Home > The Mummy(10)

The Mummy(10)
Author: Anne Rice

"Well, miss, I tell you I don't like that thing in the house,"  Rita said. Was that her feather duster softly brushing the living room furniture?

Julie didn't turn around to look. She looked at the mummy. She approached it now and looked up into its face. Good Lord, she had not really seen it last night. Not as she was seeing it now in this great warm glare. It had been a living breathing man, this thing, locked forever in its cerements.

"I do declare, miss, it gives me the shivers."

"Don't be absurd, Rita. Bring me some coffee, like a good girl."  She drew even closer to the thing. After all, there was no one here to stop her. She could touch it if she wished. She listened for Rita's retreat. Heard the kitchen door open and close. Then she did reach out and touch the linen bandages that covered the right arm. Too soft, too fragile. And hot from the sun!

"No, this is not good for you, is it?"  she asked, glancing up at the thing's eyes as if it were rude to do otherwise." But I don't want them to take you away. I '11 miss you when you're no longer here. But I won't let them cut you open. That much, I promise you."

Was that dark brown hair she saw beneath the bandages that surrounded the skull? It seemed there was a great thickness of it there, bound painfully tight to the bones, giving a horrid effect of baldness. But it was the overall spectacle that really caught her and carried her away now from the details. The thing had a distinct personality, rather like a fine sculpture would have. Tall, broad-shouldered Ramses with his head bowed, and his hands in that attitude of resignation.

The words in the diary came back to her with painful clarity." You are immortal, my love,"  she said." My father's seen to it. You may curse us for opening your tomb, but thousands will come to see you; thousands will eventually speak your name. You will live forever. ..."

So strange that she was on the verge of tears. Father dead. And this which had meant so much to him. Father in an unmarked grave in Cairo as he had wanted it to be; and Ramses the Damned the toast of London.

Suddenly she was startled by Henry's voice.

"You're talking to that damned thing, just the way your father did."

"Good Lord, I didn't know you were here! Where did you come from?"

He stood in the archway between the two drawing rooms, his long serge cape hanging loosely from one shoulder. Unshaven, very likely drunk. And that smile of his. It was chilling.

"I'm supposed to be looking out for you,"  he said," remember?"

"Yes, of course. I'm sure you are absolutely delighted."

"Where's the key to the drinks cupboard? It's locked, you know. Why the devil does Oscar do that?"

"Oscar's gone till tomorrow. Perhaps you should have coffee, besides. That would do you the most good."

"Would it now, my dear?"  He removed the cape as he walked arrogantly towards her, his eyes sweeping the Egyptian room as if he did not entirely approve of it." You never let me down, do you?"  he asked, and flashed that bitter smile again." My childhood playmate, my cousin, my little sister! I loathe coffee. I want some port or sherry."

"Well, I have none,"  she said." Go on upstairs and sleep it off, why don't you?"

Rita had come to the door, was waiting as if for instructions.

"Coffee for Mr. Stratford, too, please, Rita,"  Julie said, because he hadn't moved. It was perfectly clear he wasn't going anywhere. He was staring at the mummy, in fact, as if it had startled him." Did Father really speak to him like that?"  she asked." The way I was doing?"

He didn't immediately answer. He turned away, and moved to inspect the alabaster jars, even his posture slouching and arrogant.

"Yes, talked to it as if it could talk back. And Latin of all things. If you ask me, your father had been sick for some time.

Too many years in the desert heat squandering money on corpses and statues and trinkets and trash."

How his words stung her. So careless, yet so hateful. He paused before one of the jars, with his back to her. In the mirror she saw him scowling down at it.

"It was his money, wasn't it?"  she asked." He made enough for all of us, or so he thought."

He turned around sharply.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Well, you haven't managed yours very well, have you?"

"I've done the best I can. Who are you to judge me?"  he asked. Suddenly, with the sunlight harshly illuminating his face, he looked frighteningly vicious.

"And what about the shareholders of Stratford Shipping? Have you done your best for them? Or is that quite beyond my judgment also?"

"Be careful, my girl,"  he said. He drew close to her. He gave one arrogant glance to the mummy on his left almost as if it were another presence, another full person, and then he turned his shoulder to it a little, and narrowed his eyes as he looked at her." Father and I are the only family you have left now. You need us more than you think, perhaps. After all, what do you really know about trade or shipping?"

How curious. He had made a good point and then ruined it. She needed them both, but it had nothing to do with trade and shipping. She needed them because they were her blood, and to hell with trade and shipping.

She didn't want him to see the hurt in her. She turned away and looked down the length of the double drawing rooms, towards the pale northern windows on the front of the house, where the morning seemed scarcely to be happening.

"I know how to add two and two, my dear cousin,"  she said." And that has put me in a very awkward and painful position."

With relief, she watched Rita enter from the hall, her back bent uncomfortably as she carried the heavy silver coffee service. On the center table of the rear drawing room she set it down, only a few feet from where Julie stood.

"Thank you, dear. That's all for now."

With a pointed glance at the thing in the coffin, Rita was gone. And once again Julie was alone with this exquisitely painful moment. Slowly she turned and saw that her cousin was standing directly in front of Ramses." Then I should come right to the point,"  he said, and he turned around to face her. He reached up and loosened his silk tie, and then pulled it off and stuffed it in his pocket. His gait was almost shambling as he approached her.

"I know what you want,"  she said." I know what you and Uncle Randolph both want. And more important, I know what you both need. What Father left you won't begin to cover your debts. Lord, but you've made a mess of things."

"So sanctimonious,"  Henry said. He stood only a foot from her now, his back to the brightening sun and the mummy." The suffragette, the little archaeologist. And now you'll try your hand at business, will you?"

"I'll try,"  she said coldly. His anger was igniting hers." What else can I do?"  she asked." Let it all slip through your father's hands! Lord, but I pity you!"

"What are you trying to tell me?"  he asked. His breath stank of liquor, and his face was shadowed with coarse unshaven hair." That you'll ask for our resignations? Is that it?"

"I don't know yet."  She turned her back on him. She walked into the front drawing room and opened the small secretaire. She sat down before it, and removed her book of bank drafts. And uncapped the inkwell.

She could hear him pacing behind her as she wrote the cheque.

"Tell me, cousin, does it feel good to have more than you can ever spend, more than you can ever count? And to have done nothing to get it?"

She turned, her eyes down, and she gave him the cheque. She rose and went to the front window. She lifted the lace curtain and looked out at the street. Please go away, Henry, she thought dully, disconsolately. She didn't want to hurt her uncle. She didn't want to hurt anyone. But what could she do? She'd known for years about Randolph's embezzling. She and her father had discussed it last time she was in Cairo. Of course he had meant to take the situation in hand, always meant. And now it fell to her.

She turned suddenly. The silence made her uneasy. She saw her cousin standing in the Egyptian room. He was staring at her, his eyes cold and seemingly lifeless.

"And when you marry Alex, will you disinherit us as well?"

"For the love of heaven, Henry. Go away and leave me alone."

There was something stunning about his expression, about the sheer hardness of his face. He wasn't young anymore, was he? He looked ancient in his habits and in his guilt and in his self-deception. Have pity, she thought. What can you do to help him? Give him a fortune and it will be gone within a fortnight. She turned round again and looked out into the wintry London street.

Early passersby. The nurse from across the way with the twins in their wicker carriage. An old man hurrying along with a newspaper under his arm. And the guard, the guard from the British Museum, slouching idly on the front steps just beneath her. And down the street, in front of her uncle Randolph's, Sally the parlour maid shaking a rug out the front door because she was sure that no one was awake to see.

Why was there no sound behind her in the double rooms? Why didn't Henry storm out, slamming the front door? Perhaps he had left, but no, she heard a tiny furtive noise suddenly, a spoon touching china. The damned coffee.

"I don't know how it could have come to this,"  she said, still gazing at the street before her." Trust funds, salaries, bonuses, you had everything, both of you."

"No, not everything, my dear,"  he said." You have everything."

Chapter 6

Sound of coffee being poured. For the love of heaven!

"Look, old girl,"  he said, his voice low and strained." I don't want this quarrel any more than you do. Come. Sit down. Let's have a cup of coffee together like civilized people."

She couldn't move. The gesture seemed more sinister than his anger.

"Come and have a cup of coffee with me, Julie."  Was there any way out of it? She turned, her eyes downcast, and moved towards the table, only looking up when it seemed unavoidable, to see Henry facing her, the steaming cup in his outstretched hand.

There was something unaccountably odd about this, about the way he was offering it to her, about the peculiarly blank expression on his face.

But this had no more than a second to register. For what she saw behind him caused her to freeze in her tracks. Reason ruled against it, but the evidence of her senses was undeniable.

The mummy was moving. The mummy's right arm was outstretched, the torn wrappings hanging from it, as the being stepped out of its gilded box! The scream froze in her throat. The tiling was coming towards her - towards Henry, who stood with his back to it - moving with a weak, shuffling gait, that arm outstretched before it, the dust rising from the rotting linen that covered it, a great smell of dust and decay filling the room.

"What the devil's the matter with you!"  Henry demanded. But the thing was now directly behind him. The outstretched hand closed on Henry's throat.

Her scream would not break loose. Petrified, she heard only a dry shriek inside her, like the impotent cries of her worst dreams.

Henry turned, hands rising reflexively to protect himself, the coffee cup falling with a clatter to the silver tray. A low roar escaped his lips as he fought the thing strangling him. His fingers clasped at the filthy wrappings; the dust rose in gusts as the creature tore its left arm loose from the bindings, and sought to pinion its victim with both hands.

With an ignominious scream, Henry threw the creature off him, and pitched forward on all fours. In an instant he was on his feet and scrambling across the carpet. He ran through the front room and over the marble tile of the front hall to the door.

Speechless, terrified, Julie stared at the ghastly figure who knelt beside the center table. The thing was panting, struggling for breath. She scarcely heard the front door open or slam shut.

Never in her whole life had there been a moment so devoid of reason. Shivering violently, she backed away in horror from this ragged being, this dead thing that had come to life, and seemed now unable to rise to its feet.

Was it looking at her? Were those eyes glinting through the ragged bandages? Blue eyes? It reached out for her. Her body was caught in a cold involuntary shudder. A wave of dizziness passed over her. Don't faint. Whatever happens, don't Joint.

Suddenly it turned away. Quite deliberately it looked towards its coffin, or was it the conservatory with the light pouring through its roof? It lay as if exhausted on the Oriental carpet, and then it reached out as if towards the great flood of morning sun.

She could hear its breathing again. Alive! Dear God, alive! It struggled to move forward, lifting its powerful torso only a little off the carpet and propelling itself with a sluggish movement of its knees.

Out of the shadowy drawing room it crawled inch by inch away from her until suddenly it reached the farthest rays of the

sun penetrating the library. There it stopped, and seemed to breathe deeply as if actually breathing not air but light. It lifted itself a little higher on its elbows, and began to crawl towards the conservatory again with greater speed. The linen bandages trailed from its legs. A path of dust was left on the rug. The bandages on its aims were falling to pieces. Fragments of linen broke loose and appeared to disintegrate in the light.

Without a conscious decision, she moved behind it, keeping a safe distance, yet quite unable to stop herself from following it, from staring as if spellbound at its grim progress through the conservatory doors.

Into the hottest glare of the sun it moved, and suddenly it stopped beside the fountain and rolled over on its back. One hand reached up towards the glass ceiling; the other fell limp on its chest.

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