Home > The Mummy(4)

The Mummy(4)
Author: Anne Rice

Lawrence turned back to the mummy. Why, even the hands seemed fuller. And one of the rings had almost broken through the wrapping. Only hours ago...

"Poisons?"  Henry asked behind him.

"It's a veritable laboratory of poisons,"  Lawrence answered." The very poisons Cleopatra tried, before her suicide, upon her helpless slaves!"  But why waste this precious information on Henry?

"How incredibly quaint,"  his nephew answered. Cynical, sarcastic." I thought she was bitten by an asp."

"You're an idiot, Henry. You know less history than an Egyptian camel driver. Cleopatra tried a hundred poisons before she settled on the snake."

He turned and watched coldly as his nephew touched the marble bust of Cleopatra, his fingers passing roughly over the nose, the eyes.

"Well, I fancy this is worth a small fortune, anyway. And these coins. You aren't going to give these things to the British Museum, are you?"

Lawrence sat down in the camp chair. He dipped the pen. Where had he stopped in his translation? Impossible to concentrate with these distractions.

"Is money all you think about?"  he asked coldly." And what have you ever done with it but gamble it away?"  He looked up at his nephew. When had the youthful fire died in that handsome face? When had arrogance hardened it, and aged it; and made it so deadly dull?" The more I give you, the more you lose at the tables. Go back to London, for the love of heaven. Go back to your mistress and your music hall cronies. But get out."

There was a sharp noise from outside - another motor car backfiring as it ground its way up the sandy road. A dark-faced servant in soiled clothes entered suddenly, with a full breakfast tray in his hands. Samir came behind him.

"I cannot hold them back much longer, Lawrence,"  Samir said. With a small graceful gesture, he bid the servant set down the breakfast on the edge of the portable desk." The men from the British embassy are here also, Lawrence. So is every reporter from Alexandria to Cairo. It is quite a circus out there, I fear."

Lawrence stared at the silver dishes, the china cups. He wanted nothing now but to be alone with his treasures.

"Oh, just keep them out as long as you can, Samir. Give me a few more hours alone with these scrolls. Samir, the story is so sad, so poignant."

"I'll do my best,"  Samir answered." But do take breakfast, Lawrence. You're exhausted. You need nourishment and rest."

"Samir, I've never been better. Keep them out of here till noon. Oh, and take Henry with you. Henry, go with Samir. He'll see that you have something to eat."

"Yes, do come with me, sir, please,"  Samir said quickly.

"I have to speak to my uncle alone."

Lawrence looked back at his notebook. And the scroll opened above it. Yes, the King had been talking of his grief after, that he had retreated here to a secret study far away from Cleopatra's mausoleum in Alexandria, far away from the Valley of the Kings.

"Uncle,"  Henry said frostily," I'd be more than happy to go back to London if you would only take a moment to sign ..."

Lawrence refused to look up from the papyrus. Maybe there would be some clue as to where Cleopatra's mausoleum had once stood.

" How many times must I say it?"  he murmured indifferently." No. I will sign no papers. Now take your briefcase with you and get out of my sight."

"Uncle, the Earl wants an answer regarding Julie and Alex. He won't wait forever. And as for these papers, it's only a matter of a few shares."

The Earl ... Alex and Julie. It was monstrous." Good God, at a time like this!"

"Uncle, the world hasn't stopped turning on account of your discovery."  Such acid in the tone." And the stock has to be liquidated."

Lawrence laid down die pen." No, it doesn't,"  he said, eyeing Henry coldly." And as for the marriage, it can wait forever. Or until Julie decides for herself. Go home and tell that to my good friend the Earl of Rutherford! And tell your father I will liquidate no further family stock. Now leave me alone."

Henry didn't move. He shifted the briefcase uneasily, his face tightening as he stared down at his uncle.

"Uncle, you don't realize - "

"Allow me to tell you what I do realize,"  Lawrence said," that you have gambled away a king's ransom and that your father will go to any lengths to cover your debts. Even Cleopatra and her drunken lover Mark Antony could not have squandered the fortune that has slipped through your hands. And what does Julie need with the Rutherford title anyway? Alex needs the Stratford millions, that's the truth of it. Alex is a beggar with a title the same as Elliott. God forgive me. It's the truth."

"Uncle, Alex could buy any heiress in London with that title."

"Then why doesn't he?"

"One word from you and Julie would make up her mind - "

"And Elliott would show his gratitude to you for arranging things, is that it? And with my daughter's money he'd be very generous indeed."

Henry was white with anger.

"What the hell do you care about this marriage?"  Lawrence asked bitterly." You humiliate yourself because you need the money. ..."

He thought he saw his nephew's lips move in a curse.

He turned back to the mummy, trying to shut it ah1 out - the tentacles of the London life he'd left behind trying to reach him here.

Why, the whole figure looked fuller! And the ring, it was plainly visible now as if the finger, fleshing out, had burst the wrappings altogether. Lawrence fancied he could see the faint color of healthy flesh.

"You're losing your mind,"  he whispered to himself. And that sound, there it was again. He tried to listen for it; but his concentration only made him all the more conscious of the noise outside. He drew closer to the body in the coffin. Good Lord, was that hair he saw beneath the wrappings about die head?" I feel so sorry for you, Henry,"  he whispered suddenly." That you can't savour such a discovery. This ancient King, this mystery."  Who said that he couldn't touch the remains? Just move perhaps an inch of the rotted linen?

He drew out his penknife and held it uncertainly. Twenty years ago he might have cut the thing open. There wouldn't have been any busybody officials to deal with. He might have seen for himself if under all that dust -

"I wouldn't do that if I were you, Uncle,"  Henry interrupted." The museum people in London will raise the roof."

"I told you to get out."

He heard Henry pour a cup of coffee as if he had all the time in the world. The aroma filled the close little chamber.

Lawrence backed into the camp chair, and again pressed his folded handkerchief to his brow. Twenty-four hours now without sleep. Maybe he should rest.

"Drink your coffee, Uncle Lawrence,"  Henry said to him." I poured it for you."  And there it was, the full cup." They're waiting for you out there. You're exhausted."

"You bloody fool,"  Lawrence whispered." I wish you'd go away."

Henry set the cup before him, right by die notebook.

"Careful, that papyrus is priceless."

Chapter 3

The coffee did look inviting, even if Henry was pushing it at him. He lifted the cup, took a deep swallow, and closed his eyes.

What had he just seen as he put down the cup? The mummy stirring in the sunlight? Impossible. Suddenly a burning sensation in his throat blotted out everything else. It was as if his throat were closing! He couldn't breathe or speak.

He tried to rise; he was staring at Henry; and suddenly he caught the smell coming from the cup still in his trembling hand. Bitter almonds. It Was the poison. The cup was falling; dimly he heard it shatter as it hit the stone floor.

"For the love of God! You bastard!"  He was falling; his hands out towards his nephew, who stood white-faced and grim, staring coldly at him as if this catastrophe were not happening; as if he were not dying.

His body convulsed. Violently, he turned away. The last thing he saw as he fell was the mummy in the dazzling sunlight; the last ming he felt was the sandy floor beneath his burning face. For a long moment Henry Stratford did not move. He stared down at the body of his uncle as if he did not quite believe what he saw. Someone else had done this. Someone else had broken through the thick membrane of frustration and put this horrid plot into motion. Someone else had put the silver coffee spoon into the jar of ancient poison and slipped that poison into Lawrence's cup.

Nothing moved in the dusty sunlight. The tiniest particles seemed suspended in the hot air. Only a faint sound originated within the chamber; something like the beat of a heart.

Imaginings. It was imperative to follow through. It was imperative to stop his hand from shaking; to prevent the scream from ever leaving his lips. Because it was there all right - a scream which once released would never stop.

I killed him. / poisoned him.

And now that great hideous and immovable obstacle to my plan is no more.

Bend down; feel the vein. Yes, he's dead. Quite dead.

Henry straightened, fighting a sudden wave of nausea, and quickly took several papers from his briefcase. He dipped his uncle's pen and wrote the name Lawrence Stratford neatly and quickly, as he had done several times on less important papers in the past.

His hand shook badly, but so much the better. For his uncle had had just such a tremor. And the scribble looked all the better when it was done.

He put the pen back and stood with his eyes closed, trying to calm himself again, trying to think only, It is done.

The most curious thoughts were flooding him suddenly, that he could undo this! That it had been no more than an impulse; that he could roll back the minutes and his uncle would be alive again. This positively could not have happened! Poison ... coffee ... Lawrence dead.

And then a memory came to him, pure and quiet and certainly welcome, of the day twenty-one years ago when his cousin Julie had been born. His uncle and he sitting in the drawing room together. His uncle Lawrence, whom he loved more than his father.

"But I want you to know that you will always be my nephew, my beloved nephew ..."

Dear God, was he losing his mind? For a moment he did not even know where he was. He could have sworn someone else was in this room with him. Who was it?

That thing in the mummy case. Don't look at it. Like a witness. Get back to the business at hand.

The papers are signed; the stock can be sold; and now there is all the more reason for Julie to marry that stupid twit Alex Savarell. And all the more reason for Henry's father to take Stratford Shipping completely in hand.

Yes. Yes. But what to do at the moment? He looked at the desk again. Everything as it was. And those six glittering gold Cleopatra coins. Ah, yes, take one. Quickly, he slipped it into his pocket. A little flush warmed his face. Yes, the coin must be worth a fortune. And he could fit it into a cigarette case; simple to smuggle. All right.

Now get out of here immediately. No, he wasn't thinking. He couldn't still his heart. Shout for Samir, that was the appropriate action. Something horrible has happened to Lawrence. Stroke, heart attack, impossible to tell! And this cell is like a furnace. A doctor must come at once.

"Samir!"  he cried out, staring forward like a matinee actor at the moment of shock. His gaze fell directly again on that grim, loathsome thing in the linen wrappings. Was it staring back at him? Were its eyes open beneath the bandages? Preposterous! Yet the illusion struck a deep shrill note of panic in him, which gave just the right edge to his next shout for help.

URTIVELY THE clerk read the latest edition of the London Herald, the pages folded and held carefully out of sight behind his darkly lacquered desk. The office was quiet now because of the board meeting, the only sound the distant clack of a typewriting machine from an adjoining room.

MUMMY'S CURSE KILLS

STRATFORD SHIPPING MAGNATE

"RAMSES THE DAMNED"  STRIKES DOWN

THOSE WHO DISTURB HIS REST

How the tragedy had caught the public imagination. Impossible to walk a step without seeing a front-page story. And how the popular newspapers elaborated upon it, indulging in hastily drawn illustrations of pyramids and camels, of the mummy in his wooden coffin and poor Mr. Stratford lying dead at his feet.

Poor Mr. Stratford, who had been such a fine man to work for; remembered now for this lurid and sensational death.

Just when the furore had died down, it had been given another infusion of vitality:

HEIRESS DEFIES MUMMY'S CURSE" RAMSES THE DAMNED"  TO VISIT LONDON

The clerk turned the page now quietly, folding the paper into a narrow thick column width again. Hard to believe Miss Stratford was bringing home ail the treasure to be placed on exhibit in her own home in Mayfair. But that is what her father had always done.

The clerk hoped that he'd be invited to the reception, but there was no chance of it, even though he had been with Stratford Shipping for some thirty years.

To think, a bust of Cleopatra, the only authenticated portrait in existence. And freshly minted coins with her image and name. Ah, he would have liked to see those things in Mr. Stratford's library. But he would have to wait until the British Museum claimed the collection and put it on display for lord and commoner alike.

And there were things he might have told Miss Stratford, if ever there had been an opportunity, things perhaps old Mr. Lawrence would have wanted her to know.

For instance, that Henry Stratford hadn't sat behind his desk for a year now, yet he still collected a full salary and bonuses; and that Mr. Randolph wrote him cheques on the company funds at random and then doctored the books.

But perhaps the young woman would find out all this for herself. The will had left her full control of her father's company. And that's why she was in the boardroom, with her handsome fiancé, Alex Savarell, Viscount Summer-field, right now.

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