I had been a rogue; worse some might say. Though in my defence, neither a murderer, nor snitch, nor liar, and my philandering was nothing to dwell upon — an honest thief you might say! Indeed, my career had not been of an entirely villainous order; though, I had seen fit to trouble the magistrate on two occasions.
But this was the city of London – wicked and corrupt, and spawning the likes of I. It had required far less time than I had served at His Majesty’s pleasure to conclude that it was no longer the place for a man of my considerable talents, for a better man at a lock or window you couldn’t find. When the key turned in its iron mantle, I was off like the wind.
The Prisoners’ Aid Society found me a job, on board a ship, coal trimming. I’ve never trimmed a scuttle full of coal, and as for a life on the ocean wave why, I’d much rather walk the plank! (I get seasick you see, even if I so much as think of taking a walk on a pier.) So I said “Thank you, but no,” and, getting a few tools together, I looked round for a job in my own line. But, as I had refused Society’s offer, the police were very anxious to know what exactly I did intend to do, and there wasn’t a minute of the day and night that there wasn’t somebody in “plain clothes” hovering about, watching me. So, when my last bob was spent, I beat if for the sticks.
Now, as house-breaking was my game, I had to choose carefully, well away from your average copper, and in an area where property was not so close together as to cause a swarm if there was a holler. So, with the smell and taste of London behind me, I set off for Dorsetshire where I knew there to be an assortment of villages ripe for busting. But it was hard work — all I got for my trouble was plenty of grub and any bits of clothing I wanted. Everybody in the country seemed to sleep with their cash-box and jewel-case under their pillow, and I never was a man to make any fuss or disturbance.
So here I was, on this November evening, tramping the Dorset hills without a bean in the world. It was a fair beast of a November evening, too. Dark, wet and cold. The road appeared to follow the edge of the downs, for, far away below, I could see the twinkle of a light here and there, but to the left there was nothing but the darkness and the rain. I was very wet and very tired, but the cursed road seemed to stretch on endlessly, without any sign of a shelter. Continue reading