The banker of Riverdale was perhaps the most important personage in
the community, not even excepting Will Chandler. A man of considerable
wealth and sterling character, Mr. Spaythe was greatly respected by
high and low and was deemed reliable in any emergency. In character he
was somewhat stern and unyielding and his sense of justice and honor
was so strong that he was uncharitably bitter and harsh toward any
delinquent in such matters. As an old friend of the late Judge Ferguson
he had accepted the responsibilities of administering his estate and
was engaged in fulfilling his duties with businesslike celerity and
exactness when the unpleasant incident of Mrs. Ritchie’s missing box
came up to annoy him. Mr. Ferguson’s affairs were in perfect order; Mr.
Spaythe knew that the box had disappeared since his demise; but the
affair required rigid investigation and the banker had undertaken to
solve the mystery in his own way, without confiding in or consulting
Mr. Spaythe was usually so deliberate and unexcitable in demeanor that
his sudden entrance and agitated manner made both the girls, who knew
him well, gasp in astonishment. He seemed to be startled to find them
in young Mr. Holbrook’s office and his red face took on a deeper glow
as he stared first at one and then at the other.
“We were just going,” said Phoebe, understanding that Mr. Spaythe had
come to see the lawyer, and then both the girls bowed and turned toward
“One moment, please,” said the banker earnestly, as he held out an arm
with a restraining gesture. “A most extraordinary thing has happened,
in which you will doubtless be interested. Mrs. Ritchie has just had
Toby Clark arrested for stealing her box!”
Phoebe sank into a chair, weak and trembling, and as she did so her
eyes swept Mr. Holbrook’s face and noticed that it flushed scarlet. But
the wave of color quickly receded and he turned a look of grave inquiry
upon Mr. Spaythe.
“How absurd!” exclaimed Janet indignantly.
“Yes, it is absurd,” agreed the banker, in a nervous manner, “but it is
quite serious, as well. I am sure Toby is innocent, but Mrs. Ritchie
has employed Abner Kellogg as her counselor and Kellogg would delight
in sending Toby to prison–if he can manage to do so.”
“That box must be found!” cried Phoebe.
Mr. Spaythe frowned.
“It _has_ been found,” he rejoined bitterly.
“In a rubbish-heap at the back of Toby Clark’s shanty, down by the
river. It is Mrs. Ritchie’s box, beyond doubt; I have seen it; the
cover had been wrenched off and–it was empty.”
The two girls stared at one another in speechless amazement. Mr.
Holbrook stood by his table, watching them curiously, but he did not
seem to share their astonishment. Mr. Spaythe sat down in a chair and
wiped his forehead with a handkerchief.
“Who arrested Toby?” asked Janet.
“Parsons, the constable. The warrant was issued by Powell, a justice of
the peace, on a sworn statement made by Mrs. Ritchie and Abner Kellogg.”
“And Sam Parsons–Toby’s friend–has put him in jail?”
“Yes; he was obliged to do that, you know.”
Phoebe was gradually recovering her composure.
“He can be bailed out, I suppose,” she suggested.
Mr. Spaythe turned to the lawyer.
“That is what I have come to see you about, Mr. Holbrook,” he said.
“Since this remarkable development in the matter of the missing box,
I shall be obliged to employ counsel. I would like to engage you to
defend Toby Clark.”
The young man bowed.
“I am fortunate, sir, to have so important a case brought to me so
early in my career,” he replied. “I will do my best for your protegè, I
“Toby Clark is no protegè of mine,” declared the banker sternly. “But,”
he added, more mildly, “he was Judge Ferguson’s protegè and I believe
the boy incapable of this alleged theft. Therefore I propose he shall
be properly defended. I will be personally responsible for your fee,
“That is quite satisfactory to me, sir.”
“But about the bail,” cried Janet impatiently. “We cannot allow Toby to
remain in that dreadful jail!”
“The county seat is at Bayport,” observed the lawyer. “We have no judge
here who is authorized to accept bail for an accused criminal. Toby
Clark must be taken to Bayport for a preliminary hearing, at which
I will appear in his behalf, instruct him to plead not guilty and
then demand his release on bail. If you will drive over with me, Mr.
Spaythe, I’ve no doubt the bail can be easily arranged.”
“When will his case be tried?” asked the banker.
“The next term of court is the first week in December. The trial will
of course be at Bayport.”
“What a long time to wait!” exclaimed Janet.
“Never mind; it will give us time to discover the real criminal,” said
Phoebe decidedly. “In that event Toby’s case will never be tried.”
Mr. Spaythe nodded. Then he shifted uneasily in his chair a moment and
“Ought we to employ a detective, Mr. Holbrook?”
“Of course!” said Phoebe. “That is the first thing to be done.”
“Pardon me, Miss Daring,” returned the lawyer seriously, “I think that
should be reserved as our final resource. Riverdale is so small a
place that the movements of every inhabitant may easily be traced. I
believe I possess some small talent in the detective way myself–a good
criminal lawyer ought to be a good detective, it is said–so if Clark
is really innocent it ought not to be difficult to discover the real
“I don’t like that ‘if,’ Mr. Holbrook,” said Phoebe resentfully.
The young man flushed again. It seemed to be one of his characteristics
to change color, on occasion, and he was aware of this failing and
evidently annoyed by it. At Phoebe’s remark he bit his lip and
hesitated a moment. Then he replied with dignity:
“The ‘if’ was not intended to condemn your friend, Miss Daring. Even
the law holds him innocent until he is proved guilty. But you must
remember that Toby Clark is a perfect stranger to me and perhaps you
will admit that circumstantial evidence is at present against him. The
box was found on his premises, it seems, and he had the keys to this
office at the time of Judge Ferguson’s death. Even before there was a
rumor that anything was missing from the place I urged the boy to get
rid of the key–merely as a matter of ordinary precaution.”
“I know that is true,” said Mr. Spaythe. “When Toby brought the key to
me he said you had advised him to do so.”
“Still,” continued the lawyer reflectively, “the circumstantial
evidence, while it might influence a jury, can have no effect upon
those who know the boy’s character and believe in his honesty. The
thing for me to do, if I undertake this case, is first to discover who
knew of Mrs. Ritchie’s box–”
“Why, everybody, nearly, knew of it,” said Phoebe. “She’s a queer old
creature and, having used the judge for a banker, was constantly coming
to him to deposit money or to get it from her box. I’ve no doubt she
imagined it was a secret, but Mrs. Ritchie’s box was a matter of public
“The next thing,” continued Mr. Holbrook quietly, “is to discover who
were Toby Clark’s enemies.”
“I don’t believe he had one in Riverdale,” asserted Phoebe.
“The real criminal placed the rifled box on Toby Clark’s premises,
where if found it would implicate him in the theft. No one but an
enemy would have done that,” declared the young man, but he spoke
argumentatively and there was not an earnest ring to his words. “Then,”
he resumed, “we must watch and see what citizen has suddenly acquired
money. There are no professional burglars in Riverdale, I imagine, so
the thief will be unable to resist the temptation to use some of the
stolen money. Really, Mr. Spaythe, the case is so simple that I am
positive we shall have no need of a detective. Indeed, a detective in
town would be quickly recognized and his very presence would defeat us
by putting the criminal on guard. Let us proceed quietly to ferret out
the mystery ourselves. I already feel reasonably certain of success
and, when I have interviewed Toby Clark, which I shall do at once, he
will perhaps be able to furnish us with a clew.”
This logical reasoning appealed to Mr. Spaythe and silenced even
Phoebe’s objections. The girls left the office filled with horror of
the cowardly charge brought against the poor boy they had so earnestly
sought to aid.
On their way home Janet said:
“Of course this will prevent Mr. Holbrook from carrying out his
agreement, for until Toby’s innocence is proved we cannot expect anyone
to give him employment.”
“Why not?” asked Phoebe, who was trembling with nervous excitement.
“Do you suppose anyone in Riverdale would doubt Toby’s honesty, just
because that miserable Abner Kellogg and old Mrs. Ritchie accuse him? I
think it would be a clever thing for Mr. Holbrook to take him into his
office at once. It would make the lawyer lots of friends.”
“Perhaps that is true,” answered Janet doubtfully; “but Mr. Holbrook
can’t be expected to believe in Toby as implicitly as we do. He may
think it would injure his reputation to employ one accused of stealing.
If he did, we could not blame him.”
Phoebe made no reply. Parting from Janet at the gate she ran into
the house and straight to Cousin Judith’s room, where she first had a
crying spell and then related the startling incidents of the morning.
The Little Mother was greatly shocked and quite as indignant as Phoebe
had been. But she tried to comfort the girl by assuring her that Toby
would be proved innocent.
“I think Mr. Spaythe was fortunate in securing Mr. Holbrook to defend
Toby,” she added. “As this is his first case, it will be an opportunity
for him to make a fine reputation in Riverdale by winning it, and as he
seems a young man of ability and judgment we may depend on his doing
his utmost and in the end clearing Toby triumphantly.”
That didn’t seem to reassure Phoebe.
“I think Mr. Holbrook has both ability and judgment,” she agreed.
“He impressed me as being a very clever young man–too clever to be
“He looks honest, and talks honest,” the girl went on, “but there’s
something about him–his manner or his smile; I don’t know what–that
makes me think he is not sincere.”
Judith looked at her thoughtfully.
“Nevertheless,” she rejoined, “it is to his interest to free his
client, and from what you say he already believes that he can do so.”
“I didn’t like several things he said,” remarked Phoebe. “Once he said
‘if’ Toby was innocent–just as if there could be any doubt about
it!–and he wouldn’t allow Mr. Spaythe to send to the city for a
“He may be wise in that,” affirmed Judith. “Doubtless he prefers to
wait and see what the next few days develop. If he is able to solve
the mystery himself it will be best to keep a detective out of it. The
detective would be a stranger, you know, and at their best detectives
are not infallible.”
“What a cruel thing for Mrs. Ritchie to do!” she said. “And just when
Janet and I had settled Toby’s affairs so nicely and obtained for him
just the position he would have liked best.”
The Little Mother smiled.
“Was I wrong to promise that we would pay Toby’s wages?” asked Phoebe
“No, dear; I would have agreed to your plan very willingly. But it
was placing Mr. Holbrook in a rather delicate position, after his
confession to you of his poverty, don’t you think?”
“Perhaps so,” said the girl. “But he took it very nicely. He seems
gentlemanly and kind, Cousin Judith. I can’t say why I don’t wholly
trust him. Janet thinks he acted splendidly and I imagine she is quite
interested in her father’s successor. I don’t dislike him, myself, you
know; only, until I’ve seen more of him, I can’t exactly trust him.”
“We cannot expect to find one able to fill Judge Ferguson’s place,”
observed Judith regretfully.
There was great excitement among the young Darings when they came
rushing home from school. The news of Toby’s arrest had spread like
wildfire throughout the village and the inhabitants of Riverdale were
at first generally indignant and inclined to think that Toby Clark was
being unjustly persecuted. When the details were learned, however, and
it was known that Mrs. Ritchie’s blue box, battered and empty, had been
found just back of Toby’s shanty, there were some who began to believe
in the boy’s guilt, while others stoutly defended him.
The following morning, at the request of Lawyer Kellogg, an officer
was sent over from Bayport who, in conjunction with Sam Parsons, the
Riverdale constable, made a thorough search of Toby Clark’s tumble-down
house. It was so poor a place that the door was not even locked. There
were but two rooms; that at the front, where Toby cooked and slept, and
a little den at the back, which contained only a few bits of broken,
cast-off furniture and some boxes and barrels. In this back room,
concealed beneath a pile of old newspapers, the officers found a bundle
of mortgages and other documents, the property of Mrs. Ritchie and
which were of no value to anyone but their owner. The money and bonds,
however, could not be found.
Armed with this fresh evidence against the prisoner the officers of the
law went to the jail and urged the boy to confess.
“Tell the truth,” said Jardyce, the Bayport policeman, “and the chances
are you’ll get a light sentence. It is foolish to continue to deny your
Toby, quite broken and despondent, for he felt deeply the disgrace of
his accusation and arrest, stared at the officer in wonder.
“Are you sure you found those papers in my room?” he asked.
“There is no doubt of it.”
“Then some one else put them there. Who do you suppose it could be,
Sam?” inquired Toby, addressing Parsons, the constable, who had always
been his friend.
“Can’t imagine,” was the gruff reply; then, noting Toby’s appealing
look, he turned to the Bayport man and added: “There’s something
crooked about this thing, Jardyce. I know, as well as I know anything,
that Toby Clark had nothing to do with stealing that box.”
“In spite of the evidence?”
“Bother the evidence! You know, an’ I know, that lots of evidence is
“Yes, that’s true. I will say this,” continued the policeman,
thoughtfully, “that after a long experience with crooks of all sorts,
this boy don’t impress me as being guilty. But the evidence is mighty
strong against him, you’ll admit, and the chances are a jury will
convict him without argument. Too bad, if he’s innocent; but many an
innocent man is serving time because he couldn’t explain away the
circumstantial evidence against him.”