Concerning the Sudden Madness of One Brown
As the two young fellows, carrying
their suitcases, emerged from the subway at Times Square into the
midsummer glare and racket of Broadway and Forty-second Street,
Brown suddenly halted, pressed his hand to his forehead, gazed earnestly
up at the sky as though trying to recollect how to fly, then abruptly
gripped Smith's left arm just above the elbow and squeezed it, causing
gentleman exquisite discomfort.
"Here! Stop it!" protested
Smith, wriggling with annoyance.
Brown only gazed at
him and then at the sky.
"Stop it!" repeated
Smith, astonished. "Why do you pinch me and then look at the sky?
Is--is a monoplane attempting to alight on me? What
is the matter with you, anyway?"
"That peculiar consciousness,"
said Brown, dreamily, "is creeping over me. Don't move--don't speak--don't
interrupt me, Smith."
"Let go of me!" retorted
"Hush! Wait! It's certainly
creeping over me."
"What's creeping over
"You know what I mean.
I am experiencing that strange feeling that all-- er--all this--has
My standing, on a hot summer day, in the infernal din of some great
city; and--and I seem to recall it vividly--after a fashion-- the
blazing sun, the stifling odor of the pavements; I seem to remember
that very hackman over there sponging the nose of his horse--even
that pushcart piled up with peaches! Smith! What is this maddeningly
elusive memory that haunts me--haunts me with the
peculiar idea that it has all occurred before?...
Do you know what I mean?"
"I've just admitted
to you that everybody has that sort of fidget occasionally, and
there's no reason to stand on your hindlegs about it. Come on or
we'll miss our train."
But Beekman Brown remained
stock still, his youthful and attractive features puckered in a
futile effort to seize the evanescent memories that came swarming--gnatlike
memories that teased and distracted.
"It's as if the entire
circumstances were strangely familiar," he said; "as though everything
that you and I do and say had once before been done and said by
us under precisely similar conditions--somewhere--sometime."
"We'll miss that boat
at the foot of Forty-second Street," cut in Smith impatiently. "And
if we miss the boat we lose our train."
Brown gazed skyward.
"I never felt this
feeling so strongly in all my life," he muttered; "it's--it's astonishing.
Why, Smith, I knew you were going to say that."
"Say what?" demanded
"That we would miss
the boat and the train. Isn't it funny?"
"Oh, very. I'll say
it again sometime if it amuses you; but, meanwhile, as we're going
to that week-end at the Carringtons we'd better get into a taxi
and hustle for the foot of West Forty-second Street. Is there anything
very funny in that?"
"I knew that,
too. I knew you'd say we must take a taxi!" insisted Brown, astonished
at his own "clairvoyance."
"Now, look here," retorted
Smith, thoroughly vexed; "up to five minutes ago you were reasonable.
What the devil's the matter with you, Beekman Brown?"
"James Vanderdynk Smith,
I don't know. Good Heavens! I knew you were going to say that to
me, and that I was going to answer that way!"
"Are you coming or
are you going to talk foolish on this broiling curbstone the rest
of the afternoon?" inquired Smith, fiercely.
"Jim, I tell you that
everything we've done and said in the last five minutes we have
done and said before--somewhere--perhaps on some other planet; perhaps
centuries ago when you and I were Romans and wore togas----"
"Confound it! What
do I care," shouted Smith, "whether we were Romans and wore togas?
We are due this century at a house party on this planet. They expect
us on this train. Are you coming? If not--kindly relax that crablike
clutch on my elbow before partial paralysis ensues."
"Smith, wait! I tell
you this is somehow becoming strangely portentous. I've got the
funniest sensation that something is going to happen to me."
"It will," said Smith,
dangerously, "if you don't let go my elbow."
But Beekman Brown,
a prey to increasing excitement, clung to his friend.
"Wait just one moment,
Jim; something remarkable is likely to occur! I--I never before
felt this way--so strongly--in all my life. Something extraordinary
is certainly about to happen to me."
"It has happened,"
said his friend, coldly; "you've gone dippy. Also, we've lost that
train. Do you understand?"
"I knew we would. Isn't
that curious? I--I believe I can almost tell you what else is going
to happen to us."
tell you," hissed Smith; "it's an ambulance for yours
and ding- dong to the funny-house! What are you trying
to do now?" With real misgiving, for Brown, balanced on the edge
of the gutter, began waving his arms in a birdlike way as though
about to launch himself into aerial flight across Forty-second Street.
"The car!" he exclaimed
excitedly, "the cherry-colored cross-town car! Where is it? Do you
see it anywhere, Smith?"
"What? What do you
mean? There's no cross-town car in sight. Brown, don't act like
that! Don't be foolish! What on earth----"
"It's coming! There's
a car coming!" cried Brown.
"Do you think you're
a racing runabout and I'm a curve?"
Brown waved him away
"I tell you that something
most astonishing is going to occur--in a cherry-colored tram car....
And somehow there'll be some reason for me to get into it."
"Into that cherry-colored
car, because--because--there'll be a wicker basket in it--somebody
holding a wicker basket--and there'll be--there'll be--a--a--white
summer gown--and a big white hat----"
Smith stared at his
friend in grief and amazement. Brown stood balancing himself on
the gutter's edge, pale, rapt, uttering incoherent prophecy concerning
the advent of a car not yet visible anywhere in the immediate metropolitan
"Old man," began Smith
with emotion, "I think you had better come very quietly somewhere
with me. I--I want to show you something pretty and nice."
"Hark!" exclaimed Brown.
"Sure, I'll hark for
you," said Smith, soothingly, "or I'll bark for you if you like,
or anything if you'll just come quietly."
car!" cried Brown, laboring under tremendous emotion. "Look, Smithy!
That is the car!"
"Sure, it is! I see
it, old man. They run 'em every five minutes. What the devil is
there to astonish anybody about a cross-town cruiser with a red
"Look!" insisted Brown,
now almost beside himself. "The wicker basket! The summer gown!
Exactly as I foretold it! The big straw hat!--the--the girl!"
And shoving Smith violently
away he galloped after the cherry-colored car, caught it, swung
himself aboard, and sank triumphant and breathless into the transverse
seat behind that occupied by a wicker basket, a filmy summer frock,
a big, white straw hat, and--a girl--the most amazingly pretty girl
he had ever laid eyes on. After him, headlong, like a distracted
chicken, rushed Smith and alighted
beside him, panting, menacing.
he gasped, sliding fiercely up beside Brown. "Get off or I'll drag
But Brown only shook
his head with an infatuated smile.
"Is it that girl?"
said Smith, incensed. "Are you a--a Broadway Don Juan, or are you
a respectable lawyer with a glimmering sense of common decency and
an intention to keep a social engagement at the Carringtons' to-day?"
And Smith drew out
his timepiece and flourished it furiously under Brown's handsome
and sun-tanned nose.
But Brown only slid
along the seat away from him, saying:
"Don't bother me, Jim;
this is too momentous a crisis in my life to have a well-intentioned
but intellectually dwarfed friend butting into me and running about
you mean me?" asked Smith, unable to believe his ears.
"Yes, I do! Because
a miracle suddenly happens to me on Forty-second Street, and you,
with your mind of a stockbroker, unable to appreciate it, come clattering
and clamoring after me about a house party--a common- place, every-day,
social appointment, when I have a full-blown miracle on my hands!"
"What miracle?" faltered
"What miracle? Haven't
I been telling you that I've been having that queer sense that all
this has happened before? Didn't I suddenly begin-- as though compelled
by some unseen power--to foretell things? Didn't I prophesy the
coming of this cross-town car? Didn't I even name its color before
it came into sight? Didn't I warn you that I'd probably get into
it? Didn't I reveal to you that a big straw hat
and a pretty summer gown----"
"Confound it!" almost
shouted Smith, "There are about five thousand cherry-colored cross-town
cars in this town. There are about five million white hats and dresses
in this borough. There are five billion girls wearing 'em----!"
"Yes; but the wicker basket" breathed Brown. "How
do you account for that?... And, anyway, you annoy
me, Smith. Why don't you get out of the car and go
"I want to know where
you are going before I knock your head off."
"I don't know," replied
"Are you actually attempting
to follow that girl?" whispered Smith, horrified.
"Yes.... It sounds
low, doesn't it? But it really isn't. It is something I can't explain--you
couldn't understand even if I tried to enlighten you. The sentiment
I harbor is too lofty for some to comprehend, too vague, too pure,
too ethereal for----"
"I'm as lofty and ethereal
as you are!" retorted Smith, hotly. "And I know a--an ethereal Lothario
when I see him, too!"
"I'm not--though it
looks like it--and I forgive you, Smithy, for losing your temper
and using such language."
"Oh, you do?" said
Smith, grinning with rage.
"Yes," nodded Brown,
kindly. "I forgive you, but don't call me that again. You mean well,
but I'm going to find out at last what all this maddening, tantalizing,
unexplained and mysterious feeling that it all has occurred before
really is. I'm going to trace it to its source; I'm going to compare
notes with this highly intelligent girl."
"You're going to speak
"I am. I must. How
else can I compare data."
"I hope she'll call
the police. If she doesn't I will."
"Don't worry. She's
part of this strange situation. She'll comprehend as soon as I begin
to explain. She is intelligent; you only have to look at her to
Smith choking with
impotent fury, nevertheless ventured a swift glance. Her undeniable
beauty only exasperated him. "To think--to think,"
he burst out, "that a modest, decent, law-loving business man like
me should suddenly awake to find his boyhood friend had turned into
a godless votary of Venus!"
"I'm not a votary of
Venus!" retorted Brown, turning pink. "I'll punch you if you say
it again. I'm as decent and respectable a business man as you are!
And my grammar is better. And, thank Heaven! I've intellect enough
to recognize a miracle when it happens to me.... Do you think I
am capable of harboring any sentiments that might bring the blush
of coquetry to the cheek of modesty? Do you?"
don't know what you're up to!" Smith raised his voice in bewilderment
and despair. "I don't know what possesses you to act this way. People
don't experience miracles in New York cross-town cars. The wildest
stretch of imagination could only make a coincidence out of this.
There are trillions of girls in cross-town cars dressed just like
"But the basket!"
There are quadrillions of wicker baskets."
"Not," said Brown,
"with the contents of this one."
turned to look at the basket balanced daintily on the girl's knees.
He strove to penetrate
its wicker exterior with concentrated gaze. He could see nothing
"Well," he began angrily,
"what is in that basket? And how do you
know it--you lunatic?"
"Will you believe me
if I tell you?"
"If you can offer any
a cat in that basket."
"How do you know?"
"I don't know how I
know, but there's a big, gray cat in that basket."
"Why a gray
"I can't tell, but
it is gray, and it has six toes on every foot."
Smith truly felt that
he was now being trifled with.
"Brown," he said, trying
to speak civilly, "if anybody in the five boroughs had come to me
with affidavits and told me yesterday how you were going to behave
His voice, rising unconsciously
as the realization of his outrageous wrongs dawned upon him, rang
out above the rattle and grinding of the car, and the girl turned
abruptly and looked straight at him and then at Brown.
The pure, fearless
beauty of the gaze, the violet eyes widening a little in surprise,
silenced both young men.
She inspected Brown
for an instant, then turned serenely to her calm contemplation of
the crowded street once more. Yet her dainty, close-set ears looked
as though they were listening.
The young men gazed
at one another.
"That girl is well
bred," said Smith in a low, agitated voice. "You--you wouldn't think
of venturing to speak to her!"
"I'm obliged to, I
tell you! This all happened before. I recognize everything as it
occurs.... Even to your making a general nuisance of yourself."
"I'm going to push
you forcibly from this car. Do you remember that incident?"
"No," said Brown with
conviction, "that incident did not happen. You only threatened to
do it. I remember now."
In spite of himself
Smith felt a slight chill creep up over his neck and inconvenience
He said, deeply agitated:
"What a terrible position for me to be in--with a friend suddenly
gone mad in the streets of New York and running after a basket containing
what he believes to be a cat. A Cat! Good----"
Brown gripped his arm.
"Watch it!" he breathed.
lid of the basket tilted a little, between lid and rim a soft, furry,
six-toed gray paw was thrust out. Then a plaintive voice said, "Meow-w!"