Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - In the Slums, by the Rev. D. Rice-Jones, 1884 - Chapter 25 - Street Arabs

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CHAPTER XXV.

 STREET ARABS.

BUT if, in spite of the parents, the poor children should weather the storm and live on to the age of six or seven, there are several other methods of getting rid of the burden of keeping them. One method is, to turn them out of doors altogether. A man told us at our last temperance meeting, three nights ago, that his father had turned him out of doors, one dark night, when he was only eleven years of age; telling him that he was then old enough to get his own living, and must go out into the world and seek it where he could. And the poor child went, without a penny in his pocket, or even a loaf of bread, and he wandered on in a starving condition until he could no longer walk. And he lay down by the roadside to die of hunger and fatigue - three hundred miles away from home. There he was picked up by a navvy, who took him home and adopted him. And in the course of time he himself became a navvy and a might prizefighter. If [-164-] you think I am drawing upon my imagination, I shall be happy to give you the gentleman's name and address, so that you may write to him and verify the above statement.
    Another case in point is that of a Street Arab, whom I found in a state of utter destitution about four months ago. When he was only five years old his mother died, and his father soon married another woman; who, after treating her stepchildren with a cruelty which has left many poker-scars upon my poor Arab's head, turned them all out of doors. The boys then took to Street-Arab life, and the girls - well, one of them was soon sent to an industrial school, or a reformatory, where she remained six years; and another in the course of time got married, and is now living in my district. This woman assured me that for seven years her little brother, about whom I went to make inquiries of her, had not known what it was to sleep in a bed. She herself could not take him in, because she and her husband had seven children of their own, with only one room to live in. But the boy frequently slept at the house where they lodged, that is to say, he slept either on the staircase, or in the passage behind the street-door. Indeed, he had, she said, slept in that passage during the whole of last winter.
    Another favourite place of his for sleeping in was [-165-] a place known to Arabs as "THE HOLES," in the neighbourhood of Covent Garden Market.
    I went to see "The Holes," and found them to be just what the boy had described to me.
    In front of the Floral Hall there are some iron columns, not solid but hollow, with circular holes in them, just large enough to admit the body of an ordinary boy under twelve. To climb up to the topmost of these holes would only be the work of a few seconds to an experienced Street Arab; and once inside, he is safe; for he can penetrate ever so far inside the roof of the arcade, and the police could not get at him if they tried. The place is so secure, that the boys who sleep there often leave their boots there for a whole day in summer, if they have any boots to leave; and they have such a nice sense of honour amongst themselves, that boots so left are never stolen.
    And now as I have digressed so far, and said so much about my poor Street Arab, the reader will, I am sure, be glad to know something more about him.
    On the first night after making his acquaintance, I locked him up, with his own willing consent, in the small schoolroom in this mission house, having, of course, first given him a good feed. I could not have offered him the use of a bed, because, if I had, it would no longer have been of any use to me.
    [-166-] Then, after keeping him in lodgings for some time, I managed to find him a situation, which, in spite of very hard work, he still retains; getting his board and lodging and a shilling a week, which I am saving for him, his clothes having been presented to me for him by some kind friends.