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Adventures of Bindle (1919) by Herbert Jenkins

By Erica

Book review by Hilary Temple

I had never come across Herbert Jenkins before I found this book on the shelves of my parents-in-law, who otherwise showed a marked predilection for Dornford Yates. The first edition proudly claims to have printed 40,000 copies, which sounds a very respectable number and followed the previous success of Bindle.

Adventures of Bindle (1919) by Herbert Jenkins
The attractive dust-wrappers which Herbert Jenkins commissioned for his own and other authors’ novels were an element in his success as a publisher

It starts literally with a wallop:

‘Bang! Even Bindle was startled by the emphasis with which Mrs. Bindle placed upon the supper-table a large pie-dish containing a savoury-smelling stew.’

It immediately becomes clear that Mr Bindle is reading the evening paper while waiting for his supper and continues to do so as he noisily eats his food. However he does realize that his wife is not in a very good mood, though he can’t work out why, only observing, ‘“I kept rabbits, silkworms, an’ a special kind o’ performing flea, an’ I seemed to get to understand ’em all; but women – well, you may search me!”’ He does know enough not to ask what is for the next course, which is more pie-crust accompanied by apple. Mrs Bindle has the whip-hand over her husband when it comes to food.

The household is well-used to the WWI air-raids upon London and Bindle is a ‘Special’ whose responsibility it is to assist the security services. It galls him that the lodger (blessed with the Dickensian name of Gupperduck, abbreviated by Bindle to ‘Guppy’) whom Mrs Bindle takes in preaches to him about fearing nothing but trusting in the Lord. Gupperduck’s faith is not borne out when Bindle returns from a raid to find him, and his fellow-Christians Mrs Bindle and her brother-in-law Mr Hearty cowering in the cellar; as he points out to his sympathetic niece Millie, “Nobody didn’t ought to mind sayin’ they’re afraid, Millikins…but I don’t like a cove wot says ’e’s brave, an’ then turns out to ’ave about as much ’eart as a shillin’ rabbit.”’

A further contributor to the stock of religious hypocrisy comes in the form of the Reverend Andrew MacFie, whom many of the readers of the time would recognize from the first book.  Millie’s father, the greengrocer Mr Hearty, disapproves of her engagement to a soldier serving on the Western Front and has ambitions for her to be MacFie’s bride instead. Jenkins allows Bindle to spread himself publicly on the wrongfulness of this, citing his own reading of the Bible where he has found a yarn about a character he calls ‘Urrier’. His affectionate niece announces that if she had been Uriah the Hittite’s ‘smart bird’ [Bathsheba] she would have killed King David for putting him in the front line. Millie’s mother is nearly as fond of Bindle judging by her mirth at this: it does leave her gasping for breath, but almost everything does as her breathing is a kind of hobby for Mrs Hearty.  Again Bindle comments on the way in which fervent religionists are full of threats: ‘“Why religion can’t make you ’appy without you a-tryin’ to make other people un’appy is wot does me … didn’t a man ought to be good because he wants to be good, and not because e’s afraid of bein’ bad?’ Such remarks, which are inserted regularly into the narrative, may well be sentiments to which every bosom returns an echo even nowadays.

A series of incidents follows, not particularly connected to each other and each more fantastic than the last.  Some carry an unpleasant tone to readers of today, though no doubt they were popular in their time, from coating suffragettes with lamp-black to watching Bindle’s friend Private “Nancy” Dane, ‘the far-famed Pierrette of the Passchendaele Pierrots’, pretending to be Mr MacFie’s deserted wife. Here ‘nancy’ is an indication that Dane is gay. Rather more rewarding perhaps to us are the little cameos that intersperse the helter-skelter narrative, such as:

‘a girl clothed principally in white boots, rouge and peroxide’;

‘“Prepare to Meet Thy God”, even when in gold letters entwined with apple-blossom, seemed scarcely the greeting for those who had been invited to revel.’;

‘[her] anguished expression caused Bindle to mutter, “Fancy ’er bein’ able to do that with ’er face!”’

‘marriage, temperance drinks, Mr Asquith, twins and women were some of the things that [Bindle’s friend] Ginger found it impossible to reconcile with the beneficent decrees of Providence.’

It is comparatively unimportant, but simply poetic justice, that Mr Gupperduck is sent packing by Bindle after being beaten up on Putney Heath for preaching pacifism. ‘“Never thought ten minutes could change a cove so, and that, Ginger, all comes about through being a Christian and talkin’ about peace to people wot don’t want peace.”’  He points out to his wife that a lot of the assailants ‘“’ad lost wot they was fond of through this ’ere war, an’ they wasn’t keen to ’ear that the ’Un is a sort o’ picture-postcard, with a dove a-sittin’ on ’is ’elmet.”’ We are in sympathy with Bindle and would probably approve if Bindle ‘camelflaged’ Gupperduck, as he threatens to do, if he meets him henceforth anywhere near the Bindle residence. But it is extremely important that Millie ends up marrying her Charlie Dixon while he has ten days’ leave and unfortunately Mr Hearty is the stumbling-block. Needless to say it is Bindle who plans to exert pressure upon him despite Mrs Bindle’s virtuous desire not to interfere in other people’s affairs. He cheerfully confronts Hearty at home and asks “[W]ot are you goin’ to give ’em for a wedding-breakfast …An’ ’ave we got to bring our own meat-tickets?”’ Finding him still obdurate he whispers a threat about ‘Ole Six-and-Eightpence’ going to have a word with ‘the Ole Bird on the ’Ill’ – this is Lady Knob-Kerrick whose acquaintance we made earlier in the book as well as in the first Bindle stories. This in a matter of moments sufficiently alarms Mr Hearty into agreement and Bindle closes the deal at once. It is of course as authentic as all his other tricks and Bindle wonders aloud, ‘“if they’ll charge me up with that little fairy tale I told ’Earty.”’ 

Jenkins creates a possible alliance for a future set of Bindle episodes by making Charlie Dixon’s parents sympathetic. Mr Dixon likes his jokes and is the only person to applaud Bindle’s emotional toast to the bride and groom. Bindle’s being near to tears has Mrs Dixon in the same state:

‘“Mr Bindle,” she said in a voice that was none too well under control, “I think you have been their fairy-godmother.”’ Bindle tries to joke, then tells her that “Gawd ain’t a-goin’ to spoil the ‘’appiness of them two young kids,” at which Mrs Dixon says, ‘“you must be a very good man.”’ Resilient as ever, he sets off briskly with Mr Dixon for a swift beer before closing-time after the ordeal of a temperance reception. The reader is left with the conclusion that Bindle’s heart is indeed in the right place despite the chaos he causes. ‘Episodic’ would be a kind description of the style and the dropped ‘h’s may at first be a barrier to rapid reading, but the pace of the narrative sweeps us along. No less a person than T. P. O’Connor, the Irish Home Rule M.P. who became Father of the House of Commons and died in office, expressed his appreciation of the ‘greatest Cockney that has come into being through the medium of literature since Dickens wrote Pickwick Papers.’

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