It may have been an hour later that Lady Isabel, leaving her own chamber, opened noiselessly that of the dead. She had been in it several times during the previous day; at first with the housekeeper; afterward, when the nameless dread was somewhat effaced, alone. But she felt nervous again this morning, and had gained the bed before she ventured to lift her eyes from the carpet and encounter the sight. Then she started, for there sat two strange-looking men—and not attractive men either.
It darted through her mind that they must be people from the neighborhood, come to gratify an idle and unpardonable curiosity. Her first impulse was to summon the butler; her second, to speak to them herself.
“Do you want anything here?” she quietly said.
“Much obleeged for the inquiry, miss. We are all right.”
The words and tone struck her as being singular in the extreme; and they kept their seats, too, as though they had a right to be there.
“Why are you here?” she repeated. “What are you doing?”
“Well, miss, I don’t mind telling you, for I suppose you are his daughter”—pointing his left thumb over his shoulder at the late peer—“and we hear he have got no other relative anigh him. We have been obleeged, miss, to perform an unpleasant dooty and secure him.”
The words were like Greek to her, and the men saw that they were.
“He unfortunately owed a slight amount of money, miss—as you, perhaps, be aware on, and our employers is in, deep. So, as soon as they heard what had happened, they sent us down to arrest the dead corpse, and we have done it.”
Amazement, horror, fear, struggled together in the shocked mind of Lady Isabel. Arrest the dead. She had never heard of a like calamity: nor could she have believed in such. Arrest it for what purpose? What to do? To disfigure it?—to sell it? With a panting heart and ashy lips, she turned from the room. Mrs. Mason happened to be passing near the stairs, and Isabel flew to her, laying hold of her with both hands, in her terror, as she burst into a fit of nervous tears.
“Those men—in there!” she gasped.
“What men, my lady?” returned Mrs. Mason, surprised.
“I don’t know; I don’t know. I think they are going to stop there; they say they have taken papa.”
After a pause of bewildered astonishment, the housekeeper left her standing where she was, and went to the earl’s chamber, to see if she could fathom the mystery of the words. Isabel leaned against the balustrades; partly for support, partly that she seemed afraid to stir from them; and the ominous disturbances downstairs reached her ears. Strangers, interlopers, appeared to be in the hall, talking vehemently, and complaining in bitter tones. More and more terrified, she held her breath to listen.
“Where’s the good of your seeing the young lady?” cried the butler, in a tone of remonstrance. “She knows nothing about the earl’s affairs; she is in grief enough just now, without any other worry.”