Herbert Jenkins.

Bindle: Some Chapters in the Life of Joseph Bindle



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When the ceremony of introduction and greeting was over, Mr. Winch seated himself between Mr. Sopley and Bindle, who had been much interested to hear that the new arrival was a missionary.

"Do yer live in the jungle, sir?" enquired Bindle of Mr. Winch.

"Well, I live in the interior, miles away from any other white men," replied Mr. Winch. "Why do you ask?"

Bindle was thoughtful for a moment.

"Did yer 'appen to take a double-bed with yer, sir?" enquired Bindle.

"A double-bed?" Mr. Winch looked surprised. "Why, no."

Mr. Hearty coughed, Mr. Sopley lifted his eyes to the ceiling as if seeking explanation from heaven. Mrs. Hearty wheezed, and Mrs. Bindle's lips entirely disappeared. Bindle looked round at the embarrassed faces.

"I only knew one missionary," he remarked, "an' 'e wanted to take a double-bed into the jungle. Seemed a bit funny like – "

"You must have some lemonade," interrupted Mr. Hearty with forced geniality.

Mr. Winch smilingly declined, then turning to Bindle, he said:

"No, I have a camp-bedstead, which does not err on the side of luxury or comfort."

Bindle liked this young man with the blue eyes and ready laugh. After watching him for some time, he remarked:

"Yer seem sort of 'appy, sir, if I may say so."

"I am," replied Mr. Winch with a smile.

"Funny," murmured Bindle, half to himself, "an' you a parson, leastwise a missionary."

"But what has that got to do with it?" Mr. Winch looked at Bindle in surprise.

Bindle cast his eyes round the room. "They don't look wot yer'd call a jolly crowd, do they? Look at ole Woe an' Whiskers." Bindle's glance left no doubt in Mr. Winch's mind as to whom he referred.

The missionary bit his lip to hide a smile.

"Mr. Sopley has had a lot of trouble," he said quietly.

"It seems to 'ave gone to 'is face," was Bindle's comment. "'E might be a bigamist from the look of 'im."

Mr. Winch laughed aloud. "Why?" he asked.

"You married?" enquired Bindle.

"No."

"Yer'll know when yer are," was the laconic reply.

The arrival of Mr. Winch seemed to transform the whole assembly. He and Bindle quickly became the leaders of the revels. Faces that had hitherto been shrouded in gloom broke into slow and hesitant smiles. Several of the men laughed, arguing that if so devout a man as Mr. Winch could find it in him to laugh, as he very frequently did, then surely they, being merely laymen, might allow themselves the same privilege.

It was Mr. Winch who proposed "Blind Man's Buff," and it was Bindle who when blindfolded caught Mr. Sopley, who was not playing, and after feeling all over his be-whiskered face guessed him as Millie; and it was Mr. Winch who laughed so loudly that the others joined in.

Later, at Mr. Winch's suggestion, Bindle led a game of "Follow my Leader," in which Mr. Sopley had been persuaded to join, and only Mrs. Hearty remained sitting out.

Bindle's imagination ran riot, and he led his unwilling tail into many grotesque pranks. He crawled about on all fours, barked like a dog, mewed like a cat, jumped and howled, laughed and sang. In everything he was faithfully followed by Mr. Winch, who seemed to enjoy himself with a thoroughness that astonished his fellow-guests.

The riot culminated in Bindle kissing Millie, who was next to him. Mr. Winch, who was third in the living tail, left no doubt in Millie's mind that she was intended to pass on the compliment. Bindle watched with keen enjoyment the embarrassment of his victims, in particular that of Mrs. Bindle, who was next to Mr. Sopley, as she looked up enquiringly at the pastor, who bent his head towards her with a weary smile.

"Look at my missis a-burrowin' in all them whiskers," whispered Bindle to Mr. Winch.

Other games followed, and even Mr. Hearty's face lost that anxious, haunted look that it had worn during the earlier part of the evening. When Millie, Bindle, and Mr. Winch handed round the refreshments everybody took something, and Mr. Hearty beamed. He became quite conversational. His party was a success. His heart warmed towards Mr. Winch and Bindle, and – he cut the pineapple.

At supper tongues became loosed, and everyone found that there was more joy in the world than he or she had thought possible. Mr. Sopley's grace had cast a momentary gloom over the table; but this quickly passed away. After the meal Mr. Winch said "a few words," and told of some native customs at similar gatherings, keeping his hearers in a constant titter. It was he who suggested that Bindle, whom he described as "our merry master-of-the-ceremonies," should propose a vote of thanks to their host.

As Bindle rose with obvious satisfaction, Mr. Hearty caught Mrs. Bindle's eye, and each knew what were the other's thoughts.

"Ladies an' gentlemen," began Bindle with all the assurance of an inveterate after-dinner speaker, "I seen some funny things in me time, includin' a stuffed kangaroo, an' a temperance meetin' where they was as drunk as dooks; but I never yet see a missionary as could laugh and enjoy 'isself as Mr. Winch can."

There were looks of consternation on the faces of some of the guests which Mr. Winch's hearty laugh quickly caused to vanish.

"I almost wish I was one of them funny beggars wot wear only a smile o' week-days, an' add a bead for Sundays."

Mr. Hearty coughed and Mr. Sopley gazed up at the ceiling. Mrs. Bindle had shown no sign of lips since Bindle had risen.

"I never liked missionaries till to-night, though me an' Mrs. Bindle 'ave slep' in a missionary's bed for five year or more. It never made no difference to me, though. If I wasn't in the furniture movin' business I think I'd be a missionary.

"But I'm up on my 'ind legs to propose the 'ealth of 'Earty, Alfred 'Earty, who's a credit to the vegetables 'e sells for more'n they're worth. 'E's a bit solemn-like at times, but 'e's got as good a 'eart as 'is own cabbages. I known 'Earty since 'e was a young man, and me an' 'im was arter the same gal once. She's sittin' over there." Bindle indicated Mrs. Bindle with a jerk of his thumb. Mrs. Bindle and Mr. Hearty grew very red, and Mrs. Hearty wheezed painfully. "I won, though; 'Earty warn't nippy enough. 'E could sing 'ymns an' I couldn't; but yer don't get round gals with 'ymns, leastways not young gals. So 'Earty lost one gal an' got another, one of the best." Bindle pointed to Mrs. Hearty.

"We've all 'ad a pleasant evenin', thanks to Mr. Winch an 'Earty's lemonade; an' if some of us gets a jar by goin' to the wrong place when we turns up our toes, I don't mind bettin' a quid it won't be Mr. Winch. 'E may be a missionary, but 'e's one o' the bhoys."

With that Bindle sat down. For a moment there was a hush of consternation, but Mr. Winch came to the rescue with a "Thank you, Mr. Bindle, I hope you're right."

After that everyone applauded and "Auld Lang Syne" was sung and the company dispersed, conscious that they had enjoyed themselves as they had never thought it possible. They were aware of a feeling that seemed to be perilously near the mammon of unrighteousness; but they argued that no blame could attach itself to the flock for doing what the shepherd acquiesced in.

Mr. Hearty was astonished at the cordiality of the good-nights extended to Bindle; but when Mr. Sopley said that he hoped to see him at the Chapel Bazaar to be held a fortnight hence, he was amazed.

He was even more astonished when he heard himself saying, as he shook Bindle warmly by the hand, "Thank you, Joseph, for – for – " And then he lapsed into silence, wondering what it really was for which he was thankful.

That night Mrs. Bindle had much food for thought. She had heard Mr. Sopley's invitation.

CHAPTER XV
BINDLE AND THE GERMAN MENACE

I

"One of the points about this perfession, Ginger," Bindle remarked, "is that yer sometimes gets an 'oliday."

The two men were seated on the steps leading up to Holmleigh, a handsome house standing in its own grounds in the village of Little Compton, in Suffolk.

"Fancy you an' me sittin' 'ere drinkin' in the sunshine," continued Bindle with a grin.

Ginger grunted.

"Though, Ginger, sunshine ain't got no froth, an' it ain't altogether good for yer complexion, still it's good for vegetables and most likely for you too, Ginger. 'Ere we are, 'edges, trees, and no temptation. The village beauties is nearly as ugly as wot you are, Ginger. Puts me in mind o' one of the ole 'Earty 'ymns:

 
"Where every prospect pleases,
And only man is vile."
 

When they wrote that 'ymn, Ginger, they must 'ave been thinkin' o' you at Little Compton.

"Well, I'm orf for a drink; I can't eat me dinner dry, same's you. The further yer goes for yer beer the more yer enjoys it. Sorry you're too tired, ole son. S' long!"

Bindle and Ginger, among others, had been selected by the foreman to accompany him on an important moving job. A Mr. Henry Miller, well known throughout the kingdom as possessing one of the most valuable collections of firearms in the country, was moving from London into Suffolk. He had stipulated that only thoroughly trustworthy men should be permitted to handle his collection, and insisted on the contractors supplying all the hands instead of, as was usual, sending one man and hiring the others locally. Thus it came about that Bindle and the gloomy Ginger found themselves quartered for a few days at Lowestoft.

As Bindle approached the Dove and Easel, famous as being the only inn in the kingdom so named, Mr. John Gandy stood reading a newspaper behind the bar. When business was slack Mr. Gandy always read the newspaper, and in consequence was the best-informed man upon public affairs in Little Compton.

As if sensing a customer, Mr. Gandy laid down the paper and gazed severely over the top of his gold-rimmed spectacles at nothing in particular. He was a model publican, from his velvet skullcap and immaculate Dundreary whiskers to his brilliantly polished and squeaky boots.

As he pursued his contemplation Mr. Gandy saw the outer doors pushed open, admitting a stream of yellow sunshine and with it a little bald-headed man with a red nose and green baize apron. It was Bindle. He approached the counter, eyed Mr. Gandy deliberately, and ordered a pint of ale.

Mr. Gandy drew the beer as if it were a sacred office, wheezing the while. He was a man with a ponderous manner, and a full bar or an empty bar made no difference to the sacred flow of the liquor. He had an eye that could cower a "drunk" more effectually than the muscle of a barman.

"Dry work, movin'," said Bindle pleasantly.

Mr. Gandy wheezed.

"I'm a stranger 'ere," Bindle continued, as he produced some bread and cheese from a piece of pink newspaper. "Funny little 'ole I calls it. Nothin' to do, as far as I can see. No street accidents 'ere, wot?" and he laughed genially at his own joke.

"You're one of the pantechnicon-men from Holmleigh?" queried Mr. Gandy with dignity.

"Right, first time!" laughed the irrepressible Bindle with his mouth full of bread and cheese. "I'm up at the fort, I am."

"The fort?" queried Mr. Gandy. "The fort?"

"Yes, the fort," grinned Bindle. "That's what I calls it. Never saw so many guns in all me puff – millions of 'em."

Bindle was obviously serious, and Mr. Gandy became interested. At that moment a carter entered. Bindle immediately proceeded to get into conversation with the newcomer. Presently he caught Mr. Gandy's eye and read in it curiosity. Mr. Gandy then slowly transferred his gaze to the door of the bar-parlour. Bindle followed Mr. Gandy's eye, and with a nod, sauntered towards the door, looked round, saw that he was right and passed through, softly closing it behind him.

A minute later Mr. Gandy moved in the same direction, lifted the flap of the bar and passed into the room, also closing the door behind him. As he left the bar he touched a bell which produced Mrs. Gandy, in black, wearing much jewellery and a musical-comedy smile as persistent as Mr. Gandy's wheeze.

When Bindle went forth from the bar-parlour it was with a joyous look in his eye and half-a-crown in his pocket. Outside the Dove and Easel he lifted his green baize apron, a finger and thumb at each corner, and made a few shuffling movements with his feet; then he winked, grinned, and finally laughed.

"I shouldn't be surprised if things was to 'appen in this funny little 'ole," he remarked, as he passed on his way up the road.

Mr. Gandy left the bar-parlour, spoke to Mrs. Gandy, and disappeared through the glass door into the private parlour. Two hours later Mr. Gandy reappeared. He had made up his mind.

Bindle's mind was working busily. He was obviously in possession of a secret that other people thought worth paying for. As he walked down the village street he pondered deeply. He paused and slapped his green baize apron-covered leg. He walked over to where Mrs. Grinder was standing at the door of her little general shop. A remark of Mr. Gandy's had set him thinking.

"Mornin', mother," he called out in salutation.

"Good-morning," responded Mrs. Grinder with a smile.

"'Oo's the biggest bug 'ere?"

"The what?"

"The swells; them as grind you an' me down an' make us un'appy," Bindle explained.

"There's Sir Charles Custance at The Towers, up on the left where the poplars are, and Mr. Greenhales at the Home Farm, and – "

"That's enough. I'm stayin' in this neighbour'ood, and if I wasn't to call on the nobs they might be 'urt in their private feelin's. Glad to see yer lookin' so merry an' bright. Mornin'." And cap in hand, Bindle made an elaborate bow and passed on his way, leaving the buxom Mrs. Grinder wreathed in smiles.

Half an hour later he walked down the drive of The Towers, the residence of Sir Charles Custance, J.P., a sovereign richer than when he entered.

At the gates of The Towers he paused. Coming towards him was a dog-cart, driven by a small, fierce-looking little man. It was Mr. Roger Greenhales, who farmed as a hobby, at a considerable yearly loss, to prove that the outcry against the unprofitableness of English land-culture was ridiculous.

Bindle spoke to Mr. Greenhales, and in ten minutes received five shillings. He then proceeded to Holmleigh, where he found his foreman, and also that he had extended his dinner hour into two.

II

"It's a national affair, I tell you, Wrannock!"

Sir Charles Custance, J.P., leaned back in his library chair, and surveyed the impassive features of Sergeant Wrannock, as if searching for some contradiction; but Sergeant Wrannock of the Suffolk County Constabulary merely shuffled his feet and said:

"Yes, sir!"

"I'll call at the house this afternoon, and see if there's anything to be discovered. I'll go now; damme, if I don't. We'll both go."

Sir Charles jumped up forthwith. He was a short, stout man, with bushy, magisterial eyebrows, a red complexion, a bald head, a monocle, and a fierce don't-argue-with-me-sir manner.

He was a man who had but one topic of conversation – the coming German invasion. It would not be his fault if the Germans found Little Compton unprepared. He had pointed out that, being an East Coast village, it lay in the very centre of the battle-ground. At first Little Compton had felt uncomfortable; but later it had apparently become reconciled to its fate. It did nothing.

No village in England knew better what invasion would mean. Sir Charles had drawn a vivid picture of what would be the fate of the women of Little Compton unless their men-folk repelled the invaders, with the result that the Dorcas Society, with the full approval of the vicar, wrote to Sir Charles protesting against such things being said on a public platform.

As he trotted towards the door, Sir Charles turned to the sergeant and said:

"This is a big business, Wrannock, a big business. We'll find out more before we communicate with headquarters. See?" And Sir Charles glared fiercely at the sergeant.

Sergeant Wrannock did see. He saw many things, including promotion for himself, and he replied, "It is indeed, sir!" And the two men went out.

From The Towers to Holmleigh is not more than half a mile. Sir Charles went first, leaving the sergeant to follow on his bicycle. If they were seen together it might arouse suspicion.

Sir Charles was to go to Holmleigh, making the best excuse he could think of, and spy out the land, and the sergeant, who fortunately was not in uniform, was to follow half an hour later. At six o'clock they were to meet at The Towers and compare notes.

On his way up the drive of Holmleigh Sir Charles met Mr. Gandy coming away with a flushed and angry face. For the first time in history his "look" had failed. He had been insulted, and that by a foreman pantechnicon-man.

Sir Charles acknowledged Mr. Gandy's salute, attaching no significance to the presence of the host of the Dove and Easel in the grounds of Holmleigh. Most probably he had called to solicit the new tenant's custom. So Mr. Gandy passed down the drive with a stormy face, and Sir Charles walked up with a determined one.

The hall door was open, and men were passing to and fro carrying various articles of furniture. Sir Charles's eyes greedily devoured all that was to be seen – in particular some long, coffin-like wooden cases.

He stood at the door for a minute; it seemed unnecessary to ring with so many men about. Presently a man came up and stared at him, rather offensively Sir Charles thought; but, remembering the delicate nature of his mission, he adjusted his monocle and said politely:

"I – er – want to see one of the er – er – moving men."

"Certainly, sir," responded the man; "'ave you any choice?'"

Sir Charles fixed his monocle more firmly in his left eye, and stared at the man in astonishment.

"We've got 'em from twenty-three to sixty-five. I'm forty-eight meself, but p'r'aps you'd like a young 'un. Fair or dark, sir, tall or short?"

Sir Charles gazed at the man as if dazed, then went very red, but controlling his wrath he replied:

"I do not know his name, I'm afraid. He has a green baize apron and is – er – bald, and – er – has a rather red nose."

The man smiled broadly, insolently, intolerably, Sir Charles thought.

"That won't 'elp us much, sir. Blessed if you 'aven't described the 'ole blessed perfession. Hi! Ginger?" This to Ginger, who was passing. He approached. "This is rather a tasty little lot, sir. 'E's got a red 'ead as well as a red nose. Not 'im? Well, let me see. Tell Bindle to come 'ere. I think Bindle may be your man, sir; 'e's got some pals in these 'ere parts, I think."

For nearly half a minute Sir Charles glared at the man before him, who grinned back with perfect self-possession.

"This 'im, sir?" he queried, as Bindle approached.

"Damn your insolence!" burst out Sir Charles. "I'll report you to your employers!" But the foreman had disappeared to give an order, and Bindle also had slipped away.

Sir Charles raged back down the drive, striving to think of some means of punishing the insolence of the foreman pantechnicon-man.

A quarter of an hour later Mr. Greenhales arrived at the hall door of Holmleigh. The foreman was there to receive him.

"Good-afternoon," said Mr. Greenhales pleasantly.

"You want to see one of our men; you don't know 'is name, but 'e's a rather bald little man, with a green baize apron an' a red nose?" replied the foreman blandly.

"Exactly!" responded Mr. Greenhales genially. "Exactly! Kindly tell him."

"I'm sorry, sir, it was 'is reception-day, but 'e's been took ill; 'e asked me to apologise. 'E's got a lot of pals about 'ere. I shouldn't be surprised if that was the cause of his illness. Good-arternoon, sir. I'll tell 'im you called."

The foreman shut the door in Mr. Greenhales' face, and for the third time that afternoon anger strode down the drive of Holmleigh.

In the hall the much-wanted Bindle was listening intently to his foreman.

"You seem to be holdin' a levvy to-day, Bindle. Seem to 'ave a lot o' blinkin' pals 'ere, too! Didn't know you was a society man, Bindle. They're all so fond of you, so it 'pears. 'Adn't you better give up this line o' business, you with your gif's, and take to squirin' it? You'd look fine follerin' the 'ounds, you would. Now, it's about time you decided wot you really are. Two hours you take for yer dinner, an' spend the arternoon receivin' callers, me a-openin' the scarlet door. Now you get back to the brilliant furniture removin', and give up yer stutterin' ambitions. If I was you – "

Bindle was never to know what the foreman would do if in his place. At that moment a loud peal at the bell caused the foreman to pause. He gazed from Bindle to the door, from the door to Bindle, and back again to the door. During the two seconds that his superior's eyes were off him Bindle slipped stealthily away.

The foreman went slowly to the door and opened it. He found there a middle-aged, rather stout man, dressed in tweeds, with trousers clipped for cycling. Behind him he held a bicycle. It was Sergeant Wrannock.

The foreman eyed the caller aggressively, his hands moving convulsively. There was that about his appearance which caused his caller to step suddenly back. The bicycle overturned with a clatter, and the sergeant sat down with great suddenness on the front wheel.



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