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Is there a Mr. Allerby in your town? There was one in Winfield, and, when identified, Mr. Allerby proved to be a most interesting person. Your Mr. Allerby may be found running a street-car, driving a carriage, or perhaps he is your chauffeur. These situations often occur, but we must recognize them.
N the thriving oil-boom town of Winfield, Kentucky, there is a trolleycar. This is, of course, not a unique distinction. There are in other towns other trolleycars, even of the one ewe-lamb variety; but one does not find them manned and captained by a Mr. Allerby.
He is a person to be remembered, a rotund, rosy, weather-beaten little gentleman who looks as if he might have stepped down out of one of the Fallowfield sporting-prints which adorn the walls of many American homes, and it seems incongruous that, instead of hunting-pink, he should be wearing, like most of his passengers, merely an alpaca coat that needs pressing, with, for badge of office, a blue, vizored cap whose gold lettering proclaims him an official-in fact, the only official-of the Winfield Street Railway Company. Indeed, as the little car leaves the station with an unexpected leap, and goes bounding away over the hills and dales of the Winfield streets, the stranger finds himself peering eagerly forward, ready to shout, "Yoicks!" or "Tally-ho!" or whatever it is one does shout at first sight of the quarry. Mr. Allerby gets as much speed out of his trolley as an experienced horseman gets out of a green hunter.
Nor is the quarry itself often lacking to complete the illusion. Sometimes it is a small boy on a wheel, who just in front, between the tracks, courts death jeeringly, with inciting grins over his
shoulder at the pursuing Juggernaut. Or it may be one of the prosperous new oil ladies learning to drive her limousine, a sight that adds daily uncertainty to life in Winfield byways. Or it may be, and usually is, the Prewitt pony, which, having manipulated his cart into the smoother going of the rails, is not to be deterred from his fat course by any pleadings from his family, or yet by clangings and loud words from Juggernaut behind. Often male passengers have to turn out en masse to persuade the Prewitt pony bodily from its determination to clog the wheels of progress.
A ride in the Winfield trolley-car is rarely without a certain sense of adventure, what with its racing starts, its disconcerting stops, and the rattling, reckless speed of its general conduct. But it has its leisure moments, too; plenty of these. Always in the heated portion of the day it is to be found drawn up somewhere about town in the shade of the maples, no longer Juggernaut, but a peaceful playhouse for little girls and their dolls, with fowls hopping domestically about its steps, perhaps, and a dog snoring in the warm dust under it. Sometimes Mr. Allerby may be discovered within, as the writer once discovered him, stretched out on one of the long seats, his cap of office removed to give the breeze access to an incipient bald spot, a book propped open upon his person, which proved, surprisingly, to be the "Poems of Tennyson." It was open at "The Lotos-Eaters.'
It should be explained that in order
to keep its franchise from the town of Winfield, it is only necessary that the Street Railway Company operate a car upon its streets once a day. But Mr. Allerby is both conscientious and obliging in the performance of his office.
He rarely fails to meet the trains; and on a rainy day, for instance, one may expect to hear the loud approach of Juggernaut at least once an hour, with the welcome call of its conductor: "Here we are, ladies! Step in out of the wet." Or, if you happen to get out of the Louisville express feeling stiff-kneed and stuffy, and inclined to walk to your destination along the pleasant, tree-lined, sun-flecked streets, there is Mr. Allerby, with whom you may leave your luggage (paying its fare, of course; five cents for suitcases, three for small satchels), sure to find it waiting on your door-step.
However, it is palpably a disappointment to him if the luggage rides and you do not, for, like Abou Ben Adhem, Mr. Allerby may be written as one who loves his fellow-men. Particularly if his fellow-man be a woman and a stranger. It is through strangers that he keeps in touch with what he calls "the world out there." And as for women, any plump, middle-aged, poetry-loving
bachelor whose sole feminine experience is in the rôle of temporary guardian and protector is apt to develop sentiments toward the sex which are only too rare. Always in slippery weather Mr. Allerby hurries from his platform to help wouldbe women passengers down their steps and out to his car in safety; and once when unfortunate Mrs. Moore, who happened to be what the town calls "addicted," fell asleep on her way home, it was Mr. Allerby who carried her indoors and up to her bed, and who even telephoned the doctor before he resumed his professional duties, somewhat to the annoyance of certain passengers who had hoped to catch the train for Cincinnati. But of course there were other trains for Cincinnati.
Life in Winfield would be difficult to conceive without Mr. Allerby. All along his route mothers entrust him with their young to take to school or to the dentists; harassed housekeepers give him important commissions to execute at the grocer's; pretty girls at the post-office; and there are certain regular passengers who ride their five or six squares simply in the interests of good fellowship. Chief among these is, or was, old Miss Sara Truman.
Several times in the week, if the day was fair, Miss Sara might be seen in her bonnet and her beaded dolman, waiting on her porch for the rumble of the trolley. And Mr. Allerby, observing her there, would descend from his platform, and usher her with due empressement to her accustomed seat just inside the front door. Down town as far as the turn-table, and up again, they conversed steadily, he standing sidewise at his wheel, with one eye on the traffic. She made no pretense of errands to be done.
"Why at my age should I go to the shops? Let the shops come to me," she said. Miss Sara was by way of being rather an autocrat in her gentle fashion. And when she came in from these excursions with Mr. Allerby, her cheeks would be quite pink with excitement.
"What in the world," teased her married niece, "do you find to talk about with that funny old fellow?"
"Men and affairs and the world at
large, my dear; things with which you have no concern. Mr. Allerby," she would add wistfully, "has seen a great deal of the world."
Miss Sara herself had ventured no farther into the world than Cincinnati, where she occasionally went for a week to hear grand opera. But she always made the most of this opportunity, and her heart thrilled with the true globetrotter's response to the conductor's casual mention of Alaska or Mexico, the diamond-mines at Kimberley, the China coast, and other foci of life and adventure. What turn of the wheel had stranded him here among the oilfields of Kentucky, with no apparent background except his trolley-car and a volume of Tennyson, she yearned to inquire; but somehow she never did. For all his jovial rotundity, there was a certain reserve about the little man which baffled curiosity. And there was something more something the old lady once described to her niece as "heroic."
But the younger woman's surprised
Probably nobody else in Winfield thought of dissociating the man from his surroundings. The trolley-car was to Mr. Allerby as its shell to a turtle. Habits form easily in that part of the world, and the town has become so accustomed to strangers now as to have quite lost any provincial interest in their affairs. It has seen so many flies gather about the honey-pot, wax fat, and go away again, or wax lean and disappear, forgotten, that it has learned to go its own way unheeding, and wait for this upsetting era of prosperity to pass.
laughter sent her back into her shell again, and she never quite explained, even to herself, what she found of the heroic in the cheerful, rosy, shabby street-car conductor who quoted Tennyson.
Mr. Allerby had so well fitted himself to his environment as to have become even a member of the Coffin Club. At a certain hour every day, Juggernaut was to be found at rest near a certain corner of Main Street; and then, if you happened to be in haste to get anywhere, and knew the ways of the place, you would go straight to Cassidy's Undertaking Parlor, walk through to the room at the back where the coffins are kept, and there you would find from five to a dozen of the town's leading citizens sitting in at a little game. This Mr. Allerby would obligingly leave to carry you to your destination at a spanking pace, whirl the car about on the turn-table, and so back again, galloping, to his game.
It is the pleasantest gathering-place in town, Tim Cassidy's undertaking establishment, convenient to the Oil Exchange, to Judge Cary's office, and, to Dr. Grant's consulting-room, with the court-house only a block away, and a mint-bed growing, as if by the act of Providence, at its very door-step. Winfield being a dry town, the mint-bed assumed special importance in those days, when every man carried a flask as surely as he carried a pocket-knife; and ice, too, was always to be counted upon there, thanks to Tim's profession. Occasionally (once when there had been a wreck on the C. and O. and again when a dynamite charge had exploded prematurely in the neighborhood) the club had been disconcerted to find its quarters in possession of strangers, dead strangers at that. But this happens very rarely. Winfield, for the most part, prefers to be buried at home.
The Coffin Club is as perfect an example of the brotherhood of man, perhaps, as may be found outside of books. It had its origin in that birthplace of American democracy, the village school. There holds between men who have fished and fought and gone swimming and played hooky and played hooky together a tie that life itself cannot put asunder, and life is a far more efficient sunderer than death. What mattered it that one of their number had been a United States senator, that another was the town's chief of police, that a third had gambled so successfully in oil that the laying out of corpses was to, him merely an esthetic gratification? In the little game in which they sat, professions did not count, nor pasts, nor futures. One man was as good as another, except for Mr. Allerby, who was rather better than the rest of them put together. And that was fortunate for him, the Winfield Street Railway Company not being munificent in its salaries.
But winning or losing, the conductor maintained the equable front which had long since won his way into the esteem of the town's first citizenry. What with the oil-fields, and the races, and the annual uncertainty of the tobacco crop, life in that neighborhood progresses from cradle to grave through a succession of adventures with chance, so that a man is judged there, not unwisely, by the grace with which he pockets his losses.
It was at the hands of the Coffin Club that Mr. Allerby came by his more familiar name of "Juke." There was a rumor that he had been christened "Harold," but nobody had put this Islander to the test of question. "H" might quite as well stand for something respectable, like Henry. Winfield believes in giving people the benefit of the doubt.
From the beginning of the war, which was fought out daily in the Coffin Club to a satisfactory conclusion, Judge Cary, being a Virginian, had taken England under his especial protection, and patronized things English very largely. One morning he arrived at a session of the game with an illustrated London paper under his arm, remarking:
The Coffin Club exchanged surprised glances. It seemed odd, in view of recent events, that this interesting fact had not before come to light. Also, they suddenly realized that it was the first item of Mr. Allerby's personal history which ever had come to light.
"Then," persisted the doctor, "this General Sir Nicholas, A. B. C., and so forth, really may be some kin of yours?"
"Quite possibly," was the indifferent rejoinder. "Three cards, please. Allerbys are as thick in Bucks as maggots in cheese, and they range all the way from dukes to jailbirds."
"Like us Cassidys in Cork," murmured the undertaker, with the tact of his race, sensing a certain tension in the air. "Only the head of our family was a king, I 'm told."
"I believe it, judging by your morals, Tim," chuckled the doctor, accepting the change of subject.
Thereafter Mr. Allerby was known as "Juke" to his cronies, with the exception of Dr. Grant, who asked no more questions. That word "jailbird" stuck unpleasantly in his head. Why, with England fighting the world's battles over there, had not one of her sons long since proclaimed the fact of his nativity with pride?
Some months later Judge Cary con
tributed further news of his favorite aristocracy.
"I see by the papers, Juke, that your distinguished relative, the general, is being sent over by his country to lecture here, addressing soldiers at the mobilization camps. That will bring
him to Louisville. If he knew we had an Allerby in our midst, he 'd probably run up to Winfield to see you."
"Undoubtedly," was the grave reply, greeted with an appreciative chuckle from the club at large.
"Also," continued the judge, referring to his paper, "I see that he is to be accompanied by his wife, 'who will be remembered as the famous beauty, Lady Sybil Arbuthnot, third daughter of the Earl of Why, what 's up, Allerby? Where you going?"
"Got to meet that C. and O.," explained the other, and went out of the room in haste, leaving uncashed chips upon the table.
His friends stared after him.
"And the C. and O.," murmured somebody, "not due for over an hour!"
"I think," said Dr. Grant in the pause that followed, "that we 'd better not guy Allerby any more about his English connections. Especially," he added significantly, "before Charlie here." Charlie Judd was Winfield's chief of police.
"Wha-what do you mean?" queried that gentleman, round-eyed.
"I mean that Allerby 's in hiding, and
we don't want to be the ones to find him. Would n't be-hospitable."
"It would not," decided the law in the person of Judge Cary.
"Of course this must go no further, boys," added Dr. Grant, with a troubled sigh.
"Certainly not," they agreed.
And that is how the rumor started.
It came very shortly to the ears of Miss Sara Truman, filling the old lady with an odd mixture of gratification and dismay.
"There, I ve always said there was something out of the ordinary about that man," she told her married niece. "He may be an adventurer, or one of those remittance men you read about in Western novels; but you can't tell me that anybody with such a manner is, or ever has been, a jailbird! Jailbirds slink. I intend to ask him." And despite the niece's remonstrances, she donned her bonnet and her beaded dolman and went out on the porch to watch for Juggernaut.
Mr. Allerby was singularly uncommunicative that day. It may have been because he had to do an unusual amount of stopping and starting. In fact, since the interesting rumor about him spread, there had been a notable increase of patronage for the Winfield Street Railway Company. Everybody wished to see at close range this scion of the English nobility who was probably a murderer or a bigamist or at the very least a defaulter.