But try the experiment, some night when a heavy dew is expected, of spreading a thin piece of muslin over some part of the grass, supporting it at the four corners with pieces of stick so that it forms an awning. Though there may be plenty of dew on the grass all round, yet under this awning you will find scarcely any. The reason of this is that the muslin checks the heat-waves as they rise from the grass, and so the grass-blades are not chilled enough to draw together the water-drops on their surface. If you walk out early in the summer mornings and look at the fine cobwebs flung across the hedges, you will see plenty of drops on the cobwebs themselves sparkling like diamonds; but underneath on the leaves there will be none, for even the delicate cobweb has been strong enough to shut in the heat-waves and keep the leaves warm.
Again, if you walk off the grass on to the gravel path, you find no dew there. Why is this? Because the stones of the gravel can draw up heat from the earth below as fast as they give it out, and so they are never cold enough to chill the air which touches them. On a cloudy night also you will often find little or no dew even on the grass. The reason of this is that the clouds give back heat to the earth, and so the grass does not become chilled enough to draw the water-drops together on its surface. But after a hot, dry day, when the plants are thirsty and there is little hope of rain to refresh them, then they are able in the evening to draw the little drops from the air and drink them in before the rising sun comes again to carry them away.
But our rain-drop undergoes other changes more strange than these. Till now we have been imagining it to travel only where the temperature is moderate enough for it to remain in a liquid state as water. But suppose that when it is drawn up into the air it meets with such a cold blast as to bring it to the freezing point. If it falls into this blast when it is already a drop, then it will freeze into a hailstone, and often on a hot summer’s day we may have a severe hailstorm, because the rain-drops have crossed a bitterly cold wind as they were falling, and have been frozen into round drops of ice.
But if the water-vapour reaches the freezing air while it is still an invisible gas, and before it has been drawn into a drop, then its history is very different. The ordinary force of cohesion has then no power over the particles to make them into watery globes, but its place is taken by the fairy process of “crystallization,” and they are formed into beautiful white flakes, to fall in a snow-shower. I want you to picture this process to yourselves, for if once you can take an interest in the wonderful power of nature to build up crystals, you will be astonished how often you will meet with instances of it, and what pleasure it will add to your life.