I have always considered that one of the most thrilling and dramatic of the many adventures I have shared with Poirot was that of our investigation into the strange series of deaths which followed upon the discovery and opening of the Tomb of King Men-her-Ra.
Hard upon the discovery of the Tomb of Tutankh-Amen by Lord Carnarvon, Sir John Willard and Mr. Bleibner of New York, pursuing their excavations not far from Cairo, in the vicinity of the Pyramids of Gizeh, came unexpectedly on a series of funeral chambers. The greatest interest was aroused by their discovery. The Tomb appeared to be that of King Men-her-Ra, one of those shadowy kings of the Eighth Dynasty, when the Old Kingdom was falling to decay. Little was known about this period, and the discoveries were fully reported in the newspapers.
An event soon occurred which took a profound hold on the public mind. Sir John Willard died quite suddenly of heart failure.
The more sensational newspapers immediately
took the opportunity of reviving all the old superstitious stories connected with the ill luck of certain Egyptian treasures. The unlucky Mummy at the British Museum, that hoary old chestnut, was dragged out with fresh zest, was quietly denied by the Museum, but nevertheless enjoyed all its usual vogue.
A fortnight later Mr. Bleibner died of acute blood poisoning, and a few days afterwards a nephew of his shot himself in New York. The “Curse of Men-her-Ra” was the talk of the day, and the magic power of dead-and-gone Egypt was exalted to a fetish point.
It was then that Poirot received a brief note from Lady Wil-lard, widow of the dead archeologist, asking him to go and see her at her house in Kensington Square. I accompanied him.
Lady Willard was a tall, thin woman, dressed in deep mourning. Her haggard face bore eloquent testimony to her recent grief.
“It is kind of you to have come so promptly, Monsieur Poirot.”
“I am at your service, Lady Willard. You wished to consult me?”
“You are, I am aware, a detective, but it is not only as a detective that I wish to consult you. You are a man of original views, I know, you have imagination, experience of the world; tell me, Monsieur Poirot, what are your views on the supernatural?”
Poirot hesitated for a moment before he replied. He seemed to be considering. Finally he said:
“Let us not misunderstand each Other, Lady Willard. It is not a general question that you are asking me there. It has a personal application, has it not? You are referring obliquely to the death of your late husband? “
“That is so,” she admitted.
“You want me to investigate the circumstances of his death? “
“I want you to ascertain for me exactly how much is newspaper chatter, and how much may be said to be founded on fact. Three deaths, Monsieur Poirot – each one explicable taken by itself, but taken together surely an almost unbelievable coincidence, and all within a month of the opening of the tomb! It may be mere superstition, it may be some potent curse from the past that operates in ways undreamed of by modern science. The fact remains – three deaths! And I am afraid, Monsieur Poirot, horribly afraid. It may not yet be the end.”
“For whom do you fear? “
“For my son. When the news of my husband’s death came I was ill. My son, who has just come down from Oxford,” went out there. He brought the – the body home, but now he has gone out again, in spite of my prayers and entreaties.