The Story Book of Science  by Jean Henri Fabre

The Kettle

N OW, that day, Mother Ambroisine was very tired. She had taken down from their shelves kettles, saucepans, lamps, candlesticks, casseroles, pans, and lids. After having rubbed them with fine sand and ashes, then washed them well, she had put the utensils in the sun to dry them thoroughly. They all shone like a mirror. The kettles particularly were superb with their rosy reflections; one might have said that tongues of fire were shining inside them. The candlesticks were a dazzling yellow. Emile and Jules were lost in admiration.

"I should like to know what they make kettles of, they shine so," remarked Emile. "They are very ugly outside, all black, daubed with soot; but inside, how beautiful they are!"

"You must ask Uncle," replied his brother.

"Yes," assented Emile.

No sooner said than done: they went in search of their uncle. He did not have to be entreated; he was happy whenever there was an opportunity to teach them something.

"Kettles are made of copper," he began.

"And copper?" asked Jules.

"Copper is not made. In certain countries, it is found already made, mixed with stone. It is one of the substances that it is not in the power of man to make. We use these substances as God has deposited them in the bosom of the earth for purposes of human industry; but all our knowledge and all our skill could not produce them.

"In the bosom of mountains where copper is found, they hollow out galleries which go down deep into the earth. There workmen called miners, with lamps to light them, attack the rock with great blows of the pick, while others carry the detached blocks outside. These blocks of stone in which copper is found are called ore. In furnaces made for the purpose they heat the ore to a very high temperature. The heat of our stove, when it is red-hot, is nothing in comparison. The copper melts, runs, and is separated from the rest. Then, with hammers of enormous weight, set in motion by a wheel turned by water, they strike the mass of copper which, little by little, becomes thin and is hollowed into a large basin.

"The coppersmith continues the work. He takes the shapeless basin and, with little strokes of the hammer, fashions it on the anvil to give it a regular shape."

"That is why coppersmiths tap all day with their hammers," commented Jules. "I had often wondered, when passing their shops, why they made so much noise, always tapping, without any stop. They were thinning the copper; shaping it into saucepans and kettles."

Here Emile asked: "When a kettle is old, has holes in it and can't be used, what do they do with it? I heard Mother Ambroisine speak of selling a worn-out kettle."

"It is melted, and another new kettle made out of the copper," replied Uncle Paul.

"Then the copper does not wear away?"

"It wears away too much, my friend: some of it is lost when they rub it with sand to make it shine; some is lost, too, by the continual action of the fire; but what is left is still good."

"Mother Ambroisine also spoke of recasting a lamp which had lost a foot. What are lamps made of?"

"They are of tin, another substance that we find ready-made in the bosom of the earth, without the power of producing it ourselves."