This post was written in response to Charli Mills at Carrot Ranch’s weekly Flash Fiction Challenge. May 11, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about trading. Trade away and go where the prompt leads you. Find out more, read other entries or join in here!
I’ve returned to Victorian England once again for my contribution.
Trading Rats: The Rat Catcher
The seller stood with his back to the door holding a swinging cage of squealing rats.
‘How much?’ asked the buyer.
The buyer stroked his beard. ‘Two shillings.’
‘What? I went down the gutters for days risking my life to catch them!’
The buyer looked at the bite marks and blood on the seller’s hands. ‘You need to sell and find a doctor or you’re a dead man.’
The seller leaned back into the door which closed with a loud bang. ‘Two guineas, or I drop this cage, it smashes and we’ll both be devoured for dinner.’
Who decides the price in illegal trading? Buyer? Seller? Is it a question of supply and demand, as in any other negotiation? Or is it the person who has less to lose? What happens when the buyer or the seller gets too greedy?
Rat Catchers had a lot of work in Victorian England for three reasons.
1- Rat baiting was a popular, albeit illegal sport, which involved a lot of money with rich and poor people betting. In this case, rat catchers caught live rats.
2- Other rat catchers were paid to kill rats in different parts of the country.
3- Finally rich ladies liked to keep rats as pets in squirrel cages. A practice which I have heard is also popular nowadays.
Many of the rat catchers were children. They preferred catching rats to cleaning chimneys, working in coal mines, or hawking wares, because it was easier and paid better.
De-ratting English manors and businesses was often more lucrative as children could earn from two shillings to one pound. By the way, a guinea was 21 shillings.
If anyone is interested in finding out more:
This fascinating book, written in 1889, is a fascinating and informative read.
More information on this web page about Victorian England.
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