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.



Cover Image

RGL e-Book Cover
Based on an image created with Microsoft Bing software

Ex Libris

As published in The Weekly News, Cardiff, Wales, 2 January 1909

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2024
Version Date: 2024-01-10

Produced by Paul Moulder and Roy Glashan

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

MANY men can tell stories of wonderful escapes and of deliverances so marvellous that one would fain believe that the day of miracles still endured, but I doubt greatly whether any man ever came so close to the dread shadow and escaped in so marvellous and yet so simple a manner as did I about ten years ago, when I was connected with the Secret Service Department of Scotland Yard and was looking after the Anarchists, who at that time were causing the greatest anxiety by their activity in the direction of violence and crime. Of the escape in question let the lines that follow speak.

The terrible explosion at Edinburgh had just taken place, whereby many persons had lost their lives and many more been injured, and on all sides one heard rumours of still more awful disasters in store.

One afternoon, early in January, the Chief summoned me to his room, and said: "Mr. Barrington, I understand you expect to achieve a good stroke to-night, if I am not mistaken."

I smiled as I made answer, "I have every confidence of doing so. By assuming the character of an Irish-American anarchist, I have discovered some very useful information. Above all, I have unearthed a very hornets' nest in Soho, kept by a Russian called Markovski. By arresting the men found in that club this evening, we shall, in all probability, secure several gentlemen who are wanted in connection with the Edinburgh trouble.

"I will tell you my arrangements for this evening. There is to be a meeting at the club of which I have spoken between eight and 8.30, and by nine o'clock it is to be assumed that every man will be in his place. I also shall be there in my role as a partisan of the league. Send a squad of men to this address" (and here I handed him a slip of paper bearing the information) "at nine o'clock precisely, and let them arrest every individual on the premises. They had better take me as well, for appearance' sake. This will disarm any suspicion on their part that there are informers in the camp."

"I see—I see," he answered, quickly. "An excellent plan, Mr. Barrington."

He then jotted down the various details necessary, and I went about my ordinary vocations until day should wane and it would be time for me to take my way to the Anarchist club in the role of a member of that terrible organisation.

* * * * *

SLOWLY the gloomy room filled with the swarthy, evil-looking members, and at length the meeting was complete save for one man, a Russian known as Ivan Menskoff. He was expected to return that evening from Edinburgh, whither he had gone on business connected with the brotherhood. Presently a slight murmur ran round the room, and the Russian strode into the apartment. His brows were contracted—his eyes gleamed with suppressed rage. Hastily looking from man to man until his gaze encountered mine, he pointed at me and cried, vehemently:—

"Seize that man who calls himself Edward Withers. Secure him, and gag him at once. He is a spy—an accursed spy in the employ of the British Government."

I sprang up from my seat in order to defend myself from the brutal arms that closed round me, but the battle was an unequal one. Two minutes later, bound, gagged, and helpless, I was pinioned to the wall, the cords being drawn so tightly round my chest that I could scarce breathe.

The men slowly returned to their seats, talking in excited whispers. After a pause, Menskoff raised his hand to proclaim silence, and said, in a deep, ominous tone:—

"Comrades, I owe you an explanation of what has just occurred. Know, then, that during my visit to Edinburgh I have learned several things of vital importance to the cause. The first is, that this man Withers is a dangerous spy, and that his acquaintance with us has been an official trick which in a few minutes we shall repay heavily."

He paused, and then continued:

"The second thing I have discovered is this—that at nine o'clock to-night the house will be raided, and every man of us present arrested."

A hoarse cry rose from the men, and I could not repress a slight glance of amazement. Menskoff understood my expression, for he came towards me, and, striking me in the face, said, waspishly:

"Aha! then, my good Mr. Withers, you do not know, evidently, that we also have our spies among the police force even as you have yours among yourselves. Our own informers are as watchful and as clever as yours, and by their agency has all this knowledge come to me. What think you of it, my friend—what think you of it, hey?"

He struck me again, very brutally. The malignity of his glance and the harsh, set faces of the other men showed me only too plainly that I had small mercy to expect now.

Slips of paper were handed round the table, and each member was directed to inscribe thereon what should be my punishment. Then the slips were handed to Menskoff, who glanced at them with a gleam of satisfaction on his face.

"Edward Withers," he said, addressing me, after a pause, "the sentence written by each member of this meeting consists of one word 'Death.' Make ready; your time is short."

The Anarchist went to the corner of the room where he had deposited his portmanteau. Hastily opening the bag, he took from it a small bomb with a clockwork apparatus attached, also a tiny clock of common appearance. Having deposited these on the table beside me, he addressed his comrades.

"My good brothers," he exclaimed, talking in a quick, excitable tone, "now that you have pronounced the sentence of death, it is but right that you should be informed how your sentence will be carried into effect... Behold, then, this bomb. I obtained it at our factory at Edinburgh, together with the clockwork gear by which the time of explosion can be regulated. With this little bomb I shall blow our friend to pieces, and it will be well now if you bid him adieu and leave us together. You will also do well to keep in hiding until the present activity on the part of our kind friends, the police, is somewhat abated."

Obedience to this man seemed inevitable. One by one, the whole crowd rose and slowly left the house, each man giving me a look of hatred as he went.

I perfectly understood Menskoff's design in resolving to destroy me by means of the bomb instead of taking up his revolver and despatching me then and there. The explosion would bring the house to the ground, damage adjoining property, and would be in every way the best "advertisement" that the cause could obtain, whilst at the same time all other informers would tremble when they learned the horrible fate of one of their body. Verily, a fiend's advice, and worthy of him who devised it.

When the last footsteps of the retreating men had died away, the Anarchist leaned over the table where the deadly apparatus was placed and slowly adjusted it. Then turning to me, he exclaimed, with a malignant laugh which, as brutal as a blow:—

"See here, my good friend; see here. I have left the bomb and the clock in such a position that you are bound to see both, and as the hands of the clock creep on you will have the felicity of knowing that each minute is carrying you nearer to the end. And now, shall I tell you, my friend, at what hour, nay, at what minute, I have timed this little plaything to explode?"

It was impossible for me to convey my desire to know, for I could not move my head or open my lips. However, Menskoff appeared to consider an answer superfluous, for, after a minute's interval, he laughed again and cried:

"I have set it to explode at ten minutes to nine... Why not before? Simply because, good Mr. Withers, it will add tenfold to your torture to remember that had ten minutes more been given you, you would have been rescued by your friends from Scotland Yard... Aha! I see you change colour. You appreciate the tenderness of my little plan."

The fiend spoke the truth. The terrible cruelty of his subtle scheme burned into my brain. It was hard, unspeakably hard, to be done to death at all—with many hours elapsing between myself and possible rescue... but to know that ten poor minutes would mean life, and the absence of them, death... ah, that was refinement of agony which a man must be in my place to thoroughly and properly appreciate!

The Anarchist gave one more glance at the apparatus to see that all was in order, and then turned towards the door. He returned, however, to where I was bound, and greeted me with a mocking smile.

"You are admiring my little clock, are you not?" he asked, grinning so widely that his black gums sickened my sight. "Well, it may interest you to know, good Mr. Withers, that you and I are the only two persons in this world who shall have had any use for it... I bought it in Edinburgh only this morning, little thinking that its career would end so soon."

Then, tapping the timepiece gently, he exclaimed, "Farewell, little clock. Do thy work well, and send this cur to his reward. Mr. Withers, good-night. I wish you a pleasant journey to the new country you are about to visit. Adieu!"

With an ironical bow, he glided from the room, shutting and locking the door after him. When he had retired, I shut my eyes and tried to think.

Escape was out of the question. I could not move—my bonds were tied so tightly that already cramp was seizing my limbs, and to utter a cry for help was impossible. A dozen times I cursed my action in having instructed the chief to send no men to the house until nine p.m., for had they come earlier all would have been well. But then, how was I to have foreseen the horrible events which the night was destined to bring forth?

The clock pointed to 8.30, showing that the whole dread scene through which I had passed that evening had consumed barely 25 minutes, though naturally the space of time had seemed like hours. Eight-thirty... In twenty minutes more the inexorable clock ticking out the minutes so patiently would have brought its minute-hand round to the fatal stroke, the bomb would explode—and then... A feeling of nausea rose in my throat as the hideous reality beat its horror into my brain, and I strove with all my might to shut out the black thoughts which overwhelmed me.

For the first ten minutes the agony of waiting was softened somewhat by the hope that something might happen to save me. But, when the ten minutes had passed, my soul grew sick, and a dull feeling of resignation took hold of my being. My time had come; my course was run; my hour was at hand. Let me face death like a man, for, in spite of my profession, I retained some of the instincts of manhood, and I resolved to meet the end as quietly as though a thousand eyes watched my exit.

Fifteen minutes to nine... The minute-hand seemed to linger a long time, and a sudden hope raced through my mind that perchance the clock might stop. But a second later I saw with a pang that my fancy had deceived me, for the cruel hand moved on, and now, O Heaven, another minute was registered.

Thirteen minutes to nine! An icy feeling shivered through my body—my tongue clave to the roof of my mouth—nausea seized me with a mighty grip. In three more minutes the explosion would occur, and I should have gone out to the great mystery which laps the shores of this world's life. Three minutes more!

My eyes began to swim, a red light was in them, burning them like live coals—a thousand fiendish voices buzzed in my ear—but above them all there rang out the tick-tick of the clock, every second bringing me nearer and nearer to the end.

I tried to gasp a prayer, but my lips were parched and could not have moved even if the gag had not held them rigid; I tried to frame a silent supplication to the Almighty for deliverance, but my mind could not work coherently, and the entreaty languished unmade. A feeling of measureless despair enveloped my soul, and then, as the minute-hand of the tiny clock glanced towards the fatal figure, a faintness clutched my being, a white mist was in my eyes, and unconsciousness mercifully claimed my senses.

* * * * *

WHEN I recovered the room was full of policemen, and Inspector Grierson, one of my best pals, was kneeling beside me, holding some liquid to my lips. His fat, honest face was full of sympathy as he exclaimed, cheerily:

"Drink that, Mr. Barrington, and don't try and talk till you feel a bit better. There!" he added, encouragingly, as the raw brandy brought back a semblance of life to any cheeks—"you're looking livelier already... By George! you've had the narrowest squeak that man ever had in this business."

"The bomb, the bomb," I asked, faintly "where is it? What has become of it? Why didn't it explode?"

The inspector pointed to a bucket of water in the corner of the room.

"The bomb is there," he answered, quietly, "and can do no harm now. The rascals have escaped, bad luck to them. Did they tell you at what time they had set that little bit of machinery to explode?"

"Most certainly they did," I made answer, as I slowly raised myself from the floor; "at ten minutes to nine precisely."

"Then your escape is all the more inexplicable," returned the inspector, "for we did not arrive here until nine o'clock exactly, as arranged with you."

"I am as amazed as you are," said I; "surely the clock could not have been wrong. It was quite new, for the man Menskoff told me he had purchased it only this morning in Edinburgh."

On hearing these words, Inspector Grierson uttered a low whistle, and an illuminating intelligence shone in his face.

"Great Scot!" he exclaimed, slapping his knee, "I see it all!"

"See what?" I shouted, mad with excitement. "See what?"

"Why, the explanation of your salvation. You say that clock was bought in Edinburgh. Well, you may not know it, but it so happens that Edinburgh time is just thirteen minutes behind the London hour, and to that fact, Mr. Barrington, you owe your life this evening."

And so it was.


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.