Home > The Mummy(14)

The Mummy(14)
Author: Anne Rice

He scanned the pages with great care, fingers touching words, pictures, even designs as if he were a blind man somehow miraculously able to see through touch. With the same loving attention, he fingered the Wedgwood plates and the Waterford crystal.

He looked up excitedly now as Rita brought him a glass of beer.

"I've got nothing else, miss,"  she said with a little shrug, standing well back of him as she held out the glass.

He snatched it from her and drained it immediately. He gave her a nod and smile.

"Egyptians love beer, Rita. Get some more, hurry."

Keeping Rita on the go was keeping Rita from losing her mind.

Julie made her way through the ferns and potted trees and took her place at the table opposite Ramses. He glanced up, then pointed to a picture of" the Gibson girl"  before him. Julie nodded.

"American,"  she said.

"United States,"  he responded.

She was stunned." Yes,"  she said.

He quickly devoured a sausage whole, and folded another thin slice of bread and ate it in two bites, as he turned the pages with his left hand, scanning a picture of a man on a bicycle. This made him laugh out loud.

"Bicycle,"  she said.

"Yes!"  he said, precisely as she had said it a moment ago. Then he said something softly in Latin.

Oh, she had to take him out, show him everything.

The telephone sounded suddenly, a shrill ring from Father's desk in the Egyptian room. He was immediately on his feet. He followed her into the Egyptian room and stood quite close, looking down at her as she answered it.

"Hello? Yes, this is Julie Stratford."  She covered the mouthpiece." Telephone,"  she whispered." Talking machine."  She held the receiver so that he might hear the voice on the other end. Henry's club calling; they would come round for Henry's trunk. Could she have it ready?

"It's ready now. You'll need two men, I should think. Please do hurry."

She clasped the wire and held it up to Ramses' attention." The voice goes through the wire,"  she whispered. She hung up the telephone, looked about. Taking his hand, she led him back into the conservatory, and pointed to the wires outside, which ran from the house to the telegraph pole at the far end of the garden.

He studied all this with keen concentration. Then she took an empty glass from the table and approached the wall that divided the far end of the conservatory from the kitchen. She placed the mouth of the glass against the wall and pressed her ear to the bottom of the glass, and listened. It amplified the sound of Rita moving about. Then she invited him to do it. He heard the amplification just as she had heard it.

He stared at her, thoughtful, dazzled, excited.

"The wire of the telephone conducts sound,"  she said." It's a mechanical invention."  That's what she must do, show him what machines were! Explain the great leap forward which machines had accomplished; the complete transformation of thinking about how to do things.

"Conducts sound,"  he repeatedly thoughtfully. He moved to the table and lifted the magazine he'd been reading. He made a gesture as if to say Read aloud. Quickly, she read a paragraph of commentary on home affairs. Too dense with abstractions, but he was merely listening to the syllables, wasn't he? Impatiently he took the magazine from her, and then answered:

"Thank you."

"Very good,"  she said." You're learning with amazing speed."

Then, he made a curious little series of gestures. He touched his temple, his forehead, as though making some reference to his brain. And then he touched his hair, and his skin. What was he trying to tell her? That the organ of thought responded as quickly as his hair and body had responded to the sunlight?

He turned to the table." Sausages,"  he said." Beef. Roast chicken. Beer. Milk. Wine. Fork. Knife. Napkin. Beer. More beer."

"Yes,"  she said." Rita, bring him some more beer. He likes beer."  She lifted a fold of her peignoir." Lace,"  she said." Silk."

He made a little buzzing noise.

"Bees!"  she said." Exactly. Oh, you are so wonderfully clever."

He laughed. "Say again,"  he said.

"Wonderfully clever."  Now she pointed to her head, tap, tap, tap. The brain, thought.

He nodded. He glanced down at the silver-handled paring knife on the table. He picked it up, as if asking her permission, and slipped it into his pocket. Then beckoning for her to follow, he went into the Egyptian room. He approached an old dim map of the world behind a dusty glass in a heavy frame and he pointed carefully to England.

"Yes, England. Britannia,"  she said. She pointed to America." The United States,"  she said. Then she identified continents, oceans. Finally she identified Egypt, and the Nile River, a tiny line on this small map. "Ramses, King of Egypt,"  she said. She pointed to him.

He nodded. But he wanted to know something else. Very carefully he articulated the question:

"Twentieth century? What means anno Domini?"

She was speechless, looking at him. He had slept through the birth of Christ! Of course he had no way to grasp how long that sleep had lasted. That he was a pure pagan did not disturb her so much as it fascinated her. But she feared the shock she would give him now when she answered his question.

Roman numerals, where was that book? She took down Plutarch's Lives from her father's shelves and found the date of publication in Roman numerals, only three years before, perfect.

Taking a sheet of notepaper from her father's desk, and dipping his pen, she hastily wrote out the correct date. But how to make it known to him the beginning of the system?

Cleopatra was close enough, but she feared to use Cleopatra's name, for all the obvious reasons. Then the clearest example came to her.

She wrote out in hand, printed letters the name Octavius Caesar. He nodded. She made a Roman numeral one beneath it. Then she drew a long horizontal line, moving to the very right edge of the page, and she wrote her own name Julie, and the full date in Roman numerals. And after that the Latin word: annum.

Chapter 8

He blanched. He looked at the paper for a long time, and then the colour appeared to dance in his cheeks. There was no doubt he understood her. His expression became grave, then curiously philosophical. He seemed to be pondering rather than absorbing a shock. She wrote the word century, and then the Roman numeral for one hundred, and the word annus. He nodded a little impatiently, yes, yes, he understood.

Then he folded his arms and walked slowly around the room. She could not guess what he was thinking.

"A long time,"  she whispered." Tempus ... tempus fugit!"  She was embarrassed suddenly. Time flies? But it was all the Latin she could think of. He was smiling at her. Was it a clich6 two thousand years ago?

He approached the desk, and leaning over her gently, he took the pen and carefully drew the Egyptian cartouche which spelled his name in hieroglyphs, Ramses the Great. Then he too drew a horizontal line stretching across the page almost to the edge, where he wrote Cleopatra. In the very middle of that line he wrote the Roman numeral M meaning one thousand years; and then the arabic numbers for it which she had only taught him an hour ago.

He gave her a moment to read this. And then he wrote beneath his cartouche the arabic numerals 3000.

"Ramses is three thousand years old,"  she said, pointing to him, "and Ramses knows it."

He nodded again, and smiled. What was his expression? Sad, resigned, merely thoughtful? There was a great dark flicker of pain in his eyes. The smile did not break, but she saw it, and she saw a subtle puckering of the lids beneath his eyes as he pondered this himself, and apparently moved back from it emotionally. He looked about the room now as if he were seeing it for the first time. He looked at the ceiling, and then at the floor, and then directly at the bust of Cleopatra. His eyes were as wide as before, his smile as soft and agreeable, but the something was gone from his face. The vigour. It had completely vanished.

When he looked at her again, there was a thin glaze of tears in his eyes. She couldn't bear it. She reached out and clasped his left hand. His fingers curled around hers, squeezing them tenderly. "Very many years, Julie,"  he said. "Very many years. The world unseen by me. Do I speak clearly?"

"Oh, yes, indeed you do,"  she said.

He studied her, whispering slowly, and almost reverently," Very many many years, Julie."  And then he smiled. And his smile became broader. And then his shoulders began to shake. And she realized he was laughing." Two thousand years, Julie."  He laughed outright. And the look of wild excitement returned, the look of heightened vitality. Only slowly did his eyes turn to the bust of Cleopatra. He stared at it for a long moment, and then he looked at Julie again, and the curiosity and optimism had returned. For that was it, a great vigorous optimism.

She wanted to kiss him. In fact, the urge was so strong it amazed her. It wasn't merely the beauty of his face, it was the deep resonant quality of his voice, and the look of pain in his eyes, and the way he smiled at her now, and reached up and touched her hair ever so respectfully. Chills ran down her back.

"Ramses is immortal,"  she said. "Ramses has vitam eternom."

A small polite laugh of acknowledgment came from him. A nod." Yes,"  he said." Vitam eternam."

Was she feeling love for this man? Or merely an infatuation so overpowering it swept every other consideration out of her mind? Even Henry and what he had done, that he had killed her father?

Henry must wait. Justice had to wait. Unless she was to kill Henry herself, and that was quite unthinkable. But this, this was everything now, this man sitting before her. Her hatred for Henry would have its day. Henry was heading towards God's justice more surely than any human being she had ever known.

And she stood gazing into these magnificent blue eyes, feeling the warmth of the hand that held hers, swept into this man's future by a miracle.

There was a violent noise from the street. It could only have been a motor car. He heard it, there was no doubt of that; but only very slowly did he respond, looking away from her and towards the front windows. Then placing his arm very lightly on her shoulder, he guided her with him to the front of the house.

What a gentleman he was; what a strange courtly being. He peered out through the lace at what must surely have been a shocking spectacle - an Italian roadster idling, with two young men in the front seat, both of them waving at a young lady who was walking on the pavement opposite. The driver sounded the horn, a nasty loud thing, and it gave Ramses a bad start. But he continued to look at the rumbling, backfiring open car, not with fear, but with curiosity. As the thing began to move, and then lurched down the street, his curiosity gave way to utter astonishment.

"Motorcar,"  she said." It runs on gasoline. It is a machine. An invention."

"Motor car!"  He moved immediately to the front door, and opened it.

"No, you must come, get properly dressed,"  she said." Vestments, proper vestments."

"Shirt, tie, trousers, shoes,"  he said.

She laughed. He made a gesture for her to wait. She watched as he went into the Egyptian room, and studied the long line of alabaster jars. He selected one, and turned it to reveal a small hidden compartment at the base, which was now opened. Out of this he took several gold coins. He brought these to her.

"Vestments,"  he said.

She studied them only a second or two in the light from the windows. More of the flawless Cleopatra coins.

"Oh, no,"  she said," these are worth far too much for us to spend them. Put them away. You are my guest here. I shall take care of everything."

She took him by the hand and led him up the stairs. Once again, he studied everything about him. Only this time he paused to examine the porcelain whatnots on the shelf. He stopped beneath her father's portrait in the upstairs hall.

"Lawrence,"  he said. Then, looking intently at her:" Henry? Where is Henry?"

"I shall take care of Henry,"  she said." Time and the courts of law ... judicium ... justice shall take care of Henry."

He indicated he was not satisfied with this answer. He drew the paring knife out of his pocket and ran his thumb along the blade." I, Ramses, shall kill Henry."

"No!"  Her hands flew to her lips." No. Justice. Law!"  she said." We are a people of courts and laws. When the time comes ..."  But she broke down. She could say no more. The tears welled in her eyes. It was hitting her again. Henry robbed Father of this triumph, this mystery, this very moment." No,"  she said as he tried to steady her. He put his hand on his chest." I, Ramses, am justice,"  he said." King, court, justice."

She sniffled, trying to stop her tears. She wiped at her lips with the back of her hand.

"You're a very fast learner of words,"  she said," but you cannot kill Henry. I cannot live if you kill Henry."

Suddenly he took her face in his hands, and forcing her to him, he kissed her. It was brief, yet absolutely devastating. She reeled, and turned her back on him.

Quickly, she walked to the end of the hall and opened her father's door. She did not turn around and look at him again as she took the clothing out of the wardrobe. She laid out the shirt, the trousers, the belt. Socks, shoes. She pointed to the pictures on the wall, all the old photographs her father had treasured of himself and Elliott and Randolph and other cronies, from Oxford days to the present. The coat, she'd forgotten the coat. She dragged that out too and laid it down on the bed.

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