HOW THE DARINGS PLANNED

Phoebe Daring, who was fond of Toby Clark–as were, indeed, all of
the Darings–did not forget her promise to ask the Little Mother what
could be done for the boy. This “Little Mother” was Cousin Judith
Eliot, scarcely more than a girl herself, who had come to live with
the orphaned Darings and endeavor to train her wild and rather wayward
charges in the ways they should go. The youngsters all adored Cousin
Judith, yet she had no easy task, being a conscientious young woman and
feeling deeply her grave responsibilities. Judith was an artist and
had been studying miniature painting abroad when summoned to Riverdale
by the sudden death of Mr. Daring. She painted some, still, in the
seclusion of her pretty room, but was never too busy to attend to the
children or to listen when they wished to consult her or to bewail
their woes and tribulations.

Phoebe was no bother, for she was old enough and sufficiently mature
not only to care for herself but to assist in the management of the
younger ones. Phil, a frank, resourceful young fellow, was away at
college and working hard. Becky was perhaps the most unruly of the
lot; a tender-hearted, lovable child, but inclined to recklessness,
willfulness and tomboy traits. It was hard to keep Becky “toein’ de
chalk-line,” as old Aunt Hyacinth tersely put it, for restraint was a
thing the girl abhorred. She fought constantly with Donald, the next
younger, who always had a chip on his shoulder and defied everyone but
Cousin Judith, while the clashes between Becky and little Sue–“who’s
dat obst’nit she wouldn’t breave ef yo’ tol’ her she had to” (Aunt
Hyacinth again)–were persistent and fearful. Before Judith came, the
three younger Darings had grown careless, slangy and rude, and in spite
of all admonitions they still lapsed at times into the old bad ways.

Judith loved them all. She knew their faults were due to dominant,
aggressive natures inherited from their father, a splendid man who had
been admired and respected by all who knew him, and that the lack of
a mother’s guiding hand had caused them to run wild for a while. But
finer natures, more tender and trustful hearts, sweeter dispositions or
better intentions could not be found in a multitude of similar children
and their errors were never so serious that they could not be forgiven
when penitence followed the fault, as it usually did.

A few days after the conversation recorded at the beginning of this
story Phoebe went to Judith’s room, where the Little Mother sat working
on a miniature of Sue–the beauty of the family–and said:

“I’d like to do something for Toby Clark. We’re all dreadfully sorry
for him.”

“What has happened to Toby?” asked Judith.

“Mr. Ferguson’s death has thrown him out of employment and it will be
hard for him to find another place,” explained Phoebe. “His bad foot
bars him from ordinary work, you know, and jobs are always scarce in
Riverdale. Besides, Toby wants to become a lawyer, and if he cannot
continue his study of the law he’ll lose all the advantages he gained
through the judge’s help and sympathy. Our dear old friend’s passing
was a loss to us all, but to no one more than to Toby Clark.”

“Has he any money saved up?” asked Judith thoughtfully.

“Not much, I fear. His wages were always small, you know, and–he had
to live.”

“Won’t the Fergusons do anything for him?”

“They’re eager to,” replied Phoebe, “but Toby won’t accept money. He
almost cried, Janet told me, when Mrs. Ferguson offered to assist him.
He’s a terribly proud boy, Cousin Judith, and that’s going to make it
hard for us to help him. If he thought for a moment we were offering
him charity, he’d feel humiliated and indignant. Toby’s the kind of boy
that would starve without letting his friends know he was hungry.”

“He won’t starve, dear,” asserted Judith, smiling. “There’s a good deal
of courage in Toby’s character. If he can’t do one thing to earn an
honest living, he’ll do another. This morning I bought fish of him.”

“Fish!”

“Yes; he says he has turned fisherman until something better offers.
I’m sure that Riverdale people will buy all the fish he can catch, for
they’re good fish–we shall have some for dinner–and his prices are
reasonable.”

“Oh, dear; I’m so sorry,” wailed Phoebe, really distressed. “The idea
of that poor boy–a cripple–being obliged to carry fish around to the
houses; and when he has the making of a fine lawyer in him, too!”

“Toby’s foot doesn’t bother him much,” observed Judith, dabbing at her
palette. “He limps, to be sure, and needs the crutch; but his foot
doesn’t hurt him, however much he uses it. Yet I think I admire his
manly courage the more because the boy is capable of better things
than fishing. I asked him, this morning, why he didn’t apply to Lawyer
Kellogg for a position; but he said the judge never liked Kellogg and
so Toby considered it disloyal to his friend’s memory to have any
connection with the man. The chances are that he escaped a snub, for
Mr. Kellogg detests everyone who loved Judge Ferguson.”

Phoebe nodded, absently.

“Mr. Kellogg will have the law business of Riverdale all to himself,
now,” she said.

“I doubt it,” replied Judith. “Toby tells me a young man named
Holbrook, a perfect stranger to Riverdale, has come here to practice
law, and that he has rented Mr. Ferguson’s old offices.”

“Oh!” exclaimed Phoebe, surprised. “Then perhaps Mr. Holbrook will take
Toby for his clerk. That would be fine!”

“I thought of that, too, and mentioned it to Toby,” answered Cousin
Judith; “but Mr. Holbrook said he didn’t need a clerk and refused
Toby’s application.”

“Then he doesn’t know how bright and intelligent Toby is. Why should
he, being a stranger? If some one would go to him and tell him how
valuable the boy would be to him, after his experience with Mr.
Ferguson, I’m sure the new lawyer would find a place for him.”

Judith worked a while reflectively.

“That might be the best way to help Toby,” she said. “But who is to
go to Mr. Holbrook? It’s a rather delicate thing to propose, you see,
and yet the argument you have advanced is a just one. A young lawyer,
beginning business and unknown to our people, would find a clever,
capable young fellow–who is well liked in the community–of real value
to him. It seems to me that Janet Ferguson would be the best person
to undertake the mission, for she has an excuse in pleading for her
father’s former assistant.”

“I’ll see Janet about it,” declared Phoebe, promptly, and she was so
enthusiastic over the idea and so positive of success that she went at
once to the Ferguson house to interview Janet.

This girl was about Phoebe’s own age and the two had been good friends
from the time they were mere tots. Janet was rather more sedate and
serious-minded than Phoebe Daring, and had graduated with much higher
honors at the high school, but their natures were congenial and they
had always been much together.




“It’s an excellent idea,” said Janet, when the matter was explained to
her. “I will be glad to call on Mr. Holbrook in regard to the matter,
if you will go with me, Phoebe.”

“Any time you say, Janet.”

“I think we ought to wait a few days. Mr. Spaythe is trustee of
father’s estate, you know, and he has arranged to sell the office
furniture to Mr. Holbrook. To-morrow all the papers and securities
which father held in trust for his clients will be returned to their
proper owners, and on the day after Mr. Holbrook will move into the
offices for the first time. He is staying at the hotel, right now, and
it seems to me best to wait until he is in his offices and established
in business, for this is strictly a business matter.”

“Of course; strictly business,” said Phoebe. “Perhaps you are right,
Janet, but we mustn’t wait too long, for then Mr. Holbrook might employ
some other clerk and Toby would be out of it. Let’s go to him day after
to-morrow, as soon as he has possession of the office.”

“Very well.”

“At ten o’clock, say,” continued Phoebe. “There’s nothing like being
prompt in such things. You stop at the house for me at nine-thirty,
Janet, and we’ll go down town together.”

The arrangement being successfully concluded, Phoebe went home with a
light heart. At suppertime Donald came tearing into the house, tossed
his cap in a corner and with scarcely enough breath to speak announced:

“There’s a big row down at Spaythe’s Bank!”

“What’s up, Don?” asked Becky, for the family was assembled around the
table.

“There’s a blue box missing from Judge Ferguson’s cupboard, and it
belonged to that old cat, Mrs. Ritchie. She’s been nagging Mr. Spaythe
for days to give it up to her, but for some reason he wouldn’t. This
afternoon, when Spaythe cleaned out the old cupboard and took all
the boxes over to his bank, Mrs. Ritchie was hot on his trail and
discovered her blue box was not among the others. It’s really missing,
and they can’t find hide nor hair of it. I heard Mr. Spaythe tell the
old cat he did not know where it is or what’s become of it, and she was
just furious and swore she’d have the banker arrested for burglary. It
was the jolliest scrap you could imagine and there’ll be a royal rumpus
that’ll do your hearts good before this thing is settled, I can promise
you!”

The news astonished them all, for sensations of any sort were rare in
Riverdale.

“What do you suppose has become of the box?” asked Phoebe.

“Give it up,” said Don, delighted to find himself so important.

“Perhaps Mr. Ferguson kept it somewhere else; in the bank vault, or at
his house,” suggested Judith.

“Nope. Spaythe has looked everywhere,” declared Don. “Old Ritchie says
she had a lot of money in that box, and bonds an’ s’curities to no end.
She’s rich as mud, you know, but hates to lose a penny.”

“Dear me,” exclaimed Phoebe; “can’t she hold the Fergusons
responsible?” appealing to Cousin Judith.

“I’m not sure of that,” replied the Little Mother, seriously, for here
was a matter that might cause their lately bereaved friends an added
misfortune. “If the box contained so much of value it would ruin the
Fergusons to replace it. The question to be determined is when the box
disappeared. If it was there when Mr. Spaythe took possession of the
office, I think he will be personally responsible.”

“I don’t know anything about that,” said Don. “I was on my way home
when I heard Mrs. Ritchie screeching like a lunatic that her box was
stolen. I joined the crowd and we all followed to the bank, Mr. Spaythe
in his automobile with the load of boxes and Ritchie running along
beside the car jawing him like a crazy woman. She called him a thief
and a robber at ev’ry step, but he paid no attention. Eric Spaythe
had just closed the bank when we got there, but he helped his father
carry in the truck, and Mrs. Ritchie watched every box that went in
and yelled: ‘That ain’t it! That ain’t it!’ while the crowd laughed
an’ hooted. Then Mr. Spaythe tried to explain and quiet her, but she
wouldn’t listen to reason. So Eric and his father both went into the
bank and locked the woman out when she wanted to follow them. It was
lots of fun, about that time. I thought she’d smash in the glass
with her umbrella; but while she was screaming an’ threatening the
Spaythes, Lawyer Kellogg happened to come along and he drew her aside.
He whispered to her a minute an’ then they both got into her buggy
an’ drove away. That broke up the circus, but ev’ryone says there’ll
be something doing before this thing is settled, unless that lost box
turns up.”

The information conveyed was not entirely lucid, but sufficiently so
to disturb the whole Daring family. They were not at all interested in
Mrs. Ritchie, but the Fergusons were such old and close friends that
there was a general impression that the lost box might cost them all
the judge had left and practically ruin them.

“We know,” said Phoebe, in talking it over later, “that the judge was
honest. Mrs. Ritchie knew that, too, or she wouldn’t have put her
valuables in his keeping.”

“But it seems very unbusinesslike, on his part, to keep her valuables
in an old wooden cupboard,” declared Judith. “Judge Ferguson was quite
old-fashioned about such matters and evidently had no fear of either
fires or burglars.”

“They never bothered him, neither,” Don reminded her. “That old
cupboard’s been stuffed full of valuable papers and tin boxes for
years, an’ not a soul ever touched ’em.”

“Oak doors, strong boxes and good locks,” said Phoebe; “that accounts
for their past safety. Those cupboard doors are as strong as a good
many safes, and as far as burglars are concerned, they manage to
break in anywhere if they get the chance. I don’t believe anyone but
a professional burglar could steal Mrs. Ritchie’s box, and no burglar
would take hers and leave all the others. Still, if it wasn’t stolen,
where is it? That’s the question.”

“It’s more than a question, Phoebe,” replied Don; “it’s a mystery.”