Herbert Jenkins.

Bindle: Some Chapters in the Life of Joseph Bindle



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"There's a couple of bottles o' beer and some bread an' cheese an' pickles in that cupboard."

Bindle's face brightened, and thus it was that the bargain was struck.

When Bindle left the room it was with the knowledge that his superior had been delivered into his hands. He did not then know exactly how he intended to compass the foreman's downfall. Inspiration would come later. It was sufficient for him to know that correction was to be administered where correction was due.

In Bindle there was a strong sense of justice, and his sympathies were all with his mates, who suffered the foreman's insults rather than lose good jobs. Bindle was always popular with his fellow-workers. They liked and respected him. He was free with his money, always ready with a joke or a helping hand, was sober and clean of speech without appearing to notice any defect in others save on very rare occasions. He had been known to fight and beat a bigger man than himself to save a woman from a thrashing, and when Mrs. Bindle had poured down reproaches upon his head on account of his battered appearance, he had silently gone to bed and simulated sleep, although every inch of his body ached.

It was about nine o'clock in the evening that the foreman had seen in Bindle the means of his obtaining some sleep and arriving at his bean-feast refreshed. At eleven o'clock he left the hotel, after having given to his deputy the most elaborate instructions. His parting words filled Bindle with unholy joy.

"If anythin' goes wrong I'll lose my job, and don't you forget it." Bindle promised himself that he would not.

"I'll not forget it, ole son," he murmured, with the light of joy in his eyes. "I'll not forget it. It's your beano to-morrow, but it's goin' to be mine to-night. Last week yer sacked poor ole Teddy Snell, an' 'im wi' seven kids," and Bindle smiled as St. George might have smiled on seeing the dragon.

For some time after the foreman's departure, Bindle cogitated as to how to take full advantage of the situation which had thus providentially presented itself. Plan after plan was put aside as unworthy of the occasion.

There are great possibilities for "little jokes" in hotels. Bindle remembered an early effort of his when a page-boy. The employment had been short-lived, for on his first day the corridors were being recarpeted. The sight of a large box of exceedingly long carpet nails left by the workmen at night had given him an idea. He had crept from his room and carefully lifted the carpet for the whole length of the corridor, inserting beneath it scores of carpet nails points upwards; later he had sounded the fire alarm and watched with glee the visitors rush from their rooms only to dance about in anguish on the points of the nails, uttering imprecations and blasphemies.

This effort had cost him his job and a thrashing from his father, but it had been worth it.

It was, however, merely the crude attempt of a child.

It was one of the chambermaids, a rosy-cheeked girl recently up from the country, who gave Bindle the idea he had been seeking.

As he was unscrewing the numbers with all the elaborate caution of a burglar, he felt a hand upon his shoulder, and found the chambermaid beside him.

"Mind you put them numbers back right," she whispered, "or I shan't know t'other from which."

Bindle turned and eyed her gravely.

"My dear," he remonstrated, "I'm a married man, and if Mrs. Bindle was to see you wi' yer arm round me neck – wot!"

The pretty chambermaid had soundly boxed his ears.

"A girl would have to have tired arms to rest them round your neck," she whispered, and tripped off down the corridor.

For some minutes Bindle worked mechanically. His mind was busy with the chambermaid's remark. At the end of half an hour all the numbers were removed and the painters busy on the doors. Bindle returned to the Office of Works.

"'Oly angels," he muttered joyously, as he attacked the bread and cheese and pickles, and poured out a glass of beer. "'Oly angels, if I was to forget, and get them numbers mixed, an' them bunnies wasn't able to get back to their 'utches!"

He put down his glass, choking. When he had recovered his breath, he wiped his eyes with the back of his hand, finished his meal, and returned to the corridor.

It was the rule of the hotel that no workmen should be seen about after seven-thirty. Just before that hour Bindle had completed his work of replacing the numbers on the doors, and had removed from the corridor the last traces of the work that had been in progress. He returned to the Office of Works which commanded a view of the whole length of the East Corridor. He was careful to leave the door ajar so that he had an uninterrupted view. He sat down and proceeded to enjoy the morning paper which the "Boots" had brought him, the second bottle of the foreman's beer, and the remains of the bread and cheese.

"Shouldn't be surprised if things was to 'appen soon," he murmured, as he rose and carefully folded the newspaper.

CHAPTER VI
THE HOTEL CORRIDOR

I

As Bindle watched, a face peeped cautiously round the door of one of the bedrooms. It was a nervous, ascetic face, crowned by a mass of iron-grey hair that swept from left to right, and seemed to be held back from obliterating the weak but kindly blue eyes only by the determination of the right eyebrow.

The face looked nervously to the right and to the left, and then, as if assured that no one was about, it was followed by a body clothed in carpet slippers, clerical trousers and coat, with a towel hanging over its shoulders.

"Parson," muttered Bindle, as the figure slid cautiously along the corridor towards him.

At the sight of Bindle emerging from the Office of Works the clergyman started violently.

"C-c-can you direct me to the bath-room, please?" he enquired nervously.

"Ladies' or gents', sir?" demanded Bindle.

"Ladies', of – I mean gentlemen's." The pale face flushed painfully, and the tide of hair refused to be held back longer and swept down, entirely obliterating the right eye.

"Must 'ave forgot 'is dressin'-gown," remarked Bindle, as the cleric disappeared round a corner in the direction of the bath-room furthest from his own room, to which he had been directed.

"'E must get over that nervousness of 'is," was Bindle's excuse to himself, as he returned to his room.

He was just wiping his mouth on his coat sleeve after draining the last drop of beer, when he heard a suppressed scream from the corridor. He opened the door suddenly, and was startled to find himself confronted by a woman of uncertain age in an elaborate rose-pink n?glig? and mob cap – beneath which was to be seen a head suspiciously well-coiffed for that hour of the morning.

"Oh! Oh!! Oh!!!" she gasped, as she entered the room, obviously labouring under some great emotion.

"Anythink I can do, miss?" enquired Bindle respectfully, marvelling at the make-up that lay thick upon her withered cheeks.

"Looks like an apple wot they've forgot to pluck," he commented inwardly. "Anythink I can do, miss?"

"There's – there's a – a m-m-man in my room," she gasped.

"A wot, miss?" enquired Bindle in shocked surprise.

"A m-m-man."

"Yer 'usband, mum," Bindle suggested diplomatically.

"I haven't got one," she stuttered. "Oh! it's dreadful. He – he's in my bed, and he's bald, and he's got black whiskers."

Bindle whistled. "'Ow long's 'e been there, miss?" he enquired.

"I went to the bath-room and – and he was there when I got back. It's horrible, dreadful," and two tears that had hung pendulously in the corner of her eyes decided to made the plunge, and ploughed their way through the make-up, leaving brown trails like devastating armies.

"Oh, what shall I do?"

"Well, since you arst me, miss, I shouldn't say any think about it," replied Bindle.

"Nothing about it, nothing about a man being in my bed?" She was on the verge of hysterics. "What do you mean?"

"Well, miss, 'otels is funny places. They might put 'im on the bill as a extra."

"You – you – "

What it was that Bindle most resembled he did not wait to hear, but with great tact stepped out into the corridor, closing the door behind him.

"Some'ow I thought things would 'appen," he murmured joyously.

A few yards from him he saw the form of a fair-haired youth, immaculately garbed in a brilliantly hued silk kimono, with red Turkish slippers and an eye-glass. He was gazing about him with an air of extreme embarrassment.

"Hi! You!" he called out.

Bindle approached the young exquisite.

"There's – er – someone got into my room by mistake. She's in my bed, too. What the devil am I to do? Awfully awkward, what!"

Bindle grinned, the young man laughed nervously. He was feeling "a most awful rip, you know."

"Some people gets all the luck," remarked Bindle with a happy grin. "A lady 'as just complained that she's found a man in 'er bed, bald 'ead and black whiskers an' all, an' now 'ere are you a-sayin' as there's a girl in yours. 'As she a bald 'ead and black whiskers, sir?"

"She's got fair hair and is rather pretty, and she's asleep. I stole out without waking her. Now, I can't walk about in this kit all day." He looked down at his elaborate deshabille. "I must get my clothes, you know. How the deuce did she get there? I was only away twenty minutes."

Bindle scratched his head.

"You're in a difficult sort of 'ole, sir. I'm afraid it's like once when I went a-bathin', and a dog went to sleep on me trousers and growled and snapped when I tried to get 'em away. I 'ad to go 'ome lookin' like an 'Ighlander."

"Look here," remarked the young man. "I'll give you a sovereign to go and fetch my things. I'll dress in a bath-room."

He was a really nice young man, one who has a mother and sisters and remembers the circumstance.

"I'm afraid Mrs. Bindle – my wife, sir, my name's Bindle, Joseph Bindle – wouldn't like it, sir. She's very particular, is Mrs. B. I think yer'd better go in there," indicating the Office of Works, "an' I'll call the chambermaid."

"Ah, that's a brainy idea," remarked the youth, brightening. "I never thought of that."

Bindle opened the door and the youth entered.

There was a shrill scream from the pink n?glig?.

"It's all right, miss. This gentleman's like yerself, sort o' got hisself mixed up. There's a lady in 'is room – ahem! in 'is bed too. Kind o' family coach goin' on this mornin', seems to me."

The youth blushed rosily, and was just on the point of stammering apologies for his garb, when a tremendous uproar from the corridor interrupted him.

Bindle had purposely left the door ajar and through the slit he had, a moment previously, seen the clergyman disappear precipitately through one of the bedroom doors. It was from this room that the noise came.

"Mon Dieu!" shrieked a female voice. "Il se battent. ? moi! ? moi!" There were hoarse mutterings and the sound of blows.

"'Ere, you look arter each other," Bindle cried, "it's murder this time." And he sped down the corridor.

He entered No. 21 to find locked together in a deadly embrace the clergyman and a little bald-headed man in pyjamas. In the bed was a figure, Bindle mentally commended its daintiness, rising up from a foam of frillies and shrieking at the top of her voice "silly things wot wasn't even words," as Bindle afterwards told Mrs. Hearty.

"Mon Dieu! Mon Dieu! Il sera tu?!"

"Regular fightin' parson," muttered Bindle, as he strove to part the men. "If 'e don't stop a-bumpin' 'is 'ead on the floor 'e'll break it. 'Ere, stop it, sir. Yer mustn't use 'is 'ead as if it was a cokernut and yer wanted the milk. Come orf!"

Bindle had seized the clergyman from behind, and was pulling with all his strength as he might at the collar of a bellicose bull-terrier.

"Come orf, yer mustn't do this sort o' thing in an 'otel. I'm surprised at you, sir, a clergyman too."

Half choking, the clergyman rose to his feet, and strove to brush the flood of hair from his eyes. His opponent seized the opportunity and flew back to bed, where he sat trying to staunch the blood that flowed from his nose and hurling defiance at his enemy.

"Wot's it all about?" enquired Bindle.

"I – I came back from my bath and found this man in my bed with a – a – "

"Ma femme," shrieked the little Frenchman. "Is it not that we have slept here every night for – "

"'Ush, sir, 'ush!" rebuked Bindle over his shoulder with a grin. "We don't talk like that in England."

"Sort of lost yer way, sir, and got in the wrong room," Bindle suggested to the clergyman.

"He rushed at me and kicked me in the – er – stom – er – well, he kicked me, and I – I forget, and I – I – "

"Of course yer did, sir; anyone 'ud 'a done the same."

Then to the Frenchman Bindle remarked severely:

"Yer didn't ought to 'ave kicked 'im, 'im a clergyman too. Fancy kicking a clergyman in the – well, where you kicked 'im. Wot's the number of yer room, sir?" he enquired, turning to the clergyman.

"Twenty-one; see, it's on the door."

Bindle looked; there was "21" clear enough.

"Wot's yer number, sir?" he asked the Frenchman.

"Vingt-quatre."

"Now don't you go a-using none of them words 'fore a clergyman. Wot's yer number? that's wot I'm arstin'."

"Twenty-four – vingt-quatre."

"Well," said Bindle with decision, "you're in the wrong room."

"Mais c'est impossible," cried the Frenchman. "We have been here all night. Is it not so, cherie?" He turned to his wife for corroboration.

Bindle had no time to enter further into the dispute. Suddenly a fresh disturbance broke out further along the corridor.

"What the devil do you mean by this outrage, sir?" an angry and imperious voice was demanding. "What the devil do you – "

With a hasty word to the clergyman, who now looked thoroughly ashamed of himself, and a gentle push in the direction of the Office of Works, Bindle trotted off to the scene of the new disturbance. He heard another suppressed scream from the pink n?glig? betokening the entry of the clergyman.

"What the devil do you mean by entering my room?"

A tall, irate man, with the Army stamped all over him, dressed in pyjamas, with a monocle firmly wedged in his left eye, was fiercely eyeing a smaller man in a bath-robe.

"Not content with having got into my room, but damme, sir, you must needs try and get into my trousers. What the devil do you mean by it?"

Bindle looked along the corridor appreciatively. "Looks like a shipwreck at night, it do," he remarked to the chambermaid.

"It's my room," said the man in the bathrobe.

"Confound you," was the reply, "this is my room, and I'll prosecute you for libel."

"My room is No. 18," responded the other, "and I left my wife there half an hour ago."

He pointed to the figures on the door in proof of his contention. The man in the monocle looked at the door, and a puzzled expression passed over his face.

"Damme," he exploded, "my room is No. 15, but I certainly slept in that room all night." He darted inside and reappeared a moment after with his trousers in his hand.

"Here are my trousers to prove it. Are these your trousers?" The man in the bath-robe confessed that they were not.

"That seems to prove it all right, sir," remarked Bindle, who had come up. "A man don't sleep in a different room from his trousers, leastways, unless 'e's a 'Ighlander."

Similar disturbances were taking place along the corridor. The uproar began to attract visitors from other corridors, and soon the whole place was jammed with excited guests, in attire so varied and insufficient that one lady, who had insisted on her husband accompanying her to see what had happened, immediately sent him back to his room that his eyes might not be outraged by the lavish display of ankles and bare arms.

The more nervous among the women guests had immediately assumed fire to be the cause of the disturbance, and thinking of their lives rather than of modesty and decorum, had rushed precipitately from their rooms.

"It might be a Turkish bath for all the clothes they're wearin'," Bindle whispered to the exquisite youth, who with his two fellow-guests had left the Office of Works. "Ain't women funny shapes when they ain't braced up!"

The youth looked at Bindle reproachfully. He had not yet passed from that period when women are mysterious and wonderful.

At the doors of several of the rooms heated arguments were in progress as to who was the rightful occupant. Inside they were all practically the same, that was part of the scheme of the hotel. The man with the monocle was still engaged in a fierce altercation with the man in the bath-robe, who was trying to enter No. 18.

"My wife's in there," cried the man in the bath-robe fiercely.

At this moment the deputy-manager appeared, a man whose face had apparently been modelled with the object of expressing only two emotions, benignant servility to the guests and overbearing contempt to his subordinates. As if by common consent, the groups broke up and the guests hastened towards him. His automatic smile seemed strangely out of keeping with the crisis he was called upon to face. Information and questions poured in upon him.

"There's a girl in my bed."

"There's a man in my room."

"Somebody's got into my room."

"Is it fire?"

"It's a public scandal."

"This man has tried to take my trousers."

"Look here, I can't go about in this kit."

"I left my wife in room 18, and I can't find her."

"I shall write to The Times."

"I protest against this indecent exhibition."

The more questions and remarks that poured down upon him, the more persistently the deputy-manager smiled. He looked about him helplessly. Hitherto in the whole of his experience all that had been necessary for him to do was to smile and promise attention, and bully his subordinates. Here was a new phase. He wished the manager had not chosen this week-end for a trip to Brighton.

The eyes of the deputy-manager roved round him like those of a trapped animal seeking some channel of escape. By a lucky chance they fell upon the fireman who was just preparing to go off duty. The deputy-manager beckoned to him; the smile had left his face, he was now talking to a subordinate.

"What's the meaning of this?" he enquired.

The fireman looked up and down the corridor. He had been at the hotel over ten years, that is, since its opening, and knew every inch of the place. From the crowd of figures he glanced along the corridor. He was a man of few words.

"Somebody's been 'avin' a joke. The numbers 'ave all been changed. That," pointing to No. 18, "is No. 15, and that," pointing to No. 24, "is No. 21."

At the fireman's words angry murmurs and looks were exchanged. Each of the guests suspected the others of the joke. The fireman, who was a man of much resource as well as of few words, quickly solved the problem by obtaining some envelopes and putting on the doors the right numbers. Within a quarter of an hour every guest had found either his clothes, his lost one, or both, and the corridor was once more deserted.

"Well," murmured Bindle, as he stepped out of the service lift, "I s'pose they won't be wantin' me again, so I'll go 'ome an' get a bit o' sleep." And he walked off whistling gaily, whilst the fireman searched everywhere for the one man the deputy-manager most desired to see.

II

On the Monday evening following the hotel episode Mr. and Mrs. Bindle were seated at supper. Bindle had been unusually conversational. He was fortunate in having that morning obtained employment at a well-known stores. He was once more a pantechnicon-man. "King Richard is 'isself again," he would say, when he passed from a temporary alien employment to what he called the "legitimate."

He had felt it desirable to explain to Mrs. Bindle the cause of his leaving the Splendid Hotel. She had seen nothing at all humorous in it, and Bindle had studiously refrained from any mention of women being in the corridors.

He had just drawn away from the table, and was sitting smoking his pipe by the fire, when there was a loud knock at the outer door. He looked up expectantly.

Mrs. Bindle went to the door. From the passage he heard a familiar voice enquiring for him. It was Sanders, the foreman, who followed Mrs. Bindle into the room. He made no response to Bindle's pleasant, "Good-evenin'."

"D'you know what you done?" enquired Sanders aggressively. "You lost me my ruddy job. You did it a-purpose, and I've come to kill yer."

"Ain't yer 'ad enough of buryin'?" enquired Bindle significantly. "Buryin' yer mother on Saturday, and now yer wants to kill yer ole pal on Monday."

The menacing attitude of the foreman had no effect upon Bindle. He had a great heart and would cheerfully have stood up to a man twice the size of Sanders. The foreman made a swift movement in the direction of Bindle.

"You stutterin', bespattered – Gawd!"

Mrs. Bindle, seeing that trouble was impending, had armed herself with a very wet and very greasy dishcloth, which she had thrown with such accurate aim as to catch the foreman full in the mouth.

"You dirty 'ound," she vociferated, "comin' into a Christian 'ome and usin' that foul language. You dirty 'ound, I'll teach yer."

Mrs. Bindle's voice rose in a high crescendo. She looked about her for something with which to follow up her attack and saw her favourite weapon – the broom.



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