U. S. Service Series.
THE BOY WITH THE U. S. WEATHER MEN
With Seventy-two Illustrations from Photographs
Boston Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Co.
Published, September, 1917
Copyright, 1917 By Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Co. All rights reserved
THE BOY WITH THE U. S. WEATHER MEN
Norwood Press Berwick & Smith Co Norwood, Mass. U. S. A.
The savage fury of the tempest and the burning splendor of the sun in all ages have stirred the human race to fear and wonder. All the great stories and legends of the world began as weather stories. The lightnings were the thunderbolts of Jove, the thunder was the rolling of celestial chariot-wheels, and the rains of spring were a goddess weeping for her daughter, Nature, held a captive in the icy prison of Winter.
We know a great deal more about the forces of the Weather than the ancients did, yet we know but little still. The hurricane does not come unheralded to our shores, the freezing grip of a cold wave is forecast in time to enable us to fight it, the lightning is tamed by the metal finger we thrust upward to the sky. But the tornado sweeps its funnel of death over our cities in spite of all we do, the cloudburst falls where it will, and rivers rush to flood with the melting of the snows upon the distant mountains.
There is no battle greater than the battle with the Weather, which is both our enemy and our ally. Death and disaster are the price we pay for ignorance. Great victories have been won by knowledge. Galveston's sea-wall dared and defeated the hurricane, the levees of the Mississippi have held captive many a flood, and our myriad spears of defence have snatched at the power of the lightning flash and hurled it harmlessly to the ground.
We are not slaves to the demons of the Weather, now—not as we once were. The United States Weather Bureau, day by day, draws closer and closer the chains which bind the untrammeled violence of sun and storm. High, high in the atmosphere, is a world all unexplored, where no man can dwell; where, as yet, no human-made instrument has reached. This unknown world calls for explorers, it calls for adventure, it calls for daring and patient work. It is for Man to tame the forces of the sky, and tame them he must and will. To show how much the Weather Bureau is accomplishing, to depict the marvels of its work, to portray the ruthless ferocity of the forces as yet uncontrolled and to reveal the gripping fascination of this work, in which every American boy may join, is the aim and purpose of
CHAPTER I PAGE ADRIFT ON THE FLOODED RIVER 1
CHAPTER II THE HOME OF THE RAIN 34
CHAPTER III PUTTING THE SUN TO WORK 72
CHAPTER IV THE MASSACRE OF AN ARMY 105
CHAPTER V THE RUNAWAY KITE 143
CHAPTER VI DEFEATING THE FROST 180
CHAPTER VII CLEARING AN INNOCENT MAN 210
CHAPTER VIII IN THE WHIRL OF A TORNADO 255
CHAPTER IX THE TRAIL OF THE HURRICANE 280
CHAPTER X STRUCK BY LIGHTNING 312
The Funnel of Death Frontispiece FACING PAGE Futen, God of the Winds 14 There, Before the Flood, Stood Anton's House 30 The Edge of a Tornado's Whirl 38 In the Path of the Lightning 46 In the Path of the Tornado 46 Facing a Climb on Snow-Shoes 56 Twenty-Five-Foot Drift a Mile Long 56 Forest Ranger in Idaho 56 Observer Among the Quaking Aspens 56 No Peak Too Lofty for a Weather Station 68 Wall and Upright Sun-Dials 86 The First Line of Defence Against the Tempest 98 Solar Halo Seen in the United States 110 Solar Halo Seen in Russia 110 The Dust that Makes Red Sunsets 122 An Army Destroyed by Weather 138 Types of Upper Clouds 152 Types of Lower Clouds 152 Types of Rain Clouds 152 Kite-Flying—The New Way 162 Kite-Flying—The Old Way 162 The Explorer of the Upper Air 172 Snow-Flakes from the Upper Regions of the Air 186 Snow-Flakes from the Middle Regions of the Air 186 Snow-Flakes from the Lower Regions of the Air 186 Ringing the Frost Alarm 192 Fighting Frost in an Orchard—Night 206 Fighting Frost in an Orchard—Dawn 206 Bucking a Snow-Drift 212 Clear the Way! 212 Measuring the Blizzard's Rage 224 Signals on Delaware Breakwater 236 Signal Tower for Storm Warnings 236 Thermometers and Rain-Gauge 246 Pencil Drawings of Tornado in Dakota 256 True Tornado Forming in Advance of a Dust Whirl 268 Tornado Dropping Towards Ground 268 Tornado Wrecking a Farm 276 Tornado Whirling Sidewise 276 Galveston Causeway Before and After the Hurricane 286 Shot from the Gun of a Hurricane 296 Scale of Winds, Illustrated by Clipper Ships 304 Branch Lightning and Multiple Flash 314 Eiffel Tower Struck by Lightning 320 Lightning Flash Striking Building 320 Mules Carried in the Air Three Miles from Their Stable 328 Grand Piano Picked Up by a Tornado and Dropped in a 328 Cow-Pasture
THE BOY WITH THE U. S. WEATHER MEN
ADRIFT ON THE FLOODED RIVER
"What is it, Rex, old boy? What are you after? Somebody else in trouble, eh?"
Ross looked down through the pouring rain at his Airedale, who was pulling at his trouser leg with sharp, determined jerks. The dog looked far more like a seal than a terrier, his hair dripping water at every point, while a cascade streamed from his tail. The boy was every whit as wet. Here and there, through the slanting lines of rain, could be seen the smoky gleams of camp-fires, around which, shivering, gathered the hundreds of people who had been rendered homeless by the flooded Mississippi.
The lad turned to his father, who was bandaging a child's wrist, which had been broken during the work of rescue.
"It looks as if I ought to go, Father," he suggested, "that's if you don't mind. By the way Rex is going on, there's something up, for sure."
"Go ahead, then, son," his father agreed, "the dog's got sense enough for a dozen. Watch out for yourself, though, and don't get foolhardy," he added warningly, as the lad disappeared in the darkness; "you've got to be right careful when the Mississippi's in flood."
"I'll watch out," Ross answered reassuringly, as he started off with the dog, and, a moment later, the glow of the camp-fire was blotted out in the falling rain.
"This is your hike, Rex," announced the lad; "you lead and I'll follow."
The Airedale cocked up one ear on hearing his young master's voice, then, putting his head knowingly on one side, as if he understood every word that had been said, he trotted to the front and splashed through the pools of mud and water, his stump of a tail wagging with evident satisfaction.
Ross was used to all kinds of weather, but a downpour such as this he had never seen before. The rain fell steadily and relentlessly, with never a pause between. The night was too dark to see clearly, as the sheets of water were swept before the wind, but their force was terrific. Several times the boy had to turn his back to the driving storm and gasp, in order to get his breath.
"Where are you going, old boy?" again queried Ross.
The terrier paused, shook himself so that the drops flew in all directions, looked up in his master's face, gave a short sharp bark and trotted on.
Ross leaned down, patted the dog, and followed. By some instinct of his own, the terrier was keeping to a submerged road, though how he managed to remain on it was beyond the lad's comprehension, for the night was as dark as a wolf's throat and the path was under water half the time.
Suddenly the dog stopped and looked back as though for guidance. Before them was a swirl of water. In the darkness it was impossible to say how deep the wash-out might be, or how wide. Ross hesitated. His father had warned him against foolhardiness, and here he was facing the crossing of a swift current of unknown depth on a pitch-black night. Should he venture?
Rex barked, a short excited "yap" of urgency.
"I'll go as far as I can wade, anyhow," said Ross in response; "maybe it isn't so deep after all. I'm not particularly anxious to have to swim."
The terrier watched his master, and as soon as the boy started to cross the wash-out in the road-bed, the dog plunged in. The current swept him down rapidly, but Rex was a powerful swimmer and the lad had little fear for him. It took all his own strength to keep him from being swept off his feet, but the break in the road was not more than six yards across, and the boy was soon safe on the other side. He whistled shrilly and a moment or two later, Rex came bounding up and jumped on his master with clumsy delight. Then, with another cock of his head, as though to make sure of himself, he took up his position in front of the lad and trotted ahead.
How it rained! The water had gone down Ross's neck and inside his shoes, so that they sloshed and gurgled with each step. Little rills of water trickled coldly down his back and legs. The wind was dropping, so that the rain drove less in slanting sheets, but it seemed to pelt down all the more heavily for that. Even in the darkness, Ross could see the plops, where the drops fell, standing up from the surface of the flooded water like so many spiny warts. It was lonely, even with Rex for company, so dark and so wet was the night, and Ross was glad when the glow of a fire in the distance told him that he was approaching an encampment, probably, he thought, that of another group of settlers who had been driven from their flooded houses and were shivering, homeless, in the night.
When he arrived near enough to take in a full view of the scene, however, he found it very different from what he expected. True, there was a large camp-fire burning, such as the one he had left, and around it were gathered a number of women and children, cold, hungry and wet. A rough, lean-to tent, made of a sheet of tarpaulin, had been stretched in order to try to keep off the worst of the downpour, but no shelter availed.
A few steps farther, on the river bank, was a scene of excitement and commotion. A large gasoline torch flared into the night, defying the efforts of the storm to extinguish it, and by the light of this torch, scores of men were working busily, almost crazily, repairing a cave-in that threatened every moment to make a new break in the levee.
"Who's that? Another man?" rang out a clear, strong voice, as Ross came near. "Good! We need men badly, right now."
"It's me, Mr. Levin," answered the boy promptly, as he recognized the voice, and hurried into the circle of light, "it's me, Ross Planford."
"Howdy, Ross," came the greeting in reply, "all your folks safe?"
"Yes, sir," the boy answered. "It was a narrow shave, though. Rex got us out just in time."
"Good dog, that," was the terse comment. "I always did like Airedales. Well, Ross, it's time you got busy. Bring me a pile of empty bags from Dave's sugar-mill, there."
"Yes, sir," answered the lad, and darted off towards the factory.
Rex followed at his heels, and when, staggering back with his load, Ross dropped one of the empty bags, the terrier picked it up and came trotting after, carrying it in his teeth.
"I dropped one, Mr. Levin," said the boy, "I'll go right back for it."
"You don't need to," replied the Weather Forecaster, "your pup retrieved it for you. See?" and he held up the missing bag.
The engineer in charge of this section of the Mississippi, whose duty it was to guard the artificial banks or "levees" of the river, was working on the main break in the levee, with a huge gang of men. In this crisis, one of the planters, who formerly had been the local Weather Bureau official, had offered to take charge of the new threatened source of danger.
At his request, Ross busied himself for some time in bringing empty bags, which were then filled up with sand and dumped into the cave-in. Being in bags, the washing action of the water could not carry away the sand, and the gradually crumbling bank again was made firm. After a while, however, Ross again felt the dog tugging at his trouser leg and he realized that the mission on which he had started had been forgotten in the excitement of mending the crack in the levee.
"That's right, I was forgetting," said Ross aloud, and he appealed to his friend the Forecaster.
"Mr. Levin," he said, "can you spare me for a bit? I left Father's camp because we thought there was something wrong. Rex kept on tugging at my leg, as though he wanted to lead me somewhere. He's worrying again, now. Do you mind if I go ahead and see?"
"Not a bit," was the hearty answer, "a dog doesn't generally go on like that without some reason of his own. I'll send one of the roustabouts with you, if you like?"
"No, thanks, sir," the lad answered, "if I really need help I'll come back and ask for it. Right now, I just want to find out what it is that's bothering Rex."
"Off with you, then," said the other, kindly, "but go easy. Oh, and Ross!" he added, "if you're going down stream, just keep your eye on the levee, won't you? If you see any signs of trouble, get back on the double-quick. Don't try any of that story-book business about sitting down with your back to a hole in the bank. That sort of thing may be all very well in Holland but it wouldn't work with the Mississippi."
Ross grinned, remembering the story.
"All right, Mr. Levin," he answered, "if I see anything that looks like trouble, I'll come right back and report."
For a short distance down the river, Rex led the boy along the levee, then he branched away from the river bank towards a large stretch of low-lying land. This was familiar territory to Ross, for one of his best chums, a little crippled lad, lived in a house in the hollow.
"I hope Anton got out all right!" suddenly exclaimed Ross, half aloud, as the thought swept over him of the plight in which his chum might have been.
This fear became more poignant when, as Rex reached the path that led up to Anton's house, he turned up it, half trotting and half splashing his way through. Ross followed him closely, breaking into a run himself, as the dog galloped ahead.
There was a slight rise of the ground, near the wood below which lay the house, and from this shallow ridge the rain ran off in muddy gullies that were miniature torrents. This ridge reached, Ross looked down over the hollow toward the house. The entire plantation was a sheet of water, and, in the middle, still stood the house, the water half-way up its first story.
Rex set his forelegs firmly on the ground and barked fiercely, with loud, explosive barks that rang through the storm like the successive discharges from a small cannon.
Then, out of the rain, faintly through the distance, a shout was heard. It sounded like a boy's voice.
"It's Anton!" cried Ross. "He's been left behind! And that house is apt to go to pieces any minute!"
The first thought that sped across his mind, as he peered through the darkness to the dim outlines of the white house, was to hurry back to the Forecaster for help. Even as this thought came to him, however, Ross realized that such action might be of little use. Already the waters of the flood, swirling around the house, undermined it every moment, and it would take a long time to portage a boat all the way from the levee to the hollow, now in the wild sweep of the torrent.
Then Ross remembered that, a couple of years before, when a wet summer had caused a considerable quantity of water to gather in the hollow, forming a small lake, Anton and he, together with the rest of the boys, had built a rough boat. They had played the whole story of "Treasure Island" in this craft, Anton, with his crutch, taking the part of Long John Silver. The boat was a rough affair, as he remembered it, something like an ancient coracle, but it had been water-tight, at least. Perhaps it would be sea-worthy, still. At least, it was worth a trial.
Turning his back on the building that was islanded by the flood, Ross raced as fast as he could to the little block-house on the ridge that the boys had built two years before, near which he hoped to find the boat. Twice he stumbled over a root in the darkness and fell headlong into the mud and water. Still, as he could not be any wetter than he was already and as he did not hurt himself, a few falls were no great matter.
On the ridge, fast to the block-house, to which level the water had not yet reached, Ross found the boat. Moreover, to his great delight, he saw that Anton had been patching it up, so that it was now more serviceable than ever.
It was a different matter, punting this home-made boat around the waters of a pond on a calm summer's day, and striking out with it in a blinding storm across the flooding lowlands of the Mississippi River. Again his father's warning not to be foolhardy, came to Ross's remembrance, and, together with it, the Weather Bureau man's caution. None the less, the boy knew well that his father would never bid him hold back from a piece of work that was dangerous or difficult when life was at stake.
The boat was half full of water from the pouring rain. Ross bailed it out with a cocoanut-shell to which a handle had been affixed, evidently a home-made bailer of Anton's manufacture, and, as soon as it was clear of water, dragged it to the border of the current and launched it. The craft floated crankily, it was true, but it floated, and, so far as the boy could tell, it seemed fairly water-tight.
Jumping out again, Ross swung himself into the water and shoved the boat along beside him. He saw the value of wading as far as possible, for he knew that, as long as his feet were on the bottom, he could govern his direction. To what extent he might be able to stem the current by the use of oars in a boat of that character, he did not know.
Rex, however, was convinced that the boat had been secured expressly for him, and, as soon as Ross came near enough to the shore, the dog bounded through the shallow water in long leaps, swimming the last few feet, and put his paws on the gunwale. Ross picked up the terrier and heaved him into the boat. Rex gave a snort of satisfaction, shook himself so that he sent a trundling spray of water clear in his master's face and then took his post in the bow of the boat and set himself to barking with all his might and main. It seemed almost as though he really knew that he was at the head of a rescue expedition and wanted to convey the information. When at last Rex ceased barking, which was not for some minutes, Ross gave a shout.
Instantly, at one of the upper windows, something white appeared. In the darkness the boy could not tell what it might be, but he guessed, and rightly, that it was Anton's shirt, and he heard again, though faintly, the answering call across the river.
"Keep up your nerve, Anton," he yelled, through the storm, "I'll be over there in a minute."
Faintly, again, came the answering cry,
"Hello, Ross! Is that you? I wondered who it was that was coming."
The slow progress made by shoving the boat along, however, was not at all to Rex's liking. He turned and looked at his master doubtfully, then barked again. To his disgust, in turn, the boy found that the slope of the hollow curved away from the house a great deal. He was tempted, time after time, to jump into the boat and pull straight across, but he knew that if the force of the current drifted him below the house, he could never hope to go upstream against it. His only chance was to make sure that he could reach the middle of the torrent above the house and drift right down upon it. A few yards' extra leeway would enable him to steer his cranky craft to the desired spot. So, though it seemed to him as if he were going away from Anton, and though, indeed, he was now so far away that the crippled boy's shouts no longer could be heard, Ross stuck to his intentions, and, still wading, pushed the little craft up-stream.
Rex protested vigorously. He ran back from the bow and looked into Ross's face with a reproachful and almost angry bark, as much as to say:
"You silly! Can't you tell what I brought you here for?"
The boy knew better than the dog.
"Lie down!" he ordered sharply.
Rex, understanding in a doggish way that he was in the wrong somewhere, went back to his post in the bow, where he stood dejectedly, his tail no longer at the jaunty angle than it had been before.
At last Ross felt that he had reached a point high enough up the flooded bank to justify him in the attempt to get across. He jumped into the home-made skiff, and, setting his strength to the clumsy oars, began to pull with all his might.
He had not over-estimated the force of the current. As the light craft got into the swirl, the black water caught it like a feather. Ross pulled with all his might, but the banks slipped by as though he were in tow of one of the river steamboats. Never had the boy tugged at a pair of oars as he did now, and never had he so wished for a good boat and for real oars. He was only two-thirds of the distance across to the house when it came into sight, only a little distance below him.
He would not reach it!
With the energy of despair, Ross tugged on his oars, every muscle of his body tense with the strain.
Rex, divining the struggle, stood silent, not looking forward over the bow as he had been doing, but watching his master as he toiled with his oars.
Then, out from the darkness, shot the long black menace of a floating tree trunk. Straight for the boat it sped.
From the window, now close at hand, came a cry:
"Look out, Ross! Look out!"
Ross saw the danger. He knew, if he backed water, or halted long enough to let the tree go by, he would infallibly be swept past the house and all hope of rescuing Anton would be gone. He saw, too, that if the tree struck the frail boat, it would sink it as a battleship's ram sinks a fishing-boat in a fog at sea. He might win through, but if it struck—
The oars creaked with the sudden strain thrown on them.
On came the tree, but, just as it was about to strike the boat, it checked and turned half over, as the projecting stump of a broken bough caught on the ground below. For an instant, only, the tree halted and began to swing.
The halt gave a moment's respite, one more chance for an extra pull with the oars. The big log, thus poised, made a backwater eddy on the surface of the river, checking the force of the current. Ross reached back for another stroke, with every ounce of his muscle behind it.
The tree turned over sullenly and charged down the river anew. Yet that brief pause, that second of delay, that back-water ripple as the log hung in suspension, had given Ross just the advantage that was needed. The branches of the upper part of the tree swept round, one of them catching the stern of the boat and almost pulling it under. Peril had been near, but victory was nearer. The bow of the boat touched the wall of the house.
The current, swirling around the rocking walls, carried the boat to the lee of the house, and, as it spun round, Ross leaped on to the porch, chest-deep in water, and took a quick turn with the boat's painter around the corner post of the porch.
The torrent took his feet from under him, and swept him down-stream, floating, but Ross held a firm grip on the rope and dragged himself back. There, clasping the post tightly, he got back his breath. After a moment's groping he found the railing of the porch. By standing on this and holding fast to the corner post, he was, for the moment, out of danger.
He had reached the house, but how was Anton to be rescued?
The crippled boy was on the second story and the upper window could not be reached from the boat, even if the boat could have been held in place directly under it. Fortunately, Ross knew the arrangements of his chum's house as well as he did those of his own. Stepping gingerly along the porch railing, he came close to the window of the sitting room. The glass was still in the window frame, but as the front door was swinging wide open, though partly choked with debris, Ross knew that the sitting room must be full of water. He kicked the glass out and then, with a heavier kick, broke away the middle part of the window-sash. The water did not come quite to the top of the window frame, sure evidence that there was room for air between the water and the ceiling.
Taking a long breath, but with his heart knocking against his ribs, Ross dived through the broken window. It is one thing to be able to swim and dive, it is another to plunge through a splintered window-frame into a dark house in the middle of the night, with a flood roaring on all sides.
Was the door into the hall open? On that, success depended.
The boy turned sharply to the left as he came up to the surface and took breath. His hand struck the top of the door jamb. The door was open, but the casing was only three inches above the water. Ross dived again through the door, and, under water, turned to the right. One swimming stroke brought him to the staircase and he rushed up the few steps at the top to the room above.
There, by the light of a single candle, he saw Anton, his eager eyes shining out of his pale face. The crippled boy hobbled across the room on his crutch and grasped his chum tightly by the shoulder. He was trembling like an aspen-leaf in the wind.
"Scared, Anton?" said Ross. "I'm not surprised. You've a good right to be."
"I wasn't so scared," the younger lad replied, with the characteristic desire of a boy not to be thought cowardly, "I just got to wondering, that was all."
"Wondering if any one was going to come for you?"
"How did you get left behind, anyhow?" queried Ross.
"Oh, it was my own fault, all right," the crippled lad replied. "It was all because of the dog. You know, Ross, Lassie had pups, last Monday."
"No, I didn't know about it," responded the older boy. "Why didn't you tell a fellow?"
"I haven't seen you since," Anton explained. "Well, when the levee broke and the water commenced to come into the house, Dad and Uncle Jack went and got the two boats we always keep on the river. Dad picked me up and carried me down on to the porch. I heard him call to Uncle Jack:
"'You go ahead and get Clara; I've got Anton safe with me.'"
"Then you were with him, weren't you?" queried Ross.
"Sure I was. Just as I was getting into the boat, though, I thought of Lassie and her puppies and I went back to get them. I called to Dad and said:
"'I'm just going to fetch Lassie, Dad, and I'll go in Uncle Jack's boat.'
"So, Dad, he called to Uncle, saying that I was to go with him. His boat was pretty well crowded up, too. Back I went to get Lassie. As soon as I'd picked up the pups, Lassie was willing enough to come along. The water was running over the floor and made it slippery. My crutch slithered on the wet wood and I tumbled down. It was pretty dark, and I had a job finding the four puppies again. When I did gather 'em up and started for the porch again, Uncle Jack was gone."
"He thought I was with Dad, and I suppose Dad was sure I was with Uncle Jack."
"They ought to have found out and come back after you as soon as they got together."
"I thought of that," the crippled lad answered, "and that's what I expected would happen. I suppose, though, they didn't land at the same place, and so each bunch thinks I'm with the other and isn't doing any worrying."
"It's a mighty awkward mix-up," declared Ross. "There's no saying what might have happened to you if Rex hadn't been on the job."
"Was it Rex who brought you here?"
"It sure was," Ross replied, and he described how the terrier had pulled him by the leg and insisted on his coming over to the house in the hollow.
"Where's Rex now," queried Anton, "down in our old boat?"
"Yes, he's down there, keeping watch, good old scout," answered Ross. "He ought to be satisfied now, he certainly made fuss enough to bring me here. But, look here, Anton, how are we going to get you out? You don't swim."
"No," answered his chum mournfully, "I can't swim."
"If there was room enough down that stair," said Ross, thoughtfully, "I could take you on my back, but we'd never get through that door, and the window would be even worse."
"I'd been thinking of that," Anton answered. "I wondered how Dad would get me when he found out that I wasn't with Uncle Jack and came for me. So I made a long rope out of strips of my sheets."
"What's the good of that?"
"Well," said the younger boy, "I was wondering if I couldn't get out of the window. My arms are awful strong, you know, Ross."
"Yes," the other agreed, "you've plenty of muscle there."
"I thought if I could drop that line out of the window, Dad could grab it and hold the boat there. Then I could chuck down Lassie and the pups in a basket—I've got the basket—and slide down the rope of sheets into the boat."
Ross thought for a minute.
"I don't see why we couldn't do that now," he said. "Suppose we tied a piece of wood to the end of this rope of sheets, so that it would float, the current would curl it around the corner of the house so that I could get hold of it from the boat. If your end of the line was made fast up here, I could hand over hand the boat right under your window, the way you say. Why, I could get you out without any trouble at all! Let's see how it goes."
Suiting the action to the word, Ross tied one end of the line of sheets around the hinge of the door, passed it through the window, and, to the other end, tied a spare crutch. Then he leaned out of the window and watched it. The current snatched the crutch down and, as Ross expected, swung it around the corner of the house.
"Fine," said the lad. "We can work that all right. I'll have you out of here in two shakes, Anton. Where are the pups?"
Anton pointed to the bed, on which a basket was lying.
"Aren't they dandies?" he said.
Ross took the candle over and picked up one of the pups. Lassie growled in a low voice.
"All right, Lassie," said Ross, "you ought to know me."
He bent down and patted her.
The dog smelt his hand and whacked her tail on the floor in token of recognition, but growled again, nevertheless.
"I won't hurt your pup," declared Ross, putting the blind little creature back in the basket.
"Nicely marked, Anton," he said, "they look great. But we've got to get busy."
He went to the head of the staircase and stared down.
"It doesn't look a bit nice," he declared, "I sort of hate to go through there again."
"Why do you?" queried Anton. "You could go down the line and reach the boat that way."
"That's an idea," declared Ross thoughtfully, then he shook his head. "No," he said, "my weight would swing the crutch out clear away from the house. I'd better go down the way I came up. I can always get back, anyway."
He ran down the staircase until the water reached to his chest and then struck out. The water had risen slightly, but he got through the door without any trouble. Passing through the window he was not so lucky, for a projecting splinter of glass scraped him as he dived through, making a long but shallow cut in the upper part of his arm.
Rex welcomed him back with short joyful barks.
"I'm not a bit sure," said Ross as he patted the dog, "whether it was Anton or the pups that you wanted me to rescue, eh? Which was it?"
For answer Rex only wagged his tail and jumped up on his young master.
"Down, Rex, down," ordered Ross, "this boat's too cranky for that sort of thing. Now, where's that crutch?"
In the darkness and the pouring rain it was hard to distinguish anything, but the white gleam of the sheets showed where the crutch was floating.
"Out of reach," muttered Ross in disgust. "Just my luck! How am I going to get it?"
It was a problem. The crutch was floating on the current above twelve feet beyond the reach of the boat's painter, let out to its utmost length. By stretching out with one of the oars, Ross was about four feet short. Just four feet, but so far as success was concerned, it might as well have been four miles.
If he jumped from the boat and swam for it, there was always a chance that the current would pluck him down before he could grasp the line, and then he would not only be in danger himself, but he would have lost all chance of saving his crippled friend. As long as he stayed either with the boat or with the house, there was a chance. It would be foolhardy to lose connection with both.
Then a brilliant idea struck him. Suppose he tied the painter of the boat under his arms, loosed the boat from the post and jumped into the water. He ought to reach the floating line before the current had taken up the slack of the boat's painter. If he left loose a long enough end, with a loop knot, he could fasten the rope from the boat to the line of sheets, and the boat would be made fast. The loop knot would unfasten itself and he could easily clamber into the boat, from the stern, since it was fastened to the line coming out from Anton's window. Then he could haul up the boat, hand over hand, as agreed upon, take Anton and the puppies aboard and strike out straight for the shore.
No sooner was the idea conceived than Ross proceeded to put it into action. Slipping the line around his arms, once, he tied a loop knot in front of his chest, where it would be easy to reach, leaving about three feet of rope hanging, untied the painter and shoved off the boat. The instant that the boat felt the current it yawed around, but, at the same moment, Ross jumped out and forward with all his might. The action sent the boat down-stream all the quicker, but in a second's time, Ross had grasped the floating crutch and had taken a turn with the loose end of the rope around it.
He was not an instant too soon, for a sharp tug at his chest, followed by a sudden release of the weight, told him that the loop knot had untied itself, as he hoped it would. Holding on to the sheet line with one hand, he rapidly passed the rope once under and through. Ross had not learned his knots from the Mississippi sailors for nothing, and as the boat came to the end of its tether and jerked on the line, the boy had the satisfaction of seeing the knot tighten. With the strain off, it was easy to take another half-hitch around the line, and the knot was secure beyond peradventure. He climbed aboard, raised a cheery cry to Anton, and commenced to pull the boat hand over hand along the line of sheets. It was only a moment before the little craft was bobbing on the flood, immediately beneath the window.
"Let's have the puppies first," cried Ross.
Anton's head disappeared from the window, and reappeared in a moment.
"Catch!" he cried and held out the basket.
Ross balanced himself as best he could and caught the falling basket. It was not more than a five feet drop and the basket landed squarely in his arms. He placed it in the boat. Loud barking overhead announced that Lassie was displeased and worried over the sudden departure of her offspring.
"How am I going to get Lassie out?" queried Anton. "I'd never thought of that. She'll strangle if I let her down by the collar."
"That's easy," Ross called back. "Tie a bit of string to her collar, chuck me the end of the string, and then throw her into the water. It won't hurt her, and I can easily haul her aboard."
"All right, then," the other answered, "get the boat out of the way."
"Chuck me down the end of the string first," warned Ross, and, as he spoke, a ball of stout twine fell in the boat. "Out with her now," he continued, slackening away on the line, so that the boat was no longer directly out of the window.
There was a moment's pause and then the big dog appeared in the opening, struggling in Anton's strong, if clumsy, grasp. She clawed at the window-sill, not understanding what was happening, but Anton gave her a push, and half turning as she fell, Lassie struck the water all of a heap. The instant she was afloat, however, her natural swimming instincts asserted themselves and she started for the shore.
"Here, Lassie!" called Ross, with a whistle, and pulled gently on the string that was fastened to her collar. The dog felt the pull and turned around, swimming directly for the boat. Ross stooped down and lifted her in. The mother immediately smelt the puppies and scrambled along the bottom of the boat to the basket. She smelt her children, nosed them over, one by one, then, satisfied that everything was all right, muzzled against Rex, and lay down contentedly.
This feat accomplished, Ross pulled the boat under the window again.
"Now, Anton," he called, "it's your turn."
"All right," the younger lad replied, "I'm coming."
Ross heard him drag a chair to the window, to make it easier for him to clamber out.
Just at that instant, there came a cracking from the front of the house, the corner-post of the porch, to which the boat had been fastened less than five minutes before, fell with a crash and the front of the house crumbled. There was a moment's pause, and then the whole structure keeled over, away from the boat, and with a rending and cracking of timbers, broke from its foundation. Over and over it heeled, and it looked as though it would go to pieces. From the window overhead came a scream of terror.
Realizing that Anton could never save himself, if the house were collapsing, Ross leaped for the rope of linen that was hanging out of the window and went up it like a monkey.
The chair on which Anton had climbed, to get out of the window, had slid to the far end of the room and fallen on the sloping floor, the lower edge of which was now in the water, and the crippled lad was pinned down and unable to get out. The candle had been thrown down on the table and fire was beginning to lick some paper that had not slipped to the floor.
Ross dashed in, grabbed Anton by the arm, picked him up with the "firemen's carry" and staggered up the sloping floor to the window.
Had the boat suffered in the careening of the house?
The line, made of linen sheets, still was taut, and Ross, peering out of the window, saw to his great delight that the boat was still there with all its passengers safe, Rex, Lassie, and the puppies.
A lurch almost threw Ross upon his face and the whole house swayed as though with a violent earthquake. The next instant, a sense of motion beneath them told the boys that the house was afloat.
"The house has gone, the house has gone! What are we going to do?" cried the crippled boy.
"That's all right, Anton," the older lad said consolingly, "things aren't so bad. See, it's beginning to get daylight."
"But," said the younger boy, "the house is floating down to Pirate's Cave, that gully where the big rocks are. If we run up against those, the house'll be smashed to bits, sure."
Ross thought for a moment and saw that his chum was right.
"Guess we'll have to take to the boat after all, Anton," he said, "it's a good thing the house got on a level keel again, when she came afloat."
Action was needed and that immediately. Ross climbed half-way through the window.
"I've got to get that boat up here in a hurry," he said, "the current's swift enough, when you're in that small boat, but this house doesn't float down so fast. It's a mile, anyway, to the gully."
So saying, he swung himself out of the window, went down the linen rope and dropped into the water. Hand over hand, again, up the rope came the boat until once more it was under the window. Meanwhile, by heroic exertions, Anton had swung himself up on the window-sill. As the boat came beneath him, the crippled lad swung out on the rope and proceeded to climb down into the boat.
He was not a moment too soon. While Ross had been bringing the boat to place, the speed of the current had increased and the house, like a clumsy Noah's Ark, began to sweep swiftly towards the gully of which Anton had spoken.
"Quick, Anton," said Ross, as the smaller lad hesitated, "we've got to be quick."
He cut the boat loose.
In spite of his blunt words, it was with the greatest gentleness that Ross handed the lad to a seat in the rough craft where they had played pirates during the preceding summer, and settled down to his oars.
Lassie, finding her master safe in the boat, came and laid her head on his knee, while the shore went slipping by. Here and there a barn still stood, the tops of the trees showed above the flood, but all the ground was hidden and the torrent was running like a mill-race. Little by little, Ross edged the boat towards the shore, not trying to stem the current but rowing diagonally across it. Only a few hundred yards separated the house from the gorge which the boys knew as Pirates Cave. By this time the boat had reached the higher portion of the hollow, where the current slackened. A few strong strokes of the oars and the boat grounded, safely.
At that instant the slight lightening of the rain-filled skies showed that, behind the clouds, the sun had risen. The boys turned to look at the house which had been Anton's refuge, and which so nearly had been his tomb. As they looked, the structure struck against the uppermost of the rocks with a crash and collapsed as though made of matchwood, while, a second after, into the medley of boards and timbers some uprooted trees came crashing.
"You wouldn't have stood much chance there, Anton," said Ross.
The crippled lad put his hand on the older boy's shoulder, with as close an approach to a gesture of affection as boy nature would permit.
"I guess I'd have been a goner," he answered, "but for you."
THE HOME OF THE RAIN
The gray morning broke over the desolate scene, and Anton, hollow-eyed and exhausted, looked at the muddy waters rushing savagely over the place where his home had stood. By the tops of the trees, only, was he able to trace the outline of the fields he had known all his boyhood.
"Do you suppose it'll ever dry up, Ross?" he asked.
"Of course it will, Anton," the older lad said, reassuringly, "you'll see. In a week or two all this water'll run off and you'll forget that the old place ever looked like this."
The crippled lad shook his head, as though in doubt.
"My books have gone," he said mournfully.
The tones were quiet, but a tragedy lay beneath the words, and no one knew better than Ross how largely his chum's life lay in the world revealed in his tiny library. The flood would pass away and the fertility of summer would hide every trace of the disaster, but for Anton's loss there was no such swift remedy. His books were his closest friends, and now, at one stroke, he was bereft of all of them.
"Come," said Ross, to change the current of his chum's thoughts, "we'll have to make a start. Where do you suppose your folks are?"
The younger lad turned to his friend with the quick responsiveness and willing resignation often found among those who have suffered a great deal or who are handicapped in Life's race.
"I haven't the least idea," he said, "they might have gone over to the other shore."
"Yes," agreed Ross, thoughtfully, "that's likely. They'd certainly have more chance of finding help and grub over there. And, talking of grub, Anton, aren't you hungry?"
"Starving," admitted the younger lad.
"Then I tell you what, we'd better go and hunt up Levin."
"The chap who used to be with the Weather Bureau, you mean?" Anton asked.
"Don't you think that I ought to try to find Father first?" queried the younger lad, hesitatingly. "He might be worrying."
"It's because of your folks that I think we ought to go first to the camp," explained Ross. "We couldn't possibly row right across the flood to the other shore. We've had trouble enough getting as far as this. Besides, Anton, even if we did get over, we wouldn't know where to look for your people. There's a chance that Levin may have heard from them, and if he hasn't, he might send some one with a message. We couldn't do much searching, anyway."
In truth, the boys were utterly exhausted. The only member of the party who seemed in high spirits was Rex. He frisked about and jumped on the two boys, his tail sticking straight up in the air, as though he were convinced that it was solely through his exertions that Lassie and the puppies had been rescued.
Ross slung the basket, with its living freight, across his shoulders and started off. Lassie watched this elevation of her children with manifest uneasiness, but as her master seemed satisfied, there was nothing for her to do but to follow behind, which she did with her nose as close to the basket as possible.
Nerve-frazzled and tired out, Anton pegged away behind. The heavy downpour of rain, which had not ceased for a day and a night, and which had followed upon the heavy rains of the week before, had made the ground as soft as a bog. The crippled lad's crutch sank in so deeply at every step that it was only with great pain that he could keep up at all. Still, he struggled along bravely.
Ross, turning to see how his chum was faring, caught the boy's tense and haggard look, and understood.
"Look here, Anton," he said, at once, "we'll never get anywhere this way. You get into the boat and I'll tow you."
"But you can't, you're just about all in," protested the younger boy. "You can't tow the boat with me in it, all the way."
"Got to!" declared Ross abruptly. "It's a sure thing that you're not able to walk there with the ground in this sodden condition. Anyway, I won't have to carry the puppies."
Thankful but still protesting, Anton got into the boat and the journey began anew.
It was a weary way. Ross staggered forward, half-blind with sleep, wading knee-deep, sometimes waist-deep, in the water. The rain had stopped, but the sky was heavy and the clouds hung low. Twice Anton had to jerk on the tow-rope to jolt Ross awake, for, unnoticing, he was heading for deep water. Even near the shore the torrent was full of floating debris. The bodies of horses and cattle drifting down the stream told of many impoverished farms and the flotsam was eloquent of wrecked and demolished houses and indicative of suffering.
When, after an hour's toil, rescuer and rescued reached the drier land that sloped up to the levee, it was hard to tell which was the more exhausted. To the last, however, Ross refused to let his chum bear the burden of the puppies, and he lurched up the road to the place where he had left the gang at work on the cave-in, not so many hours before. It seemed weeks ago.
The Weather Man was still at work. He had been up all night, also, but he greeted the lad cheerily as he came in sight.
"Hello, Boss!" he called, then, as the boy's exhausted state became more evident, "what have you been doing? Has anything happened?"
"Anton was marooned," answered Ross in the dull, listless voice of extreme fatigue.
"Marooned? You mean he was caught by the flood?"
As though in answer, Anton, toiling heavily and wearily on his crutch, came in sight.
"Yes," said Ross, in the same tone, "he was left behind."
"How was that?" the Weather Man asked sharply.
"It wasn't anybody's fault, Mr. Levin," replied Anton, who had heard the last two sentences as he came up, "Father thought I'd gone with Uncle Jack, and Uncle Jack thought I'd gone with Father."
"You're not hurt?"
"No, sir," the crippled lad answered, "not a bit. Ross is, though. He cut his arm diving through the window."
The Forecaster turned swiftly to the older boy and began examining the injury.
"Is the house still standing?" he asked.
"No, sir," the boy answered, "it's all in bits down by Jackson's Gully."
The weather expert nodded. He knew the lay of the land and had expected the water from the flooded hollow to pour down towards the entrance to the gully.
"How did you get out, then?" he asked.
Anton burst into a glowing account of his rescue in the little boat which the boys had made for their pirate adventures of two years before. Even the excitement of the story, however, was not strong enough to keep his overtaxed frame from showing signs of a breakdown and the Weather Man cut the story short.
"I'm going to breakfast later," he said curtly, "but not for a couple of hours. You two had better take a rest now. Here, Sam," he called to one of the negroes, "bring me a bucket of coffee from your camp-kettle, and fetch some corn-pone. Quick now, these boys are famished."
"Yas, suh! Yas, suh!" came the reply, and, a moment later, a bucket of coffee and some corn-bread and molasses were brought.
Despite their hunger, neither Ross nor Anton could eat more than a few mouthfuls, and the hot drink was the last straw to their sleepiness. Ross fell asleep with an unfinished piece of corn-pone in his hand, and Anton's head was nodding.
"Ain' no more weight than a babby, Mister Levin," said the laborer, as he picked up the little crippled lad and carried him to a tiny open shed near by, which was the only dry spot to be found in the neighborhood.
Very tenderly he laid the boy down on a pile of clothes that had been salvaged while the Forecaster put his overcoat over Ross and laid him beside his chum.
"There," said the Weather Man, "let them sleep a while. They'll be ready for a real breakfast in a couple of hours."
Though hungry himself, the Forecaster waited for three hours before awakening the lads. Anton, by nature a light sleeper, awoke easily and was refreshed, but the awakening of Ross was a real task. He had been on a severe strain for twenty-seven hours and Nature demanded sleep. At last, however, he was roused and after he had plunged his head in a pail of cold water, he felt as full of ginger as ever and ready to start on rescue work all over again.
"I'm just going to breakfast," the Forecaster announced. "Do you want to go along?"
"Do I? I should say I did! But I'm afraid, sir, that Anton and I will eat up everything in sight."
"You don't need to worry about that," the Forecaster replied, "my men have been hauling supplies all night. Why, Ross, there are over two thousand people homeless this morning, right around this district. They've all got to eat breakfast, too, so you see even your best efforts won't seriously decrease the supply."
"I'm not so sure about that, sir," Ross said laughing, "right now I feel as though I could eat all you've gathered for the entire two thousand."
"Come and try, then," the Weather Man said, smiling. Then, turning to Anton, he continued, "Likely enough, some of your people will be at the big tent that's been put up. If they're not there, I'll send out a couple of the boys on horseback to cover both sides of the flooded area and pass the word that you're safe." He turned to the older boy. "I've already sent word to your father, Ross."
The boys thanked him and started down the levee. Owing to the continuous work of the night, the cave-in had gradually been filled up, averting a break at this point. The river, turbid and swollen, was swirling by, not more than three feet below the top of the levee.
"Is the water going down yet, Mr. Levin?" asked Ross. "It looks as though the rain were over."
"Yes," answered the Forecaster, "the rain is over, but the water's not going down yet. It's rising. I'm fairly sure that there won't be any more rain for a few days, fortunately, but I heard from Greenville this morning that the river was still rising. We can stand another nine or ten inches, but a foot would be serious. Of course, the break that flooded out Jackson's Hollow, where your place was, Anton, is relieving the pressure a little. We've been lucky here. I haven't heard of any loss of life so far. It's a nasty flood, but when the rainfall last week was reported as being so heavy, I knew we couldn't escape trouble."
"Is it just the rain that makes floods?" Anton asked.
"Just rain," was the laconic answer.
"Why is it," asked the younger boy, "that there's more rain one year than another?"
"If I could tell you that," the old Weather Forecaster replied, "I'd be the cleverest meteorologist in the world."
"But doesn't anybody know why it rains?"
"Certainly, we know why it rains."
"Why, Mr. Levin?"
The Forecaster pushed back his hat from his forehead and looked quizzically at the white-faced lad.
"You really want to know why rain comes? Very well, Anton, I'll try to tell you. Stop me, though, if you don't quite understand.
"The Earth goes whirling about in space, revolving around the Sun, as you know, and it has, like a sort of skin around it, an envelope of air. This air is kept from flying off by the force of gravity. You know what that is?"
"Yes, sir," the cripple answered, "it's what makes a stone fall to the ground."
"Exactly. Now the air is made up of little particles or molecules, like the stone, only, of course, not so heavy. They're heavy enough, though. How much weight of air do you suppose you're carrying, Anton?"
The boy looked puzzled.
"I don't quite see what you mean, sir," he answered.
"Suppose you had a pea on your head, it wouldn't be heavy to carry, would it?"
"Why, no," answered the lad, laughing.
"Supposing you had a basket of peas, the basket being only about as big round as your head, but six feet high, that would make quite a load, wouldn't it?"
"I don't believe I could carry it," was the answer.
"And if the basket were sixty feet high, as high as a barn?"
"I'd be squashed under it."
"And if it were six miles high!"
"Why," answered Anton, "a basket six miles high, even if you filled it up with cotton fluff, would weigh tons and tons!"
"Well, my boy," said the Weather Forecaster, "you're carrying on the top of your head a column of air, not only six, but sixty miles high, yes, and more than that! You don't notice it, of course, because you're used to it, and your body is made to accommodate itself to that weight by your tissues being full of air at the same pressure. Just the same, not counting the weight which presses on your whole body, amounting to about seventeen tons, you're carrying on your head, at this minute, a weight of over six hundred pounds."
"Six hundred pounds! As much as if I were carrying three heavy men sitting on my head!"
"Every bit of it, and more, under certain conditions of the atmosphere. This depends mainly on the circulation of the winds, especially those great movements a thousand miles in diameter known as 'lows' and 'highs' or cyclones and anti-cyclones. In the United States, an anti-cyclone generally means fair weather, and in an anti-cyclone the barometric column rises. That's why a barometer helps to foretell weather some time in advance; it responds to the vast movements of the atmosphere rather than to local conditions.
"Of course, Anton, at sixty miles up, the air is so thin that it has hardly any weight. Indeed, we wouldn't know there was any air at that height but for the trail that shooting stars leave. A meteor glows because of friction, and in a vacuum there is no friction. Therefore there must be air at the vast heights where shooting stars are first seen."
"Could an aeroplane get up there?"
The Forecaster shook his head.
"Never," he answered. "Even six miles up, the air would be too thin to sustain the weight of an aeroplane unless the machine were flying at terrific velocity, and besides, at that height, there wouldn't be enough air for an aviator to breathe. At that, Anton, you can see for yourself that if the air is saturated with water vapor—and the cloud-bearing atmosphere is eight or ten miles thick—there is room for a lot of water."
"It's evaporation that puts water into the air, isn't it, sir?" asked Ross.
"Exactly. The sun is shining on some part of the earth all the time. There's never a second, day or night, that water is not being evaporated from the seas, from lakes, from rivers and from the earth itself. All the water that is taken up must fall somewhere, and all the rain that falls means that the atmosphere must fill itself with water vapor again. It's a continuous performance, and the water which is being evaporated into the air falls to the earth, sooner or later, as rain, hail, or snow."
"If it's all so regular," said Anton thoughtfully, "I don't see why we don't get the same amount of rain every day, or at least every season."
"It isn't regular at all," the Weather Forecaster explained. "If climatic conditions were regular, we could forecast the weather several years in advance, instead of only a few days. There are a thousand complicating factors. Land and sea are irregularly divided, and as there is more evaporation from the sea than the land, every little curve in a coast line means a disturbance of regularity. Then, Anton, remember, while the earth is almost a globe it is not perfectly round, so that every variation from the regular curve disturbs the air currents. Moreover, the motions of the earth are very complicated. Sometimes it is nearer the sun than at other times. It wobbles slightly on its axis. It is inclined to the plane of the ecliptic, causing the seasons, and that brings a new set of factors into the problem. A mountain range or a desert will modify the atmosphere, even the difference between a forest and a prairie is noticeable."
"Suppose you could figure all those things out, couldn't you foretell the weather, then?"
The Forecaster shook his head.
"Suppose you had a thousand marbles of different colors," he said, "and you dropped them from the top of a house to the hard ground below, a rough and rocky piece of ground, could you ever figure out what kind of a pattern they would make? You might measure the size of the marbles and compute how many times they would strike against each other in falling, meantime figuring the angles of direction that each collision would produce. You might measure the resistance of the ground and the elasticity of the marbles and estimate the manner in which they would bounce after striking the ground and the distance to which they would roll. After you had done all that, you might have the right to expect that you would know the pattern that the marbles would make as they lay scattered on the ground. But you would be wrong, for if you dropped those marbles a thousand, yes, a million times, the pattern would be different each time. After tens of billions of experiments you might be able to find the proportion of patterns, but the result would never be of practical use.
"It's the same way with the weather. We know well enough how to do the things that would enable us to prophesy a long time in advance what the weather is going to be, but the problem approaches impossibility because there are too many factors that enter into the calculation. We're learning all the time, but it's a big piece of work and needs big men to do it. That's why, Anton, I can't tell you why this particular district had more rain this year than it has had for several seasons past."
Anton, pegging away on his crutch beside the Forecaster, looked up at him with an added eagerness in his eyes.
"And yet all those things are going on, right where I can see them!" he exclaimed.
"Yes," the Weather Man answered. "Some men can explore distant countries, and we envy them; some men can explore the greatest and the smallest things in the world with marvellous scientific instruments and we envy them, too; but every day and all day, and every night and all night, we are surrounded by the World of the Weather, less explored, less known than even the most remote corner of the earth. Why, Anton, if you could simply follow all the various causes that brought about this flood that made you homeless, you would have a story of adventure that would make the most daring explorer green with envy."
"But you do predict floods and rains, Mr. Levin," Ross put in. "Father told me, a week ago, that warnings for this flood had been sent out by the Weather Bureau."
"Yes, indeed," the Weather Man answered. "I should say that weather warnings issued by the Bureau save half a billion dollars to the country every year and prevent the loss of hundreds of lives. All those are short-range predictions. Very few of them cover much more than a week in advance, except, perhaps, a West Indian Hurricane which has been reported from the Antilles, or a flood on the Mississippi which is caused by heavy rains in the upper reaches of the streams flowing into it."
"Well, that's prophesying, isn't it?"
"Yes, and no," was the reply. "It's predicting, and it's due to observation. If a storm is moving eastward, with a heavy rainfall, and we've had telegraphic dispatches from all the towns in the west through which it has passed, it's not hard to figure the speed at which the storm is traveling, and it's a sure prediction to tell a city to the eastward of that storm that rain can be expected at about a certain date. Or, if there's a high flood wave at St. Louis, and we know the speed of the Mississippi current, we can notify Greenville, Vicksburg, and New Orleans at what time the trouble is likely to come to them. If no more rain is falling at Greenville and the river is going down there, we can notify Vicksburg that the flood danger is passing away. That's the observational end of the work, and in that line, the Weather Bureau of the United States is the best in the world."
The weather expert was proceeding to explain in detail the manner of collecting these observations, when suddenly Anton clutched him by the arm.
"What's that, Mr. Levin?" he cried.
The Forecaster looked ahead, then glanced down at the boy with a smile.
"What does it look like?" he asked.
"Why," said Anton, "it looks like a circus tent; you know, the one that was here the week before last."
"It is the circus tent," the Forecaster replied. "When I found that there were a couple of thousand people to be fed and looked after, the only shelter I could think of, that was big enough, was the circus tent. So, late last night, I sent a wagon up there, asking for the loan of the tent for a day or two. And what do you suppose the circus folk did?"
"They sent it, with two of their wagons, a lot of food, their cooking kit, and the two cooks who travel with the circus. What's more, Anton, you remember those two clowns in the show who were so funny?"
"You bet I do!" exclaimed the lad, his eyes shining.
"They volunteered to come down and help as waiters. They're doing it, too, and it's a right good thing, for every one around in the place is roaring with laughter half the time. Folks work a lot better when they're cheerful."
A perfect gale of merriment, which greeted the boys as they neared the tent, showed the truth of the Forecaster's statement. He had greatly understated the work of the circus. Nearly all the performers were there, busily helping the distressed.
"They're a right kindly folk, the circus people, as a rule," remarked the Forecaster.
"Are they all here?" queried Anton. "Goliath, the strong man, the Flying Squirrel Brothers, Androcles, the lion tamer, Princess Tiny and the rest?"
"Yes, most of them," the Forecaster answered. "Goliath is in charge of one of the gangs I've got at work on the river front, and the darkies are so proud of being under him that they're working like fury. The Flying Squirrel Brothers—cracker-jack mechanics, both of them—have been fixing up some tackle and machinery that we needed, but I think Androcles stayed back with his lions. I suppose he thought the lions wouldn't do us any good. But if you're not too hungry to wait just for a second—"
"What?" queried Anton excitedly.
"Yes, there they are!" the Forecaster answered, gazing along the levee.
Both boys followed his glance.
Vast, bulky shadows stood outlined against the distant Arkansas shore and the clearing sky. Unreal they seemed, until it was evident that they were moving.
There, shuffling along with that heavy rolling gait which is unlike that of any other animal in the world, came two colossal elephants.
Anton shrieked with delight.
"Elephants! Real elephants!" he cried. "Oh, Mr. Levin, I haven't ever seen an elephant quite close."
He started off up the levee, but the Forecaster called him back.
"Have your breakfast first, Anton," he said; "you've got all day to look at the elephants. They're the best workers I've got. I'd like to have a gang of them at work on the levee all the time."
This sentiment was not shared by Rex. At the first sight of the huge creatures, Lassie had given a low growl. Rex stood silent, with a stillness that Ross knew to be ominous, and just as the Forecaster finished speaking, with an angry growl, he started off to do battle against the elephants. It was a sight to see him, with his hair bristling, rushing forward to dispute the passage of these huge brutes who dared to approach the vicinity of Lassie and the puppies. Only the sharp commands of Ross availed to bring him back, and throughout breakfast he lay well in advance of the tent, watching, and growling loudly every time the elephants passed, dragging the flat sleds loaded with sand bags to the cave-in a few hundred yards beyond.
"I've been wondering," began Anton, using the expression most often on his lips, "why there are so many floods on the Mississippi. Why is it? Lots of rivers I know don't have these awful floods every year."
"I've wondered, too," said Ross.
The Weather Man looked at the two boys, then took a cigar out of his pocket.
"I can't stay away from the levee very long," he said, "but I need a cigar after breakfast, anyway, and I'll tell you why the Mississippi is one of the worst flood rivers in the world and why the safeguarding of the Mississippi is the biggest piece of work to be done in the United States. It's a bigger piece of work than the Panama Canal, and a more difficult piece of work. It means millions of dollars every year to the people of the United States."
"Why is it such a hard job?"
"The Mississippi River," the Forecaster began, "is two and a half thousand miles in length; the longest river in the world."
"Longer than the Amazon?" asked Anton.
"Yes, a great deal. Besides, it is navigable for nearly two thousand miles, clear from St. Paul, Minnesota, to the Gulf. It drains two-fifths of the area of the United States. To put it another way, all the rain and snow that falls between New York State and Montana sooner or later makes its way into the Mississippi River, except for the rain that is used up by plants and animals or that is evaporated before it reaches the river or that drains by underground seepage to the ocean. So you see what a vast amount of water it must carry. Now, boys," he continued, "what kind of banks has the river around here, rock or earth?"
"Mud!" answered Ross, tersely.
"Right," the Forecaster agreed, "and it is mud nearly all the way along. But do you know what mud is?"
This was rather a poser, but finally Anton said slowly,
"It's a mixture of earth and water, isn't it?"
The Forecaster looked shrewdly at the boy.
"You've hit it just right," he said, "mud is earth or soil that has been washed down by the river. That's what makes the bottom of the river so irregular and why it's always shifting. You can see for yourselves, boys, that if the bottom of the Mississippi is just made of light mud, light enough to be carried down as muddy water for hundreds of miles, any little change in the current of the river will stir up that mud again and scoop out a hole. If it happens to be near a bank, the bank will be eaten away and, naturally, will cave right in."
"About how much mud does the Mississippi carry down, Mr. Levin?" Anton asked.
"In flood time, as much as a thousand tons a minute will be carried past here."
"A thousand tons a minute!" he exclaimed. "Why, I should think that would fill up the river in no time."
"It would," the Weather Man answered, "if the river stood still. In flood time, however, the water is flowing rapidly and takes the mud clear down to the delta. That's why there is always so much new land being made at the mouth of the river. You could buy a piece of land under water now, Ross, if you wanted, and be quite sure that in twenty years' time there would be land there for a farm."
"But a thousand tons a minute!" the boy repeated, "that seems huge!"
"It is pretty big," the Forecaster agreed, "but I'll show you where it comes from. You know, boys, generally the land slopes down in the direction of the river, doesn't it?"
"Yes," assented the two boys, "it's supposed to. But it doesn't here. The lie of the land is away from the river."
"That's just exactly the point," the Forecaster declared. "The banks of the Mississippi range in height from about twenty to forty feet above extreme low water. As the river, in times of flood, rises as high as forty to fifty feet above low water, unless there were levees, the river would overflow its banks every spring or flood time."
"It does, quite often, even yet," commented Ross, looking on the flooded scene around him.
"Well," said the Weather Man, "the present levee system only dates back to the end of the Civil War, although there were levees built during the first settlement of New Orleans, two centuries ago. Remember, though, that the Mississippi has been flowing down its present bed for several hundred thousand years, with a flood every spring, so that the overflow has had its effect. Of course, before the land was broken up by farming, there wasn't as much earth carried down into the river to make mud as there is now.
"When the Mississippi River, with its heavy sediment, overflows the banks into the swamps, it's easy to see that the current will be slower in the flooded area than in the main bed of the river."
"Of course," agreed Ross, "but what has that got to do with it?"
"A great deal," the Forecaster replied succinctly. "The faster a river flows, the more sediment it can carry without allowing it to drop to the bottom; the slower it flows, the more readily is the sediment dropped. If you put some mud in a glass of water and keep stirring it with a spoon, the mud will never sink to the bottom. Even if you let it stand perfectly still, it will take several days before the finest particles sink to the bottom of the glass and the water becomes clear."
"Yes," agreed Anton, "I've often wondered why."
"Well," the Weather Man continued, "if you look closely at the mud in the bottom of the glass, you'll see that the bigger particles are at the bottom and then those a little smaller and so on up, until your top layer is made of a mud composed of particles so fine that you'd have to get a microscope to see them."
"I don't quite see why," said Ross. "I know bigger things are heavier, but why should a big bit of earth sink more quickly than a small bit, when they're both made of just exactly the same stuff?"
The Weather Man looked at him.
"Some of these days," he said, "remind me to talk to you about sunlight and dust, and I'll tell you a heap of things you don't know. Right now, get this idea in your head. The larger a piece of matter is, the smaller is the surface in proportion to the bulk. A feather of swan's down will float in a high wind, but if you roll that feather into a ball, it will fall. Why? You haven't made it any heavier. You've only reduced the amount of surface which was borne up by the air. It's the same way with mud, the bigger pieces sink first because they have less surface in proportion to their weight."
"Yes," answered Ross, "I can see that now."
"Very good, then," the Forecaster continued, "when the Mississippi overflowed its banks and the water got out of the current of the main stream, so that it flowed more gently, the sediment began to fall, the larger pieces first and those that were finer until it was only at the most distant point from the river that the finest mud settled. This has gone on, year after year, for thousands of years.
"Therefore, you see, the lands nearest the river are higher than those farther away. In two big basins, the St. Francis and the Yazoo basins, the slope and the drainage is away from the river, instead of towards it."
"In that case, then," said Anton thoughtfully, "the Mississippi runs in a groove on the top of a hill."
"That's it exactly," the Forecaster said, "and some of the most fertile fields lie in the lowlands made of the fine mud at the bottom of this hill. It's just like that hollow where your house was, Anton. The flood hasn't done much damage south of here because all the waters poured down into that fine plantation land where your place was located."
"What I don't see," said Ross, "is why the Government doesn't build a really high levee all the way along the river. I don't mean just a few feet higher, but a regular wall 'way higher than the river ever goes. I mean a regular stone wall, twice as high as any levee that we've got now. I should think that would make the river behave."
"It would and it wouldn't," replied the Weather Man. "What are you going to build that wall on? On the ground?"
"I suppose so," said Ross. "I hadn't thought much about that."
"Indeed you hadn't," his friend replied. "You've got to remember, Ross, that the Mississippi doesn't run in a straight line; it bends and twists like a snake. In the bends the current strikes on the outwardly curving bank, and, as you know, the water is always deep there. This causes a rapid caving and erosion of the bank. At the foot of each bend, the main flow crosses to the other side, where it strikes the bank which has become concave there, and eats into that bank just as, a few hundred yards higher, it has been eating into the opposite one."
"I know you've always got to pilot a boat first on one side of the river and then on the other," said Ross thoughtfully.
"You have. And, if you remember, you'll see that it is generally on the side nearest to the concave shore that the boats pass."
"Yes," agreed Ross thoughtfully, "I guess it is."
"Now, you can easily see," the Forecaster continued, "that the river might keep its own channel clean if it flowed straight down with a current of equal strength. But, as the current crosses from side to side, it slackens speed at each of these crossings. Therefore, as the current becomes slower, it drops some of the heavier particles of sand or mud, forming a bar at every bend, sometimes so high as to prevent navigation."
"That's what the dredges are for, isn't it?" asked Ross.
"Yes. The Government has twelve large dredges at work all the time, keeping the navigation channel open."
"I don't see, yet, why the stone wall idea wouldn't work," protested Ross.
"I'm just showing you," was the reply. "If you built your heavy wall on the bank, the water would strike the concave bank at one of these crossings, eat away the earth under the wall and your wall would topple in. Then the current would cross the stream, undermine the bank on the other side and your masonry would crumble there, too. So much for the wall."
"Suppose you sunk that wall, away down deep, below the level of the bottom of the river?" suggested Ross.
"That might work," the expert replied, "but it would cost more money than the United States could afford to spend. Besides, Ross, where would you build this wall? Right on the bank?"
"But the Mississippi is half a mile wide at some places and three miles wide at others. If the river were absolutely walled in, you'd have swift currents at one place and slow in another. Then your channel would fill up in the wide places and you'd be as badly off as before."
"Make it all the same width, then," said Ross.
"Build two-thirds of the whole two thousand miles by some underwater system, constructing the wall under water? If you had ever read of the difficulty of building one lighthouse foundation, my boy, you wouldn't talk so glibly about building huge retaining masses of masonry under water."
"Suppose it were done, that way, Mr. Levin," put in Anton, "would that settle it all?"
"You mean—suppose there was a high masonry wall, making a canal equal in width and height from St. Louis to the Gulf, would that turn the Mississippi into a permanent ship channel? Is that what you mean?"
"No, it wouldn't," the expert replied. "What are you going to do with all the little streams that flow into the Mississippi? Think for a minute, boys. You can see that wherever you narrow the banks, the river channel has got to be made deeper to accommodate the water, hasn't it?"
"Yes," both boys agreed, "it has."
"In other words, suppose that before you put up this huge masonry wall, the flood crest was fifty feet at Memphis, then, after the wall was built, the flood crest would be seventy-five or a hundred."
"Suppose it were," said Ross, "the wall would hold it in."
"So you think. There are the tributaries to consider. Take the Yazoo, for example. It flows into the main river until the Mississippi reaches the fifty-foot flood level. If you raise the flood level of the Mississippi to seventy-five feet, the water in the main river will be twenty-five feet higher than the water which used to run into it at the fifty-foot level, won't it?"
"I see where you're coming to," he said; "I'd never have thought of that. Go ahead, Mr. Levin."
"With the water in the main stream twenty-five feet higher than in the tributary, due to your retaining wall, boy, instead of the water in the Yazoo River flowing into the Mississippi, all the water above the fifty-foot level in the Mississippi would flow into the Yazoo. The Yazoo couldn't hold the water, and as the stream backed up, it would overflow its banks. All the low valleys would be flooded in exactly the same way that they were before, only, instead of the floods coming directly through a break in the levee or over the banks of the Mississippi, they would come over the banks of the Yazoo. That would be true of every small river that flows into the Mississippi, and there are scores of them."
"What can be done, Mr. Levin?"
"There's only one thing to do," the Weather Man answered, "and that's to build up the levee system, year after year, steadily and without pause, making allowances for the tributaries flowing into the Mississippi and paying especial heed to the rainfall that may be expected in the basin. Wherever possible, forestry must be undertaken to keep the slopes from erosion. Reservoirs might be built with great profit, from which water could be let down during the low water periods.
"When the river channels are accurately adjusted to the amount of rainfall in the river basin, destructive floods will be averted. We can never expect that the Mississippi will be absolutely put in harness. The basin is too huge, the amount of water that has to be carried down is too great. Permanent dredging and permanent levee construction and repair will always be necessary, and a close co-ordination between the Weather Bureau and the government and state engineers is a first need in the problem."
"Just how does the Weather Bureau come in," asked Ross, "the rainfall?"
"It isn't only the rainfall of the few days in advance," the Forecaster answered, "it's the rain that has fallen before and the rain that's going to fall. If there should be twelve inches of rainfall after a long drought throughout the Mississippi basin, it would make comparatively little difference, for all the rain that fell on the dry ground would be sucked up by it and only a very little would flow into the rivers and streams that feed the Mississippi.
"On the other hand, if there had been slight but frequent rains for weeks and weeks, those twelve inches of water would make an entirely different story. No one, except the Weather Bureau, would have kept track of the amount of rain that had fallen.
"If the ground has been steadily soaked, even by light occasional showers, twelve inches more of rain cannot soak in. Therefore, the entire amount of rain will flow directly into the stream channels and thus into the Mississippi. Flood warnings will be sent out, the height of the flood crest can be estimated, the length of the period of the danger will be known in advance and the proper preparations can be made. If further rain is threatened, that information can be sent out, also, and the entire Mississippi valley is completely prepared. That's the true preparedness, my boy, being ready for the foe that you know will come. Stupidity or cowardice are the only causes for not being willing and ready to help in time of danger."
"What can a chap do?" asked Ross, aflame with eagerness.
The Forecaster looked at him thoughtfully, but before he answered, Anton piped in, with a plaintive note in his voice:
"Is there anything that I could do?"
In spite of himself, the Forecaster's glance fell on the crutch. Anton's intent gaze followed the look and he flushed. A sudden silence fell, the silence of an abiding tragedy from which all eyes are always turned, the tragedy of the disabled.
"Yes," he said with grave quietness, "there's a great deal that you can do."
The crippled lad regarded him steadily.
The steady rushing of the Mississippi in flood could be heard near by with its thousand miles of menace.
"We need work," the weather expert said, at last, "work with the heart behind it. Even now, the United States Weather Bureau has over four thousand co-operative observers, who work without pay, who work with their hearts behind their duties. Still, this is all too few."
Anton's gaze never wavered, but a question crept into his eyes.
"Yes," answered the Forecaster, "you can be one. I know your father well, and I'm sure that he will be guaranty for the instruments. The work of making and recording observations will be yours. Never late, never forgetting, never swerving from your duty, your post at the rain-gauge and the barometer will be as honorable and responsible a post as the soldier's at sentry-post or behind the gun."
The lad's eyes glowed more deeply.
"Storms, frosts, and droughts will be your enemies," the Forecaster continued, "and they never sleep and never give quarter. The lighthouse-keeper who lets his light go out and permits a ship to go unwarned to wreck upon the rocks is not more guilty than the Weather Observer who allows disaster to sweep, unwarned, upon his district. It is a trust, Anton. Can you and will you take it?"
The sun broke through the clouds, lighting up the yellow wood of the crutch and turning it into gold. It caught the boy's eye, but with a new significance. No longer would it stand between him and his future. There was something he could do for his country, as well as though he were the strongest and best-built lad in all the neighborhood. Life, with its promises of work, opened before him.
"I'll take the trust," he answered simply.
PUTTING THE SUN TO WORK
"Fo' the land's sake, Mistah Anton, what fo' yo' puttin' up that pole on the grass?"
"So that I can find the sun, Dan'l," the crippled lad answered cheerily, as he held upright the pole, while Ross began to fill in the deep hole that the two boys had spent the morning in making.
"Yo' don't need no pole to find the sun," the old darky answered; "why, yonder's the sun, right up over yo' head."
"Is it right over my head, Dan'l?" the boy asked.
The negro, an old family servant, put his hand above his eyes and squinted at the sky.
"Not right over," he corrected himself, "but mighty near it."
Dan'l looked at the boy with a puzzled air.
"Ah don't jest know how near," he answered.
"That's the idea, exactly," Anton rejoined, "I want to know how near."
"Is this hyar another of your contraptions to tell what the weather's goin' to be like the year after next?" the plantation hand queried, taking advantage of his position as an old family appanage. The instruments had been a point of discussion all summer, for Dan'l prided himself on being a weather prophet, though he based most of his predictions on the behavior of the animals and birds around the farm.
"This is to tell time, not weather, Dan'l," Anton answered, "but we'll use it for weather, too."
The darky shook his head.
"Ah don't hold with none o' them glass things with silver runnin' up an' down in their insides, what you calls 'fermometers," he declared, "they're not nateral. Ah believe in signs. When, in the evenin', a rooster crows like he's done goin' to bust, ah knows sho' it's goin' to rain befo' mornin'."
He ambled up to Ross, who was busily shovelling in the earth.
"Hyar, Mist' Ross," he said, "let me do that for yo'. Yo' ought to ask old Dan'l when yo' got a job like that."
"That's all right," the older boy answered, readily yielding up the spade, however, and wiping the perspiration from his brow, "it is pretty hot, though."
"Yo' got no call to be workin' right near noon," the negro protested, "that's not fo' white folks. Fust thing yo' know, yo'll be havin' a sunstroke."
He shoveled vigorously as he talked, tamping the earth down hard.
"It's sho' goin' to be a hot summer," he said, "yo' only find the field-mouse nests where the shadder's thickest. Thar," he continued, patting down the earth level with his spade, "that's done now. Yas, suh, it's hot."
He wiped the perspiration from his forehead with the back of his hand.
"You bet the sun's hot," the boy agreed, "but Mr. Levin told me the other day that we only get a two-billionth part of the heat put out by the sun. Did you know that, Ross? The sun has heat enough to warm two billion Earths as big as this one. Even at that, Dan'l, the amount of heat we get from the sun would make thirty-seven billion tons of freezing water boil in one minute."
The negro's jaw dropped.
"Yo' not fooling?" he said.
"Not a bit."
"Ah's hot," he said. "Ah's goin' to boil, soon."
"Cheer up, Dan'l. You'll cool off tonight," suggested the older lad. "Nearly everything that takes in heat has to give it out again. The earth, the sea and the dust in the air, all gradually let out some of the heat during the night. If it wasn't for that, everything would stay at the same temperature all night long. That's why it's always colder an hour before dawn than an hour after sunset.
"See, Dan'l, the earth and the air which take in heat easily and give off heat easily, by the end of the night, have got rid of a lot of their heat. At sea, though, where the water lets go its heat less easily, it is never as cold as on land. The thermometer shows when it's hot and when it's cold."
"Ah don't hold with none o' them fermometers," the old darky repeated.
"That's because you don't understand them," the crippled lad replied. "It's dead easy, though. You see, Dan'l, when a thing is hot it gets bigger and when it's cold it gets smaller, that is, most things do."
"Ah don't see that, nohow," the negro answered. "A red hot stove is just 'zackly the same size as when the fire's out."
"No, it isn't, as a matter of fact," the lad replied, "but you can't always see the difference. Iron does get bigger as it gets hot. You've seen the steel rails on railroad tracks, haven't you, Dan'l."
"Did you ever notice that there's a little crack between each rail? In winter, the crack is quite wide."
The negro thought for a moment.
"Is that the crack that makes a train bump?"
"Yes, that's it. Now, Dan'l, on a hot day in summer, you can't see any crack there at all, the rail has expanded or got bigger, and filled it up. On a frosty day in winter, there's a big crack, so big that you could drop a lead pencil between the ends of the rails. That's the difference of expansion on a steel rail between winter and summer."
"That's powehful little!"
"It's quite a good deal. I'll show you. Suppose, Dan'l, you had a small rubber ball filled with ink and there was a pipe out of the ball sticking straight up in the air, and suppose you put that little rubber ball in the crack between the rails."
"Then, on a cold day, the rubber ball would have room enough. It wouldn't be squeezed and all the ink would stay in it. On a hot day, as the end of rails came together, they would squeeze the ball and the ink would squirt up. As there wouldn't be anywhere for it to go except through the tube, it would shoot up the tube, wouldn't it?"
"So that you could tell, by the height of the ink in the tube, how much the rails had come closer together, or expanded. As the only thing that would make them expand would be the heat, you could measure the heat that way, couldn't you?"
"Ah reckon yo' could."
"That's what a thermometer does, Dan'l. The little bulb at the bottom contains something that's easily swelled by the heat. In a hot climate, quicksilver is used, because it doesn't boil except at a heat much greater than the air ever gets, though it freezes easily; in a cold climate, they use alcohol because it doesn't freeze except at a degree of cold much colder than the atmosphere ever gets, though it boils easily."
"Yo' fermometer's got blood in it!"
"No, the alcohol is colored, so that you can see it easily, Dan'l, that's all. The quicksilver, or the alcohol, is put into a little bulb and up from this bulb there runs a tube. That tube is awfully thin, sometimes a hundred times thinner than a hair. When a tube is as thin as that, even a tiny amount of expansion or contraction will make the quicksilver run up the tube or down. If you watch that thermometer I've got in that white shelter over there, Dan'l, you can easily tell when it's hotter and colder. It's nearly always hotter around noon."
"It's sho' mighty near noon now," Dan'l declared.
"How do you know?"
"Ah can tell that fo' sho', yas, suh!"
"By mah own fermometer, Mist' Ross, an' that's mah inside. Right about five minutes befo' noon, thar's a little knock that says 'Tap, tap,' Dan'l, yo're hungry.' An' that knockin's always right, Mistah Ross. Ah sho' is hungry right at that hyar time."
"It hasn't knocked yet, Dan'l, has it?"
The darky looked thoughtful.
"Ah hasn't felt it," he answered, "but Ah's got a feelin' that Ah can expect it now 'most any minute."
"Well," the younger lad answered, watching the black shadow of the pole as it stretched along the ground almost to his feet, "we'll find out how near right your inside is."
He took a piece of steel tape from his pocket and handed it to his chum.
"How long is it, Ross?" he asked. He bent down eagerly and watched the measuring of the shadow.
"Four feet, six inches," the older lad announced.
The negro looked at the shadow a moment and then burst into a hearty laugh.
"What is it, Dan'l?"
"Why, Mistah Ross, it ain't no use for yo' to measure that! Yo' done forgot that a shadder don't stay still."
"A shadder keeps movin' round. Yo' ought to have thought o' that," he added seriously.
"We thought of it, all right, Dan'l," Anton answered. "See, the line of the shadow's already on one side of the tape. Try it again, Ross!"
"Four feet, five inches and three quarters," came the reply.
"What fo' makes that shorter?" queried the negro.
"Dan'l," said the younger boy, reprovingly, "why don't you use that thick head of yours a little? When you get up in the morning, isn't your shadow longer than it is in the middle of the day?"
"Sho', it stretches away off yonder!"
"And in the evening?"
"Jest as far."
"And around noon-time?"
"It's right short."
"Then," said the crippled lad, "don't you see that if we measure where the morning shadow stops growing shorter and the afternoon shadow begins growing longer, that'll be the middle of the day?"
The darky slapped the side of his leg with a resounding smack.
"Who'd have thought o' that, now?" he said. "It sho' does look like you was right."
Ross bent down and measured the shadow.
"I think we'd better put in a peg to mark it," he said, looking up; "it doesn't seem to be changing so much. I can only make it five and five-eighths, now."
Anton stuck a sharpened peg in the ground and took out the little silver watch that had been given him on his birthday.
"It's not nearly twelve o'clock by my watch yet," he said.
"That's standard time," Ross reminded him; "don't forget that we're not right on the line of standard time here, Anton. That's New Orleans time you've got, not sun time."
"Is thar more'n one kind of time?" the darky asked. "Ain't time, jest time, all over?"
"I should say not!" declared both boys at once, "it's never the same true time at any two places in the world."
"That is," corrected Ross, "unless they happen to be due north and south."
"Yo' makin' a joke of me, Mistah Anton," declared Dan'l.
"Not a bit of it," replied Anton. "I'll show you just why. The sun rises in the east, doesn't it?"
"So, if you walked a long way east, you'd see the sun quicker, wouldn't you?"
"Ah s'pose Ah would," the darky responded hesitatingly.
"And your watch would show that the sun rose earlier."
"So noon would come sooner, too. And if you walked west, it would be longer before the sun rose and noon would be later, that is, figured by your watch."
"Ah declah Ah never thought o' that!"
"So, you see, every place has a different time."
"But," the darky protested, "it's the same time when Ah goes to Vicksburg."
"Certainly," the lad answered, "and if you went away to Texas it would seem the same, but it really wouldn't be. The clocks change four times in the United States, don't they, Ross?"
"Yes, four times," the older lad agreed. "East of a line running through Buffalo, Wheeling, Asheville and Atlanta, time is called 'Eastern Time.' Everything west of that line is really an hour later, so the clock has to be put back an hour. If a train comes from the east into the station at Wheeling, at ten o'clock in the morning, and only stays in the depot five minutes, the timetable shows that it left at five minutes past nine."
"What-all happens to that yar hour?" asked Dan'l.
"It's just lost," Ross declared. "That standard of time, which is called 'Central Time,' reaches clear across to the middle of the Dakotas, and the eastern boundaries of Colorado, and New Mexico. There you lose another hour, 'Mountain Time' extending as far as the ridge of the Rockies. From there to the Pacific coast, it's called 'Pacific Time' and is another hour later.
"You see, Dan'l," he continued, "when it's noon in Washington and New York, it's eleven o'clock in Chicago, St. Louis and New Orleans; ten o'clock in Butte, Cheyenne and Denver; and nine o'clock in Spokane, San Francisco and Los Angeles."
"Who-all fixed it up that way?"
"The railways," Ross answered, "but the various states have O.K.ed it. You've got to arrange the setting of time in some definite way for the handling of railroads and telegraphs and things of that sort. It seems funny, Dan'l, but if you send a telegram here to a friend in San Francisco, he'll get it, according to his watch, nearly two hours before you sent it."
Ross stooped down as he spoke, and again measured the shadow of the pole, as it lay stretched out like a black line across the grass.
"It's just the same!" he cried. "It's noon now!"
Anton promptly set his watch right by the sun.
"There's Mr. Levin coming," he announced, "let's show him that his watch is wrong. He's always so exact."
The boys came up to him, but before they could put their question, the Weather Man spoke.
"Well, boys," he said, "what are you after? Putting up a flag-pole? It's a little short, isn't it?"
"No, Mr. Levin," Anton answered, "that isn't a flag-pole, it's a new clock, and one that's always right!"
"How have you been making it?" the Forecaster asked, immediately interested.
Anton described the principles that the boys had used and especially the means adopted to ensure that the pole should be upright.
"Why don't you fix it so that you won't have to measure the length of the shadow every day?" queried the Forecaster. "It's quite easy when you know how."
"Won't you show us?" responded Anton.
"Certainly," the old Weather Man answered, getting out of his buggy. "I see," he continued, "you've got hold of the idea that when the sun casts the shortest shadow it must be true noon, because the sun is half-way between the longest shadow and the shortest. That means, of course, that the sun is at the meridian."
"It would be much the same thing, wouldn't it, if you measured half the distance between the points on the horizon where the sun rose and the sun set?"
Ross thought for a moment.
"Yes," he said, "I suppose it would. But is that always the same?"
"How can it be anything else?" the Forecaster asked. "In winter the day is short and in summer it is long, but the meridian plane is always the same—that is, excepting for certain very small astronomical variations which would make no difference to you in the matter of measuring time. Let's get the meridian plane, first. Dan'l, do you suppose there's a pail of whitewash in the barn?"