London Labour and the London Poor, volume 3
I DISCOVERED a colony of "catch"--em-alive" boys residing in Pheasant-court, Gray"sinn- lane.
From the pleasing title given to this alley, might almost be led to imagine it was a very delightful spot, though it is only necessary to look down the little bricken archway that marks its entrance, and see the houses— dirty as the sides of a dust-bin, and with the patched counterpanes and yellow sheets hanging from the windows—to feel assured that it is of the most squalid of the many wretched courts that branch out from Gray"sinn-lane.
I found the lads playing at "pitch and toss" in the middle of the paved yard. They were all willing enough to give me their statements; indeed, the only difficulty I had was in making my choice among the youths.
"Please, sir, I"ve been at it longer than him," cried with teeth ribbed like celery.
Please, sir, he ain"t been out this year with the papers," said another, who was hiding a handful of buttons behind his back.
He"s been at shoe-blacking, sir; I"m the only reg"lar fly-boy," shouted a , eating a piece of bread as dirty as London snow.
A big lad with a dirty face, and hair like
|hemp, was the of the "catch-"em-alive" boys who gave me his account of the trade. He was a swarthy featured boy, with a broad nose like a negro"s, and on his temple was a big half-healed scar, which he accounted for by saying that "he had been runned over" by a cab, though, judging from the blackness of eye, it seemed to have been the result of some street-fight. He said:—|
The lad I chose from among the group of applicants was of a middle age, and although the noisiest when among his companions, had no sooner entered the room with me, than his whole manner changed. He sat himself down, bent up like a monkey, and scarcely ever turned his eyes from me. He seemed as nervous as if in a witness-box, and kept playing with his grubby fingers till he had almost made them white.
The most intelligent and the most gentle in his demeanour was a little boy, who was scarcely tall enough to look on the table at which I was writing. If his face had been washed, he would have been a pretty-looking lad; for, despite the black marks made by his knuckles during his last fit of crying, he had large expressive eyes, and his features were round and plump, as though he were accustomed to more food than his companions.
Whilst taking his statement I was interrupted by the entrance of a woman, whose fears had been aroused by the idea that I belonged to the Ragged School, and had come to look after the scholars. "It"s no good you"re coming here for him, he"s off hopping to-morrow with his mother, as has asked me to look after him, and it"s only your saxpence he"s wanting."
It was with great difficulty that I could get rid of this lady"s company; and, indeed, so great appeared to be the fear in the court that the object of my visit was to prevent the young gentlemen from making their harvest trip into the country, that a murmuring crowd began to assemble round the house where I was, determined to oppose me by force, should I leave the premises accompanied by any of the youths.