II PROFESSIONAL THIEVES
Their Number and Difficulties.
Twenty Thousand Thieves in London—What it Means—The Language of "Weeds. "—Cleverness of the Pilfering Fraternity.—A Protest Against a Barbarous Suggestion.— The Prisoner's great Difficulty. — The Moment of Leaving Prison—Bad Friends—What Becomes of Good Resolutions and the Chaplain's Counsel?— The Criminal's Scepticism of Human Goodness. — Life in "Little Hell. "—The Cow Cross Mission.
The happily ignorant reader, whose knowledge of the criminal classes is
confined to an occasional glance through the police court and Sessions cases as
narrated in his morning newspaper, will be shocked and amazed to learn that
within the limits of the City of London alone, an army of male and female
thieves, twenty thousand strong, find daily and nightly employment.
It is easy to write "twenty thousand," and easier still to read the words. Easier than all to pass them by with but a vague idea of their meaning, and perhaps a sympathetic shrug of the shoulders for the poor, hard-worked policemen who must have such a terrible time of it in keeping such an enormous predatory crew in anything like order. Still, and without the least desire to be "sensational," I would ask the reader, does he fully comprehend what twenty thousand thieves in London means? Roughly estimating the population of the metropolis as numbering three millions, it means that amongst us one person in every hundred and fifty is a forger, a housebreaker, a pickpocket, a shoplifter, a receiver of stolen goods or what not; a human bird of prey, in short, bound to a desperate pursuit of that terrible course of life into which vice or misfortune originally casts him; a wily, cunning man-wolf, constantly on the watch, seeking whom he may devour.
Almost every member of this formidable host is known to the "police," but unfortunately this advantage is almost counterbalanced by the fact that the police are as well known to the majority of the twenty thousand. To their experienced eyes, it is not the helmet and the blue coat that makes the policeman. Indeed, they appear to depend not so much on visual evidence as on some subtle power of scent such as the fox possesses in discovering the approach of their natural enemy. They can discover the detective in his innocent-looking smock-frock or bricklayer jacket, while he is yet distant the length of a street. They know him by his step, or by his clumsy affectation of unofficial loutishness. They recognise the stiff neck in the loose neckerchief. They smell "trap," and are superior to it.
There is a language current amongst them that is to be met with in no dictionary with which I am acquainted. I doubt if even the "slang dictionary" contains more than a few of the following instances that may be accepted as genuine. It will be seen that the prime essential of "thieves' latin" is brevity. By its use, much may in one or two words be conveyed to a comrade while rapidly passing him in the street, or, should opportunity serve, during a visit to him while in prison.
To erase the original name or number from a stolen watch, and substitute one
that is fictitious—christening Jack.
To take the works from one watch, and case them in another— churching Jack.
Poultry stealing— beak hunting.
One who steals from the shopkeeper while pretending to effect an honest purchase— a bouncer.
One who entices another to play at a game at which cheating rules, such as card or skittle sharping— a buttoner.
The treadmill, shin scraper (arising, it may be assumed, on account of the operator's liability, if he is not careful, to get his shins scraped by the ever-revolving wheel).
To commit burglary— crack a case, or break a drum.
The van that conveys prisoners to gaol— Black Maria.
A thief who robs cabs or carriages by climbing up behind, and cutting the straps that secure the luggage on the roof— a dragsman.
Breaking a square of glass— starring the glaze.
Training young thieves— kidsman.
To be transported or sent to penal servitude— lagged.
Three years' imprisonment— a stretch.
Six months— half stretch.
Three months' imprisonment— a tail piece.
To rob a till— pinch a bob.
A confederate in the practice of thimble rigging— a nobbler.
One who assists at a sham street row for the purpose of creating a mob, and promoting robbery from the person— a jolly.
A thief who secretes goods in a shop while a confederate distracts the attention of the shopkeeper is— a palmer.
A person marked for plunder— a plant.
Going out to steal linen in process of drying in gardens— going snowing.
Bad money— sinker.
Passer of counterfeit coins— smasher.
Stolen property generally— swag.
To go about half-naked to excite compassion— on the shallow.
Stealing lead from the roof of houses— flying the blue pigeon.
Coiners of bad money— bit fakers.
Midnight prowlers who rob drunken men— bug hunters.
Entering a dwelling house while the family have gone to church — a dead lurk.
Convicted of thieving— in for a vamp.
A city missionary or scripture reader— gospel grinder.
Hidden from the police— in lavender.
Forged bank notes— queer screens.
Whipping while in prison— scrobyor claws for breakfast.
Long-fingered thieves expert in emptying ladies' pockets— fine wirers.
The condemned call— the salt box.
The prison chaplain— Lady Green.
A boy thief, lithe and thin and daring, such a one as housebreakers hire for the purpose of entering a small window at the rear of a dwelling house— a little snakesman.
pertinaciously do the inhabitants of criminal colonies stick to their "latin,"
that a well-known writer suggests that special religious tracts, suiting their
condition, should be printed in the language, as an almost certain method of
securing their attention.
There can be no question that that of the professional thief is a bitterly severe and laborious occupation, beset with privations that moral people have no conception of, and involves an amount of mental anxiety and torment that few human beings can withstand through a long lifetime. Some years ago a clergyman with a thorough acquaintance with the subject he was handling, wrote on "Thieves and Thieving," in the "Cornhill Magazine," and apropos of this benumbing atmosphere of dread, that constantly encompasses even the old "professional," he says:— "But if an acquaintance with the thieves' quarters revealed to me the amazing subtlety and cleverness of the pilfering fraternity, it also taught me the guilty fear, the wretchedness, the moral guilt, and the fearful hardships that fall to the lot of the professional thief. They are never safe for a moment, and this unceasing jeopardy produces a constant nervousness and fear. Sometimes when visiting the sick, I have gently laid my hand on the shoulder of one of them, who happened to be standing in the street. The man would ‘start like a guilty thing upon a fearful summons,' and it would take him two or three minutes to recover his self-possession sufficiently to ask me ‘How are you to-day, sir?' I never saw the adage, ‘Suspicion always haunts the guilty mind,' so painfully illustrated as in the thieves' quarter, by the faces of grey-haired criminals, whose hearts had been worn into hardness by the dishonouring chains of transportation. When, in the dusk of the evening, I have spoken to one of them as he stood idly on the public-house steps, I have spoken in a low and altered tone, so that he might not at first recognise me: again the guilty start as the man bent forward, anxiously peering into my face."
He is never at rest, the wretched professional thief. He goes about with the tools of war perpetually in his hands, and with enemies in the front and the rear, and to the right and the left of him. "Anybody, to hear ‘em talk," a thief once remarked to me (he was a thief at present in possession of liberty; not an incarcerated rogue plying "gammon" as the incarcerated rogue loves to ply it), "anybody would think, to hear ‘em talk, that it was all sugar with us while we were free, and that our sufferings did not begin until we were caught, and ‘put away.' Them that think so know nothing about it. Take a case, now, of a man who is in for getting his living ‘on the cross,' and who has got a ‘kid' or two, and their mother, at home. I don't say that it is my case, but you can take it so if you like. She isn't a thief. Ask her what she knows about me, and she'll tell you that, wuss luck, I've got in Co. with some bad uns, and she wishes that I hadn't. She wishes that I hadn't, p'raps—not out of any sort of Goody-two-shoes feeling, but because she loves me. That's the name of it; we haint got any other word for the feelin'; and she can't bear to think that I may, any hour, be dragged off for six months, or a year, p'raps. And them's my feelings, too, and no mistake, day after day, and Sundays as well as week-days. She isn't fonder of me than I am of her, I'll go bail for that; and as for the kids, the girl especially, why I'd skid a waggon wheel with my body rather than her precious skin should be grazed. Well, take my word for it, I never go out in the morning, and the young ‘un sez ‘good bye,' but what I think ‘good bye— yes! p'raps it's good bye for a longer spell than you're dreaming about, you poor little shaver.' And when I get out into the street, how long am I safe? Why, only for the straight length of that street, as far as I can see the coast clear. I may find a stopper at any turning, or at any corner. And when you do feel the hand on your collar! I've often wondered what must be a chap's feelings when the white cap is pulled over his peepers, and old Calcraft is pawing about his throat, to get the rope right. It must be a sight worse than the other feeling, you'll say. Well, if it is, I wonder how long the chap manages to hold up till he's let go!"
I am the more anxious to remark on these lingering relics of humanity, and, I may almost say virtue, that, if properly sought, may be discovered in the most hardened criminals, because, of late, there appears to be a growing inclination to treat the habitual criminal as though he had ceased to be human, and had degenerated into the condition of the meanest and most irreclaimable of predatory animals, fit only to be turned over to the tender mercies of a great body of huntsmen who wear blue coats instead of scarlet, and carry staves and handcuffs in place of whips and horns, and to be pursued to death. I have already taken occasion in the public newspapers, and I have much pleasure in returning to the charge here, to exclaim against the barbarous suggestions of a gentleman holding high position in the police force, Colonel Fraser, Commissioner of the City Police.
Alluding to the Habitual Criminals Bill, Colonel Fraser says:— "Parts 1 and 2 of the Bill are chiefly designed to ensure a clearer police supervision than now exists over convicts at large on licence, and to extend it to persons who have been, or may be convicted of felony; but all the pains and penalties to which such persons are liable are made to depend absolutely on proof being forthcoming that the alleged offenders are actual licence holders, or convicted felons, and the great difficulty which so frequently occurs in obtaining this proof will present serious obstacles to a satisfactory working of the statute.
"Organized as the English police forces are, it will be most difficult for them, notwithstanding the contemplated system of registration, to account satisfactorily for the movements of licence holders, or to obtain an effective supervision over them, if they are determined to evade it. But the number of these convicts at large is insignificant compared with the swarms of repeatedly-convicted thieves, who give infinitely greater trouble to the police than licence-holders, and who constantly escape with a light sentence, from the impossibility of obtaining ready proof of their former Convictions"
Now comes the remedy for this unsatisfactory state of affairs!
"As a remedy for this, I would suggest that every convict, on being liberated on licence, and every person after a second conviction of felony, should be marked in prison, on being set free, in such manner as the Secretary of State might direct—as has been the practice in the case of deserters, and men dismissed for misconduct from the army: such marking to be accepted as sufficient proof of former convictions.
"The precise mode in which this should be effected is matter of detail; but, by a simple combination of alphabetical letters, similar to that employed in distinguishing postage-stamps, no two persons need bear precisely the same mark, and the arrangement of letters might be such as to show at a glance, not only the particular prison in which the offender had been last confined, but also the date of his last conviction. Copies of these marks, transmitted to the Central Office of Registration in London, would form an invaluable record of the history of habitual criminals, and enable the police to obtain that reliable information as to their antecedents, the want of which now so commonly enables practised offenders to escape the consequences of their misdeeds.
"Attempts might, and probably would, be made to alter the appearance of the tell-tale imprints; but it would be impossible to efface them, and any artificial discoloration of the skin appearing on the particular part of the arm, or body, fixed upon for the prison mark, should be considered as affording sufficient proof of former convictions; unless the person charged could show—to the satisfaction of the justice before whom he might be brought—that it was produced by legitimate means.
I have ventured to transcribe, in its integrity, the main portion of Colonel Fraser's "new idea," thinking that its importance demanded it. It is significant of much that is to be regretted, coming from such a Source. It is somewhat excusable, maybe, in a common policeman—who yesterday may have been an agricultural labourer, or a member of a community of which no more in the way of education is expected—if he exhibits a kind of unreasoning, watch-dog antagonism towards the criminal classes. He is instructed in all sorts of manoeuvres, and paid a guinea a week to act against them—to oppose the weight of his officially-striped arm, and the full force of his handy staff against them, whenever he finds plausible excuse for doing so. And, possibly, this is a condition of affairs one should not be over eager to reform. The policeman, "too clever by half," is generally an instrument of injustice, and an impediment in the way of the law's impartial acting. So long as the common constable remains a well-regulated machine, and fulfils his functions without jarring or unnecessary noise, we will ask no more; but without doubt we expect, and we have a right to expect, some display of intelligence and humanity on the part of the chief engineer who directs and controls these machines. An official of polite education, and possessed of a thorough knowledge of the ways and means and the various resources of the enemy it is his duty to provide against, should be actuated by some more generous sentiment than that which points towards uncompromising extermination. Colonel Fraser should bear in mind that an act of criminality does not altogether change a man s nature. He is a human creature in which, perhaps through accident, perhaps through desperate, and to some extent deliberate culture, certain growths, injurious to the welfare of the commonwealth, have growth; but to brand, and destroy, and crush under the heel the said creature because of his objectionable affections, is much like smashing a set of valuable vases because stagnant water has been permitted to accumulate in them. It may be urged that if the said vases or men have secreted criminal vice and fouling until their whole substance has become saturated beyond possibility of cleansing, then the sooner they are utterly abolished the better. To this I answer that until the best known methods of cleansing have been tried on the foul vessels we are not in a position to say that they are irreclaimable; and again, even provided that you might discover certain such vessels fit for nothing but destruction, it would be a monstrous absurdity to issue an edict ordering the annihilation of every pot of a like pattern. And this is pretty much as Colonel Fraser would act.
Let the reader for a moment consider what would be the effect if such a law as that proposed by the Commissioner of Police for the City of London were passed. In the first place it would, in its immediate operation, prove immensely unjust to the milder sort of criminal. If we started anew with our army of twenty thousand to-morrow morning, and every member of it had been convicted but once, there would be fairness (admitting just for argument sake only that there is any fairness at all about it) in holding out the threat that the next man who committed himself should be branded. But, as the case stands, before a month had elapsed we should have hundreds of unlucky wretches against whose names but two felonious commitments stood, bearing the hateful brand, while thousands of the old and wary of the tribe acquainted with the interior of every prison in England would, as far as the tell-tale mark is concerned, appear as innocent as you or I. Nor would any "alphabetical postal system," however ingenious and cold-blooded, avoid this difficulty. The only way of doing full justice to the entire body of felons—the young beginners and the old practitioners would be, whenever the latter were next taken to search all the prison records for convictions against them, and score them in regular order on the delinquents' writhing flesh. To do this, however, Colonel Fraser would have to abandon his idea of branding on the arm. That member would in many cases afford inadequate space, even if you brought the chronicle from the shoulder to the finger tips, and "turned over" and continued the length of the criminal's palm. As the newspaper reports frequently show, there are evil doers whose catalogues of crimes may scarcely be expressed in a century.
But these are the bad ones already so branded and seared in heart and mind that to prick and scorch an inch of their outward skin would be but to tickle their vanity, and give them to brag of another scar, got in their life-long war against society. Short of torturing them or killing them, it matters little what measures are provided against these case-hardened villains. But there are scores and hundreds who though they have earned for themselves the names of criminals, whom to class and force to herd with the before-mentioned set would be to incur the greatest responsibility, and one that under existing circumstances it would be utterly short of wanton brutality to engage in.
As regards the class last mentioned, that is to say, those members who have at present made no very desperate acquaintance with crime and its punishment, I believe that if they were but judiciously dealt with a very large number would be but too glad to escape from their present life of misery. "Many a thief," says a writer, whose able remarks are the more valuable, because they are founded on actual experience and conversation with the people he treats of; "many a thief is kept in reluctant bondage to crime from the difficulties he finds in obtaining honest employment, and earning honest bread. Many thieves are fond of their criminal calling. They will tell you plainly that they do not intend to work hard for a pound a week, when they can easily earn five times as much by thieving in less time and live like gentlemen. But others of them are utterly weary of the hazard, disgrace, and suffering attaching to their mode of life. Some of them were once pure, honest, and industrious, and when they are sick, or in prison, they are frequently filled with bitter remorse, and make the strongest vows to have done with a guilty life.
"Suppose a man of this sort in prison. His eyes are opened, and he sees before him the gulf of remediless ruin into which he will soon be plunged. He knows well enough that the money earned by thieving goes as fast as it comes, and that there is no prospect of his ever being able to retire on his ill-gotten gains. He comes out of prisons determined to reform. But where is he to go? What is he to do? How is he to live? Whatever may have been done for him in prison is of little or no avail, if as soon as he leaves the gaol he must go into the world branded with crime, unprotected and unhelped. The discharged prisoner must be friendly with some one, and he must live. His criminal friends will entertain him on the understood condition that they are repaid from the booty of his next depredation. Thus the first food he eats, and the first friendly chat he has, becomes the half necessitating initiative of future crime. Frequently the newly discharged prisoner passes through a round of riot and drunkenness immediately on his release from a long incarceration, as any other man would do in similar circumstances, and who has no fixed principles to sustain him. And so by reason of the rebound of newly acquired liberty, and the influence of the old set, the man is again demoralized. The discharged prisoner leaves gaol with good resolves, but the moment he enters the world, there rises before him the dark and spectral danger of being hunted down by the police, and being recognised and insulted, of being shunned and despised by his fellow workmen, of being everywhere contemned and forsaken."
There can be no doubt that to this utter want of friends of the right sort at the moment of leaving prison, may be attributed a very large percentage of the persistence in a career of crime by those who have once made a false step. In this respect we treat our criminals of comparatively a mild character with greater harshness and severity than those whose repeated offences have led to their receiving the severest sentences of the law. The convict who is discharged after serving a term of five years at Portland, receives ere he quits the gates of Millbank prison a money gratuity, varying in amount according to the character that was returned with him from the convict establishment. Nor do the chances that are afforded him of quitting his old course of life and becoming an honest man end here. There is the Prisoner's Aid Society, where he may obtain a little more money and a suit of working clothes, and if he really shows an inclination to reform, he may be even recommended to a situation. But for the poor wretch who has given Society much less offence, who has become a petty thief, probably not from choice, but from hard necessity, and who bitterly repents of his offences, there is no one to take him by the hand and give or lend him so much as an honest half-crown to make a fair start with. It may be said that the convict is most in want of help because he is a convict, because he is a man with whom robberies and violence have become so familiar, that it is needful to provide him with some substantial encouragement lest he slide back into the old groove. Further, because he is a man so plainly branded that the most inexperienced policeman may know at a glance what he is; whereas, the man who has been but once convicted may, if he have the inclination, push his way amongst honest men, and not one of them be the wiser as to the slip he has made. And that would be all very well if he were assisted in rejoining the ranks of honest bread-winners, but what is his plight when the prison door shuts behind him? It was his poverty that urged him to commit the theft that consigned him to gaol, and now he is turned out of it poorer than ever, crushed and spirit-broken, and with all his manliness withered within him. He feels ashamed and disgraced, and for the first few hours of his liberty he would willingly shrink back for hiding, even to his prison, because, as he thinks, people look at him so. A little timely help would save him, but nothing is so likely as desperate "don't care" to spring out of this consciousness of guilt, and the suspicion of being shunned and avoided; and the army of twenty thousand gains another recruit.
This undoubtedly is frequently the case with the criminal guilty of but a "first offence." Be he man or lad, however, he will be subject to no such painful embarrassment on his leaving prison after a second or third conviction. By that time he will have made friends. He will have found a companion or two to "work with," and they will keep careful reckoning of the date of his incarceration as well as of the duration of his term of durance. Make no doubt that they will be on the spot to rejoice with him on his release. They know the exact hour when the prison gate will open and he will come forth, and there they are ready to shake hands with him. Ready to "stand treat." Ready to provide him with that pipe of tobacco for which he has experienced such frequent longing, and to set before him the foaming pot of beer. "Come along, old pal!" say they, "we thought that you'd be glad of a drink and a bit of bacca, and we've got a jolly lot of beef over some baked taters at home!"
What becomes of all his good resolutions—of the chaplain's wholesome counsel now! "Shut your eyes resolutely to the temptations your old companions may hold out to you," were the parting words of that good man; "if they threaten you, bid them defiance. Let it be the first test of your good resolves to tell them plainly and boldly that you have done with them and will have no more to do with them!" Most excellent advice truly! but how is the emancipated one to act on it? How can he find it in his heart to dash with cold ingratitude such warmth of generosity and good nature? What claim has he on them that they should treat him so? They owe him nothing, and can have no ulterior and selfish object in thus expending their time and their money on his comfort. All that they expect in return is, that should either of them fall into trouble similar to his, he will exert himself for him in the same manner, and surely that is little enough to ask. Perhaps with the chaplain's good advice still ringing in his ears, a sigh of lingering remorse is blended with the outpuffing of that first delicious pipe, but it is promptly swallowed down in the draught of free beer, with the grim reflection, perhaps, that if those professing to be his friends came to his timely assistance as promptly and substantially as did those his enemies, he might have been saved the ignominy of entering anew on the old crimeful path.
As I have endeavoured to show, the best time for treating with these unhardened criminals for their reform, is just before they leave the prison at the expiration of their sentence, or so soon as they have crossed its threshold and find themselves free men. But even if they are here missed and allowed to go their sinful way, it is not absolutely necessary to postpone the good work until the law lays hold on them again. The dens to which they retire are not impregnable. They do not live in fortified caves, the doors of which are guarded by savage dogs and by members of the gang armed with swords and pistols. It is wonderful how docile and respectful they will behave towards folk who visit them, treating them as nothing worse than fellow creatures suffering under a great misfortune, and not as savage creatures of prey who have forfeited all claim to human nature, and are fit only to be scourged and branded. A writer already quoted tells us that during two years in one of the largest towns in England he had unlimited access to the thieves' quarter at all hours and under any circumstances—weddings, midnight gatherings, "benefit nights," public houses, he has visited them all. "How I gained the confidence of the criminal fraternity I cannot say. I only sought their welfare, never went amongst them without some good errand, never asked questions about their affairs, or meddled with things that did not belong to me; and it is due to the thieves themselves to say that I never received from any of them, whether drunk or sober, an unkind look or a disrespectful word. .. . I had not pursued my quiet mission amongst the thieves many months without discovering the damning fact that they had no faith in the sincerity, honesty, or goodness of human nature; and, that this last and vilest scepticism of the human heart was one of the most powerful influences at work in the continuation of crime. They believe people in general to be no better than themselves, and that most people will do a wrong thing if it serves their purpose. They consider themselves better than many "square" (honest) people who practise commercial frauds. Not having a spark of faith in human nature their case is all but hopeless; and only those who have tried the experiment can tell how difficult it is to make a thief believe that you are really disinterested and mean him well. Nevertheless, the agencies that are at work for the arrest of crime are all more or less working to good purpose, and conducing to a good end. Had I previously known nothing of the zeal and labour that have been expended during the last few years in behalf of the criminal population, I should have learned from my intercourse with the thieves themselves, that a new spirit was getting amongst them, and that something for their good was going on outside thievedom. The thieves, the worst of them, speak gloomily of the prospects of the fraternity; just as a Red Indian would complain of the dwindling of his tribe before the strong march of advancing civilization."
In every essential particular can I corroborate the above account. There are few worse places in London than certain parts of Cow Cross, especially that part of it anciently known as Jack Ketch's Warren, or "Little Hell" as the inhabitants more commonly designate it, on account of the number of subjects it produced for the operations of the common hangman. Only that the law is more merciful than of yore, there is little doubt that the vile nests in question, including "Bit Alley," and "Broad Yard," and "Frying Pan Alley," would still make good its claim to the distinguishing title conferred on it. The place indicated swarms with thieves of every degree, from the seven-year old little robber who snatches petty articles from stalls and shop-fronts, to the old and experienced burglar with a wide experience of convict treatment, British and foreign. Yet, accompanied by a city missionary well known to them, I have many a time gone amongst them, feeling as safe as though I was walking along Cheapside. I can give testimony even beyond that of the writer last quoted. "I never asked questions about their affairs, or meddled with things that did not concern me," says the gentleman in question. I can answer for it that my pastor friend of the Cow Cross Mission was less forbearing. With seasoned, middle-aged scoundrels he seldom had any conversation, but he never lost a chance of tackling young men and lads on the evil of their ways, and to a purpose. Nor was it his soft speech or polished eloquence that prevailed with them. He was by no means a gloomy preacher against crime and its consequences; he had a cheerful hopeful way with him that much better answered the purpose. He went about his Christian work humming snatches of hymns in the liveliest manner. One day while I was with him, we saw skulking along before us a villanous figure, ragged and dirty, and with a pair of shoulders broad enough to carry sacks of coal.
"This," whispered my missionary friend, "is about the very worst character we have. He is as strong as a tiger, and almost as ferocious. "Old Bull" they call him.
I thought it likely we would pass without recognising so dangerous an animal, but my friend was not so minded. With a hearty slap on his shoulder, the fearless missionary accosted him.
‘Well, Old Bull!"
"Ha! ‘ow do, Mr. Catlin, sir?"
"As well as I should like to see you, my friend. How are you getting along, Bull?"
"Oh, werry dicky, Mr. Catlin." And Bull hung his ears and pawed uncomfortably in a puddle, with one slip-shod foot, as though in his heart resenting being "pinned" after this fashion.
"You find matters going worse and worse with you, ah!"
"They can't be no worser than they is, that's one blessin'!"
"Ah, now there's where you are mistaken, Bull. They can be worse a thousand times, and they will, unless you turn over a fresh leaf. Why not, Bull? See what a tattered, filthy old leaf the old one is!"
(Bull, with an uneasy glance towards the outlet of the alley, but still speaking with all respect,) "Ah! it's all that, guv'nor."
"Well then, since you must begin on a fresh leaf, why not try the right leaf—the honest one, eh, Bull. Just to see how you like it."
"All right, Mister Catlin. I'll think about it."
"I wish to the Lord you would, Bull. There's not much to laugh at, take my word for that."
"All right, guv'nor, I ain't a larfin. I means to be a reg'lar model Some day—when I get time. Morning, Mister Catlin, sir."
And away went "Old Bull," with a queer sort of grin on his repulsive countenance evidently no better or worse for the brief encounter with his honest adviser, but very thankful indeed to escape.
"I've been up into that man's room," said my tough little, cheerful missionary, "and rescued his wife out of his great cruel hands, when three policemen stood on the stairs afraid to advance another step."
He would do more than in his blunt, rough-and-ready way point out to them what a shameful waste of their lives it was to be skulking in a filthy court all day without the courage to go out and seek their wretched living till the darkness of night. He would offer to find them a job; he made many friends, and was enabled to do so, earnestly exhorting them to try honest work just for a month, to find out what it was like, and the sweets of it. And many have tried it; some as a joke—as a whimsical feat worth engaging in for the privilege of afterwards being able to brag of it, and returned to their old practice in a day or two; others have tried it, and, to their credit be it spoken, stuck to it. In my own mind I feel quite convinced that if such men as Mr. C., of the Cow Cross Mission, who holds the keys not only of the houses in which thieves dwell, but, to a large extent, also, a key to the character and peculiarities of the thieves themselves, were empowered with proper facilities, the amount of good they are capable of performing would very much astonish us.