Read CHAPTER VI of Adventures of Bindle , free online book, by Herbert George Jenkins, on ReadCentral.com.

MR. GUPPERDUCK’S MISHAP

“I’ve been out all day waiting in queues,” remarked Mrs. Bindle complainingly, “and all I got was two candles and a quarter of a pound of marjarine.”

“An’ which are we goin’ to ’ave for breakfast to-morrow?” enquired Bindle cheerfully.

“Yes, a lot you care!” retorted Mrs. Bindle, “coming home regular to your meals and expecting them to be ready, and then sitting down and eating. A lot you care!” she repeated.

“Wot jer want to take a lodger for,” demanded Bindle, “if you can’t get food enough for you an’ me?”

“Doesn’t his money help us pay our way?” demanded Mrs. Bindle.

“But wot’s the good of ‘avin’ more money, Mrs. B., if you can’t get enough food to go round?”

“That’s right, go on!” stormed Mrs. Bindle. “A lot of sympathy I get from you, a lot you care about me walking myself off my feet, so long as your stomach’s full.”

Bindle scratched his head in perplexity, but forbore to retort; instead he hummed Mrs. Bindle’s favourite hymn “Gospel Bells.”

“Look what you done to Mr. Hearty, that Saturday,” cried Mrs. Bindle.

“Me!” said Bindle, cursing himself for reminding her by humming the hymn.

“Yes, you!” was the reply. “He had to go to the police-court.”

“Well, it’s made ‘is fortune, an’ ’e got orf,” replied Bindle.

“Yes, but it might have ruined him. You wouldn’t have cared, and in war-time too,” Mrs. Bindle added.

“Well, well! the war’ll be over some day,” said Bindle cheerfully.

“That’s what you always say. Why don’t they make peace?” demanded Mrs. Bindle, as if Bindle himself were the sole obstacle to the tranquillisation of the world. Mrs. Bindle sat down with a decisiveness that characterised all her movements.

“Sometimes I wish I was dead,” she remarked. “There’s nothin’ but inching and pinching and slaving my fingers to the bone trying to make a shilling go further than it will, and yet they won’t make peace.”

“Mrs. B.,” remarked Bindle, “you best keep to cookin’, you’re a dab at that, and leave politics to them wot understands ’em. You can’t catch a mad dog by puttin’ salt on ’is tail. I wonder where olé Guppy is,” he continued, glancing at the kitchen clock, which pointed to half-past nine. “It ain’t often ’e lets praying get in the way of ’is meals.”

“I hope nothing has happened to him,” remarked Mrs. Bindle a little anxiously.

“No fear o’ that,” replied Bindle regretfully. “Things don’t ’appen to men like Gupperduck; still it’s funny ‘im missin’ a meal,” he added.

At a quarter to ten Mrs. Bindle reluctantly acquiesced in Bindle’s demand for supper. She was clearly anxious, listening intently for the familiar sound of Mr. Gupperduck’s key in the outer door.

“I wonder what could have happened?” she said as the clock indicated a quarter past ten and she rose to clear away.

“P’raps ’e’s been took up to ’eaven like that cove wot ’Earty was talkin’ about the other night,” suggested Bindle.

Mrs. Bindle’s sniff intimated that she considered such a remark unworthy of her attention.

“Ah! King Richard is ’isself again!” remarked Bindle, pushing his plate from him, throwing himself back in his chair, and proceeding to fill his pipe, indifferent as to what happened to the lodger.

Mrs. Bindle busied herself in putting Mr. Gupperduck’s supper in the oven to keep warm.

“Funny sort of job for a man to take up,” remarked Bindle conversationally, as he lighted his pipe, “preaching at people wot only laughs back.”

“Oh! you think so, do you!” snapped Mrs. Bindle.

“I was listenin’ to ’em one afternoon in Regent’s Park,” remarked Bindle. “Silly sort o’ lot they seemed to me.”

“You’re nothing but a heathen yourself,” accused Mrs. Bindle.

“As long as a cove keeps ’is religion to ’imself, I don’t see it matters to nobody wot ’e thinks, any more than whether ’e wears blue or pink pants under his trousers.”

“Don’t be disgusing, Bindle,” snapped Mrs. Bindle.

“Disgustin’! what’s disgustin’?”

“Talking of what you talked of,” replied Mrs. Bindle with asperity.

“Well, I’m blowed!” said Bindle. “There you ’angs ’em on the line on Mondays for everybody to see, and yet you mustn’t talk about ’em; well, I’m blowed!” he repeated.

“What do they say in the park?” questioned Mrs. Bindle curiously.

“Oh! they says a lot o’ things,” replied Bindle. “Personally myself I think the atheists is the funniest. There was one cove there wot was very thin, and very anxious-looking. Said ’e wouldn’t insult ’is intelligence by believin’ the things wot preachers said, so I put a question to ’im.”

“What did you say?” enquired Mrs. Bindle.

“I asks ’im if ’e was quite sure ’e ’ad any intelligence to insult, an’ that made ’em laugh.”

Mrs. Bindle nodded her head in approval.

Bindle regarded her in wide-eyed amazement. Never before in the whole of his experience had he known her approve word or action of his.

“Did he say anything else?” queried Mrs. Bindle.

“No; ‘e soon got down, an’ another cove got up. Then they started a Christian meeting next door, and there was them two lots of people shouting all sorts of things at each other. Wot Gawd must ’ave thought of it all does me. Why can’t they stay at home and pray if they feel as bad as all that. A day a month at ’ome to blow orf, instead of goin’ into Regent’s Park, a-kicking up a row so as you can’t ’ear the birds sing, makes you feel ashamed o’ bein’ a man, it does. One chap got up and said he was goin’ to prove there wasn’t no Gawd.”

“And what did he say?” asked Mrs. Bindle with interest.

“All ’e could say was, that ’im and ’is friends ’ad searched everywhere through wot they called the whole physical world, an’ they ’adn’t found ’Im, therefore there wasn’t no Gawd.”

“They didn’t ought to allow it,” commented Mrs. Bindle indignantly.

“Then another cove got up and said ’e ’oped that ’is friend, wot ’ad just got down, ’ad proved to the whole Park that there wasn’t no Gawd, and if there was any thinkin’ different would they ’old up their ’ands.”

“Did anybody hold up their hands?” asked Mrs. Bindle.

“Yes, up went my little ’and like a whiz-bang,” announced Bindle.

Mrs. Bindle gave Bindle a look that she usually reserved for Mr. Hearty.

“‘Well, sir!’ says ‘e, lookin’ at me, ‘wot is your question?’

“‘Well,’ says I, ’will you and your pals come round with me to-morrow morning an’ try and enlist?’ There was a rare lot of khaki boys round there, and didn’t they raise a yell. That was the end of that meeting. Every time anyone tried to get up an’ speak, them khaki boys started a-’ootin’ and a-callin’ out, and ‘avin’ of a rare olé time. There was one cove wot made us laugh fit to die. Every time one o’ the atheists started talkin’, ’e said in a ’igh-pitched voice, ’Oh, Cuthbert, don’t!’ as if it was a gal wot was being squeezed.”

Mrs. Bindle had listened to Bindle with the nearest approach to approval that she had ever shown.

“There was another cove there,” continued Bindle, warming to his subject. “Funny little feller ‘e was too, all cap an’ overcoat, talking about the Judgment Day. Awful things ’e promised us, ’e did. Made out as if Gawd was worse than an ’Un. ’E said ‘e’d be standin’ beside Gawd when all the people was judged, and ’e’d tell ’Im ’ow ’e’d been in Regent’s Park a-warnin’ people wot was goin’ to ’appen, and no one wouldn’t take no notice. Then we was all goin’ to be sent into a sort of mixed-grill and burnt for ever. Nice comforting little cove ’e was; pleasant to live with,” added Bindle drily.

“Why religion can’t make you ‘appy without you a-tryin’ to make other people un’appy is wot does me. When I got a good cigar I don’t go waving it in the face of every cove I meets, saying, ’Ah! you ain’t got a cigar like this, you only got a woodbine.’ Don’t seem good-natured, it don’t.”

“We’ve got to save souls,” remarked Mrs. Bindle with grim decision.

“But didn’t a man ought to be good because he wants to be good, and not because ’e’s afraid of being bad?” demanded Bindle.

Mrs. Bindle pondered over this remark for a moment; but finding it too deep for her replied, “You always was a doubter, Bindle; I’d have been a happier woman if you hadn’t been.”

“But,” continued Bindle, “do you think Gawd wants to ’ave a man in chapel wot wants to be at the Empire, only doesn’t go because ’e’s afraid? I wouldn’t if I was Gawd,” he added, shaking his head with decision. “Look at ’Earty’s ’orse on Saturday nights. Can’t ’ardly drag itself to the stables, it can’t, yet ’Earty’s as sure of ’eaven as I am of you, Mrs. B.”

Mrs. Bindle was silent, her manner was distraite, she was listening for the sound of Mr. Gupperduck’s return.

“I’d give my sugar ration to know wot we’re all a-goin’ to do in ’eaven,” remarked Bindle meditatively. “Fancy ’Earty there! Wot will ’e do? They won’t let ’im sell vegetables, and they’ll soon stop ’im singing.”

“We shall all have our occupations,” remarked Mrs. Bindle oracularly.

“Yes, but wot?” demanded Bindle. “There ain’t no furniture to move an’ no vegetables to sell. All I can do is to watch ‘Earty, an’ see ’e don’t go round pinchin’ angels’ meat-tickets.”

For once Mrs. Bindle allowed a remark to pass without the inevitable accusation of blasphemy!

“No,” remarked Bindle, “if I dies an’ they sends me up to ’eaven, I shall knock at the door, an’ I shall say, ’Is ’Earty ’ere? ’Earty the Fulham and Putney greengrocer, you know.’ If they says ‘Yes,’ then it’s a smoker for me;” and Bindle proceeded to re-charge his pipe. “I often thought ”

Bindle was interrupted by a loud knocking at the outer door. With a swift movement Mrs. Bindle rose and passed out of the kitchen. Bindle listened. There was a sound of men’s voices in the outer passage, with the short, sharper tones of Mrs. Bindle. A moment later the door opened, and two men entered supporting the limp form of Mr. Gupperduck.

“’Oly angels!” cried Bindle, starting up. “’Oly angels! someone’s been a-tryin’ to alter ’im.” He bent forward to get a better view. “Done it pretty well, too,” he muttered as he gazed at the unprepossessing features of Mr. Gupperduck, now accentuated by a black eye, a broken lip, a contusion on the right cheek-bone, and one ear covered with blood. His collar had disappeared, also his hat and spectacles, his waist-coat was torn open, and various portions were missing from his coat.

“Wot’s ’e been doin’?” enquired Bindle of a weedy-looking man with long hair, a sandy pointed beard, and a cloth cap, three sizes too large for him, which rested on the tops of his ears. “Wot’s ’e been up to?”

“He’s been addressing a meeting,” replied the man in a mournful voice.

Bindle turned once more to Mr. Gupperduck and examined him closely.

“Looks as if the meetin’s been addressin’ ’im, don’t it?” he remarked.

“It was not a very successful meeting,” remarked the other supporter of Mr. Gupperduck, a very little man with a very long beard. “It wasn’t a very successful meeting,” he repeated with conviction.

“Well, I never seen a meetin’ make such alterations in a man in all my puff,” remarked Bindle.

Mrs. Bindle had busied herself in preparing a basin of hot water with which to wash the mud and blood from the victim’s pallid face. With closed eyes Mr. Gupperduck continued to breathe heavily.

Bindle with practical samaritanism went into the parlour and returned with a half-quartern bottle. Pouring some of the contents into a glass he held it to Mr. Gupperduck’s lips. Without the least resistance the liquid was swallowed.

“Took that down pretty clean,” said Bindle, looking up at the man with the sandy beard.

“Don’t do that!” cried Mrs. Bindle, turning suddenly, her nostrils detecting the smell of alcohol.

“Do what?” enquired Bindle from where he knelt beside the damaged Mr. Gupperduck.

“Give him that,” said Mrs. Bindle, “he’s temperance.”

“Well, ’e ain’t now,” remarked Bindle with calm conviction.

“Oh, you villain!” The vindictiveness of Mrs. Bindle’s tone caused the three listeners to look up, and even Mr. Gupperduck’s eyelids, after a preliminary flutter, raised themselves, as he gazed about him wonderingly.

“Where am I?” he moaned.

“You’re all right,” said Mrs. Bindle, taking Bindle’s place by Mr. Gupperduck’s side. “You’re safe now.”

Mr. Gupperduck closed his eyes again, and Mrs. Bindle proceeded to wipe his face with a piece of flannel dipped in water.

Pore olé Guppy!” murmured Bindle. “They done it in style any’ow. I wonder wot ’e’s been up to. Must ‘ave been sayin’ things wot they didn’t like. Wot was ‘e talkin’ about, olé sport?”

Bindle turned to the man with the sandy beard, who was sitting on a chair leaning forward with one hand on each knee, much as if he were watching a cock-fight.

“It was a Peace meeting,” replied the man mournfully.

Bindle gave vent to a prolonged whistle of understanding.

“Oh, Guppy, Guppy!” he cried. “Why couldn’t you ’ave kept to the next world, without getting mixed up with this?”

“It was wounded soldiers,” volunteered the man with the sandy beard.

“Wounded soldiers!” exclaimed Bindle.

“Yes,” continued the man mournfully; “he appealed to them, as sufferers under this terrible armageddon, to pass a resolution condemning the continuance of the war, and and ”

“They passed their resolution on ’is face,” suggested Bindle.

The man nodded. “It was terrible,” he said, “terrible; we were afraid they would kill him.”

“And where was you while all this was ’appenin’?”

“Oh!” said the man, “I was fortunate enough to find a tree.”

Bindle looked him up and down with elaborate intentness, then having satisfied himself as to every detail of his appearance and apparel, he remarked:

“Ain’t it wonderful wot luck some coves do ’ave!”

“I regard it as the direct interposition of Providence,” said the man.

“And I suppose you shinned up that tree like giddy-o?” suggested Bindle.

“Yes,” said the man, “I was brought up in the country.”

“Was you now?” said Bindle. “Well, it was lucky for you, wasn’t it?”

“The hand of God,” was the reply; “clearly the hand of God.”

“Sort o’ boosted you up the tree from behind, so as when they’d all gone you could come down and pick up wot was left of ’im. That it?” enquired Bindle.

“That is exactly what happened, my friend,” replied the man with the sandy beard.

“An’ where did all this ’appen?” asked Bindle.

“It took place in Hyde Park,” replied the man. “A very rough meeting, an extremely rough meeting, and he was speaking so well, so convincingly,” he added.

Bindle looked at the man curiously to see if he were really serious; but there was no vestige of a smile upon his face.

“It’s wonderful wot a man can do with a crowd,” remarked Bindle oracularly; “but,” turning to the inert figure of Mr. Gupperduck, “it’s still more wonderful wot a crowd can do with a man.”

“Bindle!” Mrs. Bindle’s voice rang out authoritatively.

“’Ere am I,” replied Bindle obediently.

“Help us lift Mr. Gupperduck on a chair.”

With elaborate care they raised the inert form of Mr. Gupperduck on to a chair. His arms fell down limply beside him. Once he opened his eyes, and looked round the room, then, sighing as if in thankfulness at being amongst friends, he closed them again.

“‘The Lord hath given me rest from mine enemies,’” he quoted.

Mrs. Bindle and the two friends regarded Mr. Gupperduck admiringly.

Seeing that their friend and brother was now in safe hands, Mr. Gupperduck’s two supporters prepared to withdraw. Mrs. Bindle pressed them to have something to eat; but this they refused.

“Now ain’t women funny,” muttered Bindle, as Mrs. Bindle left the room to show her visitors to the door. “She was jest complaining that she could only get two candles and a quarter of a pound of marjarine, and yet she wants them two coves to stay to supper, ‘ungry-lookin’ pair they was too. I s’pose it’s wot she calls ’ospitality,” he added; “seems to me damn silly.”

Like a hen fussing over a damaged chick, Mrs. Bindle ministered to the requirements of Mr. Gupperduck. She fed him with a spoon, crooned over and sympathised with him in his misfortune, whilst in her heart there was a great anger against those who had raised their hands against so godly a man.

When he had eventually been half-led, half-carried upstairs by Bindle, and Bindle himself had returned to the kitchen, Mrs. Bindle expressed her unambiguous opinion of a country that permitted such an outrage. She likened Mr. Gupperduck to those in the Scriptures who had been stoned by the multitude. She indicated that in the next world there would be a terrible retribution upon those who were responsible for the assault upon Mr. Gupperduck. She attacked the Coalition Government for not providing a more effective police force.

“But,” protested Bindle at length, “‘e was askin’ for it. Why can’t ’e keep ’is opinions to ‘imself, and not go a-shovin’ ’em down other people’s throats when they don’t like the taste of ’em? If you go tryin’ to shove tripe down the throat of a cove wot don’t like tripe, you’re sure to get one in the eye, that is if ’e’s bigger’n wot you are; if ’e’s smaller ’e’ll jest be sick. Yet ’ere are you a-complainin’ because Guppy gets ’imself ’urt. I don’t understand ”

“Because you haven’t got a soul,” interrupted Mrs. Bindle with conviction.

“Well,” remarked Bindle philosophically, “I’d sooner ’ave a flea than a soul, there is flea-powder but there ain’t no soul-powder wot I’ve been able to find.”

And Bindle rose, yawned and made towards the door.