“The Three Traveling-Bags” (The Continental Monethly, 1862)
When the train stopped at Camden, four gentlemen got off, and walked, arm-in-arm, rapidly and silently, up one of the by-streets, and struck off into a foot-path leading to a secluded grove outside the town. Of the first two, one was our military friend in a blue coat, apparently the leader of the party. Of the second two, one was a smiling, rosy little man, carrying a black valise. Their respective companions walked hasty, irregular strides, were abstracted, and apparently ill at ease.
The party stopped.
“This is the place,” said Captain Jones.
“Yes,” said Doctor Smith”
The Captain and the Doctor conferred together. The other two studiously kept apart.
“Very, well. I’ll measure the ground, and do you place your man.”
It was done.
“Now, for the pistols,” whispered the Captain to his fellow-second.
“They are all ready, in the valise,” replied the Doctor.
The principals were placed, ten paces apart, and wearing that decidedly uncomfortable air a man has who is in momentary expectation of being shot.
“You will fire, gentlemen, simultaneously, when I give the word,” said the Captain. Then, in an undertone, to the Doctor, “Quick, the pistols.”
The Doctor, stooping over and fumbling at the valise, appeared to find something that surprised him.
“Why, what the devil –“
“What’s the matter?” asked the Captain, striding up. “Can’t you find the caps?”
“Deuce a pistol or a cap, but this!”
He held up – a lady’s night-cap!
“Look here – and here – and here!” holding up successively a hair-brush, a long white night-gown, a cologne-bottle, and a comb.
They were greeted with a long whistle by the Captain, and a blank stare by the two principals.
“Confound the luck!” ejaculated the Captain; “if we haven’t made a mistake, and brought the wrong valise!”
The principals looked at the seconds. The seconds looked at the principals. Nobody volunteered a suggestion. At last the Doctor inquired.
“Well, what’s to be done?”
“D—d unlucky!” again ejaculated the Captain. “The duel can’t go on.”
“Evidently not,” responded the Doctor, “unless they brain each other with the hairbrush, or take a pop at each other with the cologne-bottle.
“You are quite sure there are no pistols in the valise?” said on of the principals, with suppressed eagerness, and drawing a long breath of evident relief.
“We might go over to the city and get pistols,” proposed the Captain.
“And by that time it will be dark,” said the Doctor.
“D—d unlucky,” said the Captain again.
“We shall be the laughing-stock of the town,” consolingly remarked the Doctor, “if this gets wind.”
“One work with you, Doctor,” here interposed his principal.
At the end of the conference with his principal, the Doctor, advancing to the Captain, conferred with him. Then the Captain conferred with his principal. Then the seconds conferred with each other. Finally, it was formally agreed between the contending parties that a statement should be drawn up in writing, whereby Principal No. 1 tendered the assurance that the offensive words “You are a liar” were not used by him in any personal sense, but solely as an abstract proposition, in a general way, in regard to the matter of fact dispute. To which Principal No 2 appended his statement of his high gratification at this candid and honorable explanation, and unqualifiedly withdrew the offensive words “You are a scoundrel.” They having been used by him under a misapprehension in the intent and purpose of the remark which preceded them.
There being no longer a cause of quarrel, the duel was of course ended. The principals shook hands, first with each other, and next with the seconds, and were evidently very glad to get out of it.
“And now that it is so happily settled,” said the Doctor, chuckling and rubbing his hands, “it proves to have been a lucky mistake, after all, that we brought the wrong valise. Wonder what the lady that owns it will say when she opens ours and finds the pistols.”
“Very well for you to laugh about,” growled the Captain; “but it’s no joke for me to lose my pistols. Hair triggers – best English make, and gold mounted. There aren’t a finer pair in America.”
“Oh, we’ll find’em. We’ll go on a pilgrimage from house to house, asking if any lady there has lost a night-cap and found a pair of dueling-pistols.
In very goo d spirits, the party crossed the river, and inquired at the baggage-room in reference to each and all black leather traveling-bags arrived that day, took notes of where they were sent, and set out to follow them up. In due time they reached the Continental, and, as luck would have it, met the unhappy bridal pair just coming down the stairs in charge of the policeman.
“What’s all this?” inquired the Captain.
“Oh, a couple of burglars, caught with a valise full of stolen property.
“A valise! What kind of valise?”
“A black leather valise. That’s it, there.”
“Here! – Stop! – Hallo! – Policeman! – Landlord! It’s all right. It’s all a mistake. They got changed at the depot. This lady and gentleman are innocent. Here’s their valise, with her nightcap in it.”
Great was the laughter, multifarious the comments, and deep the interest of the crowd in all this dialogue, which they appeared to regard as a delightful entertainment, got up expressly for their amusement.
“Then you say this ‘ere is yourn?” said the policeman, relaxing his hold on the bridegroom, and confronting the Captain.
“Yes, it’s mine.”
“And how did you come by the spoons?”
“Spoons, you jackanapes!” said the Captain. “Pistols! – dueling-pistols!”
“Do you call these pistols?” said the policeman, holding up one of the silver spoons marked ‘T.B.”
The Captain, astounded, gasped “It’s the wrong valise again, after all!”
“Stop! Not so fast!” said the police functionary, now invested with the great dignity by the importance of the affair he found himself engaged in. “IF so be as how you’ve got this ‘cre lady’s valise, she’s all right, and can go. But, in that case, this is yourn, and it comes on you to account fro them ‘are stole spoons. Have to take you in charge, all four of ye.”
“Why, you impudent scoundrel!” roared the Captain; “I’ll see you in-. I wish I had my pistols here; I’d teach you to insult gentlemen!” shaking his fist.
The dispute waxed fast and furious. The outsiders began to take part in it, and there is no telling how it would have ended, had not an explosion, followed by a heavy fall and a scream of pain, been heard in an adjoining room.
The crowd rushed to the scene of the new attraction.
The door was fast. It was soon burst open, and the mystery explained. The thief, who carried off the Captain’s valise by mistake for his own, had taken it up to his room, and opened it to gloat over the booty he supposed it to contain, thrusting his hand in after the spoons. In so doing he had touched one of the hair triggers, and the pistol had gone off, the bullet making a round hole through the side of the valise, and a corresponding round hole in the calf of his leg. The wounded rascal was taken in charge, first by the policeman, and then by the doctor; and the duelists and the wedded pair struck up a friendship on the score of their mutual mishaps, which culminated in a supper, where the fun was abundant, and where it would be hard to say which was in the best spirits, – the Captain for recovering his pistols, the bride for getting her night-cap, the bridegroom for escaping the station-house, or the duelists for escaping each other. All resolved to ‘mark the day with a white stone,’ and henceforth to mark their names on their black traveling-bags, in white letters.