The South Shore Weather Bureau
by Joseph C. Lincoln
"But," says Cap'n Jonadab and me together, jest as if we was
"reading in concert" same as the youngsters do in school, "but," we
says, "will it work? Will anybody pay for it?"
"Work?" says Peter T., with his fingers in the arm-holes of the
double-breasted danger-signal that he called a vest, and with his
cigar tilted up till you'd think 'twould set his hat-brim afire.
"Work?" says he. "Well, maybe 'twouldn't work if the ordinary brand
of canned lobster was running it, but with ME to jerk the lever and
sound the loud timbrel—why, say! it's like stealing money from a
blind cripple that's hard of hearing."
"Yes, I know," says Cap'n Jonadab. "But this ain't like starting
the Old Home House. That was opening up a brand-new kind of hotel
that nobody ever heard of before. This is peddling weather
prophecies when there's the Gov'ment Weather Bureau running
opposition—not to mention the Old Farmer's Almanac, and I don't know
how many more," he says.
Brown took his patent leathers down off the rail of the piazza,
give the ashes of his cigar a flip—he knocked 'em into my hat that
was on the floor side of his chair, but he was too excited to mind—
and he says:
"Confound it, man!" he says. "You can throw more cold water than a
fire-engine. Old Farmer's Almanac! This isn't any 'About this time
look out for snow' business. And it ain't any Washington cold slaw
like 'Weather for New England and Rocky Mountains, Tuesday to Friday;
cold to warm; well done on the edges with a rare streak in the middle,
preceded or followed by rain, snow, or clearing. Wind, north to
south, varying east and west.' No siree! this is TO-DAY'S weather for
Cape Cod, served right off the griddle on a hot plate, and cooked by
the chef at that. You don't realize what a regular dime-museum wonder
that feller is," he says.
Well, I suppose we didn't. You see, Jonadab and me, like the rest
of the folks around Wellmouth, had come to take Beriah Crocker and
his weather notions as the regular thing, like baked beans on a
Saturday night. Beriah, he—
But there! I've been sailing stern first. Let's get her headed
right, if we ever expect to turn the first mark. You see, 'twas this
'Twas in the early part of May follering the year that the "Old
Home House" was opened. We'd had the place all painted up, decks
holy-stoned, bunks overhauled, and one thing or 'nother, and the "Old
Home" was all taut and shipshape, ready for the crew— boarders, I
mean. Passages was booked all through the summer and it looked as if
our second season would be better'n our first.
Then the Dillaway girl—she was christened Lobelia, like her
mother, but she'd painted it out and cruised under the name of Belle
since the family got rich—she thought 'twould be nice to have what
she called a "spring house-party" for her particular friends 'fore the
regular season opened. So Peter—he being engaged at the time and
consequent in that condition where he'd have put on horns and "mooed"
if she'd give the order—he thought 'twould be nice, too, and for a
week it was "all hands on deck!" getting ready for the "house-party."
Two days afore the thing was to go off the ways Brown gets a letter
from Belle, and in it says she's invited a whole lot of folks from
Chicago and New York and Boston and the land knows where, and that
they've never been to the Cape and she wants to show 'em what a
"quaint" place it is. "Can't you get," says she, "two or three
delightful, queer, old 'longshore characters to be at work 'round the
hotel? It'll give such a touch of local color," she says.
So out comes Peter with the letter.
"Barzilla," he says to me, "I want some characters. Know anybody
that's a character?"
"Well," says I, "there's Nate Slocum over to Orham. He'd steal
anything that wa'n't spiked down. He's about the toughest character
I can think of, offhand, this way."
"Oh, thunder!" says Brown. "I don't want a crook; that wouldn't be
any novelty to THIS crowd," he says. "What I'm after is an odd
stick; a feller with pigeons in his loft. Not a lunatic, but jest a
queer genius—little queerer than you and the Cap'n here."
After a while we got his drift, and I happened to think of Beriah
and his chum, Eben Cobb. They lived in a little shanty over to
Skakit P'int and got their living lobstering, and so on. Both of 'em
had saved a few thousand dollars, but you couldn't get a cent of it
without giving 'em ether, and they'd rather live like Portugees than
white men any day, unless they was paid to change. Beriah's pet idee
was foretelling what the weather was going to be. And he could do it,
too, better'n anybody I ever see. He'd smell a storm further'n a cat
can smell fish, and he hardly ever made a mistake. Prided himself on
it, you understand, like a boy does on his first long pants. His
prophecies was his idols, so's to speak, and you couldn't have hired
him to foretell what he knew was wrong, not for no money.
Peter said Beriah and Eben was just the sort of "cards" he was
looking for and drove right over to see 'em. He hooked 'em, too. I
knew he would; he could talk a Come-Outer into believing that a
Unitarian wasn't booked for Tophet, if he set out to.
So the special train from Boston brought the "house-party" down,
and our two-seated buggy brought Beriah and Eben over. They didn't
have anything to do but to look "picturesque" and say "I snum!" and
"I swan to man!" and they could do that to the skipper's taste. The
city folks thought they was "just too dear and odd for anything," and
made 'em bigger fools than ever, which wa'n't necessary.
The second day of the "party" was to be a sailing trip clear down
to the life-saving station on Setuckit Beach. It certainly looked as
if 'twas going to storm, and the Gov'ment predictions said it was, but
Beriah said "No," and stuck out that 'twould clear up by and by.
Peter wanted to know what I thought about their starting, and I told
him that 'twas my experience that where weather was concerned Beriah
was a good, safe anchorage. So they sailed away, and, sure enough, it
cleared up fine. And the next day the Gov'ment fellers said "clear"
and Beriah said "rain," and she poured a flood. And, after three or
four of such experiences, Beriah was all hunky with the "house-party,"
and they looked at him as a sort of wonderful freak, like a two-headed
calf or the "snake child," or some such outrage.
So, when the party was over, 'round comes Peter, busting with a new
notion. What he cal'lated to do was to start a weather prophesying
bureau all on his own hook, with Beriah for prophet, and him for
manager and general advertiser, and Jonadab and me to help put up the
money to get her going. He argued that summer folks from Scituate to
Provincetown, on both sides of the Cape, would pay good prices for the
real thing in weather predictions. The Gov'ment bureau, so he said,
covered too much ground, but Beriah was local and hit her right on the
head. His idee was to send Beriah's predictions by telegraph to
agents in every Cape town each morning, and the agents was to hand 'em
to susscribers. First week a free trial; after that, so much per
And it worked—oh, land, yes! it worked. Peter's letters and
circulars would satisfy anybody that black was white, and the free
trial was a sure bait. I don't know why 'tis, but if you offered the
smallpox free, there'd be a barrel of victims waiting in line to come
down with it. Brown rigged up a little shanty on the bluff in front
of the "Old Home," and filled it full of barometers and thermometers
and chronometers and charts, and put Beriah and Eben inside to look
wise and make b'lieve do something. That was the office of "The South
Shore Weather Bureau," and 'twas sort of sacred and holy, and 'twould
kill you to see the boarders tip- toeing up and peeking in the winder
to watch them two old coots squinting through a telescope at the sky
or scribbling rubbish on paper. And Beriah was right 'most every
time. I don't know why— my notion is that he was born that way, same
as some folks are born lightning calculators—but I'll never forget
the first time Peter asked him how he done it.
"Wall," drawls Beriah, "now to-day looks fine and clear, don't it?
But last night my left elbow had rheumatiz in it, and this morning my
bones ache, and my right toe-j'int is sore, so I know we'll have an
easterly wind and rain this evening. If it had been my left toe now,
Peter held up both hands.
"That'll do," he says. "I ain't asking any more questions. ONLY,
if the boarders or outsiders ask you how you work it, you cut out the
bones and toe business and talk science and temperature to beat the
cars. Understand, do you? It's science or no eight-fifty in the pay
envelope. Left toe-joint!" And he goes off grinning.
We had to have Eben, though he wasn't wuth a green hand's wages as
a prophet. But him and Beriah stuck by each other like two flies in
the glue-pot, and you couldn't hire one without t'other. Peter said
'twas all right—two prophets looked better'n one, anyhow; and, as
subscriptions kept up pretty well, and the Bureau paid a fair profit,
Jonadab and me didn't kick.
In July, Mrs. Freeman—she had charge of the upper decks in the
"Old Home" and was rated head chambermaid—up and quit, and being as
we couldn't get another capable Cape Codder just then, Peter fetched
down a woman from New York; one that a friend of old Dillaway's
recommended. She was able seaman so far's the work was concerned, but
she'd been good-looking once and couldn't forget it, and she was one
of them clippers that ain't happy unless they've got a man in tow.
You know the kind: pretty nigh old enough to be a coal-barge, but all
rigged up with bunting and frills like a yacht.
Her name was Kelly, Emma Kelly, and she was a widow—whether from
choice or act of Providence I don't know. The other women servants
was all down on her, of course, 'cause she had city ways and a style
of wearing her togs that made their Sunday gowns and bonnets look like
distress signals. But they couldn't deny that she was a driver so
far's her work was concerned. She'd whoop through the hotel like a
no'theaster and have everything done, and done well, by two o'clock in
the afternoon. Then she'd be ready to dress up and go on parade to
astonish the natives.
Men—except the boarders, of course—was scarce around Wellmouth
Port. First the Kelly lady begun to flag Cap'n Jonadab and me, but
we sheered off and took to the offing. Jonadab, being a widower, had
had his experience, and I never had the marrying disease and wasn't
hankering to catch it. So Emma had to look for other victims, and the
prophet-shop looked to her like the most likely feeding-ground.
And, would you b'lieve it, them two old critters, Beriah and Eben,
gobbled the bait like sculpins. If she'd been a woman like the kind
they was used to—the Cape kind, I mean—I don't s'pose they'd have
paid any attention to her; but she was diff'rent from anything they'd
ever run up against, and the first thing you know, she had 'em both
poke-hooked. 'Twas all in fun on her part first along, I cal'late,
but pretty soon some idiot let out that both of 'em was wuth money,
and then the race was on in earnest.
She'd drop in at the weather-factory 'long in the afternoon and
pretend to be terrible interested in the goings on there.
"I don't see how you two gentlemen CAN tell whether it's going to
rain or not. I think you are the most WONDERFUL men! Do tell me,
Mr. Crocker, will it be good weather to-morrer? I wanted to take a
little walk up to the village about four o'clock if it was."
And then Beriah'd swell out like a puffing pig and put on airs and
look out of the winder, and crow:
"Yes'm, I jedge that we'll have a southerly breeze in the morning
with some fog, but nothing to last, nothing to last. The afternoon,
I cal'late, 'll be fair. I—I—that is to say, I was figgering on
goin' to the village myself to-morrer."
Then Emma would pump up a blush, and smile, and purr that she was
SO glad, 'cause then she'd have comp'ny. And Eben would glower at
Beriah and Beriah'd grin sort of superior-like, and the mutual
barometer, so's to speak, would fall about a foot during the next
hour. The brotherly business between the two prophets was coming to
an end fast, and all on account of Mrs. Kelly.
She played 'em even for almost a month; didn't show no preference
one way or the other. First 'twas Eben that seemed to be eating up
to wind'ard, and then Beriah'd catch a puff and gain for a spell.
Cap'n Jonadab and me was uneasy, for we was afraid the Weather Bureau
would suffer 'fore the thing was done with; but Peter was away, and we
didn't like to interfere till he come home.
And then, all at once, Emma seemed to make up her mind, and 'twas
all Eben from that time on. The fact is, the widder had learned,
somehow or 'nother, that he had the most money of the two. Beriah
didn't give up; he stuck to it like a good one, but he was falling
behind and he knew it. As for Eben, he couldn't help showing a
little joyful pity, so's to speak, for his partner, and the
atmosphere in that rain lab'ratory got so frigid that I didn't know
but we'd have to put up a stove. The two wizards was hardly on
The last of August come and the "Old Home House" was going to close
up on the day after Labor Day. Peter was down again, and so was
Ebenezer and Belle, and there was to be high jinks to celebrate the
season's wind-up. There was to be a grand excursion and clambake at
Setuckit Beach and all hands was going—four catboats full.
Of course, the weather must be good or it's no joy job taking
females to Setuckit in a catboat. The night before the big day,
Peter came out to the Weather Bureau and Jonadab and me dropped in
likewise. Beriah was there all alone; Eben was out walking with
"Well, Jeremiah," says Brown, chipper as a mack'rel gull on a spar-
buoy, "what's the outlook for to-morrer? The Gov'ment sharp says
there's a big storm on the way up from Florida. Is he right, or only
an 'also ran,' as usual?"
"Wall," says Beriah, goin' to the door, "I don't know, Mr. Brown.
It don't look just right; I swan it don't! I can tell you better in
the morning. I hope 'twill be fair, too, 'cause I was cal'lating to
get a day off and borrer your horse and buggy and go over to the
Ostable camp-meeting. It's the big day over there," he says.
Now, I knew of course, that he meant he was going to take the
widder with him, but Peter spoke up and says he:
"Sorry, Beriah, but you're too late. Eben asked me for the horse
and buggy this morning. I told him he could have the open buggy; the
other one's being repaired, and I wouldn't lend the new surrey to the
Grand Panjandrum himself. Eben's going to take the fair Emma for a
ride," he says. "Beriah, I'm afraid our beloved Cobb is, in the
innocence of his youth, being roped in by the sophisticated damsel in
the shoo-fly hat," says he.
Me and Jonadab hadn't had time to tell Peter how matters stood
betwixt the prophets, or most likely he wouldn't have said that. It
hit Beriah like a snowslide off a barn roof. I found out afterwards
that the widder had more'n half promised to go with HIM. He slumped
down in his chair as if his mainmast was carried away, and he didn't
even rise to blow for the rest of the time we was in the shanty. Just
set there, looking fishy-eyed at the floor.
Next morning I met Eben prancing around in his Sunday clothes and
with a necktie on that would make a rainbow look like a mourning
"Hello!" says I. "You seem to be pretty chipper. You ain't going
to start for that fifteen-mile ride through the woods to Ostable, be
you? Looks to me as if 'twas going to rain."
"The predictions for this day," says he, "is cloudy in the
forenoon, but clearing later on. Wind, sou'east, changing to south
"Did Beriah send that out?" says I, looking doubtful, for if ever
it looked like dirty weather, I thought it did right then.
"ME and Beriah sent it out," he says, jealous-like. But I knew
'twas Beriah's forecast or he wouldn't have been so sure of it.
Pretty soon out comes Peter, looking dubious at the sky.
"If it was anybody else but Beriah," he says, "I'd say this
mornings prophecy ought to be sent to Puck. Where is the seventh son
of the seventh son—the only original American seer?"
He wasn't in the weather-shanty, and we finally found him on one of
the seats 'way up on the edge of the bluff. He didn't look 'round
when we come up, but just stared at the water.
"Hey, Elijah!" says Brown. He was always calling Beriah "Elijah"
or "Isaiah" or "Jeremiah" or some other prophet name out of
Scripture. "Does this go?" And he held out the telegraph-blank with
the morning's prediction on it.
Beriah looked around just for a second. He looked to me sort of
sick and pale—that is, as pale as his sun-burned rhinoceros hide
would ever turn.
"The forecast for to-day," says he, looking at the water again, "is
cloudy in the forenoon, but clearing later on. Wind sou'east,
changing to south and sou'west."
"Right you are!" says Peter, joyful. "We start for Setuckit, then.
And here's where the South Shore Weather Bureau hands another swift
jolt to your Uncle Sam."
So, after breakfast, the catboats loaded up, the girls giggling and
screaming, and the men boarders dressed in what they hoped was sea-
togs. They sailed away 'round the lighthouse and headed up the
shore, and the wind was sou'east sure and sartin, but the "clearing"
part wasn't in sight yet.
Beriah didn't watch 'em go. He stayed in the shanty. But by and
by, when Eben drove the buggy out of the barn and Emma come skipping
down the piazza steps, I see him peeking out of the little winder.
The Kelly critter had all sail sot and colors flying. Her dress
was some sort of mosquito netting with wall-paper posies on it, and
there was more ribbons flapping than there is reef-p'ints on a
mainsail. And her hat! Great guns! It looked like one of them
pictures you see in a flower-seed catalogue.
"Oh!" she squeals, when she sees the buggy. "Oh! Mr. Cobb. Ain't
you afraid to go in that open carriage? It looks to me like rain."
But Eben waved his flipper, scornful. "My forecast this morning,"
says he, "is cloudy now, but clearing by and by. You trust to me,
Mis' Kelly. Weather's my business."
"Of COURSE I trust you, Mr. Cobb," she says, "Of course I trust
you, but I should hate to spile my gown, that's all."
They drove out of the yard, fine as fiddlers, and I watched 'em go.
When I turned around, there was Beriah watching 'em too, and he was
smiling for the first time that morning. But it was one of them kind
of smiles that makes you wish he'd cry.
At ha'f-past ten it begun to sprinkle; at eleven 'twas raining
hard; at noon 'twas a pouring, roaring, sou'easter, and looked good
for the next twelve hours at least.
"Good Lord! Beriah," says Cap'n Jonadab, running into the Weather
Bureau, "you've missed stays THIS time, for sure. Has your
prophecy-works got indigestion?" he says.
But Beriah wasn't there. The shanty was closed, and we found out
afterwards that he spent that whole day in the store down at the
By two o'clock 'twas so bad that I put on my ileskins and went over
to Wellmouth and telephoned to the Setuckit Beach life-saving station
to find out if the clambakers had got there right side up. They'd got
there; fact is, they was in the station then, and the language Peter
hove through that telephone was enough to melt the wires. 'Twas all
in the shape of compliments to the prophet, and I heard Central tell
him she'd report it to the head office. Brown said 'twas blowing so
they'd have to come back by the inside channel, and that meant landing
'way up Harniss way, and hiring teams to come to the Port with from
'Twas nearly eight when they drove into the yard and come slopping
up the steps. And SUCH a passel of drownded rats you never see. The
women-folks made for their rooms, but the men hopped around the
parlor, shedding puddles with every hop, and hollering for us to trot
out the head of the Weather Bureau.
"Bring him to me," orders Peter, stopping to pick his pants loose
from his legs; "I yearn to caress him."
And what old Dillaway said was worse'n that.
But Beriah didn't come to be caressed. 'Twas quarter past nine
when we heard wheels in the yard.
"By mighty!" yells Cap'n Jonadab; "it's the camp-meeting pilgrims.
I forgot them. Here's a show."
He jumped to open the door, but it opened afore he got there and
Beriah come in. He didn't pay no attention to the welcome he got
from the gang, but just stood on the sill, pale, but grinning the
grin that a terrier dog has on just as you're going to let the rat
out of the trap.
Somebody outside says: "Whoa, consarn you!" Then there was a
thump and a sloshy stamping on the steps, and in comes Eben and the
I had one of them long-haired, foreign cats once that a British
skipper gave me. 'Twas a yeller and black one and it fell overboard.
When we fished it out it looked just like the Kelly woman done then.
Everybody but Beriah just screeched—we couldn't help it. But the
prophet didn't laugh; he only kept on grinning.
Emma looked once round the room, and her eyes, as well as you could
see 'em through the snarl of dripping hair and hat-trimming, fairly
snapped. Then she went up the stairs three steps at a time.
Eben didn't say a word. He just stood there and leaked. Leaked
and smiled. Yes, sir! his face, over the mess that had been that
rainbow necktie, had the funniest look of idiotic joy on it that ever
_I_ see. In a minute everybody else shut up. We didn't know what to
make of it.
'Twas Beriah that spoke first.
"He! he! he!" he chuckled. "He! he! he! Wasn't it kind of wet
coming through the woods, Mr. Cobb? What does Mrs. Kelly think of
the day her beau picked out to go to camp-meeting in?"
Then Eben came out of his trance.
"Beriah," says he, holding out a dripping flipper, "shake!"
But Beriah didn't shake. Just stood still.
"I've got a s'prise for you, shipmate," goes on Eben. "Who did you
say that lady was?"
Beriah didn't answer. I begun to think that some of the wet had
soaked through the assistant prophet's skull and had give him water
on the brain.
"You called her Mis' Kelly, didn't you?" gurgled Eben. "Wall, that
ain't her name. Her and me stopped at the Baptist parsonage over to
East Harniss when we was on the way home and got married. She's Mis'
Cobb now," he says.
Well, the queerest part of it was that 'twas the bad weather was
really what brought things to a head so sudden. Eben hadn't spunked
up anywhere nigh enough courage to propose, but they stopped at
Ostable so long, waiting for the rain to let up, that 'twas after dark
when they was half way home. Then Emma—oh, she was a slick
one!—said that her reputation would be ruined, out that way with a
man that wa'n't her husband. If they was married now, she said—and
even a dummy could take THAT hint.
I found Beriah at the weather-shanty about an hour afterwards with
his head on his arms. He looked up when I come in.
"Mr. Wingate," he says, "I'm a fool, but for the land's sake don't
think I'm SUCH a fool as not to know that this here storm was bound
to strike to-day. I lied," he says; "I lied about the weather for
the first time in my life; lied right up and down so as to get her
mad with him. My repertation's gone forever. There's a feller in
the Bible that sold his—his birthday, I think 'twas—for a mess of
porridge. I'm him; only," and he groaned awful, "they've cheated me
out of the porridge."
But you ought to have read the letters Peter got next day from
subscribers that had trusted to the prophecy and had gone on picnics
and such like. The South Shore Weather Bureau went out of business