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.