Sixteen-year-old Hal Carson was on a ferry traveling from Jersey City to New York when he overheard two well-dressed men discussing nearly 80 thousand dollars in bonds in a private safe, which was kept open during business hours. He thought the conversation seemed suspicious and, when the men left the cabin to keep from being overheard, Hal considered following the men outside to the deck, but it was winter, and he had no coat.
Hal had been raised in a poor-house, and was on his way to New York City to seek employment. His worldly goods consisted of a small bundle of clothes, less than a dollar in coins, and a gold locket that had been around his neck when he’d been brought to the poor-house as a baby.
It was about eight o’clock in the evening when Hal arrived in New York. While walking down a sidewalk he saw an elderly man start to cross the street, slip on ice, and fall on his back, just as a fire engine, pulled by three “fiery horses” came racing towards the man. Hal rushed out into the street, grabbed the man by the arm, and pulled him to safety.
The man’s name was Horace Sumner, a broker on Wall Street. Upon hearing the gist of Hal’s life story, he gave the lad his business card, and asked him to come see him at ten the next morning. Hal then found a dingy establishment where he paid 25 cents for a night’s lodging.
The next morning he tramped through a foot of snow to reach the office of Sumner, Allen & Co., Brokers. He walked in the door, and saw the bookkeeper, Mr. Hardwick, one of the two men who’d been talking about bonds on the ferry. Hardwick didn’t recognize Hal, but since the lad wore shabby clothes he told him to wait outside. Just as Hal left the office Mr. Sumner showed up, and was annoyed that the office boy hadn’t cleared the sidewalk. Hal offered to clean it, and was just getting started when Ferris, the well-dressed office boy, showed up, an hour late for work. It wasn’t the first time he’d arrived late, so Ferris lost his job, and Hal was hired and given a month’s salary in advance in order to buy a coat and boots, and to pay for a place to live.
After his first day of work Hal bought winter clothes, then found a nice boarding house room. Would it surprise you to learn his new landlady was the aunt of ex-office boy Ferris? On Hal’s second day of work he met Mr. Sumner’s partner, Mr. Allen, who had been the other suspicious ferry passenger discussing bonds.
On Hal’s third day of work Mr. Sumner opened his safe and discovered 79 thousand dollars worth of railroad bonds, kept in a tin box, were missing. Such a loss would mean ruin to him. Hardwick and Allen blamed the poor-house boy, and Hal told Mr. Sumner about the conversation he overheard while on the ferry. He promised to help his employer find the stolen bonds.
If Hal didn’t have enough trouble Ferris held a grudge against him for “stealing” his former job. He complained to his aunt for allowing a poor-house boy to stay at her house, but she sided with Hal. The lady had promised her deceased sister she’d look after her nephew, but did not approve of the way he’d been behaving.
One day after work Hal followed Hardwick, and saw him meet Ferris. The next day Hal saw Hardwick steal pens and inkwells, and told Mr. Sumner about it. He believed the bookkeeper planned to make it appear as if Hal stole the items, and asked his employer not to speak to Hardwick about it, for he wanted to see what would happen. Mr. Sumner was growing fond of Hal, and he thought of his own son, who had been kidnapped as a baby, and was now presumed to be dead.
When Hal returned to the boarding house for supper he was told one of the boarders, a Mr. Saunders, had been robbed, and Ferris accused Hal of the crime. They all went up to Hal’s room and Mr. Saunders’ property, plus the brokerage office’s pens and inkwells, were found there. Things looked bad for Hal but, fortunately, the true criminals weren’t too smart, and the stolen items were wrapped in the day’s afternoon newspaper – a paper not available until after Hal had left for work. Everyone, including Ferris’ aunt, figured out who the villain was.
Mr. Sumner gave Hal permission to act as a private investigator and search for the stolen railroad bonds. The broker cautioned the lad to stay out of harm’s way, but that didn’t happen, and I can’t recall just how many times Hal came close to being killed as he strove to find the bonds that would keep his employer out of financial ruin. Bricks were dropped on his head, he was threatened with a pistol, whacked on the head with a chunk of firewood, then tossed into the vat of an abandoned pickling plant.
Finally Hal was shot, and Mr. Sumner kept vigil by the lad’s bedside. He saw the golden locket that had been around Hal’s neck when he’d been taken to the poor-house as a baby. Recall that, years before, Mr. Sumner’s infant son had been kidnapped. I won’t tell the significance of the locket, but will say that the bad guys got their just punishment, and all of the good characters lived happily ever after.
Anyone who’s read some of Horatio Alger’s novels about poor boys who work hard and experience wonderful coincidences might think this 1897 novel is an Alger story. In fact, it was written by Edward Stratemeyer, under the pen name of Arthur M. Winfield – the same name he used when writing The Rover Boys’ series of books. Stratemeyer had been an admirer of Horatio Alger, and when the older novelist had become too ill to continue writing Stratemeyer was hired to finish several of Alger’s books. He went on to create dozens of book series, including the Bobbsey Twins, Tom Swift, The Hardy Boys, and Nancy Drew.
I found this novel to be a delight. I didn’t think too hard on whether it was completely logical, but just enjoyed the adventures of a likable young man. If you’d like to read The Missing Tin Box the story can be downloaded free of charge at: https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/30864