Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - In Strange Company, by James Greenwood, 1874 - The Art and Mystery of Song-Bird Torture

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THE ART AND MYSTERY OF SONG-BIRD TORTURE.

IN all my spring morning experience of country rambling, I never before had heard such distinct and emphatic bird-music, crisp, sharp, and ringing out at regular intervals, as though the tiny creature from whose throat the sounds proceeded was actuated by duty rather than pleasure. No wasteful and extravagant flourishes of melody - no whimsical jumble of notes short and notes long, with wanton twitterings between, such as a free bird among green boughs delights to indulge in by way of demonstrating what a happy and independent fellow he is ; but a shrewdly calculated and systematic performance, as though after every renewed effort, he wound himself up for the next, and was bound to deliver himself to the instant of a certain quality and quantity of music, as per contract. I knew just enough of bird vocalisation to be aware that it was a chaffinch that was discoursing, and stood up on the stile where I had been sitting to see if my methodical little feathered friend might be discovered. My elevated position enabled me to see over the hedge; and on a bank on the other side, with their noses to the grass, and their slip-shod, broken-toed, down-at-heel boots lazily flourishing in the air, there reclined two individuals of a sort one might least of all expect to encounter at peaceful Highgate early on a Sunday morning.
    Least of all, because their appearance was so glaringly [-212-] uncountrified. Bethnal Green announced itself in the mangy-looking caps they wore, in the short pipes they smoked, in the ingrained grime with which their expressive countenances were dusky, in the bulky wisp of dirty-white cloth that enveloped their throats and a considerable portion of their close-cropped polls. They were sturdily built fellows, an old man and a young man, and resting between them was a square parcel tied up in a blue "birdseye" pocket-handkerchief.
    What might be their business in these peaceful regions at seven o'clock on a Sunday morning? Was it a case for the police? Were they a couple of burglars? Were they lurking at this secluded spot until what they thought was a good time to sheer off with the "swag"? Was that the swag tied up in the blue "birdseye"?
    "Chirp to him, Carrots," growled the old man to the young one; "keep his pipes agoin'."
    Whereat the young man made a noise with his lips, and the "swag" in the handkerchief promptly responded with a burst of bird-music similar to that which had previously astonished me.
    "There's a note for yer!" ejaculated Carrots, proudly patting the blue birdseye bundle with his dirty paw. "Talk about yer Middlesex rubbish, with their toll-loll- loll-kiss-me-dears; they don't touch yer regler good 'chuck-wee-dos' by any number of chalks. Bust me, if I wouldn't back him agin anythink as ever sung atween wood and wire!"
    The secret was out now. Mr Carrots and his friend were not burglars, but bird-catchers; and, curious to make the acquaintance of a "chuck-wee-do," who was such a "reg'ler good 'un" that making a portable bundle of him did not put his pipes out, I made my way through a gap in the hedge, and, by means of an offering of [-213-] tobacco in exchange for a pipe-light, at once established friendly communications.
    I now discovered that there was a second cage, in the wooden top of which was a hole fitted with part of the leg of a woollen stocking that dangled loose inside. This, I was told, was the "store-cage," but there were no captives within it at present. Outside the store-cage, however, and temporarily attached to the wires of it, was a stuffed chaffinch mounted on a stick, in one end of which was a sharp spike.
    "That there's the stale," Mr Carrots civilly explained; "and these yer is the pegs, and this yer is the lime." The latter was contained in a tin box, and had the appearance of thick flour paste. "It's innercent-lookin' ain't it?" said Mr Carrots, "but it'll hold tighter than glue. See here."
    On which he took a small portion between his finger and thumb to demonstrate the lime's superior sticky qualities; after which he wiped his finger and thumb on his red hair. The "pegs" were slips of whalebone of about the stoutness of the thin end of a tobacco-pipe, and furnished, like the stick the stuffed bird was mounted on, with a spike at one end. But I was chiefly curious respecting the "chuck-wee-do," who, during our conversation, had been making punctual delivery of rattling, loud-sounding notes from the confines of the pocket-handkerchief.
    "Why is he called a 'Chuck-wee-do,'" I inquired.
    "Why is he?" replied the old man, with good-natured pity for my ignorance; "why am I called Nosey Warren? Why's he called Carrots? Cos it's the name of him, to be sure."
    "But some one must have given him that name."
    "There you're wrong agin," said Mr Carrots with a [-214-] grin; "he give himself the name. There you are; hark at that! Don't he say 'toll-loll-loll-chuck-wee-do,' as plain as possible? Werry well, then; that's wot he means, and wot he'll stand by, agin any battling finch as comes in his way. It's the natur' of him."
    "Just the same," put in old Master Nosey Warren; "just the same as the Middlesex finch calls hisself toll-loll-loll-kiss-me-dear; it's the natral note of 'em."
    "I should imagine that the Middlesex finch's note was the prettiest of the two," I ventured to remark.
    "It's the most bouncable," growled Mr Carrots contemptuously, "and aggrawating, but he's nowhere when it comes to battlin'. There's a battler in that there hank'sher as'll do your art good, if you'll only stay and hear him."
    And Mr Carrots shook a corner of the "hank'sher" as the hand of a friend in whom he had every confidence, and snorted defiance at the surrounding country.
    "I suppose it would put him out if you were to let me have a peep at him ?"
    "Not a bit on it," remarked the obliging old man; "he'd no more mind it than I should mind drinking your 'elth in a pot o beer; he don't care."
    So saying, he whipped off the handkerchief, and exposed the little bird in its cage. A prim-built finch, with a deal of Bethnal Green in the set of its rakish, wire-rubbed tail; but the eyes in its sharp-looking little head, though open, were dull and blank.
    "What a pity that it is blind," said I.
    "It ain't blind," said the old man, artfully winking one of his own bleared optics; "he looks it, but he ain't; his eyes is only scaled."
    "An accident, eh?"
    "No; a purpose. I scaled em. It makes 'em stiddier [-215-] to scale em - stiddier at their work, I mean. Lord bless yer, I've scaled scores of 'em."
    "And how do you scale them?" I asked.
    "Oh, there's different ways among the fancy," replied the terrible old wretch ; "my way is with the needles."
    "With needles ?"
    "Ah; you ties five of 'em - fine cambric ones - to the end of a bit of stick, and you makes 'em werry hot, and you holds em close, so that the eyes may kitch the eat well, and that brings the scale on em. It don't spile their walue. The scale wears off in a few weeks; and if it don't," continued the awful grey-haired villain carelessly; "if it don't wear off, it tain't no odds - a pegging finch is as good without eyes as with 'em."
    And, as though anxious to corroborate his master's assertion, the blind bird in the cage opened its blue beak, and made the hillside echo with a musical salvo.
    It would be mere waste of space for me to attempt to describe how I felt towards the horrible man, whose own eyes were so weakened by age that he was fain to screen them with one of his shockingly dirty hands, as he gazed upwards to see if there were any birds about. One thing was quite evident; he was perfectly unaware of the enormity of the crime he had just confessed to while as for Mr Carrots, taking no interest in talk so tame and common-place, he went on liming twigs ready for business, and sticking them convenient for handling behind his ear, as a clerk sometimes carries his pen.
    "I suppose," said I, restraining my indignation, "that the bird's being unable to see accounts for its indifference as to how it is carried about."
    "That makes no difference," replied the bird blinder; "he'd as lief be carried about purwided he could see; he's trained to it. It's all in the trainin' of 'em. I've [-216-] had battlin'-flnches - we calls em battlin'-finches when they're trained for match-singing or for peggin' - wot ud sing in my hat as I walked along, and without being in any cage at all."
    "But why do you call them battling-finches ?"
    " Cos they battle," Mr Carrots struck in. " You'll see this 'ere one battle presently, I hope; he's only waitin' for a chance. Hark! Bust me if there ain't a chance!" There were some tall poplar-trees at a short distance from where we were sitting, and as he spoke, Mr Carrots nodded his head in their direction, and, catching up the store-cage, signed to the old man to follow with the blind battler, whose cage was once more tied up in the thick pocket-handkerchief.
    At present, however, I could neither see nor hear anything of the "chance," the occurrence of which had roused Mr Carrots to such sudden activity. Birds were singing here and there; there was a lusty-lunged blackbird carolling in a neighbouring chestnut tree, and several skylarks warbling overhead; but what seemed to engross Mr Carrots' whole attention was a sharp, metallic sound of "pink-pink-pink-pink!" proceeding from the boughs of one of the tall poplars before mentioned.
    "That's the mark," hurriedly whispered the now thoroughly roused and excited Mr Carrots, "that there tree to the left; he'd open if our'n would give him a challenge. Why don't he give him a challenge, a lazy young swine?"
    This last abusive epithet was directed by Mr Carrots against the blind Bethnal Green finch who wore the blue bird's-eye handkerchief; and as the young man with the limed twigs behind his ear spoke, he gave the muffled cage a shake to remind the occupant of his duty. He responded bravely, "Toll-loll-loll-loll chuck-[-217-]wee-ee-do !" Nor was the challenge for an instant disregarded. A finch of the true battling blood harbouring amongst the poplar boughs responded with a valiant burst, uttering precisely the same sounding notes as the Bethnal Green bird had used. "That's good enough," said Mr Carrots; "you're booked my beauty." And then he stepped away from us, and, armed with the tools of his craft, approached the poplar.
    "Now you'll see a game", grinned the abominable old manipulator of hot needles, as we sat down on the grass; "it's on the principles of jealousy that we peg 'em. It's like this, d'ye see? The chaffinch is such a pug-nashus young warmint, that when he takes a mate - a hen, don't yer know - and they makes a nest, he won't have any other finch in his tree or near it. If any other finch comes nigh, he's game to fight him on the spot; just the same as you or any other fellow might who caught a strange cove a whistlin' round your lodgin's where you and your missus lived. It's his pluck that's the ruin of him. You'll see in a minnit."
    While we were talking Mr Carrots was not idle. His preparations were curious. First of all, quietly approaching the poplar tree, he stood the cage that was tied in the handkerchief, and which contained the blind "battler," at the foot of the tree, and, plucking a few handfuls of grass, strewed it over, so that the cage was scarcely visible. Then he took the spiked stick on which the stuffed bird was mounted, and stuck it firmly into the trunk of the tree about six feet from the ground. Next he took three of the thickly smeared limed whalebone twigs from behind his ear, and which, as before remarked, were furnished with a spike at one end, and stuck these also into the tree trunk at short distances [-218-] from each other just above the stuffed bird. This completed the preliminaries, and Mr Carrots came back to where we were, and flung himself on his stomach, his red hair bristling through the holes in his ragged cap in the intensity of his excitement.
    Then commenced the "battle" so scandalously unfair towards the deluded free bird who was doomed to fall a miserable victim to love and chivalry. The Bethnal Green deluder (a great deal of my pity for his sightless condition subsided at that moment) opened fire and rang out a peal so impudently melodious, that it was no wonder if Mrs Finch in her nest started and opened her twinkling eyes wide in wonder and curiosity. No wonder also if her honest husband's crest bristled with indignation, and that he at once darted out to see who it was that dared behave so. He flew out from the boughs, and from a neighbouring tree took observation; but possibly excitement and jealousy clouded his vision, and he could not discover the aggressor. What he could do, however, was to reply with a note as loud as that which had disturbed his domestic peace, and which said as plainly as possible, "Don't sneak behind the leaves; don't be a coward as well as a finch of abandoned character; show yourself, and let us come to an understanding."
    The impostor from Bethnal Green could not show himself; but he seemed to lose none of his malicious relish for the sport on that account. Once more he raised his libertine notes, and this time with a stress on the "wee-do !"the effect of which was to drive the free bird to the verge of insanity. The terms of his response were in the nature of shriek rather than song, and again he darted out and fluttered hither and thither. "Tolllo l-loll-chuck-wee-ee-do!" piped up the Bethnal Green [-219-] ruffian, apparently aware of the free bird's terrible condition of mind, and exulting in it. The free finch began again, but broke off as short as though his emotion had choked him. This, however, was not the case. It was gratified fury that had so suddenly checked his utterance. He had discovered the intruder, the impudent villain who had dared to come to the very thresh- hold of his abode-with the full knowledge that he was at home too-to serenade his lady love. Yes, there he was; there was that conscienceless finch, sitting on a twig below, as calm and unruffled as though he had not the least fear for results. Vengeance! Swift as a dropped stone, and with beak and wings extended, the outraged chaffinch dropped from a height of twenty feet at least.
    But, alas! the treacherous limed whalebone receives his outspread pinions, and his scream of fury becomes a scream of fright, as he tumbles to the ground with wings as helpless as though they were skewered through. "Toll-loll-loll-chuck-wee-ee-do !" crowed the traitor in the handkerchief, while Mr Carrots, with his mouth open and his claws outspread expectantly, rushes up as fast as his slipshod boots will let him, to make good the cowardly capture.
    Had I been as chivalrous in the cause of virtue and right as the chaffinch was, I should have immediately given battle both to Nosey Warren and Mr Carrots, and set the prisoner free; but, not being to that extent chivalrous, I made a compromise with my conscience, and ransomed the palpitating little victim at a cost of fifteenpence, and restored him, I trust a wiser and more discreet finch, to the bosom of his family; while the three conspirators, the bird-blinding scoundrel, Mr Carrots, and the finch in the bird's-eye handkerchief, went on their way.
    It was months afterwards, when I happened to get [-220-] into conversation with another of the bird-catching tribe, and casually mentioned to him what I had heard about pegging for chaffinches. He shook his head contemptuously. "Pegging for chaffinches is all werry well in its way, but it ain't like reg'ler bird-ketchin'; that don't come on till this time o' the year; the roarin' trade is done when the dealers is a-buying stock. Now's the time for ketchers! It 'ud do your art good to go down Sclater Street and round about that quarter just now." A sight that does a man's heart good is always worth seeking, and in quest of such a treat I promptly made my way to Sclater Street.
    It was before noon when I arrived at that salubrious locality, and certainly I did not find myself immediately in the enjoyment of what had been promised. Sclater Street is not a nice street. It may not be responsible for its dilapidation, for its poverty-stricken aspect, or its peculiar atmosphere - which seems to be composed chiefly of the exhalations from fried fish-pans, and from the shops of French polishers, tinctured with essence of mouse-cage and rabbit hutch. I could have no doubt, however, that Sclater Street was the bird market to which my chaffinch blinding acquaintance had alluded. The bird shops there are bewildering, both as regards their number and the marvellous display they make. The dealings of the shopkeepers in the feathered tribes are by no means confined to birds of song.
    They "go in" extensively for pigeons and poultry as well, with this peculiarity - they display the latter in songbird cages. I saw a goose in a blackbird's wicker cage, which was close to the window pane. I was first drawn towards it in admiration of the workmanlike manner in which, as I thought, the goose had been stuffed and preserved, and the delusion was maintained [-221-] for the several seconds during which it fixed its stony gaze on me. Then, however, discovering possibly in my aspect something more promising of relief, or at least of sympathy, than it had of late been used to observe, to my amazement it gasped dolefully and winked hard, as though to squeeze out a tear. I never was so upset by goose before. But this is not the only extraordinary exhibition of farmyard produce that Sclater Street affords. Cocks and hens may be seen crammed all alive into cages so strait that their tails and feathers sprout out in all directions between the bars, to be nibbled and tugged at by the ferrets and fancy mice - whose cages are in the immediate vicinity. There are ducks, too, in the windows of these unwholesome dens - upside-down ducks, ducks that seem to be erect on their tails, ducks with their legs tied together and grovelling on their bellies, huddled all together, crook-necked with close crowding, and gazing, as only a cluck in distress can gaze, through the bespattered windowpanes, as though imploring the merciful interference of the passer-by.
    But my mission was not in this direction. I had come to get my heart made glad by contemplating the joy of songbird-catchers; and even as I was for the first time looking about me, two of that privileged fraternity hove in sight. They came from the direction of Bethnal Green, and evidently had just arrived from a catching expedition. They bore evidence of having been not only in the country, but on the country. Their rags were smeared with clay; their boots were double soled with it, and plastered to the very eyelet holes. There was clay on their hats, on their hair, and on the ends of the handkerchiefs wisped round their throats-as though there had been clay on their faces too, and it had by [-222-] this means been removed. They bore on their backs two or three of those peculiar long and narrow cages such as bird-catchers carry, as well as their nets in a bundle. That they had had favourable sport was evident, for the narrow cages were crowded with small birds; but they seemed by no means hilarious. They came scowling and slouching along, and gave utterance to their dissatisfaction in terms sufficiently loud to be audible on the other side of the way.
    "Why, that ain't fourpence a dozen, take 'em all round," growled one; "that's a dashed fine price to lay out in the fields for since ha'past three this mornin'. I'd a dashed sight sooner let 'em fly."
    "I'd sooner jump on my dashed lot," rejoined his friend, "just as I'd like to jump on him, the warmint! with his jaw about gluts. Dash him and his gluts too! Let's come as fur as Slammer's, and see what he says."
    I had noticed the name of Slammer written over the shop of a worthy tradesman, who, by way of a mild hint as to what his business was besides bird-fancying, had displayed in his window a picture shewing the head of a terrier whose ears had been trimmed, straddled across by a pair of shears. Likewise Mr Slammer exhibited, though without the least ostentation, several pairs of "spurs," with their lacings, for the use of fighting cocks. I took a sharp walk back to Slammer's, and, before the two bird-catchers arrived, was in negotiation with Mrs S. for a fine hedgehog, the price of which was tenpence. One catcher remained outside, while the other wriggled his long pack in at the narrow doorway, and regarded Mrs Slammer insinuatingly.
    "Old 'un in ?" he asked."
    "No, he ain't," she replied sharply, "and a good job too."
    [-223-] "Why is it? I got a rare good lot what I could sell him."
    "That's why it's a good job he ain't at home," she retorted; "he'd buy 'em, the fool, if he was here, although we're already as full as a tick with 'em, and fuller. We've got 'em in the cupboard along with the wittles, we've got em under the bed. Howl's we've got there, too - three 'orns and a skreech - so we're pretty tidy full, I reckon."
    But the catcher, with the perseverance of despair, unslung his pack while he was talking, and revealed to her his rich plunder of the fields - a full hundred, at the least, of small birds, chiefly of the linnet and redpole breed, along with a dozen or so of green birds.
    "There, take the lot; you shall have 'em at fivepence a dozen," said the bird-catcher. It was at once apparent that Mrs S. was tempted. She desisted from expatiating on the amiable qualities of my hedgehog, and went to take a peep into the long cage. She thrust her hand into the dirty stocking-leg that dangled at the mouth of the cage, and with professional dexterity stirred up the birds within.
    "I'll wager there ain't ten cocks among 'em," was her verdict ; "but they're cheap, dirt cheap."
    "Buy 'em, then," said the catcher laconically.
    "Ah! but they must be cheaper than cheap to tempt me," returned Mrs Slammer ; " there's a awful glut this season of em. The catcher glared at her for an instant as she uttered the obnoxious word "glut," but his eagerness to deal overcame his ire.
    "Oh, blarm it, marm," he said, bringing his great hand down with such a thump on the cage that the more nervous of the redpoles leaped and shrieked in affright, "say fourpence-'apenny a dozen, and say no [-224-] more about it." Mrs Slammer was a woman of business. She rummaged under the counter, and brought out a cage of the capacity perhaps of a common hatbox.
    "Shoot 'em in here;" said she, and the catcher, having done so with as little ceremony as though the live birds were coals or potatoes, took his price and departed.
    By this time I had arrived at the conclusion that I had delayed my visit somewhat. It was the catching and stock-buying season - but the season was at its fag-end. There was one advantage in this, however, although not of a gleeful sort - it enabled me to gather some idea of the way in which these Shoreditch bird-dealers house their stock. Nor was I long in satisfying myself on this point, to very much more than my heart's content. The way in which certain of these newly caught little creatures are treated by the heartless ruffians into whose hands they fall is terrible beyond belief; and all the more amazing because it is no hole- and-corner atrocity. The barbarity perpetrated in these Sclater Street shops is wholly undisguised; and indeed such a public exhibition is made of it, that it is quite evident the perpetrators, by long usage, have come to regard their abominable practices as allowable, if not excusable, and by no means likely to provoke the interference of the law. It is not only at one shop that the shameful spectacle I am about to detail may be witnessed, but, taking the worst among two score or so, they may be reckoned at a dozen at least. Admitting among the possibilities of bird existence that of being one day captured by the snarer, it is a lamentable disadvantage to be born a hen, or of sober garb, and at the same time unmusical. Hen creatures are of no account at all among the "fancy." Nature may [-225-] 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 [-226-] 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 torture- houses, 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 [-227-] 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 mélée 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 self-restraint in the beholder to prevent him from defying [-228-] 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 three- halfpence 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.