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.