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Chapter 20 AN ALIBI

  • "It was close on six weeks before the doctor at last allowed his patient t_ttend to the grave business which had prostrated him for so long.
  • "In the meantime, among the many people who directly or indirectly were mad_o suffer in this mysterious affair, no one, I think, was more pitied, an_ore genuinely sympathised with, than Robert Ireland, the manager's eldes_on.
  • "You remember that he had been clerk in the bank? Well, naturally, the momen_uspicion began to fasten on his father his position in the business becam_ntenable. I think every one was very kind to him. Mr. Sutherland French, wh_as made acting manager 'during Mr. Lewis Ireland's regrettable absence,' di_verything in his power to show his goodwill and sympathy to the young man,
  • but I don't think that he or any one else was much astonished when, after Mrs.
  • Ireland's extraordinary attitude in the case had become public property, h_uietly intimated to the acting manager that he had determined to sever hi_onnection with the bank.
  • "The best of recommendations was, of course, placed at his disposal, and i_as finally understood that, as soon as his father was completely restored t_ealth and would no longer require his presence in London, he would try t_btain employment somewhere abroad. He spoke of the new volunteer corp_rganized for the military policing of the new colonies, and, truth to tell,
  • no one could blame him that he should wish to leave far behind him all Londo_anking connections. The son's attitude certainly did not tend to ameliorat_he father's position. It was pretty evident that his own family had ceased t_ope in the poor manager's innocence.
  • "And yet he was absolutely innocent. You must remember how that fact wa_learly demonstrated as soon as the poor man was able to say a word fo_imself. And he said it to some purpose, too.
  • "Mr. Ireland was, and is, very fond of music. On the evening in question,
  • while sitting in his club, he saw in one of the daily papers the announcemen_f a peculiarly attractive programme at the Queen's Hall concert. He was no_ressed, but nevertheless felt an irresistible desire to hear one or two o_hese attractive musical items, and he strolled down to the Hall. Now, thi_ort of alibi is usually very difficult to prove, but Dame Fortune, oddl_nough, favoured Mr. Ireland on this occasion, probably to compensate him fo_he hard knocks she had been dealing him pretty freely of late.
  • "It appears that there was some difficulty about his seat, which was sold t_im at the box office, and which he, nevertheless, found wrongfully occupie_y a determined lady, who refused to move. The management had to be appeale_o; the attendants also remembered not only the incident, but also the fac_nd appearance of the gentleman who was the innocent cause of the altercation.
  • "As soon as Mr. Ireland could speak for himself he mentioned the incident an_he persons who had been witness to it. He was identified by them, to th_mazement, it must be confessed, of police and public alike, who ha_omfortably decided that no one _could_ be guilty save the manager of th_rovident Bank himself. Moreover, Mr. Ireland was a fairly wealthy man, with _ood balance at the Union Bank, and plenty of private means, the result o_ears of provident living.
  • "He had but to prove that if he really had been in need of an immediate
  • £5000—which was all the amount extracted from the bank safe that night—he ha_lenty of securities on which he could, at an hour's notice, have raised twic_hat sum. His life insurances had been fully paid up; he had not a debt whic_ £5 note could not easily have covered.
  • "On the fatal night he certainly did remember asking the watchman not to bol_he door to his office, as he thought he might have one or two letters t_rite when he came home, but later on he had forgotten all about this. Afte_he concert he met his son in Oxford Street, just outside the house, an_hought no more about the office, the door of which was shut, and presented n_nusual appearance.
  • "Mr. Ireland absolutely denied having been in his office at the hour whe_ames Fairbairn positively asserted he heard Mrs. Ireland say in an astonishe_one of voice: 'Why, Lewis, what in the world are you doing here?' It becam_retty clear therefore that James Fairbairn's view of the manager's wife ha_een a mere vision.
  • "Mr. Ireland gave up his position as manager of the English Provident: both h_nd his wife felt no doubt that on the whole, perhaps, there had been too muc_alk, too much scandal connected with their name, to be altogethe_dvantageous to the bank. Moreover, Mr. Ireland's health was not so good as i_ad been. He has a pretty house now at Sittingbourne, and amuses himsel_uring his leisure hours with amateur horticulture, and I, who alone in Londo_esides the persons directly connected with this mysterious affair, know th_rue solution of the enigma, often wonder how much of it is known to the ex-
  • manager of the English Provident Bank."
  • The man in the corner had been silent for some time. Miss Polly Burton, in he_resumption, had made up her mind, at the commencement of his tale, to liste_ttentively to every point of the evidence in connection with the case whic_e recapitulated before her, and to follow the point, in order to try an_rrive at a conclusion of her own, and overwhelm the antediluvian scarecro_ith her sagacity.
  • She said nothing, for she had arrived at no conclusion; the case puzzled ever_ne, and had amazed the public in its various stages, from the moment whe_pinion began to cast doubt on Mr. Ireland's honesty to that when hi_ntegrity was proved beyond a doubt. One or two people had suspected Mrs.
  • Ireland to have been the actual thief, but that idea had soon to be abandoned.
  • Mrs. Ireland had all the money she wanted; the theft occurred six months ago,
  • and not a single bank-note was ever traced to her pocket; moreover, she mus_ave had an accomplice, since some one else was in the manager's room tha_ight; and if that some one else was her accomplice, why did she ris_etraying him by speaking loudly in the presence of James Fairbairn, when i_ould have been so much simpler to turn out the light and plunge the hall int_arkness?
  • "You are altogether on the wrong track," sounded a sharp voice in direc_nswer to Polly's thoughts—"altogether wrong. If you want to acquire my metho_f induction, and improve your reasoning power, you must follow my system.
  • First think of the one absolutely undisputed, positive fact. You must have _tarting-point, and not go wandering about in the realms of suppositions."
  • "But there are no positive facts," she said irritably.
  • "You don't say so?" he said quietly. "Do you not call it a positive fact tha_he bank safe was robbed of £5000 on the evening of March 25th before 11.3_.m."
  • "Yes, that is all which is positive and—"
  • "Do you not call it a positive fact," he interrupted quietly, "that the loc_f the safe not being picked, it must have been opened by its own key?"
  • "I know that," she rejoined crossly, "and that is why every one agreed tha_ames Fairbairn could not possibly—"
  • "And do you not call it a positive fact, then, that James Fairbairn could no_ossibly, etc., etc., seeing that the glass partition door was locked from th_nside; Mrs. Ireland herself let James Fairbairn into her husband's offic_hen she saw him lying fainting before the open safe. Of course that was _ositive fact, and so was the one that proved to any thinking mind that i_hat safe was opened with a key, it could only have been done by a perso_aving access to that key."
  • "But the man in the private office—"
  • "Exactly! the man in the private office. Enumerate his points, if you please,"
  • said the funny creature, marking each point with one of his favourite knots.
  • "He was a man who might that night have had access to the key of the safe,
  • unsuspected by the manager or even his wife, and a man for whom Mrs. Irelan_as willing to tell a downright lie. Are there many men for whom a woman o_he better middle class, and an Englishwoman, would be ready to perjur_erself? Surely not! She might do it for her husband. The public thought sh_ad. It never struck them that she might have done it for her son!"
  • "Her son!" exclaimed Polly.
  • "Ah! she was a clever woman," he ejaculated enthusiastically, "one wit_ourage and presence of mind, which I don't think I have ever seen equalled.
  • She runs downstairs before going to bed in order to see whether the last pos_as brought any letters. She sees the door of her husband's office ajar, sh_ushes it open, and there, by the sudden flash of a hastily struck match sh_ealizes in a moment that a thief stands before the open safe, and in tha_hief she has already recognized her son. At that very moment she hears th_atchman's step approaching the partition. There is no time to warn her son;
  • she does not know the glass door is locked; James Fairbairn may switch on th_lectric light and see the young man in the very act of robbing his employers'
  • safe.
  • "One thing alone can reassure the watchman. One person alone had the right t_e there at that hour of the night, and without hesitation she pronounces he_usband's name.
  • "Mind you, I firmly believe that at the time the poor woman only wished t_ain time, that she had every hope that her son had not yet had th_pportunity to lay so heavy a guilt upon his conscience.
  • "What passed between mother and son we shall never know, but this much we d_now, that the young villain made off with his booty, and trusted that hi_other would never betray him. Poor woman! what a night of it she must hav_pent; but she was clever and far-seeing. She knew that her husband'_haracter could not suffer through her action. Accordingly, she took the onl_ourse open to her to save her son even from his father's wrath, and boldl_enied James Fairbairn's statement.
  • "Of course, she was fully aware that her husband could easily clear himself,
  • and the worst that could be said of her was that she had thought him guilt_nd had tried to save him. She trusted to the future to clear her of an_harge of complicity in the theft.
  • "By now every one has forgotten most of the circumstances; the police ar_till watching the career of James Fairbairn and Mrs. Ireland's expenditure.
  • As you know, not a single note, so far, has been traced to her. Against that,
  • one or two of the notes have found their way back to England. No one realize_ow easy it is to cash English bank-notes at the smaller _agents de change_broad. The _changeurs_ are only too glad to get them; what do they care wher_hey come from as long as they are genuine? And a week or two later _M. l_hangeur_ could not swear who tendered him any one particular note.
  • "You see, young Robert Ireland went abroad, he will come back some day havin_ade a fortune. There's his photo. And this is his mother—a clever woman,
  • wasn't she?"
  • And before Polly had time to reply he was gone. She really had never seen an_ne move across a room so quickly. But he always left an interesting trai_ehind: a piece of string knotted from end to end and a few photos.