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The Old Man in the Corner

XIX. Conflicting Evidence
"By the time the public had been able to think over James Fairbairn's evidence, a certain
disquietude and unrest had begun to make itself felt both in the bank itself and among
those of our detective force who had charge of the case. The newspapers spoke of the
matter with very obvious caution, and warned all their readers to await the further
development of this sad case.
"While the manager of the English Provident Bank lay in such a precarious condition of
health, it was impossible to arrive at any definite knowledge as to what the thief had
actually made away with. The chief cashier, however, estimated the loss at about £5000
in gold and notes of the bank money--that was, of course, on the assumption that Mr.
Ireland had no private money or valuables of his own in the safe.
"Mind you, at this point public sympathy was much stirred in favour of the poor man who
lay ill, perhaps dying, and yet whom, strangely enough, suspicion had already slightly
touched with its poisoned wing.
"Suspicion is a strong word, perhaps, to use at this point in the story. No one suspected
anybody at present. James Fairbairn had told his story, and had vowed that some thief
with false keys must have sneaked through the house into the inner office.
"Public excitement, you will remember, lost nothing by waiting. Hardly had we all had
time to wonder over the night watchman's singular evidence, and, pending further and
fuller detail, to check our growing sympathy for the man who was ill, than the sensational
side of this mysterious case culminated in one extraordinary, absolutely unexpected fact.
Mrs. Ireland, after a twenty-four hours' untiring watch beside her husband's sick bed, had
at last been approached by the detective, and been asked to reply to a few simple
questions, and thus help to throw some light on the mystery which had caused Mr.
Ireland's illness and her own consequent anxiety.
"She professed herself quite ready to reply to any questions put to her, and she literally
astounded both inspector and detective when she firmly and emphatically declared that
James Fairbairn must have been dreaming or asleep when he thought he saw her in the
doorway at ten o'clock that night, and fancied he heard her voice.
"She may or may not have been down in the hall at that particular hour, for she usually
ran down herself to see if the last post had brought any letters, but most certainly she had
neither seen nor spoken to Mr. Ireland at that hour, for Mr. Ireland had gone out an hour
before, she herself having seen him to the front door. Never for a moment did she swerve
from this extraordinary statement. She spoke to James Fairbairn in the presence of the
detective, and told him he _must_ absolutely have been mistaken, that she had _not_ seen
Mr. Ireland, and that she had _not_ spoken to him.