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“Sayings, Wise and Otherwise,” by Frederic S. Cozzens; American Book Exchange, New York; 1880; pp. 223-229



Wives and Weathercocks.

T HE wind had steadily blown from the northeast, in the most spiteful manner, for three days; everything was dripping; outside of the house, a cold, cheerless prospect, from the window, of gray sky, wet and leafless trees, and lank evergreens, or of the filtering moisture soaking through the roots of the lawn-grass, or running in little woe-begone rivulets down the carriage-road. The clothes-lines, so tense from the moisture that they never could be unfastened and coiled away, were obstinately bent upon trying to uproot the posts to which they were tied in the knottiest of knots, that set both fingernails and teeth at defiance. It seemed as if one would like to go out and thrum a miserable ditty upon them of some one that had been hanged, if for no other purpose than in sheer spite, to shake off the thousand drops that hung pendent from the zigzag lines. Everything was reeking: the wheelbarrow was drizzly; the celery-trenches were half filled with yellow water; the windows on the side of the barn facing the storm were shut in; and, on the top of the barn, the wooden weathercock (which, by the way, was a fish) pointed due — due — due N. E.!

We could see it from the dining-room window. Every 224 day we looked at it, and there it was, with its forked tail obstinately turned to the S. W. Ah! as we watched that weather-fish, didn’t we keep Lent!

The house itself, which is a clever little bit of comfortable architecture in almost all weathers, began to grow comfortable inside. The fire did not seem to be as cheerful as usual. Talk of contrasts — of the cold, howling storm without, and the bright warm fire within — of the inclemency of nature on the outside of the door, and the blessed, hospitable welcome on the cozy inside! Those ideas are only rhetorical contrasts, not real! Suppose you have ever so warm a fire inside, and happen to look out of your dining-room window, and there, on your barn, is a weather-fish, with its tail steadily pointing S. W., and its head in the opposite direction, will all the cozy fires in the world bring happiness to your despairing bosom? And suppose the day was Wednesday, and you had invited that dear, old, bookish prig, Bulgrum, and his wife, Mrs. Bulgrum — who is also your wife’s dearest friend — and the three little Bulgrums, all girls, to dine with you, and partake of a plain country dinner; and you had provided a Bucks’ county turkey, with celery, to say nothing of everything else — a plain soup, for instance, to begin with, with green peas; and an oyster pâté, to help your appetite; cauliflower, as big as a bride’s bouquet, a present from the president of a horticultural society; a baked ham, with Champagne sauce, to flank the turkey, and a bit of Kennebec salmon for the fish; and as you think of the fish, your visual orb reaches through the glass window to that other fish on the barn; and there he is, 225 with his pertinacious phiz pointing forever — N. E.! N. E.! N. E.!

I would not have minded it so much if Bulgrum, who is a careful man about keeping his engagements, had not said: “Now mind you, we’ll come if it don’t rain!” And not only this, but my wife, who is rather particular in her culinary skill, and begins to prepare for a dinner a day beforehand, said to me on Wednesday morning, with a face full of falling weather: “If they don’t come, nothing will keep.”

Now, although Bulgrum, over his wine and cigar, is one of the most delightful companions — a perfect scholar and accomplished gentleman, a sort of admirable Crichton, in fact — a man who will talk, not like a book, but like a library of books, and then also talk wonderfully of new things never recorded in books; and his wife, Mrs. Bulgrum, is one of the most charming, sensible, pretty, and discreet of little women — as good as she is wise, and as tasteful as she is good-humored and witty; and the little girls of the name of Bulgrum, who are a little like father and a good deal like mother; and we felt how much we all would have enjoyed their visit to us — for I would have absorbed Bulgrum; my wife would have been knee-to-knee, the whole evening, with Mrs. Bulgrum; and our daughters would have taken the three young Bulgrums into their play-room, among their dolls’ play-houses, and such a happy time as we would have had but for that weather-fish!

One being I could make happy. If I could not conjure up our visitors, I could, at least, bring a happy smile to the face of my better half. I determined to do it. She had 226 been all the morning in the kitchen — not grumbling exactly, but smothering her grief by making pies and tarts, and attending to the preparation of the dinner generally. For she said, if it cleared off in the afternoon, they would come in the four-o’clock train; and so, with her hands full of flour, every little while she would give a sorrowful glance through the wet kitchen-windows toward the fish on the top of the barn. Meantime, I was busy with a treatise on Proverbs, in the library, in which I found many crumbs of comfort; and, among the rest, that “No good horse is of a bad color,” and that “It is an ill wind that blows nobody good,” and that “The darkest hour is first before day,” and so on; when I heard my wife’s footstep on the stairs, and I knew she was going up into the spare-room closet, after the old grandmother coffee-set, which never appeared except for company. Now was the time for me!

I speedily put myself inside a pair of mouldy boots that had grown blue with the damp weather, and, slipping on a kind of a split pea-jacket, hurried off to the barn, armed with a common gimlet. In the roof of the barn was a first-class scuttle; and, climbing a ladder, I squeezed through the hole, and was soon in possession of the headstrong, obstinate, dogged weathercock-fish, which stood sentinel on the summit of a little iron rod nailed by a crowfoot to the apex of the roof. But I must explain the mechanism of a weathercock. You take whatever animal you please for a model, and carve out his image from a shingle or other bit of soft wood. Then you bore a hole underneath and in the exact centre of him; or, if you haven’t a gimlet, you can heat the end of the kitchen-poker and burn 227 out a socket about two inches deep, and a quarter of an inch in diameter. If your poker is too large, get the village blacksmith to alter it for you. When your weathercock is all ready, just put up somewhere on the roof of your barn an upright wire that will fit the socket, upon which you can slip your vane, and try it. When the wind comes, if you have balanced him exactly upon his centre, you will find that he will point, head or tail, the way of the wind, just as it happens. So you will have to take him off again, and make the pivotal aperture a little on one side of the centre, nearer the head or tail, and you will find that the longest part of the pointer will always be turned to the quarter of the heavens opposite to that from which the wind comes. The fact is, that the true philosophy of the conduct of a weathercock is not to show which way the wind is going, but which way the current of wind has gone. In this respect, it resembles the teachings of experience. Now, all I had to do with our weathercock was to bore a hole a couple of inches abaft the centre, so as to make the head-part longest and heaviest, and then the tail would point to the northeast and the head to the southwest. I did so, set him on his pivot again, scrambled down the ladder, and as soon as possible got to the house without discovery.

By and by my wife came down-stairs with a basketful of coffee-cups. I could hear her in the dining-room busy with them, putting them to rights on the beaufet. Just then, as if to add a little to the delusion, the rain held up for a brief interval. And then I heard her! she was coming! she broke into my room in a storm of joy, seized me 228 by the arm, and, drawing me into the dining-room, pointed through the moist window at the faithless monitor on the roof, and with her eyes beaming with delight, said: “The wind has shifted! O!” she continued, “I had a presentiment they would come after all. It is only one o’clock now, and plenty of time for them to get off!” Although it rained nearly all that blessed afternoon, my wife was happy whenever the weathercock met her eye. It was the signal of hope, of blue sky and balmy breezes. And soon, when train after train had passed, and we sat down to dinner, with five empty chairs instead of guests, and I told the truth about the weathercock, yet was my wife no less pleased. “Since you did it to please me,” she said, “I have no fault to find with that deceitful weathercock.” So we all had a happy dinner, and drank the health of the Bulgrums; and I fumigated the library with a fragrant cigar afterward, and arrived at the sage conclusion that if husbands would only try to please their wives a little, and not have their weathercocks always pointing northeast, that there would be more happy households in the world and cheerful firesides, in spite of outside rain-storms.


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