Gateway to the Classics: The Stories Mother Nature Told Her Children by Jane Andrews
The Stories Mother Nature Told Her Children by  Jane Andrews

The Carrying Trade

W HO wants to engage in the carrying trade? Come, Lottie and Lula and Nina and Mary, all bring your maps, and we will play merchants, and see what is meant by the carrying trade.

Lottie shall have the bark "Rosette," and sail from Boston to Calcutta; Lula, the steamer "North Star," from New York for Liverpool; Mary shall take the "Sea-Gull," from Philadelphia to San Francisco; and Nina is owner of the "Racer," that makes voyages up the Mediterranean. Are we all ready for our little game?

Lottie begins, and she must find out what Boston has to send to Calcutta. Don't send indigo or saltpetre or gunny-bags or ginger; for, even should you have these articles to spare, Calcutta has an abundance at home, and you must discover something that she needs, but does not possess. "Ice," says Lottie. "Yes, that is just the thing, because Calcutta has a hot climate, and does not make her own ice: so load the 'Rosette' with great blocks well packed, and start at once, for your voyage is long."

And now we will go with Lula to the North River pier, where her great steamer lies, and see what she intends to carry to Liverpool. Bales of cotton, barrels of flour, of beef, and of petroleum. All very good, so good-by to her. In a few weeks we will see what she brings back.

Come, Mary, what has Philadelphia for San Francisco? Oh, what a load the "Sea-Gull" must take of machinery, steam-engines, tobacco, and oil; and such a quantity of other things, that the "Sea-Gull" will need to make many voyages before she can take them all. We load her at this busy wharf, where the coal-vessels are passing in and out for New York and Boston, and the steamers are loading for Europe, and the little coasters crowding in one after another; and away we go for the voyage round the "Horn," where the "Sea-Gull" will meet her namesakes, and perhaps some stormy winds besides.

Meantime Nina's "Racer" has been stored full of cotton cloths and hardware, and has raced out of Boston Harbor so swiftly that fair winds will take her to Gibraltar in three weeks.

And so you have all engaged in the carrying trade; but as yet you have carried only one way. To complete the game, we must wait for Lottie to bring the "Rosette" safely home with saltpetre and indigo and hides and ginger and seersuckers and gunny-cloth. And the "North Star" must steam her quick way across the Atlantic, and return with salt and hardware, anchors, steel, woollens, and linens. Mary must beat her way round Cape Horn, and home again with wool and gold and silver. And the swift "Racer" must quickly bring the figs and prunes and raisins, and the oranges and lemons, that will spoil if they are too long on the way.

So children may play at the carrying trade, and so their fathers and uncles may work at it in earnest: and so also hundreds of little workers are busy all the world over in another carrying trade, which keeps you and me alive from day to day; and yet we scarcely think at all how it is going on, or stop to thank the hands that feed us.

England and Italy are kingdoms, and the United States a republic, and they all engage in this business, and are constantly sending goods one to another; but there are other kingdoms, not put down on any map, that are just as busy as they, and in the same sort of work too.

The earth is one kingdom, the water another, and there is the great republic of the gases surrounding us on every side; only we can't see it, because its inhabitants have the fairy gift of being invisible to us. Each of these kingdoms has products to export, and is all ready to trade with the others, if only some one will supply the means; just as the Frenchmen might stand on their shores, and hold out to us wines and prunes and silks and muslins, and we might stand on our shores, and hold out gold and silver to them, and yet could make no exchange, because there were no ships to carry the goods across. "Ah," you may say, "that is not at all the case here; for the earth, the air, and the water are all close to each other, and close to us, and there is no need of ships; we can exchange hand to hand."

But here comes a difficulty. Read carefully, and I think you will understand it. Here is Ruth, a little growing girl, who wants phosphate of lime to build bones with; for as she grows, of course her bones must grow too. Very well, I answer, there is plenty of phosphate of lime in the earth; she can have all she wants. Yes, but does Ruth want to eat earth?—do you?—does anybody? Certainly not: so, although the food she needs is close beside her, even under her feet, she cannot get it any more than we can get the French goods, excepting by means of the carrying trade. Where now are the little ships that shall bring to Ruth the phosphate of lime she needs, and cannot reach, although it lies in her own father's field? Let me show you how her father can build the ships that will bring it to her. He must go out into that field, and plant wheat-seeds, and as they grow, every little ear and kernel gathers up phosphate of lime, and becomes a tiny ship freighted with what his little daughter needs. When that wheat is ground into flour, and made into bread, Ruth will eat what she couldn't have been willing to taste, unless the useful little ships of the wheat-field had brought it to her.

Now let us send to the republic of the gases for some supplies, for we cannot live without carbon and oxygen; and although we do breathe in oxygen with every breath we draw, we also need to receive it in other ways: so the sugar-cane and the maple-trees engage in the carrying trade for us, taking in carbon and oxygen by their leaves, and sending it through their bodies, and when it reaches us it is sugar,—and a very pleasant food to most of you, I dare say.

But we cannot take all we need of these gases in the form of sugar, and there are many other ships that will bring it to us. The corn will gather it up, and offer it in the form of meal, or of cornstarch puddings; or the grass will bring it to the cow, since you and I refuse to take it from the grass ships. But the cow offers it to us again in the form of milk, and we do not think of refusing; or the butcher offers it to us in the form of beef, and we do not say "no."

Alice wants some india-rubber shoes. Do you think the kingdoms of air and water can send her a pair? The india-rubber tree in South America will take up water, and separate from it hydrogen, of which it is partly composed, and adding to this carbon from the air, will make a gum which we can work into shoes and balls, buttons, tubes, cups, cloth, and a hundred other useful articles.

Then, again, you and I, all of us, must go to the world of gases for nitrogen to help build our bodies, to make muscle and blood and skin and hair; and so the peas and beans load their boat-shaped seeds full, and bring it to us so fresh and excellent that we enjoy eating it.

This useful carrying trade has also another branch well worth looking at.

You remember hearing how many soldiers were sick in war-time at the South; but perhaps you do not know that their best medicine was brought to them by a South-American tree, that gathered up from the earth and air bitter juices to make what we call quinine. Then there is camphor, which I am sure you have all seen, sent by the East-Indian camphor-tree to cure you when you are sick; and gum-arabic and all the other gums; and castor-oil and most of the other medicines that you don't at all like,—all brought to us by the plants.

I might tell you a great deal more of this, but I will only stop to show a little what we give back in payment for all that is brought.

When England sends us hardware and woollen goods, she expects us to repay her with cotton and sugar, that are just as valuable to us as hardware and woollens to her; but see how differently we treat the kingdoms from which the plant-ships are all the time bringing us food and clothes and medicines, etc. All we return is just so much as we don't want to use. We take in good fresh air, and breathe out impure and bad. We throw back to the earth whatever will not nourish and strengthen us; and yet no complaint comes from the faithful plants. Do you wonder? I will let you into the secret of this. The truth is, that what is worthless to us is really just the food they need; and they don't at all know how little we value it ourselves. It is like the Chinese, of whom we might buy rice or silk or tea, and pay them in rats which we are glad to be rid of, while they consider them good food.

Now, I have given you only a peep into this carrying trade, but it is enough to show you how to use your own eyes to learn more about it. Look about you, and see if you can't tell as good a story as I have done, or a better one if you please.

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