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It's fight night in Chapter 18 ("All For Her")! But first, some more scene-setting and wool-gathering...

It was Saturday night, and eight o'clock, and life in the Walk was at its zenith. I was first at the rendezvous, and strolled slowly along watching the haggling and chaffering at the barrows, wondering at the bawling butchers, and delighting in the children who danced to the jangle of the piano-organ. Lambeth Walk, as I have already told you, will provide you with everything you can reasonably require in life. Even when you die you need not go farther afield for your requirements, for the undertaker flourishes in the Walk, and rival artists set forth the advantages you will gain by placing yourself unreservedly in their hands. A series of photographs showed me what I could expect for five pounds, and the additional respectability I could attain for an extra two pound ten. Ornaments for my tomb beckoned me; I was especially attracted by the white artificial flowers in glass cases, and hovered from one undertaker's window to another making the final selection of the glass case that should mark my final resting-place.

Poetry, too, you may have; elegies to celebrate your virtues and waft after you the regrets of your relatives. Possibly you might have a specially hand-made elegy if you liked to pay extra for it. Those in the window are machine-made, and there are half-a-dozen varieties from which you may choose. They are stamped in black letters on white plaques fancifully wrought in the shape of a shield, a heart, or the section of a funeral urn. I had some difficulty in deciding, but I think this is the one that I should like my household to hang up in their drawing-room when I am no more--

A Light has from our Household gone,
A Voice we loved is still;
A Place is vacant in our Home
That never can be filled.

From the display in the window I inferred that this was the most popular of the obituary verses. The rhymes fascinated me. Besides, it would be rather piquant to choose and pay for my own panegyric. I was absorbed in the contemplation of these verses, and trying to make up my mind to go in and ask the price, when I was recalled to the hubbub and tumult of the Walk by a voice at my elbow.

'Wotcher!' (pp. 202-4)

Which is Alf's way of saying "hi". Social niceties aren't his thing, man.

He's a bit more high-strung than usual for two reasons: because he's finally realized he's in love with Alice, and he has a rival for Alice's affections. The rival is a paper peddler named Ginger, and while Alice made it clear she preferred Alf's company, Ginger just wouldn't let it go. So they decided to settle their beef in the ring, which is where Alf is heading with Rook on this night.
'Frippence extry cross there,' cried another boy. I paid the threepence, and found myself entitled to a seat on a carpeted bench at the corner of the ring, which is not a ring, but a square. I looked round, a little dazzled by the sudden glare of gas.

Three or four hundred faces, packed in tiers, which rose from each side of the ring. In the lowest tier small boys, in all varieties of undress, who stood and rested their chins on the rope. Above them, row upon row of faces, mostly young and frequently dirty, with here and there the pink shirt and pallid complexion of a flashily-dressed Jew, - and not a woman's face among them.

The piece of the evening was not yet on; but we were mildly interested in the curtain-raiser.

In the sawdust a couple of youngsters were sparring - boys of thirteen or thereabouts - glorious in the small-clothes of the ring, and enjoying themselves hugely. It takes a smack in the face to make a Lambeth boy laugh, and these infants laughed aloud as the gloves (strictly regulation gloves, as we were assured) got home upon their faces.

The genial proprietor stood, slightly swaying, in one corner, giving words of encouragement.

'Garn, yer young devils,' he said, pleasantly. 'You can get 'ome oftener'n that. When you see a place, you 'it it, 'ard; bleed'n' ard. That's the way.'

He nodded approval, and the boys with their chins on the ropes wagged their heads, knowing that old Mugs has stood up to Jem Mace in his time, and that the words that fall from his lips are golden.

No millionaire in London was prouder that night than those two small boys who had concentrated the eyes of their world upon them. And the proudest moments were when they retired on the call of time to their respective corners, laid themselves back in their respective chairs, and had a full-grown man to flap a towel in their faces. Only one man, who walked from one to the other. For boys of thirteen cannot expect more than half a second. But he flapped the towel; and the little boys, as you could see, lay back, opened their mouths, dropped their arms, and thought of Jem Mace. (pp. 206-8)
In a ritual which will be repeated after each fight, Mugs calls out for the crowd to show their appreciation, which the crowd answers by pitching coins at the ring.

I think it's safe to skim the next match, which involves Sammy of Stockwell and Spooney of Bermondsey. The match gets rejiggered on the fly when Sammy proves that he's too much of a puss to actually fight after two rounds and is thrown out of the ring by Mugs, to be replaced by Sparkey of Lambeth. The meat and potatoes is in the next bout.
Suddenly, I was aware of young Alf by my side, in his chair at his own corner. But young Alf translated. Young Alf in pink breeches, white stockings and shoes. Young Alf holding out his hands superciliously for his second, a bullet-headed ruffian, to put his gloves on. Young Alf paler than ever, but with eyes that whipped round the ring and settled with a blaze of fury on Ginger in the other corner. He neither spoke to me nor looked at me, but dropped his gloved hands and waited.

The master of the ceremonies stepped forward, cleared his throat, and braced his voice for an effort. The buzz of comment dropped.

Was there any objection to our old friend Mat Mullins as timekeeper?

None whatever. And Mat Mullins was entrusted with a watch. Mat Mullins was a heavily-built man in a grey muffler. The good-humoured lines of his face were strongly marked out with coal-dust.

As to judge, there could be no objection to old Spooney, if he didn't mind being called old Spooney, seeing that his son-

Carried by acclamation. And old Spooney, who turned out to be the shrewd-eyed man who sat behind me, deprecated the compliment, and accepted the office.

'I don't shove meself forward,' said old Spooney, 'but if there's no better man--' That settled it, for we drowned his apodosis in a shout.

Again the master of the ceremonies braced himself for an effort.

'I beg to interjuice to your notice,' he said, resting one hand on the ropes and fixing an eye on a corner of the ceiling, 'Paddy of Lambeth, and Ginger of-- of----'

'Camb'well,' prompted Ginger, from his corner.

'And Ginger of Camb'well. A six-round contest, fought strictly under the Marcus o' Queensberry's rules. Dunng this 'ere contest I must arst you to keep silence, gen'l'men all. Tween the rounds you can shout.'

We were all very silent now. (pp. 213-4)
When Round 1 is called, "Paddy" and Ginger tap gloves and Alf springs at his opponent "with a tigerish gleam in his eyes." Alf is going for a quick KO, but Ginger isn't about to lie down. While Ginger is a taller boy, Alf is stronger, and yet Ginger has the sweet science on his side. Every body blow raises the red on Alf's pale skin.
Young Alf's breath is coming thick and fast now, as he lies back in his chair, and permits the bullet-headed ruffian to mop his face, and squirt water upon it from his mouth. He turns his head, and catches encouragement from eyes.

'I'll do it, if I bust me guts,' pants young Alf.

'Stick tongue aht, an' don't talk,' says his second. 'Blarst yer,' he adds, as he pursues his kindly office. And again the conscientious coal-heaver who holds the watch calls-


Again young Alf leaps upon Ginger. Hard pounding this time, though Ginger is still smiling ominously. Hard shouting, too, for we are getting near the end. But suddenly someone shouts louder than the rest. It is old Spooney behind me. Someone also leaps into the ring, and pulls young Alf off Ginger, whom he has driven into a corner.

'Glove slipped.'

It is tied up. Young Alf looks furtively round him during the operation, and I wonder if it was an accident.

At it again, both trying to drive the final blow home.

Old Spooney leans down to my ear.

'I never see a comicker, bleed'ner fight in all me life,' he says.


Young Alf is very pale, and struggling for breath. His second fills his mouth with water and sends it as from a fire hose into young Alf's face. Flap-flap with the towel, and at the word young Alf can just rise to his task. Ginger has to be propelled into the ring by friendly hands.

In less than half-a-minute Ginger slips,-- he is down. We rise in our seats, and howl. But young Alf is too pumped to reach him before he has staggered to his feet again. The boys have fought themselves out; and when time is called, young Alf is feebly patting Ginger on the left ear, while Ginger is gently tickling young Alf in the ribs. (pp. 217-8)
The judge's decision goes to science and Ginger, but is it really over? Not by a long shot, as Spooney tells Rook they'll settle it "in the raws," and sure enough, neither Alf nor Ginger are to be found. The rematch clause obviously has a quicker turnaround on the Walk than it does even in WWE.

Having seen what he came to see, Rook finds his way out, but under a streetlamp he finds a familiar young woman.
'Are you looking for Alf?' said the girl. I recognized the voice instantly. It was the voice I had heard at the end of Irish Court. 'I sin you with him lots of times,' she added, in explanation.

'You must be Alice,' I said. Where is Alf?'

'In there,' she replied, pointing with her finger. I can't go an' look at it. You go. Say I'm 'ere.'

A couple of lanterns gave light enough to show me a stable-yard. A dozen or so of partisans formed a ring. This time there was no noise, no seconds, no towel-flapping. Also there were no rules. They were fighting in savage silence. We, too, stood round tense and earnest, making no sound; for now at last we were breaking the law and disturbing the Queen's peace. It seemed to me a long time that I stood there watching the flicker of the lanterns on those two struggling figures. But probably only a or so passed before young Alf brought off his favourite manoeuvre in the kind of fighting where nothing is barred. With a quick butt of the head, and a raised elbow, he caught Ginger under the chin, and bore him to the ground, falling on top of him.

Young Alf rose and passed his arm across his lips. Ginger remained where he was.

That is an effective stroke, if you have cobbles underneath on which to crack your adversary's skull.

Someone brought a pail of water and threw it over Ginger, who presently sat up and looked about him. (pp. 219-21)
Back on the street, Alice adjusts Alf's neckerchief and they leave together. And boy, is she proud of her man! So remember, even scruffy street fighters can find romance...with violence! No no, not romance with violence. Romance...with violence! Okay, I'll stop while I'm behind...

Next: Outrunning the constable. Yeah, I'm not too clever tonight. I'm fighting the urge to backslide yet again. And dammit, I screwed up the chapter number in the heading again...and for the exact same reason as the other time.


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