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Well gang, we're finally approaching the end of The Hooligan Nights, and although a conventional plot has been beside the point as often as not, our author obviously feels he has to bring Alf's story to a suitable end...or at least a proper stopping point. To that effect, we've been teased on and off about Alice, and Alf's gradual realization that she's more than just "one of his girls", but the girl. It's been a pretty leisurely subplot, which is why it's such a jolt that the start of Chapter 21 ("The Course of True Love") starts the way it does...even if it's a perfectly logical development.

It was advisable that Alice should be married to young Alf forthwith. But there were difficulties in the way. Alice's father did not approve of the match even in the special circumstances, and threatened bashing. And Alice's father, if I may credit Young Alf's rapid sketch, is not a man to be trifled with. He is a book-maker of unbridled temper, and is accustomed to be master in his own house. Towards nightfall, when Alice's mother can still argue but can no longer stand, his remedy is ingenious and effective. He slings a rope - so young Alf tells me - round her chib, and fastens it to a hook in the wall. Then Alice's mother can stand, but can no longer argue. A man, I gather, of strong character, but not lovable. A husband and lather to inspire fear rather than affection.

The opposition of the book-maker was a serious difficulty, but, with the combined forces of Alice and her mother, not an insuperable one. Alice was very anxious for the wedding: Alice's mother, so long as she could stand, was insistent. Young Alf didn't care either way.

So the banns were put up without the knowledge of the book-maker with the unbridled temper, and young Alf was devising a scheme for sneaking the book-maker's pony and cart in order that the ceremony might be carried out with a bit of class. (pp. 256-7)
Rook does a nice job here of circling the fact that, if you'll pardon me for being so ungenteel, Alice is knocked up good and proper, but it says a lot about the era that he can be a bit more on the nose about her dad being a big booster of Angry Dad Violence, and that both mom and dad habitually drink until they can't stand. 'Twas ever thus: violence has always been more acceptable than sex. Of course, Alice has one up on Alf by having two parents, even if they're pretty much useless after last call.

Although Alf is singularly ambivalent about the prospect of marriage, he's willing to resort to extraordinary measures to make sure Alice has something resembling a decent home: if he can't furnish their love nest by his "usual" means, he's willing to pay cash. That would be my cue to sarcastically say "What a solid foundation to build a life together," but then he has to go and tell this story:
'Knows 'ow to 'old 'er tongue,' he continued, presently. 'I never told you 'ow she 'eld 'er tongue, did I?'

I said I had not heard the incident.

'Look 'ere, I'll tell yer,' he said. 'You know Ginger, - 'im what I fought the uvver night?'

'That was about Alice, wasn't it?'

'Nor it wasn't the first time there's bin a bit of a row over Ginger. I don't fink Alice liked Ginger; least, not like she liked me. But 'e was always messin' about after 'er. See? Well, one mornin' I got infamation that Alice'd gone to the Canterbury wiv Ginger the night before. I dessay there wasn't no 'arm in it, an' I ain't so sure in me own mind that she went wiv 'im at all. On'y that was 'nough for me. An', meetin' 'er next evenin' down China Walk, I arsts 'er what the 'ell she meant by walkin' wiv Ginger stead o' me. See? An' then I jest gives 'er two for 'erself; one in each eye. See? Well, Alice, she run off 'ome, an' got into bed quick as she could, an' made out as if she was asleep. 'Cause I'd marked 'er, you unnerstand. Presently, in comes 'er muvver, bein' a bit barmy, an' finds Alice layin' in bed makin' out as if she was asleep. So 'er muvver says - "Git up, you lazy 'ussy," she says, "layin' there like as if you was a lidy," she says.

'Alice says she wouldn't, an' put 'er face unnerneaf the cloves. An' wiv that, 'er muvver took an' fetched 'er a clip over the 'ead. See?

'Well, next mornin', Alice's eyes was stannin' out proper wiv the smack I'd give 'er. An' soon as 'er muvver see 'er, she fort of 'ow she'd landed Alice the night fore, an' nuffink'd do for 'er but she must mess Alice about, an' kiss 'er, an' 'ug 'er, an' say:

' "Oh, my darlin', to fink I should a' marked yer like that!"

' 'Course she was sober then, an' when she's sober Alice's muvver's as kind-hearted as you please.'

'And all the time it was you who had - marked her?' I said.

Young Alf stopped short.

' 'Course it was,' he said. 'That's what I mean; an' - look 'ere.'

We had halted under a lamp-post, and Young Alf's eyes were gleaming in this light.

'Alice never said nuffink about it. What you fink o' that?'

I groped in vain for the appropriate answer, while Young Alf's eyes were fixed on my face.

'I fort a lot o' that,' he said, magnanimously, and turned to resume the walk. (pp. 258-60)
All the makings of a happy ending right there. If she crosses his Ts, he'll dot her eyes. Sigh.

As they walk along, Alf confides his plans for the future. He had come across a pony and wagon--he tells us later that it's just a matter of liberating it from his future father-in-law--and will make his trade as selling "green-stuff". "See, there's lots o' boys makes a good livin' gettin' on to the tail o' market wagons, an rollin' off wiv somefink they can sell wivout a loss. Peas a tanner a peck! See?" So much for reformation through true love. Alice is a good girl, remember. After all, she doesn't ask questions.

Rook is ushered into the newlyweds' apartment (this time Alice has a voice of "liquid gold"), and get a look-around at the sparse belongings: three chairs and a table, a bedstead, a strip of carpet, and some crockery. Then our attention is directed to the souveniers on the mantel.
Young Alf picked up the guttering light from the table, and held it aloft so that I might see and admire the pictures.

Nailed to the middle of the wall over the mantelpiece was a framed engraving of a pigeon, which young Alf had certainly not acquired by honest purchase. But there was a sentimental interest about it. For he had started the serious business of life, as you may remember, by sneaking pigeons. Beneath this, the photograph of a horse.

'That's a 'awse I got at Brighton,' said young Alf, holding the candle with one hand and with the other turning the light on to the picture. Sold it up 'ere in Lambef. It's workin' 'ere now.'

A photograph of young Alf and Alice, arm-in-arm, in very low tone, taken in Epping Forest. Another photograph of the book-maker with the unbridled temper. No. Certainly not a lovable man. A man to keep at a respectful distance. This piece of decoration was clearly Alice's idea, and young Alf swept the candle past it. To right and left of the book-maker a pair of coloured prints representing Christ Blessing the Loaves and Fishes, and Christ on the Sea of Galilee.

Alice retumed and the illumination was increased by a candle.

'Alf bought them,' said Alice, indicating the representations of Our Lord; ' 'cause I liked 'em.'

'Give a penny each for 'em,' said young Alf, in apology for being reduced to purchase.

Alice had resumed her seat by the table, and sat with her shawl drawn closely round her. In the clearer light of the extra candle, I had my first view of her face.

Fair hair, dressed low over the forehead and the ears, after the fashion in vogue among the girls engaged in the manufacture of aerated waters; soft grey eyes - long recovered from the imprint of Young Alf's fist; a mouth somewhat too large for absolute beauty, but well shaped; a figure which in a few months will be slim again. Altogether the sort of girl you may find by the hundred whereever there are streets and tramcars and factories. But her voice marked her off. (pp. 263-5)
And yes, Rook strung us along all this time without giving us a proper description of Alice until this point.

The wedding has been set for Boxing Day, when the threat of Angry Dad Violence is nullified by the book-maker being at some sort of race-meeting (and gives them a chance to swipe the horse and cart...guess he's taking the train), but Alf closes on a slightly ominous note by saying "Once before I've bin as far as the church door wiv a gal--and come away."

Therefore, we open Chapter 22 ("Holy Matrimony") not entirely sure that it'll come off when we join Rook on the South London-bound omnibus on Boxing Day.
'Blows like rain,' I remarked.

The conductor was swinging himself down again, but he halted on his way, and put a red face over the rail - a face designed for cheerfulness, but depressed by circumstances.

'Seems to me,' he said, 'the majority of people I've sin this mornin' wouldn't be much worse for a dash of cold water.'

'I'm just going to see a friend married,' I said; 'I hope the rain will hold off. Happy is the bride, you know-'

'Ah, your friend isn't the only one. Takes a bit of doin' to keep off being merried Boxing day. Talking of merriage-' The conductor leaned one arm on the rail, and kept one eye on the pavement for possible passengers. He did not squint; yet he gave me the impression of looking in two directions at once. 'Talking of merriage,' he said, I heard rather a rich bit the other night. There was a bit of a knock-up down there at the Coach an' 'Awses', and a chap there was doing his turn, talkin' and arstin' riddles; you know what I mean. Singing, you know, only puttin' a bit in on his own 'tween the verses. Follow me? "What's matterimony after all?" he says. "Matter o' money." See what he meant? I expect it is with these upper circles, eh? But I ain't got no cause to complain. Lived in 'armony five years come Easter Monday, and that's more'n most chaps can say. Well, 'ealth and 'appiness to your friend, - on'y, it's a bit too early, eh?'

He descended, looking a little more cheerful - cheerful enough to lean over and chaff the driver of a rival bus, which, being so far empty, was trying to pass him, and gather up any passenger that might be waiting at South Kensington Station. (pp. 268-9)
Finally, we reach the appointed church, but we have no bride or groom.
Couples walk up, flanked by humorous relatives; parties drive up, five in a hansom, brimming over the apron, a white ribbon tied in a tasty bow about the driver's whip. One couple come on bicycles, lean their machines against the wall by the porch, and enter, together with a gentlemanly-looking man who awaits them.

I watch them, and wonder if perchance young Alf is before his time and is already in the church. Into the dim church I peep, and there I see the surpliced clergyman tying human lives into knots, by the dozen at a time.

But young Alf and Alice were not among them.

The wind strengthens, and the churchyard trees are bending to it and dropping their tribute of twigs. From the church the couples emerge, their relatives more humorous than ever, and their cabmen, flourishing their whips tied tasty with a white bow, say things that make you giggle and shake with laughter and say 'Now, then, cheese it.'

The hour hand of the clock is creeping towards ten, closing time. For even a South London clergyman has his limits.

The hour strikes. The last couple has walked away under the blessing of the Church; and the church is empty, but for a fussing verger.

And still no young Alf. (pp. 271-2)
Rook's racing mind is silenced by the clatter of hooves as the "liberated" pony-cart rolls up bearing the wedding party. The book-maker had one cup of Christmas cheer too many the night before, which made it that much harder to get him out of the way on the day. On the way in, Alf shows Rook the ring--"thick, shiny, conclusive"--and really, you'd think the reporter would know by now not to ask how much it cost. Old habits die hard, I suppose. In the absence of her angry, violent dad, Rook agrees to give Alice away.
The verger came shuffling down to where the wedding-party waited. They rose and went forward.

'Come on,' I said.

Young Alf took a parting shot at a sparrow and we advanced together from the porch into the shadows of the aisle, up to the altar rails, where Alice stood expectant. The wind howled a bridal march.

The clergyman came wearily forward, hitching his surplice over his shoulders as he came, and we lined up; Alice's mother, uncertain of her position, and tearful; young Alf, with shoulders slightly hunched, and holding his cap squeezed in his left hand; Alice with her hands dropped and clasped before her.

It was soon over. The clergyman crossed the Prayer-book with the ring - that ring! We knelt. Pious hands waved in blessing over the kneeling pair; and Alfred Eric (the names gave me quite a start) and Alice Maud were pronounced man and wife in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

The verger drove the wedding-party into the vestry. I dodged, and went without.

Outside, the wind was picking twigs from the churchyard trees, and sending them hopping down the path. It had been down all the side streets, gathering up waste paper and refuse of all kinds, which it sent careering round and round the church.

The minutes dragged heavily as I walked up and down, speculating upon the future of young Alf and his bride. I hoped he would be kind to her. (pp. 274-5)
Yeah, and I hope for the winning Powerball numbers and a trophy wife. Let's see whose ridiculous wish comes true first.

There was a bit of a delay in the group's departure as Alf haggled with the parson over what he was expected to pay for the service. Alice's mom had given Alf the amount the night before, but "I told the parson I adn't got no shillins an' 'e let me off. Reckon 'e makes is little bit awright."
Alice had climbed up behind again, her mother beside her. Young Alf and a male supporter mounted in front; and indeterminate friends filled the vacant places. My wedding present was offered and accepted.

Young Alf cracked his whip, and, as the pony started with a willing effort, Alice handed her mother her pocketbandkerchief. I stood watching them as they pounded up the road. They swung round the square, and young Alf, looking back, waved his whip at me. And so young Alf turned the corner. (p. 276)
Do I detect a whiff of sarcasm in that last line? Because if Rook's playing on the square with us, he's far too optimistic to be really effective on the crime beat.

Whether you swallow it or not, that's where we leave Alf the Hooligan: riding off into the sunset in a stolen pony-cart to his threadbare apartment, where he'll either launch his new wedded life of small-time thievery and domestic violence or follow his dad's example and run off on his pregnant wife when it dawns on him how totally screwed he is. Oh, happy day!

Next: sleep. After That: the post-game report.


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