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."
"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...