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"Car No. 1297" from Argosy

by Ellis Parker Butler
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    'Car No. 1297' from Argosy magazine (November, 1903)


  • Argosy (November, 1903)   "Car No. 1297"   A short story. "The extraordinary trip of a New York trolley car and its important bearing on a love affair." Not indexed in PULP. p 754-761.  [ARGOSY]

from Argosy
Car No. 1297
by Ellis Parker Butler

No doubt you all read in the morning papers of June 6, 1924, of the remarkable accident that occurred to car No. 1297 on the Columbus Avenue branch of the Metropolitan Street Railway, but there are a few intimate particulars which I am sure you have not heard; and which, in view of the celebrity that has since come to Edward Malden, I believe will be interesting.

It is needless to relate here the particulars of the labors and struggles that were the lot of Edward Malden before he perfected his flying ship, the Air Fairy, for the story is well known.

That he succeeded is proved by the hundreds of flying ships that now fill the air; but I doubt if any man can again feel the exultant joy that filled our hearts on the 6th of June, 1924, when the Air Fairy first arose from the ground and sped eastward.

We felt that Man, who had been fastened to the earth since the days of Adam, had at last severed the chain of gravitation that held him, and we knew that Edward Malden was the man.

As Edward Malden's most intimate friend, I had watched the perfection of his flying ship from day to day, and when success at length crowned his efforts I was supremely happy.

Edward Malden was also, as a matter of course, filled with buoyant joy by his success; but one little spot marred the brightness of his pleasure, for Ethel Girton was not there to see the Air Fairy solve the problem of aerial navigation.

Edward Malden and Ethel Girton had long been lovers, and as far as they were concerned had considered themselves betrothed, but in this they had reckoned without Miss Dusenberry.

I will not tire you by giving you the full details of the unfortunate manner in which Miss Dusenberry broke the engagement and turned the love of Edward and Ethel to distrust and dislike, as sweet cider is turned to vinegar. It is sufficient to say that Miss Dusenberry was Ethel's aunt and guardian, that she looked on Edward as a shiftless fellow, and that when it came to the point where Ethel must either give up Miss Dusenberry or relinquish Edward, she refused to do either.

The result of this was that Edward accused Ethel of lacking love for him, and in the mutual recriminations that followed, which might have ended as a mere lovers' quarrel, Miss Dusenberry managed to estrange them completely.

In order that the lovers might have no opportunity to arrange their mutual differences, Miss Dusenberry very sagaciously carried Ethel off to visit friends in New York, leaving Edward to fume at women and to finish his flying ship at leisure in our little Pennsylvania town.

Thus the winter passed, the lovers hearing nothing of each other, and June sixth, which we had set for the final trial of the Air Fairy, happened to be the very day Miss Dusenberry had chosen to start back to Coalville with Ethel.

We had set the hour for the trial of the flying ship at six in the morning. Assisted by the six men we had hired for the purpose, we drew the Air Fairy from her shed, and Edward and I clambered aboard.

At our signal the six men loosened the ropes, Edward started the motor, and the Air Fairy rose majestically from the ground, and to the pleasant whirring of her propeller wheels moved off at remarkable speed.

After a few preliminary circles, backings, and turns, to test the steering apparatus, Edward turned on the full power of the motor, and we darted through the air at a pace that made me gasp for breath, at least until I had become accustomed to the sensation of moving so rapidly.

A glance below showed us that we were traveling far faster than the swiftest express train, and I was not much surprised to hear Edward say:

"We will dine in New York this evening."

We had often spoken of the pleasure we might secure by sailing unexpectedly over the heads of the astonished Gothamites, and I knew that Edward had the additional incentive of wishing to be near Ethel.

In fact, he may have thought that such a triumph as would greet his arrival in New York might serve to overwhelm Ethel's pique. If he had known that Miss Dusenberry intended leaving New York that afternoon, I doubt if we would have attempted so long a journey on our first trip.

All went well until we came within a few miles of the city, when I noticed Edward bending anxiously over the levers which controlled the motor.

"Something is wrong with this lever," he remarked quite calmly, "I can't seem to stop the motor;" and then he added, with that consideration for another's feelings that was one of his most charming traits, "We need not be worried, however, for we can check our progress at any time by throwing out our grappling hook."

He then told me that he intended steering for Broadway, and that he would fly down that thoroughfare just above the tops of the buildings until we reached Battery Park, where he would throw out the grappling iron. If it did not catch on one of the trees in the park, it would undoubtedly be entangled in the chain that hung between the posts at the edge of the sea wall, and then the crowd that would gather could pull us down.

At twenty minutes after three o'clock that afternoon, while we were still speeding over New Jersey, Miss Dusenberry and Ethel Girton were saying goodbye to their hostess, Mrs. Volmer, at her home on Morningside Park.

"I do wish," said Ethel, "that I could stop at Twenty-Third Street to change this waist. I am sure we would have time."

"No," said Mrs. Volmer, "you might not have time. You have no idea how often the cars are blocked in lower Broadway, and the only way you can be sure to catch your train is to go right on to the ferry."

"Well," said Ethel, "I know I shall detest this waist as long as I have it. Couldn't we go down on the elevated or by the subway?"

"Now, Ethel," expostulated Miss Dusenberry, "you know I will not ride above the earth or under the earth, and it isn't nice of you to suggest it on our last day, after all the quarrels we have had on the subject. You'll never catch me being shot through a tube like a paper wad through a bean-blower, not knowing when I'll be shot into some other car and smashed to flinders. And as for taking any chances of having my car jump off those iron stilts you call the elevated, I must say I'm too old and too stout to be bounced like that. No, the Columbus Avenue cars are fast enough for me."

"Yes, Ethel dear," said Mrs. Volmer, "I think you should regard your aunt's feelings in the matter. I'm sorry my rheumatism will not let me see you on your train, but you must promise me not to get off your car until it stops at South Ferry."

"Oh, very well," agreed Ethel laughingly, "I'll promise not to get off."

The car on which Miss Dusenberry and Ethel clambered, to the accompaniment of the conductor's "Step lively, please," was No. 1297. It was in every respect a typical Columbus Avenue car of the closed variety, and the conductor was a typical conductor.

He rang the starting bell before the ladies were fairly on the platform, and when they swayed backward as the car jerked forward, he helped them to enter by pushing them in the spine with the outspread flat of his hand. Then he stood over them threateningly, with one hand on the fare register strap, while Miss Dusenberry opened her purse and the purse inside that purse and extracted a dollar, for which he gave her change in the form of seventeen nickels and five pennies.

When one of the nickels fell between the slats at the bottom of the car, he told her, in quite the usual way, that the nickel could not be recovered until the car reached the end of the line; and Miss Dusenberry, who made it a point to report every conductor, asked his number. It was 872.

In short, it was quite the usual trip down town. There was the usual squabble between the conductor and the man who insisted he had paid his fare. The usual number of men and women got aboard and hung on to straps, and when the car lurched forward suddenly and toppled them all over, the usual girl giggled, and the usual polite man said "Beg your pardon" to the puffy old gentlemen, who replied, "Blank it, can't you stand on your feet without standing on mine?"

At Canal Street the motorman, quite as usual, got off his car, and, running ahead with his brass controller in his hand, threatened to knock the head off of a cabman, who said he would like to see him do it.

As the car neared the Battery the passengers thinned out until only Miss Dusenberry and Ethel remained, and the conductor went inside to rescue the spare change that had accumulated under the slat-mats, and set the register for the up trip. This was exactly at twenty minutes after four o'clock.

At the same instant Edward Malden, who was at the bow of the Air Fairy, shouted to me, "Throw out the hook!"

I was at the stern of the flying ship, and as I threw the hook overboard I leaned to see where it fell, and an exclamation of horror escaped my lips.

The hook had descended on the front platform of a street car, missing the motorman by an inch, and as the rope tightened the hook fastened itself in the controller box. I saw the motorman spring wildly from the car, and then our cable, which was luckily of steel wire, tightened suddenly, and I was jerked from my feet and, with Edward, thrown to the deck of the flying ship.

For a moment the Air Fairy seemed to hesitate, and then she moved slowly forward.

Edward and I scrambled to our feet and looked over our gunwale.

Our powerful flying ship had jerked the car from the track and was dragging it, jolting and swaying, across Battery Park. From our ship we could see the number on the front dashboard of the car. It was car No. 1297!

When the car left the track and started on its eccentric journey across Battery Park, Miss Dusenberry glared angrily at the conductor.

"Really," she said, "these cars seem to jolt more every time I ride on them. I should think the mayor or somebody would put a stop to it."

"Now, auntie," expostulated Ethel, "you are always complaining about the cars!"

She might have said more, but at that moment the car scraped against a small tree with such violence that both of the ladies and the conductor were thrown to the floor, where they sat facing each other.

Miss Dusenberry was very angry, and even Ethel was made a little cross by such unceremonious treatment. The conductor merely looked surprised.

"Conductor," exclaimed Miss Dusenberry, as plainly as the shaking of the car permitted, "if you do not have this jolting stopped instantly, I shall get off this car."

"No, auntie," said Ethel, laying a restraining hand on her aunt's arm, "you must not get off here. We promised Mrs. Volmer we would not get off until we reached South Ferry."

"Well, I shall not sit on the floor of this car another instant!" said Miss Dusenberry. "It is undignified and unladylike, and I am surprised that you will sit here, Ethel."

With this, Miss Dusenberry arose, but she no sooner found herself on her feet than the car gave a more tremendous lurch, and she was thrown at full length on one of the seats.

"Very well!" she said tartly. "Here I am and here I stay until we reach South Ferry."

She was about to launch a torrent of invective at the head of the still prostrate conductor, when the car halted with a jerk. It had collided with the guard chain at the Battery sea wall.

But it only paused for a moment. For that moment it creaked and swayed, and then the guard chain gave way and the car splashed into the wave-tossed waters of the hay.

As I looked down from my lofty position I saw the car make the leap, and it seemed to spring into the water as gracefully as a water spaniel jumps to retrieve a cane thrown by its master. But my thoughts were on other things than graceful water spaniels at that moment.

I did not know how many passengers the car might contain, nor how soon it would be capsized and the passengers drowned, and I cried to Edward to change the course of the Air Fairy so as to bring the car to land.

Edward had had the same thought, but he swung the tiller in vain. When I threw over the grappling hook, the cable had caught on our rudder, and the violence of the tug when the hook caught the car had torn the rudder from its moorings. Edward was unable to change the course of the airship, and it continued out down the bay.

Greatly to our satisfaction, we saw that the car maintained a fairly even keel, and did not roll as much as might have been expected, although the bow, if I may so call it, protruded somewhat out of the water, while the stern seemed to be a foot or more beneath the surface. This was due to the upward lift at the bow, caused by the strain on our cable.

Another cause for fear was that the heavy wheels and under gear of the car might sink it, but we found later that the wheels and trucks had separated from the car the moment they struck the water, and remained near the Battery sea wall, where they were afterwards recovered.

Everything considered, the car seemed quite seaworthy and to be traveling fairly well, and this I knew was largely due to the speed with which we were drawing it, and to the upward tension of our cable, both of which causes served to steady the thing. I shuddered to think what would occur if the Air Fairy slackened speed.

As the car leaped from the Battery into the water, Miss Dusenberry, without raising her head, inquired sarcastically, "This is usual, too, I suppose, conductor?"

The conductor was too much surprised by the events that were following one another so rapidly to be able to speak, and Miss Dusenberry accepted his silence as assent, and lay still.

She had had so many odd experiences on cars during her visit in New York that she was ready to accept anything that might happen as a usual accompaniment of travel in New York City street vehicles.

Not so Miss Ethel. As the car began to ride the water of the upper bay, its motion grew gentler, and she got upon her feet and steadied herself by hanging on to a strap.

She gazed with growing surprise at the water which spread out on three sides of the car, and then, looking out of the rear door, she saw the rapidly diminishing river front of New York. As she looked she saw the water creeping in at the bottom of the rear door.

For a moment she felt panicky, but she was a brave girl and soon subdued her fear.

She felt that something was very wrong, but she did not wish to alarm her aunt, so she said nothing. Instead, she clambered up to the bow of the car, making use of the straps to aid her progress.

When she reached the forward door, she looked out long and silently. She understood everything now.

She saw the flying ship, the cable, the bow waves of the car. How and why the flying ship had captured the car she did not know, but she recognized the fact and accepted it with her usual composure.

She was called from her survey by the voice of Miss Dusenberry.

"Ethel," she said, "I wish you would come away from that door. You are right in a draft. Do not say you are not, for I can feel it."

Miss Dusenberry was right. The rapid motion of the car caused the air to rush into it with considerable force, and, as Miss Dusenberry lay with her feet toward the bow, she was quite in a position to feel the draft.

She must have been most uncomfortable, too, for the tilted position of the car raised her feet a foot or more higher than her head; but except for an occasional grunt of anger, she said nothing. Ethel obediently seated herself on the opposite side of the car.

Edward and I, on the flying ship, had a hasty consultation.

We were surprised to see no signs of life on the car. I had seen the motorman jump, but I was positive I had not seen the conductor leave the car, and I felt that he must be aboard. Perhaps he might have been injured by the shaking of the thing.

At any rate, the Air Fairy was traveling nicely, making straight for the Narrows, and we decided that the best thing we could do would be to try to communicate with the car.

We therefore wrote a short note, telling who we were, how the accident had happened, and all other particulars we thought pertinent, and ending with the words: "We do not know how long our motor will continue to run, but if there are any passengers on the car, we should like to know it. We have a telephone on the Air Fairy, and we can send a receiver down the cable and establish communication in that way. If any living being is on the car, kindly wave a signal from the front platform."

Our idea was that, if there were not too many on the car, we might hoist them into the flying ship, where they would at least be safer; but we did not wish to suggest it in case there were more than we could carry, which might only lead to a panic.

We fastened the note to a large piece of canvas, which we arranged so that it could slide down the cable, and we saw it flutter safely to the car.

We were delighted to see the door open and a young lady step to the platform. She took the note and, after reading it, waved her hand, and then disappeared inside.

Edward and I at once prepared to send down the telephone.

When Ethel had read our note and signaled to us, she went inside to read the note to her aunt.

"I might have known," said Miss Dusenberry, when she had heard it. "That Edward Malden is always doing something to annoy me. However, he has got us into this outrageous position, and he can get us out again. I shall not do a thing to help him."

The effect on the conductor was far different. The note seemed to rouse him, and he clambered to his feet and looked at his watch.

"By rights," he said, "I'd ought to be on my up trip now, and it ain't no fault of mine that I ain't. I'm going to hold them two men responsible if I'm docked for anything; but anyway I ain't going to have no spotter report me for not collecting fares. At four-thirty I'm supposed to be on the uptown trip, and it's after that now; so, as far as me and the company is concerned, I am on the up-town trip. Fares, please!"

Miss Dusenberry was so indignant that she almost sat up, and for the next half-hour she conducted a warm argument with the conductor; but much of the force of her remarks was lost, owing to her ridiculous position, and she finally paid because the conductor threatened to put her off the car if she did not.

While this quarrel was in progress, Edward and I attached the telephone box to the cable and lowered it to the car by means of the wire, and Ethel and Edward began a conversation.

Edward spoke first.

"Hello, down there," he said, and when he received the answer, he uttered an astonished "By George!" and, seizing his field-glasses, gazed long and steadily at the girl on the car.

His next words were very cold and formal.

"Good afternoon, Miss Girton," he said. "You must permit me to apologize for the entirely unexpected accident which has put you in such an unpleasant predicament."

"It is quite unnecessary," replied Ethel from her position on the car platform. "I can easily imagine that you would not intentionally do anything to keep in my neighborhood any longer than necessary, and I hope you can speedily devise some means to let us go our separate ways as before."

"Nothing would please me more." said Edward, "but I am afraid I have a distasteful proposition to make. I think it would be safer if you and Miss Dusenberry and the conductor would allow yourselves to be hoisted aboard the Air Fairy. While you would be temporarily brought closer to distasteful company, I believe it would lead to a speedier release, for then we could cut the car adrift and the Air Fairy would travel more rapidly. The car is quite a drag."

"I will ask my aunt and the conductor," Ethel replied, and we saw her enter the car.

While we were waiting, I began to tinker at the motor, for I thought perhaps I might be able to regulate the controlling apparatus.

When Ethel reappeared, she said: "My aunt refuses to leave the car until it reaches South Ferry, and the conductor refuses to leave the car while it is in motion, because it is against the company's rules."

She hesitated a moment, and then added, "And he wants to know whether you consider yourselves passengers of this car. If so, he demands your fares."

As she said this she laughed in the merry way that Edward had known in the old days. Perhaps she forgot that the telephone could carry laughter as well as words.

The effect on Edward was electrical. He leaned forward over his enunciator, and at the same time gazed through his field glasses.

"Ethel," he cried, "you don't know how good it is to hear that dear old laugh again!"

Ethel did not reply to this, and Edward, who had been watching her closely through his glasses, said:

"No, don't turn your eyes away. Look me full in the face. That's it. Now, can you say you do not love me? I see by your blushes that you care for me just as much as ever!"

This, indeed, was hardly right of Edward, for he had an unfair advantage. He was so far above the car that Ethel could scarcely distinguish him from the body of the flying ship, while his field glasses brought her face within a few feet of him.

In fact, his field glasses were so powerful and his excitement so great that he several times put out his hand to touch Ethel's hair or cheek, as lovers will. It was very odd to see the blank expression that passed over his face whenever he happened to remove the glasses from his eyes and, instead of seeing his sweetheart but a few feet removed, make out merely the tiny figure on the car below us.

This occurred quite often, for in his excitement he frequently confused the receiver of the 'phone and the field glasses, and he lost some of Ethel's replies by holding the field glasses, instead of the receiver, to his ear.

Ethel's first inclination was not to listen to his lovemaking, and she threw down her receiver and turned to enter the car; but when she heard the thin, piteous cries of "Ethel! Ethel!" that came faintly from the fallen receiver, her heart was filled with pity and she could not go away.

"Well," she said at last, "I suppose you will not be satisfied until I say I forgive you, so I will say it; but I know auntie will never feel any differently than she does now, and I could not think of marrying you without her consent."

"Couldn't I bribe the conductor to put her off the car?" asked Edward.

"I will not have you speak of auntie so," replied Ethel with dignity, "and you ought to be ashamed to think of such a thing. Your mind would be better occupied planning some way out of this trouble you have got us into. Where do you think we will land?"

"If we continue in our present direction we will eventually reach the coast of Spain," said Edward, "provided we do not collide with a vessel, and our motor does not give out, and a storm does not arise."

"But I don't want to go to Spain," Ethel complained. "I have only a dress-suit case and my trunks are all in New Jersey, and auntie will be furious. You know Uncle Jim was killed in the war with Spain, and she detests Spaniards. She has often told me that, excepting the Polar regions, there is nowhere she would so dislike to go as to Spain."

"Very well," said Edward, "I will remember that, and if I can manage it we shall not go to Spain."

While Ethel and Edward were conversing I had been tinkering with our motor, and to my great joy I managed to get that portion of the apparatus which controlled our left propeller -- we had one on either side of the flying ship -- into good working order.

The importance of this was vast. While it did not permit us to stop the Air Fairy entirely, it was now possible, by using but one propeller, to change our course at will, or to sail in a circle.

When I announced my success Edward was jubilant, and he at once telephoned to Ethel.

"That is lovely," she exclaimed. "I will tell auntie at once. When I intimated that we might be going to Spain she became very angry, and has been kicking her heels on the car seat ever since, and the conductor is threatening to sit on her feet if she does not stop, because she is injuring the company's property."

"Tell her," said Edward, "that I mean to change the course entirely on her account. Perhaps that will soften her feelings toward me."

While Ethel went inside Edward cautiously altered the direction of the Air Fairy. This required great care, lest the trolley car be overturned, and when we had completed a quarter circle and were traveling due north, Ethel again appeared on the platform.

"I have told auntie," she telephoned, "and she is angrier than ever. She not only will not think kindly of you, but she says she will give you up to the authorities as soon as we land, on the charges of abduction, stealing a car, and breaking the peace. The conductor also says it is time for this car to be in the barn, and he insists that we shall take the car ahead, and if we don't he will put us off anyway."

Ethel had to repeat this several times, for the noise of a bell nearly drowned her voice, and at length Edward exclaimed:

"What on earth is that bell?"

"It isn't on earth," replied Ethel. "I only wish it was. It is the conductor ringing the bell to stop the car, but, for goodness' sake, don't stop, for as sure as you do he will make us get off, and the rules do not allow him to put us off as long as the car is in motion."

"There is no danger of my stopping the car," said Edward, "or none, at least, as long as your aunt remains in her present humor. You may tell her that I have decided that life without you is not worth keeping, and that I mean to let the Air Fairy keep on her present course indefinitely."

"And in what direction are we moving?" inquired Ethel anxiously.

"Due north," replied Edward sternly. "If we are not all drowned before we reach there, we shall land safely in the Polar regions."

When Miss Dusenberry heard this she was indeed furious, and vented her anger alternately on Ethel and the conductor.

"I think it is a shame," said Ethel to her aunt, "that we should receive all the abuse for what Edward is doing."

"I only wish I could give him a piece of my mind, too," snapped Miss Dusenberry. "I would tell him a few things that would be for his good."

"Very well," said Ethel, "I will bring in the telephone."

Night had now fallen, and the interior of the car was dark and dismal, and its passengers were very hungry. This did not improve Miss Dusenberry's temper.

Her conversation with Edward was too virulent to be recorded, but when she had quite exhausted herself, she began to weep hysterically. The cold night air entered the car from all sides, and made a trip to the Polar regions seem all the less desirable.

To add to the annoyance, the conductor continued to ring the stopping bell with praiseworthy energy and regularity. Even Ethel's nerves gave way, and she sank into a corner seat and began to cry softly.

"You are a vile, stubborn animal," telephoned Miss Dusenberry at last, "and I hope you fully appreciate where you will go when you die."

"Oh, yes," replied Edward cheerfully, "when I die I expect to be in the region of the North Pole."

Miss Dusenberry threw down the telephone angrily.

"Ethel," she cried despairingly, "do you suppose that young fool will actually take us to the Polar regions?"

"You know how stubborn he is," sobbed Ethel. "I shouldn't be surprised a bit if he did unless you -- you let me marry him."

"Well," said Miss Dusenberry, "I shall not go to the North Pole. I have tried to save you from a life of regret and sorrow; I have tried to save you from that opinionated wretch; but you all seem banded against me, and my feet are cold, and I will not consent to be turned into an icicle for any of you. I wash my hands of the whole affair, and you can tell him I give you my permission to make your life miserable if he will only take me back to New York."

Ethel sprang up with a cry of joy, and, kneeling down, passed her hands over the floor of the car until she found the telephone. Before she had completed her message Edward had stopped the left propeller and we were changing our course, for we were quite ready to return.

If it was cold in the car below us, it was frigid at our elevation.

It was nearly midnight when the Air Fairy and her trailer drew near New York, and Edward had a comparatively clear course up the bay.

He steered the flying ship so as to bring the car into the South Ferry slip, and as we drew near the ferry-house the conductor gave a last triumphant pull to the bell rope, and we threw over the cable.

The car had momentum enough to carry it to the landing stage. As it bumped against the stage ready hands secured it.

Miss Dusenberry raised her head as the jar of landing shook the car, and said:

"Is this South Ferry? I shall not get on unless it is."

"Yes," answered the ferry-hand, "this is South Ferry all right."

The conductor looked at his watch sullenly.

"Youse can call this South Ferry if youse want to," he said with asperity, "but by my watch and the time-table this is Fifty-Ninth Street. Anybody want transfers for the 'cross-town cars?"

We learned afterward that the poor fellow was sent to Bellevue.

Ethel and Miss Dusenberry took a cab to a hotel, and neither of them can now be persuaded to board a trolley car in New York under any circumstances.

Edward and I were forced to sail in circles over New York until our right motor was exhausted, and then we gradually settled down on the roof of a large building without injury to it, ourselves, or the Air Fairy.

We learned later that car No. 1297 was put together again and was very little the worse for its trip. I can vouch for the fact that Ethel was none the worse for her share in the journey, for a few months later she made a very beautiful bride; but Miss Dusenberry has seemed rather cowed and quiet since her unexpected trip by water.



Saturday, October 07 at 1:52:13am USA Central
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