Maggie, who had been holding my hand throughout the tour, stood on her tiptoes to get a better view of the portrait.

“He’s scary,” she whispered.

I had to agree. William Garson, at least in this artist’s hands, seemed capable of great cruelty.

Beside us, Jess studied the portrait, her hand rubbing her chin. “If we buy this house, that painting is a goner.”

“I’m not sure that’s possible,” Janie June said as she stretched an arm to tap the bottom corner of the frame—the only area she could reach. “It’s painted directly onto the stone.”

I took a closer look, seeing that she was right. A rectangular section of the fireplace had been built with brick instead of stone, giving the painter a smoother surface to work with.

“So it’s really a mural,” I said.

Janie June nodded. “The frame’s just for show.”

“Why would someone do that?”

“I guess so Mr. Garson would always be a part of Baneberry Hall. He was, by all accounts, a possessive man. I suppose you could get the portrait removed, although the cost would be prohibitive.”

“Is that allowed, you think?” Jess said. “Certainly a house this old and important to the town has been designated a historical landmark.”

“Trust me,” Janie June said, “the historical society wants nothing to do with this place.”

“Why?” I said.

“You’d have to ask them.”

At the back of the house, the great room emptied into a formal dining room meant for a family far bigger than just the three of us. Then it was on to the kitchen, accessed by a set of steps between the dining room and the great room. Much longer than it was wide, the kitchen sat in a sublevel that stretched the width of Baneberry Hall. Not quite house, not quite basement. Its décor reflected that uneasy limbo. Closer to the stairs, it was rather elegant, with tall cabinets, green walls, and a farmhouse sink large enough for Maggie to take a bath in.

Mounted on the wall were small bells attached to whorls of metal. I counted twenty-four in all, arranged in two rows of twelve. Above each one was a tag indicating a different part of the house. Some of them were just numbers, presumably remnants from when Baneberry Hall was a bed-and-breakfast. Others bore more lofty titles. Parlor. Master Suite. Indigo Room.

“Those bells probably haven’t rung in decades,” Janie June told us.

Farther into the kitchen, the décor began to shift, becoming darker, more utilitarian. There was a long butcher block table, its surface nicked by knife blades and darkened by stains made long ago. The cabinets ended, giving way to swaths of bare wall. By the time we reached the other side, all traces of the kitchen were gone, replaced by an archway of stone and a set of rickety steps leading farther into the ground.

“It’s like a cave,” Jess said.

“Technically, it’s the basement,” Janie June replied. “While it’s definitely a little rustic, you could turn it into a very useful space. It would make a terrific wine cellar.”

“I don’t drink,” Jess said.

“And I stick to beer,” I added.

Janie June smiled wider. “Good thing there are so many other amazing things you could do with it.”

Her cheery desperation told me this wasn’t the first tour of Baneberry Hall she had given. I pictured young couples like Jess and me arriving with bright expectations that darkened with each room they saw.

I was the opposite. Each oddity the house offered only furthered my interest. All my life, I’d been drawn to eccentricity. When I was six and my parents finally allowed me to get a dog, I bypassed the shiny-coated purebreds at the pet store and went straight for a scruffy mongrel. And after being cooped up in an apartment so nondescript that it might as well have been invisible, I was eager for something different. Something with character.

With the kitchen tour over, we backtracked upstairs and to the front of the house, where the chandelier just inside the great room now glowed.

“That wasn’t on earlier, was it?” I asked.

A nervous smile crossed Janie June’s face. “I think it was.”

“And I’m sure it wasn’t,” I said. “Does this house have electrical problems?”

“I don’t think so, but I’ll double-check.”

Casting one more anxious glance toward the chandelier, Janie June quickly guided us into a room to the immediate right of the vestibule.

“Parlor,” she said as we entered the circular room. It was stuffy inside, literally and figuratively. Faded pink paper covered the walls, and dust-covered drop cloths hung over the furniture. One of the cloths had fallen away, revealing a towering cherrywood secretary desk.

Jess, whose father had been in the antiques trade, rushed to it. “This has to be at least a hundred years old.”

“Probably older,” Janie June said. “A lot of the furniture belonged to the Garson family. It’s stayed with the house over the years. Which is the perfect time to tell you that Baneberry Hall is being sold as is. That includes the furniture. You can keep what you like and get rid of the rest.”

Jess absently caressed the desk’s wood. “The seller doesn’t want any of it?”

“Not a thing,” Janie June said with a sad shake of her head. “Can’t say I blame her.”