Home > The Mummy(9)

The Mummy(9)
Author: Anne Rice

It was the mummy Elliott had come to see. And the crowd had backed off a little again. He caught a fresh glass of wine from a passing tray, climbed to his feet, ignoring the outrageous stab of pain in his left hip, and made his way back to the solemn figure in the coffin.

He looked at the face again, the grim set of the mouth with its firm chin. A man in his prime all right. And there was hair cleaving to the well-shaped skull beneath the swollen bandages. He lifted his glass in salute.

"Ramses,"  he whispered, drawing closer. And then speaking in Latin, he said," Welcome to London. Do you know where London is?"  He laughed softly at himself speaking Latin to this thing. Then he quoted a few sentences from Caesar's account of his conquest of Britain." That's where you are, great King,"  he said. He made a feeble attempt to switch to Greek, but it was simply too hard for him. In Latin, he said:" I hope you like the damn place better than I do."

There was a faint rustling sound suddenly. Where had it come from? How odd to hear it so distinctly when the roar of conversation all around him was such a persistent nuisance. But it sounded as if it had come from the coffin itself, right in front of him.

He scanned the face again. Then the arms and hands, which appeared to be snagged in the rotted linen, as if they might fall loose at any moment. In fact, there was a distinct tear in the dark, dirty cloth, exposing a bit of the undergarment of the body right where the wrists were crossed. Not good. The thing was deteriorating right here before his eyes. Or there were tiny parasites at work. Must be stopped immediately.

He looked down at the mummy's feet. This was alarming. A tiny pile of dust accumulating even as he watched, falling, it seemed, from the twisted right hand, on which the wrappings had been badly broken.

"Good Lord, Julie must send this over to the museum immediately,"  he whispered. And then he heard that sound again. Rustling? No, it was fainter. Yes, the thing must be properly taken care of. God only knew what the London damp was doing to it. But surely Samir knew this. And so did Hancock.

In Latin, he spoke to the mummy again." I don't like the damp either, great King. It gives me pain. And that's why I'm going home now, to leave you to your worshippers."

He turned away, leaning heavily on his cane, to ease the ache in his hip. He glanced back only once. And the thing looked so robust. It was as if the Egyptian heat had not dried it out whatsoever.

Daisy looked at the tiny necklace as Henry clasped it at the back of her neck. Her dressing room was packed with flowers, bottles of red wine, champagne cooling in ice, and other offerings, but none from a man as handsome as Henry Stratford.

"Looks funny to me,"  she said, cocking her head to one side. Thin gold chain and a little trinket with paint on it, or that's what it looked like." Wherever did you get it?"

"It's worth more than that trash you took off,"  Henry said, smiling. His speech was thick. He was drunk again. And that meant he would be mean, or very, very sweet." Now come on, ducky, we're going to Flint's. I feel uncommonly lucky, and there's a hundred pounds burning a hole in my pocket. Get a move on."

"And you mean to say that loony cousin of yours is all alone in that house now with that bloomin' mummy case wide open right there in the parlour?"

"Who the hell cares?"  He snatched up the white fox wrap he'd bought for her and put it over her shoulders, and pulled her out of the dressing room and towards the stage door.

Flint's was packed when they got there. She hated the smoke, and the sour smell of drink; but it was always fun to be with him here when he had money and he was excited; and he kissed her now on the cheek as he led her towards the roulette wheel.

"You know the rules. You stand on my left, and only on my left. That's always been lucky."

She nodded. Look at all the fine gentlemen in this room; and the women just loaded with jewels. And she with this silly thing around her neck. It made her anxious.

Julie jumped; what was that sound? She found herself vaguely embarrassed as she stood alone in the shadowy library.

There was no one else here, but she could have sworn she heard another person. Not a step, no. Just all the tiny little sounds of another in the room very near to her.

She looked at the mummy slumbering in its case. In the semi-darkness, it looked as if it were coated with a thin layer of ashes. And what a sombre, brooding expression it had. She really hadn't noticed before. It looked for all the world as if it were struggling with a bad dream. She could almost see a crease in the forehead.

Was she glad now that they had not replaced the lid? She wasn't certain. But it was too late. She had sworn not to touch these things herself; and she must get to bed; she was more weary than she'd ever been. Her father's old friends had stayed forever. And then the newspaper people had barged in. What brazen effrontery! The guards had finally forced them out, but not before they had taken a whole series of pictures of the mummy.

And now the clock was striking one. And there was no one here. So why was she trembling? She went quickly to the front door, and was about to throw the bolt when she remembered Henry. He was supposed to be her chaperon and her protector. Strange that he hadn't spoken a civil word to her since he'd come home. And he certainly had not been in his room upstairs. But nevertheless... She left the door unbolted.

It was bitter cold as he stepped out into the deserted street. He slipped on his gloves quickly.

Shouldn't have slapped her, he thought. But she shouldn't have butted in, damn her. He knew what he was doing. He had doubled his money ten times! If only on that last throw! And then as he argued to sign a note, she'd butted in!" But you mustn't!"

Infuriating, the way they'd looked at him. He knew what he owed. He knew what he was doing. And Sharpies there, that scum. As if he were afraid of Sharpies.

It was Sharpies who stepped out of the alleyway now in front of him. For a moment he wasn't entirely certain. It was so dark, with the fog rolling just above the ground, but then in the seam of light from the window above, he saw the man's pockmarked face.

"Get out of my way,"  he said.

"Another streak of bad luck, sir?"  Sharpies fell into step beside him." And the little lady costing you money. She was always expensive, sir, even when she worked for me. And I'm a generous man, you know."

"Let me alone, you bloody fool."  He stepped up the pace. The street lamp was out up ahead. And there wouldn't be a cab at this hour.

"Not without a little interest on account, sir."  Henry stopped. The Cleopatra coin. Would the imbecile realize what it was worth? Suddenly he felt the man's fingers digging into his arm.

"You dare!"  He pulled away. Then slowly he removed the coin from his inside coat pocket, held it out in the dim light and raised his eyebrow as he looked at the man, who gathered it out of his palm immediately.

"Ah, now that's a beauty, sir. A real ar ... kay ... o ... logical beauty!"  He turned the coin over, as if the inscriptions actually meant something to him." You pinched it, didn't you, sir? From your uncle's treasure, am I right?"

"Take it or leave it!"

Sharpies made his hand a fist around the coin, like a man doing a magic trick for a child.

"Butter wouldn't melt in your mouth, would h, sir?"  He slipped the coin into his pocket." Was he still lying there, gasping, sir, when you pinched it? Or did you wait till he'd breathed his last?"

"Go to hell."

"This won't cover it, sir. No, sir, not by a long shot, sir. Not what you owe me and Die gentlemen at Flint's, sir."

Henry turned on his heel; he made a small adjustment of his top hat against the driving wind; he began to walk fast towards the corner. He could hear the scrape of Sharples's heels on the pavement behind him. And no one ahead in the misty dark; no one behind, that little seam of light from the door of Flint's no longer visible.

He could hear Sharpies drawing close to him. Into the pocket of his coat he reached. His knife. Slowly he drew it out, opened the blade, and gripped the handle tight.

Suddenly he felt the pressure of Sharpies against his back.

"Seems to me you need a little lesson in paying your debts, sir,"  the bastard said to him.

Sharples's hand came down on his shoulder; but Henry turned swiftly, forcing his knee against Sharpies and knocking him off balance a step. For the brilliant silk of his vest Henry aimed, where the knife might go in between the ribs, with no impediment. And to his astonishment he felt it sink into the man's chest, and saw the white of Sharples's teeth as he opened his mouth in a dry scream.

"Bloody fool! I told you to leave me alone!"  He drew out the knife and stabbed the man again. He heard the silk rip this time, and he stepped back, trembling violently all over.

The man took a few faltering steps. Then he fell down on his knees. Gently he pitched forward, shoulders hunched, and then softly heaved to one side, his body going limp and loose on the pavement.

Henry couldn't see his face in the dark. He saw only the lifeless form sprawled there. The bitter cold of the night paralyzed him. His heart thudded in his ears as it had in the chamber in Egypt when he had gazed down at Lawrence lying dead on the floor.

Well, damn him! He shouldn't have tried that with me! The rage choked him. He could not move his right hand, so cold it was, in spite of the glove, the knife clutched in it. Carefully, he lifted his left hand, and closed the knife and put it away.

He glanced from right to left. Darkness, silence. Only the faraway rumble of a motor car on a distant street. Water dripping somewhere, as if from a broken gutter. And the sky above lightening ever so faintly - the color of slate.

He knelt down in the thinning darkness. He reached out for that gleaming silk again, and careful not to touch the great dark wet spot spreading there, he reached under the lapel of the coat. The man's wallet. Fat, full of money!

He did not even examine the contents. Instead he slipped it in the same pocket with the knife. And then he turned on his heel, lifted his chin and walked off with crisp loud steps. He even began to whistle.

Later, when he was comfortably settled in the back of a cab, he drew the wallet out. Three hundred pounds. Well, that was not bad. But as he stared down at the wad of dirty bills, a panic seized him. It seemed he couldn't speak or move, and when he looked out the little window of the hansom, he saw only the soiled grey sky over the roofs of the dreary tenements, and there seemed nothing he wanted, or could want, or could ever have that would alleviate the hopelessness he felt.

Three hundred pounds. But he had not killed the man for that. Why, who could say he had killed anyone! His uncle Lawrence had died of a stroke in Cairo. And as for Sharpies, a despicable moneylender he had made the acquaintance of in Flint's one evening, well, one of Sharples's confederates had killed him. Sneaked up on him in a dark street and sunk a knife in his ribs.

Of course that's what had happened. Who would connect him to these sordid affairs?

He was Henry Stratford, vice chairman of Stratford Shipping, a member of a distinguished family soon to be connected by marriage to the Earl of Rutherford. No one would dare...

And he would call now on his cousin. Explain that he was a little down on his luck. And she would surely come up with a comfortable sum, three times perhaps what he held in his hand, because she would understand it was only temporary, these losses. And it would be a great relief to make them right.

His cousin, his only sister. Once they had loved each other, Julie and he. Loved each other as only a sister and a brother can. He would remind her. She wouldn't give him any trouble, and then he could rest for a little while.

That was the worst part of it of late. He couldn't rest.

JULIE PADDED softly down the stairs in her slippers, 11 the full folds of her lace peignoir gathered in one hand so that she did not trip, her brown hair in loose waves over her shoulders and down her back.

She saw the sun before she saw anything else, as she entered the library - the great blessed flood of yellow light filling the glass conservatory beyond the open doors, a dazzle amid the ferns, and in the dancing water of the fountain and in the great mesh of green leaves curling beneath the glass ceiling.

Long slanting rays fell on the mask of Ramses the Damned in its shadowy corner, on the dark colours of the Oriental carpet, and on the mummy himself as he stood upright in his open case, the tightly wrapped face and limbs becoming golden in the haze, golden as desert sand at midday.

The room lightened before Julie's eyes. The sun exploded suddenly on the gold Cleopatra coins on their bed of velvet. It shimmered on the smooth marble bust of Cleopatra with its demure, half-lidded gaze. It caught the translucent alabaster of the long row of jars. It gleamed on tiny bits and pieces of old gold throughout the room, and on the gilded titles of the many leather-bound books. It struck the deep-graven name" Lawrence Stratford"  written on his velvet-covered diary that lay on the desk.

Julie stood still, feeling the warmth surround her. The dark musty smell was fading. And the mummy, it seemed to move in the brightening light, as if responding to the heat. To sigh almost like a flower opening. What a tantalizing illusion. Of course it had not moved at all; yet it did seem fuller, somehow, its powerful shoulders and arms more rounded, its fingers poised as if alive.

"Ramses ..."  she whispered.

There came that sound again, the sound that had startled her the night before. But no, it wasn't a sound, not really. Just the breath of this great house. Of timbers and plaster in the warmth of the morning. She closed her eyes for a moment. And then Rita's step sounded in the hall. Of course, it had been Rita all along ... the sound of another very near - heartbeat, breath, the subtle shift of garments in motion.

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