Short Stories
All Titles

In Association with Amazon.com

Home > Authors Index > Browse all available works of Helen Hunt Jackson > Text of Rainy Days

An essay by Helen Hunt Jackson

Rainy Days

Title:     Rainy Days
Author: Helen Hunt Jackson [More Titles by Jackson]

With what subtle and assured tyranny they take possession of the world! Stoutest hearts are made subject, plans of conquerors set aside,--the heavens and the earth and man,--all alike at the mercy of the rain. Come when they may, wait long as they will, give what warnings they can, rainy days are always interruptions. No human being has planned for them then and there. "If it had been but yesterday," "If it were only to-morrow," is the cry from all lips. Ah! a lucky tyranny for us is theirs. Were the clouds subject to mortal call or prohibition, the seasons would fail and death get upper hand of all things before men agreed on an hour of common convenience.

What tests they are of people's souls! Show me a dozen men and women in the early morning of a rainy day, and I will tell by their words and their faces who among them is rich and who is poor,--who has much goods laid up for just such times of want, and who has been spend-thrift and foolish. That curious, shrewd, underlying instinct, common to all ages, which takes shape in proverbs recognized this long ago. Who knows when it was first said of a man laying up money, "He lays by for a rainy day"? How close the parallel is between the man who, having spent on each day's living the whole of each day's income, finds himself helpless in an emergency of sickness whose expenses he has no money to meet, and the man who, having no intellectual resources, no self-reliant habit of occupation, finds himself shut up in the house idle and wretched for a rainy day. I confess that on rainy mornings in country houses, among well-dressed and so-called intelligent and Christian people, I have been seized with stronger disgusts and despairs about the capacity and worth of the average human creature, than I have ever felt in the worst haunts of ignorant wickedness.

"What is there to do to-day?" is the question they ask. I know they are about to ask it before they speak. I have seen it in their listless and disconcerted eyes at breakfast. It is worse to me than the tolling of a bell; for saddest dead of all are they who have only a "name to live."

The truth is, there is more to do on a rainy day than on any other. In addition to all the sweet, needful, possible business of living and working, and learning and helping, which is for all days, there is the beauty of the rainy day to see, the music of the rainy day to hear. It drums on the window-panes, chuckles and gurgles at corners of houses, tinkles in spouts, makes mysterious crescendoes and arpeggio chords through the air; and all the while drops from the eaves and upper window-ledges are beating time as rhythmical and measured as that of a metronome,--time to which our own souls furnish tune, sweet or sorrowful, inspiriting or saddening, as we will. It is a curious experiment to try repeating or chanting lines in time and cadence following the patter of raindrops on windows. It will sometimes be startling in its effect: no metre, no accent fails of its response in the low, liquid stroke of the tender drops,--there seems an uncanny _rapport_ between them at once.

And the beauty of the rain, not even love can find words to tell it. If it left but one trace, the exquisite shifting sheen of pearls on the outer side of the window glass, that alone one might watch for a day. In all times it has been thought worthy of kings, of them who are royally rich, to have garments sown thick in dainty lines and shapes with fine seed pearls. Who ever saw any such embroidery which could compare with the beauty of one pane of glass wrought on a single side with the shining white transparent globulets of rain? They are millions; they crowd; they blend; they become a silver stream; they glide slowly down, leaving tiniest silver threads behind; they make of themselves a silver bank of miniature sea at the bottom of the pane; and, while they do this, other millions are set pearl-wise at the top, to crowd, blend, glide down in their turn, and overflow the miniature sea. This is one pane, a few inches square; and rooms have many windows of many panes. And looking past this spectacle, out of our windows, how is it that we do not each rainy day weep with pleasure at sight of the glistening show? Every green thing, from tiniest grass-blade lying lowest, to highest waving tips of elms, also set thick with the water-pearls; all tossing and catching, and tossing and catching, in fairy game with the wind, and with the rain itself, always losing, always gaining, changing shape and place and number every moment, till the twinkling and shifting dazzle all eyes.

Then at the end comes the sun, like a magician for whom all had been made ready; at sunset, perhaps, or at sunrise, if the storm has lasted all night. In one instant the silver balls begin to disappear. By countless thousands at a time he tosses them back whence they came; but as they go, he changes them, under our eyes, into prismatic globes, holding very light of very light in their tiny circles, shredding and sorting it into blazing lines of rainbow color.

All the little children shout with delight, seeing these things; and call dull, grown-up people to behold. They reply, "Yes, the storm is over;" and this is all it means to most of them. This kingdom of heaven they cannot enter, not being "as a little child."

It would be worth while to know, if we only could, just what our betters--the birds and insects and beasts--do on rainy days. But we cannot find out much. It would be a great thing to look inside of an ant-hill in a long rain. All we know is that the doors are shut tight, and a few sentinels, who look as if India-rubber coats would be welcome, stand outside. The stillness and look of intermission in the woods on a really rainy day is something worth getting wet to observe. It is like Sunday in London, or Fourth of July in a country town which has gone bodily to a picnic in the next village. The strays who are out seem like accidentally arrived people, who have lost their way. One cannot fancy a caterpillar's being otherwise than very uncomfortable in wet hair; and what can there be for butterflies and dragon-flies to do, in the close corners into which they creep, with wings shut up as tight as an umbrella? The beasts fare better, being clothed in hides. Those whom we oftenest see out in rains (cows and oxen and horses) keep straight on with their perpetual munching, as content wet as dry, though occasionally we see them accept the partial shelter of a tree from a particularly hard shower.

Hens are the forlornest of all created animals when it rains. Who can help laughing at sight of a flock of them huddled up under lee of a barn, limp, draggled, spiritless, shifting from one leg to the other, with their silly heads hanging inert to right or left, looking as if they would die for want of a yawn? One sees just such groups of other two-legged creatures in parlors, under similar circumstances. The truth is, a hen's life at best seems poorer than that of any other known animal. Except when she is setting, I cannot help having a contempt for her. This also has been recognized by that common instinct of people which goes to the making of proverbs; for "Hen's time ain't worth much" is a common saying among farmers' wives. How she dawdles about all day, with her eyes not an inch from the ground, forever scratching and feeding in dirtiest places,--a sort of animated muck-rake, with a mouth and an alimentary canal! No wonder such an inane creature is wretched when it rains, and her soulless business is interrupted. She is, I think, likest of all to the human beings, men or women, who do not know what to do with themselves on rainy days.

[The end]
Helen Hunt Jackson's essay: Rainy Days