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The Major is Deposed
When Silverbridge undertook to return with Tregear to London instead of going direct to Matching, it is to be feared that he was simply actuated by a desire to postpone his further visit to his father's house. He had thought that Lady Mabel would surely be gone before his task at Polpenno was completed. As soon as he should again find himself in his father's presence he would at once declare his intention of marrying Isabel Boncassen. But he could not see his way to doing this while Lady Mabel should be in the house.
'I think you will find Mabel still at Matching,' said Tregear on their way up. 'She will wait for you I fancy.'
'I don't know why she should wait for me,' said Silverbridge almost angrily.
'I thought that you and she were fast friends.'
'I suppose we are--after a fashion. She might wait for you perhaps.'
'I think she would,--if I could go there.'
'You are much thicker with her than ever I was. You went to see her at Grex,--when nobody else was there.'
'Is Miss Cassewary nobody?'
'Next door to it,' said Silverbridge, half jealous of the favours shown to Tregear.
'I thought,' said Tregear, 'that there should be a closer intimacy between you and her.'
'I don't know why you should think so.'
'Had you ever had any such idea yourself?
'I haven't any now,--so there may be an end of it, I don't think a fellow ought to be cross-questioned on such a subject.'
'Then I am very sorry for Mabel,' said Tregear. This was uttered solemnly, so that Silverbridge found himself debarred from making any flippant answer. He could not altogether defend himself. He had been quite justified, he thought, in changing his mind, but he did not like to awn that he had changed it so quickly.
'I think we had better not talk any more about it,' he said, after pausing for a few moments. After that nothing more was said between them on the subject.
Up in town Silverbridge spent two or three days pleasantly enough, while a thunderbolt was being prepared for him, or rather, in truth, two thunderbolts. During these days he was much with Tregear, and though he could not speak freely of his own matrimonial projects, still he was brought round to give some sort of assent to the engagement between Tregear and his sister. This new position which his friend had won for himself did in some degree operate on his judgement. It was not perhaps that he himself imagined that Tregear as a Member of Parliament would be worthier, but that he fancied that such would be the Duke's feelings. The Duke had declared that Tregear was nobody. That could hardly be said of a man who had a seat in the House of Commons;--certainly could not be said by so staunch a politician as the Duke.
But had he known of those two thunderbolts he would not have enjoyed his time at the Beargarden. The thunderbolts fell upon him in the shape of two letters which reached his hands at the same time, and were as follows:
'The Bobtailed Fox, 18 December.
'At a meeting held in this house today in reference to the hunting of the Runnymede country, it was proposed that the management of the hounds should be taken out of the hands of Major Tifto, in consequence of certain conduct of which it is alleged he was guilty at the last Doncaster races.
'Major Tifto was present and requested your Lordship's opinion should be asked as to his guilt. I do not know myself that we are warranted in troubling your Lordship on the subject. I am, however, commissioned by the majority of the gentlemen who were present to ask you whether you think that Major Tifto's conduct on that occasion was of such a nature as to make him unfit to be the depositary of that influence, authority and intimacy which ought to be at the command of a Master of Hounds.
'I feel myself bound to inform your Lordship that the hunt generally will be inclined to place great weight upon your opinion, but that it does not undertake to reinstate Major Tifto, even should your opinion be in his favour.
'I have the honour to be,
Your Lordship's most obedient Servant,
'Juniper Lodge, Staines.'
Mr Jawstock, when he had written this letter, was proud of his own language, but still felt that the application was a very lame one. Why ask any man for an opinion, and tell him at the same time that his opinion might probably not be taken! And yet no other alternative had been left to him. The meeting had decided that the application should be made; but Mr Jawstock was well aware that let the young Lord's answer be what it might, the Major would not be endured as master in the Runnymede country. Mr Jawstock felt that the passage in which he explained that a Master of Hounds should be a depositary of influence and intimacy, was good;--but yet the application was lame, very lame.
Lord Silverbridge as he read it thought it was very unfair. It was a most disagreeable thunderbolt. Then he opened the second letter, of which he well knew the handwriting. It was from the Major. Tifto's letters were very legible, but the writing was cramped, showing that the operation had been performed with difficulty. Silverbridge had hoped that he might never receive another epistle from his late partner! The letter, as follows, had been drawn out for Tifto in rough by the livery-stable keeper in Long Acre.
'My Dear Lord Silverbridge,
'I venture respectfully to appeal to your Lordship for an act of justice. Nobody has more of a true-born Englishman's feeling of fair play between man and man than your Lordship; and as you and me have been a good deal together, and your Lordship ought to know me pretty well, I venture to appeal to your Lordship for a good word.
'All that story from Doncaster has got down into the country where I am M.F.H. Nobody could have been more sorry than me that your Lordship dropped your money. Would not I have been prouder than anything to have had a horse in my name win the race! Was it likely I should lame him? Anyways I didn't, and I don't think your Lordship thinks it was me. Of course your Lordship and me is two now,--but that don't alter facts.
'What I want is your Lordship to send me a line, just stating your Lordship's opinion that I didn't do it, and didn't have nothing to do with it;--which I didn't. There was a meeting at The Bobtailed Fox yesterday, and gentlemen was all of one mind to go by what your Lordship would say. I couldn't desire nothing fairer. So I hope your Lordship will stand to me now, and write something that will pull me through.
'With all respects I beg to remain,
Your Lordship's most dutiful Servant,
There was something in this letter which the Major himself did not quite approve. There was an absence of familiarity about it which annoyed him. He would have liked to call upon his late partner to declare that a more honourable man than Major Tifto had never been known on the turf. But he felt himself to be so far down in the world that it was not safe for him to hold an opinion of his own, even against the livery-stable keeper!
Silverbridge was for a time in doubt whether he should answer the letters at all, and if so how he should answer them. In regard to Mr Jawstock and the meeting at large, he regarded the application as an impertinence. But as to Tifto himself, he vacillated between pity, contempt, and absolute condemnation. Everybody had assured him that the man had certainly been guilty. The fact that he had made bets against their joint horse,--bets as to which he had said nothing till after the race was over,--had been admitted by himself. And yet it was possible that the man might not be such a rascal as to be unfit to manage the Runnymede hounds. Having himself got rid of Tifto, he would have been glad that the poor wretch should have been left with his hunting honours. But he did not think that he could write to his late partner any letter that would preserve those honours to him.
At Tregear's advice he referred the matter to Mr Lupton. Mr Lupton was of opinion that both the letters should be answered, but that the answer to each should be very short. 'There is a prejudice about the world just at present,' said Mr Lupton, 'in favour of answering letters. I don't see why I am to be subjected to an annoyance because another man has taken a liberty. But it is better to submit to public opinion. Public opinion thinks that letter should be answered.' Then Mr Lupton dictated the answers.
'Lord Silverbridge presents his compliments to Mr Jawstock, and begs to say that he does not feel himself called upon to express any opinion as to Major Tifto's conduct at Doncaster.'
That was the first. The second was rather less simple, but not much longer.
'I do not feel myself called upon to express any opinion either to you or to others as to your conduct at Doncaster. Having received a letter on the subject from Mr Jawstock I have written to him to this effect.
'Your obedient Servant,
Poor Tifto, when he got this very curt epistle, was broken- hearted. He did not dare to show it. Day after day he told the livery-stable keeper that he had received no reply, and at last asserted that his appeal had remained altogether unanswered. Even this he thought was better than acknowledging the rebuff which had reached him. As regarded the meeting which had been held,--any further meetings which might be held,--at The Bobtailed Fox, he did not see the necessity, as he explained it to the livery-stable keeper, of acknowledging that he had written any letter to Lord Silverbridge.
The letter to Mr Jawstock was of course brought forward. Another meeting at The Bobtailed Fox was convened. But in the meantime hunting had been discontinued in the Runnymede country. The Major with all his pluck, with infinite cherry brandy, could not do it. Men who had a few weeks since been on very friendly terms, and who had called each other Dick and Harry when the squabble first began, were now talking of 'punching' each other's heads. Special whips had been procured by men who intended to ride, and special bludgeons by the young farmers who intended that nobody should ride as long as Major Tifto kept the hounds. It was said that the police would interfere. It was whispered that the hounds would be shot,--though Mr Topps, Mr Jawstock, and others declared that no crime so heinous as that had ever been contemplated in the Runnymede country.
The difficulties were too many for poor Tifto, and the hounds were not brought out again under his influence.
A second meeting was summoned, and an invitation was sent to the Major similar to that which he had before received;--but on this occasion he did not appear. Nor were there any gentlemen down from London. The second meeting might almost have been called select. Mr Mahogany Topps was there of course, in the chair, and Mr Jawstock took the place of honour and of difficulty on his right hand. There was the young gentleman from Bagshot, who considered himself quite fit to take Tifto's place if somebody else would pay the bills and settle the money, and there was the sporting old parson from Croppingham. Three or four other members of the hunt were present, and perhaps half-a-dozen farmers, ready to declare that Major Tifto should never be allowed to cross their fields again.
But there was no opposition. Mr Jawstock read the young lord's note, and declared that it was quite as much as he expected. He considered that the note, short as it was, must be decisive. Major Tifto in appealing to Lord Silverbridge, had agreed to abide by his Lordship's answer, and that answer was now before them. Mr Jawstock ventured to propose that Major Tifto should be declared to be no longer Master of the Runnymede Hounds. The parson from Croppingham seconded the proposition, and Major Tifto was formally deposed.
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