Home > The Mummy(12)

The Mummy(12)
Author: Anne Rice

"Yes? Henry said what?"

The two gentlemen in greatcoats were looking at the spilled coffee. One of them was staring at the open handkerchief with its white powder spilled out on the floor. How very like sugar it looked in the sunlight. And there was Henry, suddenly, hovering at the hallway door.

She stared at him for a sullen moment. Killed my father! But she could not allow herself to feel it just now. She could not allow herself to believe it or she would go mad. She saw him again in her mind's eye, holding out that coffee cup for her; she saw his wooden expression, his pale face.

"Whatever is the matter with you, Henry?"  she asked coldly, suppressing die quaver in her voice." You ran out of here half an hour ago as if you'd seen a ghost."

"You know damned well what happened,"  he whispered. He was blanched and sweating. He had taken out his handkerchief and he wiped his upper lip, his hand trembling so badly that she could see it.

"Get a grip on yourself,"  Randolph said, turning to his son." Now what the devil did you see?"

"The question is, miss,"  said the shorter of the two Scotland Yard men," has there been some sort of intruder in this house?"

A gentleman's voice and manner. The fear was leaving her. She could feel her conviction returning as she spoke." Indeed not, sir. My cousin saw an intruder? Henry, you must have a guilty conscience. You're having hallucinations. I saw no one here."

Randolph eyed Henry furiously. The Scotland Yard men appeared confused.

Henry himself was in a silent rage. He glared at her as if he meant to strangle her wirn his bare hands. And she glared right back at him, thinking coldly, You killed my father. You would have killed me.

We do not know how we shall feel at such moments. We cannot know, she thought. I only know that I hate you, and I have never hated another human being in my life.

"That mummy case!"  Henry blurted out suddenly. He clung to the door as if he didn't dare to come into the room." I want that mummy case opened now."

"You are really past all patience. No one shall touch that mummy case. It contains a priceless relic, which belongs to the British Museum and must not be exposed to the air."

"What the hell do you mean saying these things!"  he shouted. He was becoming hysterical.

"Be quiet,"  Randolph said to him." I've heard quite enough!"

There was noise from outside, voices. Someone had come all the way up the steps and was peering through the front door.

"Henry, I won't have this confusion in my house,"  Julie said shortly.

The Scotland Yard man studied Henry coldly.

"Sir, if the lady does not want the premises searched ..."

"Indeed, I do not,"  Julie responded." I think quite enough of your time has been wasted. As you can see, nothing here has been disturbed."

Of course die coffee cup was lying on its side on the plate and the handkerchief was on the floor, but she stood her ground coldly, eyes moving from Henry to the officer. And then to the other officer, who was scrutinizing her just a little too carefully, though he did not offer a word.

None of them saw what she saw - the figure of Ramses coming slowly down the stairs. They did not see him come across the front hallway and silently enter the room. That is, until Julie could not tear her eyes off him, and the others realized it and turned to see the source of her fascination - the tall brown-haired man in the dark burgundy silk bathrobe standing in the door.

She was breathless looking at him. Majestic. It was what all Kings should be. Yet he looked otherworldly as though his court had been a place of superhumans. Men of uncommon strength and grand bearing, with vivid and piercing eyes.

Even the robe with its satin lapels looked exotic on him. The slippers were like those from an ancient tomb. The white shirt he wore was unbuttoned, yet that looked curiously" normal,"  perhaps because his skin had that robust glow to it, and because he thrust his chest slightly forward and stood with feet firmly planted on the floor at parade rest as no modern man would do. This was the posture for commanding subservience, but there was nothing arrogant in his expression. He merely looked at her and at Henry, who had flushed red to the roots of his dark hair.

Henry stared at the open shirt. He stared at the scarab ring that Ramses wore on his right hand. Both the inspectors were staring at him. And Randolph seemed absolutely baffled. Did he recognize the robe he'd given his brother? Rita had backed up against the wall and covered her mouth with her hands.

"Uncle Randolph,"  Julie said as she stepped forward." This is a good friend of Father's, just arrived here from Egypt. An Egyptologist whom Father knew quite well. Ah ... Mr. Ramsey, Reginald Ramsey. I want you to meet my uncle, Randolph Stratford, and this is his son, Henry ..."

Ramses studied Randolph, then locked his eyes on Henry again. Henry was staring stupidly back at Ramses. Julie made a little gesture to Ramses for patience.

"I think this is not the time for a social gathering,"  she said awkwardly." Really, I am quite tired, and caught off guard by all this..."

"Well, Miss Stratford, perhaps it was this gentleman your cousin saw,"  said the genial policeman.

"Oh, it very well might have been,"  she answered." But I must take care of my guest now. He's had no breakfast. I must..."  Henry knew! She could see it. She struggled to say something civil and appropriately meaningless. That it was past eight o'clock. That she was hungry. Henry was shrinking into the comer. And Ramses was staring at Henry as Ramses moved behind the two Scotland Yard men, towards that handkerchief, and now with a very graceful and quick gesture, he gathered it up from the floor. No one saw this but Julie and Henry. Glaring at Henry, Ramses shoved the handkerchief into the pocket of his robe.

Randolph was staring at her in utter perplexity; one of the Scotland Yard men was plainly bored.

"You're all right, my dear!"  said Randolph." You're certain."

"Oh, yes, I am indeed."  She went to him at once, and taking his arm, guided him to the door. The Scotland Yard men followed.

"My name is Inspector Trent, madam,"  said the vocal one." And this is my partner, Sergeant Gallon. You must call us if you need us."

"Yes, of course,"  she said. Henry appeared on the verge of an outburst. Suddenly he bolted, almost knocking her over, and rushed out the open door and through the crowd gathered on the steps.

"Was it the mummy, sir!"  someone shouted." Did you see the mummy walk!"

"Was it the curse!"

"Miss Stratford, are you unharmed!"

The Scotland Yard men exited immediately, Inspector Trent ordering the crowd to disperse at once.

"Well, what the devil is the matter with him!"  Randolph muttered." I don't understand all this."

Julie held his arm all the tighter. No, he couldn't possibly know what Henry had done. He would never have done anything to hurt Father, not really. But how could she be sure? On impulse she kissed him. She slipped her hand onto the back of her uncle's neck, and kissed his cheek.

"Don't worry, Uncle Randolph,"  she said suddenly. And she felt herself on the verge of tears.

Randolph shook his head. He was humiliated, even a little afraid, and she felt tragically sorry for him as she watched him go. Sorrier than she had ever felt for anyone in her life. She did not realize he was barefoot until he was halfway down the street.

The reporters were following him. As the Scotland Yard men drove away, a pair of the reporters doubled back, and she retreated quickly, slamming the door. She peered out through the glass at the distant figure of her uncle rushing up his own front steps.

Then slowly she turned and came back into the front room.

Silence. The faint singing of the fountain in the conservatory. A horse passing at a brisk trot in the street outside. Rita shivering in the corner, with her apron a little knot in her feverishly working hands.

And Ramses, motionless, in the middle of the room. He stood with his arms folded, looking at her, feet slightly apart as before. The sun was a warm golden haze behind him, leaving his face in shadow. And the deep radiance of his eyes was almost as distracting as the high sheen of his full hair.

For the first time she understood the simple meaning of the word regal. And another word came to her, quite unfamiliar yet perfectly appropriate. It was comely. And it struck her that no small part of his beauty was his expression. He appeared wonderfully clever, and wonderfully curious, though quite collected, all at the same time. Otherworldly, yet perfectly normal. Grander than human; but human nonetheless.

He merely looked at her. The deep folds of the long heavy satin robe moved ever so faintly in the soft current of warm air from the conservatory doors.

"Rita, leave us,"  she whispered.

"But miss ..."

"Go."

Chapter 7

Silence again. Then he came towards her. No trace of a smile; only a gentle seriousness, eyes widening a little as he appeared to study her face, her hair, her dress.

How must this flimsy lace peignoir look to him? she thought suddenly. Good Lord, does he think the women of these times wear such things about the house and on the street? But he was not looking at the lace. He was staring at the shape of her br**sts beneath the loose silk, at the contour of her hips. He looked at her face again and there was no mistaking his expression. It was passionate suddenly. He drew closer and reached out for her shoulders and she felt his warm fingers tighten.

"No,"  she said.

She shook her head emphatically and she stepped back. She straightened her shoulders, trying not to admit her fear, or the sudden delicious chill that ran up her back and down her arms." No,"  she said again with a faint touch of disapproval.

And as she watched, on the edge of fear, the warmth in her br**sts astonishing her, he nodded, backed away and smiled. He made a little open gesture with his hands. He spoke in a soft riff of Latin. She caught her name, the word regina, and the word she knew meant house. Julie is Queen in her house.

She nodded.

Her sigh of relief was impossible to disguise. She was shaking again, all over. Could he see it? Of course.

He made a gesture of asking:

"Panis, Julie,"  he whispered . "Vinum. Panis."  He narrowed his eyes, as if searching for a proper word. "Edere,"  he whispered, and gestured gracefully to his lips.

"Oh! I know what you're saying. Food, you want food. You want wine and bread."  She hurried to the doorway. " Rita,"  she called out." He's hungry. Rita, we must get him something to eat at once."

She turned around to see him smiling at her again, with that great warmth of affection she had seen upstairs. He found her pleasing to look at, did he? If only he knew that she found him almost irresistible, that a moment before she had almost locked her arms around him and -  Best not to think of that. No, mustn't think of that at all.

ELLIOT SAT back in the wing chair, staring forward at the coal fire. He was as close as possible to the grate, his slippered feet on the fender. The heat could soothed the pain in his legs and in his hands. He was listening to Henry, veering between impatience and an unexpected fascination. God's vengeance upon Henry had been almost complete for his sins. Henry was a scandal.

"You must have imagined it!"  Alex said.

"But I am telling you that damned thing got out of that mummy case and came at me. It strangled me. I felt its hand on me; I looked up into its filthy bandaged face."

"Definitely imagined it,"  Alex said.

"Imagined it, hell!"

Elliott glanced up at the two young men at the end of the mantel shelf to his right. Henry, unshaven, trembling, the glass of Scotch in his hand. And Alex, immaculate, his hands as clean as a nun's.

"And this Egyptologist fellow, you're saying that he and the mummy are one and the same? Henry, you've been out all night, haven't you? You've been drinking with that girl from the Music Hall. You've been - "

"Well, where the hell did the bastard come from if he's not the mummy!"

Elliott laughed softly. He gave the coals a poke with the tip of his silver cane. Henry went on undaunted.

"He wasn't there last night! He came down the stairs in Uncle Lawrence's bathrobe! And you haven't seen this man! He's no ordinary man. Anybody who looks at him can tell he's not ordinary."

"He's alone there now? With Julie?"

It took so long for Alex to put things together, trusting soul.

"That's what I've been trying to tell you. My God! Isn't there anyone in London who will listen to me?"  Henry gulped the Scotch, went to the sideboard and filled his glass again." And Julie's protecting him. Julie knows what happened. She saw the thing come at me!"

"You're doing yourself a disservice with this story,"  Alex said gently." No one's going to believe - "

"You realize those papyri, those scrolls,"  Henry sputtered." They talk about some kind of immortal something. Lawrence was talking about it to that Samir fellow, something about Ramses the Second wandering for a thousand years - "

"I thought it was Ramses the Great,"  Alex interrupted.

"They are one and the same, you numbskull. Ramses the Second, Ramses the Great, Ramses the Damned. It was all in those scrolls, I tell you - about Cleopatra and this Ramses. Didn't you read it in the papers? I thought Uncle Lawrence was going soft from the heat."

"I think you need a rest, possibly in hospital. All this talk of a curse - "

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