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Title: The Bindles on the Rocks
Author: Herbert Jenkins
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
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Language: English
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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: The Bindles on the Rocks
Author: Herbert Jenkins



HERBERT JENKINS LIMITED
YORK STREET ST.  JAMES'S S.W.1.



WHAT THIS STORY IS ABOUT

Poor old Bindle struck an unlucky patch and lost his job. For weeks he
had been out of work and for weeks he had tramped from early morning
until late at night, without food, beer or tobacco. He suffered
considerable pain from what he called his "various" veins; but Joseph
Bindle was a great-hearted little man, who realised to the full his
domestic responsibilities and, with the aid of his friends, he pulled
through.

In this volume reappear gloomy Ginger, Dick Little, Mr. and Mrs. Hearty,
and many others. It tells how Bindle stops a "Prohibition" meeting, pays
a visit to the "Zoo," with Mrs Bindle as militant as ever.



BOOKS BY THE SAME AUTHOR

BINDLE
JOHN DENE OF TORONTO
THE NIGHT CLUB
THE ADVENTURES OF BINDLE
MRS. BINDLE
MALCOLM SAGE, DETECTIVE
PATRICIA BRENT, SPINSTER
THE RAIN-GIRL
THE RETURN OF ALFRED



CONTENTS

CHAPTER I      THE BINDLES ON THE ROCKS
CHAPTER II     BINDLE GOES TO CHAPEL
CHAPTER III    THE PUSSYFOOT MEETING
CHAPTER IV     THE FLITTING OF MR. MAURICE CRANE
CHAPTER V      THE BINDLES AT THE ZOO
CHAPTER VI     MRS. BINDLE TAKES TO HER HEELS
CHAPTER VII    MRS. BINDLE FETCHES A POLICEMAN
CHAPTER VIII   MRS. BINDLE DRESSES IN MUSLIN
CHAPTER IX     MRS. BINDLE MEETS HER MATCH
CHAPTER X      MRS. BINDLE KEEPS CHICKENS
CHAPTER XI     MRS. BINDLE'S REVENGE
CHAPTER XII    PROMOTION OF COMPANY SERGEANT-MAJOR HIGGS
CHAPTER XIII   THE MUTINY OF THE SYBIL
CHAPTER XIV    MR. HEARTY LOSES HIS TROUSERS





CHAPTER I - THE BINDLES ON THE ROCKS


I


"They've cut the water off!"

Mrs. Bindle made the announcement as if she found in it a relief to her
feelings.

Bindle received the news in silence, then, as if feeling that the
tension of the situation required relieving, he remarked:

"Well, well, you can't 'ave everythink."

"And how am I going to cook?" she demanded.

"There ain't been much wantin' cookin' lately," he retorted: but there
was no bitterness in his tone. It was rather a statement of fact.

Mrs. Bindle eyed him keenly. For weeks past she had noted the hard,
drawn expression of his face.

The Government dole of a pound a week was little enough on which to
live, particularly when a pound sterling possessed the purchasing power
of some eight shillings before the War, a circumstance which Mrs. Bindle
seemed never tired of emphasising.

"The gas'll go next," she announced, as if anxious to squeeze from the
situation every drop of drama it contained.

"Well, there won't be anythink else to take after they get that," said
Bindle, with a grin that was a ghost of its former self, "unless they
takes me," he added.

"I suppose you've forgotten the house," was Mrs. Bindle's acid retort.

"Speakin' as man to woman, I 'ad," was the reply, as he drew from his
pocket his beloved clay pipe, gazed at it for a moment, and then
returned it once more to where of late it seemed exclusively to belong.
It was five days since it had received what Bindle called "a feed," and
then it had been due to a mate's hospitality.

"Well, well," he sighed, as he dropped into a chair, "as I was jest
sayin', you can't 'ave everythink."

There were times when he found the struggle against depression almost
too much for his philosophy.

"Got a job?"

Bindle had been anticipating the question ever since he entered; yet he
winced. He never could hear that interrogation without wincing.

"Not yet, Lizzie," he said with forced cheerfulness; "but I'll get
somethink soon."

Mrs. Bindle sniffed. To her it was a man's duty to get a job and keep,
it, just as it was a woman's duty to see to the requirements of the
house.

"'Ow am I going to cook without water?" she demanded, her diction
becoming a little frayed under the stress of emotion.

"If they cut off the gas, we won't want to cook," he replied, striving
to speak cheerfully. "We ain't got no coal."

"That's right, make a joke of it!" she cried. "That'll fill your
stomach, won't it?"

"I ain't a-making a joke of it. I'm tryin' to make the best--"

"Yes, make the best of having no gas, no water, no coal, and no food.
Pretty best you're likely to make of that."

Bindle was silent--he realised that the domestic barometer was falling.

"I've filled the jugs and pails," Mrs. Bindle announced presently, with
the air of one who has scored off a natural enemy.

"There ain't no flies on you, Mrs. B.," and the grin with which he
accompanied the remark was a tribute to Mrs. Bindle's astuteness. "I
suppose we couldn't bottle some gas?" he suggested.

"Don't be a fool!" was the retort. "I saw the turncock," she added a
moment later. There was a note of grimness in her voice.

"Wot did 'e say?" asked Bindle with interest. He was sorry to have
missed Mrs. Bindle's encounter with the turncock. He knew her capacity
for inspired invective when under the influence of great emotion.

"Oh! he was like all men," she cried scornfully. "Said he'd got his
orders. I gave him a piece of my mind."

"Wot jer say to 'im?"

She sniffed disdainfully. She could not exactly remember what she had
said; but the turncock remembered. It had spoilt his day. The delay due
to Mrs. Bindle's eloquence had made it too late for him to get on the
1.30 at Alexandra Park, and his choice had subsequently won at a 100 to
8. He had not so much minded the reflections that Mrs. Bindle had cast
upon him as a father, a husband, and a man; but he had hated missing the
1.30, in fact he hated missing the first race at any meeting. Somehow or
other the conviction had been borne in upon him that his destiny was
indissolubly linked up with first races, a circumstance that had earned
for him the sobriquet of "First-race Rogers."

"Well?" demanded Mrs. Bindle, as Bindle made no further effort towards
conversation.

"Eh?" he queried.

In his imagination he had been filling his clay pipe from a box full of
tobacco. He sighed a little dolefully.

"How am I to cook without water?" she demanded for the third time.

"You got all them pails full."

"There's only two, and one's the slop-pail."

Bindle scratched his head with the air of one who is carefully weighing
a difficult problem. "But ain't the jugs full?" he queried.

"We've got two jugs and three cups. I filled the large flower-pot; but
the cork came out of the bottom."

"An' wot about my rinse?"

"You can't have it," she snapped.

"Well, it don't look as if there's goin' to be soup for dinner
to-morrow," he muttered.

"That's right! Go on, make a joke of it!" she retorted.

"But things ain't so bad but wot you can laugh at 'em, Lizzie." There
was a note of almost pleading in his voice.

"Then you'd better fill your stomach with it and see how empty you'll
feel," was the angry rejoinder.

Mrs. Bindle liked to get the full dialectical value out of tragedy and
drama, and she resented Bindle's flippancy. With her there was a time
and place for all things. She did not realise that Bindle was applying
the only balm he knew for a wounded spirit.

For weeks he had been out of work, and for weeks he had tramped London
from early morning until late at night, without food, beer, or tobacco.
He suffered considerable pain from what he called his "various" veins;
but Joseph Bindle was a great-hearted little man, who realised to the
full his domestic responsibilities.

Each night he returned home as he had left it that morning--one of the
unemployed. He felt ashamed; yet never had he worked so hard as during
those weeks of tramping the streets seeking employment.

He had presented himself as a candidate for every conceivable sort of
job, on more than one occasion earning the scorn of the advertiser, who
resented receiving applications for the post of traveller, or
fish-fryer, from a journeyman pantechnicon-man.

In her heart Mrs. Bindle realised that Bindle was trying all he could to
get a job; yet, destitute of tact, she did not seem to realise that in
that one evening interrogation she drove the iron deep into his soul.
Although he knew it to be inevitable, he never quite succeeded in
steeling himself against the question when it actually did come.

On his return to No. 7 Fenton Street two evenings later, Bindle was met
with the announcement that Mrs. Bindle had used the last of the water.

"I'll nip in next door and fetch some," he said, with forced
cheerfulness.

"Don't you dare!"

He was startled by the angry intensity of her tone.

"Wot's up, you been scrappin'?"

"I won't be under an obligation to those women," she cried, her mouth
shutting with a determined snap. "Besides, they don't know."

"Why, everybody in the street knows by now, and Mrs. Sawney and Mrs.
Grimps--"

"Don't you dare to mention their names in my house."

"Then wot am I goin' to do when I wants a drink o' water?" he cried in
an aggrieved tone.

"Go without!" was the angry response.

"There don't seem anythink else to do but turn up my toes," he grumbled.
"'Ow you goin' to cook?"

"Not with their water," she announced with decision.

"I'll take a bucket round to 'Earty an' pinch some of 'is," said Bindle
wearily.

"You do, and I'll throw it over you!" she cried. "Mark my words if I
don't."

"But where the 'ell are we goin' to get water, Lizzie, if you won't 'ave
it from nowhere?"

"I won't have Mr. Hearty know, and I won't borrow it from those women,
so there," and there was that in Mrs. Bindle's tone which convinced
Bindle it would be foolish to argue. Instead, he put a beer-bottle in
either trouser pocket, and two more under his coat, and stole out into
the night.

A quarter of an hour later he returned triumphant, the four beer-bottles
full of water.

"Where did you get it?" demanded Mrs. Bindle suspiciously, her eyes
almost devouring the precious bottles.

"Round at a garridge in the Fulham Road," he lied.

As a matter of fact, he had obtained the precious fluid from a hydrant
used for the filling of water-carts, aided by a spanner, borrowed on the
way.

Mrs. Bindle poured out a little water in a cup and drank it daintily,
although she was very thirsty.

"Why didn't you wash the bottles? It tastes of beer!" she cried, walking
over to the sink; but for once the material triumphed over the ethical,
and Mrs. Bindle swallowed the beer-tainted water, although she made a
motion suggestive of disgust.


II


Three days later the gas-man called at No. 7 Fenton Street, and was met
by Mrs. Bindle, mop in hand.

He explained that he had been sent to disconnect the meter from the
supply pipe. At that point Mrs. Bindle monopolised the conversation.

The man was silent and respectful, bowing under the flail of Mrs.
Bindle's biting tongue. He was not unsympathetic. He had a wife of his
own, albeit one less biting of speech, and he was sorry to have to cut
off from any home the sole means it possessed of cooking food; still, it
was a little galling, even to him, to be called "a Hun," "a breaker-up
of homes," and "the Eighth Plague."

At first he had scarcely hoped to get off with an unbroken head; but
even Mrs. Bindle had seen the justice of his protestations that it
wasn't his fault, and if she refused to allow him to cut off the gas,
others would come and do so by force. He had gone on to tell the story
of one woman who had assaulted official of the company, with the result
that she had done fourteen days, owing to her inability to pay the fine.

And so the gas, like the water, was added to the list of things
forbidden at No. 7 Fenton Street.

Piece by piece the smaller of the Bindles' possessions had already
passed through the portals over which swung the three brass balls of
penury.

As the weeks passed, the articles became larger, and the hour at which
they were taken out later. Mrs. Bindle was proud. Not for the world
would she have allowed the neighbours to know that she was pawning her
home; but the neighbours not only knew it; they were in a position to
supply a fairly accurate list of the articles which had been disposed
of. Bindle had come to dread the return from these expeditions, with
Mrs. Bindle's inevitable interrogation, "How much did you get?" It soon
became apparent that between her views on the matter of valuation, and
those of the pawnbroker, there was a great gulf fixed.

Her much-valued lustres, for instance, which she had valued at five
pounds, realised three shillings and sixpence, and a case of wax fruit,
about which she was a little doubtful, but had finally settled upon as
worth ten pounds, had produced only two shillings.

Without hesitation she had condemned the pawnbroker as a thief; but,
inspired by a sense of fairness to him, she always insisted on seeing
the pawn-tickets, although she had no objection to Bindle retaining them
once she had checked the amount of the accommodation.

"There's comin' a day," muttered Bindle to himself one evening as he
plodded wearily homewards, "there's comin' a day, J. B., when there
won't be nothink left to pawn but Mrs. B., an' 'ow much you're a-goin'
to get on 'er depends on Ole Isaac's views on women."

"Ole Isaac" was Bindle's name for Mr. Montagu Gordon, whose thickness of
speech and arched nose confirmed his Scotch descent! One day, a week
after the interruption of the gas supply, Bindle was walking, along the
Fulham Road, when he was surprised to hear himself hailed from a
motor-car. A moment later a neat little limousine drew up beside him,
the door was burst open, and he saw Dr. Richard Little smiling at him.

"Hullo, J. B.! Where have you been all these years?"

"'Ullo, 'ullo!" cried Bindle joyfully, "and 'ow goes it, sir?"

"Come on, hop in," cried Dr. Little, and, a moment later, Bindle was
whirled off in the direction of the doctor's flat in Sloane Gardens.
Years before, when a student at St. Timothy's Hospital, known as
"Tim's," Dr. Little had sought Bindle's assistance in organising the
Temperance Fete rag. They had continued friends ever since, and it was
through him that Bindle became known to the men of St. Timothy's
Hospital, whom he always referred to as "the Assassins."

Seating Bindle in a comfortable chair in his surgery, Dr. Little stood
looking down at him, professional speculation in his eye. Reaching
forward, he lifted his left wrist and felt the pulse.

"What's the trouble, J. B.?" he asked, gazing at him keenly.

"When I comes to my doctor, it's for 'im to tell me, not for me to tell
'im," retorted Bindle with a grin.

"Well, I haven't many minutes to spare; but I've just got time to snatch
a bite before I push off again."

He pressed his thumb on the bell-push.

"A good plateful of sandwiches, Smithson," he said, as a dainty and
efficient-looking parlourmaid entered. "I've not time for luncheon, and
I'm very hungry."

For a moment the girl hesitated; but, too well trained to manifest
surprise, she retired. "Manage a sandwich with me?" he queried. "Then we
can talk."

"Well, I ain't 'ungry," said Bindle, praying to be forgiven for the lie;
"but I don't mind jest nibblin' orf the corner, if it's a very small one
an' cut thin."

In his heart was a great thankfulness. Here was a prospect of food,
which he could eat without wound to his pride.

Going to the sideboard, Dr. Little produced a claret-jug and some
glasses. He had successfully diagnosed his patient's case. It was an
ailment requiring good red, blood-making wine instead of
whisky-and-soda.

"Well," he cried presently, "how's the happy home?"

"I got most of it in my pocket. I--" Bindle stopped suddenly, realising
that he was giving the game away; but Dr. Little had seen a handful of
pawn tickets, which Bindle had half drawn from his pocket. Bindle cursed
himself for his ready tongue; but the humour of the situation had
carried him away.

"I been out of a job," he explained; "but it's all right now," and he
took another sandwich from the dish Dr. Little pushed across to him.

"In work again?"

"Oh! we'll soon be all right now," Bindle equivocated.

For a quarter of an hour they chatted, during which time Dr. Little
managed to persuade Bindle to make a fairly hearty meal of sandwiches,
taking one himself for every one that Bindle took, and discarding it
when he was not observed.

"Well, so long, J. B.," he cried heartily, as he gripped his hand, and
Bindle was shown out by the trim parlour-maid, a cigar between his lips
and a great content in his heart.

"I wish I could 'ave pinched a few for Lizzie," he muttered, as he
walked down the steps; "but it wouldn't 'ave been right like to 'im."

Meanwhile, Dr. Little was examining a pile of pawn-tickets on his
consulting-room table. There had been a time when, as Yu Li Tel, the
Chinese wizard, he had been famous at Tim's for his sleight-of-hand.

The examination completed, he went down upon his knees and proceeded to
retrieve partially eaten sandwiches from under the table. These he threw
into the fireplace. The next morning, the maid who attended to the
surgery, decided that the master must have had a stroke, her father
being subject to fits.

That night, as luck would have it, Mrs. Bindle was in some doubt as to
the amount lent upon a copper saucepan that she had valued at 15s., and
on which the pawnbroker had lent either 2s. 3d. or 3s. 3d. To settle the
point to her satisfaction, she demanded the pawn-tickets of Bindle.

Without hesitation he thrust his hand into his coat pocket, then, by the
look of consternation on his face, she realised that something was
wrong.

"What's the matter?" she demanded. Bindle proceeded to go through his
pockets with the hurried action of a bridegroom who has forgotten the
ring.

"I 'ad 'em all in my pocket this mornin'," he mumbled.

"You've lost them," she announced; then she added inconsistently: "Go
upstairs and look!"

Bindle spent the next half-hour in searching everything that was
searchable, even down to the dustbin; but nowhere could he find a single
pawn-ticket, and he had perforce to announce that the portion of their
home which was in the possession of "Ole Isaac" was irretrievably lost
to them, whereat Mrs. Bindle had sunk down at the kitchen-table and
indulged in a fit of hysterics which was already twenty-four hours
overdue. From careful observation Bindle had discovered that during the
period of crisis Mrs. Bindle had hysterics twice a week.

"Well, well," he muttered. "It ain't no good either laughin' or cryin'
about it. I'd never 'ave 'ad the money to get them sticks out. My Gawd!
Them sandwiches, an' the wine, an' that cigar. I'll never forget 'em;
yet it don't seem fair me 'avin' 'em without Lizzie."

The reduction of the Government dole from twenty to fifteen shillings a
week had been a serious thing for the Bindles. The trade union to which
Bindle belonged was practically bankrupt, and the seven shillings a week
it paid was insufficient to meet the rent.

To feed two people upon a pound a week, with slight additions of a few
shillings due to the transference to "Ole Isaac" of one or other of Mrs.
Bindle's household gods, had required very careful and economical
management. A reduction of twenty-five per cent. had spelt tragedy, and
in a very short time Bindle had economised two holes in the leather belt
he had taken to. He foresaw a time when he would have "a waist like a
bloomin' wasp."

No longer could he "cut and come again" at his favourite dishes, for
they, too, had been included in the general catastrophe, Mrs. Bindle
being obliged to select such foods as were cheap and sustaining.

Bindle had learnt to hate the name of haricots, lentils and split peas,
stewed with bones a week old and white from constant immersion. Even of
these culinary reiterations there was insufficient, and the spirit of
self-sacrifice inspired Bindle to lie, and Mrs. Bindle to compromise
with the truth.

"How can I eat when I don't know where the next meal's coming from?" she
would snap illogically, when urged to "'ave another go at that there
bone an' bean dish," as Bindle had named the large yellow pie-dish in
which their meals were now always served.

"I ain't 'ungry, not workin'," he would remark, when ordered to pass up
his plate, his very stomach seeming to protest at the lie which denied
it the occupation to which it was accustomed.

By common consent both Bindle and Mrs. Bindle kept from the Heartys all
knowledge of the straits to which they were reduced. Even had they
communicated to him the facts of the case, it is doubtful if Mr. Hearty
would have been of any real assistance. None knew better than he the
value of money, and in all probability his aid would have taken the form
of a stock-soiled pineapple, or a cokernut which had lost most of its
value, owing to being cracked and destitute of milk.

Mr. Hearty's dictum was "Let not thy right hand know what thy left hand
doeth," and he found no difficulty in observing the rule, as neither
compromised itself with lavish or injudicious charity. He never gave to
beggars in the street because they "only spent it on drink," and he was
not the man irrevocably to plunge into the fiery furnace of perpetual
damnation the soul of a fellow-creature. There were times when Mr.
Hearty would talk gravely, almost grimly, of the dangers of promiscuous
giving, and it was always when he had refused largess to some
importuning piece of human flotsam. The only way to extract charity from
Alfred Hearty was to take him by the throat, for, much as he valued his
money, he valued his life more.

And so the Bindles passed from one hungry day to another.

"I'm worried about--" Mrs. Hearty broke off, beating her breast with her
clenched fist.

Mr. Hearty looked up from the day-book, in which he was making entries.
He was accustomed to Mrs. Hearty's serial form of conversation.

"I'm worried about Lizzie and Joe," said Mrs. Hearty, when she had
recovered somewhat.

"Lizzie and Joe," repeated Mr. Hearty, in a patient, woolly voice. Mr.
Hearty was always patient.

"Joe's been out of work for--for--oh, my breath!" gasped Mrs. Hearty. It
had become a habit with her to break off when a word short of the
completion of the sentence, in order to expend more than the necessary
oxygen required to complete it.

"Eight weeks," concluded Mrs. Hearty.

"Eight weeks," repeated Mr. Hearty vaguely, his thoughts having returned
to the day-book. "Eight weeks what?"

"Work!" exploded Mrs. Hearty, who once more began to beat her breast.

"Who has got eight weeks' work?" enquired Mr. Hearty.

Mrs. Hearty shook her head violently, and made motions with her hands;
but it was several seconds before she could gasp the words, "Hasn't had
it."

When she had gained more control over her powers of breathing, she
proceeded to explain in wheezy jerks that she was greatly concerned as
to what was happening at No. 7 Fenton Street.

Mr. Hearty regarded her with the air of a man who would like to change
the subject. "Can't you do somethin' for Joe, Alf?" she enquired
presently.

"Do something?" interrogated Mr. Hearty. "I am--I am rather pressed for
ready money at the moment, Martha," he added, as a precaution.

"Try and get 'im a job then," she suggested. "I will make enquiries,"
said Mr. Hearty, as he returned to the pages of the day-book. Mrs.
Hearty had no illusions about the man she had married. On the few
occasions when Mr. Hearty indulged in charity, it was always in
connection with a subscription list, where he felt that to some extent
he obtained value for money in the form of prestige among the faithful
of the Alton Road Chapel.

There was no bond of sympathy between him and his brother-in-law; in
fact, there was no bond of sympathy between Alfred Hearty and anybody,
as from youth he had always been self-centred, his whole attention being
concentrated on the art of getting on. He had married as a preliminary
to starting in business on his own account. He foresaw absences from his
shop, and he distrusted his fellows. A wife could be left in charge of
the till, and her keep would be less than the salary he would have to
pay an assistant. Apart from that, she would cook, wash and mend.

He found his attention wandering from his work. He realised in a vague
sort of way that Martha was not a woman to desert her own kith and kin,
and he found himself wondering how he could help the Bindles and, at the
same time, help himself.

Finally he decided that if he were to discharge his carman, Smith, to
whom he paid two pounds fifteen shillings a week, and offer Bindle the
job for thirty-five shillings a week, he would be exercising an economy
of a pound a week and, at the same time, prove himself to be a practical
Christian.

As he worked, the idea grew upon him, and he decided to give it careful
consideration. With Mr. Hearty, to think things over had become almost a
religion. Fools might rush in; but not Alfred Hearty. He had to see his
way clear to every step in his career.

Brilliancy had no attraction for him. He was a plodder, and he hated
risks.

Late in the afternoon of the following day, Mr. Hearty had come to the
conclusion that he must help the Bindles in the hour of their need--that
was how he had come to regard it. That evening, after tea, he announced
to Mrs. Hearty that he was going round to Fenton Street to see what
could be done for the Bindles. It was Mrs. Bindle who answered the door
to him. From the kitchen, Bindle heard the woolly tones of his
brother-in-law, and he wondered what had brought them so unaccustomed a
visitor. For some time he listened to the murmur of the voices in the
parlour. Presently Mrs. Bindle entered the kitchen.

"Mr. Hearty wants to see you, Bindle," she announced. There was an
unwonted light in her eye.

"Wot's 'e want?" muttered Bindle.

"He has something to say to you," was the retort. "You'd better go at
once."

"Ah, well," said Bindle. "I suppose 'e wants to tell me one of those
long stories of 'is."

"Now, mind what you say to him!" admonished Mrs. Bindle. "You ought to
be very grateful."

"I ought to be wot?" queried Bindle, pausing half-way to the door.

"You ought to be extremely grateful."

"Grateful to 'Earty," persisted Bindle. "Anyone wot was grateful to
'Earty would be a livin' lie."

"There you go!" hissed Mrs. Bindle angrily. "As soon as anyone tries to
help you, you want to insult them."

Deciding that it was politic to allow Mrs. Bindle the last word, Bindle
entered the parlour, to find Mr. Hearty seated on the edge of a chair.

"'Ullo, 'Earty!" cried Bindle. "'Ow's Martha?"

"Good evening, Joseph," said Mr. Hearty, who was always punctilious in
the way of speaking. "Martha is about the same, thank you. I--I called
to--to--" He paused uncertainly.

"Mr. Hearty's going to let you drive his van," explained Mrs. Bindle,
who had followed him into the room. "I think it is very kind of you, Mr.
Hearty," she added.

"Drive your van, 'Earty? I ain't much in the drivin' line," he added.
"Still, if somebody leads the 'orse, I might be able to get through."

"Mr. Hearty will give you thirty-five shillings a week," continued Mrs.
Bindle, "and--and--" She paused.

"Wot's 'appened to ole Smith?"

"He--he will be leaving." Mr. Hearty looked uncomfortable.

"You 'oofin' 'im out?" enquired Bindle, curiously. "Wot's 'e been up to,
pinchin' the spuds?

"He has--he has--" began Mr. Hearty. Then he paused.

"Mr. Hearty is discharging him to make room for you, Bindle, and you
ought to be very grateful."

"'As 'e been up to anythink, 'Earty?" enquired Bindle.

"No," replied Mr. Hearty. "He has always done very well; but I
thought--"

"You're payin' 'im two pounds fifteen shillin' a week, ain't you?"

"Yes, that is what he gets."

"An' now you're goin' to give 'im the boot, an' give me 'is job, an'
save a pound a week."

"I felt that--Martha said you were out of work, and I--"

"'Earty," said Bindle, shaking his head from side to side, "you got the
'eart of a blackleg. Lizzie says I ain't got a soul; but if I 'ad I
wouldn't sell it for a quid a week. An' I ain't a-goin' to take poor ole
Smith's job, 'im with a wife an' three kids. No doubt you means well;
but, my Gawd, you've got a funny way of showin' it," and with that
Bindle turned, brushed past Mrs. Bindle and re-entered the kitchen.

"There's goin' to be a 'ell of a row to-night for this 'ere," he
muttered, as he sat down and awaited the return of Mrs. Bindle. "Mrs. B.
ain't altogether a joy w'en you got a belly full," he muttered. "W'en
you ain't--well, well, we can't 'ave everythink."

When Mrs. Bindle re-entered the kitchen, having closed the street-door
behind Mr. Hearty, Bindle realised that he had not been unduly
pessimistic in his anticipation. Before she had closed the door behind
her, the storm burst.

"And now what have you got to say for yourself?" she demanded.
"Insulting Mr. Hearty when he came to offer to help you."

"'Earty don't care a blow about me," was Bindle's retort. "'E's out for
savin' money."

"He was willing to give you work, and you refused it, and, not content
with that, you must insult him at the same time. Mr. Hearty will find it
very difficult to forgive you."

"Well, that's one comfort," retorted Bindle. "Any'ow, I'm never goin' to
forgive 'im for wanting to make me a blackleg."

"It's those wicked trade-union ideas that you've got in your head,"
replied Mrs. Bindle. "I'd trade-union them if I got hold of them.
Ruining homes like this. And now," she announced, with the air of one
playing a last card, "you either accept Mr. Hearty's offer, or out you
go from this house to-night. I've had enough of you and your lazy,
good-for-nothing ways!" she cried, her voice increasing in shrillness.

"You don't want to work," she continued. "That's what's the matter with
you. You're like the precious trade unions; but I'll show you, as I
showed them. Now, you can make up your mind. Either you go and drive Mr.
Hearty's van, or out you go!"

"But I can't take poor ole Smith's job, an' 'im with a wife an' kids."

"That's no business of yours!" retorted Mrs. Bindle. "If you have
bread-and-butter put in your mouth, it's for you to eat it. No wonder
you haven't got work if that's how you try to get it. I shall be ashamed
to see Mr. Hearty after this."

"So shall I," was Bindle's dry retort. "Any man wot is a man would be
ashamed to meet a cove wot could do the dirty like that."

"So you aren't going to accept the job?" demanded Mrs. Bindle.

"No, I bloomin' well ain't!" cried Bindle, with decision.

"Then out you go!" and Mrs. Bindle darted into the scullery, returning a
moment later with the mop. "I mean it!" she shrilled. "Either you
promise to start work for Mr. Hearty on Monday week, or you can find
somebody else to look after you. Now then, make up your mind!"

To assist Bindle in making up his mind, she made a lunge at him with the
business end of the mop. Bindle dodged, and put the kitchen table
between them.

For several minutes they dodged about the kitchen. With the aid of
chairs and doubling round the table, Bindle strove to keep Mrs. Bindle
at such a distance from him as to render her weapon useless.

At length, realising that they could not spend the whole evening in
jumping round like young lambs, he presently made a dart for the door,
snatched up his cap as he passed, and made a successful get-away.

"You let me see your face back here again, and I'll throttle you!" rang
Mrs. Bindle's valediction in his ears, as she banged the street-door
behind him.

"Well, I'm blowed!" muttered Bindle, as he paused beneath a lamp-post
half-way down Fenton Street. "I suppose this is wot they call the 'ome
life of England."


III


"I likes a bit o' bread-an'-cheese an' a glass--an' a cup o' tea,"
amended Mr. Bindle, as, with moistened forefinger, he proceeded to
gather up such crumbs as still lay upon his plate, later transferring
them to his mouth. He had remembered in time that beer had ceased to
figure in the menu at No. 7 Fenton Street.

He emptied his cup, striving to disguise his distaste for tea without
milk or sugar.

Mrs. Bindle sat staring straight in front of her. Since Bindle had
announced the night before that there would be no further payment from
the union, she had realised that things were nearing a crisis.

Fifteen shillings a week with the rent to pay would leave nothing for
food, and if the rent were not paid they would be turned out. Never in
the history of her married life had she been threatened by such a
disaster. In the earlier days of the trouble she had not hesitated to
reproach Bindle with his inability to obtain work; but as the weeks had
passed, and he grew paler and thinner in the face, she manifested a
sportsmanship that caused him to marvel. The "Got a job?" with which he
was greeted each evening lost that note of hardness and reproach which
had characterised it earlier. In its place was a wistful note of
enquiry. From eight o'clock that morning until well after six Bindle had
tramped about, foodless and tobaccoless. He had given up the Labour
Exchange as hopeless, contenting himself with the necessary reporting
each day in order to obtain the dole. He would then make his way to the
Fulham Library, where, in common with hundreds of others, he strove to
catch a glimpse of the advertisement columns of the daily papers.

Since his return that evening he had striven to be conversational and
cheerful. He was striving to postpone the discussion of their finances,
which he knew was inevitable.

"There's fivepence-halfpenny in the drawer," announced Mrs. Bindle, with
the air of one who is determined to face the crisis. It was her custom,
when not engaged in shopping, to keep her purse in the right-hand
dresser drawer.

For once in his life Bindle had no retort.

"There's nothing in the house for breakfast," she continued, "and that's
all the bread we've got." Her eyes indicated about a quarter of a tin
loaf that lay on the table.

"It don't look 'ealthy, do it?" he murmured bravely.

In times of great emotional stress, Mrs. Bindle would delve deep into
the past, returning triumphantly with some further evidence of Bindle's
obliquity.

"I won't accept charity!" cried Mrs. Bindle shrilly. "If you bring any
of your parish relief people here, I'll mark them, see if I don't."

"All right, Lizzie," said Bindle pacifically. "I ain't said anythink
about applyin' for parish relief."

"But you're thinking of it," was the retort. "I know you!"

"Oh, my Gawd!" murmured Bindle. "'Oo the 'ell put that into 'er 'ead."

"You're always trying to drag me down," continued Mrs. Bindle. "Ever
since I married you, and now you want to shame me before the neighbours.
It's always the same--you and your common ways. Look how you behave at
table, picking your teeth with a bus-ticket. I might be your slave for
all the respect you show me."

"But I ain't tryin' to drag you down, an' it ain't a bus-ticket, it's a
bit of a matchbox, Lizzie," he protested. "I ain't said anythink---"

"No, you haven't said anything; but I know you. I was warned what to
expect when you were late at the church."

"Late at the church," repeated Bindle, with a puzzled air.

"Yes; when we were married. You couldn't even be there in time, leaving
me to look like a fool while you--" She broke off hysterically. "But I
was there in time," protested Bindle. "You was early." And then Bindle
committed a tactical error by adding: "Women always is early."

"You beast! I know what you mean," she cried tempestuously, the last
vestiges of self-control slipping from her. "You want--you look what
you've brought me to. Perhaps you'll tell me how I'm going to feed you,
instead of making stupid remarks," she snapped.

He said nothing. With the aid of a pipe he felt that he might possibly
be equal to the situation; but without it he was a broken reed. His
imagination refused to function.

"Well?"

"There don't seem much to say, Lizzie," and there was a humility in his
tone which touched even Mrs. Bindle. In it was something of shame that
he had failed to supply their modest domestic needs.

"I shall buy bread with all the money left," she announced, her
housewifely instincts asserting themselves even in the hour of tragedy.
"Stale bread," she added as an afterthought.

"Well, it won't exactly run to eggs and bacon," he agreed, with forced
cheerfulness.

"That's right," she cried angrily, "treat it all as a joke! Perhaps
it'll fill your stomach. You won't be happy till the brokers are--

"My Gawd!"

It was not Mrs. Bindle's remark that drew from Bindle the exclamation;
but a sudden pounding on the front door.

Both started to their feet and stood staring at the kitchen door which
led into the narrow passage.

Again a tremendous rat-tat-tat filled the kitchen with sound.

"Well, aren't you going to open the door?" she cried at length, being
the first to recover from her astonishment.

"Shall I let 'em in?" he whispered hoarsely.

"Let who in?"

"The bums," and for once Mrs. Bindle forgot to rebuke him for slang.

"The rent's paid to the end of the month," she said, and Bindle walked
reluctantly to the door, fear in his eyes and speculation in his heart.

A moment later Mrs. Bindle's eyes widened. Down the passage boomed the
refrain, sung in many keys:

"For he's a jolly good fellow,
For he's a jolly good fellow,
For he's a jolly good fellow,
And so say all of us."

Her left hand seemed instinctively to raise itself to her heart, while
her right clutched the edge of the table. The moment was pregnant with
drama, and Mrs. Bindle, for the first time in her life, wondered if she
were going to faint. A moment later the kitchen door was burst open, and
half a dozen young men poured in, shouting at the top of their voices;
while the rear was brought up by Bindle, who protested that he had got
something in his eye and proceeded to rub, not one, but both eves with
the back of his hand.

Mrs. Bindle noticed that two of the men carried between them a large
hamper, which they placed in the centre of the room.

Suddenly one of them, who appeared to be a sort of master of the
ceremonies, blew a shrill blast upon a whistle, producing instantaneous
silence. He thereupon mounted a chair.

"Mrs. Bindle," he cried gravely, "we, the men of Tim's, have come to
supper. Minions, do your duty," he cried, addressing the others.

Instantly the table was cleared and the dirty crockery piled in the
sink. In a dazed sort of way, Mrs. Bindle watched these young men
opening drawers, collecting knives and forks and laying the table for
eight, while one proceeded to wash up the dirty dishes, producing the
water from a large earthenware jar they had brought with them.

The hamper was opened, and proved a veritable cornucopia.

Through a mist of water caused by the fly which had got into his eye,
Bindle saw taken from that basket things he was able to identify, such
as sandwiches and pastries; and things that were new to him, including
galantine of chicken, chicken in aspic, and other dainties.

Several times Mrs. Bindle seemed to swallow with difficulty. Suddenly
she turned and literally ran from the room, a moment later followed by
Bindle.

When the two returned, they found the table laid, and even Mrs. Bindle,
a severe critic in such matters, could find no fault with it. There was
not enough cutlery to go round, and the plate shortage was overcome by
using saucers. From the bedroom window above, Bindle had seen a large
open car at the door. He had also seen the majority of his neighbours at
either door or window. Some had come out into the street in order to
miss nothing of the sight of "a private motor-car" at the door of one of
their neighbours' houses.

"Altesse! the banquet is served," announced a little man with large
round spectacles and sandy hair, as he bowed gravely before the man with
the silver whistle.

Walking up to Mrs. Bindle, the master of the ceremonies gravely offered
her his arm. In spite of herself, she took it, and was led to the head
of the table.

Bindle, still blinking, was placed at the foot, and the others seated
themselves three on either side.

"Now!" cried the leader, rising and addressing his companions, "you have
our permission indulge your disgusting appetites."

Amidst cheers, they proceeded to help themselves, not forgetting the
Bindles.

At first Mrs. Bindle hesitated; but the galantine of chicken was good,
and it was weeks since she had eaten a satisfying meal. As for Bindle,
he ate as a man eats but once or twice in a lifetime. The food was good,
and the beer was better; but the company was best of all.

For once Mrs. Bindle forgot her table manners. She no longer toyed with
her knife and fork, but used them with the zest of one who is hungry.

It was long before Bindle pushed his plate from him. "It's no good," he
sighed, in response to urgings to try a wing of chicken. "I can't. I
'ope nothink swells," he added a moment later, a note of anxiety in his
voice. "If it does, then I'll bust."

The meal completed, the leader once more rose, bowed, and, without a
word of adieu, the whole party tramped from the room, leaving the
remains of the feast behind, and in those remains Bindle saw at least a
dozen good meals for them both.

"Stop them!"

Mrs. Bindle's exclamation galvanised Bindle to action. He dashed across
the kitchen and along the passage, arriving just in time to see the
tail-light of the car as it turned the corner.

"Well, I'm blowed!"

For more than a minute he stood at the door, unconscious of the many
pairs of eyes that were turned upon him. He was aroused from his
thoughts by an exclamation, half cry, half scream, from Mrs. Bindle. A
moment later the parlour door opened.

"Bindle, come here!" she cried, and there was something in her voice
that struck him as strange.

Closing the street-door, he dashed into the parlour, to find Mrs. Bindle
gazing down at a miscellaneous assortment of household goods piled on
the floor.

"Well, I'm blowed!" he muttered, as he gazed at the sacrifices made at
the altar at which presided "Ole Isaac." "Well, I'm blowed!" he repeated
for the third time. "They must 'ave brought 'em in when we was
upstairs."

"What did you do with them pawntickets?" demanded Mrs. Bindle
aggressively.

"I must 'ave lorst 'em."

"You gave them to someone," she cried suspiciously.

"Strike me dead if I did, Lizzie!" he assured her, and in the sincerity
of his tone she forgave him the blasphemy.

On the centre table was a large envelope. He tore it open with fingers
that were none too steady, and unfolded a sheet of paper, to which was
attached a bunch of five one-pound notes. For a moment the words danced
before his eyes, which once more became obscured by the pain of "the
fly."

Mrs. Bindle snatched the note from him, and read:


We, the reprobates of Tim's, never forsake a pal, just as we always
respect his independence. Enclosed is a promissory note for the money
and a fourth of the banquet. We, the men of Tim's, ate the rest.

Pay when you can and how you like. Send the money to Dr. Richard Little,
of Sloane Gardens, who stole the pawntickets. By the way, he's got you a
job--go and see if you like it. The water and the gas will flow again
to-morrow.

Ave atque vale!

THE ASSASSINS OF TIM'S.


Without a word, Mrs. Bindle handed the paper to Bindle and, as he read,
the pain of the fly in his eye became so great that the tears rolled
uninterruptedly down either side of his face. Putting the paper down on
the table, he turned and left the room. A moment later Mrs. Bindle sank
to her knees by the table and, clutching it with both hands, her head
fell forward, and she proceeded to cry quietly on to the chenille cover,
and there was nothing hysterical in her emotion.

That night, the course of Mrs. Bindle's prayers to heaven was as
straight as those of a little child.



CHAPTER II - BINDLE GOES TO CHAPEL


I


Mrs. Bindle looked forward to Sunday. The afternoon and evening she
dedicated to her soul; but the morning she spent in the kitchen,
preparing dinner. She was an excellent cook and a good housewife, and
her faith was never permitted to interfere with the proper performance
of her domestic duties.

Once a fellow-member of the Alton Road Chapel had suggested that
Providence would not look kindly on one who worked on the Sabbath, even
in the preparation of meals.

"Then what about the Sea of Galilee?" Mrs. Bindle had retorted.

The critic was silenced, and henceforth held her peace. She prided
herself upon her knowledge of the Scriptures; but the reference to the
Sea of Galilee puzzled her. She hesitated to confess her ignorance of an
incident which seemed to come so easily to Mrs. Bindle's tongue.

Long and patiently this woman had searched Holy Writ for something that
seemed even remotely to condone labouring upon the seventh day; but
without success. In consequence she disliked Mrs. Bindle even more than
before; but her dislike was henceforth tinctured with respect.

To Bindle, Sunday dinner was an affair to be approached with what he
called "tack." He enjoyed Mrs. Bindle's cooking, just as he disliked the
homilies that invariably accompanied the Sabbath midday meal.

For six days Mrs. Bindle laboured with broom and duster, soap and water,
hearth-stone and furniture-polish, in her fight for the material
cleanliness of Bindle's home; on the seventh day she devoted herself to
the spiritual conquest of his soul. To her a soul was what a scalp is to
the American Indian. Bindle had once remarked to his friend Ginger: "Wot
I likes about you, Ging, is that you ain't got a soul, an' no one
wouldn't never know you'd ever 'eard of soap."

One Sunday, as Bindle was enjoying to the full Mrs. Bindle's conception
of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding (made with eggs and cooked under the
meat), he was startled out of his content by the sudden and peremptory
question: "Bindle, are you prepared to meet your Maker?"

He was in the act of lifting to his mouth a particularly succulent
morsel of Yorkshire pudding, which he had been keeping till the last. He
made a point of reserving what he called "a tasty bit" for the final
mouthful.

The suddenness of Mrs. Bindle's interrogation caused him to glance at
her obliquely, just at the moment when the Yorkshire pudding had covered
half the distance to his mouth.

That side-look was fatal. The knife tilted slightly, and the Yorkshire
pudding slid off, and ricochetted from his left knee on to the kitchen
floor.

While he was rescuing the morsel and, for safety's sake, conveying it to
his mouth by the more reliable means of his fingers, Mrs. Bindle sat
regarding him with indrawn lips. It was the Sabbath, and she was
striving to conduct herself as it behoved "a daughter of the Lord."

"Well?" she demanded, when he had masticated the errant dainty and
pushed the plate from him, a sign that, so far as he was concerned, it
possessed no further use or interest for him, and that he was prepared
to sit in judgment upon whatever else there was to follow.

He turned to her, innocence and interrogation in his eye.

"Did you hear what I said?"

Mrs. Bindle was not to be diverted from her purpose, especially when
that purpose had to do with the work of salvation.

"I 'eard you say somethink, Lizzie," he confessed, "but--" He paused.

"Are you prepared to meet the Lord?" In Mrs. Bindle's tones there was a
hell-fireand-brimstone Calvinism.

"When?" demanded Bindle, desirous of temporising until the pudding
appeared.

"Now!" was the uncompromising rejoinder. "Before I've 'ad my puddin'?"
with an injured air. "No, I ain't," he added with decision.

"You heathen!" Bindle was startled by the venom she precipitated into
the words. "You're locked in the outer darkness, where there shall be
weeping and gnashing of teeth," she added with glib conviction.

"But not in my dinner-hour," he protested, his eye on a large saucepan,
which instinct told him contained the next course.

"Blasphemer!" The word leapt from Mrs. Bindle's lips like a verbal
Jack-in-the-box.

"No, I ain't, Lizzie." He recognised the portents, and realised that
there would be a solemn course of theology before the sweets appeared.

"You are, and you know it," she cried. "Whistling on Sundays," she added
inconsequently. "I've heard you."

Bindle always strove to suppress his natural inclination to whistle on
the Sabbath; but there were times when a bar or two of some secular air
would break bounds before he realised what day it was.

"Well, you didn't ought to want me to get up in the middle o' Sunday
dinner," he grumbled.

"I wonder you aren't afraid of being struck dead where you sit, saying
such things."

"Wot 'ave I said now?" He looked across at her, entirely at a loss.

"Oh, don't talk to me!" She rose from the table. "You're enough to try
the patience of a saint." To Bindle's manifest relief, she proceeded to
attack the saucepan, which proved to contain an apple pudding, in the
making of which Mrs. Bindle had nothing to learn.

He raised his head and sniffed the air like a hound. He was uncommonly
fond of apple pudding.

Mrs. Bindle dished-up the pudding to the accompaniment of a series of
bangs, which eloquently expressed her feelings.

Bindle licked his lips and waited.

With a super-bang she placed the dish upon the table and resumed her
chair. Seizing a spoon, she proceeded to hack out a piece of the
pudding, dash it on to a plate as if it had been Bindle's soul, and dab
apple beside it.

"Mind it doesn't choke you," she snapped as she handed him the plate.

"I'll try and see that it slips down comfortable like," he said
cheerily, reaching for the sugar-basin.

"Better taste it first," she interposed; "there's plenty of sugar."

Bindle took a generous spoonful of the pudding, conveyed it to his
mouth, but a moment later he returned it to the plate with a little
yelp.

"You beast!"

"But it's 'ot," he protested, looking reproachfully at the steaming
pudding. "Burnt my mouth, it did."

"You behave like a cannibal," she cried illogically. Mrs. Bindle's own
table manners were almost too refined for the proper nourishment of her
body.

"You wouldn't 'ave 'ad me swallow it?" He looked at her in surprise. "It
'ud 'ave burnt an ole in my--"

"Stop it!"

"Oh, all right!" he grumbled as he returned to his plate and proceeded
to attack the pudding with subtle strategy, approaching it from the
outer edge, and subjecting each spoonful to a vigorous blowing before
putting it into his mouth.

"You never go to a place of worship," Mrs. Bindle remarked, returning to
her original theme.

"A place of wot?" He looked across at her, still continuing his efforts
to reduce the temperature of a piled-up spoonful before him.

"You never go to chapel. You know quite well what I mean. Perhaps if you
went to chapel, you wouldn't be out of work." Mrs. Bindle drew in her
lips and chin with the air of one who had pronounced a great truth.

"But 'ow's goin' to chapel goin' to 'elp me get a job?" asked Bindle,
with corrugated brow. "They wouldn't listen to me apreachin'."

"You're being punished!" announced Mrs. Bindle, with relish. "Punished
for all your wickedness."

"Jer mean to say that Gawd's lost me my job so as to make me go to
chapel?" persisted Bindle, whose literalness Mrs. Bindle frequently
found disconcerting.

"Oh, don't talk to me!" she cried impatiently.

It was a phrase that came readily to her lips when she found difficulty
in answering one of Bindle's theological interrogations.

"Besides," she continued a moment later, "Mr. Tubbs might give you a job
if you belonged to the chapel."

"'Oo's 'e?" demanded Bindle, his interest awakened at the thought of a
job.

"Mr. Tubbs is a builder, and he is very fond of singing," she added
inconsequently.

"Well, I ain't got much of a voice," said Bindle, with the air of one
trying to be scrupulously fair, and undesirous of taking a mean
advantage of an employer; "and as to buildin', well, I shouldn't care to
live in anythink wot I built. Still, somebody might go an nose round an'
see wot--"

"You jeer at everything I suggest," broke in Mrs. Bindle. "If you meant
to get on, you would. You should go to the spider," she continued,
recalling a phrase from one of Mr. MacFie's recent sermons on Bruce and
the spider.

"The Yellow Ostrich is good enough for me," said Bindle. "Wot's the use
of tellin' me to go to the spider when I 'aven't got twopence for a
drink?"

"When you do get a job you don't keep it, because you don't behave
yourself," said Mrs. Bindle, ignoring Bindle's irrelevancy.

"Look 'ere, Lizzie," he said quite recklessly, "I'll come to chapel next
Sunday, blowed if I don't!" The pudding was uncommonly good, and Bindle
felt on excellent terms with everybody; besides, next Sunday was a long
way off. "You'd only make me ashamed of you if you was to come. You've
always been against religion and going to chapel," she complained.

"I ain't got nothink to say agin religion as religion," he remarked.
"It's the Singin' Susans an' the Prayin' Peters wot gets me on the point
of the jaw."

"If you go to chapel you've got to behave yourself," said Mrs. Bindle
grimly.

"I'll be as good as gold." He held up his plate for another helping.

"You'd better!" she counselled grimly, as she viciously dabbed a
spoonful of apple on the plate. "I'll speak to Mr. MacFie about it." Mr.
MacFie was the minister of the Alton Road Chapel and Bindle groaned in
spirit at the prospect.

"I ain't got nothin' to say agin religion," he remarked a few minutes
later, as he proceeded to scoop up the last fragment of pudding from the
edge of the plate, "provided it don't go a-mixin' itself up with
meal-times."


II


"Well, I'm blowed!" cried Bindle, coming to a standstill outside the
Alton Road Chapel. "If I'd a known, I'm blessed if I'd 'ave come."

"Ssssh!" Mrs. Bindle jabbed her elbow into Bindle's ribs.

"But look," he persisted, indicating a notice-board on which appeared in
large letters:

ALL ARE WELCOME.

HEARTY SINGING.

"That ain't the way to get 'em to go in, a-telling 'em that 'Earty's
a-goin' to sing. 'E'd empty a pub before closin'-time with a voice like
'is."

"Stop it!" Again Mrs. Bindle's elbow found Bindle's seventh rib. "It
means all are to sing."

Her eyes were fixed upon a little man with bandy legs, a frock-coat and
a silk hat, who was approaching.

"Mind you raise your hat when Mr. Tubbs raises his," she whispered to
Bindle.

"Raise my wot?" Bindle gazed about him vaguely.

"Sssh!"

"Ain't we goin' in?" he enquired with the air of one who, having made up
his mind to go to the dentist, sees no object in waiting outside. Mrs.
Bindle ignored the question. Mr. Tubbs was a deacon at the Alton Road
Chapel, and, socially, she always had one eye upon those who breathed
the air of a higher plane. She was conscious of looking her best in an
alpaca dress of deep purple, cut to a decorous length, which quite
obscured her elastic-sided boots.

She wore a bonnet of a shape that she had adopted for years. Flat at the
sides, it was built up high in front, like the bows of a modern
destroyer.

Her fawn kid gloves, tight across the palm, rendered the carrying of her
best (silver-mounted) umbrella a matter of some difficulty. When he
reached the chapel door, Mr. Tubbs did all that was expected of him; but
he was not accustomed to putting on a top-hat except before the
looking-glass, with the result that in restoring it to his small, bald
head he managed to drop his hymn-book (large size with music, Mr. Tubbs
being great on harmony--his own harmony).

Bindle sprang forward and rescued the book, and with a cheerful smile
handed it to Mr. Tubbs.

"Funny sort o' things when you ain't used to 'em," he said pleasantly.
"Them 'ats," he added, nodding to indicate Mr. Tubbs's headgear.

"Bindle!" hissed Mrs. Bindle in his ear.

Mr. Tubbs stared as if Bindle had made a remark in some strange tongue.

Before there was any chance of further conversation, Mrs. Bindle somehow
managed to hurry Bindle into the chapel, Mr. Tubbs having made it
obvious that the Bindles were to precede him. He prided himself upon his
manners, which seemed to hang about him rather like a harness than a
natural possession.

The Alton Road Chapel was a small brick building roofed with corrugated
iron, and possessed of a single bell of depressing dolefulness. Once
inside, Bindle raised his head and sniffed as he was wont to do on
entering Mrs. Bindle's kitchen when there were evidences that stewed
steak and onions were in preparation. "'Ums a bit, don't it?" he said in
a hoarse whisper, which was clearly audible.

In her horror and shame, Mrs. Bindle gripped him by the arm with her
forefinger and thumb. "Ow!" he cried. "Leggo my arm, you're 'urting."

Every head in the chapel was turned towards them, and for the moment
Mrs. Bindle would have welcomed even the pit of Tophet to open and
swallow her up.

Bindle seemed to realise that he had said and done the wrong thing, for,
rubbing his arm gingerly, he permitted himself to be led to one of the
highly varnished seats about halfway up the aisle.

Mrs. Bindle was conscious that heads were drawing together, and there
was a subdued hiss of whispering. Never had she felt so ashamed, and she
mentally registered a resolve that Bindle should have cause to regret
his conduct. In the meantime, Bindle was endeavouring to dissect the
odour into its various component parts. There was a smell of dampness,
of varnish, with a leitmotiv of carbolic soap. These he was able to
detach from the whole; but there was a predominant influence at work,
which he decided must owe its origin to a dead rat, possibly a cat. The
other scents entirely eluded him.

Suddenly he became conscious that Mrs. Bindle was on her knees, her head
bowed between her hands. For some seconds he regarded her curiously; but
soon his attention was distracted by the sight of Mr. Hearty walking up
the aisle to his seat.

"'Ullo, 'Earty," he whispered as he leant towards his brother-in-law.

Mr. Hearty started as if Beelzebub himself had addressed him, looked
round vaguely, then, his eyes resting on Bindle, he stared with dropped
jaw.

Bindle grinned cheerfully. He quite realised the cause of his
brother-in-law's surprise.

"Didn't expect to see me 'ere, did you, 'Earty?" he continued in a
whisper that could clearly be heard all over the little chapel. Mr.
Hearty hurried to his seat. At the sound of Bindle's whisper, Mrs.
Bindle had risen to her feet. She dare not nudge him for fear of what he
might say. Suddenly her eyes fell upon the hymn-book before her. Seizing
and opening it, she thrust it into his hands. He looked at the book,
then up at Mrs. Bindle.

"This the one?" he queried.

"Sssh!"

The admonition came from behind. Bindle turned his head quickly and
caught the disapproving eye of Mr. Tubbs. He nodded cheerily and
returned to the hymn-book, the leaves of which he proceeded to turn,
with the air of a man who has nothing with which to occupy him.

Mrs. Bindle sat staring straight in front of her like an Assyrian
goddess. She had already bitterly regretted this latest attempt to
achieve Bindle's salvation. It was with a feeling of relief that she saw
Mr. MacFie come out of the small vestry and move towards his
reading-desk. The congregation straightened itself preparatory to
throwing itself with vigour into the opening hymn.

With a strong Scots accent, Mr. MacFie announced the number.

"Don't you dare to sing," commanded Mrs. Bindle in a whisper; but Bindle
was industriously engaged in tracking down hymn number 611. It was with
something of a thrill that he discovered it to be "Onward, Christian
Soldiers." If there was one thing about religion that Bindle liked, it
was this particular hymn. There was about it a martial clash that
appealed to him.

"It ain't like them other soppy tunes," he had once remarked to Mrs.
Bindle. "There's ginger in it." But neither Mr. Baring Gould nor Sir
Arthur Sullivan had ever conceived their hymn as Bindle was wont to
render it.

"Mind now," repeated Mrs. Bindle, confident of not being overheard in
the rustle of turning leaves, "don't you dare to sing, Bindle." From
somewhere at the other end of the chapel, an American organ began to
moan and the congregation rose. They liked that hymn. They had it
frequently, sometimes twice a day. The American organ plodded on its way
in spite of the ciphering of two notes. Presently the player gave the
signal for the singing to start. The congregation gripped it as it never
failed to grip a hymn it liked; but Bindle got off a full stroke ahead
of the rest, and he proceeded to throw himself into the inspiring melody
with heart and soul.

The weakness about Bindle's singing was his inability to control his
voice. It wavered and darted about over the whole gamut of sound, while
he himself seemed quite oblivious of the fact that the notes he was
singing were not those that were being sung around him.

After the first few bars, several singers in his vicinity stopped and
gazed at him in wonder. Mr. Tubbs glared at Bindle's back, no harmony
could make way against such a volume of sound as Bindle was letting
loose. Mrs. Bindle dug her elbow viciously into his ribs; but Bindle was
now well in his stride, and enjoying himself hugely.

By the time the refrain was started, Bindle, the American organ and a
little deaf man at the far end of the chapel, had matters their own way,
with Bindle nearly a bar ahead. As the hymn progressed, other members of
the congregation gradually recovered from their surprise and joined once
more the flow of song; but Bindle's voice rose well above the combined
efforts of the others, who had taken the precaution of linking-up with
him rather than with the American organ. The instrument, as if weary of
lagging behind, made a gallant effort to catch up the singers; but, led
by Bindle, they kept a good half-bar ahead.

Mrs. Bindle's vicious digs at him with her elbow seemed to spur him on
to further effort. It was essentially his hymn, and, as if to
demonstrate this fact, he concluded the refrain of the last verse a good
half-bar behind the rest. With a reluctant sigh of satisfaction, he
closed the hymn-book and resumed his seat, regretful that hymns admitted
of no encores.

That morning Mrs. Bindle suffered as she had never suffered before at
chapel. During the prayers, which were of great length, Bindle grew
restless and fidgeted to such an extent as to attract to himself the
attention of those about him; but, to Mrs. Bindle, the prayers were as
nothing to the hymns.

As she later confided to Mr. Hearty, "It mademe hot all over to hear
Bindle blaspheming in the House of God. 'E did it a-purpose, Mr.
Hearty," she said, forgetting her meticulous diction in the intensity of
her emotion. "I'm sure that's why he offered to come."

Mr. Hearty murmured something suggestive of woolly sympathy.

"And Mr. Tubbs only two seats off," she had continued, "and Bindle
shouting 'Man the Lifeboat,' as if--as if he were calling coals. Oh! I
was so ashamed, and Mr. Tubbs so fond of that hymn, too."

"But it wasn't your fault, Elizabeth," Mr. Hearty sympathised, in a
voice admirably suited to a funeral in November. "In the sight of
Heaven--" He paused. Mr. Hearty had a habit of beginning sentences and
leaving them unfinished.

It was not the sight of Heaven, however, that had troubled Mrs. Bindle
at that moment so much as the sight of man, which was more penetrating
and more critical.

"I shall never be able to hold up my head again," she had moaned. "The
beast! I'll pay 'im," she added a moment later, dropping from
Christianity into Judaism.

It was not until Mr. MacFie began his address that Mrs. Bindle regained
to some degree her composure.

Mr. MacFie plunged into the parable of the lost sheep with gusto. His
eloquence and dialect were equally marked as he narrated the joy of the
Shepherd in discovering and bringing safe into the fold the lost Sheep.

Bindle listened drowsily to Mr. MacFie's somnolent voice, which many of
his flock had difficulty in withstanding. It was not until Mr. MacFie
announced, "Ahm geeven to onderstand that we have in our meedst the day
a puir, wayward lamb that was in danger of becoming lost," that Bindle,
scenting scandal, began to take an active interest in Mr. MacFie's
droning periods. "It is to be our preevilege to snatch him from the
seething cauldron of sin, from the gleettering highway of the riotous
and sinful liver."

Bindle looked about him with interest, hoping that the culprit would
betray himself; but everyone seemed to return his gaze with a curiosity
equal to his own.

Mr. MacFie proceeded to trace the rake's progress from the cradle to a
sort of post-mortem grill, which inevitably would have been his fate had
he not "seen the Light" in time.

He seemed to find a grim satisfaction in piling up opprobrious epithet
upon opprobrious epithet, until it seemed impossible for anyone so
deeply merged in sin to turn from his evil ways.

During this tirade, Bindle's attention had been divided between Mr.
MacFie and an inoffensive little man with bowed head sitting three seats
in front of him, who seemed to be heavily charged with "Amens."

"'Oo's 'e?" Bindle demanded of Mrs. Bindle in an eager whisper. He was
convinced that the little man was the culprit.

"Hussssssssh!" she hissed tensely.

Mr. MacFie continued with inspiration to describe the past life of the
sinner, until Bindle decided that it was far too hectic for the little
man with the bowed head in front. He was obviously too frail an object
to have been "such a snorter," in spite of "'im 'avin' Amens like
'iccups," as he later remarked to Mr. Hearty. Mr. MacFie proceeded to
draw a comparison between the wrong-doer's past life and his now assured
future. He exhorted his hearers to go out that night and pluck brands
from the burning. Again Bindle looked enquiringly at Mrs. Bindle; but
her gaze was fixed and stony. It might almost have appeared that she was
the sinner being pilloried by the minister. She had already regretted
taking the minister into her confidence in the matter of Bindle's
approaching regeneration.

Bindle made a further effort to identify the culprit; but nowhere could
he see anyone whose general demeanour denoted that he was the
black-hearted sinner who had come to the Alton Road Chapel to be
cleansed.

Mr. MacFie seemed to find greater pleasure in dwelling upon the
iniquities of the repentant sinner's past, than the rewards of the
future. He referred to him as "drinking deep of the cup that Satan holds
out to all," of being "addeected to trail his garments in the blood of
the eennocent," of having stricken the fatherless and taken advantage of
the trusting widow; "and yet, ma freends, he is the lamb that we welcome
here the day."

"Pretty streaky sort o' lamb," muttered Bindle. "They didn't ought to
'ave let 'im orf the collar," he added, drawing from Mrs. Bindle another
admonitory "Ssssssh!"

For some time Mr. MacFie continued droning damnation, and Bindle began
to realise that the repentant sinner was not to be hauled forth and
presented to the full view of the congregation. The dramatic always
appealed to him.

At length, Mr. MacFie seemed to have exhausted his supply of blacks and
crimsons in describing the hereafter of the sinner had he not escaped
judgment. Amidst a chorus of what seemed to Bindle like groans, but were
in reality "Amens," he concluded.

Two minutes later, Bindle was leading the congregation in a particularly
lusty rendering of "Wonderful Words," in which he beat all comers and
actually silenced the American organ, which gave up at the beginning of
the second chorus.

Immediately the hymn had concluded, Mrs. Bindle manifested a strong
desire to get home. She thrust Bindle's hat into his hand, and gave him
a push that sent him sliding some eighteen inches along the seat.

"Go out!" she hissed with all the intensity of a villain in a melodrama,
and Bindle regretfully obeyed. He would infinitely have preferred to
stay in the hope of exchanging a few words with the ex-lost soul; but
Mrs. Bindle was inexorable.

"I enjoyed them 'ymns," he remarked as they walked along the Alton Road.

Mrs. Bindle made no comment; but continued to stalk beside him with lips
indrawn, and hymnbook clutched tightly in her right hand.

"'E must 'ave been 'ot stuff, that cove what they was prayin' for."
Bindle made another effort at conversation as they turned into the New
King's Road.

Mrs. Bindle still maintained a grim silence. She dared not trust herself
to speak.

"I tried to spot 'im," continued Bindle, as he waved to an acquaintance
engaged in collecting fares on the top of a motorbus.

"Fancy a cove bein' all them things, an' then 'avin' the bloomin' cheek
to go to chapel expectin' to be washed white. Like a nigger goin' to a
swimmin' bath and thinkin' 'e'll--"

"Stop it!" hissed Mrs. Bindle from between her tightly clenched teeth.

For the next hundred yards he was silent; but his interest in the
identity of the lost one was greater than his discretion.

"Personally, meself," he remarked, with the air of one who after mature
consideration has come to a decision, "I think it was that nosey, little
cove in front wot kep' sayin' 'Amen. More like a goat bleatin' than a
lamb."

"IT WAS YOU!"

The words came tensely from between Mrs. Bindle's hidden lips.

"Me?" Into that one word Bindle seemed to precipitate all the surprise
of which he was capable.

"It was you that Mr. MacFie was praying for, you heathen!" She could
restrain herself no longer.

"Me?" Bindle repeated, coming to a standstill in his astonishment. "Me?"
he said for the third time, as with a few swift steps he caught up with
her.

"Yes and you know it," she cried, struggling against the hysterical
outburst that was long overdue. "You know it in that black heart of
yours, and now you have disgraced me," she added as they turned into
Fenton Street.

"Me all them things wot 'e told us about!" cried Bindle, still
incredulous. "Me a brand from the burnin', a blasphemier, a-strikin' the
fatherless and bilkin' the widow."

Mrs. Bindle covered the few yards that lay between her and No. 7 almost
at the double. She had the key in her hand and with trembling, uncertain
movements inserted it in the lock, opened the door and ran along the
passage to the kitchen.

As Bindle closed the door, a peal of unnatural mirth rang along the
narrow passage. Mrs. Bindle was having hysterics.

"Well I'm blowed!" he muttered as, with lagging steps, he covered the
distance between himself and the kitchen door. "Fancy 'er a-takin' on
like that, an' me a-singin' the 'ymns like giddy-o."

"Poor Mr. Bindle!" muttered Mrs. Sawney, who lived at No. 5, as she put
on the kettle, "'E as somethink to put up with."



CHAPTER III - THE PUSSYFOOT MEETING


I


"'Ullo, 'Earty," cried Bindle cheerily as he entered the parlour of Mr.
Hearty's Putney shop, followed by Mrs. Hearty, wheezing laboriously,
"goin' to open a pawnshop?"

The table at which Mr. Hearty sat was littered with white and pink
tickets, and he himself was laboriously addressing envelopes with a
spluttering pen.

"It's the prohibition meeting," gasped Mrs. Hearty, who suffered from a
reluctant heart and constricted breathing, as she collapsed into an
arm-chair.

"The wot?" demanded Bindle, walking over to the table, picking up a pink
ticket and reading it with elaborate care.

"It's a prohibition meeting," said Mr. Hearty, looking up a little
apprehensively. He had hoped that Bindle would not call that evening;
but his heart had been charged with misgiving. If ever he desired that
his brother-in-law should not call, it inevitably happened that Bindle
chose that particular occasion on which to present himself.

"Well, I'm blowed if this ain't It!" Bindle looked reproachfully down at
Mr. Hearty. "An' wot's goin' to 'appen to the British Empire without
beer?" he demanded.

"I'm afraid--" began Mr. Hearty nervously, then paused.

"He's late for chapel," wheezed Mrs. Hearty.

"'Earty, 'Earty, you really didn't ought to get yourself mixed up in
these 'ere sort o' stunts. You'll get them whiskers o' yours pulled out
one o' these days, sure as sure. You ain't no scrapper," and Bindle
looked down at Mr. Hearty reproachfully. "Any'ow I'll give an 'and," he
cried genially, as he put his hat down on the table. "Wot's to be done?"

"If you'll put pink tickets in those envelopes," said Mr. Hearty with a
sigh of relief as he indicated a pile of addressed envelopes in front of
him. "Tuck in the flaps and they'll go for a halfpenny. Thank you,
Joseph," he added as an afterthought.

"Right-o!" cried Bindle cheerfully.

For some time they worked in silence, Mr. Hearty addressing envelopes,
Bindle inserting tickets and tucking in the flaps.

"Wot jer want to do the workin' man out of 'is beer for, 'Earty?" Bindle
presently enquired conversationally.

"He'll--he'll be happier without it," said Mr. Hearty, seizing the
blotting-paper to remedy a blob of ink.

"I shouldn't 'ave thought it," was Bindle's comment. "Wot's 'e goin' to
drink instead?"

"There's tea and coffee and lemonade--" began Mr. Hearty, then he paused
and glanced furtively at Bindle.

"I 'adn't thought of them," was the dry retort.

"They're better than beer."

"Can you see a cove tryin' to pick up a road on lemonade, 'im wot's been
used to beer?" demanded Bindle.

"America's gone 'dry'," said Mr. Hearty, as if in self-defence.
"There's no drink there."

"So they says," was Bindle's comment.

"But it's in the papers," persisted Mr. Hearty, pausing in his
envelope-addressing. "There's an 'ell of a lot in the papers, 'Earty,
wot 'ud take some provin'. Still you go on, don't mind me, an' if you
gets yer 'ead broken, as you certainly will if ole Ginger gets to 'ear
of it, well, don't say I didn't warn you. Now for stamps."

"I'll get them, Joseph," said Mr. Hearty, rising with alacrity, thankful
of an excuse for breaking off the conversation.

Whilst he was out of the room, Bindle slipped into his pocket a number
of both pink and white tickets. In this he had no very definite object
in view; but, like the boy scouts, his motto was "Be prepared."

"You'll be late for chapel, Alf," wheezed Mrs. Hearty, as Mr. Hearty
re-entered the room. He glanced apprehensively at the clock.

"I'll stick on the stamps, 'Earty," said Bindle good-naturedly, "an'
post 'em if you like," he added. "I ain't a prayer-'og like you."

"Thank you, Joseph, thank you," said Mr. Hearty gratefully. "I don't
want to be late to-night," he added. "You're sure you don't mind?" he
enquired as he paused, his hand upon the door-knob.

"Not if you don't tell Ginger," was the cheery reply.

For the next quarter of an hour Bindle stuck on stamps, at the same time
keeping Mrs. Hearty gasping and wheezing. Mrs. Hearty always laughed at
Bindle, whether what he said were funny or not.

"Well, so long, Martha," he cried at length as he picked up his hat.
"Don't you get goin' to no lemonade meetings. You stick to stout--on the
quiet."

The next morning many earnest residents of Fulham and the surrounding
district were puzzled to account for an intimation, brought to them by
the postman, to the effect that John Blink dispensed at The Yellow
Ostrich only the best beer, wines, and spirits, and furthermore that he
was fully licensed to sell tobacco and cigars. They marvelled the more
because their temperance tendencies were not unknown in the
neighbourhood. However, they did not give the matter a second thought,
knowing full well that the presence of the Evil One was manifested in
many and devious ways.


II


On the Monday night following Mr. Hearty's activities in connection with
the Pussyfoot Meeting to be held in Fulham two events were taking place
in different parts of London that were to exercise some influence upon
the course of that assembly.

At St. Timothy's Hospital, known to the initiated as "Tim's," among the
students of which Bindle had many friends and admirers, a special
meeting of the Amateur Dramatic Society was being held under the
presidency of Dick Little, a one-time student at Tim's. He was
explaining how essential it was that the younger generation should learn
of the evils that ensued from alcoholism, and offered to any who would
care to go a ticket for the great prohibitionist meeting to be held in
Fulham a week hence.

At the self-same hour Bindle was standing in the public-bar of The
Yellow Ostrich, situated off the Fulham Road, endeavouring to explain to
his friends, Ginger, Huggles, and Wilkes, the meaning of the term
"pussyfoot" and what it implied.

"The only time I ever see pore ole Ging 'urt in 'is private feelings,"
he remarked to Mr. Blink, the landlord, a florid little man with a bald,
shiny head, side-whiskers, and a manner that could cow a drunk, no
matter what his fighting weight, "was when milk went up to ninepence a
quart. Ain't that so, Ging?" he queried.

Ginger murmured something about "blinkin' cat-lap."

"An' wot's goin' to 'appen to 'im when we all go 'dry'?" Bindle
enquired of Mr. Blink.

"Go dry!" repeated Ginger, looking up from a contemplation of a buff
spittoon in the corner, a gleam of interest manifesting itself from a
desert of spots and freckles. "Who's goin' dry?"

"When the Pussyfoots come over 'ere, Ging, you got to drink stone
ginger."

Ginger growled something indicative of decorated incredulity.

"You come along o' me on Monday to the meetin'," said Bindle, "an' you'll
'ear all about it. Ginger looked from Bindle to Mr. Blink, then on to
Huggles and Wilkes. Huggles grinned vacuously, and Wilkes nodded. He was
in the midst of an elaborate fugue of coughs. Wilkes was always
coughing; with him it had developed into something between a habit and a
hobby. Ginger spat towards the buff spittoon and missed by inches.

"I ain't goin' wivout beer," he said fiercely. "Ruddy muck," he added
somewhat inconsistently.

"Well, if them Pussyfoots gets their way, Ging, you'll be on
milk-an'-soda before you knows it."

"I'll break 'is blinkin' jaw," announced Ginger, inspired by the
sentiments of Caligula. "I'll show 'im."

"It ain't 'im, Ging," explained Bindle, "it's them. Millions of 'em. You
can't get a drink in America, an' now they're comin' over 'ere to try
an' stop you a-spoilin' that complexion o' yours."

"It's a ruddy lie, Joe Bindle, an' you're a blinkin' liar." Ginger's
blood was up. With fists clenched at his sides, he threw out his jaw and
leaned towards Bindle. There was menace in his attitude, menace and
anger. "'Alf a mo'," said Mr. Blink tactfully. "There ain't nothink to
get shirty about. What he says is right; leastwise they go quite dry
next year."

"Wot!" Ginger turned upon his new antagonist; Mr. Blink had not a
reputation either as a humorist or a liar, and Ginger believed him. At
first he seemed stunned, then, picking up his pewter, he slowly drained
it, ending by gazing lovingly into its depths.

"'Ave another while you can, Ging," suggested Bindle, and Ginger
replaced his pot upon the counter, acquiescence in his eye.

"I'll break their shudderin' jaws," he said, when he had half-emptied
his refilled pewter. "Gi'e me one o' them streamin' tickets, gi'e me a
ruddy dozen," he added. Ginger meant business.

"Well, so long," cried Bindle, as he turned towards the door, wiping his
lips with the back of his hand. "I got to be movin' on." And with a nod
to Mr. Blink he passed out of the bar of The Yellow Ostrich.

That evening Bindle visited several public bars where he was known and
appreciated, and great was the indignation of those who frequented them
at the news that a movement was on foot which seemed to imperil the
fountain of their cheer and inspiration.

Men who had never before in their lives attended a meeting angrily
demanded "a blinkin' ticket," and to all these requests Bindle readily
responded until the supply of pieces of pink and white pasteboard was
exhausted. "Well, well," he murmured as he put his key into the latch of
his house in Fenton Street, "it ought to be a pleasant evenin'--for the
Pussyfoots."


III


The doorkeepers were puzzled. Those who presented tickets of admission
for the meeting in "support of a memorial to Parliament in favour of
prohibiting the sale of intoxicants throughout His Majesty's Dominions,"
were to a large extent such as are not usually associated with that
particular kind of assembly.

The stewards had conferred among themselves; but had decided that when
tickets were produced, admission could not very well be refused: still
their hearts misgave them. They were men of peace, and from some of the
expressions they had overheard, they were by no means sure that the bulk
of the audience was animated by the same sentiment.

The front seats, it is true, were occupied by men whose soft hats and
low collars were reassuring. They were suggestive of a stout adherence
to the principles of right and dryness. At the back of the hall,
however, there was obviously an element of rowdiness and potential
objection.

Ginger had arrived early with an entourage that filled the stewards with
doubt. One of them, a little gimlet-faced man with a large blue rosette
pinned to the lapel of his coat, had come forward to examine their
tickets; but Ginger's look had been so uncompromisingly aggressive that
he had stepped hurriedly aside, and Ginger and his friends had taken
their seats.

Bindle, who had been there "almost as soon as the gas," as he put it,
had taken up a position where he had a good view of the platform without
himself being too obvious. With him was Dick Little.

"Well, I'm blowed," he exclaimed, as he gazed at the fast filling
platform.

"What's up, J.B.?" enquired Dick Little. "There's my ole pal Gupperduck,
'im wot used to be our lodger; yes, an' there's 'is two pals with
'im--that cove wot looks like a goat, that's one of 'em. It was 'im wot
shinned up a tree on Putney 'Ill when they dipped pore ole Guppy in the
pond. Rare cove for trees 'e is. 'Ullo, there's 'Earty," as Mr. Hearty
appeared, looking very nervous and self-conscious.

"I wouldn't have known 'em," he said, lowering his voice to a whisper as
he looked towards the soft-hatted, earnest young men in the front seats.
"It's a rare ole camelfiage."

"Tim's always does the thing in style," said Dick Little.

Eight o'clock, the hour at which the proceedings were advertised to
commence, passed, and the audience began to show signs of restiveness.
From the back benches there was clapping and shuffling of feet, and
cries of "Get a move on" and "Now we shan't be long." It was a quarter
past eight, however, before the chairman, a big, flabby man with an
ample watch-chain and a pathetically nervous manner, made his
appearance.

A feeble clapping broke out among the elect upon the platform. The
chairman looked about him uncertainly, then poured out a glass of water,
slopping it upon the table in his nervousness. As he rose he was greeted
with cries of "Profiteer!" and "Hands off the people's food!" As a
matter of fact he was a house and estate agent.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he began, and then paused and coughed. "I
er--er, regret to er--announce, inform you, that Mr. Lisah T. Emden has
er--not arrived. He--"

"'E was bound to get lorst wiv a name like that," cried a voice. "Wot
jer expect?" The chairman's next few remarks were lost in the laugh that
followed.

"Mr. Emden, er--er--"

"German spy!" from the hall.

"Will be here--er, presently--immediately."

"We're ready for him."

"He is a most eminent--"

"Pussyfoot."

There were loud cries of "Order," and several blue-rosetted stewards
strove to reach the various spots from which the interruptions seemed to
come; but legs, alien legs, seemed unaccountably to get in their way.

In the meantime somebody had pulled vigorously at the chairman's
coat-tails. He turned, and having listened a moment to a little sandy
man with two prominent front teeth that gave him the appearance of a
rat, he turned once more to the audience and announced that he had been
in error in stating that Mr. Emden had not arrived; that as a matter of
fact Mr. Emden was already "fortunately in our midst," an announcement
that was greeted with loud cries of "Shame!"

Mr. Lisah T. Emden stepped forward and stood for a moment whilst his
audience expressed themselves according to their individual convictions.
The faithful applauded loudly; those who were not in sympathy with him
expressed their disapproval according to their lights and idiom. Mr.
Emden was a spare man, with high cheek-bones, a dry, tightly-drawn
yellow skin, a Roman nose, and the general appearance of an Indian
brave. His face was perfectly expressionless, his lips grey and hard.
With the immobility of a sphinx, Mr. Emden waited. Gradually the uproar
died down, curiosity took the place of protest and a silence fell over
the assembly.

"Shall we poison the House of God?" Mr. Emden paused dramatically, and
with tightly closed lips stood looking straight in front of him. "That,"
he continued, "is the question we in America have airsked ourselves, and
I am vurry glad to be able to tell you here and now that our airnswer
has been No! [Cries of 'Shame!'] There are in this country
millions of--"['Pussyfoots,' cried a voice. There was a shout of
laughter]--"millions of," continued Mr. Emden, "men and women who are
daily poisoning their bodies and their souls with alcohol. That is why I
left my country, my wife and family ['Lucky beggars!' cried a voice], to
make you a visit, and to tell you how we have corraled the drink god in
America. "I expect opposition ['And you'll get it'], I expect contumely
['Who's 'e?' enquired a voice], I expect all that is the lot of one who
preaches an unpopular gospel. I repeat, I expect enmity, hatred, and
uncharitableness; but I bring to the fight a hopeful heart. ['And you'll
take home a broken jaw if you're not careful,' cried a voice.] "I come,"
continued Mr. Emden, "I come to you as a prophet--"

"Propheteer," corrected a voice.

There was another yell of laughter, and it was some minutes before Mr.
Emden could obtain a further hearing.

"All my life," he continued, "I have drunk [a voice, 'Whisky'] of the
springs, and with it I have quaffed deep of the flagon of happiness.
['You don't look it.'] When I look on this fair land and think what it
might be I am filled with hope."

Mr. Emden went on with increasing interruptions to tell the story of how
America had fought against the drink traffic, and how she had won a
bloodless victory.

As the disorderliness of the meeting became more pronounced, those on
the platform showed obvious signs of nervousness. They whispered
together, and several glanced over their shoulders towards the door
giving egress from the platform. The chairman from time to time wiped
his forehead with a blue silk handkerchief, and repeatedly had recourse
to the glass of water before him, which was intended for the lecturer.

Finally, Mr. Emden resumed his seat amidst a pandemonium of applause,
booing, and catcalls.

The chairman looked about him helplessly, then, as if feeling that
something was required of him, rose to his feet. It was fully five
minutes before he could make himself heard, when those who were nearest
understood him to say that Mr. Emden was prepared to answer any
questions addressed to him.

Again pandemonium broke out as the chairman resumed his seat.

"'Ere, I can't stand this," cried Bindle, as he mounted on the chair
beside Dick Little; "I got to 'ave a word with ole yellowbeak." At the
sight of Bindle standing on his chair the curiosity of the audience
gradually overcame their desire for noise, and midst cries of "Order!"
and "Silence!" the uproar gradually died down. "I'd like to ask you a
few questions, sir," said Bindle when he could make himself heard. Mr.
Emden merely turned his face towards Bindle; but made no comment.

"Now suppose a cove likes a kipper for 'is breakfast an' suddenly you
tells 'im that kippers ain't good for 'im, an' he's got to 'ave a sponge
cake wot always makes 'im sick. Wot's the result?"

"I am afraid I do not follow you, my friend," said Mr. Emden.

"The workin' men of this 'ere country," continued Bindle, "'ave got used
to 'avin' beer, an' they likes it, and it don't do 'em no 'arm so long
as they don't go an' make giddy beasts of theirselves. Suddenly you
comes along, Gawd knows why, and says they mustn't 'ave no more beer,
but got to drink lemonade and tea wot makes 'em sick. Wot's the result?"

"You would all be happier," said Mr. Emden, when the cheers that greeted
Bindle's reasoning had subsided.

"'Ow do you know wot's goin' to make me 'appy?" demanded Bindle.

"Because you would be doing the right thing."

"But the right thing don't always make you 'appy," persisted Bindle.
"Look at my brother-in-law 'Earty, been doin' the right thing for years,
'e 'as, an' 'e looks about as 'appy as a winkle wet feels the pin. And
why is it right for you to tell me wot I got to drink?" Again loud
shouts of approval ran through the hall. As Mr. Emden did not reply
Bindle continued:

"Us workin' chaps 'as been used to beer all our lives: you take it away
from us and we'll be that unhappy that we'll start all sorts of strikes
and revolutions. Look at Russia. Wot 'appened when you took 'er drink
away and made 'er dry? Why, they're cuttin' each other's throats like
giddy-o, now."

Again a yell of applause greeted Bindle's reasoning.

"You do not understand, my friend," said Mr. Emden, whilst the party on
the platform looked more than ever ill-at-ease.

"I understand this much, ole sport," said Bindle, "that a drop o' beer
inside me makes me feel much 'appier than a drink o' lemonade, an' when
a man's 'appy 'e don't go lookin' for trouble. You better run 'ome
before they spoils that pretty face o' yours."

"Lemme go, I say, I'm goin' to break 'is blinkin' jaw, I tell yer. Wot
the blinkin' 'ell does 'e want to come over 'ere with 'is streamin'
lemonade? Lemme go, I say."

There was a scuffle at the back of the hall, and presently a man broke
away and started lurching up the middle gangway. It was Ginger. His face
was flushed with passion, and there was murder in his eyes. The stewards
whose duty it was to intercept him stood aside; Ginger was an ugly
opponent when his blood was up. Just as he reached the platform a bugle
at the back of the hall sounded the two notes that had become so dear to
Londoners during the war. It was the "all clear" signal. Instantly the
hall was plunged in darkness.

There were shouts and cries, hootings and loud whistlings, whilst from
the platform a number of electric torches were to be seen flashing
about. There were many cries from the faithful, cries of "Let go of my
nose." Someone shouted "Murder!" and there was a general stampede for
the platform exit.

"Oh, my Gawd! wot a stink!" cried a voice just as the lights went up
upon an empty platform.

There was a stampede towards the doors, just as there had been a
stampede from the platform, as foul-smelling fumes spread through the
hall. There were cries and oaths as the terrible odour assailed the
nostrils of the audience. Pussyfoots and prohibition were forgotten in
the wild desire to get away from that pursuing, intolerable stench.


IV


That evening at Dick Little's flat in Chelsea, which he now used only
professionally, were gathered a number of sedately dressed men sporting
low collars suggestive of restrained tastes and disciplined passions.

"I got two," said one reminiscently.

"I made a mess of mine," said another. "He's got one cheek blue and the
other au naturel!"

"I ain't got nothink to say agin a cove drinkin' petrol if it keeps 'im
quiet," remarked Bindle, "but 'e didn't ought to try an' make every
other cove do wot 'e does."

Loud cries of agreement greeted this remark.

"I ain't a pet canary with a drop o' beer in me; but wot I should be on
stone ginger--" Bindle broke off eloquently and buried his face in his
pewter.

"That was a brainy idea of yours to clear the hall, Dick," said a
black-coated figure with a cigar in one hand and a whisky-and-soda in
the other. "There might have been the deuce of a row otherwise."

Whilst Dick Little was entertaining his guests, the occupants of an
omnibus passing along the Fulham Road in the direction of Putney were
greatly surprised by the entrance of three eminently respectable-looking
men with noses of so vivid a tint, two of vermilion and the third of a
blue reminiscent of Ricketts. The conductor stared at them open-mouthed.

At the sight of each other their jaws dropped, and their hands rose
instinctively to their own noses. The other passengers tittered. One of
the new arrivals whispered to his neighbour, whose hand instinctively
fondled his nose. Then they both whispered to the third.

As if inspired by a common instinct they rose, one wildly clutched the
communication cord, whilst all three tumbled out of the vehicle.

As the 'bus continued on its way, the conductor had a glimpse of three
men gathered under a lamp-post vigorously rubbing their noses with white
pocket-handkerchiefs.

That night a number of earnest reformers spent hours in a vain endeavour
to remove an alien vividness from their noses and other parts of their
face. Soda they tried, patent washing powders, soap and hot water,
petrol, in short, everything that solicitous wives and anxious families
could think of. In some cases the family doctor was called in, all the
chemists' being shut; but he had frankly to confess that the artificial
colouring could not be removed immediately; but would in all probability
wear off in time.

The victims groaned in spirit at the thought of the morrow. They could
not face the world with a nose of the hue of a pillar-box, or of a
patent washing blue. In self-defence they developed various symptoms
that would keep them to the house for some days to come.

Mr. Hearty had walked home, let himself in with his key and gone
straight to bed without reference to his appearance in a looking-glass.
Mrs. Hearty was already fast asleep. Consequently he did not make the
discovery until putting on his collar on the following morning. Mr.
Hearty was always first up.

When the first horror of surprise had passed off, he strove by every
means in his power to remove the stain that rendered one side of his
nose blue and the other side red. At last with inspiration he thought of
the pumice-stone, with the result that when the doctor arrived he
announced that unless Mr. Hearty were very careful blood-poisoning might
very reasonably ensue. Mr. Hearty accordingly took to his bed as had so
many reformers in the neighbourhood of Fulham.

"I'm sorry for 'Earty," remarked Bindle to Mrs. Bindle some days later,
"but 'e didn't ought to go shovin' that nose of 'is into wot don't
concern 'im, tryin' to rob pore ole Ginger of beer."

"You're not sorry at all; you're glad," snapped Mrs. Bindle. "You'll get
run in yet, mark my words. The police have got a clue," she added
darkly.



CHAPTER IV - THE FLITTING OF MR. MAURICE CRANE


I


"Can you keep yer mouth shut?" demanded the yard-foreman of the Victoria
Depository and Furniture Removing Company, as he looked at Bindle with
the air of one who has already made up his mind negatively upon the
subject.

"If you'd lived a matter o' twenty years with Mrs. B., ole sport,"
replied Bindle, "you'd be able to give an oyster ten yards in the
'undred an' beat 'im every time."

"Well, there ain't got to be no blabbin' over this 'ere job," announced
the foreman, a heavily-built man with a drink-swollen face, a bald head,
and a soured temper.

"Shootin' the moon?" enquired Bindle innocently.

"Don't you worry what it's about, cockie," said the foreman surlily;
"you jest do what yer told, and keep yer ruddy mouth shut."

Bindle eyed the man with disfavour.

"Pleasant way you got o' putting things, Tawny," he remarked amiably.

The foreman's hair was of a strangely sun-dried tint, which had earned
for him the name of Tawny. He disliked the familiarity, preferring to be
called Mr. Hitch. Instead he was invariably called Tawny to his face,
and Ole 'Itch-an'-Scratch-It' behind his back.

"You got to take the steam van and trailer to 18 Vanstorn Road, Balham,
load up, then telephone 'ere and you'll get the address where you're to
go. It's in the country. You'll be away two days You'll draw ten bob a
day, exes. Be 'ere at seven."

"In the country?" queried Bindle. "What part of the country?"

"Never you mind what part of the country," said the foreman
malevolently. "You jest obey orders, and keep that ugly mouth o' yours
closed, then people won't know what blinkin' bad teeth you got.
Stevens'll be engineer, you can take Huggles and Wilkes. Send 'em back
when you've loaded up. There'll be men at the other end to 'elp unload.
Got it?"

"Wot a wonderful chap you are, Tawny, for explaining things"--Bindle
gazed at him in mock admiration--"and yer language too, since you joined
that Sunday school wot took the tint out of yer complexion. Wonderful
face you got for peepin' round an 'arp."

"One o' these days you'll get a thick ear, Jo Bindle," said the foreman
angrily.

"Well, well," said Bindle philosophically, "better a thick ear than a
thick 'ead."

"It's about fifty miles away," continued the foreman. "You got to be
there at six, so you can put up for a couple of hours on the road, and
get a kip. Now 'op it, and if you says a ruddy word of where you've been
or where yer goin' to, I'll cut yer pinkish liver out. I've 'ad my
blinkin' eye on you some time," added the foreman darkly; "you an' yer
stutterin' tricks."

"Where you learns it all does me," said Bindle good-humouredly, as he
turned away; then, as a sudden inspiration struck him, he added, "No one
couldn't 'ave their eye long on a face like yours without blinkin',
Tawny. So-long."

Bindle always enjoyed getting the last word.


II


"Mrs. B.," remarked Bindle that evening, as he leaned back contentedly
after a particularly successful supper of sheep's heart stuffed with
sage-and-onions, in the preparation of which Mrs. Bindle was an adept.
"Mrs. B., there are them wot appreciates your ole man."

Mrs. Bindle sniffed scornfully, and, rising from the table, proceeded to
draw out of the oven a rhubarb tart, which she banged upon the table. To
Mrs. Bindle emphasis was the salt of life. As Bindle had once remarked,
"My missis does everythink as if she meant it. She cooks like giddy-o,
talks like a bust drain, an' prays like 'ell."

"What's the matter now?" she snapped, curiosity overcoming her scorn of
all things relating to her spouse.

"I got to go away on a secret service mission," he announced through a
mouthful of rhubarb tart.

"Where are you going?" she demanded suspiciously.

"I ain't allowed to say," was the response. "It 'ud be quod if I did.
Ole Tawny calls me up this afternoon and says, 'Bindle,' 'e says, 'there
ain't a stouter 'eart than yours in the British Empire.' Of course I
jest looks down and says, 'Bow-wow!'"

"If you want me to listen you'd better talk sense."

Mrs. Bindle slashed out another V of pie-crust, tipped it on to the
plate that Bindle held towards her, and proceeded to dab rhubarb beside
it.

"Sense it is, Mrs. B.," he said. "I got to go away for two days. Now
mind you don't get up to--"

"Where are you going?" demanded Mrs. Bindle.

"That's a secret. Nobody ain't permitted to know."

For some moments Mrs. Bindle eyed him suspiciously.

"You're going to the races!" There was grim conviction in her tones.
"Don't deny it," she added, "I know."

"It ain't no use trying to keep things from you, Lizzie," said Bindle
with a grin. "'Earty didn't want me to tell you; still, if you've found
out, it can't be 'elped, can it?"

"Mr. Hearty?" interrogated Mrs. Bindle.

"Terrible goin's on." Bindle shook his head with gloomy foreboding.
"Been putting things on horses for months, 'e 'as--cokernuts,
pineapples, bags of potatoes--an' now 'e's goin' to Epsom to put 'is
shirt on."

Bindle, don't be disgusting. What do you mean about Mr. Hearty?"

"Well, you jest nip round and ask 'im," said Bindle. "If I'm going to
the races to-morrow so is 'Earty. That was a damn fine tart, Mrs. B.,"
he added as he rose from the table. "I got to be down at the yard
to-morrow at seven," he announced, as he walked towards the door.

"Where are you going to?"

"The place where they don't play billiards," he hummed as, picking up
his cap from the dresser, he went out, leaving Mrs. Bindle a prey to
jealousy and suspicion.


III


"I shall miss you when you're gone, 'Uggles," said Bindle, "jest as I
shall miss ole Wilkie's cough." He was seated on the tail-board of the
trailer-pantechnicon between his two associates, Huggles and
Wilkes--Huggles grinning vacuously, Wilkes coughing intermittently. "You
ain't bad sorts as 'umpers go; but I'd 'ave to be bloomin' drunk to see
you two with wings and 'arps. Wot they're goin' to do in 'eaven with
your cough, Wilkie, and your complexion, 'Uggles--well, it does me."

As he spoke the pantechnicon and trailer turned at a generous angle into
the Vanstom Road, Balham. A minute later they drew up in front of Number
18, a modern, semi-detached villa of the "studiodious" type.

"Here we are, my little love-birds," said Bindle, leisurely tumbling off
the tail-board. As they passed through the gate of Number 18, the front
door was opened by a smooth, puffy little man with an unhealthy skin and
a pompous manner. He was wearing a snuff-coloured suit of painful
newness, a pink shirt, a white satin tie with a diamond pin, and white
spats. Across his waistcoat was drawn a massive gold chain, whilst on
his fingers were several rings. His scanty black hair was well greased
across an unintellectual forehead.

"Blinkin' profiteer," muttered Huggles with unusual eloquence, as they
walked up the path.

Bindle turned and looked at him with interest. "It ain't often you
speaks, 'Uggles," he remarked, "but when you does, it's a bull every
time."

"Are you the moving-men?" demanded he of the brown suit, in a tone that
some men seem to think necessary to adopt to their social inferiors.

"Regular Sherlock 'Olmes you are, sir," said Bindle cheerfully.

"I am Mr. Crane, Mr. Maurice Crane. Which is the foreman?"

"Now, need you ask, sir?" said Bindle reproachfully. "Look at these two
ole reprobates, do they look--?"

"I want to speak to you," interrupted Mr. Crane, and turning on his heel
he led the way into the house.

"'E's a dook right enough," said Bindle, addressing Wilkes and Huggles.
"'E's so polite "; and he passed into the dining-room, Mr. Crane
carefully closing the door behind him.

"You understand that this is an--er--" he paused.

"It's all right, sir," said Bindle reassuringly, "nothing ain't going to
be said to nobody."

"There's no name on the van?" went on Mr. Crane.

Bindle looked out of the window.

"Not so much as a number, sir."

"And you don't know where you are going."

"Well, sir," said Bindle cheerfully, "'Earty and Mrs. B. seems pretty
sure it's 'ell; but--"

"Don't be impertinent." Mr. Crane looked at Bindle severely. "You don't
know your destination, where you are taking the--er--furniture?"

"'Aven't a notion, sir," was the response. "I got to 'phone up the
office soon as we're loaded up, then I'll 'ear."

Mr. Crane nodded approvingly.

"The neighbours," began Mr. Crane. Again he paused. He was obviously
nervous.

"You leave them to me, sir," said Bindle confidentially. "I can tell the
tale."

"And you understand," said Mr. Crane, putting his hand in his pocket and
jingling his money seductively.

"When the V.D. gets a job like this 'ere, sir, they always sends me.
'Joe Bindle,' says the manager to me yesterday afternoon, 'if it wasn't
for you,' 'e says, 'Gawd knows wot would 'ave 'appened to the British
Empire.'"

"You see, sir," he continued, "I'm married myself," and he winked
knowingly.

Mr. Crane started violently.

"You--I--what do you mean?" he demanded, fear and suspicion in his eyes.

"Don't you worry, sir, you jest leave it all to me. I'll see you
through, safe as 'ouses."

"I'm going down by train to--" began Mr. Crane--and again he
hesitated--"to where you're coming to," he concluded.

"There ain't no trains runnin' to where I'm goin'," murmured Bindle with
mournful conviction. "An' now I'll get on with the job, sir, if you
please "; and with that he turned and walked to the door and went out.

For some time Mr. Crane watched the work of dismantling his home. His
early inclination to interfere Bindle had discouraged.

"Now, you jest set down an' watch, sir," he had said, "or you'll get
them pretty duds o' yours all messed up, an' wot'll she say then?" Soon
after ten Mr. Crane departed, having given explicit instructions to
Bindle not to divulge a secret with which he was unacquainted. Mr. Crane
did not seem to see the inconsistency of the request.

Contrary to Bindle's expectations and those of Mr. Crane, the neighbours
evinced no very particular interest as to where the furniture from
Number 18 was going. They gazed from behind their curtains and from
their front doors according to the state of their presentability; but
nothing more. A few of the tradespeople from time to time took up strong
strategical positions, and watched the proceedings.

The most persistent of these itinerants was a telegraph-girl, who seemed
to have the whole morning before her. A perky, diminutive little
creature with a scrap of fair hair tied behind with a pink ribbon, she
stood drinking in the scene, her jaws moving continuously in the process
of chewing gum. At length, as if to assure herself of the correctness of
her own deductions, she turned to Bindle as he was returning to the
house.

"Moving?" she enquired indifferently, nodding her head in the direction
of the house.

"No, darling, we're doin' it to make our 'air grow. We puts everythink
in the van, then we takes it all back into the 'ouse again, and we feels
better. Gives us a sort of appetite for supper."

"Funny, ain't you?" she retorted, quite unmoved, as she continued her
chewing.

At noon Bindle and his mates knocked off for dinner, locking the doors
of the vans and also of the house. At one o'clock they were back again.

As Bindle turned into the garden he caught sight of a lady standing at
the front door. She was a little slip of a thing, brown hair, brown
eyes, brown dress, with very red lips and an almost childish expression
of countenance. Her hands were trembling violently, and her large brown
eyes looked as if they would start from her head. As Bindle approached
she took a step towards him.

"What--what are you doing with my furniture?" she cried in an unsteady
voice.

"Your furniture, mum?" repeated Bindle as if he were not quite sure that
he had heard aright.

"You mustn't take it away, oh, you mustn't--I--" She clasped her
trembling hands together, and looked at him beseechingly. There was in
her voice the note of a child who sees a cherished toy in danger of
destruction.

"We're takin' it away accordin' to orders, mum," said Bindle, forgetful
of his instructions in his sympathy for the pathetic figure before him.

"But--but whose orders?"

"Fat little chap 'e was, mum, with jewels all over 'im, an' black 'air
all smarmed down, enough to cause a grease shortage."

"That was my husband," she replied. "I am Mrs. Crane."

She was now trembling violently, and swayed slightly as if about to
collapse.

"Look 'ere, mum," said Bindle, solicitously, "you better come in and set
down, you ain't fit to stand out 'ere."

Opening the door with the key he held in his hand, he led the way into
one of the rooms where a large, chintz-covered easy-chair stood near the
door. Bindle jerked his thumb to indicate to Mrs. Crane that she was to
sit there. With a sigh that was half a sob, she collapsed into its
capacious depths, which seemed to emphasise the slightness of her
figure.

"Where--where are you taking--" she paused.

"I ain't allowed to say, mum. I'm sorry," said Bindle sympathetically.
"As a matter of fact, I don't know myself till we're loaded up, then I
gets my orders."

"Oh, Maurice! how could you?" she moaned. Then, suddenly turning to
Bindle, she cried: "You mustn't, you won't, will you? It's my home, you
see, and--and--" she broke off, sobbing.

Bindle stood before her, cap in hand, the picture of embarrassment and
indecision.

Presently the storm of weeping subsided, and she looked up at him
through her tears, a pitiable figure of despair.

"He--he sent me away, and--and--it isn't his fault; it's that dreadful
woman. Oh! you won't take them away, will you? Please--please say you
won't."

"Look 'ere, mum," said Bindle with sudden decision, "you an' me's got to
have a little talk about this 'ere "; and he seated himself on the edge
of a chair opposite.

When Bindle left the house to continue the work of removal, there was a
grim set about his jaw and a strange look in his eyes. For the rest of
the day his habitual good-humour seemed to have forsaken him. The work
proceeded without the usual quips and jokes, and Huggles and Wilkes
missed them. From time to time they gazed at their comrade and then at
each other, as if puzzled to account for the change.


IV


"'Ere, steady, ole sports," cried Bindle, "gently does it. Valuable
little bit o' stuff this 'ere."

Three men were toiling laboriously with a large, double-doored oak
cabinet of Jacobean design and dubious antiquity. Bindle was dodging
from side to side in an endeavour to prevent damage.

"Pleasant little canary-cage," he murmured, during a brief rest, as he
wiped his forehead with a large khaki-coloured handkerchief.

"Where's she going?" enquired one of the men.

"Dinin'-room," replied Bindle. "Keep her upright, there's things
inside," he added by way of explanation. "Mustn't upset the bird-seed."
On arriving that morning at six o'clock at the address in Brighton given
him the night before, Bindle had found three men waiting to help unload
the van. Stevens, the engineer, had gone to get a sleep, whilst Bindle
had immediately set to work. During the journey to Brighton he had slept
fairly comfortably on a heap of matting on top of the trailer.

After infinite labour and much grumbling and blowing on the part of the
men, the cabinet was planted in the dining-room opposite the fireplace.

"That finishes the dining-room," murmured Bindle. "Now, then, you ole
warriors," he called after the men as they trooped out of the room, "put
your backs into it, an' you shall 'ave a drink of milk and a bun if
you're good boys. Ah! 'ere you are, sir," as Mr. Crane bustled into the
house.

"So you got here safely?" he enquired, still anxious and furtive. "No
one--" He paused.

"No one said nothink, sir, nor asked nothink."

"You are quite sure."

"Sure as sure, sir," said Bindle reassuringly.

"You were not followed," persisted Mr. Crane.

"Nothink followed us along the road, sir, an' I didn't 'ear an
aeroplane."

Mr. Crane drew a deep sigh of relief.

"We've got the drawin'-room an' the dinin'-room done, sir, an' now we'll
get on with the other rooms."

Mr. Crane looked about him, apparently pleasantly surprised at the
progress that had been made during the last three hours.

"There's a--er--er--a lady coming," he said. "You had--er--better call
me."

"Right-o, sir," said Bindle cheerfully, as he walked down the passage
towards the door, whistling, "My Wife won't let me."

Mr. Crane gazed after him with a look of doubt on his face.

A few minutes later Bindle was back in the dining-room examining the oak
cabinet, apparently to see that it had suffered no damage.

"Where's Mr. Crane?"

Bindle span round on his heel and stood regarding a flamboyantly dressed
girl with puffy features, full hips, and startling yellow hair. Her
manner was supercilious, and her diction that of Bow.

"'E was 'ere a moment ago, mum, or miss," said Bindle, when he had taken
stock of the stranger. "Did you want 'im?"

"Tell him I'm here," said the girl, as she proceeded to peel off her
gloves.

Bindle noticed a broad circle of gold upon the third finger of her left
hand. He winked knowingly at a portrait of a pale, narrow-headed man,
looking like a half-ripe banana. "Very good, miss--mum, I mean. Who
shall I say?" Bindle gave a covert glance in the direction of the oak
cabinet.

"Mrs. Crane," she replied indifferently. "Right-o, miss, I'll go an'
fetch 'im."

As he turned towards the door Mr. Crane entered; at the sight of the
girl his customary nervousness seemed to increase. He fluttered across
to her with a forced, rather sickly smile.

"The drawing-room is quite ready, my dear," he said, looking at her
anxiously, as if uncertain of her mood.

"That'll have to be moved," she announced, pointing to the cabinet, and
without any attempt at greeting, by which Bindle decided in his own mind
that they had parted only a short time before.

"Moved, my dear?" interrogated Mr. Crane.

"I don't like it. It's hideous. You'll have to sell it."

"I--er--" began Mr. Crane.

"What's inside--shelves?" she demanded. "It's--er--there's nothing
inside," said Mr. Crane. "It's just an ornament."

"Ornament!" she cried scornfully, going over to it and turning the
handle. "Where's the key?" she demanded over her shoulder. "The key
ought to be in it," said Mr. Crane, turning and looking interrogatingly
at Bindle. "I got the key, sir," said Bindle, rummaging in his trousers
pocket. "I took it out when we was bringin' it in, for fear it might
catch up against somethink."

With a grin he handed the key to the girl, who proceeded to insert it in
the lock. Indolently and indifferently she opened the right-hand door,
then with a cry started back. Mr. Crane turned to see the cause of the
cry. His eyes became fixed, almost bulging out of his head.

"Good morning, Maurice."

Out of the oak cabinet stepped the diminutive form of the real Mrs.
Crane, perfectly self-possessed and smiling.

The effect of the greeting upon Mr. Crane was curious. His hands fell to
his sides, his jaw dropped, and his thick, pursy lips gaped. His face
became an ashen colour, and in his eyes was terror, as he gazed at the
neat and self-possessed figure of his wife.

"Won't you introduce me to your friend, Maurice?" enquired Mrs. Crane
sweetly, looking from one to the other.

Mr. Crane swallowed twice laboriously, at the end of each effort his
lips parting again in a silly gape. He blinked his eyes rapidly; but
speech was denied him.

Bindle stood in the background, all the satisfaction of a successful
impresario depicted upon his features.

Seeing that nothing was to be got from her husband, Mrs. Crane turned to
the fair-haired, flamboyantly dressed girl, who had stood the picture of
dazed stupidity.

"Won't you sit down?"

Mrs. Crane's honied sweetness seemed to goad the girl to madness. She
laughed a sneering, insolent laugh.

"You damn fool!" she cried, turning to the now trembling figure of Mr.
Crane. "They've tricked you, or else "--her eyes suddenly
blazed--"you've done it on purpose. You mealy-mouthed, chicken-hearted
swine!" And a stream of obscene vituperation poured from her lips.
Bindle took a step forward; but the girl did not wait.

With a fresh volley of abuse she flounced out of the room, Mrs. Crane
following her into the hall as if to assure herself that her visitor had
really left the house. When she returned she stood for a moment
regarding her husband, who had sunk into a chair, the picture of
dejection and despair.

"Please--please have the furniture put back into the van."

Bindle turned round from the window where he had been watching the
departure of the vanquished "bit o' fluff." For a moment he hesitated,
then, dashing forward, was just in time to catch Mrs. Crane as she fell.

"Well, I'm blowed, what would Mrs. B. say now?" he mumbled. "'Ere, look
'ere, sir, this is your job," he cried, looking across at where Mr.
Crane sat, a moist and beaten man. Seeing that no help was to be
expected from Mr. Crane, Bindle gently lowered his wife to the floor
and, placing a hassock beneath her head, bolted out of the room in
search of water. When he returned, after having told the men to wait by
the van, he found Mr. Crane kneeling by his wife's side, the picture of
helpless misery.

As Bindle knelt down beside her, a cup of water in his hand, Mrs. Crane
opened her eyes. After looking at him for a moment with a puzzled
expression, she smiled.

Lifting her head gently, Bindle placed the cup to her lips. She drank a
little, then with a motion of her head signed to him to take it away.
She sighed deeply and looked enquiringly at her husband, who was still
on his knees gazing down at her with unseeing eyes.

"Now," said Bindle, "you jest lift 'er into that chair, an' she'll be
all right in two ticks."

Mr. Crane seemed grateful for something to do. Stooping down, he lifted
the slight form of his wife and placed her in a chair.

For some minutes Bindle and Mr. Crane stood gazing down at Mrs. Crane.
Presently she appeared to gather herself together, and, looking from one
to the other, she smiled.

"I'm all right now," she said weakly. "You--you mustn't bother any
more."

"Well, mum, if you don't mind bein' left alone for a minute or two, me
an' 'im's got one or two little things to settle." He indicated Mr.
Crane with his thumb. "You're sure you'll be all right?" he asked
anxiously.

Mrs. Crane nodded and smiled wanly.

"Now, sir," said Bindle, addressing Mr. Crane, "we'll go into the
kitchen."

There was a grimness about Bindle's tone that caused Mr. Crane to look
apprehensively in the direction of his wife; but her eyes were closed.
Bindle's air, as he stood holding open the door, was so determined that,
after a momentary hesitation, Mr. Crane passed through it into the
kitchen, as if compelled by sheer force of personality. Carefully
closing the door, Bindle stood before it facing his victim.

"Now, look 'ere, sir," he said. "I met some queer coves in my time,
coves wot wasn't over particular wot they did; but you're about the
damnedest and dirtiest tyke I ever see without a muzzle." He paused, as
if to give Mr. Crane an opportunity of resenting or denying the charge.
As he did neither, Bindle continued:

"I ain't been brought up in a young ladies' school, an' I seen some
pretty dirty things done by men an' women an' 'orses; but I'm blowed if
this ain't the dirtiest I ever 'eard of."

Again he paused and looked at Mr. Crane, who stood clutching with both
hands the corner of the kitchen table, as if unable to support himself
with his own legs. His face was a ghastly grey, his lips dry, and in his
eyes was fear.

"I 'eard all about it from your missus, 'ow you got 'er to go away to
see 'er mother while you nipped orf with the sticks an' that there bit
o' fluff wot jest got it in the neck. I brought 'er down in that there
black cupboard o' yours--your missus, I mean. Such goin's-on didn't
ought to be allowed. Now, you can lose me my job by reportin' me, or you
can 'ave it out in the back-yard man to man. Which is it to be?"

Bindle looked eagerly at the quaking figure before him. Twice Mr. Crane
swallowed noisily. He made several ineffectual efforts to moisten his
lips. Finally he blinked his eyes; but no sound came from him.

"If you could make it the back-yard, I'd be kind o' grateful," said
Bindle. "I want to 'it you badly; but I can't do it while you looks like
that. You're bigger'n wot I am, an' you ain't so old, an' I wouldn't
mind betting two to one you ain't got various veins in yer legs, so I'm
givin' away a lot of things besides weight. Now, do take orf yer coat,"
he said persuasively.

And then Mr. Crane did a strange thing. His knees seemed slowly to
double up beneath him, and he sank down, still clutching with both hands
the edge of the table. Burying his face in his arms, he sobbed the hard,
dry sobs of a man who is alone with his soul.

"Well, I'm blowed," muttered Bindle, his eyes upon the light patch on
the back of Mr. Crane's head. "If this ain't It." And he walked over to
the table and stood gazing down at the sobbing man, as if he had been
some new and strange animal.

"Please leave us now," said a quiet voice behind him. He turned swiftly
to find Mrs. Crane standing just inside the kitchen door, a new light in
her eyes. "Get the furniture back in the van, please; I will settle up
everything with your employers. You have been very, very kind to me. I
shall never forget it. I will thank you later." And she looked up into
Bindle's face with a tremulous little smile. A moment later Bindle was
blowing his nose violently in the passage.

"Well, I'm blowed," he muttered, as he made his way into the
dining-room. "Jest fancy 'er wantin' 'im back, an' me gettin' mixed up
in--'ere, you ole reprobates," he shouted out of the window, "we got to
load up again. Now, look slippy. Been a little family scrap 'ere," he
said a moment later, by way of explanation, to the men as they trooped
into the room. "Now, then, Charlie Chaplin," this to a large man
enveloped in a voluminous pair of trousers, "up Guards an' at 'em." The
men grinned; they had a fairly clear idea of what had taken place.

"Well, I'm blowed," said Bindle, when they were all at work again, as he
scratched his head through his cap. "If this ain't the rummest go I
ever--"

"So you've come back." Mrs. Bindle proceeded to splosh Irish stew from a
saucepan into a large, buff-coloured pie-dish.

"The tired ole 'orse returns to 'is stable," said Bindle with a grin, as
he walked over to the sink for the evening rinse.

"Depend on you to come home when your stomach's empty. About the only
time you ever do come home," she snapped. Where've you been?"

"I been seein' life," said Bindle through the roller-towel, with which
he was polishing his face, "an' I'm tired. Two nights I've slept on top
of a van a-singin', 'Twinkle, twinkle, little star,' an' thinkin' of
you, Lizzie. I'll tell yer all about it when I taken the edge orf a
little appetite I got."

Mrs. Bindle sniffed and proceeded to fill Bindle's plate. For twenty
minutes he ate with noisy enjoyment; finally he leaned back in his chair
with a sigh of relief and repletion.

"Now, Mrs. B., for the story," he said, as he filled and lighted his
pipe. When it was drawing to his entire satisfaction, he started to tell
Mrs. Bindle of the happenings of the last two days. In her interest she
forgot to clear away the supper-things.

"Jezebel!" was her comment when Bindle had concluded his account of the
discomfiture of the pseudo Mrs. Crane.

"That might 'ave been 'er name; but she didn't 'appen to mention it."

"And what happened afterwards?" enquired Mrs. Bindle eagerly.

Bindle explained his interview with Mr. Crane in the kitchen, and how it
had been interrupted.

"When they come out of the kitchen," he concluded, "they was like
love-birds: jest like you an' me, Lizzie. Now, wot does a woman like 'er
see in that bit o' kidney sooet dressed up like a nob? That's wot does
me."

Mrs. Bindle drew in her lips with the air of a woman who knows, but will
not tell.

"Now they're back in Balham as 'appy as 'appy. It was a pity," he added
reminiscently, "that 'e didn't come into the back-yard. I did want to 'it
'im."

Mrs. Bindle nodded her head approvingly, much to Bindle's surprise.

"And did she give you anything?" demanded Mrs. Bindle.

"She offered it; but you don't take money for doin' things like that,"
said Bindle simply. Again Mrs. Bindle nodded her head.

"You done right for once, Joe Bindle," she remarked grudgingly; whereat
Bindle gazed at her in mute astonishment, for he remembered that he had
repeated the language he had used to Mr. Crane.

"Wot I don't understand," he said, "is why she wanted 'im back, 'im wot
'ad done the dirty on 'er like that, an' 'e wasn't a rose-show to look
at. Seemed to think it was all the other gal, she did. Funny things,
women," he muttered, "funny as funny."

"He was her husband," said Mrs. Bindle sententiously, "and in the eyes
of the Lord--"

"If 'e'd come out into that back-yard," said Bindle grimly, "'e'd 'ave
been the funniest sight for the eyes--"

"Blasphemer!"

"An' us gettin' on so well too." Bindle grinned. "Suppose I'd nipped orf
with our sticks an' a little bit o' fluff," queried Bindle as he moved
towards the door, "would you 'ave taken me back?"

"Don't be disgusting, Bindle."

"But would you?" Bindle's hand was on the handle of the door.

"You try it and see!"--there was a world of grim meaning in the retort.

"Well, if women ain't the funniest things that ever was," Bindle
muttered, as he closed the door behind him, bent on taking a little
stroll before turning in. "They beats silkworms, an' they was pretty
difficult to get the 'ang of."



CHAPTER V - THE BINDLES AT THE ZOO


I


"You can get your own tea on Sunday," announced Mrs. Bindle, as she
banged upon the table a yellow pie-dish containing Irish stew.

"Get my own tea?" queried Bindle, looking up from the newspaper he had
been surreptitiously reading, newspapers not being popular with Mrs.
Bindle at meal-times. "Why should I get my own tea on Sunday, Mrs. B.?"

"Because I'm going out, that's why," she retorted. "I suppose you'd like
me to give up all my pleasures as well as wait on you hand and foot."

"Where yougoing, Lizzie?" he enquired pacifically. He hated storms
before meat--they always affected the size of Mrs. Bindle's "helpings."

"I'm going to the Zoo."

"To live?"

A moment later he cursed himself for his glib tongue. The nice meaty
chop that Mrs. Bindle had in the spoon was dropped back into the dish,
and a piece of unattractive scrag selected in its place.

"Mr. Hearty has invited me to go with him." For the next few minutes
Bindle occupied himself in trying to find some vulnerable spot for his
knife and fork in the piece of scrag that lay on his plate.

"He's had some tickets given him. It's a private day on Sunday,"
announced Mrs. Bindle presently, determined to get the full flavour out
of the episode.

"Better put this 'ere piece of bone in your pocket for the lions in case
they 'aven't got enough," he said gloomily, turning over the bit of
scrag and examining it from the underside.

"That's right, complain about your food. Pity you haven't got something
else to grumble about."--Mrs. Bindle was out for blood. "It's grumble,
grumble, grumble, morning, noon, and night. Nothing ever satisfies you,
and meat the price it is."

"Can't I have somethink with a bit o' meat on it, then?" he complained,
still making valiant efforts to dissect that which nature had never
intended should be dissected.

"There, look at you now!"

In his struggle, Bindle had approached too near the edge of the plate,
with the result that it had suddenly tilted towards him, depositing its
contents upon his knees.

"You're not fit to eat with pigs," was Mrs. Bindle's comment, as she
watched Bindle scrape from his clothes and pick up from the floor what
remained of his meal, using a spoon for the purpose. This done, he
pushed his plate towards her; but Mrs. Bindle ignored the hint.

"Give us a bit more, Lizzie," he pleaded. "There isn't any more," she
announced with decision.

"No more!" he echoed in consternation. "But there's a lot in the dish."

"That's got to do for to-morrow. You seem to forget the price of things.
In future you'd better take your meals in the scullery, then you can
slop your food about as you like."

"But I ain't 'ad anythink to eat yet," he grumbled.

Mrs. Bindle ignored the protest, but compromised a delicate situation by
dabbing on his plate two potatoes, some gravy, and a small piece of
meat.

Another time the news that Mrs. Bindle and Mr. Hearty were going to the
Zoo would have filled Bindle with unholy joy; but it is a humorous head
that laughs on an empty stomach. When he left No. 7 Fenton Street to
return to his work, it was with a sense of grievance that somehow seemed
to involve his brother-in-law, Mr. Hearty, and the Zoo itself. All the
afternoon he brooded over the wrong that had been done him, inspired to
discontent by the feeling of emptiness within.

That evening, when he left work, he took a bus to Chelsea to call on his
friend, Dr. Richard Little, whom he found at home. When, half an hour
later, he left the surgery, it was with a lighter heart and a brighter
outlook. Dr. Little had promised to obtain from a friend tickets for the
Zoological Gardens which could be used on the following Sunday. Bindle's
plaintive remark that "Some'ow it doesn't seem right to miss seem' Mrs.
B. and 'Earty in the monkey 'ouse" had proved irresistible. On the
following Sunday the Bindles dined early. One o'clock saw Mrs. Bindle's
kitchen spotless, with not a thing awry, and tea laid for one. Mrs.
Bindle herself stood at the door taking a final look round to see that
everything was as it should be.

"You'll find tea in the cup. Mind you hot the pot first and see the
water's boiling, then let it stand for three minutes."

She was arrayed in her best alpaca and her most biscuit-coloured gloves,
tight across the palms to the point of discomfort. Her bonnet of purple,
"picked out with spring-leaf green," sat perpendicularly upon her head,
and the purple ribbons were tied with meticulous neatness beneath her
sharp chin.

From her elastic-sided boots, with patent-leather toe-caps, to the top
of her rather forbidding headgear, she was conscious that there was
nothing amiss. In Bindle's idiom, she felt herself to be "It."

"And mind you don't spill your tea on the cloth," she said as she turned
towards the door, "and when you've finished put your cup and saucer and
plate in the pan in the sink."

"You're wastin' a lot o' breath, Mrs. B.," said Bindle at length. "I
ain't a-goin' to be 'ome to tea."

"Then why couldn't you say so before, and save me laying it?"

Bindle had postponed the announcement until the last moment. He had
intended telling Mrs. Bindle that he also was bound for the Zoo; but
just as the words were on his lips he realised that a more dramatic
effect might be obtained by presenting himself to his wife and
brother-in-law as they were indulging in their pleasures.

Five minutes later the front door banged, and Mrs. Bindle was on her way
to Putney Bridge Station, to meet her brother-in-law.


II


"I think," remarked Mr. Hearty, with the air of one who has given the
matter mature consideration, "I think, Elizabeth, that we ought to see
the lions fed."

"I should like it, Mr. Hearty," said Mrs. Bindle, drawing in her chin,
which, when with Mr. Hearty, was always a sign that she was pleased. "I
have never seen the lions fed," she added, as one announcing that she
had never tasted artichokes.

"Can you tell me what time the lions are fed?" enquired Mr. Hearty
politely, as they passed through the turnstiles.

"Four o'clock," replied the man, in the tone of one who suffers fools
professionally.

"We must see the Mappin Terraces, also," announced Mr. Hearty, springing
open the case of his gold hunter. Mr. Hearty never lost an opportunity
of acquainting himself with the time.

"I should like to," said Mrs. Bindle, utterly at sea as to what a Mappin
terrace might be; but prepared to see every animal known to Noah. For
nearly half an hour they proceeded to stroll about, aimless and
uncertain, Mr. Hearty generally half a yard in front. He realised that
care was necessary in a place like the Zoo. He had already determined to
do all he could to head Mrs. Bindle off from the Monkey House. Mr.
Hearty was never at home in the Monkey House. There was a certain
realistic freedom adopted by monkeys which he found disconcerting.

Suddenly his eye caught sight of the words "Cat House." Recalling a
previous visit to the Zoo, he piloted Mrs. Bindle past the entrance.

"Phew! What a stink!"

As the words assailed his ears Mr. Hearty shuddered. A moment later, his
head jerked forward, as a flat and hearty hand caught him full between
the shoulders.

"So I caught you, 'ave I?"

Mr. Hearty turned to find himself blinking uncertainly into the eyes of
Bindle behind a large cigar with a red and gold band. In the background
stood Ginger, a gloomy picture of pimpled misanthropy, emphasised by a
Cambridge-blue tie. Ginger's complexion had never been schemed for
delicate tints in neck-wear.

Mrs. Bindle glared at Ginger, then, as if dazzled by his tie, she
transferred her eyes to Bindle.

"What are you doing here?" she demanded.

"Jest a-toddlin' round sayin' 'ow-jer-do to the snakes," was the
response. "Been to see the old toms?" he enquired pleasantly of Mr.
Hearty, who shuddered at the question.

"Blinkin' stink!" was Ginger's comment. "I'd poison 'em," he added
malevolently. "Don't 'old wiv cats!"

"Come along, 'Earty," said Bindle, linking his arm in that of his
reluctant brother-in-law. "Funny thing seein' you 'ere. Dr. Little give
me two tickets, so I brought ole Ging. The Zoo always cheers 'im up,
don't it, Ging?" he threw over his shoulder, at which Ginger growled a
remark about not holding with something or other.

During the short conversation Mrs. Bindle had stood with indrawn lips.
She saw in Bindle's sudden appearance with the unspeakable Ginger, whom
she detested, another organised attempt to humiliate her.

As Bindle led Mr. Hearty away, she had perforce to follow with Ginger,
who, conversationally, was an undischarged bankrupt. This, coupled with
his openly expressed hatred of women, rendered him a questionable
cavalier. "Nothin' but one stink after another," he grumbled.

Mrs. Bindle stiffened. In her own mind she was preparing things she
intended to say to Bindle when a suitable occasion presented itself.

"'Ere, Ging, come an' look at this," cried Bindle, who had pulled up in
front of a cage in which sat, with embarrassing frankness and composure,
a mandrill.

Mrs. Bindle suddenly became conscious that Mr. Hearty had turned and was
walking hurriedly away.

"Did jer ever see anythink like it?" demanded Bindle of Ginger. "Looks
as if 'e--"

"Bindle!"

Mrs. Bindle's lips had entirely disappeared. A moment later she too
turned and walked swiftly away in the direction taken by Mr. Hearty.
Ginger leant forward, one hand on either knee, examining with an
interest that surprised Bindle the eccentrically marked mandrill.

"Wot jer think of 'im, Ging?"

"Funny old blinker!" muttered Ginger presently. "Fancy 'avin' to go
about wiv a--"

"'Ush, Ging! Remember it's Sunday," and Bindle drew his reluctant friend
away from the mandrill's cage.

"Fancy a-paintin' of 'im up like that," persisted Ginger. "Funny place
to--"

"'Ush, Ging!" murmured Bindle.

"'Oo's 'e?" demanded Ginger, as he and Bindle proceeded to overtake Mr.
Hearty, who had waited for Mrs. Bindle. "'E ain't 'alf got the blinkin'
'eart bowed down," he added.

Bindle explained the relationship.

"'Ullo, they're going to see the elephants," he said, as Mrs. Bindle and
Mr. Hearty disappeared into the elephant shed.

Upon Mr. Hearty's features as he entered was the expression of a man who
finds the atmosphere distasteful. He possessed an extremely delicate
sense of smell.

Taking her cue from her brother-in-law, Mrs. Bindle drew a handkerchief
from her pocket and held it to her nose.

"I likes the smell of elephants," announced Bindle, with the air of one
announcing that heliotrope or mignonette is a delight to his nostrils.

"I don't 'old wiv elephants," grumbled Ginger, as he gazed at the waving
trunk of the elephant before which they were standing.

"Get away, you brute!"

Mrs. Bindle brought her umbrella down with a vigorous smack on the side
of the trunk, which the elephant, anticipating hospitality, had thrust
towards her, opening and closing the viscid extremity invitingly.

A moment later Mrs. Bindle started back with a scream, dropping her
umbrella. The elephant, resenting the assault, had blown deliberately in
her face, with the result that to Mrs. Bindle's features clung much
elephantine moisture. Mr. Hearty turned and made for the door, while
Ginger laughed.

So astonished was Bindle at the sight of Ginger laughing that he forgot
Mrs. Bindle in the contemplation of what was, so far as his experience
went, a record.

"Blinkin' old 'Un, spittin' like that," said Ginger, and he laughed
again. Ginger had spent six months in a German prison.

A keeper strolled up and proceeded to soothe the irate pachyderm.

With fingers that trembled with anger, Mrs. Bindle proceeded to remove
her veil and then to wipe her face. This done, she turned upon the
keeper.

"I shall report you," she announced, "for--for not putting that brute in
a cage."

"He's harmless enough, mum," was the keeper's cool retort; "but he don't
like being hit. It's a wonder he didn't lift you up and dash you against
the roof," he added, drawing upon his imagination.

Mrs. Bindle retreated a pace, realising that she was still within reach
of that tenuous menace. Mr. Hearty had disappeared, and a moment later
Mrs. Bindle followed, while Bindle and Ginger bought up the rear.

"I'll report that man!" announced Mrs. Bindle to Mr. Hearty as she
continued to rub her face; it still felt contracted, due to the
elephant's stickiness.

"They ought not to allow such brutes loose," said Mr. Hearty with
conviction. He had already made up his mind to approach nothing that was
not behind iron bars. He almost regretted his suggestion that they
should see the lions fed.

"It's ten minutes to four, 'Earty," cried Bindle from behind. "We'd
better go and see 'em feed the lions."

The lions did not appear to be hungry; they accepted their joints with a
callousness that disappointed both Bindle and Ginger, who had hoped for
"a bit of a scrap."

Mrs. Bindle expressed her views upon the quality of the meat supplied,
the arrival of which Bindle had heralded with: "Oh, lor, don't it niff?"

The zoological interests of Mrs. Bindle and Ginger were as the Poles
asunder. The exhibits which interested Ginger aroused in Mrs. Bindle a
feeling of repulsion. Their first differences of opinion arose in regard
to the kangaroos.

Ginger was not overburdened with zoological knowledge; but one thing he
did know, and that was the way in which certain marsupials, notably the
kangaroo, carry their young. With Ginger, to know a thing was to impart
the knowledge to others. In general he was a man upon whose lips had
fallen a great silence.

From the first he had been anxious to discover the whereabouts of the
kangaroos. When at last he found them, Ginger gave a little grunt of
satisfaction.

"Look!" he said, seizing Mrs. Bindle by the arm and pointing to a lady
kangaroo. "See, that's where it carries--"

For answer, Mrs. Bindle gripped her umbrella and brought its knob in
sharp contact with Ginger's chin.

"'Ere, wot the blinkin'---!" he shouted.

"Steady, Ginger," grinned Bindle, "this ain't a bloomin' Cabinet
Meetin'."

"Wot she want to biff me wiv 'er umbrella for?" he demanded angrily.

"If you give me any more of your lewd talk I'll do it again," announced
Mrs. Bindle, pale with anger.

"I only said--" began Ginger.

"Stop it!" cried Mrs. Bindle, raising the umbrella, and Ginger stopped
it.

Mrs. Bindle walked on with Mr. Hearty. For her, kangaroos were
irretrievably and for ever banned as disgusting beasts.

Ginger stayed behind to explain to Bindle the nursery accommodation
provided by nature for juvenile kangaroos.

Another crisis arose owing to a heated discussion between Bindle and
Ginger about a zoological matter connected with a white-bearded gnu,
which both seemed satisfied to call "gee-new." Bindle maintained that it
was a lord of creation, whilst Ginger was equally convinced that it was
what he described as "a milker."

Mr. Hearty now had the appearance of a man possessed of some secret
dread. He approached each pen or cage with suspicion, taking a hurried
glance at the inmates before he ventured to pause for a closer
inspection. Mr. Hearty was a man upon whom delicacy had descended as a
blight.

Ginger's other zoological titbit of information was concerned with the
amazing characteristics of the camels. During the War he had served in
Egypt.

"Ain't got no blinkin' feelin's, 'aven't camels," he announced. "Plug
'em through the innards an' they jest 'iccups. I--"

"Ginger stopped suddenly, noticing a certain rigidity about Mrs.
Bindle's umbrella-arm.

"Look 'ere, Joe," he grumbled a few minutes later. "If your missis lands
me wiv 'er umbrella again, I'm goin' to dot 'er one."

Mr. Hearty received one shock. Much to his interest, he had discovered a
skirt that was short even for London, and the limbs beneath were
shapely. Mr. Hearty's zoological interest became intensified.

"I am surprised at you!" cried a hoarse voice, almost in his ear.

Dropping his umbrella, he spun round with the air of a man discovered in
some illicit act, only to face a moth-eaten parrot of dingy reds and
yellows and blues with a huge bone beak. By the time Mr. Hearty had
retrieved his umbrella, the skirt, and what the skirt had inadequately
covered, had disappeared.


III


Throughout the afternoon Bindle had been doing his utmost to head the
party in the direction of the Monkey House, but both Mrs. Bindle and Mr.
Hearty seemed determined to avoid that particular spot.

Matters were at length brought to a crisis by a remark from Ginger.

"Wot about the blinkin' monkeys?" he demanded, suddenly coming to a
standstill. "We got to see them."

Mr. Hearty, who had stared violently at the adjective, looked across at
Mrs. Bindle. She appeared to hesitate.

"You ain't been to the Zoo if you 'aven't seen the monkeys," said Bindle.
"Come along, 'Earty, I know the way," with which he linked his arm
through that of Mr. Hearty and made off in the direction of the Monkey
House. "Funny little blinkers, them monkeys," grumbled Ginger.

He had been almost genial since the elephant's attack on Mrs. Bindle.

"Didn't 'alf spit in yer eye, did 'e?" he added, his mind still dwelling
upon the delightful feeling he had experienced at seeing Mrs. Bindle
blown upon by an elephant.

Mrs. Bindle lifted her chin. She disliked Ginger intensely.

"I'll thank you to keep your remarks to yourself," she said, drawing in
her lips.

"Eh?" Ginger's mouth opened vacantly. With him it was a sign that he
failed to understand.

"You've got a lewd tongue," continued Mrs. Bindle.

"No, I ain't," he contradicted, "it's fur. 'Ad a thick night last night,
I did," he added, by way of explanation.

"It's what?" she demanded.

"Fur!" said Ginger. "Look!" and he produced from between his lips an
unearthly looking thing of grey and blue and pink.

"You beast!" and with that Mrs. Bindle hurried forward, leaving the
astonished Ginger with his tongue still protruding from his lips,
puzzled to account for her reception of what, to him, was a friendly
act. He showed his tongue to few women.

"If you don't stop that man saying disgusting things to me, Bindle, I
shall tell a keeper," cried Mrs. Bindle on catching up with the others.

"'E's all right is ole Ging," said Bindle genially as he turned once
more to Mr. Hearty, to whom he was explaining, much to Mr. Hearty's
embarrassment, a certain incident he had seen in the Monkey House on the
occasion of his last visit to the Zoo. The presence of Mrs. Bindle,
however, robbed the story of much of its realism.

It had been Mr. Hearty's intention carefully to avoid the Monkey House.
He recalled once having visited it with Mrs. Hearty, and her Rabelaisian
mirth had embarrassed him so painfully that he had left the building,
preferring to wait for her outside.

As the party entered the Monkey House, Mr. Hearty had the air of a man
determined to see nothing he ought not to see. Mrs. Bindle was clearly
on the defensive. She was prepared to retreat at the least manifestation
of that from which, in her opinion, all nice-minded people should
retire.

Ginger manifested eagerness, while Bindle's attitude was clearly that of
a man who is approaching what he regards as "the tasty bit of the 'ole
show," as he had just expressed it to his brother-in-law.

Mr. Hearty took the precaution of moving on ahead, leaving Mrs. Bindle
wedged in a stream of people, with Bindle and Ginger in attendance.

Never had Bindle known Ginger so loquacious. He volunteered a great deal
of information about monkeys, most of which was inaccurate; he seemed to
have a considerable store of recollections upon which to draw. Bindle
fed the stream of reminiscence by judicious enquiry.

Mr. Hearty was doing better than he had anticipated. He decided that the
Monkey House was obviously a place to visit alone. "Look, Joe!" cried
Ginger, his freckled face assuming an expression of almost animation.
"Look at them two up there. Tell your missis!" Ginger was too wise to
address Mrs. Bindle directly.

"Hi!" Ginger called to Mr. Hearty. "See that?" and he pointed to a bar
on which a monkey was lying luxuriously extended, whilst a colleague was
going over him as with a toothcomb.

"'E don't 'alf like it," cried Ginger, his eyes fixed upon the pair.
"Look, 'e's turning over." Ginger was determined that no one should lose
the most trifling detail or incident if he could avoid it.

"If you don't stop that man, I'll hit him again," hissed Mrs. Bindle in
Bindle's ear.

"Stop, Ging!" cried Bindle incredulously. "You might jest as well 'ave
tried to stop the War as ole Ging when 'e gets on monkeys. There's only
two things wot really sets 'im goin'; one's bell-tents an' the other's
monkeys. You been in a bell-tent, now you--"

"Look!" cried Ginger excitedly. "Look at that little blinker!" In his
eagerness he failed to realise that Bindle and Mrs. Bindle had changed
positions, and he nudged her where Mrs. Bindle strongly objected to
being nudged. Without a moment's hesitation she jabbed the handle of her
umbrella in Ginger's direction. The ferrule, however, caught in the cage
and prodded a large grey monkey, attracting its attention from behind.
In a flash it seemed to swing up above the netting and, a moment later,
a long mole-coloured arm darted out from between the bars.

There was a scream and Mrs. Bindle stood bonnetless, her thin sandy hair
hanging in wisps about her hatchet-like head, while an ecstatic monkey,
with a purple and green bonnet, was swiftly retreating to the highest
and most inaccessible portion of the cage.

"Stop him!" she cried wildly, recovering from the shock. "He's got my
bonnet."

For the second time that afternoon Ginger laughed, a loud raucous bark
that seemed to goad Mrs. Bindle to fury.

"You brute!" she cried. "It was your fault." She made another lunge at
Ginger with her umbrella, missed him and caught Bindle on the side of
the nose.

With a yelp of pain he clapped his hand to his face.

"'Ere, what are you doin', Lizzie?" he yelled.

"That monkey's got my bonnet! Here, you!" she cried, as a keeper pushed
his way through the crowd.

"Go in and get it!" she ordered, as the keeper came alongside.

"I can't do that, mum," said the man civilly.

"Then I'll report you," was the furious retort. "I want to see the
manager."

"See the what?"

"The manager--the manager of the Zoo," she added, as if to leave no
doubt as to the identity of him with whom she desired speech. The man
scratched his head through his cap. "You mean the secretary, mum," he
ventured. "He isn't here on Sundays."

"I want my bonnet!" cried Mrs. Bindle, making frantic efforts to tuck
away the wayward strands of sandy hair, her eyes fixed upon the robber
of her headgear.

"Tie your handkerchief over your head," suggested a little man whose
face radiated friendliness.

"Hold your tongue!" snapped Mrs. Bindle; then, turning to the keeper,
she demanded:

"Are you going to get my bonnet?"

The keeper once more explained the impossibility of the task.

"Then I shall report you!" she announced for the second time. "I can't
go home like this. Where's Mr. Hearty?" she demanded, looking about her.
But Mr. Hearty was making no effort to push his way to the front; on the
contrary, he had allowed himself to be forced to the outer edge of the
crowd.

Attracted by the unusual sight of a bonnet in the possession of their
comrade, the other monkeys had made a rush in its direction. By this
time a wild game of follow-my-leader was in progress.

At length the possessor of the bonnet secured a corner at the top of the
cage, on which all but a frontal attack was impossible. Here it
proceeded to dissect Mrs. Bindle's millinery, the other monkeys forming
an eager group before him.

As it tore the bonnet bit from bit, each portion was subjected to a
careful scrutiny. When apparently satisfied that there could be no
difficulty about identifying that particular piece, the long grey arm
handed it to one of the waiting group. Soon the bonnet which had caused
Mrs. Bindle much thought and labour was being put to a decorative use by
the monkeys in a way which, as she later explained to Mrs. Hearty, made
her feel hot all over.

The crowd was delighted.

In escaping from Mrs. Bindle, Ginger had captured Mr. Hearty and, with a
wealth of expletive, was explaining to him what had happened.

"Pinched 'er blinkin' bonnet--look!" he cried, as one of the monkeys
adorned himself grotesquely with a piece of green ribbon. "Blinkin' ole
guy, ain't she?" he muttered, leaning towards Mr. Hearty.

Mr. Hearty started back. Although a greengrocer, he disliked onions--at
least, second-hand. "I don't 'old wiv women," cried Ginger, his eyes
still fixed on the gambols of the monkeys. "Streamin' well better orf
wivout 'em. Got one of yer own?" he enquired.

Mr. Hearty was relieved from the necessity of replying by Mrs. Bindle
once more demanding to see the manager.

"I tell you, I'm not going home like this," she announced.

"Well, you can't stay here all night," said the keeper gravely. "We
shuts at half-past six."

"Then bring the manager to see me."

"I tell you, there ain't no manager. This ain't a music-hall."

"Look 'ere, ole sport," said Bindle, drawing the keeper aside. "'Ave you
got an 'at the missis can go 'ome in?"

The man pondered and once more scratched his head through his hat.

"I might be able to get you the loan of such a thing, mate," he
responded. "You wait 'ere; I'll go an' see wot I can find. I don't live
on the place myself; but some of us do, with their missises. She yours?"
he enquired, jerking his head in the direction of Mrs. Bindle.

Bindle nodded.

"Well, you got my sympathy, mate," he said as he moved off.

A few minutes later he returned with the suggestion that Mrs. Bindle
should accompany him in search of headgear. Without a word she
acquiesced, relieved at the prospect of escaping from the gaze of the
crowd, which instinctively she felt was unsympathetic.

"Of all the bloomin' larks!" cried Ginger, slapping a biscuit-coloured
thigh in high good-humour. Then, a moment later, he added: "Why ain't
there a blinking pub in this 'ere place?"

Ginger's thoughts gravitated towards beer as inevitably as the needle of
a compass points to the magnetic pole. The more dramatic the action, the
more insistent became his thirst. Mr. Hearty was endeavouring to edge
away from Ginger and his brother-in-law; he had the appearance of a man
who is trying to lose a dog that has no intention of being lost.

Ginger continued to assure Mr. Hearty of the intensity of his enjoyment
of the afternoon's entertainment, and he did so amidst a stress of
picturesque language that seemed almost to numb Mr. Hearty's faculties.

Ginger's description of Mrs. Bindle's appearance at length drew from
Bindle a protest.

"Look 'ere, Ging! If it 'ad been your 'at, it wouldn't have seemed so
funny, would it?" In Ginger's eyes was a puzzled look--he was thinking.

"Oh, my Gawd!"

The exclamation broke involuntarily from Bindle.

Coming towards them, elbowing the crowd with characteristic
determination, was Mrs. Bindle. Her dress was the same, her expression
of uncompromising disapproval was the same, her umbrella was the same,
and the narrow-palmed, biscuit-coloured gloves were those with which she
had set out upon her day's pleasures. For all that it seemed an entirely
new Mrs. Bindle that approached the three men, and Bindle in his own
idiom had expressed the view of all.

In place of her austerely correct bonnet, built up high in front like
the bows of a modern destroyer, was a felt hat, which industry and
pipe-clay had failed to restore to its original whiteness. The brim was
narrow and shaped like a saucer, while round the crown was a faded pale
blue ribbon.

"Come on, Joe," whispered Ginger hoarsely, conscious of the grins of
those around him. "Let's go an' see the kangaroos," and Bindle and
Ginger melted away, leaving Mrs. Bindle to Mr. Hearty, in whose
direction she was making.

That afternoon Mr. Hearty suffered as he had never suffered before.

It was only a sense of nakedness that seemed capable of offending Mrs.
Bindle. The consciousness that on her head was a hat seemed to satisfy
her. She appeared to be oblivious of the fact that as she passed heads
turned automatically and arms nudged into sides. To the hypersensitive
Mr. Hearty, however, this was only too apparent. Three times he
suggested that they should return home, and three times Mrs. Bindle told
him of things she yet desired to see.

Finally, in desperation, Mr. Hearty suggested tea. For one thing he
wanted refreshment, and for another he felt that, sitting down, Mrs.
Bindle would attract less attention.

Mrs. Bindle made quite a hearty meal. The absence of Ginger and Bindle
had raised her spirits.

It was, however, on the way home in the Tube that Mr. Hearty's misery
and embarrassment reached its culminating point. Seated opposite to them
was a child of an enquiring turn of mind, accompanied by a particularly
affectionate mother.

From the first the child's attention was attracted by Mrs. Bindle. For
some time the youngster gazed at her head in speculative wonder.

Just before she had entered the carriage, the doting mother had found
occasion to censure her offspring by saying that only bad people made
themselves conspicuous in railway carriages.

The rebuke had gone home. After a thorough examination of Mrs. Bindle's
hat and person, and choosing a moment when the train was in the station,
the child turned to its mother and in a shrill voice enquired:

"Mummie, is that a bad woman?" and the child's index finger indicated
Mrs. Bindle.



CHAPTER VI - MRS. BINDLE TAKES TO HER HEELS


I


"I 'ope you got an apple pudden, Lizzie," remarked Bindle as he gazed
reproachfully at a large piece of fat upon his plate. Like Jack Spratt,
he disliked fat, a circumstance that Mrs. Bindle sometimes turned to her
own use.

"That's right, go on!" she cried. "It wouldn't be you not to grumble
about something."

"I ain't grumblin'," he said pacifically. "I only asked if you 'ad an
apple pudden.

"You were grumbling about having mutton."

"I only 'appened to remark that cold mutton is cold mutton, Lizzie.
Surely you 'aven't got anythink to complain about in that?" Mrs. Bindle
sniffed and drew in her chin. "I ain't a-sayin' but wot mashed potatoes
don't make it more tasty; still, cold mutton is cold mutton, now ain't
it?"

"I suppose you'd like me to throw away the rest of the joint," she
retorted. "If you have hot dinner on Sunday, you must have cold dinner
on Monday."

"Couldn't you get a smaller bit?" he suggested.

"Oh! don't talk to me, with your cold mutton and your smaller bits and
your--" She hesitated for the right word. "I'm sick and tired of your
grumbling," she added.

"Well, I'm glad there's an apple pudden," he sighed, trying a new
line of strategy.

"I didn't say there was one!"

"No, Lizzie; but you didn't say there wasn't," he grinned, "an' I never
known anythink disappointin' 'appenin' without you sort of 'arpin' on
it."

Mrs. Bindle rose and proceeded to gather together the used plates in
preparation for the next course.

Bindle watched her furtively. It did not do to be too obvious with Mrs.
Bindle. Instinct told him that the large, black saucepan upon the stove
held a dainty dear to his heart--an apple pudding made by Mrs. Bindle.
She on her part seemed desirous of tantalising him by deferring the
moving of the saucepan-lid until the last moment. At length revelation
could no longer be deferred, and, with a sigh of deep content, Bindle
saw extracted from the saucepan a large white pudding-basin, surmounted
by a grey-looking cloth. He said nothing, however The fact that Mrs.
Bindle always did the "helping" always placed him at a disadvantage.

He ate largely and appreciatively, and when at length nature intervened
and he pushed his empty plate from him, his sigh was that of a man who
realises that he has done not too badly for a single meal.

"And now I suppose you'll go off and leave me for the rest of the day,
like you always do on Bank-holidays."

Mrs. Bindle was always at her worst when the banks were closed. If the
day happened to be fine, it invariably found her in a mood of
uncompromising disapproval.

"I'm goin' to 'Ampstead," Bindle announced. He always disliked the short
period that must inevitably elapse between the conclusion of a meal and
his own get-away.

"I thought so," she cried, "and I can stay here and moil and toil
preparing your next meal for you, I suppose. You're a nice sort of
husband."

"But you don't like 'Ampstead."

"How can I like it when I never go?" she demanded angrily.

"Well, why don't you come, then?"

A moment later he could have bitten off his own tongue. In half a dozen
words he had spoilt an afternoon's enjoyment that he had looked forward
to for months past.

"You'll have to wait until I dress," was her ungracious retort, and
Bindle groaned in spirit. "I've been an' done it now," he mumbled under
his breath, "an' I did want to see them fat women. 'Ow long'll you be?"
he asked, as he rose and proceeded to light his pipe, in the filling of
which he had been engaged during the last few minutes.

"I've got to clear away and wash up first," she snapped. "I can't walk
in and out like a--like a lord, same as you can.".

"All right, Lizzie," he said soothingly as he picked up his cap. "I only
asked 'ow long you were goin' to be. I'll come back in 'alf an hour."

"Where are you going?" she demanded suspiciously.

"Jest for a stroll round the 'ouses."

"Don't you forget. If you play any of your tricks on me, Joe Bindle,
I'll lock you out all night again," and Bindle registered a vow that
there should be no tricks.

"There's one thing about Lizzie," he muttered as he passed out of the
garden-gate, "it don't take much to get 'er rag out."


II


"And how much longer are you going to drag me uphill like this?"
demanded Mrs. Bindle as she paused for a moment to take breath.

"You said you wanted to come to 'Ampstead," protested Bindle, as he too
stopped and proceeded to mop a particularly moist forehead.

"You can get nearer the Heath than this," she panted. Her face was
flushed, she had miscalculated the temperature in the matter of
clothing. Mrs. Bindle was always prepared for a sudden drop in the
mercury, even on the hottest day.

"You said you wouldn't go by Toob," he protested, "an' this was the only
bus we could get. I told you there'd be a bit of a stroll at the end."

"You didn't say I should have to climb hills." Bindle decided that the
circumstances called for silence, and they resumed their trudge up what
Mrs. Bindle subsequently described as "a hill like the side of a
mountain."

Presently they became caught up in a stream of people journeying
Hampsteadwards. From time to time a stray hawker standing by the kerb
suggested the festivities to come.

As they progressed, the pavements became lined with these itinerants.
One, more daring than his fellows, thrust before Mrs. Bindle's eyes what
looked like a wisp of hemp tied on the end of a stick, and exhorted her
to buy a "tickler" for a penny, assuring her at the same time that in it
was comprised "all the fun of the fair."

With an angry movement she dashed aside the hand. The man grinned
sympathetically at Bindle, on whose face, however, there was no
answering grin.

His mind was busy speculating as to the eventual results upon his
domestic life of a successful attempt to lose Mrs. Bindle; but,
remembering the lock-out, he determined that, whatever else he lost that
afternoon on Hampstead Heath, it should not be his wife. After much
effort and more complaining from Mrs. Bindle, they reached the Heath in
the neighbourhood of the pond by "Jack Straw's Castle." Here were scores
of wading children clamant for pennies to be thrown in the water, in
search of which they would plunge their hands and arms deep into the mud
and slime.

Bindle hesitated, he had a large heart for children; but Mrs. Bindle
passed resolutely on. She seemed to resent the hawkers, in particular a
man who offered her a large nose of alarming redness, beneath which was
stuck a vivid yellow moustache.

People pushed and hustled good-humouredly, and Mrs. Bindle hated to be
hustled, good-humouredly or otherwise. She had left behind the spirit
that makes Easter Monday at Hampstead a great joy to the heart of the
Cockney.

"Bindle!" she demanded after a few minutes spent in struggling through
the crowd, "you get me out of this."

"Get you out of wot, Lizzie?" he queried, his eyes on a girl whose hat
was a rainbow of paper feathers.

"This crowd, of course," she snapped. "What did you think I meant?"

For once Mrs. Bindle's wishes synchronised with those of her lord. On
the right was an opening in the railings, leading down to the booths and
roundabouts, for which Bindle's heart had been yearning. Here raucous
cries and clang of bell fell upon the ear.

"Penny a ball, seven for sixpence."

"Three rings for twopence."

"Every prize you win you have!"

"All bad nuts changed."

"Ladies and children half-way up."

"We're just showing, no waiting."

Bindle's instinct was to pause at every booth or shy, exhaust its
interest, and then pass on to the next. Mrs. Bindle, on the other hand,
seemed inspired by a desire to get through the crowd as quickly as
possible.

Time after time Bindle dragged himself reluctantly from a stall that had
intrigued him; but at length there came a moment when interest triumphed
over marital duty. Outside a dingy-looking tent was hanging a
florid-looking picture of a woman of marked redundancy. Upon the
generously exposed portions of her figure was tattooed every possible
form of intricate and complicated design. At the entrance of the tent
stood a man upon whom volubility had descended like a mantle of
inspiration.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he cried, "last year I promised you, cost me
what it might, that I would bring with me to-day the famous tattooed
lady. I 'ave got 'er inside"--he jerked a dubious thumb to indicate the
tent behind. "I had to go to the Continent to fetch 'er," he continued,
"and it has cost me a small fortune. Still, I've brought 'er 'ere to-day
to show you at threepence each. We are just showing, ladies and
gentlemen. There is no waiting. The greatest marvel of the Western
world."

In Bindle's heart there was a great desire to see this expensive lady
who had come from across the Channel, and who was willing so generously
to display herself at threepence a head.

"'Ere, Lizzie," he began tentatively. "Would you like to see--"

"Don't be disgusting," retorted Mrs. Bindle, as she landed one of her
sharply pointed elbows in the ear of an inoffensive little man, who was
striving to obtain a better view of the lower portion of the design
tattooed on the picture outside the tent.

"She ain't disgustin'," protested Bindle. "She's tattooed," he added as
he turned and reluctantly followed Mrs. Bindle.

"Don't talk to me about such things."

"But she's got clothes on," protested Bindle.

"If you say anything more to me, Bindle, I'll hit you," and Mrs. Bindle
clutched her umbrella in the centre.

With a sigh, Bindle followed in her wake, thus getting the full benefit
of public opinion of Mrs. Bindle, due to the way in which she used her
elbows. Her method of getting through a crowd was not unlike that of an
ice-breaker cleaving a passage through the White Sea. Mrs. Bindle seemed
determined not to be placated. Every form of refreshment that Bindle
suggested was unhesitatingly vetoed. One after the other he suggested
cockles, tea, slices of pineapple hawked on plates at a penny and
twopence a slice with the use of a fork to pick it up, sherbet, rock,
fearsome alike in its stickiness and hue, and lemonade of a yellowness
sufficient to convince the most inveterate pessimist of the presence of
the lemon. On through it all Mrs. Bindle passed--she lacked the holiday
spirit!

Presently she stopped, and of her own accord. It was at the sight of a
small stall vending tea, round which hovered a knot of people.

Behind the stall was a brazier, on which stood a large tin can, in which
a big, dirty-looking man, with unshaven chin and uncleansed
finger-nails, was busily stirring what a notice on the stall described
as "tea freshly made for each customer."

For more than a minute Mrs. Bindle watched him stirring the tea to
extract from it the last fraction of elemental juice.

"That's not the way to make tea," she said, meaning the remark for
Bindle; but in the heat of disapproval forgetting that her voice might
carry.

An ill-favoured, gipsy-looking woman attached to the stall overheard the
remark.

Her eyes flashed. She took a step forward. "Oh! it ain't, ain't it?"

Mrs. Bindle turned and looked at her in surprise.

"What's it got to do with you how we make our tea?"

"I wasn't addressing myself to you," said Mrs. Bindle, with frigid
dignity.

"You was talking about the way my man was making tea, and that's enough
for me," retorted the woman.

The man had stopped his stirring, and now stood regarding the
protagonists with something in his eyes that might have been amusement.

"We didn't ask you to buy it, did we?" continued the gipsy-looking
woman. "You just keep yer head shut, or I'll make that ugly face of
yours uglier than wot it is; although," she added, with the air of one
desiring to be studiously fair, "it 'ud take a bit o' doin'."

"Come along, Lizzie," whispered Bindle, taking Mrs. Bindle by the arm.
She permitted herself to be led once more into the crowd, followed by a
stream of profanity from the gipsy-looking woman.

"It ain't no good a-startin' back-chattin' with them sort," he added.
"You didn't ought to--"

"Stop it!"

Releasing Mrs. Bindle's arm, he dropped behind. He realised that the day
was spoilt for him, and that he alone was to blame. He had been keeping
a careful look-out for fat women, the real object of his visit to
Hampstead. He realised that Mrs. Bindle's attitude towards such an
exhibition would be one of uncompromising condemnation; but his
curiosity overcame his caution.

Presently he caught sight of a man perched upon a platform in front of a
small tent. By the size of the crowd in front of him, Bindle judged
that, in all probability, his search was ended. "'Ere, let's come over
'ere, Lizzie," he cried, steering Mrs. Bindle towards the tent. A minute
later he regretted his precipitancy, for, as they reached the fringe of
the crowd, the man shook out some voluminous garment of dubious linen
with the words:

"Didn't I tell you she was a big 'un," and he waved the billowing mass
at the crowd. "Too small for her, my word of honour." The crowd laughed.

"Look at the size of her," he cried, turning to a highly-coloured
painting hanging in front of the tent.

It depicted a woman of proportions so gigantic, and clothing so scanty
as to cause the pennies almost to jump out of the pockets of the
holiday-makers.

"Look at her!" cried the man, as he mopped a moist forehead. "It's the
opportunity of a lifetime. For threepence you can see for yourselves,
and you can touch her--yes, I'll let you touch her. You can feel her
arms, touch her shoulders, and you'll find she's all woman flesh and
blood, threepence each and no waiting."

"Look at these!" He took up a gigantic pair of stays, which he began to
wind round him. "Gave up wearing 'em years ago, couldn't breathe in 'em,
and all it costs is threepence a time and no waiting. You never in all
your lives, ladies and gentlemen, saw such a sight as Madame Zifinelli.
Thirty-eight stone she is, and jazzing through life like a
two-year-old."

Bindle had been drinking in the man's words, his eyes fixed upon the
garments that were waved in the faces of the ribald crowd.

Suddenly he felt a hand clutch his arm.

"Come away!" cried Mrs. Bindle, hoarsely. "The disgusting beast," and
she made to drag Bindle with her.

"'Old 'ard!" cried Bindle, as the man made a dive for yet another item
of the fat lady's wardrobe.

"If you stay another minute looking at that disgusting creature I'll--"

Mrs. Bindle got no further. A low-browed woman with a dusky skin, gold
ear-rings and a magenta blouse, who was pushing her way through the
crowd, had overheard the remark. "Who are you calling disgustin'?" she
demanded aggressively.

Mrs. Bindle ignored her, and with one hand still gripping the reluctant
Bindle, proceeded to drag him away.

"Did you hear what I said?" demanded the woman, placing herself in Mrs.
Bindle's path.

"I didn't speak to you," retorted Mrs. Bindle, very white about the
corners of the mouth. She disliked intensely anything in the nature of
an altercation in public.

"Who did you mean was disgustin'?" demanded the woman, pushing back Mrs.
Bindle with her forearm.

"It's all disgusting!" cried Mrs. Bindle, in a phrase, rendering herself
an Ishmael; for the crowd took the condemnation of its pleasure as a
reflection upon itself.

"Then you'll just come inside and see for yourself," announced the dusky
woman in the magenta-coloured blouse. "Then, if you say my sister's
disgustin', I'll give you in charge." She saw in Mrs. Bindle's
strictures a splendid advertisement for the show.

"I won't go in!" cried Mrs. Bindle.

"Oh! yes you will," cried the woman. "If you don't come I'll drag you;
this is England, this is," she continued with inspiration, "and we're
going to have fair play. Isn't that so?" she demanded, turning to the
crowd, which had now lost interest in the comedy of the lady's wearing
apparel in favour of the more vital drama connected with Mrs. Bindle's
puritanism.

The crowd murmuring its approval of the dusky woman's reasoning, drew
closer round the Bindles, as if to prevent any possibility of escape.

"I tell you I won't go in!" cried Mrs. Bindle. "Well, I leaves it to the
ladies and gentlemen of the crowd to see fair play," announced the dusky
woman, folding her arms with the air of one who knows that she has
justice on her side. "She said my sister's disgustin', didn't she?" she
demanded.

There were ominous murmurs from the crowd, and Bindle for one recognised
that however she might protest, or strive to protest, Mrs. Bindle was
doomed to see Madame Zinfinelli, who was thirty-eight inches round the
calf.

Headed by the dusky woman, Mrs. Bindle and Bindle were pushed through
the crowd towards the entrance to the tent. The man who had been
displaying Madame Zifinelli's more intimate garments, rubbed his hands
gleefully. Business had been none too good. Fat women were not what they
had been when he was a boy. Personally, he ascribed it to the fact that
the feminine surface of exposure had been considerably enlarged during
the past few years. Time was when the only chests and legs visible to
the general public were those of fat women.

The exhibition of Madame Zifinelli's alleged lingerie, he had at first
regarded as a "blinkin' brain-wave"; but its reception had disappointed
him. The crowd laughed--a little, and he cursed the police for allowing
the frankness they did in the matter of window-dressing. "The public's
fed up with underclothes," he had cried in disgust to Madame Zifinelli
only the night before. "Hang 'em!" and Madame Zifinelli had nodded fatly
as with a soiled pocket-handkerchief, she wiped the froth from the large
lips which had just closed over a pint of Guinness.

The man proceeded to hurl witticisms at Mrs. Bindle, and his idea of
humour was as broad as the garments he had temporarily laid aside. "My
Gawd! If Lizzie 'ud only 'old 'er bloomin' tongue," muttered Bindle, as
he paid sixpence and received the two tickets necessary for admission,
although the dusky woman did not seem to expect payment. Her obvious
intention was to use Mrs. Bindle as a two-edged sword of advertisement.

The crowd poured into the tent after the Bindles, until there was hardly
room for the tent-poles. The heat was suffocating, and the jests were
almost equal in temperature to the atmosphere.

At the far end of the tent was a dais, in front was stretched a curtain,
behind which was the fat woman. The man from outside had entered the
tent, and now, seating himself on the dais, proceeded to address the
company, making liberal reference to Mrs. Bindle, whom he referred to as
"Mrs. Pussyfoot." He assured the audience that Madame Zifinelli was his
own sister-in-law, "and a better 'earted gal ain't a-sniffin' the briny
of 'Ampstead this blessed day," he added.

At that moment the curtains parted to reveal the record-breaking Madame
Zifinelli. A murmur rose from the crowd. She certainly justified the
encomiums heaped upon her. She was pink and puffy, proportioned like a
baby advertised as brought up on somebody or other's patent food. She
was short and shapeless; but she possessed one valuable asset--she
looked her weight.

Nevertheless, with a sigh of regret, Bindle noted that the pictorial
advertisement had overestimated Madame Zifinelli's bulk, and
underestimated the clothing she wore; but as he later remarked to
Ginger, when describing the episode, "You can't 'ave everythink."

Madame Zifinelli presented the appearance of having been blown up with a
motor-pump, a circumstance that was emphasised by the nature of the
frock she wore, made of a thin white material with a vivid blue sash
round the waist. She proceeded to reel off a catalogue of her
measurements. She took the company into her confidence on a number of
intimate matters, more suitable for her dressmaker than a mixed
gathering.

She walked down the tent through an aisle that was made with much
grinning and squeezing, glared full in Mrs. Bindle's face and turned
upon her a back, so indelicately misshapen with fat, that Mrs. Bindle
instinctively turned her head.

Having remounted her platform and glared once more at Mrs. Bindle,
Madame Zifinelli bade the crowd "good afternoon" and, a fatty smirk upon
her countenance, disappeared behind the curtains.

With a feeling of relief, Mrs. Bindle made for the exit of the tent,
followed by Bindle. Never in the whole of her life had she felt so
uncomfortable as during the past few minutes. It was all Bindle's fault
for bringing her to Hampstead Heath on a Bank Holiday! He should suffer
for it, she told herself.

"Well, jer like it?" Mrs. Bindle started as, on emerging from the tent,
she was confronted by the showman.

"Is she disgustin'?" asked the woman in the magenta-coloured blouse.

Mrs. Bindle looked about her wildly, then she committed an unpardonable
blunder. She started to run. The showman bent upon advertisement, the
venomous tongue of the woman in the magenta-coloured blouse, the crowd,
eager for drama; all had conspired to frighten her. Quick to perceive
the strategical error of such an act, Bindle seized her by the arm.

The mere fact that he sought to restrain her was sufficient to convince
Mrs. Bindle of the rightness of her action.

With a jerk she wrenched her arm free and, darting through an open space
between a cocoanut-shy and a stall devoted to little globes of
gold-fish, which optimists sought to ring with hoops of wood, she ran as
she had never run in her life before.

"Lizzie, Lizzie!" shouted Bindle starting to run after her. "Don't be
a--" his exhortation remained unfinished; at that moment he ran full
tilt into what seemed to him to be an extra firm feather-bed.

By the time he had explained to the breathless and irate owner of the
gold-fish stall, who might reasonably have claimed kinship with Madame
Zifinelli, Mrs. Bindle had gained a winning start, and she was legging
it across the sparsely populated Heath like one possessed. The crowd,
scenting drama, shouted its encouragement and, where physical condition
admitted of it, joined in the pursuit. Those who knew the circumstances
strove to tell those who did not; but the wind of a Cockney crowd is for
the most part constricted.

In spite of the "various veins" in his legs, Bindle set out gallantly to
pursue and rescue Mrs. Bindle from the consequences of her own folly.
For one handicapped by a long skirt, she ran astonishingly well. She
dodged the various obstacles, animate and inanimate, that beset her
path, and dodged them without losing pace. The unaccustomed movement
loosened her bonnet strings, and soon the bonnet itself was hanging down
her back, while strand after strand of her thin, sandy hair seemed to
turn Bolshevist, and escape from the restraining influence of hairpins.

"Stop thief!"

Some misguided wretch had given tongue to the very phrase that Bindle
had dreaded. He knew the London crowd to be sporting; but it would show
no sympathy for a thief. Hearing the cry and seeing a woman running, a
little man in a straw hat two sizes too small for him, sought to impress
his wife and mother-in-law with his courage by planting himself directly
in Mrs. Bindle's path.

She ran on until within a yard of where he stood, then swerving like a
Rugger three-quarter, she at the same time smote him violently with the
back of her hand. The remembrance of that back-hander remained with the
little man to the end of his days; for Mrs. Bindle's hands were those of
a worker, hard and bony.

On she tore, the crowd led by Bindle close upon her heels. In spite of
the excitement and the unaccustomed exertion, Bindle realised that the
situation was becoming desperate. To be chased by a Hampstead Bank
Holiday crowd might, as he afterwards expressed it to Mrs. Hearty, "mean
anythink."

To Mrs. Bindle it seemed that the whole of the tens of thousands of
people the Heath contained had suddenly forsaken their pleasures and
occupations to join in pursuing her. Her brain reeled. What would be the
result of it? She could not go on much longer. Her knees felt as if they
would give way any moment. Her breath came in short sobs. Her--

"Now then, what's the matter?"

She had a vision of a policeman, calm, reliant, and resourceful.
Something like iron gripped her arm. Then everything began whirling
madly round, as her knees gave way and she crumpled up at the feet of
P.C. Q321.

"Feelin' better, Lizzie?" enquired Bindle solicitously, leaning across
the table of a little tea-shop to which he had piloted her after both
the policeman and the crowd had been appeased.

"Don't talk to me about feeling better," she almost hissed. "One of
these days you'll kill me, that's what you'll do, and then you'll be
glad."

"But wot 'ave I done?" he whispered back, conscious that several heads
were turned in the direction of their table.

For answer she rose and marched straight out of the shop, pushing aside
the attendant at the door, who asked her if she had paid her bill.

"There's going to be trouble over this 'ere little blow on 'Ampstead
'Eath," murmured Bindle, as he too rose and drew from his pocket a
handful of money with which to pay the bill. "I suppose she's got to
blow orf sooner or later," he muttered resignedly a moment later, as he
proceeded to overtake Mrs. Bindle.

"I'm sorry, Lizzie; but I did my best."

"Don't you dare say anything more to me," was the uncompromising
rejoinder, "and let me tell you this, Bindle, if ever you try and
persuade me to go to Hampstead Heath again, I'll--I'll hit you."

Bindle preserved silence and the King's Peace, solacing himself with
humming under his breath. "It's the Same Old Business Every Time."

That night at supper the piece of cold mutton that fell to his portion
was, to use his own phrase, "as fat as an archbishop's screw."



CHAPTER VII - MRS. BINDLE FETCHES A POLICEMAN


I


"Where's the tea-caddy?"

Bindle started violently as Mrs. Bindle's sharp, incisive question came
through the half-open door leading from the parlour into the kitchen.

"Oh, my Gawd!" he muttered, and his eye instinctively sought the nail on
which his cap hung.

"Are you deaf?" she demanded, appearing at the door and eyeing him like
a sharp-featured Rhadamanthus.

"I wasn't this mornin' when you was snorin'," he said, with the air of a
man who wants to tell the executioner a joke in order to put off the
drawing of the fatal bolt.

"Then where's the tea-caddy?"

Mrs. Bindle's arms went up to her hips, and her Rhadamanthine aspect
became more pronounced. She was a quick reader of character, especially
Bindle's character; and she knew guilt when she saw it.

"Ain't it there?" he queried, his eye once more wandering towards the
door on which hung his cap; but Mrs. Bindle was in a position to cut off
his retreat.

"You know it isn't there," she retorted angrily.

The tea-caddy to which Mrs. Bindle referred had come to her from her
grandfather, who had made it himself, and made it well. The opening of
the lid disclosed a sugar-basin reposing in a bed of puce-coloured
velvet, while on either side were hinged smaller lids giving access to
compartments for the tea. It was far too sacred a relic for everyday
use, and Mrs. Bindle kept it on the bottom shelf of the sideboard.

"Well?" she demanded.

"I'll come and 'ave a look presently," he said feebly, in his heart
cursing the weakness of the flesh that had prompted him to turn the
tea-caddy into the wherewithal to back a certain assured winner at 100
to 6.

"You've pawned it!"

Involuntarily Bindle shivered at the inflection of her voice. There was
going to be what he always described as "an 'ell of a row."

That morning Bindle had gone out earlier than usual. As he was walking
up Fulham High Street, he overtook a mate with whom he had worked some
months before, one Harry Walker. The man was whistling cheerily as if,
whatever the world might hold for others, it possessed nothing but good
for him.

In the course of a few minutes' conversation Bindle had heard that, from
a cousin in a training-stable at Newmarket, Harry Walker had received a
tip coupled with the injunction to "put his shirt on it."

Great was the faith of Harry Walker in the judgment of his kinsman. "I'd
put my ruddy trousers on it if it wasn't for the police," he assured
Bindle with a grin.

All that morning Bindle had been preoccupied with the thought of "Oh
Hell," for so the horse was named. It seemed to him like the direct
interposition of Providence, this throwing of his race-wise mate across
his path at so critical a juncture in his domestic affairs. It would be
nothing short of wicked he decided not to take advantage of such an
opportunity; but how?

To suggest to Mrs. Bindle the selling of some of their possessions in
order to put the money on a horse, particularly a horse so named, would
be like pulling the chain of an ice-water douche. It was unthinkable. On
the other hand, suppose "Oh Hell" were to win without carrying Bindle's
money? He groaned at the thought.

"Well, you see, Lizzie, I 'ad--"

"You go and get it back at once or--," she hesitated, as might hesitate
an Inquisitor who has come to the conclusion that red-hot pincers and
boiling oil are a trifle démodé,--"or I'll give you in charge," she
concluded with inspiration. "I'll teach you!" she added as an
afterthought.

Bindle rose, his get-away was going to be easier than he had hoped.

"Where is it?" she demanded, making a movement that brought him to a
standstill.

He looked across at her helplessly. It seemed to him that she held every
card in the pack.

"You don't leave this house till you tell me," she announced, as he
remained silent. Her tone convinced him that she meant what she said.

"I took it round to Ole Isaac," he confessed.

"Why?" Mrs. Bindle would have liked to disclaim all knowledge of the
local pawnbroker; but that was impossible. Comparatively recently he had
acquired a large section of her home.

"I was 'ard up," he temporised.

"'You've been betting again, that's what you've been doing." Her
gimlet-like eyes seemed to pierce his soul.

"I put it on an 'orse," mumbled Bindle, feeling that it was better to
get the worst over.

"I knew it," she cried triumphantly. "And you've lost it!"

"No I ain't," he interjected hurriedly. "The race ain't come orf yet."

"What horse did you put it on?" she demanded suspiciously.

"Oh 'Ell."

"Don't you swear at me when I ask you a civil question. You 'tell me the
name of that horse, or it'll be worse for you," and her hands rose to
her hips, emphasising the aggressiveness of her words.

"I jest told you," he mumbled. "Oh 'Ell--that's the name of the bloomin'
'orse, Oh 'Ell '. I ain't swearin'."

"It's like you to pick a horse with a name like that," she cried
angrily, "and now you been and lost my tea-caddy. You know how I prized
it."

"It ain't lorst," he protested. "The race ain't till to-morrow," he
continued glibly, hoping to steer her off the animal's unfortunate name.
As a matter of fact, when he received the tip from a mate, he had been
impressed more by the horse's name than by the record of its
achievements. If successful, he had intended telling his brother-in-law,
Mr. Hearty.

"I shall look in the evening paper," announced Mrs. Bindle, "and if
you've told me a lie, I shall--"

"It ain't a lie, Lizzie," he said, moving towards the door, "it's a dead
cert."

"Don't talk to me about such things!" she retorted, "and now you'll go
round and fetch my tea-caddy back again, and mind you don't bring it in
till after dark," she added, as he took his cap from its peg and opened
the door. "I won't have the neighbours see how you're always trying to
drag me down."

"All right, Lizzie," he said meekly, "that'll be all right. Don't you
worry."

"I'm not going to worry," she announced grimly. "It's you who'll do the
worrying if you come back without my tea-caddy, you villain you! Get out
of my sight, do!"

And Bindle got out of her sight with remarkable celerity for one
afflicted with "various" veins in his legs.

That evening he discovered a money tightness in Fulham which seemed to
indicate that the whole borough was on the eve of a financial collapse.
Wherever he went the cry was the same, "Sorry, Joe," or words to that
effect. For one thing it was Thursday, and towards the end of the week
Fulham always became conscious of a money shortage; for another thing,
it had been a week of rank-outsiders getting home.

As a last resource he crossed the bridge to Putney, and called at the
shop of his brother-in-law.

Mrs. Hearty was out; but Mr. Hearty was in. Bindle mentioned his need of
temporary accommodation but in Putney money seemed even tighter than in
Fulham. Mr. Hearty had just sufficient on him for to-morrow's visit to
Covent Garden, in fact so fine had he cut it that there seemed some
doubt in his mind as to whether or no he had sufficient for the
train-fare back.

"Well, well," murmured Bindle, as he followed Mr. Hearty to the shop
door, "I suppose I must wait until the banks open, an' draw a cheque."

"I'm very sorry, Joseph," hesitated Mr. Hearty.

"That's all right 'Earty, you can't 'elp it," responded Bindle, and he
meant it.


II


"Well, have you got it?"

"Oh, my Gawd! She's up!" Bindle groaned. For nearly an hour after the
closing of the hospitable doors of The Yellow Ostrich, he had tramped
about the streets to give Mrs. Bindle a chance of getting to bed,
determining to sleep in the kitchen himself.

"You won't 'ave no beauty-sleep to-night, Lizzie," he said, with a
forced cheeriness that sounded sepulchral even to him.

"Don't you talk to me of beauty-sleep," was Mrs. Bindle's grim retort.
"You give me my tea-caddy!"

"Ole Isaac was shut," he lied.

"Then you go round to the side door!" she countered.

"But it is the side door," he protested. "It's always the side door at a
pawnshop. Besides, he wouldn't come if I was to go; it ain't a dairy."

"Never you mind what it is. You go and get my tea-caddy!"

"But I can't go an' knock 'im up after closin' time at night," he
protested. "'E'd lose 'is bloomin' licence. I should get run in, and--"
he broke off. Mrs. Bindle had suddenly turned and was making for the
scullery. Instinctively he knew she had gone in search of either broom
or mop.

As a strategical move he dived into the parlour, realising that Mrs.
Bindle would not risk violence in the midst of her household gods.

"Come out!" she ordered, a moment later, in the tone of one addressing a
mongrel that has taken refuge under the bed. "I'll show you!"

"But there ain't nothink I want to be shown, Lizzie," he wailed. "I want
to get to bed."

"You come out, or it'll be worse for you," she replied.

To this he made no response; but took the precaution of moving round to
the other side of the large chenille-covered table which occupied the
centre of the room.

"I'll give you three minutes to come out and not a second more," she
announced, going into the kitchen.

"I wonder how she's goin' to reckon three minutes," he muttered, "with
the bloomin' ole clock stopped." Moving softly across the room, taking
care to avoid falling over the multitude of things which to Mrs. Bindle
meant home comforts, he applied his eye to the crack of the kitchen
door. He saw Mrs. Bindle in the act of inverting the egg-boiler. She
prided herself on being a woman of her word.

"Well, I'm blowed!" he grinned. "It's the first time I ever been treated
like an egg." He was amused in spite of the perilous domestic position
in which he found himself.

Scarcely daring to breathe, he watched the stream of brick-red sand
pouring away his period of grace. Mrs. Bindle watched it too, and there
was a grim set about her mouth which told him that dramatic events were
pending.

"Very well, then," she announced, as the thin red stream suddenly
ceased, "don't blame me. Remember, I warned you."

"I won't an' I will, Lizzie," was the retort. He was so deeply in the
toils that he felt a little "back-chat" could not make things worse than
they were, and he proceeded to make his way back to the other side of
the table.

Untying her apron she unhooked her brown mackintosh from behind the
scullery door, and put it on with the air of one who has made up her
mind.

"I 'ope she ain't a-goin' to knock up poor Ole Isaac," was Bindle's
unuttered thought. "That'll put the bloomin' lid on any more
Pop-an'-Take for me."

"Goin' out, Lizzie?" he enquired.

"P'r'aps I'll never come back," she retorted hysterically, as she opened
the dresser-drawer, and took out her bonnet. Jerking it on to her head,
she proceeded to tie the strings beneath her determined chin. Taking a
final look round the kitchen, she lowered the gas and marched out into
the passage. With a swift movement Bindle slipped into the farther
corner of the parlour and, in doing so, hit his leg violently against a
chair.

With a little yelp he flopped down upon the couch, nursing his leg in
agony.

Unconscious that the enemy was not in a position to continue the
contest, Mrs. Bindle marched along the passage and out of the house,
closing the door softly behind her. She had no desire for neighbours'
eyes to pry into her affairs, and in Fenton Street a bang late at night
was a signal for the curious to run to door and window.

Presently Bindle ceased rubbing his injured shin and crept stealthily to
the door giving access to the passage. It was never safe to be too sure
on occasions such as this. Mrs. Bindle had been known to indulge in the
strategy of shutting the street-door with herself on the inside and for
the sole purpose of luring him from cover. This time, however, she had
actually gone out, and he limped painfully into the kitchen.

"Blowed if she ain't forgotten 'er key!" he muttered as he caught sight
of it lying on the dresser. "P'r'aps she's goin' round to Martha's."

"Martha" was Mrs. Hearty, Mrs. Bindle's sister, who sometimes became the
recipient of her confidences on the subject of "that Bindle."

Deciding that the best course was to go to bed, Bindle mounted the
stairs, and in a few minutes he was between the sheets. He was tired, it
was late, and sleep came readily to his eyelids to solve, if only
temporarily, his domestic problems.

Bindle was a heavy sleeper, particularly during the early part of the
night. He had been known to drop peacefully into slumber in the midst of
a domestic storm, during which Mrs. Bindle banged doors and opened and
shut drawers with such vigour that both Mrs. Grimps and Mrs. Sawney, who
lived on either side, had knocked fiercely upon the wall in protest. In
Fenton Street much was done by means of the party-walls dividing the
houses.

That night Bindle dreamt. He had entered an opium-den to rescue a very
lightly-attired, fluffy young thing. He had succeeded in snatching her
from a sinister-looking Chinee, who wore a belt full of cutlasses and
revolvers, and had dashed up a rickety flight of stairs, banging to and
locking the door just in time.

There was a rush of padded feet and, a moment later, a host of
slant-eyed devils were hacking at the door with clubs and axes. The
noise was deafening. The door was giving way. A yellow hand was thrust
through a hole that an axe had splintered.

Suddenly he sat up in bed, his forehead beaded with perspiration, his
limbs trembling with excitement.

"'oly ointment!" he cried as he jumped out of bed. "It's a fire!"

Throwing up the window, he thrust his head out. A moment later it was
bathed in a patch of brilliant white light.

"There he is!" cried a voice.

For a moment he was blinded by the light of what was obviously a
policeman's electric lantern.

"Come down and open the door," said a gruff voice.

"Well, I'm blowed" he muttered. "If Lizzie ain't gone an' got a cop."

When Mrs. Bindle had quietly closed the street-door of No. 7 Fenton
Street behind her, she had no definite plan of action. In giving Bindle
three minutes in which to capitulate, she had not thought of what was to
happen if he failed to do so. In consequence, when the last flutter of
sand dropped through the narrow neck of the egg-boiler, she found
herself pledged to something without the least idea of what that
something would develop into.

Many a domestic scene in the past had ended in her going out in a frenzy
of hate, leaving behind her dark hints of self-destruction. When the
egg-boiler had performed its dramatic task, the only thing she could
think of was a repetition of these tactics.

For half an hour she had walked about, fury seething within her. Had she
been in her own home a violent fit of hysterics would have relieved her
pent-up feelings, but in a public thoroughfare she realised that
hysterics would be out of place.

The sight of a policeman had brought inspiration to her distraught
brain. She would give Bindle in charge. Had he not stolen her tea-caddy?
Was he not, therefore, a thief? Had he not all their married life shown
himself to be a villain?

Without pausing to deliberate, she marched up to a policeman and
informed him that she wanted to give a man in charge for stealing her
tea-caddy.

The policeman was young, inexperienced, and a bachelor. He was also
anxious to catch the eye of his superiors. In effect he had said "Lead
on," and Mrs. Bindle had led on, only to find on arrival at her own
front door that she had forgotten the key.

At first she had knocked gently, while the policeman at her bidding had
thrown pebbles up at the bedroom window. He was already in a state of
some uncertainty about the adventure. Throwing stones up at a bedroom
window in order to persuade a thief to come down and be caught was not
exactly his conception of the duty of a member of the Metropolitan
Police Force.

He made one or two tentative efforts at enquiry; but Mrs. Bindle had
parried them. "Wait till he comes down, I'll show him," which convinced
the policeman that it was the lodger who had stolen the tea-caddy. His
mother had been an inveterate taker-in of lodgers, and he knew the
fraternity.

After nearly ten minutes' gentle knocking, Mrs. Bindle had gone out into
the road to get a better view.

In her own mind she was convinced that Bindle was hiding behind the
curtains, "laughing at her," and Mrs. Bindle hated being laughed at. The
policeman had seized the opportunity and the knocker at the same time,
and Bindle had been saved from the yellow hordes of China.

That knock brought Fenton Street out in force. From nearly every window
heads were thrust. Doors opened as if by magic, and men and women
streamed out. There was Drama in the air, and Fenton would sooner lose
its sleep than miss a row.

"Stop it!"

Realising what would be the inevitable result of the policeman's
indiscretion with her knocker, Mrs. Bindle had sprinted up the path and
seized his arm.

It was at that moment that the lower sash of the window itself was
thrown up and Bindle's head thrust out. The policeman, with a quick eye
for the effective lighting of the scene, switched on his lantern.

Fenton Street almost cheered. Several heads were withdrawn that their
owners might dash downstairs, thrusting arms into coats as they ran.
This was a business worthy of a front-row stand.

The sight of Bindle seemed to madden Mrs. Bindle. Already in her own
mind she saddled him with the responsibility for what was taking place.
She forgot the neighbours, forgot the scandal, forgot everything except
the fact that, but for his having pawned her tea-caddy, all this would
never have happened.

"Wot's the matter?" enquired Bindle. "Is the 'ouse on fire?"

"You come down and let me in!" cried Mrs. Bindle.

"The door ain't locked," temporised Bindle. He was puzzled at the
presence of the policeman.

"You come down, you villain!" she cried, burning the boats of her
discretion. "I'll show you!"

"You'd better come quietly," said the youthful policeman, hoping he was
saying the right thing, and that nobody would detect from his idiom his
inexperience.

"Don't you come, Joe," cried a voice from the darkness. "He's going to
pinch you."

"Now then, none of that!" cried the policeman over his shoulder, a tinge
of anger in his voice. He had heard an inspector use the phrase only
two days before, and he uttered it with confidence.

Several "boos" and two distinct hisses came from the darkness. More
heads disappeared from windows, and the crowd in front of No. 7 became
enlarged.

"Send for a fire-escape, Hattie," came a voice from the outer fringe.

"Climb up the water-spout!"

"Break the door down!"

Fenton Street was seldom satisfied with a walking-on part in such
matters.

"Better break a window and get in there," suggested the policeman,
nodding in the direction of the parlour window.

"Don't you dare!" was the fierce retort. In her mind's eye Mrs. Bindle
saw the heavy-footed policeman ploughing his way through her holy of
holies. The thought was not a pleasing one.

She was already wishing herself well out of the affair. Anger was giving
place to self-pity.

Bindle was doing some rapid thinking. He had no desire to spend the
remainder of the night in a police cell; he realised that Mrs. Bindle
was out for blood. On the other hand, he could not very well refuse her
admission to her own home.

The problem was full of difficulties. It--

"Are you coming down?" The impatience of the policeman's tone was
unmistakable, "or must I come and fetch you?"

"Wot's 'e done?"

"Don't you let 'er in?"

"Let 'em climb up the water-spout!" Fenton Street was now enjoying
itself.

"'E's comin' down!"

The cry rose from a dozen regretful voices as Bindle disappeared. A few
seconds later he was once more at the window.

"'Alf a tick, then," he cried. "I got to put my duds on. I can't come
down without my trousers, I ain't a 'Ighlander," and he disappeared
again and proceeded to clutch the various items of his wardrobe and make
for the door.

A few seconds later he was climbing down a ladder, which Mr. Sawney, his
right-hand neighbour, had planted against the back bedroom window, and
by which he himself had entered. Bindle's first disappearance was in
answer to the "I'm 'ere, Joe," uttered in a whisper suggestive of the
seven miseries of Egypt.

Just as Bindle disappeared from the window, there was a movement at the
outer edge of the crowd. A police-sergeant on his rounds had seen the
crowd, and was proceeding to investigate by cleaving his way through it.
Walking up the path he held a muttered conversation with his
subordinate, who was already beginning to wish himself out of the
adventure.

"Who stole the tea-caddy?" enquired the sergeant, turning to Mrs.
Bindle.

"Bindle!" Into that one word she precipitated the venom of a
rattlesnake.

The sergeant began to fumble at the tails of his coat, and presently
brought forth a notebook and pencil.

"Name?" he said, as the policeman lighted up the page of the notebook.

"Bindle," was the prim reply, "Elizabeth Bindle."

"Same name, then," said the sergeant, looking up from his notebook. "Any
relation?"

"He's my husband," announced Mrs. Bindle, with the air of one who is
disclaiming a Past from the "Saved Bench."

"What?" There was a rasp in the sergeant's voice, which increased Mrs.
Bindle's misgivings.

"He pawned it and lost the money in betting!" she cried. "I valued that
tea-caddy," she added unsteadily. "It was made by my grandfather."

The sergeant cast a scathing glance at the young policeman as, with a
disgusted movement, he snapped-to his notebook and proceeded once more
to fumble with the tails of his coat.

"You had better apply at the police-court to-morrow for a summons," he
said and, seizing the knocker, he proceeded to unloose some of the
indignation he felt. He was proud of the uniform he wore and, in his
view, the Metropolitan Police Force had not been embodied for the
purpose of settling domestic disputes.

Once more the Bindles' knocker raised the echoes of Fenton Street.

As there was no response, the sergeant suggested breaking the window, as
had done his subordinate.

"You dare!" cried Mrs. Bindle, placing herself between the two officers
and her parlour window, "and I'll report you."

"Here's a ladder," cried a voice from the darkness, and, a moment later,
Mr. Sawney was seen struggling beneath the self-same ladder down which
Bindle had climbed a few minutes previously. It was Mrs. Sawney's idea
that he should offer it as an aid to the police. In its personal
disputes Fenton Street was to a man and woman anti-police.

Mr. Sawney planted the ladder in position, wrecking Mrs. Bindle's
flower-beds in the process. Testing its strength with his hands, the
sergeant prepared to climb.

"Don't you go up there!" cried Mrs. Bindle. "You'll knock things over."
Again the instinct of the housewife prevailed.

"Well, you'd better go up yourself," said the sergeant gruffly.

For a moment she appeared to hesitate, then, with a sudden movement, she
began to climb the ladder.

Mrs. Bindle was not accustomed to climbing ladders, even without the
restraining influence of a mackintosh. At the second rung she stepped on
the front of her waterproof, and a sharp "zip" announced a tear.

With inspiration the young policeman switched on the lamp, and the
sergeant followed suit.

"Turn the light out!" Mrs. Bindle almost screamed, and Fenton Street
gave vent to its Rabelaisian mirth in shrill cries and rough guffaws.

For a frenzied second Mrs. Bindle paused, then, realising that the
lights were not to be turned off, she dashed up the ladder with an
agility that astonished Fenton Street.

As the ladder reached only to the windowsill, there was nothing to hold
on to, and the only way that she could see was to crawl in on her hands.

The sight of two white-clad legs, terminating in elastic-sided boots,
waving in the air, aroused Fenton Street to the enthusiasm of a Brock's
benefit. A moment later the window was banged down, and the sergeant and
policeman began to disperse the crowd.

"I never seen Lizzie so free with 'er legs before," said Bindle, turning
to Mrs. Sawney, from whose bedroom window he had watched Mrs. Bindle
climb the ladder. "I wouldn't have missed it for anythink."

"You wait till to-morrow," said Mrs. Sawney grimly.

"If that bloomin' orse don't win, I'm for it," he muttered, as he turned
into the room preparatory to accepting Mrs. Sawney's hospitality and
sleep in the parlour.


III


"Mrs. Bindle!" piped a shrill voice.

"Well?" demanded Mrs. Bindle suspiciously. Telegraph messengers with
parcels were something new in her life.

"Sign there, please," said the lad as he handed her a parcel and a buff
form.

Mrs. Bindle retreated to the kitchen and, five minutes later, returned
with the paper duly signed, having discovered the ink on the top shelf
of the larder and the pen in one of Bindle's boots, into which it had
fallen. Having satisfied the official instincts of the lad, she returned
to the kitchen.

Seizing the carving-knife, she cut the string and tore open the paper.
There was her tea-caddy! Her first feeling of surprise over, she
proceeded to examine the inside to assure herself that it was in no way
damaged.

Raising the lid of the left-hand compartment, she started, then
thrusting her hand in she brought out a number of Treasury notes.
Opening the right-hand compartment, she did the same with that. She
counted the notes. There were ten one-pound notes and one ten-shilling
note. Then Mrs. Bindle sat down, her eyes fixed on the tea-caddy as if
somewhere on its polished mahogany surface lay the secret of this sudden
wealth. She was stunned by the magnitude of the sum.

All that day she had been planning what she would do and say to Bindle
when he returned, and now--

Already she was spending the money. There was a new hearth-rug for the
kitchen, a new tea-service with a deep cerise band and a lavish
expenditure of gold on each article, a second enamelled saucepan, she
had twice burnt the milk that week, a new--

For nearly an hour she sat, the notes lying on the table before her.
Presently she rose, gathered them together and stuffed them into the
bosom of her dress.

Closing the tea-caddy, she gave it a polish with her apron and took it
into the parlour, where she placed it in its accustomed position.

That night when Bindle put his head round the scullery door, having
entered by the back way so as to leave open his line of retreat, he was
greeted with:

"How much longer are you going to keep me waiting for supper? Do you
want me to boil the bottom out of every saucepan I've got?" and Bindle
slipped round the door. That night, he ate of his favourite dishes,
stewed steak-and-onions and apple pudding, made as only Mrs. Bindle knew
how to make them.

Neither "Oh Hell" nor the previous night's adventure was mentioned, nor
ever afterwards. As Bindle pushed his plate from him, as a sign that he
had lifted his spoon for the last time at that meal, he was conscious of
a feeling of intense satisfaction.

He had put sixteen shillings on "Oh Hell" at 100 to 6; but the starting
price being 100 to 8, he felt quite justified in pocketing the balance,
and at that moment five ten-shilling notes reposed in his right-hand
waistcoat pocket.

For weeks afterwards Bindle was puzzled at the persistent manner in
which the tea-caddy seemed to present itself to his gaze. It appeared to
rove from room to room and was always the most conspicuous object.

But Bindle contented himself with winking at it knowingly and muttering:
"No, you don't, Lizzie. I'm too fly."



CHAPTER VIII - MRS. BINDLE DRESSES IN MUSLIN


I


For weeks Mrs. Bindle had been exercised in her mind upon the subject of
clothes.

The management of Harridges' Stores had decided to invite to their
Annual Outing the wives of their employees. It was their conception of
celebrating the signing of Peace.

"Funny sort of way to celebrate the signing of Peace," grumbled Bindle
when he first heard of the decision. "'Ow can you 'ave a beano with yer
missis watchin' every pint you drinks an' every gal you kisses?"

When Bindle made the announcement to Mrs. Bindle she had greeted it
with: "I shan't go."

He permitted himself no false hopes, however. He was too well accustomed
to Mrs. Bindle's general attitude towards life. He knew she would go,
and she knew he knew she would go.

Mrs. Bindle's perturbation was caused by the problem of how to dress for
the very festivity whereat she had declined to be present. Margate had
been the place selected, and Mrs. Bindle was troubled as to the
sartorial requirements of the occasion and the place.

Long and deeply she pondered the question. Time after time she would lay
her wardrobe out on the bed and go through it, article by article, item
by item.

From days that had been less austere there had come down the ladder of
years a white muslin dress, flowered with anaemically blue
forget-me-nots. With it had come a lace-bordered petticoat. Although
Mrs. Bindle had arrived at a stage of mental and emotional development
when lace and coloured ribbons upon the more intimate feminine garments
were anathema, she cherished for this particular petticoat something of
the same feeling that she had for the sprigged muslin.

Between them they constituted the one link between the Now and the Then.

She possessed three other dresses, one a brown alpaca with a lace yoke
and green silk background, giving her the appearance of an ancient piano
with a fretwork front; a purple alpaca built high in the neck; and a
black merino much the worse for wear.

Time after time her eyes would wander speculatively over the four
frocks, and time after time they would return to the sprigged muslin and
the lace-bordered petticoat.

In personal matters Mrs. Bindle could be a casuist. Without realising
it, she was in her own mind seeking an excuse for appearing at
Harridges' Annual Outing in the sprigged muslin. It was long in the
skirt and high in the neck. The sleeves were puffed out at the shoulder
and tight at the wrist.

Margate would be warm, she argued, too warm for alpaca. She did not wish
to appear a "dowd." In her youth she had been what Bindle described as
"dressy." It would attract attention, she argued, if she were in dark
clothes while everyone else was wearing summer garments. In any case,
there could be no harm in overhauling the dress and the petticoat. They
might--

Therefore she washed and ironed the precious possessions, which dated
back to the days when she was being courted by Alfred Hearty and Joseph
Bindle, and had taken, as she expressed it herself, "the wrong man."

The ironing of the sacred garments was something of a religious rite.
Time after time she "tried" the iron by holding it near her cheek and
then testing its heat upon the ironing-cloth. She soaped it, she rubbed
it on sandpaper, she examined the edges, she tried it on a pillow-case,
and, even then, she began upon the inside of the skirt, lest the
"wretched thing" should misbehave itself.

To Mrs. Bindle an iron was the personification of the devil. On this
occasion, however, the iron behaved itself, and Mrs. Bindle's sprigged
muslin appeared to her eyes as it had appeared some twenty years before.

The next problem that presented itself was the lace on the petticoat.
Strive as she would, her casuistry failed to reconcile it with virtue
and decorum.

There might be a wind, she argued, there probably would be a wind at the
seaside, and in some wanton moment it might raise the skirt the
necessary few inches to display the flaunting symbol of sin, that
damning border of lace.

Many hours she spent in turning over the problem in her mind, and it was
not until three days before the date of the outing that inspiration came
to her in the form of a short goffered flounce.

That evening Mrs. Bindle was almost genial--at least until she
remembered that the two bonnets she possessed, strange affairs, high of
superstructure and narrow of beam, like a modern destroyer, were quite
unsuited for wearing with a frock of sprigged muslin, and a white
petticoat with a goffered frill.

The next afternoon she went through Fulham and Putney with a tooth-comb,
penetrating even as far as Wandsworth, in her search for appropriate
headgear. That day she proved the despair of the milliners in the
South-Western district. She insulted assistants right and left. One
girl, who, after listening to Mrs. Bindle's description of the sprigged
muslin, produced a large leghorn affair, all flop and blue streamers,
had been addressed as "hussy," and was left staring at Mrs. Bindle's
retreating back, wondering what she had done and how she could explain
it to the manageress.

The final choice fell upon a small boat-shaped contrivance of brown and
white speckled straw, with a brown ribbon terminating in two ends at the
rear and capable of fluttering coquettishly in the breeze. It was an
unfortunate choice, requiring as it did a plentiful supply of hair on
which to pin it, and Mrs. Bindle's locks were noticeably scanty.


II


On the morning of the outing, Bindle was brought back from the land of
free beer and no work by Mrs. Bindle shaking him vigorously by the
shoulder.

"It's time to get up," she snapped. Mrs. Bindle was never at her best in
the early morning.

"Gerrup!" he mumbled, turning from his back, where he had been snoring
comfortably, on to his right side, and keeping his eyes tightly shut.
"Wassertime?"

"It's a quarter-past four."

Mrs. Bindle did not mention that she had taken the precaution of putting
the clock on half an hour. She hated being late.

With a sigh of contentment, Bindle proceeded to get to sleep again.

"Do you hear?" she cried, once more giving him a dig in the shoulder,
which brought him on to his back again, where he lay with his mouth open
and his eyes shut.

"Wassermarrer?" he mumbled.

"It's time to get up," she repeated, speaking with ominous distinctness.

"Wassertime?"

"I've just told you, a quarter-past four." Mrs. Bindle was getting
cross.

Slowly Bindle opened his eyes and gazed at her in wonder.
"Train-don'-go-till-quarrer to nine," he muttered, trailing off
sleepily.

"I've got to get breakfast and leave the place tidy," she said.

"That-won'-take--" he paused, trying to subtract a quarter-past four
from a quarter to nine, "all-tha'-time," he added, giving up the
problem.

"Yes it will," she said. "I've got to dress."

"Well, dress then," Bindle muttered, on the borderland of sleep.

"I can't dress while you're here," was the retort, as she gave his
shoulder another vigorous shake.

"I'll shum-my eyes."

"Don't be disgusting."

Without more ado, she slipped out of bed, a chaste figure in her calico
nightdress, which began decorously early and ended virtuously late, and
moved swiftly across to the wash-hand-stand.

Slowly Bindle raised his right eyelid. A moment later he had sprung out
of bed on the opposite side, just as Mrs. Bindle turned; in her hand was
a glass of water.

"Oh! so you're up, are you?" was her grim comment, as she turned and
replaced the glass on the wash-hand-stand.

"What's the use of getting up at a quarter-past four to catch a train at
a quarter to nine?" he grumbled, as he looked round for his trousers.

"It's all very well for you," was the retort. "All you've got to do is
to fill your stomach and wash your face. I've got to leave the house
tidy and dress."

"Ought to make Margate sit up, if it's goin' to take you four hours and
a half to put your duds on," he muttered, having satisfactorily settled
the arithmetic of the affair.

"That's right, go on, spoil my day for me as you always do. It's little
enough pleasure I get in life, pinchin' and pinchin' and wearing my
fingers to the bone. A lot you care. If I was to die to-morrow you'd
pick up with some wanton hussy and--"

"I'd bury you first," broke in Bindle cheerfully, at the same time
accelerating his own movements. Excitement always rendered Mrs. Bindle
"a bit short-like in the way she looked at things," as he expressed it.

"Wot am I goin' to do until we start?" he grumbled as he picked up his
coat and collar and tie, preparatory to going down in the kitchen to
have his morning "rinse." "The pubs'll all be shut, and there ain't no
pretty gals to look at so early, 'cept those wot ain't got 'ome yet," he
added with a grin, as he reached the door.

Before Mrs. Bindle had time to retort he had slipped out and closed the
door quickly after him.

That morning, try as he would, he could do nothing right.

First he was accused of dawdling over breakfast, and then, when he
endeavoured to speed up, he was warned he would have indigestion and
probably be sick.

Mrs. Bindle went about her early morning duties with her eyes on the
clock and her thought upon the sprigged muslin, the white petticoat with
the goffered frill, and the boat-shaped hat that lay in the bottom
drawer upstairs.

"You'd better get a paper and see what the weather's going to be like,"
she snapped as Bindle took from her his third cup of tea.

"But it ain't 'all-past five yet," he protested gloomily. "There ain't
no shops open."

"There'll be paper-boys," was the response. "Walk about until you find
one."

He rose from the table, his habitual good-humour modified by the
prospect of walking the streets of London at half-past five in the
morning in search of a newspaper-boy.

Added to this, he was wondering what he should do until it was time to
start for the station, a little after eight. As a special train was to
take the party, there was no anxiety about seats.

Picking up his cap, he went out.

"Two and a 'alf hours to put 'er bloomin' duds on," he muttered, working
it out on the fingers of his left hand. "Well, I'm blowed! She ought to
turn out a regular old fly-trap after that."

While Bindle tramped Fulham in an endeavour to obtain a newspaper that
should set Mrs. Bindle's mind at rest upon the subject of the weather,
she herself was occupied with the important function of dressing.

Everything had to be newly donned, even to the chest-flannel which she
habitually wore.

The excitement had mounted to her face, rendering it almost purple,
while in her eyes was a hard, unnatural glint. She had made the bed and
tidied up generally, and now there remained a good two hours in which to
perform her toilet.

For fully half an hour she stood at the looking-glass in a petticoat
bodice and brown underskirt, engaged with her hair; for with Mrs. Bindle
every hair had to be in place.

Then she turned to the white petticoat with the muslin frill. That took
upwards of a quarter of an hour to get properly balanced upon her flat
and inconspicuous hips. As a precaution against the tapes refusing their
responsibility at some psychological moment, she attached it by
safety-pins to either side of her petticoat bodice.

As she laboured her thoughts were with the sprigged muslin lying in the
bottom drawer.

At a few minutes past seven Bindle put his head round the bedroom door
and announced that it was going to rain.

She turned swiftly and eyed him searchingly, her imagination conjuring
up a picture of the sprigged muslin and the boat-shaped straw under the
influence of a deluge.

"It's all right, Mrs. B.," he reassured her, having entirely regained
his good-humour. He had just succeeded in a little affair of dialectics
with a motor-bus conductor. "I must 'ave my little joke, you know."

"What does it say?" she demanded.

"Fine as fine? Blue sky, light breezes, 'ot as 'ell!" and with that he
withdrew his head and departed to the nearest omnibus stop, in the hope
of another battle of tongues.

Half an hour later the bedroom door opened slowly and Bindle's head once
more appeared round the corner. As he caught sight of Mrs. Bindle,
engaged in a final survey of her person, his eyes dilated with wonder.
Taking from his mouth a cigar with a red-and-gold band round its middle,
as if it obstructed his view, he stared again.

Advised of Bindle's presence by the smell of tobacco, Mrs. Bindle
turned.

"Well?" she demanded.

He gazed at her with an expression of awe, his eyebrows lifted and his
forehead crinkled into lines of astonishment.

"What's the matter now?" she demanded, her own misgivings returning at
the sight of Bindle's steady scrutiny.

"My! ain't you It!"

The words were uttered slowly and impressively--a genuine tribute to
Mrs. Bindle's sartorial genius.

"I suppose you'd like to see me go out in rags," she retorted cuttingly.

"That ain't wot I meant, Lizzie," he said with an unaccustomed humility
and earnestness that almost convinced her. "You look like a
two-year-old. Fancy us bein' married all these years!"

She passed over the sporting allusion and accepted the tribute to her
youthful appearance; while Bindle, conscious that he had by good fortune
stumbled upon one of those rarely felicitous phrases that had earned for
him Mrs. Bindle's approval, quickly withdrew.

He whistled softly as he turned to descend the stairs.

"No wonder she 'ad to get up early," he muttered; "'oly ointment! won't
she be an 'andful if it starts rainin'," and he returned the cigar to
his mouth, leaving clouds of acrid smoke behind to offend Mrs. Bindle's
sensitive nostrils.

A few minutes later, with flushed face, she descended the stairs. Bindle
made no further comment upon her dress, although he mentally noted that
elastic-sided boots did not seem quite in keeping with a muslin frock.

Over her arm she carried a dingy brown mackintosh. Half-way down the
handle she grasped her second-best umbrella, which terminated in what
the artist had intended to represent a parrot's head.

From her wrist dangled a string-bag, in which reposed a pair of goloshes
and a small shawl done up in brown paper. Evenings by the sea were
chilly.

Bindle had once remarked to Dr. Little that "a cove wot's sure of 'eaven
always puts on an extra pair o' pants so as 'e shouldn't get a chill."

At the door, Mrs. Bindle gazed apprehensively up at the blueness of the
sky. The action caused her hat to tilt backwards, showing a gap between
her head and the inside of the brim.

"Ain't it got an elastic?" queried Bindle solicitously.

She ignored the question, and proceeded to readjust the hatpins--there
were five.

After several dashes upstairs for forgotten portions of her raiment,
Mrs. Bindle announced herself ready, and Bindle, assuming his hard hat,
although he would infinitely have preferred a cap, locked the front
door, kissed his hand to Mrs. Sawney, who stood behind the curtains at
Number Nine, and followed Mrs. Bindle along Fenton Street.

From time to time Mrs. Bindle glanced apprehensively up at the sky. She
possessed an almost childlike belief in what the newspapers contain; yet
she realised that the English climate was so variable as to be capable
of deceiving even the most astute of meteorological experts.

She was also concerned about her hat, which manifested a marked tendency
to wobble at every movement she made.

All the way from Putney Bridge to Victoria she was in a fever lest the
train should start without them.

Mrs. Bindle's attitude of mind was that fate was against her. She always
expected the worst, yet it invariably caught her unprepared.

To-day she saw herself having to return to Fenton Street humiliated, an
object of mirth to the neighbours.

At Victoria Station, the sight of the large crowd of Harridges'
employees in strange and varied raiment inspired her with a feeling of
self-consciousness.

For the first time she became doubtful about the string-bag.

Bindle's cheery greetings to his many acquaintances seemed to emphasise
her own isolation.

With a woman's instinct for comparison, she found herself weighing her
own elastic-sided boots with the high-heeled shoes she saw everywhere
about her, and the boots were found wanting.

Incontinently she blamed Bindle, although she had more than once
condemned high-heeled shoes as the attributes of the Mammon of
Unrighteousness.

"My missis!"

The words irritated her as, time after time, Bindle, with a nod in her
direction, or a jerk of his thumb, explained her presence to his
friends. She strove to bow with dignity; but the insecurity of her hat
added stiffness to her demeanour. Too much graciousness would inevitably
cause it to slip over her eyes.

It was all so different from what she had imagined. In her mind's eye
she had seen herself, a dignified figure of some importance, patronising
Bindle's friends and the wives of his friends. As it was she stood
alone, inwardly raging at Bindle's popularity.

"'Ere, come along, Lizzie!" he cried at length. "Somebody'll be pinchin'
my seat in the Pulman," and with that he started off down the platform,
followed by Mrs. Bindle, doing her best to move on an even keel.

Bindle secured her a corner seat opposite a lean little man with small,
twinkling eyes.

Bindle grinned. "Now don't you get a-carryin' on with my missis, 'Arry,
an' don't let anybody pinch my seat."

With that he got out of the carriage, and Mrs. Bindle registered another
black mark against him for leaving her to the sole companionship of the
little man with the twinkling eyes, who volunteered the information that
he was employed in the stables.


III


"I call it disgusting." Mrs. Bindle drew herself up to the full height
of her virtue, exposing the uppers of her elastic-sided boots. The
general effect was lessened somewhat by a playful pocket of wind
coquetting with her hat, giving it a heavy list to starboard.

"Wot's disgustin'?" enquired Bindle, gazing about him anxiously, lest he
should miss something.

"The way you talk about bathing," she replied. "It makes me hot all
over." She clutched fiercely at the handle of her umbrella, as if she
had been Caligula and the neck of the parrot personified mixed bathers.
Bindle had persuaded her to leave the string-bag in the cloak-room at
the station. "Personally, myself," he continued, "I says put me among
the gals. We got two hours before dinner; better come an' see--"

"Bindle!"

"It's all right, Mrs. B.," he retorted, "I ain't a-goin' in with 'em.
When you got various veins in your legs you ain't so popular with the
gals."

"Stop it!" The admonition escaped Mrs. Bindle's tight-shut lips.

"Well, I think I'll jest take a run down to see that there ain't nothing
goin' on wot I ought to 'ave stopped." As he spoke Bindle moved off.

"If you dare to go--" began Mrs. Bindle; but Bindle was gone, and Mrs.
Bindle found herself alone among the holiday-makers; but bereft of the
holiday spirit.

For nearly a minute she stood looking about her, then, with sudden
determination, she made for the beach. Bindle, however, was nowhere to
be seen. The interest and attention of everybody on the beach focused
upon the bathers, particularly the women bathers. Several men she
observed had field-glasses, and one old man with a white beard had his
right eye glued to an enormous telescope.

Bursts of shrill laughter were wafted towards her from the beach, and
the line of Mrs. Bindle's lips hardened. In protest at the immodesty of
her sex, she selected a chair and sat down, her back turned
ostentatiously to the sea. Opening her umbrella, she rested the handle
upon her shoulder as if to shut out the sounds of revelry from the
bathing machines.

Only by the tapping of a patent leather toe-cap did she give indications
of the smouldering fires of disapproval within.

Already she was wishing she had not come.

Everything she saw seemed to jar upon her. During the journey down,
Bindle and the other men in the carriage had played cards for money,
while the women had said things to one another and to the men that had
rendered her hot with shame.

She had been obliged to sit well forward on the seat during the whole
journey, otherwise the cushion at the back of the carriage persisted in
tipping her hat over her nose, and her neck was stiff.

She was hesitating as to whether or no she should go in search of
Bindle, when a banjo began to twang just behind her. She took no notice,
continuing to sit like a figure carved in stone.

Presently a wheezy voice broke into rasping song:

"Valentina Audrey May
Had a fortnight's holiday;
So she went to Margate Town,
For to get her tootsies brown.
Valentina Audrey May
Went a-paddling one day;
Arthur Hector Eustace Brame
Tucked up his bags and did the same.
There came a wave and Audrey May
Lifted her skirt and did display--
Tut-tut, and did she faint or cry?
Not she, and I will tell you why;
For she wore lace on her don't-tell-me at two-and-nine a yard,
Yes; she wore--"

"You beast!" Mrs. Bindle rose and turned to face a fat little man whose
face was smeared with burnt cork and vermilion. On his head was a
miniature straw hat stuck at a rakish angle.

The minstrel seemed as surprised as Mrs. Bindle. He gazed at her as if
she had been Venus newly risen from the waves, while she regarded the
oyster-shell button of his frock-coat, and the full-sized banana he wore
as a tie-pin, with loathing and disgust.

"Go away!" she cried.

He continued to gaze at her stupidly, making no movement of departure.

"Go away, or I'll call the police." Closing her umbrella, she seized it
in the centre, and made a vicious lunge in the direction of his solar
plexus. This seemed to convince him, and with a grumble in his throat he
waddled off.

Mrs. Bindle returned to her chair and settled down once more to the
smoulder of her own thoughts. The day was made for pleasure, yet here
she was--Suddenly she became conscious of a new note in the shrieks of
the distant bathers. Raucous joy had given place to terrified appeal;
men, too, were shouting hoarsely. Someone was in danger! Someone was
being drowned!

She started up and, clutching her umbrella, ran towards the point whence
the shouts came. Regardless of her hat, regardless of her skirt,
regardless of decorum, she ran. In her heart was Fear.

Others were running too, running towards what was obviously the centre
of the tragedy, a shouting, gesticulating crowd by the water's edge. She
noticed the old man with the white beard, gasping as he ran, his
unclosed telescope carried like a rifle at the trail.

Once she stumbled and nearly fell; but recovering, she lurched on.

Still the cries continued, shrill screams of women, hoarse cries of men.

"They've got 'em both!"

The words seemed to stab through the medley of sound, and Mrs. Bindle's
left hand went to her heart. She was sobbing for breath.

A second later there was a cheer, followed by hysterical shrieks, and
then silence.

"What is it?" gasped Mrs. Bindle. She had arrived at the fringe of the
crowd and was at work with energetic elbows.

"Chap nearly drowned saving a gal." The girl who answered did not look
round, but continued to bob her head from side to side in an endeavour
to catch a glimpse of what was taking place in front. "'Ere, don't
shove!" she added, as Mrs. Bindle made further efforts to push her way
to the front.

"Silly fool!" growled a man with a violent blue tie that rose well above
the top of his collar behind. "Goin' in when 'e knew 'e couldn't swim,"
he added. "That's like old Joe Bindle, 'e'd--"

With a shriek, Mrs. Bindle began clawing fiercely at the back in front
of her.

"Let me through!" she cried. "Let me through! It's my Joe. I'm his
wife!" With both hands she seized the blue necktie and the collar of the
man in front and tugged.

"'Ere, make way!" cried a loud voice. "It's old Joe's missis."

Mrs. Bindle was pushed and hauled through the sympathetic crowd. A
minute later she was on her knees beside a very pale and a very wet
Bindle.

"'E'll do now," said a voice reassuringly.

"Joe!" she cried wildly, "Joe, it's me, Lizzie! Don't you know me? Oh,
he's dead!" she screamed, then, seizing him by the shoulders she shook
him roughly. "Say you ain't dead, Joe!"

Bindle's eyelids fluttered, and then opened wearily. For a second he
looked at her without recognition, then the grey line of his lips bent
into the ghost of a grin.

"I ain't been bathin' with 'em, Lizzie," he murmured weakly. "It was a
young--I--" his eyes closed again as he sighed.

From that moment Mrs. Bindle took charge of the situation. She it was
who gave orders for someone to go to an hotel and tell them to prepare a
hot bath and blankets; she it was who held a glass of brandy-and-water
to Bindle's lips; she it was who saw that his collar was loosened, and
she it was who gave the word for him to be carried to the hotel.

When Bindle was comfortably tucked away in bed, protesting volubly, Mrs.
Bindle heard the story of what had happened.

A girl, it appeared, had been seized with cramp. At the sound of her
screams, Bindle had grasped a life-belt and plunged in. The girl was
very little out of her depth, and he managed to reach her. As he did so
she clutched him wildly. The life-belt slipped from his grasp, and both
had sunk like stones. When rescued they were unconscious.

From the moment that she had fallen upon her knees at Bindle's side
everything changed for Mrs. Bindle. As the "missis" of the hero, she
found herself a celebrity.

The managing director of Harridges' himself shook her warmly by the
hand, and congratulated her upon being the wife of "such a splendid
fellow." Everybody wanted to stand her a drink, and she could have had
enough ices to freeze the tropics.

When Bindle, having broken blanket-bounds, eventually appeared in a suit
of borrowed clothes, several sizes too large for him, the enthusiasm
was, as a local newspaper described it later, "catastrophic in its
intensity." The Harridge employees carried him shoulder-high along the
front, and Mrs. Bindle followed immediately behind, her hat on one side,
and the parrot-headed umbrella tucked under her arm. She was drunk,
drunk with notoriety.

At luncheon the managing director spoke as a man who had drunk a bottle
of 1900 champagne should speak, with enthusiasm and emotion. He praised
Bindle's heroic act, and linked it up with what he termed "the Harridge
spirit." A little irrelevantly he referred to his own youth, and
concluded by announcing his intention of taking the necessary steps to
bring Bindle's gallantry to the notice of the Royal Humane Society.

In a flash Mrs. Bindle saw herself accompanying Bindle to Buckingham
Palace to receive the medal at the hands of the King--she was a little
confused in her own mind as to Civil and Service decorations. She saw
her portrait in the papers, and she then and there decided to insert a
new yoke in her brown alpaca dress and retrim her best bonnet.

She was aroused from her contemplation of the glory that was to be hers
by someone filling her glass with Guinness' stout.

Everybody wanted to drink Bindle's health, and Mrs. Bindle came in for
the overflow, heralded by: "'Ere's to 'is missis!"

At dinner the managing director, having drunk another bottle of 1900
champagne, proposed Bindle's health, and it was drunk with thirst and
acclamation. In the subsequent speech that was forced from him Bindle
made a great hit with his last phrase.

"Never drank so much water in all my puff," he grinned, "an' then my
missis comes along with the brandy, an' her temperance."

They roared their mirth; but when they learnt that Mrs. Bindle really
was temperance they yelled--never had there been such a joke. Even Mrs.
Bindle smiled--the joke was indeed good. Never had she known such a day.
She forgot Mr. Hearty, she forgot his three prosperous businesses--in
short, she forgot everything except the fact that she had become a woman
of some importance.

As the dinner drew to a close it became uproarious. Wine, whisky, and
beer had flowed like water, for the firm had determined to celebrate the
signing of Peace in a manner worthy of its traditions for generosity to
its employees. The cumulative effect was that all were, as Bindle
expressed it, "oiled in every joint."

Ginger was fighting-drunk, Wilks was boasting that he had drunk six
bottles of beer, and Huggles found difficulty in controlling both his
legs and his smile.

The girls and women were flushed and loud of voice; yet in the heart of
Mrs. Bindle there was nothing of the indignation she would ordinarily
have experienced at such an exhibition of self-indulgence.

She heard remarks bandied between men and women that, a few hours
before, would have caused her to shudder. Now she was not even aware of
being shocked.

She was no longer conscious of her clothes. Her hat wobbled as it would,
the sprigged muslin might be the most conspicuous garment in Margate,
and her elastic-sided boots an anachronism--what cared she?

When they left the Greensea Hotel, with just sufficient time in which to
catch the train a few heavy drops of rain were falling.

This in itself might have constituted an additional grievance with Mrs.
Bindle, as it was Bindle who had suggested that she should leave her
mackintosh and string-bag in the station cloak-room; but it did not.

"You mustn't get a chill," was all she said, as she opened the
parrot-headed umbrella.

By the time they reached the station, she realised that her wet skirts
were clinging to her legs in a manner that at any other time would have
made her blush to think of.

Standing in the darkest corner of the booking-office, she sent Bindle to
get the brown mackintosh, telling him she would wait there for him. Five
minutes later he reappeared, panting for breath.

"'Urry up, Lizzie!" he cried, "you'll lose the bloomin' train. I been
waitin' for you."

"Where's the mackintosh?" she cried.

"It's keepin' a seat for you," and then Mrs. Bindle realised that she
would have to walk the length of the platform with her sprigged muslin
doing all it could to emphasise the form that nature had bestowed upon
her.

As a matter of fact, she had to run. As they reached the platform, the
guard, whistle in mouth, shouted to them to hurry up.

From every carriage window heads protruded, and stimulating cheers
sounded, together with much comment and advice.

Mrs. Bindle ran as she had never run in her life. The sprigged muslin
was mounting to her knees; but she could do nothing.

She had the entire length of the platform to run, Bindle having secured
seats in a compartment near the engine. Just as she tumbled into the
carriage, Bindle almost on top of her, the guard blew the whistle.

"Stick to yer legs, them light things does," sympathetically remarked a
fat man opposite, as Mrs. Bindle sank breathless into a seat, feverishly
pulling down her skirts from above her knees--and she blushed.

For one thing she was grateful. When they returned home darkness had
enveloped Fenton Street, and she was spared the ignominy of appearing a
bedraggled wreck before the critical eyes of her neighbours.

"I'm afraid it's ruined your duds, Lizzie, sympathised Bindle, as they
entered the gate.

"I hope you haven't caught a chill," was her response. "I'll put the
kettle on and make a cup of tea," she added, as she passed into the
kitchen.

"Well, I'm blowed," he muttered, as he followed her along the dark
passage. "'Ere 'ave I been livin' with Mrs. B. for twenty years and
ain't got to know 'er yet. Ain't women funny?"



CHAPTER IX - MRS. BINDLE MEETS HER MATCH


I


"If you goes, I'll go, Martha; but I ain't a-goin' to take on no more
'olidays alone with Lizzie."

Mrs. Hearty heaved and undulated, as if Bindle had just given utterance
to something that was intensely funny.

"One's enough for me," he continued. "Lizzie's made funny-like--she
ain't never really 'appy only when she's miserable."

"That's like Alf," wheezed Mrs. Hearty as she beat her chest with
clenched and grubby fist. "I've been feelin' a bit run down, Joe, an' a
fortnight at Margate would--"

Bindle was not to hear what a fortnight at Margate would achieve for
Mrs. Hearty, as she loudly lapsed once more into wheezing and
breast-beating.

How she managed to absorb sufficient oxygen to keep her alive was a
secret between herself and her Maker.

"I was sayin' so to Alf only yest'day," she gasped presently. Then,
after a pause, she added: "But I wouldn't go with Alf alone." She shook
her head with decision. "Too dull," she added.

"I shan't 'ave no peace till Lizzie's 'ad 'er 'oliday," grumbled Bindle.
"She's at me the 'ole bloomin' time. Says I spoilt 'er bust in the
summer-camp."

"Oh, Joe, don't!" cried Mrs. Hearty.

Any reference to the Bishop of Fulham's summer-camp always reduced Mrs.
Hearty to a state of pulsating helplessness. With Bindle the experiences
of the campers had lost nothing in the telling.

Thus it came about that August saw the Bindles and the Heartys installed
in Margate lodgings. Mrs. Bindle found comfort in the presence of Mr.
Hearty, just as Mrs. Hearty saw in Bindle one who would add to the
brightness of her holiday.

Mrs. Hearty had spent much money and little thought upon her wardrobe.
Her. sartorial conception of a holiday was capable of removing the glory
from a rose and the beauty from a landscape. Her colour-sense was
primary.

She invariably began with some violent aniline effect, which quieted
down into a tweed skirt, only to break out again with redoubled force
when it came to her stockings and shoes.

Mrs. Hearty had ankles eminently suited to the support of her bulk.
These she persisted in clothing in the thinnest of fabrics and the
brightest of colours.

Mrs. Bindle had expostulated; but she was good-humouredly told to look
after her own legs--a remark that had seemed to her both coarse and
unnecessary.

On the journey down the whole compartment had been amused by Bindle's
tongue and Mrs. Hearty's heaving agony of mirth. Mrs. Bindle and Mr.
Hearty had sat through it as expressionless as Corinthian columns, Mrs.
Bindle from time to time feeling "hot all over," as she would have
expressed it, while Mr. Hearty was conscious of the masculine equivalent
of the same emotion.

From the moment they entered their lodgings, which were engaged on the
principle that the food the lodgers bought the landlady cooked, Bindle
foresaw trouble.

The landlady was a heavily jowled woman, with an aggressive chin and a
quality which proclaimed to the world that if she were a widow she knew
how to look after herself. Mrs. Bubbidge went through life avoiding
being what she called "put upon." Any little leisure she had apart from
this and her domestic duties she spent in reducing the food-stocks of
the lodgers; but she did it with such artistry as to make it almost
impossible to detect.

If she took vinegar she considerately filled up the bottle to the high
water-mark with cold tea, carefully strained. The same applied to
spirits. Sugar was not so easily handled; but then it was not so
carefully watched.

Coffee presented no difficulty, the dried grounds of yesterday's issue
could be used to make good to-day's shortage. Mrs. Bubbidge's great
asset, however, was the faculty she possessed of assuming the
indignation of the innocent.

The few who ventured to protest had bitterly regretted it. In the course
of Mrs. Bubbidge's tirade they had learnt how close was her intimacy
with the police, even with the chief constable himself.

Mrs. Bubbidge was a woman who was thorough in all things. She was also
obliging. If a guest used condensed milk, Mrs. Bubbidge always
volunteered to open the tin and decant it. She did the same with salmon,
sardines, and tinned fruits. There were few who could open a tin more
deftly than Mrs. Bubbidge, or more swiftly transfer to her own store the
tribute which she felt was her due.

From the first Mrs. Bubbidge had taken Bindle and Mrs. Hearty to her
large but dubious heart. Bindle had not been in the house five minutes
before she was telling him to "Go hon!"--with Mrs. Bubbidge an
indication of high good-humour, especially when addressed to one of the
opposite sex.

Mrs. Hearty she addressed as "dear" within half an hour. This, with her,
was equivalent to the eating of bread and salt.

Mr. Hearty she regarded with suspicion. She liked "a man that is a man,"
to use her oft-repeated phrase. Mrs. Bindle she frankly disliked. From
the moment their eyes first met it was war.

When Mrs. Bindle had deliberately smoothed with the ball of a critical
foot a well-worn patch of oilcloth, which rose in canvas ripples in the
narrow hall, she had earned Mrs. Bubbidge's lasting hate, an affair
which, like that of Dante, would pass with her through the curtains of
eternity and become a perpetual attendant on the withering soul of her
who had merited it.

In Mrs. Bindle, however, Mrs. Bubbidge had met a foe worthy of her
steel. She watched her tea and sugar as aspiring knights of the round
table watched their arms.

Within twenty-four hours Mrs. Bindle detected the first theft of tea,
and she paid a visit to a chemist. The next day Mrs. Bubbidge had a
"bilious attack."

On the third day Mrs. Bubbidge had another bilious attack, and Mrs.
Bindle indiscreetly let drop a hint that those who stole other people's
tea must expect to suffer. Then Mrs. Bubbidge knew that she had been
"poisoned," as she expressed it.

On the afternoon of the fourth day the whole party had bilious attacks.
That is to say, they were intensely and painfully ill, Mrs. Hearty in
particular suffering agonies. She had not been constructed for physical
reaction.

If Mrs. Hearty suffered the greatest pain, Mr. Hearty made the most
noise.

"'E's like the bloomin' Yarmouth boat in a storm," had been the
description of Mr. Hearty's efforts, which were strangely reminiscent of
whooping-cough in a professional baritone.

The trouble arose through Mrs. Bindle, confusing the duplicate
tea-caddies she had brought with her, filling the teapot from that
specially prepared for the landlady.

Mrs. Bubbidge was not long in arriving at the true cause of the trouble,
and Mrs. Bindle quickly gathered that Mrs. Bubbidge knew, while Mrs.
Bubbidge knew that Mrs. Bindle knew she knew.

As a landlady and a widow of fifteen years' experience, there were in
Mrs. Bubbidge's armoury many weapons.

Whatever Mrs. Bindle's precautions regarding the non-perishables, she
had, to entrust the perishables to Mrs. Bubbidge s mercy and discretion.
It is difficult to mark uncooked meat, for instance, and Mrs. Bubbidge
always repatted the butter. She never regretted the money spent on
butter-pats.

Potatoes could be counted, also plums; but it was difficult to
reconstruct a pie-dish of sliced apples, cooked to a mush, into "eight
good-sized apples." Mrs. Bindle had to confess herself beaten.

Again, the weather was hot and, by leaving a cooked joint out of the
cool larder, a prey to bluebottles, or by permitting butter to remain in
the sun after it had been patted, Mrs. Bubbidge was able to take an
ample vengeance for the waste of a luncheon due to the emetic qualities
of Mrs. Bindle's tea. Besides, the luncheon had, like the beast of the
Apocalypse, been a composite affair derived from the stores of Mrs.
Bubbidge's several lodgers.

As the week progressed the enmity between the two women became more
marked. Mrs. Bindle was grim and silent, Mrs. Bubbidge angry-eyed and
outspoken. She informed her other guests of the depths of pity her heart
contained for "such a nice-spoken man tied to a rag and a bone like
her."

She arranged that Mrs. Bindle should overhear portions of her
conversation with a flatfooted, slatternly creature, whom Bindle
referred to as "the skivvy," but who was known to her godfathers and
godmothers as "Ethel Amelia," and she took care that they should be
pungent and unmistakable in their application.

"I can't think how he can keep so cheerful," was a phrase Mrs. Bubbidge
repeated many times, and she would go on to say that she would be glad
when "that sandy gawk" had gone back to London.

Mrs. Bindle on her part was able to counter these pleasantries with
veiled references to the indifferent quality of Mrs. Bubbidge's cooking.
This had to be done with subtlety, and frequently Bindle was the
unconscious mouthpiece of her rebukes; for she led him to express his
opinion of her own cooking by the mention of various dishes of which he
was particularly fond.

Mrs. Bubbidge realised that Bindle was the unwitting tool of "that
thin-faced cat," and she bore him no malice.

To Mr. Hearty meals became a torture. He was in hourly dread of an
explosion between the two women, and Mr. Hearty's soul had been moulded
to pacifism in its every form and manifestation.

Bindle saw only vaguely the drama that was taking place before his eyes;
but Mrs. Hearty watched it with good-humoured anticipation. She realised
that the storm must break sooner or later; but, as there was no chance
of her being personally involved, she could afford to extract from the
situation all the amusement it contained.


II


"She's left the salt out of the potatoes again!" announced Mrs. Bindle
on the Saturday at dinner-time.

At that moment, to Mr. Hearty's intense apprehension, the door opened
and Mrs. Bubbidge entered.

"Well, there's salt before your eyes, ain't there?" she demanded,
standing in the doorway, her arms akimbo.

"Don't you talk to me like that!" cried Mrs. Bindle, going very white
and her lips disappearing.

"I shall talk to you how I like in my own house," was the angry
rejoinder.

"Oh, no, you won't!"

"And who'll stop me?" demanded Mrs. Bubbidge.

"Never you mind!" retorted Mrs. Bindle darkly. "I won't be spoken to in
that way by you."

"Er--may I have another potato, Elizabeth?"

It was Mr. Hearty's contribution of oil upon the troubled waters; but,
unfortunately, Mrs. Bubbidge set fire to it.

"Have you got enough salt?" she demanded aggressively.

"I--er, yes, thank you," said Mr. Hearty, miserable at being drawn into
the controversy.

Suddenly Mrs. Bubbidge had an inspiration. With a swift movement she
picked up the saltcellar and emptied its contents into the dish of
potatoes.

"Now p'r'aps they'll be salt enough for you," she shrilled and, a moment
later, she left the room, banging the door so that the whole building
appeared to shake.

"You got 'er rag out, Lizzie," murmured Bindle.

"Don't you use such disgusting expressions in my presence," was the
retort.

Bindle helped himself to another potato and proceeded to scrape from it
the mass of salt with which it was encrusted.

"Better not say anythink to 'er," Bindle suggested and, for the first
time in his life, Mr. Hearty found himself in entire agreement with his
brother-in-law's sentiments.

"I shall say what I like to her," announced Mrs. Bindle angrily. "I'm
not going to be insulted by a low creature like that. Her cooking's a
scandal. A widow for fifteen years," she cried scornfully, determined to
leave Mrs. Bubbidge no remnant of character. "I don't believe she's a
widow at all; that wedding-ring wasn't made fifteen years ago, it's too
new."

"Steady on, Lizzie," protested Bindle. "Jest because she don't put salt
in the potatoes don't mean that she ain't married."

"You stop it, Bindle," she retorted angrily; "you're as bad as she is."

"No, I ain't," he protested. "There ain't no doubt about me being
married. Is there, 'Earty?" and he turned to his brother-in-law for
corroboration.

A moment later something warm and gritty caught him on the side of the
nose. Mrs. Bindle had picked up a potato from the dish, and for once a
woman had hit the mark she sought.

Taking out his handkerchief, Bindle wiped the side of his nose, picked
up the potato, and was about to restore it to the dish when Mrs. Bindle
clapped on the lid.

"When I want any remarks from you, Bindle, I'll ask for them," was her
grim comment.

"You always was a fool, Lizzie," wheezed Mrs. Hearty and, losing her aim
with a fork full of peas, she dropped most of them down the elaborate V
of a canary-coloured silk blouse. Then she began to laugh and beat her
breast.

"Mind them peas, Martha," counselled Bindle, whereat Mrs. Hearty laughed
the more. "They're pease-pudden by now," he added.

The meat course concluded, Mrs. Bindle rang the bell; but no one
answered. Several times she rang, and at length Bindle went to make
enquiries. After a short absence he returned with the news that Mrs.
Bubbidge had decided that they could wait on themselves in future.

"Then she shan't be paid her bill," announced Mrs. Bindle.

"Look here, Lizzie," protested Bindle, "don't you start a-scrappin' with
Mrs. Bubbidge. She's all right if you don't rub her the wrong way."

Mrs. Bindle was about to retort when Mr. Hearty entered the
conversation.

"I think, Elizabeth, that--that--" He paused, as Mr. Hearty so often
paused, at a loss for the right word; but Mrs. Bindle saw that the
opinion of the company was against her, and for the rest of the meal she
was content to sit, a tight-lipped and angry observer of her husband and
brother-in-law doing the duties for which they paid Mrs. Bubbidge.

That afternoon the party went on an excursion to Broadstairs, where Mrs.
Bindle's thoughts were preoccupied with schemes of revenge upon Mrs.
Bubbidge.

It was nearly ten o'clock when they returned to Margate by tram.

"'Ullo, wot's up?" cried Bindle, as they turned into Paradise Avenue.
"Blowed if it ain't our 'ouse!" Bindle's ready forefinger was pointing
to a small crowd at the farther end of the avenue.

Instinctively the party quickened its pace, Mrs. Hearty gasping
painfully.

As they drew near they saw that just inside the garden was a pile of
what looked like somebody's luggage, which had been partially unpacked.

"Wot's up?" enquired Bindle, who was the first to reach the fringe of
the crowd.

"Dunno!" said the man addressed. "Been a fire, I think," and he
indicated with a nod the pile of personal effects in the front garden.

With characteristic vigour Mrs. Bindle elbowed her way through the
crowd. A moment later she gave utterance to an angry cry.

"It's that woman!" she cried. "I knew she'd be up to some mischief."

There, in the front garden, lay piled the joint luggage of the Bindles
and the Heartys. There was a tin trunk, a Japanese dress-basket, a brown
wooden box, a Tate sugar-box, two cardboard hat-boxes, a black leather
bag without a handle, and several brown-paper parcels. On the top were a
number of loose garments, which Mrs. Bubbidge had apparently gathered up
in the Bindles' and Heartys' rooms and dumped on top of the boxes.

Mrs. Bubbidge prided herself upon her honesty. On the top of the
garments she had placed the materials for her visitors' Sunday dinner: a
loin of pork, poking itself out crudely from a welter of green peas,
three small onions, a brown-paper bag containing potatoes, and a number
of apples.

"Well, I'm blowed!" muttered Bindle as he regarded the miscellaneous
assortment. "She might 'ave packed the bloomin things up."

With a self-conscious feeling that was almost a blush, Mr. Hearty
recognised a long pink nightshirt that was very dear to him, and he
turned his head resolutely from the pile of personal effects, lest he
should see things not intended for male eyes.

The sight of the uncooked pork and green peas seemed to goad Mrs. Bindle
to madness. With quick, jerky strides she marched up to the front door
of No. 4 Paradise Avenue and gave a loud rat-tat-tat that could be heard
streets away.

The door was thrown open instantly, and by Mrs. Bubbidge herself. She
had been watching the drama from the parlour window and, seeing Mrs.
Bindle approach, had gone forth to do battle with her enemy.

"What is the meaning of this?" demanded Mrs. Bindle.

"What's the meaning of what?" temporised Mrs. Bubbidge.

"Putting our luggage in the garden."

"Your luggage, was it?" enquired Mrs. Bubbidge in a tone that could
easily be heard at the end of the Avenue. "I found a lot of old rags and
things in the rooms you 'ad, so I threw 'em out there."

"We took those rooms for a fortnight!" cried Mrs. Bindle.

"Ho no, you didn't!" retorted Mrs. Bubbidge. "You took 'em for a week,
and paid a week in advance. I 'ad my suspicions about you, I did," she
added darkly. "That's why I made you pay in advance. I knows who to
trust, although I am a widow."

"How dare you!" cried Mrs. Bindle, conscious that she was getting the
worst of the argument. "I'll give you in charge for--for--"

"Not putting salt in the potatoes," suggested Mrs. Bubbidge, who had
entirely regained her good-humour now that she saw her enemy defeated.

"You can't turn us out at a moment's notice!" cried Mrs. Bindle, taking
up a new line of attack.

"That's true," agreed Mrs. Bubbidge, who always prided herself upon her
knowledge of the law.

"I'm going to have these things brought in!" announced Mrs. Bindle.

"Ho no, you're not!" said Mrs. Bubbidge.

"We've got nowhere to go." Mrs. Bindle was weakening.

"That's as it may be. You shouldn't have come down to a place like
Margate without making arrangements," said Mrs. Bubbidge, with the air
of one giving sound advice. "There's hundreds of people sleeping on the
beach through being such sillies."

Mrs. Bindle looked about her helplessly.

Suddenly she caught sight of the helmet of an approaching policeman.
With a swift movement she turned on her heel and walked to the garden
gate, conscious that Paradise Avenue had turned out in force.

"Here!" she cried, beckoning the policeman as if he had been a taxi.
"That woman's turned us out," she added a moment later as the policeman
reached the gate.

The policeman scratched his chin, his eyes fixed upon the loin of pork.

"I want you to make her take us back," Mrs. Bindle continued, as the
policeman did not reply.

"That's an affair for the civil courts," he announced.

"But--but where are we to sleep, constable?" Mr. Hearty broke in; he
began to realise that his personal comfort was menaced.

The policeman shook his head, as if the question were frankly beyond
him.

"The town's very full, sir," he said. "Last night about five hundred
slept on the beach, and every shelter was crowded. Why, we even had 'em
in the police station," he added, with the gusto of one who bears
ill-tidings joyfully.

"You won't catch me sleeping on the beach!" announced Mrs. Bindle
resolutely. "That woman's got to take us in, or I'll know the reason
why," and once more she marched up the garden path and proceeded to
hammer at Mrs. Bubbidge's front door.

Mrs. Bubbidge's head appeared from the first-floor window.

"What do you want now?" she demanded.

"I want the rooms we engaged," and Mrs. Bindle's teeth snapped on the
last word as if it had been Mrs. Bubbidge herself.

"You engaged rooms for a week," announced Mrs. Bubbidge. "Besides, I've
let 'em."

"I'll stay here till you let me in," was the retort.

"Stay and welcome," came the placid response.

Mrs. Bindle looked about her angrily. She was conscious that from every
window heads were thrust, while on several doorsteps little groups of
interested spectators were gathered, prepared to see the drama played
out to the final fall of the curtain.

"Are you going to let us in?" demanded Mrs. Bindle.

"It wouldn't be safe!" was Mrs. Bubbidge's retort. She was about to play
her trump card.

"Safe!" cried Mrs. Bindle. "What do you mean by safe?"

"You'll find out," she retorted darkly, "when the chemist tells me what
you put in the tea. I took a bit for him to look at."

Fear suddenly clutched at Mrs. Bindle's heart. Through her mind flashed
accounts of murder trials she had read in which the criminal had gone to
the chemist and asked for poison for other uses than that to which it
was put.

Defeat was inevitable; but she was determined that her retreat should be
orderly.

"Then I shall go to the magistrate," she said as she turned.

"Personally, I shall leave it to the police," countered Mrs. Bubbidge,
and Mrs. Bindle knew that it was not only a defeat, but a rout.


III


"There is times, 'Earty, when a drop o' beer 'elps you to forget,"
remarked Bindle as he replaced the screw stopper in a pint beer-bottle
and proceeded to wipe his lips.

Mr. Hearty shuddered, realising that there was no nepenthe capable of
blotting from his mind the realisation that it was nearly midnight, and
he was to spend the rest of the night camping out on Margate beach.

There was nothing alfresco in Mr. Hearty's nature. To him it was almost
indelicate to think of sleeping without having gone through the
preliminary of donning a night-shirt.

Even in this Mr. Hearty's sense of delicacy prevailed; contrary to the
convention of masculine night-shirts, he always insisted on having the
front flap as long as the back. Furthermore, he would not permit the
slits at the side indelicately to expose to view more than some ten
inches of hirsute leg.

"Oh, Joe!" wheezed Mrs. Hearty, "ain't it a lark?" and she screwed up
the piece of newspaper from which she had made a very comfortable supper
of fish and chips, threw it at him and missed. "Where's my bottle?" she
cried.

"'Ush, Martha!" protested Bindle. "You been weaned," whereat Mrs. Hearty
lost all sense of physical rigidity, and fell back upon the sands, a
helpless, undulating mass of laughter.

"Oh, don't, Joe!" she gasped presently. "Stop, or you'll be the death of
me," and she proceeded to beat her unfortunate chest with a fist that
reeked of fried fish.

Mrs. Bindle sat upright and hard-eyed. It was not the disaster that had
descended upon her which was bitter to her soul; but the knowledge that
Mrs. Bubbidge had won in a battle of tongues. She, Elizabeth Bindle, had
been forced to pack intimate garments in public and leave the enemy in
possession of the field of battle, and the remembrance was a bitterness
to her soul.

"I've always heard it's very cold just before dawn," murmured Mr.
Hearty. Then, as no one made any comment, he plunged deeper into the
mire of pessimism. "I hope it won't rain," he added, looking up at the
brightly-starred heavens.

"Look here, 'Earty," protested Bindle, "if you're a-goin' to be so
cheerful as all that, you'd better go an' start a bloomin' camp of yer
own. Now, Martha," he added, "what about bed?"

Owing to the foresight of Bindle, a double bathing-machine had been
requisitioned to shelter the two women.

"All right, Joe, jest a minute. Let me get my breath," gasped Mrs.
Hearty as she struggled to regain an upright position.

Somewhere in the distance came the shrill cry of "Chocklits,
cigarettes!" It was almost midnight, and the commercial instincts of the
Margate traders were not to be denied.

With much groaning, and with the aid of the rope attached to the side of
the bathing-machine, reinforced by Bindle "boosting" from behind, Mrs.
Hearty regained an upright position. Mrs. Bindle also rose, and they
mounted the steps leading to the bathing-machine, which was divided down
the middle by a partition.

After having stuck in the doorway, Mrs. Hearty's redundant figure was
eventually forced into the section apportioned to her.

"I shan't sleep a wink," she announced, gazing down at the hard floor,
moist with damp sand.

Mrs. Bindle closed her door without so much as a "good night!" and Mr.
Hearty, prompted by a sense of delicacy, moved higher up the beach.

"Where you goin', 'Earty?" cried Bindle.

"Just over here, Joseph, it's--it's--" Mr. Hearty paused.

"Wot's the matter with where we are?" grumbled Bindle.

"It's softer here," said Mr. Hearty. A moment later he dropped, a
disconsolate figure, upon the sand.

"You're--you're not going to undress, Joseph?" he asked suddenly as
Bindle proceeded to remove his collar and tie.

From all about them came the murmur of voices, with every now and then a
little yelp of laughter. Occasionally the flash of a match would stab
through the curtain of the night, while the sea crooned a lazy lullaby.

"Don't you undress when you goes to bed, 'Earty?" Bindle demanded. "I
always thought you was clean in yer 'abits."

"Yes; but--but not on the beach," protested Mr. Hearty.

"Well, any'ow I'm going to take orf my collar an' tie. 'Ullo, 'oo 'ave
we 'ere?"

Mr. Hearty paused in the act of undoing his necktie.

"Going to be a rough night, I'm afeared, sir," said a voice, and a
moment later a figure, clad in oilskins, appeared from the darkness.

"Do you think it'll rain?" enquired Mr. Hearty anxiously, gazing
apprehensively at the man's oilskins.

"Rain!" said the man. "Lor' bless you, sir," and there was both
conviction and pity in his tone, "I wouldn't turn a dog out on a night
like wot we're going to 'ave. Never knowed the glass to fall like wot it
'as the last two hours. Shouldn't be surprised if the sea was to come
clean up to where we're standing.

"Dear me," cried Mr. Hearty. "We--we should get wet."

"Not, wetter than wot you'd get with the rain, sir," was the dolorous
response. "There's undreds a-sleeping out on this beach to-night, and I
pities 'em. I pities 'em from the bottom of my 'eart I do, sir. Why,
sir," he added with inspiration, "at this very minute they're a
collectin' lifebelts along the front--in case."

"But--but what are we to do?" cried Mr. Hearty, hurriedly retying his
cravat. "I--I'm afraid I shall catch cold if I get wet."

Bindle grinned. He was content to leave his brother-in-law to the gloomy
longshoreman.

"Ah!" said the voice, "there's many a grave wot'll be dug through this
'ere storm that's coming on. Why, if you'll believe me, gentlemen, I've
just had my double bathing-machine brought up twenty yards higher than
wot it's ever been in the 'istory of Margate. I says to myself,
'Willum,' I says, 'you was always one for being on the safe side,' I
says. Well, good night, gentlemen, I'm just orf to let that
bathing-machine for a quid."

Five minutes later Mr. Hearty, twenty shillings the poorer, and Bindle
were climbing up the steep steps leading to the bathing-machine which,
like John Brown's knapsack, was numbered. The longshoreman's oilskins
and lugubrious forebodings, coupled with Mr. Hearty's natural timidity,
had achieved the man's object.

The next morning Bindle was awakened by the sound of male voices in
altercation. For a moment or two he strove to collect his thoughts. What
had happened? Where was Mrs. Bindle? He stretched out first his right
hand and then his left. Each encountered a partition of roughly-planed
boards.

Suddenly light dawned upon him, hastened by the intolerable stiffness of
his limbs.

"Blessed if I 'adn't forgotten we're 'avin' a 'oliday," he muttered.
"Oh, my Gawd!" he groaned, "I aches all over. It's a 'oliday all right,"
he added whimsically, as he threw off the blanket which Willum had
thoughtfully provided.

The sound of voices was still clearly discernible, although he could not
make out what was the subject of the discussion. Clambering to his feet,
he opened the door of the bathing-machine just in time to hear Mr.
Hearty protesting plaintively: "But I can't, I'm in my--er--my
underwear."

"I can't 'elp whose wear you're in, sir," came Willum's voice; "I got a
gent waiting for this 'ere bathing-machine, and I wants to run her
down."

"But somebody's stolen my clothes," wailed Mr. Hearty. "I can't come
out."

"'Ullo, 'Earty, wot's the trouble?" cried Bindle, holding the door in
such a way as to shield the greater part of his body from the gaze of
the group of men and children awaiting developments.

"Somebody's stolen my clothes, Joseph," cried Mr. Hearty, a note of
poignant anguish in his voice.

"Never was such a chap as you for losin' things, 'Earty. Wot jer want to
take 'em orf for?"

"I--I thought they would get creased," said Mr. Hearty, "and--and there
was a blanket."

"Ain't you got nothink on?" enquired Bindle solicitously. "Did you take
'em all orf?"

"N-no," stuttered Mr. Hearty, "I--I slept in m-my--"

"Look 'ere, sir," broke in Willum, "I can't wait 'ere all day. Either
you comes out or I runs you down into the water."

"'Alf a mo', old sport," cried Bindle, as his head disappeared round the
door, and he proceeded rapidly to don his missing garments.

During the few minutes he was absent from the scene the discussion
between Mr. Hearty and Willum continued, with threats on the part of
Willum and increasing plaintiveness from Mr. Hearty.

It was Bindle who eventually solved the problem by suggesting that
Willum should obtain for Mr. Hearty some clothes, the loan of which
would enable him to get to the railway-station cloakroom, where he would
have an opportunity of making good the articles of his wardrobe that
were lacking.

With a grumble in his throat, Willum shambled off.

Half an hour later, as with mincing steps Mrs. Bindle descended from her
bathing-machine, she was startled by being accosted by a particularly
ruffianly-looking man in voluminous grey tweed trousers, with a rusty
patch in a conspicuous position, a short blue guernsey, and a large
tweed cap with a peak of prodigious size, which almost obscured the
wearer's eyes.

As she made to descend the steps the disreputable-looking creature
extended a hand towards her.

"Go away!" she snapped.

"It--it's me, Elizabeth," plaintively cried the disguised Mr. Hearty.

In her excitement Mrs. Bindle missed her footing and landed with a
devastating thump on the last step but one.

When, a few minutes later, Mrs. Hearty appeared she collapsed in the
doorway, and for a further ten minutes bathing-machine No. 98 was out of
commission. She laughed and heaved and choked in turn, from time to time
ejaculating: "Oh, Alf!" or "Oh, Joe don't!"

At length Mr. Hearty turned from her with such dignity as he still
possessed. The sight of the rusty patch sent Mrs. Hearty off into
further paroxysms, and it was not until Mrs. Bindle had smitten her
vigorously between the shoulders that she regained sufficient breath and
self-control to leave the bathing-machine.

Never had Mr. Hearty suffered as he suffered that day on the way to the
railway-station, there to retrieve from his belongings such articles of
raiment as would enable him to return what he had borrowed from Willum.
It had been decided that the whole party should return immediately to
Fulham.

Just as the train was due to start Willum was seen loping along the
platform with a black bundle under his arm.

"Found 'em under the last bathing-machine in the row," he explained as
he thrust the garments in at the carriage window. "Somebody must 'ave
stolen 'em."

Mercifully the train started before Mr. Hearty discovered the
threepenny-piece for which he was searching.

"It's that Bindle," murmured Mrs. Bindle to herself, "or my name's not
what it is," and she registered another mark against him whose duty it
was to share all her sorrows and some of her joys.



CHAPTER X - MRS. BINDLE KEEPS CHICKENS


I


"Oh my Gawd, wot a stink!"

"What's the matter now?" cried Mrs. Bindle, as Bindle started back in
his chair and regarded a boiled egg, the top of which he had just
removed.

"I'm gassed!" cried Bindle, waving his hand back and forth in front of
his face. "You ought to 'ave put that egg in the oven, Mrs. B., an' then
it would be a chicken in the mornin'."

"That's right, go on. I suppose you expect me to be inside the egg."

"If you was, Mrs. B., you'd soon peck yer way through."

"I gave threepence ha'penny for that egg," said Mrs. Bindle
inconsequently.

"You don't say so." Bindle regarded the egg dubiously. "Well, the
stink's worth the money."

"I wish you wouldn't use such words before me.

"Wot words?"

"Why, the common words you use."

"Wot jer mean, stink?"

"Why can't you say smell?"

"Because it ain't a smell, Lizzie. It's a bloomin' old stink. There's a
rare difference between a smell and a stink. A smell's the sort o' thing
wot you don't notice much although you wish it wouldn't; but it's a
stink when it gets you on the point of the jaw an' knocks you clean
out."

Mrs. Bindle lifted her chin and drew in her lips.

"You don't 'appen to 'ave any wot ain't quite so far gone?" enquired
Bindle tentatively.

"Perhaps you think I'm made of money and that I buy threepenny ha'penny
eggs by the gross."

Bindle said nothing, devoting himself to his bread and margarine, whilst
Mrs. Bindle, with the air of one grievously martyred, rose, picked up
the egg-cup containing the egg under discussion, and carried it into the
scullery, taking care, however, to keep it a reasonable distance from
her.

"If I was you," remarked Bindle, some minutes later, as he rose from the
table, "I should take that there egg back to the man 'oo sold it to you
an' rub 'is nose in it, then p'r'aps 'e wouldn't do it again."

"Don't be disgusting!" was the retort, although with the sentiment
behind the words Mrs. Bindle was in full accord. She had every intention
of conveying to the grocer, who had sold her the egg as "guaranteed new
laid," her opinion of his conduct as a tradesman and a Christian.

That egg which had misfired (miscarried) was to be fraught with dramatic
consequences to the Bindles. For one thing it inspired Mrs. Bindle with
the idea of keeping fowls, and thus saving herself from being imposed
upon at the rate of threepence ha'penny each for eggs which were not fit
even for cooking.

In these uncertain times, fowls would be a great asset, she argued.
Knowing nothing of poultry, she was under the impression that they could
be kept alive and in good laying condition on scraps from the table.

If Bindle fell upon another period of unemployment, a regular supply of
eggs would make all the difference.

In her inexperience, she took it as a matter of course that each hen
meant seven eggs a week. If she kept three hens, she told herself, there
would be twenty-one eggs a week. They would supply the breakfast-table
regularly and enable her to make a custard every other day.

It did not strike her that if hens were not properly fed they could not
be expected to produce a constant supply of eggs.

Mrs. Bindle gave the matter long and careful thought. When she had no
further use for the fowls, they could be either sold or killed. Argue
the matter as she might, she could see nothing but advantage from the
starting of a fowl-run.

In the daytime the birds could wander about the garden, and contribute
to their own sustenance. At night there was the coal-cellar, in which
Bindle could fix up an old broom-handle she possessed as a perch.

When Bindle raised the objections of common sense, she ignored them and
snubbed him.

"Wot the 'ell they're a-goin' to pick up in our garden except dirt does
me," he muttered, "an' as for sleepin' in the coal-cellar, you'll 'ave
the bloomin' eggs piebald."

She had met these objections with the invariable remark that Bindle
always opposed her in everything she planned.

For three consecutive weeks she took Poultry and How to Make it Pay,
carefully studying the different advertisement columns, until at length
she became inspired with something of the enthusiasm of the editorials.

It was, however, the advertisement columns which most intrigued her
interest. They were full of enthusiasts who apparently were desirous of
disembarrassing themselves of their feathered retainers. These birds had
clearly made their owners fortunes, as nothing else could have prompted
them to part with treasures of which they wrote so glowingly at the cost
of a shilling a line.

Within half-an-hour of the newsboy delivering the third issue of Poultry
and How to Make it Pay, Mrs. Bindle had decided to acquire fowls which
were to supply the table with eggs that would be above reproach.


II


"Crate of fowls, missis."

Mrs. Bindle's heart fluttered as she gazed at the speckled mass with
here and there a blob of red, to be seen through the bars of the crate
the railway man had deposited upon her doorstep. "Three-and-fourpence to
pay," he continued, producing from behind the upper part of his apron a
buff-coloured document. "Sign at No. 19 please."

"They're carriage paid," said Mrs. Bindle. "No they ain't, missis."

"I tell you they are. It said so in the advertisement."

"Can't 'elp that, missis. 'Ere it is on my sheet, three-and-fourpence to
pay."

"Well, when you get back, tell them that they're carriage paid."

"All right, missis," said the man, as he turned on a deliberate heel.
"Come along you bloomin' old egg-trees," he said, as he picked up the
crate.

"Here, leave the fowls," cried Mrs. Bindle.

"I can't without the money, missis."

"But I tell you they're carriage paid, the advertisement says so."

"If I was to leave them fowls without the money, I'd 'ave to pay it out
of my own pocket, and I've got a wife and family to look after, missis."

The reasoning seemed to strike Mrs. Bindle. For a moment she stood
irresolute, then, turning on a quick heel, she passed along the passage
into the kitchen, from which she reappeared in a few moments carrying
the necessary money to liquidate the man's claim and free her fowls.

Five minutes later she was engaged upon an industrious search of the
advertisement columns of Poultry and How to Make it Pay. Eventually she
found the advertisement, and discovered that the price of the fowls was
given as "Carriage forward."

"There," she remarked, as she looked across at the crate. "I knew it was
carriage paid." That evening, when Bindle returned from work, he found
Mrs. Bindle engaged in writing a lengthy and acid letter to the railway
company on the subject of ethics in money matters. It took him fully a
quarter-of-an-hour to explain that, as a term, "carriage forward" was
entirely different from "carriage paid," and that both the previous
owner of the fowls, and the railway company, were within their rights,
the one in sending the birds without the carriage, the other for
mulcting Mrs. Bindle with the amount.

When at length Mrs. Bindle became convinced that the labour she had
spent upon the unaccustomed occupation of writing a letter had been
wasted, she looked about her for a scapegoat, and found it in Bindle.

"Well, aren't you going to unpack them?" she demanded, as he crossed the
kitchen to the sink for his evening ablutions.

"I'm jest a-goin' to 'ave a bit of a rinse," he explained.

"And I suppose the poor birds can die while you're doing it," she
snapped.

"When did they come?" he enquired casually.

"About three o'clock," she replied, off her guard.

"If they've waited four hours, Lizzie, let 'em wait another four
minutes. It won't bust 'em, and perhaps it'll improve the quality of
their eggs."

"A lot you care for the sufferings of poor dumb animals."

"They ain't dumb, leastwise, them wasn't wot was at the summer camp," he
flashed, "and they ain't animals. Male birds, some of 'em, by the looks
of it. My Gawd, Lizzie," he cried, gazing down at the crate. "Wot you
been an' done?"

"What's the matter now?" she demanded.

"Bless me if there ain't three cocks an three 'ens."

"Well, I ordered three pairs."

Bindle straightened himself and gave vent to a prolonged whistle.

"An' didn't the cove wot you bought 'em orf 'ave anythink to say?"

"He wanted me to have five hens and one, one male bird."

"An' wot did you say?" said Bindle, looking at her curiously.

"I told him I wanted three pairs. I suppose," she added a moment later,
"he had more hens than roosters."

"Well, I 'ave 'eard that it's been a better year for hens than
roosters," said Bindle dryly. "P'r'aps it's the war."

Mrs. Bindle's knowledge of the ways of fowls was limited; but it
embraced one important piece of information--that without "roosters,"
hens would not lay. When Bindle had striven to set her right, he had
been silenced with the inevitable, "Don't be disgusting."

She had reasoned that if hens were stimulated to lay by the presence of
the "male bird," then a cavalier each would surely result in an
increased output.

His mind was working rapidly as to how to explain to Mrs. Bindle
tactfully, but at the same time illuminatingly, that the ways of fowls
were not the ways of men, and that the polygamous instincts of the one
were not to be constrained by the ethical code of the other.

He made several attempts, all of which ended in failure, largely due to
Mrs. B.'s extreme sense of delicacy and the success of his own
camouflage. Finally he gave it up as a bad job. Mrs. Bindle's views on
sex matters were well known to him. They had been responsible, some
years ago, for the sudden termination of his activities in the matter of
keeping rabbits.

"Well, are you going to leave them there all night?" demanded Mrs.
Bindle presently.

Without a word, Bindle picked up the chicken-crate and carried it into
the garden, where with much silent protest he had for days laboured on
the construction of a fowl-house.

"My Gawd!" he murmured, as he walked towards the door of the
chicken-house. "There'll be a bit o' first-class scrappin' when they
begin to settle down a bit, an' I don't seem to be able to tell Mrs. B.
wot's wot. P'r'aps I'd better ask 'Earty to 'ave a try," he muttered a
moment later with a grin. The thought of Mr. Hearty endeavouring to
explain to Mrs. Bindle a matter of such intense delicacy amused Bindle,
with the result that by the time he returned to the house with the news
that the fowls "'Ad all been tucked up an' given 'ot water bottles," he
was almost jovial.

That night at supper the conversation dealt exclusively with fowls and
eggs in the relation of cause and effect. Bindle made several further
efforts to enlighten Mrs. Bindle upon certain rather important matters
connected with the marital relationship of what she insisted on calling
"male birds"; but without success.

The tact with which he approached the subject, resulted in Mrs. Bindle
being entirely mystified, except on one occasion when she told him not
to be disgusting.

"Well, well," he murmured, as he locked up that night. "It ain't my job
to stop at 'ome an' keep them there cocks from fightin'. The
neighbours'll jest split their sides; but I done my best."

Later, as he climbed the stairs, he added, "I'm sorry for Mrs. B.
though, she's goin' to get a nasty jar."

From the hour that the fowls arrived, Mrs. Bindle found herself with a
new interest and a new responsibility. She was for ever darting out into
the garden, attracted by some fowlish outcry.

To her, all vocal effort on the part of fowls betokened the laying of
eggs and, during the early days, she spent much time in going through
the back-garden with a toothcomb, searching for the eggs she felt her
birds were striving to tell her they had just laid.

She had read of the peculiar habits of white leghorns in hiding their
eggs, or at least in manifesting their own ideas as to where they should
be laid.

From their bedroom windows, Mrs. Sawney and Mrs. Grimps would help her
in the search, suggesting all sorts of impossible places where the birds
may have secreted Mrs. Bindle's treasures.

It soon became evident, however, to Mrs. Bindle that all was not well
with her poultry.

The trouble had begun on the morning following their arrival. Mrs.
Bindle had awakened early, and her first thought was of her new venture.
She had promptly sent Bindle down to "let the poor birds out."

Grumbling in his throat, Bindle had drawn on his trousers, and donned a
pair of ancient carpet-slippers.

Unlocking the door of the coal-cellar, his glum mood vanished as by
magic.

"Oh! my Gawd!" he cried, as a dissipated-looking cock darted past him.
Its comb was bleeding, and the purity of its plumage had been grievously
sullied by contact with the coal-dust.

"I knew they'd get scrappin'," murmured Bindle, as another white shape
darted past him and made for the other bird. "There's goin' to be a
bloomin' ole row about these 'ere mormons."

That morning there was no further sleep for either Bindle or Mrs.
Bindle. Pandemonium had broken out in the garden.

At first the neighbours had been inclined to show a marked antagonism
towards Mrs. Bindle's fowls; but this very soon developed into interest.
The women were never tired of watching Mrs. Bindle dart out from her
scullery door and proceed to police her garden with the aid of mop or
broom.

The men lost many a half-hour at dinnertime in order to watch either the
fights that were raging between the belligerent cocks, or the fights
that they hoped would shortly be staged.

Sometimes they brought their friends, and there were occasions when Mrs.
Bindle's back-garden had all the appearance of a cock-pit. The natural
concomitant of sport soon manifested itself.

On the second day, Mr. Grimps announced to Mr. Sawney across Mrs.
Bindle's garden that he was prepared to lay a bet on ole Ruddysnout.
Ruddysnout was the most hostile of the three cocks and, in consequence
his head was a gory travesty of what Nature had intended it to be.

From that moment the birds were always the centre of speculation. When
they fought, bets were made as to the probable victor. During the
periods of peace, bets were made as to which would start the next
"scrap."

At first Mrs. Bindle had continued her ministrations in spite of the
spectators; but the remarks were so direct, and the tendency of the
humour so ribald, that she had adopted various means of endeavouring to
persuade her fowls to keep the peace.

She would go up to her bedroom window and throw things at them, things
that would not seriously maim the birds if by chance she were to hit
one. Her aim, however, had proved so indifferent that it added to the
amusement of the "gallery," and increased the Rabelaisian quality of the
humour.


III


"Mrs. Sawney, Mrs. Sawney. Oh, do come and look!"

Mrs. Grimps, who lived at No. 5 Fenton Street, clutched the low fence
with both hands and gazed at the Bindle's back garden, where two cocks
were engaged in what appeared to be a battle to the death.

They ran at each other, they trampled upon each other, they clawed each
other. The three hens stood in a cluster awaiting the result, whilst the
third cock seemed a little uncertain as to what part he was expected to
play.

"They'll kill each other," cried Mrs. Sawney, appearing at her back door
and gazing down at the whirling centre of hate, from which a dust of
feathers rose testifying to the vigour of the struggle.

"Wot she want to buy three cocks for, silly fool," said Mrs. Grimps
contemptuously. "It's jest askin' for trouble."

"She ought to 'ave known better, 'er been married nearly twenty years,"
was Mrs. Sawney's comment.

"She's too busy prayin' to think about things like that," said Mrs.
Grimps. "Silly fool!" she added a moment later.

Mrs. Grimps possessed one term of opprobrium, "Silly fool," which she
used indiscriminately upon her neighbours, prime ministers, and the
dustman if he failed to remove the week's accumulation of household
refuse.

At that moment Mrs. Bindle appeared at the back door, attracted by the
squawking uproar from the newly arrived "egg-machines," as Bindle called
the fowls. One swift glance was sufficient to acquaint her with the
state of affairs.

Without a moment's hesitation she doubled back into the scullery,
appearing almost immediately armed with a mop, with which she charged
the belligerent roosters, just as they met in a whirling mass of flying
feathers.

The mop got one bird full on the stern, sending him hurtling forward to
ram his astonished opponent.

A moment later six fowlish voices were raised in a unison of protest;
loudest amongst them was that of the third cock, who now saw his
position perfectly clearly defined.

"I'll teach you to fight in my garden," cried Mrs. Bindle, as she made a
dive at one of the hens, sending it squawking madly towards the scullery
door.

Suddenly Mrs. Bindle seemed to become conscious of the presence of her
neighbours. For the most part she treated them with contempt; but to-day
in a vague way she was conscious of being humiliated by the
unwarrantable action of two members of the colony from which she had
such expectations in the shape of eggs.

"Well?" she demanded, planting herself opposite that portion of the
fence over which Mrs. Sawney's sour face was to be seen.

"Don't seem to be gettin' on very well, do they?" remarked Mrs. Sawney.
"'Ad any eggs? Me and Mrs. Grimps 'eard the noise and cam out to see
what it was all about."

"Well, now you've seen," snapped Mrs. Bindle, and, with a hasty glance
at her now thoroughly cowed poultry-run, she turned on her heel and
marched indignantly towards the scullery door, which, a moment later,
she banged to with all her force.

"Wot's stung 'er, I wonder," was Mrs. Grimps's comment, as she withdrew
her eyes from the scullery door and glanced across at her neighbour.
"Silly fool!" she added.

The fowls, however, disappeared as suddenly as they had come, and
thereafter Bindle realised that it was neither safe nor politic to refer
to the subject. It had taken a plate of rice, hurled at his head from
the other side of the kitchen, to bring him to this philosophical frame
of mind.



CHAPTER XI MRS. BINDLE'S REVENGE


I


"Don't you talk to me!"

"I was talkin' to Mrs. Grimps. I've got somethink better to do than talk
to a thing like you."

"Then it's a pity you don't do it," was the rejoinder, and Mrs. Bindle
turned from her frowsy and dishevelled neighbour, Mrs. Sawney, and
walked to the end of the garden, where she bent over the small
vegetable-bed which had been the cause of all the trouble.

Her face was white, her mouth set, and her eyes two angry points of
light. For days past her normal state of armed neutrality towards her
neighbours had been steadily gravitating towards war.

Mrs. Sawney and Mrs. Grimps resented Mrs. Bindle. In her housewifely
qualities and the neatness of her appearance, they saw a direct reproach
levelled at their own happy-go-lucky methods and personal untidiness.

For the most part, Mrs. Bindle adhered to her precept of "keeping
herself to herself," as she put it. In consequence, her more
aggressively minded neighbours were able to score a tactical triumph.

Their method was to discuss Mrs. Bindle across her own garden and in her
own presence. For the most part, Mrs. Bindle preserved a dignified and
scornful silence.

That morning, however, her restraint had been undermined by the presence
of a dead cat upon her beloved vegetable-bed. The appearance of Mrs.
Sawney, followed a moment later by that of Mrs. Grimps, had been the
signal for Mrs. Bindle's offensive, and when it came to a clash of
tongues, both her neighbours recognised that in Mrs. Bindle they had met
their match.

Neither had forgotten the time when Mrs. Bindle had deliberately lighted
a fire in her back-garden and the smuts had ruined the week's wash. They
had long cherished thoughts of revenge; but it was not until Mrs. Bindle
started her miniature vegetable-garden that they saw their opportunity.

Mrs. Bindle's conception of life was to look about her and see how she
could add to her own work. This in itself was a direct challenge to her
neighbours, who held diametrically opposite views upon the subject of
stewardship.

To Bindle his wife's energy was a never-failing source of apprehension;
for it invariably involved him in some unsought occupation. The
vegetable-bed had been a particularly tiresome business.

"Nearly broke my bloomin' back over it," he confided to Ginger one
Saturday night at The Yellow Ostrich; "an' Fulham beatin' Notts Forest
one nought," he added as an afterthought.

On that Saturday afternoon he had dug and sorted bricks and stones from
such mould as was available, always under the compelling and censorious
eye of Mrs. Bindle.

At four o'clock Mrs. Bindle had given him tea, in spite of his protest
that "this 'ere's a bloomin' beer job."

On the Monday Mrs. Bindle had purchased packets of seeds from Mr.
Hearty, and some diminutive lettuces, which she planted with
affectionate care.

The next morning the garden presented the appearance of a piece of waste
land in a slum. Tins, stones, pieces of paper, an old hat, two boots and
a number of other less recognisable objects lay on and in the vicinity
of the vegetable-bed. Three lettuces had been nipped off in their wilted
babyhood, and Mrs. Bindle's heart swelled with anger.

With tightened lips she had cleared up the debris and put it in the
dustbin.

The next day the same thing occurred, and the next, after which the
disordered state of Mrs. Bindle's garden became less marked with the
passage of each day--her neighbours were running out of ammunition.

From that point on, the young Sawneys and the young Grimpses were
instructed to collect all the voracious garden pests they could lay
hands on, and soon Mrs. Bindle's vegetable-bed became the happy
hunting-ground of myriad snails, slugs and worms.

Still she preserved a scornful silence. She was biding her time. It was
not until she found the dead body of a large sandy cat, an offence alike
to sight and smell, that Mrs. Bindle gave tongue; then she turned upon
her neighbours and rent them. She hinted at their past, dwelt upon their
present, and touched with some imagination upon their future. She
accused them of neglecting their homes and imperilling their souls. She
threatened them with the magistrate in this world and everlasting
torment in the next.

As Mrs. Grimps told her husband that evening at tea, "you couldn't get a
word in edgewise."

When from sheer lack of breath Mrs. Bindle had paused, Mrs. Sawney had
weakly striven to plant a dart, which Mrs. Bindle had countered with,
"Don't you talk to me!" and Mrs. Sawney had responded with the assurance
that she "had somethink better to do."

Suddenly Mrs. Bindle turned on her heel and, looking from one to the
other of her antagonists, she cried shrilly:

"If you throw anything more into my garden, I'll fetch a policeman. I've
got all the evidence I want," she added darkly.

"Oh! you 'ave, 'ave you?" cried Mrs. Sawney. She paused a moment, then,
with inspiration, added: "Then make buns of it."

Whenever Mrs. Sawney was at a loss in the matter of dialectics, she
invariably told her opponent to make buns of something or other.

That day Mrs. Bindle re-entered her house with the knowledge that she
had spiked her enemies' guns.

Mrs. Sawney and Mrs. Grimps were each conscious that they had not
covered themselves with glory in the encounter.

"Come over an' 'ave a cup o' tea, Mrs. Grimps, at 'alf-past five," said
Mrs. Sawney, as she prepared to resume her neglected occupations.

"Thank you, Mrs. Sawney," had been the reply. "I should like to," and
Mrs. Grimps turned from the fence and went into her house, with the
feeling that dramatic events were pending.

As she had once remarked to her husband: "Mrs. Sawney ain't the one to
take it laying down."


II


Since starting her vegetable-bed, Mrs. Bindle's first act each morning
was to look out of the scullery window to see what the night, like Santa
Claus, had brought her.

On the morning after the episode of the dead cat, she experienced a grim
sense of satisfaction as she gazed towards her vegetable-bed. Everything
was as she had left it the afternoon before. After dark she had herself,
with the aid of a shovel, thrown the dead cat into Mrs. Sawney's garden
as near to the back door as possible.

"That'll show her," she muttered, as Bindle entered the kitchen.

"Wots up now, Lizzie?" he cried cheerily. "You been scrappin' again with
Mrs. Sawney?"

Mrs. Bindle sniffed scornfully as she proceeded to prepare the
breakfast. In her own mind she was wondering if the offensive qualities
of the sandy cat were sufficiently powerful to make themselves manifest
in Mrs. Sawney's kitchen.

"Of course I might have expected that you'd side with that woman," she
said presently.

"Me!" cried Bindle, as he tucked up his shirt-sleeves preparatory to his
morning rinse at the sink. "I ain't a-sidin' with nobody, Lizzie."

"Oh yes, you are!" she retorted. "You encourage her!"

Bindle gazed across at her, a half-framed protest on his lips. Then, as
if thinking better of it, he turned and plunged his face into the tin
bowl he had just filled with water.

"If you were a man you wouldn't let them do it," continued Mrs. Bindle,
when he had got through the preliminary splutters and hissing which
always attended such operations.

"Do wot?" he enquired, drying the soap from out of his eyes. He was
never able to wash without the soap getting into his eyes.

"Throw dead cats into my garden," was the angry retort. "But I'll show
them!" she added, and in his heart Bindle realised that, in all
probability, she would.

Several times that morning Mrs. Bindle made entirely unnecessary visits
to her vegetable-bed; but the enemy did not appear. She longed once more
for the shock of battle; for during the night she had thought of many
things she might have said. Although Mrs. Bindle was a quick thinker in
debate, she was an even quicker thinker when it was all over.

Mrs. Sawney and Mrs. Grimps, however, still remained behind their
entrenchments, and the only solace their neighbour had was the thought
that they were "afraid to show their ugly faces," as she expressed it on
several occasions in a tone loud enough to be heard three gardens away.

On the second morning after the altercation, Mrs. Bindle, following her
recent practice, glanced out of the scullery window. She was surprised
to see, lying in the middle of the garden, a fair-sized lump of coal.
Instinctively she drew in her lips. The enemy was "at it again."

For nearly a minute she stood gazing at the lump of coal, a slight frown
contracting her eyebrows. Why should anyone throw away good coal? What
possible damage could a piece of coal do in the middle of the garden?

Had it been lying on the vegetable-bed, she would have regarded it as a
deliberate attempt to do damage to her unhappy lettuces; but to throw
away a good-sized lump of coal, which cost money!

Mrs. Bindle was puzzled.

Taking up a piece of paper, she marched down the garden, picked up the
coal and brought it into the scullery, where she placed it underneath
the copper. It could wait. For the present she had Bindle's breakfast to
think about.

That morning Bindle was conscious that Mrs. Bindle had something on her
mind. She did not bang a single utensil upon either stove or table, and
she was unusually silent.

As she stooped to pick up the lump of coal, she had caught a glimpse of
Mrs. Sawney, her head in curl-papers, peeping through the slit of the
blind.

Mrs. Bindle was suspicious.

Three times that morning she warned Bindle that he would be late, and
twice she drew his attention to the clock in proof of her words.

"Somethink's up!" was his unuttered thought, as he took his cap from its
peg and, with an "It's 'ard to 'ave to leave you, Lizzie," he made a
characteristic "get-away," as he called it.

With swift methodical movements, Mrs. Bindle washed up the breakfast
things and tidied the kitchen. This accomplished, she placed a piece of
newspaper on the table. Going into the scullery, she picked up the lump
of coal and returned with it to the kitchen, where she placed it upon
the table.

It was rather an alluring piece of coal, very bright and giving promise
of good burning qualities. It measured about six by four inches, just
the size to go conveniently into a kitchen stove without breaking.

With the intentness of a Sherlock Holmes, Mrs. Bindle subjected it to an
elaborate examination, a thoughtful furrow between her eyes.

One particular spot seemed to absorb her attention. Picking up the
poker, she rubbed it gently upon the side of the piece of coal.
Replacing the poker, she rose and went into the scullery, returning a
moment later with an old table-knife.

With this she proceeded to scrape the spot which had absorbed her
attention, exposing a greyish circle of about the diameter of a
halfpenny. At the sight of it her lips set grimly, whilst through her
mind there flashed the text of the sermon Mr. MacFie had preached a few
Sundays previously--"His enemies shall lick the dust."

With great deliberation she went out to the coal-cellar, returning a few
minutes later with some coal-dust in a shovel. This she sifted through a
thin-mesh tea-strainer, after which she stood for nearly a minute gazing
down at the little black heap, obviously in thought. Suddenly she made a
dive for the dresser, picked up an egg-cup and put into it a little
brown sugar. Upon this she poured a few drops of boiling water, and
stirred it with a spoon.

With a piece of paper she spread the sticky substance over the grey
circle on the coal, and on it sprinkled the fine coal-dust. This done
she replaced the lump under the copper and, grim-lipped and steely-eyed,
she went about the day's duties.

There was little connected with the amenities of neighbours with which
Mrs. Bindle was unacquainted. She had in her time lived in more than one
tenement-house, where the locks used were those manufactured by the
gross, and where the coal-cellar key was an Open Sesame as much to your
own store as that of your neighbour.

To add a padlock was to throw down the gauntlet and render oneself an
Ishmael. In consequence, other protective methods had to be adopted.

If a resident became suspicious that her coal was warming the limbs and
cooking the food of others than members of her own family, she would
take counsel with her lord, and frequently a trap was set.

This invariably took the form of boring a hole in a lump of coal,
inserting a charge of gunpowder, then closing the aperture with cement,
or plaster of Paris, smearing the cement with ink and then sprinkling it
with coal-dust. This lump would be laid in a conspicuous position, and
carefully avoided when the domestic coal-scuttle was filled.

When the lump disappeared, as it frequently did, the real excitement
began. In due course workmen would appear, either with a new stove or
with the materials to rebuild the old one, and soon after the occupant
of that particular tenement would seek a new abode.


III


"I suppose 'Earty don't 'appen to 'ave given you a tip for Ascot?"
enquired Bindle, looking up a few evenings later from an endeavour to
spot a likely winner of the Hunt Cup.

With a jerk Mrs. Bindle turned inside out the sock she was mending; but
she made no reply. For the last few days she had been almost cheerful,
and her criticisms of Bindle had diminished nearly to the vanishing
point.

"She's got somethink on 'er mind, Martha," Bindle had confided to his
sister-in-law. "When Lizzie's like that, it means that somebody's goin'
to get it in the neck," at which Mrs. Hearty had heaved and undulated
and gasped imploringly, "Oh, Joe, don't!"

Two nights later Bindle awakened in the middle of the night with the
consciousness that something unusual was taking place. It was a rare
thing for his rest ever to be broken, except by Mrs. Bindle's elbow when
he snored.

"Was I snorin', Lizzie?" he muttered sleepily; but there was no answer.
As a rule on such occasions, Mrs. Bindle never failed to convey to him
the inconvenience arising from being tied to one who "slept like a pig."

The unaccustomed silence caused him to stretch a tentative foot in the
direction of his mate. To his surprise he found no resistance.

A moment later he was sitting up in bed, gazing about him and trying to
pierce the darkness of the room.

At that moment a sound reached his ears suggestive of the drawing of a
reluctant bolt. The thought of burglars immediately flashed through his
mind. Springing out of bed, he opened the door an inch or two and
listened. Somebody was undoubtedly moving about below.

He felt about for his trousers. Bindle was not lacking in courage; but
the idea of encountering a burglar in a flapping night-shirt was
contrary to his sense of decorum.

It was one of Mrs. Bindle's complaints that, whereas she folded her
clothes neatly, Bindle threw his wherever he happened to be at the
moment of discarding them.

Having run his foot up against one of the castors of the bedstead, and
knocked his head against the chest of drawers, in a vain search for the
garment necessary to a hero about to capture a burglar, Bindle paused.

Suddenly he was struck with an idea. From the spare bedroom window, he
could, in all probability, obtain a view of the back-garden.

He was greatly puzzled at the absence of Mrs. Bindle. When suspecting
burglars, it was her invariable rule to prod him with her elbow and
order him to go down and see. What had occurred to cause her to change
her method of procedure?

Stealthily passing out of the bedroom, he crossed into the other room
and passed over to the window.

"'Oly ointment!" he muttered in astonishment, as he gazed out. There,
just below him, was a dim figure carrying some long, strange-looking
object.

As his eyes became accustomed to the darkness, he recognised the object
as a pair of steps, and the figure, in shape and poise, was obviously
that of Mrs. Bindle.

Scarcely daring to breathe, Bindle watched her proceed half-way down the
garden, where, apparently, she became occupied in placing the steps over
the fence into Mrs. Grimps's garden. This done, she mounted something,
apparently a chair, and proceeded to get up on to the fence. She then
climbed down the steps into the next garden, where she disappeared into
the shadows.

A minute later he observed her mounting the steps and climbing back into
his own garden, after which the steps were lifted back and carried in
the direction of the scullery door.

Without waiting for more, Bindle returned to bed, greatly puzzled at
what he had seen. Five minutes passed, then the door creaked and Mrs.
Bindle entered stealthily. A moment later she proceeded to creep into
bed. It was obviously her wish that Bindle should not discover that she
had even temporarily forsaken the marital couch. To undeceive her would
precipitate a domestic crisis.

Several times he heard her teeth chatter; for, although July, the night
was cold. Once he almost cried out when an icy foot touched the calf of
his leg.

Convinced that "somebody was goin' to get somethink," Bindle dropped off
to sleep again, only to dream that Mrs. Bindle wanted him to mount a
fire-escape reared against the dome of St. Paul's in his night-shirt, to
retrieve his trousers, which somehow or other had become attached to the
cross.


IV


All the morning Mrs. Bindle had been moving about on tip-toe. She had
put on a pair of old list slippers, and she was careful to avoid all
work of a noisy character.

She was almost blithe in her manner, and that in spite of the knowledge
that she had a cold "coming on," due to the previous night's adventure.

She surprised the baker, who approached whistling "Here You Are Then,"
by rushing to the door and telling him to stop it. The clattering of the
milkman's cans caused her to frown perceptibly. Her whole demeanour was
that of one expecting the dramatic.

The morning dragged on slowly, and Bindle returned to dinner.

Several times during the meal she admonished him to silence with a
sibilant "Sssssssssh!" and an upraised hand. At length, impressed by her
listening attitude, he enquired if she were expecting anyone, whereat
she told him to mind his own business.

Just as Mrs. Bindle was handing to Bindle a plate containing two large
slices of treacle-pudding, there was a sudden dull sound from next door,
which caused the plate almost to slip from her grasp. A moment later
there followed a series of shrill screams.

Without a word Mrs. Bindle rose from the table and sprinted for the
scullery door, where she paused for a moment to listen.

"'Ere, don't block up the bloomin' doorway," cried Bindle, who had
followed and was anxious not to miss anything. She stood aside to allow
him to pass her.

"It's that woman that's done it!" came the shrill voice of Mrs. Grimps.
"I'll show her! I'll tear her eyes out!"

"'Ullo!" cried Bindle over the fence. "Anythink wrong, Mrs. Grimps?"

"Wrong!" cried Mrs. Grimps, appearing at the scullery door, her face
purple with passion. "Wrong! That she-devil's put gunpowder in my coal.
Peas, potatoes and boiled scrag all blown away, and the stove smashed.
I'll show the cat. Wait 'till I get my nails at her ugly face!"

From behind the scullery door Mrs. Bindle listened. The vindictiveness
of Mrs. Grimps's voice caused her to clutch more tightly the door-post.

"She said she'd do it to 'er!" screamed Mrs. Grimps enigmatically, "an'
now she's done it to me; but I'll show her! Just because I smacked her
brat for breaking Ethel Mathilda's doll!" and Mrs. Grimps disappeared
once more into the house.

For two or three minutes Bindle continued to gaze over the
dividing-fence; but as it seemed unlikely that any further dramatic
happenings were pending, he returned to the house, lured by the thought
of the treacle-pudding he had left untasted.

Mrs. Bindle had already returned to the kitchen. Bindle was just in the
act of reseating himself at the table when a wild outcry, apparently
from the front garden, caused him once more to straighten himself.

Mrs. Bindle darted into the passage and to the front door, Bindle
following. He was just in time to see Mrs. Grimps, her sleeves tucked up
and a tweed cap pinned to her hair, come out backwards from Mrs.
Sawney's house, dragging at something with all her might. A moment later
he realised that the something was Mrs. Sawney's back-hair.

Both women were screaming; but from the medley of sound Bindle could
gather nothing.

"I'll teach you to blow my stove out and ruin my dinner! Peas, potatoes
and scrag! You dirty dog! I'll teach you!" and she tugged viciously at
her neighbour's back-hair.

"Let me go!" screeched Mrs. Sawney, waving her hands and appearing as
impotent as a beetle on its back. "You're hurtin'!"

"Hurtin'! I'll hurt you! Just because I slapped that little cat Harriet
for breaking Ethel Mathilda's doll. I'll hurt you!"

She gave another tug at her enemy's back-hair.

"You told me it was for 'er stove," she continued, "that cat next door,
or I wouldn't 'ave got Grimps to bore a 'ole in the coal. I'll show
you!"

Mrs. Sawney was beginning to recover from the unexpectedness of the
attack. Grasped by her back-hair, she was helpless as far as her hands
were concerned; but she quickly realised that the enemy was open to an
attack in the form of a kick. She let fly with her right leg, catching
her tormenter upon the knee-cap.

With a howl of pain Mrs. Grimps relinquished her neighbour's back-hair.
A moment later she was lying on the garden path with Mrs. Sawney on top.

"I'm a dirty dog, am I?" cried the thin, wiry Mrs. Sawney, her knees
planted firmly upon Mrs. Grimps's generous person. "I'm a dirty dog, am
I?" and, raising her head by the hair with both hands, she bumped it
hard upon the ground.

"I'm a dirty dog, am I?" demanded Mrs. Sawney for the third time.
"You'll apologise for that before you move from here!"

Mrs. Sawney's knees were sharp, and they penetrated into Mrs. Grimps at
each movement, rendering speech impossible.

The neighbours flocked out from their houses. It was not often that
drama presented itself so early in the day.

After the tenth demand for an apology, accompanied by a tenth bump of
her enemy's head upon the garden path, Mrs. Sawney noticed a limpness in
the foe which caused her to scramble to her feet; but Mrs. Grimps made.
no effort to rise. She had fainted.

It was Mrs. Bindle who brought her round and assisted her into her own
house. It was Mrs. Bindle who, next day, was the principal witness at
the police-court, where she was complimented by the magistrate upon the
impartial way in which she gave her evidence; and it was Mrs. Bindle
who, that afternoon, made herself a specially strong cup of tea. Her
enemies had been, if not sufficiently, at least considerably, punished,
both physically and financially; for the magistrate had imposed a fine
of twenty shillings and costs upon each, in addition to binding them
over for a period of three months.

"Funny thing for a daughter of the Lord to do," muttered Bindle on the
day of the assault, as he returned to work, "tryin' to blow the 'ole
bloomin' place to blazes." But Bindle knew only half the story.



CHAPTER XII - PROMOTION OF COMPANY SERGEANT-MAJOR HIGGS


I


"'E's at me the ole ruddy day, damn 'im!" All the vindictiveness of
which he was capable Ginger precipitated into his remark.

"'Old up, Ging," admonished Bindle, cheerfully. "Never see such a cove
as you for language."

"If you stands 'im a drink, or a cigar, 'e'll give you leave," growled
Ginger vindictively; "if you don't 'e'll give you 'ell an' C.B., an' you
not allowed to answer back or break 'is blinkin' jaw. I don't 'old wiv
the army," he concluded with conviction, as he buried his freckled face
in his tankard.

"Cheer up, ole sport," said Bindle. "Why don't you 'old with the army?
It ain't done you no 'arm; made a man of you it 'as, Ging." Bindle
winked gravely at Huggles, as they stood together in the public bar of
The Yellow Ostrich.

Huggles and Ginger were two of Bindle's mates in the furniture-removing
profession. Ginger had enlisted, just why no one knew, as he never
sought to disguise his anti-militarist tendencies.

By a slow process of piecing together Ginger's detached utterances,
Bindle and Huggles learned of the tragedy his life had become under the
iron rule of Company Sergeant-Major Higgs.

Ginger described in great detail, and with a wealth of verbal adornment,
his opinion of Sergeant-Major Higgs, his venality, his harshness, his
ancestry (mythical), and his fate (prophetic) if ever "D" Company should
get him out to France.

From Ginger's halting but well-adorned periods, it appeared that Company
Sergeant-Major Higgs was one who placed a high value upon money, or what
it would produce. He bullied unceasingly all who were unable to placate
him with raw whisky, his one and only drink, or cigars, his one and only
smoke. Those who were able to temper the wind of his displeasure with
the things his nature craved were favoured to a degree that roused the
other and less fortunate members of "D" Company to a frenzy of hate.

The amount of ammunition that "D" Company was sworn to expend in sending
its unpopular sergeant-major to his last parade was a menace to the next
offensive.

"Well," said Bindle philosophically, "don't you lose 'eart, Ging.
There's generally a way out o' most things."

"There ain't no ruddy way out o' 'D' Company," growled Ginger, gazing
malevolently into the depths of his empty tankard. "Think o' wot 'e done
to me an' Nigger Alf last week."

"Wot was that?" enquired Bindle, having answered with an affirmative nod
the barman's interrogation as to Ginger's pewter.

"Nigger was wrong inside, an' I 'ad a sore 'eel, an' that scarlet tyke
got the M.O. to give 'im some ointment an' me two No. 9 pills. My Gawd!"
Ginger groaned at the recollection. "Threatened us wiv pack-drill an'
C.B. if we didn't obey orders. 'E'll obey orders out there," and Ginger
nodded darkly in what he conceived to be the direction where France lay.

"Why don't you report 'im?" enquired Bindle.

"'Cause you can't speak to an orficer only through 'im, blast 'im!"
Ginger explained.

"I don't 'old wiv the army," he added.

"I suppose," queried Bindle meditatively, "if anythink was to 'appen to
'Iggy, an' 'e sort o' got into trouble, 'D' Company wouldn't break their
little 'earts?"

"My Gawd!" For a moment a light of hope shone in Ginger's eyes, only to
die out the next. "'E's too clever. You ain't goin' to get 'im only wiv
a bullet."

There was silence for a few minutes, broken by the hum of conversation
of those around them, the clink of the beer-engines as the handles were
released, and the thud of glasses and tankards on the leaden counter.

"You can do anyfink in the army if you got money," growled Ginger.
"Stays out all night, I've 'eard 'e does, an' no one reports 'im. Afraid
of 'im, they are, every ruddy one of 'em, orficers an' all."

Ginger lifted his tankard. Beer alone could wash from his mouth the
flavour of the obnoxious company sergeant-major.

"Look 'ere, Ging," said Bindle, "you're low-spirited, that's wot's the
matter with you. There ain't no army in the world like ours. If the King
was to 'ear about ole 'Iggs, 'e'd 'ave 'im put in quod, would George
Five; p'r'aps 'e'd send 'im to the Kayser as a sort o' valentine."

"You should 'ear 'im talk o' wot 'e done at Loos. Says 'e ought to be a
major wivout the sergeant, 'e does. I'd make 'im a major," growled
Ginger; "I'd make 'im a stiff-un--an' I will too," he added, "out
there."

That evening as he returned home, Bindle pondered deeply upon Ginger's
unwonted loquacity, and the enormities committed by Company
Sergeant-Major Higgs.

"It didn't ought to be allowed, that," he muttered to himself, "with all
them boys a-doin' their bit. Somebody's got to stop it."

Just as he reached his own door he broke into a shrill rendering of
"Arizona," which he tactfully modulated into "Gospel Bells," Mrs.
Bindle's favourite hymn, as he entered the kitchen.

With Bindle, when meditation developed into whistling, it invariably
indicated that his mind was made up, and his course of action decided
upon.

The next evening he spent two hours in close converse with Dr. Richard
Little, his partner in many a "little joke," and his friend James
Holcroft, a man who at St. Timothy's Hospital was marked out for Harley
Street on account of his wonderful hypnotic powers in cases of chronic
neurasthenia.


II


As he strutted across the barrack-square towards the gate an
ebony-and-silver swagger-cane under his left arm, his right hand
twirling the end of his luxuriant brown moustache, Cornpany
Sergeant-Major Higgs was at peace with the world. His day's work was
done, and there was the evening's revelry before him. There had been a
time when he had almost trembled for the hair of his face, for it had
been suggested that a few short bristles in the centre of the upper lip
alone were likely to lead the British armies to victory. That, however,
was past, and now Company Sergeant-Major Higgs could bathe in his
favourite whisky a full measure of curving auburn hairs. His strength
lay in the hairs of his face.

Instinctively the men knew that if "the major" were to lose his
moustache his spirit would be broken; yet none dare sacrifice himself
for the benefit of the whole company. None possessed sufficient money to
make him drunk; for the period of Higgs's sobriety under continuous
libations was as immeasurable as time. He had been known to be elated,
depressed, to falter in his speech, sway a little in his gait; but never
had he been drunk.

"We'll 'ave to wait till we get 'im out there," muttered Nigger Alf
regretfully, as he watched his arch-enemy disappear through the gates.

Higgs swaggered out of the barrack-yard and turned to the left,
overwhelmed with the sense of his own importance. He was a warrior, and
he meant that all the world should know it. His self-consciousness
rendered it impossible for him to view the universe other than as a
background for himself. His favourite subject of thought and
conversation, previous to Loos, was the old army and what the world had
lost by its absorption into the new. After Loos this was replaced by the
prodigies of valour that he, Company Sergeant-Major Sidney Higgs, had
performed in capturing a German machine-gun.

Among themselves "D" Company whispered that it was shell-smashed, this
machine-gun, and had been forsaken by the enemy, which may have
accounted for the fact that Company Sergeant-Major Higgs had received no
official recognition of his gallant act.

In the first days of elation he had seen himself raised to commissioned
rank, with the coveted purple ribbon on his left breast; later he had
explained the lack of the one and the absence of the other by the magic
words "no influence."

"There are less-experienced soldiers than me commanding brigades," he
confided to Sergeant Daney, his particular crony.

Sergeant Daney was a man possessed of an unfluctuating thirst, a wife,
and eight children. As he feared his wife even more than he felt his
thirst, it was inevitable that he should follow the path of the least
resistance. Higgs always had plenty of money, and he hated his own
company. Furthermore, as Sergeant Daney fed the insatiable furnace of
his vanity, it was natural that they should be much together, and that
the one should drink at the expense of the other, the money being passed
from hand to hand in a manner that would not outrage those who had
ordained that Britons should drink only at their own expense.

Company Sergeant-Major Higgs strolled along Wimbledon High Street in the
direction of the Western Hotel, where the happiest hours of his life
were spent. He pushed open the door, walked along the passage, passed
through a further pair of doors into the comfortable saloon-bar.

"Good evening, major," cried the barmaid, who had picked up this mode of
address from the men.

"Good evenin', my dear," was the response. Higgs regarded with a leer
the half-woman that he was able to see above the counter.

Miss Connie Watson was remarkable in two ways, in neither of which had
she consulted the wishes of Providence. She had been sent into the world
brown-haired and lean; she appeared behind the bar of the Western Hotel
fair-haired and plump. The one phenomenon was achieved by peroxide, the
other by what were known to the elect as "Madame FitzParmington's Patent
Plumpers."

"The old poison, my dear." Company Sergeant-Major Higgs was a man of the
world in battle and in bars.

A double "Pink Horseshoe" was handed to him, which he drank at a gulp
and then, pouring a little water into his glass, sent it careering after
the "Pink Horseshoe." He replaced the glass on the counter, which was
promptly filled by the assiduous Connie.

"We've got strangers here to-night," she confided, nodding significantly
in the direction of a group of three men sitting at a small round table.
"Big bugs, I think," whispered Connie.

Higgs glanced in the direction indicated, where three men appeared to be
in earnest conversation. One, a wiry little fellow with a humorous face,
fringed by a sandy grey beard and a patch over his left eye, wore a
sporting black-and-white check suit, a red tie, a light dust-coat, and a
Homburg hat. By his side, resting against the chair, was a Malacca cane
heavily ornamented with "yellow metal." The others were less noticeable
in their attire, and seemed to listen with interest to their companion's
conversation. One of the two was a small man with beetling brows and a
gaze that seemed capable of piercing a stone wall.

Company Sergeant-Major Higgs turned back to his second "Pink Horseshoe."
He had a profound contempt for civilians, and proceeded to light a
cigar. He had just removed it from his mouth to assure himself that it
was well alight, when his attention was arrested by a remark of the
sporting black-and-white man.

"'Iggs was 'is name, Company Sergeant-Major 'Iggs. Bravest thing 'e ever
saw, my friend told me; yet 'e never got so much as 'thank you.' That
ain't the way to make us win the war," he added, as he picked up his
glass and drained it at a gulp.

"Tell us about it, sir," said the taller of the two men, whose well-cut,
fair war-beard suggested the navy, and whose voice bore a strong
resemblance to that of Dr. Richard Little of Chelsea.

"Well, it was like this," began the black-and-white man: "The 88th
Londons went over the top; an' a 'ell of a day it was. Men was droppin'
like rain, they were, when a German machine-gun started a-squirtin'
death at 'D' Company.

"'My Gawd,' says the capting, 'our number's up.'

"But it wasn't! This cove 'Iggs dashed forward with a clubbed rifle,
goes right up to the German machine-gun, 'e does, an' starts sendin'
Germans to 'ell like giddy-o. Took the gun, 'e did, an' saved 'D'
Company. I'll lay my life," continued Bindle, for it was he, "that 'e
belongs to the old army. You don't get no clubbin' rifles now. They
don't teach 'em."

"And did he get the V.C.?" enquired Dick Little.

"'E got nothink. 'E 'adn't no influence, pore chap, so 'e's just wot 'e
was before; but 'e saved 'D' Company. 'E's a man, 'e is, an' I'd like to
find out where 'e was, so as to shake 'im by the 'and, an' give 'im the
longest drink 'e ever 'ad in all 'is puff."

With one movement Company Sergeant-Major Higgs was across the bar,
standing before Bindle.

"I am Sergeant-Major Higgs!" he announced, conscious that this was a
dramatic moment.

"Oh, you are, are you?" remarked Bindle scornfully. "You didn't ought to
try an' listen to wot other coves is talkin' about. I suppose it's that
long drink wot tempted you. Now run away 'ome an' don't interrupt."

Higgs flushed, taken aback by this sudden and unexpected rebuff.

Dick Little looked at Bindle curiously.

"But I am Sergeant-Major Higgs," spluttered the crestfallen warrior. He
gave a hurried look round, as if seeking for evidence, then, suddenly
diving into the breast-pocket of his tunic, he brought forth a handful
of letters, which he held out before him.

Bindle glanced at them, then, with a sudden movement, he sprang to his
feet with extended hand.

"Put it 'ere!" he commanded, and Sergeant-Major Higgs put it there, and
the men shook hands cordially.

"Proud to know you, Major, proud as proud. These are friends of mine."

Dick Little and Holcroft shook hands cordially.

"A bottle of whisky," called out Bindle; "a bottle of whisky for an
'ero."

"I'm afraid I can't serve you, sir," replied the interested but
regretful Connie. "Treating's not allowed."

Bindle looked blankly from one to the other. "Well I'm damned!" he
vociferated. "That's a mean thing, when you meets a man you been wantin'
to meet for months, an' can't offer 'im a drink."

Bindle looked despairingly from one to the other.

"Why not come round to my digs," suggested Dick Little; "there's plenty
of good stuff there. May we have the pleasure, sir?" he enquired,
turning to Higgs.

Two minutes later the four were walking in the direction of the rooms
Dick Little had taken in Clarendon Road. Arrived there, they proceeded
to make the hero comfortable.

For the first time in his life Company Sergeant-Major Higgs was really
superlatively happy. Down his throat he poured neat whisky and from his
lips streamed the story of his heroism at Loos, and the injustice of
which he was the victim.

Bindle, Dick Little, and Holcroft listened attentively, and saw to it
that the gallant soldier's glass was never empty, save during the period
of transit from his lips to the table.

"Won the bloomin' V.C., 'e did," remarked Bindle, turning to Dick Little
during one of the rare intervals in the flow of the narrative.

Higgs assumed what he conceived to be the air of a doughty hero.

"Reg'lar ole fire-eater, ain't 'e?" remarked Bindle to Holcroft. "Glad I
ain't an 'Un, case I might 'ave been sent to Loos."

Higgs leaned forward and, placing a grubby forefinger impressively upon
Bindle's knee, said, "If--hadn't--been--Loos--Germans--broken--through."
He wagged his head impressively. "Broken through," he repeated huskily,
temporarily forgetful that at Loos the Germans were on the defensive.

The whisky he was pouring down his throat by the half-tumblerful was
beginning to have a dazing effect upon the gallant Higgs. His words ran
into each other thickly.

"You don't say so?" Bindle's tone was one of awe and admiration.

"Swear it," responded Higgs, pressing his finger harder upon Bindle's
knee, partly to emphasise his point, but more particularly to preserve a
dubious equilibrium. "Fact," he added solemnly, endeavouring with his
disengaged hand to find the starboard end of his waxed moustache, which,
having lost its rigidity, was coyly trying to slip into the corner of
his mouth.

"French knew it, damn 'im," he added; "s'jealous."

"Ah!" There was a world of meaning in Bindle's exclamation.
Sergeant-Major Higgs had explained all.

"Don't you worry, ole sport," said Bindle reassuringly; "they 'aven't
forgotten you--not they."

Higgs wagged his head, as if it were too heavy for his neck to support.

"S'jealous--fact!" he added, searching behind his ear for the lost
moustache-end.

"Looks like a cat a-washin' of 'er face, don't 'e?" whispered Bindle to
Holcroft.

Dick Little, Bindle, and Holcroft continued to assure the injured hero
that he had not been forgotten at Headquarters. At any moment he might
hear of his promotion to commissioned rank, not as a mere lieutenant or
captain; but in all probability as a general.

"General! that's it, vict'ry-next-week," Higgs mumbled, as he strove
vainly to capture with his lips the errant end of his moustache. "Win
the-war-in-week--fact!"

"Gentleman to see Sergeant-Major Higgs," announced a maid as she stepped
aside to admit a staff-captain, who gravely saluted the company.

Higgs made a gallant effort, half rising from his chair, only to fall
back again. Aided, however, by the rebound, he managed to assume an
upright position, and stood at an uncertain attention.

"Company Sergeant-Major Higgs?" interrogated the staff-officer.

"'Sme!" responded Higgs, rolling his eyes.

"I have to inform you," continued the staff-officer, "that, in
consideration of your gallant services at Loos, you have been promoted
to the rank of Major-General, seniority to date from September 25th."
The officer saluted Higgs and handed him a large official envelope
marked "O.H.M.S."

Higgs took it and gazed stupidly from the envelope to the staff-officer.

"A uniform has been prepared; my servant will bring it in. You are
requested to inspect your old battalion, the 88th Service Battalion,
London Regiment, at parade to-morrow morning. You will find full
instructions there." He indicated the envelope.

The staff-officer saluted and left the room.

"You are now a general," said Holcroft, looking steadily into Higgs's
eyes. "You are to inspect your old battalion at to-morrow morning's
parade. Now repeat it."

"Mageneral," mumbled Higgs. "Inspect old--battalion--t'morrow--parade,"
and he sank back into the chair and fell into a profound stupor.


III


A general officer was walking briskly down Wimbledon High Street in the
direction of the parade-ground of the 88th Service Battalion, London
Regiment. On his upper lip was a ridiculous tuft of brown hairs, leaving
exposed a cruel mouth. In his eye was a vagueness, as if he were walking
in his sleep. He looked neither to the right nor to the left. The
policeman on point-duty by the railway bridge saluted, and to his
surprise received in response the precise and elaborate salute of a
private soldier.

"Well, I'm jiggered," he muttered, looking round vainly for some
fellow-being to share with him his mystification.

At the entrance to the parade-ground the guard turned out at the word of
command and stood to attention. "Major-General" Higgs acknowledged the
salute as he had done that of the constable. The men regarded him with
wide-eyed astonishment and, when he had passed, eagerly debated among
themselves this incredible conduct on the part of a general officer.

"Major-General" Higgs strutted on to the parade-ground, his right hand
grasping a yellow crooked-stick, his left fumbling about his upper lip
for the absent moustache-ends. The battalion was formed in mass at ease,
the C.O. chatting with the senior major. Their backs were turned to the
approaching "Major-General." It was the adjutant who called the C.O.'s
attention to the visitor. Seeing the rank of the stranger, the C.O.
dismounted and went to meet him.

"Good morning, sir," he said, saluting. Only by a great effort of will
did he restrain himself from starting back when the visitor saluted him
with the suddenness and precision of an N.C.O. of the old army. He
remembered, however, once hearing of a general officer who always
saluted so, his contention being that there was one salute and one
salute only in the Drill Book, and that was common to officers and men.

"Mornin'," snapped Higgs.

The C.O. wondered why no orderly or staff-officer accompanied the
general, and what could prompt him to make a visit at so unearthly an
hour and without notice. He was also vainly trying to place his visitor.

Company Sergeant-Major Higgs had never liked the C.O., and
"Major-General" Higgs seemed determined that the circumstance should not
be dissimulated.

The C.O. saw that the "Major-General's" breast was a rainbow of ribbons,
four lines deep. His eyes were glued to these evidences of valour and
war. There was the purple of the V.C., blue and red of the D.S.O., and
the blue and white of the M.C. with the miniature silver rose telling of
a twice-won honour.

The service ribbons were bewildering in their variety. Apparently little
in the way of war had happened during the last thirty years in which the
"Major-General" had not taken part.

"You're early, sir," remarked the C.O. at a loss for something to say,
as they strolled towards the battalion.

"I've come to inspect the battalion of blood-coloured horse-thieves,"
yapped Higgs, in what he felt was the correct tone to adopt to an
inferior.

This time the C.O. actually did start as if someone had hit him. He
flushed a deep crimson.

"May I ask, sir--?" he began; but Higgs ignored him as if he had not
existed.

Striding up to the battalion, he halted in front of "D" Company. With
legs wide apart, his stick under his arm, he surveyed the men,
deliberately, insultingly. It was the uncompromising gaze of a martinet,
devoid of humanity and destitute of imagination. To a man "D" Company
recognised that look as belonging to him whom they had sworn to send to
the bottomless part of no parades. Ginger gazed at his arch-enemy with
open mouth. Nigger Alf muttered under his breath and shivered. The iron
of discipline had entered deep into his soul, and he was afraid--of what
he could not say.

"It's 'Iggy," muttered someone.

"'E's mad drunk," muttered Private Ash to the man on his right.

"Look at 'is ribbons," whispered a third. "Like a bloomin' rainbow,
ain't 'e?"

A thrill of excited expectation passed down the whole line. The men
looked from Higgs to the C.O., now standing conversing with the senior
major, and casting uneasy glances in the direction where Higgs stood.
The C.O. was anathematising himself for having forgotten to call the
battalion to attention.

He was frankly at a loss to account for this surprise visit, but still
more for the conduct of the general who was making it. Tradition and
custom had been thrown to the winds of heaven, and he cursed the New
School, which he regarded as responsible for everything of which he
disapproved.

The news that the officer in front was "Bully" Higgs of "D" Company sped
down the line like an electric current.

"It's Higgs of 'D' Company," they told each other.

"Damn good job too!"

"Scarlet bully!"

"Save us shootin 'im."

"Gawd! but 'e's in for it this time all right."

"It'll be court-martial."

These were some of the muttered remarks of the men. Heads bobbed from
side to side, men bent back to converse with comrades in the rear rank.

Higgs turned to the C.O., who, with the adjutant and senior major, had
drawn up to within a few yards of where he stood.

"Call your battalion to attention!" he ordered.

"Paraaaaade--shun!" The C.O.'s order was so unexpected and came with
such suddenness that, had he not been too amazed to notice the ragged
manner in which it was obeyed, he would have despaired of the whole
battalion. As it was, Nigger Alf let slip his rifle, then caught it
again by the sling in a manner that would have earned for him a round of
applause from the most critical music-hall audience.

"Shun!" It was "Major-General" Higgs who now repeated the command.

If anyone in the battalion had been sceptical as to the identity of the
stranger, this order promptly removed it.

As one man had remarked, "Higgs's 'Shun' is damn an' blast an' 'ell an'
C.B. all rolled into one."

The captain of "D" Company had been one of the first to suspect the
identity of the inspecting officer. He had noted Higgs's absence that
morning, and had been puzzled to account for it, and now? Should he
inform the C.O.? But what if he were mistaken? To leave the company in
the face of such an order was rank insubordination. He decided to await
developments.

"Battalion right dress!" yapped Higgs.

The order found the battalion equally unprepared, and they began to
shuffle like a Salvation Army soup-queue.

The novelty of a general officer assuming the duties of putting a
battalion through its paces required an elasticity of mind not possessed
of the 88th.

"You crimson set of stutterin' defaulters," howled Higgs. He looked
about him as if in search of something.

"Where's that ruddy band?" he bawled. "You lung-splittin' drum-thumpin'
degenerates, where the 'ell 'ave you got to?"

He waved his stick at the band-master, who took it as a signal to play.
A moment later the band broke out into the popular rag-time, "I Ain't No
Good as a Soldier."

Higgs stepped back to the C.O. "Let's see what this blinkin' battalion
is made of?" he said, his eyes still on the battalion. "Carry on."

Then the C.O. determined that the 88th should show this jack-booted
martinet what it was made of. Opening his shoulders and filling his
lungs, he thundered his orders.

"Battalion form open mass," he roared. "Echelon outwards at platoon
distance. Two companies the right, remainder will retire, about turn,
quick march."

Higgs turned and blinked at the C.O. as if surprised at the unusual
nature of the command. Suddenly he became galvanised into life. Turning
upon the battalion like fury he roared:

"As you were," then, after a slight pause, "Prepare to receive cavalry."

The 88th wavered. This new demand upon their self-possession was the
last straw. Such evolutions had never been demanded of them at early
morning parade. They hesitated, looked at each other, as if uncertain
what to do. Their C.O. had handed them over to a maniac, and stood
apparently calmly watching their discomfiture.

Then the 88th Londons went utterly to pieces. The officers repeated,
some one, some the other order, some both. The men were bewildered.
Those who endeavoured to retire found themselves mixed up with comrades
who were striving to receive cavalry, those who were intent on receiving
cavalry discovered that the echelon heresy was too strong for them. They
gazed into each other's puzzled eyes, cannoned off each other's
accoutrements. Several came to earth with a crash.

The C.O. had heard of officers in the British Army who were the envy of
drill-sergeants on account of their comprehensive grasp of rhetorical
denunciation, men who could besmirch an entire ancestry in a breath, and
then wither unborn generations without replenishing their lungs.

Nothing, however, that he had ever heard or imagined equalled what he
listened to that morning. He and the senior major stood spellbound
before the inspiration of meaning eloquence that flowed from the lips of
the unknown. In a way they were impressed. Such language in an N.C.O.
would have been reprehensible; but in a general officer it inspired the
respect of all ranks.

The sight of the chaos that he had engendered seemed to send Higgs mad
with fury. He foamed at the mouth, stamping up and down in short furious
strides, bellowing opinions and orders. He drew a vivid picture of what
the Huns could do with the 88th, and intimated that the devil would
finish what they had begun. He expressed his view of what would be the
fate in this world and the next of the officers responsible for a
battalion of bespattered pick-pockets and imperfect cab-touts. He was
frankly dubious as to the legitimacy of the C.O.; he foresaw a gigantic
court-martial for everybody; in fact, he foresaw many and terrible
things in the not very far-distant future, all of which suggested to his
mind one thing--the annihilation, body and soul, of the whole of that
"ruddy rabble of spavined, chicken-hearted sons of unmentionable
domestic quadrupeds."

All the time the band instrumentally called attention to the military
short comings of the 88th Londons. "I Ain't No Good as a Soldier," it
blared.

Suddenly Higgs fixed his eyes upon the rabble that had once been "D"
Company. Striding up to Ginger, he demanded:

"What the super-heated hereafter do you think you're doin', you
red-'eaded son of a sink-cleaner?"

Ginger regarded his superior with dropped jaw and glazed eye.

"I'm retiring eshelong," he mumbled uncertainly.

"Oh, you are, are you? Sure you ain't quick marchin', or chargin'?
You're absolutely certain," he continued with withering scorn, "that you
ain't a retreat, or a little bit of over-the-top, or a blarsted tank?"

Higgs paused as if to let Ginger absorb what he had said.

"I'll tell you what you are," he continued, with a flash of genius:
"you're a forlorn 'ope, that's what you are, and don't you forget it."

He turned on his heel and nearly ran into Nigger Alf, who, on one knee,
his rifle and bayonet at the guard, was gazing into space.

"Oh, it's you, is it?" he cried. "An' what the fermented 'ell might you
be tryin' to do?"

"Receive cavalry, sir," replied Nigger Alf, full of confidence in the
knowledge that, although alone, his position was correct.

Higgs regarded him with elaborate interest. "Well, when you're tired o'
proposin' to nobody, p'r'aps you'll take your blinkin' bayonet where it
won't take some defaulter in the rear, then you can 'ave a kip. It'll
'elp you to bear what's comin'."

Whilst "Major-General" Higgs was reducing the 88th Service Battalion
London Regiment to the semblance of a mass-meeting in Hyde Park, the
commander of "D" Company was engaged in conversation with the C.O. and
the adjutant as to the identity of the cause of all the chaos. The
senior major joined the group. Finally the C.O. strode up to Higgs.

"What is the meaning of this?" he demanded, now feeling sure that he
recognised Higgs.

"Gawd knows, I don't," responded Higgs. "Seem to 'ave gone mad, don't
they? Never see such a lot of dog-eared defaulters. This comes of--"

The C.O. was anxious not to make a blunder. He had heard of strange
cases of mistaken identity, and determined to be on the safe side.

"What I am asking," he said, quietly so that the men might not hear, "is
why you, Sergeant-Major Higgs, are masquerading as a general officer on
my parade-ground."

"I've been promoted," hectored Higgs, "for what I did at Loos," he
added, by way of explanation.

"Promoted!" echoed the C.O. in amazement. He was at loss. "You will come
with me to the Mess."

"I'll do no such damn thing," Higgs retorted.

"Then I shall put you under arrest. Sergeant-Major Higgs," he said, with
great dignity and restraint, "proceed to your quarters and consider
yourself under arrest for absenting yourself from parade without leave."

The officers gazed at Higgs with expressionless faces. The men stood
round as if at a football match.

"Me absent from parade without leave?" bawled Higgs. "Me absent when I'm
'ere?"

Higgs looked about him vaguely, then he caught sight of a grinning face
in the ranks. In an instant he saw red.

Dashing forward, he started hitting out right and left. As Nemesis would
have it, his opponents were "D" Company.

From where he stood the C.O. saw a mass of men seething and eddying like
a pond with a struggling fish in the centre. He saw that there was
nothing to be done, as "D" Company seemed to have the situation well in
hand.

"Stop that damned music," he cried to the adjutant, and the refrain of
the band ceased.

Half an hour later a very shamefaced battalion was hearing in tense
silence what its C.O. thought of it. The C.O. knew that he was wrong,
that he was unjust, but something must be said, and discipline had to be
restored. In the martial hearts of "D" Company there was a song of great
gladness. Nigger Alf moved his jaw happily from side to side to remind
himself of the blow he had received, and Ginger took pleasure in the
knowledge that, like Polyphemus, he saw the world with a single eye.
Both recalled with joy that these defects were the receipts for what
they had lavished upon the person of Company Sergeant-Major Sidney
Higgs.


IV


Bindle was fetching the supper-beer from the Yellow Ostrich in the
manner he found most convenient--that is to say, a pint in the jug, and
a pint at the bar. He was engaged in conversation with the landlord upon
the price of beer in the near future, when the swing-doors were
partially pushed open and Ginger's head thrust through the aperture.
After glancing round, the head momentarily withdrew, the doors opened
wider, admitting the whole person of the lugubrious Ginger.

"Blessed if it ain't my little yellow-'ammer," cried Bindle with obvious
pleasure. Then, regarding with elaborate concern Ginger's blackened
optic, he shook his head despondently.

"You didn't get that little ornament a-fightin' for George Five an' the
twins, Ging," he said reproachfully. "Wot's 'appened?"

For a fleeting moment Ginger's face underwent a change. Not even those
most intimate with him could have said with any amount of certainty what
it actually betokened.

"'E give it me," he remarked as the landlord of the Yellow Ostrich
handed him a pint tankard of ale.

"Who's 'e, when 'e's got 'is right label?" enquired Bindle, curious as
to the note of satisfaction manifest in Ginger's voice.

"The 'major,' ole 'Iggs," replied Ginger, burying his face in the
tankard. "Gawd!" he burst out a moment later, "didn't we make a mess of
'im?"

In halting periods Ginger told of the rise and fall of Company
Sergeant-Major Higgs. Bindle listened with the keenest interest, with an
absent-mindedness that later entailed the carrying home empty of the
blue-and-white jug with its guardian red butterfly.

"An' wot 'appened after they tried to run 'im in?" he enquired eagerly
of Ginger.

"'E come for the lot of us," was the happy response.

"Wot d'you mean, Ging?" enquired Bindle.

"Come for the 'ole ruddy company," said Ginger, with grudging
admiration.

"An' wot 'appened?" queried Bindle.

"I got this." Ginger indicated his discoloured eye. "But," he added, as
if in extenuation of the fighting qualities of "D" Company, "there
wasn't much lef' of 'im when we'd finished."

"An' wot did they do to 'im, Ging?" enquired Bindle.

"Court-martial an' 'e'll be rejooced to the ranks." Ginger took another
pull at his tankard, and, with Ginger, to take a pull meant to empty it.
"I'd give a bob to know who done it," he remarked as he brushed the
moisture from his lips with the back of his hand.

"Done wot?" enquired Bindle innocently.

"Made 'im drunk an' dressed 'im up, an' did somethin' to 'im wot made
'im think 'e'd been made a general--'im!" Ginger snapped out the last
word with savage scorn.

"D'you think some cove in 'D' Company did it?" queried Bindle.

"No!" responded Ginger with conviction. "There was three of 'em. Think
o' wot them duds of 'is must 'a' cost," he added. "Torn to bits they was
too. When they put 'im on the stretcher 'e 'adn't only 'is boots an'
socks left."

"Don't that show you, Ging?" demanded Bindle. "There's only two kinds o'
soldiers: there's men and there's Germans; an' 'Iggs wasn't a man."

Bindle picked up the blue-and-white jug with the red butterfly on the
spout. "Well, I must be getting' 'ome," he said, "or who knows wot may
'ave 'appened to Mrs. B. an' the lodger?"

They pushed out of the swing-doors together.

"Well, so long, ole sport," said Bindle. "I s'pose you didn't get
anything as a souvenir?"

"No," grumbled Ginger regretfully, "but," he added, brightening, "Nigger
Alf's got a bit of is ear."



CHAPTER XIII - THE MUTINY OF THE SYBIL


PART I - JOSEPH BINDLE, STEWARD


I


"I'm fed up!" Guggers, so called from his inability to pronounce a "g"
without a preliminary "gu-gug," leaned his enormous frame back in one of
Dr. Dick Little's easy-chairs and sucked moodily at his pipe, a rich
juicy affair possessed of three distinct notes.

"But p'r'aps 'e really did all them things wot 'e talks about,"
suggested Bindle, with a light in his eye that contradicted the words
his lips uttered.

"True!" growled Guggers, "true! He couldn't stop a gug-gug-giddy
gug-gug-goat with a machine-gun. The club's damnable since the war, and
that blighter's everlasting stories of what a clever old bean he is--"
Guggers broke off and, in his anger, almost succeeded in extracting a
fourth note from his pipe; instead, he only succeeded in getting what he
called "juiced."

He had been narrating to Dick Little and Bindle how Montague Michael
Furzon had fallen upon the quiet of Gray's Club and devoured it. The
stories he told of incredible experiences with savages and ferocious
wild beasts in various quarters of the globe had reduced Guggers and
many other members of the club to a frenzy of despair.

"If it ain't a rude question, sir," said Bindle, "wot did Montague
Michael do in the war?"

"Do!" cried Guggers scornfully, "his laundress most likely. He was
private secretary to his uncle, old General Furzon. Gug-gug-grand old
boy; brave as a lion," he added.

"Funny 'e didn't sort o' think o' sendin' Montague Michael to the
trenches," mused Bindle as he lifted his tankard from the table.

"Family honour, and all that gug-gug-giddy rot," said Guggers, walking
over to the fireplace and knocking the ashes out of his pipe. "Knew his
man," he added by way of explanation.

"Why don't you give him the push from the club?" asked Dick Little.

Guggers shook a mournful head.

"Committee's never done such a thing. Nothing is ever done at Gray's
that hasn't been done somewhere in the gug-gug-gloomy past," he
explained. "That's why you can't get gug-gug-grape-fruit, although
barley water flows like petrol in an R.A.F. camp. Might as well be a lot
of gug-gug-gasping pussyfoots."

"Didn't it ought to be pussyfeet?" suggested Bindle, with a grin.

"You gug-gug-go to hell, J. B.!" was the uncompromising rejoinder.

"Wot about a little bit o' shakin' up for Montague Michael?" suggested
Bindle. "Same as wot we did to little Reggie at Oxford."

"No gug-gug-good," growled Guggers; "too fly, the cunning devil! We tried
it out in France; but it was a wash-out every time."

"Of course, tar is a bit expensive," murmured Bindle, "but my
brother-in-law, 'Earty, 'as started keepin' chickens, an' I might be
able to pinch a few feathers." He looked tentatively across at Guggers,
who shook a despondent head.

"No," he grumbled, "I'm off yachting. I can't stand London with Furzon
in it!"

For some time the three men smoked in silence, Bindle occasionally
refreshing himself from the tankard at his elbow.

Both Guggers and Dick Little had been demobilised; Dick Little returning
to his practice in Chelsea; Guggers to the 20,000 pounds a year that
required spending.

Guggers was not himself. The fashionable unrest seemed to have descended
upon him. Ever since he had entered Dick Little's flat, some two hours
previously, he had been complaining. His customary cheery optimism had
apparently forsaken him. Nothing was as he had left it in that fatal
August 1914. The club cooking was uneatable, the club wine undrinkable,
and the club bores unspeakable. The prince of these inflictions appeared
to be Montague Michael Furzon, whose insufferable habit of bragging had
aroused the usually even-tempered and tolerant Guggers to a frenzy of
wrath.

"Wot about takin' 'im for an 'oliday in your yacht, sir?" queried Bindle
at length.

"Gug-gug-good Lord, J. B., you're drunk!"

Guggers gazed at Bindle as if he had been guilty of suggesting that
Guggers should take with him the Nelson Column, or the Hippodrome
chorus. Bindle merely grinned and continued smoking.

"What's in your head, J. B.?" asked Dick Little, looking at Bindle
curiously.

"Well, sir," said Bindle quietly, "I 'ave always wanted to go yachtin'
myself, ever since I see them coloured lights on the Big Wheel at Earl's
Court a-tellin' us we 'adn't won the American Cup."

"Out with it," cried Guggers. "What's your game?"

"Well," continued Bindle, as he proceeded to fill his pipe from Dick
Little's tobacco-jar, "I might offer to go as stooard: 'im wot 'ands
round the basins when it's rough," he added by way of explanation.

"Yes, but what the blazes--?" began Guggers, the light of hope springing
into his eyes.

"Well, somethink might 'appen, sir," said Bindle nonchalantly. "You
never can tell 'ow things is goin' to turn out, and I been feelin' a bit
pale lately for want of a whiff o' the briny."

Slowly Guggers raised his huge frame from the chair and, picking up the
poker, stood over Bindle like the figure of Destiny.

"Gug-gug-get it off your chest, J. B.," he said, "or I'll--"

"Kamerad!" cried Bindle, holding up his hands.

Guggers replaced the poker and resumed his seat.

"Well," said Bindle, gazing across at Guggers over the flame of the
match with which he had just lighted his pipe, "there might be a
mutiny."

"A mutiny!" repeated Dick Little uncomprehendingly.

"Young Alf down at the yard the other day give me a little thing wot 'e
'ad been readin' to 'elp 'im to get 'ung sooner than wot 'e would. It
was called 'Black-Beard; or the Pirate's Oath'--all about a mutiny, an'
blood an' walkin' the plank, an' little things like that. Pleasant sort
o' readin' it was too; made me feel--"

"But what's that gug-gug-got to do with Furzon?" demanded Guggers
impatiently.

"Well, you see, sir, the crew of your little boat might turn pirates and
make you an' all the others walk the 'Ere--wot the 'ell?" he broke off.

With a bound Guggers had started up and, seizing Bindle in his arms as
though he had been a dog or a kitten, was waltzing with him round Dick
Little's room to the tune of "You Made Me Love You," shouted at the top
of his voice.

"You're wot I calls a bit 'asty, sir," said Bindle, when he had been
replaced in his chair by Guggers at the end of the dance. "When there's
any 'uggin' to be done I likes to 'ave a 'and in it myself; and," he
added, looking up at the gigantic Guggers, "you wouldn't be my fancy;
speakin' without 'eat, that is," and he proceeded with great care and
deliberation to feel himself all over to ascertain that no bones were
broken.

When his first enthusiasm had abated, Guggers objected that he could not
ask a man on board his yacht in order to rag him; but Dick Little had
overcome this by suggesting that several other fellows might be invited,
without being taken into their host's confidence, so that instead of a
rag the episode would appear in the light of a huge practical joke.

For the next hour they debated the details of the scheme. Guggers's
despondency had fallen from him like a mantle. Time after time he
proclaimed Bindle "a gug-gug-gallant fellow," whom it was a privilege to
know.

When all the details were settled, Bindle rose and announced that he
must return to "'ome an' beauty." As he reached the door he turned to
the others.

"'Ere, I was almost forgettin' to ask," he said, "wot is walkin' the
plank?"


II


Montague Michael Furzon was not popular. By virtue of an affected voice,
a thick skin, an intolerable manner, and a patch-and-powder stare, he
had to some extent impressed himself upon his contemporaries. At Oxford
he had been one of a small and exclusive coterie, known as the "Blood
and Bullion" set, to which birth and riches were the Open Sesame. Birth,
however, to a large extent held aloof, whereas, on the other hand,
riches saw in Montague Michael Furzon a golden key to the realms they
sought to enter.

One night at Bungems, famous for its bump-suppers, a wag had risen to
say grace and, amidst the hush at so unexpected a prelude to the
festivities, had offered up thanks in doggerel that ran:

We thank the goodness and the grace

That sends to this our dining-place

Friend Montague Michael Furzon,

A most superior person.

From that moment Furzon had been known as the "most superior person."

His manner towards his social inferiors was one of supercilious disdain,
to which Nature had connived by endowing him with a narrow head and a
generally peevish expression to his pinched and sallow features. He was
twenty-nine, a bachelor, placed women somewhere between an internal
chill and an ill-laundered shirt, and possessed an unbounded confidence
in himself.

"'E must make the Kayser feel an' also ran," was Bindle's summing up at
the first sight of Montague Michael Furzon.

To ensure Furzon's acceptance of his invitation, Guggers had prefaced it
with a casual remark to the effect that Lord Ralph Wilmer and Lord
Windover were coming, and furthermore that it was to be a stag party.
Furzon had gobbled the bait, and it was arranged that the guests should
be on board the following Thursday afternoon.

Bindle and Dick Little travelled down to Southampton on the Wednesday,
"jest to count the basins," as Bindle expressed it.

Bindle was strangely silent as they were being rowed out to where the
Sybil was lying, looking dazzling white in the sunshine. He was drinking
in the scene--the dancing water, the salt-scented air, the boats and
launches hurrying hither and thither. It was all new and strange.

"Chaps like us misses a rare lot," he said at length a little wistfully,
Dick Little thought.

"As how?" he enquired.

"Well, look at all this 'ere," and he waved a comprehensive arm to
include everything. "Think of all the coves wot turn up their toes
without ever seem' it. It don't seem right some'ow," he concluded.

"You're becoming Bolshevist," laughed Dick Little, and strangely enough
there was no reply.

As the boat neared the Sybil, the sight of Guggers seemed to bring
Bindle back to realities, and he waved his cap in acknowledgment of the
hail that came across to them against the breeze.

"Well, 'ere's for life on the ocean wave with the 'elp of a basin," he
remarked, as he reached, the deck and, a moment later, was being
tortured by the sincerity of Guggers's welcome.

"Next time it'll do if you saloots me," he remarked ruefully, moving the
fingers of his right hand as if to make sure that none were broken. "You
forgets sometimes, sir," he added, "that I earns my bread with 'onest
sweat, an' a cove can't sweat if 'is fingers is squeeged to a jelly."

Guggers laughed and turned to greet Dick Little, whilst Bindle gazed
about him curiously.

The Sybil carried her 800 tons as if they were nothing to her. She was
as slim as a greyhound and as spotless as if just unwrapped from
tissue-paper.

"Mrs. B. ought to see this 'ere," Bindle muttered, as he gazed from the
flashing metalwork down to white decks. "Don't seem as if you ought to
walk on 'em."

"Hullo, J. B.!" cried Guggers, breaking in upon his thoughts, "feeling
sea-sick?"

"Well, sir, I was sort of wonderin' where I'd find them basins."

"Ha, McMurdo, here you are," as a short heavily built man in duck
trousers and blue jacket with brass buttons appeared. "This is my
gug-gug-great friend Bindle. He's gug-gug-going to be steward.
Gug-gug-great Scott! don't do that," he cried, as Bindle extended a
friendly hand.

"Don't do wot?" enquired Bindle in surprise, and allowing his hand to
drop.

"Stewards don't shake hands with the captain," said Guggers with a
genial grin.

Bindle surveyed Captain McMurdo with interest and elaboration.

"An' me thinkin' it was Lipton," he said in a hoarse whisper to Dick
Little. "'Im wot my missis buys tea orf. It was them white pants wot
done it." To the captain he said, as if by way of apology, "No 'arm
done, I 'opes?"

Seeing the angry flush that suffused the Scotsman's face and neck,
forming a vivid background for a veritable constellation of freckles,
Guggers proceeded to introduce Dick Little, and a moment later Bindle
was handed over to the chief steward, with instructions from Guggers
that he was to be tenderly cared for.

Having shown Dick Little to his cabin, Guggers returned on deck, where
he joined Captain McMurdo in his endless pacing to and fro.

From the first the skipper had disapproved of the whole scheme of the
mock mutiny, and with unaccustomed loquacity.

"I'm not liking it, sir," he murmured, as Guggers joined him in his
pacing. "There's ma certeeficate to be conseedered."

"Gug-gug-go to blazes!" cried Guggers genially.

"Ah'm here in the capaceety of--"

"Rats!" was the retort, and the skipper subsided, as he had subsided on
previous occasions; but it was obvious that his natural Scots caution
was troubled by a proposal deliberately to foment even a mock mutiny on
a British ship.

With the exception of the captain, the whole of the Sybil's personnel
had acclaimed the project with enthusiasm. Officers and men alike were
devoted to Guggers (known to the Income Tax assessors as John Parsons
Arkshaw).

The whole affair had been planned with care and an eye to picturesque
detail. The chief engineer had spent a whole night in inventing and
perfecting a contrivance that presented a very fair resemblance to a
shark's fin, propelled through the water by a simple device of which a
rubber band and a propeller made out of a cigarette-tin were the chief
constituent parts.

"It's gug-gug-going to be the gug-gug-greatest show on earth," Guggers
cried enthusiastically that night at dinner.

In addition to Furzon there had been invited Jack Raynes, who had been
with Guggers in France Lord Ralph Wilmer, a son of the Duke of Essex,
late of the R.A.F.; and Lord Windover. It had been Guggers's wish that
Bindle should be a guest also; but he had declined resolutely, insisting
that he should be "Lord 'Igh 'Older of the Basin," as he expressed it.

Of the guests Dick Little alone was in the secret.

Next day was spent in perfecting their plans and trying the "shark's
fins." Everyone was elated. Bindle's reception for'ard had been
enthusiastic, and on his first evening he was unanimously elected to the
chair at the informal sing-song that had been arranged.

"Ain't 'e a one!" the bo'sun had remarked admiringly to the carpenter,
as Bindle resumed his seat after a few introductory remarks, and the
deafening applause that followed showed that the crew of the Sybil were
unanimous upon the subject of Joseph Bindle.

The next afternoon Bindle donned the blue and brass of stewardship, and
all on board awaited the ringing-up of the curtain upon the first act of
The Mutiny of the Sybil. They had not a care among them, except perhaps
the chief engineer, who was preoccupied with the subject of how his
mechanical fins would behave under the stress of drama.

When the cutter bringing the guests aboard was seen approaching, every
pair of eyes on the yacht was directed towards her. All were eager to
identify "Monty," as Montague Michael Furzon had been christened by the
crew.

"Well," remarked the bo'sun when he had gazed his fill at the
unprepossessing person of Montague Michael Furzon, "I'm prepared to own
it, I've seen prettier birds in shows."

And this seemed to be the general opinion on board the S.Y. Sybil.

Having welcomed his guests, Guggers led the way below, apologising for
not being able to accommodate their servants.

"Bindle will look after you and Little," he said to Furzon, "and my man,
Thomas, will see to you other fellows."

Furzon looked at Bindle as if he had been a dubious collar.

Bindle registered that look on the tablets of his memory.

"An' me in my blue duds and brass buttons, lookin' like a bloomin'
admiral," he muttered. "I shouldn't wonder," he continued, "if there
wasn't some little accidents with Mr. Monty Furzon. You never can tell,"
he soliloquised, "me bein' new to the job."

On entering his cabin, accompanied by Bindle, Furzon's eye was arrested
by the sight of two garish-looking basins resting on a chair beside his
cot. One was some six inches in diameter, whilst the other was more than
twice the size.

For some seconds Furzon gazed at their hideous pink and gold
ornamentation in wonder; then he turned to Bindle, interrogation in his
eye.

"I chose pretty-lookin' ones," Bindle explained. "Thought it 'ud sort o'
cheer you up, sir, when lookin' into 'em. The little 'un's jest for
ordinary days, an' the big 'un's for storms." Bindle smiled up
guilelessly at Furzon, as if entirely unconscious of the angry frown
that had settled upon his features.

"Take them away at once," he ordered, "and don't come back until it's
time to dress for dinner."

"Well, p'r'aps they are a bit in the way now," admitted Bindle
cheerfully, as he placed one basin within the other and picked them up;
"but you'll be glad of them later," he added optimistically.

"Damn fool!" muttered Furzon under his breath as the cabin door closed.

"First blood to J. B." murmured Bindle cheerfully as he carried the
basins towards the pantry.


III


That evening Furzon missed his servant.

"Have you ever acted as batman before?" he enquired as Bindle handed him
a pair of brown boots.

"As wot, sir?" enquired Bindle with a puzzled air.

"As batman, personal servant." Furzon gazed at him with his most
arrogant patch-and-powder stare.

"Well, sir, I can't say I 'ave," Bindle confessed, changing the boots to
his left hand to enable him to scratch his head with his right.

"If you had," was the retort, "you would know that brown boots are not
worn in the evening."

"Now, ain't that jest like me?" said Bindle with a good-humoured grin,
as he corrected his mistake.

"Can you shave?" demanded Furzon.

"Well, sir," said Bindle, rubbing a thumb and finger along a stubbly
chin, "I can sort of scrape orf the top layer."

Furzon shuddered.

"I mean, can you shave me?" he said. "My man always does so."

"Well," said Bindle dubiously, "if you're a sport, sir, an' don't mind
takin' risks, I'll 'ave a try but when it gets to a razor I ain't got a
wot you'd call a very steady 'and. Still, I'll get some alum and
stickin' plaster, although I 'ave 'eard that salt rubbed in is the best
thing. One cove I used to know always used salt and pepper, as if 'e was
a cut from the joint."

Furzon stared at Bindle as if not quite sure of his sanity. Bindle
looked back at him cheerfully, as though unconscious of having said
anything unusual.

"Here, tie this," Furzon said at length, holding out a black evening
tie.

"Wot about a ladder, or a pair of steps?" enquired Bindle, looking
dubiously from the tie up to Furzon's six feet of sallow slimness.

"I'll sit down." He did so but bounded up with a yell and an oath, a
large wooden bowl of bath-soap attached to his person. Bindle had taken
the precaution of warming it well at the galley-fire.

"Now, ain't that careless of me," he said, puttin' that there soap on
the chair? "Here, 'old up a minute, sir," he cried as the wooden bowl
fell to the cabin floor, leaving a large portion of its contents
attached to Furzon's evening trousers, and still connected to the bowl
by long sinuous threads. "'Arf a tick, and I'll nip out an' get
somethink to scrape it orf with."

"You damn fool!" Furzon managed to precipitate all the venom of his
nature into the exclamation.

At that moment there was a knock at the door.

"Come in," cried Bindle. Guggers slid back the door and stood on the
threshold.

"Everything all right, Furzon?" he enquired conventionally; then,
becoming conscious of the expression on his guest's face, he looked
interrogatingly at Bindle.

"We jest 'ad a little mis'ap, sir," explained Bindle. "Sat in the soap,
'e did. My fault for puttin' it there," he added.

"Sat in the what?"

"This 'ere," said Bindle, taking up the large wooden bowl to which still
adhered such portion of the soap as was not attached to Furzon. "I'm
jest goin' to scrape 'im. Now, sir, if you turn round an' stoop down,"
he said, addressing Furzon. "You don't 'appen to 'ave--" Bindle looked
in surprise at the doorway. Guggers had disappeared, and from without
could be heard the sound of a man gasping for breath.

"Here, get out, you damned fool! Clear out of this place! Furzon took a
step towards Bindle, who, however, had already gained the door. Just
before he slid it to he put his head into the cabin.

"Better not sit down, sir," and with that he closed the door quickly.

Guggers apologised to Furzon for Bindle's stupidity and promised that
his own man, Thomas, should in future look after him. Dinner passed off
successfully, and by the time they went on deck to watch the faint line
that was England fading away in the grey dusk, Furzon had entirely
regained his normal pose.

In the afternoon of the following day there occurred an incident that
caused Furzon some uneasiness of mind. Guggers was standing amidships
when suddenly he turned and gave an order to one of the crew. The man
insolently refused obedience, whereupon Guggers knocked him down. Two
other members of the crew rushed to their messmate's assistance; but the
chief officer, revolver in hand, had dashed forward and threatened to
shoot the first man that moved. The three men were subsequently put in
irons by the captain's orders.

From the upper deck the little group of guests had watched the scene in
amazement. Windover looked curiously at Dick Little, who, however, was
busily occupied in filling his pipe.

"Well, I'm damned!" said Raynes, looking from Furzon to Wilmer. "What
the deuce is up with old Guggers?"

"Seems a bit high-handed--what!" said Wilmer.

At dinner Guggers treated the whole affair as an isolated instance of
insubordination, explaining that he had been forced to take on a number
of new men at Southampton.

"It's the gug-gug-giddy war," he remarked lightly. "Jack thinks he's as
gug-gug-good as his master; but he'll soon find out he's wrong," he
added grimly.

"Seems to have struck a yellow streak," muttered Raynes to Furzon.

"But I say, old man, isn't it a bit er--?

"A bit what, Wilmer?" enquired Guggers coldly.

"Er--nothing. I'm just a land-lubber, you know, and it seemed--" Again
he broke off.

"If there's any trouble, you fellows had better make for the
chart-house," Guggers remarked casually. "You'll find a gug-gug-good
supply of arms there."

"Do you think there is likely to be trouble?" Furzon enquired a little
apprehensively.

Guggers shrugged his shoulders indifferently. Windover said nothing, but
looked curiously at Guggers, and from him to Bindle, who was with
difficulty learning how to place a plate before a guest without tilting
its contents on to the table.

That night Furzon, Raynes, and Wilmer sat for some time on deck
discussing in undertones the curious happenings of the day. Raynes and
Wilmer were puzzled, Furzon was obviously extremely uneasy.

The next morning at breakfast there was another unpleasant incident. In
handing a dish of sausages and bacon to Furzon, Bindle accidentally
tilted it and deposited the contents upon a pair of white flannels,
perfect in purity and fit.

Furzon had limited his protests to looks; but an ungovernable rage
seemed suddenly to overtake Guggers. Having cursed Bindle, as few men
outside a squad of recruits have ever been cursed, he ordered him
for'ard. Muttering to himself and with the nearest thing to a scowl that
he could manage, Bindle obeyed.

Windover screwed his glass into his eye, and looked occasionally at Dick
Little, who, however, gave no sign. The meal was concluded in silence.
All were conscious of the atmosphere of constraint that had settled upon
them. Captain McMurdo was gloomy and silent, and the others limited
their attention to the business in hand, eating.

Soon after Bindle had taken his departure the chief engineer entered,
and, going up to the captain, whispered to him. Captain McMurdo turned
to Guggers and said something in a voice too low for anyone to hear.

"Gug-gug-give them five minutes to return to duty," said Guggers
shortly; "if they refuse, wireless to the nearest warship."

"The wireless is out of commission, sir," said the chief engineer.
"Crane thinks the aerials have been tampered with."

Guggers jumped up, and, followed by the captain, left the cabin. A few
minutes later the sound of a scuffle was heard on deck--then silence.

Those in the cabin looked from one to another a little anxiously, all
except Dick Little and Windover, the last-named appearing absorbed in a
cigarette.

"I don't like this at all," said Furzon in a complaining voice.
"It's--it's--" He paused, and looked across at Wilmer.

"Most confoundedly awkward--what!" said Wilmer. "Wireless jammed too."

"Damned unpleasant," muttered Raynes.

"Looks as if we might have our throats cut before morning," said Dick
Little. "I--"

He stopped suddenly as Guggers entered the cabin, an unaccustomed scowl
upon his countenance.

"I say," began Furzon; but at a savage glance from Guggers he subsided.

"Now then, come along, you fellows," he said, "let's get a breather.
It's as hot as hell down here," and he led the way on deck.

Furzon made a bee-line for Captain McMurdo, and enquired if he did not
think it advisable to make for some port where assistance would be
available if required.

"I'm no the owner, Mester Furzon," was the response, whereat Furzon had
flushed angrily as the captain turned on his heel and calmly walked
away.

"I'm damned if I like the look of things," said Raynes, a cheery,
bald-headed boy, with blue eyes and a chin that failed. "Still, if
there's going to be a scrap, well, here's for it," and he drew a
cigarette-case from his pocket with a flourish as if it had been some
lethal weapon.

"I think that Arkshaw's rather high-handed methods are aggravating
things," said Furzon, declining the cigarette that Raynes proffered him
on the score of its being American.

"And you a Divine Righter," murmured Windover with a smile.

"Oh! Furzon's turned Bolshevist," grinned Wilmer, a man with a
bullet-shaped head with wits to match.

At that moment the chief engineer rushed out from the engine-room
hatchway and made for the bridge, to which the captain had retired and
was standing in conversation with the chief officer. A moment later
McMurdo, an automatic pistol in his hand, made his way towards the
engine-room.

Furzon, Raynes, and Wilmer exchanged anxious glances. Dick Little and
Windover were discussing the Beckett-Carpentier fight. "Where's
McMurdo?" demanded Guggers, coming out of the chart-house.

"He's just gone into the engine-room with the chief engineer," said
Raynes.

"He had a pistol with him," volunteered Furzon.

"It looks like trouble," added Wilmer.

"I say, Arkshaw, is there--er--er--any danger?" said Furzon.

"There will be for some of those swinehund," said Guggers grimly over
his shoulder as he, too, walked towards the engine-room hatchway.

Five minutes later Guggers reappeared, followed by the captain.

"Where's that scoundrel, Bindle?" roared Guggers. "Send him aft. He's at
the bottom of all the trouble."

"Pass the word for'ard for Bindle to come aft," ordered the captain. The
men were clustered in small groups about the fo'c'sle, talking together
in low voices; but no effort was made to pass the word for Bindle.

"This is rank mutiny," said Guggers, turning to the captain.

"I'm no likin' it at all, sir," said McMurdo, with gloomy sincerity.

A few minutes later Bindle appeared up the fo'c'sle hatchway; but he
made no move to come aft, and Guggers returned to his guests.

The rest of the day passed without unusual incident. The stokers, it
appeared, had downed shovels, refusing to work unless the men in irons
were released, and only the persuasive eloquence of the chief engineer,
assisted by the captain's automatic pistol, had persuaded them to resume
their duties.

Furzon had suggested that under the circumstances perhaps it might be
better to terminate the cruise and put them ashore, but Guggers ignored
the remark. Apparently he had not heard.

"It's strange that Bindle should be mixed up in a mutiny," said Windover
that evening to Dick Little, as he knocked the ashes out of his pipe
preparatory to turning in.

"It is," said Dick Little dryly.

"Looks as if there's going to be trouble," remarked Windover.

"It does," said Dick Little.


IV


How long he had been asleep, Furzon did not know, but suddenly he found
himself wide awake with pandemonium taking place about him. Overhead
there was a rushing of feet, pistol-shots stabbed the air; there was the
roar of escaping steam, and, almost before he realised what was
happening, his cabin door was torn open and men streamed in, with Bindle
at their head.

"Come along; 'op out," he ordered, presenting a pistol within a few
inches of Furzon's cheek.

At the sight of the pistol Furzon recoiled violently and bumped his head
against the panelling.

"Come on; out with 'im," roared Bindle, and the slim form of Montague
Michael Furzon, in silk pyjamas of alternate broad stripes of pale green
and white, was torn from beneath the coverlet, and stood upright.

"My God!" he muttered through lips that were grey and trembling.


PART II - JOSEPH BINDLE, PIRATE


I


Furzon stared about him with a dazed and stupid expression. He blinked
his eyes and looked from one man to another. Finally his gaze rested
upon Bindle, whose head was bound with a red silk handkerchief, whilst
his left eye was obscured by a black patch. Round his waist was a broad
leathern belt, with a brass buckle that would have been the envy of any
swashbuckler of the Spanish Main. Into this belt were thrust a veritable
arsenal of knives and pistols.

Although less heavily encrusted with weapons, Bindle's companions
presented an equally savage and cut-throat appearance. One man's head
was tied up with a blood-stained rag, another had his hand wound round
with a field-dressing, whilst the fair hair of a third was matted
together with an ugly black-looking stain like congealed blood.

Furzon shuddered, and something like a sob involuntarily broke from him.

"Now then," cried Bindle, drawing from his belt a long knife that caused
his victim to wince, "get 'im upstairs, an' mind 'e don't give you the
slip."

At that moment unearthly howls and screams drifted down from the upper
deck, followed a moment later by a splash and a pistol-shot. Furzon's
lips moved, and he swallowed with a gulping sound that to him sounded
like the report of a gun.

"That's one of the ruddy swine," growled a man in a red shirt and a hard
hat, beneath which showed the edge of an orange handkerchief binding his
head. "Silly sort o' game I call it. Gi'e me the knife every time."

"Personally, myself," said Bindle, "I likes to see 'em walkin' the
plank. It's funnier. 'Ere, 'oof on, Monty."

Furzon hesitated, glancing over his shoulder as if he saw in the cabin
his one chance of safety.

"'Ere, prod 'im behind with that knife," cried the man grasping Furzon's
right arm. "Make 'im 'op."

Bindle dropped behind but Furzon started forward desperately, dragging
his captors with him. As he passed into the saloon he started back in
horror. There, doubled up, apparently as he had fallen, lay a man with a
dark stain oozing from beneath him. Furzon could not see who it was. A
touch from Bindle's knife caused him to bound forward towards the
companion-way and finally on to the upper deck.

Here a ghastly scene presented itself. The body of the captain lay half
in, half out of the chart-house, whilst a few yards away the chief
engineer, an automatic pistol in his hand, was writhing in agony. The
second officer lay doubled up, but still breathing, his face
unrecognisable from the blood with which it was covered. Several
members of the crew were sitting or lying about, obviously wounded, and
the deck seemed to be literally running with blood.

Furzon blinked his eyes and gazed about him. The sea was very still, and
the Sybil lay motionless, a film of steam escaping from the side of her
funnel. The sun was just tipping the horizon, flushing the sky and sea
with pink. A faint breeze rippled the water fitfully, whilst gulls flew
lazily overhead, or bobbed about on the surface. From somewhere came a
curious clicking sound.

Automatically Furzon's brain seemed to register all these things.

The party passed round the deck-house to the port quarter. Furzon halted
mechanically. There before him was a long plank balanced upon the
bulwarks, to which it was lashed in such a way that one end overhung the
water.

In a flash he realised its sinister meaning.

Grouped at the head of the plank he saw Guggers, Raynes, Wilmer,
Windover, Dick Little, the first officer and the second engineer, all
with their hands bound behind them. With the exception of the two
officers, all were in pyjamas, some showing obvious signs of a struggle.
Raynes was scarcely decent, whilst Dick Little seemed to have lost a lot
of blood, to judge from the state of his clothing.

Furzon gave an agonised glance at Guggers, who, however, took no notice
of his presence. His face was hard and set. He, too, showed signs of a
struggle.

In the scuppers a huddled mass moved and a face appeared, ghastly in its
death-like pallor. A figure raised itself upon an elbow, then with a
groan collapsed again into a meaningless mass.

Behind the prisoners was grouped the greater part of the crew, many of
them showing evidences of battle. One man had his arm in a sling,
another a trouser-leg cut off at the knee and in its place a
blood-stained bandage. All were armed with pistols, whilst
vicious-looking knives, suggestive of the cook's galley, were thrust in
their belts. Several of the stokers were naked to the waist, their moist
and coal-smeared skins glistening in the morning sun.

"Now then, get on with it," cried the bos'n. "I'm as 'ungry as 'ell, and
I smell rations."

"Well, since we're all 'ere an' there ain't none missin'," said Bindle
genially, "let's proceed."

As he spoke he drew a wicked-looking automatic pistol from his belt.

"Who's for lead an' who's for water? He turned enquiringly to the group
of guests and ship's officers.

"Gug-gug-go to hell!" growled Guggers, his eyes staring straight in
front of him.

Bindle turned to Furzon, who was making gallant efforts to keep his
lower jaw still. Bindle eyed Guggers deliberately.

"You want to be shot, or would you like to do an 'igh dive?" he enquired
cheerily.

"A shark! a shark!" yelled a man standing by the rail, pointing
excitedly to the water.

A sinister black triangle was to be seen moving steadily from the Sybil
in the direction of the rising sun.

"There's another!" yelled the bos'n, pointing to a second black fin on
the port bow.

Several of the men strolled over to the side, and stood leaning against
the rail, gazing with interest at the black objects.

"Somebody else wants their breakfast as well as me," said the bos'n
casually. "All right, johnnies," he added, addressing the black
triangles, "we ain't a-goin' to keep you long."

Bindle turned once more to Furzon, whose face was grey, and his lower
jaw quivering.

"Will anyone give me a cigarette?" It was Windover who spoke. His
habitual calmness had not forsaken him. From the moment of the first
alarm he had been unmoved by the course of events. "My case is here,"
and he nodded his head in the direction of the breast-pocket of his
pyjamas.

A man stepped forward and, taking out the case, opened it and placed a
cigarette between Windover's lips, helping himself to one at the same
time. He then placed the case in his own pocket and, striking a match,
lighted both cigarettes.

"Thanks," said Windover, "that's awfully kind of you."

"Here, come on, get on with it," shouted the bos'n. "I'm hungry and--"

"Now, look 'ere, ole sport," interrupted Bindle, "I'm runnin' this 'ere
little show, an' if you ain't got a fancy for the 'igh divin' business
yourself, you'd better keep that little bit o pink gristle between them
ugly teeth o' yours."

"Well, get on with it," murmured several of the men; and one of them
discharged his pistol just behind Furzon's head, causing him to start
forward and very nearly bring his captors to the deck.

"Now then," cried Bindle in a business-like way, "owner first. Lead or
water for you, sir?" he demanded, turning to Guggers.

"You damn scoundrels!" Guggers ground out between his clenched teeth.
"You'll hang for this--everyone of you."

"Right-o!" said Bindle cheerfully; "water it is"; and Guggers moved
towards the head of the plank.

"Let 'im go, boys," he cried as Guggers began to walk along the plank,
which sagged beneath his weight. "If e' comes any of 'is tricks, shoot
away."

Very calmly and deliberately Guggers walked the plank. When he reached
the point at which it was bound to the bulwarks he paused, and, turning
his head, said over his shoulder, "You'll hang for this--everyone of you
"; then he took two or three quick steps forward and, almost before
anyone knew what was happening, the end of the plank tilted and he
disappeared. A second later a tremendous splash announced that he had
reached the water. Those who were near the side gazed down excitedly.
Presently there was a yell of, "They've got him!"; and Furzon's heart
grew sick within him.

"Now then, next!" cried Bindle, and Dick Little stepped to the head of
the plank and, with a quick run, dived off the bulwarks. In doing so he
raised his hands above his head.

"Look, 'e's broken loose!" yelled Bindle. "Pot 'im, boys." There was a
spatter of pistol-shots.

"All right, sharkie!" yelled somebody. "There's more coming!"

"Next!" cried Bindle, turning to the group of victims. "Wot about you?"
he queried, pointing to Furzon with his automatic.

For a moment Furzon gazed about him as if seeking for help, then, with a
wild scream of terror, he burst from his captors and dashed past Bindle
towards the chart-house, then, doubling suddenly, he tore for'ard, the
whole of the mutineers in full cry after him.

Pandemonium broke out. Yells, cries, and exhortations were heard on
every side, above which could be distinguished the screams of Furzon.
Then, as if by magic, a death-like silence fell over the Sybil. The
prisoners looked at each other in surprise.

"What the devil?" cried Raynes, who was looking very pale but
determined.

"In all probability it's the triumph of law and order," remarked
Windover, as with his tongue he strove to detach the end of his still
burning cigarette from his lower lip.

Just as he had reached the steps leading to the fo'c'sle, Furzon's legs
seemed to sag beneath him, and he crumpled up on the deck. He had
fainted.

The men clustered round the inert form, nonplussed at the turn events
had taken, and feeling a little self-conscious.

"Fainted, ain't he?" queried a particularly ill-favoured ruffian of the
bos'n.

"Fainted!" repeated the bos'n, regarding the man with withering scorn.

"Course not. What made you think that? 'E's only jazzing "; and with
that he turned his back.

For a moment Bindle hesitated. Then, quick as a flash, he cried in a
hoarse whisper:

"'Ere, get 'im back to 'is bunk an' clear up all this mess."

Two men picked up the inert form of Furzon and made for the
companion-way. As they reached the saloon they saw the dripping form of
Dick Little pass into his cabin.

Quickly Furzon was put into his bunk and covered with the bedclothes.
The door was then closed and the men rushed back on deck to help with
the swabbing. As soon as Furzon showed signs of returning consciousness,
Bindle left him and returned on deck.

The "dead" captain and the "dying" officers and men had come to life.
The bonds of the prisoners had been cut, and they were grouped round
Bindle, listening to his explanation of "'ow it 'appened."

"Now you all 'op it into bed again, an' when 'e comes round we'll tell
'im it was a dream." He proceeded to tear the red handkerchief from his
head and draw out the arsenal of weapons from his belt, which he placed
on the chartroom table. The chief engineer bolted down to the
engine-room. The chief officer took charge, and soon men were rushing
round with swab and bucket making things ship-shape. Within ten minutes,
the Sybil had once more resumed her course and her crew were busily
occupied in holy-stoning the decks, particularly certain portions where
dark red stains put up a good resistance.

"How was I to know he was gug-gug-going to turn out such an utter funk?"
demanded Guggers, his face appearing between the folds of the towel.
"Dick and I took the worst of it. Think of those gug-gug-ghastly
sharks," he grinned.

"By the way, what about the sharks? enquired Windover calmly.

"Baines's idea," said Guggers. "He's chief engineer, you know "; then he
explained the mechanism.

"I see," said Windover. "In the meantime one of your cut-throats has got
my cigarette-case," he remarked.

"What are you going to say to Furzon?" asked Raynes, just as Bindle,
stripped of his pirate war-paint, entered.

"We'll tell 'im it was all a dream," he said with a grin.

"Gug-gug-great idea," cried Guggers, making a dive at Bindle to embrace
him; but Bindle dodged and bolted up on deck.

"I'm going to have another sleep, what!" said Wilmer. "It's only three
o'clock."

Soon there was silence in the saloon and cabins of the Sybil.


II


Some five hours later Bindle proceeded to knock at the cabin doors of
the guests of the Sybil. He received various responses, varying from
Wilmer's grunt to Guggers's "Go to hell!" Furzon had been reserved for
the last call. Bindle had scarcely begun a tattoo with his knuckles upon
the woodenpanel of his door when there was a loud report, and a bullet
whizzed past his head.

"'Ere, wot the 'ell?" he cried, starting back and dodging out of range.

A moment later there was a noise of cabin doors being pulled back, and
soon Guggers, Wilmer, Raynes, Windover, and Dick Little, together with
Thomas, were clustered round Bindle, demanding to know what had happened
and who had fired the shot.

"Shot me when I was takin 'im 'of water," complained Bindle. With a wink,
he added in a louder voice: "'E's done me in, sure enough."

Without a word, Guggers edged towards Furzon's door, taking care to keep
close up against the partition.

"What the deuce are you up to?" he shouted.

The reply was a second shot, and a moment later a voice from within the
cabin cried: "I'm armed, and I'll shoot anyone who comes near." The
threat tailed off into a high falsetto.

"What the devil's the matter with you, Furzon?" shouted Guggers. "Have
you gug-gug-gone mad?"

"If you come near, I'll shoot," screamed Furzon.

"He's gug-gug-gone out of his mind," said Guggers, turning to the
others; then once more addressing Furzon, he said: "If you don't stop
this fooling, I'll have the door broken in."

"Who's that speaking?" enquired Furzon.

"It's I, Arkshaw."

"He's dead!" was the retort. "They killed him this morning."

"Don't be a damn fool, Furzon," shouted Guggers. "Can't you recognise my
voice? Here, you chaps, speak to him," he said to the others.

In turn Raynes, Windover, Wilmer and Dick Little expostulated with
Furzon, who, under this mass of evidence, seemed to weaken.

"Here, Mac," cried Guggers, "speak to this damn fool in here. He's
trying to pot us all through the cabin door."

As he spoke Captain McMurdo descended the companion-way.

"Keep out of range," warned Guggers.

The captain skipped aside with remarkable agility.

"Mester Furzon," he said persuasively.

"Who's that?" cried Furzon.

"It's me, McMurdo; I'm no wishing to be onreasonable; but I'll no ha'e
promeescuous shooting on my vessel."

"He's killed one steward," said Dick Little loudly.

There was a sound of movement inside the cabin. Presently the door was
drawn a few inches aside, and a hand protruded, holding an automatic
pistol. Behind the pistol could be seen the terrified eyes of Furzon.

"Now then, Furzon," said Guggers, "don't be a gug-gug-giddy ass. Just
drop all this foolery and put that thing away. There's been trouble
enough already. You've killed one of my stewards."

"I'll kill anybody who comes near," announced Furzon.

"Maybe you'll no be onderstanding the reesk you're running, Mester
Furzon," said McMurdo; then to Guggers he added under his breath: "I'm
no liking this at all, sir. There's ma certeeficate."

Bindle had already collapsed upon the cabin floor, assuming an attitude
that he conceived to be suitable to one overtaken by a sudden and
violent death. Dick Little went over to him.

At the sight of Guggers and Dick Little the pistol dropped from Furzon's
shaking fingers.

During breakfast, at which he sat like a ghost at a feast, Furzon told
of the "mutiny," how he had been awakened by pistol-shots and the sound
of a scuffle. He told how men had trooped into his cabin, Bindle at
their head, had made him a prisoner and finally taken him on deck, where
he had found the others awaiting their fate.

He described in detail the positions occupied by the captain and the
other officers on the deck; how he had seen Guggers and Dick Little walk
the plank, and how they had been devoured by sharks. As he told of how
he had broken away from his captors there crept into his voice something
that reminded Guggers of his club stories of hairbreadth escapes. He
gave his hearers to understand that, single-handed, he had fought his
way through the whole crew, and had finally found himself back in his
cabin, where, securing a pistol he always carried, he had sat waiting to
be attacked.

"That was when you woke up, you gug-gug-giddy ass," Guggers broke in.

Furzon ignored the interruption, and continued to tell how for a short
time he had heard voices, which convinced him that an attack was being
planned; but these had died down and he heard nothing more until he was
awakened from a doze by someone knocking at his cabin door.

"And then you let fly, what!" said Wilmer, disgusted at the way in which
Furzon was endeavouring to depict himself a hero, even in what he must
now realise was only a dream.

"Well, if Bindle dies you'll gug-gug-get five years," said Guggers
cheerfully.

Furzon looked appealingly to Dick Little; but he made no sign.

After the meal Furzon went on deck and, going down on his hands and
knees, proceeded to examine various spots as if he had been a detective
in a novel.

"You've had a bad dream, Furzon," said Raynes.

"But what about Bindle?" enquired Windover.

"Can't we just drop his body overboard and say nothing about it, what?"
suggested Wilmer.

"I didn't hit him," protested Furzon. "I heard him speak."

"I hope they won't want me," said Windover to Guggers. "I hate
inquests."

"It's Furzon they'll want, what!" said Wilmer.

"I say, Arkshaw," began Furzon, "you're only--I didn't--"

"It's all right, sir, I always was pretty nippy on my feet."

Furzon turned as if someone had struck him, and stood looking down at
Bindle's genial grin.

"My God!" he murmured, as he wilted into a chair.

"'E's 'ad enough, sir," said Bindle to Guggers in a whisper. "It don't
seem fair to rub it in too much."

"Then--then I didn't hit you?" he stammered, looking up at Bindle as if
he had been a life-belt and Furzon in danger of drowning.

"It wasn't your fault," growled Guggers.

"No, sir," said Bindle cheerfully. "My missis used to practise on me
once with plates, an' I learned to dodge. She's dropped it now, it cost
too much, an' no 'its; but I ain't forgot 'ow to side-step when things
is coming my way."

"I think, Arkshaw," said Furzon, recovering his assurance, "that it was
extremely rotten of you to lead me to think I had--" He paused.

"Gug-gug-get out," laughed Guggers. "This isn't a ladies school.
Besides, it was as near a thing as Bindle is ever likely to have."

Furzon looked suspiciously at Guggers and then on to the others. He was
not yet satisfied about that "dream"; yet he was puzzled to account for
how he had come to be guarding his cabin door pistol in hand.


III


The Sybil was proceeding under easy steam in the direction of
Southampton Water. Furzon had announced that it was necessary for him to
be in town as soon as possible; but two days had elapsed. The owner of
the Sybil had his own reasons for delay.

The atmosphere had been constrained and Furzon seemed to have become
aware that he was not so popular as he might be with his fellow-guests,
this in spite of the fact that Guggers endeavoured to keep the
conversational ball tossing impartially.

That morning at breakfast Guggers had announced that he had a pleasant
little entertainment for the evening in the shape of a cinema show.

"Are we as dull as that?" enquired Windover.

"As dull as what?"

"That we require a cinema to entertain us.

"Wait and see," was Guggers's response.

"He's mistaken us for a Sunday-school treat, what!" remarked Wilmer with
a laugh.

Guggers picked up Wilmer as if he had been a cushion and, carrying him
to the side, held him over the water, threatening to drop him in if he
did not retract.

"Kamerad Kamerad!" cried Wilmer, and he was deposited once more on the
deck.

After dinner that evening a screen was fitted up in the saloon, and
Guggers made a preliminary speech in which he said that art had always
been to him mother and child. "Ars longa, vita brevis," he quoted, and
proceeded to exhort his guests never to hesitate to make sacrifices in
the interests of the sacred cause. She was the one mistress who never
failed and he would now leave her to speak for herself.

His hearers looked at one another as if hoping to find some explanation
of Guggers's words. Furzon was clearly ill-at-ease. He. glanced
apprehensively over his shoulder, as if to assure himself that retreat
was still open to him.

The lights were switched off, and immediately a white disc fluttered
upon the screen for a few seconds, then it resolved itself into a large
skull and cross-bones, and beneath the words, "The Mutiny of the Sybil."

Furzon started violently, half rose from his chair, but subsided. His
nerves were still a trifle ragged.

The screen began to show events of what to Furzon was to prove a
memorable morning. First were shown the various members of the crew
engaged in making up as pirates. Then the capture of the passengers; the
attack on the officers and the murder of the captain, Furzon coming on
deck, Guggers and Dick Little walking the plank and, finally, Furzon
escaping from his captors, the pursuit, his collapse in a faint, and his
being carried towards the saloon.

There followed the cleaning up of the decks, and later Furzon was shown
down on his hands and knees investigating. Everything was depicted with
damning faithfulness up to the point where Bindle appeared behind Furzon
just before he collapsed into a chair. Then came darkness, out of which
the voice of Guggers was heard.

"I must apologise to you fellows, Wilmer, Furzon, Raynes, and Windover,
for this little rag; but since the war life's been a bit dull, so
Little, Bindle, and I thought we'd pull your legs. It will be your turn
next. I confess I had not anticipated Furzon trying to pot J. B."

"I 'opes they'll show that film in Fulham," said Bindle in a loud
whisper from somewhere in the darkness.

"That's just what you would hope, you ruffian," cried Guggers. "In all
probability it won't be shown anywhere."

"How the devil did you manage the cinema?" asked Raynes of Guggers.

"Quite a brain-wave, what!" said Wilmer. Windover lighted another
cigarette and said nothing.

"He was fixed up in one of the boats. I was afraid you'd hear his old
machine," said Guggers with a happy grin.

"I s'pose I couldn't 'ave a photo of myself as a pirate?" said Bindle as
he came up behind Guggers's chair.

"You shall have one framed, you bloodthirsty old ruffian," cried
Guggers.

"You see, I've always 'eard that women is nuts on bloods, an' my little
bit of 'eaven in Fulham would sort of raise 'er eyebrows."

The next morning they landed at Southampton. It was a very chastened
Furzon that stepped ashore.

Subsequently at Gray's Club men marvelled at the change in Montague
Michael Furzon. The great hunter had vanished, the valiant pioneer was
no more, and all that was left was his six foot of thinness, with a
narrow, sleek head, a peevish expression and, occasionally, the
patch-and-powder stare, which never failed to vanish at the sight of
Guggers.

Windover, however, was busy planning a return event for Guggers, and
some day perhaps the story may be told.



CHAPTER XIV - MR. HEARTY LOSES HIS TROUSERS


I


"Well, 'Earty," remarked Bindle as he entered the Heartys' parlour and
winked at Mrs. Hearty, "so you got to be a soldier."

Mr. Hearty's eyes shifted nervously from Bindle's face and back again.

"I--I think it's scandalous," he protested in woolly but indignant
tones.

"Wot's scandalous?" enquired Bindle, seating himself, and, producing his
pipe, he proceeded to charge it with great deliberation.

"The raising of the military age," said Mr. Hearty with unwonted
decision. "How will they pay for the war?"

Bindle scratched his head meditatively. "I suppose they thought o' that
before they did it," he ventured tentatively. "Still, you might send 'em
a post card."

"What is to happen to my three shops if they take me?" demanded Mr.
Hearty.

"Well," remarked Bindle judicially, as he struck a match and sucked
contentedly at his pipe, "what would 'appen to your shops if the 'Uns
was to come, 'Earty? You'd never be able to speak German through them
whiskers o yours," and he shook his head with mournful conviction.

"I shall appeal," announced Mr. Hearty. "Besides," he continued, "I have
been far from well of late. I must have been over-working."

"Funny thing," remarked Bindle dryly, wot a lot o coves there is wot is
feelin' far from well just now. Sort o' took 'em all at once, it did.
Billy Stofton was askin' me to-day wot various veins is like and if you
can catch 'em. Seemed to sort o' want to rub 'is legs against mine in
the 'ope o' being able to get 'em."

"I'm flat-footed," announced Mr. Hearty, quite oblivious that Bindle had
made a remark.

"You don't say so," said Bindle with concern. "And my heart--" began
Mr. Hearty.

"Your 'eart's in the right place, 'Earty," interrupted Bindle. "I always
said that."

"Those medical examinations," said Mr. Hearty, "they're--they're
disgusting."

"They're wot?" enquired Bindle with interest.

"They're disgusting. Having to go before doctors with--with nothing on,"
said Mr. Hearty.

"But they ain't women doctors," said Bindle with a puzzled expression.

"Joseph, how can you?" said Mr. Hearty reproachfully, conscious that
Mrs. Hearty was wheezing and almost choking with laughter.

"It ain't disgustin' standin' up with nothink on before a man, 'Earty."

"It's not nice, it's most unpleasant," said Mr. Hearty with decision. "I
shall protest."

"Well, they might allow you to wear some beads, or a bunch o' lilies o'
the valley," said Bindle. "I 'ear that these 'ere medical chaps ain't so
bad."

"It's no joking matter, Joseph. It worries me--it worries me very much,"
Mr. Hearty added after a pause.

"But wot 'ave you got to be ashamed of in your own body, 'Earty. You
don't 'ave clothes on when you go in a bath, do you?"

"There's no one present, Joseph, and--and--"

"My, ain't we sensitive? You might be a young gal. Now, if you was like
Percy Baynes, I could understand it. Pore old Perce is that big in front
that 'e can't see 'is toes. 'E wouldn't know 'e 'ad 'em if it wasn't
that sometimes coves tread on 'em to sort o' remind 'im. Now, 'e would
be a pretty sight for the doctors."

"Joseph--I--I--think you are quite--quite coarse," protested Mr. Hearty.

"Well, well, 'Earty, all I 'opes is that we gets called up for the
examination together, then I'll stand by and tell 'em that you're sort
of sensitive, and perhaps they'll let you open an umbrella an' take it
in with you."

"I shall appeal," announced Mr. Hearty for the second time.

"It ain't no good, 'Earty, they ain't going to allow no appeals.
Everybody's got to go." "I'm sure to be Grade Three," said Mr. Hearty
faintly, as if endeavouring to convince himself.

"Not a bit of it, 'Earty; there ain't no Grade Three about you. You're
Grade One as sure as eggs. Everybody's going to be Grade One. We got to
win this 'ere war." Bindle was determined that Mr. Hearty should gather
no comfort from his words.

"I think it's an absolute scandal," cried Mr. Hearty, looking about him
like some hunted animal. "I shall write to the paper about it."

"I shouldn't," said Bindle. "Once you get into khaki with them whiskers,
you'll be able to 'ave the pick of all the girls on Putney 'Ill. A civvy
ain't got a ghost of a chance when there's khaki about."


II


"Well, I'm blowed," cried Bindle, "if this ain't jest IT."

Mrs. Bindle looked up from a piece of bread she was spreading with
margarine.

"What's the matter now?" she snapped.

"Blest if ole 'Earty 'asn't been called up at the same time as me for
medical examination. 'Old me, 'Orace!" he exclaimed. "That's going to be
an 'appy day."

"When is he called up?" enquired Mrs. Bindle anxiously.

"Oh, Lizzie, Lizzie, ain't you a fickle woman? 'Ere's yer lawful wedded
'usband a-goin' to lay down 'is life for 'is bloomin' country, and you
askin' when another cove's goin' to be called up. We're both going to
'ave our ribs punched and our chests tapped an' our tummies 'it on
Saturday at two o'clock at the White City," he added.

"I think it's a shame," announced Mrs. Bindle.

"What's a shame?" enquired Bindle.

"That Mr. Hearty should have to go. He's much more useful where he is."

"We got to win this 'ere little scrap, Mrs. B.," I announced Bindle,
"and it looks as if Llewellyn John don't see 'ow 'e's goin' to do it
without 'Earty, so 'Earty's got to go up, strip to the pink an' do a
little song an' dance before--"

"Don't be disgusting, Bindle," snapped Mrs. Bindle.

"'Earty with clothes on ain't a pleasant sight; but wot 'e must be with
'is clothes orf--well, you may search me," announced Bindle, grinning
happily at the prospect of what the following Saturday would hold for
him.

"What does Mr. Hearty say?" enquired Mrs. Bindle.

"'E jest wants to know if I'll take 'im by the 'and and lead 'im up,
undress 'im and dress 'im again, put on 'is pinny, and see that nobody
don't steal 'im."

"Are you going to?" enquired Mrs. Bindle sharply.

"Well, I suppose I must, Lizzie. You see, you don't know wot would
'appen to a cove like 'Earty if 'e was to lose his clothes, an' 'ave
nothink to come 'ome in except 'is umbrella, 'is top 'at, an' them
whiskers. Modest sort o' chap, 'Earty; makes 'im blush if you mention
legs, and as for--"

"Stop it, Bindle," cried Mrs. Bindle; "remember I am present."

"I ain't never likely to forget that, Mrs. B.," said Bindle with mock
mournfulness. "You're one o' those women wot stamps themselves on a
man's mind. You're a 'I-ain't-a-goin'-to-be-forgotten' sort o woman.
I'd never be able to take up with another gal. I'd be sure to bust out
a-cryin' when I thought o' you."

Bindle rose from the breakfast-table and, taking his cap from behind the
kitchen door, went out.

For the rest of the week Bindle hugged himself at the prospect of what
Saturday would produce. He foresaw possibilities as the result of Mr.
Hearty's extreme modesty. As for himself, he had little hope of passing
above Grade Three. "Various veins," he had remarked, "is 'ell when you
want to be a soldier."

At a quarter-past one on the following Saturday, Bindle presented
himself at Mr. Hearty's shop in the Fulham Road, and found Mr. Hearty
ready awaiting him.

"'Ullo, 'Earty!" he cried. "My, ain't we dressy?"

He surveyed Mr. Hearty with approval from the silk hat with the deep
black band down to the black trousers and the white semi-clerical tie of
nonconformity.

"Got an umbrella too, case it rains. They'll pass you Grade One on that
get-up, 'Earty, sure as sure; but," and he took a step backwards in
order to obtain a more comprehensive view of his brother-in-law, "it do
look like a funeral, 'Earty, strike me lavender if it don't."

"Hadn't we better be going, Joseph," said Mr. Hearty, deliberately
ignoring Bindle's pleasantries. I don't want to be late."

"Well, well, p'r'aps you're right. The sooner they sees you the 'appier
they'll be. 'Ullo, Martha!" he cried as Mrs. Hearty emerged from the
back-parlour, having heard Bindle's voice. "Good job it ain't you wot's
got to go an' be--"

"Joseph!" expostulated Mr. Hearty.

"All right, 'Earty, don't you worry. Martha. I ain't goin' to blush at
anythink I say--are you, Martha?"

But Mrs. Hearty was already reduced to wheezes of laughter, which had
caused her sudden subsidence upon a bag of potatoes.

On the tram, which was crowded, Bindle kept up a bright and cheerful
conversation upon the subject of medical examination, much to the
embarrassment of Mr. Hearty and the amusement of the other passengers.

"You do look like a funeral, 'Earty, you do really." Bindle turned and
surveyed Mr. Hearty again with great deliberation. "I wonder where
they'll send you--France, most likely; they're wantin' men there."

Mr. Hearty shuddered.

"When you comes back with the V.C., an' no legs, we'll 'ave a band, not
one of them 'ole-sale orders like when you started that new shop in
Putney but jest one simple sort o' band a-playin' 'ymns, with you
a-bowin' from the carriage, an' all the gals a-throwin' flowers and
kisses. My, wot a time it'll be, 'Earty. You won't mind then 'avin'
shown them legs o' yours and that manly breast."

"Joseph!" expostulated Mr. Hearty. "Joseph, don't, please."

By the time they arrived at Shepherd's Bush, Mr. Hearty had serious
doubts of the wisdom of inviting Bindle to accompany him to the White
City. When he left the tram it was to the accompaniment of nods and
significant winks, to which Bindle responded in kind.

"Thirty-three, Medical Board No. 6," announced the door-keeper at the
White City as he handed Bindle a ticket. "Round to the left, please."
"Thirty-four, Medical Board No. 6," he announced to Mr. Hearty. "Round
the corner to the left to the desk," he added.

Bindle walked on, Mr. Hearty following him, till he came to a table at
which four girls and two soldier clerks were seated.

Mr. Hearty blushed at the thought of women being associated with
anything so indelicate as a medical examination of men. In a vague way
he heard Bindle giving particulars to a bright-eyed dark girl, who was
filling in a buff-coloured paper. He wondered with horror to what
lengths of intimacy these particulars would extend. It was with a sense
of relief that he heard the girl direct Bindle to walk straight on to
the room on the left and take a seat until he was called.

The girl had elicited nothing but the most commonplace particulars as to
Bindle's address, age, employment, Christian names, etc.; still Mr.
Hearty felt that it was not conducive to modesty or morality that girls
should be employed in such an environment. He was interrupted in his
speculations as to the probable effect of such associations upon a young
and immature nature by the girl asking him his name, if his occupation
were still the same, and a few other perfectly decorous questions. Then
he in turn was told to pass along to the white rooms on the left, and
take a seat until he was called.

He found Bindle deep in conversation with a man whose diction was
elaborately decorated. In the course of five minutes Mr. Hearty heard
that the man had been in the ruddy navy, what he thought of stuttering
medical boards, what should be done to the pinkish Huns, how he had been
gassed in a blinkin' chemical factory explosion, with the result that a
pint of scarlet beer now reduced him to a state of the bejewelled
land-lubber in a choppy sea.

Mr. Hearty shuddered that such language could emanate from human lips.
Bindle, on the other hand, listened with interest, conscious that there
was no venom in the man, and that his language was merely the ordinary
everyday idiom he adopted.

"Board 6, Nos. 31, 32, 33, 34," called an attendant a few minutes later.

Mr. Hearty shivered and stood up, then sat down again.

"That's you an' me, 'Earty," announced Bindle, rising with alacrity and
walking towards the door of the building that had been indicated to him.

The attendant looked at their tickets, and in a business-like way bade
them follow him. Nos. 31 and 32 were duly stowed away in a small cubicle
about four feet wide and about six feet long, heavily whitewashed, with
one clothes-peg and a wooden seat at the end. The attendant turned his
attention to Mr. Hearty and Bindle and ushered them into a similar
cubicle, dropping the curtain behind them and telling them to get
undressed quickly. "Keep your coats on," he added. Mr. Hearty looked
about him with marked disapproval.

"Can we--must we--"

"Seems like it," said Bindle, beginning to unlace his boots.

"Er--er--perhaps you had better undress first, Joseph. I will turn my
back," said Hearty with great delicacy.

"Don't mind me, 'Earty. 'Ere, steady, ole sport; you're takin' all the
whitewash off the wall."

Mr. Hearty moved quickly away from the wall and screwed round to get a
view of himself behind. He had certainly removed a considerable portion
of the Government whitewash.

"Look 'ere, 'Earty, you'd better get them duds orf as quickly as you
can, otherwise they'll come for us, an' if you ain't ready, then they
put you down as Grade One without givin' you a chance." Bindle winked at
the clothes-peg on the wall.

"But--but--," protested Mr. Hearty.

"It ain't any good startin' buts on a job like this 'ere, 'Earty. You be
nice to them, an' they'll be nice to you; but if you gets
shirty--well--then you'll find yourself in Grade One a-'andling of a
rifle and bayonet before you know wot's 'appened."

Mr. Hearty removed his hat and hung it on the peg. He then placed his
umbrella in the corner.

"But--but we can't both undress together, Joseph," he protested. "It--"

"Very well, 'Earty," said Bindle, removing his collar and tie, "it's up
against you, not me. You an' me 'ave got to go in an' do a little dance
in front o' three or four gents wot'll tell us wot fine chaps we are.
Wot they'll do is to 'it you 'ard in the stummick, an' if you faints
you're Grade One; if you don't faint, they 'its you again, an' then when
you comes out of 'ospital you goes into the Volunteers."

Slowly Mr. Hearty removed his coat and waistcoat, delicately keeping his
eyes averted from Bindle.

"Thirty-one and thirty-two, Medical Board No. 6," called out the
attendant from without.

"Now then, 'Earty, 'urry up or you'll be late. It's us next."

"If--if you'll wait outside, Joseph, I'll--I'll soon be ready," said Mr.
Hearty, who had removed all his clothing with the exception of his shirt
and trousers. These he considered necessary for decency.

"Bashful as young gals used to be before the war," muttered Bindle to
the attendant with a wink as he lifted the curtain and passed out.

"The doctors are waiting," said the attendant.

"Right-o," replied Bindle, "we're worth waiting for, me an' 'Earty."

The attendant grinned good-humouredly.

"'Ere, come along, 'Earty, my legs is gettin' cold in this 'ere
draught," expostulated Bindle.

At that moment Mr. Hearty appeared at the door, his frock-coat buttoned
tightly across his chest, his legs and feet bare.

"Where's your 'at?" enquired Bindle.

"My hat?" said Mr. Hearty.

"You ain't goin' in there without your 'at, are you?" said Bindle,
pulling his cap from his pocket and putting it on his head.

Mr. Hearty darted back and assumed his top-hat. Bindle turned away
suddenly.

"Nos. 33 and 34, Medical Board No. 6," called the attendant from the
entrance to the room in which the Medical Board sat.

"Come along, 'Earty," expostulated Bindle, making for the doorway.

They passed into a room intersected by chest-high flimsy green screens.
As he entered the room Mr. Hearty stopped dead, and turned his head
aside. Before him he saw two men in a state of nature being examined by
doctors. He looked about him wildly, as if seeking for some means of
escape.

"This way, sir, please," said the attendant. "Will you sit down there?
The doctor will be free in a minute." He pointed to a chair within a few
feet of what looked like a living skeleton, who was having his legs
examined. An attendant whispered to Mr. Hearty to take his hat off,
which he did and held upon his knees.

The doctor, a good-humoured man whom weeks of medical examining had not
been able to sour, hid a smile. Bindle gazed round him with interest.

"Sort of White 'Ope, ain't 'e?" he whispered to the clerk seated at the
table, nodding his head in the direction of the living skeleton who was
having his legs examined. The clerk grinned, then, catching the doctor's
eye, looked reproachfully at Bindle.

"Wait till you see my brother-in-law," said Bindle, indicating Mr.
Hearty with a jerk of his thumb. "Regular 'Ackensmith, 'e is. There's
nothing in Fulham wot can stand against 'im in the ring. Ain't that so,
'Earty?"

"If you talk to my clerk," said the doctor good-humouredly, "he'll get
down the wrong figures, then perhaps somebody will be graded too high."

"You can't put me in too 'igh a grade, sir," said Bindle with a grin.
"You make a Grade One o' me an' I'll thank you for the rest of my life."

The doctor looked at Bindle as if in doubt as to his seriousness.

"Various veins in me legs," explained Bindle.

The doctor nodded.

"Will you sign your name here please?" said the clerk to Mr. Hearty, who
rose nervously and dropped his hat.

Mr. Hearty signed his name with shaking hand.

"Now take off your coat and put your hat down," said the attendant,
seeing that the doctor had just completed the examination of the living
skeleton.

"Not--not--" expostulated Mr. Hearty.

"Take your coat off, please," said the doctor.

"But--but--isn't it done in a private room?" stuttered Mr. Hearty.

"A private room," repeated the doctor, not understanding.

"'E's a bit shy, sir," explained Bindle, "sort o' blushes at the sight
of 'imself, 'e does; but 'e don't mean no 'arm."

"You'll be all right here," said the doctor kindly. "Now take off your
coat, please."

"But--but--the papers said that everybody turned their backs," said Mr.
Hearty.

"How the devil am I going to examine you if I turn my back?" said the
doctor with a comical expression of puzzlement.

"There--there are so many people," began Mr. Hearty.

"It's all right, 'Earty, they'll clap when they sees you. Come on, orf
with yer duds, don't keep the doctor waitin'. Besides, I got a little
thing in legs I want to show 'im wot'll make 'im sit up."

The chairman of the board at that moment came forward, and with a few
tactful words soothed Mr. Hearty. He signed to the clerk to turn his
back. Bindle put his hand across his eyes with the fingers wide apart.

"I ain't lookin', 'Earty," he said.

Mr. Hearty reluctantly removed his coat. Bindle whistled. "My! 'e ain't
much in 'is bath, is 'e? And you should jest see 'im eat too."

"You mustn't make remarks, please," said the doctor.

"Sorry, sir," said Bindle good-humouredly. "'E's my brother-in-law, and
if you can't talk about yer own brother-in-law, I wonder 'oo the Ethel
you can talk about."

"I'm--I'm not fit for military service," said Mr. Hearty nervously.

"Have you a medical certificate?" enquired the doctor.

"No," said Mr. Hearty. "I didn't bring any. I'm--I'm never really quite
well."

"What do you suffer from?" enquired the doctor.

"Funk mostly," volunteered Bindle, "when the raids are on."

The doctor turned and silenced him with a look.

"I--I think I have a weak heart," said Mr. Hearty. "I never was strong."

For the next few minutes the doctor devoted himself to Mr. Hearty's
heart.

"Have you anything else to complain of?" he asked patiently.

"I'm not a good walker," said Mr. Hearty. "I invariably take a bus."

"That's all right, 'Earty; there's a lot o' buses in France, all the way
to the trenches."

The doctor bent to examine Mr. Hearty's feet and legs.

"Will you kneel, please."

"'E can do that, sir, right enough; 'e's always prayin' is 'Earty, a
regular prayer 'og."

Mr. Hearty knelt swiftly.

"Now rise to your feet again," said the doctor.

Mr. Hearty did so awkwardly.

"Is there anything else?" enquired the doctor.

"I--I've got three businesses," said Mr. Hearty, "and--and I really
couldn't go to the war."

The doctor concluded the examination, with "Flattish feet, soft."

"Soft as soft, sir," said Bindle; "there ain't nothing softer in
Fulham."

"You really must not make remarks," said the doctor.

"But 'e's my own brother-in-law," expostulated Bindle, screwing up his
face comically.

"It doesn't matter," said the doctor.

"Now, if you'll sit over there the chairman will see you in two or three
minutes," said the doctor, motioning to Bindle to take Mr. Hearty's
place.

Mr. Hearty made a dive for his coat and proceeded to wrap it round him
with almost feverish energy. Then, taking his hat, he sat down with it
upon his knees.

The doctor made a sign to Bindle to remove his coat.

"You needn't mention anything about these 'ere various veins in my legs,
need you?" said Bindle.

"Not mention them?" asked the doctor.

"They got me into an 'ell of a mess. I tried to enlist 'undreds o'
times, an' they always says my various veins will sort o' lose us the
war."

The doctor bent down and examined Bindle's legs.

"Pretty bad," he murmured.

"Surely you ain't goin' against me, sir?" said Bindle anxiously.

"Going against you!"

"Yes," said Bindle, "all these other coves seem to 'ave got my various
veins on their brains."

"You want to go, then?" said the doctor.

"Rather," was Bindle's response.

The doctor looked at him curiously. Not many men came before him who
were anxious to be passed Grade One in spite of medical unfitness.

"I wish there were more like you," the doctor muttered.

"'Earty don't," said Bindle happily--"do you, 'Earty?"

But Mr. Hearty was absorbed in the contemplation of nothing in
particular. He was brooding upon his ill-luck in being within the
military age.

Bindle's examination was soon concluded, and he also was told to wait
until the chairman had time to see him. Suddenly he started sneezing
violently. After vainly searching his pockets, he slipped out with a
muttered excuse that he had left his handkerchief in his trousers
pocket.

A few minutes later he was back again, blowing his nose vigorously, just
as the chairman told Mr. Hearty that he could get dressed.

Never had Mr. Hearty heard words that gave him greater satisfaction. He
slipped out of the room and into the dressing-cubicle with a celerity
that caused Bindle to remark: "I never see 'Earty so nippy on 'is feet."

Bindle's interview with the chairman was a short one. His medical sheet
was not one calculated to fill the medico with hope. As he passed out
into the corridor, he saw Mr. Hearty standing at the entrance to his
cubicle in earnest converse with the two attendants.

"But they're gone," said Mr. Hearty.

The senior attendant turned to the junior attendant, who was in khaki.
"Has anyone been through here?" he enquired.

"No one except those being examined."

"But I left them here when I went out," said Mr. Hearty in a woolly
voice of protest, "and when I came back they were gone, they had
disappeared," he added, as if to make the matter quite clear to the
listening attendants.

"I'm very sorry, sir, I'll make enquiries," said the senior attendant.

"What's 'appened 'Earty, wot's gone?"

"My trousers," said Mr. Hearty turning to Bindle a pair of serious and
anxious eyes.

"Lost yer trousers, 'Earty," said Bindle.

"They've disappeared, Joseph."

"Well, I'm blowed!" exclaimed Bindle. "If that ain't careless of you
'Earty, losing things like them. Might a lost your coat but to lose yer
trousers, well, it don't seem to be quite decent to me."

"But they've been stolen," said Mr. Hearty. "They've been stolen while I
was in the--"

"We are making enquiries, sir," said the junior attendant tactfully.

"Yes, but 'Earty can't go 'ome in enquiries, can 'e? It's trousers 'e
wants," said Bindle.

"No doubt we shall find them," said the man hopefully.

"An' wot if you don't," persisted Bindle.

The man looked at him frankly at a loss.

"You see 'e ain't got the legs of an 'Ighlander, 'as 'e?" enquired
Bindle as he looked down at Mr. Hearty's extremely thin legs showing
beneath his frock-coat, "an it's quite chilly to-day too. Good job you
got a frock-coat, 'Earty, although," he added, as he examined its length
critically, "it won't be much use on a tram."

"But--but I must have my trousers," said Mr. Hearty.

"Of course you must, 'Earty. Now look 'ere," said Bindle, turning to an
attendant, "don't play any more jokes on 'im, 'e's sensitive like. Give
'im 'is trousers, like a good boy, or, if you can't give 'im 'is own,
lend 'im yours. 'E'll send 'em back by parcels post. You'll 'ave 'em on
Monday. Give you a day in bed to-morrow, it will. Now I'm going to
dress. 'Ope they 'aven't taken my trousers." Bindle slipped into the
cubicle and proceeded to resume his clothes.

Mr. Hearty stood in the corridor dexterously dodging behind the curtains
when anyone approached.

"Look 'ere," said Bindle to the attendants, when he had finished
dressing. "You'd better go and tell the doctor. 'Earty'll catch 'is
death o' cold a-standin' 'ere. Besides, think of 'is modesty too. 'E
ain't one to go about showin' 'is legs in that way, 'e ain't a gal."

The attendants, approving of Bindle's advice, fetched the chairman of
the Medical Board, who came out.

"You don't 'appen to 'ave a spare pair of trousers about you, sir, do
you?" enquired Bindle.

The president looked at him in surprise.

"My brother-in-law, 'Earty, 'as lost 'is. Careless of 'im to lose 'is
trousers; but lorst they are, an' ow's 'e goin' to get 'ome?"

"And--and--my--my underwear was with them," said Mr. Hearty with a nice
sense of delicacy.

"Lorst 'is pants as well," said Bindle. "This is a bit beyond a joke,
sir," said Bindle, addressing the chairman. "Can't one of them chaps in
there lend 'Earty 'is trousers an' sit in a towel till 'e sends 'em
back?"

The chairman was a man of action. He gave instructions that all the
cubicles were to be examined to see how many pairs of trousers were in
each. In the cubicle on the right of that occupied by Mr. Hearty, three
pairs of trousers were discovered. The two men who occupied it were
recalled from their medical examination and asked to identify their
own trousers, which they did. The third pair proved to be those of
Mr. Hearty.

"But--but there is still my underwear," said Mr. Hearty.

A further search was unproductive. As Bindle explained, "It ain't every
cove wot 'as pants to put on." It was not until Mr. Hearty was just on
the point of leaving that the missing underwear was discovered in
another cubicle and restored to him. Bindle borrowed some newspaper and
made an inelegant parcel, which Mr. Hearty tucked under his arm.

Then followed the wait for the announcement of the grading, which Bindle
filled in with some general remarks upon things lost and loseable.

"You can lose yer temper, 'Earty," he said, "or yer 'at or yer wife, an'
no one won't say anything about it; but you didn't ought to lose yer
trousers."

When the orderly eventually came out with the papers, he whispered to
Bindle that he had got a Grade Three, whereas Mr. Hearty proved to be
Grade Two.

"I consider it a scandal, Joseph, an absolute scandal," said Mr. Hearty
as he walked across the hall to get the three and sixpence doled out to
British patriots as payment for their time. As they were walking back
towards Fulham Mr. Hearty suddenly stopped.

"Lorst anything else, 'Earty?" enquired Bindle solicitously.

"I've just remembered," said Mr. Hearty, "that we've had no
refreshments. I distinctly saw it in the paper that refreshments were
provided."

"Well, well, 'Earty, it can't be 'elped. You was bound to miss somethink
beside them trousers o' yours," remarked Bindle philosophically.



THE END



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