Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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Cover Image

RGL e-Book Cover
Based on a Dartmoor scene from a public domain wallpaper

Ex Libris

As published in
The Queanbeyan Age and Queanbeyan Observer,
NSW, Australia, 10 October 1919

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2022
Version Date: 2022-11-17

Produced by Terry Walker and Roy Glashan

All content added by RGL is proprietary and protected by copyright.

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[Featuring some thinly disguised place names. Moorlands Prison
is Dartmoor Prison; the River Arrow is the River Dart; Arrowmeet
is Dartmeet; Okestock is Okehampton; Chaddercombe is Widecombe.

CAPTAIN Wreford, Deputy-Governor of Moorlands Prison, sat alone in the big bare office. His chief, Colonel Peyton, was away on leave, and all the cares of the great penal establishment were upon his shoulders. The post was just in, and Captain Wreford was steadily opening letter after letter. At last he came to one addressed to himself. He slit the envelope with the paper-knife which he held in his strong, square hand, and took out a sheet of stiff-looking paper, with the familiar "Home Office" heading.

"Dear Wreford," he read. "You remember that Slatter conspiracy case. New and important evidence has come to light, and it begins to appear that young. Philip Holmes, whose evidence was so strongly discredited at the time, may have been right after all. He, if you recollect, was Slatter's junior partner, and at the time was believed to have had knowledge of the swindle which Slatter was perpetrating, although he swore that he was completely ignorant of what was going on. He was the only one of the four prisoners who was not actually sentenced, but he left the Court under the shadow of suspicion, and what has become of him no one knows.

"But that is by the way. What is to the point is that a new trial has been asked for by Mr. George Holmes, Philip Holmes' uncle, and that the new evidence which he brings forward justifies this. But the issue will undoubtedly hang on what can be got out of Raper, Slatter's chief clerk, who is at present under your care at Moorlands.

"I want you to send him to London at once. Put him in charge of a good man, and deliver him at Brixton not later than the evening of the 18th.

"Yours sincerely,

"Frank L. Arran."

Captain Wreford read the letter, through twice. "H'm! I was never quite satisfied about that case," he said, thoughtfully. "I remember how straightly young Holmes gave his evidence. And yet the end of it was that though he was not sentenced, he went out of court a ruined man. By Jove, I'd like to hear the new trial."

He broke off suddenly.

"It's getting decidedly dark!" he exclaimed, and almost as he spoke there came a low heavy rumble like a loaded cart crossing an iron bridge.

"Thunder, by Jove!" His face grow suddenly anxious. "I hope they've got the farm parties in." He touched a bell by his side, and a moment later the door opened and a broad-shouldered, soldierly-looking man in dark-blue entered the room. On his shoulders were the brass letters P.W., which meant that John Cullen, once a private in Captain Wreford's own regiment, had now attained the coveted rank of Principal Warder.

"Cullen," said Captain Wreford, "are the parties coming in?"

"Yes, sir. I heard the whistles a moment ago." Suddenly the window blinds began to flap and rattle violently. Cullen sprang to close the windows.

"It's coming, and no mistake, sir," he said. "Some of 'em will have wet jackets before they get in."

"Ah, here's the first of them," he added, as a long line of convicts in their red and blue working slops came tramping in at the main gate.

"Cullen!" The warder went back to the table.

"You know that man Raper?" said 'Captain Wreford.

"Yes, sir."

"He has to go to London to give evidence at a trial. I wish you to take him up to Brixton to-morrow.

"Very good, sir."

There was a blinding flash of lightning, and the whole building shook with the crash of the thunder which it let loose. Next moment the rain blotted out everything.

Captain Wreford snatched an oilskin from a peg on the wall: "I must go and lend a hand," he said, quickly. "Come, Cullen."

Through the rush and roar of the storm, party after party of soaked and bedraggled convicts came hurrying in, herded by warders in streaming oilskins. Searching for once was omitted. Only the roll was called, and as fast as it could be humanly managed the men were swept off to their cells.

"All correct! All correct!" Time after time the familiar phrase announced that the tally was complete; until the last party of all was being counted. There was a pause, and the face suddenly drawn and anxious.

"What is it, Macey?" demanded the Deputy sharply.

"I'm a man short, sir," answered Macey, in a low voice.

"A man short! Who is it?"

"Raper, sir."

"Raper!" repeated Wreford. "Raper! Heavens, what ill luck! I had rather that any other man in the prison had escaped."

THE brimming puddles flashed to spray under the flying wheels of Captain Wreford's two-seater as the swift little car flew down the long straight road towards the River Arrow. The Deputy had got upon Raper's track with the least possible delay. He had ascertained, that the man must have slipped out of the gang at the very moment, when the storm broke.

A convict named Murton, who had a grudge against Raper, had volunteered the information that a car had been seen to pass slowly along the road a little before the storm broke, and that Raper, who was working next him, had watched it eagerly. Further evidence was obtained that, during the storm, a car which was probably the same, had driven through the village of Moorlands, and had turned to the north along the main road leading to Okestock. It was almost certain that Raper had escaped in this car. As Wreford's own car was capable of fifty miles an hour, he had every hope of overhauling the fugitive before he reached Okestock, fourteen miles away.

The car, lightly braked, fled swiftly down the long hill. The clouds had broken and the sun was drawing steam from the soaked moor, and as they neared the bottom this formed a thin haze over the valley. The car had almost reached the level when Cullen gave a sudden cry.

"Brake, sir! Brake! The bridge is down."

Down went Wreford's foot, and at the same time he flung the hand brake forward into its last notch. The little car rocked dangerously, and for a moment it seemed that she would turn right over. But Wreford held her, and she came to rest with her front wheels on the very arch of the bridge and not a dozen feet from the gap in its centre which the mist coils had for, the moment completely hidden.

Wreford drew a long breath.

"Good thing you saw it, Cullen. That's about as close a call as I want!"

He sprang out, went to the edge of the gap, and looked over into the roaring depths below.

"There's no crossing this," he said.

Cullen shook his head. "I don't see what we can do, sir, except go back and try the bridge at Arrowmeet."

"What's the use of that?" I snapped the Deputy. "It's twelve miles round if it's an inch. Raper would be at Barnstaple or Ilfracombe before we reached Okestock."

"Then I'm afraid we're done in, sir," said Cullen.

It was at this moment that a head appeared above the stone wall bordering the road, and a man came scrambling over. He wore an oilskin coat and carried a fishing rod.

"Have you seen a car pass?" asked Wreford, quickly.

"Yes," replied the other, pushing back his hat and showing a young and rather pleasant face, and a pair of steady grey eyes. "A large black American car went over just before the flood carried the bridge away."

"He's done us," said Wreford, bitterly, glancing at Cullen.

"A convict escaped?" questioned the stranger.

"Yes," Wreford answered, ruefully. "A man called Raper. And the deuce of it is that he will probably get clear away."

The other had come a step nearer. His face was suddenly eager.

"He'll have made for Okestock," he said, keenly. "Can't you wire and have him stopped? I can describe the car."

"I've tried to telephone," Wreford told him. "But the wire crosses the bridge here and of course has gone with it."

"So it does. I'd forgotten," said the other, quickly. "But if you could get to Chaddercombe Post Office it would be all right."

"Chaddercombe!" repeated Wreford testily. "Chaddercombe's a mile the other side of this internal flood."

"I know," replied the other, quietly. "But only a mile. You wouldn't need the car to get there."

Wreford stared at the man. "How are you going to cross this?" he demanded, pointing to the flood; which boiled like a hungry beast through the ruins of the central arch.

The stranger stared thoughtfully at the sliding avalanche of water, at the same time laying down his rod.

"Got any petrol tins?" he asked.

"Yes, I've got two spare tins at the back."

"Empty them and let me have them," said the other, at the same time laying down his rod.

"What the deuce are you going to do with them?" demanded Wreford.

"They're as good as a cork jacket any day," answered the young fellow, calmly.

"You mean to swim that river?" gasped Wreford. "Why, you're crazy."

"I don't think so. I'm willing' to try, anyhow." As he spoke he was peeling off his coat.

Cullen came close to the Deputy.

"Let him try, sir," he whispered. "I know him. He's young Mr. Perry from Craycott. The same as fought and beat Billy Baines from the Silver Dagger Mine last Christmas."

Wreford shrugged his shoulders. "You can try if you like." he said to Perry. "But I won't be responsible for such lunacy."

"I don't ask you to," said Perry, calmly. "Give me the tins."

His preparations were soon complete. Stripped to shirt and trousers, he roped the two tins firmly around his body, one at his back and one in front. Climbing back over the wall, he waded into the shallow edge of the flood. Wreford stared at him with beating heart.

Three, steps, then Perry was in to his waist, and in an instant the river had him and whirled him away like a straw.

"It's madness, Cullen!" groaned Wreford. "It's murder."

But Cullen was already over the wall and running down the bank, and the Deputy followed. Perry was fifty yards away. The petrol tins held him in the water, but even so the risk was frightful. The river bed was a mass of rocks, and though these were now hidden, their presence was indicated by enormous spouts of tawny foam.

He was in the very centre of the torrent and travelling so fast that the two men on the bank could hardly keep abreast. Perry was fighting hard, trying to force himself out of the central rush, and gain slacker water under the far bank.

"Look! Look, sir!" cried Cullen. "He's out of the worst!"

He was right. Perry was fighting like a demon. Wreford could hardly breathe as he watched the battle. The river seemed like a wild beast, endeavouring to drag the brave swimmer back into its clutches.

"He'll never do it," muttered Wreford again.

"He will, sir. He will. You watch him," cried Cullen.

Wreford could not share Cullen's confidence. Perry was flashing down stream again at fearful speed. And just beyond, the river narrowed between high banks into a boiling gut set with huge boulders. Nothing with breath in it could possible survive the passage of that race.

"Go it, Mr. Perry," roared Cullen. At that moment Perry made his supreme effort, and the torrent, suddenly tired of its cruel game, flung the stout swimmer sideways. Wreford, hardly able to believe his eyes, saw him clinging with both hands to a clump of thick rushes under the far bank.

"He's done it! I told you he would, sir," shouted Cullen, almost beside himself with excitement.

Wreford drew a deep breath but did not speak. His eyes were on Perry, who was now drawing himself up out of the water. They saw him gain his feet and untie his petrol tins. Then he waved his hand, and set off at a rapid pace across the moor.

Wreford turned to Cullen: "As plucky a bit of work as ever I saw, Cullen. And now we must leave the rest to him, and you and I had best get back to the prison."

WREFORD'S feelings for the rest of that long afternoon were not enviable. It is never good for a Governor to lose a prisoner, but in this case the prisoner was one of such importance that there would be serious trouble ahead if he had really got away.

Darkness was falling and, he was back in his own house when' a servant came in.

"A gentleman to see you, sir. Mr. Perry, his name is."

Cullen sprang up and went out into the hall. There stood Perry.

"Sorry to be so long," he said, "but we had to come a long way round."

"But Raper—what about Raper?" demanded the Deputy.

"Oh, he's in the car outside with a policeman," answered the young man, calmly.

"You've got him! But how?"

"I was coming out of the post-office at Chaddercombe when a car drove up. A big Rolls with two men touring. I told them what was up, and like good sportsmen they volunteered to help. So we drove on to Okestock and there he was. The local police had had my message and collared him and his pal too."

Wreford breathed a sigh of relief.

"Splendid!" he said. "I can't say how grateful I am to you. But talk of sportsmen, I think your feat this afternoon was the most sporting thing I ever saw or heard of."

Perry shook his head, and smiled. "Don't give me too much credit," he said. "I was at least as keen on catching the fellow as you were."

"You!" exclaimed Wreford. "Why? What have you to do with Raper?"

"Quite a lot," replied the other, in his quiet drawl. "You see my full name happens to be Philip Perry Holmes. It's only since I came to live on the Moor that I have dropped the last name. And I hope it won't be long before I may sign it again as I used to."

Wreford put out his hand.

"My dear fellow," he said, cordially. "You can't wish it more fervently than I."


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.