Footsteps in the Dark

by Georgette Heyer

It was about half-past ten when a crash that resounded through the house penetrated even to Mrs. Bosanquet's ears and made Celia, who was improvising idly on the piano, strike a jangling discord. The crash seemed to come from the upper landing, and it was followed by a bump-bump-bump, as though some hard object were rolling down the stairs.

"Good Lord, who's smashing up the place now?" said Charles, getting out of his chair. He went to the door, and opened it. "That you, Peter?" he called.

The study door opposite opened. "No. What on earth's happened?" Peter asked.

"Dunno. Without wishing to leap to conclusions I should hazard a guess that something has fallen over." Charles picked up the lamp that stood on the hall table, and walked to the foot of the stairs.

"I believe it was a picture," Celia said, at his side. "It sounded to me like glass breaking."

She ran up ahead of him, and rounded the half-landing. A little exclamation broke from her. "Oh, there's something on the stairs! Do hurry up with the lamp, Charles." She bent and groped for the thing her foot had kicked against. "Whatever can it be?" she wondered. Then Charles reached the half-landing and the light he carried showed Celia what she held between her hands.

It was a human skull and the hollow eye-sockets glared up at her, while the teeth of the fleshless upper jaw grinned as though in macabre mockery.

Celia gave a shuddering cry, and dropped the hideous thing, shrinking back against the wall. "Oh Charles! Oh Charles!" she whispered, like a frightened child.

He was beside her in a moment, holding her in the circle of his arm, himself staring down at the skull at their feet. For a moment words apparently failed him.

Peter came up the stairs two at a time. "What is it?" he asked impatiently. Then he too saw, and stopped dead. "Gosh!" he gasped. Over his shoulder he jerked: "Don't come up, Margaret."

"But what is it?" she called. "Why did Celia scream?"

"Oh, it's nothing!" said Charles, recovering his sangfroid. "Just a skull rolling about the place. You trot off downstairs, Celia, while I investigate."

"I--I think I will," she said, and went past the skull with her eyes steadily averted.

"Take her into the library, Peg," Charles ordered. He watched her go shakily downstairs, and turned to Peter. "Look here, this is a bit thick," he said. "I don't know about you, but I'm all of a sweat. Footsteps and groans I can put up with, but when it comes to finding people's remains lying about the place I've had enough."

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