Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

set a value upon the trash, and even regard it as absolutely indispensable in the matters of egg-laying and the tender nurture of helpless fledglings; but the fancier, wherever he may be found, is a man who has a proper contempt for Nature as an altogether incompetent party in works of creation. For instance, why does she send terriers into the world with their ears unclipped, and with undocked tails ? The fancier's idea of a bird that has a legitimate claim to be so called, is a creature that has something to show for the price set on it, either in the shape of rainbow plumage, or in the possession of a good voice for song. It is the poor little creatures who are denied the gift of song, or who at the best are indifferent warblers, that suffer most at these dens.

Male canaries, linnets, and goldfinches, and songsters of similar value, are for the most part lodged seldom more than six or eight in a cage that would conveniently lodge one; but the commonplace and paltry “hens” of the various tribes are condemned to a prison existence that is nothing short of appalling. In every one of these dark and foul little shops—which are more often than not merely front parlours so called, with only what light can struggle through a grimed and paper-patched window, and smelling horribly in consequence of the large collection of "rats for the pit,” of fancy mice, pigeons, chickens, hedgehogs, and ferrets, in which the shopkeeper deals—in every one of these dozen or so of shops may be seen exposed in the window a stack of cages, generally about fifteen inches long, a foot deep, and nine or ten inches high.

What composes the floor it is impossible to say, for it is covered some inches deep with dirt, seed husks, and the droppings of the birds. The iron wires of the prison are misshappen with adherent nastiness; and extending along its front is a tin trough, containing a liquid as unlike clean water as the contents of a ditch. Well-space is of importance in these pent-up back streets, where the rooms are invariably small and the rents invariably high. If the Sclater Street fancier had plenty of space at his command, he might show a little more consideration for his “stock ;" in all probability he would do so, since he could then set it out to better advantage.

As the case now stands, he is compelled to “take stock” at this season or none at all. He must make the most of his stowage room ; and so it comes about that these terrible “Black-holes,” the twelve-inch cages before mentioned, are made to contain at least sixty little redpoles and hen linnets and “green birds." There are perches, but they are unequal to the accommodation of the hapless prisoners. They crowd in the muck at the bottom of the cage, fluttering and struggling constantly, and uttering cries of distress as they endeavour to avoid the suffocating pressure of the rest; while many of them cling to the bars, holding on with their claws, and evidently feeling compensated for the inconvenience of the position by the advantage of being able to breathe with comparative freedom.

Through the windows of one of these bird torturehouses, I saw in a cage two poor little creatures dead and half trodden into the stuff that was heaped on the . floor ; in another cage there were two more, who had given over the struggle to keep their heads up, and lay gasping, wedged in a corner.

Seed trough there is none to these cages, though the presence of husks of seed strewed among the filth that

covers the floor would seem to indicate that the wretched captives are sometimes treated to a few grains. No matter, however, so long as they are kept alive. The more a little bird is ill-used by starvation or other means, the more his body-feathers will set out from him, and he will look “plump as a ball” while in reality his breast-bone may be as sharp as a penknife. I saw a woman approach one of these abominable chambers of horror, with a bread basket in which there was about a handful of chips and stale crumbs of bread. She opened the lid of the cage, and the welcome shower descended all over its inmates.

They did not appear to mind the trifling inconvenience of crumbs or dust in their eyes. For the space of twenty seconds or so they appeared as though they were heaving and tossing and crying and gasping in deadly conflict. Even the prisoners who clung to the bars were tempted to forego fresh air for the superior attractions of bread ; and every beak was turned against one bird's body, fiercely hunting for crumbs amongst the feathers. While the mêlée lasted it was terrible. The birds sitting on the perches close as spitted larks, came down to the floor and fought desperately with those who seemed too weak and ill to stand-evidently under the impression that they were crafty birds who had stores of crumbs secreted under them, and meant to devour them at their leisure. But the contention was soon at an end. The melancholy perchers resumed their places, the crowd in the dirt below shook down into something like their original condition, and again one saw the row of claws clinging to the bars, and of beaks thrust through, emitting such sorrowful twittering that it required considerable selfrestraint in the beholder to prevent him from defying Sclater Street and all its villanous host of fanciers, and making a dash for the birds' rescue.

This picture of the battle for crumbs haunted me long after I had escaped out of Spitalfields. It is next to certain that, besides being subjected to the torture of a filthy prison, and crowded together to the verge of suffocation, these poor little birds are starved as well. Those who keep them to sell, cannot afford to feed them. In many instances, the crowded cages bore the intimation that the price of birds within was threehalfpence each ; but the majority were ticketed “a penny each," and not a few “a halfpenny.” Now, a bird that will realise no more than a halfpenny can by no manner of means be allowed the luxury of bird-seed. Vulgarly speaking, it would eat its head off in a week ; and that would be an act of extravagance which the fancier, with his profit to look after, cannot permit. It is manifestly cheaper to let a bird “take its chance" on the few spare scraps it may be found convenient to cast into the cage. There can be no doubt that hundreds of these tiny feathered creatures at this season of the year are literally starved to death in these horrible places. It is not a secret business. Let any officer of the Society make an exploration of Sclater Street, near the Eastern Counties Railway Station in Shoreditch, and proceed straight through to Hare Street-and he shall find, not one, but fifty, instances of the atrocity I have now described.

AN OPIUM SMOKE IN TIGER BAY.

The person who would enjoy the inexpressible treat attendant on the smoking of a genuine and unadulterated pipe of opium, must make a pilgrimage for it. He must, for the time, divest himself of all genteel scruples and every shade of civilised fastidiousness, and approach the mystic shrine unconspicuous among the humblest of the throng of opium worshippers. The main difficulty is to discover the whereabouts of the shrine. “ It is the only establishment of the sort," a friend informed me; "there is scarcely a sailor hailing from the East who does not, so soon as he touches at a Thames port, hasten there at once to gratify his pent-up hunger for opium. The place is patronised, besides, by many distinguished members of the nobility and aristocracy of Great Britain ; and it is rumoured even that Royalty itself has condescended to visit the opiummaster in his modest retreat."

Hearing this, and learning that Shadwell was the region honoured by the residence of so famous a personage, I had no doubt that I should be able to find him easily enough; but my friend deemed it prudent to give me a few more explicit directions : “ There are two ways of arriving at the opium-master's house," he said. “One is to make for High Street, Shadwell, and keep along till you spy a tavern, the sign of which is the Hoop and Grapes ; next to it is another tavern, the Gunboat, and opposite is another, the Golden

« НазадПродовжити »