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The Shoplifters
by [?]

“This is the woman who lost the ring,” put in the other woman detective, motioning to Constance, who had accompanied her and was standing, a silent spectator.

The man held up the ring, which Constance had already recognized.

“Is that yours?” he asked.

For a moment, strangely, she hesitated. If it had been any other ring in the world she felt sure that she would have said no. But, then, she reflected, there was that pile of stuff. There was no use in concealing her ownership of the ring. “Yes,” she murmured.

“One moment, please,” answered the man brusquely. “I must send down for the salesgirl who waited on you to identify you and your check– a mere formality, you know, but necessary to keep things straight.”

Constance sat down.

“I suppose you don’t realize it,” explained the man, turning to Constance, “but the shoplifters of the city get away with a couple of million dollars’ worth of stuff every year. It’s the price we have to pay for displaying our goods. But it’s too high. They are the department store’s greatest unsolved problem. Now most of the stores are working together for their common interests, seeing what they can do to root them out. We all keep a sort of private rogue’s gallery of them. But we don’t seem to have anything on this girl, nor have any of the other stores who exchange photographs and information with us anything on her.”

“Evidently, then, it is her first offense,” put in Constance, wondering at herself. Strangely, she felt more of sympathy than of anger for the girl.

“You mean the first time she has been caught at it,” corrected the head of the store detectives.

“It is my weakness,” sobbed the girl. “Sometimes an irresistible impulse to steal comes over me. I just can’t help it.”

She was sobbing convulsively. As she talked and listened there seemed to come a complete breakdown. She wept as though her heart would break.

“Oh,” exclaimed the man, “can it! Cut out the sob stuff!”

“And yet,” mused Constance half to herself, watching the girl closely, “when one walks through the shops and sees thousands of dollars’ worth of goods lying unprotected on the counters, is it any wonder that some poor woman or girl should be tempted and fall? There, before her eyes and within her grasp, lies the very article above all others which she so ardently craves. No one is looking. The salesgirl is busy with another customer. The rest is easy. And then the store detective steps in–and here she is–captured.”

The girl had been listening wildly through her tears. “Oh,” she sobbed, “you don’t understand–none of you. I don’t crave anything. I–I just–can’t help it–and then, afterwards–I–I HATE the stuff –and I am so–afraid. I hurry home–and I–oh, what shall I do–what shall I do?”

Constance pitied her deeply. She looked from the wild-eyed, tear- stained face to the miscellaneous pile of material on the table, and the unwinking gaze of the store detectives. True, the girl had taken a very valuable diamond ring, and from herself. But the laces, the trinkets, all were abominably cheap, not worth risking anything for.

Constance’s attention was recalled by the man who beckoned her aside to talk to the salesgirl who had waited on her.

“You remember seeing this lady at the counter?” he asked of the girl. She nodded. “And that woman in there?” he motioned. Again the salesgirl nodded.

“Do you remember anything else that happened?” he asked Constance as they faced Kitty Carr and he handed Constance the ring.

Constance looked the detective squarely in the face for a moment.

“I have my ring. You have the other stuff,” she murmured. “Besides, there is no record against her. She doesn’t even look like a professional bad character. No–I’ll not appear to press the charge –I’ll make it as hard as I can before I’ll do it,” she added positively.

The woman, who had overheard, looked her gratitude. The detectives were preparing to argue. Constance hardly knew what she was saying, as she hurried on before any one else could speak.