She left the room with a scuttle sufficiently suggestive of the animal she had mentioned, but the giddiness was all on the side of her involuntary hostesses. The restaurant seemed to be spinning round them; and the bill when it appeared did nothing to restore their composure. They were as nearly in tears as it is permissible to be during the luncheon hour in a really good restaurant. Financially speaking, they were well able to afford the luxury of an elaborate lunch, but their ideas on the subject of entertaining differed very sharply, according to the circumstances of whether they were dispensing or receiving hospitality. To have fed themselves liberally at their own expense was, perhaps, an extravagance to be deplored, but, at any rate, they had had something for their money; to have drawn an unknown and socially unremunerative Ellen Niggle into the net of their hospitality was a catastrophe that they could not contemplate with any degree of calmness.
The Smithly-Dubbs never quite recovered from their unnerving experience. They have given up politics and taken to doing good.
“Starling Chatter and Oakhill have both dropped back in the betting,” said Bertie van Tahn, throwing the morning paper across the breakfast table.
“That leaves Nursery Tea practically favourite,” said Odo Finsberry.
“Nursery Tea and Pipeclay are at the top of the betting at present,” said Bertie, “but that French horse, Le Five O’Clock, seems to be fancied as much as anything. Then there is Whitebait, and the Polish horse with a name like some one trying to stifle a sneeze in church; they both seem to have a lot of support.”
“It’s the most open Derby there’s been for years,” said Odo.
“It’s simply no good trying to pick the winner on form,” said Bertie; “one must just trust to luck and inspiration.”
“The question is whether to trust to one’s own inspiration, or somebody else’s. Sporting Swank gives Count Palatine to win, and Le Five O’Clock for a place.”
“Count Palatine—that adds another to our list of perplexities. Good morning, Sir Lulworth; have you a fancy for the Derby by any chance?”
“I don’t usually take much interest in turf matters,” said Sir Lulworth, who had just made his appearance, “but I always like to have a bet on the Guineas and the Derby. This year, I confess, it’s rather difficult to pick out anything that seems markedly better than anything else. What do you think of Snow Bunting?”
“Snow Bunting?” said Odo, with a groan, “there’s another of them. Surely, Snow Bunting has no earthly chance?”
“My housekeeper’s nephew, who is a shoeing-smith in the mounted section of the Church Lads’ Brigade, and an authority on horseflesh, expects him to be among the first three.”
“The nephews of housekeepers are invariably optimists,” said Bertie; “it’s a kind of natural reaction against the professional pessimism of their aunts.”