Home > The Mummy(5)

The Mummy(5)
Author: Anne Rice

Randolph could not bear to see her crying like this. Dreadful to be pressing her with papers to sign. She looked all the more fragile in her black mourning; her face drawn and shimmering as if she were feverish; her eyes full of that odd light that he had first seen when she told him that her father was dead.

The other board members sat in sullen silence, eyes downcast. Alex held her arm gently. He looked faintly baffled, as if he really didn't understand death; it was just that he didn't want her to suffer. Simple soul. Out of place among these merchants and men of business; the porcelain aristocrat with his heiress.

Why must we go through with this? Why are we not alone with our grief?

Yet Randolph did it because he had to do it, though never had the whole thing seemed so meaningless. Never had his love for his only son been so painfully tried.

"I simply cannot make decisions yet, Uncle Randolph,"  she said to him politely.

"Of course not, my dear,"  he answered." No one expects you to. If you'll only sign this draft for emergency funds and leave the rest to us."

"I want to go over everything, to take a hand in things,"  she said." That's clearly what Father intended. This whole situation with the warehouses in India, I don't understand how it could have come to such a crisis."  She paused, unwilling to be caught up in things, perhaps utterly incapable of it, and the tears flowed silently again.

"Leave it to me, Julie,"  he said wearily." I've been handling crises in India for years."

He pushed the documents towards her. Sign, please, sign. Do not ask for explanations now. Do not add humiliation to this pain.

For that is what was so surprising, that he missed his brother so much. We don't know what we feel for those we love until they're taken. All night he'd lain awake remembering things ... the Oxford days, their first trips to Egypt - Randolph, Lawrence and Elliott Savarell. Those nights in Cairo. He had awakened early and gone through old photographs, and papers. Such marvelously vivid memories.

And now, without spirit or will, he tried to cheat Lawrence's daughter. He tried to cover for ten years of lies and deceit. Lawrence had built Stratford Shipping because he really didn't care about money. Oh, the risks that Lawrence used to take. And what had Randolph done since he took over? Hold the reins and steal. To his utter amazement Julie lifted the pen and signed her name quickly on all the various papers, without so much as reading them. Well, he was safe from her inevitable questions for a little while.

I'm sorry, Lawrence. It was like a silent prayer. Perhaps if you knew the whole story.

"In a few days, Uncle Randolph, I want to sit down and go over everything with you. I mink that's what Father wanted. But I'm so tired. It's really time to go home."

"Yes, let me take you home now,"  Alex said immediately. He helped her to her feet.

Dear good Alex. Why couldn't my son have had a mere particle of that gentleness? The whole world could have been his. Quickly Randolph went to open the double doors. To his amazement he found the men from the British Museum waiting. An annoyance. He would have spirited her out another way, if he had known. He did not like the unctuous Mr. Hancock, who behaved as if everything Lawrence had discovered belonged to the museum and the world.

"Miss Stratford,"  the man said now as he approached Julie." Everything has been approved. The first showing of the mummy will take place in your home, just as your father would have wished. We will of course catalogue everything, and remove the collection to the museum as soon as you wish it. I thought you would want to have my personal assurance. . , ."

"Of course,"  Julie answered wearily. This interested her no more than the board meeting, obviously." I'm grateful to you, Mr. Hancock. You know what this discovery meant to my father."  There was a pause again as if she would begin crying. And why not?" I only wish I'd been with him in Egypt."

"Darling, he died where he'd been most happy,"  Alex offered lamely." And among the things he loved."

Pretty words. Lawrence had been cheated. He'd had his momentous find for only a few short hours. Even Randolph understood as much.

Hancock took Julie's arm. They moved towards the door together.

"Of course it's impossible to authenticate the remains until we make a thorough examination. The coins, the bust, these are quite unprecedented discoveries. ..."

"We'll make no extravagant claims, Mr. Hancock. I only want a small reception for Father's oldest friends."

She offered her hand now, in effect dismissing him. She managed such things so decisively, so like her father. So like the Earl of Rutherford when you thought about it. Hers had always been an aristocratic manner. And if only the marriage were to take place...

"Good-bye, Uncle Randolph."

He bent to kiss her cheek.

"I love you, darling,"  he whispered. It surprised him. And so did the smile that spread across her face. Did she hear what he had meant to tell her? I am so sorry, sorry for everything, my dear.

Alone at last on the marble staircase. All of them gone but Alex, and in her heart of hearts, she wished that he were gone too.

She wanted nothing so much now as the quiet interior of her Rolls-Royce limousine with the glass shutting out the noise of the world around her.

"Now, I'm going to say this only once, Julie,"  Alex said as he helped her down the stairs." But it comes from my soul. Don't let this tragedy postpone the marriage. I know your feelings, but you're alone in that house now. And I want to be with you, to take care of you. I want us to be husband and wife."

"Alex, I'd be lying to you,"  she said," if I told you I could make a decision now. More than ever I need time to think."

She couldn't bear to look at him suddenly; he seemed so young always. Had she ever been young? The question would have made Uncle Randolph smile perhaps. She was twenty-one. But Alex at twenty-five seemed a boy to her. And it hurt her so much not to love him as he deserved to be loved.

The sunlight hurt her eyes as he opened the door to the street. She brought the veil down from the brim of her hat. No reporters, thank God no reporters, and the big black motor car there waiting with the door open.

"I won't be alone, Alex,"  she said gently." I have Rita and Oscar there. And Henry's moving back into his old room. Uncle Randolph insisted upon it. I'll have more company than I need."  Henry. The last person in the world she wanted to see was Henry. What an irony that he had indeed been the last person her father saw before his eyes closed in death.

The reporters mobbed Henry Stratford as he came ashore. Had the mummy's curse frightened him? Had he glimpsed anything supernatural at work in the little rock chamber where the death of Lawrence Stratford had taken place? Henry fought his way through customs in silence, ignoring the noisy, smoky flashes of the cameras. With icy impatience he glared at the officials, who checked his few suitcases and then waved him past.

His heart thudded in his ears. He wanted a drink. He wanted the quiet of his own home in Mayfair. He wanted his mistress, Daisy Banker. He wanted anything but the dreary ride with his father. He avoided Randolph's eyes altogether as he climbed into the back of the Rolls.

As the long cumbersome saloon forced its way out of the thick traffic, he caught a glimpse of Samir Ibrahaim greeting a group of black-dressed men - undoubtedly busybodies from the museum. What a fortunate thing that this corpse of Ramses the Great concerned everyone far more than the corpse of Lawrence Stratford, which had been buried without ceremony in Egypt, just as Lawrence had wished.

Good Lord, his father looked dreadful, as if he'd aged overnight some ten years. He was even a little disheveled.

"Do y" u have a cigarette?"  Henry asked sharply.

Without looking at him his father produced a small thin cigar and a light.

"The marriage is still the essential thing,"  Randolph murmured almost as if he were speaking to himself." A new bride simply doesn't have time to think about business. And for the time being, I've arranged for you to stay with her. She cannot remain alone."

"Good Lord, Father, this is the twentieth century! Why the hell can't she remain alone!"  '

Stay in that house, and with that disgusting mummy on display in the library? It sickened him. He closed his eyes, savored the cigar silently, and thought of his mistress. A series of sharp, erotic images passed quickly through his mind.

"Damn it, you do what I tell you,"  his father said. But the voice lacked conviction. Randolph gazed out the window." You'll stay there and keep an eye on her and do what you can to see she consents to the marriage as quickly as possible. Do your best to see that she doesn't move away from Alex. I think Alex has begun to irritate her slightly."

"Small wonder. If Alex had any gumption ..."

"The marriage is good for her. It's good for everyone."

"All right, all right, let's drop it!"

Silence as the car moved on. There was time for dinner with Daisy, and a long rest at the flat before he hit the gambling tables at Flint's, that is, if he could force a little immediate cash out of his father...

"He didn't suffer, did he?"

Henry gave a little start.

"What? What are you talking about?"

"Your uncle?"  his father asked, turning to him for the first time." The late Lawrence Stratford, who has just died in Egypt? Did he suffer, for the love of God, or did he go quietly?"

"One minute he was fine, the next he was lying on the floor. He was gone within seconds. Why do you ask about something like that?"

"You're such a sentimental young bastard, aren't you?"

"I couldn't prevent it!"

For one moment, the atmosphere of that close little cell came back to him, the acrid smell of the poison. And that thing, that thing in the mummy case, and the grim illusion that it had been watching.

"He was a pigheaded old fool,"  Randolph said almost in a whisper." But I loved him."

"Did you really?"  Henry turned sharply and peered into his father's face." He's left everything to her, and you loved him!"

"He settled plenty on both of us a long time ago. It ought to have been enough, more than enough - "

"It's a pittance compared to what she's inherited!"

"I won't discuss this."

Patience, Henry thought. Patience. He sat back against the soft grey upholstery. I need a hundred pounds at least and I won't get it like this.

Daisy Banker watched through the lace curtains as Henry stepped out of the cab below. She lived in a long flat above the music hail, where she sang every night from ten P.M. until two in the morning; a soft ripe peach of a woman with big drowsy blue eyes and silver blond hair. Her voice was nothing much and she knew it; but they liked her, they did. They liked her very much.

And she liked Henry Stratford, or so she told herself. He was certainly the best thing that had ever happened to her. He'd got her the job below, though how she could never quite work out; and he paid for the flat, oral least he was supposed to. She knew there was quite a bit owing, but then he was just back from Egypt. He'd make it right or shut up anyone who questioned him about it. He was very good at doing that.

She ran to the mirror as she heard his tread on the stairs. She pulled down the feathered collar of her peignoir and straightened the pearls at her throat. She pinched her cheeks to work up the blush just as his key turned in the lock.

"Well, I'd just about given up on you, I had!"  she bawled as he came into the room. But oh, the sight of him. It never failed to work on her. He was so very handsome with his dark brown hair and eyes; and the way he conducted himself, so truly the gentleman. She loved the way he removed his cloak now and threw it carelessly over the chair, and beckoned for her to come into his arms. So lazy he was; and so full of himself! But why shouldn't he be?

"And my motor car? You promised me a motor car of my own before you left. Where is it! That wasn't it downstairs. That was a cab."

There was something so cold in his smile. When he kissed her, his lips hurt her a little; and his fingers bit into the soft flesh of her upper arms. She felt a vague chill move up her spine; her mouth tingled. She kissed him again and when he led her into the bedroom she didn't say a word.

"I'll get you your motor car,"  he whispered into her ear as he tore off the peignoir and pressed her against him so that her ni**les touched the scratchy surface of his starched shirt. She kissed his cheek, then his chin, licking the faint stubble of his beard. Lovely to feel him breathe this way, to feel his hands on her shoulders.

"Not too rough, sir,"  she whispered.

"Why not?"

The telephone rang. She could have ripped it from the wall.

She unbuttoned his shirt for him as he answered.

"I told you not to call again, Sharpies."

Oh, that bloody son of a bitch, she thought miserably. She wished he was dead. She'd worked for Sharpies before Henry Stratford had rescued her. And Sharpies was a mean one, plain and simple. He had left his scar on her, a tiny half-moon on the back of her neck.

"I told you I'd pay you when I got back, didn't I? Suppose you give me time to unpack my trunk!"  He jammed down the little cone of a receiver into the hook. She pushed the phone back out of the way on the marble-top table.

"Come here to me, sweetheart,"  she said as she sat on the bed.

But her eyes dulled slightly as she watched him staring at the telephone. He was broke still, wasn't he? Stone broke.

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