‘We have been admiring the Himalayan pheasants,’ said Mrs Packletide suavely.

‘They went off to a bird-show at Nottingham early this morning,’ said Lady Susan, with the air of one who disapproves of hasty and ill-considered lying.

‘Their house, I mean; such perfect roosting arrangements, and all so clean,’ resumed Mrs Packletide, with an increased glow of enthusiasm. The odious Bertie van Tahn was murmuring audible prayers for Mrs Packletide’s ultimate estrangement from the paths of falsehood.

‘I hope you don’t mind dinner being a quarter of an hour late tonight,’ said Lady Susan; ‘Motkin has had an urgent summons to go and see a sick relative this afternoon. He wanted to bicycle there, but I am sending him in the motor.’

‘How very kind of you! Of course we don’t mind dinner being put off.’ The assurances came with unanimous and hearty sincerity.

At the dinner-table that night an undercurrent of furtive curiosity directed itself towards Motkin’s impassive countenance. One or two of the guests almost expected to find a slip of paper concealed in their napkins, bearing the name of the second cousin’s selection. They had not long to wait. As the butler went round with the murmured question, ‘Sherry?’ he added in an even lower tone the cryptic words, ‘Better not.’ Mrs Packletide gave a start of alarm, and refused the sherry; there seemed some sinister suggestion in the butler’s warning, as though her hostess had suddenly become addicted to the Borgia habit. A moment later the explanation flashed on her that ‘Better Not’ was the name of one of the runners in the big race. Clovis was already pencilling it on his cuff, and Colonel Drake, in his turn, was signalling to every one in hoarse whispers and dumb-show the fact that he had all along fancied ‘B.N.’

Early next morning a sheaf of telegrams went Townward, representing the market commands of the house-party and servants’ hall.

It was a wet afternoon, and most of Lady Susan’s guests hung about the hall, waiting apparently for the appearance of tea, though it was scarcely yet due. The advent of a telegram quickened every one into a flutter of expectancy; the page who brought the telegram to Clovis waited with unusual alterness to know if there might be an answer.

Clovis read the message and gave an exclamation of annoyance.

‘No bad news, I hope,’ said Lady Susan. Every one else knew that the news was not good.

‘It’s only the result of the Derby,’ he blurted out; ‘Sadowa won; an utter outsider.’

‘Sadowa!’ exclaimed Lady Susan; ‘you don’t say so! How remarkable! It’s the first time I’ve ever backed a horse; in fact I disapprove of horse-racing, but just for once in a way I put money on this horse, and it’s gone and won.’

‘May I ask,’ said Mrs Packletide, amid the general silence, ‘why you put your money on this particular horse? None of the sporting prophets mentioned it as having an outside chance.’

‘Well,’ said Lady Susan, ‘you may laugh at me, but it was the name that attracted me. You see, I was always mixed up with the Franco-German war; I was married on the day that the war was declared, and my eldest child was born the day that peace was signed, so anything connected with the war has always interested me. And when I saw there was a horse running in the Derby called after one of the battles in the Franco-German war, I said I must put some money on it, for once in a way, though I disapprove of racing. And it’s actually won.’

There was a general groan. No one groaned more deeply than the professor of military history.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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