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A Knight on Wheels By Ian Hay Characters: 9639

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Uncle Joseph had an adventure in town which amused him immensely.

The International Brotherhood of Kind Young Hearts, it may be remembered, radiated its appeals from within the precincts of Pontifex Mansions, Shaftesbury Avenue. It was quite a good address, but, like many of the good things of this world, looked best on paper.

The Kind Young Hearts rented a small office-flat at the top of a block of rather out-of-date buildings in the neighbourhood of Dean Street. The flat was uninhabited, and contained not a particle of furniture of any description except a capacious letter-box; but these deficiencies, which might have roused unworthy suspicions in the breasts of some of the more worldly of Uncle Joseph's supporters, were covered by the fact that the door was double-locked, and no subscriber had ever entered the premises. On the door itself the name of the Society was painted in neat black letters. Underneath was pinned a typewritten notice,-of an apparently temporary character, but in reality as enduring as Uncle Joseph's tenancy,-to the effect that the Secretary had been called away to the country on an urgent case, but hoped to return shortly.

It was Uncle Joseph's custom to make a periodical inspection of this establishment, though he left to James Nimmo the task of making the weekly collection of letters. On this occasion all seemed in order. No restive subscriber waited on the landing; no emissary of the law, masquerading as a stargazer, lounged in the street outside. No one had tampered with the Chubb lock on the door. No one had scribbled opprobrious comments across the Secretary's notice. All was peace.

Uncle Joseph entered the flat. The box contained half a dozen letters, which he opened and read in the dusty sunlight of the office.

Meanwhile Mr. Charles Turner, junior member of the editorial staff of the "Searchlight," was mounting the staircase with all the headlong eagerness of a young and inexperienced fox-terrier in pursuit of his first rat. He took himself seriously, did Turner, which was a pity; for a touch of humour is indispensable to a man whose profession it is to expose humbugs. Dill, his chief, possessed this quality in perfection, with a strong dash of cynicism thrown in. He knew that righteous wrath was wasted upon the tribe of quacks and sharpers. He never invoked the assistance of the law against such gentry. He preferred the infinitely more amusing plan of exposing their methods in cold print and leaving it to them to invoke the assistance of the law against him. Consequently his name was a hissing and an abomination among all the fraternity, while the British Public, though strongly suspicious of Dill's sense of humour, took in, read, and profited by the "Searchlight" in general and its Rogues' Catalogue in particular.

The "Searchlight" was unique. There were other organs which made a speciality of exposing quackery, but these could seldom resist the temptation of endeavouring-usually successfully-to blackmail the quack as an alternative to exposing him. But the "Searchlight" was above suspicion. It had never attempted to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds, for the excellent reason that such a proceeding would have bored its proprietor. Dill harried the unjust, not from any special feeling of tenderness towards the just, but in order to gratify his own rather impish sense of humour. He had no special regard for the feelings or pocket of the British Public, but he loved to clap an impostor in the pillory and watch him squirm.

This was the seventh visit of the zealous Turner to the headquarters of the Kind Young Hearts. He had missed James Nimmo on the previous Thursday, for that astute emissary always made his call for the letters about eight o'clock in the morning: so Turner was still without evidence as to whether the flat was in use at all. His gratification, then, on beholding the door standing open was extreme.

He peeped inside. Standing by the window of the bare and dusty room he beheld a middle-aged, military-looking gentleman perusing letters. The enemy was delivered into his hands. He tapped at the door and walked in.

Uncle Joseph looked up from the last letter, and gave Mr. Turner a polite good-morning. The sleuth-hound replied in suitable terms, and embarked upon a tactful yet deadly cross-examination, long laid up in readiness for such an opportunity as this.

But he was faced with a difficulty at the outset. Anxious not to alarm his quarry, he had decided to open the attack with a few pleasant observations upon the convenient situation of the office and the tasteful character of its furniture and appointments. So, hastily reining back his opening sentence, which began: "This is a snug little establishment of yours, sir. I expect you get through a lot of

solid business here,"-which sprang automatically to his lips,-Mr. Turner remarked:-

"I have called in reference to a circular which you sent me a few days ago."

"Did I?" replied Uncle Joseph blandly.

"Yes. It was an appeal for funds for the International Brotherhood of Kind Young Hearts."

"This is most interesting," said Uncle Joseph, putting his letters back into their envelopes. "But tell me, how do you know that it was I who sent you a circular; and why have you tracked me to an empty flat in Soho to talk to me about it?"

"Aren't these the offices of the Brotherhood of Kind Young Hearts?" asked Turner, a little abashed.

Uncle Joseph smiled indulgently, and looked round him.

"They don't look very like the offices of a charitable organization," he said-"do they? Charity begins in a home, you know. That being the case, I rather fancy your Kind-Hearted friends would at least have furnished themselves with something to sit down on."

But Turner, although he was young and inexperienced, was no fool. Otherwise he would not have been upon the staff of the "Searchlight."

"Charitable organizations sometimes employ accommodation addresses," he said, regarding Uncle Joseph keenly; "especially when they are not quite-you see?"

Uncle Joseph nodded comprehendingly.

"Yes," he answered, "I see. Well, Mr.-I don't think I caught your name."


"Thank you. Well, Mr. Turner, accommodation address or not, I am afraid your birds are flown. You will have to seek them in some other eyrie. You see, I have been in possession of this flat for some few days now. In fact, several letters have already been addressed to me here."

He held out the little bundle of envelopes, in such a way that Mr. Turner found it quite impossible to read the addresses, and then put them back into his pocket.

"I must have the name on that door painted out," continued Uncle Joseph briskly, "or I may have more investigators descending upon me. Not that I am anything but delighted to make your acquaintance, Mr.-"

"Are you quite sure," said Turner steadily, "that you are not the Secretary of the organization whose name is painted on that door?"

Uncle Joseph laughed easily.

"Under this impressive cross-examination," he said, "I know I shall presently feel quite certain that I am! Mr. Turner, you fill me with guilty apprehensions. It is a great gift of yours. May I ask if you are a representative of the law? Or are you the emissary of some newspaper? Or are you merely taking up detection as a hobby?"

Turner flushed. He felt certain that he was being bluffed, but Uncle Joseph would give him no opening.

"I represent the 'Searchlight,'" he said.

"In that case," said Uncle Joseph cheerfully, "I shall be delighted to offer you a lift back to the office. I am going to call on Mr. Dill at twelve o'clock. Come downstairs, and let us see if we can get a cab anywhere."

He locked the door of the flat, and proceeded cheerfully down the staircase, followed by the dazed and defeated Mr. Turner.

Ten minutes later Uncle Joseph was shaking hands with Dill.

"I have just had a narrow escape of being haled to justice by one of your bright young men," he said; and recounted his adventure.

Dill, lying back in his chair and smoking a cigarette,-it was said that he got through a box a day,-heard the story and chuckled.

"An unlucky coincidence for Turner," he said. "Still, he is all right. He is young, and wants a bit more savvy, but he is a glutton for work and as plucky as they make them. I always send him where I think there is a likelihood of any chucking-out being attempted. I am quite at sea about this Kind Heart business. It is evidently a biggish affair, with a big man behind it. I can't make out whether he is an old friend, or a new candidate for the Rogues' Catalogue altogether. But I'll nab him yet. Have another cigarette?"

"How are your Christmas charities going?" enquired Uncle Joseph, helping himself.

"Not too well," said Dill. "In the old days things were simple enough. I asked for the money and I got it. Now the public are bled white either by knaves like this fellow who runs the Kind Hearts, or a parcel of incompetent sentimental old women who waste one half of what they get on expenses and the other half on pauperisation. I have had a deficit each year for three years now."

Uncle Joseph took out a pocket-book, and counted out twenty five-pound notes.

"I can run to a little more this year," he said. "Here you are-fifty for the free dinners and fifty for the toy-distribution. Anonymous, of course, as usual."

Dill gathered up the money.

"Meldrum," he said,-and his voice sounded less like a raven's than usual,-"you are a white man. I say no more."

"Good-morning," said Uncle Joseph.

* * *

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