The truth about Mr. Noah Hawkins, though it may shock the reader, must be told in plain words. He was a professional burglar; none of your petty, clumsy craftsmen that get lagged for smashing a shopkeeper’s till, but a follower to some extent in the footsteps of the masterful Charles Peace. During the previous February he had come out of Dartmoor—it was his third term of penal servitude—with a period of police supervision to undergo. For the space of four months he regularly reported himself, and then, in company with a pal of even higher professional standing than himself, he suddenly disappeared from London.
A well-planned piece of work, cleverly performed, made it advantageous to the couple to go abroad. It was a question of money, not dread of discovery and arrest; they had covered their tracks well, and they believed that no suspicion could fall upon them. They were not prepared for the ill-luck that awaited them on the Continent. Their fruit of hope turned to ashes of despair, or very nearly so. They realized but a fraction of the sum they had expected, and Hawker lost his share of even that through the treachery of his pal, who departed by night from the German town where they were stopping. So Hawker started for home, and he had landed at Dover with, two sovereigns and a few silver coins. He still believed that the police were ignorant of the business that had taken him abroad; the worst that he feared was getting into trouble for failing to report himself.
“There isn’t much danger if I’m sharp,” he thought, as the Kentish landscape, the Garden of England, sped by him in the gathering dusk; “and I won’t touch a crib of any sort till I’ve tried those other two lays. It’s more than doubtful about the papers—I forget what was in them. And they may be gone by this time. But, leaving that out, I’ve got a pretty sure thing up my sleeve. What happened in Germany put me on the track—but for that I wouldn’t have suspected. I’ll make somebody fork over to a stiff tune, and serve him d—— right. It’s the first time I was caught napping.”
The endless chimney-pots and glowing lights of the great city gladdened Hawker’s heart, and a whiff from the murky Thames bade him welcome home. He gave up his ticket at Grosvenor road, and when the train pulled into Victoria he walked boldly through the immense station. He loved London with a thoroughbred cockney’s passion, and he exulted in the sights and sounds around him.
Hawker spent his last coppers for a packet of tobacco, and broke one of his sovereigns to get a drink. He speedily lost himself in the crowds of Victoria street, satisfied that he had not been recognized or followed. He went on foot to Charing Cross, and climbed to the top of a brown and yellow bus. Three-quarters of an hour later he got off in Kentish Town and made his way to a squalid and narrow thoroughfare in the vicinity of Peckwater street. He stopped before a house in the middle of a dirty and monotonous row, and looked at it reminiscently. He had lodged there five years back, previous to his third conviction, and here he had been arrested. He had not returned since, for on his release from Dartmoor he went to live near his pal, who was then planning the lay that had ended so disastrously.