The Legacy of Isis Part 2

‘He bought it , Mistress Shelley. In London.’  He bowed.  A minimal movement betraying a touch of mockery beneath the respect. ‘He has attended all your exhibitions, Mistress Shelley.’

Her stomach tightened with fear as she met his eyes. ‘Indeed, Mr Dunglass.  I’m flattered at his interest.’  She managed to hold his gaze unwaveringly.

He looked away first.  ‘So, madam, have you seen the next exhibit?’ He smiled again. ‘An example of one of the most poisonous  of Egyptian snakes - ’  He broke off as her hand flew to her mouth.  In the case in front of her on a bed of pale dry sand lay a coiled snake, its head with spread hood rising out of the dry skin, its tiny button eyes fixed balefully on some imagined desert distances.

Louisa turned away with a cry of distress.  It was so like the snake that had killed Hassan.  The same shape,  same length, same colour - its eyes were similar.  Unblinking.  Beady.  Missing nothing.

‘It’s dead, Louisa.’  The hand on her arm was firm.  Katherine was beside her.  ‘Come away.  Don’t look at it.’

‘Katherine - ’

‘I know, my dear.  They told me all about it.  And the way he conjured a snake onto our dahabeeyah   Magic snakes.  Evil magic.’ She glanced round the room.  Nearby was a wooden statue of a child holding a snake in its hand.  The inscription underneath said: Horus of the Snakes.’ She shuddered. ‘Dirty magic.  All his efforts to make himself a so-called master of the occult, and what for? A small room in the back of beyond and a few boxes of stolen mementoes.’

‘I beg your pardon?’ Mr Dunglass had overheard her.  He was bristling with indignation.  ‘Nothing here has been stolen.  Everything was brought of given freely.’

‘Really?’ Louisa looked at him bitterly.

‘Really!’ The man glared at her.

Katherine shuddered.  ‘Well, I don’t envy him  this. I really don’t.’ She reached over and thumped the glass case with her folded parasol.  The snake moved infinitesimally.

Louisa swallowed.  Clutching her shawl around her shoulders she moved away from the Egyptian corner of the room  to stand in front of the American head dress with it regal glossy feathers, concentrating on the exquisite workmanship, the detail, the tiny beads.

Katherine, with a pat on her shoulder, moved on too, standing beside Sarah and Venetia , staring at some clay pots, laughing softly as Venetia , oblivious to the earlier exchange, pointed out some detail in the swirling decorations.

The hiss was so quiet Louisa barely heard it.  For a moment she didn’t react , then she spun round staring back at the case.  From where she was standing she could see an almost invisible film of dust on the glass.  Nothing moved.  She clenched her fists.  Stupid. It was her imagination.  Her idiotic, feverish, over active imagination.

Behind her she heard Venetia’s voice.  ‘And Lord Carstairs’s darling boys? Are they at home at the moment?’ and Dunglass’s grunt.  ‘Aye. They are.’  He did not sound impressed.

‘We would so like to meet them, wouldn’t we,   Sarah?’  Venetia clung to her hostess’s arm for  a moment.

Louisa saw the factor’s eyebrow rise almost to his hairline.  ‘I have no idea where the boys are , Mistress.  You’d have to be speaking to Mr Gordon, their tutor about them.’ His tone implied  that their whereabouts was something he for one would rather not look into too closely.

‘We’ll do that.’ Venetia simpered at him.  ‘We know dear Lord Carstairs so well, I’m sure he would wish us to enquire after his sons.  Are they not at Eton with your boys, Louisa?’ She turned and raised an eyebrow.

‘I don’t think so,’ Louisa returned sharply.

Dunglass shook his head.  ‘They’ve been expelled from every school in the country! I doubt his lordship could find one to hold them.  That’s why they have a tutor.’ His lips tightened.  ‘Believe me, ladies, I doubt you’d want to meet them.’ He folded his arms firmly.

Sarah and Venetia looked shocked.  It was Venetia who voiced what was going through both ladies minds.  ‘I don’t think you should speak like that about Lord Carstairs sons, Mr Dunglass.’

‘No?’ The man snorted.  ‘I’m thinking their father would agree with me!’

‘Really?’ Venetia simpered at him.  ‘Oh my goodness!  In which case - ‘ She fluttered her eyelashes at the man in apology and Louisa turned away sharply.  Was it possible that Venetia still had hopes of the odious Carstairs? Surely not? But here she was, still unmarried , still  travelling with her brother and his long suffering wife.  Still hankering after a rich titled husband.  She gave an involuntary shudder.  No doubt the handsome Lord Carstairs  would fit her imaginary ideal in every particular.  She did not, after all,  know what the real man was like!

‘Louisa dear?  It’s time we made a move for home.’  Sarah’s gentle hand on her arm made her jump.  ‘Have you seen enough?’

‘Quite enough.’ Louisa glanced towards the back of the room where the case containing the stuffed cobra was standing in a patch of sunlight from the high window.  There was no movement; nothing at all in that corner of the room.  So why did the very stillness make her feel uneasy?




In her dream she was standing at the mouth of the cave, staring into the darkness, anxious  to escape the glare of the sun. Hassan was beside her, his handsome face eager, gentle, so very loving.  He turned with that serious smile she loved so much and held out his hand.  ‘Come, my Louisa; we will go in out of the heat.’

She reached towards him.  She only had to speak to save his life.  All she had to say was , No, come back. Don’t go in.  But the words would not come.  Her throat was constricted, her mouth full of sand.  There was a roaring in her ears like the waters of the cataract in flood and then it happened.  In slow motion she saw the sinuous movement of the snake; saw it head towards Hassan, saw it rise up, its hood spread, its mouth open  -  . Her scream this time, as always, came too late;  her waking, alone, in her bed, desolate.

She sat up, sobbing, aware of the moonlight flooding through a crack in the curtains.  The room was very quiet. Not a breath of air stirred the wisteria on the wall outside.  The night was very hot.  Her face still wet with tears, she  climbed out of bed and went to push back the curtains.  The tall  windows opened out onto the balcony which ran the entire length of the first floor of the house  overlooking the gardens.  Pushing  them open  she stepped outside and leant on the stone balustrade.  The countryside was as bright as day.  She could see every detail of the garden with its formal hedges and beds and its vistas across the parkland and the loch to the mountains beyond.

‘So, Louisa.  You came to visit my house. You couldn’t resist seeing where I lived. I saw you pick up my golden snake. I felt you call me.’

Lord Carstairs was standing on the balcony half hidden by  one of the clipped potted bay trees near her window.  Tall, handsome in the moonshadows, his eyes were strangely colourless in the strong contours of his face.  He was dressed in a loose white shirt and trousers.  Over one shoulder he wore a tartan plaid, fastened in place by a Cairngorm brooch.

Her heart almost stopped beating.  ‘I never called you!  I thought you were abroad!’ She stepped back towards the window, feeling acutely vulnerable in her nightgown, with her feet bare and her hair loose on her shoulders.

He smiled coldly.  ‘And I never thought to see you in Scotland, Mrs Shelley.  I am flattered you should come.  Very flattered.’ He emerged from the shadows and the moonlight glinted on the yellow stone in the brooch on his shoulder.

She frowned.  ‘Don’t take a step  nearer. I have only to call out and people will come.  What are you doing here?’

He laughed quietly. ‘What if I were to tell you that I am not here, Louisa  I am four thousand miles away,  eating peyote buttons with the men of the Cheyenne in a tepee under an arid western sky.’ He took another step forward and reaching out his  hand touched her hair with his finger tip.

She shuddered and took another step backward. ‘I don’t understand.  Are you trying to tell me that this is a dream?’ She clutched behind her at the heavy curtains of her bedroom window.

‘Just a dream.’ His voice was mocking.  ‘Nothing but a peyote dream.’

She took another step back.  ‘What is peyote?’ If it was a dream she wanted to wake up now.  End it.  Banish this man back to the depths of whatever hell he lived in.

‘Peyote, Louisa, is a sacred plant; a way of life; an entrance to other worlds where one may travel  unencumbered even into  the bed chamber of a sleeping woman.’ He moved forward again.  She could smell a strange muskiness about him; the smell of woodsmoke and flowers, of bittersweet tobacco and an acrid hint of desert wind.

She took another step back, aware that they were now on the threshold of her bedroom.  The moonlight flooded in through the open curtains illuminating the white bedlinen and lace  trimmed pillows.  He smiled.  He was very close to her now.

‘Aren’t you going to scream?’ His eyes were insolent.  Challenging.

‘Oh yes, I’m going to scream!’ She tried to stop the treacherous trembling of her limbs  as she raised her hand towards him, ready to fend him off if he came any closer.  ‘If you don’t leave now I shall scream the place down and your reputation, my lord, will be destroyed forever.’

‘My reputation, Mrs Shelley,’ he returned  the formality like a tennis partner volleying a ball, ‘was gone long since.  I did not value it.  It was of no consequence to me.  While yours, I feel sure, though blighted by your dalliance with a native - ’ he raised his hand to silence her protest, ‘your reputation, as I was about to say,  probably survived at least in Britain, thanks to the loyalty of your friends.’ He narrowed his eyes. ‘Scream, Mrs Shelley. See if you can make yourself heard.  Remember you are dreaming.  All this has been conjured by your mind.’ He reached out and stroked her cheek.  His hand was very cold.

‘Don’t touch me!’ She backed away further.  ‘I will  call for help.’

‘Call then.’ He reached out and caught her shoulders, pulling her against him.  ‘Beautiful Mrs Shelley.’ His words were whispered into her hair.  ‘Oh, how much I have desired you.   And  how angry you have made me.’  She could feel his heart beating against hers.  ‘And now I shall have you, Mrs Shelley.  And perhaps  I shall punish you for rejecting me.  For not giving me what I wanted.’   She did not know whether he meant her body or the tiny bottle he had so much desired, and which as far as he knew   was lying at the bottom of the Nile.   He smiled again. ‘The  interesting part of this experience  is that you will remember none of this in the morning, Mrs Shelley.  None.’

His lips against hers were fierce and eager.  She could feel her breasts against his chest as he dragged her nightgown down to her waist. His eyes, so near hers, were slits of silver.  ‘Go on. Call, Mrs Shelley,’ he murmured.  ‘Call for help. Why don’t you?’ His hands were all over her body now as her nightgown fell to the floor.  To her horror she found herself responding to his touch. Her body refused to struggle; with a groan of pleasure she found herself pressing against him, reaching up for his kisses, caressing his back with fingers that had intended to scratch and maim.

Without further struggle she felt herself falling back onto the bed, felt him groping for his belt buckle, felt his weight on her  with eager excitement as she arched her body towards his.

He laughed exultantly.  ‘So, at last I have you, Louisa.  And I shall make you scream.’ He put his hand for a moment across her mouth. ‘But it shall be with pleasure.  It will be to beg for more.’ He removed his hand and she felt it travel down her body as he stopped her mouth once more with his own.

She was powerless . Her limbs refused to obey her.  The more she wanted to push him away the more she found herself pulling him closer.  With a groan of  ecstasy she closed her eyes, allowing herself to feel the touch of his skin, the  caress of his lips and then finally the full thrust of his passion as he made her his.

The first light of dawn had dimmed the moonlight when she slept at last, lying naked across the bed amongst the trailing bedclothes. 


The scream when it came was from Kirsty and bitten off as soon as it had formed.  ‘Oh, Mrs Shelley, I’m sorry!’ The girl had  almost dropped the ewer of hot water she was carrying as she turned away, trying not to stare at the beautiful voluptuous body of the woman lying so wantonly on the bed.

Louisa lay still for a moment, not knowing where she was, still hazy with sleep, all memory of her dream gone,  then she grabbed for the sheet and pulled it over her,  inexplicably amused at Kirsty’s stunned expression.

‘Kirsty! Come in.  Bring the water.’  Sitting up she swept her hair back off her face with her hands  ‘Forgive me. Iit was so hot last night I threw off the bedclothes.’    And her night-dress.  She could see it lying in a crumpled heap near the window.

Kirsty had regained her composure. Her eyes fixed on the floor she set the jug down.  ‘Do you want me to help you dress, Mrs Shelley?’

Louisa shook her head.  ‘Not yet, thank you. I’ll take a moment to wake up.  I’ll ring  if I need you.’

Her whole body was alive and tingling.  She felt younger than she had felt for years.  Young and happy and excited. 

She waited, swathed in the sheet for the girl to leave the room, then she climbed out of bed and walked naked over to the open window.  The morning air was cool and she shivered as she bent to pick up her nightgown.  It was torn almost in two. She frowned, staring down at it.  Had she  caught it on something? Had she sleep-walked  restless in the heat of the night, and thrown it off without bothering to unfasten the ribbons  which held it closed?

She glanced round the room, suddenly uneasy.  She had had a strange dream, and in the dream  -

But it had gone. 

Walking over to the basin she poured some hot water and reaching for the embroidered wash cloth on the wooden towel rail she began to sponge her face and neck.  When she reached her breasts she winced. Looking down at herself she realised suddenly that they were reddened and sore.  With an exclamation of surprise she went to stand in front of the cheval mirror in the corner of the room and stared at herself in horror. There were bruises on her arms and breasts, her nipples were engorged and  there was a mark on her neck which looked suspiciously like a bite.  She stood for several moments unable to move, her whole body numb with shock then slowly she raised her hands and ran them gently over her cold skin.  Her body tingled with anticipation.  She stroked her thumb over the bruise on her hip and felt herself respond with a leap of desire so overwhelming that she gasped out loud.

She did not call Kirsty to help her dress. Painfully she pulled on her petticoat, her loose cotton drawers and one of her pretty aesthetic dresses, the kind which had so shocked her hosts in Egypt seven years before, but which were now blessedly a fashion item and approved even in The Queen Magazine as a acceptable alternative to tightly corseted waists and the bustle.  Around her neck she fastened a velvet ribbon to hide the red mark which looked so suspiciously like a bite.

It was as she was slipping on her shoes that she found the brooch on the floor, half hidden by the trailing bedclothes.  She picked it up and stared at it.  Deeply engraved silver surrounded a large golden topaz-like stone - a few strands of fine red wool were caught in the pin where it has been torn from his shoulder.

She sat down, turning it over and over in her hands, then leaping to her feet she ran over and tore the covers back off the bed, staring down at the sheets.  They were spotless.

Lord Carstairs.  The man who filled her with loathing and horror; the man of whom she was so desperately  afraid; she remembered it all now; he had been there, in her room;  he had hurt her,  and yet.  She hesitated even to address the thought – the touch of his hands, his lips – had given her pleasure.

For a long time she stood without moving, trying to understand what had happened.  Her body ached; her clothes were torn. She had his brooch.  And yet this man was, as far as she knew,  four thousand miles away in America.  It had been a dream.  But how could  it have been? 

She tried to force herself to confront what had happened.  He had been there. In her room. 

He must have been. 

She shuddered.  No. It wasn’t possible





We leave for Edinburgh this morning, Louisa my dear.’  David Fielding smiled at her as she appeared at last in the breakfast room.  ‘And Katherine was wondering if you would like to accompany us.  If Sarah could spare you for a few days I am sure you would enjoy it.’

Louisa found herself giving a deep exhausted sigh. Until last night this place had been a haven; a retreat from her dreams and nightmares.  But now everything had changed.  Even  the thought of spending time with Venetia might be better than living with a dream like last night’s. .  She turned from the side board with her bowl of porridge to take her place at the table, her mind almost made up to accept, but Sarah was already speaking.

’Bless you, David, for the thought, but I have already planned to take Louisa to Edinburgh later in the month.  I’m afraid I can’t possibly spare her now.  We have so much planned.  So many things to do.’

’I was right to say that, wasn’t I?’  She said to Louisa later.  I could see you and Venetia do not get on.  I’m so sorry. I didn’t realise.  I had thought we were all friends.  But at least I could spare you the long journey in her company.’ She paused.  ‘Are you all right, Louisa?  You look a little feverish.’

Louisa and she had watched the Fieldings depart an hour earlier and were now seated on the bench in the shade of one of the great cedars on the lawn behind the house.  Sarah had brought her embroidery outside with her, Louisa a sketchbook  and a box of water colours and the latest letters from her two sons.  All lay untouched on the seat beside her. How could

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