Herbert Jenkins.

Bindle: Some Chapters in the Life of Joseph Bindle



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"But," said Bindle, "couldn't yer put me in somethin' wot sits on an 'orse, or 'angs on be'ind? I want to go."

"It's no good; I cannot pass you."

"Couldn't yer make me even a 'ighlander? Me legs ain't too thin for that, are they?"

"It's no good!"

"Are they catchin'?" enquired Bindle, with some eagerness in his voice.

"Are what catching?"

"Various veins."

"No."

"Just my luck," grumbled Bindle, "a-gettin' somethink wot I can't 'and on."

The doctor laughed.

Finding that nothing could break down the doctor's relentless refusal, Bindle reluctantly departed.

During the week following he made application at several other recruiting offices, but always with the same result.

"Nothin' doin'," he mumbled. "Nothin' left for me but to become a bloomin' slop. I must do somethink." And he entered the local police-station.

"What is it?" enquired the officer in charge.

"Come to gi' meself up," said Bindle with a grin. "Goin' to be a special constable and run in all me dear ole pals."

He found the interrogations here far less severe. Certain particulars were asked of him. Finally he was told that he would hear in due course whether or no his services were accepted.

After an interval of about a week Bindle was sworn in. A few days later he called once more at the police-station for his equipment. As the truncheon, armlet, and whistle were handed to him, he eyed the articles dubiously, then looking up at the officer, enquired:

"This all I got to wear? It don't seem decent."

He was told that he would wear his ordinary clothes, and would be expected to report himself for duty at a certain hour on the following Monday.

On his way home he called in on his brother-in-law and, to the delight of Smith and the errand boy, solemnly informed Mr. Hearty of the step he had taken.

"Now look 'ere, 'Earty," he remarked, "you got to be pretty bloomin' careful what yer up to, or yer'll get run in. Yer'd look sort o' tasty with me a-shovin' of yer from be'ind in me new uniform, a bit in each 'and and the rest round me arm. S' long! an' don't yer forget it. No late nights. No carryin's on with the choir." And Bindle winked knowingly at Smith and the boy.

Bindle's popularity among his brother special constables was instantaneous and complete. They were for the most part sent out in pairs. "'untin' in couples," Bindle called it. The man who got Bindle as a companion considered himself lucky.

If Bindle saw a pair of lovers saying good-night, he would go up to them gravely and demand what they were doing, and warn them as to their proper course of conduct.

"There ain't goin' to be no kissin' on my beat," he would remark, "only wot I does meself. Why ain't you in the army, young feller?"

He never lost an opportunity of indulging his sense of the ludicrous, and he soon became known to many of those whose property it was his duty to protect.

From servant-girls he came in for many dainties, and it was not long before he learnt that the solitary special gets more attention from the other sex than the one who "'unts in couples." As a consequence Bindle became an adept at losing his fellow-constable. "I can lose a special quicker than most chaps can lose a flea," he remarked once to Mrs. Bindle.

One night, about half-past nine, when on duty alone on Putney Hill, Bindle saw a man slip down one of the turnings on the left-hand side, as if desirous of avoiding observation. A moment after he heard a soft whistle. Grasping his truncheon in his right hand, Bindle slid into the shadow of the high wall surrounding a large house. A few minutes later he heard another whistle.

"'Ullo," he muttered, "shouldn't be surprised if there wasn't somethink on. Now, Joe B., for the V.C. or a pauper's grave."

Creeping stealthily along under the shadow of the wall, he came close up to the man without being observed. Just as he gave vent to the third whistle Bindle caught him by the arm.

"Now then, young feller, wot's all this about? I 'eard you. 'Oly Angels!" Bindle exclaimed in astonishment, "where did you spring from, sir?"

It was Dick Little.

"I was just a-goin' to run you in for a burglar."

"Well, you wouldn't have been far wrong," replied Little. "I'm bent on theft."

"Right-oh," said Bindle. "I'm with yer, special or no special. What are yer stealin', if it ain't a rude question?"

"A girl," Little replied.

Bindle whistled significantly.

In the course of the next five minutes Dick Little explained that he was in love with a girl whose people disapproved of him, and she was being kept almost a prisoner in the house in question. At night he was sometimes able to get a few words with her after dinner, she mounting a ladder and talking to him from the top of the garden wall.

"One of these nights," Little concluded, "we're going to make a bolt for it. By Jove!" he suddenly broke off. "You're the very man; you'll help, of course."

"'Elp?" said Bindle; "o' course I'll 'elp. If yer want to be made un'appy that's your affair. If yer wants me to 'elp to make yer un'appy, that's my affair."

At this moment there was a faint whistle from farther down the road.

"I must be off," said Little. "Come round and see me on Sunday, and I'll tell you all about it."

The next Sunday night Bindle heard the whole story. Dick Little was desperately in love with Ethel Knob-Kerrick, the daughter of Lady Knob-Kerrick, whose discomfiture at the Barton Bridge Temperance F?te had been due to his tampering with the lemonade. Lady Knob-Kerrick had come to know of clandestine meetings, and henceforth her daughter had been practically a prisoner, never being allowed out of her mother's sight or that of Miss Strint, who, although in sympathy with the lovers, was too much afraid of Lady Knob-Kerrick to render them any assistance.

"So I'm going to bolt with her," said Dick Little.

"And very nice too," remarked Bindle, as he gazed admiringly at the photograph of an extremely pretty brunette with expressive eyes and a tilted chin.

"Funny things, women," continued Bindle. "Yer think yer've got a bloomin' peach, when squash! and there is only the stone and a little juice left in yer 'and. Funny things, women! She'll probably nag yer into an asylum or the Blue Boar or – "

"Shut up, Bindle!" There was a hard note in Dick Little's voice.

"All right, sir, all right," said Bindle patiently. "I'd 'ave said the same meself when I was a-courtin' me little red-'eaded blossom. Funny things, women!

"If it ain't rude, sir," Bindle continued after a pause, "'ave yer got an 'ome ready? 'Cos when yer get a bird yer sort o' got to get a cage, an' if that cage ain't gold, wi' bits o' gold sort o' lyin' about, well, there'll be some feathers flyin', an' they won't be 'ers. A woman wot ain't got money makes a man moult pretty quick. Yer'll excuse me, sir, but I'm an old warrior at this 'ere game."

"I've bought a practice in Chelsea, and besides I've got between three and four hundred a year," replied Little.

"H'm," said Bindle, "may keep 'er in scent an' shoe-strings. I suppose you're set on doin' it?"

"Absolutely."

"Well, I'll 'elp yer; but it's a pity, it's always a pity when a nice chap like you gets balmy on a bit o' skirt."

"Right-oh!" said Little. "I knew you would."

A week later Bindle, wearing what he called his "uniform," met Dick Little by appointment outside Lady Knob-Kerrick's house on Putney Hill. Miss Kerrick had arranged to be ready at 9.30. Dick Little had borrowed, through his brother, Guggers' Rolls-Royce, which, according to the owner, would "gug-gug-go anywhere and do anything."

Guggers volunteered to drive himself. At 9.30 the car slid silently down the road at the side of Lady Knob-Kerrick's house. It was a dark night and the lights were hooded. Under the shade of a huge elm, and drawn close up against the house, no one could distinguish the car from the surrounding shadow.

A short ladder was placed in the tonneau and reared up against the wall. Bindle and Little both mounted the wall and waited what to Little seemed hours. It was nearly ten o'clock before a slight sound on the gravel announced the approach of someone. A subdued whistle from Dick Little produced a tremulous answer. Not a word was spoken. Presently a scraping against the wall announced the placing of the ladder from inside the garden, and a moment later a voice whispered:

"Is that you, Dick?"

"Yes, Ettie," was the reply. "Quick. I've got a friend here."

"It's all right, miss," whispered Bindle; "I'll catch hold of one arm and Mr. Little will do ditto with the other, and 'fore you can wink you'll be over. You ain't the screamin' sort, are yer?" he enquired anxiously.

A little laugh answered him.

"Now then, look slippy, in case the old gal – sorry, miss, yer mother – smells a rat."

It was a hot, soundless night. The atmosphere hung round them like a heavy garment saturated with moisture. Every sound seemed to be magnified. As he finished speaking, Bindle's quick ear detected a footstep inside the garden. Bending down he whispered to Guggers:

"Start the car, sir, there's someone comin'. Come along, miss," he added.

"Ethel!" Three hearts gave a great leap at the sound of a harsh, uncompromising voice from almost beneath them.

"Ethel, where are you? You will catch your death of cold walking about the garden at this time of night. Come in at once!"

It was Lady Knob-Kerrick. There was no mistaking her disapproving voice. Bindle grinned as he recollected the inglorious figure she had cut at the Temperance F?te.

"Ethel, where are you?" The voice cut sharply through the still air.

"Steady, sir," whispered Bindle to Dick Little, who had lifted Miss Kerrick off the wall.

"I'll keep the ole gal jawin'. Tell ole Spit-and-Speak to get off quietly."

"Strint!" Lady Knob-Kerrick's voice again rang out. "Strint, where are you?"

Bindle heard the sound of feet hastening down the path. He was standing on the wall, grasping with one hand the top of the ladder used by Miss Kerrick, which reached some three feet above the top of the wall. He had taken the precaution of putting his uniform in his pocket "in case I gets nabbed," as he explained to Dick Little.

Bindle heard a suppressed "gug-gug" from Guggers, on whose head Miss Kerrick had alighted. He wondered why Guggers had not started the engine.

Somewhere below him he heard Lady Knob-Kerrick moving about. Would she find the ladder? If she did, how was he to cover the retreat of the car? He was conscious of enjoying to the full the excitement of the situation.

"Where is Miss Knob-Kerrick?" Lady Knob-Kerrick always insisted on the "Knob." Her voice came from out of the darkness immediately below where Bindle was standing.

"I'm afraid – " began another voice, that of Miss Strint, when suddenly several things seemed to happen at once. There was a triumphant "Ah!" from Lady Knob-Kerrick, as she found the ladder and wrenched it from the wall, a yell from Bindle as he lost his balance, and an agonised shriek from Miss Strint, as she was swept from her feet by what she thought was a bomb, but what in reality was the ladder, which fell, pinning her to the earth.

"Help! Help!! Murder!!!" shrieked Lady Knob-Kerrick, until Bindle reached the ground, marvelling at the softness of the substance on which he had fallen, when her cries ceased suddenly and only the moans of Miss Strint were to be heard by the servants, who rushed from the house to the rescue.

On the other side of the wall the two occupants of the car held their breath, but Guggers saw in the sudden pandemonium that for which he had been waiting, and the Rolls-Royce leapt forward.

"Stop, Guggers," whispered Dick Little, leaning forward, "we can't leave him like this."

"Gug-gug-go to blazes! This is my car," was the response, as they tore up Putney Hill on the way to Walton, where Miss Kerrick was to spend the night with Guggers' sister.

II

Five minutes later Bindle stood in Lady Knob-Kerrick's drawing-room with Thomas, the footman, holding one arm, and Wilton, the butler, the other. On Wilton's face was an expression of disgust at having temporarily to usurp the duties of the police.

Lady Knob-Kerrick had made enquiries of the servants, and was now convinced that her daughter had either eloped or been abducted. Her hair was disarranged, there was dirt upon her face, and leaves and mould upon her gown; but of these she was unconscious, and she regarded Bindle with an expression of grim triumph. At least she had captured one of the ruffians, probably the worst.

Bindle himself was quite self-possessed. All he desired was to gain time so that the fugitives might get well beyond the possibility of capture.

"Now, look here, Calves," he remarked, obliquely examining the footman's gorgeous raiment, "if you pinch I kick. See?"

Apprehensive of an attack upon his white silk legs, Thomas moved away as far as he could, holding Bindle at arm's-length.

"I have had the police telephoned for," said Lady Knob-Kerrick grimly. "Now, where is Miss Knob-Kerrick?"

"You may search me, mum," replied Bindle imperturbably.

"You were with the villains who abducted her," snapped Lady Knob-Kerrick.

"Who wot, mum?"

"Abducted her."

"I never done that to any woman. I kissed a few, but I never gone further. Mrs. Bindle (my name's Bindle – Joseph Bindle) is sort o' particular."

"Then you refuse to confess?" Lady Knob-Kerrick glared at Bindle through her lorgnettes.

"I ain't got nothin' to confess, mum; leastways nothin' I'd like to say 'fore a lady. Look 'ere, Dicky-Bird, if you pinch my arm I'll break your bloomin' shins." This last remark was addressed to Wilton, whom Bindle examined with insulting deliberation. "Must cost a bit to keep yer in clean dickies, ole son," he remarked. Wilton writhed. Bindle suddenly caught sight of Miss Strint slipping into the room, looking very ill and obviously in a state bordering on hysteria.

"'Ello, miss, you do look bad. I hope you ain't 'urt." There was solicitude in Bindle's voice.

"I am very upset and – "

"Strint!" admonished Lady Knob-Kerrick, "please be silent. How dare you converse with this man?"

"Now look 'ere, mum, I ain't said much so far, but you're goin' to get into a bit of a mess if yer ain't careful. If you'll just call orf Dicky-Bird and Calves, I'll show yer wot an' 'oo I am. I'm a special constable, I am, and you done a fine thing to-night. P'r'aps yer know the law, p'r'aps yer don't. But this is a case for 'eavy damages. Now, Dicky-Bird, leggo!"

With a dexterous movement Bindle wrenched his arm free from Wilton's clutch, and drew his truncheon, which he flourished under the nose of his astonished captors. Thomas, fearing an attack, released the arm he held and retreated precipitately to the door.

"Thomas! Wilton!" shrieked Lady Knob-Kerrick, "hold him, don't let him escape."

"I'll keep the door, m' lady," said Thomas, his hand on the handle, his attitude that of a man solicitous as to his own safety rather than desirous of preventing another's escape.

With great deliberation Bindle produced his armlet and whistle.

"This 'ere, mum," holding the articles of equipment for Lady Knob-Kerrick's inspection, "is me summer uniform, but as the nights is a little bit chilly I added a pair o' trousers and a few other things."

Miss Strint tittered, and then, appalled at her own temerity, coughed violently.

Lady Knob-Kerrick turned upon her accustomed victim.

"Strint," she cried, glaring through her lorgnettes, "have you no sense of decency?"

"She's got an awful cough, mum. Yer'd better leave 'er alone," and Bindle grinned in a manner that Lady Knob-Kerrick decided was intolerable.

"I want you to explain, mum, wot you mean by letting Calves and Dicky-Bird keep a special constable from the execution of 'is duty."

Lady Knob-Kerrick looked uncertainly from Bindle to Wilton, then to Miss Strint, and then back again to Bindle.

"You were with the ruffians who have taken my daughter," she said.

"Well, mum, that's where you're sort o' wrong. I've collected white mice and rabbits and once I had a special sort of jumpin' fleas, but I never collected daughters. Besides, there's Mrs. Bindle. She's a bit funny when it comes to another woman. What she'll say when she gets to know that yer've had me 'eld 'ere, a-givin' of me the glad eye through them two 'oles on a stick – I tell yer, mum, I jest daren't think."

"How dare you, you vulgar fellow!" Lady Knob-Kerrick had seen the ghost of a smile flit across Thomas's face. "Hold your tongue!"

"I can't, mum. Lived too long wi' Mrs. B. I'm sort o' surprised at you 'oldin' me 'ere like this. It's like kissin' a girl against her will."

At this juncture there was a loud ringing at the outer bell.

"Go!" said Lady Knob-Kerrick, addressing Thomas.

"Now then, 'op it, Calves," added Bindle, as he resumed his armlet.

A minute later an inspector of police entered. He bowed to Lady Knob-Kerrick and looked towards Bindle, who saluted with a suddenness so dramatic as to cause both Wilton and Thomas involuntarily to start back.

"This man has been – " Lady Knob-Kerrick paused, at a loss to formulate the charge.

"Says I've run off with 'er daughter – me! 'Oly Moses! If Mrs. Bindle only knew!" And Bindle smiled so broadly and so joyously that even the official face of the inspector relaxed.

"What is the complaint, my lady?" the inspector enquired, producing his note-book.

"Someone has abducted my daughter and – and – we – I got this man."

Lady Knob-Kerrick was hesitant, and clearly not very sure of her ground.

She explained how she had gone into the garden in search of Miss Knob-Kerrick, had come across the ladder, and how in moving it Bindle had come crashing down upon her, and had been captured.

The inspector turned to Bindle, whom he knew as a special constable.

"This 'ere's goin' to be a serious business for 'er," Bindle indicated Lady Knob-Kerrick with his thumb. "I 'eard a whistle, then see a man on the wall and another in a motor-car. 'What-oh!' says I, 'burglars or German spies. If I blows me whistle orf they goes.' I climbs up a tree and drops on to the wall, crawls along, then I 'ears a young woman's voice. I jest got to the top of the ladder, frightened as a goat I was, when somebody gives it a tug. Over I tumbles on wot I thought was a air-cushion, but it was 'er." Bindle bowed elaborately to Lady Knob-Kerrick, who flushed scarlet. "She nabs me when I was goin' to nab the lot of 'em. I might 'a got the V.C.! Silly things, women." Bindle spat the words out with supreme disgust.

The inspector turned to Lady Knob-Kerrick.

"Do you wish to charge this special constable?"

"Yes, that's it," put in Bindle. "Jest let 'er charge me. She's got to do it now since she's 'eld me 'ere, and I'm out for damages. There's also goin' to be some damage done to Dicky-Bird and Calves before I've finished." And Bindle looked fiercely from one to the other.

Lady Knob-Kerrick motioned the inspector to the other end of the room, where she held a whispered conversation with him. Presently they returned to Bindle. The inspector said with official coldness:

"There seems to have been a mistake, and her ladyship offers you a sovereign in compensation."

"Oh, she does, does she?" remarked Bindle. "Well, jest tell 'er bloomin' ladysillyship wi' Joseph Bindle's compliments that there's nothin' doin'. A quid might 'ave been enough for a ordinary slop, but I'm a special sort o' slop and, like a special train, I 'as to be paid for. She can stump up a fiver or – "

The inspector looked nonplussed. He was not quite sure what authority he had over a special constable. A further whispered conversation followed, and eventually Lady Knob-Kerrick left the room and a few minutes later returned with five one-pound notes, which she handed to the inspector without a word, and he in turn passed them on to Bindle.

"Well," Bindle remarked, "I must be off. 'Ope you'll find your daughter, mum; and as for you, Dicky-Bird and Calves, we'll probably meet again. S'long." And he departed.

CHAPTER XIX
THE SCARLET HORSE COTERIE

One of the indirect results of Millie's romance was the foregathering each Friday night under the hospitable roof of the Scarlet Horse of a number of congenial and convivial spirits. It was Bindle's practice to spend the two hours during which Millie and Charlie Dixon were at the cinema in drinking a pint of beer at the Scarlet Horse, and exchanging ideas with anyone who showed himself conversationally inclined.

In time Bindle's friends and acquaintance got to know of this practice, and it became their custom to drop into "the 'Orse to 'ear ole Joe tell the tale."

Ginger would come over from Chiswick, Huggles from West Kensington, Wilkes from Hammersmith, and one man regularly made the journey from Tottenham Court Road.

At first they had met in the public bar, but later, through the diplomacy of Bindle, who had explained to the proprietor that "yer gets more thirsty in a little place than wot yer does in a big 'un, 'cause it's 'otter," they had been granted the use of a small room.

Sometimes the proprietor himself would join the company.

One September evening, having handed over Millie to her cavalier with strict injunctions to be outside the Cinema at ten sharp, Bindle turned his own steps towards the Scarlet Horse. As he entered he was greeted with that cordiality to which he had become accustomed. Calling for a pint of beer, he seated himself beside a rough-looking labourer known as "Ruddy" Bill, on account of the extreme picturesqueness and sustained directness of his language.



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