Authors: Michael Pearce
Table of Contents
A COLD TOUCH OF ICE
THE FACE IN THE CEMETERY
THE POINT IN THE MARKET
THE MARK OF THE PASHA
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First published in Great Britain and the USA 2013 by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of
9â15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.
eBook edition first published in 2013 by Severn House Digital
an imprint of Severn House Publishers Limited
Copyright Â© 2013 by Michael Pearce.
The right of Michael Pearce to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Pearce, Michael, 1933-
The bride box. â (A Mamur Zapt mystery ; 17)
1. Owen, Gareth Cadwallader (Fictitious character)â
Fiction. 2. EgyptâHistoryâBritish occupation,
1882-1936âFiction. 3. Detective and mystery stories.
I. Title II. Series
ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-8303-2 (cased)
ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-428-7 (epub)
Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.
This ebook produced by
Palimpsest Book Production Limited,
Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.
areth Cadwallader Owen, The Mamur Zapt, Head of the Khedive's Secret Police, was sitting in his office, the blinds drawn against the sun, grappling with the latest misdeeds of the Brotherhood, when Nikos, his official clerk, came in looking pale.
âMiss Skiff to see you.'
Miss Skiff was the elderly and eccentric English lady who ran the Cairo Dispensary for Sick Animals.
Owen's responsibilities, although wide, did not in his view extend to sick animals. He turned back to the Brotherhood. âYou sort it,' he said.
After a while he became aware that Nikos was still standing there. âWell?'
âShe has a girl with her.'
girl,' said Nikos with emphasis.
Owen thought he understood. Nikos was not a family man. Owen sometimes suspected that his most intimate relationships were with the steel filing cabinets that filled his office. People, he was not good at; children, he could not make out at all. They filled him with alarm. He sometimes saw them from his window. They milled about in an unruly and unpredictable way. How did you deal with them? How, so to speak, did you come at them?
âOh, very well,' said Owen, and got up from his desk. HeÂ went through into Nikos's office. Miss Skiff was sitting there with a little Egyptian girl, holding her by the hand.
âCaptain Owen â¦'
Fraser, an engineer on the Egyptian railways, had been going along the carriages of the train that had just come in from Luxor, checking the bearings for sand, when something had stirred in the darkness at the end of the carriage he was under. He crawled up to it and was surprised to find that it was a little girl squashed up in the space above the wheels. When he had hauled her out she had put up her hand to shield her eyes against the sudden brightness of the sun. And then the whole front of her face had fallen off.
âIt gave me quite a turn,' he confessed afterwards at the bar.
Unnecessarily, it turned out, since what had come off was not in fact the front of her face but a dense layer of flies which had settled on a raw wound that they were concealing.
Still, that was bad enough and he felt that something oughtÂ to be done about it. But what?
âI mean, I had the rest of the train to examine,' he explained to his cronies at the bar.
âSo what did you do?'
âWell, I thought at first of taking her to the hospital, but the Victoria is a long way from the Pont Limoun and, as I say, I had the rest of the train to do. But then I hit upon the answer. Miss Skiff's outfit is just up the road.'
âBut that's for animals!'
âBut she would know about wounds, wouldn't she? Anyway, I took the little girl along. I'll admit she was a bit surprised but she took her in. And I finished the train and went home for supper. Actually, I was a bit worried about it afterwards. I mean, you ought to report these things, oughtn't you? But to whom?'
âI suggested that to Miss Skiff, but she wasn't having any of it. Apparently, she had not got on too well with the police over some of her stray animals. And she had been talking to the girl, and said that was not the right thing to do. “This is a case for the Mamur Zapt,” she said.'
The Mamur Zapt was a traditional post in the Egyptian government. Indeed, some claimed that he was the Khedive's right-hand man. Less traditionally, but like many of the other senior posts in the government, it was occupied today, in 1913, not by an Egyptian but by an Englishman. A few years before, the British had been invited to sort out Egypt's chaotic finances and, well, they had stayed. The effective ruler of Egypt was not the Khedive, nor his unfortunate Prime Minister, but the British High Commissioner who, in the interests of better administration â so he said â had installed his own British men in most of the country's senior posts. Including that of Mamur Zapt.
The present occupier of the post was not, actually, as he frequently but fruitlessly pointed out, an Englishman but a Welshman, which put him at a certain distance from both sides. He was loyal, or, as some claimed, disloyal to bothÂ sides. Anyway, in the High Commissioner's view â but not the Khedive's â this made for greater efficiency. In Owen's view it merely meant that he could be stabbed in the back by both sides.
âHello!' said Owen. âWhat's your name?'
The little girl was tongue-tied.
âMine is Gareth,' he said easily. âIt's a funny name, I know, but that's because it's foreign. I come from England â¦' This was stretching a point, because he was Welsh and proud of it. âWhere do you come from?'
As she remained silent, he said, âLet's see if I can guess: is it Luxor?'
The little girl shook her head.
He tried several other places.
âYou've got me beat,' he said at last.
The little girl gave a triumphant smile. âDenderah,' she whispered softly.
âReally? Well, that's a long way away! And you came all that way on the train? It can't have been very comfortable, under the train like that.' Nikos had showed him a briefing note as he came in. âWas it dusty?'
The little girl nodded.
At least this man spoke in a language she could understand. Fraser had been totally incomprehensible to her.
âAnd the sand blew up, too, I expect. Did it get in your eyes?'
She nodded again.
âAnd in your mouth, I'll bet. Did you try to spit it out?'
He gave a mock spit. The little girl gazed at him, amazed.
Then, tentatively, she followed suit.
Owen gave a yet bigger spit.
The little girl's face, so far as he could see it behind Miss Skiff's bandaging, broke into a delighted smile and she gave a huge spit.
They rivalled each other for a moment or two before Nikos's horrified eyes.
âCaptain Owen â¦' Miss Skiff began.
âI'll bet you're thirsty after all that! Would you like a drink?'
On Nikos's desk, as in all offices in Cairo, was a pitcher of water. It was covered with a cloth, not just to keep out the sand, which came in through the shutters and lay in a thin film upon every surface, but to keep the water cool. A
came in regularly and dipped the cloth in a bowl of ice and water and then wrapped it round the pitcher again.
Owen poured out a glass and gave it to the little girl.
âWhat did you say your name was?'
âLeila,' she said softly.
Gradually he teased her story out of her. Her mother had died giving birth to a little brother, who also had not lasted long. Her father had taken another wife and this time the wife was not so nice. For a time a bigger sister had protected her but then the sister had gone away. Then one day a white man had come and she had been told to go away with him.
âWhite man?' said Owen.
âYes. But he wasn't very nice.' And there were other men, too, some with whips. And a lot of children like her. And they all started walking. And one of the men had said they were going to the sea and would get on a boat. But Leila had not wanted to go on a boat and had run away.
And now Owen understood why Miss Skiff had been so adamant that the little girl should be taken to the Mamur Zapt to tell her story.
âI thought the slave trade had been stamped out,' said Owen's friend Paul at the Sporting Club that evening. Paul was an ADC to the High Commissioner and Owen often found it useful to run things past him before they got out into the open and too many people had a hand in them.
âIf it had been the Sudan, I would have understood it,' said Owen.
âDon't let them hear you saying things like that,' said Paul. âThey think they've stamped it out, too.'
The Sudan, that vast country, larger than India, which lay to the south of Egypt, was jointly governed by Egypt and Britain. There, too, there was a difference between appearance and reality. While formally the Sudan was a condominium, jointly governed by Egypt and Britain, in practice the British ran the show. Once their troops had re-conquered the Sudan â in the name of Egypt â some years before, the British had stayed there, too. It was Englishmen not Egyptians who were the District Commissioners and the country was governed from Khartoum. There, too, the slave trade had been put down â supposedly. It was one of the pretexts for the British invasion.
The Sudan had been the great slave market of Africa. Here traders had brought their captives from the south to be traded and sold on to the markets of the Middle East. Egypt had been one of those markets. In Egypt now the slave trade had been largely stamped out, though rumour had it that it still persisted in parts of the south, along the border with the Sudan.
The Sudan government hotly denied it and were zealous in their efforts to quash it, but the rumour persisted.
âI was thinking of having a word with their Slavery Bureau,' said Owen.
âIt sounds as if you'd do better to have a word with
Slavery Bureau,' said Paul. âIf it still existed.'
The Egyptian Slavery Bureau had been abolished recently in the name of economy.
âMy people won't want to hear about this,' said Paul. âThey think they've put slavery behind them, and won't want to restart the machinery for suppression. It's too costly.'