Bindle: Some Chapters in the Life of Joseph Bindle
скачать книгу бесплатно
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.