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THE SHILLING BABY

LAN INCIDENT OF TEE LONDON \ SLAVE TRADE.

(B* T. J, Babiubdo, F.R.0,9.) It Ib to some people, perhaps,«diffioult to realise that a system of white oh lid slavery li to-day io vogae iv the me* tropolis. Yet it is none the lesß & faot that any man oan hire or purchase a child of either asx, for begging purposes, If he only knows where to inquire. Those who have threaded the labyrinths of lodglnghoase life In London are aware that it la comparatively easy to hire a child, and that the term of such hire may be bo indefinitely extended as to amount praotioaliy to a porohaae. In tbeia peoallar market! boys are cheapest. Young boys oan be got for bo low a rate as foarpenoe a day. Girls, as a rule, are worth sixpenoe, or even more. A pretty girl, with curls, who lived near the Mint a little while baok, always fetched a shilling a day, and was In great demand among professional beggars at that price. " Onrljr Kit " was seldom disengaged. The value of the property In her one so greatly depended upon Us attractive appearancej that the woman who owned her, and whom she c»ll«'d "Aunt," was specially oarofal as to her hirers. But ordinary girls, whose hire la 6d or 7d, get but little fosd totp ak of, are generally poorly olad,|,and it la indeed the very wretohedness of their appearance which Is the marketable commodity. Bat a pretty girl like Kit Is always o«ef ally washed and trimmed, her hair neatly brushed or ourled, and, above all, her little apron andstookInga are kept as clean as soap and water can make them,' so a« to contrast with her squalid-looking guardian as markedly as possible, «nd thus to win sympathy for a little one who Is apparently her father's pet •ad ptlde even though that father be la the ; depths of poverty. Children of Kit's olais I I have frequently rescued, and I have even had them passed on to me fora consideration by the creatures— sometimes their own parents— who brought them out, or Into whose custody they came. . When my first case of ohlld purchase occurred, I was living In the Baw Road, Bait London, One day I noticed sitting on the high steps whloh led up to my door a woman, with a very poorly olad and barefooted boy by her side. On her bsok was a bundle. She looked thoroughly worn .out and exhausted. After watching the palf for a while, I opened the hall dour and begged the. woman tooOme m and rest. She thankfully did so. I offered her some food, and while she ate and talked, I observed that the boy, despite his squalid olothlng, wss a healtby-looklng little fellow, wi*h an intelligent f ice, The woman was, she told me, a tramp, who had been for years accustomed to hawk and beg from one end of the kingdom to the other. I pointed out to her the dangers of suoh a life to her boy, and was surprised to be met by prompt acquiescence, and by the expression of a wish that somebody would . take h'm off her hands : they should have him for. a trifle I flow much wu that % uh, half-a-cruwn, if he would be well looked after, for he was getting' too much for her, At this point, to my surprise, the bundle npon the woman's baok beeaoie restless, and? proved itself <to be a ' lively ohlld of tome three years of age. At my request she unfastened her bundle, and exhibited a little girl. £ Instinctively i pitied this poor mite even more than I did the boy, and at onoe urged the womtn to let mi have both the children, MI oouldn't, sir," she replied promptly ; " she's all my living V I hardly realised at first what she meant ; but she readily enough exp T ained that many a door which would be shut against her as sbe tramped i about the oonntry, was opened for the child's sake KDd that m«ny a gftt of food or coin was bestowed for the benefit of the. baby wbioh would not otherwise have been bestored at all. " ~7lrj^er-o»s»i-m3r~eflbrti~at~pef suasion were powerfully backed by the woman's best Instincts, and bo T ultimately buooeeded m inducing her to . hand over both the boy and the girl-baby la consideration of the sum of 7s 6d for the twain. That was my first purchase, but on not a few subsequent occasions have I had, in the literal sense to redeem ohl'dren i from conditions harder than those of slavery — conditions which are not easily realised by those who have never penetrated into the lower strata of poverty and destitution. There art>, for instance, wretched children born and reared m the London slums whose very existence is begun In suoh an atmosphere of evil that life beoomsS"a hopeless struggle. Thus one day a letter reached ma from a lady whom I knew well as an unwearied visitor In the neighbourhood of Rttollff Highway. She Informed me that for aome time past she had notioed a peoulhrly mlserablO'looklng baby orawling about the doorway or sitting on the steps of a certain oommon lodging-house which had a vile reputation even m that neighbourhood of horrors. The ohlld's appearanoe filled her with sadness and commiseration. The poor little mite seemed never to be oared for; it was oiad In filthy rags, whloh always appeared the same ; and it had a weisened, '* old-mannish H face, and a general look of utter neglect, which was pathetic m the extreme. My lady friend said she had made inquiries and discovered that the den In which this wretohed Infant was seen was filled with men and women of notoriously evil life, but that none of them io partioo'ar claimed the child as their own. It had, they said, been left there by a former tomato, who was gone no one knew where* and the little waif was supposed to be under the care, of the house generally. One of the women, however, was understood to have some kind of charge of it, and fulfilled her obligations for the moat part by— neglectibg them. Nobody knew what had become of the mother. " They would be glad," they all eald, "to be rid Of the brat, for none of them wanted It there.," With sweet womanly pity In her heart towards the poor bairn, of whom she knew nothing save that it seemed to he oast like a piece of broken wreok upon the rookr, my informant sought my aid. Was It not possible to get possession of the ohild, to deliver it from its present neglect, and to remove it permanently from the evil whloh must almost certainly overtake it In the near future if It sinviveu the obanoei of its wretohed ohlld-. hood , . v, ■ Booh a story had by. this, time, alas t become common place enough to my ears. Neyerthejesf, I s«nt tgnni one of bar \ children^ beajileV 'w Jtb Instruction*! io learn all he ppuld about the baby, and to Invite, the woman who had the chief pharge of it to bring the ohild ronnd the next afternoon at 3 o'olook, if she were willing to' give It up. : On the afternoon m question I held my hvie, when I saw candidates for admission tq the "Homes," and listened to the tales of misery that were poured out by many sad youog voices. At about 3.15 a woman entered my room. It was too evident that she had been drinking. Her head and shoulders were oovered with a shawl, underneath whiob, on her arm, I oou!d see a great lump projecting. She Introduqed bee object by throwing baok the shawl and exposing to my view a very youog ohlld whom she was oarrying. I divined that this was my visitor from the lodging bouse In Rttollff Highway, and the soon confirmed my opinion, " There," she said, and she someirbac roughly plaoed the ohlld on the table; "there she Is for yon now! Ain't shea beauty?" The poor little oreature appeared to be about two years of age, or a little older; but as I have said, it bad that weaeened lcok m the face and about the eyes and mouth whloh medloal men know so well as distinguishing babies who have been the subjects of, neglect -tad wmtlpjj djittiv,

The little arm wan scarcely thicker tha my fioger ; the eyes although Urge and wistful, bad euoh a weary, unohildlikelook is to brlug the tears involuntarily : , to my own eyes. I thought I had never before lv all my wide experience seen such a sad, mournfal, self-conscious look In a Jbaby's face. Not a whimper, however, eioaped it« lips. There It sat on'tho table, clothed In its filthy regs, gazing at me and all m the room with Its old and mournfal looking oyes, as though it was taking all In and communing with Itself. Occasionally • lump of something covered with rag, and f s'oned to i-s walat with a string, was taekn up and pat into its month, sucked or munohsd for a while, 4nd. then dropped only to be taken up again after a short Interval. Meanwhile, the woman who carried the ohlld stood there oscillating from side to aide unsteadily, quite unable to keep herself still, and leering horribly at me, while trying to exhibit what she thought was a motherly interest In the poor ohlld before us. It was auoh ft burlesque of maternity, and likewise X) g grim a p'oture, aorepalslvo to contemplate" as I looked from the neglected, half starved, and miserable' Infant to the horrible wraok of a woman, m whom there seemed no tracts left of womanliness, that I was anxious to bring the interview to st speedy temlnation. After a few inquiries, therefore, as to the age and name of the child and what she knew of her, I aaid, " Very well ; yon, may leave the' child here now. Oar Matron will soon be over, and you need not wait," r At this the looted at me Insinuatingly, and m as oily a, voice as she 'oonld at* some, Inquired— • ♦• What are ye going to give me?" "1 don't understand yon," I replied. «lim willing to relieve yon of the care and anxiety of this ohlld, which' is not yours, and which is, I understand, a trouble to yon ;. and 1 will undertake that Is shall be well and properly looked after. I should think yon ought to be very much obliged to me for my willingness to help." " Well, then, I aint," she rejoined With emphasis; "'oaase the ohlld li well enough with me, Still, I don't mind lettln' yon hare her, bat In course I wanti herwaloe," 11 What do you mean V I said. " Why, I wants haif a ejuiD (10i), to be sure/and she don't go for no leu : not Iflknowsit." ; " If yon really wish me}to give you 10s ( for this baby, 1 certainly will not do any aueh thing, At i matter .of fact, you have neglected It shamefully ; '--a look at the poor ohlld la enough to ahow that ; and you ought to be very thankful that I am willing to do for it what yoa have evidently not done." , "Well, I ain't," she once more repeated} " and what's more, you 'iharit gtt her unless I hat the money," and m an instant she whipped op the child off the table, replaoed her on her arm, dragged the shawl again over her head, ahnVstaggared towards the door, with •new look of defiance on her fatfef. " r ." ; ; "Ton surety oannot mean 'that you won't leave the baby ' here unless I pay yon for It I'M inquired stopping her. " That's jait wot I do mean. " Ob, then you masi tike her away g for I oannot consent to snob a bargain," said I jwhereupon, still leerlngbldeously, the woman made slowly for the hall. I thought I wonld try to Impress her If It were possible, and so, } rlstng from my phalr, I suld, In the /tternest manner I oould assume, "Yon have grossly neglected that poor q; lid 1 Its life Is evidently m peril. Komember^ when you leave this room I will' hive you? carefully watched, and If any ill befall the child, woe betide yon 1 I will take oare that yon shall be properly punished, if In any • way the ohlld comes. to Us death In your hands." - With a maudlin, " All rlafht, gav'nor," and apparently quite unaffaoted by what I said, she nodded her head at me, and "away she Wfintr ?-■--■■ Certainly this was net what I had expected. I had hoped that my wordi would have produoed very different fruit. But It wou'd haVe beec madneei to accede to her request. Why for 103 per baby I could haw had half the children m the Bdtclift lodging houses man hour 1" No, that I dare not pay ; it 'would be too dangersns an experiment; Ami yet the sight of the poor child's faoe haunted me ; so calling quickly ' to one of the. men In waiting, I said, "Please' follow tbat woman who has just left, and see where she goes to, and what she doe's with the ohlld." (Will be conoluded In our next.) i < ■sawaaawwswsßa^aMSsassssssssssaiaaisssßMWeißl

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Permanent link to this item

http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/AG18890131.2.14

Bibliographic details

THE SHILLING BABY, Ashburton Guardian, Volume VII, Issue 2051, 31 January 1889

Word Count
2,230

THE SHILLING BABY Ashburton Guardian, Volume VII, Issue 2051, 31 January 1889

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