“You can imagine how envious they were when they saw it, and how each commented on the workmanship and the artistry of the designs. They dined, watched the Egyptian dancing girls, saw Ethiopian contortionists and listened to the best stringed music of the day. Then, as a final hospitality to his guests, the Prince Set rose from his couch and proclaimed: "You have all seen the sarcophagus which stands in the little anteroom and it is my wish that one of you should receive it as a gift. He whom it fits may take it with my blessing.
“One after another they got inside and lay down, but not one of them fitted it exactly. Then Set led Osiris into the anteroom and waving his hand towards the handsome chest, said with a little laugh:
‘Why don't you try it brother. It is worthy of a King.’
With a smile Osiris lowered himself into the masterpiece. And behold, it fitted his tall, broad-shouldered body to a hair's breadth. No sooner was he inside than the principal conspirators, who were in the secret, rushed forward with the weighty lid. In frantic haste they nailed it down and poured molten lead upon it, so that Osiris may have survived an hour in agony but died at last of suffocation. Set thus succeeded in his treacherous design of killing his brother without spilling one drop of his blood. He and his turbulent followers then hastened to their chariots, rode forth, and seized the Kingdom. But Isis was warned in time and managed to escape. The coffer had been left with Osiris in it and, the Egyptian religion being so strongly bound up with the worship of the dead, it was vital to Set's newly established authority that the body should be disposed of at the earliest possible moment. Otherwise, if the priests got hold of it, they would bury it in state and erect a mighty shrine to the dead King's memory which would form a rallying point for all the best elements in the Kingdom where they would league themselves against the murderer. Next morning, therefore, immediately he got home, Set had the chest cast into the Nile. But Isis recovered it and after certain magical ceremonies, succeeded in her work.
“Then she fled to the papyrus marshes of the Delta, taking Osiris' body with her in the chest since there was no time to give it a proper burial.
When Set learned what had happened, he swore that he would hunt Isis down and kill her. Again now, in the story, we get one of those strange glimpses of happenings many thousands of years ago which we can see more clearly than the things of yesterday. In a few phrases it is recounted how Set searched for months, all in vain and then one night, the ex-Queen Isis, now a destitute refugee alone and unattended, is seated beneath a cluster of palm trees in the desert. Her husband's body, roughly embalmed, is in the wooden chest beside her. Suddenly, her sorrowful meditations are disturbed by a distant rumble breaking the stillness of the night.
The noise increases to a drumming thunder as a party of horsemen come galloping across the sand. Isis runs for cover to a nearby papyrus swamp and crouches waist high in the water watching from amidst the reeds. The dusky riders come thundering past. She sees that it is Set and his dissolute nobles hunting by the brilliant light of the Egyptian moon. One of them recognises the chest.
“With cries of triumph they fling themselves from their saddles, break it to pieces and drag out the body of Osiris. Hidden there, fearful and trembling, Isis watches Set's dark, proud profile as he orders the body to be torn into 14 pieces and the parts distributed throughout the length and breadth of the Kingdom so that they might never be brought together again. Years later, Horus, the son of Isis, the Hawk of Light, who restored its blessings to mankind and lifted again the veil of darkness that Set's treachery had brought to dim the world, became master of the Kingdom. Then Isis roamed the country, seeking for the dismembered portions of her husband. She did not attempt to assemble them again, but wherever she found one she erected a great temple to his memory.
“In all, she succeeded in finding 13 pieces of the body, but the 14 she never found for Set had carefully embalmed and kept himself. It was for this reason that, although Horus defeated Set three times in battle he was never able to slay him. The portion that Set retained was the most potent of all charms, his brother. In the secret histories of esotericism it is stated that it has since been heard of many times. For long periods through the ages it has been completely lost. But whenever it is found, it brings calamity upon the world, and that is the thing which we have to prevent – Mocata securing at all costs today – the Talisman of Set.”
When De Richleau had ceased speaking, they sat silent for a while until Marie Lou said softly:
“I am feeling rather tired now, Greyeyes dear and I think I'd like to rest, even if it is impossible to sleep with all these lights.”
“All right. Then I'll say what I have to Princess. But please, all of you,” the Duke paused to look at each of them in turn, “listen carefully, because this is vitally serious. I have no idea what may happen. Perhaps nothing at all and the worst we'll have to face is an uncomfortable night. But Mocata threatened to get Simon away from us by hook or by crook, and I feel certain that he meant it. I cannot tell you what form his attack is likely to take, but I am sure he will literally do his damnedest to break us up and get Simon out of our care tonight. He may send the most terrible powers against us, but there is one thing above all others that I want you to remember. As long as we stay inside this pentacle we shall be safe, but if any of us sets one foot outside, we risk eternal damnation. We may be called upon to witness the sort of horrors which it is difficult for you to conceive. I mean visions such as you have read of in Gustave Flaubert's Temptation of Saint Anthony, or seen in pictures by the old Flemish masters such as Brueghel. But they cannot do us the least harm as long as we remain where we are.
“Again, we may see nothing, but the attack may develop in a far more subtle form. That is to say, inside ourselves. Any, or all of us, may find our reason being undermined by insidious argument so that we may start telling each other that there is nothing in the world to be frightened of and that we are utter fools to spend a miserable night sitting here when we might all be comfortably in bed upstairs. If that happens, it is a lie.
Even if I appear to change my mind and tell you that I have thought of new arrangements which would be safer, you must not believe me because it will not be my true self speaking. It may be that an awful thirst will come upon us. That is why I have had this big jug of water brought in. We may be assailed by hunger, but to meet that, we have the fruit. It is possible that we may be afflicted with earache or some other bodily pain which, ordinarily, would make us want to go upstairs to seek relief. If that happens we've just got to bear it till morning.
“Poor old Simon is likely to be afflicted worst because the campaign will centre on an attempt to make him break out of the circle. But we've got to stop him by force, if need be. There are two main defences which we can bring into play if any manifestations do take place, as I fear they may. One is the Blue vibration. Shut your eyes and try to think of yourselves as standing in an oval of blue light. The oval is your aura and the colour blue is exceedingly potent in all things pertaining to the spirit; the other is prayer. Do not endeavour to make up complicated prayers or your words may become muddled and you will find yourself saying something that you do not mean. Confine yourselves to saying over and over again: ‘Oh, Lord, protect me! Oh, Lord, protect me!’ and not only say it but think it with all the power of your will, visualising, if you can, Our Lord upon the Cross with blue light streaming from His body towards yourselves; but if you think you see Him outside this pentacle beckoning you to safety while some terrible thing threatens you from the other side, still you must remain within.”
As De Richleau finished there was a murmur of assent. Then Richard, with an arm about Marie Lou's shoulders said quietly:
“I understand and we'll do everything you say.”
“Thank you. Now, Simon,” the Duke went on, “I want you to say clearly and distinctly seven times, ‘Om meni gadme aum’. That is the invocation to manathaer, your higher self.” Simon did as he was bid, then they knelt together and each offered a silent prayer that the Power of Light might guard and protect them from all uncleanliness and that each might be granted strength to aid the others should they be faced with any peril.
They lay down then and tried to rest despite the burning candles and the soft glow of the electric Light. Sleep was utterly impossible to them in such circumstances. Yet no one there had more to say upon any point that mattered and, after a little time, no one felt that they could break the stillness by endeavouring to make ordinary conversation. The steady ticking of a clock came faintly from somewhere in the depths of the house.
Watchful, listening, intent, they lay silent, waiting to see what the night would bring.
* * *
Tanith slept peacefully, curled up in Rex's arms, her golden head pillowed upon his chest. For a little time anxious thoughts occupied his mind.
He reproached himself for having left Simon and the gnawing worm of doubt raised its head again to whisper that Tanith had planned to lure him away from protecting his friend, but he dismissed such thoughts almost immediately. Simon would be safe enough in the care of Richard and Marie Lou. Tanith was alone and needed him and he soon convinced himself that in remaining there he was breaking a lance against the enemy as well, by preventing Mocata securing her again to assist him, all unwillingly, in his hostilities. The shadows lengthened and the patches of sunlight dimmed, yet still Tanith slept on-the sleep of utter exhaustion – brought about by the terrible nervous crisis through which she had passed from hour to hour during the previous day, the past night and that morning, in her attempt to seek safety with him. With infinite precaution not to disturb her, he looked at his watch and found that it was nearly eight o'clock. De Richleau should be back by now and after all it was unlikely that Mocata could prevent his return before sundown. Now that they had secured Simon safe and sound once more, Rex had an utter faith that De Richleau would fight to the last ditch, with all the skill and cunning of his subtle brain and that stubborn, tenacious courage that Rex knew so well, before he would surrender their friend to the evil powers again. It was dark now; even the afterglow had faded, leaving the trees as vague, dark sentinels in that silent wood. Another hour crept by and then Tanith stirred slightly. Another moment and she had raised her head, shaking the tumbled golden hair back from her face and blinking up at him a little.
“Rex, where are we?” she murmured indistinctly. “What has happened? I've had an awful dream.” He smiled down at her.
“Together,” he said, “that's all that matters, isn't it? But if you must know, we're in the wood behind the road-house.”
“Of course,” she gave a little gasp and hurriedly began to tidy herself. “But we can't stay here all night?” The thought of taking her back to Cardinals Folly occurred to him again, but in these timeless hours he had witnessed so many things that he dismissed the idea at once. Tanith, he felt convinced, was not lying to him. She was genuinely repentant and terrified of Mocata. But who could say what strange powers that sinister man might be able to exercise over her at a distance. He dared not risk it. However, she was certainly right in saying that they could not stay where they were all night.
“We'd best go back to the road-house,” he suggested. “They will be able to knock us up a meal, and after, it'll be time enough to figure out what we mean to do.”
“Yes,” she sighed a little. “I am hungry now, terribly hungry. Do let us go back and see if they can find us something to eat.” Her arm through his, their fingers laced together, they walked back a quarter of a mile to the little stream which separated the wood from the inn garden. He lifted her over it again and when they reached the lounge of the 'Pride of Peacocks' they found that it was already half-past nine. Knowing that his friends would be anxious about him, Rex tried to telephone immediately he got in, but the village exchange told him that the line to Cardinals Folly was out of order. Then he sent the trim maid for Mr. Wilkes and when that worthy arrived on the scene, inquired if it was too late for them to have a hot meal.
“Not at all, Sir,” Mr. Wilkes bent, deferential and benign. “My wife will be very happy to cook you a little dinner. What would you care for now?
Fish is a little difficult in these parts, except when I know that I have guests staying and can order in advance, and game, of course, is unfortunately out of season. My wife, if I may say so, does a very good Chicken Maryland, Sir, of which our American visitors have been kind enough to express their approval from time to time.”
“Chicken Maryland,” exclaimed Rex, “that sounds grand to me. How about you?”Tanith nodded.
“Lovely, if only it is not going to take too long.”
“Some 20 minutes, madam. Not more. Mrs. Wilkes will see to it right away. The aged Wilkes went on amiably, “And now Sir, to drink? Red wine would be best with the grill, perhaps. I have a little of the Clos de Vougoet 1920 left, which Mr. Richard Eaton was good enough to compliment me on when he dined here last.” For a second, Rex wavered. He recalled De Richleau's prohibition against alcohol, but he had been far from satisfied by the brief rest which he had snatched that morning and was feeling all the strain now of the events which had taken place in the last 48 hours. He could have sunk half a dozen cocktails with the greatest ease and pleasure, but by denying himself spirits, he felt that he was at least carrying out the kernel of the Duke's instructions.
The chicken was admirably cooked, and the wine lent an additional flavour by the fact that his palate was unusually clean. When the chicken was served, Mr. Wilkes murmured something about a sweet and Rex, gazing entranced into Tanith's big eyes, nodded vaguely. Then Wilkes came forward once more, with a suggestion that the dinner should be rounded off by allowing him to decant another bottle. But here, Rex was firm.
to be continued...