"Stay here, young fellah! And you, too, padre. Three of us make too much noise. I'll call you if I want you. My idea is just to steal out and wait quiet on the stair. If that thing, whatever it was, comes again, it will have to pass me."
All three went into the passage. The two candles were throwing out little circles of light, and the stair was deeply illuminated, with heavy shadows at the top. Roxton sat down half-way up the stair, pistol in hand. He put his finger to his lips and impatiently waved his companions back to the room. Then they sat by the fire, waiting, waiting.
Half an hour, three-quarters -- and then, suddenly it came. There was a sound as of rushing feet, the reverberation of a shot, a scuffle and a heavy fall, with a loud cry for help. Shaking with horror, they rushed into the hall. Lord Roxton was lying on his face amid a litter of plaster and rubbish. He seemed half dazed as they raised him, and was bleeding where the skin had been grazed from his cheek and hands. Looking up the stair, it seemed that the shadows were blacker and thicker at the top.
"I'm all right," said Roxton, as they led him to his chair. "Just give me a minute to get my wind and I'll have another round with the devil -- for if this is not the devil, then none ever walked the earth."
"You shan't go alone this time," said Malone.
"You never should," added the clergyman. "But tell us what happened."
"I hardly know myself. I sat, as you saw, with my back to the top landing. Suddenly I heard a rush. I was aware of something dark right on the top of me. I half-turned and fired. The next instant I was chucked down as if I had been a baby. All that plaster came showering down after me. That's as much as I can tell you."
"Why should we go further in the matter?" said Malone. "You are convinced that this is more than human, are you not?"
"There is no doubt of that."
"Well, then, you have had your experience. What more can you want?"
"Well, I, at least, want something more," said Mr. Mason. "I think our help is needed."
"Strikes me that we shall need the help," said Lord Roxton, rubbing his knee. "We shall want a doctor before we get through. But I'm with you, padre. I feel that we must see it through. If you don't like it, young fellah -- " The mere suggestion was too much for Malone's Irish blood.
"I am going up alone!" he cried, making for the door.
"No, indeed. I am with you." The clergyman hurried after him.
"And you don't go without me!" cried Lord Roxton, limping in the rear.
They stood together in the candle-lit, shadow-draped passage. Malone had his hand on the balustrade and his foot on the lower step, when it happened.
What was it? They could not tell themselves. They only knew that the black shadows at the top of the staircase had thickened, had coalesced, had taken a definite, batlike shape. Great God! They were moving! They were rushing swiftly and noiselessly downwards! Black, black as night, huge, ill-defined, semi-human and altogether evil and damnable. All three men screamed and blundered for the door. Lord Roxton caught the handle and threw it open. It was too late; the thing was upon them. They were conscious of a warm, glutinous contact, of a purulent smell, of a half-formed, dreadful face and of entwining limbs. An instant later all three were lying half-dazed and horrified, hurled outwards on to the gravel of the drive. The door had shut with a crash.
Malone whimpered and Roxton swore, but the clergyman was silent as they gathered themselves together, each of them badly shaken and bruised, but with an inward horror which made all bodily ill seem insignificant. There they stood in a little group in the light of the sinking moon, their eyes turned upon the black square of the door.
"That's enough," said Roxton, at last.
"More than enough," said Malone. " I wouldn't enter that house again for anything Fleet Street could offer."
"Are you hurt?"
"Defiled, degraded -- oh, it was loathsome!"
"Foul!" said Roxton! "Did you get the reek of it? And the purulent warmth?"
Malone gave a cry of disgust.