Bindle: Some Chapters in the Life of Joseph Bindle
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"That," remarked Bindle calmly, "would depend on 'ow long ago it was since 'is mind was cleaned."
"Anyhow, I won't have it." And Mr. Hearty drew himself up to his full height.
"Wot jer goin' to do then?" enquired Bindle with ominous calm.
Mr. Hearty was nonplussed. What was he going to do? What could he do? To gain time he asked a question.
"Does Elizabeth know about this?" he demanded.
"Not 'er," replied Bindle contemptuously. "She'd like to stop the birds a-matin', if she could." Suddenly he grinned. "An' there wouldn't be no lamb to go wi' your mint, 'Earty, if she 'ad 'er way."
"I won't have it," fumed Mr. Hearty again. "I've been very patient, but – but – I won't have it."
"Yer can't stop a runaway 'orse with a notice-board," remarked Bindle with unconscious philosophy.
"I'll thank you not to interfere in my affairs, Joseph. As I say, I've been very patient and, and – " Mr. Hearty, whose face was deathly white, broke off. "If," he continued, "if this – er – fellow has ruined Millie, it's your fault."
Bindle made a movement towards his brother-in-law; his hand was raised and there was murder smouldering in his eyes, when something seemed to rush between them. Both men fell back a step and Mr. Hearty found himself looking into a pair of blazing eyes that he failed to recognise as those of his daughter.
"How dare you, father!" she panted, her young breast heaving, her face flaming, and her eyes burning with suppressed fury. Bindle regarded her with amazement and awe.
"How dare you say that of Charlie and me? I hope God will punish you for it. You have always made me unhappy. You have never allowed me the pleasures other girls have. If it hadn't been for mother I should have run away long ago. It is fathers like you that make girls bad. I won't have you blame Uncle Joe. I – I wish he was my father."
Mr. Hearty watched her as if fascinated. Her tempest of passion had overwhelmed him. Bindle looked from Hearty to Mrs. Hearty, who was sitting crying softly and comfortably to herself.
Millie looked round her in a dazed way, then produced from somewhere a handkerchief, with which she proceeded to wipe her eyes. With great deliberation she walked over to where her hat and jacket lay upon a chair and proceeded to put them on.
"Millie, I forbid you to go out." Mr. Hearty was making a last despairing effort.
Millie flashed a look of scorn at him.
"I am going away," she said quietly; "and I will never speak to you again until you take back those words."
Bindle looked from father to daughter. He felt helpless, as if he were the onlooker at some impending tragedy which he was powerless to avert.
"You are not of age, Millie, and you must obey your father." There was a more persuasive note in Mr. Hearty's voice.
"I am going away, father," said Millie in the same colourless voice; "and if you try and prevent me – " She did not finish.
"Good-night, mother." Millie went over to her mother and kissed her tenderly.Mrs. Hearty continued to cry. She looked appealingly at Bindle, who nodded reassuringly.
"Look 'ere, 'Earty," whispered Bindle, "you're up agin' somethin' yer don't understand, I don't rightly understand it meself. Better let me take Millie 'ome to Lizzie, she'll look after 'er all right."
For a moment Mr. Hearty hesitated; then with a glance at Millie's resolute face, he said:
"Millie, your uncle will take you to your Aunt Elizabeth."
"That is where I was going, father," she replied quietly, and Mr. Hearty felt that he had been badly beaten, and by his own daughter, who, until this evening, he had always regarded as a child.
Millie leant heavily on Bindle's arm as they walked down the High Street. She did not notice that they were going in the opposite direction from the Bindles' house. Suddenly her eyes grew wide with wonder; coming towards them was Charlie Dixon, whose half-hour had been spent in torture.
She smiled up into his face wearily.
"Now, young feller," said Bindle with forced cheerfulness, "don't arst questions. Millie's comin' 'ome wi' me. It'll be all right, but," and he whispered to Charlie Dixon, "it's been – " Bindle completed his sentence with a look. "Now then, Millikins, say good-night to Charlie an' we'll be off."
Like a tired child she lifted her face to be kissed, a flicker of a smile playing round her moist lips.
"Good-night, Charlie," she whispered. "I'm so tired."
"I shall always be grateful, Mr. Bindle," said Charlie Dixon, grasping Bindle's hand.
"Leggo, you young fool," yelled Bindle. Charlie Dixon dropped his hand as if it had been electrified. "Next time you're grateful," remarked Bindle, as he ruefully examined his hand, "you put it down on paper; it won't 'urt so much."
And they parted.
"That you, Bindle?" Bindle recognised the familiar tones as he groped along the passage of his house with Millie.
Mrs. Bindle looked up from the supper table as they entered the kitchen.
"I brought Millie 'ome, Lizzie," said Bindle simply. "There's been trouble. 'Earty's gone mad. I'll tell yer all about it later."
One look told Mrs. Bindle everything she wanted to know. All the baulked motherhood in her nature rose up as she took the girl in her arms, and led her upstairs.
Bindle sat down to his supper. Several times Mrs. Bindle entered the room to fetch various things, but no word passed between them. Bindle had been taken by surprise. He would have been even more surprised had he seen the expression on Mrs. Bindle's face as she coaxed and crooned over the girl lying on the bed upstairs.
When she finally returned to the kitchen, Bindle, his supper finished, had made up his mind to a great sacrifice. For a few seconds they stood regarding each other. It was Bindle who broke the silence.
"Lizzie," he said awkwardly, "I'll go to chapel on Sunday if you like."
And then for no reason at all Mrs. Bindle sat down at the table, buried her face in her arms and sobbed convulsively.
"I wonder wot I done now," muttered Bindle, as he regarded Mrs. Bindle's heaving shoulders with a puzzled expression on his face. "Funny things, women."