Emma Hawkins clearly loved books. In fact she sometimes became so caught up in the reading of books that she quite forgot where she was, or even that the books might not belong to her.
The housewife from Rickmansworth was visiting London one afternoon in November 1886 and, whilst waiting for her return train was browsing the second-hand section at W.H.Smith’s bookstall at Euston Station. Seeing something she liked she took it over to the counter and paid a shilling for it.
Having acquired a cheap novel for the journey home she set off to catch the 4.45 which was making ready to depart. She stepped up onto the train and was about to settle down in her seat when a man approached her.
Edward Mallett was the chief clerk at W. H. Smith’s and he had been watching Emma whilst she browsed the book stall. He had seen her select a number of titles, picking them up and placing them back again, before she took one and put it in her bag. He felt sure he’s seen her steal and so had followed her to her train.
Mallett demanded that she open her bag and let him the contents. Inside were three books, the one she’d paid for and two others that she hadn’t. He’d only seen her pinch one but all three were his stock.
She pleaded with him not to take it further, offering to pay ‘double the amount’ for the books. He declined and handed her over to a policeman and she was brought before the Police magistrate at Marylebone to answer for the theft.
Detective-sergeant Hunt, who was employed by the London and North-Western Railway, told Mr De Rutzen that she had admitted the theft when arrested. He told the court that she had:
‘a box and a bag with her, in which [the] Witness found eight books, some of them from two libraries in London. There were also some new silk handkerchiefs and a long list of articles’.
So had Emma been on a shopping or stealing spree in the capital? Her husband insisted it was not the latter. His wife, he explained, was easily distracted and ‘he was sure absentmindedness would explain her conduct’.
‘She had taken a book from a shop, and was about to go away with it without having paid for it’, he said, ‘so engrossed was she in the contents of the volume, and he had to remind her that she had not paid for it’.
It was a fairly weak defence and Mr De Rutzen was not inclined to accept it at face value. However, nor did he wish to remand an otherwise respectable woman in prison. If she and her husband could provide two sureties to the value of £20 then he was prepared to bail her to appear at a later date once further evidence had been collected.
[from The Standard, Thursday, November 18, 1886]