Lisa’s Private Thoughts, December 24th, 2017: “My Christmas Ghost Story” Part-VII Conclusion

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?”

Reginald nodded.

“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. 

Lisa’s Private Thoughts, December 24th, 2017: “My Christmas Ghost Story” Part-III

I gave him a warm smile and said, “I thought I was the one who was supposed to be hiding.”

He pulled the blanket down to get a better look at me, and I saw he was wearing clothing much like the costume my brother had on downstairs. He had blond curly hair and a round tear-streaked face. I quickly pulled out a handkerchief from my sleeve (her ladyship had told me it was proper to have one on hand) and gave his face a quick cleaning while assuring him everything was going to be all right. That was when I noticed his skin was quite cold. “Oooo… you’re frozen, come on. Let’s get closer to the fire,” I insisted and helped move him, blanket and  all, closer to the fireplace.

That was when he gave me a great big smile and said, “You’re very kind. Who are you? Are you a fairy?”

I laughed. “No, and I’m not an angel either,” I told him. “My name is Lisa, I’m staying here with my parents and my godfather, Nathan Steward.”

Immediately, my new friend perked up. “Nathan? He’s here? He’s all right?”

“Of course. He’s the main reason his lordship invited us to come stay,” I replied. “Why wouldn’t he be all right?”

The boy’s face clouded over as said, “He… had an accident last time. My sister…” here he began to sneeze and fall into a coughing fit. 

I gave him my handkerchief and let him blow his nose. “Oh, you poor thing, you have a cold don’t you?”

He nodded.

Well, that explained why he was up here all by himself. Especially as it had occurred to me that I hadn’t seen him downstairs earlier. Still, someone should have been keeping him company, instead of leaving him all by himself up in this old room. “Are your parent’s downstairs at the party?”

My young friend shook his head, “They’re dead. My uncle is watching over me and my sister. She’s a grown up, like you.”

I had to laugh at that. Both my parents and Nathan would tell me that I was all grown up one moment, and would then turn around and start treating me like a kid the next. Go figure.

Anyway, things were beginning to make more sense to me now. No doubt he had come with his Lordship’s many siblings. Still, it seemed odd to leave the little fellow all on his own up here. Then again, there were other children to watch over downstairs, and I didn’t doubt one of his many cousins were coming to check on him regularly. Probably, one or more of them had been up here with him when the call to start the games went out, and they went downstairs while he took a nap up here. This made sense, since I did find him under a blanket. 

Then I smiled thinking that once the others found my ‘hidden’ location in here, we’d have a lot of company. Still a part of me began to wonder what he’d meant about Nathan having an ‘accident’ last time. 

Just then the boy leaned up against me and I held him tight. He seemed much more relaxed now, and was smiling more, so I chose not to ask about what happened. Besides, I’d seen Nathan bounce back from injuries before. Hell, he’d even recovered from being decapitated just a few years ago. So I had little doubt that whatever had happened had seemed more terrifying to my young friend than it really had been.

I could hear the sounds of my ‘pursuers’ echoing through the mansion, through the door to the room, and quickly excused myself to close it. After all, I didn’t want to make it too easy for them. Then I went back to the fireplace and wrapped the boy in my arms. He hugged me back as we gazed at the fire together. 

“My sister and I used to sit before the fire like this for many an hour,” he sighed wistfully. 

I frowned. “Let me guess, she felt she was too grown up to do it anymore?” I asked, suspecting she didn’t have as much time for her little brother these days. Especially if she was in her late teens as I was guessing from his earlier comparison of her and me. No doubt she was more into going to malls or raves these days.

“Oh, no,” he told me. “She’s mad at me. Or at, it seems like she’s always mad at me.”

My frown deepened. “Really? Did you break something of hers, or get her in trouble somehow?”

He shook his head. “Not to my knowledge.”

I rested my chin on his head, thinking. “Is this a recent thing?”

The boy nodded. “It started shortly after our parents died.”

I mentally nodded. Losing both your parents could lead to the children either becoming closer than ever, or tear them apart. Especially in the case of the older children, who may suddenly feel like a great burden of responsibility has been thrust upon them. They may feel obligated to grow up faster and would either rise up to the challenge, or feel overwhelmed or even cheated of their youthful pleasures and become resentful. Still, he’d said their uncle was watching over them. Could there be some resentment on that front from his sister? Did she want to be the grownup only to find her brother was turning more and more to their uncle? It was hard to say, and having just met my little friend, I didn’t think it was right to pry too deeply. Instead, I asked a totally different question.

“I just realize, I never asked you your name?” I remarked, giving him an embarrassed look.

“Reginald,” he smiled back. “Thank you for being so kind to me, Lisa.”

“I do my best,” I told him.

From beyond the closed door, I could hear the others calling my name, but I didn’t want to leave Reginald, even for a moment. For some strange reason, I was feeling more and more protective of him. Like something would happen if I did leave his side, even for the slightest second. So I didn’t respond and spent the next half hour talking with Reginald.

I soon learned that he and his sister had been quite a bit closer than I’d originally thought, even after their parents accident. But then they began to drift apart. His sister, Madeleine, began having fights with their uncle. Exactly what these arguments had been about, Reginald did not know at first. But then, Madeleine had appealed to him to talk with their uncle about their mother’s jewelry and how it should be hers by right, to do with as she pleased. 

Something about the way she’d spoken to him had been worrying, so he’d asked if she had planned to sell them. At that point she’d raised her voice and began scolding him for such horrid thoughts and how he was sounding just like their uncle. From then on things between them began to deteriorate. Several times she’d called him weak and foolish because by rights he was the rightful heir. He was now the lord and their uncle was only acting as a guardian until he came of age. She told him how he needed to grow up and take charge, that she needed his support but he was too cowardly or ungrateful to help her.

I felt my grip tighten on him as he spoke, wishing I could do something to help. But then he told me how Madeleine had become nicer again recently. She’d even apologized for saying such hurtful things. Perhaps it was the season that had made her more thoughtful, and yet… somehow he was a little afraid of her.

Upon hearing that, I said reassuringly, “Let me talk to her, and to your uncle. I’m pretty good at judging people. I might even get your sister to open up and tell me what’s really been going on.”

A look of relief swept over Reginald’s face, then quickly vanished by one of alarm. “I don’t think that would be a good idea. Nathan tried to talk to her and…”

“And that’s when he had that ‘accident’ you mentioned earlier,” I finished for him. “She got a little violent with him?”

My young friend simply nodded, but there was a haunted look in his eyes which worried me. Still, I couldn’t let things stand the way they were. A part of me kept thinking about my own little brother, Geoffrey and how important he was to me, in spite of occasionally being a pest and a brat. But if we had lost our parents like Reginald and his sister had, I’d be an overly protective mother-hen as well as a big sister to him. I had no idea how good I’d be as a ‘mother’ figure for him, in fact I’d probably make a lot of mistakes, but I’d still love him no matter what. And I had no doubt Madeleine loved her brother still as well. 

And as for getting rough with Nathan, he’d never mentioned the incident to me or my parents. So it couldn’t have been that bad. Perhaps, what Madeleine had been resentful of yet another man trying to tell her what to do, like her uncle had apparently been doing.

“I think Madeleine might actually appreciate talking to someone her own age who’s a big sister like her,” I told Reginald. “And if things do get a little out of hand, Nathan and parents are here and they always watch out for me. Especially if I tell them the situation before I approach your sister.”

That seemed to reassure him as he smiled and let me put him in a chair near the fire. I made sure he was bundled up, and got him to promise not to go anywhere till I got back. After giving me his word he kissed me on the cheek and said, “You’re so nice. I think Madeleine might listen to you. You treat me the way she used to, and I very much wish for things to be like this again between us.”

“I’ll do my best,” I assured him and left the room. As I passed through the adjoining room and into the hallway, I realized I didn’t hear any of my ‘pursuers’ calling out my name. Assuming that they’d given up and had gone back to the party I quickly made my way downstairs. 

When I reached the second floor, I realized that everything had gone quiet. There were no sounds coming the main hall downstairs where the party had been taking place. “This isn’t good,” I told myself and hurried down the rest of the way. Upon reaching the bottom the silence was even more obvious than before. The only sound I could hear was the crackling of the fire from the other side of the doors to the hall, which were now closed.

Feeling more than a little anxious I went to the doors and opened them. The hall was completely empty. The decorations, the tables covered in food and drink, were all still there. And I noted that a considerable number of presents had been added underneath the tree, and the fire was still burning in the fireplace, but aside from me there seemed to be not another soul in the place.

Then I remembered his lordship had mentioned holding mass over at the chapel on the grounds. No doubt that was where everyone had gone off to. Still, it was strange that no one had come looking for me… oh! That was why people had been calling my name earlier. They hadn’t been trying to trick me into revealing myself, they had wanted to tell me to come to the chapel with them.

Feeling more than a little foolish, I headed for the front doors. I grabbed a heavy woolen cloak that went with my outfit and tried the doors. They were locked!

TO BE CONTINUED… 

Lisa’s Private Thoughts, December 24th, 2017: “My Christmas Ghost Story” Part-II

Nathan wasn’t kidding about this being an old-fashion Christmas. Green garland was hanging from the staircases, the walls, you name it. And the table in the dining room looked like a Hollywood set. There was plum pudding, oysters, pies, potatoes, fruits stacked up like pyramids, sweetbreads, the list goes on and on. We even had chestnuts roasting in the fireplace. 

It’s become one of my favorite places to sit near. It’s huge affair, with ornately decorated tiles in the firebox area, as well as a beautifully carved stone mantel with intricate pillars leading up to it. There are a couple of wingback chairs set in front of all this, and that’s where I could be found whenever I’d come in from outside. Sometimes Nathan sits with me, not that I’ve seen all that much of him since our arrival. He seems to come and go on ‘business’, supposedly it has to do with a book or two he’s researching, but I’ve seen him talking with his Lordship from the windows now and then. I don’t have the nerve to ask our host what they’re talking about, and I haven’t been able to get Nathan alone long enough to get the story out of him. 

Anyway, getting back to the holiday decorations, we finally come to the tree itself. It is huge, and because Nathan is around, the tree stands in a huge pot of soil. Like everything else in this great place, it too has decked out in classic Victorian style, with ribbons, flowers, small toys, sweets, fruits, crackers (Christmas ones, not the kind you eat), and ornaments made of paper and glass some of which are at least 100 years old.

Tonight, being Christmas Eve, the Lord and Lady of the manor hosted a huge gathering of family and a few friends (namely us). And in keeping with the old-fashion theme, everyone was dressed in clothing from the before 1900. Naturally, me being into Goth clothing, I should have fit in easily. But most of my outfits were too bright and modern. Luckily, her Ladyship led me to the uppermost level of the mansion where they had a host of outfits for me and my family. I settled on a green velvet with white trim and hints of deep red. My parents and our hosts were delighted at my choice and I couldn’t get over how well it fit me.

Mom and Dad looked smashing in Edwardian garb and my little brother Geoffrey looked adorable  in his “Little Lord Fauntleroy” outfit. Even if he didn’t think it was all that great. Of Nathan there was no sign, although he had promised to be around. I asked Dad what was going on and he assured me Nathan was on important business, but would definitely be showing up before the evening was out. Before I could ask him any more, he announced it was time for us all to join the festivities downstairs. 

Let me tell you, I had no idea what a crowd awaited us down there. His Lordship insisted he had only invited family, but he neglected to mention there would be several generations. His five siblings had brought their spouses and they in turn had brought their children (numbering anywhere from 4-6) per household. And their ages ranged from younger than Geoffrey to those my age and a little older. So I didn’t wind up being the oldest when it came to playing some games I’d never heard of before. Oh I was familiar with Charades, and Blind Man’s Buff (or Blind Man’s Bluff as it’s sometimes called). But there were more games I’d never heard of before that go all the way back to the 1800’s. Up Jenkins, Find the Thimble (for the younger ones), Snapdragon (which involves flaming brandy and raisins in a shallow bowl). 

Shadow Buff was completely new to me, but Isabella proved quite good at it and I soon caught on and found it to be quite a bit of fun However, when it came to playing “Sardines” that’s when the night took a spooky turn for me.

Now for those of you not familiar with Sardines, it’s like a reverse hide and seek game. Instead of everyone hiding while one person counts, only a single person goes into hiding and the rest of the people count. When they are done counting, they all spread out and try to find the person who hid. However, if they find that person, instead of calling out to everyone, the seeker joins the hidden person in their hiding spot. This continues until all the seekers have found the location and have the person who hid in that spot, until they’re all packed in like… you guessed it… sardines.

Being a newcomer to the festivities, I got to be the first person who had to hide. I was told I could go anywhere inside the mansion, which gave me a lot of possibilities. And me being me, I immediately gravitated upstairs to where I’d found my lovely dress for the evening. 

Soon I found myself on the top floor looking down a long corridor of doors. Most of these had been living quarters for servants, but according to our hosts no one had used them for years. Which was why several of them were now being used as storage space, including the room where I had found my dress. When I was in there earlier, I’d spotted a door peeking out from behind some tall boxes. No doubt it was a closet and would make for an excellent hiding spot. While allowing room for the others to join in when they found me, without making any of us feel too claustrophobic. Or so I hoped. 

So you can imagine my surprise at finding, not a closet, but a very large room with a roaring fire in a good-sized fireplace crackling away behind a screen. Glancing around the room I saw there were a couple of desks off in the corner, while the rest of the room had shelves for books and a number of children’s toys. Most of those seemed to be antiques, but in good condition overall. There was a rocking horse that had clearly seen a lot of use, but also a lot of love as well. I could easily picture a child hugging that wooden neck with the real horsehair mane. 

Then it hit me. Of course, a governess would have a room connected with one like this. No doubt the room I’d found my dress had been her bedroom, and this was the schoolroom where she would teach and play with the children in her care. But who was using it these days? And why was there a fire in the fireplace?

My curiosity was in overdrive at this point, so I began to explore every inch of my surroundings. There was an old sofa, whose back was facing me, near the fireplace. As I drew nearer I heard a small cough coming from the other side of it. Immediately, my sisterly instincts kicked in and I went over to have a look. I found a small boy, curled up on the sofa with an old blanket covering most of him. Had I not spotted his eyes peeking out, I would’ve totally missed him. 

TO BE CONTINUED…