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 the 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 also 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…

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

I tried the doors again, in case the handles had become frozen or something. But as soon as my hands touched them a voice behind me spoke.

“I’m afraid his lordship locked them, Miss. And he has the only keys.”

I’d love to say I wasn’t spooked and kept my cool, but… I jumped and whirled around, before catching myself. There before me was a man in his late 40’s I’d guess, and in keeping with the theme of evening, he was dressed in the livery of a 19th century servant. He had a kind face and a gentle, if somewhat sad smile.

“But don’t worry, I’m sure we can find another way out so you can join the others at the chapel,” he continued and pulled out an old pocket watch. “Although, I see we should be quick. You don’t want to be here… I mean missing mass. The chapel is always beautifully done up at this time of year.”

Me being me, I immediately caught that little hesitation and said innocently. “Is it? Well, that sounds wonderful. We can go together. I’m not sure I could find it in the dark by myself.”

“Oh, you’ll find it all right,” the man replied, but a little too quickly. “I have duties to perform before everyone returns.”

“I see,” I nodded and started to follow him through the foyer. “Will you be checking on the little boy upstairs?” I asked, remembering my little friend with the cold.

The man suddenly stopped. Then without turning to look at me he said, “Little boy? Upstairs?”

“Yes, I met him when I was looking for a place to hide while we played Sardines. His name is Reginald.”

This time the man’s shoulders slumped visibly as he bowed his head. “You were in the old playroom,” he murmured, “And he’s still there… I had so hoped…” His words trailed off but I was certain I caught the words “poor boy.”

At the same time I felt a chill race down my spine. I know many people use that phrase to describe an uneasy feeling, but in my case it usually meant I was picking up on the fact that things were not what they seemed. I took a step closer to the man and asked very gently, “What’s wrong with him? He told me he had a cold, but there’s more to it. Isn’t there?”

The man nodded. “I’m afraid so. The poor child has had that cold a very long time.”

Nathan has told me more than once that he believes I have psychic powers and… maybe I do. I’m not sure. I personally believe that I’m just more sensitive to things that others miss. I admit, there was that one time in Germany where we’d come across the site of where a concentration camp had stood, although there was nothing to mark it had ever been there. And I do have dreams every so often, some of which come true or seem to act as a warning, but it’s not like I can control any of this. It just happens. But right now that chill down my spine was telling me that my ‘sensitivity’ was acting up again, and I wanted to know more. “He’s not alive, is he?” I whispered.

My guide nodded sadly. “It happened on Christmas Eve, many years ago. During the reign of Good Queen Victoria.”

“How sick was he?” I asked shaking my head. 

“Oh, that isn’t what killed him,” the man told me. “It was his sister. She killed him, in that very room.”

Reginald’s words, “She’s mad at me. Or at least, it seems like she’s always mad at me…” suddenly echoed inside my head. “Why?” I asked, “Did she hate him that much?”

“Oh, no,” my companion replied, shaking his head seriously. “No, they were quite devoted to each other. It was…” again he trailed off.

“Please, Mr….,” I paused and silently cursed myself for not having asked the man his name. This made twice I’d done that in one night. 

Luckily, he wasn’t bothered. Instead he gave me a smile and said, “Billings, Miss. Arthur Billings. I’ve served both his lordship and his father before him.”

“A pleasure to meet you Mr. Billings,” I told him and meant it. He seemed so nice. “I’m Lisa, I’m here with my parents and Nathan Steward. Would you please tell me what happened?”

He seemed to think it over, saying, “You’re with Master Nathan? He’s come back, then?” Finally , he nodded. “Come let’s sit, and I’ll tell what I can.” With that he led me back to the Great Hall. 

As we walked, I kept thinking, ‘First Reginald, now Mr. Billings… Nathan must be trying to find a way to end the haunting. But why? And what happened with the sister and Nathan?’ I had so many questions. Luckily, I was about to get all the answers, or so I thought.

Mr. Billings guided me to my favorite chair near the great fireplace. After making sure I was comfortable, he moved closer to the fire and began his tale.

“It all started in the summer of the same year that the tragedy happened. Miss Madeleine had met and fallen for a young man she’d met in London. At first everything seemed innocent and proper enough, but then whispers about the young man reached his lordship’s ears. It seems just the year before the fellow had been engaged to another young woman, who shortly after their engagement took ill and passed away.” 

“How tragic,” I remarked, watching the storyteller closely. Although his countenance (I picked up this word recently from being here in England) was flat, I could also detect the slightest touch of bitterness in his tone. Clearly, there was more behind this part of the story, but I kept quiet as he continued.

“Indeed it was,” Billings nodded solemnly, “Anyway, his lordship began having second thoughts about the relationship which led to a number of disagreements with his daughter. The girl was eager to get engaged, but his lordship refused to supply a dowry until his worries were put to rest. Things continued this way throughout the summer and into the Autumn, when the lord and lady were both killed in a carriage accident. Apparently, the horses became spooked and bolted for reasons that remained a ‘mystery’.”

I felt my eyebrows shoot up at that. “What about the driver? What did he have to say about what happened?”

The narrator smiled. “You have an keen mind,” he told me, then continued. “Unfortunately, the driver was also killed in the crash. Being on the outside of the carriage he suffered many injuries, especially about the head. But there were a couple of things that bothered his lordship’s brother, Sir Peter, who was also a magistrate. Something about the injury did not fit with the rest of those the man had suffered.”

“What were they?” I asked leaning forward. 

“Well,” Mr. Billings began, “The man had been thrown from the coach, yet there were bloodstains on the driver’s seat…”

“Which meant he’d been injured before the carriage crashed,” I finished, as my brain went into overdrive. He had mentioned the horses had been spooked, so what could spook a horse? “Someone shot the driver, knowing the sound would spook the horses and there’d be no one to try and reign them in.”

Mr. Billings nodded, “Those were Sir Peter’s very thoughts. Unfortunately, with no witnesses, there was no way to prove what happened. The horses’ could’ve been spooked by wolves or some other predator, and the man could’ve hit his head against a low branch as he tried to regain control of the animals. In the end, the inquest concluded death by misadventure.”

I shook my head. “That’s ridiculous. Clearly, someone wanted the parents out of the way. All you have to do is follow the money and…” 

A horrid thought suddenly came to me, and it must have shown on my face for the storyteller added, “Mind you, Miss Madeleine and her brother were here at the manor when the incident occurred.  They were both quite devastated when their uncle told them what had happened. It was especially hard for the boy, since he was the male heir, the title of Lord, along with the manor and its lands came to him. However, due to his young age, their uncle took charge of overseeing things until the boy became of age. And before you ask, Sir Peter was quite a wealthy man with considerable holdings of his own, so he had no reason to want anything to happen to his brother and sister-in-law.”

Nodding I stared into the flames of the fireplace, as my mind began working through everything I’d just been told. From what I could see, the only other person who might wants the parents out of the way would be Madeleine’s suitor. But with the title and everything going to her brother, how could he gain from their deaths.  Suddenly my mind went back to Reginald telling me about his sister arguing with their uncle, and quickly put two and two together.  “Let me guess, Madeleine started appealing to her uncle to allow her to get engaged. Which would mean a dowry would have to be supplied for her.”

My host nodded.

Sighing I fell back into the wing-backed chair I was sitting on. “And of course, he refused because his brother had no doubt told him about the rumors involving her young man.”

“Actually, Sir Peter was one of the people who brought those reports it to his brother’s attention,” Billings corrected me.

I blew out a breath. “Wow! And when she found that out, she started appealing to her brother to talk to their uncle override him.”

“She did indeed,” Billings replied. “Unfortunately, with Reginald being so young, Sir Peter simply told the young lord his father had concerns about the match without going into details. And that was enough for the young lad and he did not press the issue further, thus making his sister even more angry with the boy.” Here the storyteller paused and stared into the fire. 

I didn’t say anything at first, because I was starting to compare my own situation to Madeleine’s. I had been in love with Nathan for years, but was always told I had to wait until I was older before he’d consider the idea. Well, I was 20 now, and still he was making me wait. But I was willing to, whereas Madeleine… what had her situation been?As if reading my thoughts, Billings spoke again. “Then as the Christmas season drew near, things came to a head. The suitor began pressing Madeleine to get whatever she could and join him.

Apparently, he had told her that he had debts that were coming due, and if he could not pay them, he might have to accept the advances of another woman with money who was eager to be his bride. Not that he loved the other woman, mind you. But, if his circumstances did not improve soon, he’d be ruined both financially and in the eyes of society. Not wanting such a fate to befall the man she loved, Madeleine decided to find a way to get her mother’s jewelry, which were worth quite a fortune themselves. But to do so, she needed to her brother to tell her what had become of them. You see, when the estate was being discussed after the will had been read, she had not been in the room. So only her uncle and brother might now what had become of them. And she wasn’t about to ask her uncle.”

“So that was why she had started acting nicer to her brother,” I murmured, “She was hoping to get Reginald to tell her where they were, then she and her betrothed would elope on Christmas Eve and begin a new life together.”

“Exactly,” nodded Mr. Billings and then looked over at the grandfather clock against the far wall, which read 9:10. “It’s getting close to time,” he said, changing the subject. “I really should be getting you on your way to the chapel. They’ll be worried about what’s become of you, Miss.”

Instead of getting up, I remained in my seat. Several things had been nagging at me since meeting my host. “Mr. Billings,” I began politely, “Why does his lordship hold mass in the chapel between nine and ten? I’ve heard of midnight mass, or even mass at eleven, but nine seems like a very odd time. And why does he not want anyone to remain in the manor, that he even orders the doors locked?”

The man bowed his head, pulled a chair up in front of me and sat down. “Because at 9:25, something terrible is going to happen. The same thing that has taken place within these walls ever since that terrible Christmas Eve.”

TO BE CONTINUED…