The Legacy of Isis Part 1

The Legacy of Isis

A short sequel to Whispers in the Sand!



Louisa Shelley’s anguished denial was instantaneous. ‘I don’t want to see them!’

The maid’s message had been so innocuous.  She had come in carrying  a steaming ewer of water as Louisa was standing  staring out of her bedroom window.

‘My lady said I was to tell you that  we have a treat this evening, Mrs Shelley.  Unexpected guests.  She understands they are old friends of yours.  Mr and Mrs David Fielding?’ The girl smiled, clearly delighted with her news.  ‘They arrived while you were out  painting.’

Her eyes widened as she registered Louisa’s horrified reaction.  She had been somewhat overawed at first by their guest’s fame.  Louisa Shelley was an acclaimed water colourist.  Her drawings and paintings of her travels in Egypt in the mid 1860s had been exhibited in London galleries, so she had been told, and besides that,  Louisa’s elegance and beauty had stunned her.  Her hair was glossy chestnut, the colour emphasised rather than spoiled by the threads of silver appearing at her temples.  She wore graceful flowing dresses in bright jewel colours quite unlike  those of the lady of the house, Sarah Douglas - in fact unlike any dresses Kirsty had ever seen.  .  Her awe had quickly turned to worship as Louisa’s easy charm won her over.  But there were no smiles now.  None of the eager excitement she had expected. Louisa’s face had gone white.  Her  features had  lost their vivacity.

 ‘But - ‘ Kirsty was shocked into indiscretion. ‘Lady Douglas will be heart broken.  She is so excited.  She’s ordered a special meal and cook is over the moon.  It’s not often we get the chance to entertain properly.’

Glen Douglas House had once rung to the sounds of music and laughter, but Sir James did not care much for company now that the five children were grown up and gone and in the last few years  Sarah had found herself  often alone.  It was on a visit to her eldest daughter’s home in London that she had met Louisa, a friend of a friend, and the two women had  taken an instant liking to each other.  Sarah had impulsively  asked Louisa to come to Scotland for the summer to paint. So far the visit had been a resounding success.

Louisa   turned away from Kirsty, defeated.  It would be unforgivably discourteous not to come down to dinner. It was only after the little maid had curtseyed and left the room that she  gave vent to her true feelings, throwing herself onto the bed, smothering angry tears in her pillow.  The very mention of the Fieldings names had brought it all flooding back, the memories she had tried so hard to bury of that visit to Egypt seven years before  when she had met - and lost - the only man she had ever truly loved.

It had all started after the death of  her husband, David.

 Nothing but her grief and  despair at the seemingly needless suffering of such a good, kind man, of whom she had been so extremely fond, and her  own  increasing ill health, would otherwise have persuaded her to leave her two beloved young sons with their grandmother to travel in search of the warm climate and relaxation  which would she hoped  hasten her recovery.

 Her subsequent adventures, her meeting with Hassan, her love for whom had  completely and overwhelmingly eclipsed that which  she had felt for her adored David, the gift Hassan had given her of a small bottle, an artefact from an ancient tomb, and the cataclysmic events which had followed that simple generous act, had combined  on her return to London to bring back  a reoccurrence of her ill health, and   restless sleep which  had been more and more frequently  dogged by nightmares.  Nightmares about the ancient  bottle and the two ghostly spirits who guarded it;  and nightmares about the safety of her two sons.

Sarah Douglas’s invitation had come at an opportune moment.  It was an excuse to send the boys to their grandmother’s house – somewhere they needed no second invitation to go,  away from the heat and smells of a London summer -  and allow her to leave for a complete change of air, in Scotland.


Outside her bedroom window  the hot sun baked down on the terraced lawns, driving the aromatic oils from the pines and cedars scattered around the ornamental lake and turning the heather on the distant hills  to purple fire.   Wearily drying her tears she climbed to her feet. She glanced down at her sketchbook and paintbox lying on the table  by the window.   The  open page showed a delicate water colour of the  eighteenth century folly, built by her host’s great grandfather. This summer her sketchbooks and canvasses were full of the colours of Scotland,  the purples and greys  of the moors and mountains, the dark greens of the forests and the deep peaty browns of river and loch. Seven  years before they had been full of the golds and  creams and  yellows of sandstone and the pinks and rose of arid rock and the incredible, ever changing,  colours of the River Nile.

Hassan had been her dragoman, her guide, her interpreter, her mentor and at the last, her lover.  His handsome face and tall figure had featured in many of the paintings she had exhibited in London.  None of the captions told his story or named his name and no one asked.  He was, after all, only a native, part of the scenery.  On the two separate occasions when gentlemen, who were captivated by Louisa’s charm and beauty during  these last few years,  had  plucked up the courage to ask for her hand,  both  had retired from the field disappointed.  They did not know that they were competing with a dream.  Neither imagined for a single second that the  heart of the beautiful woman whom they so desired was still captive to the tall dark figure  who appeared  so enigmatically in her paintings.

The Fieldings had known Hassan’s story.  They had known who he was and what he meant to her.  Their dahabeeyah had  sailed in convoy with the Forresters’ boat on which she travelled with Hassan as her servant and they knew how he had died.  They had been kind to her - indeed Katherine had named her eldest son Louis after her after that desperate night on the Nile when she had assisted at his terrifying premature birth.

When they had all parted at Luxor and Louisa had left the Forresters  and the Fieldings to take the steamer north at the start of her journey back to England it had been with many tears and hugs and promises to meet again.  Augusta Forrester had written to her often over the past years but not once had she mentioned Egypt.  She had been tactful.  Her letters were full of reassuring gossip and pleasantries  and for that Louisa had been thankful.  The Fieldings had never contacted her and she had not expected them to.  Too much had happened; the memories were too painful to recall. 

 And now this.  With no time to  prepare herself, to seal down the emotions which had been  reawakened by their name, to rebury the memories and arm herself against the past, she was about the be catapulted back into a storm of reminiscence and nostalgia and grief.   Glancing down at the sketchbook again she bent suddenly to the painting, ripped it from the book and tore it across the middle.


The Fieldings were seated in the great drawing room of Glen Douglas House when Louisa finally forced herself to go downstairs.  Katherine saw her first. Rising awkwardly to her feet she smiled.  Then she held out her hands.  ‘Louisa!  Dear, dear Louisa, how are you? I couldn’t believe my ears when Sarah told us you were their guest!’  She kissed Louisa on each cheek, her awkwardness explained on closer inspection by the fact the she was expecting a child.

Louisa  returned her smile and turned to greet David Fielding.  ‘How are you both? I see the family continues to flourish.’  A gentle acknowledgement of Katherine’s condition.

David nodded.  ‘We have three children now.  They are upstairs with their nurses.  And as you see,  we expect a fourth.’ He glanced fondly at his wife who nodded a little smugly.  ‘You must see Louis, my dear. He is the most beautiful child.’

Louisa nodded. ‘I would expect no less.’  She hoped they were not going to launch into a long explanation of  how they knew one another  for the benefit of their hostess.  But Sarah, it appeared, already knew the story of Louis’s dramatic birth.  Either out of  great tact or by accident  she  adroitly changed the subject.

‘The gentlemen are going  out  on the hill  with the guns, Louisa.  So I thought perhaps we would  spend a quiet day in the gardens tomorrow or maybe a short carriage drive?’ She cocked an eyebrow at their newly arrived guest.  ‘Only if Katherine feels like it, of course.’  A well-built, attractive woman with elegantly dressed greying hair, she surveyed her guests calmly, her blue eyes shrewd.

Before Katherine could  respond to her suggestion the door opened and another woman walked into the room.  David Fielding’s sister, Venetia.   Louisa sighed.  The younger woman’s figure had thickened slightly in the last five years in spite of her tightly laced corset, her face had hardened , the corners of her mouth drawn down, the eyes were a trifle deeper set, but she was still a beautiful woman.  In spite of herself, as she stepped forward to greet her, Louisa glanced at her hand.  No wedding ring.  Obviously not, if she was still trailing around after her brother and his wife.

Venetia’s smile did not quite reach her eyes as she greeted Louisa.  Her kiss was perfunctory and did not do more than brush the air beside Louisa’s cheek. ‘How are you now?’ Four innocuous words,  but loaded with innuendo and dislike.

‘Well, thank you.’ Louisa smiled and turned to find a seat.  A dozen spirited questions and retorts flashed though her mind.  All were instantly rejected.  Silence was the most dignified route.

Venetia sat down next to Sarah Douglas and smoothed the flounced silk of her skirt over her knees.  ‘So, your curiosity got the better of you, Louisa.  You couldn’t keep away from Glen Douglas.’  Her smile masked considerable venom.  ‘You know, of course, that he’s not here.  He’s travelling abroad.’

Louisa frowned.  ‘I’m sorry? About whom are we talking?’ She glanced at their host who was engaged in  animated conversation with David Fielding by the fire place.  Both men held whisky glasses in their hands.  The huge hearth behind them was filled with an arrangement of bog myrtle and heather.

‘Lord Carstairs, of course.’ Venetia’s cheeks coloured slightly.

Louisa stared at her, her own face growing so pale her hostess sat forward anxiously, afraid Louisa was going to faint.  ‘Roger Carstairs lives near here?’ Louisa whispered.

Sarah Douglas nodded.  ‘So you know him as well?  But, of course, you must have met him in Egypt.  Our estates march together,  my dear.  Carstairs Castle is but two miles from here.’

Louisa found her mouth had gone dry. For a moment words failed her totally in the rush of emotions which  assailed her .  Roger Carstairs: the man who,  in Egypt, had asked her to marry him, who had tried to seduce her,  who had seen and recognised  the little bottle Hassan had given as being something of supreme supernatural importance and who, when he was refused the bottle, had finally been responsible for her beloved Hassan’s death.  A man so imbued with evil that his very name sent a shiver of distaste through the households of the British aristocracy amongst whom he used to socialise.  A man whom Venetia had  liked very much indeed.

Somehow Louisa found her voice, aware that Katherine’s gaze was as full of sympathy and kindness as Venetia’s was of spite.

‘ I had no idea this was where he lived.’ She took a deep breath.  ‘How extraordinary.  But I had heard that he never returned to Britain after – ’ She found her voice growing husky.  ‘After our visit to Egypt.’

Sarah walked over to the table and poured a glass of ratafia.  Handing it to Louisa she smiled.  ‘He has a certain reputation, I have to admit.  And he doesn’t come home often.  But he has two sons who live at Carstairs.  They have a tutor who is their guardian, I believe, in their father’s absence.  And he does return to see them from time to time.  We haven’t met him lately.   He does not visit his neighbours.’  She glanced from Venetia to Katherine and then back to Louisa, her face suddenly alight with mischief.  ‘I have an idea!’ She plumped down on the ottoman next to Katherine.  ‘We could drive over to the castle tomorrow.  He has a museum.  In the stable block, I believe.  A friend of ours went to see it.   Lord Carstairs’s servants would show it to us.  I understand it is very interesting.  He spent a year in India quite recently and after that he was in  America.  He has a collection of fascinating  artefacts from the American Indian tribes. Feathered head dresses.  Peace pipes.  All kinds of things.’  Her eyes were sparkling.  ‘Would you like to go?’

Louisa was torn.  Part of her shrank at the prospect of going anywhere near the castle .  But another part of her was intrigued, both to see where Roger Carstairs lived, and to view  the curiosities  he had brought back from his travels – curiosities presumably like the  ancient bottle Hassan had given her,  which Carstairs  had so wanted for his collection that he had been prepared to kill to obtain it, the bottle which lay hidden at this very moment in the secret compartment in the desk in her London home.  Oh yes, she would be interested to see it all, just so long as it was certain, beyond all possible doubt, that he was not there himself.


Carstairs Castle was a grey stone edifice, with turrets and battlements surmounting small windows in thick ancient walls.  As their coach rumbled up the curving drive through the rhododendrons, brought by his lordship from India and already growing in profusion, the four  ladies stared out with eager curiosity.  The messenger who had ridden over the previous evening to see if their visit was convenient had returned with an assurance that Mr Dunglass, Lord Carstairs’s factor, would greet them and personally escort them round his lordship’s gardens and museum. 

The factor was waiting on the steps at the foot of the main tower.  A small, red-haired man, wearing the kilt, he stepped forward to greet the visitors.

Louisa climbed out of the coach last and stared round nervously.  The place had a prosperous well cared for feel.  The paths and driveway were neatly weeded and raked and there were flowers in the beds around the wall.  She glanced up and the skin on the back of her neck prickled slightly.  Were they being watched? So many  narrow deep set windows, dark and shadowy on this west facing side of the castle, looked down across the drive and towards the hills.  A hundred pairs of eyes could be watching them and they would not know it.  She became aware that the others were walking away, following Mr Dunglass around the base of the tower and she hurried after them, shrugging off her unease.  Lord Carstairs was once more in America, so his factor informed them.  He was not expected home until next year at the earliest.

A modern stable block and carriage house had been constructed  in the early part of the century by Lord Carstairs’s grandfather on the eastern side of the castle.  The buildings surrounded a courtyard - a line of loose boxes, all empty as his lordship’s horses were out at grass, on one side, a line of double doors concealing no doubt his lordship’s carriages  on the other while between them, on the south side rose a small pedimented coach house surmounted by a clock tower. In this building all the windows had been barred.  Mr Dunglass headed towards it now, groping in his sporran for a large iron key.

‘This way, Mistress Shelley.’ The man had ushered the others up the steps and through the door as Louisa lagged behind and now he was waiting for her, his eyes boldly on her face.  How did he know her name? Standing below him in the cobbled yard  she looked up and met his gaze. He did not lower his eyes; his expression was carefully blank but behind the facade there was something else.  Insolence? Triumph? The moment passed and he looked away.  ‘The others are inside, Mistress Shelley.  If you would like to join them I’ll explain some of the items you can see in there.’  His tone was respectful.  Even friendly.  Surely she had imagined that momentary expression on his face?

The room into which they had been led was large and dark. Standing still they waited while their guide  opened the shutters allowing the bright sunlight to flood the room.  As they stared round there was a moment’s stunned silence, then at last   it was Venetia who spoke first.   ‘My goodness’. She gasped with  a nervous laugh.  ‘How amazing!’

The items on display nearest to them, the bows and arrows, the huge beautiful feathered head dress, the beaded jewellery, the bison skins, had been brought back so they were told by Lord Carstairs the previous year .  ‘He went right across America,’ their informant told them, clearly impressed.  ‘He lived with the various tribes he encountered.  The Sioux; the Cheyenne.  They made him welcome and the smoked the peace pipe with them.’ He indicated the  large pipe decorated with coloured bands and feathers.  ‘He has been studying their religion and their beliefs.  He witnessed the Sun Dance.’  He paused, obviously expecting them to look impressed.  ‘Beyond the American exhibits you will see those his Lordship brought back from  the Indian sub continent in 1870.   Beautiful silks and brocades as you will notice; items from Hindu temples and gifts he received from the maharajahs  and British dignitaries with whom he stayed.’

Louisa was not listening. She had wandered past the American items and the Indian, past a huge glass-fronted bookcase and display cabinets of every shape and size, to the back of the room.  In the corner, standing upright in the shadows was the unmistakable painted face and body of an Egyptian mummy case. She closed her eyes, steadying her breathing with an effort.

‘Ah, Mistress Shelley.  You have discovered Lord Carstairs’s Egyptian collection.’ The voice beside her was soft and ingratiating.

She gave a nervous smile. ‘He has a great many interesting items.’

‘Indeed.’ He glanced over his shoulder.  The other three women were gathered around a glass case, staring down at a mass of beautiful shells.  ‘Wampum.’ Venetia repeated, baffled, reading from a card inside the case.

Louisa stepped away from him.  His presence beside her made her feel uncomfortable.  She walked over to a  table nearby and stared down at the items displayed on it.. One stood out from them all  A small  carved statue of a coiled snake.  Without thinking she picked it up and examined  it.  ‘Solid Gold, Mistress Shelley.’ The factor  was still there at her elbow.  She stared down at the item in her hands., holding her breath.  Almost she could hear Roger Carstairs voice in her head as she looked down at it.  ‘So, Mrs Shelley. You came to find me after all…’   The sound was so real she glanced up, shocked.  But it was her imagination.  Hastily she set the item back in its place and walked away from it..  She glanced again with some distaste at the mummy, then moved on and stopped, staring at the wall.  Framed in ebony with a deep terracotta mount she found herself looking at one of her own watercolours.  A painting of the temple at Edfu.

She gasped.

The man beside her  nodded.  ‘You recognise it.’

She spun to face him.  ‘Where did he get that?’ ......... (Please Click "All short stories" for Parts 2-6)

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