Watch the Skies: Stephen Elboz The Tower of Moonville (Oxford: OUP, 1999)
When his parents die in a typhoid epidemic Nathan is taken in by his uncle, a rat catcher, a thief and a kidnapper of orphans. When Uncle Jago kidnaps Sam Hiliam, Nathan helps him to escape and Sam proposes that Nathan take his place at school while he runs away to sea (although he ends up at the circus).
Nathan discovers Moonville school is a bedlam. The master is a gambler, the boys spend their days how they will. But Nathan finds a scientist in the tower--the owner of the house, not a prisoner-and gets involved helping him shoot rockets.
Most of the book is an adventure story in which Jago catches up with Nathan and there is an escape scene out of Black Hearts in Battersea but two elements let the book into this blog.
First, in its detailing of the hot air balloon Nathan finds the book is as detailed as Wireless Boys. Unlike so many of the novels I've blogged in the past few months, one can actually learn something from this.
Second is more whimsical: the scientist is sending up rockets in the hope that if he does it regularly enough he will have sent a message to whatever is reading the skies from another planet. At the end of the book he sends up another rocket and when the fireworks die down,
Four dots of red light had appeared from different points of the compass and were rushing to meet each other at unthinkable speed across a shining galaxy... they stopped dead in the form of a cross and slowly began to revolve. At their centre a new light grew... and once it formed it winked like a heliograph, repeating the same sequence of flashes five or six times over. The, gradually, the whole thing faded.
'What was that?' asked Nathan.
Mr. Gentleman only smiled, however, and continued staring up at the stars.