"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'
"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,
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.