Herbert Jenkins.

Bindle: Some Chapters in the Life of Joseph Bindle



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"You dirty-mouthed tyke," she cried, working herself into a fury. "You blasphemin' son o' Belial, take that." Crack came the handle of the broom on the foreman's head. Without waiting to observe the result, and with a dexterous movement, she reversed her weapon and charged the foreman, taking him full in the middle with the broom itself. In retreating he stumbled over the coal-scuttle, and sat down with a suddenness that made his teeth rattle.

Bindle watched the episode with great interest. Never had he so approved of Mrs. Bindle as at that moment. Like a St. George threatening the dragon she stood over the foreman.

"Now then, will yer say it again?" she enquired menacingly. There was no response. "Say, 'God forgive me,'" she ordered. "Say it," she insisted, seeing reluctance in the foreman's eye. "Say it, or I'll 'it yer on yer dirty mouth with this 'ere broom. I'm a daughter of the Lord, I am. Are yer goin' to say it or shall I change yer face for yer?"

"God forgive me," mumbled the foreman, in a voice entirely devoid of contrition.

Mrs. Bindle was satisfied. "Now up yer get, and orf yer go," she said. "I won't 'it yer again if yer don't talk, but never you think to come a-usin' such words in a Christian 'ome again."

The foreman sidled towards the door warily, When he was within reach of it he made a sudden dive and disappeared.

Bindle regarded his wife with approval as she returned from banging the door after him.

"I didn't know," he remarked, "that they taught yer that sort of thing at chapel. I likes a religion that lets yer do a bit in the knock-about business. Can't understand you and 'Earty belongin' to the same flock of sheep. Rummy thing, religion," he soliloquised, as he applied a match to his pipe; "seems to 'ave its Bank 'Olidays, same as work."

CHAPTER VII
BINDLE COMMITS AN INDISCRETION

"Anyone would think you was goin' to a weddin'." Mrs. Bindle eyed Bindle aggressively.

"Not again; I got one little canary bird; two might make me un'appy."

Bindle had remembered his promise to his niece, Millie, in every particular, and had added as his own contribution a twopenny cigar resplendent in a particularly wide red-and-gold band, which he had been careful not to remove.

"Anythink might 'appen to me in this get-up," he remarked pleasantly, "so don't expect me till I'm 'ome – "

"You never take me out," broke in Mrs. Bindle stormily, "but you can take that chit of a girl out first time she asks."

"You don't like the pictures, Mrs. B., they ain't 'oly enough, an' some of the young women in 'em are a bit generous like with showin' their ankles – but there, there!"

"You used to take me out before we was married," replied Mrs. Bindle, ignoring Bindle's remark.

Bindle looked at her curiously.

"Them was the days when yer wasn't above goin' to a music-'all. There ain't nowhere to take yer 'cept the chapel, an' I don't enjoy it as you an' 'Earty do."

"Where do you expect to go to?" demanded Mrs.

Bindle angrily. She always became angry when mention was made of the pleasures she once enjoyed. "Where do you expect to go to?"

"Well," remarked Bindle judicially, "accordin' to you an' 'Earty it's a place where yer don't 'ave to pay no water rates."

Mrs. Bindle sniffed derisively.

"Look 'ere, my one an' only," continued Bindle, "I got to 'ave a pretty bad time in the next world, accordin' to wot you an' 'Earty believes, so I'm goin' to the pictures an' I'll 'ave a drink or two in this. If I was as sure of 'eaven as you an' 'Earty is, maybe I'd be more careful."

Mrs. Bindle banged the iron she was using down upon the rest, but made no comment.

"Well, see you later, if I'm lucky," said Bindle, and he was gone.

He found Millie in a fever of expectation. She opened the door to him herself, looking very pretty and smart in her Sunday hat.

"I was so afraid you'd forget, uncle," she whispered, snuggling against him as they walked along. "You look so nice," she added.

Bindle looked down at himself and grinned.

"I pays for dressin'," he observed. "The cigar was me own idea. It gives a sort o' finish, eh, Millikins?"

They walked past the Fulham Grand Theatre, and at the Cinema Palace on the Fulham side of the bridge Bindle paused.

"Not this one, the one over the bridge," Millie cried anxiously.

"Further to walk for yer ole uncle."

"But – but – " faltered Millie, "Charlie Chaplin's at the other and I do so want to see him."

"Charlie Chaplin's 'ere too, Millikins. Look, it says so."

"Oh, uncle, please, please, the other one." There were tears in Millie's eyes and her voice shook.

Bindle was puzzled, but to please her he would have walked over many bridges.

"Uncle, you are good," was all she said as she smiled at him happily.

They passed over the bridge in silence, watching the stream of trams, buses, and people. When with Millie, Bindle never ventured upon those little personalities in which he indulged when alone.

"Do yer like chapel, Millikins?" Bindle enquired suddenly.

"I hate it, Uncle Joe!" There was such feeling and decision in Millie's voice that Bindle turned and regarded her curiously.

"Why?"

"I want to be happy, oh! I do so want to be happy, Uncle Joe." There was almost a sob in Millie's voice and her eyes were moist with unshed tears.

Bindle said nothing, but he pondered deeply as they walked slowly along. When they saw the brilliant lights of the Putney Pavilion Millie visibly brightened.

As they entered Millie looked eagerly round, and a sigh of contentment escaped her as her eyes rested on a tall, pale-faced youth who stood smoking a cigarette. He raised his hat about an inch from his head, squaring his elbow in the process as if saluting. The action was awkward and sheepish.

Bindle looked from the young man to Millie, then remembering Millie's distress at his suggestion of going to the other cinema, light dawned upon him. With elaborate courtesy, and to the youth's obvious astonishment, he returned the salute, then walking across seized his hand and shook it effusively.

"Millikins, this is a young man I used to know, but 'ave forgotten. 'E remembers me, 'owever, and that's all that matters. This is me niece Millie," he added to the youth who, staring in utter bewilderment from Bindle to Millie, stood with downcast head.

"Goin' in to see the pictures?" Bindle enquired casually.

"Er – no – er – yes, of course," stuttered the youth.

"Nice evenin' for pictures," continued Bindle, thoroughly enjoying the situation. "Don't yer think so?" he added, as the youth did not reply.

"Yes, very."

"Now you an' me's ole pals, but I've quite forgot yer name. Is it 'Orace?"

"Dixon, Charlie Dixon." A faint smile flickered across the young man's face as he caught Millie's eye. He was beginning to realise that somewhere in this astonishing adventure there was fun, and that Bindle had been first to see it.

For some seconds Bindle, who was a shrewd judge of character, regarded the young man. He was obviously nervous, but his grey eyes looked out honestly from a rather pleasant face into those of Bindle.

Suddenly he laughed. Millie looked from one to the other, her pretty brows puckered. The situation was obviously beyond her.

"Uncle, I want to speak to you, please." Millie's voice was scarcely audible.

"All right, my dear, we'll go and buy the tickets. You wait here, young feller," he added. "We'll be back in two ticks."

When out of earshot Millie whispered shyly, "That's Charlie Dixon, and we – we like each other, and I'm – I'm a wicked girl, Uncle Joe. I told him to be here and – "

"That's all right, Millikins, don't you worry."

Millie gave his arm an ecstatic squeeze as he left her to purchase the tickets.

When Bindle and his niece rejoined Charlie Dixon Bindle's mind was made up. He liked the look of the young man. He also remembered his own youth, and a glance at the happy face of his niece decided him upon his course of action.

"'Ow long 'ave yer known each other?" he enquired.

"More than six months," replied Charlie Dixon.

"Seems a lifetime, eh?" he grinned.

"I knew you'd understand, dear Uncle Joe," whispered the now radiant Millie.

"Look 'ere," said Bindle to Charlie Dixon, "I jest remembered I got to see a mate round the corner. You two go in wi' these tickets and I'll follow in ten minutes. If I misses yer, be 'ere in this 'all at ten sharp. See?"

They both saw, and exchanged rapturous glances.

"Mind, ten sharp, or I'll get the sack."

"Thank you, Mr. Bindle," said Charlie Dixon, raising his hat, to which Bindle responded with an elaborate sweep that brought a smile to the face of the attendant.

Just before turning into Putney High Street Bindle looked round to see Millie and Charlie Dixon in earnest converse, walking slowly towards the door leading in to the pictures – and bliss.

Bindle sighed involuntarily. "I wonder if I done right. Funny thing me playin' Coopid. Wonder wot Mrs. B. and 'Earty 'ud say. There's goin' to be trouble, J. B., and you're a-goin' to get yerself in an 'oly sort o' mess. If it 'adn't been for petticoats yer might a' been Mayor of Fulham or Charlie Chaplin."

At a quarter to ten Bindle left a merry group of intimates at the Scarlet Horse, and a few minutes later was waiting in the vestibule of the Pavilion, where he was joined by the lovers.

"I never knew Millikins was such a pretty gal," muttered Bindle, as they approached. Then aloud, "Where'd you two got to? I been searchin' everywhere."

With a wealth of detail they explained exactly where they had been sitting.

"Funny I didn't see yer," remarked Bindle. "Now you two must say good-night; and," turning to the youth, "if yer'll follow across the bridge slowly, maybe I'll see yer outside the Grand Theatre after I've taken this young woman 'ome."

Millie was strangely silent as the three crossed Putney Bridge. She was thinking deeply of her new-found happiness and, as she gripped Bindle's arm with both hands, she felt that he represented her special Providence. She could tell him anything, for he understood. She would always tell Uncle Joe everything.

Outside Fulham Theatre she said good-night to Charlie Dixon.

"You ain't said a word since I met you, Millikins. Wot's up?" enquired Bindle, puzzled at Millie's silence.

"I've been wondering, Uncle Joe," replied the girl in a subdued voice.

"Wot about? Tell yer ole uncle."

"I've been wondering why you are so good to me, and why you don't think me a wicked girl." Then, turning to him anxiously, "You don't, Uncle Joe, do you?"

"Well, Millikins, there ain't any think very wicked, so far as I can see, in wantin' to be 'appy in the way you do. 'Is nibs looks a nice young chap, an' if 'e ain't 'e'll wish 'e'd never seen your ole uncle." There was a grim note in Bindle's voice that surprised his niece.

"You don't think God minds us being happy that – that way, do you, Uncle Joe?" questioned Millie earnestly.

"I'm sure 'E don't, Millikins. 'E's all for the 'appiness wot don't do nobody any 'arm. That parson chap told me, an' 'e was a dean or somethink, an' 'e ought to know."

Millie drew a sigh of relief. Then her mood suddenly changed.

"Uncle, let's run," she cried; and without waiting for the protest that was forming itself on Bindle's lips, she caught him by the hand and dashed off. After a moment's hesitation Bindle entered into her mood and the pair tore up Fulham High Street, Millie running obliquely in front, striving to urge Bindle to a greater pace.

Just as they reached the Heartys' private door, Mr. Hearty himself emerged on his way to post a letter. Millie running sideways did not see him. Bindle was unable to avoid the inevitable collision, and Millie's elbow took her father dead in the centre of his waistcoat and drove the breath out of his body.

"Oh, father!" cried his horrified daughter.

"Millie!" gasped Mr. Hearty when he had regained sufficient breath for speech.

"My fault, 'Earty. I likes a run now and again; we was 'avin' a bit of a race. Millikins beats me in the matter o' legs."

To Mr. Hearty women had limbs, not legs, and he disliked intensely Bindle's reference to those of his daughter.

"I hope this will not occur again," he said severely. "I shall have to stop these – these – " Unable to find the word, Mr. Hearty passed on to the pillar-box.

Millie stood watching him, horror in her eyes.

"Oh, Uncle Joe, am I a very bad girl? Father always makes me feel so wicked."

"'E'd make an 'oly saint feel a bit of a rip. You're just about as bad as a first-class angel; but p'raps it 'ud be better not to 'old sports outside the shop. Might get me a bad name. Now in yer go, young 'un, an' we'll 'ave another bust next Friday, eh? I'll be seein' 'is nibs on me way 'ome."

"Good-night, dear Uncle Joe. I'm glad you're my uncle." She put her arms round his neck and kissed him, and Bindle experienced a curious sensation in his throat.

"Gawd bless yer, Millikins," Bindle mumbled in an unsteady voice, as she tripped along the passage.

"Fancy me sayin' that!" he muttered, as he closed the door. "It kind o' slipped out."

A few yards down the High Street Bindle met his brother-in-law returning from the post.

"I'm sorry, 'Earty, about that collision. It was all my fault. I like playin' wi' kids." There was an unaccustomed humility in Bindle's voice, assumed for the purpose of making things easier for Millie, that pleased Mr. Hearty.

"Millie is no longer a child, Joseph," he remarked, "but we'll say no more about it. I'm not hurt. Good-night." He bared his yellow teeth in token of forgiveness.

As he passed on, Bindle gazed up at the skies meditatively. "I wonder if Gawd really likes that sort?" he murmured with a seriousness that was unusual to him.

Outside the theatre he found waiting for him Charlie Dixon, who greeted him with:

"Will you bring her again, Mr. Bindle?"

"'Ere, I ain't a nurse, young feller. Nice mess you got me in. It's all through you that Millikins nearly killed 'er father. Ran clean into 'im and sort o' knocked the wind out of 'is bellows." Bindle told the story of the collision with great gusto.

"Now," he continued, "you and me's got to 'ave a talk, an' we'll 'ave a glass of beer at the same time."

Bindle learned the story of Millie's romance. It appeared that she and Charlie Dixon, who was in a shipping-office, went to the city by the same train every morning, Millie being a typist at a wholesale draper's. Young Dixon had watched her week after week, and he eventually became acquainted owing to a breakdown on the line, which resulted in a corresponding breakdown of the passengers' usual reserve. After that they went up regularly together, met at lunch, after business hours and on every occasion that Millie could possibly manage it. Once they had each obtained a half-holiday, which they had spent at the Zoo.

Charlie Dixon's frankness and obvious devotion to Millie Hearty entirely won Bindle's heart.

"You will help us, Mr. Bindle, won't you?" he pleaded.

"Look 'ere, young feller," said Bindle, with an unusual note of seriousness in his voice, "I don't know nothink about yer, an' before I 'elps I got to be sure wot I thinks yer are. Now you jest get me a letter or two from them as knows wot sort of a villain yer are, an' then p'r'aps I'll be the same sort of ole fool I been to-night. See?"

They parted with mutual regard and promises to meet again next Friday, when Charlie Dixon was to bring such documents as would vouch for his respectability.

"Yes; I been an ole fool," muttered Bindle, as he walked home. "This 'ere business is goin' to lead to trouble between me an' 'Earty. What a pity people gets it as bad as 'Earty. No man didn't ought to be religious all the week. It ain't natural."

That night Bindle entered his house whistling "Gospel Bells" with unaccustomed abandon.

"Been enjoyin' yerself, leavin' me at 'ome to slave and get yer meals ready," snapped Mrs. Bindle. "One o' these days you'll come 'ome and find me gone."

"'Oo's the man?" interrogated Bindle with a temerity that surprised himself.

That night Bindle lay awake for some time thinking over life in general and the events of the evening in particular. He never could quite understand why he had been precipitated into an atmosphere so foreign to his nature as that surrounding Mrs. Bindle and Mr. Hearty. He had striven very hard to stem the tide of religious gloom as it spread itself over Mrs. Bindle. Unaware of the cause, he not unnaturally selected the wrong methods, which were those of endeavouring to make her "cheer up."

"The idea of goin' to 'eaven seems to make her low-spirited," was Bindle's view.

Even Mrs. Bindle was not entirely proof against his sallies, and there were times when a reluctant smile would momentarily relieve the grim severity of her features. There were occasions even when they chatted quite amiably, until the recollection of Mr. Hearty, and the mental comparison of his success with Bindle's failure, threw her back into the slough from which she had temporarily been rescued.

"There must be somethink funny about me," Bindle had once confided to Mrs. Hearty. "My father was as religious as a woman wi' one leg, then I gets Lizzie an' she turns away from me an' 'Mammon' – I don't rightly know 'oo 'e is, but she's always talkin' about 'im – then you goes back on me an' gives me a sort of brother-in-law 'oo's as 'oly as ointment. You ain't been a real pal, Martha, really you ain't."

If called upon to expound his philosophy of life Bindle would have found himself in difficulties. He was a man whose sympathies were quickly aroused, and it never troubled him whether the object of his charity were a heathen, a Christian, or a Mormon. On one occasion when a girl had been turned out of doors at night by an outraged father who had discovered his daughter's frailty, it was Bindle who found her weeping convulsively near Putney Pier. It was he who secured her a night's lodging, and stood her friend throughout the troubled weeks that followed, although it meant neither beer nor tobacco for some months.

On another occasion a mate had been ill, and it was Bindle who each week collected what pence he could from his fellow-workmen and made up from his own pocket the amount necessary to keep the man, his wife, and child. To do this he had done work as a whitewasher and labourer, never working less than one whole night a week in addition to his regular occupation, until his mate was well again.

No one knew of these little acts, which Bindle kept profound secrets. He would have felt ashamed had they become known, more particularly had Mrs. Bindle or Mr. Hearty heard of them.

Once he had remarked, apropos some remark of Mr. Hearty's regarding what in his opinion would be Heaven's attitude towards some unfortunate wretch who had stolen food for his wife, "I shouldn't like to 'ave a Gawd I'd sometimes 'ave to feel ashamed of," whereat Mr. Hearty had become very red and embarrassed.

CHAPTER VIII
THE GREAT CONSPIRACY

I

At Harridge's Stores Bindle had made himself very popular with the manager of the Furniture Removing Department. His cheery outlook on life, his racy speech and general trustworthiness resulted in his being frequently entrusted with special jobs where reliability was required.

When the order was received to supply the refreshments for the Barton Bridge Temperance F?te, Bindle was selected to go down to erect the marquee and stalls, and be generally responsible for the safe transit of the eatables and drinkables.

"Yer can always trust me wi' lemonade and religion," he had assured the manager. "I don't touch neither; they sort of goes to me 'ead."

The Barton Bridge Temperance Society had determined to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of its foundation in a manner that should attract to it the attention of the temperance world. After much deliberation and heart-burning, an English Rustic F?te had been decided upon.

The whole of the surrounding country had been put under contribution, and everyone had responded either with generosity or with scorn. Old Sir John Bilder, of Bilder's Entire, had replied with ponderous humour that he "would supply all the ale required." When he received a request for three gross of pint bottles of a particular kind of temperance ale he had been surprised. "Well, I'm damned!" was his comment; but being a sportsman he had sent the ale, which he regarded as a fair price for a good story.

Barton Bridge was proud of its Temperance Society, but prouder still of its breadth of mind. It had been a tradition for a quarter of a century that the Society should be non-sectarian. It is nothing to the discredit of Barton Bridge that the Temperance Society was the only thing in the place that had not been warped from its orbit by sect.

For a churchman to be discovered eating bread of Mr. Lacey's baking, Mr. Lacey being a nonconformist, would have meant social ostracism. He must, by virtue of his beliefs, masticate none but bread kneaded and baked by Mr. Carter, the church baker.

A one-time vicar had sought to demolish this "ridiculous wall of prejudice" by dealing alternately with church and chapel tradesmen. There had been no protest from the chapel people, but the indignation of the church tradesmen had been so great, and their absence from service so persistent, that the vicar had been forced to give way. Tolerance was an acquired habit rather than an instinctive virtue in Barton Bridge, and the temperance meetings were solemn minglings of bodies accompanied by a warring of souls.



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