- In which I am born, orphaned and kidnapped by a rat catcher
I wa< born in 17-- on the streets of London. My mother was Irish and a kind woman. I was a bastard and all I have, left to me by my father is the last name I bare. My mothers name was Bridget McCarthy and her trade was plied in the ale houses and brandy-shops around Smithfield. I grew up roaming the streets as a small boy but never getting into much trouble. My mother always had said that I must be good and that when we had saved enough money we would leave this wretched life and find a new life in the America. I sat dreaming at night of the America's and would make up stories to tell my mother when she would return from her work.
One day when she had come home she had a terrible cough and it lasted for a few days. She became very weak and there was nothing I could do for her. I watched her slowly slip into death. This part of my life seems like a great haze. I sat with her for the rest of the day and night. She was then taken away and I managed to slip away unnoticed by the undertaker. I had heard of the work house and orphanage and I certainly did not want to end up there.
The next thing I remember is wandering the streets. I had nowhere or no one to go to and I spent several nights sleeping in alleys. I awoke one morning and decided to walk to the Fleet market to the west of Smithfield. I had never stolen a thing in my life, but hunger will drive one to do so. My plan was steal some fresh apples or oranges from the sellers there. I wandered into the market as people pushed by me in large crowds. Women carried baskets of fruit, fish and other foods. My mouth began to water and I stared as they passed by me. Right as I was about to reach out to take an apple a hand grabbed mine and a man began to shout that he'd been “looking high and low” for me and that if I should ever run off again he would “beat me black and blue”. I tried to resist and shout but he was to strong and he carried me into a back alley and we disappeared from the market place.
|Fleet Market, London|
He was a tall man with long hair tied behind in a crude fashion, a floppy hat and a filthy grey coat. His shoes were tattered and his socks had holes in them. On his left cheek was a nasty boil and on his back he carried a large sack. Beside us ran a small dog that the man would refer to as, Jack. He was white with brown spots and had scars all over his face and ears.
We arrived at his dwelling which was a small lean-to off the side of a building in which he lived. All around were small cages and traps with rats in them. He threw me down on a bed of rags and said to me “You listen here boy. Yer mine now. Tomorrow we've got a big job catching rats. You sleep and don't you try to run away or I'll find ye and slit yer throat” and at this he pulled out a dagger from under his coat and pointed in right in my face. I laid down but could not sleep. I watched him as he talked to his rats and ate a bowl of crude gruel.
|The Rat Catcher and his Dog|
I awoke the next morning to a kick and I jumped up. I had still not eaten anything and was feeling faint. The rat catcher shoved a bowl of the gruel in my face and yelled that I should eat up for we had a job to do. I ate it quickly barely stopping to take a breath. He handed me a pole with a cage on the end and grabbed a few himself and off we went to do the job.
We arrived at an ale-house. The owner greeted us inside and sent us into the seller where we were to extract the vermin. Jack, the dog, rushed in and began to sniff and whimper and after a while we had several rats in hand. He made me carry all the cages outside and told me to wait for him and reached for his dagger as a reminder of what would happen if I tried to escape. I sat for hours around the corner of the ale-house waiting for him. The fee for catching the rats, he spent on many drinks in the ale-house and by the time he reached me he was so drunk he could barely stand. He leaned on me as we made our way back to the dwelling and while we walked he mumbled about how I was to be his apprentice and how I was to never run away or he'd find me and on and on. When we reached the place I sat the cages down and by accident made him trip over them. He fell cracking his head on the cobble. He began to scream and yell and grabbed me by my collar and then began to hit me furiously in the face. My nose was bleeding presently and my left eye was cut above the brow.
Just then a man came running to my rescue. He was short and very swift and pulled the man off me throwing him against the wall where the rat cages were, busting many of them. The rat catcher staggered forward and drew his knife and charged towards the man. In an instant the swift man stepped to the side and producing his own knife stabbed it deep into the rat catchers belly. He fell limp in the man's arms and was thrown down to the ground. After searching his pockets the short man stooped down beside me. I looked him in the eyes and then fainted into his arms.