[“The Suitcase” is a short story which was first narrated by “A. J. Alan” in a BBC Radio broadcast sometime between 1928 and 1933. It was finally collected in A. J. Alan’s Second Book (1933). Alan’s real name was Leslie Harrison Lambert, and although he was one of the most popular and pioneering broadcasters from the early days of wireless, he currently does not even have a Wikipedia entry. He is listed in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, for those who have subscriber access, and two rare recordings of him at work have been generously posted here.
It is my understanding that the copyright for Alan’s fiction expired at the beginning of this year, making him now ripe for inclusion in Wordsworth’s excellent Mystery and Supernatural Series, but if there are any issues over reproducing “The Suitcase” on this website then please contact me at email@example.com. Tychy posted Alan’s “The Dream” last year – prematurely, as I consequently learned – but I may post more, if not all, of his fiction if no new edition of his work is forthcoming. A handful of his tales are available on Gutenberg.
Far from me to meddle with the text, but I have suggested three possible corrections in brackets. Ed.]
Not very long ago I had to go down to Plymouth to see someone – about something, and I went by the ten-thirty from Paddington. I got to the station nice and early and found my seat in the train. It was next to the platform and away from the corridor. It also faced the engine. Now you know all about it.
While I was putting my bag on the rack, another man got in. He took the far-corner seat from mine, that is next [to] the corridor, with his back to the engine.
He was a very ordinary-looking individual, on the small side, with a little brown moustache. His clothes were brown too. Altogether there was nothing very distinctive about him – except his suitcase. That was about two sizes larger than the usual ones you see, and it appeared to be rather heavy. He tried to shove it under the seat, but it wouldn’t go, anything like, so he had to put it on the rack. It didn’t look any too safe there either, but that was his funeral – or might be.
Having done this he departed – presumably in search of newspapers, or drink. There was still plenty of time before the train went, so I got out too and stood just near the carriage door, and smoked.
About a minute later two people came down the platform from the front end of the train, the engine end, and they stopped at my carriage. They looked like a mother and daughter, the mother seeing the daughter off. The mother asked me which seats were taken, and I told her. It was no use tying to make out that they all were, as one generally does, because she could see they weren’t, besides the girl was very pretty. So she, the girl, got in and took the seat opposite mine.
Then the good lady took me on one side (I was still out on the platform, you understand), and she said: “Are you going to Plymouth?” and I said: “Yes.” Then she said: “Well, I should be so much obliged if you would just keep a friendly eye on my daughter. She hasn’t travelled much by herself and we should feel easier in our minds and – all that.” Of course, I said I should be only too pleased, and – er – all that, but it did strike me as rather strange. If she’d been fifteen or sixteen one could have understood it, but she looked at least twenty. However, it wasn’t for me to complain.
Well, time went on and they began shouting: “Take your seats, please,” so I got in and shut the door.
The mother and daughter went on talking through the window. I promised the mother to do my utmost to keep her daughter out of mischief. She flashed me a smile with a row of perfect pot ones and the train immediately started. Of course, it would have started in any case.
It was just then that I realised that my brown friend hadn’t come back from buying his newspapers – or having his drink. Perhaps he’d been left behind. But no such – that is – no he hadn’t. He came in from the corridor. He must have got on further back and walked along. He and the girl just glanced at each other as he sat down, and after that he began to read his paper. She, however, began to talk to me. She told me her name was Constance Collier. Not the Constance Collier, but just a Constance Collier. In fact, some Constance Collier or other. She explained this very carefully.
I said I didn’t think it would lead to much confusion unless she went on the stage. Just then the man in the corner caught my eye over the top of his paper and nearly made me laugh.
I was wondering all the time why her “ma” had asked me to keep an eye on her, because she really did seem quite able to look after herself, and in any case I shouldn’t have chosen me if I’d been a “ma.” Well, she prattled on and told me all about herself and her likes and dislikes.
She wasn’t old enough to have a past, but if she had been, I’m sure she would have blot me all about it. Then she began asking me about myself, question after question, on every conceivable subject. She’d have turned me clean inside out if I’d answered her anything like truthfully. As it was, I made a sort of exercise of it. After all, lying needs practice like everything else.
Then the dining-car attendant came along –
“Anyone taking lunch, please?” This raised the delicate question whether I was sufficiently in loco parentis to stand it her or not. I said: “What about it?” She said: “Thanks awfully,” so it [I?] apparently was.
As soon as we’d decided on the first lunch, the man in the corner said he’d take the second.
Perhaps he wanted a little peace and quiet. When the time came Miss Collier and I lurched along to the dining-car. It’s a funny thing in the train; people who are going to lunch looked more as though they were coming back, if you know what I mean. You notice next time.
However, we did get there, and I wondered still more why she needed looking after. She opened with a gin and bitters; then she managed her share of a bottle of Pommard and had a Yellow Chartreuse to top off with and never turned a hair. My opinion of her went up a lot. Also, she began talking quite sensibly. Back in the carriage her endless chatter had seemed a bit forced. I’d thought she might be trying to impress the man in the corner for some reason.
By the by, I happened to look up during lunch and saw him, the brown one, down at the far end of the car. He was talking to one of the attendants. I mentioned it to the Collier (she had her back to him) and she surprised me very much. She said: “Please pretend you haven’t seen him, I’ll explain when we get back to our carriage.” So I said: “All right.”
A few minutes later when we got back, we found our brown man in his corner just as though he’d never moved. He then went along to lunch in his turn.
The moment he was well out of the way, my young woman jumped up and felt the weight of his suitcase up on the rack. Then she clapped her hands like a schoolgirl and said: “We’ve got him.”
I asked her what she was playing at, and then she told me, or rather she didn’t.
She dashed down the corridor towards the rear of the train and came back with a man whom she introduced as her father and another man whose name was – now whatever was his absurd name [?] – I’ve quite forgotten it, anyway, it doesn’t matter in the least. They told me all about it. They explained that they were C. I. D. people and that the man in the corner was a thief.
His particular line appeared to be travelling in trains with restaurant cars and helping himself to jewels and things during the luncheon hour. He carried a specially large suitcase so that he could carry off an ordinary-sized one inside it.
They’d been after him for months but had never been able to catch him. They’d had detectives in the carriage with him, or just next door, over and over again, but he always seemed to know when he was being watched.
So finally Collier had put his daughter on the job, and he and his fellow-sleuth had travelled in the guard’s van done up in brown paper, or something of that kind.
All Constance had to do was to note the lightness of his suitcase at Paddington, which she must have done when I was on the platform, and tip the wink when it got any heavier.
It came back to me then how Brownie had pretended it was heavy, and had tried to put it under the seat when he must have known it wouldn’t go. Clever move that.
I said it seemed a grave interference with the liberty of the subject if a man’s suitcase wasn’t allowed to put on weight if it wanted to. Collier said it could if it liked, provided no one else’s got any lighter.
He told me they’d all been hanging about near his, Brownie’s, lodgings for four days ready to follow him anywhere. I asked where I came in, and they said I just had. They thought the girl would be less conspicuous if she was talking than if she wasn’t (this idea was entirely theirs), so they told her to talk to me.
All that remained to do now was to wait for the wretched blighter to come back and then run him in.
I said: “Why don’t you open his bag and see for yourselves? You may be buying the most appalling pup.”
Oh, no, they couldn’t do that, it wouldn’t be legal apparently. Besides, the bag was locked. They didn’t even enquire whether anyone on the train had missed anything. So we just sat.
Mind you, I didn’t quite like it. It’s not much fun watching a man walk into a trap, unless he’s your enemy and it’s your trap. That’s quite different. But here it seemed rather cold-blooded, although I admit that the man had been very naughty, from all accounts.
Presently people began staggering past from the second lunch, and then in came our friend.
He was quite wonderful. He must have known it was all up finding two extra men in the carriage, but he never even blinked.
Collier said: “Come on, Gilbert, you know who we are.”
And Gilbert said: “Why, it’s Mr. Collier, how-do-you-do?” Wrung him by the hand: “Fancy meeting you.” And Collier said: “Yes, fancy. What have you got in that bag?”
Gilbert looked rather hurt. He murmured something about England being a free country. That was the only silly thing he said.
However, Collier wasn’t having any; he made it clear that if he didn’t open the suitcase at once, he’d arrest him on suspicion of being in possession of stolen property.
Then Gilbert looked still more hurt and began to look for his keys. He felt in all his pockets about four times, and finally produced a huge bunch. There must have been at least twenty keys on it, and he tried them all before he found the right one.
Then he raised the lid as slowly as possible and showed us, with great pride, eight bottles of stone ginger-beer.
He’d evidently gone along and got them from the dining-car while we were at lunch, and the receipt was on top. He must have smelt a rat during the journey and thought he’d have a bit of fun.
I will say one thing. Those two detectives were real sportsmen. They laughed as much as I did. We all parted the best of friends at Plymouth.
Of course, they are bound to get him some day, but I hope that when they do, they’ll make some allowance for his sense of humour, because Gilbert is a filbert.