Somebody’s Luggage – 1862 – A Christmas tale
First published in 1862 this short story sets up a situation for several stories to be told.
The narrator stumbles upon some luggage left behind in the hotel where he works. They have been there for six years, so he arranges to buty them from the the hotel’s owner. Searching through it he finds evidence of a wide variety of high-quality stories hidden away inside the luggage. When these stories are then published the mysterious author finally steps up to claim them.
The writer of these humble lines being a Waiter, and having come of a family of Waiters, and owning at the present time five brothers who are all Waiters, and likewise an only sister who is a Waitress, first wishes to offer a few words respecting his calling. Then he defends his role in the matter.
He worked in a bed business, and a coffee-room business. They were not a general dining business, nor did they wish it. In consequence, when diners drop in, they know what to give ’em as will keep ’em away another time.
He noticed, under the bed in No. 24 B (which it is up a angle off the staircase, and usually put off upon the lowly-minded), a heap of things in a corner. He asked the Head Chambermaid, Mrs Pratchett, ‘What are them things in 24 B?’ She replied ‘Somenbody’s Luggage.’ When pressed for more she said ‘Lor! How should I know!’
The Head Waiter is curious and establishes the luggage has been there six years. He couldn’t satisfy his thoughts he kept wondering about the luggage. It consisted of a black portmanteau, a black bag, a desk, a dressing-case, a brown-paper parcel, a hat-box, and an umbrella and a walking-stick. It was very dusty. He had the porter fetch them out.
The ‘Somebody’ had run up a bill of two pounds, sixteen shillings and sixpence, he had Miss Martin show him the particulars. It bore a note ‘Mem.: January 1st, 1857. He had gone out after dinner, directing luggage to be ready when he called for it. Never called.’
He approached the Mistress, who made him an interesting offer, pay me Somebody’s bill, and you shall have Somebody’s Luggage.’ He replied that it may not be worth that, and she said that was the Lottery!
So he paid the money, He opened the luggage. He sold what he bought in one lot – the portmanteau, the bag, the desk, the dressing-case, the hat-box, the umbrella, strap, and walking-stick/ All to a second-hand dealer not far from St Clement’s Danes, in the Strand. This put him in profit on the deal.
That left him considering the writings within. ‘Somebody’ had poor handwriting, there were no headings.
The first tale was of Monsieur Mutuel and Madame Bouclet
They ran a lodging house in an old fortified town in France and they discussed someone who had identified himself as Monsier L’Anglais, he rented up on the second-floor.
The gentleman had given his name correctly, Langley, but it had been confused as L’Anglais. He had never left his island before and was rather scathing of the French, stating not a soldier amomg them,
He was particularly focussed on a person he called the Corporal and a young girl called Bebelle. He asked Madame Bouclet about her and she explained that the wife of the barber merely received a small stipend to keep Bebelle, they were not related, as she put it, she was the child of no one.
The wife of the barber was not cruel to the child, but she was careless. The Corporal was billeted with the barber and so was drawn to the poor unowned child.
Monsieur L’Anglais visited the town’s cemetery that afternoon, he found nothing of the solemnity of Death here. On his way back he passed the military gymnasium-ground and watched as the Corporal trained young soldiers. He spotted Bebelle watching too,
He met them in the Place the next day and wished him good day. He greets the girl and asks what she is wearing at her neck. She replies that it is the Holy Virgin, a gift from Théophile, and with some amusement identifies Théophile as the Corporal.
This is how it went for many weeks, then one day Bebelle disappeared, it appeared as if she had run away.
Monsieur L’Anglais waited and watched. Then Monsieur Mutuel said it was so sad, so sad about the Corporal. It was a fire, a beam had fallen. The funeral was so sad. The Englishman went to the cemetery and found Bebelle lying asleep beside the Corporal’s grave.
He woke her and took her in his arms saying she should not stay there. She said ‘I can’t leave Théophile’. He went to buy two wreaths both addressed to ‘My friend’ and placed them by the grave. He carried her back to his room, surreptitiosly. He gave her food and drink and laid her on his bed. He went to the barbers and spoke with the barber’s wife, he took out his purse and returned with all of Bebelle’s belongings.
He paid his few debts in the town, then wrote a letter to Madame Bouclet and enclosed a sufficient sum of money in lieu of notice.
He boarded the train with Bebelle. He found Monsieur Mutuel there handing him a box of snuff, and Madame Bouclet gave him a bouquet. The bouquet had a paper around it saying ‘Homage to the friend of the friendless’.
Christopher, the Head Waiter
Langley, Monsieur L’Anglais
Tom, the artist
The second tale:
This was the tale of a young man in the Fine Art line. He recalled a remark by a certain philosopher, that the world knows nothing of its greatest men. He felt this was apposite to him, his works were well known, but not he himself.
He realised he was soured by not being popular. He lived in lodgings on the Surrey side of the Thames, near the Obelisk, more generally referred to as the Obstacle. He lies abed till it’s absolutely necessary to get up and earn something, and then he lies abed again till he has spent it.
He found himself walking along the Waterloo Road, one evening after dark, accompanied by an acquaintance and fellow-lodger, in the gas-fitting way of life. He has a theatrical turn himself, and wishes to be brought out in the character of Othello; but whether on account of his regular work always blacking his face and hands more or less, I cannot say.
His companion comments that he appears to have something hanging over him, a sorrow. They paused with a crowd looking at someone doing a coloured chalk series of drawings lit by two candles. There was a salmon, a moonlight night at sea; dead game; scroll-work; the head of a hoary hermit in devout contemplation; the head of a pointer smoking a pipe; and a cherubim, his flesh creased as in infancy. All these subjects appeared to the young man to be exquisitely done.
The chalker was a shabby person of modest appearance who shivered dreadfully. Writing formed a part of the composition, it said, ‘An honest man is the noblest work of God. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0. £ s. d. Employment in an office is humbly requested. Honour the Queen. Hunger is a 0 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 sharp thorn. Chip chop, cherry chop, fol de rol de ri do. Astronomy and mathematics. I do this to support my family’.
The crowd muttered their admiration and pity that a man of such skill should be brought so low. One asked him how he did it and he showed them. Another asked if the Hermit were a portrait, and he said it reminded him of his father. An elderly gentleman came to the front, and gave the artist his card, saying he should come to his office to-morrow, and get some copying to do, he also donated sixpence.
A man in the second row with a gruff voice growled to the artist, ‘You’ve got a chance in life now, ain’t you?’ The artist answered ‘I’m thankful to hope so’. Upon which there was a general chorus of ‘You are all right’, and the halfpence donations slackened very decidedly.
Mr Click pulled the artist away and was disappointed by his look, saying ‘I don’t like the envious man. Thomas, beware of envy’. Click was so disturbed that he left him then.
The artist became enamoured. Her name was Henrietta. She was volatile, but that is to say she was a woman. She told him, ‘I am not, prepared to regard you, Thomas, in any other light than as a friend; but as a friend I am willing to walk with you.’
Under the influence of Henrietta’s beguilements, he now got out of bed daily. One evening in October they were walking over Vauxhall Bridge. After several slow turns, Henrietta said, ‘Let’s go home by Grosvenor Place, Piccadilly, and Waterloo.’
The artist argued against Piccadilly, but she was insistent. She noticed something by the railings and they found fresh chalk drawings of Vesuvius, a ship in heavy weather, a shoulder of mutton with two cucumbers, a golden harvest with a distant cottage, a knife and fork, a bunch of grapes, all within a rainbow. There was the writing again, ‘The writer is poor, but not despondent…’
The man looked a little like the other, but the artist thought his ministrations were unskilled. He seemed to take some instruction from one in the crowd.
Henrietta saw the young man’s malignant look of jealousy and their easiness on the way home dissolved. In the morning she wrote to him to say that his look meant they could not walk together again. The artist went to bed for a week. When he emerged he learned that Henrietta had married the Piccadilly chalk ‘artist’.
But Tom was in reality the artist of both the Piccadilly and the Waterloo Road drawings. He would draw them and let them out to others, the man purporting to be the artist brings just the candles to the piece.
He was not up to the shivering, not up to the liveliness, not up to the wanting-employment-in-an-office move. He was only up to originating and executing the work. In consequence of which you never see him; you think you see him when you see somebody else, and that somebody else is a mere Commercial character.
The Waiter had sold the foregoing writing on most satisfactory terms. But he started to be concerned that the unknown writer might re-emerge.
One day a young man arrived at the Coffee-room and asked if he were Mr Christopher, the Head Waiter, he confirmed he was. The young man pulled a packet from his breast, it was labelled, ‘The Proofs A Y R.’
The Head Waiter suggested various explanations for the AYR, but none was convincing. When he opened the packet he found it meant All Year Round. It contained proof of his having sold the writings.
They were not busy and a gentleman arrived with a newfangled uncollapsable bag. He ordered his food and then asked that his bags be taken to room 24B. This played on the conscience of the Head Waiter.
As he sat at table 4 he called for pen and paper, and then a messenger. He wrote and sent off six messages before he ate his dinner. The porter explained that all of the messages had been sent to booksellers.
The next night he sat again at table 4, then went out and on his return learned that he had received no replies. He had his meal and called for the bill, The Waiter had decided he must confront this issue, and brought out the Proofs and began to apologise that he was responsible.
The gentleman grasped him and said ‘In print! Philanthropist! Nothing can recompense you, but what sum of money would be acceptable to you?’ He protested that he had already been well paid. But the gentleman protested ‘Don’t talk like that! What sum of money would be acceptable to you, Christopher? Would you find twenty pounds acceptable, Christopher?’
The gentleman thrust the twenty pounds into his hand, saying ‘From boyhood’s hour I have unremittingly and unavailingly endeavoured to get into print. Booksellers alive—and several dead – have refused to put me into print.’
He explained he had left his luggage here seven years earlier, on the desperate chance, either that the manuscripts would come back to him no more, or that some one less accursed than he might give them to the world.
He sat to correct the proofs and the waiter took these around to Beauford Printing House. But while there he heard them say they couldn’t understand the corrections, so they were thrown on to a fire,