From A London Child Of The 1870s, by M.V. Hughes

Nearest in age to me came Barnholt, and nearest in ideas and pleasant childishness…Lessons of all kinds were a never-ending burden to him. While Tom was good at Latin, Dym at mathematics, and Charles at music and drawing, poor old Barnholt shone in no direction…
While anything smelling of school-work was poison to Barnholt, any little job of practical work, any errand, any risky adventure proposed, and he was on the spot. ‘I say, Barney, do rope this box for me.’ ‘You might run and fetch me some stamps.’ ‘Look here, Barney, you go first.’ There was no record of a refusal….
For some reason, different in each case perhaps, Barnholt was everyone’s favorite…
One reason, common to us all, for loving Barnholt a bit extra came from an incident of his fifth year. Although it happened when I was too young to know anything about it, I heard the story often enough to make the details always clear to me, even to the name of the culprit. This was a girl, Emma Lazelle, who took the four boys out for a walk one afternoon.
I should have been taken too, no doubt, only that perambulators were newfangled things in those days, and we never had one; a baby too big to be carried stayed at home. In due course the party returned to tea, and only then discovered that Barnholt was missing…
Mother belonged to that school of thought that hopes to hasten a person’s return by watching the road. For three nights and the best part of three days she hardly left the dining-room window which commanded the front gate. Strange to say, even the neighbors whose names we didn’t know were interested. The wives saw mother hour after hour in the window, and the husbands talked it over with my father in the train going to the City.
It was this kind of primitive S.O.S that was successful at last, for the police in those days [1869?] had no efficient means of rapid communication.
On the afternoon of the third day, when mother had begun to lose heart and strength, the gate was pushed open, and a neighbor from the house opposite ran up our path waving her hand excitedly. Mother rushed to the door and heard the words blurted out, ‘Your little boy is found.’
The watch at the window was now a different business, and presently a policeman appeared leading Barnholt by the hand. The little fellow looked very jolly, and his first words were never forgotten: ‘Are those for me?’–as he spied some ripe gooseberries on the table.
It seemed that he had wandered far afield, had been found by a policeman, and could give no information beyond that his name was Barney, his mother’s was Mamma, and he lived in the ‘black house’…
The police had evidently been kind to him, but all that he was ever able to tell us was that they had given him some bread and butter and a halfpenny. In fact to him the incident had been a pleasant interlude…
The jolliest winter of our childhood was in 1878…Barnholt was perhaps the happiest. Released at last from his eternal ‘detentions’, he had been taken from school and placed in a shipping office, with the prospect of next year fulfilling the dream of his life by going to sea.
As mother had predicted, he was the first of us to earn his living, to have a real salary, to be a ‘man of means’. I fancy that he had suffered a good deal from having to wear the other boys’ left-offs, for the first thing he did was buy quite quietly a new suit.
I can see him now as he walked into breakfast in it. It was a grey tweed, bristling with newness, and we were all full of admiration as he went off with my father ‘to the City’, while mother proudly demanded to know what she had told us.

My own grandfather left home at age fourteen, not because he had to, but because he wanted to. He took a room at a respectable widow’s boarding house and found gainful employment as a grocer’s delivery boy. His vehicle was powered by (one) horse.
The year before, he had been running wild in the hills back of Mazatlan, with a pair of six-shooters strapped on and his kid brother in tow. His mother and her “close friend” were trying to make a go of an old silver mine there. Adult supervision was minimal at best, but hey, that’s why they gave him the six-shooters. There might be snakes, y’know.
Having tasted freedom, he was understandably reluctant to go back in the box. So he didn’t. Back then, before the triumph of “The Social People”, that was still an option.
My, how the times have changed.