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Stories of Mystery edited by Rossiter Johnson
THE FOUR-FIFTEEN EXPRESS by AMELIA B. EDWARDS.
The chairman turned again to the guard.
"Did you see Mr. Raikes in the train, or on the platform?" he asked.
Somers shook his head.
"I am confident Mr. Raikes was not in the train," he said; "and I certainly did not see him on the platform."
The chairman turned next to the secretary.
"Mr. Raikes is in your office, Mr. Hunter," he said. "Can you remember if he was absent on the fourth instant?"
"I do not think he was," replied the secretary; "but I am not prepared to speak positively. I have been away most afternoons myself lately, and Mr. Raikes might easily have absented himself if he had been disposed."
At this moment the under-secretary returned with the day-book under his arm.
"Be pleased to refer, Mr. Raikes," said the chairman, "to the entries of the fourth instant, and see what Benjamin Somers's duties were on that day."
Mr. Raikes threw open the cumbrous volume, and ran a practised eye and finger down some three or four successive columns of entries. Stopping suddenly at the foot of a page, he then read aloud that Benjamin Somers had on that day conducted the 4.15 express from London to Crampton.
The chairman leaned forward in his seat, looked the under-secretary full in the face, and said, quite sharply and suddenly,--
"Where were _you_, Mr. Raikes, on the same afternoon?"
"You, Mr. Raikes. Where were you on the afternoon and evening of the fourth of the present month?"
"Here, sir,--in Mr. Hunter's office. Where else should I be?"
There was a dash of trepidation in the under-secretary's voice as he said this; but his look of surprise was natural enough.
"We have some reason for believing, Mr. Raikes, that you were absent that afternoon without leave. Was this the case?"
"Certainly not, sir. I have not had a day's holiday since September. Mr. Hunter will bear me out in this."
Mr. Hunter repeated what he had previously said on the subject, but added that the clerks in the adjoining office would be certain to know. Whereupon the senior clerk, a grave, middle-aged person, in green glasses, was summoned and interrogated.
His testimony cleared the under-secretary at once. He declared that Mr. Raikes had in no instance, to his knowledge, been absent during office hours since his return from his annual holiday in September.
I was confounded. The chairman turned to me with a smile, in which a shade of covert annoyance was scarcely apparent.
"You hear, Mr. Langford?" he said.
"I hear, sir; but my conviction remains unshaken."
"I fear, Mr. Langford, that your convictions are very insufficiently based," replied the chairman, with a doubtful cough. "I fear that you 'dream dreams,' and mistake them for actual occurrences. It is a dangerous habit of mind, and might lead to dangerous results. Mr. Raikes here would have found himself in an unpleasant position, had he not proved so satisfactory an _alibi_."
I was about to reply, but he gave me no time.
"I think, gentlemen," he went on to say, addressing the board, "that we should be wasting time to push this inquiry further. Mr. Langford's evidence would seem to be of an equal value throughout. The testimony of Benjamin Somers disproves his first statement, and the testimony of the last witness disproves his second. I think we may conclude that Mr. Langford fell asleep in the train on the occasion of his journey to Clayborough, and dreamt an unusually vivid and circumstantial dream,--of which, however, we have now heard quite enough."
There are few things more annoying than to find one's positive convictions met with incredulity. I could not help feeling impatience at the turn that affairs had taken. I was not proof against the civil sarcasm of the chairman's manner. Most intolerable of all, however, was the quiet smile lurking about the corners of Benjamin Somers's mouth, and the half-triumphant, half-malicious gleam in the eyes of the under-secretary. The man was evidently puzzled, and somewhat alarmed. His looks seemed furtively to interrogate me. Who was I? What did I want? Why had I come there to do him an ill turn with his employers? What was it to me whether or no he was absent without leave?