"Yas, suh," the darky replied, "Ah knows there is."
"Go ahead and get it then," the observer asked, "and let me have a piece of string."
He fastened the string to the bottom of the pole and awaited the return of Dan'l with the whitewash. In a moment the old negro came back with the pail.
"Now," said the Forecaster, "I'm going to hold this string right at the end, and, holding it tightly, walk around the pole. What kind of a figure will that make?"
"A circle," answered the two boys.
"Right. Dan'l, you take the brush and whitewash a narrow line right behind my hand as I move the string round."
Dan'l stooped down and rapidly painted in the circle, as the Forecaster moved the string.
"Next," said the Weather Man, "we'll make another circle, a little closer in."
"At any special distance, sir?" asked Anton.
"No," was the reply. "It doesn't matter. Any distance at all will do."
A second, and again a third circle was thus made.
"Tie a piece of rope around the pole," was the next direction, "as high as you can reach."
This only took a minute.
"Now, boys," the Forecaster said, "all that you have to do is to watch when the shadow of the rope crosses those three circles. Put in a peg this evening when it crosses the inside one, then the middle and then the outside. To-morrow morning, mark with pegs the place where the shadow crosses the same circles on the other side, only, of course, it will cross the outer one first."
"Then what shall we do, sir?" asked Anton.
"Have you a long straight board?" he asked in reply.
"Plenty of them," the younger lad answered.
"Good. Well then, to-morrow morning lay that board so that its edge touches the two points where the shadow of the rope on the pole crossed the outer circle and let Dan'l whitewash a straight line joining the two points. Do the same with the second and with the inside circles."
"Yes?" queried the lad eagerly, "and then?"
"You'll have three parallel lines," the Forecaster said, "the outer one longer and the next two shorter. Bisect those lines. Do you know how to do that?"
The younger lad shook his head.
"Only by measuring with a bit of string and doubling the string," he said.
The Forecaster took a pencil and an envelope out of his pocket.
"It's quite simple," he explained. "Fasten a string to the peg at one end of the line you want to divide in half. Stretch the string along the line till you come to the end of this line. Then make a circle. Do the same thing from the other end of the line. That will give you two circles crossing one another. With the board, draw a straight line joining the points where the circles cross.
"To be exact, bisect the line on the middle and on the inner circles in the same way. You'll find they all come out the same. The bisecting line, reaching from the pole, and crossing the bisected lines is called the plane of the meridian. If I were you, I'd make that line a permanent mark by pressing into the ground a row of stones, or those white clay marbles. Then the rain can destroy the other whitewash lines, without doing any harm, because you've got what you were after."
"But how is that going to show the time?" queried Ross.
"Because," said the Forecaster with a smile, "whenever the shadow of the pole lies along the line of white marbles, which marks the meridian plane, it is exactly twelve o'clock by sun time."
"Without any measuring as to length?"
"Without any measuring at all."
"That ain't no clock, Mistah Levin," the darky announced in a superior way. "Ah don't hold with no clock like that."
"Why not, Dan'l?"
"Ah gets hungry other times besides noon," he said. "Ah'd only eat once a day by that clock. No, suh, Ah wants a clock that tells every hour o' the day, not jest noon-time.
"Ah got another clock that don't never need no mending, not in summer-time," continued Dan'l. "My marigolds open at seven sharp every mornin' an' wink their eyes at me an' say 'Dan'l, yo're hungry,' and Ah sho' is. An' jest before six o'clock in the evenin', the white moon-flowers say, 'Dan'l, time fo' supper and yo' little white bed.' An' dey's right, too. Don't need no sun-clocks."
"I'm like Dan'l," put in Anton, "I'd like to be able to tell every hour, not just twelve o'clock only!"
"Well," the Forecaster answered cheerfully, "you can make your sun-clock that way if you like."
"Can we, sir?" asked Anton. "How?"
"By using your pole as the style or upright of a sun-dial. Before clocks were invented, people told the time by sun-dials, and there was a whole science of sun-dials, called gnomonics. It was quite a difficult mathematical science. Even after clocks and watches came into use, sun-dials continued to be used as time-pieces, because watches and clocks were expensive and there were few mechanics who could mend them."
"I've been wondering—" began Anton.
"Let's make a sun-dial here, Mr. Levin?" asked Ross, finishing Anton's sentence. "We can, can't we?"
"Certainly. You can make a sun-dial anywhere. If you had to do it without a watch, you might find it a little difficult, of course, but it can be done. For example, I can tell you off-hand that for this latitude here, the angle between noon and eleven o'clock, is a little over nine degrees, while it is nearly ten degrees at New York.
"Since you've got a watch, however, it's quite easy. Your meridian line marks twelve o'clock, and a line drawn at right angles to it, from the base of the pole, inclined to an angle corresponding to the latitude, will mark six o'clock, morning and evening. If you'll put in a peg on the circle that Dan'l whitewashed, exactly at the place where the shadow touches when it is one o'clock, two o'clock and so forth on your watch, the watch having been made to agree with the shadow at noon, your sun-dial will be right all the year, round. You don't need to mark anything earlier than four in the morning or later than eight in the evening, as even on the longest day, here, the sun does not rise before that time nor set after it. You don't have to get up before six o'clock to mark the hours, as the lines are the extension of the four and five lines of the afternoon."
"Let's do it!" cried Anton. "We'll make a clock with white stones, just that way! Couldn't I divide it up into five minute distances, like a regular clock, Mr. Levin?"
"Yes," the Forecaster answered, "if your circle is big enough. And if you wanted to do the thing in the way that it used to be done, you could have a little motto running all around the circle, just picked out in white stones."
"What kind of a motto, sir?"
"All kinds were used," the other answered, "I remember one that read 'Pass On'; another 'Do not linger'; but the one I like best is the old Latin one which ran 'I count only the bright hours.' I suppose you've heard the story of the American sun-dial motto?"
"No, sir," said both boys together.
"You knew that the sun-dial is one of the official emblems of the United States?"
"I never heard of it," Ross exclaimed.
"It is. It was used on some of the earliest American coins. Last century, in London, one of the courts of justice, known as the Inner Temple, gave an order to a sun-dial maker to put up a dial. He asked for a motto, and was told to come the next day for it. Next day it was not ready, nor the day after. Still the dial-maker persisted. At last, one day, in making his request, he interrupted an important meeting, and the chairman turned to him quite impatiently and said:
"'Sirrah! Begone about your business!'
"'A very good motto,' said the dial-maker, not realizing that the command was meant personally for him, and he engraved the words on the dial. When the lawyers of the Inner Temple saw the motto, they agreed that nothing could be better, though it had never been intended.
"When our first coinage was discussed, Benjamin Franklin was on the committee and he suggested that a sun-dial should be used. As, however, the coinage would go to the people instead of the people going to the sun-dial, he suggested the old motto with a change. This motto read:
"'Mind Your Business!'"
"That's good, too," exclaimed Anton.
"Very good. So that phrase was engraved on the American coinage, and on some money that was issued by the State of New York, over a century ago. You could use whichever motto you liked best."
"I'll use the American one!" declared Anton enthusiastically. "I've a lot of those marbles. I'm going right off now to see if I haven't enough."
He shifted his crutch to a more comfortable position under his arms and pegged across the yard to the house as hard as he could go.
"I've noticed," said the Forecaster, as he looked after the limping boy, "that Anton seems a lot happier since the flood. He used to be such a mournful little fellow."
"It's this weather work you started him on," the boy answered. "It means a lot to him."
"Ross," said the Weather expert, "I've been thinking a good deal about Anton and about all the rest of you boys in this neighborhood. Issaquena county is over ninety per cent colored and there aren't very many of you white boys, but the dozen or so that are here seem to me to be mighty good American stuff."
"They're a dandy lot," Ross agreed.
"Have any of you boys thought at all about what's going to happen to Anton, when he grows up? His father hasn't money enough to send him to college, or anything like that, especially since he lost so much by the flood, and, being a cripple, Anton's not going to have much of a chance on the plantation."
"I hadn't thought of it," Ross answered, "but it does seem as if he were up against it, doesn't it?"
"Why don't you boys make it easy for him?"
"How, Mr. Levin? We would in a minute, any of us. Everybody likes Anton."
"Look here," said the Weather Man, putting his hand on Ross's shoulder, "I know from experience that when you suggest something worth doing to a bunch of American boys, they're mighty apt to go ahead with it. Now, as you said yourself, Anton seems to have a real interest in these weather observations. His father tells me he's never two minutes late in taking them. Making this sun-dial is another example of the same thing. What I'm thinking is this—why couldn't Anton be taken in hand and taught to fit himself for the Weather Bureau? I'll teach him mathematics as my share, but you boys will have to do your bit."
"What could we do?"
"Suppose—of course, without letting Anton know why you're doing it—suppose you boys got together and took up this weather plan as a sort of outdoor club. You could meet here at Anton's place. If all his chums were interested and having a natural earnestness, I'm sure he'd work like fury at it. It would give him a real chance, and, what's more, I believe you chaps would like doing it."
"Make a Weather Bureau of our own, Mr. Levin? I think it would be great!"
"I think myself that you'd get a lot of fun out of it," said the Forecaster, "but the real idea is that you'd be helping Anton, yes, helping him more even than when you rescued him from the drifting house during the flood, because you'd be giving him a start in life. It's a piece of work that's worth the doing, Ross."
"It's a bully scheme, sir," agreed the boy, waving his hand to another lad who was coming up the road. "I'm game to do all I can."
"You'll have a good deal to do," the Weather Man warned him. "I know you're practically the leader of the neighborhood and the boys follow you. I've spoken to a few of the fellows and asked them to meet me here this afternoon, but I wanted to see you first. I've just come from your house and they said you were over here. It's got to be a boys' deal, through and through."
Ross thought for a moment.
"You said, sir, we oughtn't to let Anton know. I think, perhaps, we ought to keep it dark. But I'd like to talk to Bob Portlett about it, if you don't mind. He doesn't talk much, but the chaps put a lot of stock in what he says. Bob and I are pretty thick, you know."
"Of course, talk things over with him. I spoke to him about it yesterday. You two go into executive session, while I go up to the house a minute."
He nodded to Bob and strode off across the yard.
"Levin been talking to you about Anton, Bob?" Ross asked, as soon as the Forecaster was out of hearing.
"Yes," answered Bob, in his abrupt way. "He said you knew all about it."
"He only sprung it on me just a few minutes ago," Ross rejoined, "but I think it's a dandy idea," and he proceeded to relate to his friend the outline of the plan. When he had finished, Bob nodded his head.
"Count me in," he said, "I'll do anything for Anton."
"What'll you do?"
"Wireless," was the brief reply.
"What's that got to do with weather?"
"A lot. I got my new big sending apparatus yesterday and I've got a transmitting license."
"Have you?" said Ross in surprise. "I thought they were so awfully hard to get. Don't you have to pass an examination, or something?"
"Yes. I passed it. I've still got the small apparatus I used to have, the one you know. I'll give that to Anton, teach him to work it. He can send me his observations and I'll transmit. I've a lot of amateur stations on my string. How's that?"
"Fine!" declared Ross enthusiastically, "it would keep the observations up to scratch if the chaps knew they were going to be used. Who else do you think would join in?"
One by one the two lads discussed the other boys in the neighborhood. Meanwhile, many of them had arrived and were clustering around Mr. Levin and Anton, asking innumerable questions about the new sun-dial. Dan'l was giving out information freely, and one of the puppies had taken exception to the whitewash line and was barking at it with high puppy-toned barks. Presently Ross caught the Forecaster's eye, and came over and joined the group.
"I've just been telling the fellows, Ross," said the Weather Man, speaking as though the lad knew nothing about it, "that we've a good chance in this county to give a hand to the Weather Bureau. I'm out of the work, now, of course, but my heart's in it yet, and I'd like to see Issaquena County put on the map. We haven't got an observer's station in the entire county. Weather's the most important thing in the world and we've only just begun to learn how wonderful it is.
"Every one of you boys has seen what it means when the Mississippi gets in flood, and most of you could guess what would have happened last spring if the Weather Bureau hadn't given any warnings. As it was, nobody was drowned, all the way down the river. In the Johnstown Flood, just because it was a case in which no warning could be given, over two thousand people were killed.
"Think of it, boys, if we could get together and map out the weather in every square mile of this county, we could make this district the best kept and most famous meteorological centre in the world!
"I know, sometimes, it seems as if we were a good deal out of things, here. There's not a town of any size in the county, one day's a good deal like another, and we're apt to think of places like New York, Chicago, New Orleans and San Francisco as being the fighting centres of the nation's life.
"Yet, right here, right over our heads, the never-ending battle of the weather goes on, with its brigades of warring clouds, its wind-cavalry and its artillery of storm. The sky holds more secrets than the city does and there's a lot of adventurous work to be done. Which of you is game to do it? Who'll volunteer?"
An excited babble of answers greeted him.
"I will, Mr. Levin!" cried one.
"Sure!" said another.
"Put me down for it," proclaimed a third, voicing the general sentiment.
Ross brought the matter to a point.
"The way I feel about it," he said, "I reckon we'd all like to tackle something like that. And, I tell you, chaps, it would be bully for us to have a club-house of our own."
"A club-house!" cried one.
"Yes," said Ross, "Anton's father is ready to give us the old barn. He says we can fix it up any way we like."
"All for our own?"
"Yes, to do anything we like with. Mr. Levin has given me some bully ideas about things we can do, and Bob's thought up a scheme that's just great!" and he proceeded to explain the lad's offer of wireless.
The enthusiasm of the boys was rapidly growing. With the Forecaster behind him, with Anton's rain-gauge, with the new sun-dial staring them in the face, with Bob's plan for the wireless plant, with a club-house of their own and the admitted leadership of Ross, the whole group was swinging into line.
"Tell you what I'll do for my share, fellows," said another of the boys. "You know that printing-press of mine?"
"You mean the one you printed the pirate flags on, Fred?" queried Ross, referring to the Treasure Island period when the boat was made.
"Yes. Ever since Dad found that he had to use the shed I used to keep the press in, I haven't had much chance to get at it. I'll ship the press over here, if there'd be room for it in our club-house," the words were said with great pride. "We could print a little weekly paper. I wanted to do that last year, but Dad said that he didn't want me to print nothing but gossip, and there didn't seem anything else to write. If we really had some stuff worth reading, like weather news, I'm sure I could make it go. Enough, anyhow, to pay for paper and mailing."
"You think we ought to issue a regular weather bulletin," said Ross. "That's a good notion, Fred."
"I'll let you have some of my stories," said one.
"Or Fatty's jokes," suggested another, dodging a nudge of the elbow from his neighbor.
"A weather bulletin would be a good thing," the Forecaster said, approvingly.
"What could the rest of us do?" asked an alert youngster. "I haven't a printing-press, or a wireless apparatus or anything else."
"Nor have I," said two or three voices.
The Forecaster looked quickly at Ross. This was a crucial point. It was Anton who answered.
"You've got plenty of wind at your place, Lee, haven't you?" he asked.
The lad laughed.
"Pop says it's the windiest place in the county," he answered, "poked right up there on the top of that knoll."
"You ought to be the official wind-measurer," the crippled lad declared. "There is a way to measure wind, isn't there, Mr. Levin?"
"Certainly," the Forecaster answered, "it's a very necessary thing to do, too."
"Pete's camera!" interjected the laconic Bob.
"What's the good of that?" broke in its owner. "You can't snap-shot the wind, at least not that I've ever seen."
"Clouds!" said Bob.
"That's right," agreed Anton, "you could photograph the clouds, Pete. Suppose you took a snap-shot of the sky every day, at the same time, for a year, it would make a peach of a series."
"The Bureau at Washington would be glad of a series like that," put in the Forecaster. "So far as that's concerned, Pete, I'd buy a daily print for my own use. I couldn't pay much, of course, but enough to meet the cost of materials."
Pete brightened up.
"I'll do that, quicker'n a wink," he said. "I've snapshotted about everything else around here, but I never thought of the sky."
"You could tackle eclipses and halos and rainbows and lightning—all sorts of things," suggested Anton.
"Right-o!" answered Pete, "you can put me down as official photographer."
"I don't see," said one of the smaller lads, "where that rain-gauge is so hard to make. I'll make one and put it up at my place."
"Dad's got an old barometer," suggested another, "that he used to have when he was a steamboat skipper. I'm sure he'd let me have it. It's in the attic now, where nobody looks at it."
"Some of us might measure the amount of sunshine," said Ross. "Isn't there some way of doing that, Mr. Levin?"
"Indeed there is," the Forecaster replied. "Why, in some places, they run machinery by sunshine. There is a big solar engine at Pasadena, in California, where they pump water and irrigate an orchard just by an arrangement of mirrors. Even a small one would run quite a good-sized engine."
"Gimme that! Oh, gimme that!" burst in another of the boys, who had been passive theretofore but who was absorbed in mechanics. "I'll be tickled to have an engine run by sunshine."
The Weather Forecaster looked around with a smile at the enthusiastic group.
"It seems to me," he said, "that with an official photographer, an official wind-measurer, an official sunshine recorder, an official wireless station, a club-house and an editor with an official publication, 'The Mississippi League of the Weather' is mighty well launched on its way.
"Now, I'm going to have the fun of making the first motion. I move you, Mr. Chairman, that the League come into the house and hold its first official feast!"
THE MASSACRE OF AN ARMY
"Where's the boss?" queried a strange voice, one afternoon.
The entire mechanical staff of the Issaquena County Weather Herald, consisting of Fred Lang, publisher and editor-in-chief, aged fifteen, and a general assistant with the blackest face and the whitest teeth in the county, aged seventy, named Dan'l, turned at the question.
"Why?" asked Fred.
The stranger stepped into the office of the Herald.
"I'd be wishful to see the foreman," he said, with a twinkle in his eye, "that's if he's not too busy."
Fred grinned in response.
"I guess I'm the foreman," he said.
"I'm lookin' for a job," the new-comer explained.
"What kind of a job?"
"Any kind of a job in a printin' shop," the Irishman replied. "I'm an old-timer. There's nothin' about printin' I don't know."
"Have you seen a copy of our paper?" asked Fred.
"I have so," was the reply, "I've got it with me, right here." He pulled from his pocket the latest number of the little four-page sheet. "'Tis an illigant publication," he went on, "but I'm thinkin' that you're in sore need of a printer."
"Does it look so bad?" queried the "foreman." "The worst of it is, I don't know how to make it any better."
"I'm not saying that it's bad, but there's a deal to be learnt about printin'," the journeyman declared. "I'm thinkin' your compositor hasn't had overmuch experience."
"He hasn't," the boy admitted. "I'm him. Dan'l helps me all he can, but since he can't read, it makes it bad."
"Give me the job," said the Irishman, "an' I'll make the paper look right."
"I can't," Fred replied. "The subscriptions hardly pay for the paper and the ink. I give Dan'l thirty cents a week for wages to run the press and it's hard to scrape up that much, because Mr. Levin says I mustn't pay out a cent that the Herald hasn't actually earned. What wages do you want?"
"Three dollars a day when I'm workin'," the journeyman printer replied, "an' the good green grass to sleep on and a hunk of corn-bread to eat when I'm not."
The young editor looked at the journeyman printer with a sudden eagerness.
"I've got four dollars and a half saved up," he said, "that's a day and a half's wages. Will you teach me all about printing in a day and a half? That isn't office money, that's my own, but, you see, it's for me."
"I'll teach ye for nothin'," said the Irishman, pleased at the boy's pluck, "if ye'll give me a bite to eat an' a place to sleep."
Fred shook his head.
"No," he said, "Mr. Levin won't let any of us boys take something for nothing. I'd sooner pay. It would be great if you could get out this week's number for us, and let me see how you do it. I'd learn a heap that way, and it would be just the stuff I want to know. Then the number you got out we could use for something to go by. But you'll have to do it in a day and a half, because that's all the money I've got. Can you?"
"I can that," the printer answered, "an' I'll pay for my board out of it, so that you won't be spending all your money."
"Can't do that either," said the boy, "because that would make it Anton's Dad's money, not mine. If you want to pay him, all right."
The Irishman stripped off his coat and rolled up his sleeves.
"I'll be lookin' to see what fonts o' type ye have in the shop," he declared, and examined the forms which were lying on the rough table.
"Did anny one ever show you annything about printin'?" he asked presently.
"No," said the boy, "I got this printing-press from a chap whose brother used to run it. The fellow who owned it was going to show me how it worked, but he went away and hasn't come back."
"Watch me a while," the journeyman responded and began to unlock the forms that had stood since the issue of the week before. It was a revelation to the boy to see how the trained fingers of the printer sorted, classified, and arranged the type. Talking steadily, in his Irish fashion, the journeyman explained how the type should be set up, showed that they had been using twice as much ink as necessary, warned them against pinching the type too closely, explaining that this "put the letters off their feet," and, by altering the arrangement of the sheet, improved its appearance a thousandfold. These routine matters were quickly adjusted, and then the printer asked for the copy which was to fill the first page.
"It's just got here," the young editor answered. "I haven't looked over it yet, but I guess it's all right. I had a wireless yesterday that one of our chaps was sending in a corking description of a sunset, or rather a sort of description of all the sunsets in the last month. Here it is."
He handed the pages of boyish handwriting to the journeyman, who looked over them hastily.
"'Tis fine stuff, entirely," he said in surprise. "I'd be wishful to take some copies of the paper for myself. Listen to this now!" And, turning the sheets, the enthusiastic Irishman read aloud:
"'Sunsets all look different, but when you write down what you see, one right after the other, they seem to be quite alike, that is, when the sky is clear. When the sun begins to set, and there are not many clouds, the lowest part of the sky is more different from the rest of it than in daytime. In the west—at the side of the setting sun—the sky looks white, changing to yellow. In the north and south, it is a dull yellow, which gets yellower. In the east, it is a dirty yellow, which changes slowly into a dull purple. All these yellows are duller at the horizon than a little way above. The purple in the east looks gray at the sky-line but shades into blue, higher up.'
"'Tis an illigant style the boy has," declared the journeyman, and continued:
"'Just as soon as the sun begins to drop below the horizon, an ash-colored plate (the shadow of the earth) begins to creep up the eastern sky, covering part of the purple bit and making it look like a purple rainbow. Soon the shadow covers all the purple light in the east.
"'In the west, where the sun is setting, the colors are all different. The whitish light spreads quite a long way up into the blue, but when the sun comes close to the horizon, this turns to yellow, lighter higher up and darker lower down. It is sometimes reddish at the horizon line, and the clouds are turned to pink.
"'After the sun has really gone down, the yellow gets darker, changing into orange, sometimes, while the white spot spreads sideways and its upper edge marks off the brighter from the darker bits of the sky.
"'In the darker part of the sky, at about quarter way up, a purple glow suddenly appears. It grows bigger quickly, making a circle, the lower edge of which looks as though it slipped behind the yellow strip. This purple spot in the west comes just as the purple rainbow in the east is dying out, and as the western purple spot grows it gets brighter, so that there is a time, after the sun sets, when it seems brighter than it did before.'"
"That's queer," interrupted Fred.
The printer thought for a moment.
"It's right, bedad," he said, "I've noticed it meself."
He continued reading:
"'Sometimes there are dark blue and greenish stripes running down to the sun and these stripes shoot a long way up into the sky.
"'If there are any clouds, they seem to be generally light yellow to begin with, changing to pink and rose, then red and dark orange. I couldn't find any system in the color of the clouds, perhaps because they are at different heights.
"'A few times I've seen a sort of second faint purple arch or bow in the east, but by that time it's dark. In the west, though, the second arch is quite clear. As the first western purple arch sinks to the horizon, following the sun, a green stretch, ever so green, shows up, and above it is a second arch of bright light, with a purple arch above that. When this last one sinks, it is quite dark.'"
Mr. Levin, as was his habit on Saturday afternoon, had come over to the League's club-house, and he had entered during the reading, followed by his usual bevy of boys; Rex, Lassie, and four roly-poly puppies, now able to run around on unsteady legs, bringing up the rear.
"That's a mighty accurate description of sunset colors," the Forecaster commented; "whoever did that, deserves a lot of credit. Hello! Have you enlarged your staff, Fred?" he continued, as he noted the printer and realized, at a glance, that the little shed had already assumed a more business-like look.
The editor-in-chief explained the bargain he had made and the Weather Man nodded his head approvingly.
"That's the best way I know to spend your savings," he said, "using them to learn something. I'm glad you're going to have this issue properly printed, too, because that sunset article is about the best you've had, so far. If I don't miss my guess, a good many people will keep that number as a sort of reference for the colors of sunset. Who wrote it?"
"I did, sir," said one of the boys who had come in with him.
"Good work," the Forecaster commented. "Do you happen to know, though, Bert, what makes the colors of sunset? Why doesn't it just gradually get dark as the sun goes down?"
"I don't know," the boy replied. "I tried to explain it the other day and I found I hadn't the least idea why, myself. I asked Father, but he didn't know either."
"Yet it's quite simple," the Weather Man answered, "and if you boys are going to be real meteorologists, you ought to know the reasons for things. First of all, why is the sky blue?"
There was a gasp of astonishment, followed by silence.
"Sure, 'tis the air that's blue," hazarded the printer.
"That doesn't help much," the Forecaster said, "though perhaps it does, a little. Why is the air blue?"
The Irishman shook his head.
"Why is annything blue?" he asked.
"That's just what I'm going to tell you," the Weather Man answered, "and you want to listen carefully, boys, because the colors of the sunset depend a great deal on the weather. You can foretell weather from the sunset."
"Yo' sho' can," interrupted Dan'l. "Don't yo' remember Mammy's old rhyme:
"Evenin' red an' mornin' gray Certain signs of a beautiful day; Evenin' gray an' mornin' red, Sends a nigger wet to bed."
"All those old rhymes are fakes, though, Dan'l," declared Anton, with the importance of his newly acquired weather knowledge.
"Easy there, easy there!" warned the Forecaster. "Not so fast. A good many of those old rhymes are mighty good weather forecasts. That one is, for example."
"You mean, sir, that a red sunset and a gray sunrise really tell that the weather is going to be fine?"
"Yes, to a great extent, they do."
"Why, Mr. Levin?"
"Because they show the state of the atmosphere, boys. Rain can't fall unless there is dust. Every little drop of rain has a grain of dust in the middle. The colors of the sunset, too, are due partly to dust. Not only that, but colors of the sunset vary as the particles of dust which reflect the rays of light, are enveloped by water vapor.
"A piece of dust, without an envelope of water, is smaller than one with a little wetness around it. When more water vapor gathers around the piece of dust, the drop becomes bigger. When the sunset is red, it is a sign that it is shining on very small bits of dust, or that the condensation of water vapor into rain has not advanced very far. If, however, the sunset sky is gray, that means that the upper air is saturated, that it has all the water it can hold, and, of course, rain is likely to come soon."
"I should think, then," said Anton, "that gray in the morning would be a bad sign, too."
"It's not, though," the Forecaster replied; "the proverb is right there, as well. A gray sky in the morning means that the air is filled with water drops which are large enough to reflect light of every color. While this is the same as the gray of evening, the processes that led to the forming of these drops is quite different. In the day the dust is heated and the forming of the droplets in the afternoon is due to cooling. In the night, the condensation is caused by loss of heat through radiation. Radiation shows that the air above must be dry. Therefore a gray morning means a dry air above the water drops, and this means a fine day, for the droplets will soon be evaporated by the rising sun. The red morning sky declares that the dust particles have been protected from radiation by a blanket of overlying moisture, the air, therefore, is saturated to great heights and rain is probable. So you see, Anton, Mammy's rhyme is right."
"What fo' yo' talk to me against signs," declared Dan'l, putting out his chest and strutting; "Ah done told yo' them signs am pow'ful good."
"But the sunset colors, sir?" the author of the article asked. "You said they were due to dust. Just how, sir?"
"Yes, to dust, plain ordinary dust, but dust of the lightest kind," was the reply. "If you could go up in the air a hundred miles, the sky above you in the middle of the day would be jet black and the sun would shine down on you like a great bright-blue ball, without any white glare around it at all."
"Then it's a blue sun that makes a blue sky!" cried Fred.
"Don't go so fast," the Forecaster warned him. "I want you to think of the sky, first. It's a dead black, a hundred miles up. Now, at a hundred miles up, the air is so thin that there's little or no dust, but as you gradually come down and the air becomes denser, it begins to be able to buoy up some dust. Boys," he said, breaking off suddenly, "why does a stick float in water when it falls in air?"
"Because water is denser than air?" guessed Ross.
"Exactly. And why does a bar of iron sink through water and not through earth?"
"Because the particles of earth won't move aside as easily as the particles of water, I suppose."
"Not quite, but something that way. So, you see, as the air gets gradually denser it becomes gradually more able to support particles of dust, light ones at first, then heavier and heavier, until near the earth big pieces of dust can be carried in the air. You know how big some of them are when you happen to get a grain in your eye! Viscosity has a lot to do with it, too.
"The light of the sun is a bluish-white, like some of the blue stars. White, as you remember from the rainbow, is just a mixture of all sorts of colors and the different colors are created by waves of light, some being shorter and others longer. A long wave, like the red, will pass around a tiny piece of dust, but a short wave, like the blue, will be stopped by it, and scattered, sometimes polarized, as it is called, or turned into one plane."
"I don't think I quite see that," said Anton.
"It's a little complicated," the Weather Man answered, "but maybe I can give you an idea of it. Suppose you were on a big steamboat in a choppy sea. As the steamer's length would extend over several of these waves, none of them would be big enough to make the vessel heave. If you were on that same choppy sea in a small canoe, you would be tossed in every direction. Now, if you think of the long red wave of light as a steamer and the blue as a canoe, you can see that in a ripple of small particles of dust the blue is going to be more affected than the red. In other words, the blue will be scattered. It will be diffused all over the sky and the light that comes through will be less blue."
"Then I should think the sun would look red," said Anton.
"It does," the Forecaster explained, "when there's a fog, which simply means, when there's more obstruction in the air. Sunlight is never white, as you know, it's yellow-white and the golden effect is due to dust. It's the same way at sunset. Then the rays of the sun which reach you pass through a larger amount of air, because you're looking at them from an angle, so they have to strike more grains of dust, and more of the blue rays are scattered. Then, too, when the sun, at sunset is, to you, shining obliquely on the atmosphere, it is passing through several layers of air and these bend the rays differently."
"I still don't see," said the author of the sunset-color article, "why there should be so much pink, or rose-color, and why the clouds should generally be pink."
"There's not much pink in a clear sky," the Forecaster answered, "and as for the pink clouds, you've never seen them in the west when the sun was still above the horizon, have you?"
"No—no," said the other, "I don't think so. The pink generally comes after the sun had disappeared."
"Scientifically, of course," the Weather Man said, "the sun has gone below the horizon at least two minutes before you see it disappear. You're looking at a sun that isn't there at all. That's due to refraction. The reason of the pink glow is that when you see it, the earth and the air for several thousand feet above you are in the shadow of the edge of the earth. The sun, therefore, is not shining on the thicker dust of the lower part of the air, but the finer dust of the upper part, the particles of which are small and more uniform in shape.
"The glow is of a rose-color because the particles are of the size to diffuse the rays of this wave-length. That's why rose colors appear in the east, before the west, and why the color lasts in the sky, which may be reflected on dust twelve miles high, after it has disappeared from the upper clouds, which are not more than eight miles high."
"'Tis the illigant hand ye are at explainin'," put in the Irishman, "but I c'n remember, when I was learnin' me trade, about thirty-four years ago, the sunsets were much finer than annything I've seen since. We don't have such sunsets now as when I was a boy."
"They were sho' brighter," agreed Dan'l. "Ah can remember when the skies used to look like they was all burning up. Ah thought the end of the world was a-comin', sho'!"
"Thirty-four years," said the Forecaster thoughtfully; "that would be in 1883, wouldn't it? Why, of course, Mike," he continued; "that was during the period of the famous Krakatoa sunsets."
"An' what's a Kraker-something sunset?" the printer asked.
"Krakatoa," the Weather Man explained, "was a volcano, near Java. In August, 1883, one of the most violent eruptions in the history of the world occurred. Half the island was blown up in the air, and, where a mountain had stood, the ocean rolled a thousand feet deep.
"The vibrations in the air were so terrific as to break windows and overturn frame houses over a hundred miles away, and the pressure wave, like some huge blast of wind, traveled round the world three times before it died down. The huge sea-waves caused by the eruption and the engulfing of the island, swept across the oceans, destroying the coasts for hundreds of leagues around. Over thirty thousand people were drowned.
"Pumice and ashes fell over the sea so thickly that within three miles of the island you could walk on them, and even five hundred miles away, the ashes formed a scum on the surface of the sea. The finer dust and the icy particles from the condensed vapor reached extreme heights in the air. These dust particles spread all round the world, completing the circuit in fifteen days.
"The sunsets were extraordinarily red, because, in the very thin air of great heights, there was an unusual amount of dust which had been forced there by the great volcanic outburst. It took three years for this dust gradually to settle into the lower air, and this made the sunsets that Pat speaks of. The great eruption of Mont Pele in 1902 created unusually beautiful sunsets in America for a couple of months afterward, but, of course, this was not to be compared to the Krakatoa eruption.
"It's curious, though, boys," he said, "that Bert, here, should have been writing this article on sunsets, because it happens that I've got something here quite important to show you."
Walking to the table, he took a large home-made portfolio from under his arm and spread it out. He untied it, threw open the cover and stepped back to let the boys look. They crowded round.
"Oh—oh!" said one. "Isn't that bully!"
The Forecaster turned over a second picture.
This was greeted with cries of delight, and one of the lads added:
"I saw a sunset exactly like that only a week ago!"
The Forecaster bent down and looked at a pencilled note underneath the vivid chalk drawing.
"It is dated just a week ago," he said.
"I didn't know you drew with chalks!" said Ross.
For answer, the Forecaster smiled and turned to another one. The first few had been a little crude, but it was evident that they improved as the series went on. All of them, in a curious way, possessed the faculty of giving a real impression of the sunset.
"So you like them," the Weather Man said, when the whole series had been examined.
"They're dandies," declared Ross, and Fred added:
"I wish we could use them as colored plates in the Review."
"Who do you suppose drew them?" the Weather Man asked.
"Didn't you?" queried several of the boys together.
The Forecaster shook his head.
"One of the boys?" asked Ross.
Again the Forecaster made a negative gesture.
"A boy drew them," he said, "but not a member of the Mississippi League of the Weather."
"Who was it, Mr. Levin?" pleaded Anton.
"Caesar," he answered, "down on McDowell's place."
"Caesar!" exclaimed Fred; "it couldn't be. Why, he's—" he checked himself just in time, remembering that Dan'l was close by.
"Yes, he's colored," the Forecaster agreed. "But don't you think he can draw?"
"He surely can."
It was on the point of Anton's tongue to suggest that the colored artist should be admitted to the membership of the club, but, so far, its membership had been confined to the white boys, largely in deference to the feelings of the older people of the neighborhood, many of whom remembered the difficulties that followed the reconstruction period after the Civil War.
Anton looked a little troubled.
"Do you think we ought to get mixed up in a thing like this?" he asked.
The Forecaster glanced at him.
"You mean because Caesar is a negro?"
"Yes, sir," the crippled lad replied.
"I don't want to persuade you one way or the other," the Weather Man replied, "but I can tell you how I feel about it. I don't see that it matters very much what point of view a fellow has on the color question, we're all agreed that the darkies should be given every chance. You certainly can't harm yourself by helping any one, no matter who it is that you help."
"Sure," Ross agreed.
"And even if the person you help is never going to be able to do you any good, why, that's all the more reason for helping, isn't it?"
"Yes," admitted Anton.
"All right, then. Supposing some of the older people here do feel that it's necessary to draw the color line closely; well, I don't see that it wouldn't be a good thing for us to strike out a little. The color line is there, and it's going to stay there. But the most unreconstructed man in the district—even Colonel Grattan, for example—will do everything possible to better the condition of the negroes. I think it's the absolute duty of every American boy to help every other American boy when he gets the chance, whether his skin is white or black."
"Yes," said the laconic Bob.
Anton brightened up, for he was anxious to help Caesar.
"What do you suppose we can do?" he asked.
"I'd rather put it up to you boys," said the Forecaster. "This is your affair, after all."
Anton turned to Ross.
"Haven't you some scheme?" he asked.
Ross shook his head.
"I haven't thought one out. How about it, Bob?"
"Deacon Paul," was the abrupt reply.
"Yes," said Ross, "old Paul will do pretty nearly anything for me, because Dad was so good to his father when he was a slave. But I don't quite see what he can do?"
"I do be thinkin'," said the Irishman, "if I might be so bold as to make a suggestion, that there's no reason why you boys shouldn't use a colored lad's work. He's only a contributor, annyway. When a paper takes a story or a picture from a man, it doesn't ask who his parents were. Why don't ye make some color plates and give them as premiums for subscriptions?"
The Weather Forecaster laughed aloud.
"That's a good business idea, Pat," he said. "Some of the colored planters and farmers are fairly progressive here, and a premium of a colored lad's work might be a good scheme."
"But I can't make colored plates!" protested Fred.
"No," said Pat, "you can't, an' that's a fact. I was forgettin' that this wasn't a regular shop."
"How could we get them made?" asked Anton. "Do you suppose the Weather Bureau in Washington would make them for us and let us have a few copies?"
"No," said the Forecaster decidedly, "I know the Bureau wouldn't. They've a hard enough job doing their work on their present appropriations, as it is, and if they were going to spend money on sunset pictures, Anton, such would be done by some big artist, in consultation with trained meteorologists."
"I've been wondering," began Anton, and paused.
"Go ahead," urged Ross.
"Couldn't we interest some one else to do them, just to help the thing along?"
"One of the big negro colleges has a lithographing plant," the Forecaster said thoughtfully; "they might be interested in it, if the matter were put before them the right way. I don't suppose they'd give any money, but they might make plates for you at cost and you could sell them here at enough to cover the expense. Bob has the right idea.
"Talk it over with Deacon Paul, the colored minister; he's closely in touch with all the progressive work among the negroes. I think you'll find it can be arranged, because there's a right fine spirit among the negroes. They're trying hard to improve themselves.
"I believe you could interest them, too, by showing that the study of the weather, even in sunsets, is a patriotic duty. The negroes are mighty loyal."
"Mr. Levin!" exclaimed one of the boys, "what has a sunset got to do with patriotism?"
"They do look pretty far apart, don't they?" replied the Weather expert, with a smile. "Yet one of the great tragedies of military history, one which led to the death of hundreds of thousands of men and changed the map of the world, was due to a failure to study the colors of a sunset."
"What was that, Mr. Levin? Won't you tell us the story?" pleaded Anton.
"Very well," the Forecaster agreed; "maybe it'll show you how important to the world everything is that is connected with the weather.
"I was telling you about Krakatoa and its eruption and how the outburst had caused red sunsets that lasted for three years. Now, if you think for a moment, you'll see that any one who observed a period of unusually red sunsets and knew the cause of them would know that there had been a big volcanic eruption somewhere."
"Now, boys," said the Forecaster, "suppose that the upper air were unusually full of dust, what effect do you suppose that would have on the temperature?"
For a moment no one spoke, then Anton piped up:
"I've been wondering," he said, "if the dust wouldn't shut out some of the sunlight and make the earth colder."
The Weather Forecaster gave the boy a shrewd look.
"We're going to make a real weather man out of you, Anton," he said. "As a matter of fact, it does, though, of course, not to such a very noticeable extent. Indeed, it's only quite recently that we've been working out the relations between volcanic eruptions and weather. They're striking, though, and while it may be a little too early to say that the one causes the other, volcanic action has a big influence.
"The Krakatoa eruption, as I said, produced a dust cloud in the upper parts of the air, which not only created red sunsets, but which kept so permanent a haze over the sky that the sun was surrounded by a reddish brown circle, known as 'Bishop's ring,' during most of that time. This circle showed the existence of a dust cloud, through which the sunlight had to pass. As a result, the amount of sunlight was diminished. When the sunlight is less, the crops are poorer, for it needs the entire force of the sun to ripen them, and the three years following the eruption of Krakatoa are known to history as 'The Poverty Years.' The still more famous 'Year without a Summer,' which was the year 1816, followed the eruption of Tombora, the autumn before."
"That seems to cinch it, Mr. Levin," said Ross.
"It isn't sure," was the reply, "but it seems that way. Famines have a tremendous effect on the world's history. The great French Revolution, one of the greatest events in modern history, was brought to a head by a famine. This was the 'Three Year Freeze' of 1784-1786."
"Did that follow a volcanic eruption, sir?" asked Anton.
"It followed the greatest eruption in the history of the world, that of Asama, in Japan, in the year 1783. In that eruption, fifty-six thousand people were killed and the entire atmosphere of the earth was shaken. Like Krakatoa, you see, boys, it took three years for the dust to settle down."
"But what has that got to do with the army, sir?" Fred asked.
"I was just coming to that," the Forecaster replied. "If Napoleon had known as much about the weather as we do now, boys, the world's history might have been very different. There had been some marvellous sunsets during the years of 1810 and 1811 and the spring of 1812, but none of the scientists of that time thought of observing them or finding any significance in them, nor did any of them imagine that such could have any effect on the weather. Before Napoleon started on his march for Russia, which was begun in June, he asked the French meteorologists at what time the Russian winter usually began. They told him that if he could begin his return by the middle of November, his army could get safely out of Russia before the winter set in.
"But, boys, the three years before that campaign had been three years of eruptions. St. George, in the West Indies, erupted in 1810; Etna, the great volcano of Sicily, had an eruption in 1811; and La Soufriere, which broke loose again in your lifetime, boys, erupted in 1812. As a result, the upper air was full of dust, and the middle air was even more filled, for while these eruptions were not as powerful as Asama and Krakatoa, there had been a continual replenishment of the stores of volcanic dust.
"So Napoleon and his army started off. The great march into Russia began with an army of four hundred and fifty thousand men, in torrid summer heat. The crops were still green, for the spring had been late and the summer most unseasonable. As a result, there was not enough food for the horses and terrible epidemics of disease broke out among them. Napoleon was always especially strong in cavalry, over eighty thousand of his troops being mounted. When, to this, is added the twenty thousand horses needed for officers and for the artillery, it is easy to see that the lack of forage seriously handicapped the army. It is by no means easy to feed a hundred thousand horses. Before the army had advanced more than ten days' march, one-fourth of the horses had died.
"The Russians, thoroughly realizing that their strongest ally was Distance, retreated, without giving battle. Napoleon's army marched on. The Cossacks, with their well fed horses, constantly circled round the French army and cut to pieces the small detachments in the van and in the rear-guard. The French cavalry, with their horses dead, dying or out of condition, could not pursue. Meanwhile the army, under the burning heat of the short summer which had known no spring, marched on.
"Into that huge wilderness, over the marshes and plains, the army marched. Always before it lay a land bare and dumb. The vast Russian army could never be found. In endless succession the French crossed plains on which the grass grew, thin and bare, splendid for the grazing of cattle, but utterly insufficient for a hundred thousand horses, now reduced to seventy thousand. Ahead of the soldiers, every day, the sun rose red upon an empty land, every night it set, red, behind them, upon a land equally bare and empty. Day after day they marched through this land without food, unmolested by the Russians, who knew well that lack of forage and interminable marching was defeating the great Napoleon better than they could upon the battlefield, and without the sacrifice of a single Russian soldier. Weather, boys, always weather, is the greatest ally or the greatest enemy in the entire history of war.
"At last the army saw in the distance a long black line. Every effort of Napoleon to persuade the Russians to attack him had failed, the Russian army steadily withdrew. But when the long black line of Smolensk appeared, hope was restored to the French army. At last they would meet the Russians on equal terms and decide the campaign against guns and bayonets instead of against leagues and starvation! On Napoleon marched and at last found himself before the town of Smolensk. The French army, now only four hundred thousand strong, was yet an unwieldy force to handle. It took two days for the various groups to form into positions and then they charged the town.
"The soldiers fighting them had fled. Everybody had fled. The city was utterly deserted, sad and silent as a grave-yard. There was nothing there to eat. The Russians had destroyed everything. There was not a handful of oats, not a loaf of bread. The French victory had gained for them only an empty city and an empty land. It was now the end of August, and Moscow was a long way away.
"The march continued. Before them, the sun rose red through the volcanic dust every morning and set red every night. Had there been a meteorologist present able to warn Napoleon, even then, the army could have retreated safely. But the army went on and on, into the land that the Russians themselves had swept bare and left empty. Villages and towns were passed, each deserted, as Smolensk had been. What the people could not carry away they had burned. The fields were scorching and black. Smoke filled the air. For three weeks more, well into September, the French army toiled forward, steadily growing hungrier and leaner, losing horses and men all along the line of march.
"At last the Russians made a stand. The desperate conditions of the march had divided the French army into scattered portions, and when, quite suddenly, the Russian troops confronted them, only a hundred and twenty-eight thousand men were available, the others straggling behind. The Russians had a hundred thousand men, but the French superiority was not enough for them to secure a final victory. The great battle of Borodino began before sunrise, and the setting sun, red as always, sank too early to see its end. When night fell on the scene, thirty-eight thousand Russians had fallen and only twenty-five thousand French, but it acted almost as a defeat upon the French, accustomed as they were to sweeping victories.
"The red sun next morning rose on the French army, eager to continue the battle. But in the night the Russians had fallen back again, and, before the French, the road to Moscow lay open. Open, indeed, but burned black and desolate as before. Seven more days of marching, with hungry stomachs and famished horses and then, Moscow! The goal of the French! The army beheld the city it had come so far to conquer. The red sun of the seventh day found the spires of the Kremlin in sight. Again the French were sure of victory.
"Moscow was as clean swept as the smallest village on the road. Everything had been carried off or destroyed. Moscow lies far to the north and the days began to grow perilously short. Napoleon sought to make terms with the Russians, but met with nothing but delays. The Russians were waiting for the approach of their great ally, the winter.
"In all Moscow there was no food and forage. All the people had gone. Napoleon did not dare to bring his whole army into the city. There was nothing to eat. They camped at various distances outside, tightening their belts for hunger. Meantime the Russians, constantly retreating and moving the provisions back with them, were steadily growing stronger in position and men.
"The rapidly shortening days meant long cold nights. The soldiers in Moscow made camp-fires of the costly pieces of furniture that remained in the palaces, but those who were encamped on the plains outside had no fire at all in the long hours of darkness. Many of them, too, were from the south of France, unaccustomed to the cold, and, besides, were equipped for a summer campaign, not garbed in the heavy clothing of the Russian troops. In that country which had been abandoned for purposes of war, there was not even wood enough to light the fires for cooking. Ever the days grew shorter and the red sunrises and the red sunsets—which would have meant so much had any one understood—continued.
"Then into the city came Fire! In the middle of the night, at a dozen different points, Moscow was set aflame by the Russians. A great wave of fire started from all quarters at the same time, swept over the city, for the Russians had waited for the moment when the wind was high and the night was cold. Houses and palaces flared upward in the conflagration, then sank to smoking ashes, for almost the entire city was built of wood.
"All in a jumble—infantry, cavalry and artillery—the French got away, the flames howling so closely after them that the backs of their necks were singed. Suddenly they found themselves in the midst of a tremendous rush of water and ice. On one side, to windward, the Russians had started the fire, on the other, where there was a possible escape from its fury, they had turned the river into the streets. The French were caught between the two. Some of the horses, fairly maddened, turned backward and plunged with their riders into the flames. For an instant, horse and man would flare up like tow and then there would be a black twisting thing that dwindled to nothing in the blaze. Out from the burning city, in wild and utter retreat, flew the French Grand Army, out to a land without food, without forage, without inhabitants, and the nearest help a thousand miles away.
"Then came the snow. No longer was the red sunrise before them, but behind them. The victorious march was a defeat. Black-gray clouds came over the sky and obscured the sun. At first the snow was to the ankles, then to the calves, and then to the knees. The wind was bitterly cold and the men ill-clad. It froze the French to their marrow. Every few minutes a soldier dropped from starvation, cold and exhaustion. The Russians did not appear. There was no need. They had a new ally—the wolves! No one could stop to pick up an exhausted soldier; it was all that any man could do to keep up himself. Half the officers were on foot. The cannons were abandoned. When a horse died, the regiment ate him and staggered on.
"The Cossacks now began to add their terrors to those of the wolves. If a small detachment straggled out of the blinding snow, unseen until that time would come a rush of the furious and valiant horsemen of the steppes, and the detachment, hungry and exhausted, would be cut to pieces. They fought with heroic courage, but no man can fight the Weather.
"Smolensk was reached on the return march, with the wreck of the French army, now only fifty thousand strong. The skeletons of four hundred thousand men lay on the Russian plains. Near a place called Krasnoi, the Russian army suddenly appeared and a battle was fought. Napoleon commanded with his old-time mastery and succeeded in breaking through the Russian lines, but he had to leave Marshal Ney with six thousand men behind him. Ney performed wonders, and with his tiny force also broke through the Russian army, but when the French resumed their flight, Ney had only eight hundred men. The rear-guard alone lost five thousand at that place.
"The French Army had now reached the marshes, but the Weather was fighting for Russia. Just at this time, a sudden and unexpected thaw set in, making the marsh a morass. The Russians, well-provisioned, circled around the French army, and again came in front of them at a river called the Beresina. Waist-deep in that icy current, with masses of floating ice being carried down by the sudden thaw, with a huge Russian army on the opposite bank, the French soldiers fought for their homeward way. Winter was before, winter behind, the Russians on the barrier. Yet the French fought on and crossed the Beresina with marvellous courage, the Russian strategy, meanwhile, sacrificing comparatively few men. The Beresina was crossed, but when the Russians were finally swept aside and the French passed through, less than nine thousand men answered the roll call. Forty thousand had been lost between Smolensk and the Beresina.
"The thaw was followed by another terrible period of cold. The retreat of the army became a fearful rout. Napoleon, himself, fell a victim to the panic, and deserting his troops to Murat, spurred for France, reaching Paris after a ride of three hundred and twelve hours. The routed and disorganized French Army straggled back to Germany, to Austria and to France. When Christmas Day that year came down over Europe, less than five thousand men were alive of the four hundred and fifty thousand who had started six months before to carry the eagles of Napoleon over Russia. It was the most splendid campaign and the most spectacular rout in history, and the foe who fought the battles that defeated the Great Emperor was—The Weather."
THE RUNAWAY KITE
The sunset pictures made a better showing as lithographs than even their young creator could have hoped, and the Issaquena County Weather Review became a source of personal pride to every one in the neighborhood. The farmers and planters vied with each other in giving information of weather happenings and the little publication was never short of "copy."
"Dan'l," said Fred to his chief assistant, one day, "I'm going to print an article on 'Weather Superstitions.'"
"Yas, suh," said the darky, wondering what was coming.
"And you're going to write it."
"Ah write it? Sho', now, you'se jokin', Mistah Fred. Ah can't even write my own name."
"I know that. You don't need to write, Dan'l. You're going to collect every rhyme and proverb and saying about the weather you can hunt up in the neighborhood. Get Mammy Crockett to tell you all she knows. Then you must repeat it to me. I'll write it down word for word, and it'll be your article."
"If yo' wrote it down, it wouldn't be mine," objected Dan'l.
"Oh, yes, it would," the editor-in-chief assured him, "some of the greatest authors in the world dictate their books."
So Dan'l went all around the neighborhood, announcing that he was a "sho' enough autho' now," and so full of delight that there was no holding him in at all. He proved a good collector of superstitions, moreover, and when at last the article came out in the Review, it was so complete and so original that it was reprinted in one of the big Folk-Lore Magazines.
The visit of the journeyman printer had been of great value. Fred had been shown just how the work should be done and his pride was involved in keeping the paper up to the standard. Moreover, the Irishman had secured a large box of discarded type from a printing firm in Vicksburg, and had forwarded this to the boys. Fred returned the courtesy by mailing Mike a copy of the Review regularly, and Mike occasionally sent a package of the printing trade magazines that he found lying around the shop. Fred picked up many hints from these and thus secured quite a good start in his knowledge of the printing trade.
The "official photographer" had been equally successful. One day, while up on the levee trying to take a satisfactory picture of an elusive "mackerel sky," which was changing from moment to moment, he met a stranger. This stranger was sitting on a log that projected into the river, holding a rod and line, and landing fish with an accustomed skill.
"What in blazes are you trying to photograph?" he said after a while, as he watched the lad focussing his camera earthwards on what looked like a piece of black glass, which projected from the stand.
"Clouds, sir," answered Ralph.
"When I try to photograph clouds I look at the sky, not on the ground," the stranger remarked. "What's that contrivance you've got on your camera stand, anyway?"
"It's just a broken piece of looking glass," said the boy, "but I painted it on the back with black enamel."
"So that I could get at the clouds easier, sir," the boy replied. "I read how to do that in a book I've got."
"I don't see why black glass should make any difference," said the fisherman, getting up from the log and coming over to where the boy was standing.
"It does, sir. If you look on the glass," said Ralph, "you'll see. The clouds are ever so much sharper."
The stranger looked in. Even the fleecy white clouds, scarcely visible in the blue sky overhead, stood out a clear white against the blackness of the mirror. The blue sky was not reflected in the glass.
"That's queer," said the stranger, "the blue hardly shows at all. I wonder why?"
"It said in the book," Ralph explained, "that the blue didn't show up so much because it was partly polarized. I couldn't quite understand what that meant. As far as I could make out, the blue color of the sky is due to waves that are scattered sideways instead of coming straight down like the white light does."
"I suppose it is polarized," said the fisherman, "but it hadn't ever occurred to me that the sky wouldn't be reflected in a black mirror. You're right, though. The clouds do stand out well! You ought to be able to get some good pictures from your mirror."
"I have got a lot, sir," said Ralph. "I've made three cloud photographs every day, rain or shine, for over two months now."
"Yes, sir, before breakfast, after dinner, and just before I begin my evening chores."
"What's the idea of that?"
Finding a ready listener, Ralph plunged into the story of the Mississippi Weather League and of his crippled friend, Anton.
"It's a mighty useful piece of work," the fisherman commented, when the lad had finished, "and I'm especially interested in these cloud photographs of yours. I need some. Have you any prints of them?"
"Yes, sir," was the reply, "heaps."
"If they're really any good, I might be able to use a few," the fisherman continued. "I'm writing a series of articles for an outdoor magazine and I want some Mississippi River pictures pretty badly. Mine haven't come out particularly well."
"I'll show you all I've got," eagerly replied Ralph, and, a little later, he took the stranger home with him.
There he displayed, not only his cloud photographs, but also all the snap-shots he had made with his camera during the three years he had owned it. The magazine writer was highly delighted, for many of the pictures were exactly what he needed, and when he went away he took with him thirty photographs, for which he paid Ralph, as he said, the "regular price" of three dollars apiece.
"That's what they'd have to pay if they bought them from any of the news photo houses," he remarked, "and you might as well get the same."
To Ralph this ninety dollars was a fortune. He offered to turn the entire sum over to the League, or at least that part of it which had been paid for the cloud photographs. Ross vetoed this offer, on the ground that the League itself had not earned the money. Instead, Ralph put away some of the cash and with the rest he bought a new lens for his camera. With this lens he was able to take cloud pictures even better than his former ones.
A few weeks later, at the next Monthly Feast of the League, Ralph came proudly forward with a collection of over one hundred cloud photographs.
"I don't see, fellows," he said, "why we all couldn't have a shot at observing the clouds. I was talking to Anton the other day, and he didn't seem to know anything about the names of the clouds at all. I dug 'em up from a book I've got at home. I was thinking that it would be rather jolly if each member of the League had a set of cloud photographs for himself, with the right names of the clouds and all that sort of thing on the back. It isn't much trouble to make prints."
"I'd like to have a set, Ralph," said Ross promptly. "I hate to feel like a dub and not know about the clouds. It's like not knowing any of the stars."
"There certainly ought to be a set in the office of the Review," declared its editor-in-chief.
"I've been wondering," began Anton, "whether Mr. Levin wouldn't pick out the best ones and tell us exactly what they are. I had an awful job trying to get Ralph to bring his pictures to-day; he said he wanted to wait until he had perfect ones."
"You'll wait a long time, my boy," the Forecaster put in, "if you wait until you have a perfect set. I don't know of such a set anywhere in the world. Clayden, in England, has got some fine examples—"
"It's his book I've got," interrupted Ralph.
"There are a few good pictures in that," the weather expert said. "Loisel, in France, has some good examples and our own Weather Bureau has done quite a little cloud work. But those I've seen of yours, Ralph, are quite good. If you like, I'll go over them for you and pick out the ones that are the most characteristic. Your plan to give a set to each of the boys is quite worth while. Let's see the pictures, Ralph."
The "official photographer" pulled out, from a bulging inside pocket, a large bundle of photographic prints and spread them on the table. The collection included both the pictures Ralph had taken with his new lens and some of the old ones intensified in the way that his visitor had showed him. They made a striking contrast, in their vivid black and white, to the cloud pictures, printed in a pale blue, issued by the Weather Bureau.
"I think Ralph's pictures are away ahead of the Weather Bureau ones," declared Fred.
The Forecaster shook his head.
"Some of them are prettier pictures," he said, "but the Weather Bureau sheet is chosen to help observers classify the clouds. If you notice that blue sheet of cloud forms that Washington has issued, you'll notice that they are very carefully selected and that you really can tell the various types of cloud from them. At the same time, clouds are hard to classify, because, at any given time, you're looking at a stretch of sky—counting the separate layers of cloud—several hundred square miles in extent, and, generally, there are many different types of cloud in the sky at the same time."
"How many kinds of clouds does the Weather Bureau name?" asked Anton.
"Ten," was the reply. "There are lots of variations in those main groups, but that's enough to begin on. The general idea of the classification is by the heights of clouds, the Cirrus group being the highest, from about six to ten miles, the Alto group, ranging from two to six miles, and the Cumulus and Stratus groups below that. Here," he continued, picking out a photograph that showed only a few faint specks of white, "is a true Cirrus. It is the highest of the clouds, and, as you can see from the photograph, it is delicate and fibrous. This one, that looks like the ghosts of feathers, is another form.
"Cirrus clouds always appear to move slowly, because they're so high up. As a matter of fact, they fly along at the rate of from one hundred to two hundred miles an hour, and generally in an easterly direction. This photo that looks as if the clouds were a whole pile of spiders' webs, all mixed up, is the second class of clouds, known as Cirro-Stratus. Did you happen to notice, Ralph, whether there was a halo round the sun when you took this?"
"Yes, sir, there was," the boy answered, "but it hasn't showed up on the plate. I've got some halo pictures at home, but I didn't think of bringing them along. I just brought my cloud stuff this time."
"Well," said the Forecaster, "suppose you put one of those in here as an example of cirro-stratus. There couldn't be a halo without it. All the upper clouds are made of ice crystals and it is the refraction of the sunlight through these ice crystals that forms most halos. By the way, boys, don't confuse a halo with a corona. They're quite easy to tell apart, because a halo, unless it is one of the unusual white ones, always has red as the inside color and a corona always has the red on the outside."
"How can I tell them apart on a photograph plate, sir?" asked Ralph. "That doesn't show any colors."
"By their distance from the sun," the meteorologist replied. "Halos are seldom seen except at distances of about twenty-two degrees and forty-six degrees from the sun. There are lots of others, but they are rare. You'll soon learn to catch those distances by eye. Coronas are usually much smaller.
"I think one of the most striking forms of cirro-stratus is the polar 'band,' which stretches from one side of the sky to the other, like a wide white road."
"Ah knows that one, Mistah Levin," put in Dan'l. "Noah, he done stretch that road for the animals to get out of the Ark."
The Forecaster glanced at the aged darky.
"You certainly did manage to pick up a lot of queer superstitions in that article of yours, Dan'l. I've heard that cloud called a Noah's Ark cloud, but I never knew why."
"Yas, suh; oh, yas, suh," Dan'l repeated earnestly, "Noah, he done make that cloud, jest like the rainbow was made to convince Noah that there weren't goin' to be no more floods."
"A high cirro-stratus which looks as if some cream had been poured on the blue sky and hadn't mixed properly yet," the Forecaster continued, "is cirro-nebula. It's very hard to photograph, and even when you do get it on a plate, it doesn't look like much.
"Now the third one in the classification is very familiar. That's the well-known mackerel sky. What's the rhyme about that, Dan'l?"
Proud at being thus appealed to, the darky quoted triumphantly:
"Mackerel scales and mares' tails, Make lofty ships carry low sails."
"That's correct," said the weather expert, "because those clouds foretell wind. Sometimes the cloud flakes are less solid and look like the foam in the wake of a steamer.
"Beneath them come the alto clouds, which are made up of drops of moisture instead of crystals of ice. The fourth class, called alto-stratus, is a thick sheet of gray or bluish color, sometimes thin enough to let the sun shine through. When lower and in heavy roundish masses it's called alto-cumulus, which is the fifth on the list, and when it is lower still and looks like a lot of great blue-gray footballs wedged closely together it is known as strato-cumulus."
He shuffled the prints rapidly, selecting types of clouds as he did so, and pencilling on the back the character of the cloud.
"Then comes the cumulus, the big round cloud, that looks like masses of fluffy cotton wool piled on top of each other. These are the 'woolpack clouds,' which, in summer time, throw deep shadows on the grass. It is this cloud which, when it comes between you and the sun, gives rise to the old saying that 'every cloud has its silver lining.'"
"Those aren't the thunder clouds, sir, are they?" the photographer asked.
"No," the Forecaster answered. "The thunderstorm clouds are called cumulo-nimbus. They're heavy masses of cloud rising in the forms of mountains or towers. Isn't there a rhyme about clouds and towers, Dan'l?"
"Yas, suh, there's a rhyme," the old darky replied, and he quoted:
"When clouds resemble domes an' towers The earth is wet with frequent showers."
"That, boys," the weather expert said, "is another true proverb, because the description applies to thunderstorm clouds, when the rain is likely to fall in frequent showers."
"It doesn't look like a regular rainy sky, though, Mr. Levin," said Anton. "I thought rainy skies were usually heavy and gray."
"They are," the Forecaster answered, "and the Weather Bureau gives all the rain clouds the general name of Nimbus, which simply means a thick layer of dark clouds, without shape and with ragged edges, through which rain or snow falls steadily. Sometimes, when there is a powerful wind in the cloud layer, the lower edges of the clouds are broken apart, or loose clouds are seen traveling fast under the overlying gray. Sailors call this scud."
"Mr. Levin, suh," broke in Dan'l, "Ah knows a rhyme for scud, too," and he quoted:
"Scud above and scud below Shows there's goin' to be a blow."
"Well," said the Forecaster, hesitating, "that's not quite as good as some of the others, because you don't see scud until the wind has already come. As a whole, though, it's right, because it implies that the atmospheric currents are powerful, and if the rain disappears, a wind is likely to follow. I noticed you missed the rhyme about the rain before the wind, in your article, Dan'l," he continued.
"Yas, suh!" the darky answered, "Ah don't know that one."
"It runs like this," the Forecaster answered:
"When the rain comes before the wind, Be sure to take your topsails in, When the wind comes before the rain, You can put them on again."
"That's a good one, too, because high winds and steady rain seldom go together.
"The last type of clouds, which is Number Ten in the Weather Bureau Classification, is called Stratus. It really looks like a lifted fog, which sometimes it is. Indeed, there is no essential difference between clouds and fogs, anyway, except that fogs are formed at the surface and clouds above it."
"All clouds are fogs, sir?" said Anton, in a surprised voice.
"Yes, my boy. Clouds are visible water vapor. Their visibility depends largely on condensation, just as rain depends largely on the dew-point."
"What's the dew-point, sir?"
"The dew-point," the Forecaster explained, "is the temperature at which the air becomes so full of vapor that it can't hold any more without letting it down as rain or snow. It's never the same any two days in succession, because the air can hold more water vapor when it is warm than when it is cold."
"Is that why muggy days are so uncomfortable?" asked Ross.
"Yes. When the air is full of water vapor, it hasn't the same readiness to absorb it. When you perspire on a dry, hot, windy day, the air absorbs it right away, but on a day that's humid or muggy, the air can't hold any more, so it doesn't evaporate and the perspiration trickles down your back and into your eyes. A moist climate feels hotter in the summer and colder in the winter than a dry one, although, in reality, it isn't as hot or as cold. Every moist climate is a cloudy climate, and Ireland—which is called the Green or Emerald Isle because there's so much rain that none of the vegetation ever dries up—has some of the most beautiful clouds in the world."
"Is there any place in the United States without clouds?" asked Ralph.
"There's no place in the world that's absolutely cloudless," was the answer, "but clouds in some deserts are few and far between. There's one well known hotel, in the Southwest, that advertises 'free board every day that the sun doesn't shine.' It's a safe offer, too, for last year they only lost two days on it. There are some clouds there, but not such as to obscure the sun.
"In a cloudless country, boys, there are great extremes of temperature, as much as forty to fifty degrees between noon and midnight. You'll get sunstroke in the early part of the afternoon and shiver under blankets in the evening. That's because there are no protecting layers of clouds to equalize the radiation. The air, especially high up, is very cold. Don't forget that the upper clouds are all made of ice crystals."
"I've been wondering," said Anton, "how you can find out that it's so cold high up in the air if no one can live up there?"
"Balloonists have often passed through clouds of ice crystals and snow," the Forecaster answered, "though, of course, they've not been as high as the upper clouds. Many observations have been made by releasing small sounding balloons with an instrument attached, letting them go as high as they could, until they burst and fell to the ground. But much of our upper-air exploring has also been done with kites."
"Kites? Like Franklin's?"
"Not quite," said the Forecaster; "our weather kites aren't built like that. They look more like a box. I'm expecting one here, every day."
"Yes, boys," the Forecaster answered, "right here. There's a young chap I know who used to work with William A. Eddy, of New Jersey, the father of scientific kite-flying in this country. I wrote to young Osborne, and sent him a copy of the Issaquena County Weather Review, the one with the sunset articles and pictures in it."
"Osborne, sir!" ejaculated the editor-in-chief, "I got his subscription just a week ago."
"Did you?" said the Forecaster, interested. "That's nice of him! He wrote to me that he was constantly improving his kite models and that he had a couple of old ones which he now seldom flew. He sent me their records, too, so I know they must be good kites. He wanted to know if the Mississippi League of the Weather wouldn't do some kite-flying and send him records of the observations."
"Would we?" cried the enthusiastic Monroe. "I should say we would!"
"It means quite a bit of trouble," the weather expert warned them; "scientific kite-flying needs machinery."
"Why, sir?" asked Ross. "Can't we do it by hand?"
"No," was the reply, "you can't. How would you reel the kite home? It's a very different thing sending up a Japanese paper kite on a string a few hundred feet in the air, and making an ascent of a couple of miles with a weather kite. For one thing, the weather kite is flown with wire and an especially strong kind of wire at that."
"Where will we get the wire?"
"I've advanced the money for it," the Forecaster answered, "and for the shipment of the kites. I thought, perhaps, after a while, we might hold a kite contest and charge an admission fee, because, as you know, I think the League should be on a self-supporting basis. I'll render you a bill, then, and you can pay me."
"Thanks ever so much, sir," said Ross. "That's fine. We'll do it. But who's to have charge of the kite-flying?"
"That's your affair," the Forecaster answered. "I've nothing to do with the inner workings of the League."
"I've been wondering," said Anton, "if Tom oughtn't to do it. He's our wind expert."
Tom flushed with pleasure at the suggestion.
"I haven't done much on the wind stuff," he admitted; "there didn't seem anything to do but to take measurements and things."
"I seem to remember reading them weekly in the Review," the Forecaster remarked.
"Oh, I've done it all regularly enough, but it didn't seem to be of much use," the boy said.
"You'll find that it will be of a great deal of use in the League's kite work," the weather expert rejoined.
"I think Anton's right," put in Ross. "Hands up those who think Tom ought to do it."
Every hand shot up in the air.
Tom shuffled his feet on the ground and squirmed uneasily.
"All right," he said, "I'll try. You'll tell us what to do, Mr. Levin."
The next few weeks were busy ones for the Mississippi League of the Weather. The building of the kite reel, more than anything else, gave the boys a sense of the power of the new force that they were going to handle. The Weather Review announced the expected arrival of the two kites, and the interest of the neighborhood was aroused.
Not since the days of the Civil War had anything given the farmers of the district as much to talk about as did the weekly issues of the Issaquena County Weather Review, and the people of the county took the keenest interest in all the doings of the League. Fred had been anxious to make the paper bigger and more important, as soon as it became flourishing, but he was held back in this by the conservative and laconic Bob. The wireless expert showed him that as long as the paper was kept small and easy to get out, it could be kept good. As a result, everything had to be condensed, and every bit of the little sheet was interesting. Twice the Review was quoted in important meteorological journals and various weather periodicals were sent as exchanges to the office. It meant a lot of work for the editor-in-chief, but Fred's father, realizing that the post was an excellent training for his son, released him from all his Saturday chores.
At last the word came that the kites had actually arrived. A farm wagon was sent in to fetch the wooden cases, and that wagon, when it drove into town, had every member of the League on board, all excited and chattering like so many magpies. Rex and Lassie, the pair of four-legged members of the League, also came along to give dignity to the occasion.
Permission had been secured from Tom's father to use part of the pasture as a kite-flying station, and, bright and early the next Saturday, the League gathered at the wind-measurer's home to see the cases unpacked. Mr. Levin also came, to give advice and suggestions.
"What's the direction of the wind, Tom?" he asked.
The boy glanced up at his home-made weather-vane, which had been adjusted so that it was right to the fraction of a degree.
"South-southeast, sir," he said.
"Is it steady or veering?" the weather expert continued. He was anxious that Tom should feel the importance of his wind observations. "What was it this morning?"
"I'll see, sir," said Tom, and hurried into the house for his book on wind observations, which he had kept faithfully, though, in all the five months of the League's work, there had been no opportunity to make use of them.
"It was south—a quarter—east this morning," he answered quite importantly.
"And what is the present velocity?" came the next query.
Tom ran up the short ladder to the dial of his Robinson anemometer or wind-measurer. This consisted of four cup-shaped pieces of metal fastened to four arms at right angles to each other, and set horizontally in a socket. The force of the wind on the open cup-shaped sides was so much stronger than on the convex or rounded sides that the anemometer whirled around quite rapidly.
"Say," said one of the boys as he watched Tom, "I didn't know he had all this down so pat! It's great!"
"Fourteen miles an hour, sir," said Tom, as he ran down the ladder, "by the anemometer dial."
"Well," the Forecaster replied, "fourteen miles an hour is a good enough breeze for kite-flying. How about it, boys? Shall we try a flight to-day?"
"Oh, let's!" the boys exclaimed.
"Very well," said the Forecaster, "we'll put the kites together. Have any of you ever seen a weather kite?" he queried.
"I've seen a picture of one, sir," said Fred. "I saw it in one of the Weather Bureau booklets. It looked like a box with the ends knocked out. Are these like that?"
"Yes," the weather expert replied, "all over the world the Hargrave or box kite is used. There's a little difference in the methods of bracing the frames, but the principle of them all is the same."
"Are they the best kites for lifting, sir?" asked Anton. "I saw a picture, once, of a man being carried along the ground by a kite, but it didn't look like this. It was like a lot of little triangles all piled one on top of the other."
"That's a different kind," the Forecaster answered, "it's called a tetrahedral kite, and was invented by Dr. Alexander Graham Bell. They will lift a man quite easily. Owing to the form of construction, they're much heavier and harder to handle and they won't go up as high. The box kites fly higher and more easily. They'll go up even in the lightest wind, and that's quite important, boys, because you must remember that sometimes there's quite a strong wind in the upper layers of the air when there's only a zephyr below. As you see, boys, this kite consists simply of four long sticks arranged in a square, with one third of the length at either end covered with a specially treated and tightly stretched muslin."
He was working rapidly as he talked, and, before long the kite was assembled, the wire attached and wound on the reel and all was ready for launching.
"Will that wire hold it, sir?" asked Ross, as he noted the extremely fine line that the Forecaster was using.
"Certainly, it's piano wire. It's only a thirty-second part of an inch in diameter, but it will stand a pull of nearly three hundred pounds. That's more than you could pull. More even than Monroe could pull, and he's the strongest of you."
"Couldn't I hold one of those small kites, sir?" asked Monroe.
"Yes," the Forecaster said, "you could with a well-made hand reel, and if the wind wasn't too strong. But your arms would soon give out. Of course, the pull of a kite depends on the amount of square feet of sail area. Anton," he added, turning to the crippled lad, "you're the mathematician of the League, measure that kite and tell us how many square feet of sail area it has."
Anton took a foot rule from his pocket and measured the kite rapidly.
"A trifle over thirty-six feet, sir," he said. "I can give you the fractions, if you like."
"No, that's near enough," said the Forecaster. "Thirty-six feet of sail area in a fourteen mile wind will lift nearly twenty pounds of wire and, probably, will have a pull of about sixty pounds. I don't think you'd care to stand a sixty-pound drag very long, Monroe. We'll let our new reel do the work."
"About how high could we make this kite go, sir?" asked Tom. "Does that depend on the wind?"
"No," the Forecaster answered, "it depends on the sail area of the kite and the weight of the wire. Ten square feet of sail area will lift three pounds or, a thousand feet of wire. There are over five thousand feet to a mile, and a kite usually ascends at about an angle of forty-five degrees. So, if you allow for sag and so forth, you'd have to put out eight or nine thousand feet of wire to reach a mile, wouldn't you?"
"Yes," said Tom, "I guess that's how it would go."
"It's an awful lot of line," commented Fred.
"Therefore," said the Forecaster, "if ten square feet will lift a thousand feet of wire, for eight thousand feet, you'd need eighty square feet of sail area."
"Then even the two of these together aren't big enough to go up a mile!" cried Tom.
"A mile is pretty high, my boy," said the Forecaster; "you've never seen a kite go up a quarter as far."
"What's the highest flight that ever was made?" queried Tom.
"America holds the World's Record," was the answer. "The United States Weather Bureau sent up a string of kites at Mount Weather, in Virginia, that ascended higher than four miles and a quarter, 21,385 feet above the reel, to be exact."
"How many kites did they use?" Tom asked.
"Eight," the Forecaster answered, "with a lifting surface of five hundred and forty-four square feet of sail area. There wouldn't have been much chance for you, Monroe, if you'd tried to hold that bunch in your hand. The kites would have picked you off the ground and whisked away with you like a piece of rag tied to the tail of a Japanese kite. There," he concluded as he stepped back, "I think we're ready now. Tom, how's the wind?"
The official wind-measurer ran up the ladder to his dial, calculated rapidly and answered:
"Freshening, sir. It's about seventeen miles an hour, now."
"That's all right," the weather expert declared. "Tom, you start her off."
"What do I do, sir?" asked the boy.
"Just toss the kite in the air," the Forecaster answered.
"Don't I have to run with it?"
"Not a step, except when the wind is very light. Off with you!"
Tom carried the kite about a hundred feet, the line paying out as he went, and waited the word. The boys clustered around the reel excitedly. Monroe went along with Tom. Rex also wanted to follow, but as Ross was afraid that he might jump at the kite and tear it with his teeth, though in play, he called the terrier back.
"Ross," then said the Forecaster, "you take the time of the flight, and Anton, I think you'd better watch the reel and see that the line doesn't foul."
The excitement of the boys grew intense. The box kite looked so unlike any of the kites that they had flown that some wondered whether it would go up in the air. Fred, in his capacity as editor, having seen a picture of a box-kite up in the air, was quite arrogant in his assurances that it would really fly.
"Are you ready?" the Forecaster said, watching the whirling anemometer. "Throw!"
At the word, Tom gave the kite a light toss in the air, against the direction of the wind, as indicated.
The kite swayed from side to side, but having four surfaces to the wind, did not swoop and dive like the flat kites. Only half a dozen times did it dart from side to side, then the current of the wind caught it at the right angle and it began to climb up into the air.
Tom waved his cap at it with an excited cheer, in which all the boys joined.
The first kite-flight of the League was on!
Smaller and smaller grew the kite, climbing until it was almost out of sight. The rattle of the reel, as the wire ran out, was music in the boys' ears. When the half-mile mark on the wire was passed, the Forecaster said:
"I think that's enough for a first flight, boys. Better pull her in."
Some of the boys begged that the kite might be allowed to go up a little higher, but the home-made reel was a trifle rickety and would need strengthening. Winding the reel by hand took quite a long time, but the kite came to the ground, safely, unharmed.
From that time on, kite-flying became a passion with the boys. The official measurements of the Weather Bureau kites were secured, together with diagrams showing exactly how the kites were to be built. Before a month was over, every member had a kite, and, as kite-races were to be held, every boy had to build his kite himself, absolutely without any outside help. It was nothing less than amazing to see how these kites, all built on the same pattern by different boys, behaved differently. It seemed almost as if the characters of the boys appeared in their kites. Bob's was the slowest and most powerful, Anton's the fastest but behaved poorly in a strong wind, Monroe's was absolutely useless in a zephyr.
Tom, who up to that time, had felt that his share in the work of the League was extremely small, now found himself of great importance. He thought of kites in every spare minute of the day and dreamed of kites at night. His father had to forbid the mention of the word "kite" at meal-times. The lad made fliers of every shape and pattern, and his kites were usually so stable that it was upon his model that the meteorograph was fastened which registered the pressure, humidity and temperature of the air and the velocity of the wind, according to the request of the young fellow who had sent the League the two first kites. The Issaquena County Weather Review was compelled to run a regular weekly feature of "Kite Records" and few were the weeks without a flight.
At last came the fateful Saturday, the last Saturday in October, the day set for the kite races. Many of the boys had made new kites for the occasion and all had overhauled them. Secret practice flights had been made and the rivalry was keen. What was the wind going to be like? Would the day be fine? It was hinted that Tom had some special secret, but what it was no one knew, unless, perhaps, the Forecaster. The event had been quite widely advertised—had it not appeared in the Review!—and the neighborhood gathered as though to a country fair. The roped inclosure was full of people and the dimes which rattled into the dried gourd more than paid up the club's indebtedness for the wire and the shipment of the kites.
There were all kinds of races, races for speed, to see whose kite would reach a certain height the soonest; races for steadiness; races for altitude. Anton created great excitement by sending up one of the puppies in a basket attached to a parachute fastened to a kite which was released when he pulled a string. It was a big parachute and a small puppy, so that no one feared for the pup's safety.