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Sunday, February 28, 2021

Lisa's Private Thoughts, December 24th, 2017: "My Christmas Ghost Story" Part-VI



"It's started," Billings whispered and reached for my hand. "I must get you out of here..." But he was too slow. I was already bolting up the staircase, skirt held up high, taking two steps at a time.

"Miss Lisa, no!" I heard my companion cry as I reached the top of the stairs and bolted down the hallway. At one point I thought I heard my name called again, but it didn't sound like Billing's voice. But I wasn't really paying attention, because my focus was completely on what I was hearing and sensing from the room at the end of the hallway. Madeleine was still screaming at her brother and I could feel her anger... hell, who am I kidding. She was in a total rage and to make matters worse, she was getting even angrier.

Putting on a final burst of speed I raced into the governess' old room. The door to the schoolroom was partly open and I could see she had already grabbed Reginald by the arms and was shaking him. She was screaming in his face. I could see tears streaming down the boy's face as he struggled to find something to say that would make her stop, only he was too terrified to think straight.

Without thinking, I rushed into the room shouting, "That's enough, you're going to hurt him!" To my horror, neither brother nor sister seemed to hear me. In fact, they didn't even realize I was there. They were stuck in their cycle. The scene was going to play out to its tragic end right in front of me, if I didn't do something to interrupt it. 

I don't know what possessed me, but I rushed forward and grabbed Madeleine by the arm. 


Immediately, she stiffened and slowly turned to face me. "What is the meaning of this? Who are you? And how dare you lay hands on me."

"My name is Lisa, and I'm... I'm..." I was about to tell her I was a friend of her brother, but I could see he was staring at me as if he'd never seen me before. I briefly thought about saying I was the new governess, but thought better of it. Instead, I decided on the truth. "I'm someone who has a younger brother, just like you."

Madeleine's eyes never left mine. "And you think that gives you the right to touch me?" she demanded.

"Only if it keeps you from accidentally hurting your little brother," I replied evenly and released her arm. "I know how much little brother's can drive you crazy. How they can be so irritating and annoying, that you want to just ring their little necks. But then I remind myself, I'm the elder child and I have a lot more experience with life than he does."

"Not that it counts for much in the end," she pointed out, almost sympathetically. "You're not the one people, especially men, will listen to. Nor will they ask your opinions on things. But your brother? Oh they'll ask him all kinds of things and cater to his whims, no matter how silly."

"That's still no reason to treat him like this," I replied, trying to keep my voice calm. The fact that she was even speaking to me was a good sign, I thought. Perhaps, I'd be able to reason with her and break the cycle. 

"He knows where our mother's jewels are," she told me, obviously trying to sound reasonable. "I need them, I'm entitled to them..."

"So you can be with the man you love, I know," I finished gently.

If my interruption had annoyed her, she didn't show it. Instead she began to smile. "Yes. That's right. You understand. He loves me, he'll take good care of me. We just need to settle his debts and then we can marry. Look, he has already given me his mother's ring for our engagement."

She held out on hand and I could see the ring in question on her finger. It was an impressive piece of jewelry. 'Had he given a ring to any of his other victims?' I wondered. 'If he didn't, perhaps he really had meant to go through with the marriage. But if so, why?'

Meanwhile, she continued, "We are to leave this night and then later return here, as husband and wife. Together, we'll make this place a home for all three of us."

"The three of you?" I repeated.

"Of course," she looked at me as if I'd were a simpleton. "I still have to watch over my little brother. He's still too young to manage the estate on his own. And as you said just a moment ago, we are the elder child. It's our job to make sure we watch over our siblings. I'd never abandon, Reginald."

I had to admit, I hadn't expected to hear her talk like this. Could her betrothed have actually been serious about her? 

"My Jonathan will be here soon," Madeline continued, interrupting my thoughts. " In fact I think I can hear his carriage in the distance."

Without thinking, I found myself listening for the sound. She was right, there was a carriage coming. It sounded far off, but at the same time it was definitely drawing nearer. In fact, I could make out the sound of the horses hooves in the snow. Their steps had a certain rhythm that was very soothing. 


"Come with me over to the window," Madeline whispered, letting go of Reginald in order to slip one arm around one of mine. "We'll be able to see the carriage in a little while."

I let her guide me towards the window in question. We were halfway towards the glass aperture, when suddenly, the image of Nathan landing on the fountain in a shower of glass loomed large in my mind. Immediately, I pulled away from her, or tried to. Only she was expecting it and had a death grip on my wrist. Still, I managed to pull us away from the window and back into the center of the room. I was between her and Reginald now and I could hear the boy breathing heavily behind me. 

As desperately as I wanted to look back at him, I dared not turn away from Madeline. Her grip on my arm had opened my eyes, in both the literal and psychic sense. There I said it. Nathan was right, I am psychic and boy was I seeing into a mind that had been twisted by an expert. 

My original impression about Madelyn's anger at men had been right on the money. But it hadn't always been that way. She had been devoted to her father, brother and her uncle. It was only when she'd been denied her wish to marry that the resentment had taken hold, only to be fueled by her intended. From the glimpses I was getting from her mind, I could see he had all the classic traits of an abusive/manipulator. He had been putting her up on such a high pedestal that she had no clue as to what he had planned for her. I could even hear his words inside my head, praising her youthful wisdom and insights, and how angry it made him that others, including her own family, refused to listen to her. From there he helped foment her resentments,  encouraging her to defy their antiquated concepts of duty and propriety. Yet in spite of all this, she had grieved deeply when her parents had perished in the carriage accident. Her pain had been as deep for her father as well as her mother. 

Perhaps, that was why her 'intended's' manipulations worked so well on her. After her loss, she had felt lost and confused, making her more vulnerable to his renewed insistence on their marrying soon, so he could quote "Ease her pain and sorrows..." Only her uncle became the new obstacle to that plan. So he began redirecting her resentment towards her guardian. And when he would not listen, she began working on Reginald only to become resentful to him as well after he took their uncle's side. Which had eventually led to the tragic events that in turn brought the three of us to this moment.

Finally, I found my words and said, "You still believe he will come for you this night."  


"Of course," she beamed, which nearly made me shudder.  There was nothing warm or tender about that smile. "You see, I was telling you the truth about hearing his carriage approach. I hear it every year..."

That sent a chill down my spine. She was aware of her situation! And she willingly played it out in some vain hope that eventually she'd get the jewels and leave before being discovered by the servant. Which in turn would mean she could avoid taking the wrong turn and falling over the balcony and into the Great Hall.

"Do you know what it's like to be in love with someone, only to be told you have to wait over and over again?" she continued, still with that twisted, dreamy expression on her face.

I hesitated as my treacherous brain began thinking about Nathan. I had been in love with him practically my whole life. I'd even done as he'd asked and tried going out with other people, seeing if there was someone other than him that I might fall in love with. But, no matter how good things were between me and the person, I never felt for them the way I did for him.

"Ah, I see you have," Madelyn continued, the smile fading from her lips. Now, she began speaking to me sympathetically. "Then you know the pain I've been going through and how the wait can make you desperate. Desperate enough to risk everything for that chance of true happiness." 

I nodded. "Yes, I do. And it hurts so bad sometimes you want to lash out at the world."

"Or at the ones who block your way, or..." here she paused and stared past me at her brother, "... refuse to be sympathetic to your plight, no matter how many times they tell you they love you."

I could feel her anger rising again and a part of me wanted to agree with her and step aside. But another part, that big sister who'd fight hell itself to protect my little brother, wasn't about to let that happen. I wasn't sure what I should say next, but then I spotted a movement behind Madelyn. 

It was a greenish mist, carrying small bundle, making it's way to a large bookcase just over her left shoulder.

- TO BE CONCLUDED 

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Lisa's Private Thoughts, December 24th, 2017: "My Christmas Ghost Story" Part-V

 



For a moment I said nothing as I gathered my thoughts. Finally, I breathed, "If this were an old movie, this is the point where I'd ask what you meant was going to happen. But I already know. You mean that sweet little boy I met upstairs is about to experience his death at his sister's hands all over again, don't you?" 

Mr. Billings gave me a sad smile. "I'm afraid so. Ever since that terrible night, the family and anyone within these walls will hear the entire scene play out and ending with bloodcurdling screams.” 

I winced, I couldn’t help myself. The thought of that sweet boy I’d met being murdered at the hands of his own flesh and blood. All for the love of a man... wait, 'follow the money'.

Turning away from the fire I turned to my host and asked, “Mr. Billings, what became of Miss Madeleine and her young man? Did they get away?"

My new friend shook his head sadly. "No, they did not. Nor did they ever marry, not that the scoundrel ever intended to follow through on that promise to Miss Madeleine."

That was all I needed to hear. Nodding I said aloud, "He only wanted her dowry, or her mother's jewels in this case."

Mr. Billings gave me a smile and nodded, "You have a very keen mind, Miss Lisa. You are correct of course."

As he spoke another thought occurred to me. "Madeleine and her brother where here when their parents had their carriage accident. Does anyone know where her suitor was that day?"

"Well done, Miss!" my host exclaimed, beaming at me. "Alas, at the time no one had asked. However, his whereabouts were uncovered a year later at his murder trial."

I did a double-take. "His trial? I thought Madeleine had acted alone when she killed her brother? Or did her boyfriend turn around and kill her after he got the jewels?"

Billings sighed and looked at the clock again. "I see it's only 9:13, so we still have time. I'm afraid I didn't tell you everything about the haunting because I didn't want to upset you further. You see, it doesn't end with Master Reginald's final screams echoing throughout the manor. I'm afraid, there's still more. But first, I must tell you the rest of what happened that terrible night. A servant had come back unexpectedly and heard the commotion upstairs and went to investigate. He'd just reached the top of the stairwell when shouting was replaced by a terrifying scream. Recognizing the voice as that of his mistress', he rushed to the playroom to find Miss Madeleine stooped over her brother's body before the fireplace. She was in a terrible shaking the boy and screaming his name. Naturally, he thought she had simply come home and found her brother in this condition, so he drew nearer to comfort her. Unfortunately, she had no inkling that he had entered the room and was startled when he placed a hand on her shoulder. Whirling to face him several of her mother's jewels, which she'd been clutching in one hand fell to the floor. Now, this man was a close confidante of Sir Peter and knew about his suspicions regarding Miss Madeleine's suitor. And he had been present when Sir Peter had told his nephew not to give in to his sister's requests for money or access to her mother's jewelry. So when he saw them in her hand he realized what had happened. 'Oh Miss Madeleine, tell me you didn't...' he began, but she cut him off shouting, 'They were rightfully, mine. If he'd only told me they were here when I asked the first time I wouldn't have lost my temper. I only meant to push him away... I didn't mean for him to hit his head and..." but instead of finishing her words, she rushed past him and out of the room. In her panic, she turned the wrong way and instead of heading for the stairs, she wound up running towards the balcony that overlooks this room. She was so terrified of having been caught, she kept looking over her shoulder and never realized her mistake until she hit the bannister and..."



Here he turned to stare at a spot on the floor just a few feet from where we were seated. 

Now I fully understood. "After the screams she appears at the railing and falls to her death in front of anyone who's in this room," I breathed.

My friend nodded solemnly. "Which is why Sir Peter, and all his descendants have made sure no one is in the mansion during the hour between 9 and 10 on Christmas Eve."

I blew out a breath and sat back in my chair. Now I understood the reason for the mass at the chapel. But I still had a few more questions. "Mr. Billings, you said her young man was hanged for murder a year later, correct?"

"That I did," he nodded watching me carefully. 

"So they found out he was the one who had shot the parents' driver leading to the crash that killed them?" I pressed.

"Yes, but that wasn't what he was on trial for at the time," my host explained. "You see, as I told you earlier, the young man had been engaged before only to have his fiancee' die shortly before their wedding."

I sat upright at that. "Unexpectedly?" I inquired.

My host nodded.

I continued, "Did he have any other fiancees who passed away 'unexpectedly'?"

Once more my host beamed at me. "Indeed he did. You see, some months before the carriage accident Sir Peter had been at a party with a an old friend who spotted the young man there with them. The friend had mentioned the young man's misfortune but had referred to him by a different name. At first Sir Peter simply assumed his friend had been mistaken. But then he remembered his friend was a sharpshooter back in their regiment days. And the man had spotted the young fellow at a distance. That was what first raised his suspicions about his niece's suitor. He began to start looking into the matter, but with letters taking time, it his investigation was not coming along as quickly as he'd like. Still, he had found out enough to tell his brother to not agree to the match until he could learn more."

"But after Madeleine and her brother's deaths, he finally got the proof he'd been looking for," I concluded.

"Just in the nick of time too," Billings told me. "He was already engaged to another young lady of considerable wealth with no family, who had recently become inexplicably ill."

I nodded. "Like I said before, follow the money. So he was only after wealth, not love. Which means Madeleine would've suffered a similar fate if her brother had given in to her requests."

"Yes, she would have," Billings nodded, "But it wasn't just for money, if you get my meaning, miss."

My eyes widened at that. "He liked killing young women?"

"Young women mostly, but because they were in his way he'd made an exception with her parents."

"Oh that is sick," I breathed and shook my head as the enormity of the tragedy upstairs hit me. "In his own way her brother was inadvertently saving her life, even if he didn't realize it. Only to lose it at her hands, for a man who would've taken hers eventually. If only she'd known and now they're both stuck... wait a minute. I was able to interact with Reginald earlier. And he told me Nathan had actually tried speaking with his sister... which means, they aren't completely stuck playing out the tragedy."

Mr. Billings rose to his feet and said gravely, "Oh, miss I know what you're thinking, but it won't work. Others have tried and failed. Master Nathan is only the latest. And while I admire his determination to try and free those two poor children from their torment, I don't think it will work. Miss Madeleine is very obstinate when it comes to anyone telling her..."

"You've tried to intervene as well!" I exclaimed getting to my feet.

"Yes, I have," he nodded sadly. "And I've not been able to get through to her, try as I might I just cannot get her to understand. She won't listen..."

"Not to any man, she won't," I cut in, my mind was racing at this point. "Think about it, first her father, then her uncle, then her own brother? All men, telling her she couldn't be with the man she thought loved her."

"Miss Lisa, I see where you're going with this but it's dangerous," my companion cried and glanced at his watch once more. "Master Nathan found that out the last time he tried." 



This time he didn't look over at the clock but at one of the large windows. I followed his gaze and saw this particular window looked out upon a three tiered fountain, with a finial top. It was rimmed with snow and ice, and brightly lit by strings of Christmas lights wrapped around its tiers. While it was quite pretty, I couldn't understand why my new friend was staring at it. Suddenly, a figure falling from a great height, landed on top of the fountain amidst a shower of glass. I fell back with a scream, luckily Billings kept me from falling. After regaining my composure, I raced to the window and looked out at the fountain. 

There was no figure impaled on the the finial. Nor was there any sign of broken glass or footprints leading away from the area. Immediately, I thought back to my chat with Reginald when we were discussing Nathan "He had and accident. My sister..." 

"Miss Lisa?" Billings was at my side his eyes full of worry.

"She threw Nathan out the window of the playroom," I breathed and then looked at him. "That's what you mean by she's dangerous. His attempt at intervening only got her pissed and she threw him out the window. Didn't she?"

Billings nodded. "It's 9:20, I really must get you out of here. Let Master Nathan deal with things, I believe he has a plan."

"What plan?" I asked he led me out of the Great Hall and into foyer. 

"I'm not sure, but there's something his Lordship has been seeking for some time. If Master Nathan is here, no doubt he's helping in the search. With it, they may be able to finally reach Miss Madeleine and help break the cycle..." the rest of his words seemed to grow more annoying as a wave of anger swept over me.

Without meaning to I suddenly snapped, "And you think only a man can bring me to my senses! How dare you, talk down to me. You're just like every other man. Only my Cedric understands and listens to me. We actually have conversations and he encourages me to share my thoughts and feeling and discusses them with me..." I finally caught myself and shook my head. Such anger. Madeleine hadn't just been frustrated, she was in a full blown rage! 

"You're a sensitive," my guide whispered, looking at me with a mixture of fear and wonder. "I had no idea. If I had realized it sooner, I would've never kept you here so long. We must get you out of here, Miss Lisa."



But I was already sensing Reginald's growing discomfort from upstairs. We were right next to the staircase and I couldn't help looking up the steps. "She's already with him, trying to be nice but she was growing impatient and he can sense something's not right." 

"Master Nathan..."

"Even if he has something, I don't think she's going to listen to him," I interrupted.

Just then shouts erupted from upstairs and I could sense Reginald's discomfort had now become full blown terror.

TO BE CONTINUED...