HOW PHOEBE CONSPIRED

Whatever happens, the sun rises and sets and the old world continues
to whirl on its axis. Toby Clark’s arrest was a huge sensation in
Riverdale for a day, and then it lost its novelty. Now and then, during
the days that followed the boy’s arraignment, the people gossiped
concerning the outcome of the case, but since nothing new developed to
bolster public interest Toby’s dilemma soon became an old story.

Young Mr. Holbrook had acquired a certain distinction through being
employed by Mr. Spaythe for the defense. The banker’s judgment was so
reliable that the former clients of Judge Ferguson began to consult
Holbrook rather than Kellogg and while he was not as yet entrusted with
much important business the new lawyer found his practice steadily
growing.

But Mr. Spaythe was not entirely satisfied with his attorney, although
he did not express his dissatisfaction in words. Every few days he
would go to Mr. Holbrook’s office and say: “Well?”

“The case is progressing finely,” was the invariable reply.

“What have you discovered?”

“Nothing definite as yet, sir; but I am getting at the facts and will
report to you as soon as I can furnish absolute proofs.”

That did not content Mr. Spaythe, but it silenced him and he went away.

Toby remained quietly at the banker’s house, reading his few law books
diligently and leaving his defense to his friends, as he had been urged
to do. The Darings invited him to their home on many occasions, and so
did Janet Ferguson; but the boy refused to go, saying that until his
innocence was fully established he preferred to remain in retirement.
It was a comfort to them all that the Spaythes were caring for Toby.
The Darings, from little Sue up to Phoebe, were loud in their praise
of the banker, who had never before been known to extend such kindly
consideration to anyone. Mrs. Spaythe had died years before, when Eric
was a baby, and a prim old lady, a distant relative, kept house for the
father and son, who were both engaged at the bank during the day and
seldom passed an evening at home. So Toby practically had the house to
himself.

One evening Eric Spaythe called on Phoebe and they had a long talk
about Toby Clark’s affairs.

“Hasn’t Mr. Holbrook done anything yet?” asked Phoebe impatiently.

“No; and I’ve an idea he doesn’t intend to do anything,” replied Eric.

“What makes you think that?”

“The way he acts. He’s letting things drag terribly. I don’t understand
Holbrook, and that’s a fact. The time for prompt action was right after
the robbery,” declared Eric. “Then everything was fresh and the trails
were clear. It wouldn’t have been any trick at all to catch the thief
then; but nearly a month has gone by and not a clew uncovered. We’re as
far from the truth as ever.”

“Mr. Holbrook can hardly afford to make a failure of the case,” said
Phoebe, using the well-worn argument doubtfully.

“It appeared to me that way, at first, especially as he seemed so
cocksure of himself,” returned young Spaythe. “But he once made a
remark to father that I’ve not forgotten. He said his reputation would
be injured _unless Toby Clark’s guilt was proved_ or–he found the
guilty party. I don’t like that alternative, Phoebe. Do you know, I’ve
an idea that Holbrook believes Toby is guilty?”

“I’ve had that idea from the first,” declared Phoebe with eagerness. “I
was in his office when your father came to him with the news of Toby’s
arrest, and I watched Mr. Holbrook carefully. Even at that time I could
see he doubted Toby’s innocence, or else–or else–”

“Or else what, Phoebe?”

“Or else he knows who took the box and is willing to have Toby accused.”

Eric stared at her wonderingly.

“That’s a good deal to accuse the fellow of,” he said. “I think our
first guess is right, and in that event Toby is in a bad way. If
Holbrook believes him guilty he won’t make any honest effort to find
out who took the box. He’ll just let Kellogg prove his case. Then
Holbrook will say he did the best he could but that no one could clear
a guilty person. Most people will accept that sort of a statement and
Holbrook may be depending upon it to save himself. That’s why he’s
putting us off and taking things easy.”

“But they can’t prove Toby guilty!” protested Phoebe, who knowing in
her heart the boy was innocent, had clung to the belief as her best
anchorage.

“I’m not sure of that,” said Eric, gravely shaking his head. “It’s
pretty strong evidence, Phoebe, and I don’t believe it’s safe to let
the case go to trial just as it stands.”

“Then what can we do?” she asked helplessly.

Eric laughed.

“You know how to put a poser,” said he. “I’ve wondered many times what
could be done, but for my part I can’t do anything. I’m tied down to
the bank so closely that I haven’t a minute to devote to Toby, much as
I long to help him. One or two evenings I’ve stayed at home and talked
with Toby, but he’s as much bewildered by the thing as we are. The fact
is, something’s got to be discovered. We can talk till we’re blind, but
unless we know more than we do now it won’t amount to anything. Here’s
the situation: Toby didn’t take Mrs. Ritchie’s box, but who did?”

“Ah, that’s the question!” said Phoebe.

“Yes, that’s the question–that and nothing else–and unless we can
find an answer to it poor Toby is likely to suffer for another’s crime.”

This conversation rendered the girl very unhappy. She had previously
been content to leave Toby’s salvation to the direction of Mr. Spaythe
and Mr. Holbrook and she had not been especially uneasy over the
outcome of the affair. But Eric had destroyed her confidence in the
lawyer, and Mr. Spaythe was so silent and reserved that it appeared he
was not taking any active part in Toby’s defense. In fact, nothing was
being done to save Toby, and Phoebe told Cousin Judith that she was
getting very anxious about the poor boy’s fate.

“That is not strange, dear, for I have been anxious from the very
beginning,” confessed Judith. “I believe that for some reason there
is a conspiracy afoot to destroy Toby Clark, and that it is likely to
succeed.”

“Then,” retorted Phoebe, with one of her sudden decisions, “we must
organize a counter-conspiracy to save him. We’ve been idle long enough,
Cousin Judith–too long, I fear–and it’s time for us to act.”

“To whom do you refer when you say ‘us’!” asked the Little Mother,
smiling at the girl’s earnestness.

“To you and to myself, of course.”

“I fear I am not a good conspirator, Phoebe; though you, I admit, seem
qualified to be one. But what may two weak, inexperienced girls do,
where a powerful banker and a clever lawyer fail?”

“We can do lots,” asserted Phoebe. “I can’t say just what, until I’ve
thought it over; but oughtn’t the right to triumph, Cousin Judith!”

“It ought to, Phoebe, but I fear the right is sometimes smothered in
false evidence.”

“It mustn’t be this time,” declared the girl. “We must try to save
Toby. You think it over carefully, Cousin, and so will I, and perhaps
one or the other of us will evolve an idea.”

Judith agreed to this, but added:

“I’ll not be an active conspirator, dear, but the conspirator’s
assistant. I’ll help all I can, but I fear my talent for penetrating
mysteries is not so well developed as your own.”

Phoebe went to her own room and sat down at her desk to think. She
realized that she could not expect much energetic assistance from
Cousin Judith and that whatever was accomplished she must undertake
single-handed.

“I wish Phil was here,” she reflected, referring to her twin brother;
“he’d know just how to tackle this problem.”

As a matter of fact Phoebe was far more resourceful than Phil, who had
always come to his sister for advice in every difficulty. But she did
not realize this.

“I wonder why Mr. Holbrook refused to have a detective?” she mused.
“Was he so sure of his own ability to unravel the mystery, or–was he
afraid?”

She jumped up and paced the room in sudden agitation. Then she
controlled herself and sat down again.

“This won’t do!” she exclaimed, taking herself to task. “Unless I can
consider everything calmly I shall deceive myself and start along the
wrong road.” She took a pencil and sheet of paper and continued,
talking to herself in an argumentative way: “Let’s marshal the facts.
First, Mrs. Ritchie’s box is stolen. That’s a hard fact; you can’t
get around it. In that box was a lot of money, some bonds as good
as cash and other papers only valuable to their owner. The box was
stolen for the money and bonds; fact number two. Whoever stole it from
Judge Ferguson’s cupboard either had a key or picked the lock; anyhow
the cupboard was found locked and the box gone. Yet no one but Judge
Ferguson was supposed to have the key. Whoever it was that wanted the
money, he or she had no key to the box itself and couldn’t pick the
lock; so he or she had to carry away the box. That’s the third fact.

“Now, then, having got the box safely away, the thief broke it open,
took the money and bonds, and then wondered what to do with the rest of
the junk. He must get rid of all telltale evidence, somehow or other,
so he took the box to the river, perhaps thinking to drown it. Perhaps
he saw Toby’s shanty and decided to put the blame on him; that would
throw the police on a false track. That was clever. Fact number–No!
that isn’t really a fact; it’s just a surmise. No, if Toby is innocent
it _must_ be a fact. I’ll call it so–Fact number four.”

She jotted it down.




“Now let’s see where we are at,” she continued. “Thief has the money
safe; police on a false track arrest Toby. Well, that’s as far as I
can go on that line. Now, the important question is, who is the thief?
First we must consider who knew about the box and that it contained
money. Toby knew, of course, and Judge Ferguson. But who else? Mrs.
Ritchie, but–Never mind; I’ll put her on the list. Janet knew; she
couldn’t steal it but I’ll add her to the list. If I’m going to find
out anything I must be thorough. I think Mr. Spaythe knew. I must ask
him. Meantime, here he goes on the list. I wonder if Mr. Holbrook knew
about the money? Not at first, but–Yes, I remember Janet told me that
Toby took Mrs. Ritchie away, when she came to the house, and they went
to ask Mr. Holbrook if it was lawful to give her the box. Of course the
woman blabbed what was in it, and so–Mr. Holbrook knew. The theft was
committed on the day or the night following the judge’s death, so that
lets Mr. Holbrook into the game. Down he goes on the list. Who else?
There’s Will Chandler, the postmaster; but perhaps he didn’t know. He
owns the building and kept the judge’s key to the office. Will Chandler
_might_ have known there was money in the Ritchie box, so I’ll put the
dear old boy under suspicion. Who else?”

She reflected long and deeply, but could not think of another person
likely to know the location of the box and that it contained money. She
considered Lawyer Kellogg, but knew that he and Judge Ferguson had been
open enemies and that Kellogg had not been consulted by Mrs. Ritchie
until after the loss of the box was a matter of public knowledge. So
she reviewed her list: Mrs. Ritchie; Janet Ferguson; Mr. Spaythe; Mr.
Holbrook; Will Chandler.

“Why, it’s nonsense!” she gasped in astonishment. “They’re every one
impossible. I–I must start another line of discovery.”

But, try as she would, she could not get away from that list of obvious
innocents.

“Unless some one knew the box was there, and that it contained
money–enough to make it worth stealing–he couldn’t possibly have
stolen it,” she told herself. “The list is all right, as far as it
goes; but–is it complete?”

After more thought she put on her things and walked to Mr. Spaythe’s
residence. Of course Toby was there, for he seldom if ever went out,
and she promptly interviewed him.

“Who knew that Mrs. Ritchie’s box was in the cupboard, and that there
was a good deal of money in it?” she demanded.

“What’s up, Phoebe?” he asked.

“I’m trying to sift this thing on my own account, and in secret, Toby,”
she replied. “I want you to help me–just as if I were Sherlock Holmes
or Monsieur Lecoq. Don’t ask questions; just answer them. Who knew?”

“I knew,” said Toby, with a grin.

“But I’m going to leave you out of it,” she replied. “This is an
investigation to prove your innocence, so I don’t want any evidence
against you.”

“You can’t do it, Phoebe,” said the boy. “Don’t bother about me; I’m
not worth it. Let Holbrook do as he pleases.”

“What do you mean by that?” she demanded.

“He isn’t very anxious to clear me,” said Toby, looking at her with
a queer expression. “I don’t know why; I only know that if I were a
lawyer and had such a case I’d stir things up and find out the truth.”

“I think you would,” replied the girl. “It’s because Mr. Holbrook is so
inactive that I’ve determined to take up the investigation myself.”

“It’s nice of you, Phoebe; but, say–a girl can’t do much. There’s
something queer about the whole affair. I know something of law and
also I ought to be able to guess who took the box; but it’s entirely
beyond me. I can’t investigate it myself, and so–”

“And so I’m going to do it for you,” she said. “My being a girl is no
handicap at all, Toby. What we all want is the truth, and if I can
discover that, you will be saved. Now, then, who knew about the box?”

“Mr. Spaythe,” said the boy.

“Why should he know?”

“He was the closest friend Judge Ferguson had. They were together a
good deal and the judge used to tell all his affairs to his friend.
I once heard him say, jokingly, that he was a rival banker, for Mrs.
Ritchie deposited all her money with him. Mr. Spaythe asked where he
kept it, and when the judge told him he said it was foolish to trust to
oak doors and a tin box when the bank vault was fire and burglar proof.”

“Very well; who else knew?” asked Phoebe.

“Will Chandler, and Griggs the carpenter.”

“Oh!” cried Phoebe, scenting a clew at last. “Griggs knew, did he? Tell
me how that happened.”

“The cupboard doors stuck, a few months ago, and wouldn’t shut
properly. So the judge called up Will Chandler, who was his landlord,
and asked him to fix the doors. Will looked at them and said the
building must have settled a little, to make the doors bind that way,
and the best plan would be to plane off the tops of them. So he got
Griggs the carpenter and they took the doors off the hinges and planed
them. While Griggs was working and Chandler helping him, in came Mrs.
Ritchie and wanted fifty dollars. The judge took down her box and put
it on the table and took out the money. I noticed both the men were
surprised to see the box half full of bank bills and gold, for they
couldn’t help seeing it; but they said nothing and when I mentioned it
to the judge, afterward, he said they were both honest as the day is
long, and he could trust them.”

“Do _you_ think they are honest, Toby–both of ’em?”

“Yes.”

“Well, who else knew?”

Toby considered.

“Mr. Holbrook, of course. The night I took Mrs. Ritchie to see him she
said there was currency to the amount of several thousand dollars in
the box, besides a lot of bonds.”

“Was that before the box was stolen?” asked Phoebe.

“I don’t know. I haven’t seen the inside of the cupboard since a few
days before Judge Ferguson died. I can’t tell when the box was stolen.”

“But the loss wasn’t discovered until after Mr. Holbrook had talked
with Mrs. Ritchie?”

“No. I think Mr. Spaythe discovered that the box was missing some days
afterward.”

“Tell me who else knew.”

“I can’t. Mrs. Ritchie might have told some one, of course; but she’s
usually too shrewd to do that. Judge Ferguson didn’t talk about his
business.”

Phoebe referred to her list. The interview with Toby had netted just
one addition–Griggs the carpenter.

“There was Mrs. Miller, the woman who used to wash the office windows,”
said Toby reflectively.

“But she’s deaf and dumb,” returned Phoebe.

“She isn’t blind, though. She’s washed the windows and cleaned the
offices every Saturday for years, and Saturday was Mrs. Ritchie’s usual
day for driving to town. I can’t remember that Mrs. Miller has ever
seen the box opened, but she might have done so.”

Phoebe added Mrs. Miller’s name to the list.

“The next thing I want to know is who visited Judge Ferguson’s office
the day after he died,” she said.

“I can’t help you much in that,” said Toby. “I went there in the
morning, because I didn’t know where else to go; but no one came
in–except Will Chandler and Mr. Holbrook.”

“Oh; they were there, then. And why?”

“They came together, because Mr. Holbrook wanted to see the offices. He
rented them that very day, I understand. Will told me that Janet wanted
me, so I went away and left them there. Will had the key, you know.”

“This is news,” said Phoebe, drawing a long breath.

Toby smiled. “You’re not suspecting them, I hope?” he said.

“I’m not suspecting anybody, as yet. All I want at present are the
facts in the case. I suppose no one else had a key to the office?”

“No. That very day Mr. Holbrook advised Will to give his key to Mr.
Spaythe, and he advised me to get rid of my key, also. Will sent his
key to the bank by Mr. Holbrook, who was going that way, but I went
back and got my books and traps out of the office before I brought the
key here to this house and gave it to Mr. Spaythe.”

“Was it a very complicated lock?”

“The one on the office door? No. It was a common lock and that on the
cupboard wasn’t much better. But the boxes all had better locks, that
couldn’t be easily picked.”

“All right. I’m going now, Toby, but I may be back for more
information. Keep your courage; I’m sure we shall get at the truth in
time.”

But the boy, looking after her, shook his head and sighed.

“She’ll never suspect the truth,” he muttered. “No one will ever
suspect, except those who know; and those who know will never tell.”