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.

A NAUGHTY PUMPKIN'S FATE. A PSALM OF LIFE facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail