Herbert Jenkins.

Bindle: Some Chapters in the Life of Joseph Bindle



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On Bindle's arrival Bill had been delivering himself of an opinion, accompanied by a string of explicatory oaths and obscenities that obviously embarrassed his hearers, rough though they were. Waiting his opportunity, Bindle presently remarked quite casually:

"Words such as 'damn' and ''ell,' like beer and tobacco, was sent to sort of 'elp us along, 'specially them wot is married. Where'd I be wi' Mrs. B. if I 'adn't 'ell an' a few other things to fall back on? No!" he continued after a moment's pause, "I don't 'old wi' swearin'." He turned and looked at Ruddy Bill as if seeking confirmation of his view.

"'Oo the blinkin' 'ell arst wot you 'old wiv?" demanded Bill truculently, and with much adornment of language.

Bindle proceeded deliberately to light his pipe as if he had not heard the question; then, when it was drawing to his entire satisfaction, he raised his eyes and gazed at Bill over the lighted match.

"No one, ole sport. Yer always gets the good things for nothink, like twins an' lodgers."

Bill resented the laugh that greeted Bindle's reply, and proceeded to pour forth his views on those given to "shovin' in their decorated snouts."

When he had exhausted his eloquence Bindle remarked good-humouredly.

"It 'ud take a bucketful of carbolic an' a damn big brush to clean the dirty words out o' your mouth, Sweet William."

Bill growled out further obscenities.

"I ain't religious," continued Bindle, "I don't suppose none of us is. I don't seem to see 'Uggles wi' wings, and Ginger ain't exactly fitted for sittin' on a cloud a-pullin' 'arp strings; but if yer want to come 'ere an' listen to my talk and Wilkes's cough, Sweet William, you got to clean up that talk o' yours a bit. Ain't that so, mates?"

The rest of the company made it abundantly clear that Bindle had expressed its sentiments, and Ruddy Bill subsided into sotto voce blasphemies.

During these Friday nights at the Scarlet Horse, many subjects came up for discussion; marriage, politics, religion were dealt with in turn, but it was impossible to keep the talk away from the War, to which time after time it returned with the same persistency that the needle of the compass flutters back to the north.

"I'd sooner be like 'Earty than a German," Bindle once remarked with decision. "If they'd only come over 'ere I'd get a smack at 'em, spite of me various veins."

His forced inaction was to Bindle a tragedy of which he seldom spoke; but when he did it was generally to the point, and more than one man enlisted as a direct result of Bindle's views on the war.

For "the slacker" he had one question. "You got various veins?" he would enquire; and on hearing that the man had not, he would say, "Then yer got to join."

To those who suggested that he himself should enlist, he made only one reply, "You get me in the army, ole sport, an' I'll give yer anythink I got. Gawd strike me dead if I won't." And impressed by Bindle's earnestness, almost without exception, the questioner had the grace to feel ashamed of himself.

One man had cast some doubt upon the genuineness of Bindle's refusal by the authorities.

"Come along, then," yelled Bindle in a passion; "come along an' see." And seizing the astonished man by the arm he marched him round to the nearest recruiting station, followed by those who had heard the challenge.

Before the sceptic had recovered his self-possession he found himself a soldier and Bindle once more convicted of "various veins."

"Well, Ginger," remarked Bindle pleasantly, after the pause that followed Ruddy Bill's discomfiture, "wot 'ave yer been doin' that yer can talk about without 'urtin' Sweet William's ears. Any noos?"

"I been an' joined," grumbled Ginger, as if he had committed one of the Seven Deadly Sins.

"Ginger," said Bindle approvingly, "the next pint yer 'as yer drinks wi' me, see?" After a pause Bindle continued, "Now yer got to kill three Germans, Ginger, as a sort of apology for 'avin' three babies. That'll square things."

"I don't want to kill Germans," growled Ginger.

"Then why did yer do it?" asked Wilkes.

"It's all through that rosy song. Blimey! I get fair sick of it."

Bindle laughed joyously.

"I thought you was goin' to 'ammer the next cove as said it, Ging. Why didn't yer?" he remarked.

"I couldn't 'ammer the 'ole yard, could I? They used to sing it every time I come in, so I 'listed."

There was a general laugh at this.

"Well, Ginger, you been an' done the right thing. 'Uggles may laugh, Wilkes may show that 'e ain't got no teeth, and Bill may pump up dirty words, but you done right. I wish," he added reflectively, "I 'adn't various veins. I'd look tasty in khaki a-tryin' to keep 'Uggles from runnin' away. 'Ow about you, Weary?" The last remark was addressed to a heavy-looking man who seemed half-asleep.

"I'm goin' to wait an' see," the man replied, with a strange movement of his lips, which his intimates were able to recognise as a smile.

"You're one of them bloomin' wait-an'-see radicals. One o' these days they'll see things wot they won't wait for."

"If yer wait an' see," remarked Wilkes, "yer don't get married, an' that saves a lot of trouble." He trailed off into a cough. Wilkes was always coughing.

"Yes," said Bindle reflectively; "it also saves yer explainin' 'ow it 'appened. I'm glad you woke up, Wilkie.

"Marriage is a funny thing," continued Bindle, meditatively filling his pipe. "I seen it quite change men, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse, sometimes neither one thing nor the other. There was a mate o' mine wot got married and it ruined 'im.

"'E was a rare sport; used to back 'orses and wink at women and get drunk; yes, 'e used to do everythink wot a decent man ought to do. Then he took up with a gal an' married 'er, an' she started a-dressin' 'im up so that all 'is mates used to laugh when they met 'im.

"Last time I saw 'im 'e was wearing a white weskit, a black coat, and a pale-blue tie and top 'at. 'E saw me comin' and tried to look the other way, but I crossed over, and takin' off me cap bowed to 'em both, and 'e raised 'is 'at, and then I watched 'im after 'e'd passed, and 'e couldn't get it on right again. 'E fidgeted about with the bloomin' thing until 'e was out o' sight. No, yer 'as to be born to a top 'at, just as yer 'ave to be born to an 'ump, like a camel."

"Women ain't wot they was." The remark came from a small man with grey side-whiskers who, as soon as he had spoken and attracted to himself the attention of the company, fidgeted as if he regretted his temerity.

"Wot jer know about the ornamental Jezebels?" Ruddy Bill struck in.

"'Ullo! you woke up too, Sweet William?" grinned Bindle. "You're right, Tom Cave," he continued, turning to the man who had spoken. "They ain't, an' it's all through the fashions."

"'Ow's that? Fashions don't make women, it's them as makes the fashions," ventured Huggles.

"Fashions is funny things, 'Uggles. When I was a boy women was a bit shy about their ankles, an' now they sort o' takes a pride in 'em. I given up goin' in toobes," Bindle added with a grin. "I get 'ot all over. Them short skirts, oh! naughty! naughty!" And he put his fingers before his eyes.

"It's women everywhere now. They're on buses, drivin' vans, shovin' barrers – yer can't get away from 'em," said Wilkes resentfully.

"That's all right for you, Wilkie, saves yer lookin' for trouble, ole son," said Bindle. "'Ope they 'aven't been chasin' yer too much, Charlie; you ain't no sprinter."

"Wot's the war about, that's wot I want to know? Why are we fightin' the Germans?" Ginger broke in irrelevantly, looking round him aggressively as if for someone to attack.

No one seemed desirous of answering Ginger's question. All looked instinctively towards Bindle, who, to gain time, began filling his pipe with great care and deliberation.

"You got war on the brain, Ginger," remarked Ruddy Bill.

"Wot's the war about, Joe?" asked Wilkes.

"About the silliest thing I ever 'eard of," said Bindle. "Everybody says they wanted peace, on'y they was attacked. As far as I can see, Germany wanted wot she calls a place in the sun; she was sort o' gettin' chilly in the shade, so she says to the Alleys, 'Sun or blazes, the choice is wi' you, mates,' an' the Alleys says, 'Blazes it is, ole sport,' an' starts a-firin' back, an' that's 'ow it all come about."

"Why don't they arbitrate?" enquired the little man with the grey whiskers.

Bindle looked at him pitifully. "Cave, yer surprise me. If 'Uggles 'ere wanted your trousers and started a-pullin' away at the legs, would yer say, 'We'll arbitrate'? No, yer'd fetch 'im one on the jaw."

"Wot's arbitration?" demanded Ruddy Bill.

"Arbitration, Sweet William, is somethin' you're always advisin' other people to do, but never does yerself. Now, if you an' Ginger both wanted to stand me my next pint, an' was goin' to fight about it, someone might say 'arbitrate' – that is to say, let another cove decide wot 'adn't no interest in the matter, an' p'r'aps he'd get the beer."

"Then why don't they arbitrate instead of blowin' each other to bits?" demanded a whiskered man known as Ted.

"Because war comes about by someone wantin' wot ain't 'is," replied Bindle oracularly. "Wot 'ud you say if I said I wanted yer watch?"

"I'd see yer to blinkin' nowhere, fust," was the reply.

"Well, that's jest wot the gents say wot we votes for, on'y they says it prettier than wot you can, ole son." Bindle grinned contentedly at his exposition of international ethics.

"We're fightin' just because Germany went for Belgium," remarked a heavy-bearded man who had not previously spoken. "It ain't our scrap, an' we been let in for it by a lot o' stutterin' toffs wot us workin'-men sends to Parliament. It makes me fair sick, an' beer goin' up like 'ell."

There was a murmur that showed the man had voiced the general opinion of the room.

"Wot jer got to say to that, Joe?" demanded Ruddy Bill aggressively.

"I got a good deal to say to it, Sweet William," remarked Bindle, removing his pipe from his mouth and speaking with great deliberation. "I got quite a lot to say. Supposin' I see a couple of big chaps a-'ammerin' your missis an' kickin' yer kids about, an' I says, 'It ain't nothink to do wi' me,' an' takes no notice. Would any of yer ever want to speak to me again?"

Bindle looked round him enquiringly, but there was no reply.

"Well, that's wot Germany's done to Belgium an' the other place, an' that's why we chipped in. Look 'ere, mates, if any of yer thinks yer can live thinkin' only o' yerselves, yer mistaken. We got a fine ole country and a good king, an' we can tell a archbishop to go to 'ell if we want to wi'out gettin' pinched for it; an' when yer got all them things – an' there ain't no other country wot 'as – then it's worth 'avin' a scrap now an' then to keep 'em."

"But we should 'ave 'ad 'em all the same; Germany didn't want to fight us," protested the whiskered man.

"Ain't you a silly ole 'uggins! an' you wi' all that 'air on yer face ought to be a man. The Germans 'ud 'ave come for us next, when they'd beaten the others. Besides, yer don't always fight for beer an' baccy; sometimes yer does it because somethink's bein' 'urt wot can't 'it back. Got it, Whiskers?"

The man addressed as Whiskers subsided, finding that opinion had veered round to Bindle's point of view.

"An' when's it goin' to end?" enquired Huggles in an aggrieved tone.

"It'll end, my lovely 'Uggles, jest as soon as a fight 'tween you an' me 'ud end – when one of us 'ad 'ad enough."

"That's goin' to be the Germans," almost shouted Ginger.

"Well, up to this evenin' I wasn't sure, Ginger, but now I 'ear you're a-goin', o' course I'm puttin' me money on the ole lion."

"I don't 'old wi' war," grumbled Ginger. "S' 'elp me if I do."

"Well, mates," Bindle remarked, as he rose to go, the hands of the clock on the mantelpiece pointing to ten minutes to ten, "I'm due at the War Office, an' they don't like to be kep' waitin'. Lord! 'ow the Kayser must 'ate me! So long." And he set out to meet and escort Millie home.

CHAPTER XX
MILLIE LEAVES HOME

Bindle's visits to "the pictures" with Millie had become a weekly institution. Mr. Hearty had made several tentative attempts to interfere. He had mentioned more than once the evil influence of the cinema, and had called attention to paragraphs in the newspapers and the remarks of magistrates in support of his view. Bindle had, however, been firm, inspired by the fear and appeal he saw in Millie's eyes.

"Look 'ere, 'Earty," he would say, "I'm an ole warrior. You an' my Little Rosebud at 'ome 'ave 'elped me, an' there ain't a known sin that I can't dodge. Millie's all right wi' me. When they kiss I 'olds me 'at over 'er eyes."

Millie would blush, and Mr. Hearty, who was never equal to Bindle's persistent good-humour and racy speech, would allow the matter to drop.

A great change had come over Millie. She was gayer and brighter, her laugh was more frequently heard, and she seemed to be developing opinions of her own. In her dress she was more extravagant, although always neat and refined.

Mr. Hearty became conscious of the change. His eyes were often upon his daughter, and his slow-moving brain at work seeking for some explanation of this new phenomenon.

Had he been told of the happiness that had come into her life, he would have been unable to understand it working so great a change. He would also have disapproved, for to his narrow faith any happiness that sprang from association of the opposite sexes, however innocent, was the happiness of sin.

In a passive way Mrs. Hearty also had noticed the change. She had even gone to the length of remarking upon it to Bindle.

"She's growin' into a woman, Martha," had been Bindle's diagnosis; "an' an uncommon pretty woman, too. I s'pose she gets it from 'Earty," he added, whereat Mrs. Hearty had subsided into waves of mirth.

At first Bindle had been in some doubt as to the wisdom of his action in encouraging the romance between the young lovers; but as it progressed and he saw their devotion and Millie's happiness, all scruples vanished.

"I may be a silly ole fool," he muttered to himself one night as he left the radiant Milly at her door, "but I'm 'elpin' them two kids to be 'appy, an' after all, 'appiness is the thing wot matters. If yer can get it through lookin' into a gal's eyes, it's better'n gettin' it through lookin' into a beer-glass. I'd sooner be 'appy than drunk any day."

Unconsciously Bindle had stumbled upon a great truth.

At first Millie's "evenin' out," as Bindle called it, was spent at a local cinema, Bindle conveniently disappearing until ten o'clock, when he would take Millie home. Later, however, walks and rides on omnibuses took the place of "the pictures" in the evening's entertainment.

Several times Millie and Charlie Dixon begged Bindle to accompany them, but he had always resolutely refused.

"Look 'ere, young feller, yer wouldn't 'ave a look in wi' Millie if I was there. Ain't that so, Millikins?" And Millie would hang on to Bindle's arm with both hands and give a little jump of joy.

One evening when Bindle arrived at the cinema at a few minutes to ten, he saw Charlie Dixon there alone, obviously in a state of great excitement.

"'Ullo, Charlie!" said Bindle, "wot's up? Where's Millikins?" There was alarm in Bindle's voice.

"We met Mr. Hearty in Putney High Street and he's taken her home. I don't know what to do. I'm – "

Bindle whistled. "'Oly Angels, 'ere's a go," he exclaimed. "'Ere, come along, young feller, we mustn't stop a-jawin' 'ere." Hurriedly they left the cinema together.

"'Ow long ago was this?" enquired Bindle, as they hurried along in the direction of Fulham High Street.

"About ten minutes. What shall we do?" Charlie Dixon's voice shook with anxiety.

"Well," said Bindle, "yer'd better go 'ome. I'm goin' to 'ave it out with 'Earty." There was a grim note in Bindle's voice. "I ain't a-goin' to leave our little Millikins to 'im."

Charlie Dixon felt that at that moment he could have hugged Bindle. All he could do was to grip his arm. His voice had deserted him.

"'E learnt that from Millikins," murmured Bindle to himself as they sped along. Outside the Grand Theatre they parted, Charlie Dixon vowing that he would wait there until Bindle came to him.

"There's goin' to be an 'ell of a row," muttered Bindle, as he rang the Heartys' bell.

He was admitted by a tearful Mrs. Hearty.

"Oh, Joe, I'm so glad," she wheezed. "Go up; I'll – "

Bindle raced up the stairs to the Heartys' sitting-room. As he opened the door Mr. Hearty was standing by the mantelpiece, his face white and set and his lips slightly drawn from his discoloured teeth. Facing him stood Millie, with flushed face and rebellious eyes. At the sight of Bindle she uttered a cry and ran to him, threw her arms round his neck, choking with sobs.

Bindle soothed her as if she had been a child.

"Oh, don't leave me, Uncle Joe, promise, promise!" She looked at Bindle with fear in her eyes. "Promise, darling Uncle Joe."

"I won't leave the little Millikins," said Bindle reassuringly. "I won't leave yer until yer say I can go, see?"

Disengaging Millie's arms from his neck, Bindle placed her gently on the sofa, and Mrs. Hearty, who had just entered the room breathing laboriously, sat down beside the half-fainting girl, looking at her helplessly.

"Don't cry, Millie dear," Mrs. Hearty wheezed, although there were no signs of tears, as she stroked one of Millie's hands.

All this time Mr. Hearty had been looking on in a dazed way, conscious that the control of the situation was slipping from his grasp. He was roused by Bindle's voice.

"Now then, 'Earty, wot the 'ell do yer mean by this?"

It was a new Bindle that Mr. Hearty saw before him. The humorous twist had gone from his mouth, the light of fun was no longer in his eyes. Mr. Hearty saw a stern, resolute man who was demanding of him an explanation.

During the last quarter of an hour he had pictured a scene vastly different from this. He was to be the outraged father indignantly demanding an explanation from a crestfallen and humbled Bindle. Through his mind there had passed the thought that the enemy had been delivered into his hands. He had felt like a righteous and triumphant Israel; and now everything had turned out so differently.

"Ain't you got nothink to say?" Mr. Hearty was awakened from his meditation by Bindle's angry enquiry. Even Mrs. Hearty looked up, mildly surprised at the unaccustomed note in Bindle's voice.

"I have a lot to say," replied Mr. Hearty with an obvious effort, "and I want an explanation from you, Joseph." Instinctively Mr. Hearty felt that his tone was too mild for that of the outraged father, and he added in what he meant to be a stern voice, "and I – I demand an explanation before you leave this house to-night."

"There ain't no fear o' my leavin' before yer want me to," replied Bindle grimly. "Don't you worry yer saintly soul about that, 'Earty. Now, what is it yer want to know?"

Mr. Hearty stroked his chin. "I – I – " How he disliked scenes! "I – I want to know why Millie was alone with a strange young man in Putney High Street this evening, when she was supposed to be with you?"

Mr. Hearty strove to be dignified and at the same time appropriately stern and uncompromising; but always with a dash of Christian forbearance.

"That all?" enquired Bindle contemptuously. "That won't take long. She was there 'cause she wants to be 'appy, wot she's got a right to be. If yer was a man, 'Earty, instead of an 'oly greengrocer, yer'd understan' wi'out tellin'. If yer was to listen to the 'ymns o' the birds instead o' them 'ungry-lookin' young women in the choir" (Mr. Hearty flushed) "yer'd know why Millie was wi' Charlie Dixon to-night.

"She wants love, 'Earty, an' she don't get it at 'ome. She wants 'appiness, an' you never even smile at 'er – not as that 'ud 'elp 'er much," he added, with a flash of the old Bindle. "Yer want to shove Gawd down 'er throat all the time, and it ain't the real Gawd 'oo was kind to children."

"She's my daughter and must obey me." There was determination in Mr. Hearty's voice. He felt he must assert his parental authority.

"Now, listen," said Bindle; and he proceeded to tell the whole story of Millie's romance and the part he had played in it. "Now, 'ave yer any think to complain about?" he enquired in conclusion.

"I forbid her ever to see him again," almost shouted Mr. Hearty. The story he had just listened to had roused him to anger. It had outraged his sense of the proprieties that his daughter should be walking the streets alone with a young man she had met casually in a train! That his own brother-in-law should be a party to such a disgraceful and sordid intrigue made matters worse. Being a religious man Mr. Hearty thought the worst.

He looked at Bindle. There was no suggestion of shame or contrition in his bearing.

"I will have no such goings-on in my family," fumed Mr. Hearty, "and in future I'll thank you, Joseph, not to interfere." Mr. Hearty's face was very set and hard. "What would Mr. Sopley say if he knew?"



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