Herbert Jenkins.

Bindle: Some Chapters in the Life of Joseph Bindle



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He saw many things: fame, fortune, a motor-car, and, in the far distance, the realisation of his great ambition, a scientific career. In a way he was a little sorry for the burglar, the instrument of fate.

Throwing off his overcoat and removing his slippers, the Professor switched off the light, got into bed, and was soon asleep.

CHAPTER III
THE HYPNOTIC FIASCO

I

Whilst Professor Conti was building elaborate castles in the air, Bindle with tense caution crept down the three flights of stairs that led to the street.

Everything was quiet and dark. As he softly closed the outer door behind him he heard a clock striking three. Swiftly he removed the bandages that swathed his head, tucked them in his pockets and stepped out briskly.

He wanted to think, but above all he wanted food and drink.

As a precaution against the attentions of the police he began to whistle loudly. None, he argued, would suspect of being a burglar a man who was whistling at the stretch of his power. Once he stopped dead and laughed.

"Joe Bindle," he remarked, "you been burglin', and you're mesmerised, an' you're goin' to give yerself up to the police, an' don't you forget it, as it might 'urt the Professor's feelings."

He slapped his knee, laughed again, recommenced whistling, and continued on his way.

Occasionally his hand would wander in the direction of the left-hand pocket of his coat, when, feeling the Professor's watch and chain and the note to the police, his face would irradiate joy.

He must think, however. He could not continue walking and whistling for ever. He must think; and with Bindle to think it was necessary that he should remain still. This he dare not do for fear of arousing suspicion.

Once in turning a corner suddenly he almost collided with a policeman.

"Tryin' to wake the whole place?" enquired the policeman. "Where are you goin', makin' such a row about it?"

"To 'ell, same as you, ole sport," responded Bindle cheerfully. "Goo'-night! See yer later!"

The policeman grumbled something and passed on. Presently Bindle saw the lights of a coffee-stall, towards which he walked briskly. Over two sausages and some bacon he reviewed the situation, chaffed the proprietor, and treated to a meal the bedraggled remnants of what had once been a woman, whom he found hovering hungrily about the stall.

When he eventually said "Good-mornin'" to his host and guest, he had worked out his plan of campaign.

He walked in the direction of the police-station, having first resumed his bandages. Day was beginning to break. Seeing a man approaching him, he quickened his pace to a run. As he came within a few yards of the man, who appeared to be of the labourer class, he slackened his pace, then stopped abruptly.

"Where's the police-station, mate?" he enquired, panting as if with great exertion.

"The police-station?" repeated the man curiously.

"Straight up the road, then third or fourth to the right, then – "

"Is it miles?" panted Bindle.

"'Bout quarter of a mile, not more. What's up, mate?" the man enquired. "Been 'urt?"

"Quarter of a mile, and 'im bleedin' to death! I got to fetch a doctor," Bindle continued. Then, as if with sudden inspiration, he thrust Professor Conti's letter into the astonished man's hands.

"In the name of the law I order yer to take this letter to the police-station. I'll go for a doctor. Quick – it's burglary and murder! 'Ere's a bob for yer trouble."

With that, Bindle sped back the way he had come, praying that no policeman might see him and give chase.

The workman stood looking stupidly from the letter and the shilling in his hand to the retreating form of Bindle. After a moment's hesitation he pocketed the coin, and with a grumble in his throat and the fear of the Law in his heart, he turned and slowly made his way to the police-station.

II

When Professor Conti awoke on the morning of the burglary, he was horrified to find, from the medley of sounds without, produced by hooters and bells, that it was half-past eight.

Jumping quickly out of bed, he shaved, washed, and dressed with great expedition, and before nine was in a telephone call-box ringing up the police. On learning that his note had been duly delivered, he smiled his satisfaction into the telephone mouthpiece.

Fortunately he was known to the sergeant who answered him, having recently given his services at an entertainment organised by the local police. After some difficulty he arranged that the charge should be taken through the telephone, although a most irregular proceeding.

"He's givin' us a lot of trouble, sir. Talks of having been given the note, and about a burglary and attempted murder," volunteered the sergeant.

"Ha, ha, ha!" laughed the Professor.

"Ha, ha, ha!" echoed the sergeant, and they rang off.

In spite of his laugh, the Professor was a little puzzled by the sergeant's words. The man should still be under control. However, he reasoned, the fellow was caught, and he had other and more important things to occupy his mind. Hailing a passing taxi, he drove to the offices of The Evening Mail. Sending up his card with the words IMPORTANT NEWS written upon it, he gained immediate access to the news-editor.

Within ten minutes the story of the hypnotised burglar was being dictated by the editor himself to relays of shorthand writers. The police had, on the telephone, confirmed the story of a man having given himself up, and the whole adventure was, in the argot of Fleet Street, "hot stuff."

By half-past eleven the papers were selling in the streets, and the Professor was on his way to the police-court. He had been told the case would not come on before twelve. As his taxi threaded its way jerkily westward, he caught glimpses of the placards of the noon edition of The Evening Mail, bearing such sensational lines as:

MESMERISM EXTRAORDINARY
AN AMAZING CAPTURE
ALLEGED BURGLAR HYPNOTISED

He smiled pleasantly as he pictured his reception that evening, as an extra turn, at one of the big music-halls.

He fell to speculating as to how much he should demand, and to which manager he should offer his services. "The Napoleon of Mesmerists," was the title he had decided to adopt. Again the Professor smiled amiably as he thought of the column of description with headlines in The Evening Mail. He had indeed achieved success.

III

The drowsy atmosphere of the West London Police Court oppressed even the prisoners. They came, heard, and departed; protagonists for a few minutes in a drama, then oblivion. The magistrate was cross, the clerk husky, and the police anxiously deferential, for one of their number had that morning been severely censured for being unable to discriminate between the effects upon the human frame of laudanum and whisky.

Nobody was interested – there was nothing in which to be interested – and there was less oxygen than usual in the court, the magistrate had a cold. It was a miserable business, this detection and punishing of crime.

"Twenty shillings costs, seven days," snuffled the presiding genius.

A piece of human flotsam faced about and disappeared.

Another name was called. The sergeant in charge of the new case cleared his throat. The magistrate lifted his handkerchief to his nose, the clerk removed his spectacles to wipe them, when something bounded into the dock, drawing up two other somethings behind it.

The magistrate paused, his handkerchief held to his nose, the clerk dropped his spectacles, the three reporters became eagerly alert – in short, the whole court awakened simultaneously from its apathy to the knowledge that this was a dramatic moment.

In the dock stood a medium-sized man with nondescript features, a thin black moustache, iron-grey hair, and dishevelled clothing. Each side of him stood a constable gripping an arm – they were the somethings that had followed him into the dock.

For a moment the prisoner, who seemed to radiate indignation, looked about him, his breath coming in short, passionate sobs.

The clerk stooped to pick up his glasses, the magistrate blew his nose violently to gain time, the reporters prepared to take notes. Then the storm burst.

"You shall pay for this, all of you!" shouted the man in the dock, jerking his head forward to emphasise his words, his arms being firmly held straight to his sides. "Me a burglar – me?" he sobbed.

"Silence in the court!" droned the clerk, who, having found his glasses, now began to read the charge-sheet, detailing how the prisoner had burglariously entered No. 13 Audrey Mansions, Queen's Club, in the early hours of that morning. He was accustomed and indifferent to passionate protests from the dock.

The prisoner breathed heavily. The clerk was detailing how the prisoner had awakened the occupant of the premises by lifting his gold watch from the table beside the bed. At this juncture the prisoner burst out again:

"It's a lie, it's a lie, an' you all know it! It's a plot! I'm – I'm – " He became inarticulate, sobs of impotent rage shaking his whole body, and the tears streaming down his face.

At that moment Professor Sylvanus Conti entered the court, smiling and alert. He looked quickly towards the dock to see if his case had come on, and was relieved to find that his last night's visitor was not there. He had feared being late.

The magistrate cleared his throat and addressed the prisoner:

"You are harming your case by this exhibition. If a mistake has been made you have nothing to fear; but if you continue these interruptions I shall have to send you back to the cells whilst your case is heard."

Turning to the officer in charge of the case, he enquired:

"Is the prosecutor present?"

The sergeant looked round, and, seeing Professor Conti, replied that he was.

"Let him be sworn," ordered the magistrate.

To his astonishment, Professor Conti heard his name called. Thoroughly bewildered, he walked in the direction in which people seemed to expect him to walk. He took the oath, with his eyes fixed, as if he were fascinated, upon the pathetic figure in the dock. Suddenly he became aware that the man was addressing him.

"Did I do it? – did I?" he asked brokenly.

"Silence in the court!" called the clerk.

Suddenly the full horror of the situation dawned upon the Professor. He broke out into a cold sweat as he stood petrified in the witness-box. Somehow or other his plan had miscarried. He looked round him. Instinctively he thought of flight. He felt that he was the culprit, the passionate, eager creature in the dock his accuser.

"Am I the man?" he heard the prisoner persisting. "Am I?"

"N-no," he faltered in a voice he could have sworn was not his own.

"You say that the prisoner is not the man who entered your flat during the early hours of this morning?" questioned the magistrate.

"No, sir, he's not," replied Conti wearily, miserably. What had happened? Was he a failure?

"Please explain what happened," ordered the magistrate.

Conti did so. He told how he had been awakened, and how he conceived the idea of hypnotising the burglar and making him give himself up to the police.

The prisoner was then sworn and related how he had been commanded in the name of the law to deliver the note at the police-station; how he had done so, and had been promptly arrested; how he had protested his innocence, but without result.

The Professor listened to the story in amazement, and to the subsequent remarks of the magistrate upon quack practices and police methods with dull resignation.

He did not, however, realise the full horror of the catastrophe that had befallen him until five minutes after leaving the court, when he encountered a newsvendor displaying a placard of The Evening Mail bearing the words:

PROFESSOR CONTI'S GREAT HYPNOTIC FEAT
CAPTURE OF AN ALLEGED BURGLAR

He then saw that he had lost his reputation, his belief in his own powers, his living, and about fifty pounds' worth of property.

When he reached his flat late in the afternoon, he was astonished to find awaiting him a small packet that had come by post, which contained the whole of the missing property, even down to the small change, also the two duplicate keys that Bindle had caused to be fashioned.

"I'm a bloomin' poor burglar," Bindle had assured himself cheerfully as he dropped the parcel containing the proceeds of his "burglary" into a pillar-box, "a-returnin' the swag by post. I got to be careful wot sort o' little jokes I goes in for in future."

IV

That evening Joseph Bindle sat at home in his favourite chair reading with great relish The Evening Post's account of THE GREAT HYPNOTIC FIASCO. Being at bitter enmity with The Evening Mail, the Post had given full rein to its sense of the ludicrous.

Puffing contentedly at a twopenny cigar, Bindle enjoyed to the full the story so ably presented; but nothing gave him so much pleasure as the magistrate's closing words. He read them for the fourth time:

"Professor Conti sought advertisement; he has got it. Unfortunately for him, he met a man cleverer than himself, one who is something of a humorist." Bindle smiled appreciatively. "The conduct of the police in this case is reprehensible to a degree, and they owe it to the public to bring the real culprit to justice."

With great deliberation Bindle removed his cigar from his mouth, placed the forefinger of his right hand to the side of his nose, and winked.

"Seem to be pleased with yourself," commented Mrs. Bindle acidly, as she banged a plate upon the table. To her, emphasis was the essence of existence.

"You've 'it it, Mrs. B., I am pleased wi' meself," Bindle replied. He felt impervious to any negative influence.

"What's happened, may I ask?"

"A lot o' things 'ave 'appened, an' a lot of things will go on 'appenin' as long as your ole man can take an 'int. You're a wonderful woman, Mrs. B., more wonderful than yer know; but yer must give 'em some nasty jars in 'eaven now and then."

Bindle rose, produced from his pocket the tin of salmon that inevitably accompanied any endeavour on his part to stand up to Mrs. Bindle, then picking up a jug from the dresser he went out to fetch the supper beer, striving at one and the same time to do justice to "Gospel Bells" and his cigar.

CHAPTER IV
THE HEARTYS AT HOME

The atmosphere of the Hearty m?nage was one of religious gloom. To Mr. Hearty laughter and a smiling face were the attributes of the ungodly. He never laughed himself, and his smile was merely the baring of a handful of irregular yellow teeth, an action that commenced and ended with such suddenness as to cast some doubt upon its spontaneity.

He possessed only two interests in life – business and the chapel, and one dread – his wife's brother-in-law, Joseph Bindle. As business was not a thing he cared to discuss with his wife or eighteen-year-old daughter, Millie, the one topic of conversation left was the chapel.

Mr. Hearty was a spare man of medium height, with a heavy moustache, iron-grey mutton-chop whiskers, and a woolly voice.

"I never see a chap wi' whiskers like that wot wasn't as 'oly as oil," was Bindle's opinion.

Mr. Hearty was negative in everything save piety. His ideal in life was to temporise and placate, and thus avoid anything in the nature of a dispute or altercation.

"If 'Earty's goin' to be a favourite in 'eaven," Bindle had once said to Mrs. Bindle, "I don't think much of 'eaven's taste in men. 'E can't 'it nothink, either with 'is fist or 'is tongue."

"If you was more like him," Mrs. Bindle had retorted, "you might wear a top hat on Sundays, same as he does."

"Me in a top 'at!" Bindle had cried. "'Oly Moses! I can see it! Why, my ears ain't big enough to 'old it up. Wot 'ud I do if there was an 'igh wind blowin'? I'd spend all Sunday a-chasin' it up and down the street, like an ole woman after a black 'en."

Bindle himself was far from being pugnacious; but his conception of manhood was that it should be ready to hit any head that wanted hitting. He had been known to fight men much bigger than himself, not because he personally had any dispute to settle with them, but rather from an abstract sense of the fitness of things. Once when a man was mercilessly beating a horse Bindle intervened, and a fight had ensued, which had ended only when both parties were too exhausted to continue.

"Blimey, but you ain't 'arf a fool, Joe," remarked Ginger, to whom a fight was the one joy in life, regarding with interest Bindle's bruised and bleeding face as he stood sobbing for breath. "Wot jer do it for? 'E wasn't 'urtin' you; it was the 'orse."

"Somebody 'ad to 'ammer 'im, Ginger," gasped Bindle with a wry smile, "an' the 'orse couldn't." Then after a pause he added, "It ain't good for a cove to be let 'it things wot can't 'it back."

Meals at the Heartys' table were solemn affairs in which conversation had little or no part, save when Bindle was present.

Mr. Hearty ate his food with noisy enjoyment. His moustache, which seemed bent on peeping into his mouth and, coupled with his lugubrious appearance, gave him the appearance of a tired walrus, required constant attention, particularly as he was extremely fond of soups and stewed foods. This rendered conversation extremely difficult. During the greater part of a meal he would be engaged in taking first one end and then the other of his moustache into his mouth for the purpose of cleansing it. This he did to the accompaniment of a prolonged sucking sound, suggestive of great enjoyment.

"I likes to watch 'Earty cleanin' 'is whiskers," Bindle had once remarked, after gazing at his brother-in-law for some minutes with great intentness. "'E never misses an 'air."

Mr. Hearty had got very red, and for the rest of the meal refused all but solid foods.

Bindle was a perpetual source of anxiety to Mr. Hearty, who, although always prepared for the worst, yet invariably found that the worst transcended his expectations. Had he not been a Christian he might have suggested cutting himself and family adrift from all association with his brother-in-law. Even had he been able to overcome his scruples, there was the very obvious bond of affection between Mrs. Hearty, Millie, and "Uncle Joe": but, what was more alarming, there was the question of how Bindle himself might view the severance.

Mrs. Hearty was a woman on whom fat had descended like a plague. It rendered her helpless of anything in the nature of exertion. In her Bindle found a kindred spirit. Her silent laugh, which rippled down her chins until lost to sight in her ample bust, never failed to inspire him to his best efforts. He would tell her of his "little jokes" until Millie would have to intervene with a timid:

"Oh, uncle, don't! You're hurting mother!"

Great amusement rendered Mrs. Hearty entirely helpless, both of action and of speech, and to her laughter was something between an anguish and an ecstasy.

She was quite conscious of the stimulating effect upon Bindle of her "Oh, Joe, don't!" yet never hesitated to utter what she knew would eventually reduce her to a rippling and heaving mass of mirth.

She was Bindle's confidante, and seemed to find in the accounts of his adventures compensation for the atmosphere of repression in which she lived. In her heart she regretted that her husband had not been a furniture-remover instead of a greengrocer; for it seemed to produce endless diversions.

Little Millie would sit on a stool at her mother's feet drinking in Uncle Joe's stories, uttering an occasional half-laughing, half-reproachful, "Oh, Uncle Joe!"

If Mrs. Hearty had a weakness for Bindle's stories, Mrs. Bindle found in Alfred Hearty her ideal of what a man should be. When a girl she had been called upon to choose between Alfred Hearty, then a greengrocer's assistant, and Joseph Bindle, and she never quite forgave herself for having taken the wrong man.

In those days Bindle's winning tongue had left Alfred Hearty without even a sporting chance. To Mrs. Bindle her mistaken choice was the canker-worm in her heart, and it was not a little responsible for her uncompromising attitude towards Bindle.

In a moment of pride at his conquest Bindle had said to Hearty:

"It's no good goin' after a woman wi' one eye on the golden gates of 'eaven, 'Earty, and that's why I won."

Since then Bindle had resented Hearty's apathetic courtship, which had brought about his own victory. Many times Bindle had thought over the folly of his wooing, and he always came to the same conclusion, a muttered:

"If 'e 'ad 'ad a little more ginger 'e might 'ave won. They'd 'ave made a tasty pair."

The result had been that Mrs. Bindle's sister, Martha, had caught Mr. Hearty at the rebound, and had since regretted it as much as she ever regretted anything.

"When you're my size," she would say, "you don' trouble much about anything. It's the lean ones as worries. Look at Lizzie." Lizzie was Mrs. Bindle.

Mrs. Bindle herself had been very different as a girl. Theatres and music-halls were not then "places of sin"; and she was not altogether above suspicion of being a flirt. When it dawned upon her that she had made a mistake in marrying Bindle and letting her sister Martha secure the matrimonial prize, a great bitterness had taken possession of her.



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