"Young friend!" . . . I tries to duck, but miss the bus.
   'E sees me first, an' 'as me by the 'and.
"Young friend!" 'e sez; an' starts to make a fuss
   At meetin' me.  "Why, this," 'e sez, "is grand!
   Events is workin' better than I planned.
It's Providence that I should meet you thus.
   You're jist the man," 'e sez, "to make a stand,
         An' strive for us.

"Young friend," 'e sez, "allow me to explain
   But wot 'e 'as to say too well I knows.
I got the stren'th uv it in Spadgers Lane
   Not 'arf an hour before'and, when I goes
   To see if I could pick up news uv Rose,
After that dentist let me off the chain.
   ("Painless," 'e's labelled.  So 'e is, I s'pose.
         I 'ad the pain.)

"Young friend," 'e sez. I let 'im 'ave 'is say;
   Though I'm already wise to all 'e said --
The queer old parson, with 'is gentle way --
   ('E tied Doreen an' me when we was wed)
   I likes 'im, from 'is ole soft, snowy 'ead
Down to 'is boots.  'E ain't the sort to pray
         When folks needs bread.

Yeh'd think that 'e was simple as a child;
   An' so 'e is, some ways; but, by and by,
While 'e is talkin' churchy-like an' mild,
   Yeh catch a tiny twinkle in 'is eye
   Which gives the office that 'e's pretty fly
To cunnin' lurks.  'E ain't to be beguiled
   With fairy tales.  An' when I've seen 'em try
         'E's only smiled.

But, all the same, I did n't want to meet
   'Is 'oly nibs jist then; fer well I knoo,
When I fell up against 'im in the street,
   'E 'ad a little job fer me to do.
   Fer I 'ad gethered up a tip or two
In Spadgers, where 'is rev'rince 'as 'is beat,
   Tryin' to make that Gorfergotten crew
         'Olesome an' sweet.

"Young friend," 'e sez, "I am beset by foes.
   The Church," 'e sez, "is in a quandary."
An' then 'e takes an' spills out all 'is woes,
   An' 'ints that this 'ere job is up to me.
   "Yer aid - per'aps yer strong right arm," sez 'e,
"Is needed if we are to rescue Rose
   From wot base schemes an' wot iniquity
         Gawd only knows."

This is the sorry tale.  Rose, sick, an' low
   In funds an' frien's, an' far too proud to beg,
Is gittin' sorely tempted fer to go
   Into the spielin' trade by one Spike Wegg.
   I knoo this Spike uv old; a reel bad egg,
'0o's easy livin' is to git in tow
   Some country mug, an' pull 'is little leg
         Fer all 'is dough.

A crooked crook is Spike amongst the crooks,
   A rat, 'oo'd come the double on 'is friends;
Flash in 'is ways, but innercint in looks
   Which 'e works well fer 'is un'oly ends.
   "It's 'ard to know," sez Snowy, "why Fate sends
Sich men among us, or why justice brooks
   Their evil ways, which they but seldom mends --
         Except in books.

"Young friend," 'e sez, "You're known in Spadgers Lane.
   You know their ways.  We must seek out this man.
With 'er, pray'r an' persuasion 'ave been vain.
   I've pleaded, but she's bound to 'is vile plan.
   I'd 'ave you treat 'im gently, if you can;
But if you can't, well -- I need not explain."
   ('E twinkles 'ere) "I'm growin' partisan;
         I must refrain."

"Do you mean stoush?" I sez.  "Fer if yeh do
   I warn yeh that a scrap might put me queer."
"Young friend," sez 'e, "I leave the means to you.
   Far be it from the Church to interfere
   With noble works." But I sez, "Now, look 'ere,
I got a wife at 'ome; you know 'er, too.
   Ther's certin things I never could make clear
         If once she knoo.

"I got a wife," I sez, "an' loves 'er well,
   Like I loves peace an' quite.  An' if I goes
Down into Spadgers, raisin' merry 'ell,
   Breakin' the peace an' things account uv Rose,
   Where that might land me goodness only knows.
'Ow women sees these things no man can tell.
   I've done with stoush," I sez.  "'Ard knocks an' blows
         'Ave took a spell.

"I've done with stoush," I sez.  But in some place
   Deep in me 'eart a voice begun to sing;
A lurin' little voice, with motives base ...
   It's ten long years since I was in a ring,
   Ten years since I gave that left 'ook a swing.
Ten weary years since I pushed in a face;
   An' 'ere's a chance to 'ave a little fling
         With no disgrace.

"Stoush?  Stoush, young friend?" 'e sez.  "Where 'ave I 'eard
   That term? I gather it refers to strife.
But there," 'e sez, "why quarrel with a word?
   As you 'ave said, indeed, I know yer wife;
   An' should she 'ear you went where vice is rife
To battle fer the right -- But it's absurd
   To look fer gallantry in modrin life.
         It's a rare bird.

"Young friend," 'e sez.  An' quicker than a wink
   'Is twinklin' eyes grew sudden very grave.
"Young friend," 'e sez, "I know jist wot yeh think
   Uv 'ow us parsons blather an' be'ave.
   But I 'ave 'ere a woman's soul to save --
A lonely woman, tremblin' on the brink
   Uv black perdition, blacker than the grave.
         An' she must sink.

"Yes, she must sink," 'e sez.  "For I 'ave done
   All that a man uv my poor parts can do.
An' I 'ave failed!  There was not anyone
   That I could turn to, till I met with you.
   But now that 'ope 'as gone - an' 'er 'ope too."
"'Old on," I sez.  "Just let me think for one
   Brief 'alf-a-mo.  I'd love a crack or two
         At this flash gun."

"Righto," I sez (an' turns me back on doubt)
   "I'm with yeh, parson. I go down to-night
To Spadgers, an' jist looks this Spike Wegg out."
   "Young friend," 'e sez, "be sure you've chosen right.
   Remember, I do not desire a fight.
But if - " "Now don't you fret," I sez, "about
   No vi'lince.  If I'm forced, it will be quite
         A friendly clout."

"Young friend," 'e sez, "if you go, I go too.
   Maybe, by counsel, I may yet injuce
This evil man -- " "It ain't no game for you,"
   I argues with 'im.  But it ain't no use.
   "I go!" 'e sez, an' won't take no ixcuse.
So that's all fixed.  An' us crusaders two
   Goes down to-night to Spadgers, to cut loose
         Till all is blue.

'Ow can Doreen make trouble or git sore?
   (Already I can 'ear 'er scold an' sob)
But this ain't stoushin'.  It's a 'oly war!
   The blessin' uv the Church is on the job.
   I'm a church-worker, with full leave to lob
A sacrid left on Spike Wegg's wicked jor.
   Jist let me!  Once!  An' after, s'elp me bob,
         Never no more!

Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2002-06