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 the latter gentleman
“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 Smith.
“Hush! Wait! It’s certainly
creeping over me.”
“What’s creeping over you?”
“You know what I mean.
I am experiencing that strange feeling that all
er all this has happened
“All what? confound it!”
“All this! 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’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
“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 Smith.
“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
“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
“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.”
“I’ll 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
“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 impatiently.
“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 vista.
“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
“The cherry-colored 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 water line?”
“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.
“Wha’ dyeh board this car for!”
he gasped, sliding fiercely up beside Brown.
“Get off or I’ll drag you off!”
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’
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,
“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 under foot.”
“Intellectually d-d do
you mean me?” asked Smith, unable to believe
his ears. “Do you?”
“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 Smith, stupefied.
“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 somewhere?”
“I want to know where you are
going before I knock your head off.”
“I don’t know,” replied Brown, serenely.
“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
“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
“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 to her?”
“I am. I must. How else can I compare
“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 understand that.”
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?”
“Well well, I
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 this one.”
“But the basket!”
“Another coincidence. There are quadrillions
of wicker baskets.”
“Not,” said Brown, “with the contents
of this one.”
Smith instinctively turned to look
at the basket balanced daintily on the girl’s
He strove to penetrate its wicker
exterior with concentrated gaze. He could see
nothing but wicker.
“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 corroborative evidence ”
“Well, then there’s a cat in
“How do you know?”
“I don’t know how I know, but there’s
a big, gray cat in that basket.”
“Why a gray one?”
“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 this morning ”
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.”
Smith straightened up.
“I’m going to push you
forcibly from this car. Do you remember that
“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 his
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!”
The 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!”