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Bad Lord Blight
by [?]

(A Moral Story for the Middle-aged)


Seated in the well-appointed library of Blight Hall, John Blighter, Seventeenth Earl of Blight, bowed his head in his hands and gave himself up to despair. The day of reckoning had come.

Were appearances not so deceptive, one would have said that Lord Blight (“Blight,” as he was known familiarly to his friends) was a man to be envied. In a revolving book-case in the middle of the spacious library were countless treasured volumes, including a complete edition of Thackeray; outside in the well-kept grounds of the estate was a new lawn-mower; a bottle of sherry, freshly uncorked, stood upon the sideboard in the dining-room. But worldly possessions are not everything. An untroubled mind, as Shakespeare knew (even if he didn’t actually say it), is more to be valued than riches. The seventeenth Earl of Blight’s mind was not untroubled. His conscience was gnawing him.

Some people would say, no doubt, that his conscience was too sensitive. True, there were episodes in his past life of which in later years he could not wholly approve; but is not this the case with every one of us? Far better, as must often have occurred to Milton, to strive for the future than to regret the past. Ten years ago Lord Blight had been plain John Blighter, with no prospects in front of him. Realizing that he could expect little help from others, he decided to push for himself. He began by pushing three cousins over the cliffs at Scarborough, thus becoming second heir to the earldom. A week later he pushed an elder brother over the same cliff, and was openly referred to in the Press as the next bearer of the title. Barely a fortnight had elapsed before a final push diverted the last member of the family (a valued uncle) into the ever-changing sea, the venue in this case being Whitby, presumably in order to avoid suspicion.

But all this had happened ten years ago. The past is the past, as Wordsworth probably said to Coleridge more than once. It was time for Lord Blight to forget these incidents of his eager and impetuous youth. Yet somehow he could not. Within the last few days his conscience had begun to gnaw him, and in his despair he told himself that at last the day of reckoning had come. Poor Blight! It is difficult to withhold our sympathy from him.

The door opened, and his wife, the Countess of Blight, came into the library.

“Blight!” she whispered. “My poor Blight! What has happened?”

He looked up haggardly.

“Gertie,” he said, for that was her name, “it is all over. My sins have found me out.”

“Not sins,” she said gently. “Mistakes.”

“Mistakes, yes–you are right.” He stretched out a hand, took a letter from the desk in front of him and gave it to her. “Read that.” With a groan he buried his head in his hands again. She took it and read, slowly and wonderingly, these words:–

“To lawn-mower as delivered, L5 17s. 6d.”

Lord Blight looked up with an impatient ejaculation “Give it to me,” he said in some annoyance, snatching it away from her and throwing it into the waste-paper basket. “Here, this is the one. Read it; read it quickly; for we must decide what to do.”

She read it with starting eyes.

“DEAR SIR,–I am prepared to lend you anything from L10 to L10,000 on your note-of-hand alone. Should you wish–“

“D–n!” said the seventeenth Earl of Blight. “Here, where is the blessed thing?” He felt in his pockets. “I must have–I only had it a–Ah, here it is. Perhaps I had better read it to you this time.” He put on his spectacles–a present from an aunt–and read as follows:–

“MY LORD,–We regret to inform you that a claimant to the title has arisen. It seems that, soon after the death of his first wife, the sixteenth Earl of Blight contracted a second and secret marriage to Ellen Podby, by whom he had eleven sons, the eldest of whom is now asserting his right to the earldom and estates. Trusting to be favoured with your instructions in the matter, We are, my lord,