It was Phoebe’s turn to start and draw a long breath, but she managed
to stifle her surprise and retain her self-possession. In an instant
she knew that the young man, deceived by her reference to the box, had
inadvertently committed himself and she determined to take advantage of
his slip. Mr. Holbrook’s question was so astonishing that for a moment
it fairly bewildered her, yet the pause before she answered might well
be mistaken for a natural hesitation.
“Not everything,” she calmly replied. “But I had no idea you–knew–so
much–of the truth, Mr. Holbrook,” she continued, with a searching look
into his face.
“I admit that I have been in a quandary how to act,” he said
confidently, yet in an eager tone. “But it gives me great relief
to know that you, who are in the secret, can understand my motives
and sympathize with my dilemma. At the very outset of my career
in Riverdale I have a case thrust upon me that bids fair to ruin
my prestige in the town, for unless I can disprove the evidence
against young Clark, without implicating the real criminal, I shall
be considered an unsuccessful lawyer. You and I realize that I can’t
implicate the guilty person, for that would arouse the indignation
of all Riverdale; and unless I clear Clark, who has the sympathy of
all, I shall be generally condemned. Just see what an impression that
parade of the children made! I’ve puzzled over the matter continually,
striving to find a solution, but until you came with your hint about a
substituted box I was completely at a loss what to do. Can you tell me
“I should not have told you so much, sir,” she answered.
“I understand. We must be cautious what we say, we who know.”
“How did you discover that–she–took the box?” Phoebe asked, breathing
hard as she pronounced the word “she” but outwardly appearing calm.
The lawyer glanced at Nathalie, who had remained silent but amazed.
“Your friend knows?” he asked Phoebe.
“Not all,” she said. “Not–the name.”
“Oh. Well, I’ll avoid the name,” he continued, evidently eager to
explain. “I was sauntering along the deserted street late at night–it
was the night before the judge died, you remember–engaged in
considering whether I should settle in Riverdale and undertake the
practice of law, when two lawyers were already in the field, when my
attention was arrested by a flash of light from the upper windows of
the building opposite me–this building. It was not a strong light; not
an electric light; more like a match that flickered a moment and then
went out. I stood still, but was not particularly interested, when the
flash was repeated, shaded this time and not so bright. It occurred
to me there was something suspicious about that. The electric lights
at the street corners proved that the current was still on and if it
were Judge Ferguson, visiting his office so late, there was no reason
he should not turn on the incandescents. If not the judge, some one
else was in his office–some one who did not want too much light, which
might be noticed, but enough for a certain purpose.
“I waited and saw the third match struck, which flickered a moment,
like the others, and then went out. The doorway of the drug store,
just opposite here, was quite dark; so I withdrew into its recess and
watched the stairway of this building. Presently–she–came down,
glanced cautiously into the street, and finding it deserted began
walking hastily toward the east. She carried something under her arm,
hugged tightly but too large to be completely hidden. I slipped out
of the doorway and followed, keeping in the shadows. As she passed
under the light at the corner I saw that what she held was an oblong
box painted blue. I could even discover some white letters on the end
but was unable to read what they spelled. Being quite positive, by
this time, that there was something wrong in the stealthy actions of
the–person, I kept her in sight during her entire journey, until she
reached her home and let herself into the dark house with a latchkey.
“At that time I did not know who lived in the place; indeed, it was
not until the Ritchie box was reported missing that I cautiously
inquired and found out who it was I had caught pilfering. Toby’s arrest
followed, and the discovery of the evidence against him. Then, to my
regret, Mr. Spaythe engaged me to defend Clark and my worries and
troubles began, as you may easily guess, Miss Daring. I had no idea,
until now, that another box had been substituted; but if that was done,
then the evidence that was meant to convict my young client will do
much to prove a conspiracy against him and therefore his innocence.”
Phoebe had listened with intense interest to every word of Mr.
Holbrook’s explanation, which he made under the impression that she
knew the whole truth concerning the theft of the box. She regretted
that in order to lead him on to talk freely she had been obliged to
say that Nathalie did not know the name of the mysterious “she”; for
otherwise he might inadvertently have mentioned it, and she would have
been in possession of the entire truth.
But Phoebe had learned a great deal; more than she had ever dreamed of,
and she left the lawyer’s office greatly elated over her discovery.
Nathalie, completely bewildered by Mr. Holbrook’s admissions, as well
as by Phoebe’s reference to a duplicate box, began to ply her friend
with questions as soon as they were on the street; but Phoebe earnestly
begged her to wait patiently until she could tell her all.
“I’m as ignorant as you are, Nathalie, as to who the ‘she’ is whom
Mr. Holbrook saw take the box,” she declared. “He got an impression,
somehow, that I know more than I really do, and spoke so frankly on
that account that he let me into his secret–in part–unawares. I shall
now be obliged to ferret out the rest of the mystery, but with my
present knowledge to guide me that ought not to be very difficult.”
“Why should he have such a strong desire to shield her?” asked Nathalie
“I don’t know. She may be some very respectable woman.”
“Would a respectable woman steal?”
“Well she might yield to some extraordinary temptation to do so,”
replied Phoebe, thinking of Sam Parsons’ plea.
“And the box was stolen before Judge Ferguson died,” said Nathalie,
“Yes; so it seems. The general impression has been that it was taken
afterward, as the result of his death. I wonder how this affair would
have turned out had the dear old judge lived. He was worth any ten
common lawyers and a dozen detectives.”
“So he was,” replied Nathalie. “Mr. Holbrook seems an honest and
gentlemanly fellow, but he never can fill Judge Ferguson’s place.”
Phoebe, after parting from her girl friend, reflected that her feelings
toward the young lawyer had changed under the light of to-day’s
discoveries. She could imagine his perplexity when called upon to
defend Toby, and could see how his desire to shield the guilty female
or his fear of denouncing her would account for his lack of activity
in the case. Doubtless Mr. Holbrook agreed with Sam Parsons–of whose
opinion he was wholly ignorant–that it was better to let Toby suffer
than to accuse the guilty one. These two men, Phoebe reflected, were
influenced alike by motives of gallantry or consideration for the
female sex; for, had not the guilty one been a woman–or perhaps a
young girl–neither man would have undertaken to shield him from the
consequences of his crime.
But Phoebe was inclined to condemn one of her own sex as frankly as
she would a man. She was even indignant that an honest boy was to be
sacrificed for a dishonest woman. She became more firmly resolved than
ever to prevent such a miscarriage of justice.
She was greatly pleased, however, with Mr. Holbrook’s assertion that
by proving the box found on Toby’s premises a fraud, the defense would
stand a good chance of winning the trial. If that evidence fell down,
all the rest might well be doubted, and for a time the girl seriously
considered the advisability of abandoning any further attempt to bring
the guilty party to justice, relying upon the lawyer to free his
client. But the thought then occurred to her that merely to save Toby
Clark from conviction would not be sufficient to restore to him his
good name. Some would still claim that justice had miscarried and the
suspicion would cling to him for all time. The only thing that could
reinstate the accused in the eyes of the world was to prove beyond
doubt that some one else had committed the crime.
Forced to reconstruct all her former theories, Phoebe abandoned her
“list of suspects” and wrote a new memorandum. It outlined the facts
now in her possession as follows:
“1–The guilty one was a woman or a girl, of respectable family.
2–Some one deliberately attempted to incriminate Toby Clark by placing
a fraudulent box in the boy’s rubbish heap. 3–Sam Parsons now had the
genuine box in his possession and wouldn’t tell how he got it. 4–The
theft was committed on the night before Judge Ferguson’s sudden death.
5–Both Sam and Mr. Holbrook knew the identity of the criminal but
would not disclose it; therefore information must be sought elsewhere.”
After taking a day or two to consider these points Phoebe suddenly
decided to see Mr. Spaythe and have a talk with him. The banker was
now freed of any suspicion that might attach to him and he was the one
person in Riverdale who had boldly defied public opinion and taken the
accused boy under his personal protection. Therefore she might talk
freely with Mr. Spaythe and his judgment ought to assist her materially.
She decided to go to the bank rather than to the Spaythe residence,
where Toby might be in the way, so late in the afternoon she waited
on the banker, who was in his private office. This was a room quite
separate from the bank proper, which it adjoined and with which it was
Mr. Spaythe admitted Phoebe at once and placed a chair for her with an
inquiring look but no word of question. The girl knew him well, for her
twin brother, Phil Daring, had once worked in Spaythe’s Bank and, in
common with many others in Riverdale, the Darings had cause to respect
the banker very highly.
“I am trying hard, Mr. Spaythe, to solve the mysterious disappearance
of Mrs. Ritchie’s box,” she began. “I am not posing as a detective,
exactly, but as an interested investigator. My object is to bring the
guilty one to justice and so clear Toby’s good name. It seems like a
very complicated affair and I’ve an idea you can assist me to untangle
Mr. Spaythe, leaning back in his chair with his eyes fixed full upon
the girl’s face, was silent for a time, evidently in deep thought. He
was thinking of the time when Phoebe had handled another difficult
matter in so delicate and intelligent a way that she had saved him a
vast deal of sorrow and humiliation. He was a reserved man, but Phoebe
Daring was the banker’s ideal of young womanhood. Finally he said
“What do you wish to know?”
“Who stole the box, for one thing,” she said, smiling at him. “But in
default of that information I will welcome any detail bearing on the
He considered this a moment, gravely.
“I stole the box, for one,” said he.
Phoebe gave a great start, staring wide-eyed.
“_You_, Mr. Spaythe!”
“But–Oh, it’s impossible.”
“It is quite true, my dear. Some of the contents of the box are still
in my possession.”
She tried to think what this admission meant.
“But, Mr. Spaythe, I–I–don’t–understand!”
“Of course you don’t, my child; nor do I. Let me explain more fully.
On the afternoon following Judge Ferguson’s death I wanted to see Toby
Clark on a matter connected with the funeral, of which I had assumed
charge because I believed I was the judge’s closest friend. I did not
know where to find Toby, but thinking he might be in the office I
walked over there and entered, the door being unlocked. The place was
vacant. Seeing the door of the smaller room ajar I walked in and found
lying upon the table Mrs. Ritchie’s box. It was open and the lid was
thrown back. I saw it was empty except for a yellow envelope with the
end torn off and a legal document. This last attracted my attention at
once, because of the names written on it. I knew that Mrs. Ritchie
had been accustomed to keep many valuables in her box and had often
warned Judge Ferguson that it was not wise to make a safety deposit
vault of his law office; therefore the circumstance of finding the
practically empty box on his table made me fear something was amiss.
I tried the cupboard, but found it locked; so I wrapped the box in an
old newspaper and carried it away to this office, without mentioning
the fact to anyone. At my leisure I examined the paper found in the box
and deciding it was of great importance I put it away in the bank safe,
where it is still in my keeping. I may as well add that I believe this
is the missing paper which Mrs. Ritchie is so anxious to regain–and I
well understand her reasons for wanting it.”
His voice grew harsh as he said this and he paused, with a frown,
before resuming in a more gracious tone:
“Later in the day, on my visit to the Ferguson house, Janet handed me
her father’s keys. When I returned to the office I found the key that
fitted Mrs. Ritchie’s box and locked it, although there was nothing
then in it but the yellow envelope which once contained the paper I
had seized. Soon after I was called into the bank a moment and when I
returned, the box which had been lying on this table, had disappeared.”
“Stolen!” cried Phoebe in a hushed voice.
“Evidently. Stolen for the third time, I imagine. I did not see it
again until it was found hidden in Toby Clark’s rubbish heap.”
“Oh!” exclaimed the girl and then checked herself. She knew it was not
the same box, but a moment’s thought warned her not to mention that
fact just yet. Sam Parsons must have stolen the box from Mr. Spaythe’s
office and hid it in his own home. Did Sam believe Mr. Spaythe the
thief and was it the banker he was trying to protect? The bank was the
repository of all the money in the village; to arrest the banker for
theft would create a veritable panic and perhaps cause much suffering