"Peter the 'Ermit was a 'oly bloke,"
   The parson sez, "wot chivvied coves to war."
   "Too right," I chips.  "I've 'eard that yarn before."
"Brave knights sprung straight to arms where'er 'e spoke."
"Sure thing," sez I. "It muster been no joke
   Tinnin' yer frame in them dead days uv yore
   Before yeh starts to tap a foeman's gore."

"Peter the 'Ermit was a man inspired,"
   The parson sez.  We're moochin' up the Lane,
   Snoopin' around for news we might obtain
Uv this Spike Wegg, the man 'oo I am 'ired
To snatch by 'ook or crook, jist as required
   By circs, frum out the sev'ril sins wot stain
   'Is wicked soul.  I 'ope me meanin's plain.

"Peter the 'Ermit," sez the parson, "saw
   No 'arm in vi'lince when the cause was just.
   While 'e deplored, no doubt, the fightin' lust,
'E preached --" "'Old on," I sez.  "'Ere comes the Law:
'Ere's Brannigan, the cop.  Pos'pone the jaw
   Till we confer. I got idears 'e must
   Keep track uv Spike; if 'e toils fer 'is crust."

"Spike Wegg?" growls Brannigan.  "I know that bloke;
   An' 'e's the one sweet soul I long to see.
   That shrinkin' vi'lit 'ates publicity
Jist now," sez Brannigan.  "Spike Wegg's in smoke.
Oh, jist concerns a cove 'e tried to croak.
   'E's snug in some joint round about, maybe.
   If you should meet, remember 'im to me."

The cop passed on.  "Peter the 'Ermit was
   A ri'chus man," the parson sez, "wot knoo --"
   "'Old 'ard!" I begs.  "Jist for a hour or two
I wouldn't go an' nurse sich thorts, becoz
Too much soul-ferritin' might put the moz
   On this 'ere expedition.  I'll 'elp you
   To search our conscience when the job is through.

"I know yer doubts," I sez, "an' 'ow you 'ate
   The thorts uv stoush, an' 'old 'ard blows in dread.
   But Pete the 'Ermit's been a long time dead.
'E'll keep.  But we are in the 'ands uv Fate,
An' 'oly spruikers uv a ancient date
   Don't 'elp. I quite agrees with all you've said
   But --" "Say no more," 'e answers.  "Lead ahead."

"But, all the same," 'e sez, "I want no fight."
   "Right 'ere, be'ind this 'oardin'," I replies,
   "A two-up school's in session.  If we spies
About a bit, there is a chance we might
Git news -" Jist then the spotter comes to light.
   I word 'im gentle, with some 'asty lies:
   I'm seekin' Spike.  See?  Can 'e put me wise?

"Spike Wegg?" (At first 'e only twigs meself)
   "'E's gone-" ('E spots the parson standin' by)
   A cold, 'ard glimmer comes in 'is fish eye:
"'Ere!  Wot's the game?" 'e yelps.  "Are you a shelf?"
"'Ave sense!" I larfs.  "I got a bit uv pelf,
   An' thort I'd like to take a little fly --"
   "Buzz orfl" 'e orders.  So we done a guy.

"Blank number one," I sez.  The parson sighed.
   "Joshuer fought, an' never seemed to shrink --"
   "Now, look," I tells 'im.  "Honest.  Don't you think
Them Bible blokes 'oo've 'ad their day an' died
Is best fergot until we're 'ome an' dried?
   Now, up the street 'ere, is a little sink
   Uv sin that does a traffic in strong drink."

"Sly grog?" 'e arsts.  But I sez, "'Ush!  This place
   Is kep' by Mother Weems, 'oo's sof', blue eye
   An' snow-white 'air would make yeh 'shamed an' shy
To brand 'er name with any sich disgrace.
'Er kind, sweet smile, 'er innercint ole face.
   Beams like a blessin'.  Still, we'll 'ave a try
   To word the dear ole dame, an' pump 'er dry.

'Is nibs stands in the shadders while I knock.
   Mother unlocks the door, an' smiles, an' peers
   Into me face.  She wears 'er three score years
Reel sweet, in lacy cap an' neat black frock.
Then: "Bill," she cries.  "You've give me quite a shock!
   Why, dearie, I ain't seen you for long years.
   Come in." 'Er kind ole eyes seem close to tears.

"Dearie, come in," she chirps.  But I pretend
   I'm on reel urgent biz; I got to 'aste
   "Jist for ole times," she pleads.  "One little taste."
"I can't," I sez.  "I'm lookin' for a friend,
Spike Wegg, for 'oo I've certin news no end
   Important; an' I got no time to waste."
   "Wot?  Spike?" she sez.  "I 'ear 'e's bein' chased.

"'E's bein' chased," she sez, "by D's, I've 'eard."
   "Too true," I owns.  "'E's got no time to lose."
   "Well, maybe, if you was to try Ah Foo's --
The privit room --" Then, as 'is rev'rince stirred,
She seen 'is choker.  "'Oo the 'ell's this bird?
   Is this a frame?" she shrieks ... Without adoos,
   We slap the pavemint with four 'asty shoes.

But, as along the sloppy lane we race,
   'Er 'or words tumble after in a flood:
   "You pimps!  You dirty swine!  I'll 'ave yer blood!"
"'Eavings!" the parson gasps.  "With that sweet face!"
"'Er words," I answer, "do seem outer place."
   "Vile words, that I 'ave scarce 'arf understud."
   Sez Snowy, shoshin' in a pool uv mud.

We reach Ah Foo's.  "Now, 'ere," I sez, "is where
   You stop outside.  Twice you 'ave put me queer
   It's a lone 'and I mean to play in 'ere.
You 'ang around an' breathe the 'olesome air."
"Young friend," 'e sez, "I go with you in there.
   I've led you into this.  Why should I fear
   The danger?  'Tis me jooty to be near."

Snowy's a game un!  I lob in the shop,
   The parson paddin' after on the floor.
   Ah Foo looks up.  "Not there!" 'e squeaks.  "Wha' for?"
But we sail past the Chow without a stop,
Straight for the little crib up near the top
   That I knoo well in sinful days uv yore ...
   I turn the knob; an' sling aside the door.

Beside a table, fearin' 'arm from none,
   Spike an' another bloke is teet-ah-teet.
   Quick on the knock, Spike Wegg jumps to 'is feet
An' jerks a 'and be'ind 'im for 'is gun.
I rush 'im, grab a chair up as I run,
   An' swing it with a aim that ain't too neat.
   Spike ducks aside; an', with a bump, we meet.

An' then we mix it.  Strife an' merry 'ell
   Breaks loose a treat, an' things git movin' fast.
   An', as a Chinese jar goes crashin' past,
'Igh o'er the din I 'ears the parson's yell:
   "Hit! Hit 'im 'ard young friend.  Chastise 'im well!
   "Hit 'im!" . . . The 'oly war is in full blast;
   An' Pete the 'Ermit's come to light at last.

Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2002-06