HOW A WRONG LOOKED RIGHT

Janet Ferguson came in a moment later, having promptly answered
Phoebe’s summons. After greeting her in his kindly way the governor
said:

“I’m puzzled about your father’s keys. What happened to them the day
following his death? Tell me, please?”

Janet tried to remember.

“Usually he left his office key at the post office, but carried the
bunch of small keys on his person,” she replied. “Father was very
absent-minded at times, and I think he was not feeling quite himself
the evening before–before his attack. For it seems he hung his key
ring, containing all the keys, on the peg inside the post office
window, instead of leaving just the office key. But the next morning
Hazel Chandler discovered the keys and brought them to me–all except
the office key, which was left hanging upon the peg. That key Mr.
Chandler afterward turned over to Mr. Spaythe, to whom Toby Clark also
gave his office key.”

“And the smaller keys–the ones that unlocked the cupboard and the
private boxes, such as Mrs. Ritchie’s?”

“When Hazel brought them to me I asked her to carry them to Mr.
Spaythe, and I understand she did so. She delivered them to him on her
way back to the post office.”

“Of course. It is all very clear and comprehensive now, Miss Ferguson.
I thank you. I am not making an official investigation of this case,
you understand. Phoebe and I have concocted a little conspiracy to
arrive at the truth and we are doing our best to clear up the mystery
of Mrs. Ritchie’s lost box–for personal reasons only.”

“I know that Phoebe has been anxious to save Toby Clark,” said Janet
earnestly; “and I am also anxious. Can I assist you in any way?”

“Not at present. If we need you again we will let you know.”

So Janet went away and the governor also dismissed Sam Parsons, telling
the constable he might continue to guard his secret until otherwise
instructed. Then Cousin John briskly rose and said to Phoebe:

“Let us go and call on Dave Hunter.”

The girl dreaded that interview, remembering her last defiant visit to
the telegraph operator; but she knew it could not be avoided. Already
she was amazed at the ease with which the governor fitted together
the pieces of her puzzle, and she was eager to see what link in the
evidence Dave could furnish.

They found the young fellow alone in his office. He recognized the
governor at a glance, for through the exchange of telegrams the
operator knew he was due to arrive in Riverdale that morning and
why he had come. At once Dave’s face hardened and his jaws locked
together with firm obstinacy. But the governor, noting these signs of
opposition, merely smiled.

“Hunter, my lad,” said he, “I’d like to dance at your wedding. I’m not
sure you’ll invite me, and I’m not sure I could come if invited; but
what I mean to assert is that I’d really like to help you celebrate
that important event. Eh?”

Dave seemed confused. He had no answer ready for this form of attack.

“There appear to be certain complications, however, which at present
stand in the way of your ambition,” continued the governor in an
amiable tone. “Hazel has a fine nature and a gentle heart, but her
character isn’t fully developed yet and, in a late emergency, she
allowed herself to be led astray. She knew there was a great deal of
money in Mrs. Ritchie’s box; her father had once seen it and talked
of it in the family circle; so when the judge carelessly left all his
keys in the post office, one evening, Hazel was tempted and didn’t
stop to consider consequences. She was sick and tired of the drudgery
she was enduring and knew she could not be married to you until you
had acquired more money; so she foolishly yielded to the temptation
and at night, when she locked up her store and the post office, she
visited Judge Ferguson’s office, unlocked the cupboard, took down Mrs.
Ritchie’s box and carried it home. In the seclusion of her room she
found the key to the box, opened it and dumped the contents on the
bed. The last thing to tumble out was a long yellow envelope marked
‘Private,’ and Hazel hastily tore this open, with the idea that it
contained money. Finding it to be merely a legal document, in which
she was not interested, she tossed it back into the box. Understand,
Hunter, I won’t vouch for the accuracy of every detail of this story;
but in the main you know it is correct.”

Dave’s eyes were fairly bulging from their sockets as he stared at the
governor and heard him lay bare a secret he thought had been faithfully
guarded.

“You–you’ve seen Hazel?” he stammered.

“No; not yet. But let me continue. That night, perhaps fearing
interruption, the girl had no chance to examine the contents of the
box, which she hid somewhere in her room. Next day she took the box
down town with her, wishing to get rid of it, and managed during the
afternoon to return it to Judge Ferguson’s office. But she had no time
to put it back in the cupboard, because she had left the post office
downstairs alone. So she simply placed it on the table and afterward
got rid of the keys as soon as possible.

“No one suspected her. Toby Clark was suspected, but not Hazel
Chandler. Yet Hazel was in a quandary. She had in her possession a
great deal of money, some valuable bonds, and a lot of useless papers
belonging to Mrs. Ritchie. Naturally she confided in her sweetheart,
not realizing even yet the seriousness of her offense, but rather
exulting in the fact that this money would hasten her wedding day. The
young man to whom she was engaged, however, listened to her story with
horror and despair. He realized the enormity of the girl’s crime and
knew that its discovery meant prison for her, a broken heart for him,
and ruined lives for them both.”

Dave’s stern features had gradually relaxed to an expression of abject
misery. At the vivid scene conjured up by his accuser he sobbed aloud
and dropped his face in his hands. But the governor quietly continued:

“The young man’s plight was indeed pitiful, but his poignant sorrow
blurred his reason and led him to a subterfuge so cruel and unmanly
that his error was scarcely less iniquitous than Hazel’s. To save the
girl he loved he endeavored to throw the burden of guilt on an innocent
person, a friendless boy and a cripple. He was not the first to accuse
Toby Clark, but Toby’s arrest gave him the idea. Forcing Hazel to give
to him the entire contents of the rifled box, he selected all the
papers that were of no value to anyone but the owner and hid then in
the back room of the shanty. Then, to make sure they would be found,
he wrote anonymous letters to two parties whom he thought would be
interested in the search, telling where the papers were hidden.”

The governor paused a moment.

“I am not sure,” said he, “why you retained the money and bonds,
Hunter. You may have had some vague idea of keeping them, at the time;
but afterward I am sure you thought better of it, for you gave up the
stolen money, again implicating Toby Clark.”




“I–I wanted to give it all up in the beginning,” groaned Dave, in
broken, pleading accents; “but I was bewildered, then–I’ve been
bewildered ever since, I think–and the thought came to me that if
Hazel should be arrested I would need money to defend her. I didn’t
much care what I did, if only I could manage to save Hazel. But–after
a time–I thought the danger had passed and no one would now connect
her with the theft; so I wanted to get rid of the money, which was a
horror to me. I thought the best way was to put it in Toby’s house, as
I did the papers.”

“I follow your argument,” said the governor. “Had you been more
experienced in crime you would have known that the greatest danger
of discovery lay in those anonymous letters. Such things are very
easily traced. Do you know that Phoebe Daring was able to connect you
with this crime by means of those very letters? As a matter of fact,
however, they did not lead to the discovery that Hazel Chandler took
Mrs. Ritchie’s box. Two different people saw her carry it home; yet I
suppose she has imagined she escaped observation.”

“She–she seemed quite sure of that, sir.”

“No doubt. The criminal is always blind. If the time ever comes when
everyone realizes that the law is more clever than the individual,
that justice is rampant and will not be denied and that punishment
follows an undiscovered crime as surely as if it were discovered, then
indeed humanity may shrink from committing lawless acts. The more
inexperienced and simple-minded the offender, the more certain he or
she is of outwitting all the rest of the world. As a consequence, our
prisons are crowded and our trial courts cost us millions of dollars
annually. It is so much more simple and safe to obey the laws of
humanity and of nations, that I wonder people do not prefer to walk
uprightly.”

Dave had no reply to this, although there is no doubt he frankly
admitted its truth. He now knew that the governor and Phoebe, and
doubtless others, were in possession of the secret he had guarded so
jealously, and in this crisis his thoughts were all of the girl he
loved and had sought to shield.

“Sir,” he said after a moment, “is there any way in which I can assume
all the punishment? Suppose that I confess that I stole Mrs. Ritchie’s
box; will you and Phoebe help me to carry out the deception and take
Toby Clark’s place?”

“Why, that is what you should have done in the beginning,” said Cousin
John. “Now it is too late for such vicarious atonement.”

Again Dave groaned.

“Mrs. Ritchie has all her property now,” he asserted. “Don’t you
suppose she could be induced to save Hazel?”

“No; I do not.”

“It–it’s going to wreck a lot of lives, sir–the publicity and
disgrace. The poor girl didn’t know what she was doing; indeed, sir,
that is the truth. She–she’s sorry enough now. We’ve both suffered
bitterly and–and been severely punished already. But I’ll take more
punishment; I’ll do anything, sir, to keep Hazel out of it and save her
and her people from infamy.”

“I can’t promise you anything, Hunter,” said the governor, evident
sympathy in his tone. “I’m sorry for you. You were drawn into this
thing merely because you are fond of the girl, and I admire you for
standing by your sweetheart, through thick and thin. The faults you
have committed, in striving to compel an innocent boy to suffer, are
far from admirable; yet you have not a strong nature and there are
many who might have acted just as you did. I will say this: if it can
be arranged to clear Toby Clark in the eyes of all the world without
condemning Hazel Chandler, I shall try to do so. Our first care will be
to save Toby; afterward I will do what I can for Hazel.”

Dave was grateful for this promise and seized the governor’s hand in
both his own to press it warmly.

“At present,” said Cousin John, “Phoebe and I alone are in possession
of all the facts I have related. The two persons who saw Hazel take
the box seem as anxious to shield her from public condemnation as you
are. So I think you may hope for the best.”

With this they left the telegraph office and walked up the street.

“Where next?” asked Phoebe curiously. She had, by this time, so supreme
a confidence in Cousin John’s ability to pick up scattered threads and
smooth out all tangles that in her heart she believed the truth had
now been laid bare in its entirety and thought nothing remained but to
confirm the facts already gathered.

“We will see Mr. Spaythe next,” the great man replied.

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