Home > The Mummy(16)

The Mummy(16)
Author: Anne Rice

"I think I do."

"So none of this makes sense."

"Not a particle of sense."

"Unless, of course, we entertain for a moment the notion that this mummy is immortal. Then everything falls into place."

"But you don't believe - " Samir stopped. The distress was plain again. In fact, it had worsened.

"Yes?"

"This is preposterous,"  Samir murmured." Lawrence died of a heart attack in that tomb. This thing did not kill him! This is madness."

"Was there the slightest evidence of violence?"

"Evidence? No. But there was a feeling about that tomb, and the curses written all over the mummy case. The thing wanted to be left in peace. The sun. It did not want the sun. But it was asking to be left in peace. That is what the dead always want."

"Do they?"  Elliott asked." If I were dead, I'm not sure I would want to be at peace. If it meant being purely dead, that is."

"We're allowing our imaginations to run away with us, Lord Rutherford. Besides ... Henry Stratford was in the tomb when Lawrence died!"

"Hmmmmm. That's true. And Henry didn't see our ragged, rotted friend moving about until this morning."

"I do not like this story. I do not like it at all. I do not like that Miss Stratford is alone in the house with these relics."

"Perhaps the museum should look into it further,"  Elliott said." Check up on the mummy. After all, the thing is extremely valuable."

Samir didn't answer. He had sunk into that speechless state again, staring at the desk before him.

Elliott took hold of his cane firmly and rose to his feet. He was getting quite good at hiding the inevitable discomfort of that simple operation. But he had to stand quite still for a few moments to allow the pain to stop. He crushed out his cigarette slowly.

"Thank you, Samir. It's been a most interesting conversation."

Samir looked up as if waking from a dream.

"What the hell do you think is happening, Lord Rutherford!"  Slowly he rose to his feet.

"You want my frank opinion of the moment?"

"Well, yes, I do."

"Ramses the Second is an immortal man. He found some secret in ancient times, some compound which rendered him immortal. And he is walking about London with Julie right now."

"You're not serious."

"Yes, I am,"  said Elliott." But then I also believe in ghosts, and spirits, and bad luck; I throw salt over my shoulder and touch wood all the time. I should be surprised - no, flabber-easted-if any of this turned out to be true, you understand. But I believe it. At the moment, I believe it. And I'll tell you why. It's the only explanation for what's happened that makes any sense."

Speechless again.

Elliott smiled. He slipped on his gloves, took hold of his walking stick and left the office as if every step were not causing him pain.

THIS WAS the great adventure of her life. Nothing after could ever equal it, of that she was sure. And how utterly surprising that it should be in London, at midday, rushing to and fro amid the noisy, crowded streets she'd known all her life.

Never before had the vast, grimy city seemed magical to her. But it did now. And how did he perceive it - this overgrown metropolis, with its towering brick buildings, its rumbling trams and belching motor cars, and hordes of dark horse-drawn carriages and cabs choking every street. What was he to make of the never-ending advertising, signs of all sizes and descriptions offering goods, services, directions and advice? Were the dim department stores with their stacks of ready-made clothing ugly to him? What did he make of the little shops where the electric lights burned all day long because the streets themselves were too smoky and dark to admit the natural light of the daytime sky?

He loved it. He embraced it. Nothing frightened him or repelled him. He rushed off the kerb to lay hands on the motor cars as they idled. He scampered up the winding steps of the omnibuses to see from the top deck. Into the telegraph office, he sped to study the young secretary at her typewriter. And she, at once charmed by this blue-eyed giant of a man bending over her, sat back to let him strike the keys with his own deft fingers, which he did, at once pounding out Latin sentences which sent him into peals of laughter until he could not go on.

To the offices of The Times, Julie spirited him. He must see the giant printing presses, smell the black ink, hear the deafening noise that filled those immense rooms. He must make the connection among all these inventions. He must see how simple it all was.

She watched as he charmed people everywhere that they went. Men and women deferred to him, as if they knew instinctively that he was royalty. His bearing, his great strides, his radiant smile, subdued those at whom he stared fixedly, those whose hands he hastily clasped, those whose conversation or casual words he listened to, as if receiving a secret message which must not be misunderstood.

There were philosophical words to describe his state of being, surely, but Julie could not think what they were. She only knew that he took joy in tilings, that the steam shovel and the steam roller failed to terrify him because he anticipated shocks and surprises and wanted only to comprehend.

So many questions to ask him. So many concepts she struggled to express. That was the hardest part. Concepts.

But talk of abstractions became easier by the hour. He was learning English with dizzying speed.

"Name!"  he would say to her if she ceased for so much as a minute her endless commentary." Language is names, Julie. Names for people, objects, what we feel."  He hammered on his breast as he said the last words. The Latin quare, quid, quo, qui had dropped completely from his speech by midafternoon.

"English is old, Julie. Tongue of barbarians from my time, and now filled with Latin. You hear the Latin? What is that, Julie! Explain this to me!"

"But there is no order to what I am teaching you,"  she said. She wanted to explain about printing, relate it to the stamping of coins.

Chapter 9

"I make the order later,"  he assured her. He was too busy now ducking into the back of bakers and soup kitchens, into the shoemaker's and the milliner's, and studying the refuse thrown in the alleyways, and eyeing the paper parcels which people carried, and staring at women's clothes.

And staring at the women, too.

If that isn't lust, I am no judge of character, Julie thought. He would have frightened the women had he not been so expensively dressed, and oddly self-possessed. In fact, his whole manner of standing, gesturing, speaking, had a great compelling force to it. This is a King, she thought, out of time and place, yet nevertheless a King.

She steered him into the bookseller's. She pointed out the old names, Aristotle, Plato, Euripedes, Cicero. He stared at the Aubrey Beardsley prints on the wall.

Photographs positively delighted him. Into a little studio, Julie took him to have his own portrait taken. His pleasure was almost childlike. Even more wonderful, he exclaimed, was that even the poor of this great city could have such pictures made.

But when he beheld moving pictures, he was positively stunned. In the crowded little cinema, he gasped, clinging tight to Julie's hand, as the giant luminescent figures scurried about on the screen before them. Tracing the projectionists' beams with his eye, he made at once for the little room in back, tearing open the door without hesitation. But the old projectionist fell prey to his charm as did everyone else, and was soon explaining the entire mechanism in detail.

At last as they entered the giant dark cavern of Victoria Station, the mighty chugging locomotives brought him to a dead halt. But even these he approached fearlessly. He touched the cold black iron, and stood dangerously close to the giant wheels. Behind the departing train, he put his foot on the track to feel the vibration. Dazed, he stared at the crowds.

"Thousands of people, transported from one end of Europe to the other,"  she cried out over the noise around them." Journeys which once took months now take but a few days."

"Europe,"  he whispered. "Italia to Britannia."

' The trains are carried on ships across the water. The poor of the open country can come into the cities. All men know the cities, do you see?"

He nodded gravely. He squeezed her hand." No haste, Julie. All will be understood in time."  Flash of his brilliant smile again, that great sudden warmth of affection for her which made her blush and look away.

"Temples, Julie. The houses of the deus ... di."

"Gods. But there is only one now. One God."

Disbelief. One God?

Westminster Abbey. They walked together under the high arches. Such splendor. She showed him the cenotaph of Shakespeare.

"Not the house of God,"  she said," But the place where we gather to talk to him."  How explain Christianity?" Brotherly love,"  she said." That is the basis,"

He looked at her in confusion." Brotherly love?"  Keenly, he watched the people around him.

"Do they believe this religion?"  he asked." Or is it habit alone?"

By late afternoon he was speaking coherently in whole paragraphs. He told her that he liked English. It was a good language for thinking. Greek and Latin had been excellent for thinking. Egyptian, no. With each new language he had learned in his earlier existence his capacity for understanding had improved. Language made possible whole kinds of thinking. Ah, that the common people of this era read newspapers, crowded with words! What must the thinking of the common man be?" Are you not the least bit tired?"  Julie asked, finally." No, never tired,"  he said," except in the heart and the soul. Hungry. Food, Julie. I desire much food."

They entered the quiet of Hyde Park together, and despite his disclaimers he did seem relieved by the sudden timeless trees around him, by the vision of the sky through branches as it might have been seen at any moment or from any vantage point on earth.

They found a little bench on the path. He fell into silence watching the strollers. And how they stared at him - this man of powerful build with his fiercely exuberant expression. Did he know he was handsome? she wondered. Did he know that the mere touch of his hand sent a frisson through her which she tried to ignore?

Oh, so much to show him. She took him to the offices of Stratford Shipping, praying that no one would recognize her, and led him into the wrought-iron lift, and pressed the button for the roof.

"Wires and pulleys,"  she explained.

"Britannia,"  he whispered as they looked out on the rooftops of London; as they listened to the scream of the factory whistles, to the jangling of the tram bells far below." America, Julie."  He turned to her excitedly, clasping her shoulders, his fingers surprisingly gentle. "How many days by mechanical ship to America?"

"Ten days, I believe. One could be in Egypt in less time than that. A passage to Alexandria is six days."

Why had she said those words? His face darkened ever so slightly." Alexandria,"  he whispered, pronouncing it as she had." Alexandria still stands?"

She led him to the lift. So much more to see. She explained there was still an Athens, still a Damascus, still an Antioch. And Rome, of course there was Rome.

A wild idea had come to her. Hailing a hansom, she told the driver: "Madame Tussaud's."

All those costumed figures in the wax museum. Hastily she explained what it was, a panorama of history. She would show him American Indians, she would show him Genghis Khan or Attila the Hun - creatures who had brought terror to Europe after Rome fell.

She could not envision the mosaic of facts being created for him. His equanimity amazed her more and more.

But they had been in Madame Tussaud's only a few moments when she realized her error. His composure crumbled at the first sight of Roman soldiers. He recognized the figure of Julius Caesar instantly. And then in disbelief he stared at the Egyptian Cleopatra, a wax doll which bore no resemblance to the bust he had cherished or the coins he still possessed. But her identity was unmistakable as she reclined on her gilded couch, the snake coiled in her hands, its fangs just beneath her breast. The stiff figure of Mark Antony stood behind her, a characterless man in Roman military dress.

Ramses' face coloured. There was something savage in his eyes as he turned to Julie, then looked back at the printed labels beneath this display.

Why hadn't she realized these figures would be here? Why hadn't she remembered? She caught his hand as he backed away from the glass. He turned around, almost stumbling into a couple who blocked his path. The man said something threatening, but Ramses didn't seem to hear it. He was hurrying towards the exit. She ran after him.

He appeared calmer when she reached the street. He was scanning the traffic. He reached out for her hand without looking at her, and together they proceeded slowly until he stopped to watch the workmen on a construction sight. The great cement mixer was churning. The sound of hammering echoed against distant walls.

A faint bitter smile passed over Ramses' lips. Julie hailed a passing hansom.

"Where shall we go now?"  she asked. "Tell me what you want to see."

He was staring at a beggar woman, a ragged figure in broken-down shoes who extended her hand now as she passed.

"The poor,"  he said, glancing at the woman. "Why are the poor still here?"

They rode silently through cobblestone streets. Strings of laundry closed out the damp gray sky. The smoke of cooking fires rose in the alleys. Barefoot children with soiled faces turned to watch them pass.

"But cannot all this wealth help these people? They are as poor as the peasants of my land."

"Some things don't change with time,"  Julie said. "And your father? He was a rich man?"  She nodded. "He built a great shipping company - ships that carry merchandise from India and Egypt to England and America. Ships that circle the world."

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