THE QUEST

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 be 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. Momebys 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.”

“But if he’s been eaten in the meantime by a hyaena and

partly digested,” said Clovis, who clung affectionately to

his wild beast theory, “surely some ill-effects would be

noticeable?”

Miss Gilpet was rather staggered by this complication of

the question.

“I feel sure that a hyaena has not eaten him,” she

said lamely.

“The hyaena may be equally certain that it has. You

see, it may have just as much faith as you have, and more

special knowledge as to the present whereabouts of the

baby.”

Mrs. Momeby was in tears again. “If you have faith,” she

sobbed, struck by a happy inspiration, “won’t you find our

little Erik for us? I am sure you have powers that are

denied to us.”

Rose-Marie Gilpet was thoroughly sincere in her adherence

to Christian Science principles; whether she understood or

correctly expounded them the learned in such manners may

best decide. In the present case she was undoubtedly

confronted with a great opportunity, and as she started

forth on her vague search she strenuously summoned to her

aid every scrap of faith that she possessed. She passed out

into the bare and open high road, followed by Mrs. Momeby’s

warning, “It’s no use going there, we’ve searched there a

dozen times.” But Rose-Marie’s ears were already deaf to

all things save self-congratulation; for sitting in the

middle of the highway, playing contentedly with the dust and

some faded buttercups, was a white-pinafored baby with a mop

of tow-coloured hair tied over one temple with a pale-blue

ribbon. Taking first the usual feminine precaution of

looking to see that no motor-car was on the distant horizon,

Rose-Marie dashed at the child and bore it, despite its

vigorous opposition, in through the portals of Elsinore.

The child’s furious screams had already announced the fact

of its discovery, and the almost hysterical parents raced

down the lawn to meet their restored offspring. The

aesthetic value of the scene was marred in some degree by

Rose-Marie’s difficulty in holding the struggling infant,

which was borne wrong-end foremost towards the agitated

bosom of its family. “Our own little Erik come back to

us,” cried the Momebys in unison; as the child had rammed

its fists tightly into its eye-sockets and nothing could be

seen of its face but a widely gaping mouth, the recognition

was in itself almost an act of faith.

“Is he glad to get back to Daddy and Mummy again?”

crooned Mrs. Momeby; the preference which the child was

showing for, its dust and buttercup distractions was so

marked that the question struck Clovis as being

unnecessarily tactless.

“Give him a ride on the roly-poly,” suggested the father

brilliantly, as the howls continued with no sign of early

abatement. In a moment the child had been placed astride

the big garden roller and a preliminary tug was given to set

it in motion. From the hollow depths of the cylinder came

an earsplitting roar, drowning even the vocal efforts of the

squalling baby, and immediately afterwards there crept forth

a white-pinafored infant with a mop of tow-coloured hair

tied over one temple with a pale blue ribbon. There was no

mistaking either the features or the lung-power of the new

arrival.

“Our own little Erik,” screamed Mrs. Momeby, pouncing on

him and nearly smothering him with kisses; “did he hide in

the roly-poly to give us all a big fright?”

This was the obvious explanation of the child’s sudden

disappearance and equally abrupt discovery. There remained,

however, the problem of the interloping baby, which now sat

whimpering on the lawn in a disfavour as chilling as its

previous popularity had been unwelcome. The Momebys glared

at it as though it had wormed its way into their short-lived

affections by heartless and unworthy pretences. Miss

Gilpet’s face took on an ashen tinge as she stared

helplessly at the bunched-up figure that had been such a

gladsome sight to her eyes a few moments ago.

“When love is over, how little of love even the lover

understands,” quoted Clovis to himself.

Rose-Marie was the first to break the silence.

“If that is Erik you have in your arms, who is—that?”

“That, I think, is for you to explain,” said Mrs. Momeby

stiffly.

“Obviously,” said Clovis, “it’s a duplicate Erik that

your powers of faith called into being. The question is:

What are you going to do with him?”

The ashen pallor deepened in Rose-Marie’s cheeks. Mrs.

Momeby clutched the genuine Erik closer to her side, as

though she feared that her uncanny neighbour might out of

sheer pique turn him into a bowl of gold-fish.

“I found him sitting in the middle of the road,” said

Rose-Marie weakly.

“You can’t take him back and leave him there,” said

Clovis; “the highway is meant for traffic, not to be used

as a lumber-room for disused miracles.”

Rose-Marie wept. The proverb “Weep and you weep alone,”

broke down as badly on application as most of its kind.

Both babies were wailing lugubriously, and the parent

Momebys had scarcely recovered from their earlier lachrymose

condition. Clovis alone maintained an unruffled

cheerfulness.

“Must I keep him always?” asked Rose-Marie dolefully.

“Not always,” said Clovis consolingly; “he can go into

the Navy when he’s thirteen.” Rose-Marie wept afresh.

“Of course,” added Clovis, “there may be no end of a

bother about his birth certificate. You’ll have to explain

matters to the Admiralty, and they’re dreadfully

hidebound.”

It was rather a relief when a breathless nursemaid from

the Villa Charlottenburg over the way came running across

the lawn to claim little Percy, who had slipped out of the

front gate and disappeared like a twinkling from the high

road.

And even then Clovis found it necessary to go in person to

the kitchen to make sure about the asparagus sauce.