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The Quest
by [?]

An unwonted peace hung over the Villa Elsinore, broken, however, at frequent intervals, by clamorous lamentations suggestive of bewildered bereavement. The Momebys had lost their infant child; hence the peace which its absence entailed; they were looking for it in wild, undisciplined fashion, giving tongue the whole time, which accounted for the outcry which swept through house and garden whenever they returned to try the home coverts anew. Clovis, who was temporarily and unwillingly a paying guest at the villa, had been dozing in a hammock at the far end of the garden when Mrs. Momeby had broken the news to him.

“We’ve lost Baby,” she screamed.

“Do you mean that it’s dead, or stampeded, or that you staked it at cards and lost it that way?” asked Clovis lazily.

“He was toddling about quite happily on the lawn,” said Mrs. Momeby tearfully, “and Arnold had just come in, and I was asking him what sort of sauce he would like with the asparagus–“

“I hope he said hollandaise,” interrupted Clovis, with a show of quickened interest, “because if there’s anything I hate–“

“And all of a sudden I missed Baby,” continued Mrs. Momeby in a shriller tone. “We’ve hunted high and low, in house and garden and outside the gates, and he’s nowhere to be seen.”

“Is he anywhere to he heard?” asked Clovis; “if not, he must be at least two miles away.”

“But where? And how?” asked the distracted mother.

“Perhaps an eagle or a wild beast has carried him off,” suggested Clovis.

“There aren’t eagles and wild beasts in Surrey,” said Mrs. Momeby, but a note of horror had crept into her voice.

“They escape now and then from travelling shows. Sometimes I think they let them get loose for the sake of the advertisement. Think what a sensational headline it would make in the local papers: ‘ Infant son of prominent Nonconformist devoured by spotted hyaena.’ Your husband isn’t a prominent Nonconformist, but his mother came of Wesleyan stock, and you must allow the newspapers some latitude.”

“But we should have found his remains,” sobbed Mrs. Momeby.

“If the hyaena was really hungry and not merely toying with his food there wouldn’t be much in the way of remains. It would be like the small-boy-and-apple story–there ain’t going to be no core.”

Mrs. Momeby turned away hastily to seek comfort and counsel in some other direction. With the selfish absorption of young motherhood she entirely disregarded Clovis’s obvious anxiety about the asparagus sauce. Before she had gone a yard, however, the click of the side gate caused her to pull up sharp. Miss Gilpet, from the Villa Peterhof, had come over to hear details of the bereavement. Clovis was already rather bored with the story, but Mrs. Momeby was equipped with that merciless faculty which finds as much joy in the ninetieth time of telling as in the first.

“Arnold had just come in; he was complaining of rheumatism–“

“There are so many things to complain of in this household that it would never have occurred to me to complain of rheumatism,” murmured Clovis.

“He was complaining of rheumatism,” continued Mrs. Momeby, trying to throw a chilling inflection into a voice that was already doing a good deal of sobbing and talking at high pressure as well.

She was again interrupted.

“There is no such thing as rheumatism,” said Miss Gilpet. She said it with the conscious air of defiance that a waiter adopts in announcing that the cheapest-priced claret in the wine-list is no more. She did not proceed, however, to offer the alternative of some more expensive malady, but denied the existence of them all.

Mrs. Momeby’s temper began to shine out through her grief.

“I suppose you’ll say next that Baby hasn’t really disappeared.”

“He has disappeared,” conceded Miss Gilpet, “but only because you haven’t sufficient faith to find him. It’s only lack of faith on your part that prevents him from being restored to you safe and well.”