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The Legacy of Isis Part 5

lord, for your soul.  I can see demons hovering round you ready to drag you screaming down to hell.’

He threw back his head and laughed.  ‘Well done, Mrs Shelley. You are learning fast.’  He stepped towards her.  ‘Alas, I can’t spend much longer debating this point with you.  Where is the ampulla?’

‘In London.’ She returned his smile  ‘In safe keeping.’

‘We’ll go there.  Now.’

‘Now?’ She stared at him.  ‘I don’t think so.  How do you propose to transport us there?’

‘The same way we came here.’ His voice was grim.  He reached for her wrist, but she jumped back.  ‘No. No more. I’m going nowhere with you.’ She grabbed at the lamp base and lifted it high.  ‘Stand away from me, or I will throw this in amongst your precious collection.  I mean it.  Stand right away.’

His face went white.’ Be careful!  Some of these things are priceless. Please put that down.’

‘I don’t think so.’ The lamp was heavy.  She wasn’t going to be able to  hold it much longer.

As he lunged towards her with a cry of fury she half dropped half flung it into the glass topped cabinet. The glass shattered and a stream of burning oil ran between the priceless artefacts in the case.  In  seconds the more fragile had caught alight  and a sheet of flame shot up.  She heard Carstairs shout, saw him leap towards the flames, then she turned and ran towards the door.

It was locked.  Dragging at the handle she heard herself beginning to sob as the heat engulfed her and then slowly for the second time that night  all went black.

 

‘Mrs Shelley?  Mrs Shelley! I’ve brought your hot water.’

The voice was  persistent, dragging her into wakefulness.  ‘Mrs Shelley, it’s late.  Lady Douglas was worried.’

Opening her eyes Louisa stared into the anxious face of the little Scots maid who was leaning over her bed.

‘Kirsty?’ Her head was thumping, her eyes and throat sore.  ‘I’m sorry.  I had such a nightmare. ‘ Somehow she managed to lever herself into a sitting position.  She stared round the room. Outside the sky was overcast.

‘There is a storm coming.’ Kirsty reached  down for her dressing gown and picked it off the floor.  ‘Thunder, can you hear it?  That’s the  nice weather gone  for a while.’ She glanced at Louisa’s face.  ‘Would you like me to bring you something, Mrs Shelley. You look terrible.’

Louisa managed a painful smile.  ‘I feel terrible.  I expect it’s the storm.  And the bad dream.’

She was remembering more and more.  Carstairs.  His threat to kill her.  The fire.  She stared down at her hands clutching the sheet.  The huge gold ring was still there on the forefinger of her right hand.

‘Louisa?’ Sarah’s voice in the doorway made both women look up.  Sarah bustled in, took one look at her guest and turned to the maid.  ‘Would you bring some coffee please, Kirsty.’

Kirsty bobbed a small curtsey and disappeared as Sarah pulled herself up onto the bed.  ‘Well? How did you sleep?  Not well, judging by the look of you.’ She leaned forward and pushed Louisa’s hair back off her flushed face.  ‘Did anything happen?’

‘Oh yes.’ Louisa gave a grim smile.  ‘I dreamed about him.  He came here and threatened me… and then …’ she hesitated.  ‘We were back in the museum.  He said he was going to kill me and I  overturned the lamp and set fire to his precious collection..’  She put her face in her hands.  ‘Oh, Sarah, it was awful. I can’t tell you how awful.’

‘My  poor dear.’ Sarah squeezed her hand, then she stood up and walked over to the windows.  ‘Look, it’s beginning to rain. I’ll shut the windows for you.’ She paused.  ‘How strange.  Look at this.’  She was unhooking  what looked like a necklace from the wisteria around the door.  ‘Is this yours? How pretty.  It’s all made of shells and beads.’

Louisa slid from the bed. Padding barefoot across the floor she took it in her hands, staring down at it.  ‘It’s his. He was wearing native American dress.’ She glanced up at Sarah. Her face was white.  ‘It’s his, Sarah.’

The two women looked at one another.

‘So, he was here?’

Louisa bit her lip.  ‘He can’t have been.’

‘Then it was   a dream.’

Louisa looked up, her eyes huge and frightened.  ‘I don’t understand it.  I thought it was a dream, but.’   She paused looking at the necklace.  ‘He said he had drugged me with laudanum.  He could have bribed Kirsty - ’

‘Rubbish!’

‘In my milk.  She could have put it in my milk.’

‘Absolutely not.  She wouldn’t. She is completely loyal.’

‘Then it was a dream. All of  it. But where did this come from?’

They stared at each other in silence. Louisa was remembering the brooch. ‘When I see him is he is always dressed in strange garb,’ she said at last, thoughtfully.  ‘In Egypt too he always affected the dress of the natives.  And last night - first he was dressed in skins and beads, then he was wearing a tartan plaid.’  She shook her head.  ‘Why does he do  it.  Is it to frighten me?’

‘I’ve never seen him wear anything other than formal dress.’ Sarah said.  She gave  a wry smile.  ‘He’s a good looking man.’

‘I suppose he is.’ Laura’s reply was reluctant.  They both glanced at the door as Kirsty came in with the tray of coffee.  She set it down on the table thne turned to them, her eyes bright. ‘My lady, have you heard? The news is all over the servants’ hall.  Thee was a fire at Carstairs Castle last night.  Lord Carstairs museum and all the outbuilding and stables were burned out.  There were no horses hurt, but all his wonderful things are gone!’

Louisa gasped.  As white as a sheet she staggered back to the bed and sat down.  Kirsty stared at her.  ‘Are you all right, Mrs Shelley?  Of course!’ She clapped her hand to her mouth.  ‘You were both there only yesterday.  Oh, my lady!’ She turned to her mistress, distraught.  ‘It’s so terrible.  I don’t know what his lordship will do when he finds out.’

 ‘The servants would know, would they not, if he had returned unexpectedly,’ Sarah asked with a thoughtful glance at Louisa.

Kirsty  nodded.  ‘Oh yes, we’d know.   Catriona has a great fondness for his man, Donald, who went with him to America.  They are not expected back until next spring, Mr Graham says they  are blaming the factor, Mr Dunglass.  He  left a lamp in  there  and it was  knocked over in the night.’

‘How?’ Louisa asked sharply.  ‘How was in knocked over? Was there someone there?’

‘I suppose there must have been.  I don’t know, Mrs Shelley.’ Kirsty shrugged.

As the girl closed the door behind her Sarah went and sat next to Louisa on the bed.  ‘Your revenge at least was real, it seems.’

Louisa nodded.  ‘And I escaped, Sarah.  But did he?’

 

5

 

For the next few days the countryside could talk of nothing but the fire at Carstairs Castle.  As far as could be ascertained no one was hurt in the catastrophe; no one had been found  amongst the wreckage,  but the collection itself, estimated to be worth countless thousands of pounds had been totally destroyed.  Urgent messages were despatched by telegraph and by letter  to Lord Carstairs himself, but no one it appeared knew quite where he was.  He had left New York in the late spring, travelling west and no one had heard from him since.  Mr Dunglass was interviewed by the police, as were his lordship’s two sons and their tutor. All denied ever having taken a lamp into the museum, never mind lighting it and Louisa’s  hastily drawn sketches were scanned as evidence of what had been there.  She pointed out that she could hardly have bothered to paint such an everyday item as a lamp - but then before  the police could question her and Lady Douglas further about their visits, news came that Mr Dunglass had packed his bags and fled.  His panic confirmed his guilt in many eyes.

 

Louisa moved back to her original bedroom and continued to paint the gardens and the moors as the storms passed and the good weather returned.  Her dreams remained untroubled .  She had no nocturnal visitors.  But the fear was still there.  She had locked the ring and the string of beads away in her jewel case  with the topaz brooch and tried not to think about what had happened.  Until one morning she received a letter.  It was from George Browning, her sons’ tutor.  ‘I don’t want to alarm you, but we seem to have had an intruder in the house.  A very thorough, I would say almost professional, search has been made of every room.  I cannot ascertain that anything is missing - certainly nothing obvious, but I am worried that a particular  search was made of your studio and some sketches and paintings may be lost.  Also there appears to be something there of which I have no recollection.  I have checked with the boys and they do not recognise it either.  A small paperweight of what looks like solid gold carved in the shape of a coiled snake was left on the table in your studio.  Beneath it was a paper inscribed with hieroglyphics of some sort.  The boys feel it is a message from some person you met on your Egyptian travels and are much excited by it. I should reassure you that they have not been in the least alarmed by these occurrences and are indeed very reluctant to return to their grandmother’s care next week…’

White as a sheet, Louisa passed the letter to Sarah.  ‘I have to go home.  Today.  He’s back.  He’s left me a message.’

 

Sarah went with her.  On Louisa’s urgent instructions George had removed the boys at once back to their grandmother’s house so it was to a depleted household that they made their way from the station in a Hansom cab.  Louisa’s cook housekeeper Mrs Laidlaw, and one maid, Sally Anne were there to greet them.

Louisa went straight to her studio.  There on the table as George Browning had said sat the gold serpent.  She had last seen it in the museum at Carstairs Castle.

 

‘Am I never to be rid of him?’ Louisa turned to Sarah in anguish.

They had taken off their hats and coats and settled into chairs in the pretty drawing room  overlooking the small garden of Louisa’s terraced London house.

‘Has he taken anything?’

‘I don’t know.’ Louisa was staring round the room .  ‘I haven’t noticed anything.  There is only one thing he wants.’

‘And is it there?’

Louisa shrugged.  Standing up she led the way back into her studio and stood in front of the Davenport where she did her correspondence.  The studio was very cold; there was a strange smell in there she couldn’t immediately identify - not paint.  Not linseed oil, or charcoal.  Something sweet and slightly exotic.  She shivered.  ‘I put it in there.  In the secret drawer.’

‘See if it’s there.’

Louisa put her hand out to the polished wood of the desk lid.  Then she shook her head.  ‘Supposing he’s watching me.’

‘Watching?’ Sarah glanced over her shoulder uneasily.  ‘How could he be watching?

‘How could he do any of the things he does?’ Louisa replied crossly.  She moved away from the desk.  ‘He has been in this room.  How else could the snake have got here?  It is a message.  A warning.  Oh, Sarah what am I do? Can’t you feel it?  There is something here.  Someone.’ She picked up the piece of paper with it’s strange illegible message and stared at it, then with it still in her hand she turned on her heels and swept out of the room  with Sarah behind her.

 In the drawing room where Mrs Laidlaw had brought them a tray of tea Louisa  threw the piece of paper with its scrawled hieroglyphics down onto the table.

‘What does it say? Can you read it?’

Louisa shook her head. Bending over it she ran her finger lightly over the symbols which had been inscribed there, then drew her hand away sharply.

‘What is it? What’s wrong?’  Sarah’s blue eyes were fixed on the paper.

‘Nothing. It felt hot.  My imagination.’

Sarah glanced up sharply.  ‘Are you sure?’

Louisa shrugged. ‘I’m sure of nothing.  I don’t know why he’s left this.  He must realise I can’t read it.’

‘He’s just trying to frighten you. Tear it up.’

Louisa shook her head.  ‘Supposing it’s important.  These symbols.  They have power.’

‘Exactly.’ Sarah stood up.  She reached for the paper. ‘If you won’t destroy it, I will.’ About to throw it into the fireplace she stopped with a gasp.

The figure in front of them was no more substantial than a wisp of mist but both women saw it.  Both shrank back.  The paper dropped from Sarah’s hand and.  she fell back into her chair, white-faced.

‘Dear God!’  Louisa’s  whisper was barely audible.  ‘The djinn.  The evil djinn!’

Already the figure had gone. It had been no more than a shadow.

‘What was that?’ Sarah’s voice shook.

‘Hatsek.  The priest of Sekhmet.  Two priests follow my ampulla and fight over it.’ Louisa’s voice was dreamlike.  ‘Hassan called them djinn.  The paper that came with the bottle was inscribed with their names.  I don’t read hieroglyphs but  I suppose this is what is written here.’  She took a deep shaky breath.

She bent and picked up the piece of paper.  ‘You were right. It must be destroyed.’ Without giving herself time for second thoughts she walked across to the fireplace and threw the paper down.  Then she reached for the box of Vestas on the mantelpiece. In seconds the paper was a pile of ash.

She gave a deep sigh.  ‘I hope that is the last we shall see of him!’ She shuddered.

Sarah gave a shrill laugh. ‘You hope! Louisa.  Do you realise what happened just now?  We saw a  - !’ She paused, at a loss as to how to describe it.   ‘A ghost?  A spirit? An ancient Egyptian! And you hope it won’t come back!’

‘It was a warning.’ Louisa shrugged. 

‘ So, will the fire stop it coming again.?’ Sarah stared down at the small heap of ashes.

Louisa nodded.  ‘I think so. ‘ She gave a grim laugh.  ‘Fire would appear to have a cleansing effect on most things.’ 

 

And so it seemed.  In the days that followed the household  settled into calm. . Louisa unpacked.  She forced herself to check the house minutely. There was no sign of anything missing.  The only place she did not look was the Davenport.  There was no need.   

News came from Scotland that Mr Dunglass had been arrested in Glasgow. He had, it appeared, been quietly salting away a fortune in cash and valuables from the castle and the authorities looked no further for a cause of the fire. The case was closed.  The two Carstairs  boys, they heard, had been sent to a distant relative in the far north of Scotland for the rest of the summer. There was still no news of the absent  lord. 

In October came a letter from Augusta Forrester. The Fieldings had returned home,  it appeared,  with the wonderful tidings that  Venetia had met a widower in Edinburgh and agreed to marry him.  He had both a title, although not one as exalted as that of  Lord Carstairs, and a small fortune as well as a goodly estate and she was content. Reading the letter Louisa smiled.  Poor Venetia.  If only she  knew the fate she had been spared had she won her noble lord.

 With many hugs and kisses and promises that they would meet again in Scotland the following year Sarah said her farewells and left and Louisa’s  two boys returned from their grandmother. Her eldest son David was beginning his  second year at Eton; his brother John returned to the schoolroom with  George Browning.  The staff was completed by the return of  Louisa’s man servant, Norton  from  a holiday with his family in Hertfordshire.

 

The day after Sarah left, Louisa’s nightmares about Egypt returned.  But this time she did not dream about Hassan.  Instead she was standing on the banks of the River Nile, the scent bottle in her hand, about to throw it into the water when she realised there was a man standing in front of her.  A tall, swarthy man dressed in the skins of a lion. ‘Do not dare to throw it!’  His mouth did not move but she felt the strength of his thoughts as though he had screamed them at her.   ‘Do not throw!  What you hold is sacred.’

She woke up with a start and sat up, shaking. The priest of Sekhmet had returned in her dream.  His  face was  stern and forbidding, his eyes piercing, as he stood over her. The following night she was not on the banks of the Nile;  he was here, in her room, bending over her bed.

Her screams brought Mrs Laidlaw and Mary Anne running from their bedrooms just above hers  in the attic.  Luckily John and George Browning had not heard her and were not disturbed.

The next morning she went into the studio and stared at the Davenport.  Why had he returned?  What did he want her to do?   The answer to that came very swiftly.  Two nights later she was preparing for bed, standing dreamily in her room, brushing her hair by the light of a bedside candle when she became aware of someone standing near her in the shadows.  The brush fell from her hand  as she turned.

‘Egypt.  Take it back to Egypt.’  The voice rang in her ears.  ‘The tears of Isis belong in her own land; the ampulla must return whence it came.’ She could see him  in the shadows.  

‘How can I? How can I take it back?’ She stammered, but already he had gone.

 

As the autumn nights  drew in Louisa felt her strength waning.  She found it hard to eat and coughed incessantly, but she returned to her painting.  Day after day she retired to the studio and embarked upon a new series of pictures of  Scotland. The magic of loch and mountain could not however drive her demons away and at last she found herself painting 

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