Home > The Mummy(7)

The Mummy(7)
Author: Anne Rice

If only the dead could come back. If only the ghost of her father would come to her. Imagine such a miracle. Having him again, speaking to him, hearing his voice. What happened, Father? Did you suffer? Was there even one second when you were afraid?

Yes, she wouldn't have minded such a visitation at all. But no such thing would ever happen. That was the horror. We went from the cradle to the grave beset by mundane tragedies. The splendour of the supernatural was a thing for stories and poems, and Shakespeare's plays.

But why dwell on it? Now had come the moment to be alone with her father's treasures, and to read the last words he wrote.

She turned the pages now to the date of the discovery. And the first words she saw made her eyes fill with tears.

Must write to Julie, describe everything. Hieroglyphs on the door virtually free of error; must have been written by one who knew what he was writing. Yet the Greek is entirely of the Ptolemaic period. And the Latin is sophisticated. Impossible, Yet there it is. Samir uncommonly fearful and superstitious. Must sleep for a few hours. Am going in tonight!

There was a hasty ink sketch of the door of the tomb and its three broad paragraphs of writing. Hastily she turned to the next page.

Nine P.M. by my watch. Inside the chamber at last. Appears to be a library rather than a tomb. The man has been laid to rest in a King's coffin beside a desk on which he has left some thirteen scrolls. He writes entirely in Latin, with obvious haste but no carelessness. There are droplets of ink all over, but the text is completely coherent.

"Call me Ramses the Damned. For that is the name I have given myself. But I was once Ramses the Great of Upper and Lower Egypt, slayer of the Hittites, Father of many sons and daughters, who ruled Egypt for sixty-four years. My monuments are still standing; the stele recount my victories, though a thousand years have passed since I was pulled, a mortal child, from the womb.

"Ah, fatal moment now buried by time, when from a Hittite priestess I took the cursed elixir. Her warnings I would not heed. Immortality I craved. And so I drank the potion in the brimming cup. And now, long centuries gone by - amid the poisons of my lost Queen, I hide the potion which she would not accept from me - my doomed Cleopatra."

Julie stopped. The elixir, hidden amongst these poisons? She realized what Samir had meant. The papers had not told that part of the little mystery. Tantalizing. These poisons hide a formula that can grant eternal life.

"But who would create such a fiction!"  she whispered.

She found herself staring at the marble bust of Cleopatra. Immortality. Why would Cleopatra not drink the potion? Oh, but really, she was beginning to believe it! She smiled.

She turned the page of the diary. The translation was interrupted. Her father had written only:

Goes on to describe how Cleopatra awakened him from his dream-filled sleep, how he tutored her, loved her, watched her seduce the Roman leaders one by one...

"Yes,"  Julie whispered." Julius Caesar first and then Mark Antony. But why would she not take the elixir?"  There was another paragraph of translation:

"How can I bear this burden any longer? How can I endure the loneliness anymore? Yet I can not die. Her poisons can not harm me. They keep my elixir safe so that I may dream of still other Queens, both fair and wise, to share the centuries with me. But is it not her face I see? Her voice I hear? Cleopatra. Yesterday. Tomorrow. Cleopatra."

Latin followed. Several scribbled paragraphs in Latin which Julie could not read. Even with the aid of a dictionary she could not have translated it. Then there were a few lines of demotic Egyptian, even more nearly impenetrable than that Latin. Nothing more.

She laid down the book. She fought the inevitable tears. It was almost as if she could feel the presence of her father in this room. How excited he must have been, what a lovely scribble his handwriting had become.

And how lovely the whole mystery was.

Somewhere among all those poisons, an elixir that conveyed immortality? One need not take it literally to find it beautiful.

And behold that tiny silver burner and the delicate vial. Ramses the Damned had believed it. Perhaps her father had believed it. And for the moment, well, maybe she did too.

She rose slowly and approached the long marble table against the opposite wall. The scrolls were too fragile. There were tiny bits and pieces of papyrus scattered everywhere. She had seen this damage done as die men lifted them ever so carefully from their crates. She dared not touch them. Besides, she couldn't read them.

As for the jars, she mustn't touch them either. What if some of that poison were spilled, or somehow released into the air?

She found herself suddenly looking at her own reflection in the mirror on the wall. She went back to the desk, and opened the folded newspaper that lay there.

Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra was enjoying a long run in London. She and Alex had meant to go and see it, but then Alex fell asleep during serious plays. Only Gilbert and Sullivan entertained Alex. and even then he was usually nodding off by the end of the third act.

She studied the little announcement for the performance. She stood up and reached for Plutarch on the bookshelf above the desk.

Where was the story of Cleopatra? Plutarch had not devoted a full biography to her. No, her story was contained in that of Mark Antony, of course.

She paged quickly to the passages she only dimly remembered. Cleopatra had been a great Queen, and what we call now a great politician. She had not only seduced Caesar and Antony, she kept Egypt free of Roman conquest for decades, finally taking her own life when Antony was dead by his own hand, and Octavius Caesar had stormed her gates. The loss of Egypt to Rome had been inevitable, but she had almost turned the tide. Had Julius Caesar not been assassinated, he might have made Cleopatra his Empress. Had Mark Antony been a little stronger, Octavian might have been overthrown.

Even in her final days, however, Cleopatra had been victorious in her own way. Octavian wanted to take her to Rome as a royal prisoner. She had cheated him. She had tried out dozens of poisons on condemned prisoners, and then chosen the bite of a snake to end her life. The Roman guards had not prevented her suicide. And so Octavian took possession of Egypt. But Cleopatra he could not have. Julie closed the book almost reverently. She looked at the long row of alabaster jars. Could these really be those very poisons?

She fell into a strange reverie as she gazed at the magnificent coffin. A hundred like it she had seen here and in Cairo. A hundred like it she had examined ever since she could remember. Only this one contained a man who claimed to be immortal. Who claimed to be entering not death when he was buried, but" a dream-filled sleep."

What was the secret of that slumber? Of being awakened from it? And the elixir!

"Ramses the Damned,"  she whispered." Would you wake for me as you did for Cleopatra? Would you wake for a new century of indescribable marvels even though your Queen is dead?"

No answer but silence; and the large soft eyes of the golden King staring at her, graven hands folded over his chest.

"That's robbery!"  Henry said, barely able to contain his anger." The thing's priceless."  He glared at the little man behind the desk in the back office of the coin shop. Miserable little thief in his stuffy world of dirty glass cases and bits and pieces of money displayed as if they were jewels.

"If it's genuine, yes,"  the man answered slowly." And if it's genuine, where did it come from? A coin like this with a perfect image of Cleopatra? That's what they will want to know, you see, where did it come from? And you have not told me your name."

"No, I haven't."  Exasperated, he snatched the coin back from the dealer, slipped it into his pocket and turned to go. He stopped long enough to put on his gloves. What did he have left? Fifty pounds? He was in a fury. He let the door slam behind him as he walked into the biting wind.

The dealer sat quite still for a long moment. He could still feel the coin that he had let slip literally from his hand. Never in all these long years had he seen anything quite like it. He knew it was genuine, and suddenly he felt the fool as never before in his life.

He should have bought it! He should have taken the risk. But he knew it was stolen, and not even for the Queen of the Nile could he become a thief.

He rose from the desk, and passed through the dusty serge curtains that separated his shop from a tiny drawing room where he spent much of his time, even during business hours, quite alone. His newspaper lay beside the wing chair where he'd left it. He opened now to the headline:

STRATFORD MUMMY AND HIS CURSE COME TO LONDON

The ink drawing beneath showed a slender young man disembarking from the P&O H.M.S. Melpomine along with the mummy of the famed Ramses the Damned. Henry Stratford, nephew of the dead archaeologist, said the caption. Yes, that was the man who had just left his shop. Had he stolen the coin from the tomb where his uncle died so suddenly? And how many more like it had he taken? The dealer was confused; relieved on the one hand, and full of regret on the other. He stared at the telephone.

Noon. The club dining room was quiet, the few scattered members eating their lunch alone on white-draped tables in silence. Just the way Randolph liked it, a true retreat from the noisy streets outside, and the endless pressure and confusion of his office.

He was not happy when he saw his son standing in the door some fifty feet away. Hasn't slept all night, more than likely. Yet Henry was shaven, neatly dressed, Randolph gave him that much. The little things were never out of Henry's control. It was the great disaster with which he couldn't cope - that he had no real life any longer. That he was a gambler and a drinker with no soul.

Randolph went back to his soup.

He didn't look up as his son took the chair opposite, and called to the waiter for a Scotch and water" at once."

"I told you to stay at your cousin's last night,"  Randolph said gloomily. There was no point to this conversation." I left the key for you."

"I picked up the key, thank you. And my cousin is no doubt doing quite well without me. She has her mummy to keep her company."

The waiter set down the glass and Henry drained it at once.

Randolph took another slow spoon of the hot soup." Why the hell do you dine in a place like this? It's been out of fashion for a decade. It's positively funereal."

"Keep your voice down."

"Why should I? All the members are deaf."

Randolph sat back in the chair. He gave a small nod to the waiter, who moved in to take the soup plate." It's my club and I like it,"  he said dully. Meaningless. All conversation with his son was meaningless. He would weep if he thought of it. He would weep if he lingered too long on the fact that Henry's hands trembled, that his face was pale and drawn, and that his eyes fixed on nothing - eyes of an addict, a drunk.

"Bring the bottle,"  Henry said to the waiter, without looking up. And to his father," I'm down to twenty pounds." 

"I can't advance you anything!"  Randolph said wearily." As long as she's in control, the situation is very simply desperate. You don't understand."

"You're lying to me. I know she signed papers yesterday. ..."

"You've drawn a year's salary in advance."

"Father, I must have another hundred. ..."

"If she examines the books herself, I may have to confess everything; and ask for another chance."

It filled him with surprising relief merely to say it. Perhaps it was what he wanted. He gazed at his son from a great remove suddenly. Yes, he should tell his niece everything, and ask for her . , . what? Her help.

Henry was sneering.

"Throwing ourselves on her mercy. Oh, that's lovely."

Randolph looked away, across the long vista of white-draped tables. Only one stooped grey-haired figure remained now, dining alone, in a far corner. The elderly Viscount Stephenson -  one of the old landed gentry who still had the bank account to support his vast estates. Well, dine in peace, my friend, Randolph thought wearily.

"What else can we do!"  he said softly now to his son." You might come to work tomorrow. At least make an appearance. ..."

Was his son listening, his son who had been miserable for as long as Randolph could remember, his son who had no future, no ambitions, no plans, no dreams?

It broke his heart suddenly, the thought of it - the long years since his son had been anything but desperate, and furtive, and

bitter as well. It broke his heart to see his son's eyes darting anxiously over the simple objects of the table - the heavy silver, the napkin which he had not yet unfolded. The glass and the bottle of Scotch.

"All right, I'll give you some on account,"  he said. What would another hundred pounds matter? And this was his only son. His only son.

A sombre yet undeniably exciting occasion. When Elliott arrived, the Stratford house was crowded to overflowing. He had always loved this house, with its uncommonly large rooms, and its dramatic central stairway.

So much dark wood, so many towering bookshelves; and yet it had a cheerful atmosphere with the wicked abundance of electric light and the never-ending stretches of gilded wallpaper. But he missed Lawrence sharply as he stood in the front hall. He felt Lawrence here; and all the wasted moments of their friendship came back to torment him. And the long-ago love affair that haunted him still.

Well, he had known it would happen. But there was nowhere else on earth that he wanted to be tonight, except in Lawrence's house for the first official showing of Ramses the Damned, Lawrence's discovery. He made a light dismissive gesture to fend off those who immediately came towards him, and bowing his head he pushed his way gently through strangers and old friends until he reached the Egyptian room. The pain in his legs was bad tonight, because of the damp, as he always said. But luckily he wouldn't have to stand long. And he had a new walking stick that he rather liked, a fancy affair with a silver handle.

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