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In Friendship's Guise By William Murray Graydon Characters: 11599

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03

It was the 9th of November, Lord Mayor's Day, and in London the usual clammy compound of fog and mist-was there ever a Lord Mayor's Day without it?-hung like a shroud in the city streets, though it was powerless to chill the ardor of the vast crowds who waited for the procession to come by in all its pomp and pageantry.

At Dover the weather was as bad, but in a different way. Leaden clouds went scudding from horizon to horizon, accentuating the chalky whiteness of the cliffs, and reflecting their sombre hue on the gray waters. A cold, raw wind swept through the old town, lashing the sea to milk-crested waves. It was an ugly day for cross-Channel passages, but the expectant onlookers sighted the black smoke of the Calais-Douvres fully twenty minutes before she was due. The steamer's outline grew more distinct. On she came, pitching and rolling, until knots of people could be seen on the fore-deck.

The majority of the passengers, excepting a few Frenchmen and other foreigners, were heartily glad to be at home again, after sojourns of various lengths on the Continent. Two, in particular, could scarcely restrain their impatience as they looked eagerly landward, though the social gulf that separated them was as wide as the Channel itself. On the upper deck, exposed to the buffeting of the wind, stood a short, portly gentleman in a dark-blue suit and cape-coat; he had a soldierly carriage, a ruddy complexion, and an iron-gray mustache. Sir Lucius Chesney was in robust health again, and his liver had ceased to trouble him. Norway had pulled him together, and a few months of aimless roaming on the Continent had done the rest. He was anxious to get back to Priory Court, among his pictures and hot-houses, his horses and cattle, and he intended to go there after a brief stop in London.

Down below, among the second-class passengers, Mr. Noah Hawker paced to and fro, gazing meditatively toward the Shakespeare Cliff. Mr. Hawker, to give him the name by which he was known in Scotland Yard circles, was a man of fifty, five feet nine in height, and rather stockily built. He was lantern-jawed and dark-haired, with a coarse, black mustache curled up at the ends like a pair of buffalo horns, and so strong a beard that his cheeks were the color of blue ink, though he had shaved only three hours before. His long frieze overcoat, swinging open, disclosed beneath a German-made suit of a bad cut and very loud pattern. His soft hat, crushed in, was perched to one side; a big horseshoe pin and a scarlet cravat reposed on a limited space of pink shirt-front.

There was about one chance in ten of guessing his calling. He looked equally like a successful sporting man, an ex-prize fighter, a barman, a racing tout, a book-maker, or a public house thrower-out. But the most unprejudiced observer would never have taken him for a gentleman.

It was a thrilling moment when the Calais-Douvres, slipping between the waves, ran close in to the granite pier. She accomplished the feat safely, and was quickly made fast. The gangway was thrown across, and there was a mad rush of passengers hurrying to get ashore. A babel of shouting voices broke loose: "London train ready!" "Here you are, sir!" "Luggage, sir?" "Extry! extry!"

Sir Lucius Chesney, who was rarely disturbed by anything, showed on this occasion a fussy solicitude about his trunks and boxes; nor was he appeased until he had seen them all on a truck, waiting for the inspection of the customs officers. Mr. Hawker, slouching along the pier with his ulster collar turned up and his hat well down over his eyes, observed the military-looking gentleman and then the prominent white-lettered name on the luggage. He passed on after an instant's hesitation.

"Sir Lucius Chesney!" he muttered. "It's queer, but I'll swear I've heard that name before. Now, where could it have been? The bloke's face ain't familiar-I never ran across him. But the name? Ah, hang me if I don't think I've got it!"

Mr. Hawker did not get into the London train, though his goal was the metropolis. He left the pier, and as he walked with apparent carelessness through the town-he had no luggage-he took an occasional crafty survey over his shoulder, as a man might do who feared that he was being shadowed. When the train rattled out of Dover he was in the public bar of a tavern not far from the Lord Warden Hotel, fortifying himself with a brandy-and-soda after the rough passage across the Channel. Meanwhile, Sir Lucius Chesney, seated in a first-class carriage, was regarding with an ecstatic expression the one piece of luggage that he had refused to trust to the van. This was a flat leather case, and it contained something of much greater importance than the dress-suit for which it was intended.

Dover was honored by Mr. Hawker's presence until three o'clock in the afternoon, and he took advantage of the intervening couple of hours to eat a hearty meal and to count his scanty store of money, after which he dozed on a bench in the restaurant until roused by a waiter. There are two railway stations in the town, and he chose the inner one. He found an empty third-class compartment, and his relief was manifest when the train pulled out. He produced a short briar-root pipe, and stuffed it with the last shreds of French Caporal tobacco that remained in his pouch.

"Give me the shag of old England," he said to himself, as he puffed away with a poor relish and watched the flying sides of the deep railway cutting. "This is no class-it's cabbage leaf soaked in juice. I wonder if I ain't a fool to come back! But it can't be helped-there was nothing to be picked up abroad, after that double stroke of hard luck. And there's no place like London! I'll be all right if I dodge the ferrets at Victoria. For the

last ten years they've only known me clean-shaven or with a heavy beard, and this mustache and the rig will puzzle them a bit. Yes, I ought to pass for a foreign gent come across to back horses."

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.

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."

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