“Congratulations, Ms. Stanhope. It’s all yours!” a tall, dark-haired man declared professionally. He held out the keys to the massive hundred-acre Cape Breton estate in the parking area of the driveway to his emotional client.
Tears swelled in her eyes as Paisley took in a panoramic view of the place she now had the privilege of calling home. It had seemed like the day would never come, and yet finally, it was here.
There were three buildings around the back entrance. One was a woodshed, another an old outhouse and a small barn that looked in need of some repairs, but to her the place was everything she’d thought it would be and more.
When the real estate agent’s car had disappeared down the driveway, she walked with excitement up the cobblestone path that led to the entryway and noticed immediately an odd break in one pane of the lavish door. It had been covered over presumably by a caretaker with some plastic; however, it was a poor fix.
As she went to place the key in the lock, she noticed another peculiarity.
The door was merely closed, not locked, and easily pushed open.
A breeze took her hair in a sudden gust, and an odd feeling of déjà vu swelled in her breast as she stepped hesitantly inside. Dewey, her pug dashed ahead hopeful for some treat in the adventurous sniffing spots new places brought.
Closing her own eyes, Paisley momentarily held her breath as one foot after the next took her into the rustic foyer now lit by the sun sieving in from the open doorway.
It was eerie. She couldn’t put it into words but as she took in the slope of the stairway and the hall that led to the magnificent balcony, she intuitively felt she could close her eyes and walk herself through the place.
Goosebumps covered her body, as she passed the rooms and knew precisely how they’d be placed. The main living room was to the left, with an open entryway into the kitchen and dining room. It was not adhering to a well-known layout, and she couldn’t remember seeing a floor plan.
When Bella Grove Manor had finally hit the market, she had been too anxious to purchase it to even investigate the details that mattered so much to most first-time home buyers. She had walked to the driveway countless times, peeking inside the gates, hopeful for a view of something new.
Her little cottage up on Church Drive was only a ten-minute walk from the land. However, there were clear markers to show where the property began, and warnings of trespassing. The very tip of the roof could just be seen from the road, and more than once she’d contemplated disobeying the signs.
Nine feet of solid iron blocked the entry to visitors.
The gate was closed, with a giant lock securing each side. A fence, lower in height, was coming down from it, and as far as she could see in the woods to both left and right directions, it ran the property line. Barbed wire took up where the iron left off.
It was clear that the family had been keen on privacy.
It was hard to verbalise what she felt like when the gate was unlocked, and she was allowed to drive through that first time. The swerves and length of the driveway had caused her anxiety to flutter. Just as she thought they would never get there, she broke through the clearing and stopped in excited glory.
Walking into the dining room, the colossal table was elaborate and evoked a sense of pride in her that she was unable to explain. Running her fingers over the red oak, another unprepared-for feeling emerged.
Paisley unconsciously knew that it had a leaf stored in the bottom drawer of the massive china cabinet decorating the back wall. The leaf was engraved, with a giant H for the family name.
Swallowing a nervous lump, she approached the cabinet slowly. Inwardly convinced that she was crazy, and allowing rumours to ruffle her, she began to scold herself.
The house was just a house.
Wood and stone, splashed with the memories of those who walked the halls.
As the detail of the floral print dishes came into sight, she had a flash of a memory enter her mind. A party, with candles and a fire in the elaborate hearth along the side wall. A crowd of happy laughing people, and the smell of something delicious wafting in from the kitchen danced to mind.
A presence approached from behind. She wasn’t nervous of its closeness, but the distinct feeling of its unnatural existence momentarily unnerved her. It felt like the odd feeling of someone staring at you, and by the emotions that whelmed over her, it felt male.
It was the first time she had ever had the feeling of not being alone, when she knew she was. No one had been in the place for a few years according to all the reports she had been given. There was no trace outside to hint that a person was around either.
Was this the so-called ghost that haunted her new home?
If so, he had best become used to her presence.
A coldness waved over her, just like the reports say happen when a ghost is near.
It was so real, Paisley felt her eyes snap open expecting to see the nameless figure reflecting in the glass. However, there was nothing more than the empty room behind, just as it should be.
Disappointed and admittedly unnerved, she quickly opened the drawer she had guessed to hold the leaf and faltered back. It was in the exact place she had known it would be, and the H was boldly facing up.
Her hands began to shake as she shut the drawer and continued her exploring. Each new premonition of where something was had her breathing a little heavier.
How could she have such unexplainable knowledge of her new place?
Truly, it was the most remarkable eccentricity she had ever experienced. It left her second-guessing her own ideas about never being in the building before, as turn after turn she was giving herself a guided expedition of a place she had never roamed.
A few rooms seemed changed, but in her head, she saw them like they had looked at some other point in time. The little bathroom on the main floor for instance she had thought of as a large closet. It only held a small sink and toilet now, but she could still close her eyes and see a former coat room.
Instead of fear, she whimsically wondered if the knowledge was based on some former life she had lived, or if the rumours about the estate were in fact true. Was her new residence still haunted by former owners or was her wild writer imagination taking her on a fictitious journey derived from some inner desire to belong in her strange new surroundings?
It just seemed to be too accurate to blame all on her imagination.
“If someone is here, I would like to say hello,” Paisley encouraged. “I just purchased the place. I would like us to coexist here, happily.”
The offer was crazy to call out to an empty home, but Paisley was a believer in such spiritual encounters. Was it Charleston or Paisley Helmsley, still walking these halls, and upset at a new owner?
Whatever she was experiencing was real enough to excite her into the weird one-sided conversation, and she wanted whoever was attempting to contact her to know her innocent intentions.
It was possible that they would be upset that a Helmsley was no longer the owner of the home and try to frighten her. Unless given a reason, she hoped that the spirit would leave her in peace. There was no response, so Paisley made her way back toward the SUV parked outside holding her things.
It didn’t take long to unpack. The place was furnished enough for the present time, and after renting for all her adult life she had acquired very little that she kept possession of.
At the point of sale, Paisley had been notified that the furnishings remaining were of little importance to the family, and free for her to keep or discard. She had feared to walk into a room qualifying her for the show Hoarders, but to her pleasure much of what remained suited both the space and her antique taste.
Paisley went on a hunt in the library for information. She had most of her books on her laptop but being surrounded by so many books brought her a sense of joy she couldn’t explain. In her weird mind, it was like in Beauty and the Beast, when Belle was shown the magnificent library he boasted. She wanted to comb through each piece to see why they found their way into the Helmsley home.
Unpacking wasn’t necessary, since many of her own personal items weren’t being delivered for a few days. So, she curled up on a small sofa, Dewey snuggled above her head already snoring and began to explore some of the treasures that looked the oldest.
She’d learned a bit about the house before she purchased it, but nothing had prepared her for the journals and old photo albums still lining the walls.
Once she went through them, she planned on getting in touch with her lawyer to contact the family.
Surely, they would want such wonderful parts of their past?
A few photos of the house dated back to 1921 and showed that not much had changed. However, subtle changes not in the photos were vivid in her mind. A lamp was out of place, or a painting changed from some long-forgotten memory she somehow had.
A large family gathering in another photo made her pause. A young girl with dark hair looked bizarrely like her at the child’s age.
Paisley herself had light hair, but the similar features were very distinct. It had been taken on the front lawn, and the young girl was sitting on the step with the same emotionless face that seemed to be the style of pictures in those early years.
Running her finger over the features, she snapped a picture of the girl with her cell phone, to do a comparison later of one of her old school photos. Flipping the photograph over, hoping for a name, she was pleased they had dated and listed the people present.
Scrolled in black ink, it read:
Front: John Peter and Catherine Helmsley June 1922. Children: Michael, David, William, Charlotte, Pamala, and Marie. Back: George and Anna Helmsley. Children: John, Phillip, Luke, Bernard, and Ruth.
Judging by the list, the girl’s name was Marie Helmsley. It would be interesting if her doppelganger was a great-granddaughter to the inventor.
They say that everyone has a twin somewhere.
It just interested Paisley that hers might be a woman also connected to her new house.
The hours passed effortlessly as she read and immersed herself in the generations of Helmsleys who had been born or grew up there. Some, she had learned called it home, and some in later years just used it as a summer residence.
One child of Charleston Helmsley had gone missing. His daughter Charlotte along with her husband David had disappeared within months of their marriage. It had made the news, because there was a small paper clipping of the event asking for people with any information to please come forward. John Helmsley, her brother was the contact person listed, and the Bella Grove Manor was provided as the address.
Paisley sighed, thinking of the terror that she would feel if her child or family member went missing. A parent’s worst fear, even if the child was an adult at the time of occurrence.
As dark encompassed the outside of the window, when she made the odd trek to the washroom or the kitchen she didn’t feel as if spirits were watching her, but her instincts were on high alert, waiting for that feeling to creep up on her.
Other than the first few minutes after her arrival, there was no hint that she had company.
Maybe saying she wanted to coexist had helped put whatever spirit was there at ease? She wasn’t sure. However, to her own personal surprise, she fell asleep surrounded by books sometime in the early hours of the morning on the library sofa.
When Paisley finally awoke, she realised that she could not have envisioned a better way to christen her first night. Except perhaps with a lover carrying her up the stairs to the master bedroom when slumber overtook her.
Since she was painfully single, and without any prospects in the near future, waking up next to her adorable pug was the next best thing. Now all she had to do was get in touch with some renovation company, who could make the place feel more like home.
Part One: The Beginning
Paisley had been drawn to the Bella Grove Manor ever since she discovered it on a sailing expedition with friends, when she moved back to Nova Scotia. The fine craftsmanship and insane attention to detail caught her attention. The defined slopes of the roof and architectural beauty gave it a breath-taking glow from its landscaped hiding place on the banks of the Bras d’Or Lakes.
It was a historic staple to the small community of Ross’s Ferry. Although a private dwelling that had never been open to public view, the manor was the masterpiece home of a world-renowned inventor, who had moved to Cape Breton after some success in the states and later forged a career that made him worthy of much more global fame.
The success of her novels had taken off the pressure of working two jobs and gave her the opportunity to explore the amazing country of Canada coast to coast. Always a Maritimer at heart, she wove her way through the picturesque valley of Nova Scotia into Rawdon, Pictou and a brief move to Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island before a vacation to Cape Breton changed her life.
Paisley Alexis Harlow Stanhope had grown up in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, home of another famous young Canadian, hockey great Sid ‘The Kid’ Crosby.
She had been the only child of two people who had spent a long time together but were growing apart. When her mother discovered she was pregnant, both tried to make it work for a while. However, a baby merely added to the confusion their life had become. She didn’t remember it, but she knew her parents divorced when she was three.
Always a homebody, Paisley decided to go away for school when she graduated. It had been just her and her mom for so long that whenever she pictured her university career, she just wanted to try the full university experience away from home.
Her mom had begun dating, so the guilt at leaving wasn’t as bad as she thought it’d be.
It was a hard decision to narrow down the school she wanted, but she ended up liking a program offered by Ryerson University. A few scholarships helped ease the burden, and she got a small job working at a convenience store on campus.
For years, she only saw her dad, Raymond, once a year because he was living in Scarborough with his new wife but studying in the province made it easier to spend time together.
Having supper or just going for a walk were new luxuries the pair began to enjoy. It was the simple things that many families took for granted; she didn’t.
Paisley was aware of how precious time with people you love could be. It was also why when she started to think about the family she wanted, she decided to have a big one.
No one had imagined then that whimsical Paisley would become an instant success, when her first novel, The Ghosts of Ridgemont Creek, soared to the top of the New York Times’ bestsellers fiction list.
In university, she had found her passion for writing.
It seemed ludicrous at the time to just sit down and write a novel, but while her friends were partying she became more focused on the fictitious world she had begun to create.
Usually, she blamed writing on studying, afraid of the sneers she’d receive if she told them the truth. It was difficult to explain to people who didn’t write, the compulsion it could become.
By the end of her second year, she had a completed manuscript and a paralysing fear of failure if the publisher contacted her. It was scary to put your heart and soul into something and have it ripped apart or dubbed a failure.
Amazingly, during the fall of her third year the news came of her pending publication. When she finally spoke of the endeavour to those in her inner circle, they demanded on taking her out to celebrate.
That night, she dressed up like any normal college student and behaved accordingly. When she finally got a chance to rummage through the photos a few days later, it looked like she had had a lot of fun. It was a shame she could only remember the hangover that followed.
Capitalizing on her stint in the spotlight, she released her second novel before graduation. It had done phenomenally as well, earning her a second number one spot on the chart. People took notice. Even the dean of the university asked her to give a convocation address to her fellow graduates.
As her sales boomed the publisher set up a small press tour complete with stops at the morning shows. It was two years of complete chaos! There were movie offers, merchandising, and other opportunities she hadn’t thought about when she was typing away on her little laptop in her dorm room. She signed one contract with Dreamers Productions to start the process of making her first book a movie just before the end of the tour.
It was all such a fairy tale.
Fame that many worked their entire life to achieve, Paisley acquired instantly. She found herself suddenly famous and wealthy beyond even her wild imagination.
Now at nearly twenty-four, she had begun to think about life in terms more about settling down, but with her career she found herself having no time for dating. It was just one interview after another or working with people who wanted to create an empire around the world she had put in print.
The artist life had taken her around the globe and back, and she began to long for down time. She wasn’t a celebrity in her mind. She was a recluse at best. Her manager and mother tried to insist that the ride she was on wouldn’t last forever, so it was important to set herself up for the future.
Judging by her last bank statement, she was certain money would never be an issue even if she lived two lifetimes. Putting her foot down, she decided on a date to make her last tour stop. If she decided to publish again, she vowed the chaos that controlled her life the first time wouldn’t happen. She wanted to meet someone and settle down. She wanted to be a young mother and a wife, not a global sensation. Where was her knight in shining armour? He had to be out there.
When the final tour date passed, Paisley hopped a plane for Europe to escape the pressures of work and just focus on finding herself. It was her Eat, Pray, Love moment. A young woman blossoming into someone who had no idea about who she really wanted to be.
She had always been socially awkward. The shy type with this passion for adventure and no confidence to chase it. Removing her comfort zone was difficult at first, but with each new experience her sense of self began to mould. With that her confidence radiated, drawing a wide range of people to her. She discovered she was fun, likeable, and shockingly kinky. She was so much more than she had ever thought she would be able to define herself as being. Like characters in her stories, Paisley fashioned herself that trip and came home assured that she was on the brink of a new chapter that was leading her to even greater things.
Paisley had visited the island of Cape Breton many times, and noticed the manor by chance one afternoon, high on a cliff overlooking the ocean near Ross’s Ferry. The island had captivated her for years, because of the rich Scottish and Irish history she loved.
In university, history classes were her indulgence and she found herself getting pulled to certain periods. Television shows that depicted the cruelty of the time and brought it to life on film also fascinated her.
Her own ancestors were English and Irish, but the wildness of Scotland titillated her overzealous sense of adventure.
Her best friend Beth Forbes had hijacked her away from her screen long enough to go sailing. Beth’s husband Mark had a boat, and it was that impromptu voyage that would change her life.
In all her travels, she had never been aboard a fishing boat before, and Mark was a skilled captain.
The spark of a plot was forming in her brain about her next story.
Beth was right, it would be excellent research.
Cape Breton was one of the first European settlements in North America, and rich in the cultures that had long ago settled there. It even sparked a war between France and England on New World soil, when the British destroyed Fortress Louisbourg in the late seventeen hundreds. If she was going to write about being on the sea in the North Atlantic, she should at least try it.
Mark’s boat Home of our Heart was primarily parked at the Northern Yacht Club out of North Sydney in the off season. It was named for a famous song written about the island.
The season was over, but he and Beth loved to use the vessel for personal use during the summer. When Paisley agreed to the voyage, Mark took them for a scenic drive up to the Seal Island Bridge on the Bras d’Or Lakes.
It was a calm day, with the sun breaking the rocks. The bright rays danced across the waves that were created as the boat cut through the water, and small rainbows were visible from the spray.
Paisley beamed as Mark steered them effortlessly, pointing out some places that he knew a history about. She hadn’t dreamed she’d enjoy it so much.
The roar of the engine and splash of the spray excited her. No wonder so many people enjoyed this extracurricular activity, she thought as they putted their way along the coast.
Whatever the beauty of Cape Breton was by land, water was the way to go. The sheltering privacy of the trees from the road was erased for most properties that wanted the exceptional views of the water they paid so much for.
There, they peeked out from their hiding places. Some grand and lavish, some modest and riddled with history. Paisley had taken her camera, just in case the wildlife decided to surprise them.
To her delight a whale breached not far from the bow, frolicking in the water as if it hadn’t a care in the world. An entire pod was in view, and Mark explained they were humpbacks when she asked about their species.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have such carefree abandon? Paisley thought, snapping pictures gaily and immersing herself in the beauty of the experience. When she turned to behold a herd of seals sunning on the rocky shore, that was when she first saw it. High on the peak disguised in the trees, she caught her first glimpse of the estate.
“Wow! Mark, who lives there?” she inquired with amazement.
He shrugged, unaffected by the excitement riddled in her voice.
Beth glanced, squinting against the sun, before explaining she thought it was the inventor’s place. Beth knew a lot of families in the area and confessed she wasn’t a hundred percent sure, but she knew the famous manor was in this area somewhere.
It was difficult to judge the exact location on the water, because on land the area looked different. However, Beth looked around for other familiar places and noticed one of her patients; residence that was near Church Road.
Delighting in confirming the property, Beth explained that had to be the Bella Grove Manor. Not many other older homes were as spectacular as that property. Beth couldn’t recall ever seeing it in person, but confident now in describing the details she knew, she tried to inform the enthralled Paisley.
The estate was visible only from certain angles, because of the vegetation around it. The grass was overgrown a little even for the early days of spring, and it looked like the inhabitants had left it vacant for some time.
The rich cedar siding was still beautiful, and the wraparound deck was magnificently well constructed, hinting that work had been done in recent years.
Paisley fell in love then, for the first time with a place, gazing whimsically at the possibilities that living in that house would accomplish for her.
She had never owned her own place, or even wanted to until that very moment. She was totally hypnotised by the beauty it possessed.
Setting it as a goal, she became determined to see it up close, and investigate the wonders that would undoubtedly lie inside.
As soon as her feet touched dry land again, her search began for the owner. She commissioned a friend of hers, Edgar, to fly her over the property in his private seaplane. He did tour flying as a hobby, taking people around the island by air and explaining certain places to visitors that had never been.
She loved listening to his knowledgeable stories.
As a folklorist, he interviewed many people over the years and used his findings to explain the area in fresh ways to tourists.
When Paisley mentioned the Bella Grove Manor, he knew precisely where she wanted to go. Over the intercom, she heard him say,
“There is the graveyard to your left. The inventor, his wife, and a lot of the descendants have been buried there. Three of their four children and their husbands, a few grandchildren and great-grandchildren as well.”
The area was littered with paths and open fields, but the ant-like stones were clearly visible from the sky. A metal fence was around the piece of land set as the family plot, and it looked in badly in need of a mow.
“What else do you know about it?” she inquired, not daring to blink and miss a second of its beauty.
“George Helmsley is the owner presently, but he lives in Boston. Hasn’t been around for a few years. It’s said to be haunted because recently people started seeing lights on in the old place during the winter months. Smoke too, apparently. The reverend at the small church up here, Drummond Memorial United Church, checks on the place and said he did find remanence of a fire, but the place isn’t ploughed in the winter and there were no visible tracks. He doesn’t believe the place to be haunted, but he admits he can’t explain certain things. He says there is an old family folk tale that the inventor and his wife were time travellers if you can believe that.” Edgar stopped to chuckle.
“The inventor had some models made of modern day planes, which seems to be collaborating evidence. There are some designs of electricity and books he’s written in the workshop. Some things are on display that have been donated to the Nova Scotia History Museum in Halifax, including a painting that his wife had done of him leaning against the balcony door of their bedroom. She was said to be a prolific artist and writer. Mr. Helmsley had been more liberal than many men of his day and encouraged her to write pieces for the Acadian Recorder out of Bedford. It is unclear if any work survived or was published. At that time, many in Cape Breton were still illiterate, so they normally heard news of the week on Sundays at church. It’s said she spoke of her pieces to the congregation at times, with her husband’s full consent.”
Paisley listened intently, impressed her friend knew so much about the place. Making a few mental notes, she decided quickly that she’d visit the church and inquire more about George Helmsley.
Also, if Mrs. Helmsley was a writer, some of her work could possibly found in the archives. The commonality of the outspoken writer called to her. The woman could have been a forerunner to the fight for women’s rights in Canada.
That alone made Mrs. Helmsley someone of interest.
It was a start for her research, she thought with a smile. The launch of her painstaking endeavour to acquire the property for herself especially before the heritage society zoomed in.
Taking a quick trip to Cape Breton University, she got lost searching the old archives at the Beaton Institute. It had the oldest newspapers, all magnificently bound in large scrapbook-like issues that were dated accordingly. While she couldn’t find anything written by the inventor’s wife, she delighted in finding a few articles about the couple.
In one article, it described the Bella Grove Manor now as a private summer home to the Helmsley family living down near Boston. Once upon a time, it had been the primary residence of a scientist turned inventor who had been a prominent figure during the early nineteenth century. There was a sketch of him, with a full beard.
The camera had yet to make its way to rural Nova Scotia. In fact, if memory served her right, the camera wasn’t even for sale until the later nineteenth century, although there were records of an invention similar, earlier in history. It was one of those useless facts she never thought she’d use, but learned from reading one of those bathroom reader books her grandparents had.
Paisley knew many papers employed artists to create images to include, and that seemed to be the case in this situation. It was dated August 1826.
If the picture was accurate, the inventor had been an attractive man with kind eyes. She examined the eyes more closely and felt the odd sense of déjà vu sweep over her. He looked familiar, but for the life of her she couldn’t place where or how. The article accompanying the sketch gave a detailed account of who the man was, and the masterpiece of a house he was building on the Bras d’Or Lakes.
His name was Charleston S. Helmsley.
He had bought the land and built the estate in 1824/1826.
In his research, during the early part of his life he had travelled a lot to the United States and designed the mansion with a mix between the Chateau style of architecture from British North America, and the Georgian style from the southern United States. It was extremely private, with an impressive amount of acreage and breath-taking views of the ocean.
When that article left off, there was another listing some details about the inventor and his family.
Charleston had gotten married to a woman named Paisley in 1827 at the manor, and together they had four children. His son John inherited the estate after his parents’ passing.
The inventor and his wife died oddly the same day: September 29, 1865.
When she read the information, she was startled.
The name Paisley was very uncommon, and she would have bet that during that time it was even less popular than it was today. She knew from her own inquisitive conceitedness that the name was a Scottish derivation of the Greek word for basilica or church but was considered more a Scottish surname.
Given the historical period, it was a coincidental anomaly to find that Mr. Helmsley’s wife shared her name, fuelling the curiosity to learn more about their life together at the Bella Grove Manor.
Obsessing, she purchased a jet ski, and gave up her rental in Baddeck to lease a small cottage on Church Road. Unfortunately, besides minimal public records, there was very little information available and she knew more from speaking with Edgar.
One small article she dug up discussed the wedding of Charleston to Paisley, but did not go into many details. It just said that Mr. C.S. Helmsley wed on Friday, June 22, 1827 at the Bella Grove Manor in a private ceremony. Reception to be announced at a later date. It also said Mrs. Helmsley wore a gown that had been beyond any bride’s wildest dreams and was quoted as being both ‘elegant and breath-taking.’
All the articles she found, she photocopied and placed in a file folder.
The last article was a joint obituary.
Mr. & Mrs. Charleston S. Helmsley
September 29, 1865
We the family of the late Mr. & Mrs. C.S. Helmsley wish to announce their joint departure from this life. To all who knew them they were a complex, but loving couple who brought joy to all who crossed their path.
Our parents were a lifetime ahead of this world, dreamers you might say. Mother was a magnificent storyteller, with a natural flair for keeping you on the edge of your seat; while our father was a scientist who liked to push the envelope. A private service and burial has taken place on the Bella Grove Estate in the family graveyard.
Until we meet again.
They are survived by their devoted children, John (Caroline), Hector (Kate), Charlotte (David) Edmonds and Charles (Sylvia). Twelve grandchildren.
Paisley felt her heart constrict reading the passage. They certainly left a legacy. There was no picture, but a brief poem written, it said, by Mother.
From this day, until forever
I vow to love but one,
Through a million disagreements
And trials to overcome.
I pledge to thee my heart
My soul is yours alone,
I vow to defy death itself
To be your constant light, your shroud…
Until we meet again, my love
I cannot say goodbye,
Look down upon the stones
Until our fates once more collide.
Paisley read the passage over and over.
A tear slipped from her eye down her cheek.
Mrs. Helmsley must have known she was dying and wrote the letter to her husband thinking he’d visit her grave.
Look down upon the stones?
She critiqued it, as any writer would.
It should have probably just said stone, singular, but it was still beautiful.
Paisley sought out real estate agents in an attempt to track down George Helmsley and put in an offer to buy the place. However, attempts to reach the older gentleman had failed.
Then, one morning she opened her paper and saw an article in the Herald about the death of the inventor’s three times great-grandson. He was the last of the family with a connection to the place, and the obituary told of his many happy summers spent at the Bella Grove Manor, up until 2009 when he became too unwell to travel.
The Post had a nice write-up, including a picture too. Oddly, as she examined it, she thought the man looked reminiscent of her mother’s father Johnnie.
He had the same piercing blue eyes and shy grin that accompanied her grandfather, she thought mournfully. Johnnie had died about ten years prior, so his memory was still very alive in her mind.
Touching the image brought her Grampie back to life in a memory of them at the family bungalow years ago. A tear slipped out, as the pain of his absence today became fresh again.
Paisley continued to read.
What really interested her was the part that the family were placing the estate for sale, despite the historical significance it had to the area. The price was being kept discreet for specific buyers, although who qualified wasn’t listed.
Giddy with excitement, Paisley called her lawyer and real estate advisor. She placed a generous bid and coupled it with the sworn promise to enhance the estate rather than propose demolition.
Faster than expected the offer was accepted, and she was the proud new owner in a precedent amount of time.
From the day she accepted the keys, she lived there.
Even through the restoration and renovations, it was amazing how quickly things went when money wasn’t an issue. She was happy to give an over-the-phone interview to a reporter from the Post when word got out she was the new owner.
Surprisingly, a lot of people were interested in the estate, and curious if the home would be open to the public now that the Helmsley family had discarded it.
Paisley had debated it but decided instead to allow a magazine devoted to Canadian properties to come and photograph the completed masterpiece.
Allowing onslaughts of strangers to walk through her private sanctuary seemed to be blasphemous in some way. With a reputable photographer, everyone could see the property if they wanted to, without encroaching on her privacy.
The interviewer from the Post was ecstatic to be the first to inform the public of such wildly anticipated news.
Relaxing in the study off the newly decorated library, she read the article.
Maritime Author Buys the Bella Grove Manor.
Paisley smiled enthusiastically as she read a small part.
“What does acquiring the property mean to you?” the lady, Kelly Beaten asked.
“I had discovered the estate when I moved to Cape Breton a few years ago. Friends of mine had taken me sailing up near the Seal Island Bridge. It captivated me, with the beauty of the grounds and the architecture. I love older style chateaus; the size, the quality, the love that goes into building such an ancestral home. It sent me on a ravenous hunt to learn the history. There I discovered the fact it had remained a family summer estate for generations, and the writer in me began to obsess. I love the beauty of Cape Breton Island. The people are friendly, and it’s a slower paced lifestyle you just cannot find in many other parts of the world. I became fascinated with the house, imagining what it looked like inside, writing a narrative per se. I want to keep a lot of it authentic. I love it!”
“So, it’s safe to say you won’t be tearing it down?” Beaten questioned.
“Oh, God, no!” Paisley had answered on a remembered laugh. “I heard the stories of it being haunted and for me, it furthered my obsession. I haven’t had any fireplaces light mysteriously, or lights come on unexpectedly like neighbours have rumoured. No floor creaking or voices, although I must say part of me is disappointed with that. So far, I haven’t seen anything to prove the rumours true, but who knows, maybe they’re shy?”
“It doesn’t frighten you that you could be living with spirits?” Beaten asked speculatively. “Especially when you’re there in the night all alone?”
“No, I’m more afraid of the living than the dead. I know people reported that they saw the lights come on in the middle of winter and smoke like someone was here but honestly, I don’t think there is any truth to the rumours. If there are any spirits, I think it will only serve as inspiration for my next book.”
Paisley was going through a minor case of writer’s block, so she welcomed the opportunity of a burst of inspiration from any direction it came from, even a ghost.
After moving in, she had worked with an interior decorator.
The salt spray that had come off the water had done a number on a few of the beams that erected the deck as well on the front. It was a shame, because it didn’t look to be that old. Restoration was pricier than replacing, so she had the entire thing rebuilt.
The back door with the broken window pane had to be replaced, but she had a replica custom made. Other than that, the only updates were to the kitchen.
By the first week of June, everything she wanted completed was done.
Up off her master bedroom she did work to the once impressive balcony that overlooked the cliff. It had the perfect view of the water at a striking one hundred and eighty degrees. It was easily one of her favourite spots.
A few afternoons were wasted sitting there with her ever-present laptop adding to stories she had started but put aside.
Not many people in the world were as fortunate to have such freedom and views out of their bedroom window. She was acutely aware of the luxury and didn’t take any of her fortune for granted.
Whenever Paisley looked down at the main lawn overlooking the sea, the odd déjà vu once more washed over her. Something had happened to her here, she could feel it in the depths of her bones, even if she couldn’t recall it. Every so often the goose bumps would crawl across her flesh, as if evoking a memory.
One she couldn’t remember.
She had found many interesting texts lining the library.
One book that was handwritten was called The Pirate Tales. The inscription said, Merry Christmas, my love. XO, P. When she flipped through it, that familiar shiver swam over her. The handwriting looked like her own, and the story seemed to be reminiscent of the Johnny Depp movies.
After dusting it off, she returned it to its resting place, curious if the series had been based off an old tale.
She still hadn’t contacted the lawyer about returning some of the collection to the Helmsley descendants. The memorabilia was becoming part of her weirdly valued collection. Paisley had always been a lover of books, so owning handwritten copies of things so old were precious additions to her library.
The little window bench she had made next to the filled shelves was becoming the place she spent most of her evenings.