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"Speaking of the Weather" from New York Times

by Ellis Parker Butler
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from New York Times
Speaking of the Weather
by Ellis Parker Butler

It was the kind of weather that made Noah famous. For days and weeks the rain had been falling steadily. The daily papers had wearied of publishing tables comparing the present wet April with the Aprils of the previous forty years, and had settled down to an unavailing and unanimous condemnation of the weatherman. New York from the Battery to Yonkers was as soggy as a leftover buckwheat cake.

As Nicholas Cargray opened the door and looked out into the night his brow clouded.

"I must say." he said, "that this doesn't look much like the change in the weather promised by the papers for tonight. But maybe it will clear off by morning, and if it does we will have our ride. My automobile will be moldy before you have a chance to ride in it if this weather keeps on."

He turned to the young woman stood who just behind him, and his frown brightened into a smile as he took her hand.

"Oh, you shouldn't feel so glum about it, of all men, Nicholas," she laughed. "You will soon be a millionaire if the rain continues."

"Yes," he said, smiling; "it is good for my business, but -- good night, dear."

He was about to draw her to him for the embrace that is the right of plighted lovers, but she drew away.

"Wait one moment," she said. "You thought I had forgotten, didn't you? I would be more apt to forget my own birthday than yours, and I want you to wear this for me always, and may you have many, many more birthdays."

She pressed a small box into his hand.

"Thank you ever so much, little girl," he said. "May I look at it now?"

He saw an assent in her eyes and he opened the package, while she leaned against him, half watching his fingers and half watching his face to catch the expression of pleasure or perplexity or amusement when he should see her gift.

What she saw was a mingling of pleasure and perplexity. The gift was a quaintly carved charm, such as a man might wear on his fob, set with a dozen small gems of various colors. On the smooth base were engraved quaint Sanskrit characters.

"Isn't it a beauty!" Nicholas exclaimed, holding it so that the gems might catch the light; "but where did you ever run across such a find? It must be extremely antique."

"Papa picked it up on his last trip to Calcutta." said the girl, "and gave it to me over a year ago. He said he bought it of a greasy Hindu, who insisted that it was a wishing charm, but you can believe that or not as you like. The story is that each owner of it can have but one wish. Papa said he wished for a smooth voyage home, and he had it, and my wish came true, too, so perhaps yours will -- if you don't wish for too much. But I ought not to say that, for I wished for something very lovely."

"What did you wish for?" Nicholas asked, taking his eyes from the charm to look lovingly in her eyes.

Mabel smiled.

"It was at Mrs. Horner's reception." she said bravely, "when I first saw you, and I wished that you would love me."

When the incident which followed this statement was concluded, Nicholas let her escape from his arms, and, raising his umbrella, which was a very fine one, stepped out into the rain.

Nicholas Cargray was a young man of great promise, but of no great wealth, and it was only after assuring himself of the profitable and reliable nature of the young man's business that Mabel's father had consented to their engagement. Nicholas Cargray was the proprietor of an umbrella store on Fifth Avenue, and while at first glance this might not seem a particularly remunerative business, it must be remembered that the cheapest umbrellas he sold were the five-dollar sort, and that his price for these was $10.

"When he reached his apartments, which he shared with an old Yale chum, who had inherited a great factory for the manufacture of steam-heating apparatus, the rain was still falling heavily, and but for the memory of his pleasant evening with Mabel he would have gone to bed in a rather discontented state.

The next morning his first movement on awakening was to the window. The rain still descended; the gutters were overflowing, and the early passers-by drooped in wet disconsolateness. He turned away in disgust. To lighten his gloom he picked up Mabel's gift, and was about to kiss it, as is the way of lovers, when Jack from the bed called out:

"I say, old man, how's the weather this morning?"

Nicholas almost snorted,

"It's beastly! Rotten!" he cried.

"Oh, well," said Jack, consolingly; "don't you mind; it's better than no weather."

"Maybe you think so," replied Nicholas, sarcastically; "but you haven't a new automobile eating its head off and needing exercise. To the dickens with such weather! I wish there wasn't any weather."

Instantly the rain ceased, the clouds disappeared, and the damp chilliness of the air vanished. For a minute there was silence in the room. Then Jack said:

"By George, I must be getting paresis! What was I talking about just now, old man?"

"How do I know?" asked Nicholas. "You ought to know If you were talking about it."

"I know!" cried Jack. "Your auto! "We were talking about why you couldn't use it, but I can't remember the reason. What is the reason?"

Nicholas thought deeply.

"I don't know," he said, slowly; "but there must be some reason. I've had it four weeks now. Maybe it's out of repair."

Jack was getting out of bed.

"Dare say you're right," he said. He too went to the window.

"Well, anyway, it's a --" He paused. He was going to say it was a pleasant day, but it was not. It was no particular kind of day. In fact, it was just plain day, and that was all that could be said for it. It was not warm or cold or temperate. It was not sunny or cloudy or medium. It was neither Summer, Winter, Spring, nor Fall. Nicholas had his wish, and there was no more weather. You could see the sky and feel the air, but they had become dead and lifeless. It was impossible to tell whether the air was warm or cold, whether it was in motion or still. In short, all the wonderful phenomena classed as weather had ceased to exist, and with them had vanished all trace and memory of weather in all its forms.

When Jack turned from the window Nicholas was already well along in the process of dressing. He was eyeing a thin white linen suit with open admiration.

"Jack," he said. "I wonder why I haven't worn this suit lately? It was always becoming to me." He took it from its hook and turned it over and over, seeking a stain or tear, but there was none. He ended by donning it. He completed his toilet by pulling on a pair of low shoes and placing a straw hat on his head. Meanwhile Jack had dressed neatly in heavy boots, a fur cap, gloves, a thick blue serge suit, and a heavyweight ulster. As Nicholas looked up from the engrossing labor of dressing and caught sight of his friend's garments he frowned.

"What's the joke?" he asked.

"Joke how?" inquired Jack.

"Those clothes," said Nicholas; "you don't mean to wear them, do you?"

"Certainly I do." replied Jack, with considerable dignity. "Have you any objection?"

Nicholas made a movement with his hand indicating his own garments.

"Now. don't be foolish, old fellow," he said, in conciliatory tones, "but you know you can't wear those heavy duds. What will people think of you? I don't mind your dressing as you like, you know, but don't make an ass of yourself."

Jack reddened and buttoned his ulster over his breast.

"Oh, I say!" he cried, "that's too good! Ass of myself! Look at yourself, my lad. If you're not quite daffy, don't trot out those thin things you are masquerading in. Wear something comfortable. Bye-bye."

Once outside he strode rapidly toward the restaurant where he was accustomed to take his breakfast. As he crossed Madison Avenue a car passed. It was an open car, and the conductor wore the customary light Summer uniform. But the car passing on the down track was a closed car, and the conductor was muffled to the chin in a heavy overcoat and wore thick fur gloves. In fact, everybody on the streets was pressed according to individual fancy.

Nicholas gulped down his breakfast hastily, for, weather or no weather, it was an automobilish day, and he wished to attend to the few necessary details of his business quickly and be off to give Mabel that first ride. As he turned into Fifth Avenue and caught sight of his little shop his eyes brightened. He loved his little shop, for it had made his engagement possible, and he smiled at his gilded sign. "Nicholas Cargray, Umbrellas," as if it was an old friend.

In the rear his clerks were gathered in a group, whispering excitedly, but as Nicholas entered they suddenly became silent, and began dusting or straightening out the stock with obvious efforts to appear unconscious of having been talking together.

Nicholas entered the little box he called his office and for a while sat in deep thought. He was searching his mind, but the result was evidently unsatisfactory, for he presently opened the door and put out his head.

"Mr. Bellin!" he said, sharply.

Mr. Bellin came forward, clearing his throat in a vain attempt to appear unconcerned. He entered the little office apologetically. Mr. Bellin was the head clerk.

"Mr. Bellin," said Nicholas Cargray. "I have called you in here in order that our conversation may not be overheard by the other men. I want you to consider what I say strictly confidential. I am afraid, Mr. Bellin, that there is something a little wrong with my head today. My mind doesn't seem quite clear. I think I will leave the shop in your charge for a day or two, Mr. Bellin. I need a rest. Perhaps I shall even have to see a doctor."

"Very well, Sir," said Mr. Bellin, with evident relief. "I'm sure we can get along nicely for a day or so."

"Just so," said Nicholas, "and -- by the way -- oh," he laughed foolishly, "I know you'll think I'm daffy, Bellin, but -- what do we sell here?"

Mr. Benin's face fell.

"Sell, Sir?" he stammered. "Sell, Sir? Why --" he waved his hand toward the shelves of the shop, "why, we sell umbrellas, Sir."

"Yes." said Nicholas Cargray severely, "umbrellas! Just so! But, Mr. Bellin, what are umbrellas used for?"

For a minute Mr. Bellin hung his head and rubbed one foot against the other. Then he looked up and smiled sheepishly.

"You know, Mr. Cargray." he said, in sugary tones, "I'm a poor man, and I have a family to support, and I hope you won't discharge me before I can get another position, but I'm afraid I'm not suitable for this one any longer, Sir. I really can't account for it, Sir, but me and the boys were talking it over when you came in. Sir, and -- and -- well, we don't any of us seem to know what umbrellas are intended for." He ended by laughing helplessly and weakly.

When Nicholas Cargray heard this confession he regained his composure.

"Very well," he said, "we all seem to be in the same box. Something must be the matter with all of us. The thing to do is for you and the boys to go out and quietly inquire what umbrellas are used for. Here." he said, rummaging through some papers, "take these bills. Go to the manufacturers whose names they contain, and ask them as casually as you can. Have Jimmy run up to the Lenox Library and inquire there. And if you see people carrying umbrellas ask them. And be quick."

It was several hours before the clerks returned, but they were uniformly unsuccessful. The umbrella factories were all closed for the day, they were told. No one on the streets was carrying an umbrella. At the libraries nothing could be learned. Nicholas and his clerks held a consultation. They discussed the matter for several hours without results, when, as Mr. Bellin was opening and closing an umbrella in a vain attempt to guess its probable use, he said:

"It looks something like a parachute. Sir, but it isn't strongly enough built to hold up a man."

Nicholas Cargray uttered a shout of joy.

"Bellin!" he cried, "you've hit it! They are parachutes, but they are children's parachutes. They can't be anything else, and," he added, looking at his well-filled shelves, "there must be a big sale for them or we wouldn't have so many. But you'd better put a card in the window calling attention to it. Make it 'The largest assortment of children's parachutes in the city.'"

No sooner was the card in the window than Nicholas recognized representatives from the various umbrella shops and factories passing by. They approached the window solemnly, but when they read the card they went on their way smiling. But no one bought any children's parachutes that day.

Mr. Blair took an active interest in his daughter's welfare, and kept a sharp eye on Nicholas and his affairs. He was a shrewd businessman, and he often dropped into the umbrella shop to shake hands with Nicholas and gauge the business. On his first visit after the annihilation of the weather he saw that Nicholas was bound toward bankruptcy, so he kindly but firmly broke the engagement and forbade Nicholas the house. To both Nicholas and Mabel the blow was severe, and their lives bade fair to be ruined in consequence. Had Nicholas retained any memory of the weather he might have given the wishing talisman to some one and weather might have been wished into existence again, but in all the world, no one remembered weather, good, bad, or indifferent, and the world might have gone to ruin had it not been for the discontent of Jed Conway.

Jed was the laziest man that ever sailed on a lumber sloop from Maine to New York. He was the crew of the Sally Ann Griggs, one of the sloops that was in port at New York when the weather vanished, and finding his occupation gone, he fell into idleness and took to heavy drinking, frequenting low dives and making bad companions.

One night when considerably the worse for liquor two of his evil companions induced him to aid them in a burglarly job, and together they broke into and rifled the apartments of Nicholas Cargray.

When Jed Conway came to his senses he found himself with nothing for his share of the spoils but the wishing talisman and a load of remorse for having fallen to crime. He shipped the next day as stoker on a cattle steamer bound for Liverpool. It was on the way over, when he was perspiring before an open furnace, his back weary from shoveling coal into that rapacious maw, that he paused for a moment and said:

"By gum, I wish things was like they was when I was crew on the Sally Ann Briggs."

To this day the case of Jed Conway is referred to with awe on that Liverpool cattle steamer, for he disappeared instantly, and he has never taken the trouble to explain how: in the same instant he found himself raising the sail on the Sally Ann Briggs in a stiff breeze and pelting rain.

At the same moment Nicholas Cargray was stepping into his little shop, and as the first dash of rain spattered upon the street he cried:

"Mr. Bellin, who put this ridiculous sign 'Children's Parachutes' in this window? If it is intended for a joke, it is a remarkably bad one," and for the first time in his life Mr. Bellin had the brazenness to retort, for he smiled and glanced slyly at the garments of Nicholas Cargray.

"Yes, Sir," he said, "but not much worse than wearing a linen suit in November weather, Sir."



Saturday, October 07 at 1:21:07am USA Central
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