Home > The Mummy(2)

The Mummy(2)
Author: Anne Rice

Why hadn't he ruined everything long ago? Elliott wondered. How had he ever managed to charm so many people in whom he had no more than a passing interest, at best?

But no, that wasn't the entire truth. He loved some of these people, whether he cared to admit it or not. He loved his old friend Randolph Stratford, just as he loved Randolph's brother, Lawrence. And surely he loved Julie Stratford, and he loved watching her dance with his son. Elliott was here on account of his son. Of course Julie wasn't really going to marry Alex. At least not any time soon. But it was the only clear hope on the horizon that Alex might acquire the money he needed to maintain the landed estates he would inherit, the wealth that was supposed to go along with an old title, and seldom did anymore.

The sad part was that Alex loved Julie. The money meant nothing to either of them, really. It was the older generation that did the scheming, and the planning, as they have always done.

Elliott leaned against the gilded railing, gazing down at the soft drift of young couples turning beneath him, and for a moment, he tried to shut out the din of voices, and hear only the sweet strains of the waltz.

But Randolph Stratford was talking again. Randolph was assuring Elliott that Julie needed only a little prodding. If only Lawrence would say the word, his daughter would give in.

"Give Henry a chance,"  Randolph said again." He's only been in Egypt a week. If Lawrence will take the initiative ..."

"But why,"  Elliott asked," should Lawrence do mat?"

Silence.

Elliott knew Lawrence better than Randolph knew him. Elliott and Lawrence. No one really knew the whole story, except the two men themselves. At Oxford years ago, in a carefree world, they had been lovers, and the year after they'd finished, they had spent a winter together south of Cairo in a houseboat on the Nile. Inevitably the world had separated them. Elliott had married Edith Christian, an American heiress. Lawrence had built Stratford Shipping into an empire.

But their friendship had never faltered. They had spent countless holidays in Egypt together. They could still argue all night long about history, ruins, archaeological discoveries, poetry, what have you. Elliott had been the only one who really understood when Lawrence retired and went to Egypt. Elliott had envied Lawrence. And there had been the first bitterness between them. In the small hours, when die wine flowed, Lawrence had called Elliott a coward, for spending his remaining years in London in a world he did not value; a world which gave him no joy. Elliott had criticized Lawrence for being blind and stupid. After all, Lawrence was rich beyond Elliott's wildest dreams; and Lawrence was a widower with a clever and independent daughter. Elliott had a wife and son who needed him day in and day out to regulate the successes of their wholly respectable and conventional lives.

"All I mean to say,"  Randolph pressed," is that if Lawrence would express his wish about this marriage ..."

"And the small matter of the twenty thousand pounds?"  Elliott asked suddenly. The tone was soft, polite, but the question was unforgivably rude. Nevertheless he persisted." Edith will be back from France in a week and she's certain to notice that the necklace is missing. You know, she always does."

Randolph didn't answer.

Elliott laughed softly, but not at Randolph, not even at himself. And certainly not at Edith, who had only a little more money now than Elliott did and most of it in plate and jewels.

Perhaps Elliott laughed because the music made him giddy; or something about the vision of Julie Stratford, dancing down there with Alex, touched his heart. Or perhaps because of late he had lost the ability to speak any longer in euphemisms and half-truths. It was gone along with his physical stamina, and the sense of well-being he had enjoyed throughout his youth.

Now his joints hurt more and more with every passing winter; and he could not walk half a mile any longer in the country without suffering a severe pain in his chest. He did not mind having white hair at fifty-five, perhaps because he knew he looked rather good with it. But it bruised him secretly and deeply to have to use a cane wherever he went. These were all mere shadows, however, of what was yet to come.

Old age, weakness, dependence. Pray that Alex was happily married to the Stratford millions, and not before too long!

He felt restless, suddenly; dissatisfied. The soft swooshing music annoyed him; sick to death of Strauss, actually. But it was something keener.

He wanted to explain it suddenly to Randolph, that he, Elliott, had made some crucial mistake a long time ago. Something to do with those long nights in Egypt, when he and Lawrence would walk through the black streets of Cairo together, or rail at each other drunkenly in the little saloon of the boat. Lawrence

had somehow managed to live his life along heroic proportions; he had accomplished things of which others were simply incapable. Elliott had moved with the current. Lawrence had escaped to Egypt, back to the desert, the temples, to those clear star-filled nights.

God, how he missed Lawrence. In the last three years they had exchanged only a handful of letters, but the old understanding would never grow dim.

"Henry took some papers with him,"  Randolph said," small matter of family stock."  He glanced about warily, too warily. Elliott was going to laugh again.

"If it goes as I hope,"  Randolph continued," I'll pay you everything I owe you, and the marriage will take place within six months, I give you my word."  Elliott smiled.

"Randolph, the marriage may or may not happen; it may or may not solve things for both of us - " "Don't say mat, old boy."

"But I must have that twenty thousand pounds before Edith comes home,"

"Precisely, Elliott, precisely."

"You know, you might say no to your son once hi a while."  A deep sigh came from Randolph. Elliott didn't press it. He knew as well as anyone did that Henry's deterioration was no joke any longer; it had nothing to do with sowing wild oats, or going through a rough period. There was something thoroughly rotten in Henry Stratford and there always had been. There was very little that was rotten in Randolph. And so it was a tragedy; and Elliott, who loved his own son, Alex, excessively, had only sympathy for Randolph on that score.

More assurances; a positive din of assurance. You'll get your twenty thousand pounds. But Elliott wasn't listening. He was watching the dancers again - his good and gentle son whispering passionately to Julie, whose face wore that look of determination that flattered her for reasons that Elliott could never fully understand.

Some women must smile to be beautiful. Some women must weep. But with Julie, the real radiance shone only when she was serious - perhaps because her eyes were too softly brown otherwise, her mouth too guileless, her porcelain cheeks too smooth.

Fired with determination, she was a vision. And Alex, for all

his breeding, and all his proffered passion, seemed no more than **a partner"  for her; one of a thousand elegant young men who might have guided her across the marble floor.

ft was the" Morning Papers Waltz"  and Julie loved it; she had always loved it. There came back to her now a faint memory of dancing once to the" Morning Papers Waltz"  with her father. Was ft when they had first brought home the gramophone, and they had danced all through the Egyptian room and the library and the drawing rooms - she and Father - until the light came through the shutters, and he had said:

"Oh, my dear, no more. No more."

Now the music made her drowsy and almost sad. And Alex kept talking to her, telling her in one way or another that he loved her, and mere was that panic inside her, that fear of speaking harsh or cold words.

"And if you want to live in Egypt,"  Alex said breathlessly," and dig for mummies with your father, well then, we'll go to Egypt. We'll go straight after the wedding. And if you want to in arch for the vote, well then, I shall march at your side."

"Oh, yes,"  Julie answered," that's what you say now, and I know you mean it with all your heart, but Alex, I'm just not ready. I cannot."

She couldn't bear to see him so deadly earnest. She couldn't bear to see him hurt. If only there were a little wickedness in Alex; just a little bit of meanness as there was in everyone else. His good looks would nave been improved by a little meanness. Tall, lean and brown-haired, he was too angelic. His quick dark eyes revealed his entire soul too easily. At twenty-five, he was an eager and innocent boy.

'"What do you want with a suffragette for a wife?"  she asked." With an explorer? You know I could very well be an explorer, or an archaeologist. I wish I was in Egypt with Father right now."

"Dearest, we'll go there. Only marry me before we go."

Chapter 2

He leaned forward as if he meant to lass her. And she moved back a step, the waltz carrying them almost recklessly fast, so that for a moment she felt light-headed and almost as if she were truly in love.

"What can I do to win you, Julie?"  he whispered in her ear." I'll bring the Great Pyramids to London."

"Alex, you won me a long time ago,"  she said, smiling. But

that was a lie, wasn't it? There was something truly terrible about this moment - about the music with its lovely compelling rhythm, and the desperate look on Alex's face.

"The simple truth is ... I don't want to be married. Not yet."  And perhaps not at all?

He didn't answer her. She'd been too blunt, too much to the point. She knew that sudden shrinking. It wasn't unmanly; on the contrary, it was gentlemanly. She had hurt him, and when he smiled again now, there was a sweetness and a courage in it that touched her and made her feel all the more sad.

"Father will be back in a few months, Alex. We'll all talk then. Marriage, the future, the rights of women, married and unmarried, and the possibility that you deserve far better than a modern woman like me who's very likely to turn your hair grey within the first year and send you running into the arms of an old-fashioned mistress."

"Oh, how you love to be shocking,"  he said." And I love to be shocked."

"But do you, dearest, really love to be shocked?"

Suddenly he did kiss her. They had stopped in the middle of the dance floor, other couples swirling around them as the music swept on. He kissed her and she allowed it, yielding to him completely as if she must somehow love him; must somehow meet him halfway.

It didn't matter that others must be looking at them. It didn't matter that his hands were trembling as he held her.

What mattered was that, though she loved him terribly, it was not enough.

It was cool now. There was noise out there; cars arriving. The braying of a donkey; and the sharp high-pitched sound of a woman laughing, an American woman, who had driven all the way from Cairo as soon as she had heard.

Lawrence and Samir sat together in their camp chairs at the ancient writing table, with the papyri spread out before them.

Careful not to put his full weight on the fragile piece of furniture, Lawrence hastily scribbled his translations in his leather-bound book.

Now and then he glanced over his shoulder at the mummy, the great King who for all die world looked as if he merely slept. Ramses the Immortal! The very idea inflamed Lawrence. He knew that he would be in this strange chamber until well after dawn.

"But it must be a hoax,"  Samir said." Ramses the Great guarding the royal families of Egypt for a thousand years. The lover of Cleopatra?"

"Ah, but it makes sublime sense!"  Lawrence replied. He set down the pen for a moment, staring at the papyri. How his eyes ached." If any woman could have driven an immortal man to entomb himself, Cleopatra would be that woman."

He looked at the marble bust before him. Lovingly he stroked Cleopatra's smooth white cheek. Yes, Lawrence could believe it. Cleopatra, beloved of Julius Caesar and beloved of Mark Antony; Cleopatra, who had held out against the Roman conquest of Egypt far longer than anyone dreamed possible; Cleopatra, the last ruler of Egypt in the ancient world. But the story - he must resume his translation...

Samir rose and stretched uneasily. Lawrence watched him move towards the mummy. What was he doing? Examining the wrappings over the fingers, examining the brilliant scarab ring so clearly visible on the right hand? Now mat was a nineteenth-dynasty treasure, no one could deny it, Lawrence thought.

Lawrence closed his eyes and massaged his eyelids gently. Then he opened them, focusing on the papyrus before him again.

"Samir, I tell you, the fellow is convincing me. Such a command of languages would dazzle anyone. And his philosophical perspective is quite as modern as my own."  He reached for the older document, which he had examined earlier." And this, Samir, I want you to examine it. This is none other than a letter from Cleopatra to Ramses."

"A hoax, Lawrence. Some sort of little Roman joke."

"No, my friend, nothing of the kind. She wrote this letter from Rome when Caesar was assassinated! She told Ramses she was coming home to him, and to Egypt."

He laid the letter aside. When Samir had time he would see for himself what these documents contained. All the world would see. He turned back to the original papyrus.

"But listen to this, Samir - Ramses' last thoughts: 'The Romans can not be condemned for the conquest of Egypt; we were conquered by time itself in the end. And all the wonders of this brave new century should draw me from my grief and yet I can not heal my heart; and so the mind suffers; the mind closes as if it were a flower without sun.'"

Samir was still looking at the mummy, looking at the ring." Another reference to the sun. Again and again the sun."  He turned to Lawrence." But surely you don't believe it - !"

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