“I’ll come and read the Encyclopaedia Britannica to you if you think it will make you sleep any sooner,” said Bertie obligingly.
Rain was falling too steadily to permit of outdoor amusement, and the party suffered considerably during the next two hours from the absolute quiet that was enforced all over the house in order to give Lola every chance of achieving slumber. Even the click of billiard balls was considered a possible factor of disturbance, and the canaries were carried down to the gardener’s lodge, while the cuckoo clock in the hall was muffled under several layers of rugs. A notice, “Please do not Knock or Ring,” was posted on the front door at Bertie’s suggestion, and guests and servants spoke in tragic whispers as though the dread presence of death or sickness had invaded the house. The precautions proved of no avail: Lola added a sleepless morning to a wakeful night, and the bets of the party had to be impartially divided between Nursery Tea and the French Colt.
“So provoking to have to split out bets,” said Mrs. de Claux, as her guests gathered in the hall later in the day, waiting for the result of the race.
“I did my best for you,” said Lola, feeling that she was not getting her due share of gratitude; “I told you what I had seen in my dreams, a brown horse, called Bread and Butter, winning easily from all the rest.”
“What?” screamed Bertie, jumping up from his sea, “a brown horse! Miserable woman, you never said a word about it’s being a brown horse.”
“Didn’t I?” faltered Lola; “I thought I told you it was a brown horse. It was certainly brown in both dreams. But I don’t see what the colour has got to do with it. Nursery Tea and Le Five O’Clock are both chestnuts.”
“Merciful Heaven! Doesn’t brown bread and butter with a sprinkling of lemon in the colours suggest anything to you?” raged Bertie.
A slow, cumulative groan broke from the assembly as the meaning of his words gradually dawned on his hearers.
For the second time that day Lola retired to the seclusion of her room; she could not face the universal looks of reproach directed at her when Whitebait was announced winner at the comfortable price of fourteen to one.
It was Christmas Eve, and the family circle of Luke Steffink, Esq., was aglow with the amiability and random mirth which the occasion demanded. A long and lavish dinner had been partaken of, waits had been round and sung carols; the house-party had regaled itself with more caroling on its own account, and there had been romping which, even in a pulpit reference, could not have been condemned as ragging. In the midst of the general glow, however, there was one black unkindled cinder.