Herbert Jenkins.

Bindle: Some Chapters in the Life of Joseph Bindle



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The manager nodded approvingly.

"Do you think you could replace the furniture?"

"Sure as I am o' Mrs. Bindle. I can carry an 'ole 'ouse in me eye; they won't know they've even moved."

"The keys are at the West Kensington Police Station. Here is the authority, with a note from me. It's No. 181 Branksome Road you're to fetch the furniture from. Here's the key of the house you are to take it to – No. 33 Lebanon Avenue, Chiswick. Take Nos. 6 and 8 vans, with Wilkes, Huggles, Randers, and the new man."

"Right, sir," said Bindle; "I'll see it through."

Bindle returned to the yard, where he narrated to his mates what had just taken place in the manager's room.

"So yer see, Ginger, I'm still goin' to stay wi' yer, correct yer language an' make a gentleman o' yer. So cheer up, 'Appy."

Bindle gathered together his forces and set out. He was glad to be able to include Ginger, whose misanthropic outlook upon life was a source of intense interest to him. Outside the police-station he stepped off the tail-board of the front van, saying that he would overtake them.

"Come to give yourself up?" enquired the sergeant, who had a slight acquaintance with Bindle.

"Not yet, ole sport; goin' to give yer a chance to earn promotion. I come for a key."

Bindle handed in his credentials.

At that moment two constables entered with a drunken woman screaming obscenities. The men had all they could do to hold her. Bindle listened for a moment.

"Lord, she ain't learnt all that at Sunday-school," he muttered; then turning to the sergeant, said, "'Ere, gi'e me my key. I didn't ought to 'ear such things."

The sergeant hurriedly turned to a rack behind him, picked up the key and handed it to Bindle. His attention was engrossed with the new case; it meant a troublesome day for him.

Bindle signed for the key, put it in his pocket and left the station.

He overtook the vans just as they were entering Branksome Road. Pulling the key out of his pocket he looked at the tag.

"Funny," he muttered, "thought he said a 'undred an' eighty-one, not a 'undred an' thirty-one."

He took a scrap of paper out of his pocket, on which he had written down the number in the manager's office. It was clearly 181. The sergeant had given him the wrong key.

"'Ere! Hi!" he began, when he stopped suddenly, a grin overspreading his features. Suddenly he slapped his knee.

"Wot a go! 'Oly Moses, I'll do it! I only 'ope they 'aven't left no servants in the 'ouse. Won't it be – Hi, where the 'ell are you goin' to? You're passin' the 'ouse."

"Didn't yer say a 'undred an' heighty-one?" came the hoarse voice of Wilkes from the front of the first of the pantechnicons.

"A 'undred an' thirty-one, you ole 'Uggins. 'Adn't yer better count it up on yer fingers? Yer can use yer toes if yer like."

There was a growl in response. Bindle was popular with his mates, and no one ever took offence at what he said.

The two vans drew up before No.

131, and the four men grouped themselves by the gate.

Bindle surveyed them with a grin.

"Lord, wot a army of ole reprobates! Wilkes," said Bindle gravely, addressing an elderly man with a stubbly beard and a persistent cough, of which he made the most, "yer must get out of that 'abit o' yours o' shavin' only on jubilee days and golden weddin's. It spoils y' appearance. Yer won't get no more kisses than a currycomb."

Bindle was in high spirits.

"'Ullo, Ginger, where's that clean coller you was wearin' last Toosday week? Lent it to the lodger? 'Ere, come along. Let's lay the dust 'fore we starts." And Bindle and his squad trooped off to the nearest public-house.

A quarter of an hour later they returned and set to work. Bindle laboured like one possessed, and inspired his men to more than usual efforts. Nothing had been prepared, and consequently there was much more to do than was usually the case. One of the men remarked upon this fact.

"They ain't a-goin' to pay you for doin' things and do 'em theirselves, so look slippy," was Bindle's response.

The people at No. 129 manifested considerable surprise in the doings of Bindle and his assistants. Soon after a start had been made, the maidservant came to the front door for a few moments, and watched the operations with keen interest. As Bindle staggered down the path beneath a particularly voluminous armchair she ventured a tentative remark.

"I'm surprised that Mrs. Rogers is movin'," she said.

"Not 'alf as surprised as she'll be when she finds out," muttered Bindle with a grin, as he deposited the chair on the tail of the van for Ginger to stow away.

"Funny she shouldn't 'ave told yer," he remarked to the girl as he returned up the path.

"You ain't 'alf as funny as you think," retorted the girl with a toss of her head.

"If you're as funny as you look, Ruthie dear, you ought to be worth a lot to yer family," retorted Bindle.

"Where did you get that nose from?" snapped the girl pertly.

"Same place as yer got that face, only I got there first. Now run in, Ruthie, there's a good girl. I'm busy. I'm also married." The girl retired discomfited.

Later in the day the mistress of No. 129 emerged on her way to pay a call. Seeing Bindle she paused, lifted her lorgnettes, and surveyed him with cold insolence.

"Is Mrs. Rogers moving?" she asked.

"No, mum," replied Bindle, "we're goin' to take the furniture for a ride in the park."

"You're an extremely impertinent fellow," was the retort. "I shall report you to your employers."

"Please don't do that, mum; think o' me 'ungry wives an' child."

There was no further endeavour to enquire into the destination of Mrs. Rogers's possessions.

By four o'clock the last load had left – a miscellaneous mass of oddments that puzzled Bindle how he was ever going to sort them out.

It was past seven before Bindle and his men had finished their work. The miscellaneous things, obviously the accumulation of many years, had presented problems; but Bindle had overcome them by putting in the coal-cellar everything that he could not crowd in a lumber room at the top of the house, or distribute through the rest of the rooms.

"Seemed to have moved in an 'urry," coughed Wilkes; "I never see sich a lot of truck in all me life."

"P'r'aps they owed the rent," suggested Huggles.

"'Uggles, 'Uggles," remonstrated Bindle with a grin, "I'm surprised at you. 'Cos your family 'as shot the moon for years – 'Uggles, I'm pained."

Bindle duly returned the key to the police-station, put up the vans, and himself saw that the horses were made comfortable for the night. Whenever in charge of a job he always made this his own particular duty.

II

At six o'clock on the following afternoon a railway omnibus drew up at the West Kensington police-station. In it were Mr. and Mrs. Railton-Rogers, seven little Rogerses, a nursemaid, and what is known in suburbia as a cook-general.

After some difficulty, Mr. Rogers, a bald-headed, thick-set man with the fussy deportment of a Thames tug, extricated himself from his progeny. After repeated injunctions to it to remain quiet, he disappeared into the police-station and a few minutes later emerged with the key.

"Don't do that, Eustace," he called out.

Eustace was doing nothing but press a particularly stubby nose against the window of the omnibus; but Mr. Rogers was a man who must talk if only to keep himself in practice. If nothing worthy of comment presented itself, he would exclaim, apropos the slightest sound or movement, "What's that?"

The omnibus started off again, and a few minutes later turned into Branksome Road. It was Nelly, the second girl, aged eleven, who made the startling discovery.

"Mother, mother, look at our house, it's empty!" she cried excitedly.

"Nelly, be quiet," commanded Mr. Rogers from sheer habit.

"But, father, father, look, look!" she persisted, pointing in the direction of No. 131.

Mr. Rogers looked, and looked again. He then looked at his family as if to assure himself of his own identity.

"Good God! Emily," he gasped (Emily was Mrs. Rogers), "look!"

Emily looked. She was a heavy, apathetic woman, who seemed always to be a day in arrears of the amount of sleep necessary to her. A facetious relative had dubbed her "the sleeping partner." From the house Mrs. Rogers looked back to her husband, as if seeking her cue from him.

"They've stolen my horse!" a howl of protest arose from Eustace, and for once he went uncorrected.

The omnibus drew up with a groan and a squeak opposite to No. 131. Mr. Rogers, followed by a stream of little Rogerses, bounded out and up the path like a comet that had outstripped its tail. He opened the door with almost incredible quickness, entered and rushed in and out of the rooms like a lost dog seeking his master. He then darted up the stairs, the seven little Rogerses streaming after him. When he had reached the top floor and had thoroughly assured himself that everywhere there was a void of desolation, he uttered a howl of despair, and, forgetful of the tail of young Rogerses toiling after him in vain, turned, and tearing down the stairs collided with Nelly, who, losing her balance, fell back on Eustace, who in turn lost his balance, and amidst wails and yells comet and tail tumbled down the stairs and lay in a heap on the first-floor landing.

Mr. Rogers was the first to disentangle himself from the struggling mass.

"Stop it, you little beasts! Stop it!" he shouted.

They stopped it, gazing in wonderment at their father as he once more dashed down the stairs. At the door Mr. Rogers found Mrs. Rogers and the two maids talking to the next-door neighbour, Mrs. Clark, who was there with her maid, whom Bindle had addressed as "Ruthie." As he approached, Mrs. Clark was saying:

"I thought there must be something wrong, the man looked such a desperate fellow."

"Then why didn't you inform the police?" snapped Mr. Rogers.

"It was not my business, Mr. Rogers," replied Mrs. Clark with dignity. Then, turning to Mrs. Rogers and the maid, she added, "The way that man spoke to my maid was a scandal, and he was most insolent to me also."

"Get in, you little devils, get in!" Mr. Rogers roared.

"Albert dear, don't!" expostulated Mrs. Rogers with unaccustomed temerity.

"In you get!" he repeated. And the family and maids were packed once more into the omnibus.

"Back to the police-station," shouted Mr. Rogers.

Just as the vehicle was on the move Mrs. Clark came down to the gate and called out, "I told Archie to follow the van on his bicycle in case anything was wrong. He's got the address, but I have forgotten it. He will be back in a minute. It was somewhere in Chiswick."

"Send him round to the police-station," shouted Mr. Rogers. "For God's sake hurry, this is not a funeral," he almost shrieked to the driver.

"No, an' I ain't no bloomin' nigger neither," growled the man.

Neighbours were at their gates, scenting trouble in the way that neighbours will. All sorts of rumours were afloat, the prevalent idea being that Mr. Rogers was a bankrupt, and that his furniture had been taken by the representatives of his creditors.

At the police-station Mr. Rogers once more bounced from the omnibus, the little Rogerses climbing out after him. This time the nursemaid joined the crowd in the charge-room.

"I have been robbed," almost sobbed Mr. Rogers; then with unconscious irony added, "Everything has gone, except my wife and children."

The sergeant was conventionally sympathetic, but officially reticent. A man should be sent to No. 131 Branksome Road, to institute enquiries.

"What the devil is the use of that?" shouted Mr. Rogers. "I want my furniture, and it's not in my house. What are the police for?"

"I want my horse!" Eustace set up another howl. He, together with his six brothers and sisters and the nursemaid, were now ranged behind their father, looking with large-eyed wonder at the sergeant.

"Look at these!" Mr. Rogers turned and with a sweep of his hand indicated his progeny as if he were a barrister calling attention to a row of exhibits. "What am I to do with them to-night?"

There was another howl from Eustace, and a whimper from Muriel the youngest.

The sergeant had not been on duty when Bindle called for the key, but he had heard it said that the key of No. 131 had been handed to the bearer of a letter from a firm of furniture-removers. This he explained to Mr. Rogers, regretting that apparently the letter itself had been put aside. On Monday the whole matter should be threshed out and the guilty brought to justice.

He gave the assurance rather as an official formality than as the result of any inherent conviction of his own.

"Monday?" almost shrieked Mr. Rogers. "What am I to do until Monday?"

The sergeant suggested that perhaps the neighbours might extend hospitality.

"Who is going to take in eleven people?" shouted Mr. Rogers. "We shall all starve!"

At this announcement the Rogerses, who were all sturdy trenchermen, set up such a howl as to bring Mrs. Rogers and the other maid out of the omnibus.

Just at that moment Archie Clark, a precocious youth of twelve, rode up full of importance and information. He pushed his way through the mass of Rogerses, and without preliminary shouted, "33 Lebanon Avenue, Chiswick; that's where the van went."

The sergeant picked up a pen and began to take down the address.

"Get into the bus, get in, all of you," shouted Mr. Rogers. He saw that little help was to be obtained from the police. In the hurry of getting off, somehow or other and in spite of his protests, Archie Clark was bundled into the omnibus and Eustace was left howling on the pavement beside Archie's bicycle.

III

Bindle had discovered at the office that the new occupants of 33 Lebanon Avenue expected to reach Chiswick about six o'clock on the day following the move. It was nearly a quarter to seven before their taxi hove in sight. Bindle sauntered up the avenue whistling, and arrived just in time to see Mr. Daniel Granger open the front door with a key, enter, and suddenly bolt out very hurriedly and examine the number; then he looked in again and called to Mrs. Granger, a thin little woman, with round black eyes and a porcelain smile that deceived no one.

Mrs. Granger tripped up the path and followed the burly form of her husband through the door. By this time Bindle had reached the gate.

"Want a 'and wi' the luggage, mate?" he enquired of the taxi-driver.

"Maybe yes, maybe no," was the reply.

Bindle examined the man curiously.

"You ain't a-goin' to take no risks, ole card, I can see that," he retorted with a grin. "I 'ad a mate once 'oo said that to the parson at 'is weddin', an' 'is missis is never quite sure whether she's a respectable woman or ought to be a widder. You'll 'ave to get out of that 'abit; it's as bad as stutterin'."

The taxi-driver grinned.

"I knew a cove," began Bindle, "wot – "

At that moment Mr. Railton-Rogers's omnibus drew up behind the taxi, and before it had stopped Mr. Rogers bounced out, followed by his entire suite of wife, progeny, and retainers. Into the house he dashed, and as he recognised his lares and penates he uttered a howl of triumph.

The hall was dark, and he fell over a chair, which brought Mr. and Mrs. Granger out from the dining-room.

"So I've caught you," shouted Mr. Rogers triumphantly, looking up defiantly at the burly form of Mr. Granger, whose good-humoured blue eyes wore a puzzled expression. "You're a thief, a daylight-robber; but I've caught you."

Mr. Rogers planted himself in the doorway. Mr. and Mrs. Granger looked at each other in mute wonder.

"Will you kindly get out of the way?" requested Mr. Granger.

"No, I won't. I've caught you and I mean to keep you," said Mr. Rogers, making a clutch at Mr. Granger's coat-sleeve. Then something happened, and Mr. Rogers found himself sitting in the hall, and Mr. and Mrs. Granger were walking down the path towards their taxi.

"Police! fetch a policeman! Don't let them escape," yelled Mr. Rogers, and the cry was taken up by his family and retainers. Mr. Rogers picked himself up and dashed down the path shouting to the drivers of the taxi and the omnibus that, if they aided and abetted the criminals to escape, their doom was certain.

"'As anythin' 'appened, sir?" enquired the taxi-driver civilly.

Bindle had retired behind a tree in order to avoid being seen. He had recognised Archie Clark.

"He's stolen my furniture – '

"Shut up, you silly little ass," interrupted Mr. Granger. Then turning to the taxi-driver he said, "Perhaps you had better fetch a policeman."

"Better fetch a Black Maria to take all this lot," muttered Bindle.

The neighbours were now arriving in strong force, and Mr. Rogers cheerfully told his tale to all who would listen; but none could make much of what he was saying. At the end of a few minutes the taxi returned with a policeman sitting beside the driver. As soon as he alighted Mr. Rogers dashed up to him.

"I give this man and woman in charge for stealing my furniture. You'd better keep the driver, too. He's probably an accomplice."

The policeman turned to Mr. Granger. "Have you anything to say, sir?"

"I think we had better all go to the police-station," remarked Mr. Granger coolly. "There has been a mistake, and the wrong furniture has been moved into my house."

The last Bindle saw of the protagonists in this domestic drama, of which he was the sole author, was the Railton-Rogerses being bundled into their omnibus by Mr. Railton-Rogers, and Mr. and Mrs. Granger calmly entering their taxi, on the front seat of which sat the policeman. He turned reluctantly away, regretful that he was not to see the last act.

The epilogue took place on the following Monday, when early in the morning Bindle was called into the manager's office and summarily dismissed.

Returning to Fenton Street earlier than usual he was greeted by Mrs. Bindle with the old familiar words:

"Lorst yer job?"

"Yes," said Bindle, as he removed his coat; "but it was worth it:"

Mrs. Bindle stared.

CHAPTER XVIII
BINDLE ASSISTS IN AN ELOPEMENT

I

When Bindle announced to Mrs. Bindle that he intended to enlist in Kitchener's Army, she opened upon him the floodgates of her wrath.

"You never was a proper husband," she snapped viciously. "You've neglected me ever since we was married. Now you want to go away and get killed. What shall I do then? What would become of me?"

"Well," said Bindle slowly, "yer would become wot they calls a widder. Then yer could marry into the chapel and you an' 'im 'ud go to 'eaven 'and in 'and."

Mrs. Bindle snorted and started to rake out the kitchen fire. Whenever Mrs. Bindle reached the apex of her wrath, an attack upon the kitchen fire was inevitable. Suddenly she would conceive the idea that it was not burning as it should burn, and she would rake and dab and poke until at last forced to relight it.

Bindle watched her with interest.

"The next worst thing to bein' Mrs. Bindle's 'usband," he muttered, "is to be a bloomin' kitchen fire with 'er at the other end of a poker." Then aloud he said, "You'd get an allowance while I'm away, and a pension when I dies o' killin' too many Germans."

Mrs. Bindle paused. "How much?" she asked practically.

"Oh, about a pound a week," said Bindle recklessly.

Mrs. Bindle put down the poker and proceeded to wash up. She seemed for ever washing up or sweeping. Presently she enquired:

"When are you goin'?"

"Well," said Bindle, "I thought of trottin' round to the War Office this afternoon and breakin' the news. It'll sort o' buck 'em up to know that I'm comin'."

Mrs. Bindle raised no further objections.

It was Saturday afternoon, and Bindle's time was his own. He joined the queue outside the Recruiting Station in the Fulham Road and patiently waited his turn, incidentally helping to pass the time of those around him by his pungent remarks.

"Lord!" he remarked, "we're a funny sort o' crowd to beat the Germans. Look at us: we ain't got a chest among the 'ole bloomin' lot."

At length Bindle stood before the recruiting officer, cap in hand and a happy look on his face.

"Name?" enquired the officer.

"Joseph Bindle."

"Age?"

"Wot's the age limit?" enquired Bindle cautiously.

"Thirty-eight."

"Then put me down as thirty-seven and a 'arf," he replied.

The officer looked up quickly. There was just the suspicion of a smile in his eyes. This was the type of man he liked.

After a few more questions he was turned over to the doctor, who ordered him to strip.

After a very rapid examination the doctor remarked:

"You won't do – varicose veins."

"Beg pardon, sir?" said Bindle.

"Varicose veins," said the doctor.

"An' 'oo's 'e when 'e's at 'ome?" enquired Bindle.

"You have got varicose veins in the legs and therefore you cannot enlist." The doctor was tired and impatient.

"But ain't you got veins in your legs?" enquired Bindle. "Why can't I be a soldier 'cos I got various veins in me legs?"

"You couldn't stand the marching," was the reply.

"Oh, couldn't I? That's all you know about it. You should see me 'oppin' in an' out of 'ouses carrying pianners an' sofas. I want to enlist." Bindle was dogged.

The doctor relented somewhat. "It's no good, my man. We cannot take you. I'm sorry."



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