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business has been brisker in that part of Europe than anywhere during the past few years, on account of its yielding a greater abundance of the fashionable colour, which is yellow. Prices have gone up amongst the “growers” in consequence. The average value of a “ head” is about three shillings. As well as I can understand the matter, however, the traffic in human hair is based on pretty much the same business principles as those which find favour with the “old clo'” fraternity with which we are familiar. With them articles of china and glass are exchanged for an old coat or a brace of cast-off shoes—a pair of Brummagem earrings, a yard or two of flowered chintz, or a pair of shoe-buckles are offered for a cut out of the back hair of the German peasant maiden. The hair buyers - or "cutters,” as they are technically called — are pedlars as well, and never pay for a shearing with ready cash when they can barter. These pedlars are not the exporters, however; they are in the employ of the wholesale dealer, who entrusts them with money and goods, and allows them a commission on the harvest. I don't think that I was sorry to hear about the Brummagem earrings and the barter system. Since civilisation demands the hair off the heads of women, it is consolatory to find that they think no more of parting with it than with a few yards of lace they have been weaving. It comes from Italy as well as from Germany, and recently from Roumania. I was informed that an attempt has been made to open a trade with Japan; but, though the Japanese damsels are not unwilling, at a price, to be shorn for the adornment of the white barbarian, the crop, although of admirable length, is found to be too much like horsehair for the delicate purposes to which human hair is applied.
Brown hair, black hair, hair of the colour of rich Cheshire cheese, hair of every colour under the sun, was tumbled in heaps on the counters before me, including grey hair—not much of it, as much, perhaps, as might be stuffed into a hat-box; but there it was, the hair of grandmothers. Seeing it to be set aside from the rest, my impression was that it got there through one of those tricks of trade that every branch of commerce is subject to. That lot was stuffed into the middle of a bale, I thought, by some dishonest packer who, while aware how valueless it was, knew it would help to make weight.
“You don't care much about that article I imagine," I remarked to my guide.
“What! that grey hair-not care for it!” he returned, with a pitying smile at my ignorance. “I wish that we could get a great deal more of it, sir ; it is one of the most valuable articles that comes into our hands. Elderly ladies will have chignons as well as the young ones; and a chignon must match the hair, whatever may be its colour.” It was unreasonable, perhaps ; but, for the first time in my life, as I gazed on the venerable pile, I felt ashamed of grey hair. It seemed so monstrously out of place.
But I had yet to be introduced to the strangest branch of this very peculiar business. I had inspected packs, heaps, and bales of human tresses of every length, colour, and texture; but every hair of it had been shorn, living and vibrating, from the human head. Now, I was invited to look at a lot of “dead hair," in a bale which would make a Covent Garden porter of only average strength shake at the knees before he had gone a hundred yards.
“ This is a very extraordinary kind of article," said
my kind informant, as he ripped open the stout cloth covering ; "this is the 'dead hair' you read of in newspapers and magazines.”
Involuntarily I edged a little further from the gash in the canvas.
“But is it really dead hair—hair, that is to say, that has been —-"
“Buried and dug up again," my friend blandly interrupted ; “not exactly, though that is the blundering popular impression. This, my good sir, is an article that is not cut from the head. It is torn out by the roots. It all comes from Italy.”
“Torn out by the roots! What! violently!” “Violently, my dear sir.”
I trust that my look of incredulity had nothing of rudeness in it. I had heard of hair being torn out of the human head by the roots—nay, in more than one frightfully desperate case I had seen as much as a big handful produced before a police magistrate to prove the murderous antipathy of Miss Sullivan for Mrs Malony ; but what was that small quantity compared with as much as might be weighed against a sack of coals? Could it be possible that the ladies of Italy were so terribly quarrelsome that — ; but, observing my perplexity, my friend hastened to explain.
“Torn from the head with gentle violence. I should have said, and with weapons no more formidable than the brush and the comb. When I hold the head”let the hair be living or dead, he called every separate hank of it a “head "_" to the light, you will see that every hair has its root attached, and all that you see here is only a small part of the bulk that finds its way every year to market. It is simply the hair that becomes detached from the heads of Italian women in
the ordinary process of combing and brushing. As a married man, you may know what happens when a lady brushes her hair ; she will pass a comb through the brush, give the detached waifs of hair a twist round her finger, and make a loop to it to keep it tidily together till it is thrown away. A like habit with Italian women is the mainspring of our English deadhair supply. In the poor districts of Italy especially, the little twist of waste hair finds its way to the washing-basin, and so to the street gutter, out of which it is fished by the scavenger. From his hands it passes for the merest trifle into those of the knowing ones, who know how to disentangle the ugly little tufts, to arrange them as to length and colour, and send them to market as you here see them.” ..
As I saw them, they differed little from the thousands of other “heads” piled on all sides, except that they were somewhat shorter. Indeed, they were cleaner-looking ; but, after what I had heard about them, it was difficult to contemplate them without a shudder. They were worth a third less as a marketable article than “live” hair, I was informed; but the supply was abundant, and many hundredweights were used in the course of a year. Many hundredweights; and about two ounces will make a respectable chignon! It is a dreadfully unpleasant fact, ladies, but so it is. To be sure, the perfect machinery used in the preparation of human hair before it finds its way into the hands of the hairdresser ensure its absolute cleanliness; but it is not nice to reflect that at the present time hundreds of your lovely sex are crowned with Italian peasant vomen's brush-combings, consigned first to the slop-basin and then to the streetkennel, to be rescued therefrom by the rake of the. scavenger.
SUNDAY IN THE “DITCH.”
Just as your old and respected friend named Thomas gets called “ Tom," or your dear old and familiar crony Elizabeth becomes“ Lizzy” or even “Liz,” so do the inhabitants and frequenters of certain parts of Shoreditch speak of it as the Ditch. The Ditch extends even to Bethnal-Green. There are various approaches to it. You may take the turning by the Shoreditch Railway Station, which is Sclater Street; or a more direct route is to take Church Street for it, and keep along until you arrive at Club Row, going thence to Hare Street and Brick Lane, and then you are in the Ditch up to your very ears. It is nothing of a Ditch on week days—comparatively speaking, that is. From Monday to Saturday it is as sluggish a place as can well be imagined. A dreary, stagnant pool, swarming with fish, but all so lean, and so bent on hunting up and down for the wherewithal to keep body and soul together, that so much hilarity and cheerfulness of disposition as may be evinced even by the wagging of a tail, is on a week day seldom or never seen there. A murderous locality for trades that employ women and children, a den of the dirtiest and worst paid drudgery for male labourers. But it is not all work. Every Sunday throughout the live-long year there is held in the Ditch a sort of market fair, which is attended by hundreds and thousands.
Winged creatures are the staple of the said market.