If we can prevent the sound-wave from spreading, then the sound is not weakened. The Frenchman Biot found that a low whisper could be heard distinctly for a distance of half a mile through a tube, because the waves could not spread beyond the small column of air. But unless you speak into a small space of some kind, you cannot prevent the waves going out from you in all directions.
Try and imagine that you see these waves spreading all round me now and hitting on your ears as they pass, then on the ears of those behind you, and on and on in widening globes till they reach the wall. What will happen when they get there? If the wall were thin, as a wooden partition is, they would shake it, and it again would shake the air on the other side, and so anyone in the next room would have the sound of my voice brought to their ear.
But something more will happen. In any case the sound-waves hitting against the wall will bound back from it just as a ball bounds back when thrown against anything, and so another set of sound-waves reflected from the wall will come back across the room. If these waves come to your ear so quickly that they mix with direct waves, they help to make the sound louder in this room than you would in the open air, for the “Ha” from my mouth and a second “Ha” from the wall come to your ear so instantaneously that they make one sound. This is why you can often hear better at the far end of a church when you stand against a screen or a wall, then when you are half-way up the building nearer to the speaker, because near the wall the reflected waves strike strongly on your ear and make the sound louder.
Sometimes, when the sound comes from a great explosion, these reflected waves are so strong that they are able to break glass. In the explosion of gunpowder in St. John’s Wood, many houses in the back streets had their windows broken; for the sound-waves bounded off at angles from the walls and struck back upon them.
Now suppose the wall were so far behind you that the reflected sound-waves only hit upon your ear after those coming straight from me had died away; then you would hear the sound twice, “Ha” from me and “Ha” from the wall, and here you have an echo, “Ha, ha.” In order for this to happen in ordinary air, you must be standing at least 56 feet away from the point from which the waves are reflected, for then the second blow will come one-tenth of a second after the first one, and that is long enough for you to feel them separately.* Miss C. A. Martineau tells a story of a dog which was terribly frightened by an echo. Thinking another dog was barking, he ran forward to meet him, and was very much astonished, when, as he came nearer the wall, the echo ceased. I myself once knew a case of this kind, and my dog, when he could find no enemy, ran back barking, till he was a certain distance off, and then the echo of course began again. He grew so furious at last that we had great difficulty in preventing him from flying at a strange man who happened to be passing at the time. (Sound travels 1120 feet in a second, in air of ordinary temperature, and therefore 112 feet in the tenth of a second. Therefore the journey of 56 feet beyond you to reach the wall and 56 feet to return, will occupy the sound-wave one-tenth of a second and separate the two sounds.)