A Custom House Story.
New York World.
One of the best story tellers in the custom house is Colonel Dudley F. Phelps, chief of the law department. Like Collector Kilbreth, Colonel Phelps’ stories have the merit of actual experience. Colonel Phelps never tells a story twice. He told one altogether new last Saturday afternoon when business was done and the young civil service clerks had folded up their desks and gone home.
“One of the funniest and most perplexing situations I have ever had to confront in my office here,” said the colonel, “turned up several months ago. One very dull autumn afternoon a clerical gentleman of especially solemn mien came in. He introduced himself as Mr. So and So, whom I knew to be the pastor of one of the most fashionable churches on Fifth avenue.
“’You are the law officer, I believe, sir,” said the distinguished gentleman.
“’Shut the door,” said the reverend gentleman hastily.
“The door was shut.
“It was locked.
“’Sh—h,’ said the Fifth avenue pastor. ‘I’m a smuggler.’
“’Why, my dear sir, it can’t be possible,’ said I.
“’True, indeed, sir,” said the reverend gentleman, wiping away a tear. ‘And I will frankly tell you the story.’
“’Last June my congregation voted that I should have a vacation and they decided that I should take a trip abroad, sir. I was very much delighted and I concluded that I would take my two daughters, two lovely girls, sir on my voyage with me.
“’Now, my dears,’ said I. ‘Now, my dears, mind you, no smuggling when we return.’
“’Oh, papa,’ said they, ‘everybody smuggles. That’s half the fun of a trip abroad.’ And they were such good girls, sir—such very good girls. But they promised. And we went abroad and we had a delightful time.
“’Then came the time to return. We were in London.
“’Now, my dears,’ said I, ‘I must again warn you not to smuggle.’
“’But everybody smuggles, papa,’ said they.
“’Now, my dears!’ I said, ‘promise me,’ and they said, “we promise, papa, we won’t smuggle.’
“We had a beautiful voyage over, sir, a charming voyage; and when we arrived off Sandy Hook I called my two daughters to me and I said:
“’Now, my dears, promise me you will not smuggle.’
“’But every woman on the ship is smuggling,’ they said, ‘and it is such fun.’
“The customs officers examined our baggage, and I was proud, sir that they found nothing contraband in my daughters’ trunks. Now, sir, it has always been my practice to kiss my two darlings good night when bedtime comes. So I stole up to their room—and imagine my surprise, my consternation, my shame, sir. There sat my two lovely girls ripping out the lining of my overcoat, and pulling therefrom, sir, yards and yards of fine lace—duchesse lace, they called it.
“’Oh, my dears,’ said I, ‘you promised me you would not smuggle. Oh, think of the shame of it.’
“’We didn’t smuggle, papa!’ said they, ‘you smuggled,’ and here is the lace, sir. I smuggled it. Let the dreadful consequences be visited upon me, sir! But shield them, for they are two such good girls. Here it is, sir. And he poured into my lap a great bundle of lace.
“I tried to calm the old gentleman,” continued Colonel Phelps, “for he had worked himself up into a great state of excitement, and I told him that under the circumstances I thought the government would take no action in the matter. The duty, I told him, would be only about $20, and Uncle Sam would probably waive that in the case of two such lovely girls—such very good girls. So I returned him the lace. But he insisted on paying the duty. Then I told him that if he insisted he might send $20 to the conscience fund. The next day a messenger brought the good man’s check for $20 for the conscience fund.”
The Galveston [TX] Daily News 11 January 1896: p. 6
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The “conscience fund,” as one might surmise, was for just such delicate situations as these. Engagingly, the funds so received were known as “duties from unknown hands.”
One can only imagine the merry dance those “two such good girls” led the unfortunate parson: exceeding their dress-allowances, flirting with would-be suitors in church, and contracting vastly unsuitable marriages seem the inevitable fate for girls capable of turning their doting papa into a felon.
Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes
You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.