Herbert Jenkins.

Bindle: Some Chapters in the Life of Joseph Bindle



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As Mr. Hearty slowly climbed the ladder towards success, Mrs. Bindle's thoughts went with him. He became her great interest in life. No wife or mother ever watched the progress of husband or son with keener interest or greater admiration than Mrs. Bindle watched that of her brother-in-law.

Gradually she began to make him her "pattern to live and to die." She joined the Alton Road Chapel, gave up all "carnal" amusements, and began a careful and elaborate preparation for the next world.

Bindle, as the unconscious cause of her humiliation – the supreme humiliation of a woman's life, marrying the wrong man – became also the victim of her dissatisfaction. He watched the change, marvelling at its cause, and with philosophic acceptance explaining it by telling himself that "women were funny things."

As a girl Mrs. Bindle had been pleasure-loving, some regarded her as somewhat flighty; and the course of gradual starvation of pleasure to which she subjected herself had embittered her whole nature. There was, however, no suggestion of sentiment in her attitude towards her brother-in-law. He was her standard by which she measured the failure of other men, Bindle in particular.

Like all women, she bowed the knee to success, and Alfred Hearty was the most successful man she had ever encountered. He had begun life on the tail-board of a parcels delivery van, he was now the owner of two flourishing greengrocer's shops, to say nothing of being regarded as one of Fulham's most worthy citizens.

From van-boy to a small greengrocer, he had risen to the important position of calling on customers to solicit orders, and here he had shown his first flash of genius. He had cultivated every housewife and maid-servant assiduously, never allowing them to buy anything he could not recommend. When eventually he started in business on his own account, he had carefully canvassed his late employer's customers, who, to a woman, went over to him.

"It was that 'oly smile of 'is wot done it," was Bindle's opinion.

When in the natural course of events his previous employer retired a bankrupt, it was taken as evidence of the supreme ability of the man who had taken from him his livelihood.

In the administration of his own business Alfred Hearty had shown his second flash of genius – he never allowed his own employ?s an opportunity of doing as he had done, but, by occasional personal calls upon his customers, managed to convey the idea that it was he who was entirely responsible for the proper execution of their orders. As a further precaution he constantly changed the rounds of his men, and thus safeguarded himself from any employ? playing Wellington to his Napoleon.

Occasionally on Sunday evenings Bindle and Mrs. Bindle would be invited to supper at the Heartys' in Fulham High Street, where they lived over their principal shop. Mr. Hearty and Mrs. Bindle would return after chapel with Millie; Bindle invariably arranged to arrive early in order to have a talk with Mrs.

Hearty, who did not go to chapel because her "breath was that bad."

"Funny thing, you and Lizzie bein' sisters; you seem to have got all the meat an' left 'er only the bones!" Bindle would say.

Bindle hated anything that was even remotely connected with lemons, a fruit that to him symbolised aggressive temperance. Mr. Hearty was very partial to lemon flavouring, and in consequence lemon puddings, lemon cakes, and lemon tarts were invariably served as sweets at his table.

"Lemonade, lemon cakes, and lemon faces, all as sour as an unkissed gal, that's wot a Sunday night at Hearty's place is," Bindle had confided to a mate.

Once the chapel party returned, the evening became monotonous.

After supper Millie was sent to the harmonium and hymns were sung. Mrs. Bindle had a thin, piercing voice, Millie a small tremulous soprano, and Mr. Hearty was what Bindle called "all wool and wind." Mrs. Hearty appeared to have no voice at all, although her lips moved in sympathy with the singers.

At first Bindle had been a silent and agonised spectator, refusing all invitations to join in the singing. He would sit, his attention divided between Mr. Hearty's curious vocal contortions, suggestive of a hen drinking water, and the rippling motion of Mrs. Hearty's chins. When singing Mr. Hearty elevated his head, screwed up his eyes and raised his eyebrows; the higher the note the higher went his eyebrows, and the more closely he screwed up his eyes.

"'E makes faces enough for a 'ole band," Bindle had once whispered to Mrs. Hearty, who had brought the evening to a dramatic termination by incontinently collapsing.

"A laugh and an 'ymn got mixed," was Bindle's diagnosis.

It was soon after this episode that Bindle hit upon a happy idea for bringing to a conclusion these, to him, tedious evenings. Mrs. Bindle's favourite hymn was "Gospel Bells," whereas Mr. Hearty seemed to cherish an equally strong love for "Pull for the Shore, Sailors." Never were these hymns sung less than three times each during the course of the evening.

Bindle had thought of many ways of trying to end the performance. Once he had dexterously inserted his penknife in the bellows of the harmonium whilst looking for a pencil he was supposed to have dropped. This, however, merely added to the horror of the situation.

"The bloomin' thing blew worse than 'Earty," he said.

One evening he determined to put his new idea into practice. The gross volume of sound produced by the quartette with the harmonium was extremely small, and Bindle conceived the idea of drowning it.

"I'll stew 'em in their own juice," he muttered.

He had no voice, and very little idea either of tune or of time. What he did possess he was careful to forget. The first hymn in which he joined was "Pull for the Shore, Sailors."

From the first Bindle's voice proved absolutely uncontrollable. It wavered and darted all over the gamut, and as it was much louder than the combined efforts of the other three, plus the harmonium, Bindle appeared to be soloist, the others supplying a subdued accompaniment. Unity of effort seemed impossible. Whilst they were in the process of "pulling," he was invariably on "the shore"; and when they had arrived at "the shore," he had just started "pulling." Time after time they stopped to make a fresh start, but without improving the general effect.

Bindle showed great concern at his curious inability to keep with the others, and suggested retiring from the contest; but this Mr. Hearty would not hear of. To help matters he beat time with his hand, but as his vocal attitude was one of contemplation of the ceiling, generally with closed eyes, he very frequently hit Millie on the head, causing her to lose her place and forget the pedals, with the result that the harmonium died away in a moan of despair. Bindle, however, always went on. All he required was the words, to which he did full justice.

The evening was terminated by the collapse of Mrs. Hearty.

On the following day Bindle could not talk above a whisper.

One result of Bindle's vocal efforts had been that invitations to spend Sunday evenings with the Heartys had become less frequent, a circumstance on which Mrs. Bindle did not fail to comment.

"You're always spoilin' things for me. I enjoyed those evenin's," she complained.

"Shouldn't have arst me to sing," Bindle retorted. "Yer know I ain't a bloomin' canary, like you and 'Earty."

To Mr. Hearty the visits of the Bindles took on a new and more alarming aspect. Sunday was no day for secular things, and he dreaded his brother-in-law's reminiscences and comments on "parsons," and his views regarding religion. Sooner or later Bindle always managed to gather the desultory threads into his own hands.

"Y' oughter been a parson, 'Earty," Bindle remarked pleasantly one Sunday evening ?propos nothing. "So ought Ginger, if 'is language wasn't so 'ighly spiced. It's no good lookin' 'appy if you're a parson. Looks as if yer makin' a meal o' the soup in case the fish ain't fresh.

"I remember movin' a parson once," remarked Bindle, puffing away contentedly at a cigar he had brought with him (Mr. Hearty did not smoke), now thoroughly well-launched upon a conversational monologue. "Leastways 'e was a missionary. 'E was due somewhere in Africa to teach niggers 'ow uncomfortable it is to 'ave a soul.

"'E 'ad to go miles into the jungle, and all 'is stuff 'ad to be carried on the 'eads of niggers. Forty pounds a man, and the nigger a-standin' by to see it weighed, an' refusin' to budge if it was a ounce overweight. I never knew niggers was so cute. This missionary was allowed about ten bundles o' forty pounds each. Lord! yer should 'ave seen the collection of stuff 'e'd got. About four ton. The manager worked it out that about two 'undred niggers 'ud be wanted.

"'E 'ad 'is double-bed; the top itself weighed seventy pounds. Wot a missionary wants with a double-bed in the jungle does me. 'E gave up the bedstead idea, an' 'e give it to me instead o' beer money. That's 'ow Mrs. B. comes to sleep in a missionary's bed. 'E stuck to a grandfather clock, though. Nothink could persuade 'im to leave it be'ind. The clock and weights was too much for one nigger, so I put the weights in wi' the tea-things."

"Oh, Uncle Joe!" from Millie.

"Yes, 'e's got the time in the jungle, but if 'e wants 'is tea 'e'll 'ave to drink it out of 'is boot. Them weights must 'ave made an 'oly mess of the crockery!"

At this juncture Mr. Hearty made a valiant effort to divert the conversation to the forthcoming missionary tea; but Bindle was too strong for him.

"There was one parson," he continued, "'oo was different from the others. 'E was a big gun. I moved 'im when 'e was made a dean. 'E'd come an' sit an' talk while we 'ad our dinner, which 'e used to give us. Beer too, 'Earty. No lemon flavourin' about 'im.

"One day I sez to 'im, 'Funny thing you bein' a parson, sir, if you'll forgive me sayin' so.'

"'Why?' he arst.

"'Well, you seem so 'appy, just like me and 'Uggles.' 'Uggles is always grinnin' when 'e ain't drunk.

"'E laughed as if it was the best joke 'e'd ever 'eard.

"'If religion don't make yer 'appy, it's the wrong religion,' 'e says.

"Now look at 'Earty and Lizzie; do they look 'appy?"

Mrs. Hearty and Millie looked instinctively at the two joyless faces.

"They got the wrong religion, sure as eggs," pronounced Bindle, well pleased at the embarrassment on the faces of Mrs. Bindle and Mr. Hearty. "I went to 'ear that cove preach. I liked 'is Gawd better'n yours, 'Earty. 'E didn't want to turn the next world into a sort of mixed grill. He was all for 'appiness and pleasure. I could be religious with a man like that parson. He was too good for 'is job.

"There's some people wot seem to spend their time a-inventin' 'orrible punishments in the next world for the people they don't like in this."

"I wish you'd learn 'ow to be'ave before your betters," remarked Mrs. Bindle, in the subdued voice she always adopted in the presence of Mr. Hearty. "I'm ashamed of you, Bindle, that I am."

"Don't you worry, Mrs. B. 'Earty knows me bark's worse'n me bite, don't yer, ole sport?"

Mr. Hearty shivered, but bared his teeth in token of Christian forbearance.

"An' now, Mrs. Bindle, it's 'ome and 'appiness and the missionary's bed."

As Bindle was in the hall, putting on his coat, Millie slipped out.

"Uncle," she whispered, "will you take me to the pictures one night?"

"O' course I will, little Millikins. Name the 'appy day."

"Friday," she whispered; "but ask before father; and uncle, will you put on your hard hat and best overcoat?"

Bindle eyed his niece curiously.

"Wot's up, Millikins?" he enquired; whereat Millie hid her face against his sleeve.

"I'll tell 'you Friday. You will come, won't you?" There was a tremor in her voice, and a sudden fear in her eyes.

"At seven-thirty J.B.'ll be 'ere at yer ladyship's service, 'at an' all. 'E'd put on 'is best face only 'e ain't got one.

"That pretty face of 'ers 'll cause 'Earty a nasty jar one of these days," muttered Bindle, as he and Mrs. Bindle walked home in silence.

CHAPTER V
BINDLE TRIES A CHANGE OF WORK

"Paintin' 'as its points," Bindle would remark, "that is, providin' it ain't outdoor paintin', when you're either on top of a ladder, which may be swep' from under yer and bang yer goes to Kingdom Come, or else you're 'angin' like a bally worm on an 'ook."

In the spring when moving was slack, Bindle invariably found a job as a painter. It was shortly after his encounter with Professor Conti that he heard hands were wanted at the Splendid Hotel, where a permanent staff of painters and decorators was kept. It was the pride of the management to keep the hotel spotless, and as it was always full, to give a wing bodily over to the painters and decorators would mean a considerable loss of revenue. Consequently all the work of renovation was done during the night.

The insides of the bedrooms were completely redecorated within the space of twenty-four hours. All corridors and common-rooms were done between midnight and the hot-water hour, special quick-drying materials being used; but most important of all was the silence of the workers.

"The bloomin' miracles," Bindle called the little army that transformed the place in the course of a few hours.

When first told of the system he had been incredulous, and on applying for a job to the foreman in charge he remarked:

"I've 'eard tell of dumb dawgs, mebbe it's true, and dumb waiters; but dumb painters – I won't believe it – it ain't natural."

The foreman had eyed him deliberately; then in a contemptuous tone, remarked:

"If you get this job you've got to go without winkin' or breathin' in case you make a noise. If you want to cough you've got to choke; if you want to sneeze you've got to bust instead. You'll get to like it in time."

"Sounds pleasant," remarked Bindle drily; "still, I'll join," he added with decision, "though it's like bein' a night-watchman in a museum."

The hours were awkward and the restrictions severe, but the pay was good, and Bindle had in his mind's eye the irate form of Mrs. Bindle with her inevitable interrogation, "Got a job?"

"You starts at eleven p.m.," proceeded the foreman, "and you leaves off at eight next mornin' – if you're lucky. If y'ain't you gets the sack, and leaves all the same."

At first Bindle found the work inexpressibly dreary. To be within a few yards of a fellow-creature and debarred from speaking to him was an entirely new experience. Time after time he was on the point of venturing some comment, checking himself only with obvious effort. He soon discovered, however, that if he were to make no noise he must devote his entire attention to his work.

"Mustn't drop a bloomin' brush, or fall over a bloomin' paint-pot," he grumbled, "but wot yer gets the sack. Rummy 'ole, this."

Once his brush slipped from his hand, but by a masterly contortion he recovered it before it reached the ground. The foreman, who happened to be passing at the time, eyed him steadily for several seconds, then with withering scorn remarked in a hoarse whisper as he turned on his heel:

"Paintin's your job, slippery, not jugglin'."

Not to be able to retort and wither an opponent was to Bindle a new experience; but to remain silent in the face of an insult from a foreman was an intolerable humiliation. To Bindle foremen were the epitome of evil. He had once in a moment of supreme contempt remarked to his brother-in-law:

"Call yerself a man, 'Oly Moses! I've seen better things than you in bloomin' foremen's jobs!"

Mr. Hearty had not appreciated the withering contempt that underlay this remark, being too much aghast at its profanity. Bindle had said to his wife:

"You and 'Earty is always so busy lookin' for sin that you ain't time to see a joke."

Bindle quickly tired of the work, and after a few days allowed it to transpire, as if quite casually, that he was a man of many crafts. He gave his mates to understand, for instance, that he was a carpenter of such transcendental ability as to be entirely wasted as a painter. He threw out the hint in the hope that it might reach the ears of the foreman and result in an occasional change of work.

He was inexpressibly weary of this silent painting. The world had changed for him.

"Sleepin' all the sunny day," he grumbled, "and dabbin' on paint all the bloomin' night; not allowed to blow yer nose, an' me not knowin' the deaf-and-dumb alphabet."

He would probably have been more content had it not been for the foreman. He had known many foremen in his time, but this man carried offensiveness to the point of inspiration. He had been at his present work for many years, and was consequently well versed in the arts of conveying insult other than by word of mouth.

He was possessed of many gestures so expressive in their power of humiliating contempt, that upon Bindle their effect was the same as if he had been struck in the face. One of these Bindle gathered he had learned from a sailor, who had assured him that in Brazil the inevitable response was the knife. Ever after, Bindle had a great respect for the Brazilian, and the laws of a country that permitted the arbitrary punishment of silent insult.

Henceforward the foreman became the centre of Bindle's thoughts. Too genial and happy-go-lucky by nature himself to nourish any enmity against his superior, Bindle was determined to teach him a lesson, should the chance occur. The man was a bully, and Bindle disliked bullies. At last his chance came, much to Bindle's satisfaction, as a result of his own foresight in allowing it to become known that he possessed some ability as a carpenter.

The third floor corridor, known as No. 1 East, was to be redecorated. In painting the doors all the numbers, which were separate figures of gun-metal, had to be removed before the painting was commenced and replaced after it was completed. This required great care, not only that the guests might not be awakened, but that the partially dried paint might not be smeared. The foreman always performed this delicate operation himself, regarding it as of too great importance to entrust to a subordinate.

On this particular occasion, however, the foreman had received an invitation to a beanfeast at Epping. This was for the Saturday, and the corridor was to be redecorated on the Friday night. As an early start was to be made, the foreman was anxious to get away and obtain some sleep that he might enjoy the day to its full extent.

He had done all he could to postpone the work until the next week, but without success, so it became necessary for him either to find a substitute, or go weary-eyed and sleepless to his pleasure.

For a man of the social temperament of the foreman to decline such an invitation was unthinkable.

Just as he had arrived at the conclusion that he would have to go straight from work, his eye lighted on Bindle, and remembering what he had heard about his varied abilities, he beckoned him to follow to a room that temporarily served as an Office of Works. Inside the room Bindle gazed expectantly at his superior.

"I 'ear you've been a carpenter," the foreman began.

"Funny 'ow rumours do get about," remarked Bindle pleasantly. "I remember when my brother-in-law, 'Earty's 'is name – ever met him? Quaint ole bird, 'Earty. – Well, when 'e – "

"Never mind 'im," returned the foreman, "can you 'andle a screw-driver?"

"'Andle any think except a woman. Married yerself?" Bindle interrogated with significance.

Ignoring the question the foreman continued: "Can you take the numbers off them rosy doors in the east corridor, and put 'em back again to-night without makin' a stutterin' row?"

"Me?" queried Bindle in surprise.

"I got to go to a funeral," continued the foreman, avoiding Bindle's eye, "an' I want to get a bit o' sleep first."

Bindle eyed his superior curiously.

"Funny things, funerals," he remarked casually. "Goin' to 'ave a cornet on the 'earse?"

"A what?"

"The last time I went to a funeral the guv'nor saw me on the box, next to Ole 'Arper, and all the boys a-shoutin' somethink about 'Ope and Glory. The ole guv'nor didn't ought to 'ave been out so early. Ole 'Arper could play; 'e'd wake a 'ole village while another man was thinkin' about it," he added reminiscently.

"It's my mother wot's dead," said the foreman dully, unequal to the task of stemming the tide of Bindle's loquacity and at the same time keeping on good terms with him.

"Yer mother? I'm sorry. Buryin' 'is mother twice got 'Oly Jim into an 'orrible mess. He fixed 'er funeral for February – all serene; but wot must he go an' do, the silly 'Uggins, but forget all about it and start a-buryin' of 'er again in June. 'Is guv'nor used to keep a book o' buryin's, and it took Jim quite a long time to explain that 'is buryin' of 'er twice all come about through 'im bein' a twin."

The foreman's impatience was visibly growing. "Never you mind about Jim, 'oly or otherwise. Can yer take off and put on again them numbers?"

Then after a pause he added casually, nodding in the direction of a cupboard in the corner:



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