Herbert Jenkins.

Bindle: Some Chapters in the Life of Joseph Bindle



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Some of the Conquering Heroes stopped and became Auld Lang Syners, whilst several Auld Lang Syners went over to the enemy. It was pandemonium.

"What's up wi' the band?" enquired Bindle. "Sounds like a Crystal Palace competition; I 'ope nothink busts."

Still the band went on.

"Gawd Almighty! wot's that?" Bindle's eyes dilated with something like horror at the sight of a huge brown shape sitting on the box of the carriage. He stopped as if electrified.

"That," said Tom Little, "is a kangaroo. Your national animal."

"Me national wot?" said Bindle.

"The national animal of Australia."

"Oh!" said Bindle, keeping a wary eye on the beast, whose tail hung down into the body of the carriage. "Well, I'm jiggered! It looks like a circus," he muttered. "Look at them 'osses!" he exclaimed, pointing with the hand that held the cigar to the steeds which had just caught his eye. "Look at them 'osses!"

Bindle eventually entered the carriage with Reginald Graves on his left hand, Dick Little and Travers opposite. Guggers had intended to sit opposite also, but Bindle had asked in a whisper which nobody failed to hear:

"'Ere, can't yer put that syphon somewhere else? 'E'll soak me to the skin."

Amid cheers the procession started. The band, which had a few minutes before blown itself to silence, was now devoting itself enthusiastically to "The Washington Post." On the box the kangaroo, known in private life as Horace Trent, the cox of the St. Joseph's boat, performed a few innocent tricks, to the great diversion of the crowd, whilst Bindle, drawing from his pocket a red pocket-handkerchief with the five stars of Australia upon it, alternately waved his acknowledgments and lifted his hat.

"I never knew young fellers like this could be so friendly," he muttered.

Graves spent his time alternately in praying that no one might see him and that Bindle would become less uproariously genial.

Having passed up and down every street of importance, the procession finally made its way to the Sceptre, where Bindle alighted and was conducted to his apartments by the bland manager. At every turn were to be seen obsequious and deferential servants, who had one eye on him and the other on the day of reckoning.

A late edition of that evening's Oxford Courier contained a piquant account of the reception accorded to Mr. Josiah Williams. It referred to the generous if boisterous humour of the undergraduates. It went on to state how

"our representative called at the Sceptre, where he was so fortunate as to catch the distinguished visitor just as he was entering. Mr. Williams is delighted with Oxford, his welcome, and everybody he has met. 'They say English people are stiff and stand-offish – why, I've had to change my collar. Kicking kangaroos!' exclaimed Mr. Williams, 'this is some country.'

"The first thing that struck our representative about Mr. Williams was his genial and pleasant bearing and entire absence of self-importance.

He is obviously a simple man, unspoiled by his great success."

Reginald Graves shuddered as he read this in the privacy of his own rooms, remembering Bindle's accent and deportment.

"Although he would neither confess nor deny it, we understand that Mr. Williams is in England in connection with certain philanthropic schemes. We congratulate Mr. Reginald Graves on possessing as an uncle Mr. Josiah Williams, and Oxford on possessing Mr. Reginald Graves, if only for a short time."

II

"So you're Polly's boy." Bindle was receiving in his sitting-room at the Sceptre, surrounded by the leading spirits of St. Joseph's, including the kangaroo, which was clutching a large glass of shandygaff. In the public bar below the band was busy realising what hitherto had been little more than an ambition, and about "the High" the remains of the crowd lingered.

"Reginald's your name, ain't it?" Bindle continued. "Reg will do for me. Mother livin'? 'Ow's yer father? Still in the grocery business?"

Graves burst into an assurance that they were quite well, then added that his mother was dead.

"Poor ole Poll," murmured Bindle, looking anything but doleful, and hiding a grin in the huge tankard that he raised to his lips. "She was a rare ole sport. Never met yer father. Quaint ole bird, ain't 'e?"

Mr. Graves was thankful when the conversation took a less domestic turn. That afternoon he felt that the eyes of all Oxford were upon him, and deep down in his soul he cursed St. Joseph, the college, and every man therein.

Worse was in store for Graves. When he returned to his rooms a message was brought by his "scout" that the Master would like to see him. In an agony of apprehension he made his way to the Master's study. He was relieved at the cordiality of his reception.

"I understand that your uncle has arrived, Graves? I shall be very pleased to make his acquaintance. Perhaps you will bring him to luncheon to-morrow."

Even Reginald Graves's self-repression could not disguise his agony of mind. He saw the luncheon-table, Dr. Peter playing the conventionally cordial host, and Mrs. Peter, with her frigid mid-Victorian austerity, endeavouring to pose as a great lady.

Was fate conspiring against him? There was the supper that evening at Bungem's, which he knew would be a torture, and the martyrdom of the morrow. Human flesh was too frail to withstand it!

He found himself again saying that he should be delighted; at least, he assumed that was what he said. Dr. Peter seemed satisfied. Just as he was taking his leave he remarked:

"Were you responsible for this ill-conceived demonstration to-day at the station?"

"No, sir, most certainly not," replied Graves, in a voice that carried conviction.

"Very deplorable, most deplorable. It will probably give Mr. Williams a very bad impression of English culture. I shall look into the matter, and find out who was guilty of this most unseemly exhibition. I am glad to hear that you are not in any way implicated, Graves. Most deplorable, most."

With a murmur of thanks Graves left the Master's study, praying that Dr. Peter might visit his wrath upon those responsible for what had caused him so much anguish and suffering.

III

Oxford without Bungem's would not be Oxford. "St. Bungem the Hospitable" was known throughout the Empire. His fame reached from east to west and north to south. Up the staircase leading to the famous dining-hall many illustrious men, as yet unillustrious, had passed with firm and confident step. On the walls were innumerable flashlight photographs of famous suppers, suppers that had reduced potential judges and incipient statesmen to helpless imbecility. Prime ministers-to-be, generals of the future, and admirals of the next generation had lost their bearings and their equilibrium as a result of the good fare, liquid fare, that is, dispensed by the immortal Bungem.

Colonial governors, viceroys, and archbishops could have recalled uproarious nights spent beneath the hospitable roof of Bungem's, had their memories not been subject to severe censorship.

Framed above the head of the table was the quatrain, written by a future Poet Laureate, that was the pride of Bungem's heart:

 
"Take from me all I have: my friends,
My songs, for no one's ever sung 'em;
One crowded hour of glorious life
I crave, but let it be with Bungem."
 

Never had Bungem's presented so gay and glorious an appearance as on the Wednesday evening of the famous supper to Josiah Williams.

Applications for tickets had poured in upon the Dinner Committee hastily organised by the men of St. Joseph's. Many ideas, in which originality and insanity were happily blended, had been offered to the Committee. One man had even suggested that the waiters should be dressed as kangaroos; but the idea had been discarded owing to the difficulty of jumping with plates of soup. Another suggestion had been that nothing but Mr. Williams's mutton should be eaten, whilst a third had proposed a bushman's menu. An Australian Rhodes man had, however, with great gravity of countenance, assured the Committee that the Bushmen were cannibals, and the project had been abandoned.

The banquet was limited to two hundred covers, and the applications had exceeded twice that number. Preference was given to men of St. Joseph's, and after that to the Australian Rhodes scholars, who had kindly undertaken during the course of the evening to reproduce the battle-cry of the Bushmen.

One Rhodes scholar, more serious than the rest, suggested that the Bushmen had no battle-cry; but he was promptly told that they would possess one after that evening.

Tom Little had taken upon himself the guarding of Reginald Graves, as a suspicion had flitted through the minds of the organisers of the feast that he might fail them at the last moment. As a matter of fact he did venture a remark that he felt very ill, and would go to bed. That was during the afternoon. But the Committee of Management had made it clear that he was to be at the dinner, and that if he went to bed he would probably be there in pyjamas.

The Committee called for Mr. Josiah Williams at the Sceptre at 8.30, formally to escort him to Bungem's. They discovered Bindle in the happiest of moods and full evening-dress. In his shirt-front blazed the "Moonagoona star, the second finest diamond that Australia had ever produced." On his head was an opera hat, and over his arm a light overcoat. The party walked over to Bungem's, passing through a considerable crowd that had collected outside the Sceptre.

At Bungem's the guests lined up on each side from the pavement up the stairs into the reception-room, and as the guest of honour arrived arm-in-arm with Tom Little they broke out into "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow," led by an impromptu band consisting of a concertina, three mouth-organs, six whistles, eighteen combs, and a tea-tray.

Dick Little, who had arrived by a later train than that carrying Bindle, was in the chair. He was an old St. Joseph's man and his memory was still green, although he had gone down some years previously. On his right sat Bindle, the guest of the evening; next to him were Reginald Graves and Guggers.

When all the guests were seated the chairman's mallet called for order.

"Gentlemen, you are too graceless a crew for grace, but you understand the laws of hospitality, that much I grant you. It is our object to make our distinguished visitor, Mr. Josiah Williams of Moonagoona, thoroughly welcome and at home, and to remind him of the sylvan glades of Moonagoona." Then, turning to Bindle, "Am I right, sir, in assuming that Moonagoona has sylvan glades?"

"'It it first time," replied Bindle. "Mooniest place I was ever in. It used to be called Moonaspoona till the birth-rate dropped." This remark was greeted with a roar of approval.

"We will open the proceedings with a representation of the Australian Bushmen's war-cry, kindly contributed by certain Rhodes scholars and others from the Antipodes."

The war-cry was not a success, but the meal that followed savoured of the palmiest days of Bungem's. The food was plentiful and excellently cooked; the wine more plentiful and generously served.

Bindle's greatest concern was his white shirt-front. He had tucked his napkin in his collar, but that did not reassure him, because he then became alarmed lest the napkin should be soiled. However, he watched very carefully the careless, well-bred eating of Little and the finicking deportment of Graves, and managed to strike the middle course. It is true he absorbed his soup with sibilance and from the point of the spoon; but apart from that he acquitted himself excellently until the arrival of the asparagus. When the waiter presented it Bindle eyed the long, slender stems suspiciously. Then he looked at the waiter and back again at the stems and shook his head.

"Nonsense!" said Dick Little; "nobody ever refuses asparagus at Bungem's."

Asperge ? la Bungem is a dish the memory of which every Oxford man cherishes to the end of his days.

Bindle weakened, and helped himself liberally, a circumstance which he soon regretted.

"How do I eat it?" he enquired of Dick Little in an anxious whisper.

"Watch me," replied Little.

The asparagus was tired and refused to preserve an erect position. Each stem seemed desirous of forming itself into an inverted "U." Little selected a particularly wilted stem and threw his head well back in the position of a man about to be shaved, and lowered the asparagus slowly into his mouth.

Nobody took any particular notice of this, and Little had been very careful to take only two or three stems. To the horror of Graves, Bindle followed Dick Little's lead.

"Funny sort o' stuff, Reggie, ain't it?" said Bindle, resuming an upright position in order to select another stick. "Seems as if yer 'ad to 'ave somebody rubbin' yer while it goes down."

Never in the history of Bungem's had the famous asparagus been so neglected. Everybody was watching alternately Bindle and Graves. Bindle was enjoying himself; but on the face of Graves was painted an anguish so poignant that more than one man present pitied him his ordeal.

Dick Little's mallet fell with a thump, and the attention of the guests became diverted from Graves to the chairman, amidst cries of "Chair," "Order," "Shame," and "Chuck him out."

"Gentlemen – a mere euphemism, I confess," began Dick Little; "men of St. Joseph's never propose the toast of the King; that is a toast that we all drink silently and without reminder. The toast of the evening is naturally that of the health and happiness of the guest of the evening, Mr. Josiah Williams of Moonagoona – a man, need I say more?"

There were loud cheers, in which Bindle joined.

In proposing the toast of the evening, Dick Little dwelt upon the distinction conferred upon Oxford in general and St. Joseph's in particular by Reginald Graves in selecting it from out of the myriad other universities and colleges. He touched lightly upon the love Graves had inspired in the hearts of his contemporaries; but never greater than when he had generously decided to share with them his uncle.

"This uncle," he continued, "has raised mutton and a nephew, and it is difficult to decide which of the two the men of St. Joseph's love the more: Josiah's mutton, or Josiah's nephew.

"Gentlemen, fellow-wanderers along the paths of knowledge, I give you the toast, Mr. Josiah Williams of Moonagoona, and with that toast I crave your permission to associate all his bleating sheep."

The whole assembly sprang to its feet, cheering wildly, among the others Bindle, who drank his own health with gusto and enthusiasm.

The shouts that greeted Bindle when he rose to respond to the toast created a record even for Bungem's. Bindle gazed round him imperturbably, as if the making of a speech were to him an everyday matter.

In his right hand he held a cigar, and three fingers of his left hand rested lightly upon the edge of the table. When the din had subsided he began.

"Gentlemen, I never knew 'ow fortunate I was until now. I been raisin' sheep and 'ell in Moonagoona for years, forgettin' all about this 'ere little cherub," Bindle indicated Graves with a wave of his hand, "and all the jolly times I might 'ave 'ad through 'im. Moonagoona ain't exactly a paradise, it's too 'ot for that; still, if any of yer ever manages to find yer way there you'll be lucky, and you'll be luckier still if yer finds yours truly there at the same time. No; I done raisin' 'ell an' mutton, bein' too old for one an' too tired for the other.

"When I decided to 'ave a nephew I prayed 'ard for a good 'un, an' they sent me this little chap." Bindle patted Reggie's head affectionately amidst resounding cheers. "'E ain't much to look at," continued Bindle, with a grin, "'e ain't the beauty 'is uncle was at 'is age; still, 'e seems to 'ave a rare lot o' pals."

More eyes were watching Graves than Bindle. His face was very white and set, and he strove to smile; but it was a sickly effort. His immediate neighbours noticed that his glass, which those around him were careful to keep filled, was raised frequently to his lips. From time to time he looked round him like a hunted animal who seeks but fails to find some avenue of escape.

"'E was always a good boy to 'is mother, my sister Polly, an' now 'e's a gentleman, 'im wot once took round oil an' sausages for 'is father when 'e kep' a general shop.

"Everyone," proceeded Bindle, referring to a scrap of paper he held, "'as heard o' Tom Graves, grocer, of 60 'Igh Street, Bingley. 'E don't mix sand with 'is sugar and sell it at threepence a pound, not 'im; 'e mixes it wi' the tea at one-an'-eight a pound. There ain't no flies on old Tom.

"'Is mother, when she was in service, 'fore she married Tom, 'ad a face almost as pretty as Reggie's." Bindle placed his hand beneath Graves's chin and elevated his flushed face and gazed down into his nephew's watery eyes.

Graves half rose from his seat, an ugly look on his face, but someone dragged him down again. He looked round the room with unseeing eyes, making vain endeavours to moisten his lips. Once or twice he seemed determined to get up and go, but Guggers' brawny arm was always there to restrain him. There was nothing for it but to sit and listen.

"Now, gentlemen," continued Bindle, "I mustn't keep yer." (There were loud cries of "Go on," "The night is young," and similar encouragements.) "Although," continued Bindle, "I could tell yer things yer might like to know about 'orses, beer, women, an' other things wot 'urt." (Loud cries of "No!") "Well, wait till you're married, then yer'll see. As I was sayin', this is an 'appy evenin'.

"Lord, I seen things in Moonagoona," continued Bindle reminiscently, "that 'ud make yer 'air stand on end. There's the Moonagoona linnet, big as an eagle, and you 'ave to plug yer ears when it sings. Then there's the Moonagoona beetle, wot'll swallow a lamb 'ole, an' then sit up an' beg for the mint-sauce.

"We got eels that big that yer wouldn't believe it. We once caught a eel at Moonagoona, and it pulled an' pulled so, that 'fore long we'd got the 'ole bloomin' population on the end o' the rope. We 'auled in miles of it, an' presently we see comin' along the river a crowd o' people; they was the in'abitants of Gumbacooe, the next town. They'd caught the other end o' the eel, wot 'ad two 'eads, an' we was a-'aulin' of 'em as well as Mister Eel. Moonagoona's the place to see things.

"I been very 'appy this evenin'," proceeded Bindle, "so's Reggie. No one would know yer was gents, yer behave so nicely." Bindle grinned broadly as he raised his glass. "Well, 'ere's to us, mates," he cried.

With a roar the company once more sprang to its feet and, assisted by bells, rattles, whistles, a tray, a phonograph which played "You Made Me Love You," combs and mouth-organs, sang in various keys, "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow."

Bindle was at that moment the most popular man in Oxford. He was one of the greatest successes that Bungem's had ever known. He was hoisted on brawny shoulders and borne in triumph round the room. In his hand he held a finger-bowl full of champagne, the contents of which slopped over the heads and persons of his bearers at every step.

"If only 'Earty could see me now," he murmured happily. "These chaps 'ud make a man of 'Earty 'fore 'e knew it. Leggo my leg!" he yelled suddenly, as one enthusiast seized his right leg and strove to divert the procession from its course. "You funny 'Uggins, you! Think I'm made o' rubber? Leggo!"

Too excited for mere words to penetrate to his brain, the youth continued to pull, and Bindle poured the rest of the champagne over his upturned face. With a yelp the youth released Bindle's leg.

In the excitement that followed Bindle's speech Graves saw his opportunity. Guggers' eye was momentarily off him and he slipped towards the door unnoticed. He had almost reached safety when Bindle, who was the first to observe the manoeuvre, uttered a yell.

"Stop 'im! stop 'im! 'Ere, let me down," he shouted, and by pounding on the head of one of his bearers with the finger-bowl and with a kick that found the stomach of another, he disengaged himself.

Bindle's cry had attracted general attention to Graves, but too late to stop him. With a bound he reached the door and tore down the stairs.

"After him, you chaps," cried Guggers, and with yells and cries ranging from "Tally-ho!" to the "Bushmen's war-cry" the whole company streamed out of Bungem's and tore down "the High" in hot pursuit.

That night those who were late out beheld the strange sight of a white-faced man in evening-dress running apparently for his life, pursued by a pack of some two hundred other men similarly garbed and uttering the most horrible shouts and threats. Windows were thrown up and heads thrust out, and all wondered what could be the meaning of what the oldest, and consequently longest-suffering, townsman subsequently described as defying even his recollection.

Late that night the porter at St. Joseph's was aroused by a furious ringing of the bell, accompanied by a tremendous pounding at the door. On the doorstep he found, to his astonishment, the dishevelled figure of Graves, sobbing for breath and sanctuary, and with terror in his eyes. In the distance he heard a terrible outcry, which next morning he was told was the Australian Bushmen's war-cry.



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