For a second I thought she was about to attack us, but instead she nodded then fell to her knees. A moment later, she began pounding the floor, while sobbing hysterically. "Please tell me it isn't true..."
Friday, March 19, 2021
It was hard trying to keep my eyes on Madeleine, while that all-too-familiar mist opened a secret panel in the shelves and deposited its bundle inside the compartment. Knowing Nathan was actually here in the room with me was reassuring, but worrying at the same time. He'd upset Madeleine last time so badly she'd turned violent and had gotten the better of him. I really didn't want to see a rematch and possibly get caught in the crossfire. So I needed to keep her attention totally fixed on me.
Finally, I said with complete honesty, "I know what you're saying. I even sympathize, because I truly know how much pain you're in."
"Do you?" Madeleine asked politely. All too politely, if you know what I mean. Her eyes never left mine as she took a step closer. "Pray tell me, how do you know what I feel? Does your situation run along the same exact path as mine?"
"No," I replied with a sigh. "Although we both share the knowledge and anger from being told we have to wait, I've never resented my family to the point I'd resort to violence against any of them. And I certainly would never raise a hand against my younger brother... not even accidentally."
That made her pause and she nodded. "It was an accident," she murmured, "I never meant for him to fall back and..." she cut herself off and raised her eyes and I could see both the pain and anger in them. "If he had only told me where they were when I'd asked, it never would have happened?" she screamed.
I think she expected me to flinch or recoil, but I didn't. That look in her eyes had confirmed everything I needed to know. "How did it happen?" I asked gently.
Her eyes never left me, as if she dared not look past my shoulder where her younger brother stood just a few feet away. "I think you already know," she said evenly.
"I know you had started out being nice to him, just the way you used to," I replied, not tearing my eyes away from hers, I could feel Nathan was behind me which was giving me courage. Only, then his presence began to fade, as if he were moving away and out of the room. What the hell was he playing at? I needed backup right, like right now! Meanwhile, I continued saying, "Then you began asking about your mother's jewelry, and when he refused to tell you where they were you began losing your temper and started shouting at him. Eventually, you grabbed him and were screaming at him... just how I found you when I burst into this room."
Madeleine's gave me a cold smile, "That's right, you're so right. It was exactly like that, only then I began shaking him and he started to pull away. Eventually, he struggled so hard I lost my grip and he fell backwards." Here her voice cracked and I could hear the pain in her voice. "He fell away too quickly for me to grab him and struck his head against the stonework of the fireplace."
A faraway look crept into her eyes. They were still locked with mine, but I knew she wasn't seeing me as she continued...
"He began to fall into the hearth itself. I barely had time to keep him from falling into the flames. But I did!" A mania had crept back into her voice as she grabbed my hand. "I did, and that's when he finally told me where they were... and I retrieved them. I finally had them and could join my Jonathan, but..." Now, her gaze slid away from me and over my shoulder. "But I couldn't leave my brother..." her voice started to become hard again, "He needed me. He was hurt. I couldn't leave him lying there on the floor, bleeding."
Her breathing became harsh along with her tone, as she continued. "If he'd only told me where they were when I first asked, none of it would have happened! And I'd have been able to get to my Jonathan outside, instead I stayed here... and then the door opened and... WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL ME WHEN I ASKED?"
Those last words and her glare were aimed at Reginald who was still behind me.
Turning, I saw the tears in his eyes as he stood there, not having moved a inch from where I'd left him when I'd come between them.
In the background I could still hear the approach of the carriage, it was practically just outside.
Madeleine heard it too and tried to push me out of the way, only I held her back.
"TELL ME WHERE THEY ARE! I CAN'T REMEMBER!" she shrieked, struggling against me. "HE'S HERE! TELL ME SO I CAN GO WITH HIM REGINALD! YOU CAN COME WITH US, WE CAN LEAVE THIS PLACE TOGETHER AND FINALLY BE FREE!"
I had no idea how much longer I could hold her back and was about to tell Reginald to tell her what she wanted to know when I heard a familiar voice say, "Tell her, Reginald. It's the only way."
Both Madeleine and I froze for a second then I turned and looked over my shoulder. Nathan was standing in the doorway. His gaze was fixed on young boy behind me, who finally blinked, as if waking from a bad dream. Finally, the boy turned to Nathan and said, "Buy our Uncle told me..."
"I know," Nathan cut in gently. "But this is very important. Especially for her."
Reginald still looked uncertain but turned to his sister and said, "They're behind the panel in the bookcase behind you. The third shelf."
Madeleine looked stunned. "There's a room behind there?" she breathed.
"No, just a compartment," Reginald told her, his lip trembling. He looked more scared than before to me, but I said nothing.
Meanwhile, Madeleine raced to the bookcase and began searching the third shelf until she found the panel and opened it. Immediately, she reached inside with a look of delight which quickly changed to confusion as she pulled out not only an old velvet bag, but the stack of papers I'd seen Nathan place in there moments ago.
To my surprise, Madeleine put the velvet bag aside while staring at the papers. "They're calling to me..." she breathed and then started studying them more closely. "This handwriting, it's my Jonathan's. What are they doing in there? He only ever wrote to me. Are these my letters? No, they're something else... along with papers from my uncle. I don't understand."
I felt Nathan's hand on my shoulder as he drew next to me. On his other side, was Reginald, whom he had his other hand resting on. "Be ready to get behind me, this could turn ugly," Nathan told both of us, in a hushed voice.
"What did you put in there?" I whispered at him.
"The truth," he murmured back.
For the next five minutes Madeleine examined each page, some more than once, before finally raising her eyes to stare at us. "No!" she whispered in a ragged breath. "It's not true! It can't be! He loved me! He wanted to be with me... he'd never... These papers are all lies! Tell me none of this is true!"
This was directed at Nathan who sadly shook his head.
For a second I thought she was about to attack us, but instead she nodded then fell to her knees. A moment later, she began pounding the floor, while sobbing hysterically. "Please tell me it isn't true..."
Nathan started forward, but I stopped him and shook my head firmly. "No, not you. The last thing she needs is a man telling her she'd been wrong." Then without another word, I walked over to Madeleine's shaking form and I knelt beside her.
"You couldn't have known..." I began but she cut me off with a violent shake of her head.
"You're wrong. I'd been warned... I'd been warned by so many people. My father, my uncle, even several of my friends, but I wouldn't listen to any of them," she rasped and finally raised her head. "I'd only listen to him. He made me feel so special, like my opinion and beliefs mattered. He'd listen and tell what a tragedy it was that other's refused to see my wisdom or even listen to me."
I nodded, "That's how men like him work. They put you on a pedestal and make you believe you are the center of their world..."
Now it was her time to nod. "Exactly..." Now she turned her gaze to her younger brother, who had not left Nathan's side. "Did you know?"
"What did our uncle tell you?" Madeleine asked gently.
"Only that I shouldn't tell you where mother's jewels were, because you'd leave and that Jonathan might do something bad to you," her brother replied in sad voice.
"Oh God," Madeleine wailed, "You were trying to watch out for me and I... I..." Once more she buried her face in hands and doubled over sobbing uncontrollably.
This time she did not pull away when I reached out and held her close. In fact she returned the gesture and clung to me like a lost child. I spared a look over to Nathan who gave me a reassuring smile. It was only after I started stroking her hair that she slowly began to calm down.
Once she found her voice she turned to Nathan and said, "Please, take Reginald with you when you leave. Let me remain here until the final day of Judgement. Let the place of my crime be my prison, my place of penance. Seal the door with mortar and stone, then cover the entrance so none will know this room exists. This way I will not disturb the residents and they can live in peace."
I shot Nathan a look to ask him what we should do, but Reginald was already rushing towards his sister and pulling her close.
"No, I will not leave you," he told her earnestly, "If you stay, then so must I."
Madeleine shook her head, "No, Mother and Father have been waiting for you. I'm sure of it. You mustn't keep them waiting any longer."
"But they told me that when I became into my title I was always to take care of you. And I promised I would. So I cannot leave without you," he insisted, holding onto her even tighter. "We're family, and I love you."
Outside I could here the carriage come to a halt. Getting up I went over to Nathan and whispered, "There's someone outside."
"I know," he assured me. "But it's not who you're expecting."
"How do you know?"
Instead of answering, he gestured to Reginal and his sister.
Madeleine was gazing at her brother in disbelief. "But I hurt you," she breathed, "I didn't meant to."
"I know," Reginald smiled and touched her cheek, "That's why I forgave you."
Madeleine looked stunned, "You did?"
"That he did, Miss," said Billings as he entered the room, dressed in the finery of a butler instead of a simple manservant. "I'm afraid you had already fled the room at the time, but he spoke those very words as I held him in my arms. I tried calling to you, but I'm afraid my entrance and poorly worded question had sent you into a panic. A terrible mistake on my part. And one that I've long regretted and have hoped to make amends for some time. "
My eyes had widened at that. HE had been the servant who'd found them that night. Then he was a ghost too! And, yes I'm still kicking myself for not realizing that sooner.
Anyway, Billings continued, "I pray you can find in your heart to forgive me, both of you."
"Of course," Madeleine told him, without hesitation. "I'm so sorry. I had no idea you were trapped here as well."
"Not trapped, Miss Madeleine," he corrected her gently, "The decision to stay was my own. The welfare of you both have always been my responsibility. And now, if you will both come with me, you're parents are waiting just out front."
This time I caught on before the siblings did. I turned to Nathan and whispered, "The carriage outside, it's their parents not her murderous suitor!"
He smiled and nodded.
I turned in time to see Madeleine and Reginald accepting Billing's extended hands and began to follow him out of the room. All three paused at the door to thank us and also with us a Happy Blessed Christmas.
As soon as they left Nathan grabbed me by the hand and led me over to the window. Down below we could see the carriage. It was a fine looking vehicle, with four horses pawing at the snow covered ground, eager to be on their way. As Billings and his charges appeared, the door to the carriage swung open and a man and woman climbed out. After a warm embrace everyone, including Billings climbed back inside and the door was closed. A moment later, the coachman looked up at us in the window and gave us a salute. Then he snapped the reins and the carriage gently moved forward and disappeared into the snowy night.
"It's finally over," I heard Nathan sigh, "Thanks to you."
I shot him a look. "ME? More like US," I pointed out, then after a thinking about it for a moment I added, "Well, I guess I did actually deal with both of them more than you did."
"Yes you did," he admitted, much to my surprise. "I couldn't have done it without you. There was no way she was going to listen to me, or any man."
"So you did bring me here just to help with you," I accused, well I wasn't exactly angry, it was more like I wanted him to admit the truth to me.
He gave me a sheepish grin. "Let's say I was hoping to use your talents as a last resort. I really hadn't planned to bring you into things unless I really had to. I never expected trying to find that pile of papers was going to take as long as it did."
"Is that what you and his lordship been so occupied with ever since we arrived?" I asked, thinking about all those little private meetings they seemed to be having.
Nathan nodded. "He found out the papers existed but was having a devil of a time locating them. And in case you hadn't noticed, this place is HUGE. Not to mention there are a number of hidden corridors and secret compartments throughout the entire building. Although, at his point I think we now know where they all are... I think. Anyway, I only finally found them after I heard you tearing up the stairs and running down the hall tonight."
"So that was you I heard calling my name," I murmured.
He nodded. "I had hoped that Billings would get you out of here before things started happening up here..."
"Only I insisted on hearing the whole story after I ran into Reginald earlier this evening," I finished and then told him about the game of Sardines.
"I see," he nodded, "I should've known your abilities would get you caught up in things."
"Stop it, I'm not psychic," I insisted, then added, "Am I?"
He gave me a sympathetic look. "Oh, you are. Trust me, I've known a number of psychics. And so have you, Alex and Cassandra for instance."
"But I'm not anywhere near as strong as those them," I said looking away. I was really feeling embarrassed. I'd seen our friends do some incredible things with their talents, which I'd never be able to do.
Nathan laughed and put a finger under my chin and made me look at him. "It doesn't matter how much power you have, it's what you do with what you have. You're a sensitive with a big heart. And that's what allowed us to help Madeleine, Reginald and Billings find peace."
That made me smile. "Thanks."
"Thank you," Nathan smiled back. Together we gathered up the papers from where Madeleine had left them. I saw they were transcripts from her beloved Jonathan's trial, including a written confession that he himself penned of his own free will. The man had not only been a sociopath, but a narcissist to boot. There was not an ounce of regret in the pages I scanned, while picking them up. Apparently, Madeleine's uncle, the magistrate who had excused himself from overseeing the trial, had collected all of this paperwork to keep it out of the public eye. But had never brought himself to destroy any of it, as a reminder of his own failure to protect his brother's family.
Finally, we grabbed velvet bag of jewelry and headed back downstairs. Once there we settled down in front of the fire to wait for our hosts and their guests.
As we sat there, Nathan remarked, "Are you okay? You've been awfully quiet coming back down here."
Nodding I smiled and answered, "Of course. How many women get to say they helped bring an end to a haunting? At Christmas time now less?"
"Some would call it a Christmas miracle," he pointed out.
I thought about that for a moment and looked at him. "Was it? Did we pull of a Christmas miracle?"
Holding up a hand he began ticking off the facts, "We helped not one, but three spirits cross over and find peace and in the process reunited them with their loved ones. And we also freed the current family, and their future generations, from the threat of a terrifying haunting. I'd say that qualifies, don't you?"
"Yeah, I guess it does," I agreed.
Just then we could hear everyone returning from the chapel. I can't tell you how great it felt great being able to give our hosts the gift of knowing the haunting that had plagued their home for over a century had finally ended.
Sunday, January 17, 2021
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...