It was a glorious night with an Autumn full moon and a canvas of twinkling stars that stretched out before Maisie. She stood now on the only second-floor balcony of this quiet country retreat. Huge Banksias all but obliterated the front of the historic building; the perfect location to write her new mystery novel. Taking in a slow deep breath of the crisp air she took the few short steps to the railing and took in the outline of the surrounding landscape beyond the front garden.
The Last Stop Hotel had been built in 1869 but was renamed Kelly’s Inn in 1880 after a fire partially destroyed the ground floor on the same day as Ned Kelly’s death. One hundred years later, it was converted to a bed and breakfast by an Irish family of the same name who immigrated during conflicts that took the lives of family members and friends. Generations later, Kelly’s Inn had still retained its name and function. It was inherited almost a decade earlier to the Australian born Gulf war widow, Katie Kelly.
Maisie gasped with surprise at the sight of a shooting star. She watched in awe until it disappeared from view. A squeak that sounded like a gate opening or closing, brought her back to the moment. The following echo of a click confirmed it. There in the moonlight off to her right was a hooded figure who was now heading down the path and into a dark shadowed area that she perceived as the bush-land she noticed when she arrived that afternoon.
With strained eyes focusing, she waited for further movement. ‘Perhaps I just imagined it’, she mumbled to herself. After all, she knew she had an imagination that freaked everyone she knew.
Closing the balcony double doors behind her, she headed for the bathroom to ready for bed. Tomorrow, Maisie hoped, would be a day of exploring and note taking.
Maisie woke to a faint tapping at her door. Blinking at the clock beside the bed she wondered for a second where she was. Another slightly firmer knock woke her fully. ‘Come in,’ she said, before thinking about who it could be.
Mrs Kelly entered with a tray atop with a mug of hot coffee, a small creamer jug and a bagel filled with bacon and melted cheese. ‘I don’t usually serve breakfast in bed to my guests but I need to drive into town for more supplies.’
‘Thank you. What time is it? This clock doesn’t seem to be working.’
‘So, you’re not an early riser?’ The woman moved the clock back a little so she could place the tray on the side-table. ‘The clock is working fine. It’s five-thirty in the morning.’
Maisie groaned but it was too late. ‘Sorry, I often write late into the night.’
‘That’s all right’. She grinned. ‘When I return, we can sit down and discuss your nocturnal needs and later breakfast times’.
‘I should have mentioned it yesterday, but an early start would do me good today. I need to make notes and check out this beautiful place’. Maisy looked around the ornately decorated room.
Katie Kelly went to the door before answering. ‘Until I return, can I ask you to keep the “checking out” to the down stairs and surrounding grounds.’ She turned and smiled. ‘I prefer to “right” upstairs after midday.’ She winked and left the room.
Maisie smiled as she placed her feet on the floor and reached for the steaming coffee.
The largest room downstairs had obviously been the 1880 refurbished dining room or perhaps a dance hall, which could explain the size and the raised section at one end. The chandeliers above glowed dimly, but the intricate embossed ceilings held her attention.
‘Your mouth is open.’ Mrs Kelly interrupted her reverie. ‘There’s a few dust spiders up there that drop unexpectedly.’
Maisie mouth slammed shut as the woman’s jovial laugh echoed down the long hallway toward the back of the house. She gathered herself and rescued her notebook that had dropped to the floor before following her host.
With a huge grin from Katie Kelly, Maisie stepped into the outdated but awe-inspiring industrial kitchen.
‘This kitchen is amazing.’
‘Yes, it’s that. Too big when I’m here alone during the colder months. I use the old domestic kitchen.’ She pointed to an open door beside the door they had come through. ‘Take a look.’
To her surprise the smaller kitchen was no bigger than an English utility room she had seen on one of those country-life television reality shows. It had all the basics a single person would need. In fact, it was better designed than her own kitchen in her Parramatta apartment.
‘So, how was your breakfast?’ Her host peered from behind the open door of the biggest refrigerator Maisie had ever seen.
‘Lovely, thank you. I’m sorry I put you to all that trouble.’
‘Nonsense, I enjoy spoiling my guests. Even nocturnal ones,’ she added with a wink.
Maisy couldn’t help but like this motherly older woman. ‘So, how can we make this work, Mrs Kelly?’
‘For starters, stop calling me Mrs Kelly. It’s Katie. I’m not the old housekeeper.’ She paused before continuing. ‘Well, old maybe.’
They both laughed.
‘OK Katie. You can call me Maisie. I’m so glad I came across your website. Which reminds me. Do you have WiFi?’
‘No. We are too far out and I like to keep it that way.’ Katie closed the fridge door and placed the last of the shopping bags under the huge work-space that seem to possess the room. She leaned against it. ‘I use the butcher’s computer in town. Tom is happy for my guests to use his WiFi too. Just be ready for his weird tales from the past…like the one he tells about the young newly-weds that stayed in the room above on the night of the historic fire’. She pointed toward the ceiling before adding: ‘then there’s Old Ned himself but I’ll let Tom tell his stories.’ Katie slapped her ample thighs. ‘Let’s go into the sitting room. It’s warmer in there. First on the left,’ she pointed. ‘I’ll bring down a pot of tea’.
The next few hours sped by filled with hot tea, scones and laughs. Katie answered historical questions about the house and family. Maisie interest peaked when Katie mentioned the family cemetery a little way passed the side gate.
‘Last night I thought I saw someone going through the gate. Actually, I heard the gate squeak.’
Katie sat silent before answering. ‘You must be mistaken,’ she snapped. That gate hasn’t squeaked for years. I’ll check it later when I dig up some potatoes for tonight’s tea. Will you eat with me?’ she continued bringing an abrupt end to their pleasant morning.
‘If it’s no problem. I can pay for any extra meals I have.’
‘Now cut that out, Miss Maisie. You’re welcome to join me at any meal. As for breakfast, why don’t I prepare it once you come downstairs each morning. I’ll be somewhere down here. Probably in the kitchen.’ With that, Katie packed up the dishes and left the room.
It took a few minutes before Maisie moved. She was at a loss to the sudden change of mood. She was concerned that she had offended the woman and decided to immediately apologise. Entering the kitchen a few minutes later she searched for Katie but she obviously made herself scarce. With a deep sigh she returned to her exploring. It was too late to drive into town. I don’t want to upset Katie again. Still mystified, she headed back to the large room she had visited earlier.
© Chrissy Siggee – 2019