Below him, outside the window at which he stood ruminating, he heard voices mingling with the storm. He could with tolerable certainty perceive, looking into the obscurity, that there were three men passing close under it, carrying some very heavy burden among them.
He did not know what these three black figures in the obscurity were about. He saw them pass round the corner of the building toward the front, and in the lulls of the storm could hear their gruff voices talking.
We have all experienced what a presentiment is, and we all know with what an intuition the faculty of observation is sometimes heightened. It was such an apprehension as sometimes gives its peculiar horror to a dream—a sort of knowledge that what those people were about was in a dreadful way connected with his own fate.
He watched for a time, thinking that they might return; but they did not. He was in a state of uncomfortable suspense.
“If they want me, they won’t have much trouble in finding me, nor any scruple, egad, in plaguing me; they never have.”
Sir Bale returned to his letters, a score of which he was that night getting off his conscience—an arrear which would not have troubled him had he not ceased, for two or three days, altogether to employ Philip Feltram, who had been accustomed to take all that sort of drudgery off his hands.
All the time he was writing now he had a feeling that the shadows he had seen pass under his window were machinating some trouble for him, and an uneasy suspense made him lift his eyes now and then to the door, fancying sounds and footsteps; and after a resultless wait he would say to himself, “If any one is coming, why the devil don’t he come?” and then he would apply himself again to his letters.
But on a sudden he heard good Mrs. Julaper’s step trotting along the lobby, and the tiny ringing of her keys.
Here was news coming; and the Baronet stood up looking at the door, on which presently came a hurried rapping; and before he had answered, in the midst of a long thunder-clap that suddenly broke, rattling over the house, the good woman opened the door in great agitation, and cried with a tremulous uplifting of her hands.
“O, Sir Bale! O, la, sir! here’s poor dear Philip Feltram come home dead!”
Sir Bale stared at her sternly for some seconds.
“Gome, now, do be distinct,” said Sir Bale; “what has happened?”
“He’s lying on the sofer in the old still-room. You never saw—my God!—O, sir—what is life?”
“D—n it, can’t you cry by-and-by, and tell me what’s the matter now?”
“A bit o’ fire there, as luck would have it; but what is hot or cold now? La, sir, they’re all doin’ what they can; he’s drowned, sir, and Tom Warren is on the gallop down to Golden Friars for Doctor Torvey.”
“Is he drowned, or is it only a ducking? Come, bring me to the place. Dead men don’t usually want a fire, or consult doctors. I’ll see for myself.”