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.
Weve lost Baby, she screamed.
Do you mean that its 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 theres anything I hate
And all of a sudden I missed Baby, continued Mrs Momeby in a shriller tone. Weve hunted high and low, in a house and garden and outside the gates, and hes 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 arent 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 hyæna. Your husband isnt 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 hyæna was really hungry and not merely toying with his food there wouldnt be much in the way of remains. It would be like the small-boy-and-apple storythere aint 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 Cloviss 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.
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