A MATTER OF SENTIMENT

It was the eve of the great race, and scarcely a member of

Lady Susan’s house-party had as yet a single bet on. It was

one of those unsatisfactory years when one horse held a

commanding market position, not by reason of any general

belief in its crushing superiority, but because it was

extremely difficult to pitch on any other candidate to whom

to pin ones faith. Peradventure II was the favourite, not

in the sense of being a popular fancy, but by virtue of a

lack of confidence in any one of his rather undistinguished

rivals. The brains of club-land were much exercised in

seeking out possible merit where none was very obvious to

the naked intelligence, and the house-party at Lady Susan’s

was possessed by the same uncertainty and irresolution that

infected wider circles.

“It is just the time for bringing off a good coup,” said

Bertie van Tahn.

“Undoubtedly. But with what?” demanded Clovis for the

twentieth time.

The women of the party were just as keenly interested in

the matter, and just as helplessly perplexed; even the

mother of Clovis, who usually got good racing information

from her dressmaker, confessed herself fancy free on this

occasion. Colonel Drake, who was professor of military

history at a minor cramming establishment, was the only

person who had a definite selection for the event, but as

his choice varied every three hours he was worse than

useless as an inspired guide. The crowning difficulty of

the problem was that it could only be fitfully and furtively

discussed. Lady Susan disapproved of racing. She

disapproved of many things; some people went as far as to

say that she disapproved of most things. Disapproval was to

her what neuralgia and fancy needlework are to many other

women. She disapproved of early morning tea and auction

bridge, of ski-ing and the two-step, of the Russian ballet

and the Chelsea Arts Club ball, of the French policy in

Morocco and the British policy everywhere. It was not that

she was particularly strict or narrow in her views of life,

but she had been the eldest sister of a large family of

self-indulgent children, and her particular form of

indulgence had consisted in openly disapproving of the

foibles of the others. Unfortunately the hobby had grown up

with her. As she was rich, influential, and very, very

kind, most people were content to count their early tea as

well lost on her behalf. Still, the necessity for hurriedly

dropping the discussion of an enthralling topic, and

suppressing all mention of it during her presence on the

scene, was an affliction at a moment like the present, when

time was slipping away and indecision was the prevailing

note.

After a lunch-time of rather strangled and uneasy

conversation, Clovis managed to get most of the party

together at the further end of the kitchen gardens, on the

pretext of admiring the Himalayan pheasants. He had made an

important discovery. Motkin, the butler, who (as Clovis

expressed it) had grown prematurely grey in Lady Susan’s

service, added to his other excellent qualities an

intelligent interest in matters connected with the Turf. On

the subject of the forthcoming race he was not illuminating,

except in so far that he shared the prevailing unwillingness

to see a winner in Peradventure II. But where he outshone

all the members of the house-party was in the fact that he

had a second cousin who was head stable-lad at a

neighbouring racing establishment, and usually gifted with

much inside information as to private form and

possibilities. Only the fact of her ladyship having taken

it into her head to invite a house-party for the last week

of May had prevented Mr. Motkin from paying a visit of

consultation to his relative with respect to the big race;

there was still time to cycle over if he could get leave of

absence for the afternoon on some specious excuse.

“Let’s jolly well hope he does,” said Bertie van Tahn;

“under the circumstances a second cousin is almost as

useful as second sight.”

“That stable ought to know something, if knowledge is to

be found anywhere,” said Mrs. Packletide hopefully.

“I expect you’ll find he’ll echo my fancy for

Motorboat,” said Colonel Drake.

At this moment the subject had to be hastily dropped.

Lady Susan bore down upon them, leaning on the arm of

Clovis’s mother, to whom she was confiding the fact that she

disapproved of the craze for Pekingese spaniels. It was the

third thing she had found time to disapprove of since lunch,

without counting her silent and permanent disapproval of the

way Clovis’s mother did her hair.

“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 alertness 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.