The day set for the trial was drawing so near that presently Phoebe
became greatly worried. Winter had suddenly set in and the weather was
so cold and disagreeable that she could not get out as frequently as
before. She saw Mr. Holbrook once or twice but found him despondent.
“They’ve got us practically between two millstones,” he said, “and
since we are unable to use our knowledge of the truth for defense, we
shall be obliged to take our chances of defeat. I’m sorry, but it can’t
Phoebe, however, thought it could. She asked herself how far she
was bound to respect the various confidences reposed in her, when
they meant the ruin of an innocent young life. She knew enough, she
believed, to save Toby if she were allowed to go upon the stand and
tell it all; but she felt that she was so inexperienced in legal
matters that if she acted on mere impulse she might make a failure.
Meantime she kept studying the anonymous letters and one day decided
to find out where the notepaper had been bought, if possible, as that
might put her in the way of determining who had bought it. So she went
to town and made her way to the post office.
Hazel Chandler waited upon her at the little stationery shop in
the office, and Phoebe thought the young girl looked pale and
worn. “They’re working her too hard again,” she reflected, and yet
Hazel’s duties were no more onerous than those which many shop-girls
voluntarily undertook. She also had the advantage of working for her
father and running the little store as she pleased, although she was
obliged to leave her counter for the post office whenever Will Chandler
was out, as was often the case. Besides being one of the village
council the postmaster was interested in several other things which
required his attention outside, so that Hazel as assistant postmaster
waited on most of those who came to the office for their mail.
There was no one but Phoebe in the place just now and she asked to look
at some notepaper.
“No, not the box sort, Hazel; just the common kind,” she added.
The girl laid several qualities before her and soon Phoebe recognized
the kind she was looking for. She bought a few sheets and Hazel began
to wrap them up.
“Have you heard much about–about Toby Clark’s case–lately?” the girl
asked in a hesitating way.
“No,” replied Phoebe.
“It’s pretty black against him, isn’t it?” continued Hazel anxiously.
“It looks black, just now,” admitted Phoebe.
“I–I’m sorry for Toby,” said Hazel, with a sigh. “We–we’re all–very
fond of him.”
Phoebe bristled with indignation.
“Your sweetheart, Dave Hunter, doesn’t seem very fond of him,” she
retorted. “He takes every opportunity to denounce Toby and blacken his
Hazel shrank back as if frightened by such vehemence. She bowed her
head over the parcel she was tying, but Phoebe could see that her pale
skin had flushed red.
“I–I’m not responsible for–for what Dave says, Phoebe,” she murmured
pleadingly; and then to the other girl’s astonishment she put both
hands before her face and began to cry, sobbing in a miserable way that
was pitiful to listen to.
At once Phoebe became penitent.
“Forgive me, Hazel,” she said. “I know you are not responsible for
Dave,” and then she took her parcel and went away, to give the girl a
chance to recover her composure.
“The poor thing is almost a nervous wreck,” she mused, “and Dave’s
bitterness toward Toby must have annoyed her more than I suspected.
She probably loves Dave devotedly and hates to have him behave so
ungenerously. I must ask Lucy when they are to be married. That would
relieve her of the confining work in the post office and enable her to
recover her health and strength.”
At the drug store opposite she found more of that identical notepaper,
and the stationery counter at Markham’s dry goods store had it also. It
was a grade so common that everyone kept it and therefore Phoebe was
forced to acknowledge that her quest had been a failure.
She was in the dumps next day, wondering if she had done all she
could for Toby, when suddenly she remembered the governor’s parting
injunction. “If you need me, send me a telegram,” he had said, and this
brainy, big-hearted man was just the one she needed in her present
emergency. At once she decided to telegraph Cousin John, for she
believed that his advice, coupled with her knowledge–which she would
frankly confide to him–might yet save the day for Toby Clark.
She would not say anything to Cousin Judith, at present, for if the
busy governor found himself obliged to ignore her summons she wanted no
one to be disappointed but herself.
Very carefully she worded the telegram, in order to present the case
as strongly as possible without committing the secrets she guarded in
advance of his coming. She wrote and rewrote it several times, until
finally she was satisfied with the following:
“Please come and help me save Toby Clark. I believe I know the truth,
but without your assistance Toby will be condemned on false evidence. A
woman stole Mrs. Ritchie’s box and there is a conspiracy to shield her
from discovery and wickedly sacrifice Toby in her stead. Will tell you
all when you arrive. Come quickly, if you can, for time is precious.”
She signed this “Phoebe Daring” and putting on her wraps, carried it
down to the station. Dave Hunter was in the little telegraph office, on
duty but not busy. He laid down a newspaper as Phoebe entered his room
and nodded rather ungraciously.
“Here’s a telegram, Dave, which I want you to send at once.”
“Day message, or night?” he inquired, taking it from her hand and
beginning to count the words.
“Oh, day, of course,” she replied.
Suddenly he paused, with his pencil poised above the telegram, and a
wave of red swept over his face and then receded, leaving it a chalky
white. He did not lift his eyes, for a time, but seemed to study the
telegram, reading it twice very slowly from beginning to end. Then he
pushed the paper toward Phoebe and said in a hard, arrogant voice:
“I can’t send that.”
“Why not?” she asked in astonishment.
“I–it’s libelous,” he returned, rising from his chair before the table
on which the telegraph instrument stood and facing the girl defiantly.
“It is not libelous!” she indignantly exclaimed.
“Well, I can’t send it; it’s against the rules of the office.”
Phoebe looked into his face searchingly and he half turned away. She
remembered now Dave’s rabid enmity toward Toby Clark and concluded that
he refused the telegram because he feared it would assist Toby’s case.
But she would not be balked by such a ridiculous pretext and as her
anger increased she grew more quiet and determined.
“You’re talking nonsense,” she said. “This is a public telegraph office
and you, as the operator, are obliged to accept and send any message
that is presented and paid for. It isn’t your place to decide whether
it is libelous or not, and I demand that you send this telegram at
“I won’t,” he said firmly. “I’m going out, Miss Daring, and must lock
up the office; so I’ll trouble you to go.”
She regarded the young fellow questioningly as he took his hat and
stepped to the door, waiting for her with his hand on the knob. Then
she slipped into his seat at the table and placed her hand on the
“Here!” he called fiercely. “What are you doing, girl?”
“If you won’t telegraph the governor, I will!” she declared. “Stand
back, Dave Hunter, and don’t you dare to touch me or interfere. I’ll
save Toby Clark if I have to put you behind the bars in his place, and
perhaps there’s where you belong.”
As she spoke she was clicking the little instrument, calling the state
capitol. Dave himself had taught her how to do this. The operator now
stood motionless beside her, looking down at the courageous girl with
unmistakable terror in his eyes. Perhaps her threat awed him; perhaps
he had other reasons for not venturing to prevent her extraordinary
The answer came in a moment. Fortunately the wire had been free and as
soon as she got her connection she began clicking out the message–as
dexterously as the regular operator himself might have done.
Dave listened, as motionless as if turned to stone. She demanded a
“repeat” and from the other end came the repetition of the message,
exactly as the girl had sent it. She answered: “O K,” rose from her
chair and calmly asked:
“What are the charges?”
The young man drew his hand across his eyes with a despairing gesture
and limply sank into the chair.
“Go away, please,” he replied.
Phoebe picked up the rate book and figured the cost of the telegram.
As she did so her eyes fell on a railway order which Dave Hunter had
written on a blank form and after staring at it a moment she stealthily
folded it and slipped it into her pocket. Then she laid the exact
change on the table and walked out of the office. As she closed the
door softly behind her she noticed that the operator had dropped
his head on his outstretched arms and seemed to have forgotten her
A sudden horror and aversion for the young man welled up within her,
but she felt elated and triumphant, as well. She had sent the message
in spite of all opposition and–she had made a discovery!
The writer of the anonymous letters was none other than Dave Hunter.
Phoebe could scarcely wait to get home before examining the order she
had taken from the telegraph office. Once within her own room she
eagerly spread it out before her and studied it with care. It was a
simple railway order addressed to the supply agent at St. Louis, and
said: “Twenty beds with mattrasses and pillows for laborers at Section
9 without delay.” It was signed by the Division Superintendent but was
in Dave’s handwriting and had doubtless been dictated to him to be
wired to the agent.
But within it lay the proof Phoebe had so long and vainly sought. Not
only was the word “mattress” misspelled as in the anonymous letter, but
the capital “T” in “Twenty” had the same preliminary curl to it that
she had observed in both letters, wherever “Toby” had appeared.
This discovery positively amazed the girl. She had never suspected
Dave, whom she now believed had hidden both the papers and the money in
Toby’s house, on different occasions, with the evident determination to
incriminate the boy. Then, by means of the anonymous letters, Dave had
told where the stolen property could be found.
But Dave had not stolen the box. A woman did that. She sighed as
she thought of Lucy, an ambitious girl, and of Mrs. Hunter, who was
prominent in all the social affairs of Riverdale and an earnest church
member. It was easy enough to understand now why Dave had denounced
Cousin Judith knocked at her door.
“A telegram for you, Phoebe.”
She tore it open, while Judith watched her face curiously. It flushed
“The governor will be here in the morning,” she said. “You don’t mind,
do you, Cousin Judith?”