Look up at the clouds as you go home, and think that the water of which they are made has all been drawn up invisibly through the air. Not, however, necessarily here in London, for we have already seen that air travels as wind all over the world, rushing in to fill spaces made by rising air wherever they occur, and so these clouds may be made of vapour collected in the Mediterranean, or in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of America, or even, if the wind is from the north, of chilly particles gathered from the surface of Greenland ice and snow, and brought here by the moving currents of air. Only, of one thing we may be sure, that they come from the water of our earth.
Sometimes, if the air is warm, these water-particles may travel a long way without ever forming into clouds; and on a hot, cloudless day the air is often very full of invisible vapour. Then, if a cold wind comes sweeping along, high up in the sky, and chills this vapour, it forms into great bodies of water-dust clouds, and the sky is overcast. At other times clouds hang lazily in a bright sky, and these show us that just where they are (as in Fig. 19) the air is cold and turns the invisible vapour rising from the ground into visible water-dust, so that exactly in those spaces we see it as clouds. Such clouds form often on warm, still summer’s day, and they are shaped like masses of wool, ending in a straight line below. They are not merely hanging in the sky, they are really resting upon a tall column of invisible vapour which stretches right up from the earth; and that straight line under the clouds marks the place where the air becomes cold enough to turn this invisible vapour into visible drops of water.
And now, suppose that while these or any other kind of clouds are overhead, there comes along either a very cold wind, or a wind full of vapour. As it passes through the clouds, it makes them very full of water, for, if it chills them, it makes the water-dust draw more closely together; or, if it brings a new load of water-dust, the air is fuller than it can hold. In either case a number of water-particles are set free, and our fairy force “cohesion” seizes upon them at once and forms them into large water-drops. Then they are much heavier than the air, and so they can float no longer, but down they come to the earth in a shower of rain.
There are other ways in which the air may be chilled, and rain made to fall, as, for example, when a wind laden with moisture strikes against the cold tops of mountains. Thus the Khasia Hills in India which face the Bay of Bengal, chill the air which crosses them on its way from the Indian Ocean. The wet winds are driven up the sides of the hills, the air expands, and the vapour is chilled, and forming into drops, falls in torrents of rain. Sir J. Hooker tells us that as much as 500 inches of rain fell in these hills in nine months. That is to