Fiction Historical Fiction

In December 1922, Ernest Hemingway’s wife Hadley lost his suitcase filled with all his written work – what he called his “juvenilia” in a letter to Ezra Pound – in a Paris train station. It has never been found until now.

           I bought an old house on the north shore of Long Island with a view of the sea. A fledgling writer, I had come into an inheritance and hoped that this place would be conducive to getting my creativity flowing. I certainly imagined myself capable of doing anything in this setting that felt aligned with Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby; however, I would eventually find myself more drawn to Scott’s old friend Hemingway’s work.  

           It was a lovely Victorian styled house that had been updated before being put on the market with a finished recreation room in the basement, four bedrooms, four and a half baths, and a modernized kitchen. There was a great big fireplace in the living room with a similarly impressive one in the master bedroom above it. Of all the aspects of the house I found pleasing, the one I appreciated most was the unfinished walkup attic filled with decades old baubles, statues, unopened boxes, and old Christmas decorations. I decided to make this room my writing studio.

           My childhood friend Stanley came out from the city to visit me. I gave him the grand tour of the place which inevitably ended in the attic. He put a hand on one hip and tilted his head – which was sort of his signature pose when making a statement – and said, “I can’t see the wisdom if it.”

           “Of what?”

           “Why a 42-year-old bachelor and lifetime resident of NYC would pick this house in this location to finally find his muse,” Stanley said with a sneer.

           I stood next to my desk with the crashing waves on the shoreline on this overcast day visible through the window. “Look at that view!”

           “I’d like to postpone the opportunity indefinitely,” Stanley whispered.

           “So, you don’t approve of the place?”

           Stanley walked forward and opened his arms wide. “Just look at the rest of this bountiful attic treasure trove. I am sure delight upon delight await your discovery.”


           We got in my Jeep, and I drove him back into town, his small suitcase on his lap and a smirk on his face. “You sure you can’t stay over one evening?”

           “Certain,” Stanley said. “I took the railroad out here to prove myself wrong. Sadly, that is not the case.”

           “I’ve been here a few months now, and with summer coming, I am expecting more places to open up along the boardwalk.”

           “Oh, I am certain that gastronomic delights await you,” Stanley sniffled.

           “What’s really bothering you, Stan?”

           He stared out the window and spoke to his reflection. “I don’t like it that my best friend is now a rather long and tedious train ride away. I also cannot understand why you need such a big house when you had that lovely place on Fifth Avenue overlooking the park.”

           We had arrived at the train station. I stared at my oldest and dearest friend, seeing the disappointment in his expression. “Look, after Diane and I broke up, I knew I had to make a change. I wasn’t sure what, but then Aunt Minnie died and left me her fortune, and I am set for life now and trying to figure things out and write my first novel.”

           “I wish you well, James,” he said as he stepped out of the Jeep. I watched him rush into the station as if he couldn’t wait to escape what he felt was my hellhole.


           About a week later, I wasn’t getting anywhere with my writing, so I started going through some of the things in the attic. There were deteriorating old family photos, old sets of dishes and glasses and tea kettles. I was about to stop my search when I came across a rather heavy box. I opened it up and found a large, locked container that seemed to be made from very sturdy material.

           I looked around the attic, and I found a keyring on a hook with a lone key dangling from it. I excitedly rushed over, fell on the floor with legs crossed like a little kid, and turned the key in the lock. Inside, I found a very old suitcase. When I opened it, I saw neatly stacked manila folders with typed manuscripts inside them including crumbling carbon paper and carbon copies. I gently raised one folder, opened it carefully, and saw the famous byline. My hands started shaking, and I placed the folder back into place because I felt I had disturbed something that was precious.

           Running over to my laptop, I searched “Hemingway’s suitcase” and was greeted with slews of entries about it. Having only read The Sun Also Rises in high school, I never was a big fan of his, and I knew of his impact on literature, but had no clue about this suitcase until now.

           I called Stanley – a professor of English at Hunter College – and I told him about what I had found. I thought he was going to have a stroke. “Let me sit down,” he gushed.

           “So, what do you think I should do?”

           “Do you realize what that must be worth?” Stanley whispered as if someone was listening to us.

           “Hey, I’m not looking to make money here,” I said. “The old man who lived here died, and I kind of a feel a sort of obligation to contact his family.”

           “Are you nuts?” Stanley screamed. “Possession is nine tenths of the law!”


           “Well, that’s what they say on Law and Order,” Stanley said like he was singing. “At least let me tell Dr. Hogan – he’s our department’s Hemingway expert.”

           “No way,” I said. “I want to do the right thing here.”

           “The right thing, James?” Stanley asked sarcastically. “That dead old man and probably his family of enablers have allowed that literary treasure to stagnate in that old attic.”

           “Maybe they had their reasons,” I said. We went on like this for another 20 minutes, but I finally ended the call and decided to do things my way.


           As I drove over the Throgs Neck Bridge heading toward Greenwich, Connecticut, I thought about what I had learned since my call to Stanley. My lawyer contacted the lawyer for the estate of Thomas Hesker, the man who had last owned the house and passed away at 115 years old. He had only one living relative Elizabet Rose Hesker – a great granddaughter who lived in Greenwich. I didn’t know any other details, but I had Hemingway’s suitcase with me inside its protective container.

           An older female attendant let me in. She wore a black dress with flat black shoes. She ushered me into an enormous foyer and motioned toward double doors leading into a magnificent drawing room. “She will be here momentarily,” the woman said.

           I put the box down on a table and looked around the room at the impressive paintings, the marble fireplace with gold trimmed screen and matching fireplace poker, and the furniture was Queen Anne style with brightly polished wooden legs and arms. Above the fireplace was a portrait of a young man and woman. I walked toward it and read the plaque – Thomas and Muriel Hesker – 1947.

           “Hello,” a voice interrupted me as I wondered about the painting. I turned around to see a lovely young woman – in her late 20s or perhaps early 30s – standing there in a short black dress and matching pumps, her blonde hair flowing over her shoulders. “I am Elizabet, and you must be Mr. James Ryan.”

           I walked toward her and offered my hand. “Please call me Jim.”

           “Of course, and please call me Liz,” she said; her voice had a lilt to it that I could not identify.

           “Yes, certainly.” I looked around the room and smiled. “You have an impressive room here.”

           She pointed to the portrait above the fireplace. “Grandpapa designed this house, and Granmama assisted with the art and furnishings.”

           The older woman appeared in the doorway. “Will you be having tea, Miss Liz?”

           Liz looked at me. “It is teatime; do you wish to partake?”

           I nodded my head. “Yes, of course.”

           Liz walked over to the fireplace and rubbed her fingers along the marble mantle with its large golden gilded clock that began to chime for the four o’clock hour. “Your lawyer told my lawyer that you had something very personal to bring here today.”

           “I found something that I believe should be given to you because you are the last surviving family member,” I said as I motioned to the protective box on the table.

           Liz looked me up and down and smiled. “I assume that you have found it.”

           I smiled. “By ‘it’ do you mean something very old and of incredible value?”

           “Yes,” Liz nodded, “you found Granmama’s wedding ring!”

           “Oh, no, it is not a ring,” I said.

           “When she died, her request was to be buried with it, but no one ever found it,” Liz said. As the older woman returned, Liz glanced at her and said, “Let’s go, tea is ready.”


           After a lovely 30 minutes of tea, tiny sandwiches, and small talk, Liz and I returned to the drawing room, and she ran her hand over the smooth exterior of the box. “So, now what about this box, Jim?”

           I took the key from my pocket and opened the box, revealing the old and battered suitcase. She gasped when she saw it, and I asked, “You know what this is?”

           Liz touched it gently with her fingertips, almost reverently, and she replied, “We all heard stories about it over the years – Mr. Hemingway’s suitcase.”

           “Yes, that is his suitcase filled with original typed manuscripts and their carbon copies.”

           “Oh, my, how magical,” Liz said as she spun around in a circle. “We all thought it to be just a tall tale told by Grandpapa.”

           “Do you wish to look at the manuscripts?” I asked.

           “Oh, no, Jim,” Liz whispered. “They’re sacred.” I followed her over to a serving table covered with liquor bottles, an ice bucket, and fine glassware. “I think I will have a little celebratory drink. Would you like anything?”

           “No, no thank you,” I said, “I do have the drive back home.”

           “Oh, that drive,” Liz said as she poured some vodka into a tumbler. “My parents, brother, and I would go there for weekends to visit the old man.” She dropped some ice into the glass and sipped it.

           “I didn’t know you had a brother,” I said.

           “Oh, I have one – he is still very much alive,” Liz chuckled.

           “Oh, but my lawyer said…”

           “Tommy took the easy way out – he asked my father for his inheritance 20 years ago,” Liz said. “I was just a little girl then; I really didn’t know what was going on.”

           “So where is he now?”

           “California,” Liz said with a raised eyebrow. “He has a wife and kids and nothing to do with the family business. I think that is why he is so happy.”

           “But you?”

           “I hung in there; I watched both parents die and Grandpapa go on and on until last year. I still go into the office occasionally to sit in meetings of no consequence.”

           I remembered reading something in Forbes. “Hesker went international recently,” I said.

           “Yes, we now have offices on three continents,” Liz said with a smirk. “I will never want for a thing in life, but somehow it is so…boring!”

           “Well, maybe Hemingway’s suitcase will cause you some excitement,” I said.

           Liz sipped her drink and put her hand on my arm. “It says something about a man who could have reaped a huge payday with those manuscripts, and yet you bring them to me.”

           “I didn’t care about the money – I just wanted to do the right thing.”

           Liz walked across the room and sat in a big chair looking at the picture of her great grandparents over the fireplace. I went over and sat down across from her. “My grandfather, father, and mother all died in this house. The old man kept going on in his house by the sound. He had it built as a retreat for the summer, but I think it was something more than that.”

           “What could it be?”

           “An escape. He wasn’t as successful as my brother, but he liked sitting there and staring at the water.”

           I needed to know the story of the manuscripts. “Liz, do you know how Grandpapa acquired the suitcase?”

           “Your lawyer said something about you being a writer,” Liz said.

           “Yes, at least I’m trying to become one.”

           “And were you hoping that this could be something of a story for you?” Liz asked with a frown.

           “No, no, it’s nothing like that.”

           Liz sipped her drink. “What is it then, Jim?”

           “It’s more about wanting to know how those manuscripts got from Paris to a house on Long Island.”

           Liz smiled and nodded her head. “Grandpapa was a boy living in Paris with his English mother who happened to be a teacher. It was Christmastime in Paris in 1922, and Tom-tom – as his mother called him – was excited about the holiday. Since she also taught him his lessons, when she was teaching her students, he was free to wonder the city.

           “Henri, one of her students who was about the same age, asked Tom-tom if he would go to the Gare de Lyon with him to meet a cousin who was coming in from the country for Christmas. They walked down onto the platform to meet Fanny and help her with her bags. Henri kissed Fanny and introduced Tom-tom to her. Her bags were being brought out of the train onto the platform. At the same time, Tom-tom noticed a beautiful young woman waiting to go onto the train to Lausanne on the other side of the platform. She had a number of bags with her and kept sneezing.”

           “I read that Hadley was sick and flustered that day,” I said.

           “Yes, the poor thing,” Liz said as she sipped her drink. “So, it came to a point that the porters brought out Fanny’s numerous bags and placed them on the platform next to Hadley’s bags. Tom-tom noticed Hadley fiddling with one smaller bag as if it was very important. Fanny started talking with Tom-tom trying to practice her English. Henri had arranged for another porter to take Fanny’s bags out to the taxi rank.

           “When the taxi came, Tom-tom noticed Hadley’s special bag on the trolley. He yelled, ‘Oh, no!’ and grabbed the bag and ran back to the platform to give it to Hadley, but her train was gone.”

           “Oh, my,” I said. “I was hoping for some dramatic and romantic story.”

           “Well, you know, Jim, it is rather romantic. Grandpapa never forgot the beautiful woman. He was just a kid and had his first crush if you want to call it that. He took the suitcase back to his flat, told his mother the story, and she said that they would try to find the woman.”

           “But they never did!”

           “After Christmas, they went back to London because his father was taking a job in New York. He had opened the suitcase and looked at the stories, but they were written by some man he had never heard of. He kept them as a memory, and only later on – in 1926 when the whole world came to know the name Hemingway – did he realize what he had in his possession.”

           “So, he never tried to do anything with them?”

           “No, never. Eventually, worried about their condition, he put the suitcase in a protective archive box. When he moved from here to the island in the 70s, he must have stored them in the attic. He forgot all about them, and even as recently as last year when I visited him, he said he had no idea where they were. That maybe he threw them out long ago. His dementia worsened after that and then he died.”

           “What are you going to do about them now?”

           Liz finished her drink and stared up at the portrait and said, “Nothing. There is nothing to gain and nothing to lose.”

           I thought of Stanley and said, “And what about his fans?”

           Liz closed her eyes. “Those manuscripts are the stuff of legend. Let the fans be happy with their theories. It’s better that way.”


           By the end of summer, I had five chapters written and was quite content. I looked out at the boats on the water and people on the beach. I garnered so much inspiration from the place.

           Once in a while, I would get up to take a break. Sometimes I’d go for a brisk walk, or make a cup of coffee and sit on the back porch. The breeze coming off the water was intoxicatingly refreshing and the salty air threatened me with sleepiness.

           Other times I would get up from my desk and check on Hemingway’s suitcase, in the place where I first found it. Liz would check in with me once or twice a week. We used FaceTime and chatted just about everything but the famous author’s suitcase.

           Next weekend, Liz is going to come for a visit. I’m not sure if it is to be with me or check on the suitcase or maybe both. We both are more than well off, so neither of us wants the other’s money. I don’t know where this is going, but I kind of like that we are taking things slowly. Perhaps we are just two lonely people who came together because of a famous writer’s lost suitcase. That may be the romantic story I was looking for all along. 

May 23, 2024 01:02

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David Sweet
18:16 May 25, 2024

Keeping the mystery alive! I like it. This is akin to that last scene of "Raiders of the Lost Ark." I read an article about the manuscripts after reading your story. Interesting to think that maybe his writing improved as a result of losing the manuscripts: a type of serendipity. Thanks for sharing this story.


Victor Lana
21:59 May 26, 2024

Thanks for the comment, David. As I researched before writing this story, I came across a similar opinion from Ernest. He even called the lost work his “juvenilia” meaning it was the stuff of his youth. Either way, he didn't let that stop him.


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