THE CARRYING TRADE
: The Stories Mother Nature Told Her Children
Who 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 "Rac
r," 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 salt-petre 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, woolens, 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 breathe 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
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 woolens 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.