"'Oo is that girl," sez Digger Smith,
That never seems to bother with
   No blokes: the bint with curly 'air?
   I've often seen 'er over there
Talkin' to Missus Flood, an' she
Seems like a reel ripe peach to me.

"Not that I'm askin'" ... 'Ere 'is eyes
Goes sort uv swiv'ly, an' 'e sighs.
   "Not that I'm askin' with idears
   Uv love an' marridge; 'ave no fears.
I've chucked the matrimony plan,"
'E sez. "I'm only 'arf a man."

This Digger Smith 'as fairly got
Me rampin' with 'is "'arf a man" rot.
   'E 'as a timber leg, it's true;
   But 'e can do the work uv two.
Besides, the things 'e's done Out There
Makes 'im one man an' some to spare.

I knoo 'is question was jist kid.
'E'd met this girl; I know 'e did.
   'E knoo Jim Flood an' 'er was booked
   For double when the 'Un was cooked.
But, seein' 'er, it used to start
'Im thinkin' of another tart.

"Oh, 'er?" sez I. "She is a pearl.
I've 'eard she used to be Jim's girl;
   But she was jist a child when Jim
   Got out. She 'as forgotten 'im."
I knows jist wot is in 'is mind,
An' sez, "Wade in, if you're inclined."

'E give me such a narsty look
I thought 'e meant to answer crook;
   But, "I ain't out for jokes," sez 'e
   "Yeh needn't sling that stuff to me.
I only was jist thinkin' -- p'r'aps...
There's some," 'e sez, "that sticks to chaps.

"Some girls," sez 'e, "keeps true to chaps,
An' wed 'em when they've done with scraps,
   An' come 'ome whole. Yeh don't ixpec'
   No tart to tie up with a wreck?
Besides," 'e sez ... "Well, any'ow,
That girl's all right; I know it now.

"I know," sez Smith. "I got it right.
Jim used to talk to me at night
   About a little girl 'e tracked.
   'Er name is Flo. Ain't that a fact?
That's 'er. I know she writes to 'im
Each mail. She ain't forgotten Jim.

"I'd like to swap my luck for Jim's
If 'e comes 'ome with all 'is limbs.
   An' if 'e don't -- well, I dunno.
   I've taken notice uv this Flo,
An' wonder if" -- 'e stares at me --
"If there is more like 'er" sez 'e.

Now, Digger Smith as learned a lot
Out fightin' there, but 'e ain't got
   The cunnin' for to 'ide 'is 'eart.
   'E's  too damn honest, for a start;
'Is mind's dead simple to a friend.
I've read 'im through from end to end.

I've learned from things 'e 'asn't said
Jist wot's been running in 'is 'ead.
   I know there is a girl, somewhere:
   Some one 'oo 'ad the 'eart to care
For 'im when 'e went to the war.
I know all that, an' somethin' more.

I know that since 'e came back 'ere
'E 'asn't seen that girl for fear
   She'd turn 'im down -- give 'im the bird,
   An' 'and 'im out the frozen word,
Because 'e's left a leg in France;
An' 'e's afraid to take the chance.

Well, not afraid, p'r'aps, but -- shook.
It's jist the form 'is nerves 'ave took.
   Now 'e's been watchin' Flo an' seen
   'Er style, an' 'ow she's always keen
For news uv Jim. Then 'e starts out
To 'ope, an' 'esitate, an' doubt.

'E wonders if 'is own girl spoke
Jist this same way about 'er bloke.
   'E wonders if in 'is girl's eyes
   That same look came; an' then 'e sighs,
An' dulls 'is senses with that dope
That 'arf a man ain't got no 'ope.

'E makes me tired. But, all the same,
I tries to work a little game.
   "Look 'ere," I sez. "About this Flo.
   Jim mightn't come back 'ome, yeh know.
You 'ave a fly; yeh're sure to score;
Besides, all's fair in love an'war."

"Sling that!" 'e sez; but I goes on:
"Ole Jim won't blame yeh when she's gone.
   'E knows, the same as me an' you,
   These silly tarts, they can't keep true."
I piles it on, until I've got
'Im where I want 'im -- jumpin' 'ot.

An' then 'e says, "'Ere, sling that talk!
I might be groggy in me walk;
   But if yeh say them things to me
   I'm man enough to crack yeh; see?"
"Righto," sez I. "That was me plan.
Now wot about this 'arf a man?"

'E stares at me, an' then sez, slow,
"Wot is yer game? Wot do yeh know?"
   "Nothin'," I tells 'im, "only this:
   When there's a waitin' tart to kiss
Yeh're only 'arf a man; but when
There's blokes to fight, yeh're twenty men."

"Wot tart?" 'e asks. "Yeh mean this Flo?"
"P'r'aps not," I sez. "You ought to know."...
   I waits an' lets me words sink in.
   An' then- 'e beats me with that grin.
"Match-makin', Bill?" 'e laughs. "Oh, 'Ell!
You take up knittin' for a spell."

Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2002-06