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Sim Vedder's Kite by W. O. Stoddard

 

The kite fever visited Hagarstown every year, and caught all the boys over five before it subsided. It generally crept in slowly, a boy and a kite at a time; but this year it came as if a big wind brought it.

Yesterday there had been three kites up at one time in the main street, and Squire Jones's pony had been scared into a canter. The Squire, and Mrs. Jones, and the three Misses Jones, and Aunt Hephzibah had all been in the carry-all at the time, and they had all screamed when the pony began to canter. So the Squire had told the boys he "could not have any more of that dangerous nonsense in the streets," and they had all come out to Dr. Gay's pasture, on the side-hill, to-day, and they had eight kites among them.

"Sim Vedder's coming, boys," said Parley Hooker. "He's been making a kite."

"He?" exclaimed Joe Myers. "He's a grown-up man. What does he know about kites?"

"There he comes now, anyway."

They all turned toward the bars and looked, for not one of them had sent up his kite yet.

"Oh, what a kite!"

"It's as tall as he is."

"No, it isn't. He's carrying it on his shoulder."

"It's just an awful kite."

Sim Vedder was the man who worked for Dr. Gay, and he was as thin as a fence rail. So was his face, and his hooked nose had a queer twist in it half way to the point.

He was coming with what looked like an enormous kite trying all the while to get away from him.

All the boys wanted to ask questions, but they didn't know exactly what to ask, so they kept still.

"Kiting, are you? Well, just you let me look at your kites, and then you may look at mine. One at a time, now. Keep back. Make that kite yourself, Parley?"

"Yes, I made it."

"Had plenty of wood around your house, I guess. Your sticks are bigger than mine, and your kite is only two feet high, and mine's five. Look at it."

He turned the back of his kite toward them as he spoke, and they saw that the frame-work of it was made of a number of very slender slips of what looked like ash or hickory wood.

"Mine's made of pine," said Parley. "And yours'll break, too."

"No, it won't. Well, maybe yours'll fly. Set it agoing. There's plenty of wind."

Parley obeyed, and, mainly because there was indeed a good deal of wind, his heavy-made kite began to go up.

"Joe," said Sim Vedder, "hand me that kite of yours."

"Mine's a di'mond. I don't know how to make any other."

"Do you suppose it'll stand steady, with those fore-bands so close together? No, it won't. Up with it, and see how it'll wiggle. Bob Jones, is that yours?"

The third kite was meekly handed to him, for the more the boys stared at Sim's big kite, the more they believed he knew what he was talking about.

"It isn't a bad kite, but those fore-bands are crossed too low. It'll dive all over."

"There's plenty of tail, Sim. It can't dive."

"Tail!—and a bunch of May-weed at the end of it! How's a kite of that size to lift it all? I'll show you," replied Sim.

He was unfastening the fore-bands as he spoke, and now he crossed them again over his little finger, and moved them along till the kite swung under them, almost level.

"That'll do. Now I'll tie 'em hard, and you can cut off your May-weed. There'll be tail enough without it. When I was in China—"

"Was you ever in China?"

"Yes, I was. That was when I was a sailor. I saw kites enough there. They spend money on 'em, just as we do on horses; make 'em of all shapes and sizes. Don't need any tails."

"Kites without tails?"

"Well, some of 'em have, and some of 'em haven't. It's a knack in the making of 'em. I've seen one like a dragon, and another like a big snake, and they floated perfectly. Only a thin silk string, either."

"String's got to be strong enough to hold a kite," said Parley Hooker. "Look at yours."

"Yes, mine's strong; it's made of fine hemp. But it isn't any heavier than yours. What do you want of a rope, with a kite of that size?"

"It isn't a rope."

"It's too heavy, though. Besides, you've tied pieces together with big knots in them. You can't send up any travellers."

"What's that?"

"I'll show you. Some call 'em messengers."

Just then Parley exclaimed, "Sim! Sim! mine's broke! it's coming down!"

"Broke right in the middle, where you notched your big sticks together."

"Just where it needs to be strongest," said Joe, knowingly.

"No, it doesn't. Look at mine."

It was the biggest kite they had ever seen, and it came down square at the bottom; but it was not a great deal wider than Parley's. The curious part of it was the cross-sticks and fore-bands. What did he need of so many?

"So many?" said Sim. "Why, the bands take the strain of the wind. If you put it all on the sticks, they'd bend or break. Don't you see? There's a band tied every two inches, and they all come together out here in the centre knot. It just balances on that."

"Your tail's a light one."

"It's long enough, and it spreads enough to catch the wind. It isn't the mere weight you want in a tail, if your kite's balanced. The wind blows against the tail as hard as anywhere else."

"Won't yours ever dive?"

"Of course it will, with a cross puff of wind; but it'll come right up again. That won't happen very often. I'll send her up. You wait and see."

The other kites were all up now, except Parley's broken one, and most of them were cutting queer antics, because, as Sim explained, their fore-bands were tied wrong, and their tails "did not fit them."

"The Chinese could teach us. But, the way we make kites, there's as much in the tail as in anything else."

"Oh, but our kites are covered with paper, and you've put some old silk on yours."

"Of course I have. It isn't much heavier. The Chinese use thin paper that's as good as silk. It won't wet through."

"Wet? Oh, Sim, it looks as if a storm is coming now."

So it did, and Sim's big kite was going up, up, up very fast, and he was letting the strong brown string run rapidly off from a sort of reel he held in his hand.

"Pull in your kites, boys," shouted Parley. "Let's cut for home."

"I want to see Sim fly his."

"You all pull in yours, and we'll go into the cattle shed. It's only a shower. I can fly mine from the door."

The shed was close at hand, and the door was a wide one. In three minutes more, just as the first drops came down, there was quite a crowd of boys behind Sim, as he stood a little inside, and watched his kite. His reel was almost empty now, and the big kite looked a good deal smaller than when it started.

"How steady it is!"

"It pulls hard, though."

"There comes the rain."

"Thunder and lightning too."

Sim had fastened his wooden reel against the door-post, on a hook that was there, but he kept his hand on the string.

"I declare, boys! Feel of that! The string's wet, and it's making a lightning-rod of itself."

Parley and Joe and Bob, and two or three others, felt of it at once.

"Lightning? Why, Sim," said Bob, "I know better than that. I've had an electric shock before."

"That's all it is," said Parley.

"Well," replied Sim, "didn't you ever hear of Dr. Franklin? We're doing just what he did. He discovered electricity with a kite. A wet kite string was the first lightning-rod there ever was in the world."

"Lightning?" exclaimed Bob. "Don't you bring any in here. I won't touch it again."

"Did lightning ever strike anybody when he was flying a kite?" asked Joe.

"Not that I ever heard of," said Sim. "But it's beginning to pour hard. I'll reel in my kite till the storm's over."

He unhooked his reel as he spoke, but it was well he took a good strong hold of it. The wind must have been blowing a gale up where the kite was, and the string was a very strong one for its size.

"I declare! Why—"

But the next the boys knew, Sim Vedder was out in the rain, with that kite tugging at him. He would not let go, and he could not stop himself, and the sloping pasture before him was all down hill. On he went, faster and faster, till his foot slipped, and down he went full length. He held on, though, like a good fellow, and there he lay in the wet grass, with the rain pouring upon him, tugging his best at his big kite.

The wind lulled a little, and Sim began to work his reel. Slowly at first, then faster; and about the time the rain stopped, the wind almost died out, and the wonderful kite came in.

"There isn't a stick of it broken," said Sim, triumphantly, "nor a fore-band. That's because they were made right, and put on so they all help each other."

"Oh, but ain't you wet!" exclaimed three or four boys at once.

Well, yes; he was, indeed, very wet.