Herbert Jenkins.

Bindle: Some Chapters in the Life of Joseph Bindle



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"I like 'Earty when 'e goes mad," he muttered to himself as he left the shop. "It sort o' wakes up sleepy old Fulham. I wonder 'oo it was. Shouldn't be surprised if I could spot 'im. If it ain't Mr. Dick Little call me Jack Johnson. I wish 'e 'adn't done it, though."

Bindle was thinking of the pathetic figure Mr. Hearty had cut, and of the feverish manner in which he had worked to make up for the lost hours, Bindle had been genuinely touched when, as he was about to leave the shop, his brother-in-law had shaken him warmly by the hand and, in an unsteady voice, thanked him for his help. Then looking round as if searching for something, he had suddenly seized the largest pineapple from the brass rail in the window, thrust it upon the astonished Bindle, and fled into the back room.

For some seconds Bindle had stood looking from the fruit to the door through which his brother-in-law had disappeared, then, replacing it on the rack, he had quietly left the shop, muttering: "It takes a long time to get to know even yer own relations. Queer ole card, 'Earty."

CHAPTER XII
BINDLE AGREES TO BECOME A MILLIONAIRE

I

As the intervals between Mr. Hearty's invitations for Sunday evenings lengthened, Bindle became a more frequent visitor at Dick Little's flat, where he could always be sure of finding jovial kindred spirits.

Both Mrs. Hearty and Millie missed Bindle, and broadly hinted the fact to Mr. Hearty; but he enjoyed too well his Sunday evening hymns to sacrifice them on the altar of hospitality. Millie in particular resented the change. She disliked intensely the hymn-singing, and she was greatly attached to "Uncle Joe."

At Dick Little's flat Bindle found ample compensation for the loss of Mr. Hearty's very uncordial hospitality.

"Mrs. Bindle ain't at 'er best Sunday evenin's," he had confided to Dick Little. "'Er soul seems to sort of itch a bit an' 'er not able to scratch it."

He was always assured of a welcome at Chelsea, and the shout that invariably greeted his entrance flattered him.

"Different from ole 'Earty's 'Good-evenin', Joseph,'" he would remark. "I'd like 'Earty to meet this little lot."

One Sunday evening, about nine o'clock, Bindle made his way round to the flat, and found Dick Little alone with his brother Tom, who was spending the week-end in town. Bindle had not previously met Tom Little, who, however, greeted him warmly as an old friend.

"P'r'aps I'd better be goin'," suggested Bindle tentatively, "seein' as you're – "

"Not a bit of it," broke in Dick Little; "sit down, mix yourself a drink; there are the cigars."

Bindle did as he was bid.

"We were talking about Gravy when you came in," remarked Tom Little.

"An' very nice too, with a cut from the joint an' two vegs.," remarked Bindle pleasantly.

Dick Little explained that "Gravy" was the nickname by which Mr. Reginald Graves was known to his fellow-undergraduates.

"We're about fed up with him at Joe's," Tom Little added.

"An' 'oo might Joe be, sir, when 'e's at 'ome, an' properly labelled?" enquired Bindle.

"It's St. Joseph's College, Oxford, where my brother is," explained Dick Little.

In the course of the next half-hour Bindle learned a great deal about Mr. Reginald Graves, who had reached Oxford by means of scholarship, and considered that he had suffered loss of caste in consequence. His one object in life was to undo the mischief wrought by circumstances. He could not boast of a long line of ancestry; in fact, on one occasion when in a reminiscent mood he had remarked:

"I had a grandfather – "

"Had you?" was the scathing comment of another man. The story had been retailed with great gusto among the men of St. Joseph's.

Reginald Graves was a snob, which prompted him to believe that all men were snobs. Burke's Peerage and Kelly's Landed Gentry were at once his inspiration and his cross. He used them constantly himself, looking up the ancestry of every man he met. He was convinced that his lack of "family" was responsible for his unpopularity.

In his opinion, failing "blood" the next best thing to possess was money, and he lost no opportunity of throwing out dark and covert hints as to the enormous wealth possessed by the Graves and Williams families, Williams being his mother's maiden name.

His favourite boast, however, was of an uncle in Australia. Josiah Williams had, according to Graves, emigrated many years before. Fortune dogged his footsteps with almost embarrassing persistence until, at the time that his nephew Reginald went up to Oxford, he was a man of almost incredible wealth. He owned mines that produced fabulous riches, and runs where the sheep were innumerable.

Graves was purposely vague as to the exact location of his uncle's sheep-stations, and on one occasion he spent an unhappy evening undergoing cross-examination by an Australian Rhodes scholar. However, he persisted in his story, and Australia was a long way off, and it was very unlikely that anyone would be sufficiently interested to unearth and identify all its millionaires in order to prove that Josiah Williams and his millions existed only in the imagination of his alleged nephew.

Graves was a thin, pale-faced young man with nondescript features and an incipient moustache. Furthermore, he had what is known as a narrow dental arch, which gave to his face a peevish expression. When he smiled he bared two large front teeth that made him resemble a rabbit. His hair was as colourless as his personality. He was entirely devoid of imagination, or, as Tom Little phrased it, "What he lacked in divine fire, he made up for in damned cheek."

He led a solitary life. When his fellow undergraduates deigned to call upon him it was invariably for the purpose of a "rag."

Trade was the iron that had entered his soul; he could never forget that his father was a grocer and provision merchant in a midland town. His one stroke of good luck, that is as he regarded it, was that no one at St. Joseph's was aware of the fact. Had he possessed the least idea that the story of his forebears was well known at St. Joseph's it would have been to him an intolerable humiliation.

Subservient, almost fawning with his betters, he was overbearing and insulting to his equals and inferiors: since his arrival at St. Joseph's his "scout" had developed a pronounced profanity. Rumour had it that Graves was not even above the anonymous letter; but there was no definite evidence that those received by certain men at St. Joseph's found their inspiration in the brain of Reginald Graves.

Nothing would have happened, beyond increased unpopularity for Graves, had it not been for an episode out of which Graves had come with anything but flying colours, and which had procured for him a thrashing as anonymous as the letters he was suspected of writing.

He was a favourite with Dr. Peter, the Master of St. Joseph's, and this, coupled with the fact that the Master was always extremely well-informed as to the things that the undergraduates would have preferred he should not know, aroused suspicion.

One day Travers asked Graves to dinner, and over a bottle of wine confided to him the entirely fictitious information that he was mixed up in a divorce case that would make the whole of Oxford "sit up." Next day he was sent for by Dr. Peter, who had heard "a most disturbing rumour," etc. Travers had taken the precaution of confiding in no one as to his intentions. Thus the source of Dr. Peter's information was obvious.

The men of St. Joseph's were normal men, broad of mind and brawny of muscle; they had, however, their code, and it was this code that Graves had violated. Tom Little had expressed the general view of the college when he said that Graves ought to be soundly kicked and sent down.

"Now, Bindle," remarked Dick Little, "you're a man of ideas: what's to be done with Gravy?"

"Well, sir, that depends on exes. It costs money to do most things in this world, and it'll cost money to make Mr. Gravy stew in his own juice."

"How much?"

"Might cost" – Bindle paused to think – "might cost a matter of twenty or thirty quid to do it in style."

"Right-oh! Out with it, my merry Bindle," cried Tom Little. "Travers and Guggers alone would pay up for a good rag, but it must be top-hole, mind."

"Yes," said Bindle, with a grin; "it 'ud be top-'ole right enough." And Bindle's grin expanded.

"Out with it, man," cried Dick Little. "Don't you see we're aching to hear?"

"Well," said Bindle, "if the exes was all right I might sort o' go down an' see 'ow my nephew, Mr. Gravy, was gettin' on at – "

With a whoop of delight Tom Little sprang up, seized Bindle round the waist, and waltzed him round the room, upsetting three chairs and a small table, and finally depositing him breathless in his chair.

"You're a genius, O Bindle! Dick, we're out of it with the incomparable Bindle."

Dick Little leaned back in his easy chair and gazed admiringly at Bindle, as he pulled with obvious enjoyment at his cigar.

"Course I never been a millionaire, but I dessay I'd get through without disgracin' meself. The only thing that 'ud worry me 'ud be 'avin' about 'alf a gross o' knives an' forks for every meal, an' a dozen glasses. But I'm open to consider anythink that's goin'."

"The only drawback," remarked Little, "would be the absence of the millions."

"That would sort o' be a obstacle," admitted Bindle.

After a pause Dick Little continued, "If you were to have your expenses paid, with a new rig-out and, say, five pounds for yourself, do you think that for three or four days you could manage to be a millionaire?"

"Don't you worry," was Bindle's response.

"What about the real Josiah Williams?" Dick Little had enquired.

"All fudge, at least the millions are," his brother replied. "The unspeakable Reggie could not repudiate the relationship without giving the whole show away. It's immense!" He mixed himself another whisky-and-soda. "I'll talk it over with Travers and Guggers and wire you on Wednesday. Good-bye, Bindle." And he was gone.

That night Bindle stayed late at Little's flat, and talked long and earnestly. As he came away he remarked:

"Of course you'll remember, sir, that millionaires is rather inclined to be a bit dressy, and I'd like to do the thing properly. Maybe, with some paper inside, I might even be able to wear a top 'at."

II

One Tuesday afternoon, when Reginald Graves entered his rooms, he found awaiting him a copy of The Oxford Mail, evidently sent from the office; on the outside was marked, "See page 3."

He picked up the packet, examined it carefully, and replaced it upon the table. He was in all things studied, having conceived the idea that to simulate a species of superior boredom was to evidence good-breeding. Although alone, he would not allow any unseemly haste to suggest curiosity. Having removed his hat and coat and donned a smoking-jacket and Turkish fez – he felt that this gave him the right touch of undergraduate bohemianism – he picked up the paper, once more read the address, and, with studied indifference, removed, it could not be said that he tore off, the wrapper. He smoothed out the paper and turned to the page indicated, where he saw a paragraph heavily marked in blue pencil that momentarily stripped him of his languorous self-control. He read and re-read it, looked round the room as if expecting to find some explanation, and then read it again. The paragraph ran:

"A DISTINGUISHED VISITOR

"Australia has been brought very closely into touch with this ancient city by the munificence of the late Mr. Cecil Rhodes and his scheme of Scholarships, which each year brings to our colleges gifted scholars, and to the playing-fields and boats magnificent athletes. It is interesting to note that we are shortly to have a visit from Mr. Josiah Williams, the Australian millionaire and philanthropist, whose wealth is said to be almost fabulous, and whose sheep-runs are famous throughout the Antipodes.

"It would appear that we have often eaten of his mutton – that is, of the sheep that he has reared to feed the Empire – and now we are to have the privilege of welcoming him to Oxford.

"We understand that Mr. Williams is to remain in our city for only a few days, and that his main purpose in coming is to visit his nephew Mr. Reginald Graves, of St. Joseph's College. Mr. Williams is, we gather, to be entertained by his nephew's fellow-undergraduates at Bungem's, so famous for its dinners and suppers, and it is mooted that the Corporation may extend its hospitality to so distinguished a citizen of the Empire. Thus are the bonds of Empire cemented.

"It would appear that Mr. Josiah Williams has engaged a suite of rooms at the Sceptre, where he will experience the traditional hospitality of that ancient English hostelry.

"Mr. Williams arrives to-morrow, Wednesday, and we wish him a pleasant stay."

Reginald Graves gasped. It was his rule never to show emotion, and in his more studied moments he would have characterised his present attitude as ill-bred.

"Damn!" It was not his wont to swear. His pose was one of perfect self-control. He was as self-contained as a modern flat, and about as small in his intellectual outlook. He was just on the point of reading the paragraph for the fifth time when the door of his room burst open, admitting Tom Little, Dick Travers, and Guggers.

"Congrats., Gravy. So the old boy's turned up," cried Little, waving a copy of The Oxford Mail in Graves's face.

"Joe's is going to do him proud," broke in Travers. "You've seen the Mail? We'll give him the time of his life."

"Gug-gug-good egg!" broke in Guggers, so named because of his inability to pronounce a "g" without a preliminary "gug-gug" accompanied by inconvenient splashings. It had become customary at St. Joseph's to give Guggers plenty of space in front, whenever he approached a "g." Tom Little called it "Groom."

"We're gug-gug-going to give him a gug-gug-gorgeous time."

"We'll have him drunk from morn till dewy eve," cried Tom Little, "and extra drunk at night. Oh, my prophetic soul!"

"Gravy, where's your sense of hospitality?" cried Travers. Reggie reluctantly produced whisky, a syphon, and some glasses.

"By gug-gug-gosh!" cried Guggers, semi-vapourising the remains of a mouthful of whisky and soda, "won't it be a rag! Bless you, Gug-Gug-Gravy for having an uncle."

Tom Little explained that they had been to the Sceptre and discovered that Mr. Josiah Williams would arrive by the 3.3 train, and that St. Joseph's was going down in a body to meet him. Graves, of course, would be there.

"I have heard nothing," said Graves. "I – I don't understand. If he writes of course I'll go."

"You'll jolly well gug-gug-go, any old how, or we'll carry you down," cried Guggers in a menacing voice, looking down at Graves from his six-foot-three of muscle and bone.

Graves looked round him helplessly. What was he to do? Could he disown this uncle? Should he explain that the whole thing was an invention, and that he had never possessed a rich uncle in Australia? Was it possible that by some curious trick there really was a Josiah Williams, Australian millionaire and philanthropist? If these men would only go and leave him alone to think!

Then suddenly there presented itself to his mind the other question: what would Josiah Williams be like? Would he be hopelessly unpresentable? Would he humiliate him, Reginald Graves, and render his subsequent years at St. Joseph's intolerable? How he wished these fellows would go!

CHAPTER XIII
OXFORD'S WELCOME TO BINDLE

I

At three o'clock on the following day the down platform at Oxford station presented an almost gala appearance. Not only were the men of St. Joseph's there, but hundreds of undergraduates from other colleges, with rattles, whistles, horns, flags, and every other attribute of great rejoicing.

Outside the station was a carriage with four horses, a piebald, a skewbald, a white, and another horse that seemed to have set out in life with a determination to be pink. Tom Little had himself selected the animals with elaborate care.

A little distance away, standing in groups, was a band clothed gorgeously in scarlet and gold tunics and caps, and nondescript trousers, ranging from light grey to black.

Tom Little had given careful instructions that as soon as Josiah Williams should emerge from the station, the band was to strike up "See the Conquering Hero Comes," and they were to put into it all they knew. If they produced a really good effect they were to have unlimited beer.

Reginald Graves stood in the centre of the platform, some of the leading spirits of St. Joseph's keeping a clear space so that the meeting between uncle and nephew might be dramatic. A more wretched-looking nephew of a millionaire uncle never existed.

Round him were scores of men with cameras, whom Graves instinctively knew to be newspaper men; and perched high above the crowd occupying important strategical positions he counted eight cinematograph cameras, each with its attendant operator.

St. Joseph's men had been good customers to a well-known London perruquier for false wigs, whiskers, and moustaches, with the aid of which an unlimited supply of "newspaper" and "cinematograph-men" had been produced.

Ignorant of all this, Graves groaned in spirit.

At four minutes past three the London train, amid a general buzz of excitement, steamed into the station. Pandemonium seemed to have broken out. Whistles shrilled, bugles blew, voices roared, and rattles added their share to the general uproar.

The passengers in the train were at first startled, and then became deeply interested. From the platform hundreds of eyes searched the opening carriage doors. Presently there was seen to alight a small man, dressed in a black-and-white check suit, with a pale grey homburg hat adorned with a white puggaree, a Ted tie, patent boots, and white spats. Over his left arm he carried a light dust-coat, and in his hand a gold-mounted malacca cane with a broad gold band. In the right hand was an enormous cigar adorned with a red-and-gold band.

It was Bindle.

"That's him," cried a hundred voices.

"Good old Josh!"

"What price wallabys?"

"Where's your lady friend?" and other irrelevant remarks were hurled from all quarters.

The "cinematograph-men" turned their handles. The "newspaper-men" swarmed down upon Bindle and levelled their cameras from every possible angle. Graves was hastened to the spot where Bindle was endeavouring to avoid looking into the barrel of a huge "camera."

Men hit him on the back, poked him in the ribs, shouted their welcomes and generally cheer-oh'd him.

After a desperate effort Tom Little fought his way through the crowd, followed by Travers and Guggers dragging the reluctant Graves. Suddenly Tom Little jumped up on Guggers' back.

"Mr. Josiah Williams, we welcome you to Oxford, we, the men of St. Joseph's."

Bindle looked at the laughing faces and remarked, "And very nice, too. Cheer-oh the lot!"

"This," continued Tom Little, when a space had been cleared, largely due to Guggers' magnificent tackling, "this is your distinguished nephew, Reginald Graves, whom to know is to love."

The unhappy Graves was dragged forward. Bindle extended two fingers of his left hand.

"So you're Polly's boy?"

Graves started. His mother's name had been Mary Williams, and his father had always called her Polly. Was he dreaming, or could it be possible that it was all true, and that fame and fortune were before him? A brother of his mother's had gone to Australia when quite a little lad. He was roused from his reverie by somebody shouting:

"Say how-d'ye-do to uncle," and he found himself clasping Bindle's two fingers with a warmth that surprised himself.

He looked round him. There was a dense crowd waving flags, and all in honour of this man who greeted him as nephew. A new prospect opened itself to his bewildered brain. If only it prove to be true!

"Now, come along, Mr. Williams." It was Tom Little's voice again that broke in upon his thoughts. "We've got a carriage waiting for you."

Travers had slipped out and found the band split up into three groups. He went up to each in turn; the first two he reminded that they were playing "See the Conquering Hero Comes," and the third group he told that the clash of welcome had been changed to "Auld Lang Syne." They must start at once, as Mr. Williams was just leaving the station. Urged by Travers the band formed up with incredible speed. Just then Bindle emerged, with Tom Little on one side and Guggers on the other. He was saying to Guggers:

"Look 'ere, young feller, if you can't talk without spittin' in my ear, you just dry up."

At that second the band broke out, every man doing his utmost. Everyone looked a little surprised, for the two melodies combined badly. The drummer was the first to discover that something was wrong. Recognising that the instruments round him were playing "Auld Lang Syne" he changed the time of his thumps. Then hearing the other tune, he paused and with inspiration finished up by trying to combine the two melodies by putting in thumps from both.



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