An Alliance, Offensive, Defensive, and Back-Fensive
Smith, petrified, looked blankly at the paw.
For a while he remained
stupidly incapable of speech or movement, then, as though arousing
from a bad dream:
"What are you going
to do, anyway?" he asked with an effort. "This car is bound to stop
sometime, I suppose, and--and then what?"
"I don't know what
I'm going to do. Whatever I do will be the thing that ought to happen
to me, to that cat and to that girl--that is the thing which is
destined to happen. That's all I know about it."
His friend passed an
unsteady hand across his brow.
"This whole proceeding
is becoming a nightmare," he said unsteadily. "Am I awake? Is this
Forty-second Street? Hold up some fingers, Brown, and let me guess
how many you hold up, and if I guess wrong I'm home in bed asleep
and the whole thing is off."
Beekman Brown patted
his friend on the shoulder.
"You take a cab, Smithy,
and go somewhere. And if I don't come go on alone to the Carringtons'....
You don't mind going on and fixing things up with the Carringtons,
you believe that The Green Mouse Society has got hold of you? Do
"I don't know and don't
care.... Smith, I ask you plainly, did you ever before see such
a perfectly beautiful girl as that one is?"
"Beekman, do you believe
anything queer is going to result? You don't suppose she
has anything to do with this extraordinary freak of yours?"
"Anything to do with
"I mean," he sank his
voice to hoarser depths, "how do you know but that this girl, who
pretends to pay no attention to us, might be a--a--one
of those clever, professional mesmerists who force you to follow
'em, and get you into their power, and exhibit you, and make you
eat raw potatoes and tallow candles and tacks before an audience."
He peeped furtively
at Brown, who did not appear uneasy.
"All I'm afraid of,"
added Smith, sullenly, "is that you'll get yourself into vaudeville
or the patrol wagon."
He waited, but Brown
made no reply.
"Oh, very well," he
said, coldly. "I'll take a cab back to the boat."
No observation from
old fellow"--with some emotion.
"Good-by," said Beekman
In fact, he did not
even notice when his thoroughly offended partner left the car, so
intent was he in following the subtly thrilling train of thought
which tantalized him, mocked him, led him nowhere, yet always lured
him to fresh endeavor of memory. Where had all this
occurred before? When? What was going to happen next--happen inexorably,
as it had once happened, or as it once should have happened, in
some dim, bygone age when he and that basket and that cat and this
same hauntingly lovely girl existed together on earth--or perhaps
upon some planet, swimming far out beyond the ken of men with telescopes?
He looked at the girl,
strove to consider her impersonally, for her youthful beauty began
to disturb him. Then cold doubt crept in; something of the monstrosity
of the proceeding chilled his enthusiasm for occult research. Should
he speak to her?
Certainly, it was a
dreadful thing to do--an offense the enormity of which was utterly
inexcusable except under the stress of a purely impersonal and scientific
necessity for investigating a mental phase of humanity which had
always thrilled him with a curiosity most profound.
He folded his arms
and began to review in cold blood the circumstances which had led
to his present situation in a cross-town car. Number one, and he
held up one finger:
As it comes, at times,
to every normal human, the odd idea had come to him that what he
was saying and doing as he emerged from the subway at Times Square
was what he had, sometime, somewhere, said and done before under
similar circumstances. That was the beginning.
Number two, and he
gravely held up a second finger:
Always before when
this idea had come to bother him it had faded after a moment or
two, leaving him merely uneasy and dissatisfied.
This time it persisted--intruding,
annoying, exasperating him in his efforts to remember things which
he could not recollect.
Number three, and he
held up a third finger:
begun to remember! As soon as he or Smith said or did anything he
recollected having said or done it sometime, somewhere, or recollected
that he ought to have.
Number four--four fingers
in air, stiff, determined digits:
He had not only, by
a violent concentration of his memory, succeeded in recognizing
the things said and done as having been said and done before, but
suddenly he became aware that he was going to be able to foretell,
vaguely, certain incidents that were yet to occur--like the prophesied
advent of the cherry-colored car and the hat, gown, and wicker basket.
He now had four fingers
in the air; he examined them seriously, and then stuck up the fifth.
"Here I am," he thought,
"awake, perfectly sane, absolutely respectable. Why should a foolish
terror of convention prevent me from asking that girl whether she
knows anything which might throw some light on this most interesting
mental phenomenon?... I'll do it."
The girl turned her
head slightly; speech and the politely perfunctory smile froze on
She held up one finger;
Brown's heart leaped. Was that some cabalistic sign
which he ought to recognize? But she was merely signaling the conductor,
who promptly pulled the bell and lifted her basket for her when
she got off.
She thanked him; Brown
heard her, and the crystalline voice began to ring in little bell-like
echoes all through his ears, stirring endless little mysteries of
Brown also got off;
his legs struck up a walk of their own volition, carrying him across
the street, hoisting him into a north-bound Lexington Avenue car,
and landing him in a seat behind the one where she had installed
herself and her wicker basket.
She seemed to be having
some difficulty with the wicker basket; beseeching six-toed paws
were thrust out persistently; soft meows pleaded for the right of
liberty and pursuit of feline happiness. Several passengers smiled.
Trouble increased as
the car whizzed northward; the meows became wilder; mad scrambles
agitated the basket; the lid bobbed and creaked; the girl turned
a vivid pink and, bending close over the basket, attempted to soothe
its enervated inmate.
In the forties she
managed to control the situation; in the fifties a frantic rush
from within burst a string that fastened the basket lid, but the
girl held it down with energy.
In the sixties a tempest
broke loose in the basket; harrowing yowls pierced the atmosphere;
the girl, crimson with embarrassment and distress, signaled the
conductor at Sixty-fourth Street and descended, clinging valiantly
to a basket which apparently contained a pack of firecrackers in
process of explosion.
A classical heroine
in dire distress invariably exclaims aloud: "Will no
one aid me?" Brown, whose automatic legs had compelled him to follow,
instinctively awaited some similar appeal.
It came unexpectedly;
the kicking basket escaped from her arms, the lid burst open, and
an extraordinarily large, healthy and indignant cat flew out, tail
as big as a duster, and fled east on Sixty-fourth Street.
The girl in the summer
gown and white straw hat ran after the cat. Brown's legs ran, too.
There was, and is,
between the house on the northeast corner of Sixty- fourth Street
and Lexington Avenue and the next house on Sixty-fourth, an open
space guarded by an iron railing; through this the cat darted, fur
on end, and, with a flying leap, took to the back fences.
"Oh!" gasped the girl.
Then Brown's legs did
an extraordinary thing--they began to scramble and kick and shin
up the iron railing, hoisting Brown over; and Brown's voice, pleasant,
calm, reassuring, was busy, too: "If you will look out for my suitcase
I think I can recover your cat.... It will give me great pleasure
to recover your cat. I shall be very glad to have, the opportunity
And he dropped inside the iron railing and paused to recover his
The girl came up to
the railing and gazed anxiously through at the corner of the only
back fence she could perceive.
"What a perfectly dreadful
thing to happen!" she said in a voice not very steady. "It is exceedingly
nice of you to help me catch Clarence. He is quite beside himself,
poor lamb! You see, he has never before been in the city. I--I shall
be distressed beyond m-measure if he is lost."
"He went over those
fences," said Brown, breathing faster. "I think I'd better go after
you mind? I'd be so very grateful. It seems so much to ask of you."
"I'll do it," said
Brown, firmly. "Every boy in New York has climbed back fences, and
I'm only thirty."
"It is most kind of
you; but--but I don't know whether you could possibly get him to
come to you. Clarence is timid with strangers."
Brown had already clambered
on to the wooden fence. He balanced himself there, astride. Whitewash
liberally decorated coat and trousers.
"I see him," he said.
"W-what is he doing?"
"Squatting on a trellis
three back yards away." And Brown lifted a blandishing voice: "Here,
Clarence--Clarence--Clarence! Here, kitty-- kitty--kitty! Good pussy!
"Does he come?" inquired
the girl, peering wistfully through the railing.
"He does not," said
Brown. "Perhaps you had better call."
she began gently in that fascinating, crystalline voice which seemed
to set tiny silvery chimes ringing in Brown's ears: "Here, Clarence,
darling--Betty's own little kitty-cat!"
"If he doesn't come
to that," thought Brown, "he is a brute."
And aloud: "If you could only let him see you; he sits there blinking
"Do you think he'd
come if he saw me?"
"Who wouldn't?" thought
Brown, and answered, calmly: "I think so.... Of course, you couldn't
get up here."
"I could.... But I'd
better not.... Besides, I live only a few houses away -- Number
161 -- and I could go through into the back yard."
"But you'd better not
attempt to climb the fence. Have one of the servants do it; we'll
get the cat between us then and corner him."
"There are no servants
in the house. It's closed for the summer--all boarded up!"
"Then how can you get
"I have a key to the
basement.... Shall I?"
"And climb up on the
"Yes--if I must--if
it's necessary to save Clarence.... Shall I?"
"Why can't I shoo him
into your yard."
"He doesn't know our
yard. He's a country cat; he's never stayed in town. I was taking
him with me to Oyster Bay.... I came down from a week-end at Stockbridge,
where some relatives kept Clarence for us while we were abroad during
the winter.... I meant to stop and get some things in the house
on my way back to Oyster Bay.... Isn't it a perfectly wretched situation?...
family--adore Clarence--and--I-I'm so anxious----"
Her fascinating underlip
trembled, but she controlled it.
"I'll get that cat
if it takes a month!" said Brown. Then he flushed; he had not meant
to speak so warmly.
The girl flushed too.
I am so grateful.... But how----"
"Wait," said Brown;
and, addressing Clarence in a softly alluring voice, he began cautiously
to crawl along the fences toward that unresponsive animal. Presently
he desisted, partly on account of a conspiracy engaged in between
his trousers and a rusty nail. The girl was now beyond range of
his vision around the corner.
"Clarence has retreated
over another back yard."
"How far down do you
She named the number
of doors, anxiously adding: "Is Clarence farther down the block?
Oh, please, be careful. Please, don't drive him past our yard. If
you will wait I--I'll let myself into the house and--I'll manage
to get up on the fence."
"You'll ruin your gown.";
"I don't care about
"These fences are the
limit! Full of spikes and nails.... Will you be careful?"
"The nails are rusty.
I--I am h-horribly afraid of lockjaw."
"Then don't remain
there an instant."
"I mean--I'm afraid
of it for you."
There was a silence;
they couldn't see each other. Brown's heart was beating fast.
"It is very generous
of you to--think of me," came her voice, lower but very friendly.
"I ca-can't avoid it,"
he stammered, and wanted to kick himself for what he had blurted
this time. And then:
"I am going to enter
my house and climb up on the fence.... Would you mind waiting a
"I will wait here,"
said Beekman Brown, "until I see you." He added to himself: "I'm
going mad rapidly and I know it and don't care.... What--
While he waited, legs
swinging, astride the back fence, he examined his injuries--thoughtfully
touched the triangular tear in his trousers, inspected minor sartorial
and corporeal lacerations, set his hat firmly upon his head, and
gazed across the monotony of the back-yard fences at Clarence. The
cat eyed him disrespectfully, paws tucked under, tail curled up
against his well-fed flank--disillusioned, disgusted, unapproachable.
the palings of a back yard on Sixty-fifth Street, Brown saw a small
boy, evidently the progeny of some caretaker, regarding him intently.
"Say, mister," he began
as soon as noticed, "you have tore your pants on a nail."
"Thanks," said Brown,
coldly; "will you be good enough to mind your business?"
"I thought I'd tell
you," said the small boy, delightedly aware that the information
displeased Brown. "They're tore awful, too. That's what you get
for playin' onto back fences. Y'orter be ashamed."
Brown feigned unconsciousness
and folded his arms with dignity; but the next moment he straightened
"You young devil!"
he said; "if you pull that slingshot again I'll come over there
and destroy you!"
At the same moment
above the fence line down the block a white straw hat appeared;
then a youthful face becomingly flushed; then two dainty, gloved
hands grasping the top of the fence.
"I am here," she called
across to him.
The small boy, who
had climbed to the top of his fence, immediately joined the conversation:
"Your girl's a winner,
mister," he observed, critically.
"Are you going to keep
quiet?" demanded Brown, starting across the fence.
"Sure," said the small
And, settling down
on his lofty perch of observation, he began singing:
"Lum' me an'
the woild is mi-on."
The girl's cheeks became
pinker; she looked at the small boy appealingly.
"Little boy," she said,
"if you'll run away somewhere I'll give you ten cents."
"No," said the terror,
"I want to see him an' you catch that cat."
"I'll tell you what
I'll do," suggested Brown, inspired. "I'll give you a dollar if
you'll help us catch the cat."
"You're on!" said the
boy, briskly. "What'll I do? Touch her up with this bean-shooter?"
"No; put that thing
into your pocket!" exclaimed Brown, sharply. "Now climb across to
Sixty-fourth Street and stand by that iron railing so that the cat
can't bolt out into the street, and," he added, wrapping a dollar
bill around a rusty nail and tossing it across the fence, "here's
what's coming to you."
The small boy scrambled
over nimbly, ran squirrel-like across the transverse fence, dipped,
swarmed over the iron railing and stood on guard.
"Say, mister," he said,
"if the cat starts this way you and your girl start a hollerin'
"All right," interrupted
Brown, and turned toward the vision of loveliness and distress which
was now standing on the top of her own back fence holding fast to
a wistaria trellis and flattering Clarence with low and honeyed
The cat, however, was
either too stupid or too confused to respond; he gazed blankly at
his mistress, and when Brown began furtively edging his way toward
him Clarence arose, stood a second in alert indecision, then began
to back away.
"We've got him between
us!" called out Brown. "If you'll stand ready to seize him when
I drive him----"
There was a wild scurry,
a rush, a leap, frantic clawing for foothold.
"Now, Miss Betty! Quick!"
cried Brown. "Don't let him pass you."
She spread her skirts,
but the shameless Clarence rushed headlong between the most delicately
ornamental pair of ankles in Manhattan.
"Oh-h!" cried the girl
in soft despair, and made a futile clutch; but she could not arrest
the flight of Clarence, she merely upset him, turning him for an
instant into a furry pinwheel, whirling through mid-air, landing
in her yard, rebounding like a rubber ball, and disappearing, with
one flying leap, into a narrow opening in the basement masonry.
"Where is he?" asked
Brown, precariously balanced on the next fence.
"Do you know," she
said, "this is becoming positively ghastly. He's bolted into our
"Why, that's all right,
isn't it?" asked Brown. "All you have to do is to go inside, descend
to the cellar, and light the gas."
"There's no gas."
"You have electric
"Yes, but it's turned
off at the main office. The house is closed for the summer, you
Brown, balancing cautiously,
walked the intervening fence like an amateur on a tightrope.
Her pretty hat was
a trifle on one side; her cheeks brilliant with excitement and anxiety.
Utterly oblivious of herself and of appearances in her increasing
solicitude for the adored Clarence, she sat the fence, cross saddle,
balancing with one hand and pointing with the other to the barred
ventilator into which Clarence had darted.
A wisp of sunny hair
blew across her crimson cheek; slender, active, excitedly unconscious
of self, she seemed like some eager, adorable little gamin perched
there, intent on mischief.
"If you'll drop into
our yard," she said, "and place that soap box against the ventilator,
Clarence can't get out that way!"
It was done before
she finished the request. She disengaged herself from the fencetop,
swung over, hung an instant, and dropped into a soft flower bed.
Breathing fast, disheveled,
they confronted one another on the grass. His blue suit of serge
was smeared with whitewash; her gown was a sight. She felt for her
hat instinctively, repinned it at hazard, looked at her gloves,
and began to realize what she had done.
"I--I couldn't help
it," she faltered; "I couldn't leave Clarence in a city of five
m-million strangers--all alone--terrified out of his senses-- could
I? I had rather--rather be thought--anything than be c-cruel to
a helpless animal."
Brown dared not trust
himself to answer. She was too beautiful and his emotion was too
deep. So he bent over and attempted to dust his garments with the
flat of his hand.
"I am so sorry," she
said in a low voice. "Are your clothes quite ruined?"
"Oh, I don't mind,"
he protested happily, "I really don't mind a bit. If you'll only
let me help you corner that infern--that unfortunate cat I shall
be perfectly happy."
She said, with heightened
color: "It is exceedingly nice of you to say so.... I--I don't quite
know--what do you think we had better do?"
"Suppose," he said,
"you go into the basement, unlock the cellar door and call. He can't
bolt this way."
She nodded and entered
the house. A few moments later he heard her calling, so persuasively
that it was all he could do not to run to her, and why on earth
that cat didn't he never could understand.