Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - The Hooligan Nights, by Clarence Rook, 1899 - Chapter 14 - Lambeth Lasses

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Lambeth Lasses

     Lizzie, it seemed, was an exception and not the rule, being a young woman to whom vice was a living and crime an occasional recreation. She was, as we have seen, useful to young Alf; but young Alf does not speak of her with approval, nor does he admit that she is a typical representative of the Lambeth lass.
     In the conversation which followed upon my question concerning Lizzie, young Alf touched upon the sex problem as it presents itself to the Hooligan. It is rather a pity that this conversation cannot be set forth verbatim; for young Alf would appear therein as a chivalrous defender of his womenfolk, and I am conscious that his character, as exhibited in word and deed, requires to be touched up with some highlights before it can be considered a pretty picture.
     The average Lambeth lass, as young Alf avers, is neither a prostitute nor a criminal. The former class is regarded with disfavour by young Alf and his friends; for when the toff has been picked clean by the female thief there is very little left for the Lambeth lad. One may honour young Alf's sentiments if one overlooks their origin.
     Woman, in Lambeth Walk, as elsewhere, throws her influence into the right scale. She earns her living by hard work in the factories where they make pickles, jam, or mineral waters. Sometimes, too, she sells flowers in the streets. She associates with criminals; but her share in crime is a passive one. Doubtless she suspects that the young man who takes her to the Canterbury, and regales her on sausages and mashed afterwards, is more slippy with his hooks than behoves an honest lad. But she does not know or trouble her head about the sort of jobs in which he is engaged, though, on the whole, she would rather he went straight than sideways. And if by chance she is compelled to choose between the law and the lover, she may be forgiven if she plumps for the lover. She is not, if we must speak with absolute strictness, virtuous. But she is rather virtuous, if you will admit degrees in feminine virtue. She is loyal, strong, and courageous, possessing all the virtues but virtue. Rough and coarse, if you please, and foul of tongue when the fit seizes her; but we may call the roughness honesty, and the foulness slang, without being far wrong.
     They fight, too, on occasion; and young Alf speaks in the highest terms of the prowess they display. For their fighting is not confined to the scratching of faces, the pulling of hair, and the mauling of clothes, but consists of dodging, feinting, countering, and good straightforward hitting, with muscles hardened by work that would tax the strength of an ordinary man.
     'More'n 'alf the time it's jealousy what leads to scrappin',' said young Alf. 'Say there's two or free gals messin' about after the same boy; well, they 'ave a set to so's to settle which is goin' to 'ave 'im. See? On'y sometimes it comes out the uvver way, same as it did wiv Maggots.'
     'What happened to Maggots?' I asked.
     'Why, Maggots was walkin' wiv more'n one gal, - more'n two or free, if it comes to that, and 'e fort it was about time to make some change. Getting a bit too fick for Maggots, it was, specially as it'd come to is knowledge that some of the gals'd been fighting to see which of 'em should 'ave 'im. Well, one afternoon one of the gals says to Maggots that she'd be down the Arches after she'd 'ad 'er tea. Maggots 'e'd 'ad enough of the gal, so it came into his 'ead that 'e'd 'ave a bit of a game wiv 'er. So he says e'd be down the Arches after tea, too. Then he nips round an' makes a 'pointment wiv one gal after anuvver to be down the Arches after tea, an' they all promised they'd come.'
     'And they all came?'
     'Eight of em, one after the uvver. An' as each one come the uvvers arst 'er who she'd come to meet, an' she says Maggots. An' there was all of em stannin' down the Arches waitin' for the same boy. See? 'Course that was jest what Maggots wanted, cause 'e fort there'd be a rare old beano, cause all the gals'd been messin' about after 'im.'
     'And was there a fight?'
     'It didn't turn out quite like Maggots expected; but there was a fight, in a way of speaking, an' Maggots see it all, wiv no error. Silly like, 'e goes down to the Arches quiet as 'e could, finkin' 'e'd like to see the gals an' if they'd come to meet 'im an' wevver they was scrappin'. See? On'y the gals they'd been layin' their eads togevver, an' seein' as Maggots'd been playin' a game wiv 'em, they 'greed they'd give Maggots what for. An' soon as Maggots showed 'is chivvy one of the gals says, "Fink we're Mormons?" she says; an' wiv that she lands him one; an' quicker'n anyfink the ole lot chips in back an' front an' dusts 'im over proper. Oh! 'e see a fight, Maggots did, that evenin', but it wasn't the sort of fight that 'e'd set out to see. They could put in a bit o' work too, them gals could, cause Maggots always fancied big gals. Sort of obby of 'is. An' fore they'd done wiv 'im Maggots wished 'e was safe at Wormwood Scrubs. See? Nor I don't think any Lambeth boy'll play on the ikey like that wiv them gals again.'
     Young Alf Leaned back and spat straight in front of him. His lower jaw worked rapidly.
     'Then Lizzie belonged to a different class?' I said.
     Young Alf crossed one foot over the other and wagged his head.
     'If you come across Lizzie an' she offered you a rose,' he said, 'an' arst you to smell it, it wouldn't be worf your while.'
     'Why not?' I asked.
     'Fiddled,' said young Alf.
     'You mean-'
     'Drugged, you unnerstand. You smell the rose, an' in 'arf a mo you dunno anyfink more. See?'
     Young Alf dived into an inner pocket, and brought out something which he held in the palm of his hand.
     'What you fink of that for a ceegar?' he said.
     I took it from him, fingered it, smelt it.
     'I don't see anything curious about it,' I said. 'It seems to be an ordinary twopenny smoke. Cabbage, with a bit of tobacco-leaf wrapped round. Eh?'
     ' 'Tain't,' said young Alf. 'Not be a long chalk. Like to smoke it, jest a little bit of it?'
     'I think I'd prefer one of my own,' I replied.
    'You're about right,' said young Alf. 'It's a faked ceegar.'
     Young Alf nodded, and returning the cigar carefully to his inner pocket, he leaned forward and dropped his voice to a hoarse whisper. 'There's been a lot o' talk about druggin' liquor in pubs, puttin' snuff in, y' know. Well, even if you got a mug that you fink you can skin easy, it ain't so easy to fiddle is drink in a bar where there's lots of uvver people; you can take it from me. It ain't the drink that gets fiddled. The way a mug gets struck senseless is be ceegars. And cigarettes. See?'
     Young Alf sat back and regarded me obliquely. 'It wasn't on'y a week ago,' he continued, 'I come across a toff in a bar that was 'avin' a bit extry, an' gettin' extry good-natured wiv it. So course I got into conversation wiv 'im, an' 'e stood drinks. Wasn't boozed, 'e wasn't, an' I  reckon 'e was pretty fly, cause 'e kep' 'is coat buttoned tight. On'y he was talkin' free about the brass 'e'd got. Says 'e could buy up the ole bar an' all the bleed'n' crowd in it. Well, I finks I must run froo 'im if I see me way, on'y I couldn't see no pals stannin' around, an' I couldn't see me way until sudden like it come into me 'ead 'ow to work the job. An' me wiv me ceegar in me pocket all the time! See?
     'Well, presently I brings out me ceegar an' offers it to him, be way of returnin' the compliment of the drink 'e'd stood. See? An' course 'e takes it an' lights up.
     ' "That's a nice smoke," 'e says.
     ' "Oughter be," I chips in. "It come a long way fore it got 'ere. You don't get a smoke like that every day of the week, an' countin' Sundays," I says. An' that was Gawd's trewth.'
     The contortion of Young Alf's face denoted intense amusement.
     'Well, fore long,' continued young Alf, 'the toff began to get queer in 'is 'ead. Cause, you unnerstand, it was a faked ceegar what I'd give 'im. So I looks round at the uvver people in the bar, an' I says that my fren's a bit overcome an' I fink I'll take 'im into the fresh air. See? An' wiv that out we goes togevver, me tellin' 'im 'ow the fresh air'll liven 'im up like. An' time I'd got a 'ansom an' put 'im inside, the job was worked. Went froo 'im, carm an' easy, I did, while we drove along. An' then, soon as we come to a pub that I knew was awright, I stopped the cab an' says I was goin' to get some brandy for my fren' that wasn't feelin' well. Course I nips froo an' out at the back.'
     'And what happened to the man in the cab, and the cabman?' I asked.
     'Never see eiver of em again,' said young Alf. 'Don't want to.'
     'Let me see that cigar again,' I said.
     He drew it out with great care, and handed it to me. 'I rather fancy I detect a curious perfume about it,' I said. 'Not very marked, but still-'
     'Not if you was a bit boozed,' said young Alf.
    'Where do you buy those cigars?' I asked.
    Young Alf returned the cigar to his pocket, puffed his cheeks once, but said nothing.
     There are some things that young Alf will not tell me. He will not tell me where you get drugged cigars. But he knows where they are to be bought, and he knows what you must ask for when you want them.
     'What you got to be careful of,' said young Alf as we were parting, 'is flahers, an' ceegars. An' cigarettes,' he added, as he turned at the door.