GRAND MASTER (1939)

1939 Michael Joseph. [Published under the pseudonym Stephen Hockaby.]

They had come to the place where the bodies of beheaded wives or concubines could be bundled into the Bosphorus. John had been shown the place a couple of years before. A flight of steps led down through the prison building, and ended in a well. The steps continued to within a few feet of the level of the salt water, so that the corpses, wrapped up in their concealing sacks, could be rolled into the Bosphorus secretly and easily. Wives or concubines who died of too severe a beating, and unwanted infants bow-stringed at birth, could be disposed of as readily as the headless bodies of the executed.

John's argument was that since none of the corpses remained in the well there must be a current which bore them immediately seawards, for tide there was practically none. Nevertheless, although Mourad himself had advocated this method of escape, none but a boy made desperate by captivity and wildly anxious to get away, would have taken the risk of attempting to leave the palace in such a way, but Mourad's place was to be filled, and de la Naye had no intention of proving the temper of another master. He intended to drown in the well-water or to escape. An older man might, even then, have refused to take the risk, but John was sixteen, with the extraordinarily healthy nerves of the age in which he lived. He had also a clear concsience, and centuries of courage and hardihood were in his blood. His every faculty, too, was as keen and clear as youth and a good life could make it. He prayed; breathed deeply; and began to climb down the steps. The blackness engulfed him. A slight breeze blew up the well, an excellent omen. He let go, and dropped with a splash into the quiet water.

A plot synopsis and review of this rare Stephen Hockaby title will be coming soon; I have recently read the text for the first time and hope to have a review by July of 2015. Please check back.