As Algernon entered the library, Lord Blight looked up from the map he was studying and nodded.
“I thought,” he said, coming to the point at once, “that it might amuse you to drive over with me to Flamborough Head. The view from the top of the cliff is considered well worth a visit. I don’t know if your tastes lie in that direction at all?”
Algernon was delighted at the idea, and replied that nothing would give him greater pleasure than to accompany Lord Blight.
“Excellent. Perhaps we had better take some sandwiches and make a day of it.”
Greatly elated at the thought of a day by the sea, Lord Blight went out and gave instructions to the Countess for sandwiches to be cut.
“In two packets, my love,” he added, “in case Algernon and I get separated.”
Half an hour later they started off together in high spirits.
* * * * *
It was dark before the seventeenth Earl of Blight returned to the house and joined the others at the dinner-table. His face wore a slightly worried expression.
“The fact is, my dear,” he said, in answer to a question from the Countess, “I am a little upset about Algernon. I fear we have lost him.”
“Algernon?” said the Countess in surprise.
“Yes. We were standing at the top of Flamborough Head, looking down into the sea, when—” He paused and tapped his glass, “Sherry, Jenkins,” he said, catching the butler’s eye.
“I beg your pardon, my lord.”
“—When poor Algernon stumbled and—Do any of you boys know if your brother can swim?”
Everard, the ninth, said that Algernon had floated once in the Paddington Baths, but couldn’t swim.
“Ah! I was hoping—But in any case, coming into the water from that height—Well, well, we must face our troubles bravely. Another glass of sherry, Jenkins.”
As they passed through the hall on their way to the drawing-room, Lord Blight stopped a moment at the aneroid barometer and gave it an encouraging tap.
“It looks like another fine day to-morrow,” he said to Cuthbert, the second Podby. “The panorama from the Scalby cliffs is unrivalled. We might drive over and have a look at it.”
Fortunately the weather held up. A week later the Podby family had been thinned down to five, and the seventeenth Earl of Blight was beginning to regain his usual equanimity. His health too was benefiting by the constant sea air and change; for, in order that no melancholy associations should cast a gloom over their little outings, he took care to visit a different health-resort each time, feeling that no expense or trouble should be spared in a matter of this kind. It was wonderful with what vigour and alertness of mind he sat down in the evenings to the preparation of his speech on the Coast Erosion Bill.
One night after dinner, when all the Podby family (Basil and Percy) had retired to bed, Gertie (Countess of Blight) came into her husband’s library and, twirling the revolving bookcase with restless fingers, asked if she could interrupt him for a moment.