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The Old Man in the Corner

XVIII. The Theft At The English Provident Bank
"That question of motive is a very difficult and complicated one at times," said the man
in the corner, leisurely pulling off a huge pair of flaming dog-skin gloves from his
meagre fingers. "I have known experienced criminal investigators declare, as an infallible
axiom, that to find the person interested in the committal of the crime is to find the
"Well, that may be so in most cases, but my experience has proved to me that there is one
factor in this world of ours which is the mainspring of human actions, and that factor is
human passions. For good or evil passions rule this poor humanity of ours. Remember,
there are the women! French detectives, who are acknowledged masters in their craft,
never proceed till after they have discovered the feminine element in a crime; whether in
theft, murder, or fraud, according to their theory, there is always a woman.
"Perhaps the reason why the Phillimore Terrace robbery was never brought home to its
perpetrators is because there was no woman in any way connected with it, and I am quite
sure, on the other hand, that the reason why the thief at the English Provident Bank is still
unpunished is because a clever woman has escaped the eyes of our police force."
He had spoken at great length and very dictatorially. Miss Polly Burton did not venture to
contradict him, knowing by now that whenever he was irritable he was invariably rude,
and she then had the worst of it.
"When I am old," he resumed, "and have nothing more to do, I think I shall take
professionally to the police force; they have much to learn."
Could anything be more ludicrous than the self-satisfaction, the abnormal conceit of this
remark, made by that shrivelled piece of mankind, in a nervous, hesitating tone of voice?
Polly made no comment, but drew from her pocket a beautiful piece of string, and
knowing his custom of knotting such an article while unravelling his mysteries, she
handed it across the table to him. She positively thought that he blushed.
"As an adjunct to thought," she said, moved by a conciliatory spirit.
He looked at the invaluable toy which the young girl had tantalisingly placed close to his
hand: then he forced himself to look all round the coffee-room: at Polly, at the waitresses,
at the piles of pallid buns upon the counter. But, involuntarily, his mild blue eyes
wandered back lovingly to the long piece of string, on which his playful imagination no
doubt already saw a series of knots which would be equally tantalising to tie and to untie.
"Tell me about the theft at the English Provident Bank," suggested Polly