Herbert Jenkins.

Bindle: Some Chapters in the Life of Joseph Bindle



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"Dear me, dear me!" he fussed. "Whatever does this mean? Is everybody mad?"

"Either that or intoxicated, doctor. I'm not a medical man. I've sent for my fire-hose." There was a note of grim malevolence in Lady Knob-Kerrick's voice.

"Your fire-hose? I – I don't understand!" The doctor removed his panama and mopped his forehead with a large handkerchief.

"You will when it comes," was the reply.

"Dear me, dear me!" broke out the alarmed doctor; "but surely you're not – "

"I am," interrupted Lady Knob-Kerrick. "I most certainly am. It's my meadow."

"Dear me! I must enquire into this. Dear me!" And the doctor trotted off in the direction of the maypole. The first object he encountered was the prostrate form of the vicar, who lay under the shadow of a refreshment-stall, breathing heavily. The doctor shook him.

"Slocum," he called. "Slocum!"

"Goo' fellow tha'," was the mumbled response. "Make him my curate. Go 'way."

"Good God!" ejaculated the doctor. "He's drunk. They're all drunk. What a scandal."

He sat down beside the vicar, trying to think. He was stunned. Eventually he was aroused from his torpor of despair by a carelessly flung cokernut hitting him sharply on the elbow. He looked round quickly to admonish the culprit. At that moment he caught sight of the Rev. Andrew McFie arm-in-arm with Mr. Wace, the vicar's churchwarden, singing at the top of their voices, "Who's your Lady Friend?" Mr. McFie's contribution was limited to a vigorous but tuneless drone. He was obviously unacquainted with either the melody or the words, but was anxious to be convivial. He also threw in a rather unsteady sort of dance. Mr. Wace himself seemed to know only about two lines of the song, and even in this there were gaps.

"Shisssssssssssh!" The two roysterers were on their backs gasping and choking beneath a deluge of water. Lady Knob-Kerrick's hose had arrived, and in the steady hands of Saunders, the head-gardener, seemed likely to bring the Temperance F?te to a dramatic conclusion.

"A water-spout!" mumbled Mr. Wace vacuously.

"Water spout!" cried Mr. McFie. "It's that red-headed carlin wi' the hose."

With a yell of rage he sprang to his feet and dashed at Saunders. Lady Knob-Kerrick screamed, Dr. Little uttered a plaintive "Dear me!" Saunders stood as if petrified, clinging irresolutely to the hose. He was a big man and strong, but the terrifying sight of the minister bearing down upon him with murder in his eyes clearly unnerved him. Releasing his hold of the hose he incontinently bolted. For a moment the force of the water caused the hose to rear its head like a snake preparing to strike, then after a moment's hesitation it gracefully descended, and discharged its stream full in the chest of Dr. Little, who sat down upon the grass with a sob of surprise.

McFie's yell had attracted to him an ever-enlarging crowd.

"Turned the hose on me," he explained thickly.

"Me, Andrew McFie of Auchinlech." Suddenly catching sight of the retreating form of Lady Knob-Kerrick, he yelled, "It's all her doin', the old sinner."

With a whoop he sprang after Lady Knob-Kerrick, who at that moment was disappearing round the canvas screen seeking her carriage. The crowd followed, and some bethought themselves of the hose.

Lady Knob-Kerrick was just in the act of getting into her carriage when the jet of water from the hose took her in the small of the back and literally washed her into her seat as, a moment later, it washed her coachman off his. The horses reared and plunged; but McFie and Bindle rushed to their heads. Several men busied themselves with undoing the traces, the frightened animals were freed from the pole, and a cut from the whip, aided by the noise of the crowd, was sufficient to send them clattering down the road.

Hitherto Bindle had been by tacit consent the leading spirit; but now the Rev. Andrew McFie assumed the mantle of authority. Ordering the coachman and footman to take their mistress home, he caused the carriage to be drawn into the meadow and placed across the gateway, thus forming a barricade. This done, he mounted upon the box and harangued the throng.

Cokernuts and the balls used at the shies, together with the Aunt Sally sticks, were collected and piled up near the gate, and every preparation made to hold the meadow against all comers. McFie succeeded in working his hearers into a state of religious frenzy. They danced and sang like mad creatures, ate and drank all that was left of the provisions and lemonade, made bonfires of the stalls and tables; in short, turned Lady Knob-Kerrick's meadow into a very reasonable representation of an inferno.

"There's a-goin' to be trouble over this 'ere little arternoon's doin's," murmured Bindle to himself, as he slipped through a hole in the hedge and made his way towards Barton Bridge, whither he had already been preceded by a number of the more pacific spirits. "The cops 'll be 'ere presently, or I don't know my own mother."

Bindle was right. Lady Knob-Kerrick had telephoned to Ryford, and the police were already on their way in three motor-cars.

At Barton Bridge they were reinforced by the two local constables and later by the men-servants from the Castle. When they arrived at the entrance to the meadow they found McFie leading an extremely out-of-tune rendering of "Onward, Christian Soldiers." Immediately he saw the approaching forces of Mammon, as he called them, he climbed down from his post of vantage and secured the hose.

The police and the retainers from the Castle approached the carriage to remove it and thus gain entrance to the meadow. Led by the red-faced superintendent from Ryford, they presented an imposing array. Allowing them to approach quite close, McFie suddenly gave the signal for the water to be turned on. He had taken the precaution to post men at the hydrant to protect it.

The superintendent's legs flew up into the air as the jet of water caught him beneath the chin. In a few seconds the attacking party had been hosed into a gasping, choking, and struggling heap. Cokernuts, wooden balls, sticks, bits of chairs, glasses and crockery rained upon them.

The forces of Mammon gathered themselves together and retired in disorder. Andrew McFie's blood was up. Victory was at hand. In his excitement he committed the tactical blunder of causing the carriage to be removed, that he might charge the enemy and complete its discomfiture. His followers, however, had too long been accustomed to regard the police with awe, and most of the men, fearful of being recognised, sneaked through holes in the hedges, and made their way home by circuitous routes.

Those who remained, together with a number of girls and women, fought until they were overpowered and captured, and the Barton Bridge Temperance F?te came to an inglorious end.

That same evening, having laden the van with such of the property and tents as had not been utilised for bonfires and missiles, Bindle took his seat on the tail-board, and the van lumbered off in the direction of London.

He proceeded to review the events of the day. What particularly diverted him was the recollection of the way in which horses and vehicles had been mixed up.

When he had returned to the High Street he found there numbers of those who had visited the F?te and were now desirous only of getting home. He helped them to harness their horses, assuring them that the beasts were theirs. If he were asked for a dog-cart he selected the first to hand, and then sought out a horse of suitable size and harnessed it to the vehicle.

If any demur were made, or if identification marks were sought, he hurried the objector off, telling him that he ought to be glad he had got a horse at all.

Bindle was grinning comfortably at the thought of the days it would take to sort out the horses and vehicles, when he saw in the distance a bicycle being ridden by someone obviously in a hurry.

As it came nearer he recognised the rider as Dick Little, who pedalled up beside the van and tendered a sovereign to Bindle.

"No, sir," Bindle remarked, shaking his head. "I'm a bit of a sport myself. Lord! wasn't they drunk!" He chuckled quietly. "That young parson chap, too. No, sir, I been paid in fun."

After a somewhat lengthy discussion carried on in whispers, so that the driver should not hear, Bindle suggested that Dick Little had better come inside the van, as if anyone were to see them it might result in suspicion.

"Yer seem to like a little joke," he added. "I can tell yer about some as won't make yer want to cry."

An hour later, when Dick Little hunched his bicycle from the tail of the van he said:

"Well, come and see me in London; I'm generally in Sunday evenings."

"Right, sir; I will," replied Bindle; "but might I arst, sir, wot it was that made 'em so fidgety?"

"It was pure alcohol mixed with distilled mead," was the reply.

"Well, it done the trick. Good-night, sir. Lord! won't there be some 'eads wantin' 'oldin' in the mornin'," and he laughed joyously as the pantechnicon rumbled noisily Londonwards.

CHAPTER X
MR. HEARTY PRAYS FOR BINDLE

Mrs. Bindle had just returned from evening chapel. On Sundays, especially on Sunday evenings, when there had been time for the cumulative effect of her devotions to manifest itself, Mrs. Bindle was always in a chastened mood. She controlled those gusts of temper which plunged her back into the Doric and precipitated Bindle "into 'ell, dust an' all."

On this particular evening she was almost gentle. The bangs with which she accentuated the placing of each plate and dish upon the table were piano bangs, and Bindle duly noted the circumstance.

With him Sunday was always a day of intellectual freedom. He aired his views more freely on that than on other days.

Having laid the supper, Mrs. Bindle began to remove her bonnet. With a hat-pin in her mouth and her hands stretched behind her head in the act of untying an obstreperous veil that rested like a black line across the bridge of her nose, she remarked, in that casual tone which with her betokened an item of great interest and importance:

"Mr. Hearty prayed for you to-night, Bindle."

Bindle sat up in his chair as if he had been shot.

"'Earty wot?" he interrogated, with unaccustomed anger in his voice, and an unwonted flash in his eye. "'Earty wot?"

"He prayed for you," replied Mrs. Bindle in what was for her a hushed voice; "a beautiful prayer about a brother who had fallen by the wayside, a wheat-ear among thorns."

"'E prayed for me – 'im?"

Bindle removed his pipe from his mouth, and gripping the bowl between thumb and finger, pointed what remained of the stem at Mrs. Bindle, as she stuck a hat-pin through her bonnet and placed it on the dresser.

"'E prayed for me?" The words came with such deliberation and intensity that Mrs. Bindle glanced round sharply.

"Yes!" she snapped, "an' you want it. You're nothin' but an 'eathen." Mrs. Bindle was forgetting her careful articulation.

"A brother fallen by the roadside – "

"Wayside," corrected Mrs. Bindle, as she banged a loaf on the table.

"A brother 'oo 'as fallen by the wayside, a wheat-ear among thorns," murmured Bindle as if to himself. Suddenly he grinned; the humour of the thing seemed to strike him. "Prayed for in church – leastwise chapel – jest like the Royal Family an' rain. You're comin' on, Joe Bindle," he chuckled.

"Seems to amuse you," remarked Mrs. Bindle as she took her place at the table.

"Yer've 'it it," replied Bindle, as he skilfully opened the tin of salmon. "Yer've just 'it it. Alfred 'Earty was sent to annoy 'eaven with 'is 'ymns and tickle up Joe Bindle with 'is prayers."

"If you was more like what he is, you'd be a better man."

"'Earty is as 'Earty does," flashed Bindle with a grin. Then after a pause to enable him to reduce a particularly large mouthful of bread and salmon to conversational proportions, he continued:

"If I 'ad the runnin' of this 'ere world, there'd be some rather big alterations, with a sort of 'end o' the season' sale, an' there'd be some pretty cheap lines in parsons an' greengrocers, not to speak of chapel-goers."

"I'm surprised at you, Bindle, talking such blasphemies in a Christian 'ome. Unless you stop I'll go out."

"Not while there's any salmon left, Mrs. B.," remarked Bindle oracularly.

"You're a bad man. I done my best, I'm sure – "

"You 'ave; if yer'd done yer second best or yer third best, Joe Bindle might 'a been a better man than wot 'e is." Bindle dug a morsel of salmon out of the tin with the point of his knife. "I been too well brought up, that's wot's the matter wi' me."

"You're always scoffin' and sneerin' at me an' the chapel," responded Mrs. Bindle tartly. "It don't hurt me, whatever you may think."

"There you're wrong, me blossom." Bindle was in high spirits. His mind had been busily at work, and he saw a way of "bein' a bloomin' thorn in 'Earty's wheat-ear 'ole."

"I ain't a scoffer; it's just that I don't understan' 'ow a thing wot was meant to make people 'appy, seems to make 'em about as joyful as a winkle wot feels the pin."

"Winkles are boiled first," retorted the literal Mrs. Bindle, wiping round her plate with a piece of bread; "an' bein' dead don't feel pins. I wouldn't eat them if it hurt. Besides, winkles haven't anythin' to do with religion."

"That's wot makes 'em so tasty," retorted Bindle. "You an' 'Earty 'ave sort o' spoiled me appetite for religion; but winkles still 'old me." After a short silence he continued, "I never see a religious cove yet wot I 'ad any likin' for, leastwise, wot said 'e was religious. It's a funny thing, but as soon as people become good they seems to get about as comfortable to live with as an 'edge'og in bed.

"Funny thing, religion," Bindle continued. "There was one cove I know'd 'oo spent 'is time in 'avin' D.T.'s and gettin' saved, about 'alf an' 'alf, with a slight leanin' to D.T.'s. We called 'im Suds an' Salvation, 'suds' bein' 'is name for beer.

"Look at 'Earty, now. 'E's always talkin' of 'eaven, but 'e ain't in no 'urry to get there. 'E's as nippy as a cat if 'e 'ears a motor 'ooter when 'e's crossin' the road; and 'e 'ustles like 'ell to get inside of a bus when it's rainin'."

"His life is not 'is own, and he's waitin' his call."

Bindle looked up with a laugh.

"'Ow'll 'e know it's for 'im an' not next door?" he asked.

"I won't listen to your evil talk," announced Mrs. Bindle, half rising from her chair, and then resuming her seat again as if thinking better of her determination.

"When," continued Bindle imperturbably, "I 'ears of a place where the beer's better an' cheaper than wot I gets 'ere, orf I goes like a bunny after a lettuce. Now you an' 'Earty knows that in 'eaven 'appiness is better an' cheaper than wot it is 'ere, yet yer does all yer can to keep away from it; and they're all the same. That's wot does me."

"If you wasn't such an 'eathen you'd understand," stormed Mrs. Bindle, "and my life would be 'appier. You won't go to chapel, an' you won't 'ave a bath, and – "

"I don't 'old with all this talk o' washin'. It ain't natural," broke in Bindle cheerfully. "Look at the ladies. Wot do they do? When they gets sort o' soiled, do they wash? Not a bit of it; they shoves on another coat of powder to cover it up. I seen 'em doin' it."

"Scarlet women!" Mrs. Bindle's jaws snapped loudly.

"Yes, an' pink an' white 'uns too. I seen all sorts doin' it – which reminds me of 'ow ole Snooker lorst 'is job. 'E wos sent round by 'is guv'nor to a lady with an estimate for white-washin' and paper-'angin'. When she saw the price she gives a sort of screech o' surprise.

"'This is very expensive,' she says. 'It didn't cost little more than 'alf this last time.'

"'It's the right price, mum,' says Snooker. 'I been through it myself,' 'e says.

"'But I don't understand,' says she.

"'Well, mum,' says Snooker, 'there's the ceilin's to be washed off,' 'e says, 'an' the old paper to be stripped off the walls,' 'e says, 'and it all takes time.'

"'But is that necessary?' says the lady.

"'Well, mum,' says Snooker, quiet like, 'yer wouldn't put clean stockin's on dirty legs, would yer?' says 'e.

"She was as angry as an 'en, and wrote in that Snooker 'ad been sayin' disgustin' things, 'im wot blows a cornet in the Salvation Band o' Sundays. Why, 'e ain't got enough wind left on week-days to be disgustin' with. Any'ow 'e lorst 'is job, and the lady went to someone else as didn't talk about legs."

"Y' ought to be ashamed of yourself, Joseph Bindle, telling me such lewd tales."

"'Lewd!' Wot's that?" queried Bindle.

"An abomination in the sight of the Lord," replied Mrs. Bindle sententiously. "Your talk ain't fit for a woman to listen to. Last time we was at Mr. Hearty's you was speakin' of babies in front of Millie. I went hot all over."

"Is babies lewd then?" enquired Bindle innocently.

"They're born in sin."

"Oh, Lord!" grinned Bindle, "I'm always doin' it. Fancy babies bein' as bad as that."

"You shouldn't speak about them before a young girl like Millie."

"Babies is funny things," remarked Bindle, replacing his empty glass on the table, and wiping his mouth with the back of his disengaged hand. "Babies is funny things. If yer want one it never seems to come; but if yer don't want 'em it rains babies, an' 'fore yer know it you've got a dose or two o' triplets at three pound a bunch from the King. There wos 'Arry Brown; 'e wanted a kid, and 'e 'ated kittens. Yet 'is missis never 'ad a baby, though the cat was always 'avin' kittens, which shows as there wasn't anythink wrong wi' the 'ouse."

"I'm goin' to bed," announced Mrs. Bindle, as she rose. "Your talk ain't fit for decent ears to listen to. If it wasn't the Sabbath I'd tell you wot I think of you."

"I'm goin' out," announced Bindle with decision.

"At this time? You ain't goin' round to Mr. Hearty's?" There was a note of anxiety in Mrs. Bindle's voice. "It's past nine o'clock."

"I ain't decided whether I'll punch 'Earty's 'ead or go an' get drunk. I'm sick of all this 'umbug."

Whilst speaking, Bindle had seized his coat and cap, and made for the door. The utterance of the last word synchronised with the banging of the door itself.

Bindle walked to the Fulham Road, where he boarded an east-bound bus. At Beaufort Street he alighted, and a few minutes later was ringing the bell at 550 Beaufort Mansions, the address given to him by Dick Little. The door was opened by Little himself.

"Why, it's Aristophanes," he said with obvious pleasure.

"No, sir, Joe Bindle."

"Come in, man, whoever you are. Come in, you're just the man we want," said Dick Little heartily.

At that moment there was a gust of laughter from an adjoining room.

"I'm afraid you got friends, sir," said Bindle, hesitating on the mat. "I'll call round another night, sir. Shouldn't like to interrupt you."

"Rot! Come in," Little replied, dragging Bindle towards the room from whence the laughter came. Through the door he cried out:

"Shut up that damned row. Here's Bindle, the immortal Bindle."

The momentary hush that Little's command had produced was followed by yells of delight which crystallised into, "For he's a Jolly Good Fellow!"

Bindle stood at the door listening in amazement; then with a grin remarked to Little:

"Seem to know me, sir; seem sort o' fond of me."

"Know you, Bindle, my boy? There's not a fellow in Tim's that doesn't know and love you. A toast, you fellows," he cried.

Little seized a glass half-full of whisky-and-soda. "A toast," he cried, "to Bindle the Incomparable, rival of Aristophanes as a maker of mirth."

Cries of "Bindle! Bindle!" echoed from all parts of the smoke-dimmed room, and again there broke out what Dick Little called "the National Anthem of Good Fellowship," followed by calls for a speech.

Before he knew it Bindle was hoisted upon the table, where he stood gazing down upon some eight or ten flushed faces.

"Gentlemen, chair, please." Little rapped a glass on the table. Silence ensued. "Now, Aristophanes," to Bindle.

"Bindle, sir, plain Joe Bindle, if you please." Then turning to the expectant faces round him Bindle began his first speech.

"Gentlemen – leastways, I 'ope so. You all seem to know me, and likewise to be very fond o' me; well, p'r'aps I might become fond o' you if I don't get to know too much about yer 'abits. I'm sorry to break up this 'ere prayer-meetin', but I come to 'ave a word with Mr. Little." (Cries of "Have it with us.") "Very well, then," continued Bindle. "I got a brother-in-law, 'Earty by name." (There were cries of "Good old Hearty!") "Seem to know 'im too. P'r'aps yer sings in the choir at 'is chapel. Any'ow, 'Earty's been prayin' for me to-night at 'is chapel, an' I come to arst Mr. Little wot I'd better do."

Bindle's announcement caused a sensation and something of an uproar. His voice was drowned in cries of "Shame!"

"Just a moment, gentlemen, and I've done. 'E called me 'a brother fallen by the wayside, a wheat-ear among thorns.'"

Yells of laughter followed this announcement, and Bindle was pulled down and drink forced upon him. Soon he was sitting in the most comfortable armchair in the room, smoking a colossal cigar, with a large kitchen jug full of beer at his elbow. He saw before him nearly a dozen of the most riotous spirits in London listening with eager interest to his stories and opinions, which they punctuated with gusts of laughter. The night was far advanced when at length he rose to go.



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