« НазадПродовжити »
It is not too much to say that, excepting the dodo and the golden eagle, the bustard, and a few others of the rarer sort, there is not a bird which may not be bought in the Ditch on a Sunday morning. Long before the church bells begin to ring out, from every direction the market-folks begin to arrive ; and by the time the bells have ceased their pious invitation, Hare Street, and all the adjacent streets, are crammed full. It is a marvellous spectacle. Fowls of the farmyard are carried about in a manner that, supposing them to be fresh from the country, must astonish them indeed. Here a man elbows his way through the crowd with his hands apparently buried in his pockets, bawling out, in the voice of one who has just discovered a raging fire, and is anxious to be the first to raise the alarm, “Who'll buy a duck! who'll buy a pair on 'em ?” You take him for an agent to a duck-dealer, who is ready to shew you where the birds are should you express a desire to purchase ; but some one touches him on the shoulder and inquires,“ Ow much?” And, lo! in an instant he whips a brace of Aylesburys from his coat-tail pocket, where he had been holding them by their necks. Other individuals jostle and squeeze past each other, with bantams hugged to their bosoms, and with live Dorkings and Spaniards dangling head downwards, and carried by the legs, in which apoplectic position they emit horrible sounds and grow alarmingly red in the gills; while geese in baskets poised on the heads of boys cackle with fright as they come into collision with pigeons in boxes on the heads of other boys.
Talk of pigeons! In Hare Street, on a Sunday morning, there must be thousands of them. Every houseroof is surmounted by its dormer, and at least one person in every five that go to make up that great crowd
has a “turbit” or a “dragon” to dispose of, or some that he has just purchased. There is a story told of the first English lark that was carried to the gold diggings, at the time when the first ugly rush had been made to the auriferous region, and morality was at a low ebb among the gentry of the pick and cradle, how the heavenly music of the little songster drew the rough fellows from all parts to hear it, and on Sunday morning they might be seen in scores, lying about in the vicinity of the shanty, against the wall of which the lark hung, dreamily smoking their pipes as they listened to its sermon, the text of which was Home.
In the Ditch pigeon worship prevails. Coming round a corner I observed, to my amazement, a group of at least thirty men and lads, each with his grimy visage turned skyward, and with eyes that twinkled in ecstasy, Hands, too, were raised and clapped together, as is the way with these vulgar folk when they are pleasurestricken. What could have happened thus to enchant them? It could not be the good words of the street preacher; he was too far away to be audible.' But presently the mystery was explained. “Whew-w-w!” whistled a youth; "here they is again—Bli'my! there's a flight for yer!” a sentiment in which the others agreed, as they too stuck their fingers in their mouth, and blew a blast of admiration. It was a flight of pigeons wheeling and elegantly deporting themselves above the chimney-pots.
But the chief attraction of the Hare-street Sunday market lies in its song birds, and herein lies one of the most inexplicable mysteries that marks human nature. What natural affinity can possibly be traced between the innocent little caroller of the leafy woods and the alley-bred, heavy-jowled, grimy biped who is here discovered paying homage to its sweet notes, and swearing hideous oaths in support of his assertion that there is nothing in the world he has so much admiration for? Master Muggins's adoration of the sublime and beautiful is not universal. Setting aside his "fancy” for song birds, if young Muggins chose conscientiously to reply to the question, What is the summit, the extreme tip-top of earthly bliss ? he would say, “Unlimited beer in a taproom.” If he were compelled to state what was his highest ambition, he would probably be embarrassed to decide whether it was the untrammelled ownership of a donkey and barrow, or possession of that wondrous skill that enables men to "floor,” at a single throw with a ball, nine “pins” of wood stuck up in a skit tle alley. Just fancy, then, Master Muggins making love to a linnet !-hanging longingly about the cage in which it is imprisoned, and marked “ninepence;" manfully offering sevenpence, “every precious oat I've got in the precious world; bless my precious eyes if it ain't !only it is impossible to reproduce the earnestness with which the fruitless bid was made, or indeed to give the expressive word for which "precious” is here substituted. It is quite touching to observe the manner in which Muggins removes his dirty short pipe from his dirtier mouth to chirrup fondly to the little bird that might have fondly nestled in his bosom but for that base other twopence. It is only when one more closely scrutinises Muggins's bosom, and then reflects on that pure and exquisitely clean little nest of moss in which the linnet recently nestled, that one ceases to feel very sorry for the young fellow's disappointment.
And Master Muggins is but a type of hundreds of thousands who crowd the Ditch on the Sabbath morn while the church bells are ringing. There is not a bird that sings which is not represented in this wonderful market. Chaffinches, goldfinches, bullfinches, blackbirds, thrushes, starlings—there they hang in their shabby prisons outside the shops of the bird-fanciers in broad rows, and stacked in solid stacks in each shop's interior.
There were larks—thousands of larks—many of them familiar with bondage, who, in the midst of the clamour and clatter, raised their wonderful voices as though mercifully bent on drowning the blasphemous Babel of human tongues, or at least on mingling with it their sweet song to blunt the sting of the offence as it ascended heavenward. Hundreds of other larks, crazy with fright, were beating their bodies against the iron bars. What a terrible mockery must that six square inches of turf be in the sight of that wronged creature which every morning sprang from the dewy grass towards heaven to see the sun rise! A shabby half shovelfull of sickly green for the bold bird that all his life has owned as many broad acres as his keen eyes could look down on at a half mile's height! No wonder that his fevered feet spurn it scornfully, or that in dumb agony he cranes his neck and tosses his head, as though, despite his two days' incarceration, he were still incredulous that such a change could be. But that is a sentimental view of the matter, and one which a bird-catcher cannot afford to indulge.
“Who'll buy a lark? Who'll buy a finch? Who'll buy a battling finch? Who wants a finch wot'll ‘peg' or sing agin anything as ever piped atween wood and wire?” Rare qualities these to be embodied in one small chaffinch! and so it seemed, judging from the crowd that at once surrounded the individual who clambered up on to a window-sill, and made this last-mentioned proposition.
The gifted chaffinch was not much to look at. It was housed in a rusty old cage, which was tied in a ragged pocket-handkerchief. The man tore a little hole in the handkerchief bigger, and revealed his treasure—a runttailed, partly bald-headed, dissipated-looking wretch of a bird as ever one clapped eyes on. “I'll take ten bob for him, and he's worth twice as much," bawled his owner, proudly. “I've had him out a-peggin”—a way of catching chaffinches with a decoy—“and I've sung him agin both Kent and Surrey birds, both kiss-me-dear and chuck-wee-do's, and he was never licked yet. I'd a wrung his —- neck if he had been. There must be no two ways about a bird that I keep-yer knows me, some of yer ?” Several persons in the crowd seemed to know him very well, but I did not observe that they availed themselves of the advantage to eagerly embrace the splendid opportunity he offered them; and the disreputable-looking finch was finally sold, amid much swearing and cursing for six shillings. And so the fun of the fair was maintained—the police, of whom there were several in attendance, only interfering when words ran dangerously high, or the mob thickened inconveniently at one spot.
It must not be supposed, however, that all this is allowed to go on without the opposition of those whose laudable determination it is to thwart Satan wherever they may happen to meet him. Nay, of late it appears as though these highway heroes of the modern Crusade were not content with such promiscuous encounters. They have plucked up even more courage than of yore, and now boldly track the foe to his stronghold, and tell him to his face what they think of him, in terms so undisguised that were he not, despite his horns and hoofs, an indifferent, good-humoured sort of imp, he might turn about and retaliate. Perhaps there is not anything desperately perilous in the business, but the frantic desperation with