The Legacy of Isis Part 3

she tell her hostess she would rather have driven on with the others even if that meant tolerating the company of the odious Venetia; that she dreaded another night under this roof because of her dreams.  If they were dreams. She pictured again the brooch, now hidden in her own jewel box and the man who had been wearing it.

As though reading her thoughts Sarah went on, ‘We haven’t talked about our visit to Carstairs Castle.  What did you think of the place?’

Louisa was staring down across the grass towards the distant hills. ‘Very impressive.’

‘Do I gather Venetia has a fondness for his lordship?’

‘She has always found him attractive, I believe.’  Louisa smiled grimly.

‘Oh, but  he is.  Devilishly attractive!’ Sarah giggled.  ‘If I were a little younger I might have set my cap at him myself.’ She raised an eyebrow.  ‘You are still young enough to ensnare him, Louisa.  How would you like a title and a fortune? It is such a long time since your husband died.  Think what fun you could have .  A man with a certain reputation!’ She was setting her stitches with care, not looking at Louisa’s face.

‘He is in America, Sarah.’ Louisa’s voice was so taut that Sarah at last glanced up.  Her guest’s face was as white as a sheet.  Their eyes met.  ‘He is in America.’ Louisa repeated.  ‘Isn’t he?’

‘Yes, my dear.  Of course he is.’ Sarah put down her sewing.  ‘What is it? You look frightened.’

‘I dreamed about him last night.’ Louisa bit her lip.  ‘It was so real.  I -  .’ She hesitated, shaking her head  ‘It was so real I found it hard to believe it was a dream.’

The brooch was not a dream.  Nor were the bruises on her body.

Sarah was still studying her face, her embroidery lying discarded on her knee.   ‘And it was not a pleasant experience, if I read your expression aright.’

Louisa blushed scarlet.  ‘No.’

Yes.  The treacherous word hung between them, unspoken.

For a moment Sarah continued her silent scrutiny.  ‘Were you - that is, did he pursue you when you were all in Egypt, my dear?’ She leaned forward and put a gentle hand over Louisa’s.

Louisa nodded.

‘But you didn’t encourage him.’

‘Of course not.’

‘Ah, I see the source of Venetia’s  jealousy.’ Sarah sighed.  ‘Was he very persistent?’

Louisa nodded   ‘He would not take no  for an answer  - ’  Her voice broke.  The memories were too powerful, too painful to bear

For a moment both women sat without speaking.  It was Louisa who broke the silence.  She turned to her friend, her face tense with anxiety.  ‘Do you believe in magic? High magic, where people can put others under their spell and force them to do things they don’t want to do.  To put them under their power.’

Sarah stared at her.  ‘You think Roger Carstairs has put a spell on you?’

Louisa saw the conflict in the other woman’s face.  Disbelief.  Amusement. And the finally horror.  She shrugged.  ‘I don’t know.  It sounds crazy.  Such strange things happened in Egypt.  Evil things.  Even now I don’t know if they were coincidence or - ’ Her voice trailed away.  She sat silently for a few more minutes, then she turned back to Sarah. ‘ If we could be sure he is in America I would like to go back to that museum of his.’  She gave a tight smile.  ‘To lay a ghost.’

Sarah gave a nervous shiver.  ‘I am sure we have only to ask Mr Dunglass.’

‘And you would come with me?’

Sarah nodded.  ‘Just try and stop me.’

Their excuse was that Louisa would like to sketch the great feathered head dress which was the centre of Lord Carstairs’s collection and it was arranged that the two ladies ride over early next day escorted by one of the Douglas’s grooms. 

Before that Louisa had to live  through another night.


Kirsty had removed the torn night dress without comment and replaced it with a fresh one from Louisa’s trunk.  It was lying ready on the bed when at last she came up to her bedroom that night.  She had delayed her hosts for hours, begging Sarah to play the piano, asking James to tell stories of his time in India, and again when briefly he was member of parliament for the county.  They both looked exhausted when at last they bade their guest goodnight at the top of the main staircase and headed towards their own bedrooms leaving her alone.

The lamp by her bed was turned low, the water in the ewer already cold. She had told Kirsty not to wait up for her; she could undress herself.

The windows were closed; the curtains drawn tightly together.  Standing quite still she looked around the room, listening intently.  There wasn’t a sound.

The lamplight barely reached the corners of the room.  Carefully, holding her breath, she searched every inch; the huge wardrobe, the alcove near the fireplace, the dark shadows  behind the cheval glass, under the high bed, behind the curtains.  The room was empty. Only then did she turn the key in the door, undress quickly and put on her nightgown then her dressing gown, pulling  the sash tightly round her and knotting it securely.  Outside, the night was velvet soft beneath the moon.  Inside, the room was hot and stuffy and she longed to open the window; to step out onto the balcony.  She could feel the perspiration running down between her breasts as she climbed into the bed and sat, her arms around her knees, staring towards the windows she couldn’t see behind their heavy drapes.

After a while she began to doze.

She was awakened by a sharp rapping on the window pane.  She was hunched up against the pillows, still wearing her dressing gown, the sheets pulled up over her.  Remaining  quite still she lay staring round, her heart beating very fast, unsure what had awakened her;  she had no idea how long she had been asleep.

There it was again.  A sharp knock on the window. Her mouth dry with fear, she sat up and sliding her feet over the edge of the high bed she stood up.  Tiptoeing towards the windows she stood immediately behind the curtain, listening intently.

By the bed the oil lamp flickered slightly and she heard a faint popping noise from the glass chimney.  Oh please, let it not be running out of oil.  Normally she would have turned it off long since.  There was a faint murmur of sound from the window and she tensed.  Could it be  the slither of a snake?   Something seemed to be scraping at the glass near her. Then  she heard  her name being whispered so quietly it could just have been the sibilance of the wind in the creepers.

Suddenly unable to stand the terror anymore she turned and flung back the curtains.  The balcony was completely empty as the moonlight flooded past her into the room.


Mr Dunglass was waiting for them once more as they rode into the castle courtyard.  He stabled their horses, showed them into the museum and , having confirmed that his master was most certainly still in America, left them with only the minimal of courtesies.

 Sarah looked after him as he strode back across the cobbles.

‘He’s not feeling very sociable this morning, it seems.’

‘No.’ Louisa clutched her beg of drawing materials  tightly to her chest as she looked round.  ‘Just as well. I don’t feel very sociable either.’ She swept off her tall hat with its veil and dropped it  with her whip onto the chair by the door.

‘So, what are we going to do?’ Sarah whispered.  Neither woman had  moved more than  a few steps into the room.

‘I don’t know.’ Louisa was staring at the huge head-dress. ‘I will have to sketch it. He will expect to see something, but before I do -  ’ She was staring towards the back of the room - towards  the Egyptian  part of the collection.

The eyes of the mummy stared, huge and blank in a silence broken only by the sound of the skirt of  her riding habit dragging on the stone floor, the tap of her high heels.  She stopped by the case containing the snake and  looked down at it for several seconds before rapping loudly on the glass. It didn’t move.

‘You didn’t think it was real - ‘Sarah’s whisper at her side made her jump.

‘No. I didn’t think it was real.’

‘But you’re afraid of it.’

‘He used a snake for his magic, Sarah.  In Egypt.  It obeyed him.  It killed for him.’

Sarah stared at her, horrified. ‘And there was a snake in your dream?’

‘No.’ Louisa felt her face grow hot. ‘But last night, on the terrace, I thought I heard something. - ’  She paused, staring round.  ‘I will not be afraid, Sarah.  I will not let him bully me.  There must be a way of containing him.’

Sarah shuddered.  ‘I don’t like it here.  Not now.  I’d never have thought of this stuff as evil, not really, not before.  But now…’ She was looking over Louisa’s shoulder towards the snake.

‘Well, it is evil.  Surely you’ve heard his reputation?’

Sarah looked abashed.  ‘I’m afraid I thought it rather daring knowing him.  I never believed it all to be true.  He has always been so utterly charming I thought that  the talk of his interest in the occult must be exaggerated’.

Louisa pursed her lips.  ‘Charm is something that exudes from every pore of the man.  But if you look closer, right  into his eyes, then  - ’  She broke off suddenly, staring round.

Sarah stepped back,  ‘What is it? What’s happened?’

‘He’s here.  I can feel him watching us.’ Louisa caught the  other woman’s arm.

‘Don’t be silly,’ Sarah whispered back.  ‘He can’t be.’ She too was staring round the room.

‘He is.  I can smell the pomade he uses; and that strange smoky scent I smelled in my dream.’ She gave a shuddering sigh suddenly  ‘Can you hear drums?’

‘No.’ Sarah shook her head adamantly.  ‘No, I can’t.  Come on.  Let’s get out of here.’ She tried to pull Louisa away but Louisa tore her arm free and put her hands to her head.  ‘Drums! I can hear drums!’

‘No, you can’t  You’re imagining it.’

Louisa was shaking her head, her eyes closed.  ‘He’s trying to get into my head.  I can see him.  He’s coming closer.’

Sarah was near panic.  She pulled at Louisa’s arm again, then she turned and ran towards the door.  ‘Mr Dunglass, come quickly!’ She pulled at the door handle, but it wouldn’t open.  She pulled harder, rattling it desperately but again it wouldn’t turn. ‘Oh, my God!’ She ran to the window but the windows were high up and barred on the outside.  Spinning round she ran back to Louisa.  ‘Lou, are you all right?  Lou, listen to me! It’s all in your head.  He’s not here. He’s not. He can’t reach you.  He’s in America. It’s your imagination. It has to be! Fight it, Lou!’


Louisa could see him clearly now.  He was sitting in a circle of Indian braves .  In the centre of the circle a fire burned, lighting the darkness of the prairie night.  The men were passing a pipe one to the other, each taking a long slow draw of the aromatic smoke before passing it on to his neighbour.  Like them, Roger Carstairs wore buckskin trousers and a loose shirt stitched with beads, his hair long, swept back from his forehead and held in place by an embroidered band, hung with feathers and beads.  His eyes were closed.

Louisa stepped closer to him, feeling the warm prairie soil under her bare  feet, smelling the fragrant smoke, the sharp wind across the grass cold on her   naked skin.  Slowly he opened his eyes and he was looking straight at her.

‘So, I have brought you to me, Mrs Shelley.  How convenient.’ He stood up slowly stepping away from the circle into the  warm scented darkness beyond the reach of the firelight.

He held out his hand towards her.  She stepped back quickly, aware suddenly that she was after all  still wearing her green riding habit, the  train now securely looped  to her waist, out of the way, and her feet , a moment before bare, were encased in her high heeled riding boots.  ‘Don’t you touch me!’  It was only in his dream that she was naked.

He smiled.  ‘I won’t touch you.  Not here, Mrs Shelley.  Not in front of my brothers and - who is that with you?’ He peered past her.  ‘Ah, Lady Douglas.  My trusty and oh so incurious neighbour. So, you have drawn her into my web with you.  No matter.’ He reached towards her and ran his finger lightly down the buttons of her habit.  ‘We will meet  later, my dear, when  we are both alone. You have to   admit you will look forward to that as much as I shall.  Our lovemaking was spectacular, was it not?’

‘Louisa! Wake up!’ She realised suddenly that   Sarah was shaking her arm.  ‘Lou! Can you hear me?’

Louisa blinked. He had gone.  There was no sign of him or the Indian braves or the camp fire.  She was once again in the high roofed room in the outbuilding at Carstairs castle with Sarah.

‘Louisa?’ Sarah seemed near to tears.  ‘Please, listen to me!’

‘I’m listening.’ Louisa’s mouth was dry, her head spinning.

‘Oh, thank God! I thought you had gone mad.  What happened? You were in some sort of a trance.’

‘I was in America.’  Louisa put her hands to her face.  She took a deep shaky breath.  ‘I was there, where Carstairs is.  Near his camp fire with lots of Indian warriors.  He was dressed like them - ’  She was trembling violently.   ‘But I wasn’t there, was I. I couldn’t have been.  It was all a dream.  A horrible dream!’ She caught Sarah’s hand.  ‘How did he do it?  He is using some kind of trance- inducing drugs. Opiates.  I don’t know what.  But I’m not!  How did he make me go there, to him?’

The two women were staring round the room as they spoke.  One wall was covered in books, safely encased behind glass and for the first time Louisa became aware of their titles.  Most were accounts of  travel to distant lands, but some  were about  magic; drugs, shamanism, occult studies in several languages.  That was how he had done it.  To Lord Carstairs oceans were no barrier.  There was nowhere he could not go; nothing he could not do if he so wished.

They were suddenly aware of footsteps outside on the cobbles.  Feet ran lightly up the steps to the door and it was flung open.  ‘Did I hear someone call?’ A boy stood in the doorway - tall , red haired,  handsome, his eyes transparent grey.  Louisa felt herself give a gasp of recognition.  This must be one of Lord Carstairs sons.

‘Indeed someone did call.’ Sarah pushed in front of her and confronted him indignantly.  ‘I couldn’t open the door.  It was locked.’

‘Locked?’  He looked puzzled.   ‘Indeed no.  I opened it just now without any bother. Lady Douglas.’ He gave a gentle apologetic smile. ‘Why would it be locked?’

‘I don’t know and I don’t care.’ Sarah stepped towards him.  ‘Would you ask Mr Dunglass to fetch our horses.  We have seen enough.’

‘But  Mrs Shelley doesn’t want to go yet.’ The boy looked straight at her.  ‘Surely she hasn’t had enough time to sketch the head dress which she came to see.  My father told me to come over specially  and make sure she had everything she needed.’

‘Your father,’ Sarah   drew herself up to her full height, ‘is not here. I fail to see how he could have done any such thing.’

‘I assure you he did, Lady Douglas.’  The boy smiled, and suddenly Louisa could see the  likeness to his father and understand, perhaps, Dunglass’s obvious antipathy.   The outward charm, the handsome good looks, masked an icy  watchful control . This boy was dangerous 

It had taken her several seconds to compose herself enough to speak, but now she stepped forward.  ‘You are quite right, young man.  I haven’t had time to do all I wanted. Perhaps you would  allow us a few more minutes and   then we will call Mr Dunglass ourselves.’ She took a deep breath.  ‘You are very like your father.  He must be very proud of you.’

The boy looked startled, and for the first time they saw a hint of doubt in his eyes.  ‘I don’t believe so, Mrs Shelley. He constantly complains of my behaviour and that of my brother.’ He shrugged.  ‘It is only when we do small services for him, such as passing on this message, that he recognises our existence.’  He looked  so crestfallen for a moment that she felt quite sorry for him , but then the self confidence returned and once again she saw his father’s arrogance looking out from those young eyes.  With a  small bow, he turned and retraced his steps across the yard.  To Sarah’s relief he left the door open.

‘Give me a few  minutes.  There is something I want to find.’  Louisa whispered, ‘and I must do a few quick notes which I can work into sketches later, then we’ll go.’   Leaving Sarah standing by the door she ran back into the Egyptian section of the room.  There must be something there she could take.  Something  she could use as a lever against him; something he would really care about.   She glanced along the shelves at statuettes and pots, carvings and pieces of broken tile.  It had to be something valuable but something that would not immediately  be missed although.  Dunglass did not look like the kind of man who knew or cared about what was in his master’s collection beyond the few show pieces he had described for them .  That shrewd young boy would not be so easy to fool.  She glanced at the glass cases around her.  In one there was a selection of jewellery.  Gold and enamel  necklets and bracelets.  Rings.  She tried the lid of the case. To her surprise it wasn’t locked.  It lifted easily.  Reaching in she took a heavy gold ring - small and half hidden by a larger item she doubted if it would be missed by anyone except Carstairs himself.  With a grim smile she lowered the lid gently back into place, slipped the ring into the pocket of her habit  and turned back towards the door.




It was late before Louisa made her way at last to her bedroom that night.  Two neighbours of the Douglases had come to dine and entertained them at the piano with a succession of Scots songs before riding home at last under the brilliant moon.  Tired and content Louisa let herself into her bedroom.  The lamp as before had been trimmed and lit and the soft light fell across the bed where earlier Kirsty had turned down the bedclothes.

Curled up on the pillow was a huge snake.

Louisa’s scream brought the Douglases running,  closely followed by several maids, a  footman and the house keeper.  Sir James strode into the room a silver-topped cane raised  in his hand.  ‘What is the matter? What is it?’ He was staring round myopically.

Louisa pointed at the bed.  Her heart was thudding so hard she could barely breathe.

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