Зображення сторінки

all of precisely the same type. Downcast, hungrylooking, woefully seedy-looking, poor fellows, lively only for a feeble attempt at devil-may-care, evidently got up for the occasion. All thieves, Mr Wright himself assured me—lads who were in and out of prison constantly, and who yet were so “hard up” as to be glad to march in there, avowing their trade, and with their faces fully revealed in the gaslight, for the sake of securing, a quart of soup! We are told that periodicals of the “Jack Sheppard” and “Boy Highwayman” school sell in hundreds of thousands weekly to the youth of the nation who unhesitatingly believe in the splendour and gallantry of the heroes therein described. What a memorable lesson for the money-wasting young stupid-heads, could they for halfan-hour have contemplated that poor ramshackle starveling crew who sat so patiently waiting for the white basins to be filled !

As I gazed on the ragged rows, one behind the other -on the heads that as yet were fiercely bristling in telltale token of the recently-applied gaol scissors, on heads to which oil had been bountifully applied, in the desperate endeavour to make the growing crop “lie down," like that of honest people, and on still other headsthese the vast majority—that were thatched with a towzled mat of what was hair, but which looked like tangled wisps of dirty felt—as I contemplated 'the array of pinched and poverty-stricken and pale and haggard faces so eloquent of intimate acquaintance with vice and misery in their worst forms—I could not but think how very much better off the entire company would be if one and all were arrested on the spot, and carried off to prison.

No wonder that the law's worst scourge for evil-doers

has no terrors for such as these! I recollect some time since inspecting a great prison ; it was evening time, and in the autumn. Along with others, the van had brought with that day's batch of convicted prisoners two lads of about thirteen and fifteen years old. Outside the cell door of each were the rags they wore at the time of their capture—their dirty, tattered jackets, their trousers of many patches, and their gaping, down-trodden old shoes -each lot in a sort of cabbage-net, all ready for depositing in the steam-purifying apparatus down below. Then the cell-doors were opened, and the legitimate owners of the woefully dilapidated suits were revealed, no longer dirty. Each one had had his sousing and scrubbing in a plentiful bath of warm water; their faces yet glowed, and their ears were crimson and clean. The hammocks on which they reposed were scrupulously white, the rugs that covered them warm and comfortable, and the walls and ceiling and floor of their dungeon spotless and wholesome. The lads had partaken of supper, and knew for a certainty that a warm breakfast would be got ready for them next morning. It did not in their casewhich was doubtless the case of at least fifty of the young thieves now before me—seem a bit like punishment and prison. It was more like coming “home” after a season of disheartening struggling and striving. As one turned from them, cuddled comfortable and clean under their rugs, and once more glanced at the poor rags and the old boots bundled up in the cabbagenet, one could not help reflecting, “Poor wretches ! it must be a desperately hard life while you are at liberty to pursue it; but, thank Heaven! you are here well provided for for a few months, at all events."

The thieves' supper itself was a decided success.. When the three enormous tin holders, of the sort that milk is

brought from the country in, made their appearance, one hungry roar made the roof ring, and there was no such things as pacifying the lads until their kindhearted, black-coated friends on the platform turned back their cuffs and applied themselves to filling the quart basins. The understood terms were a “tuck out," which in Hale's Street is short and simple language for as much as can be eaten. Enough was provided thirty-five gallons—with bread enough to allow a full pound to each guest. Little thieves and big thieves ate with a ravenous relish that was at once gratifying and painful to behold. Two quart basinfuls were a common allowance—and at least half-a-dozen exceptionally long and narrow lads were pointed out to me as having emptied four basins. One quite forgot that they were thieves—they looked so thankful.

The supper, of course, was but a preliminary to the discourse that afterwards followed. To say the least, the strange audience received it in perfect good-humour and seriousness; and, when the question was put, Would they be willing to abandon their evil courses if they found the chance? up shot their assenting hands as though let loose by the pulling of a single string. And truly, when one saw what a poor miserable lot they were, is was not at all difficult to believe them sincere.


On a piping hot summer's day—the thermometer marking 80 in the shade I took it into my head that I would go and see how such weather agreed with a place so terrible as Belle-Isle was made out to be.

It is doubtful if, left to himself, the stranger would ever discover the place in question. Those who are disposed for a similar exploration, however, may accept the following simple direction. Turn up a road called the York-road, by the side of the King's-cross railway station, and follow your nose. Even should the wind be unfavourable, the air will certainly be laden with peculiar indications that may safely be trusted for guidance. Keep straight along the York-road, and gradually you will be sensible of leaving civilization behind you. You will discover on the right-hand side of the way, opposite to some cottages which stand in a street that is “no thoroughfare,” a modest pair of gates attached to a red-brick lodge bearing the inscription "Cemetery Entrance.” Here it is that bodies intended for interment in out-of-town cemeteries are housed until the stated time arrives for their conveyance down the line.

It is a terribly deserted and melancholy place, looking as though every one connected with its proper and decent keeping had given up the ghost and slipped down the line with the rest. Between the gates and the dismal house where the coffins are stored, there is a space which desperate efforts have been made to con

vert into a kitchen garden; but never was there a more ghastly failure. Barren, sickly, yellow-cabbage stalks, that have out-grown their strength, crop out of the ground all aslant; while fierce rank weeds have seized on more tender plants of the green tribe, • and strangled them till they are absolutely black in the face. The iron gate has long shed the coat of paint by which it was originally covered, and glows dusky red with rust.

It is evident that no one now resides at the lodge; for there is a board on which are inscribed directions to "apply over the way,” and when last I passed a dozen or so of shoeless, almost breechesless young BelleIslanders were swarming over the wall, and deriving immense satisfaction from the pastime of pitching old tin pots and other gutter refuse upon a sort of high-up window-ledge.

But you do not arrive at Belle-Isle proper until you reach the archway that spans the road. At this point you may dispense with the services of your faithful olfactory guide; indeed, it will be better, provided you do it in a way that shall not be remarkable—for the act is one that the inhabitants may resent—to mask its keen discrimination with your pocket handkerchief. Here, an appropriate sentinel at the threshold of this delectable place, stands the great horse-slaughtering establishment of the late celebrated Mr. John Atcheler..

As a horse-slaughtering establishment nothing can be said against it. I am afraid to say how many hundred lame, diseased, and worn-out animals weekly find surcease of sorrow within Atcheler's gates—or how many tons of nutriment for the feline species are daily boiled in the immense coppers and carried away every morning by a legion of industrious barrowmen. Everything, I have no doubt, is managed in the best possible way;

« НазадПродовжити »