I got so down to it last night,
   With longin' for what could not be,
That nothin' in the world seemed right -
   Or everything was wrong with me.
My house was just a lonely hole,
An' I had blisters on my soul.

Top of my other worries now The boys are talkin' strike, an' say If we put up a sudden row We're sure of forcin' up our pay. I'm right enough with what I get; But some wants more, an' then more yet.
Ben Murray's put it up to me: He says I got some influence Amongst them, if I agree - "Which I will do if I have sense" - We'll make the boss cough up a bit. That's how Ben Murray looks at it.
I don't know that the old boss can. I've heard he's pushed to make ends meet. To me he's been a fair, straight man That pays up well an' works a treat. But if I don't get in this game, Well, "blackleg" ain't a pretty name.
This thing has got me thinkin' hard, But there is worse upon my mind. What sort of luck has broke my guard That I should be the man to find A girl like that? . . . The whole world's wrong! Why was I born to live and long?
I get so down to it last night With broodin' over things like this, I said "There's not a thing in sight Worth havin' but I seem to miss." So I go out and get some air An' have a word with old Bob Blair.
Bob's livin' lonely, same as me; But he don't take to frettin' so An' gettin' megrims after tea. He reads a lot at night, I know; His hut has books half up the wall That I don't tumble to at all.
Books all about them ancient blokes That lived a thousand years ago: Philosophers an' funny folk What he sees in them I don't know. There ain't much fun, when all is said, In chap that is so awful dead.
He put his book down when I came, He took his specs off, patient-like. He's been in Rome; an' who can blame The old man if he gets the spike To be jerked back so suddenly By some glum-lookin' coot like me.
At first he looks at me quite dazed, As tho' 'twas hard to recognize The silly fool at which he gazed; An' then a smile come in his eyes: "Why, Jim," he says. "Still feelin' blue? Kiss her, an' laugh!" . . . But I says, "Who?"
"Why, who, if not the widow, lad?" But I says, "Widows ain't no go." "What woman, then, makes you so sad?" I coughs a bit an' says, "Dunno." He looked at me, then old Bob Blair He ran his fingers through his hair.
"God help us, but the case is bad! An' men below, an; saints above Look with mixed feelin's, sour an' sad, Upon a fool in love with love. Go, find her, lad, an' be again, Fit to associate with men.
"Don't leave yourself upon the shelf: It's bad for man to live alone." "Hold on," says I. "What ails yourself? What are you doin' on your own?" Quickly he turned away his head. "That's neither here nor there," he said.
I saw I'd made a clumsy break; An' tied to cover it with talk Of anything, for old Blair's sake. He don't reply; but when I'd walk Outside he says, "What's this I hear About the mill boys actin' queer?"
So then we yarns about the strike, An' old Bob Brown frowns an' shakes his head. "There's something there I hardly like; The boss has acted fair," he said. "Eight years I've toiled here constantly, An' boss an' friend he's been to me.
"I know he's up against it bad; Stintin' himself to pay the men. Don't listen to this tattle, lad, An' leave that dirty work to Ben. He tries to play on others need; It's partly devil, partly greed.
"Ben's not a reel bad lot at heart, But ignorant an' dull of sight, An' crazed by these new creeds that start An' grow like mushrooms, overnight; An' this strange greed that's spread the more Since the great sacrifice of war.
"Greed everywhere!" sighed old man Blair. "Master an' man have caught the craze; An' those who yesterday would share Like brothers, now spend all their days Snatchin' for gain - the great, the small. And, of, folly of it all!"
He tapped the small book by his hand. "Two thousand years ago they knew That those who think an' understand Can make their wants but very few. Two thousand years they taught That happiness can not be bought."
"Progress?" he shouted. "Bah! A Fig! Where are the things that count or last In buildin' something very big Or goin' somewhere very fast? We put the horse behind the cart; For where's your progress of the heart?
"Great wisdom lived long years ago, An' yet we say that we progress. The paint an' tinsel of our show Are men more generous, or kind? Then where's your progress of the mind?"
(I think Bob Blair's a trifle mad; They say so, too, around these parts; An' he can be, when he's reel bad, A holy terror once he starts. Dare say it's readin' books an' such. Thank God I never read too much!)
I says I'm sure I don't know Where all this progress gets to now. He smiles a bit an' answers low, "Maybe you'll find out, lad, somehow. But talkin' makes my old head whirl; So you be off, an' - find that girl."
I says Good night, an' out I goes; But I was hardly at the door When his old specs is on his nose, An' his book in his hand once more; An', as I take the track for home, Bob Blair goes back to Ancient Rome.

Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2002-04