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
“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,
“Brown, do you believe
that The Green Mouse Society has got hold of you?
“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
“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 it? How?”
“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 Brown.
“So, good-by, old fellow” with
“Good-by,” said Beekman Brown, absently.
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:
He had 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
He now had four fingers in the air;
he examined them seriously, and then stuck up the
“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 memory.
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
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
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 of recovering puff puff your puff puff c-cat!”
And he dropped inside the iron railing and paused
to recover his breath.
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 him.”
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
“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! Nice Clarence!”
“Does he come?” inquired the girl, peering
wistfully through the railing.
“He does not,” said Brown. “Perhaps
you had better call.”
“Here, puss puss puss puss!”
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?”
thought Brown, and answered, calmly: “I
think so.... Of course, you couldn’t get
“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
“There are no servants in the
house. It’s closed for the summer all
“Then how can you get in?”
“I have a key to the basement.... Shall
“And climb up on the fence?”
“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?...
We the entire family adore Clarence and I-I’m
so anxious ”
Her fascinating underlip trembled, but she controlled
“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.
“Miss ah Miss er er Betty!”
“Clarence has retreated over another back yard.”
“How far down do you live?”
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 my gown.”
“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
There was a silence; they couldn’t
see each other. Brown’s heart was beating
“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 out.
Another pause longer this time. And
“I am going to enter my house
and climb up on the fence.... Would you mind
waiting a moment?”
“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,
Presently, through the palings of
a back yard on Sixty-fifth Street, Brown saw a small
boy, evidently the progeny of some caretaker, regarding
“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
“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 up, quivering.
“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 boy, carelessly.
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
“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
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’ like ”
“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 appeals.
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
“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 cellar.”
“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 light?”
“Yes, but it’s turned
off at the main office. The house is closed for
the summer, you know.”
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
It was done before she finished the
request. She disengaged herself from the fencetop,
swung over, hung an instant, and dropped into a soft
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
“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.