low in the world. He had begun to understand that he had made a mistake by connecting himself with the Major, but at the club he always defended his partner. Though he not infrequently found himself obliged to snub the Major himself, he always countenanced the little Master of the Hounds, and was true to his own idea of 'standing to a fellow'. Nevertheless he did not wish to introduce his friend to his father. The Duke saw it all at a glance, and felt that the introduction should be made. 'Perhaps,' said he, getting up from his chair, 'this is Major Tifto.'
'Yes;--my Lord Duke. I am Major Tifto.'
The Duke bowed graciously. 'My father and I were engaged about private matters.'
'I beg ten thousand pardons,' exclaimed the Major. 'I did not intend to intrude.'
'I think we had done,' said the Duke. 'Pray sit down, Major Tifto.' The Major sat down. 'Though now I bethink myself, I have to beg your pardon;--that I a stranger should ask you to sit down in your own club.'
'Don't mention it, my Lord Duke.'
'I am so unused to clubs, that I forgot where I was.'
'Quite so, my Lord Duke. I hope you think that Silverbridge is looking well?'
'Yes;--yes. I think so.' Silverbridge bit his lips, and turned his face away to the door.
'We didn't make a very good thing of our Derby nag the other day. Perhaps your Grace has heard all that?'
'I did hear that the horse in which you are both interested had failed to win the race.'
'Yes, he did. The Prime Minister, we call him, your Grace,--out of compliment to a certain Ministry which I wish was going on today instead of the seedy lot we've got in. I think, my Lord Duke, that any one you ask may tell you that I know what running is. Well;--I can assure you,--your Grace, that is,--that since I've seen 'orses I've never seen a 'orse fitter than him. When he got his canter that morning, it was nearly even betting. Not that I or Silverbridge were fools enough to put on anything at any rate. But I never saw a 'orse so bad ridden. I don't mean to say anything, my Lord Duke, against the man. But if that fellow hadn't been squared, or else wasn't drunk, or else off his head, that 'orse must have won,--my Lord Duke.'
'I do not know anything about racing, Major Tifto.'
'I suppose not, your Grace. But as I and Silverbridge are together in this matter I thought I'd just let your Grace know that we ought to have had a very good thing. I thought that perhaps your Grace might like to know that.'
'Tifto, you are making an ass of yourself,' said Silverbridge.
'Making an ass of myself!' exclaimed the Major.
'I think you are a little hard upon your friend,' said the Duke, with an attempt at a laugh. 'It is not to be supposed that he should know how utterly indifferent I am to everything connected with the turf.'
'I thought, my Lord Duke, you might care about learning how Silverbridge was going on.' This the poor little man said almost with a whine. His partner's roughness had knocked out of him nearly all the courage which Bacchus had given him.
'So I do; anything that interests him, interests me. But perhaps of all his pursuits racing is the one to which I am least able to lend an attentive ear. That every horse has a head, and that all did have tails till they were ill-used, is the extent of my stable knowledge.'
'Very good indeed, my Lord Duke, very good indeed! Ha, ha, ha!-all horses have heads, and all have tails! Heads and tails. Upon my word that is the best thing I have heard for a long time. I will do myself the honour of wishing your Grace good-night. By-bye, Silverbridge.' Then he left the room, having been made supremely happy by what he considered to have been the Duke's joke. Nevertheless he would remember the snubbing and would be even with Silverbridge some day. Did Lord Silverbridge think that he was going to look after his Lordship's 'orses, and do this always on the square, and then be snubbed for doing it!
'I am very sorry that he should have come in to trouble you,' said the son.
'He has not troubled me much. I do not know whether he has troubled you. If you are coming down to the House again I will walk with you.' Silverbridge of course had to go down to the House again, and they started together. 'That man did not trouble me Silverbridge; but the question is whether such an acquaintance must not be troublesome to you.'
'I'm not very proud of him, sir.'
'But I think one ought to be proud of one's friends.'
'He isn't my friend in that way at all.'
'In what way then?'
'He understands racing.'
'He is the partner of your pleasure then;--the man whose society you love to enjoy the recreation of the racecourse.'
'It is, sir, because he understands it.'
'I thought that a gentleman on the turf would have a trainer for that purpose;--not a companion. You mean to imply that you can save money by leaguing yourself with Major Tifto.'
'If you associate with him, not for pleasure, then it must surely be for profit. That you should do the former would be to me surprising that I must regard it as impossible. That you should do the latter--is, I think, a reproach.' This, he said, with no tone of anger in his voice,--so gently that Silverbridge at first hardly understood it. But gradually all that was meant came in upon him, and he felt himself to be ashamed of himself.
'He is bad,' he said at last.
'Whether he is bad I will not say; but I am sure that you can gain nothing by his companionship.'
'I will get rid of him,' said Silverbridge, after a considerable pause. 'I cannot do so at once, but I will do it.'
'It will be better, I think.'
'Tregear has been telling me the same thing.'
'Is he objectionable to Mr Tregear?' asked the Duke.
'Oh yes. Tregear cannot bear him. You treated him a great deal better than Tregear ever does.'
'I do not deny that he is entitled to be treated well;--but so also is your groom. Let us say no more about him. And so it is to be Mabel Grex?'
'I did not say so, sir. How can I answer for her? Only it was so pleasant for me to know that you would approve if it should come off.'
'Yes;--I will approve. When she has accepted you--'
'But I don't think she will.'
'If she should, tell her that I will go to her at once. It will be much to have a new daughter;--very much that you should have a wife. Where would she like to live?'
'Oh, sir, we haven't got as far as that.'
'I dare say not; I dare say not,' said the Duke. 'Gatherum is always thought to be dull.'
'She wouldn't like Gatherum, I'm sure.'
'Have you asked her?'
'No, sir. But nobody likes Gatherum.'
'I suppose not. And yet, Silverbridge, what a sum of money it cost!'
'I believe it did.'
'All vanity; and vexation of spirit!'
The Duke no doubt thinking of certain scenes passed at the great house in question, which scenes had not been delightful to him. 'No, I don't suppose she would wish to live at Gatherum. The Horns was given expressly by my uncle to your dear mother, and I should like Mary to have the place.'
'You should live among your tenantry. I don't care so very much for Matching.'
'It is the one place you do like, sir.'
'However, we can manage all that. Carlton Terrace I do not particularly like; but it is a good house, and there you should hang up your hat when in London. When it is settled, let me know at once.'
'But if it should never be settled?'
'I will ask no questions; but if it be settled tell me.' Then in Palace Yard he was turning to go, but before he did so, he said another word leaning on his son's shoulder. 'I do not think that Mabel Grex and Major Tifto would do well together at all.'
'There shall be an end to that, sir.'
'God bless you my boy!' said the Duke.
Lord Silverbridge sat in the House,--or to speak more accurately, in the smoking-room of the House--for about an hour thinking over all that had passed between him and his father. He certainly had not intended to say anything about Lady Mab, but on the spur of the moment it had all come out. Now at any rate it was decided for him that he must, in set terms, ask her to be his wife. The scene which had just occurred had made him thoroughly sick of Major Tifto. He must get rid of the Major, and there could be no way of doing this at once so easy and so little open to observation as marriage. If he were but once engaged to Mabel Grex the dismissal of Tifto would be quite a matter of course. He would see Lady Mabel again on the morrow and ask her in direct language to be his wife.
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