Autumn is here again with its dismal days, and the sun is hiding himself in the darkest corner of the heavens so that no one shall see how pale and aged and worn he has grown in this latter time. But while the wind whistles in the window-chinks and the rain purls in the rainspouts and a wet dog howls in front of a closed gate down below on the street and before the fire has burned down in our tile stove, I will tell you a story about the drizzle. Listen now!
For some time back the good God had become so angered over the wickedness of men that he resolved to punish them by making them still wickeder. He should, in his great goodness, have liked above all things to have drowned them all together in a new Deluge: he had not forgotten how agreeable was the sight when all living creatures perished in the flood. But unfortunately in a sentimental moment he had promised Noah never to do so again.
"Harken, my friend I" he therefore said to the Devil one day. "You are assuredly no saint, but occasionally you have good ideas, and one can talk things over with you. The children of men are wicked and do not want to improve. My patience, which is infinite, has now come to an end, and I have resolved to punish them by making them wickeder still. The fact is I hope they will then collectively destroy each other and themselves. It occurs to me that our interests — otherwise so far apart — should here for once find a point of contact. What advice can you give me?"
The Devil bit the end of his tail reflectively.
"Lord," he answered finally, "Thy wisdom is as great as Thy goodness. Statistics show that the greatest number of crimes are committed in the autumn, when the days are dismal, the sky is gray, and the earth is enveloped in rain and mist."
The good God pondered these words a long while.
"I understand," he said finally. "Your advice is good, and I will follow it. You have good gifts, my friend, but you should make better use of them."
The Devil smiled and wagged his tail, for he was flattered and touched. He then limped home.
But the good God said to himself: "Hereafter it shall always drizzle. The clouds shall never clear; the mist never lift, the sun never shine more. It shall be dark and gray to the end of time."
The umbrella makers and the overshoes manufacturers were happy at the start, but it was not long before the smile froze upon even their lips.
People do not know what importance fair weather has for them until they are for once compelled to do without it. The gay became melancholy. The melancholy became mad and hanged themselves in long rows or assembled to hold prayer-meetings. Soon no one worked anymore, and the need became great. Crime increased in a dizzying scale; the prisons were overcrowded, the madhouses afforded room for only the clever. The number of the living decreased, and their dwellings stood deserted. They instituted capital punishment for suicide; nothing did any good.
Mankind, who for so many generations had dreamed and poetized about an eternal spring, now went to meet their last days through an eternal autumn.
Day by day the destruction went on. Countrysides were laid waste, cities fell in ruins. Dogs gathered in the squares and howled; but in the alleys an old lame man went about from house to house with a sack on his back and collected souls. And every evening he limped home with his sack full.
But one evening he did not limp home. He went instead to the gate of heaven and straight on to the good God's throne. There he stood still, bowed, and said:
"Lord, Thou hast aged in these latter days. We have both of us aged, and it is for that reason we are so dull. Ah! Lord, that was bad advice I gave Thee. The sins that interest me need a bit of sunlight once in a while in order to flourish. Look here! You've made me into a miserable rubbish-gatherer."
With these words he flung his dirty sack so violently against the steps of the throne that the cord broke and the souls fluttered out. They were not black, but gray.
"That's the last of the human souls," said the Devil. "I give them to Thee, Lord. But beware of using them, if Thou intendest to create a new world!"
The wind whistles in the window chinks, the rain purls in the rain-spouts, and the story is done. He who has not understood it may console himself with the thought that it will be fair weather tomorrow.