Bindle: Some Chapters in the Life of Joseph Bindle
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A witty Frenchman has said that, "In order to preserve the purity of his home life, the Englishman invented the Continental excursion." It is a cynicism; but at least it shows how dear tradition is to the Englishman's heart. It was this same spirit of tradition that raised above the strife of sect the Barton Bridge Temperance Society.
The question of the doctor was another instance of the effect of tradition upon what, at first glance, might appear to be a grave problem. There was not room for two doctors at Barton Bridge, and no doctor could reasonably be expected to be a bi-religionist. It therefore became the accepted thing that the Barton Bridge doctor should attend neither church nor chapel; but it was incumbent upon him to become a member of the Temperance Society.
The catering for the Temperance F?te had at first presented a serious difficulty, and at one time had even threatened to divide the camp. The church party recoiled in horror from the thought of eating nonconformist sandwiches; whilst if the lemonade were of church manufacture it would mean that scores of dissenters would have a thirsty afternoon.
The problem had been solved by Lady Knob-Kerrick, who insisted that the order should be placed with a London firm of caterers, which, as a limited company, could not be expected to have religious convictions. Thus it was that the order went to Harridge's Stores.
By eight o'clock on the morning of the F?te a pantechnicon was lumbering its ungainly way along the Portsmouth Road. Bindle sat meditatively on the tail-board, smoking and obviously bored.
With the wholesome contempt of an incorrigible cockney he contemplated the landscape.
"'Edges, trees, an' fields, an' a mile to walk for a drink. Not me," he muttered, relighting his pipe with solemn gravity.
As the pantechnicon rumbled its ponderous way through hamlet and village, Bindle lightly tossed a few pleasantries to the rustics who stood aside to gaze at what, to them, constituted an incident in the day's monotony of motor-cars and dust.
The morning advanced, and Bindle grew more direct in his criticisms on, and contempt for, the bucolic life. At last out of sheer loneliness he climbed up beside the driver.
"'Owd jer like to live 'ere, ole son?" he enquired pleasantly, as they approached a tiny hamlet where a woman, a child, and some ducks and chickens seemed to be the only living inhabitants.
"All right with a bit o' land," responded the driver, looking about him appreciatively.
Bindle gazed at his colleague curiously, then, feeling that they had nothing in common regarding the countryside, continued:
"Funny thing you an' me comin' to a temperance f?te." Then regarding the driver's face critically, he proceeded: "'Ope you've got yer vanity-case wi' yer. You'll want to powder that nose o' yours 'fore the ladies come. Course it's indigestion, only they mightn't believe it."
The driver grunted.
"Fancy," continued Bindle, "'avin' to 'aul about chairs and make up tables a day like this, an' on lemonade too.Can't yer see it, mate, in glass bottles wi' lemons stuck in the tops and no froth?"
The driver grumbled in his throat.
The start had been an early one and he was dry, despite several ineffectual attempts to allay his thirst at wayside inns.
It was nearly eleven o'clock before a sprinkling of houses warned them that they were approaching Barton Bridge. Soon the pantechnicon was awaking echoes in the drowsy old High Street. Half-way along what is practically the only thoroughfare stands the Pack Horse, outside which the driver instinctively pulled up, and he and Bindle clambered down and entered, ostensibly to enquire the way to the F?te ground.
Behind the bar stood Mr. Cutts, wearing the inevitable red knitted cap without which no one had ever seen him during business hours. He was engaged in conversation with Dick Little, the doctor's son, and by common consent the black sheep of Barton Bridge. The subject of their talk was temperance. He showed no particular inclination to come forward, and Bindle was extremely thirsty.
After regarding the red cap for a moment Bindle approached the landlord.
"No offence, your 'Oliness! Sorry to be a noosance, but can yer tell me where the Temperance F?te is to be 'eld? Me and my mate is delegates come all the way from London. No; your 'Oliness is wrong, it's indigestion. That nose of 'is always takes a lot of explainin'."
Mr. Cutts flushed a deep purple at the reference to his cap. He wore it to hide his baldness, and was extremely sensitive. Dick Little laughed outright. It was he who answered Bindle.
"Half a mile up, and down the avenue of poplars."
"D' yer 'ear, mate?" Bindle turned to the driver. "D' yer know a poplar when yer see it? Same for me." The last remark referred to the driver's order for a pint of ale. After finishing his draught the driver went out to see to the watering of his horses, whilst Mr. Cutts, having cast at Bindle a look which he conceived to be of withering scorn, retired to his parlour.
"Seem to 'ave 'urt Old Bung's feelin's," Bindle remarked genially to Dick Little.
"You said you were going to the Temperance F?te?"
"Yes; we're carryin' along the buns, sangwidges, cakes, an' lemonade, likewise tents and things."
"Like a drink?" enquired Little.
"Well!" grinned Bindle judicially, as he surveyed his empty glass, "it would lay the dust a bit; provided," he added with mock gravity, "it ain't a split soda. Never could digest split sodas. Where's 'is 'Oliness?" he enquired, looking round.
"Never mind him," responded Little, taking a flask from his pocket. "Wash the glass out."
Bindle did so, and threw the water in a delicate line upon the floor. Little emptied the greater part of the contents of the flask into the glass held before him. With a happy look in his eyes Bindle took a short drink, tasted the liquid critically, looked at Little, then with a puzzled expression emptied the glass at the second attempt.
"Wot jer call it, sir? It's new to me," he remarked, as he replaced his glass upon the counter.
"It hasn't got a name yet. I make it myself. It's not bad, eh?"
"It beats all I've ever tasted, sir. It ain't for suckin'-babes, though. Pretty strong."
"Yes; you said you had lemonade for the Temperance F?te in there, didn't you?" enquired Little.
"Well, not exactly, sir. It's got to be watered down, see? Ther'll be about fifty gallons, 'sides bottled stuff."
"Are you open to earn a sovereign?" asked Little.
"Well, sir, it's funny you should arst that. Jest 'fore I came away from 'ome this morning my missus told me the Income Tax paper 'ad come in. That ole Lloyd George is fairly messin' up my estates. Yes, I don't mind if I do."
At this moment the driver put his head in at the door and muttered something about getting on.
"'Arf a mo', ole son," responded Bindle; then turning to Little added with a grin, "I makes it a rule never to keep me 'orses waitin', mister; the coachman gets so cross."
When Mr. Cutts returned to the bar he saw Dick Little in deep conversation with Bindle, which surprised him. He saw Bindle's face irradiating joy and heard him remark:
"'Old me, somebody, 'old me, I say! You jest leave it to me, sir."
Presently they both went out. A moment later the pantechnicon rumbled off, leaving Mr. Cutts still wondering.
The pantechnicon lumbered on towards the meadow adjoining Kerrick Castle, which had been placed at the disposal of the committee of the Temperance Society by its owner. On the tail-board sat Bindle, a metamorphosed Bindle. All the morning's gloom had vanished from his features, giving place to a joy not entirely due to the partial quenching of a persistent thirst.
Dick Little walked slowly home to an early lunch. He had many old scores to settle with Barton Bridge, and he realised that there was an excellent chance of a balance being struck that afternoon.
His one anxiety was lest his father should be involved. Between Dr. Little and his two sons, Dick and Tom, there was little in common save a great bond of affection. Dr. Little was serious-minded, inclined to be fussy, but of a generous nature and a genial disposition that gained for him the regard of all his patients. His son Dick was a rollicking dandy, an inveterate practical joker, and the leader of every mischievous escapade at St. Timothy's Hospital, known as "Tim's," where he enjoyed an all-round popularity.
By half-past one o'clock everything was ready for the Temperance F?te. The large marquee had been erected, the chairs and tables had been dotted about the meadow. Rustic stalls, gay with greenery and bunting, invited the visitor to refresh himself. In the centre of a roped-off space stood a gaily beribboned maypole.
A "cokernut shy," a Punch-and-Judy Show, and the old English game of Aunt Sally were some of the diversions provided. There was also to be Morris dancing, the dancers having been trained by Miss Slocum, the vicar's daughter, aided, for reasons of policy rather than individual prowess, by Miss McFie, the sister of the Congregational minister. The girl attendants in their gaily coloured dresses and sun-bonnets, and the men in smock-frocks and large straw hats, added picturesqueness to the scene.
Bindle's activity had been prodigious. With the ease of a man who is thoroughly conversant with his subject, he had taken charge of the drink department. The lemonade had been distributed to the various stalls, and the right amount of water added, according to the directions upon each cask. Every drop of water had been fetched under the supervision of Bindle himself.
On arriving at the F?te ground Bindle had gone direct to a corner of the meadow and brought forth half a dozen stone jars, each capable of holding about two gallons. The contents of these he had carefully poured into the casks containing the nucleus of the lemonade. These same jars had been subsequently used for fetching water with which to weaken the lemonade.
Finally they had been stowed away in the far end of the pantechnicon.
Bindle stood out in strong relief from the other workers, both on account of his costume and personality. He wore the green baize apron of his class. On his head was the inevitable cricket cap. His face had taken on the same hue as his nose, and the smile that irradiated his features transcended in its joyous abandon the smiles of all the others. For everyone he had a merry word. In the short space of two hours he had achieved an astonishing popularity.
By three o'clock the F?te was in full swing. Every stable in Barton Bridge was full, and the High Street presented a curious appearance, with its rows of horseless carriages, carts, and traps. The coach-houses and available sheds had all been utilised to give shelter to the scores of horses. The members of the committee, wearing big dark-blue rosettes, smiled largely their satisfaction. They knew that reporters were present from The Blue Ribbon News and The Pure Water World.
Bindle had entered into the spirit of the revelry in a way that attracted to him the attention of many members of the organising committee.
"An extremely droll fellow, quite a valuable addition to our attendants," the vicar remarked to the Rev. Andrew McFie, the young Congregational pastor, as they stood surveying the scene.
"An admeerable man, Meester Slocum," the cautious Scot had replied. "I have no wish to be uncharitable, but I meestrust his nose."
Entirely unconscious that he was a subject of conversation between the two shepherds of Barton Bridge, Bindle was standing behind a refreshment stall that he had appropriated to himself, surrounded by an amused crowd of revellers.
He was discoursing upon the virtues of lemonade upon a hot day. "Give 'er a drink, sir," he called to one sheepish-looking rustic, who stood grasping in his the hand of a lumpy, red-faced girl. "Give 'er a drink, sir, do, or she'll faint. 'Er tongue's almost 'anging out as it is. Be a sport. No, miss, it's no use your looking at me; my wife won't let me."
As they took their first sip of the much-praised lemonade, many looked wonderingly at Bindle. There was about it an unaccustomed something that they could not quite analyse or describe. Whatever it was, it was pleasant to the taste, and it gave them courage. Eyes that had previously been sheepish became merry, almost bold. The prospect of joy seemed nearer.
The fame of the lemonade soon spread. The fringes about the stalls deepened. The air became bright with shouts and laughter.
A spirit of wild revelry was abroad. The cokernut-shy was the centre of an uproarious throng. Balls were bought and flung with such wildness that none dared to replace the cokernuts that had been knocked off, or to fetch what by rights was his own property.
Mr. Slocum and Mr. McFie strolled round the grounds, sedately benign. They, the representatives of a Higher Power, must of necessity keep aloof from such pleasures, even temperance pleasures; still, they were glad to see about them evidences of such simple and wholesome gaiety.
With measured steps they approached a considerable group of young people who were laughing and shouting boisterously. When within about twenty yards of the crowd it suddenly opened out.
"It's a race, sir," shouted someone, and they smilingly stood aside to see the sport. A moment after their smiles froze upon their faces and gave place to a look of wonder and of horror. It was indeed a race; but such a race! Coming towards them were five youths, each bearing, pick-a-back fashion, a girl. There was an exhibition of feminine frilleries that caused the reverend gentlemen to gasp, to look at each other quickly and then turn hurriedly aside. When just opposite to where they stood, one couple came to the ground and the pair following immediately behind fell over the others. Mr. McFie blushed, and Mr. Slocum, remembering his companion's youth, gripped him by the arm and hurried him away with a muttered, "Dreadful, dreadful!"
No other word was spoken until they reached the refreshment-stall over which Bindle presided, and then the vicar once more murmured, "Dreadful!"
"Have you any tea?" enquired Mr. McFie, more from a desire to say something than a feeling of thirst.
"No, sir," responded Bindle, "tea's over there, sir. Try the lemonade, sir; it's A-1. It'll pull yer together, sir. Do try it, sir," Bindle added eagerly. "You look 'ot and tired, sir. It'll do yer good."
The two pastors looked curiously at Bindle, but accepted each without comment a glass of lemonade. They put it to their lips, tasted it, looked at each other and then drank greedily.
"Another, sir?" enquired Bindle of the vicar when he had finished his glass.
"Er … no," murmured Mr. Slocum; but Bindle had already refilled his glass and was doing a like service for Mr. McFie. When they left the stall it was arm-in-arm, and Mr. McFie directed his steps to the spot where, a few minutes previously, he had received so severe a shock; but the sport was over and the crowd had dispersed.