Herbert Jenkins.

Bindle: Some Chapters in the Life of Joseph Bindle



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IV

Bindle was awakened next morning by a continuous hammering at his bedroom door.

"Who the 'oppin' robin are yer?" he shouted; "shut up and go 'ome."

The door burst open, and Tom Little, Guggers, and Travers entered.

"Up you gug-gug-get," cried Guggers. "You must catch the 11.6."

"Look 'ere, ole Spit and Speak, if you're wantin' to get 'urt you're on the right road." Bindle grinned up at Guggers impudently. "I'm as tired as yer mother must be o' you."

"Up you get, you merry wight," cried Tom Little, laughing; "there's the devil to pay."

"There always is, exceptin' sometimes it's a woman," remarked Bindle, yawning. "Devils are cheaper, on the 'ole. What's the trouble?"

"The Master has invited you to lunch," broke in Travers, "and that ass Gravy never told us."

"You must be recalled to town," said Tom Little, "or we shall all be sent down. Now up you get."

Bindle climbed out of bed resplendent in pyjamas with alternate broad stripes of pale blue and white.

"'Oo's the Master? I'll lunch with anybody wot's not temperance." Bindle was sleepy.

"It's the Master of St. Joseph's, and you've got to clear out."

"We've sent him a letter in your name regretting that you have to return to town at once."

"Oh, you 'ave, 'ave yer?" remarked Bindle drily. "I 'ope you told 'im that I got ter call at Buckingham Palace."

Bindle dressed, shaved, and kept his visitors amused by turn. He caught the 11.6, accompanied by Dick Little. The two men spent their time in reading the long accounts in the Oxford papers of the previous evening's "banquet." They were both full and flattering. Bindle chuckled to find that his speech had been reported verbatim, and wondered how Reggie was enjoying the biographical particulars.

Dick Little and Bindle were unaware that in his rooms at St. Joseph's Reginald Graves also was reading these selfsame accounts with an anguish too great for expression. The accounts of his early life in particular caused him something akin to horror.

"It didn't last long," murmured Bindle regretfully, "but it was top-'ole (your words, sir) while it did. I wonder 'oo's 'oldin' Reggie's 'ead this mornin'?" and he chuckled gleefully.

CHAPTER XIV
MR. HEARTY GIVES A PARTY

I

"I'm surprised at 'Earty," remarked Bindle to Millie one Friday evening as they walked across Putney Bridge on the way to meet Charlie Dixon. "Fancy 'im givin' a party! It'll be all 'ymns an' misery, wi' some oranges thrown in to give it the right smell. There won't be no Kiss-in-the-ring an' Postman's-knock for the likes o' you an' me, Millikins."

Millie blushed. She had no illusions as to the nature of the festivity: she knew who were to be invited.

"I'm glad you're coming, Uncle Joe," she cried, dancing along beside him. "It would be hateful without you."

"Well, o' course I am a bit of an attraction," replied Bindle. "Lord! how the ladies fight for me in the kissin' games!"

It was rarely that Mr.

Hearty unbent to the extent of entertaining. He was usually content with the mild pleasures that the chapel provided, in the shape of teas, the annual bazaar, and occasional lantern-lectures bearing such titles as "Jerusalem Revisited," "The Bible in the East," "A Christian Abroad," delivered by enthusiastic but prosy amateurs and illustrated by hired lantern-slides.

One day, however, Mr. Hearty came to the determination that it was quite compatible with his beliefs to give a party. Not one of the stupid gatherings where the gramophone vied with round-games, and round-games with music-hall songs; but one where the spirit of revelry would be chastened by Christian sobriety. Mr. Hearty did not object to music as music, and there were certain songs, such as "The Village Blacksmith" and "The Chorister" that in his opinion were calculated to exercise a beneficial effect upon those who heard them.

When Mr. Hearty had at length come to his momentous decision, he was faced with the problem of the Bindles. He felt that as a fellow-chapel-goer he could not very well omit Mrs. Bindle from the list of the invited; but Bindle would be impossible where Mr. Sopley, the pastor of the chapel, was to be an honoured guest.

One evening at supper he had, as he thought with consummate tact, broached the matter to his family.

"Not have Joe?" wheezed Mrs. Hearty.

"Not ask Uncle Joe?" Millie had exclaimed in a tone that her father thought scarcely filial.

"He is not interested in parties," Mr. Hearty had explained feebly.

"We can't leave Joe out," panted Mrs. Hearty with a decisiveness unusual to her. "Why, he'll be the life and soul of the evening."

This was exactly what Mr. Hearty feared; but seeing that his women-folk were united against him, and after a further feeble protest, he conceded the point, and the Bindles received their invitation. Mr. Hearty had, however, taken the precaution of "dropping a hint" to Mrs. Bindle, the "hint" in actual words being: "I hope that if Joseph comes he – he won't – "

"I'll see that he doesn't," was Mrs. Bindle's reply, uttered with a snap of the jaws that had seemed to reassure her brother-in-law.

II

Mrs. Bindle was engaged in removing curl-papers from her front hair. On the bed lay her best dress of black alpaca with a bright green satin yoke covered with black lace. Beside it lay her best bonnet, also of black, an affair of a very narrow gauge and built high up at the back, having the appearance of being several sizes too small for its wearer.

Mrs. Bindle was dressing with great care and deliberation for Mr. Hearty's party. Her conception of dress embodied the middle-class ideals of mid-Victorian neatness, blended with a standard of modesty and correctness peculiarly her own.

It had cost Mrs. Bindle many anxious days of thought before she had been able to justify to herself the green satin yoke in her best dress. With her, to be fashionable was to be fast. A short skirt and a pneumonia-blouse were in her eyes the contrivances of the devil to show what no modest woman would think of exhibiting to the public gaze.

As she proceeded with her toilette Mrs. Bindle was thinking of the shamelessness of women who bared their arms and shoulders to every man's gaze. On principle she disapproved of parties and festivities of any description that were not more or less concerned with the chapel; but to her Mr. Hearty could do no wrong, and the fact that their pastor was to be present removed from her mind any scruples that she might otherwise have felt.

She was slowly brushing her thin sandy hair when Bindle entered the bedroom in full evening-dress, the large imitation diamond stud in the centre of his shirt, patent boots, a red silk handkerchief stuck in the opening of his waistcoat, the light coat over his arm, and an opera hat stuck at a rakish angle on his head. Between his lips was a cigar, one of the last remaining from the Oxford adventure.

Mrs. Bindle knew nothing of that, and consequently was unaware that Bindle's wardrobe had been considerably enlarged.

Mrs. Bindle caught sight of him in the looking-glass. For a moment she stared at the reflection in helpless amazement, then turning round with startling suddenness, she continued to regard him with such fixity as he stood complacently smoking his cigar, that Bindle could not resist replying with the broadest of grins.

"Where'd you get that dress-suit?" she asked at length, in the tone a policeman might adopt to a navvy found wearing a diamond tiara.

"It's me own, o' course," replied Bindle cheerily.

"Your own!" gasped Mrs. Bindle.

"O' course it is. Your ole man's a bit of a blood, Mrs. B., and you're a lucky woman. Won't ole 'Earty open them merry eyes of 'is when 'e sees me to-night. What-oh!" and Bindle executed a few impromptu steps, holding his overcoat at arm's-length.

Mrs. Bindle continued to regard him with wonder. She glanced at her own rather shabby black dress lying on the bed, and then her eyes returned to Bindle. She examined with grim intentness his well-cut clothes.

"Where'd you get them from?" she rapped.

"Don't you worry where your peacock got 'is tail; you just feel proud," replied Bindle, seating himself on the only chair the bedroom boasted. "Your ole man is goin' to be the belle of the ball to-night."

"You been buyin' them things, an' me doin' my own housework an' keepin' you when you're out of work!" Mrs. Bindle's voice rose as the full sense of the injustice of it all began to dawn upon her. "You spendin' money on dress-suits and beer, an' me inchin' an' pinchin' to keep you in food. It's a shame. I won't stand it, I won't." Mrs. Bindle looked about her helplessly. "I'll leave you, I will, you – you – "

"Oh no, yer won't," remarked Bindle complacently; "women like you don't leave men like me. That's wot matrimony's for, to keep two people together wot ought to be kept apart by Act o' Parliament."

"Where'd you get that dress-suit?" broke in Mrs. Bindle tenaciously.

"As I was sayin'," continued Bindle imperturbably, "matrimony's a funny thing."

"Where'd you get that dress-suit?" Mrs. Bindle broke in again.

Bindle sighed, and cast up his eyes in mock appeal. "I 'ad it give to me so that I might be worthy o' wot the Lord 'as sent me an' won't 'ave back at no price – that is to say, yerself, Mrs. B. If marriages is really made in 'eaven, then there ought to be a 'Returned with thanks' department. That's my view." The happy smile with which Bindle accompanied the remark robbed it of its sting.

For some time Mrs. Bindle continued her toilette in silence, and Bindle puffed contentedly at his cigar. Mrs. Bindle was the first to speak.

"I hope you'll be careful what you say to-night." She had just put on her bonnet and with many strange grimaces had at last adjusted it and the veil to her satisfaction.

As she spoke she began to draw on a pair of tight brown kid gloves, which so contracted her palms as to render her hands practically useless.

"Our minister is to be there," she continued, "and I don't want to feel ashamed."

"You ain't a-goin' to feel ashamed o' this, are yer?" enquired Bindle, as he rose and looked down at himself with obvious appreciation. "There ain't a-goin' to be nothin' tastier at 'Earty's to-night than yours truly."

As Mrs. Bindle turned towards the door Bindle lifted his hat with elaborate courtesy and offered her his left arm. With a sniff of disdain Mrs. Bindle passed out of the room.

"I'll find out where you got it, see if I don't," she called out over her shoulder.

"Well, well!" muttered Bindle as he leisurely followed her. "I never was able to lose anythink I wanted to, nor keep anythink I didn't want ter lose. 'Ow a cove can commit bigamy does me. Fancy two Mrs. B.'s! 'Old me, 'Orace!"

The Bindles' progress from Fenton Street to the Heartys' private door was something of a triumph for Mrs. Bindle. The neighbours turned out in force, and Bindle exchanged pleasantries with them, whilst Mrs. Bindle smiled in what was to her an entirely prodigal manner.

"Funny thing me wearin' a top 'at," Bindle had remarked, as he lifted it for about the twentieth time, this time to a policeman, who stared hard at him. Bindle was in a mood to be extremely pleasant with everybody, and he raised his hat impartially to those he knew and those he did not know.

The Bindles were late. The invitation had been for seven o'clock, and it was fully half-past seven when they arrived. They were admitted by the maid-of-all-work, resplendent in a befrilled cap and apron. Bindle winked at her, the girl giggled, and Mrs. Bindle glared.

When Mr. and Mrs. Bindle were announced, a hush fell upon the fifteen or twenty guests who sat in rigid attitudes round the Heartys' drawing-room. Conversation had been carried on in constrained and self-conscious undertones. Milly, looking very pretty in a simple white frock with an orange sash, ran across to greet the newcomers, kissing her uncle heartily and Mrs. Bindle dutifully.

"My!" said Bindle, "ain't we pretty to-night. You an' me'll go off with the biscuit, Millikins." Then he added, after surveying the circle of vacant faces, "Looks to me as if they want a bit o' ginger.

"'Ullo, 'Earty," said Bindle, advancing towards his brother-in-law, "sorry we're late, but the coachman was drunk."

Mr. Hearty shuddered.

As he led the Bindles round the room, introducing them with great elaboration to each and every guest, he marvelled at Bindle's clothes. He himself wore a black frock-coat, very shiny at the edges, with trousers that seemed far too long and hung in folds over his boots.

"'Ullo, Martha," Bindle cried, regarding Mrs. Hearty, whose ample person was clothed in a black skirt and a pale yellow bodice, the neck of which was cut in a puritan "V." "You looks like a little canary-bird." Then bending down and regarding her earnestly: "Yes, I'm blowed! why, there's two chins wot I ain't seen before."

Whereat Mrs. Hearty collapsed into ripples and wheezes. Bindle was the only self-possessed person in the room. He regarded his fellow-guests with keen interest, noted the odour of camphor and mustiness and the obvious creases in the men's coats. "Smells like a pawn-shop," he muttered. Then he came to the Rev. Mr. Sopley, a gaunt, elderly man, with ragged beard that covered his entire face, save the cheeks which, like two little hillocks of flesh, peeped out from a riot of whiskered undergrowth.

"'Ow are yer, sir?" asked Bindle.

Mr. Sopley raised a pair of agonised eyes. Before he had time to reply Mr. Hearty had dragged Bindle on to the next guest.

"Who's 'e?" enquired Bindle in a hoarse whisper, easily heard by everyone in the room. "'E seems to 'ave sort o' let his face grow wild."

Mr. Hearty, who had completed the introductions, coughed loudly.

"Won't you have an orange, Joseph?" he enquired.

Bindle came to a dead stop.

"'Ave a wot?" he asked with great emphasis. "'Ave a wot?"

"An – an – orange, or – or – perhaps you'd sooner have an apple?" Mr. Hearty was painfully nervous.

"Now look 'ere, 'Earty," said Bindle, taking his brother-in-law by the lapel of his coat, "do I look like oranges? Me wot 'asn't got a bib wi' me."

Mr. Hearty looked about him. Everybody seemed to be looking at Bindle with marked disapproval. Bindle, on the other hand, gazed about him with manifest appreciation.

Mrs. Hearty's drawing-room was in its gala attire. From the gasolier in the centre chains of coloured paper were festooned to the corners of the room. Two large bunches of artificial flowers had been carefully dusted and renovated and placed in ornaments on the mantel-piece, at each corner of which stood a rather insignificant-looking lustre containing a large pink candle. In the fireplace were white shavings through which ran threads of gold tinsel. On a mahogany sideboard was the first-aid equipment, the preliminary to the more elaborate refreshments to be served in the dining-room.

There were oranges and apples cut into halves, a pineapple, uncut, and which it was Mr. Hearty's intention never should be cut, a large plate of bananas, another of almonds and raisins, several plates of sweets, which seemed anxious to challenge their hardness against the teeth of those courageous enough to attack them, three different kinds of nuts, some syphons, and two large jugs of home-made lemonade. There were also plates of figs and oval boxes of dates, looking ashamed of their own stickiness, and two high piles of blue and white plates.

As Bindle surveyed the refreshments he gave vent to an involuntary sigh.

"There are times," he muttered, "when I wishes I was the brother-in-law of a bloomin' drunkard."

Mr. Hearty was anxious. He moved from one guest to another, to some merely baring his teeth, to others uttering a few meaningless phrases. Mrs. Hearty sat still, breathing heavily. Her favourite topic of conversation was her breath, vast quantities of which were expended in explaining how little of it she possessed.

Millie flitted about like a disappointed butterfly, finding no place where she might rest and fold her wings.

At the suggestion of Mr. Hearty two maiden ladies essayed a pianoforte duet, but with marked unsuccess. They seemed unable to get off together. After several unsuccessful attempts Bindle walked over to the piano.

"Look 'ere," he remarked, "I'll be starter. When I say 'three,' off yer go like giddy-o."

Without a word the duettists rose from the piano and returned to their seats, their heads held high. Bindle looked at them in wonderment. A silence had fallen over the whole room. Mr. Sopley looked at the culprit with an agonised expression, or, as Bindle afterwards expressed it, "Like a calf wot's lost 'is mother and found a nanny-goat, an' wonders wot 'e'll do at tea-time."

After a whispered conversation between Millie and Mr. Hearty, they both bore down upon Mr. Flinders, a small man seated next to a very large wife, and began an animated conversation with him in undertones. Mr. Hearty was genial, Millie pleading, and Mr. Flinders protesting and shrinking. Mrs. Flinders eventually terminated the discussion by giving his arm an upward push, accompanied by a whispered, "Yes, George, do," whereat George did. He walked towards the piano, looking back at his wife and protesting all the while.

Bindle started clapping loudly, which still further embarrassed the victim. After much preparation and searching for music, Millie played the opening chords of "Queen of the Earth," peering anxiously forward at the music, praying that she should make no mistake. Mr. Flinders was an excellent grocer, but a bad singer. His voice was weak and erratic. Each time he reached the chorus, in which everybody joined in various keys, Bindle in no key at all, it was as if a drowning man were making a last despairing effort to reach the shore.

At the conclusion of the song things seemed to sink back again into the slough from which Mr. Flinders had valiantly rescued them.

Unconsciously Mr. Hearty was defeating his object and infecting his guests with his own nervousness. Every time he moved across the room he was followed by the eyes of the whole assembly. It seemed that only one thing was capable of happening at a time. When Millie brought in her Persian kitten, "Tibbins," everyone became absorbed in it. Those who were not near enough to stroke and caress it turned to each other almost eagerly and said how pretty it was, and what a beautiful tail it had.

When Tibbins showed with voice and claw that it had exhausted any capacity for interest that the company may have possessed for it, and had been let out, another terrible silence fell upon the room. In desperation Mr. Hearty seized a plate of figs and another of half-oranges and handed them round to everyone in turn. Again interest centred in him. Those who had refused watched with the keenest interest those who were about to refuse, and Mr. Hearty returned the plates to the sideboard without having disembarrassed them of a single fig or half-orange.

In desperation he took a fig himself and began to eat it. Suddenly he became conscious that all eyes were upon him, watching each bite and every movement of the curiously large adam's-apple in his throat, which always jumped about so when he ate. Nervously he picked up a plate and placed the remains of the fig upon it, wishing he had not taken it.

Suddenly he had an inspiration. "We must have a game," he said with ponderous geniality, putting down the plate containing the half-eaten fig. "We'll play 'Here We Go Looping, Looping.'" With unaccustomed energy and much labour and persuasion he marshalled all his guests in a ring, all save Mrs. Hearty and Mr. Sopley.

After much persuasion, arrangement, and explanation, the ring was got into joyless motion, the guests droning:

 
"Here we go looping, looping.
Here we go looping light.
Here we go looping, looping.
Looping all the night.
Put your noses in,
Put your noses out,
Shake them a little, a little, a little.
And then turn round about."
 

When they had shaken "a little, a little, a little" such portions of their anatomy as Mr. Hearty thought it quite proper to mention, the game ended with the same mirthlessness with which it had begun, and the players resumed their seats with an air that seemed to say, "We are our host's guests and must do as he bids us."

"They none of 'em seems to know wot to do wi' their 'ands," whispered Bindle to Millie. "They're a rummy crowd. 'Earty must 'ave 'ad a rare job to pick up such a little lot."

An awkward silence fell over the room.

"'Ave you ever played Kiss-in-the-ring, or Postman's-knock, sir?" enquired Bindle of Mr. Sopley, at a moment when all attempts at conversation seemed to have languished.

Mr. Sopley raised his eyes, and Mr. Hearty moved swiftly to his assistance. At that moment the door opened and a fair-haired young man, wearing the turndown collar and white tie of nonconformity, entered. For a moment Mr. Hearty hesitated between his desire to save Mr. Sopley and his duties as host, then with sudden decision threw his pastor overboard, and turned to welcome the new arrival.

At the Alton Road Chapel a week's mission had been held by a young missionary, whose remarkable preaching had been the sensation of the hour. Mr. Hearty had summoned up sufficient courage to invite him to the party, and the Rev. Edward Winch had accepted with a cordiality which still further increased Mr. Hearty's embarrassment.



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