Phoebe Daring returned home more mystified than ever in regard to the
missing box. The girl was by nature logical and inquiring and aside
from the interest she felt in the Fergusons the mystery appealed to her
curiosity and aroused in her a disposition to investigate it on her own
account. That day, however, there was no development in the affair.
Mrs. Ritchie kept out of sight and aside from the gossip indulged in
by the villagers concerning the discreditable scene at the bank the
night before, the excitement incident to the loss of the precious
blue box seemed to have subsided. Don and Becky reported that all the
school children were talking about the lost box and that many absurd
statements were made concerning its disappearance.
“I had to punch one of the fellows for saying that Judge Ferguson spent
Mrs. Ritchie’s money and then committed suicide,” announced Don. “He
took it back, afterward, and said that Kellogg robbed the judge for
revenge. There may be some truth in that, for Kellogg paid his board
bill the other day. Another kid said he dreamed it was Will Chandler,
the postmaster, who cut a hole through the ceiling of the post office
and so got into the judge’s cupboard. Nearly everybody in town is
accused by somebody, they say, and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that
I stole the box myself.”
“I don’t believe there _was_ any box,” muttered Becky. “Ol’ Mam
Ritchie’s half crazy, an’ I guess she just imagined it.”
“Wake up, Beck,” said Don; “you’re dreaming.”
“That proves I’ve a brain,” retorted his sister. “No one can dream who
hasn’t a brain; which is the reason, my poor Don, you never dream.”
“He snores, though,” declared Sue.
“I don’t!” cried Don indignantly.
“You snore like a pig; I’ve heard you.”
“I’ll leave it to Becky,” said Sue.
“If she sides with you, I’ll pinch her till she’s black-an’-blue,”
promised Don angrily.
“I dare you,” said Becky, bristling at the threat.
“Now–now!” warned Phoebe; “there’ll be a fight in a minute, and some
one will be sorry. Cool off, my dears, and don’t get excited over
nothing. Have you got your lessons for to-morrow?”
At nine thirty next morning Janet Ferguson stopped at the house, as she
had promised to do, and Phoebe put on her things and joined her friend
on the way to town, to interview Mr. Holbrook.
“Any news?” asked Phoebe.
Janet shook her head.
“We haven’t heard from Mr. Spaythe since I saw you. Mother’s dreadfully
nervous over the thing, which followed so soon after father’s death. I
hope Mrs. Ritchie’s box will be found, for it would relieve us both of
“I hope so, too,” replied Phoebe.
When they arrived at the well-known stairway leading to the offices
which Judge Ferguson had occupied for so many years, Janet was rather
shocked to find a showy new sign suspended above the entrance. It bore
the words: “JOHN HOLBROOK, Attorney at Law,” and another but smaller
tin sign was tacked to the door at the head of the stairs.
Phoebe knocked and a voice bade them enter. Mr. Holbrook was seated at
a table with several law books spread open before him. But he sat in
an easy attitude, smoking his cigarette, and both the girls decided
the array of legal lore was intended to impress any clients who might
chance to stray into the office.
“I am Miss Ferguson,” said Janet in stiff and formal tones. He bowed
and tossed his cigarette through the open window, looking at Janet
rather curiously and then turning to Phoebe. “Miss Daring, sir.”
He bowed again, very courteously, as he placed chairs for them.
Somehow, they felt relieved by his polite manner. Neither had
expected to find so young a man or one so handsome and well dressed
and it occurred to Phoebe to wonder why Mr. Holbrook had selected
this out-of-the-way corner, where he was wholly unknown, in which to
practice law. Riverdale was normally an exceedingly quiet town and
possessed few attractions for strangers.
Janet began the conversation.
“We have come to see you in regard to Toby Clark,” she said. “He was
in my father’s employ for several years, first as office boy and then
as clerk, and Judge Ferguson thought very highly of him and trusted
him fully. Toby injured his foot a year ago and limps badly, but that
doesn’t interfere much with his activity, and so we thought–we hoped–”
She hesitated, here, because Mr. Holbrook was looking at her with an
amused smile. But Phoebe helped her out.
“Toby is without employment, just now,” she explained, “and we believe
it will be to your advantage to secure him as an assistant.”
“The young man has already applied to me,” said the lawyer. “I was
obliged to decline his application.”
“I know,” said Phoebe; “but perhaps you did not realize his value. Toby
is very popular in Riverdale and knows every one of Judge Ferguson’s
former clients personally.”
“I do not need a clerk,” returned Mr. Holbrook, rather shortly.
“But you are a stranger here and you will pardon my saying that it is
evident you wish to secure business, or you would not have opened a law
office. Also you are anxious to succeed to Judge Ferguson’s practice,
or you would not so promptly have rented the office he had occupied.
Nothing will help you to succeed more than to employ Toby Clark, who
was the judge’s old clerk and knew a good deal about his law business.
Toby is as much a part of the outfit of this office as the furniture,”
she added with a smile.
“I thank you for your consideration of my interests,” said Mr. Holbrook.
“I admit that we are more interested, for the moment, in Toby Clark,”
she replied. “Like everyone else in Riverdale who knows the boy, we
are fond of him, and so we want him to have the opportunity to continue
his studies of the law. He is very poor, you know, and cannot afford to
go to college just yet; so nothing would assist him more than for you
to employ him, just as Judge Ferguson did.”
Mr. Holbrook drummed with his fingers on the table, in an absent way.
He was evidently puzzled how to answer this fair pleader. Then he
suddenly straightened up, sat back in his chair and faced the two girls
“I am, as you state, an entire stranger here,” said he, “and for that
reason I must tell you something of myself or you will not understand
my refusal to employ Toby Clark. I–”
“Excuse me,” said Janet, rising; “we did not intend to force your
confidence, sir. We thought that perhaps, when you were informed of the
value of my father’s clerk, you might be glad to employ him, and we
would like to have you do so; but having presented the case to the best
of our ability we can only leave you to decide as you think best.”
“Sit down, please, Miss Ferguson,” he replied earnestly. “It is indeed
to my advantage to make friends in Riverdale, rather than enemies, and
as I am unable to employ Toby Clark you are likely to become annoyed by
my refusal, unless you fully understand my reasons. Therefore I beg
you will allow me to explain.”
Janet glanced at Phoebe, who had remained seated. Her friend nodded,
so Janet sat down again. The truth was that Miss Daring was curious to
hear Mr. Holbrook’s explanation.
“I’ve had my own way to make in the world,” began the young man, in a
hesitating, uncertain tone, but gathering confidence as he proceeded.
“There was no one to put me through college, so I worked my way–doing
all sorts of disagreeable jobs to pay expenses. After I got my degree
and was admitted to the bar I was without a dollar with which to begin
the practice of law. Yet I had to make a start, somehow or other, and
it occurred to me that a small town would be leas expensive to begin
in than a city. During the past summer I worked hard. I don’t mind
telling you that I tended a soda-fountain in St. Louis and remained
on duty twelve hours a day. I earned an excellent salary, however,
and by the first of October believed I had saved enough money to
start me in business. Seeking a small and desirable town, I arrived
in Riverdale and liked the place. While hesitating whether or not to
make it my permanent location, Judge Ferguson died, and that decided
me. I imagined I might find a good opening here by trying to fill his
place. I rented these offices and paid a month’s rent in advance. I
purchased this furniture and the law library from Mr. Spaythe, the
executor, and partly paid for it in cash. My board at the hotel is paid
for up to Saturday night, and I had some letterheads and cards printed
and my signs painted. All this indicates me prosperous, but the cold
fact, young ladies, is that I have at this moment exactly one dollar
and fifteen cents in my pocket, and no idea where the next dollar is
coming from. Absurd, isn’t it? And amusing, too, if we consider it
philosophically. I’m putting up a good front, for a pauper, and I’m
not at all dismayed, because I believe myself a good lawyer. I’ve an
idea that something will occur to furnish me with a paying client in
time to save the day. But you can readily understand that under such
circumstances I cannot employ a clerk, even at a minimum salary. I
must be my own office-boy and errand-boy until my living expenses are
assured and I can see the week’s wage ahead for my assistant. And now,
Miss Ferguson and Miss Daring, you have the bare facts in the case and
I hope you will be able to forgive me for refusing your request.”
The girls had listened in some amazement, yet there was little in Mr.
Holbrook’s ingenuous statement to cause surprise. Such a condition was
easily understood and quite plausible in this aggressive age. But the
story affected the two girls differently. Janet developed an admiration
for the bold, masterful way in which this impecunious young fellow had
established himself. Such a combination of audacity and courage could
scarcely fail to lead him to success.
Phoebe, on the other hand, thought she detected a false note running
through the smooth recital. It seemed to her that Mr. Holbrook had
either invented the entire story on the spur of the moment or was
holding something back–perhaps both–for reasons of his own. She
did not doubt the main point of the story, that he was absolutely
penniless and dependent upon the uncertainties of his law business for
a living; but she felt sure he had not confided to them his actual
history, or any important details of his past life. She reflected
that this young fellow wore expensive clothes and that every detail
of his apparel, from the patent-leather shoes to the white silk tie
with its jeweled stick-pin, denoted extravagance rather than cautious
economy, such as he had claimed he had practiced. A silk-lined overcoat
hung upon a peg and beside it was a hat of better quality than the
young men of Riverdale wore. A taste for expensive clothes might be a
weakness with the lawyer, and while Phoebe hesitated to condemn him
for the endeavor to present a prosperous appearance she could not
help thinking he would have saved a good deal more money as soda-water
clerk had he been content with more modest attire. Imagine dapper Mr.
Holbrook a soda-water clerk! Phoebe was almost sure that was one of the
inventions. Yet she, as well as Janet, admitted the frank and winning
personality of the young lawyer and felt she knew and appreciated him
better since listening to his story.
“Of course,” continued Holbrook, a little anxiously, “this confidence
places me at a disadvantage in your eyes. If Riverdale knows me as you
do I shall be ruined.”
“We shall respect your confidence, sir,” said Janet, less stiffly than
before, “and we now fully understand why you cannot, at present, employ
Toby Clark. Perhaps, by and by–”
“If I succeed, I shall give Toby the first job in my office,” he
“Thank you, sir. Come, Phoebe.”
But Phoebe again refused to stir. She was pondering something in her
mind and presently gave it expression.
“Toby Clark,” said she, “injured his foot while endeavoring to serve
the family fortunes of the Darings, so we are really under serious
obligations to the boy. But he is so proud and shy, Mr. Holbrook, that
were we to offer him assistance at this crisis in his affairs, he
would be hurt and humiliated. And he would refuse to accept any help
that savored of charity.”
Mr. Holbrook nodded, smiling at her.
“I understand that disposition, Miss Daring,” said he, “for I have
similar qualities of independence myself.”
“Yet something must be done for Toby,” she continued, “or else the
boy will lose all the advantages of his former association with Judge
Ferguson and perhaps starve or freeze when the cold weather comes on.
From your explanation, sir, and the promise you have just made to Miss
Ferguson, I understand your sole reason for not employing Toby is the
lack of money with which to pay his wages. Is that correct?”
“Entirely so, Miss Daring. I appreciate the advantages of having this
young fellow with me, since he is so well acquainted hereabouts and is
somewhat posted in Mr. Ferguson’s business affairs; but–”
“Then,” said Phoebe, “we must organize a conspiracy, we three, and
help Toby without his ever suspecting it. We Darings are not wealthy,
Mr. Holbrook, but we have more means than we absolutely require and
it will be a great pleasure to us to pay Toby Clark’s salary as your
clerk until you become prosperous enough to pay it yourself. Judge
Ferguson was not over-liberal in the matter of wages and gave Toby but
five dollars a week in money; but he also gave him a wealth of kindly
sympathy and much assistance in the study of law. I want you to hire
Toby at the same wages–five dollars a week–and try to assist him at
odd times as the judge did. No one but we three shall ever know how
the wages are supplied, and especially must the secret be guarded from
Toby. What do you say to this proposition, Mr. Holbrook?”
Janet was filled with admiration of this clever idea and looked
appealingly at the young man. Mr. Holbrook flushed slightly, then
frowned and began drumming on the table with his fingers again.
Presently he looked up and asked:
“Will this arrangement be a source of satisfaction to you young ladies?”
“It will give us great pleasure,” declared Phoebe.
“And it will be splendid for Toby,” added Janet.
“Do you also realize that it is an assistance to me–that it will add
to the false evidences of my prosperity?” inquired the young man.
“Oh, I was not considering you at all,” said Phoebe quickly, fearing
he might refuse. “I was only thinking of Toby; but if you find any
advantage in the arrangement I hope it will repay you for your kindness
to our friend–and to ourselves.”
[Illustration: “Then,” said Phoebe, “we must organize a conspiracy, we
three, and help Toby without his ever suspecting it.”]
Mr. Holbrook smiled. Then he nodded cheerfully and replied:
“It would be very ungracious of me to say no, under such quaint
conditions, and therefore we will consider the matter as settled, Miss
“I will send you a check for twenty dollars, which will be four weeks’
wages for Toby, in advance,” she said. “And each month I will send you
twenty more, until you notify me you are able to assume the obligation
He shook his head, still smiling.
“Send me five dollars each week,” said he. “Otherwise, in my present
circumstances, I might be tempted to spend Toby’s wages on myself.”
“Very well, if you prefer it so.” Then, half turning toward the door,
she added: “I thank you, Mr. Holbrook. Your coöperation in this little
conspiracy of mine has relieved me of a great anxiety; indeed, it will
give pleasure to all who know Toby Clark and are interested in his
welfare. I shall not forget that we owe you this kindness.”
He bowed rather gravely in acknowledgment of this pretty speech and
then they heard hasty steps mounting the stairs and the door opened
abruptly to admit Mr. Spaythe.