One Sunday evening on arriving at Dick Little’s flat I was greeted with the announcement “J.B.’s ill.” I looked round at the gloomy faces. It was then that I appreciated how the Night Club revolved round Bindle’s personality.
From a note Dick Little had received it appeared that Bindle had hurt his ankle and been forced to lie up for a week. His letter was characteristic. It ran:—
I been kicking what I didn’t ought to have kicked, and I got to lay up for a week. Cheero! I shall think of the Night Club.
Yours respectfully,
We wondered what it was that Bindle had kicked that he ought not to have kicked. There was, we felt sure, a story behind the letter.
We looked at each other rather helplessly.
“Shall we begin?” asked Angell Herald. One of his stories was down for that evening.
“We must wait for Miss Carruthers,” said Jim Owen, a cousin of mine and rather an ass about women.
At that moment Sallie and Jack Carruthers turned up and were told the direful news.
“Oh! poor J.B.,” cried Sallie, who had quite drifted into our way of speech.
“What shall we do?” asked Jack Carruthers.
We all looked at each other as if expectant of a solution anywhere but in our own brains.
“I have it!” cried Sallie suddenly clapping her hands, her eyes flashing with excitement.
“Out with it, Sallie,” said Jack, putting his arm round her shoulders. Many of us envied him that habit of his.
“We’ll all go and see J.B.,” cried Sallie.
Dick Little nearly got notice to quit through that idea of Sallie’s. The yell that went up to the ceiling above was as nothing to the things that fell from the ceiling below. Tom Little was in a mad mood, and he insisted that we should all form a ring round Sallie, and hand in hand we flung ourselves round her; “flung” was the only word that describes our motions. There were sixteen of us, and Dick Little’s rooms are not over large. It was a mad rout.
We were interrupted in our acclamation of Sallie’s inspiration by a tremendous hammering at the door of the flat. Dick Little opened it and let in a flood of the most exotic language to which we had ever listened. It was talk that would have made a drill-sergeant envious. It had about it the tang of the barrack-square. It silenced us and stilled our movements as nothing else would have done. It poured in through the door like a flood. It gave an intensely personal view of ourselves, our forebears and our posterity, if any. It described our education, our up-bringing and the inadequacy of the penal code of England. We stood in hushed admiration, especially the men from Tim’s.
Sallie listened for about half a minute, quite unperturbed. It is a strange thing; but “language” has no effect on Sallie. I have seen her listening quite gravely to the inspired utterances of a Thames lighterman. This evening, at the end of half a minute, she walked to the door, we crowding behind her to see the fun, for we had all recognised the voice of General Burdett-Coombe, who lived immediately beneath Dick Little. Suddenly the General’s eloquence stopped. He had seen Sallie.
“Won’t you come in,” she said looking at him gravely, with eyes a little larger and a little grayer than usual.
“I—I—” stammered the General, then seeing us all gazing at him he burst out.
“God bless my soul, what on earth have I done? I had no idea there was a lady here. I—I—”
“Please come in,” said Sallie, “I want you to tell these men how horribly badly behaved they are. You were doing it quite nicely; but I am afraid they didn’t hear it all.”
The General looked from Sallie to the men, who had now streamed out and were filling Dick Little’s small hall. Then seeing Sallie smile he suddenly burst out laughing, showing a set of dazzlingly white teeth beneath his grizzled grey moustache.
“Routed, by heaven! routed and by a woman. My dear young lady,” he said, turning to Sallie, “I owe you a thousand apologies. I—I’m afraid I rather let myself go. These young hooligans have knocked down my electrolier. I thought the whole blessed place was coming on my head,” and he laughed again out of sheer boyish enjoyment.
From that day Sallie and General Burdett-Coombe became great friends, and that was how it happened that the General came to join the Night Club.
As he went down to his flat he once more apologised; but Sallie said that he was quite justified in what he had said and done.
“Well, well,” he cried after a swift glance to see if she were pulling his leg, “Boys will be boys I suppose; but I wish they would leave my electrolier alone. Good-night all,” and the chorus of “good-nights” was almost as great in volume as the shouts that had greeted Sallie’s inspiration.
“Now then you fellows, taxis,” cried Tom Little.
Three men dashed downstairs to commandeer all the taxis in the neighbourhood. Tom Little and Bill Simmonds disappeared; but the rest of us managed the crowd into the four taxis that were available. As we sped along to Fenton Street, Fulham, where Bindle lives, each empty taxi that approached was hailed and some of the party got out and entered. Eventually when we arrived at Fenton Street the procession numbered eight vehicles.
The sensation we caused will go down to posterity as the greatest day in the annals of the district. Neighbours flocked to their doors. Gramophones, which were tinnily striving to reproduce masterpieces they had mis-heard, were allowed to run down, and soon what portion of the street that was not occupied by taxis was filled with open-mouthed residents.
The general impression was that it was a police raid, although how they reconciled Sallie with the police was difficult to understand.
Just as we were knocking at Bindle’s door, Tom Little and Bill Simmonds arrived in a ninth vehicle, out of which they hauled two large suit-cases.
The door of Bindle’s house was opened by Ginger, who looked his astonishment at seeing Sallie with some sixteen men behind her.
“Is Mr. Bindle in?” enquired Sallie.
Without attempting to reply Ginger called over his shoulder, “Someone to see yer, Joe.”
“Ask ‘im in,” came the cheery voice of Bindle from within.
“It ain’t ‘im, it’s a lady.”
“Come along in, Martha, I know ‘oo it is.”
Sallie passed by the open-mouthed Ginger, and we trooped in behind her. Bindle was lying on a horse-hair couch with one ankle heavily bandaged. His back was towards the door; but he called out over his shoulders, “Come in, Martha, come in. ‘Ow’s yer breath and ‘ow’s ‘Earty?”
“It’s me,” said Sallie, regardless as to grammar.
Bindle looked round as if someone had shot him from behind, saw Sallie and the rest of us behind her.
“Gawd Almighty,” he exclaimed in utter astonishment. “I’m blowed if it ain’t the Night Club. Cheero! the lot,” and “the lot” cheero-d Bindle.
Tom Little and Bill Simmonds then came forward with their suit-cases. From these they produced what appeared to be an endless stream of refreshments: bottles of beer, two bottles of whisky, a dozen syphons of soda and a miscellaneous assortment of sandwiches such as are to be found on public-house counters. For once in his life Bindle’s speech failed him, as he watched the kitchen table being turned into a sort of public-house bar. Then slowly a happy grin spread over his face and looking up at Sallie, who had come and stood beside him, said,
“This’ll do me more good than all the doctor’s stuff, miss.”
I looked at Bindle closely, the voice was so unlike his. Before leaving Dick Little’s flat, Sallie had collected all the flowers that she could find, which she carried in a big bouquet. Dick Little is fond of flowers.
“Is them flowers for the coffin, miss,” enquired Bindle, with a strange twist of a smile.
“They’re for Mrs. Bindle,” said Sallie with inspiration.
“Well, I’m— Hi, stop ‘im, don’t let ‘im go.” Bindle’s eyes had caught sight of Ginger, who was slipping out of the door.
Jack Carruthers made a grab and caught the delinquent by the sleeve. Ginger seemed inclined to show fight; but three or four of Tim’s men soon persuaded his that God is always on the side of the big battalions, and Ginger was led back into the room.
“Ginger,” said Bindle, reprovingly, “I’m surprised at you. When Miss Sallie comes to see us, you go sneaking off as if you’d picked ‘er pocket, or owed ‘er money. Wot jer mean by it?”
“I don’t ‘old wiv——” began Ginger.
“Never mind what you ‘old with, Ging, you’ve got to stand by and see your old pal ain’t choked with all these good things.”
A fugitive shaft of light came into Ginger’s eyes as he saw the array of bottles on the kitchen table. Tom Little and Bill Simmonds were busy commandeering all the glasses, cups, mugs, etc., they could find on the dresser, and unscrewing the tops of the beer bottles.
“Ow jer come?” enquired Bindle while these preparations were in progress.
“Taxis,” I replied mechanically, “There are nine of them waiting outside.”
“Nine?” exclaimed Bindle, his eyes open to their full extent. “Nine taxis in Fenton Street? ‘Old be ‘Orace!” and he laughed till the tears poured down his cheeks. Bindle was in a mood to laugh at anything.
“An’ wot’s all the neighbours doin’, sir.”
“Oh! they’re busy counting them,” said Carruthers, “they think it’s a police raid.” This was one of the few occasions on which I have seen Bindle laugh, as a rule he grins. Presently, wiping his eyes with the corner of a newspaper he had been reading, he cried “‘Ere, a glass of milk for the invalid.”
Tom Little dashed for the largest jug and filled it up with such haste that the froth foamed down the sides. Bindle clutched the jug with both hands.
“Excuse my getting up, miss, but ‘eres to the Night Club.”
We all joined in the toast.
“I wonder wot Mrs. B.’ll think of it all when she comes back,” remarked Bindle. “Nine taxis an’ a police raid. They’re sure to tell ‘er.”
The seating accommodation in Bindle’s kitchen was limited. A chair was found for Sallie, and several more were brought out of the adjoining parlour; but most of us sat on the floor. Windover occupied one end of the fender and Angell Herald the other. The comparison between the two was interesting. Windover sat as if all his life had been spent on the end of a fender, Angell Herald, on the other hand, as if he meant everybody to understand that never before had he found himself so situated. Windover was enjoying himself, Angell Herald was acutely uncomfortable. He knew it must be all right by the fact of Windover being there; but his whole appearance seemed to convey the fact that he was unaccustomed to sitting on a fender with a china mug of whisky and soda in one hand, and a ham sandwich of public-house proportions in the other.
Windover seemed to find a quiet enjoyment in the situation.
“How did you hurt your foot, Mr. Bindle?” enquired Sallie.
“Oh! I jest kicked up against somethink wot I didn’t ought to ‘ave kicked, miss,” was Bindle’s response.
To further questioning he was evasive. It was clear that he did not wish to tell us what had happened. It was equally clear that Sallie was determined to know.
“Why don’t you tell ’em, Joe, what you did?” It was Ginger who broke in. A different Ginger from him who had endeavoured to slip out of the room, a Ginger mellowed by three bottles of beer. Finding the whole attention of the room centred upon Bindle, Ginger buried his head in a large milk jug from which he was drinking.
“Look ‘ere, Ging, you keep that muzzle on. You ain’t no talker.”
Sallie-turned to Ginger, who had already fallen a victim to her eyes. “Please Mr.—Mr.—”
And then it was I remembered that no one had ever heard Ginger’s name.
“We call ‘im Ginger, miss; but you mustn’t let ‘im talk. ‘E’s some’ow out of the way of it.”
“Please Mr. Ginger, tell us what happened?”
Bindle made a motion as if to stop Ginger, who replaced the jug on the table and wiped his lips with the back of his disengaged hand.
“It was down at the yard, miss. Ruddy Bill tied a tin on to Polly’s kitten’s tail.”
“But—but—” said Sallie, “I don’t understand.” She looked from Ginger to Bindle.
“You are an ole ‘uggins,” said Bindle to Ginger. “Yer couldn’t keep that face of yours shut, could yer? It’s like this, miss. There’s a little kid down at the yard wot’s got a kitten, all fluffy fur, and Ruddy Bill tied a tin on to the poor thing’s tail, an’ it went almost mad with fright, so—so my foot sort o’ came up against Ruddy Bill. ‘E wouldn’t fight, you see.”
“Ruddy Bill’s in the ‘firmary,” rumbled Ginger.
“Yes, an’ I’m on the couch.”
Never had the Bindles’ kitchen witnessed a scene such as that on which the Night Club descended upon it. Even Ginger’s gloom was mitigated under the influence of the talk and good fellowship, assisted by unlimited beer. The kitchen floor was covered with men and mugs, glasses and bottles of whisky and syphons of soda. The atmosphere was grey with tobacco smoke, and the air full of the sound of half a dozen separate conversations.
Bindle had never looked happier. Every now and then he cast his eyes round in the direction of the door. His dramatic instinct told him that the culmination of the evening’s festivities would synchronise with Mrs. Bindle’s advent.
“You’ll stay an’ see Mrs. B., miss, won’t yer,” said Bindle to Sallie. “She’s been a bit poorly of late. I think ‘er soul is ‘urtin’ ‘er more’n usual.”
“Mr. Bindle,” said Sallie severely, “you must not tease her. You must smooth things, not make them rougher.”
“I don’t understand women, miss,” he replied, then after a pause he continued, “There’s one thing yer can always be sure about, an’ that is no matter wot yer think a woman’s goin’ to do, she’s bound to give yer a bit of a surprise.”
“As how?” enquired the Boy.
“Well, it won’t do yer no ‘arm to learn, you wi’ that smile o’ yours.” The Boy grew scarlet. “You’re in for trouble, Mr. ‘Indenburg, sure as sure.”
“What is in your mind,” enquired Carruthers. We all like to hear Bindle on women.
“I was thinkin’ o’ that air-raid, last Saturday,” he replied. “Now Mrs. Bindle, although she knows that death will be ‘a release from the fetters of the flesh,’ as she puts it, yet when she ‘eard the guns she bolted into the coal-cellar as if ‘er soul was as shaky as mine. When I gets ‘ome there she was a settin’ on a chair in the kitchen a-‘oldin’ of ‘er ‘eart, ‘er face all white where it wasn’t black from the coal.”
“And what did you do, Mr. Bindle?” enquired Sallie, leaning forward with eager interest. Sallie has a theory that in reality Bindle is very considerate and thoughtful in regard to Mrs. Bindle.
“Well, miss,” said Bindle after a momentary hesitation, “I give ‘er three goes o’ whisky an’ water.”
“But I thought she was temperance,” broke in Dare.
“She was, sir,” was the reply. “When she’d lapped up the last o’ the third go, which finished up the ‘alf quartern, she turns on me an’ she jest gives me pickles.”
“But why?” enquired Sallie.
“She said I done it a-purpose, makin’ ‘er break the pledge, an’ that Gawd didn’t ought to blame ‘er, ’cause she was married to an ‘eathen. Funny ‘er not thinkin’ of it before she’d ‘ad the lot, that’s wot does me.
“Talkin’ of air raids,” he continued after a pause, “it’s funny ‘ow they seem to affect them as are surest of gettin’ an ‘arp an’ trimmin’s, while they leaves the ‘eathen merry and bright. Now me an’ Ginger was on the tail o’ the van when the ‘Uns’ little ‘ummin’ birds started a-layin’ eggs. People yelled to ‘im to get under cover: but the ‘orses was scared, an’ ‘e goes to ‘old their ‘eads an’ talk to ’em in that miserable way of ‘is. Them ‘orses was never so glad in all their lives to ‘ear ole Ginger’s voice.”
“And what did you do, J.B.?” enquired the Boy with interest.
Bindle turned and looked him full in the face. “I ain’t in this story, Mr. Clever ‘Indenburg. You can think o’ me as under the van. Ginger was jest as cool as wot you was when you got that bit o’ ribbon for your tunic.”
The expression in the Boy’s face was evidence that Bindle had scored.
“Now take ‘Earty,” Bindle continued, “‘E’s one o’ them wot’s got a front row ticket for ‘eaven; yet when the guns begins to go off, and the bombs was droppin’, ‘e nips down into the potato-cellar ‘to take stock’, although ‘e ‘adn’t ‘ad a potato there for months. Took ‘im quite a long time it did too, takin’ stock o’ nothink. There was poor ole Martha left to look after the shop. Rummy card ‘Earty. ‘E’s afraid o’ too much joy, thinks it might sort o’ get to ‘is ‘ead. ‘E’s nuts on ‘eaven an’ angels; but it’s business as usual as long as ‘e can.
“No,” Bindle continued after a pause in which to take a pull at his tankard and recharge and light his pipe, “the longer I lives the less I seems to know about people. There’s Mrs. B. ‘oo’s always sayin’ that ‘the way o’ the transgressor is ‘ard’, yet look at me! I’m always cheerio, but she’s mostly like a camel wot’s jest found another ‘ump a-growin’.
“No one don’t never seem able to understand another cove’s way o’ lookin’ at things. I ‘ad a sister once, pretty gal she was, too, got it from me I expect. I used to get quite a lot o’ free beer from my mates wot wanted me to put in a good word with Annie. Seemed funny like to me that they should want to ‘ang round ‘er when there was other gals about.
“Yes,” continued Bindle after a pause, “there’s a lot o’ things I don’t understand. Look at them young women a-gaddin’ about the West-End when it’s war an’ ‘ell for our boys out there. Sometimes I’d like to ask ’em wot they mean.”
“They’re cultivating the present so that the future shall not find them without a past,” murmured Windover.
“Nietzsche says that woman is engaged in a never-ending pursuit of the male,” said Dare. “Perhaps that explains it.”
“Sort o’ chase me Charlie,” said Bindle, “well I ain’t nothink to say agin’ it, so long as Mrs. B. don’t get to know.
“This place looks like a pub,” Bindle remarked a few minutes later. “Wonder wot Mrs. B.’ll say.”
“That’s what you ought to have, J.B.,” said Jim Colman.
“‘Ave wot?” enquired Bindle. NORFLOXACIN NICOTINATE
“A pub.,” was the response.
“I’d like to ‘ave a little pub. o’ me own,” Bindle murmured, “an’ I got a name for it too.”
In response to loud cries of “Name, name” from the “Tims” men Bindle replied.
“I didn’t ought to tell yer, I’m afraid as it’s jest like salt, it makes yer drink like a camel.”
“Come on out with it,” we cried.
“Well, ‘ere goes. I’d call it ‘The Thirsty Soul.'” After a pause, he added, “If I was in the bung line I’d ‘ave the tastiest things in yaller ‘eaded gals be’ind the bar as could be found for a ‘undred miles round. Of course I should ‘ave to get rid o’ Mrs. B. first. She’s as jealous as an ‘en over a china egg wot it ain’t laid.
“It’s no use bein’ in the public line when you’re married. Poor ole Artie Ball found that out, ‘im wot used to keep ‘The Feathers.’ One day ‘e took ‘is barmaid out, an’ next mornin’ ‘is missus took it out o’ the barmaid—in ‘andfulls, she did. The poor gall looked like an ‘alf plucked goose when Artie’s missus remembered it was nearly dinner time. Funny thing ‘ow women fight over us,” this with an air.
A hot argument had sprung up between some of the men from “Tim’s” as to the possibility of balancing the human body in the same way that the ancients balanced the figure of Mercury, viz. on one foot, the body thrown forward. This had resulted in a determination of the ayes to prove it by demonstrating the possibility of standing upon a beer bottle with one foot. Soon the infection spread throughout the room, and everybody, with the exception of Sallie, Angell Herald and Bindle, was endeavouring to emulate the classical figure of Eros on the fountain at Piccadilly Circus.
Everybody seemed to be calling upon everybody else to look, and just as they looked, down came the demonstrator. It was this moment that an unkind fate chose for the appearance of Mrs. Bindle. To some extent she had been prepared for the unusual by the line of taxi-cabs in Fenton Street, and also by the tales of the neighbours, who had gathered in ever increasing force. Two local special constables, who had endeavoured to “regulate the traffic” and control the crowds, had given up the task in despair, discovering that no special is a prophet in his own district. One was a butcher, who found it utterly impossible to preserve his official dignity in the face of cries of “Meat! Meat!” and “Buy! Buy!”
By the time Mrs. Bindle arrived, the police-raid theory was in danger of suffering eclipse in favour of a German spy, the nine taxis, it was alleged, having brought soldiers and officials from the War Office.
Mrs. Bindle entered her own home in a state of bewilderment. For a moment or two she stood at the door unseen, endeavouring to penetrate the grey smoke, which was rapidly choking Sallie. Windover was the first to catch sight of her, and he descended hurriedly from his bottle. Then Sallie saw her and next Bindle. Soon the whole room had its eyes fixed upon Mrs. Bindle’s attenuated figure, which stood there like an accusing conscience. Bindle grinned, the rest of us looked extremely sheepish, as if caught at something of which we were ashamed. Once more it was Sallie who saved the situation.
“Oh, Mrs. Bindle,” she said, going across the room, “I hope you’ll forgive us. We heard that Mr. Bindle was ill and came over to see him. I wish you would keep these boys in order.” She looked at the “Tim’s” men with a smile. “They are always playing tricks of some sort or other.”
Mrs. Bindle looked round the room as if uncertain what to do or say. Then her gaze returned to Sallie. We looked at her anxiously to see which way the wind was likely to blow. We almost cheered when we saw a frosty smile flit across her features.
“I’m sure it’s very kind of you, miss. Won’t you come into the parlour?”
With Mrs. Bindle, “Won’t you come into the parlour?” was an announcement of friendship, and Bindle heaved a sigh of relief. Sallie beckoned to Jack Carruthers.
“Jack,” she said, “Get those boys to clear up.”
Without waiting for Jack to deliver her instructions, everyone set to work to clear up the chaos, and in three minutes the place was as orderly as it had been before our arrival, save for a pile of glasses and mugs in the sink. The bottles had been stowed away in the suit-cases, and the kitchen looked as it did before the descent upon it of the Night Club. Mrs. Bindle had fixed her eyes on the bunch of roses, looted from Dick Little’s flat.
“Oh, I brought those for you, Mrs. Bindle,” said Sallie.
That broke down Mrs. Bindle’s last defences. At Windover’s invitation, and in spite of Mrs. Bindle’s protests, several of the Tims men set to work to wash up at the sink. Windover did the washing, whilst the others wiped, amidst a perfect babel.
Mrs. Bindle looked from one to the other. Presently turning to Sallie she asked in a whisper, “Is the lord here, miss?”
“The lord?” questioned Sallie in surprise.
“Bindle says a lord belongs to your club. Is he here, miss?”
“Oh! Lord Windover,” cried Sallie laughing, “Yes, he’s here.”
“Is that him, miss?” enquired Mrs. Bindle gazing at Angell Herald, who stood apart from the others with an awkward air of detachment. Sallie shuddered as she followed Mrs. Bindle’s gaze and saw the white satin tie threaded through a diamond ring.
“No, that’s Mr. Herald. Lord Windover’s washing up. Winnie,” she called out, “I want to introduce you to Mrs. Bindle.”
Windover approached, eyeglass in eye, with a jug in one hand, a towel he had snatched up in the other, and a red bordered cloth round his waist.
Sallie introduced him and he bowed with his usual exquisite grace, chatted for a few moments, and then returned to his duties at the sink.
In Mrs. Bindle’s eyes there was a great wonder, and as they returned to Angell Herald, a little disappointment and regret.
Finally we all trooped off the best of friends. Bindle declared that he was cured, and Mrs. Bindle said she was very pleased that she had come in before we had taken our departure. We stowed ourselves away in the taxis and, as the procession started, Fenton Street raised its voice in a valedictory cheer.
“Winnie,” said Sallie to Windover as we bowled eastward at a penny a furlong, “To-night you have wrecked Mrs. Bindle’s cherished ideal of the aristocracy. I shall never forget her face when I told her that the man who was washing up was the lord! She had fixed upon Mr. Herald.”
Windover screwed his glass into his eye and gazed at Sallie in silence.
Thus ended one of the most notable nights in the history of the Night Club.