How a Shrewd Though Youthful Shoplifter Utilized a Tame Rat.
“There have been many extraordinary stories told of the ingenuity of thieves in the pursuit of their nefarious calling, but a case which occurred while I was at Chatham recently beats anything I ever heard,” remarked a newly arrived Englishman to a Philadelphia Inquirer man.
“A girl was brought before the police court on the charge of robbing milliners’ shops. She was only fourteen years of age and of very innocent appearance. What puzzled the magistrate was that none of the witnesses ever saw her take anything, or at least they would not swear to it, although after she had left a shop where she had been making a purchase articles of value were missed.”
When arrested nothing was found upon her. The magistrate said he could not convict the girl on mere suspicion, and then began to cross-examine her himself in a kind, fatherly way which touched her heart, and she broke down and confessed that she was guilty, and explained her methods to the astonishment and amusement of the Court and spectators.
“It seems that she had a tame white rat which she carried about with her in a muff. She would enter a shop full of girls and women and ask the price of some article. and while looking at it contrive to drop the rodent on the floor.
“Any one can imagine the result. Those near the door dashed into the street, while the employees jumped on the counters and chairs, wrapping their petticoats tight round their ankles and ‘screamed like mad.’ as the prisoner expressed it, amid the laughter of the court, in spite of the assurances that the rat was quite tame.
“In the scrimmage she would quietly help herself to what she wanted, catch the rat, put it in her muff, apologize and walk off. The magistrate said that on account of her youth, and as she had voluntarily confessed to the thefts, he would give her one more chance and bound her over In the sum of £50—$250 of your money—to come up for judgment when called upon.
“Of course her friends soon entered the required bonds and Mary Barton will have to find some other place to practise on the weakness of her sex. The tame rat dodge won’t work in Chatham any more.”
The Evening World [New York NY] 27 June 1891: p. 5
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: One hopes that the ingenious Mary fashioned a handsome collar from some of her spoils for her amiable pet. The poor creature is lucky there was not a mouser on the premises of the millinery and that Mary did not try loosing her pet in a bakery full of rodent-hardened men with peels.
Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes
You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.