Things had obviously been left alone for a good long time. The air was stale, and had the damp and musty smell of a place long shut-up. Thick layers of velvety dust covered every surface. Spiders had had their way with the nooks and crannies. Dead insects were piled up against the walls. Either this family has employs as many servants to keep the house as they do gardeners to tend the gardens, or Rivens has not been telling me the whole truth. Cecily leaned toward the latter possibility.
|Mystery Corridor, a photo by flattop341 on Flickr.|
Beyond the entrance hall with its vast windows, the house was almost completely dark. It seemed that every other window in the place had been tightly shuttered in an attempt to block any light from entering. Cecily walked slowly through silent corridors, up winding staircases, into parlors, studies, and a library. In that last room she stood looking around her for a long time, mutely wondering at the fireplace with a mantelpiece higher than most cottages, and carved with larger-than-life sculptures of men and women dancing. The chairs were large and heavily carved; a fly buzzed around a tall window—not shuttered this time—hung with heavy green drapes. Cecily wandered over to a small inlaid table beside one of the chairs and picked up a goblet that had been carelessly left there. Something struck her about the glass, but she had to stare at it for several moments before she realized what it was. It isn’t dusty.
Leaving the library, Cecily noticed a few more things that did not belong in a completely deserted house: a dirty plate on a table in the hall, a pair of boots sitting at the top of the stairs. And yet she also found a dead bird lodged in a tarnished metal vase in the dining hall. She kept walking up, down, and throughout until she was completely lost, then finally opened a door into what had once been a bedroom.
Then her first suspicions were confirmed. The room was nearly bare, and what little furniture was left was cheap and old and swathed in white sheets like burial shrouds. She opened more doors up and down the passageway, and each one was the same. Some rooms were completely vacant. As she climbed more stairs she found that the rooms grew barer with every level, and the top floor held hardly anything at all. Her manner was calm and deliberate, but her hands were shaking and her mind raced. There is something not quite right about this place. It’s open, and it’s obviously been lived in by somebody. Why are so many things missing? Why is it shuttered? Why does no one care for it, and yet there is someone who drinks from goblets, eats from plates, and leaves their muddy boots lying about.
Cecily turned from the last room at the end of an especially long corridor and went back the way she had come, trying to ignore the strange figures in the tapestries that seemed to move as she walked. Climbing down a flight of steps with the sounds of her own footsteps echoing off the bare walls, Cecily suddenly stopped halfway down. Perhaps it was merely the effect of the echo, but she was almost certain that she had heard a second set of footsteps in the distance. All was silent however, and so she proceeded.
Three featureless rooms and one servants’ passage later, Cecily realized that she had no concept of where she was in the great house. The shuttered windows let in no sight of the grounds to give her an idea of direction, and all the corridors blended together into an incomprehensible maze. Trying to calm her racing nerves, Cecily picked up her pace and began walking faster through the rooms—not quite running—and tried to remember that Rivens was just outside, outside that window perhaps, and that there was nothing to be afraid of.
Even as she reassured herself, she realized that the echo of her footsteps was not moving as quickly as she was. There was a delay of several seconds before the echo quickened its stride. Forgetting her comforting thoughts in a rush of blood to her heart, Cecily gave a stifled cry and ran with all her strength through a music room, a room hung with green, a hall with a painted ceiling, and down one or two flights of stairs before she found herself on the wrong side of a door that refused to open. Nearly crying in frustration and growing terror, Cecily wrenched at the handle and banged loudly on the door, frightening a pair of doves that had taken up residence in the rafters above her. There was absolutely no doubt of it now. Her “echo” was still walking—and not crying or pounding—swiftly and steadily through the maze of passages toward her. Silent with helplessness, wondering what kind of person could live in a house like that, and throwing desperate prayers up to Heaven, she waited with her hand on the door handle, her back to the other entrance. The rapid movement of feet suddenly stopped. She kept perfectly still, though she could hear the sound of heavy breathing and knew that her shadow was in the room. Suddenly a smooth, low voice said,
“Welcome to Roseburn Hall.”