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A PEEP INTO ONE OF GOD'S STOREHOUSES

from The Stories Mother Nature Told Her Children





Once there was a father who thought he would build for his children a
beautiful home, putting into it every thing they could need or desire
throughout their lives. So he built the beautiful house; and any one
just to look at the outside of it would exclaim, How lovely! For its
roof was a wide, blue dome like the sky, and the lofty rooms had arching
ceilings covered with tracery of leaves and waving boughs. The floors
were carpeted with velvet, and the whole was lighted with lamps that
shone like stars from above. The sweetest perfumes floated through the
air, while thousands of birds answered the music of fountains with their
songs. And yet, when you have seen all this, you have not seen the best
part of it: for the house has been so wonderfully contrived, that it is
full of mysterious closets, storehouses, and secret drawers, all locked
by magic keys, or fastened by concealed springs; and each one is filled
with something precious or useful or beautiful to look at,--piles upon
piles, and heaps upon heaps of wonderful stores. Every thing that the
children could want, or dream of wanting, is laid up here; but yet they
are not to be told any thing about it. They are to be put into this
delightful home, and left to find it all out for themselves.

At first, you know, they will only play. They will roll on the soft
carpets, and listen to the fountain and the birds, and wander from room
to room to see new beauties everywhere; but some day a boy, full of
curiosity, prying here and there into nooks and corners, will touch one
of the hidden springs; a door will fly open, and one storehouse of
treasures will be revealed. How he will shout, and call upon his
brothers and sisters to admire with him; how they will pull out the
treasures, and try to learn how to use the new and strange materials.
What did my father mean this for? Why did he give that so odd a shape,
or so strange a covering? And so through many questions, and many
experiments, they learn at last how to use the contents of this one
storehouse. But do you imagine that sensible children, after one such
discovery, would rest satisfied? Of course they would explore and
explore; try every panel, and press every spring, until, one by one, all
the closets should be opened, and all the treasures brought out. And
then how could they show their gratitude to the dear father who had
taken such pains to prepare this wonderful house for them? The least
they could do would be to try to use every thing for the purposes
intended, and not to destroy or injure any of the precious gifts
prepared so lovingly for their use.

Now, God, our loving Father, has made for us, for you and for me and for
little Mage and Jenny, and for all the grown people and children too,
just such a house. It is this earth on which we live. You can see the
blue roof, and the arched ceilings of the rooms, with their canopy of
leaves and drooping boughs, and the velvet-covered floors, and the
lights and birds and fountains; but do you know any of the secret
closets? Have you found the key or spring of a single one, or been
called by your mother or father or brother or sister to take a peep into
one of them?

If you have not, perhaps you would like to go with me to examine one
that was opened a good many years ago, but contains such valuable things
that the uses of all of them have not yet been found out, and their
beauty is just beginning to be known.

The doorway of this storehouse lies in the side of a hill. It is twice
as wide as the great barn-door where the hay-carts are driven in; and
two railroad-tracks run out at it, side by side, with a little foot-path
between them. The entrance is light, because it opens so wide; but we
can see that the floor slopes downward, and the way looks dark and
narrow before us. We shall need a guide; and here comes one,--a rough-
looking man, with smutty clothes, and an odd little lamp covered with
wire gauze, fastened to the front of his cap. He is one of the workmen
employed to bring the treasures out of this dark storehouse; and he will
show us, by the light of his lamp, some of the wonders of the place.
Walk down the sloping foot-path now, and be careful to keep out of the
way of the little cars that are coming and going on each side of you,
loaded on one side, and empty on the other, and seeming to run up and
down by themselves. But you will find that they are really pulled and
pushed by an engine that stands outside the doorway and reaches them by
long chains. At last we reach the foot of the slope; and, as our eyes
become accustomed to the faint light, we can see passages leading to the
right and the left, and square chambers cut out in the solid hill. So
this great green hill, upon which you might run or play, is inside like
what I think some of those large anthills must be,--traversed by
galleries, and full of rooms and long passages. All about we see men
like our guide, working by the light of their little lamps. We hear the
echoing sound of the tools; and we see great blocks and heaps that they
have broken away, and loaded into little cars that stand ready, here and
there, to be drawn by mules to the foot of the slope.

Now, are you curious to know what this treasure is? Have you seen
already that it is only coal, and do you wonder that I think it is so
precious? Look a little closer, while our guide lets the light of his
lamp fall upon the black wall at your side. Do you see the delicate
tracery of ferns, more beautiful than the fairest drawing. See, beneath
your feet is the marking of great tree-trunks lying aslant across the
floor, and the forms of gigantic palm-leaves strewed among them. Here is
something different, rounded like a nut-shell; you can split off one
side, and behold there is the nut lying snugly as does any chestnut in
its bur!

Did you notice the great pillars of coal that are left to uphold the
roof? Let us look at them; for perhaps we can examine them more closely
than we can the roof, and the sides of these halls. Here are mosses and
little leaves, and sometimes an odd-looking little body that is not
unlike some of the sea-creatures we found at the beach last summer; and
every thing is made of coal, nothing but coal. How did it happen, and
what does it mean? Ferns and palms, mosses and trees and animals, all
perfect, all beautiful, and yet all hidden away under this hill, and
turned into shining black coal.

Now, I can very well remember when I first saw a coal fire, and how odd
it looked to see what seemed to be burning stones. For, when I was a
little girl, we always had logs of wood blazing in an open fireplace,
and so did many other people, and coal was just coming into use for
fuel. What should we have done, if everybody had kept on burning wood to
this day? There would have been scarcely a tree left standing; for think
of all the locomotives and engines in factories, besides all the fires
in houses and churches and schoolhouses. But God knew that we should
have need of other fuel besides wood, and so he made great forests to
grow on the earth before he had made any men to live upon it. These
forests were of trees, different in some ways from those we have now,
great ferns as tall as this house, and mosses as high as little trees,
and palm-leaves of enormous size. And, when they were all prepared, he
planned how they should best be stored up for the use of his children,
who would not be here to use them for many thousand years to come. So he
let them grow and ripen and fall to the ground, and then the great rocks
were piled above them to crowd them compactly together, and they were
heated and heavily pressed, until, as the ages went by, they changed
slowly into these hard, black, shining stones, and became better fuel
than any wood, because the substance of wood was concentrated in them.
Then the hills were piled up on top of it all; but here and there some
edge of a coal-bed was tilted up, and appeared above the ground. This
served for a hint to curious men, to make them ask "What is this?" and
"What is it good for?" and so at last, following their questions, to
find their way to the secret stores, and make an open doorway, and let
the world in. So much for the fuel; but God meant something else besides
fuel when he packed this closet for his children. At first they only
understood this simplest and plainest value of the coal. But there were
some things that troubled the miners very much: one was gas that would
take fire from their lamps, and burn, making it dangerous for men to go
into the passages where they were likely to meet it. But by and by the
wise men thought about it, and said to themselves, We must find out what
useful purpose God made the gas for: we know that he does not make any
thing for harm only. The thought came to them that it might be prepared
from coal, and conducted through pipes to our houses to take the place
of lamps or candles, which until that time had been the only light. But,
after making the gas, there was a thick, pitchy substance left from the
coal, called coal-tar. It was only a trouble to the gas-makers, who had
no use for it, and even threw it away, until some one, more thoughtful
than the others, found out that water would not pass through it. And so
it began to be used to cover roofs of buildings, and, mixed with some
other substances, made a pavement for streets; and being spread over
iron-work it protected it from rust. Don't you see how many uses we have
found for this refuse coal-tar? And the finest of all is yet to come;
for the chemists got hold of it, and distilled and refined it, until
they prepared from the black, dirty pitch lovely emerald-colored
crystals which had the property of dying silk and cotton and wool in
beautiful colors,--violet, magenta, purple, or green. What do you think
of that from the coal-tar. When you have a new ribbon for your hat; or a
pretty red dress, or your grandmamma buys a new violet ribbon for her
cap, just ask if they are dyed with aniline colors; and if the answer is
"Yes," you may know that they came from the coal-tar. Besides the dyes,
we shall also have left naphtha, useful in making varnish, and various
oils that are used in more ways than I can stop to tell you, or you
would care now to hear. If your cousin Annie has a jet belt-clasp or
bracelet, and if you find in aunt Edith's box of old treasures an odd-
shaped brooch of jet, you may remember the coal again; for jet is only
one kind of lignite, which is a name for a certain preparation of coal.

But here is another surprise of a different kind. You have seen boxes of
hard, smooth, white candles with the name paraffin marked on the cover.
Should you think the black coal could ever undergo such a change as to
come out in the form of these white candles? Go to the factory where
they are made, and you can see the whole process; and then you will
understand one more of God's meanings for coal.

And all this time I have not said a word about how, while the great
forests lay under pressure for millions of years, the oils that were in
the growing plants (just as oils are in many growing plants now) were
pressed out, and flowed into underground reservoirs, lying hidden there,
until one day not many years ago a man accidentally bored into one. Up
came the oil, spouting and running over, gushing out and streaming down
to a little river that ran near by. As it floated on the surface of the
water (for oil and water will not mix, you know), the boys, for
mischief, set fire to it, and a stream of fire rolled along down the
river; proving to everybody who saw it, that a new light, as good as
gas, had come from the coal. Now those of us who have kerosene lamps may
thank the oil-wells that were prepared for us so many years ago.

When your hands or lips are cracked and rough from the cold, does your
mother ever put on glycerin to heal them? If she does, you are indebted
again to the coal oil, for of that it is partly made.

And now let me tell you that almost all the uses for coal have been
found out since I was a child; and, by the time you are men and women,
you may be sure that as many more will be discovered, if not from that
storehouse, certainly from some of the many others that our good Father
has prepared for us, and hidden among the mountains or in the deserts,
or perhaps under your very feet to-day; for thousands of people walked
over those hills of coal, before one saw the treasures that lay hidden
there. I have only told you enough to teach you how to look for
yourselves; a peep, you know, is all I promised you. Sometime we may
open another door together.





Next: THE HIDDEN LIGHT

Previous: QUERCUS ALBA'S NEW SIGHT OF THE UPPER-WORLD



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