The Legacy of Isis Part 6

the priests of ancient Egypt, who haunted her dreams, as though by capturing them on canvas she could  exorcise them from her brain. 

It didn’t work.  Still they returned, sometimes apart, sometimes together, arguing in front of her, arguing with her, every time coming closer, appearing more threatening, more inexorable.   In her misery she wrote to  Sarah; to  the Forresters,  even to the Fieldings    Then one night as sleep failed yet again to come and she sat up in bed reading the one person  who had not  haunted her dreams in London, appeared once more.  Carstairs came back.

She looked up from her book to see him standing at the end of the bed watching her.

‘So, clever Mrs Shelley.  So devious.  So cunning.  You have hidden the ampulla from me, set a priest to guard it and you have destroyed my life’s work into the bargain.  But don’t think you can continue to outwit me.  I shall have that bottle. I know it is here.’

Louisa clutched her wrap around her shoulders, shivering.  ‘If you have not found it by now, my lord, I think it unlikely you ever will,’ she said defiantly.  She held his gaze.  ‘So, where have you been?  Where are you now? Still in America? Or have you returned to Scotland.? Or are you really here, in the flesh, having walked up the stairs like a mere mortal?  Did you ring the bell and ask Norton to show you up? I must confess, I did not hear a knock at  my door.’

‘A walker between the worlds does not knock.’ He folded his arms.  ‘Anymore than does a priest of the old gods.’ He narrowed his eyes.  ‘When I leave here  I shall set something here to guard the sacred bottle from you and from the priest.. Wherever it is  my serpent will protect it. I cannot guarantee the safety of  your household, or your children, Mrs Shelley.  Please do not sacrifice another life for the sake of something so trifling.  You have no interest in my bottle save to thwart me.  Is that not so?’

She shrugged.  ‘You are probably right.  It is just that I cannot rid myself of the notion that whatever power lies in that bottle should be used for good, if it is used at all. And you, my lord, intend to use it for your own evil purposes.’

‘So, you would risk your sons lives?’

‘There will be no risk.’ She continued to hold his gaze defiantly.

He shook his head.  ‘Do you still underestimate me so grievously, Louisa?’

‘I don’t underestimate you .  Far from it.  But I have realised that I can fight you.  Remember your priest of Sekhmet - my lord? Remember the lion goddess? The lioness is invincible in the protection of her children.  You threaten my children and I will unleash more rage than you can ever contemplate.

Without realising it she had risen to her knees on the bed.  He took a step backwards.  ‘If there is a snake in my studio I will banish it.  If there is evil in this house I will destroy it and you with it.’ She paused.  ‘Where are you, Lord Carstairs? Are you still in America with your Indian braves?’ He was, she realised suddenly wearing a sash around his waist and baggy trousers.  ‘No, you are in Egypt.’  She smiled.  ‘Is the call so strong?’

‘The priest of Sekhmet wants his ampulla returned.  Tell me where it is and I will leave you in peace.’

‘No! Hassan gave me that ampulla.  It was his gift.  It contains all I have of his love.    So, you will never set eyes on it. Never!’ Her voice had risen  desperately almost to a shout and seconds later there was an urgent knock at her door.  ‘Mrs Shelley? Is something wrong, madam?’ It was Norton’s voice.  ‘Shall I call Mrs Laidlaw?’

‘Thank you, Norton.  I am all right. I am sorry to have woken you. Please go back to bed. ’ She called over her shoulder.  When she turned  back towards the room.  Lord Carstairs had gone.

And so had the golden snake.  The next morning when Louisa went downstairs into her studio  the statuette had vanished from the shelf where she had put it above  the table where she worked.  She did not even bother to call the staff to enquire as to its whereabouts.  She knew who had taken it.

She searched the studio from top to bottom, not for a golden snake, but for a live one, alert every second to the possibility of the  sound of scales slithering on the floor or over the shelves.  None came and slowly she settled down to her day’s painting, conscious of the sounds around the house - the servants going about their business, John and George working in the small morning room which had been set aside for their studies, the distant  rattle of wheels and hooves upon the roadway outside and the rustle of wind in the golden leaves in the garden.

The figure of Lord Carstairs cast no shadow as he stood between her and the sunlight flooding through the window.  ‘Where is it?’  His voice was a hiss of fury.

She did not make the mistake of glancing at the Davenport.  Slowly she stood up, the paintbrush still clutched in her hand.   ‘Nowhere you will ever find it!’

She realised suddenly that they were not alone.  Two other figures hovered in the room .  Two priests.  The guardians of the bottle.  He spotted them almost as soon as she did and whirled to face them. ‘So, the moment of confrontation has come!   I am sure, my lords  of the ancient world that you are as anxious as I to return the sacred ampulla to the place it rightfully belongs.  I can take it there.  I can transport it over time and space.’ He stepped closer to Louisa. ‘Only one person stands between us and our hearts desire, my lords.’

‘Do not touch her!’ The voice seemed so loud it appeared to fill the spaces of the room, the house, even the sky outside.  

Carstairs shrank back.  Then he put his hand to his belt and Louisa realised that a  wickedly curved broad-bladed sword hung there.  As he pulled it free she dropped her paintbrush and fled towards the door.  Her shout for help died on her lips. Glancing round as she groped for the doorknob she saw the raised scimitar catch the sunlight in a blinding flash. There was a huge crash. It was not her he had attacked , but the two priests, spirits from another world, and as suddenly as they had come, all three men had disappeared.

Shaking with fear she took a step forward.  Then another.  Nothing in the room appeared to have been touched.  The only sign of the interruption was the small splash of bright colour on the thick water colour paper  where her hand had smudged it and the paintbrush lying on the floor.

She never saw Lord Carstairs again.  Nor the priests and if a snake appeared in her studio to guard the sacred ampulla she was never aware of it. That wasn’t the end of the story of course, for the ampulla remained in her desk. She never forgot it, but neither did she think about it.  If one day her sons or one of their descendants wanted to take it to Egypt that would be up to them.  The portrait of the two priests she  pushed into a dark corner. It was not shown in any of her exhibitions. It never occurred to her that someone, some day long after her time,  might think the little bottle a pretty trinket suitable to give to a child.

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