This is part two of the short story, Hadley’s Loss. You can find part one here.
That night there was nothing to eat. Jacob and Henri took turns in occupying the chair. They both tossed the day around in their heads, in silence.
The simplicity of being is dictated by the amount of food that you can consume. If you cannot eat, then you cannot lead a simple existence because your mind rattles and reruns every part of your day to see what you could have done differently so that the outcome of the day could have been more favourable. The brothers knew this from a vast amount of experience over the years.
You can only seek solitude when you have the opportunity of company and Jacob and Henri did not have the means to gain the opportunity of company. Orphans learn quickly to be self-sufficient and that quickly turns into social reclusiveness.
“So what was in the suitcase?” asked Jacob slowly, with the question barely registering in the ears of Henri. “Are we rich?”
“What do you think?” a po-faced Henri replied.
“It must be worth something?”
“Not even as much as the suitcase that it came in.”
“Who did you take it from?” Jacob knew that this question would irk his brother, as a man who carried many principles but rarely kept to them.
“Just a passenger on a train.”
“Just a passenger Jacob. The same as the rest, leaving the city and not very likely to come back and complain.”
“She looked like Mum didn’t she?”
Bored brothers locked in the company of each other push, and Jacob and Henri were no different.
“Mum had long hair and she had short hair. But that’s beside the point.”
“Coffee?” Jacob asked as his rose from the chair and made towards the stove.
Henri launched himself into the chair and replied, “Okay. Then I’ll tell you.”
Jacob handed a steaming mug of black coffee to his brother and sat by the still unlit fireplace, back against the aged oak.
“I saw her as I was getting up to leave Le Train Bleu. You were right, I was playing cards, but I was leaving before all my francs were gone. She put all of her bags down when she went into the toilet at the station, but she kept the suitcase in her hand.”
“So you thought it was of value?”
“She came out and she was still clutching it. She wouldn’t put it down, not even when the porter came to help her haul her bags onto the train. I knew she was going south, the first stop at any train on platform three is Auxerre and so it would be hours before she could alert anyone.
“The porter who had helped her on left and she was in a seat quite near the door so I got on and sat a few back. There was about ten minutes before the train was due to depart so I thought I’d give it a minute and see whether my chance came.
“After a couple of minutes she got up and for the first time left the suitcase she had been clutching in her seat. So I jumped up, grabbed it and ran off the train.”
“As simple as that was it?” Jacob queried.
“As simple as that.”
They both stood up and peered at the suitcase, still against the wall where Henri had kicked it, paper still leaked over the edges.
“What’s in there then?” asked Jacob.
“It’s some writing. Some of it’s even bound like proper books, well books before they get covers on them anyway.”
“Is there anything we can do with it?”
Henri picked it up, suitcase and all, and put it in the fireplace.
Jacob walked over to the stove and picked up the box of matches so used to lighting the single hob for coffee and the odd slab of meat. As he approached the fireplace he lit one and threw it right into the suitcase.
The brothers sat down in front of the fireplace and as the flames began to lick the cheap casing, Jacob put his arm around Henri and said, “At least we’re warm brother. We’ll sleep well tonight.”
The consequence of loss
She shuffled in her seat nervously, not knowing what had happened, not knowing where the suitcase was. Steam was blustering past the train window clouding the platform, obscuring anything but vague shadows from view. She stood up, looked under her seat, and started frantically tearing at her pile of bags in case it had accidentally been placed underneath.
She knew that she couldn’t have lost it because she remembered on insisting that the porter carried all of her other bags, bar this one alone. Her hands were still creased where the handle of the suitcase had indented the pale skin of her palm.
It just wasn’t there.
“Porter! Porter!” Hadley shrieked from the door of the train. The little man in a railwayman’s cap came running over to her.
“Have you seen my suitcase? The one I was holding as we got on the train?” she asked frantically.
“No miss. I’m afraid I didn’t. Where did you last see it?”
“On my seat. I put it down to go and find a powder room.”
“Well, I’m sorry miss but if you can’t…” the train’s horn drowning out his final words.
A conductor leant over Hadley’s shoulder and pulled the door of the train shut. “Mind the door, and please find your seat” he said to her.
As the train began to pull off, Hadley just stood peering out of the window, steam creeping once again across the platform covering the forlorn looking porter who was just shrugging to himself.
In the distance she was sure that she saw a man skip out of view with a brown cardboard suitcase, the type you would only use to take old clothes to the pawn shop, in his hand.
When she stepped off the train in Geneva, Hadley saw her husband stood waiting by the entrance to the station. She walked to him and they embraced.
Nervously she said to him, “Ernest, I am so sorry, but your manuscripts were stolen from the train as I was leaving Paris.”