Luggage and the Lady

THE CONTRIBUTORS’ CLUB

I WRITE as one pursued through life by the malevolence of inanimate objects. My singular subjection to things was never brought so painfully home to me as last summer during four months in Europe. Of course, my soul had been to Europe a great many times, but my body never, and now I was taking it, as well as certain scrip and scrippage for its journey. I chained up my soul and held it under lock and key while I took counsel with certain seductive guidebooks. These paternal manuals left no detail untouched, until there was no fear left for me of cabs or custom houses, of moneytables or time-tables. It was all as simple as bread and milk. One thing all my guides inveighed against, a superfluity of baggage; with them I utterly agreed. A trunk was an expensive luxury on foreign railways; there stood ready always an army of porters to escort one’s handbags. A lady could travel gayly with a single change of raiment; after a day’s dust and soil, merely the transformation of a blouse, and behold a toilet fit for any table d’hôte. Moreover, so remarkable were foreign laundry facilities that on tumbling to bed all you had to do was to summon an obliging maid, deliver, sleep, and on the morrow morn, behold yourself all crisply washed and ironed. As to the expense of a trunk and the battalions of porters, the guidebooks were correct; as to the rest, they lied. The single blouse theory is all very well if you don’t wear out or tear out by the way; and as to the laundry fallacy, do I not still see myself roaming the streets of Antwerp searching vainly for one single blanchisserie ? My conclusion is that one needs clothes and a right mind about as much on one side of the Atlantic as on the other.

But I had not reached this conclusion

when I bought my baggage, therefore I limited myself to two hand-pieces. For the first of these I had not far to search. It was that frail, slim, dapper thing, a straw suitcase. It was very light, just how light I was afterwards to discover, but before embarkation I regarded it with joy; it seemed to me suitable and genteel, with its sober gray sides and trim leather corners. With it I was satisfied, whereas from the first I felt misgiving about my second article of impedimenta. There was nothing genteel or ladylike about this, that was certain, but perhaps I am not the first traveler who has yielded to the mendacious promises of a telescope. It looks as if it would so obligingly yield to the need either of condensation or expansion. You may inflate or contract at will, and it’s all the same to the telescope. My telescope was peculiarly unbeautiful. Its material was a shiny substance looking like linoleum, called wood fibre, and having a bright burnt-orange color. Its corners were strengthened with sheet iron, lacquered black. You have seen the same in use by rural drummers, but rarely in a female hand. I don’t know why I bought it. It is part of my quarrel with inanimate objects that they always exert an hypnotic influence upon me in the shop, and always excite loathing so soon as they arrive at my home. In this instance it was both the saleswoman and the purchase that excited the hypnotism. She was of that florid, expansive, pompadoured type that always reduces my mind to feebleness. Moreover, she jumped up and down on my prospective telescope, bouncing before my eyes in all her bigness. Now, in my sober senses I do know that one’s primary motive in purchasing a hand-bag is not that one may dance upon it; but at that moment, as I watched her pirouetting as if on a springboard, I felt that no piece of luggage was anything worth unless you could jump upon it. I bought.

Almost at once that tawny bedemoned box began its career of naughtiness. The first thing it did on shipboard was to disappear. It stopped just long enough to be entered in the agent’s book, and then it leaped down into the hold and hid. I searched; the purser searched; so did six several stewards and stewardesses. The stewards searched the staterooms; I searched the passages; together we searched the hold, penetrating even the steerage to see if the missing article were congregating with the motley collection down there. We were four days out when, in a passage repeatedly searched, on a ledge near a porthole, behold my tawny telescope leering at me! My steward was genuinely superstitious over it. So was I.

It was during my first travels on land that I discovered that a capacity for being jumped upon, far from being a recommendation in a piece of luggage, is distinctly a detraction. I did a great deal of jumping during three weeks in Scotland. I am sure I shall have sympathizers when I declare my difficulties in packing a telescope. In the first place, it is very hard, when both ends are lying on the floor, supine and gaping, to distinguish which is top and which is bottom. It is only after sad repacking that you discover that while top will sometimes go over bottom, bottom will never go over top. Having ascertained which is bottom, you begin to pack. You soon are even with the edge; but in a telescope this is nothing. You continue to pack, up, up into the air, a tremulous mountain of garments upon which at length you gingerly place top. Firmly seating yourself at one end, you grasp the straps that girdle the other, and bravely you seek to buckle them. Result, while that end of the telescope on which you are sitting undoubtedly settles under your weight, from the gaping mouth which you are attempting to muzzle there is belched forth an array of petticoats, blouses, collars, postcards. You dismount, reopen, replace scattered articles, and reseat yourself on the opposite end. Result, the end which sank under you before now pops wide, and spouts forth a stream of Baedekers red as collops. Again you repack all, replace top. Starting from across the room, with a running high jump, you aim to land on the very middle of the thing. Result, the top goes down, it is true, but from all edges there dips a fringe of garments. In the privacy of your room, with the assistance of Heaven and the chambermaid and the Boots, you may sometimes contrive to shut a telescope; but I once had to open and restrap mine, sole and unaided, in the waiting room of a station. It happened that I had placed my ticket to London in the toe of one shoe, placed the shoe in the bottom of the straw suitcase, locked this, placed the key in the toe of the other shoe, and placed that in the bottom of my telescope. Why did I do this ? Simply because I had just visited Melrose Abbey. I frequently suffer from a tendency of my costume to disruption in moments of stress. At times of great muscular exertion and mental excitement my hat tends to take an inebriate lunge, each several hairpin stands on end, my collar rises rowdyish from its moorings, impeccable glove fingers gape wantonly. All these circumstances attended the closing of my telescope on that occasion. It was immediately after that I decided upon the necessity of a third piece of baggage.

I bought it in Edinburgh, on Princess Street, the wonderful street where you vainly seek to apply yourself to mundane shopping with Edinburgh Castle ever filling your vision, standing over there on its craggy hill, all misty with legend, while a hundred memories of Mary Queen of Scots come whispering at your ear as you soberly endeavor to buy gloves. If my previous impedimenta had been outrageously American, my third handbag was Scotch, every inch of him. He was gentlemanly and distinguished, frank and accommodating. I have never seen anything like him over here, — shiny black sides of oilcloth, bound by Leather strips, plentifully studded with tacks, but otherwise strictly unornamented. But his chief charm was the way he opened, the whole top flapping easily apart at will, and afterwards the two sides closing over all as easily as if his only desire were to please. In capacity he was unlimited; you could pour into him, on and on, and always he closed upon his contents smilingly, without protest.

For a brief space, as I trickled down through England from cathedral to cathedral, ray Scotch companion was my chiefest comfort, the mere sight of his black, rising-sunshiny face cheering me as it looked down upon me from the luggage rack of a third-class carriage. More and more I came to impose upon the generosity of his interior, until one day my confidence in his Scotch integrity was rudely shattered; for I discovered that the reason he could hold so much was that he had quietly kicked out his bottom! He continued to accompany me. it is true, but thrust from his high gentlemanly estate, resembling now rather those bleary, dilapidated Glasgow porters that greet one’s arriving vessel, his frail form, like theirs, begirt and bandaged in order to support the few light belongings I now dared to entrust to his feebleness.

Meanwhile, the strength of my yellow telescope continued unabated, but so did also its averseness to accommodating my possessions, which daily, all unwittingly and unwillingly, increased. My dapper suitcase had suffered by the way, its neat sides were bruised and staved in, one leather corner was missing, another stood up like an attentive ear. It still smiled, “brave in ragged luck,” but its own America would not have known it. It now appeared that England, and as it happened, rural Devon, must contribute another article to my retinue.

Now, ever since I had touched Great Britain my unaccustomed eye had been fascinated by a piece of luggage quite new to me, I mean that most British thing, the tin trunk. We have nothing like it in luggage, but we have copied it exactly in cake boxes; the only difference is that the English original has a bulge top and a lock and key. In character my British baggage was much better natured than my American telescope, but in color it was much the same, orange tawny; it had grown very easy for me to spot my belongings in the miscellany of the luggage van.

These representatives of the American, Scotch, and English nations followed in my wake from Southampton to St. Malo, and perhaps their company need never have been increased on the continent if in Brittany I had not bought a pair of sabots, life size. Nothing so unaccommodating as sabots! Seemingly each was big enough to sleep in, but if I attempted to pack the inside of one, behold, it would hold nothing at all; it was built to hold a foot, and if it could n’t have a foot, it would have nothing. In true peasant insolence, each sabot demanded a whole handbag to itself, and, once in, refused to accommodate its substantial bulk to the needs of any of my other possessions. In much difficulty I managed to get across France, but once in Paris, especially in view of certain aristocratic purchases that absolutely refused to consort with wooden shoes, the need of still a fifth hand-piece was evident.

Paris luggage, like a Paris lady, is built to show a pleasing exterior. Diversion rather than utility is its motive. My Paris handbag still preserves its suggestion of perpetual picnic. It looks as if it were always just off for a Sunday in the Bois. It is a woven wicker thing, exactly like an American lunch-basket, vastly magnified. The handle must be grasped from the top, and is not the handy side appendage of all American grips. I never look at it without seeing within dozens upon dozens of boiled eggs and sandwiches. As a matter of fact, it has never held anything of the sort; rather it carried my new Parisian costume safely from Paris to New York.

By dint of fast and furious touring through Belgium I managed not to acquire anything more to pack or to be packed, but in Holland once again I fell. I was within a few days of sailing when I visited Alkmaar. There a tall polyglot young Dutchman showed me through a most delicious cheese factory. Innocent and round, ruby or orange, smiled those cheeses down at me from their long shelves. My guide gave me to eat. Thus it was that the last thing I bought on the other side was — cheeses! Oh, he assured me, they were perfectly well behaved; even had they so desired they could not get out of their strong cases; no more innocent gift to be taken home to appreciative friends. That Dutchman understood American credulity better than he did the American language. Those cheeses did not stay in their cases. They came out and performed in all ways after the manner of cheeses. Now throughout my trip, whatever inconveniences I might suffer by reason of possessions acquired, I could never make up my mind to abandon any. Having bought them, I did not desert my cheeses, but it became increasingly apparent that they would have to travel in a home of their own, together with such of my goods as would not be corrupted by evil communications. I purchased my last bit of luggage in Rotterdam. It was a gray canvas bag, in shape like a dachshund without the appendages. It was capable of as much lateral expansion as a Marken fisherman. It received and held the cheeses, but frankly, so that their contour was clear to the eye. To all appearances I was taking home a bushel of turnips out of brave little Holland.

I embarked at Rotterdam, and for ten days sank into that state of coma to which ocean travel stimulates me. It was not till we had touched the Hoboken dock that I became once more acutely alert. I had donned my Paris traveling dress, had walked through the great shed until I found my letter X, and then turned about to wait with the rest for the arrival of my luggage. Then for the first time realization overwhelmed me. I was waiting for my bags, my bags; those six disreputable traveling companions would here and now seek me out and claim my society, right here in America, with V and W to right of me, Y and Z to left, my haughty steamer acquaintance, looking on! Over on the other side one is not known by one’s baggage, but here one is! I had faced many a white continental porter with nonchalance, but with which one of my motley collection in my hand could I face the black Pullman porter of my own country ? I cowered with shame, so slowly they arrived, each several one of the six, tediously threading its way to X, never losing itself, never losing me, always hunting me down! The joy of homecoming was turned to gall. I saw V and W, Y and Z, turn away their faces. To my eyes each several hand-piece looked more bizarre than the last. Which one should I select to accompany me on an American railroad ? Which of the motley crew would least endanger the respectability of a lady traveling alone in an American car ? Through the crowd my Parisian lunch-basket came mincing up to me, still ready for perpetual picnic. Silly chit! I would n’t travel with her. My Rotterdam purchase, bulging and redolent with cheeses, came waddling up, respectable perhaps, but with it I should have been as conspicuous as with one of the Marken imps in copious trousers that it so much resembled. My former pride of Scotch travel was now so fallen away that he looked as if he were in the last stages of his native whiskey, and as it his physique would hardly have supported the weight of a hairpin. No help to be had in him! My American suitcase, in May so trig and debonair, had been punched and pounded out of all semblance to anything belonging either to America or a suitcase. My British cake-box had suffered likewise, and in its decrepitude supported the loss of a lock, and appeared to my horrified eyes carefully roped with clothesline by a friendly steward. Even though I promptly sat down upon it, spreading my Paris skirt wide, I could not conceal that yellow cake-box from the fashionable steamer folk that swarmed about me. Suitcase and tin trunk both had lost all distinction of nation; they both belonged now to the international species, tramp. There remained to me only my evil genius, the orange-tawny telescope. Foreign labels had but scantily subdued the natural aggressiveness of his demeanor. He was possible — perhaps. Then I considered how he had flouted me, scorned me, spilled out at me, jeered at me in my helplessness. I pictured opening and shutting him in the berth of a sleeping car; then quietly, inconspicuously, and virulently, I kicked him.

I fastened the last strap the customs officers had loosened. Just one moment I hesitated, regarding my rakish European retinue, then I fell upon the waiting baggage-agent. “Check them all,” I cried, “all!” Free as a bird, as a gipsy, as an American, I traveled from New York to Chicago, a lady luggage-less.