Home > The Mummy(17)

The Mummy(17)
Author: Anne Rice

"For this wealth, Henry tried to kill you, as he killed your father in the tomb."

Julie stared straight forward. It seemed the words would strip away every vestige of control she had. This day, this adventure, it had carried her to the heights, and now she felt herself descending. Henry killed Father. It was near impossible for her to speak.

Ramses took her hand in his.

"There should have been enough wealth for all of us,"  she said, her voice strained." Enough for me, for Henry, for Henry's father."

"Yet your father dug in Egypt for treasure." "No, not for treasure!"  She looked at him sharply." He dug to find evidence of the past. Your writings meant more to him than the rings on your ringers. The story you told, that was his treasure. That and the painted coffin because it was a pure thing, from your time."

"Archaeology,"  Ramses said.

"Yes."  She smiled in spite of herself." My father was not a robber of tombs."

"I understand you. Don't become angry." "He was a scholar,"  she said, a little more gently." He had all the money he needed. If he made a mistake, it was that he left his company to his brother, and to his nephew, but then he paid them so very well."

She stopped. She felt weary suddenly. Beneath the euphoria, she had been ever mindful of what happened; and the pain had only begun.

"Something went wrong,"  she whispered.

"Greed is what went wrong. Greed is what always goes wrong."

He was looking out the window at the dull, broken windows above. Foul smells rose from the puddles and from the doorways. The stench of urine, and decay.

She herself had never been in this part of London. It saddened her; it exacerbated her own pain.

"This Henry should be stopped,"  Ramses said firmly. "Before he tries again to hurt you. And your father's death, surely you want it avenged."

"It will kill my uncle Randolph when he finds out what happened. That is, if he doesn't already know."

"The uncle, the one who came this morning with such fear for you - he's innocent and is afraid for his son. But cousin Henry is evil. And the evil is unchecked."

She was trembling. The tears had risen to her eyes.

"I can't do anything now. He's my cousin. They're my only family. And when something is done, it will have to be in a court of law."

"You are in danger, Julie Stratford,"  he said to her.

"Ramses, I am not a Queen here. I cannot act on my own."

"But I am a King. I always will be. My conscience can bear this burden. Let me act when I see fit."

"No!"  she whispered. She looked up at him imploringly. He pressed his arm against her, gently, then reached as if to embrace her. She held steady." Promise me you will do nothing. If something happens, it will be on my conscience too."

"He killed your father."

"Kill him and you kill my father's daughter,"  she said.

There was a silent moment in which he merely looked at her, marvelling perhaps, she couldn't tell. She felt his right arm on her left arm. Then he drew her close to him, her br**sts against his chest, and he kissed her, his mouth opening over hers. The heat was immediate and utterly consuming. She reached up to push him away, and found her fingers slipping up through his hair. She cradled his head gently. And then drew back, thoughtlessly, astonished.

For a moment she couldn't speak. Her face was flushed, and she felt soft all over, and utterly exposed. She closed her eyes. She knew that if he touched her again, the game was up. She would end up making love to him in this cab, if she didn't do something...

"What did you think I was, Julie?"  he asked." A spirit? I'm an immortal man."

He moved to kiss her again; she moved away, her hand up.

"Shall we speak again of Henry?"  he asked. He took her hand and clasped it and kissed her fingers." Henry knows what I am. He saw, because I moved to save your life, Julie. He saw. And there is no reason to let him live with this knowledge, since he is evil and deserves to die."

He knew she could hardly concentrate on the words he was speaking. It made her angry suddenly, his lips grazing her fingers, his blue eyes flashing like lights in the dim cab.

"Henry made a fool of himself with that story,"  she said." And he won't try to hurt me again."  She withdrew her hand and looked out the window. They were leaving this sad, miserable slum. Thank God.

He gave a little thoughtful shrug.

"Henry's a coward,"  she said. Her body was under control again." A terrible coward. The way he did it to Father, such a coward."

"Cowards can be more dangerous than brave men, Julie,"  he said, "Don't hurt him!"  she whispered. She turned again to face Ramses." For my sake, leave it to God. I can't be his judge and jury!"

"So like a Queen,"  he said." And wiser than most Queens."

He bent slowly to kiss her again. She knew she ought to turn away, but she didn't. And the heat flooded her again, weakening her completely. When she pulled away, he tried to hold her; but her immediate resistance won out.

When she looked at him again, he was smiling.

"A guest in your court,"  he said with a little gesture of acceptance," my Queen."

Elliott had not the slightest difficulty overwhelming Rita. Even as she begged him to understand that her mistress was not at home, and surely he must come back another time, he moved past her, directly into the Egyptian room.

"Ah, these lovely treasures. Not enough time in the world to examine them. Do get me a glass of sherry, Rita. I find I'm tired. I'll rest for a moment before going home."

"Yes, sir, but - "

"Sherry, Rita."

"Yes, sir."

How anxious and pale she looked, poor girl. And what a mess this library was. There were books scattered everywhere. He looked at the table in the conservatory. He could see from where he stood that there were dictionaries stacked on the wicker table; papers and magazines in neat little piles all about the chairs.

But Lawrence's diary was here on the desk, just as he hoped. He opened it, confirmed that there was no mistake, then slipped it under his coat.

He was staring at the mummy case when Rita came to him, with the glass of sherry on a small silver tray.

Leaning heavily on his cane, he lifted the glass and took only a taste of it." You wouldn't let me have a look at the mummy, now would you?"  he asked.

"Good Lord, no, sir! Please don't touch it!"  Rita said. Pure panic as she stared at the mummy case." It's very heavy, sir! We mustn't try to lift it."

"There, there. You know as well as I do that it's a thin wooden shell, and not very heavy at all."

The girl was terrified.

He smiled. He took out a sovereign and gave it to her. She was astonished. She shook her head.

"No, take it, dearest. Buy yourself something pretty."

And before she could think what to say, he moved past her and towards the front door. She hurried to open it for him.

He paused only when he had reached the bottom of the steps. Now, why hadn't he forced the issue? Why hadn't he looked in that case?

His man Walter came forward to assist him. Good old Walter, who had been with him since he was a boy. He let Walter help him up into the idling car now, and he sat back, the pain in his hip biting deeply as he stretched out his legs.

Would he have been surprised to find that case empty, to discover that this was not a little game? On the contrary. He realized that he fully believed the case was empty. And he had been afraid to see that for himself.

Mr. Hancock of the British Museum was not a patient man. All his life he had used his devotion to Egyptian antiquities to bully people, to justify rudeness and downright meanness to others. This was part of his nature, as much as his genuine love for the relics and papyri which he had been studying ail his life.

He read aloud the headline before him to the three other gentlemen in the room.

" 'Mummy Walks in Mayfair.'" He folded the papers." This is perfectly disgusting. Is young Stratford out of his mind?"

The older gentleman who sat directly opposite on the other side of the desk merely smiled.

"Henry Stratford's a drunkard, and a gambler. The mummy climbed out of its case, indeed!"

"But the point is,"  said Hancock," we have entrusted a priceless collection of antiquities to a private household, and now we have this little scandal! With Scotland Yard coming and going and reporters from the gutter press on the steps."

"If you will forgive me,"  the elder gentleman countered. '"The matter of the stolen coin is much more disturbing."

"Yes,"  said Samir Ibrahaim quietly from the outer edge of the circle where he sat." But I tell you there were only five when I cataloged the collection, and none of us has seen this so-called stolen coin."

"Nevertheless,"  said Hancock," Mr. Taylor is a reputable coin dealer. He was certain the coin was authentic. And that it was Henry Stratford who offered it for sale."

"Stratford could have stolen it in Egypt,"  said the elder gentleman. There were a couple of nods from the circle.

"The collection should be in the museum,"  said Hancock." We should be making our examinations of the Ramses mummy now. The Cairo Museum is angry about this controversy. And now, this coin - "

"But, gentlemen,"  Samir interrupted." Surely we can make no decision about the safety of the collection until we've talked to Miss Stratford."

"Miss Stratford is very young,"  Hancock said snappishly." And she is in a state of grief which clouds her judgment."

"Yes,"  said the elder gentleman." But surely everyone present realizes that Lawrence Stratford contributed millions to this museum. No, I think Samir is right. We cannot move the collection until Miss Stratford gives her permission."

Hancock glanced again at the newspapers."  'Ramses Rises from the Grave,'" he read." I tell you I don't like it."

"Perhaps another guard should be posted,"  said Samir." Perhaps two."

The elder gentleman nodded." Good suggestion. But again, Miss Stratford's feelings are to be considered."

"Perhaps you should call on her!"  Hancock said, glaring at Samir." You were her father's friend."

"Very well, sir,"  Samir answered in a low voice." I shall certainly do that."

Early evening: the Hotel Victoria. Ramses had been dining since four o'clock, when the sun was still slanting through the leaded glass, onto the white-draped tables. Now it was dark; candles blazed everywhere; the ceiling fans turned very slowly, barely stirring the fronds of the tall, elegant dark-green palms in their brass pots.

Liveried waiters brought plate after plate of food without comment, eyebrows arched as they opened the fourth bottle of Italian red wine.

Julie had finished her scant meal hours ago. They were deep in conversation now, the English flowing as easily as the wine flowed.

She had taught Ramses how to use the heavy silver, but he ignored it. In his time only a barbarian would have shoveled food into the mouth.

In fact, he had remarked after a little consideration, no one had shoveled food into the mouth. There was time for Julie to explain how silverware had come about. For now, she must agree that he was most, most ... fastidious, she volunteered. Elegant, civilized, deft at the breaking of bread and meat into small portions, and the placing of them on the tongue without the ringers touching the lips.

She was now deep into her discussion of revolution." The first machines were simple - for weaving, tilling the fields. It was the idea of the machine that caught the mind."


"If you make a machine to do one thing, then you can perfect a machine to do another. ..."

"I understand you."

"And then came the steam engine, the motor car, the telephone, the aeroplane."

"I want to do it, fly in the sky."

"Of course, and we shall do it. But do you understand the concept, the revolution in thinking?"

"Of course. I don't come to you, as you say, from the nineteenth dynasty of Egypt's history, I come to you from the first days of the Roman Empire. My mind is, how do you say it, flexible, adaptable. I am constantly in, how do you say it, revolution?"

Something startled him; at first she didn't realize what it was. The orchestra had begun, very softly, so that she scarcely heard it over the hum of conversation. He rose, dropping his napkin. He pointed across the crowded room.

The soft strains of the" Merry Widow Waltz"  rose strongly over the hum of conversation. Julie turned to see the little string orchestra assembled on the other side of the small polished dance floor.

Ramses rose and went towards them." Ramses, wait,"  Julie said. But he didn't listen to her. She hurried after him. Surely everyone was looking at the tall man who marched across the dance floor and came to a quick stop right in front of the musicians as if he were the conductor himself.

He positively glared at the violins, at the cello; and then as he studied the huge golden harp, the smile came back, so clearly ecstatic that the female violinist smiled at him and the old grey-haired male cellist seemed vaguely amused.

They must have thought him a deaf mute as he stepped up and laid his fingers right on the cello, drawing back at the power of the vibration, then touching it again." Oooh, Julie,"  he whispered aloud. Everyone was looking. Even the waiters were glancing at them in obvious alarm. But nobody dared question the handsome gentleman in Lawrence's best suit and silk waistcoat, even when he shuddered all over and clamped his hands to the sides of his head.

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