Read CHAPTER IX - A CROSS-TOWN CAR of The Green Mouse, free online book, by Robert W. Chambers, on ReadCentral.com.

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 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 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 before.”

“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 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 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 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.”

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 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 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 what?”

“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 come quietly.”

“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’ 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 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 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 to her?”

“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 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.”

“Why not?”

Smith instinctively 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 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 that basket.”

“A ­what?”

“A cat.”

“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 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 his spine.

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.

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!”