Herbert Jenkins.

Bindle: Some Chapters in the Life of Joseph Bindle



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FOREWORD

Some years ago I wrote an account of one of Bindle's "little jokes," as he calls them, which appeared in Blackwood's Magazine. As a result the late Mr. William Blackwood on more than one occasion expressed the opinion that a book about Bindle should be written, and suggested that I offer it to him for publication. Other and weighty matters intervened, and Bindle passed out of my thoughts.

Last year, however, the same suggestion was made from other quarters, and in one instance was backed up by a material reasoning that I found irresistible.

A well-known author once assured me that in his opinion the publisher who wrote books should, like the double-headed ass and five-legged sheep, be painlessly put to death, preferably by the Society of Authors, as a menace to what he called "the legitimate."

Authors have been known to become their own publishers, generally, I believe, to their lasting regret; why, therefore, should not a publisher become his own author? At least he would find some difficulty in proving to the world that his failure was due to under-advertising.

H. J.

12, ARUNDEL PLACE,

HAYMARKET, LONDON, S.W.

August, 1916.

CHAPTER I
THE BINDLES AT HOME

"Women," remarked Bindle, as he gazed reflectively into the tankard he had just drained, "women is all right if yer can keep 'em from marryin' yer."

"I don't 'old wiv women," growled Ginger, casting a malevolent glance at the Blue Boar's only barmaid, as she stood smirking at the other end of the long leaden counter. "Same as before," he added to the barman.

Joseph Bindle heaved a sign of contentment at the success of his rueful contemplation of the emptiness of his tankard.

"You're too late, ole sport," he remarked, as he sympathetically surveyed the unprepossessing features of his companion, where freckles rioted with spots in happy abandon. "You're too late, you wi' three babies 'fore you're twenty-five. Ginger, you're – "

"No, I ain't!" There was a note of savage menace in Ginger's voice that caused his companion to look at him curiously.

"Ain't wot?" questioned Bindle.

"I ain't wot you was goin' to say I was."

"'Ow jer know wot I was goin' to say?"

"'Cos every stutterin' fool sez it; an' blimey I'm goin' to 'ammer the next, an' I don't want to 'ammer you, Joe."

Bindle pondered a moment, then a smile irradiated his features, developing into a broad grin.

"You're too touchy, Ginger. I wasn't goin' to say, 'Ginger, you're barmy.'" Ginger winced and clenched his fists. "I was goin' to say, 'Ginger, you're no good at marriage wi'out tack. If yer 'ad more tack maybe yer wouldn't 'ave got married."

Ginger spat viciously in the direction of the spittoon, but his feelings were too strong for accurate aim.

"The parsons say as marriages is made in 'eaven," growled Ginger.

"Why don't 'eaven feed the kids? That's wot I want to know."

Ginger was notorious among his mates for the gloomy view he took of life. No one had ever discovered in him enthusiasm for anything. If he went to a football match and the team he favoured were beaten, it was no more than he expected; if they were victorious his comment would be that they ought to have scored more goals. If the horse he backed won, he blamed fate because his stake was so small. The more beer he absorbed the more misanthropic he seemed to become.

"Funny coves, parsons," remarked Bindle conversationally; "not as I've any think to say agin' religion, providin' it's kep' for Sundays and Good Fridays, an' don't get mixed up wi' the rest of the week."

He paused and lifted the newly-filled tankard to his lips. Presently he continued reminiscently:

"My father 'ad religion, and drunk 'isself to death 'keepin' the chill out.' Accordin' to 'im, if yer wanted to be 'appy in the next world yer 'ad to be a sort of 'alf fish in this. 'E could tell the tale, 'e could, and wot's more, 'e used to make us believe 'im." Bindle laughed at the recollection. "Two or three times a week 'e used to go to chapel to 'wash 'is sins away,' winter an' summer. The parson seemed to 'ave to wash the 'ole bloomin' lot of 'em, and my father never forgot to take somethink on 'is way 'ome to keep the chill out, 'e was that careful of 'isself.

"'My life is Gawd's,' 'e used to say, 'an' I must take care of wot is the Lord's.' There weren't no spots on my father. Why, 'e used to wet 'is 'air to prove 'e'd been ''mersed,' as 'e called it. You'd 'ave liked 'im, Ginger; 'e was a gloomy sort of cove, same as you."

Ginger muttered something inarticulate, and buried his freckles and spots in his tankard. Bindle carefully filled his short clay pipe and lit it with a care and precision more appropriate to a cigar.

"No," he continued, "I ain't nothink agin' religion; it's the people wot goes in for it as does me. There's my brother-in-law, 'Earty by name, an' my missis – they must make 'eaven tired with their moanin'."

"Wot jer marry 'er for?" grumbled Ginger thickly, not with any show of interest, but as if to demonstrate that he was still awake.

"Ginger!" There was reproach in Bindle's voice. "Fancy you arstin' a silly question like that. Don't yer know as no man ever marries any woman? If 'e's nippy 'e gets orf the 'ook; if 'e ain't 'e's landed. You an' me wasn't nippy enough, ole son, an' 'ere we are."

"There's somethin' in that, mate." There was feeling in Ginger's voice and a momentary alertness in his eye.

"Well," continued Bindle, "once on the 'ook there's only one thing that'll save yer – tack."

"Or 'ammerin 'er blue," interpolated Ginger viciously.

"I draws the line there; I don't 'old with 'ammerin' women. Yer can't 'ammer somethink wot can't 'ammer back, Ginger; that's for furriners. No, tack's the thing. Now take my missis. If yer back-answers 'er when she ain't feelin' chatty, you're as good as done. Wot I does is to keep quiet an' seem sorry, then she dries up. Arter a bit I'll whistle or 'um 'Gospel Bells' (that's 'er favourite 'ymn, Ginger) as if to meself. Then out I goes, an' when I gets 'ome to supper I takes in a tin o' salmon, an' it's all over till the next time. Wi' tack, 'Gospel Bells,' and a tin o' salmon yer can do a rare lot wi' women, Ginger."

"Wot jer do if yer couldn't whistle or 'um, and if salmon made yer ole woman sick, same as it does mine; wot jer do then?" Ginger thrust his head forward aggressively.

Bindle thought deeply for some moments, then with slow deliberation said:

"I think, Ginger, I'd kill a slop. They always 'angs yer for killin' slops."

There was a momentary silence, as both men drained their pewters, and a moment after they left the Blue Boar. They walked along, each deep in his own thoughts, in the direction of Hammersmith Church, where they parted, Bindle to proceed to Fulham and Ginger to Chiswick; each to the mate that had been thrust upon him by an undiscriminating fate.

Joseph Bindle was a little man, bald-headed, with a red nose, but he was possessed of a great heart, which no misfortune ever daunted. Two things in life he loved above all others, beer and humour (or, as he called it, his "little joke"); yet he permitted neither to interfere with the day's work, save under very exceptional circumstances. No one had ever seen him drunk. He had once explained to a mate who urged upon him an extra glass, "I don't put more on me back than I can carry, an' I do ditto wi' me stomach."

Bindle was a journeyman furniture-remover by profession, and the life of a journeyman furniture-remover is fraught with many vicissitudes and hardships. As one of the profession once phrased it to Bindle, "If it wasn't for them bespattered quarter-days, there might be a livin' in it."

People, however, move at set periods, or, as Bindle put it, they "seems to take root as if they was bloomin' vegetables." The set periods are practically reduced to three, for few care to face the inconvenience of a Christmas move.

Once upon a time family removals were leisurely affairs, which the contractors took care to spread over many days; now, however, moving is a matter of contract, or, as Bindle himself expressed it, "Yer 'as to carry a bookcase under one arm, a spring-mattress under the other, a pianner on yer back, and then they wonders why yer ain't doin' somethink wi' yer teeth."

All these things conspired to make Bindle's living a precarious one. He was not lazy, and sought work assiduously. In his time he had undertaken many strange jobs, his intelligence and ready wit giving him an advantage over his competitors; but if his wit gained for him employment, his unconquerable desire to indulge in his "little jokes" almost as frequently lost it for him.

As the jobs became less frequent Mrs. Bindle waxed more eloquent. To her a man who was not working was "a brute" or a "lazy hound." She made no distinction between the willing and the unwilling, and she heaped the fire of her burning reproaches upon the head of her luckless "man" whenever he was unable to furnish her with a full week's housekeeping.

Bindle was not lazy enough to be unpopular with his superiors, or sufficiently energetic to merit the contempt of his fellow-workers. He did his job in average time, and strove to preserve the middle course that should mean employment and pleasant associates.

"Lorst yer job?" was a frequent interrogation on the lips of Mrs. Bindle.

At first Bindle had striven to parry this inevitable question with a pleasantry; but he soon discovered that his wife was impervious to his most brilliant efforts, and he learned in time to shroud his degradation in an impenetrable veil of silence.

Only in the hour of prosperity would he preserve his verbal cheerfulness.

"She thinks too much o' soap an' 'er soul to make an 'owlin' success o' marriage," he had once confided to a mate over a pint of beer. "A little dirt an' less religion might keep 'er out of 'eaven in the next world, but it 'ud keep me out of 'ell in this!"

Mrs. Bindle was obsessed with two ogres: Dirt and the Devil. Her cleanliness was the cleanliness that rendered domestic comfort impossible, just as her godliness was the godliness of suffering in this world and glory in the next.

Her faith was the faith of negation. The happiness to be enjoyed in the next world would be in direct ratio to the sacrifices made in this. Denying herself the things that her "carnal nature" cried out for, she was filled with an intense resentment that anyone else should continue to live in obvious enjoyment of what she had resolutely put from her. Her only consolation was the triumph she was to enjoy in the next world, and she found no little comfort in the story of Dives and Lazarus.

The forgiveness of sins was a matter upon which she preserved an open mind. Her faith told her that they should be forgiven; but she felt something of the injustice of it all. That the sinner, who at the eleventh hour repenteth, should achieve Paradise in addition to having drunk deep of the cup of pleasure in this world, seemed to her unfair to the faithful.

To Mrs. Bindle the world was a miserable place; but, please God! it should be a clean place, as far as she had the power to make it clean.

When a woman sets out to be a reformer, she invariably begins upon her own men-folk. Mrs. Bindle had striven long and lugubriously to ensure Bindle's salvation, and when she had eventually discovered this to be impossible, she accepted him as her cross.

Whilst struggling for Bindle's salvation, Mrs. Bindle had not overlooked the more immediate needs of his body. For many weeks of their early married life a tin bath of hot water had been placed regularly in the kitchen each Friday night that Bindle might be thorough in his ablutions.

At first Mrs. Bindle had been surprised and gratified at the way in which Bindle had acquiesced in this weekly rite, but being shrewd and something of a student of character, particularly Bindle's character, her suspicions had been aroused.

One Friday evening she put the kitchen keyhole to an illicit use, and discovered Bindle industriously rubbing his hands on his boots, and, with much use of soap, washing them in the bath, after which he splashed the water about the room, damped the towels, then lit his pipe and proceeded to read the evening paper. That was the end of the bath episode.

It was not that Bindle objected to washing; as a matter of fact he was far more cleanly than most of his class; but to him Mrs. Bindle's methods savoured too much of coercion.

A great Frenchman has said, "Pour faire quelque chose de grande, il faut ?tre passion?." In other words, no wanton sprite of mischief or humour must be permitted to beckon genius from its predestined path. Although an entire stranger to philosophy, ignorant alike of the word and its meaning, Mrs. Bindle had arrived at the same conclusion as the French savant.

"Why don't you stick at somethin' as if you meant it?" was her way of phrasing it. "Look at Mr. Hearty. See what he's done!" Without any thought of irreverence, Mrs. Bindle used the names of the Lord and Mr. Hearty as whips of scorpions with which on occasion she mercilessly scourged her husband.

At the time of Bindle's encounter with his onetime work-mate, Ginger, he had been tramping for hours seeking a job. He had gone even to the length of answering an advertisement for a waitress, explaining to the irritated advertiser that "wi' women it was the customers as did the waitin'," and that a man was "more nippy than a gal."

Ginger's hospitality had cheered him, and he began to regard life once more with his accustomed optimism. He had been without food all day, and this fact, rather than the continued rebuffs he had suffered, caused him some misgiving as the hour approached for his return to home and Mrs. Bindle's inevitable question, "Got a job?"

As he passed along the Fulham Palace Road his keen eye searched everywhere for interest and amusement. He winked jocosely at the pretty girls, and grinned happily when called a "saucy 'ound." He exchanged pleasantries with anyone who showed the least inclination towards camaraderie, and the dour he silenced with caustic rejoinder.

Bindle's views upon the home life of England were not orthodox.

"I'd like to meet the cove wot first started talkin' about the ''appy 'ome life of ole England,'" he murmured under his breath. "I'd like to introduce 'im to Mrs. B. Might sort o' wake 'im up a bit, an' make 'im want t' emigrate. I'd like to see 'im gettin' away wi'out a scrap. Rummy thing, 'ome life."

His philosophy was to enjoy what you've got, and not to bother about what you hope to get. He had once precipitated a domestic storm by saying to Mrs. Bindle:

"Don't you put all yer money on the next world, in case of accidents. Angels is funny things, and they might sort of take a dislike to yer, and then the fat 'ud be in the fire." Then, critically surveying Mrs. Bindle's manifest leanness, "Not as you an' me together 'ud make much of a flicker in 'ell."

As he approached Fenton Street, where he lived, his leisurely pace perceptibly slackened. It was true that supper awaited him at the end of his journey – that was with luck; but, luck or no luck, Mrs. Bindle was inevitable.

"Funny 'ow 'avin' a wife seems to spoil yer appetite," he muttered, as he scratched his head through the blue-and-white cricket cap he invariably wore, where the four triangles of alternating white and Cambridge blue had lost much of their original delicacy of shade.

"I'm 'ungry, 'ungry as an 'awk," he continued; then after a pause he added, "I wonder whether 'awks marry." The idea seemed to amuse him. "Well, well!" he remarked with a sigh, "yer got to face it, Joe," and pulling himself together he mended his pace.

As he had foreseen, Mrs. Bindle was keenly on the alert for the sound of his key in the lock of the outer door of their half-house. He had scarcely realised that the evening meal was to consist of something stewed with his much-loved onions, when Mrs. Bindle's voice was heard from the kitchen with the time-worn question:

"Got a job?"

Hunger, and the smell of his favourite vegetable, made him a coward.

"'Ow jer know, Fairy?" he asked with crude facetiousness.

"What is it?" enquired Mrs. Bindle shrewdly as he entered the kitchen.

"Night watchman at a garridge," he lied glibly, and removed his coat preparatory to what he called a "rinse" at the sink. It always pleased Mrs. Bindle to see Bindle wash; even such a perfunctory effort as a "rinse" was a tribute to her efforts.

"When d'you start?" she asked suspiciously.

How persistent women were! thought Bindle.

"To-night at nine," he replied. Nothing mattered with that savoury smell in his nostrils.

Mrs. Bindle was pacified; but her emotions were confidential affairs between herself and "the Lord," and she consequently preserved the same unrelenting exterior.

"'Bout time, I should think," she snapped ungraciously, and proceeded with her culinary preparations. Mrs. Bindle was an excellent cook. "If 'er temper was like 'er cookin'," Bindle had confided to Mrs. Hearty, "life 'ud be a little bit of 'eaven."

Fenton Street, in which the Bindles lived, was an offering to the Moloch of British exclusiveness. The houses consisted of two floors, and each floor had a separate outer door and a narrow passage from which opened off a parlour, a bedroom, and a kitchen. Although each household was cut off from the sight of its immediate neighbours, there was not a resident, save those who occupied the end houses, who was not intimately acquainted with the private affairs of at least three of its neighbours, those above or below, as the case might be, and of the family on each side. The walls and floors were so thin that, when the least emotion set the voices of the occupants vibrating in a louder key than usual, the neighbours knew of the crisis as soon as the protagonists themselves, and every aspect of the dispute or discussion was soon the common property of the whole street.

Fenton Street suited Mrs. Bindle, who was intensely exclusive. She never joined the groups of women who stood each morning, and many afternoons, at their front doors to discuss the thousand and one things that women have to discuss. She occupied herself with her home, hounding from its hiding-place each speck of dust and microbe as if it were an embodiment of the Devil himself.

She was a woman of narrow outlook and prejudiced views, hating sin from a sense of fear of what it might entail rather than as a result of instinctive repulsion; yet she was possessed of many admirable qualities. She worked long and hard in her home, did her duty to her husband in mending his clothes, preparing his food, and providing him with what she termed "a comfortable home."

Next to chapel her supreme joy in life was her parlour, a mid-Victorian riot of antimacassars, stools, furniture, photograph-frames, pictures, ornaments, and the musical-box that would not play, but was precious as Aunt Anne's legacy. Bindle was wont to say that "when yer goes into our parlour yer wants a map an' a guide, an' even then yer 'as to call for 'elp before yer can get out."

Mrs. Bindle had no visitors, and consequently her domestic holy of holies was never used. She would dust and clean and arrange; arrange, clean, and dust with untiring zeal. The windows, although never opened, were spotless; for she judged a woman's whole character by the appearance of her windows and curtains. No religieuse ever devoted more time or thought to a chapel or an altar than Mrs. Bindle to her parlour. She might have reconciled herself to leaving anything else in the world, but her parlour would have held her a helpless prisoner.

When everything was ready for the meal Mrs. Bindle poured from a saucepan a red-brown liquid with cubes of a darker brown, which splashed joyously into the dish. Bindle recognised it as stewed steak and onions, the culinary joy of his heart.

With great appetite he fell to, almost thankful to Providence for sending him so excellent a cook. As he ate he argued that if a man had an angel for a wife, in all likelihood she would not be able to cook, and perhaps after all he was not so badly off.

"There ain't many as can beat yer at this 'ere game," remarked Bindle, indicating the dish with his fork; and a momentary flicker that might have been a smile still-born passed across Mrs. Bindle's face.

As the meal progressed Bindle began to see the folly of his cowardice. He had doomed himself to a night's walking the streets. He cudgelled his brains how to avoid the consequences of his indiscretion. He looked covertly at Mrs. Bindle. There was nothing in the sharp hatchet-like face, with its sandy hair drawn tightly away from each side and screwed into a knot behind, that suggested compromise. Nor was there any suggestion of a relenting nature in that hard grey line that served her as a mouth. No, there was nothing for it but to "carry the banner," unless he could raise sufficient money to pay for a night's lodging.

"Saw Ginger to-day," he remarked conversationally, as he removed a shred of meat from a back tooth with his fork.



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