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The Smuggler
by [?]

It was a rather sultry afternoon in the late summer when people who had calculated by the calendar rather than by the weather were returning to the city from the seashore, the mountains, and abroad.

Except for the week-ends, Kennedy and I had been pretty busy, though on this particular day there was a lull in the succession of cases which had demanded our urgent attention during the summer.

We had met at the Public Library, where Craig was doing some special research at odd moments in criminology. Fifth Avenue was still half deserted, though the few pedestrians who had returned or remained in town like ourselves were, as usual, to be found mostly on the west side of the street. Nearly everybody, I have noticed, walks on the one side of Fifth Avenue, winter or summer.

As we stood on the corner waiting for the traffic man’s whistle to halt the crush of automobiles, a man on the top of a ‘bus waved to Kennedy.

I looked up and caught a glimpse of Jack Herndon, an old college mate, who had had some political aspirations and had recently been appointed to a position in the customs house of New York. Herndon, I may add, represented the younger and clean-cut generation which is entering official life with great advantage to both themselves and politics.

The ‘bus pulled up to the curb, and Jack tore down the breakneck steps hurriedly.

“I was just thinking of you, Craig,” he beamed as we all shook hands, “and wondering whether you and Walter were in town. I think I should have come up to see you to-night, anyhow.”

“Why, what’s the matter – more, sugar frauds?” laughed Kennedy. “Or perhaps you have caught another art dealer red-handed?”

“No, not exactly,” replied Herndon, growing graver for the moment. “We’re having a big shake-up down at the office, none of your ‘new broom’ business, either. Real reform it is, this time.”

“And you – are you going or coming?” inquired Craig with an interested twinkle.

“Coming, Craig, coming,” answered Jack enthusiastically. “They’ve put me in charge of a sort of detective force as a special deputy surveyor to rout out some smuggling that we know is going on. If I make good it will go a long way for me – with all this talk of efficiency and economy down in Washington these days.”

“What’s on your mind now?” asked Kennedy observantly. “Can I help you in any way?” Herndon had taken each of us by an arm and walked us over to a stone bench in the shade of the library building.

“You have read the accounts in the afternoon papers of the peculiar death of Mademoiselle Violette, the little French modiste, up here on Forty-sixth Street?” he inquired.

“Yes,” answered Kennedy. “What has that to do with customs reform?”

“A good deal, I fear,” Herndon continued. “It’s part of a case that has been bothering us all summer. It’s the first really big thing I’ve been up against and it’s as ticklish a bit of business as even a veteran treasury agent could wish.”

Herndon looked thoughtfully at the passing crowd on the other side of the balustrade and continued. “It started, like many of our cases, with the anonymous letter writer. Early in the summer the letters began to come in to the deputy surveyor’s office, all unsigned, though quite evidently written in a woman’s hand, disguised of course, and on rather dainty notepaper. They warned us of a big plot to smuggle gowns and jewellery from Paris. Smuggling jewellery is pretty common because jewels take up little space and are very valuable. Perhaps it doesn’t sound to you like a big thing to smuggle dresses, but when you realise that one of those filmy lacy creations may often be worth several hundred, if not thousand, dollars, and that it needs only a few of them on each ship that comes in to run up into the thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands in a season, you will see how essential it is to break up that sort of thing. We’ve been getting after the individual private smugglers pretty sharply this summer and we’ve had lots of criticism. If we could land a big fellow and make an object-lesson of the extent of the thing I believe it would leave our critics of the press without a leg to stand on.