Herbert Jenkins.

Bindle: Some Chapters in the Life of Joseph Bindle



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"Well, gentlemen," he said, "I never thought that doctors was such sports. Now I understand why it is that the ladies is always gettin' ill. S' long, and thanks for this friendly little evenin'. If I've talked too much you jest come and 'ear Mrs. Bindle one evenin' and yer'll be glad it's me and not 'er."

As Dick Little showed him out Bindle enquired:

"'Ow am I to get 'ome on that psalm-singin' brother-in-law o' mine? – that's wot I wants to know. Prayin' for me in chapel." Bindle wreaked his disgust on the match he was striking.

"I'll think it over," said Little, "and let you know. Good-night, and thanks for coming. We shall always be glad to see you any Sunday night."

"Different from 'Earty's Sunday nights," muttered Bindle, as he walked away. "I wonder which makes the best men. It's a good job I ain't got anythink to do with 'eaven, or them wheat-ears might sort o' get mixed wi' the thorns."

CHAPTER XI
MR. HEARTY BECOMES EXTREMELY UNPOPULAR

"'Earty may be all 'ymns an' whiskers," Bindle had said, "an' I 'ate 'is 'oly look an' oily ways; but 'e sticks to his job an' works like a blackleg. It don't seem to give 'im no pleasure though. 'E don't often smile, an' when 'e does it's as if 'e thought Gawd was a-goin' to charge it up against 'im."

Mr. Hearty was an excellent tradesman; he sold nothing that he had not bought himself, and Covent Garden knew no shrewder judge of what to buy and what not to buy, or, as Bindle phrased it:

"'E's so used to lookin' for sin in the soul that 'e can see a rotten apple in the middle of a barrel without knockin' the top off. Yes, I'll give 'Earty 'is due. There ain't many as can knock spots off 'im as a greengrocer, though as far as bein' a man, I seen better things than 'im come out o' cheese."

On the Saturday morning after Bindle's visit to Dick Little, Mr. Hearty was busily engaged in superintending the arrangement of his Fulham High Street shop, giving an order here and a touch there, always with excellent results.

According to his wont he had returned from market before eight o'clock, breakfasted, hurried round to his other shop in the Wandsworth Bridge Road, and before ten was back again at Fulham.

He was occupied in putting the finishing touches to a honey-coloured pyramid of apples, each in its nest of pink paper like a setting hen, when an ill-favoured man entered leading an enormous dog, in which the salient points of the mastiff, bull-terrier, and French poodle struggled for expression. The man looked at a dirty piece of paper he held in his hand.

"Name of 'Earty?" he interrogated.

"I am Mr. Hearty," was the reply, uttered in a voice that was intended to suggest dignity with just a dash of Christian forbearance.

"I brought your dawg," said the man with ingratiating geniality, baring three dark-brown stumps that had once been teeth; "I brought your dawg," he repeated, looking down at what appeared to be four enormous legs loosely attached to a long, sinuous body.

"You're mistaken," said Mr.

Hearty. "It's not mine; I don't keep a dog."

"My mistake, guv'nor," replied the man with a grin; "I should 'a said the dawg wot you're a-lookin' for. 'Ere, Lily, drop it."

This last remark was addressed to the dog, who, seeing Mr. Hearty's soft black felt hat lying on a box, had seized it in her enormous jaws. She looked up at her master and shook the hat roguishly with a gurgle of joy; but a sharp cuff on the muzzle caused her to drop what her teeth and saliva had already ruined.

"This is just the dawg you're wantin'," continued the man pleasantly, indicating Lily, who had lain down and was now occupying the entire centre of the shop, looking about her with distended jaws and a great flap of whitey-red tongue hanging out amiably. "Playful as a kitten, and an 'ouse-dog as 'ud eat a burglar an' then go back to dawg-biscuit wivout a murmur. She's some dawg, is Lily!"

"But I don't want a dog," replied Mr. Hearty, eyeing his hat, which the man was endeavouring to clean with his coat-sleeve. "Will you please take it away?" There was a note of asperity in his voice.

"Don't want a dawg? Don't want a dawg?" There was menace in the man's manner that caused Mr. Hearty some anxiety, and he looked appealingly at Smith, his chief assistant, and the boy, who stood regarding the episode with an enjoyment they dare not express.

"Don't want a dawg?" repeated the man for the third time. "You jest read this," thrusting out towards Mr. Hearty the dirty piece of paper he held in his hand. "You jest read this an' you'll ruddy well see that yer do want a dawg, an' this 'ere is the dawg yer want."

Mr. Hearty mechanically took the piece of paper the man thrust towards him. It was a cutting of an advertisement, which read:

"DOG WANTED, breed not important, provided it is a large and good house-dog. Not to cost more than ?4. Apply personally with animal to Alfred Hearty, 530 Fulham High Street, S.W., on Saturday at 10.30 a.m."

Mr. Hearty looked from the paper to Lily's owner in an uncomprehending way and then back to the advertisement again.

"The breed ain't important in Lily," remarked the man. "She's took prizes as a mastiff, a French poodle, a bull-terrier, and a pom., and she got hon'ble mention as a grey'ound once. She'll chaw up a man she don't like, won't yer, Lily, old gal?"

Lily looked up with a ridiculously amiable expression for a dog possessed of such qualities.

"But I don't want a dog," repeated Mr. Hearty, looking helplessly at Smith.

"Then wot the grumblin' 'ereafter do yer put in this advertisement for?" growled the man angrily.

"But I didn't."

"Is your name 'Earty?"

"I am Mr. Hearty."

"Then you want a dawg, an' Lily's your dawg, an' I want four pound. Now, 'and it over, guv'nor. I'm in a 'urry. I ain't a bloomin' non-stop."

At that moment a middle-aged woman entered, followed by a very small boy with a very large dog, as indeterminate as to pedigree as Lily herself. The woman looked about her and approached Smith.

"Mr. Hearty?" she almost whispered.

Smith, a man of few words, jerked his thumb in the direction of his employer. The woman walked over to him. Meanwhile the new dog had growled ominously at Lily, who, throwing out her forepaws and depressing her head upon them, had playfully challenged it to a romp.

"Mr. Hearty?" meekly enquired the woman.

As she spoke a woman and two more men with other dogs entered the shop. These were quickly followed by another woman of a I – know-what-I-want-and-'Uggins-is-my-name-an'-I've-got-me-marriage-lines appearance. Following her came a mild-mannered man with yet another dog, larger and more bewildering in the matter of breed than Lily and the other animal combined.

"I want to see Mr. 'Earty," announced the third woman to Smith. Smith indicated Mr. Hearty in his usual manner by a jerk of the thumb.

"I come in answer to the advertisement," she announced.

"For a dawg?" enquired Lily's owner suspiciously.

"For an 'ousekeeper," replied the woman aggressively. "Wot's that got to do wi' you? You ain't Mr. 'Earty, are yer? You jest shut yer ugly face."

The man subsided.

The shop was now full. Lily and the second dog had decided to be friends, and had formed an alliance against the third dog. In their gambols they had already upset a basket of apples.

Whilst Mr. Hearty was endeavouring to convince Lily's owner that not only did he not require a dog, but that as a matter of fact he had a marked antipathy for the whole species, other animals continued to arrive. They grouped themselves outside with their owners, together with a nondescript collection of men, women, and boys, with and without dogs. All seemed inspired with the same ambition – to interview Mr. Hearty.

Mr. Hearty looked at the sea of faces outside as an actor suffering from stage-fright might gaze at the audience that had bereft him of the power to speak or move. He felt that he must act promptly, even sternly; but he was not a brave man and saw that he was faced by a crowd of potential enemies. Summoning up all his courage he turned to Lily's owner.

"Kindly remove that dog," he ordered in what he meant to be a stern voice, indicating Lily, who was playing a game of hide-and-seek round an apple-barrel with a pomeranian-Irish-terrier.

"'Oo are you talkin' to? Just answer me that," demanded Lily's owner.

Mr. Hearty saw clearly that the man intended to be awkward, even insolent.

"I am speaking to you, and unless you take that dog away, I – I – " Mr. Hearty stopped, wondering what he really would do. What ought he to do under such circumstances?

"Why did yer advertise?" demanded the aggressive woman.

"I didn't," replied Mr. Hearty miserably, turning to his new assailant. "I have advertised for nothing."

"Didn't yer advertise for a 'ousekeeper?" continued the woman.

"No!"

"Yer a blinkin' liar."

At this uncompromising rejoinder Mr. Hearty started. He was unaccustomed to such directness of speech.

"Unless you are civil I shall order you out of my shop," retorted Mr. Hearty angrily.

"An' if yer do I shan't go; see?" The woman placed her hands on her hips and looked at Mr. Hearty insultingly. "Look at 'im," she continued, addressing the crowd, "playin' 'is dirty jokes on pore people. I paid eightpence return to get 'ere all the way from Brixton, then 'e says it's a joke."

There was an ominous murmur from the others. All sorts of epithets were hurled at Mr. Hearty.

"Will yer pay our fares?"

"I'll punch 'is bloomin' 'ead till it aches!"

"Let me get at 'im!"

"Yer dirty tyke!"

"You goin' to buy my dawg?" demanded Lily's owner, thrusting his face so close to Mr. Hearty's that their noses almost touched.

"No, I'm not," shouted Mr. Hearty in desperation. "Smith, put this man and his dog out."

Smith looked embarrassed and Lily's owner laughed outright, a sneering, insulting laugh, which his black stumps of teeth seemed to render more sinister and menacing.

Mr. Hearty felt that the situation was passing beyond his control. How had it all happened and what did it mean? Events had followed upon one another so swiftly that he was bewildered. Where were the police? What did he pay rates and taxes for if he were to be subjected to this? What would be the end of it all? Would they kill him?

Just as he saw himself being bruised and buffeted by a furious crowd, a shadow fell across the shop as a pantechnicon drew up outside. It was one of three, and from the tail-board of the last Bindle slipped off and began forcing his way towards the shop entrance.

"Now then," he called out cheerfully, "make way there. I'm the brother o' the corpse. Wot's it all about – a fire or a dog-show?"

The crowd good-humouredly made room. Pushing his way into the shop he hailed his brother-in-law.

"'Ullo, 'Earty; 'oldin' a lev?e? What-oh!"

"'E wants a dawg," broke in the dog man, indicating Lily with a jerk of his thumb.

"I come all the way from Brixton," shouted the would-be housekeeper.

"An' very nice, too," replied Bindle, as he pushed his way to the side of Mr. Hearty, who was listening with anguished intentness to an eager group of women whose one desire seemed to caretake for him.

Bindle looked round the shop with a puzzled expression, his eyes finally resting on Lily.

"Call that a dawg?" he enquired of Lily's owner with an incredulous grin.

"Yus, I do," replied the man aggressively. "What 'ud you call it? A rosy kitten?"

"Well," remarked Bindle imperturbably, regarding Lily critically, "since you arsts me, I'd call it a bloomin' 'istory o' dawgs in one volume."

"Where'll yer 'ave the coal, guv'nor?" bawled a voice from the fringe of the crowd.

At that moment Mrs. Hearty entered from the parlour behind the shop. She gazed about her in mild wonderment.

"We don't want any coals, Alf. We had them in last week." Mrs. Hearty subsided into a chair. Suddenly her eyes fell upon Lily, who was trying to shake off her head Mr. Hearty's hat, which someone had placed there, and she collapsed, helpless with laughter.

"'Ere, get out of it," cried Bindle, giving Lily a cuff, whereat she yelped dismally. Providence had evidently intended her for doughty deeds, having endowed her with the frame of an Amazon, but had then lost interest and given her the heart of a craven.

By dint of threats, badinage, and persuasion Bindle at last cleared the shop of all save Mr. and Mrs. Hearty, Smith, and the boy. Posting the staff at the door with instructions to admit no one, Bindle approached his brother-in-law.

"Wot jer been doin', 'Earty? The 'ole bloomin' street's full o' carts and people wantin' to see yer. I brought three vans. What's it all about?"

Never had Mr. Hearty been so genuinely pleased to see Bindle. Before he had time to reply to his question, a big man pushed his way past Smith and entered the shop.

"Where'll yer 'ave the beer, guv'nor?" he shouted in a thick, hearty voice redolent of the Trade.

"'Ere, come out of the way," shouted a small wiry man who had followed him in. "All this little lot goin'?" he asked, nodding in the direction of the crowd that blocked the street. "I only got three brakes, an' they won't take 'em all."

"What's your little game?" Bindle enquired of the newcomer.

The brakeman eyed him with scornful contempt.

"You Mr. 'Earty?" he enquired.

"I'm 'is brother; 'e's been took ill. There's a mistake. You better get 'ome."

"Get 'ome!" shouted the man. "'Oo's goin' to pay?"

"Try Lloyd George!" suggested Bindle cheerfully.

A policeman pushed his way into the shop and Bindle slipped out. The real drama was being enacted outside. From all directions a steady stream of people was pouring towards Mr. Hearty's shop.

"'Earty, 'Earty," murmured Bindle joyously to himself, as he surveyed the High Street, "wot 'ave yer been an' done?"

The place presented an extraordinary appearance.

There were coal-carts, strings of them, brewers'-drays, laundry-carts, railway-vans, huge two-horse affairs, pantechnicons, char-a-bancs, large carts, small carts, and medium-sized carts. There were vehicles with one, two, and three horses. There were motor-cars, motor-vans, motor-lorries, and motor-cycles. There were donkey-carts, spring-carts, push-carts, and pull-carts. Everything capable of delivering goods was represented, and all were locked together in a hopelessly congested mass.

Everything had come to a standstill and the trams strove in vain to clang their way through the inextricable tangle.

The footpaths were crowded with men, women, boys, and dogs, all endeavouring to reach Mr. Hearty's shop, the Mecca of their pilgrimage. Crowds overflowed the paths into the roadway and seemed to cement together the traffic.

Bindle passed along the line intent on gleaning all the information he could.

"'Ave yer come after the job o' 'ousekeeper, nurse, or dawg?" he asked one seedy-looking man with an alarming growth of nose.

"'Ow about my railway fare?"' enquired Lily's owner, recognising Bindle. "'Oo's goin' to pay it?"

"You're a-goin' to pay it yerself, ole sport, unless you're goin' to walk." Then eyeing the man critically he added, "A little exercise might ease yer figure a bit."

Bindle pushed among the throng of disappointed applicants for employment and deliverers of goods. Fate had been kind to him in sending him this glorious jest.

"Might 'a been foundin' a colony," he muttered, as he passed from group to group; "'e ain't forgot nothink: plumbers, bricklayers, vans, 'ousekeepers, dawgs, kids to adopt, 'orses, carpenters, caretakers, shovers; an' 'e's ordered everythink what ever growed or was made, includin' beer, enough to keep the Guards drunk for a year. 'Earty's mad, pore chap. Religion do take some that way."

At first Bindle had been puzzled to account for the throngs of applicants; but enquiry made things very clear. In every case the advertisements – and they had appeared in every daily and innumerable weekly papers – stated the wages, which were unusually high. A vanman was offered fifty shillings a week, a housekeeper thirty shillings a week all found; for an errand-boy fifteen shillings a week was suggested, and ten pounds as a bonus to the parents of the child that was to be adopted.

The officials at Putney Bridge station were puzzled to account for the extraordinary increase in the westward-bound traffic on that Saturday morning; but what particularly surprised them was the stream of dogs that each train seemed to pour forth.

The run upon dog-tickets at certain East-end stations broke all records, and three stationmasters had to telephone to headquarters for a further supply.

Dogs occupied the gangways of every train arriving at Putney Bridge station between 10 a.m. and 10.40 a.m. Dogs growled, fawned, and quarrelled.

The stream of dogs, however, was as nothing to the stream of men, women and boys, and small children for adoption. The station officials and the bus-men outside wearied of instructing people how to get to Fulham High Street.

The congestion of traffic in Fulham High Street was felt as far east as Piccadilly and the Strand, where the police on point duty were at a loss to account for it. The disorganisation in the tram service was in evidence equally at Wood Green and Wandsworth.

Certain elements in the crowd, notably the younger and more light-hearted sections, in particular those who lived in the neighbourhood and were not out of pocket for railway fares, were inclined to regard the whole affair as a huge joke, and badinage flowed freely. There was, however, another section that thirsted for somebody's blood, and was inclined to regard Mr. Hearty as the person most suitable to supply this.

In the immediate vicinity of the shop-door the excitement was intense, everyone pushing and striving to get nearer. There was no suggestion of personal feeling save in the case of those who were bent on the same errand. Thus a potential housekeeper felt nothing but friendliness for a would-be dog-seller, whilst a hopeful housemaid was capable of experiencing almost an affection for a mother who had a spare offspring she was wishful of having adopted.

When the first brewers' dray drew up it was greeted with cheers, and one man who drove up in a donkey-cart with a flashily-dressed young woman was greeted with the inevitable:

 
"Who's your lady friend? I am surprised at you,
It isn't the one I saw you with at 'Ampstead,"
 

sung by a score of robust voices.

Cries, cat-calls, and advice to those inside to "save a drop for uncle," and "'urry up," were continuous. Many crude jokes were levelled at Mr. Hearty's name.

When the helmets of the police were seen bobbing their way through the crowd there were prolonged cheers.

The first policeman to arrive, having foreseen the possibility of trouble, had promptly telephoned for assistance. At the time the reinforcements arrived, including an inspector and two mounted constables, the attitude of the crowd was beginning to assume an ugly look. One of the more aggressive spirits had endeavoured to single out Mr. Hearty as a target for one of his own potatoes; but he had, unfortunately for him, hit the policeman, whose action had been so swift and uncompromising that there was no further attempt at disorder.

The inspector quickly saw that very little that was coherent could be obtained from Mr. Hearty. It was Bindle who supplied the details of what had occurred.

"'Earty's me brother-in-law," he replied. "'E's either gone off 'is onion or someone's been pullin' 'is leg. All this 'ere little lot," and Bindle indicated the congested High Street, "'as brought 'im things they says 'e's ordered, and 'e says 'e ain't, an' them crowds of men, women, and dogs and kids 'as come sayin' he wants to give 'em jobs or 'omes."

The inspector asked a few questions, and gleaned sufficient information to convince him that this was a huge practical joke, and that prompt action was imperative. He telephoned for more men and set to work in an endeavour to organise the traffic and reduce it to manageable proportions.

Constables were placed at different points along the main thoroughfare leading to Fulham High Street, asking all drivers and chauffeurs if they were bound for Mr. Alfred Hearty's shop in Fulham High Street, and if so sending them back. Men were stationed at Hammersmith and Putney High Street to divert the streams of traffic that still poured towards Fulham.

Putney and Fulham had never seen anything like it. Families went dinnerless because housewives either could not get to the shops, or could not get away from them again. Telephones rang, and irate housekeepers enquired when the materials for lunch were coming. Taxicab drivers with fares sat stolidly at the wheel, conscious that their income was increasing automatically, whilst the fares themselves fumed and fussed as they saw their twopences vanish.

It was not until past one o'clock that the trams restarted, and it was 2.30 before Bindle got back to the yard with his three pantechnicons.

"Poor ole 'Earty's got it in the neck this time," he muttered as he turned back towards Fulham High Street to lend a hand in putting things straight. Mr. Hearty was distracted at the thought that none of his customers had received their fruit and vegetables, and Bindle was genuinely sorry for him. All that afternoon and late into the night he worked, helping to weigh up and deliver orders; and when he eventually left the shop at a few minutes before midnight, he was "as tired as a performin' flea."



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