Victoria Holt

The Curse of the Kings


The Curse

When Sir Edward Travers died suddenly and mysteriously, there was consternation and speculation, not only in the neighborhood of his home, but throughout the country.


A paragraph in our local paper stated:

With the death of Sir Edward Travers, who recently left this country to carry out excavations among the tombs of the Pharaohs, it is being asked: Is there any truth in the ancient belief that he who meddles with the resting places of the dead invites their enmity? Sir Edward's swift and sudden death has brought the expedition to an abrupt end.

Sir Ralph Bodrean, our local squire and Sir Edward's closest friend, had given financial aid to the expedition and when, a few days after the announcement of Sir Edward's death, Sir Ralph had a stroke, there was further speculation. He had, however, suffered a similar affliction some years before, and although he recovered from this second as he had from the first, his health was considerably impaired. It was, as might be expected, hinted that these misfortunes were the result of the Curse.

Sir Edward's body was brought back and buried in our churchyard, and Tybalt, Sir Edward's only son and himself a brilliant man who had already attained some distinction in the same profession as his father, was, of course, chief mourner.

The funeral was one of the grandest our little twelfth-century church had ever seen. There were people present from the academic world as well as friends of the family, and, of course, the press.

I was at the time companion to Lady Bodrean, wife of Sir Ralph, a post which did not suit my nature but which my financial needs had forced me to take.

I accompanied Lady Bodrean to the church for the funeral service and there I could not take my eyes from Tybalt.

I had loved him, foolishly because hopelessly, from the time I had first seen him, for what chance had a humble companion with such a distinguished man? He seemed to me to possess all the masculine virtues. He was by no means handsome by conventional standards, but he was distinguished looking—very tall, lean and neither fair nor dark; he had the brow of a scholar yet there was a touch of sensuality about his mouth; his nose was large and a trifle arrogant, and his grey eyes deep set and veiled. One would never be quite certain what he was thinking. He was aloof and mysterious. I often said to myself: "It would take a lifetime to understand him." And what a stimulating voyage of discovery that would be!

Immediately after the funeral I returned to Keverall Court with Lady Bodrean. She was exhausted she said, and was indeed more complaining and fretful than usual. Her temper did not improve when she learned that reporters had been to the court to discover the state of Sir Ralph's health.

"They are like vultures!" she declared. "They are hoping for the worst because a double death would fit in so well with this foolish story of the Curse."

A few days after the funeral I took Lady Bodrean's dogs for their daily walk and my footsteps led me out of habit to Giza House, the home of the Traverses. I stood at the wrought-iron gate, where I had stood so many times, looking along the path to the house. Now that the funeral was over and the blinds had been drawn up it no longer looked melancholy. It had regained that air of mystery with which I had always associated it, for it was a house which had always fascinated me, even before the Traverses came to live there.

To my embarrassment Tybalt came out of the house and it was too late for me to turn away because he had seen me.

"Good afternoon, Judith," he said.

I quickly invented a reason for being there. "Lady Bodrean was anxious to know how you were getting on," I said.

"Oh, well enough," he answered. "But you must come in."

He smiled at me which made me feel ridiculously happy. It was absurd. Practical, sensible, proud Judith Osmond to feel so intensely about another human being! Judith Osmond in love! How had I ever fallen into such a state and so hopelessly too?

He led me up the path through somewhat overgrown shrubs and pushed open the door with the knocker which Sir Edward had brought from some foreign country. It was cunningly wrought into the shape of a face ... a rather evil one. I wondered whether Sir Edward had put it there to discourage visitors.

The carpets were thick at Giza House so that footsteps were noiseless. Tybalt took me into the drawing room where the heavy midnight blue velvet curtains were fringed with gold and the carpet was deep blue with a velvety pile. Sir Edward had found noise distracting, I had heard. There was evidence of his vocation in that room. I knew some of the weird figures were casts of his more spectacular finds. This was the Chinese room, but the grand piano which dominated it brought with it the flavor of Victorian England.

Tybalt signed to me to sit down and did the same.

"We're planning another expedition to the place where my father died," he said.

"Oh!" I had said I did not believe in this story of the Curse yet the thought of his going back there alarmed me. "You think that wise?" I asked.

"Surely you don't believe these rumors about my father's death, do you, Judith?"

"Of course not."

"He was a healthy man, it was true. And suddenly he was struck down. I believe he was on the verge of a great discovery. It was something he said to me the day before he died. He said: 'I believe shortly I am going to prove to everyone that this expedition was very much worth while.' He would say no more than that. How I wish he had."

"There was an autopsy."

"Yes, here in England. But they were unable to find the cause. It was very mysterious. And now Sir Ralph's stroke."

"You don't think there is a connection?"

He shook his head. "I think my father's old friend was shocked by his sudden death. Sir Ralph has always been somewhat apoplectic and had a mild stroke once before. I know that doctors have been warning him for years to show a little moderation. No, Sir Ralph's illness has nothing to do with what was happening in Egypt. Well, I am going back and I shall attempt to find out what it was my father was on the point of discovering and ... if this had anything to do with his death."

"Take care," I said before I could stop myself.

He smiled. "I believe it is what my father would have wished."

"When will you leave?"

"It will take us three months to get ready."

The door opened and Tabitha Grey came in. Like everyone at Giza House she interested me. She was beautiful in an unobtrusive way. It was only after one had seen her many times that one realized the charm of those features and the fascination of that air of resignation, a kind of acceptance of life. I had never been quite sure of her position at Giza House; she was a sort of specially privileged housekeeper.

"Judith has called with Lady Bodrean's good wishes."

"Would you like some tea, Judith?" asked Tabitha.

I declined with thanks, explaining that I should be going back without delay, or I should be missed. Tabitha smiled sympathetically implying that she understood Lady Bodrean was no easy taskmistress.

Tybalt said he would walk back with me and this he did. He talked all the time about the expedition. I was fascinated by it.

"I believe you wish you were going with us," he said.

"With all my heart."

"Would you be prepared to face the Curse of the Pharaohs, Miss Osmond?" he asked ironically.

"Yes, I certainly should."

He smiled at me.

"I wish," he said earnestly, "that you could join our expedition."

I went back to Keverall Court bemused. I scarcely heard Lady Bodrean's complaints. I was in a dream. He wished that I could join them. Only by a miracle could I do that.

Then Sir Ralph died and there was more talk of the Curse. The man who had led the expedition and the man who had helped to finance it—and both dead! There must be some significance in this.

And then . . . my miracle happened. It was incredible; it was wonderful; it was like something from a dream. It was as fantastic as the fairy story. Cinderella was to go—not to the ball—but with the expedition to Egypt.

I could only marvel at the wonder of it; and I thought constantly of everything that had led up to this.

It really began on my fourteenth birthday when I found the piece of bronze in Josiah Polgrey's grave.


The Bronze Shield

My fourteenth birthday was one of the most eventful days of my life because on it not only did I find the bronze shield but I learned some truths about myself.

The shield came first. I found it during the hot July afternoon. The house was quiet for neither Dorcas, Alison, nor the cook and the two maids were anywhere to be seen. I suspected that the maids were exchanging confidences about their sweethearts in their attic bedroom; that cook was drowsing in the kitchen; that Dorcas was in her garden; that Alison was mending, or embroidering; and that the Reverend James Osmond was in his study pretending to prepare next Sunday's sermon and in fact dozing in his chair—now and then being awakened by a sudden jerk of the head or his own genteel snore and murmuring: "Bless my soul!" and pretending to himself—as there was no one else to pretend to—that he had been working on his sermon all the time.