Home > The Mummy(13)

The Mummy(13)
Author: Anne Rice

"Damn it, don't you understand me! It's worse than a curse. The thing tried to kill me. It moved, I tell you. It's alive."

Alex stared at Henry with a thinly veiled look of revulsion. Same look he reserves for newspapers, Elliott thought glumly.

"I'm going to see Julie. Father, if you'll excuse ..."

"Of course, that's exactly what you should do."  Elliott looked into the fire again." See about this Egyptologist person. Where he came from. She shouldn't be alone in that house with a stranger. It's absurd."

"She's alone in that house with the damned mummy!"  Henry growled.

"Henry, why don't you go home and get some sleep?"  Alex asked." I shall see you later, Father."

"You bloody twit!"

Alex ignored the insult. It seemed an amazingly easy insult

to ignore. Henry emptied the glass again and went back to the sideboard.

Elliott listened to the chink of the bottle against the glass." And this man, this mysterious Egyptologist, did you catch his name?"  he asked.

"Reginald Ramsey, try that one on for size. And I could swear she made it up on the spot."  He came back to the mantel shelf, resting his elbow on it, with a full tumbler of Scotch, which he sipped slowly, his eyes darting anxiously away as Elliott looked up." I didn't hear him speak a word of English; and you should have seen the look in his eye. I 'm telling you - you've got to do something!"

"Yes, but precisely what?"

"How the hell should I know? Catch the damned thing, that's what!"

Elliott gave a short laugh." If this thing or person or whatever it is tried to strangle you, why is Julie protecting it? Why hasn't it strangled her?"

Henry stared forward blankly for a moment. Then he took another deep gulp from the glass. Elliott eyed him coldly. Not mad. No. Hysterical, but not mad.

"What I am asking,"  Elliott said softly," is why would it try to harm you?"

"For the love of hell, it's a mummy, isn't it? I was the one traipsing about over there in its bloody tomb! Not Julie. I found Lawrence dead in the damned tomb - "

Henry stopped, as if he had just realized something. He was no longer merely blank-faced; he was in a visible state of shock.

Their eyes locked, but only for an instant. Elliott looked down at the fire. This is the young man I once cared for, he thought, once caressed with tenderness and hunger; once loved. And now he is reaching the end of something, the very end. And revenge ought to be sweet, but it isn't.

"Look,"  Henry said. He was almost stammering." There's some sort of twist to this, some sort of explanation. But the thing, whatever it is, has to be stopped. It could have Julie in some sort of spell."

"I see."

"No, you don't see. You think I'm mad. And you despise me. You always have."

"No, not always."

Again they looked at each other. Henry's face was wet now with perspiration. His lip trembled slightly, and then he looked away.

Utterly desperate, Elliott thought. He has nowhere to hide anymore from himself, that's the crux of it.

"Well, whatever you think,"  Henry said," I'm not spending another night in that house. I'm having my things sent to the club."

"You can't leave her alone there. It isn't proper. And in the absence of a formal engagement between Julie and Alex, I cannot properly interfere."

"The hell you can't. And the hell I won't go where I wish. I tell you I won't stay there."

He heard Henry turn to go. He heard the glass slammed down on the marble-top sideboard. He heard the heavy steps retreating, leaving him alone.

Elliott leaned back against the damask. There was a dull resonating sound that meant the front door had been slammed shut.

He tried to see the entire incident in perspective, Henry coming here because Randolph did not believe him. What a strange story for a young man to have invented, even one as crazed and desperate as Henry. It did not make sense at all.

"Lover of Cleopatra,"  he whispered," guardian of the royal house of Egypt. Ramses the Immortal. Ramses the Damned."

Suddenly he wanted to see Samir again. Talk to him. Of course the story was ridiculous, but ... No. The whole point was that Henry was deteriorating more rapidly than anyone could have predicted. Nevertheless he wanted Samir to know about this.

He removed his pocket watch. Why, it was still very early. He had plenty of time before his afternoon appointments. If only he could manage to get himself out of this chair.

He had planted the cane firmly on the hearthstones in front of him when he heard his wife's soft tread on the carpet near the door. He sank back again, relieved that he wouldn't feel that excruciating pain for a few more moments, and then he looked up into her eyes.

He had always liked his wife; and now in the middle of his life, he had discovered that he loved her. A woman of impeccable grooming and subtle charm, she looked ageless to him, perhaps because he was not erotically attracted to her. But he knew that she was twelve years his senior, and therefore old,

and this disturbed him only because he feared age himself, and he feared losing her.

He had always admired her, enjoyed her company; and he needed her money desperately. She had never minded that. She appreciated his charm, his social connections, and forgave him his secret eccentricities.

She had always known something was wrong with him philosophically, that he was" the tainted wether of the flock,"  wholly out of sympathy with his peers and his friends and enemies. But she never made an issue of it. Her happiness did not depend upon his happiness, it seemed; and she was eternally grateful that he went through the motions of social life, and had not run off like Lawrence Stratford to live in Egypt.

He was too crippled now with arthritis to be unfaithful to her any longer, and he wondered sometimes whether this was a relief to her, or whether it saddened her. He could not make up his mind. They still shared the marriage bed, and probably always would, though there was never any urgency or real need, except that of late, he'd been keenly aware that he depended upon her and loved her deeply.

He was glad she was home. It lessened the pain of Lawrence's death. But of course he'd have to recover her diamond necklace very soon, and that Randolph had promised to pay him tomorrow morning for the money he had borrowed against the thing was a great relief to him.

Edith looked especially pretty to him now, in her new Paris suit of green wool. She had a tailored look about her, except for her bouffant silver hair, which looked all the more lovely because of the severity of her clothes and the absence of any jewelry. She never wore the diamonds he had borrowed against, except to attend balls. He took pride in the fact that she was a handsome woman in her old age, and invariably impressive. People liked her, more even than they liked him, which was as it should be.

"I'm going out for a while,"  he said to her." Little errand. You shan't miss me. I'll be back in good time for lunch."

She didn't answer. She sat down on the tufted ottoman beside him, and slipped her hand over his. How light it felt. Her hands were the only pan of her which revealed age without question.

"Elliott, you've borrowed again against my necklace,"  she said.

He was ashamed. He said nothing." I know you did it for Randolph. Henry's debts again. Always the same story."

He looked at the coals in front of him. He didn't answer. After all, what was there to say? She knew it was safe in the hands of a jeweller trusted by both of them, that the advance had been relatively small - easy for her to manage, even if Randolph did not come through.

"Why didn't you come to me and tell me you needed money?"  she asked him.

"It's never been easy to do that, my dear. Besides, Henry has made things so difficult for Randolph."

"I know. And I know you meant well, as usual."

"As vulgar as it may sound, a loan against a diamond necklace is a small price to pay for the Stratford millions. And that's where we are, my dear, trying to make a good marriage, as they say, for our son."

"Randolph cannot persuade his niece to marry Alex. He has no influence with her at all. You lent the money because you felt sorry for Randolph. Because he's your old friend."

"Perhaps that's true."

He sighed. He wouldn't look at her." Perhaps, in some way, I feel responsible,"  he said.

"How could you be responsible? What have you to do with Henry, and what's become of him?"  she asked.

He didn't answer. He thought of the hotel room in Paris, and the look of dull misery in Henry's eyes when his attempt at extortion had failed. Strange how clear it all was to him, the furnishings of that room. Later, when he had discovered the theft of the cigarette case and the money, he had sat thinking: I must remember this; I must remember .all of it. This mustn't happen to me again.

"I'm sorry about the necklace, Edith,"  he whispered, suddenly stung to think that he had stolen from his wife as Henry had stolen from him. He found himself smiling at her, even winking, flirting a little as he always did. He gave her a little shrug.

She acknowledged all this with a wicked little smile of her own. Years ago she would have said, Don't play the bad boy with me. The fact that she didn't say it anymore didn't mean she didn't find him charming.

" Randolph has the money now to cover the loan,"  he assured her, more seriously.

"Not necessary,"  she whispered." Leave it to me."  And now she rose slowly and waited. She knew that he could use her help to get up and on his feet. And much as it humiliated him, he knew it too.

"Where are you going?"  she asked as she held out her hands.

"Samir Ibrahaim at the museum."

"This mummy again."

"Henry's come up with the strangest story. ..."

ALEX, MY darling,"  she said, taking both his hands in hers." Mr. Ramsey was a good friend of Father's. It's quite all right his being here."

"But you're alone..."  He looked disapprovingly at her white peignoir, as well he might.

"Alex, I'm a modern girl. Don't question me! Now off you go and let me take care of my guest. In a few days, we'll have lunch, and I'll explain the entire thing - "

"Julie, a few days!"

She kissed him quickly on the lips. She pressed him towards the front door. He gave another one of those determined glances back down the hall towards the conservatory.

"Alex, go now. The man's from Egypt; I'm to show him London. And I'm rushed. Please, darling dear, do as I ask you."

She all but shoved him out the door. He was too much of a gentleman to protest further. He gave her that innocent, baffled look, and then said softly that he would call her this evening on the telephone if that was all right.

"Of course,"  she said." You're a sweetheart."  Blowing him a little kiss off the tips of her fingers, she shut the door immediately.

She turned and leaned against the wall for a moment, staring back down the hall herself at the glass doors. She saw Rita dash by. She heard the sound of the kettle in the kitchen. The house was full of warm pungent fragrances of cooking food.

Her heart was pounding again; thoughts did drift through her brain, but they had no immediate emotional impact. What mattered for this moment, this absolutely extraordinary moment, was that Ramses was there. The immortal maji was there. He was in the conservatory.

She made her way back down the hall and stood in the doorway looking at him. He wore Father's robe still, though he had removed the shirt with a faint look of distaste for the stiff starched fabric. And his hair had reached its fullness now, a great glossy mane of soft waves that hung down just below the lobes of his ears, with a deep full lock falling again and again on his forehead.

The white wicker table was covered with plates of steaming food. As he read the copy of Punch propped before his plate, he ate delicately with his right hand from the meat here, and the fruit there, and the bread to his left, and the bits of roasted fowl in front of him. It was quite a miracle, in fact, the fastidiousness with which he ate, not touching the knives and forks, though he had loved the ornate designs in the old silver.

He had been reading and eating steadily for the last two hours. He had devoured quantities of food beyond her wild imaginings. It was like fuel to him, it seemed. He had drunk four bottles of wine, two bottles of seltzer, all the milk in the house, and now he was taking occasional gulps of brandy.

He was not drunk; on the contrary, he seemed extraordinarily sober. He had gone through her English/Egyptian dictionary so rapidly that his scanning and turning the pages had made her almost dizzy. The English/Latin dictionary had taken him no more time. The system of Arabic numbers side by side with Roman numerals he apparently absorbed within minutes. The full concept of zero she could not explain, but she had certainly been able to demonstrate it. Then he'd gone through the Oxford English Dictionary with the same haste, turning back and forth, running his finger down column after column.

Of course he was not reading every word. He was getting the gist, the roots, the fundamental scheme of the language; that she understood as he made her name every object in sight and repeated the words rapidly with perfect inflection. He had memorized the names of every plant in the room - ferns, banana trees, orchids, begonias, daisies, bougainvillea. It had thrilled her to hear his rapid inventories repeated moments later without a mistake: fountain, table, plates, china plates, silver, floor tiles, Rita!

Now he was working his way through purely English texts, finishing off the Punch as he had already finished two issues of the Strand magazine, the Harper's Weekly from America, and every issue of The Times in the house,

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