He pulled the bell and waited anxiously. A stout, slatternly woman appeared, and uttered a sharp exclamation at sight of her visitor. She would have closed the door in his face, but Hawker quickly thrust a leg inside.
“None o’ that,” he growled. “Don’t you know me, missus?”
“It ain’t likely I’d furgit you, Noah Hawker! What d’ye want?”
“A lodging, Mrs. Miggs,” he replied. “Is my old room to let?” he added eagerly.
“It’s been empty a week, but what’s that to you? I won’t ’ave no jail-bird in my ‘ouse. I’m a respectable woman, an’ I won’t be disgraced again by the likes of you.”
“Come, stow that! Can’t you see I’m a foreign gent from abroad? The police ain’t after me—take my word for it. I’ve come back here because you always made me snug and comfortable. I’ll have the room, and if you want to see the color of my money—”
He produced a half-sovereign, and a relenting effect was immediately visible. A brief parley ensued, which ended in Mrs. Miggs pocketing the money and inviting Mr. Hawker to enter. A moment after the door had closed a rather shabby man strolled by the house and made a mental note of the number.
Presently a light gleamed from the window of the first floor back, which overlooked, at a distance of six feet, a high, blank wall. Noah Hawker put the candle on a shelf, locked the door noiselessly, and glanced about the well-remembered room, with its dirty paper, frayed carpet and scanty furniture. A little later, after listening to make sure that he was not being spied upon, he blew out the candle and opened the window. He fumbled for a minute, then closed the window and drew down the blind. When he relighted the candle he held in one hand a packet wrapped in a piece of mildewed leather.
Seating himself in a rickety chair he lighted his pipe and opened the packet, which contained several papers in a good state of preservation. He read them carefully and thoughtfully, and the task occupied him for half an hour or more.
“Whew! It’s a heap better than I counted on—I didn’t have the time to examine them right before,” he muttered. “There may be a tidy little fortune in it. I’ll make something out of this, or my name ain’t Noah Hawker. The old chap is out of the running, to start with, so I must hunt up the others. And that won’t be easy, perhaps.”
By an odd coincidence, on the same day that Sir Lucius Chesney and Noah Hawker crossed over from Calais, a P. and O. steamship, Calcutta for London, landed Jack Vernon at the Royal Albert Docks. He had expected to be met there by Mr. Hunston, the editor of the Illustrated Universe, or by one of the staff; yet he seemed rather relieved than otherwise when he failed to pick out a single familiar face in the crowd. He was fortunate in having his luggage attended to quickly, and, that formality done with, he walked to the dock station.