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By Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1804-1864, 1836

A Visit to the Clerk of the Weather


"I DON'T KNOW--I have not yet spoken to the clerk of the weather,"--said I, in common parlance to my friend and kinsman, who had asked me the wise question--"Do you think we shall have an early spring?" We stood on the steps of the M---- hotel. The night was not very dark, but sundr, flakes of snow, that came wavering to the ground, served to render the vision indistinct. Nevertheless I could plainly perceive that a little old woman in a gray cloak, who was passing at the moment, had caught my words; and her small black eyes rayed up through the mist as I spoke, with an expression of intelligence rather uncomfortable to a sober citizen like myself My friend, at the same moment, turned on his heel with a slight shudder, and sought a warmer climate within. The little old woman stood at my side in a twinkling, and when I would have withdrawn myself, I felt her bony hand encircling my arm as if I had been in the grasp of a skeleton.

"Unhand me, madam, or by Heaven--"

"You have taken his name in vain," said she, in a hoarse whisper, "often enough, and it is evident that you believe not in his existence. Come with me. Nay, do not hesitate, or I will weigh your manhood against the courage of an old woman."

"On, fool!" exclaimed I.

Away scampered the old woman, and I followed--drawn by an impulse which I could not resist. Streets, houses, woods, fences, seemed running back as we progressed, so rapid was our motion. At length I was lifted from my fret and whirled through the air at such a rate that I nearly lost my breath. The gray cloak of the old woman could he discerned at some distance before me--clouds sprang apart, and rolled themselves in ridges on either hand of her as she passed, making a clear path for herself and follower. How far we travelled thus I am unable to say. But suddenly we struck the land, and I stood upon the green turf. The sun flamed full upon my head, and I now, for the first time, felt travel-worn and faint.

"I can assist you no farther," said the old woman; and in a moment she had disappeared.

At a little distance from the spot where I stood, was a pile of rocks of a singular form. About a dozen tall, slate-colored rocks--each one of which was several acres in height--had been thrown together in a circle in the form of a pyramid, the points meeting at the top. As I stood gazing at this singular structure, I observed a light smoke rising up through a small aperture on the very apex of this gigantic cone. I determined to obtain ingress to this strange dwelling, for that it was inhabited I no longer doubted. I walked around the natural fabric several times before I discovered an entrance; several rugged rocks had hidden it from my view. But the opening was large enough to admit a dozen horsemen abreast. Slowly and cautiously I entered the lofty chamber. It was about five hundred yards in circumference. Several singular objects immediately drew my attention; of course the animated forms were honored with my first notice. There were three gigantic beings lounging about in different parts of the room, while a venerable, stately old man, with long gray locks, sat at the farther side of the apartment busily engaged in writing. Before advancing to speak to any of my new acquaintances, I glanced around the rocky cavern. In one corner was piled a heap of red-hot thunderbolts. Against the wall hung several second-hand rainbows, covered with dust and much faded. Several hundred cart loads of hail-stones, two large sacks of wind, and a portable tempest, firmly secured with iron bands, next engaged my attention. But I saw that the venerable personage mentioned above had become sensible of my presence, and as he had half risen from his seat, I hastened to present myself. As I drew near to him, I was struck by the size of his massive frame and the fierce expression of his eyes. He had stuck his pen behind his ear--which pen was neither more nor less than the top of a poplar tree, which some storm had rudely disengaged from its trunk, and the butt of which he had hewed down to a proper size for dipping into his inkhorn. He took my hand into his broad palm, and squeezed it too cordially for my bodily comfort, but greatly to the satisfaction of my mind, which had experienced some painful misgivings from my first entrance. I saluted him in the fashion of my country, and he replied,

"I am tolerably well, I thank you, for an old man of three-score centuries--from whence come you?"

"I am last from Boston, sir."

"I do not recollect any planet of that name," sald he.

"I beg pardon--from the earth, I should have said."

He thought a moment. "Yes, yes, I do recollect a little mud-ball somewhere in this direction;"--he pointed with his arm--"but, truly, I had almost forgotten it. Hum! we have neglected you of late. It must be looked to. Our ally, Mr. John Frost, has had some claims on us, which we have liquidated by giving him permission to erect sundry ice-palaces, and throw up a few fortifications on your soil; but I fear the rogue has made too much of his privilege. He must be checked!"

"Really, sir, not only my gratitude, but the gratitude of all the world would be yours, if you would attend to us a little more vigilantly than you have done."

He looked grave a moment--shook his head, and rejoined--"But, sir, I have, myself; some complaints to make with regard to you. I have been somewhat slandered by your fellows, and, in truth, that was one inducement that led me to yield so readily to the request of my kinsman, Mr. Frost. You probably know there are some persons on your little planet who pretend to be of my council, and who send out little printed missiles, pretending to great ingenuity, wherein it is set forth that on such and such a day there shall be a snow-storm--a tempest--thunder and lightning--or fervent heat. Nay, some of them have carried it so far as to publish caricatures and grotesque drawings--have prophesied that there should be snow in August, and--"

Here we were interrupted by a loud hissing noise, which caused me to start and turn round.

"You must have a care. You have scorched your garments, I fear," cried my host to a squat figure, who came trudging towards us, wrapped in sheets of ice and wearing a huge wig powdered with snow.

"It is nothing, your Honor," answered the other, in a hollow voice which chilled my blood--"I only trod upon that cursed coil of chain lightning which your servant has placed so near the door to be my bane as often as I visit you!"

I was too much taken up with this uncouth visiter to notice the entrance of another guest, who had placed herself directly between me and the clerk of the weather before I beheld her. She was a lovely young damsel, dressed in a variegated gown, of the most beautiful colors, her head surmounted by a green turban, and her fret shod with moccasins of the same hue, bespangled with dew-drops. The icy dwarf shrunk aside as she approached, and lowered at her from under his thick brows. She cast a glance at him, and pouted like a spoiled child. She then turned to me, and said in a tone of ineffable sweetness,

"You are the stranger from the Earth, I conclude?"

"At your service, fair lady."

"I heard of your arrival," continued she; "and hastened to meet you. I wish to inquire after my good friends, the inhabitants of your globe. My name is Spring."

"My dear lady," said I, "your countenance would gladden the hearts of us all; I assure you that your presence has been desired and earnestly prayed for by all classes of my fellow-sufferers."

"It is too provoking!" cried she, dashing her green turban upon the ground, and stamping with her little foot until I was besprinkied with the dew-drops that it shed. "I suppose that I am blamed--nay, execrated, for my tardiness by my children of the earth--while heaven knows that I long to bound over your valleys and hills, and linger by the side of your running brooks as of yore. But that wretch--that misshapen wretch--" and she pointed at Jack Frost, for he it was, "that soulless, withering demon, holds me in his power. I brought an action against him last year; but, unfortunately, I was advised to put the case in Chancery, and summer arrived before it was decided. But assure your fellows that I will not neglect them in future. I shall be amongst them early. Mr. Frost is obliged to take a journey to the north to procure a polar bear for his wife, who has lingered amongst you, with her husband, so long, that she affects some of your customs, and must needs have a substitute for a lap-dog." She then turned away and held communion with the clerk of the weather, while I sauntered about the cavern to examine its singular contents. A gigantic fellow was sweating over the fire and cooking his master's breakfast. In a moment, I saw him ascend by a sort of rope ladder, and pick a small white cloud out of the heavens wherewith to settle the coffee. I sauntered on until I came to a heap of granite, behind which sat a dozen little black fellows, cross-legged, who were laboring with all their might to weave a thunder gust. The part of the business which seemed to puzzle them most was, the working in of the bolts, which they were obliged to handie with long pincers. Another important point was sewing on the fringe, which was made of chain lightning. While I stood surveying these apprentices, a strapping fellow came reeling towards me, and inquired whether I had visited the forge. I told him that I had not. He said that it was not now in operation, as there was a sufficient quantity of thunderbolts manufactured for present use, although there might soon be a trifle of an earthquake to patch up. I observed that his wrist was swathed with a crimson bandage, and inquired if he was injured in that part. He said that he had received a trifling scratch there, for that last year he had been commissioned to discharge several thunderbolts upon our earth, which he did to his satisfaction until he came to the last, which, having been hurled like a rocket against our globe, unfortunately alighted on the head of a certain member of Congress, where it met with so much resistance that it bounded back to the skies and grazed his wrist.

At this moment somebody seized my arm from behind; I turned my head and saw the little old woman in the gray cloak. I was hurried from the massive hall, and conveyed, with as much speed as before, back to the world from which I had set out on this strange and wonderful adventure.

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