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"The Weather Prophet of Bad Leg" from New York Times

by Ellis Parker Butler
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from New York Times
The Weather Prophet of Bad Leg
by Ellis Parker Butler

'The Weather Prophet of Bad Leg' by Ellis Parker Butler

It was a big day for Bad Leg when Old Man Barlow climbed out of the stage and set his foot on Main Street, and all the able-bodied men in the city gathered to give him a glad welcome, for he had been well advertised.

Old Man Barlow came from somewhere down in Maine -- some little place with a big Indian jawbreaker name -- and he was daddy to Woolly Barlow, one of the most respected citizens of Bad Leg, and Woolly had let us know the old man's good points. He used to sit for hours and brag about his daddy's value to a growing city like Bad Leg, until we came to believe that if we could just get Old Man Barlow to come West and settle at Bad Leg we would have the so-called city of Ringtail beat to a finish. So we all chipped in to raise enough to pay his fare West, and he came.

When Woolly first raised the subject of the advantageousness of Old Man Barlow as a citizen of our metropolis, we naturally wanted to know the man's good points, and we asked Woolly, and the conversation went something like this:

"Is he a good worker?" we asked.

"Well, no," says Woolly, "he ain't, very."

"Is he a good fighter?"

"Well, no, he ain't, very."

"Is he a good talker?"

"Well, no, he ain't, very."

And we went on down the list until at last Copper Judkins says:

"Well, what in Sam Hill is he good for?"

"Well," says Woolly, "he's the best weather prophet you ever see. There never was a match for the old man at pointin' out what the weather will be. He seems jest a natural born predicter, and no mistake. Let me tell you -- every man in the State of Maine Is a weather prophet. You can lay your hand on any man you run across first in Maine and you'll have it on a better weather prophet than the best in any other State. Weather prophesying is a science in Maine. Kids three years old can go out doors and sniff the air a minute and say, 'Cloudy weather to-morrer,' or 'Snow 'fore nightfall, I reckon,' and hit it right every time. I don't s'pose you'll believe me, but the men have prophecy contests every Winter, when the best prophets get together from all over the State to prophesy for a championship belt. Well, my old man can give all of them four aces and win the game every time."

So that was why we paid to have Old Man Barlow come to Bad Leg, and as soon as he landed from the stage and Limpy Taylor had made his little speech of welcome and we had done the honors at Ryerson's Palace, up speaks Copper Judkins and says:

"Well, Mister Barlow, seein' as how you've been initiated into the good society of Bad Leg and are now a full-fledged citizen of the comin' metropolis of the West, what say you to giving us a little weather prophecy right now, just as a sample?"

The minute Old Man Barlow heard the word "weather" his eyes began to sparkle, and he ran his hand down his long white beard, and he says. "Boys, I see my son here has been tellin' you I'm some at foretellin' the weather, an' he ain't told no untruth. I guess the weather is one critter I know from A to Izzard and back again. I simply dote on the weather, and hev studied her all my life till I know her tricks like a book, and hev her all codified and scheduled and put into rules and maxims and poetry. Jest let me step to the door a minute."

With that he did step to the door and he looked at the sun to get his points of the compass right, and then he held out his hand in the breeze -- which wasn't the much of a breeze, but as much as we usually had at Bad Leg that time of the year -- and he says, short and decided like, "Wind's in the east; we'll have rain."

Well, Sir, you could have heard a pin drop if anybody had one to drop, but they hadn't. We was all mightily embarrassed, for the truth was that the breeze came from the east six months every year at Bad Leg, and that was during the six months of dry spell, when it never rained at all. "We ought to have told Old Man Barlow so, then and there but he was smilin' so confident like and truthful, that, seeing it was his first day in Bad Leg, we didn't have the heart to do it. So we let him go off to his son's shack without saying anything, and he went off smiling.

First thing Copper Judkins says when the old man went out was, "He's a bloomin' old fraud!" But Ryerson spoke up quick and says, "Hold on there, Copper: don't be so fast. How do you know he's a fraud? Give him a show first," says he. "Of course," he says. "I'll admit we ain't ever had rain durin' the dry spell since mortal man come to Bad Leg, but then, we ain't ever had a weather, prophet, either. Mebby that's why. If he was just a common guesser I'd say like you say -- that he's a fraud -- but he ain't a common guesser. He's the champeen prophesyer of the State of Maine, and I figger that he's got such a grip on the weather that what he says has just got to come true."

Some of us thought as Judkins did, and some of us thought like Ryerson, but the end of it was that we agreed to give Old Man Barlow a little time to prove up his case, which is to say, that we'd wait and see if it did rain like he had prophesied. Next day Old Man Barlow come out and took his place on a chair before Woolly's shack, but we noticed he looked worried and kept casting his eye off to the eastward, but no rain come. Along in the afternoon a lot of clouds passed over and the old man chirked up some, but clouds don't rain in the dry season at Bad Leg, and all they did was to pass over and by night Old Man Barlow was pretty glum, I tell you.

Well, the old man seemed to know we was losing faith in him as the days passed, and he got mighty blue and downcast, and kept away from all of us. He would just sit on his chair and keep his eye on the little weather vane he had rigged up on a post before the shack, and talk to himself. When we passed by we would hear him saying, "Wind's in the east; wind's in the east," or "Never knew it to fail before," or "She's got to rain." or some such thing.

I tell you it was mighty pitiful to see that poor old man and the faith he had in the weather, for he wouldn't lose faith. He seemed to feel hurt at the way the weather was treating him, just as if some old friend had got to acting mean, but he never believed the weather would go back on him entirely, and he sat out there in the east breeze, day after day, waiting for the weather to come back and be forgiven. It was a touching scene, and Ryerson suggested that we ought to git up a convention to petition the Almighty for rain, but none of us being much of a hand at that sort of thing, we let it drop. We figured that if faith would do the work, Old Man Barlow had enough faith to bring a deluge, but, as for us, we had never known it to rain except, after the wind, shifted to the west at the end of the dry season, so we couldn't be expected to have much faith in rain coming from the east.

Poor old Barlow got more and more downcast as the days went on, and we got to going round to try to cheer him up, but it didn't seem to do any good. He used to shake his head and say: "Boys, I never knew it to fail -- 'East wind brings rain' I've said it a thousand times, and every time I said it, it brought the rain," and then the tears would pile up in his eyes and run down and splash on the ground like rain drops, and sometimes he would think they were rain drops, and then he would look up, and when he saw the clear sky, he would drop his chin down into his whiskers and break down complete, like a little weak baby. Oh, it was terrible.

Sometimes we would walk up to him and sniff the air, and say: "Air smells damp this morning, Mister Barlow," but it never fooled him, and we couldn't get him to smile. He would just groan and shake his head in the same old doleful way.

He got worse and worse as time went on, and he got thinner and thinner, until he was a regular skeleton, and his face was like a death's head, with whiskers, and with two bright eyes looking out -- always looking out, for rain. And, then, one day he took to his bed and went out of his head. Sometimes he thought he was back in Maine and then, he would smile a poor, skinny smile; and sometimes he thought he was Noah, but the saddest was when he thought he was the east wind trying to blow a heavy watering cart through a sand desert. When he thought he was that, the toughest of us had to just sit down and cry, it was so pitiful.

Then one day he failed pretty fast, and we knew he was going, and as he fell back on the pillow with his eyes shut, the rain began to fall outside to beat sixty. When he heard it, a sweet, peaceful smile passed over his face, and he opened his eyes and said: "She's come!" and then, after a minute: "It's all right now, life is worth livin'," and he seemed to strengthen up right away.

For a little bit he lay enjoying the sound of the rain, and then he sort of raised himself on one elbow and looked out of the window, but in a minute he caught sight of his little weather vane, and the smile fled, and he fell back and died. You see, the wind was from the west.

We all stood there, thinking how sad it was, I reckon, and none of us knowing what to do or say, when all of a sudden Copper Judkins left the room. The next we saw of him he was out in the rain nailing old man Barlow's weather vane so it pointed from the east. Which leads me to remark that somehow a feller always thinks of such things after they can't do any good.



Saturday, October 07 at 1:21:36am USA Central
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