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CHAPTER I. THE STAR-FISH TAKES A SUMMER JOURNEY.

from The Stories Mother Nature Told Her Children





Once there was a little star-fish, and he had five fingers and five
eyes, one at the end of each finger,--so that he might be said to have
at least one power at his fingers' ends. And he had I can't tell you how
many little feet; but being without legs, you see, he couldn't be
expected to walk very fast The feet couldn't move one before the other
as yours do. they could only cling like little suckers, by which he
pulled himself slowly along from place to place. Nevertheless, he was
very proud of this accomplishment; and sometimes this pride led him to
an unjust contempt for his neighbors, as you will see by and by. He was
very particular about his eating; and besides his mouth, which lay in
the centre of his body, he had a little scarlet-colored sieve through
which he strained the water he drank. For he couldn't think of taking in
common seawater with every thing that might be floating in it,--that
would do for crabs and lobsters and other common people; but anybody who
wears such a lovely purple coat, and has brothers and sisters dressed in
crimson, feels a little above such living.

Now, one day this star-fish set out on a summer journey,--not to the
seaside where you and I went last year: of course not, for he was there
already. No; he thought he would go to the mountains. He could not go to
the Rocky Mountains, nor to the Catskill Mountains, nor the White
Mountains; for, with all his accomplishments, he had not yet learned to
live in any drier place than a pool among the rocks, or the very wettest
sand at low tide: so, if he travelled to the mountains, it must be to
the mountains of the sea.

Perhaps you didn't know that there are mountains in the sea. I have seen
them, however, and I think you have, too,--at least their tops, if
nothing more. What is that little rocky ledge, where the lighthouse
stands, but the stony top of a hill rising from the bottom of the sea?
And what are the pretty green islands, with their clusters of trees and
grassy slopes, but the summits of hills lifted out of the water?

In many parts of the sea, where the water is deep, are hills and even
high mountains, whose tops do not reach the surface; and we should not
know where they are, were it not that the sailors, in measuring the
depth of the sea, sometimes sail right over these mountain-tops, and
touch them with their sounding-lines.

The star fish set out one day, about five hundred years ago, to visit
some of these mountains of the sea. If he had depended upon his own feet
for getting there, it would have taken him till this day, I verily
believe; but he no more thought of walking, than you or I should think
of walking to China. You shall see how he travelled. A great train was
coming, down from the Northern seas; not a railroad train, but a water
train, sweeping on like a river in the sea. Its track lay along near the
bottom of the ocean; and above you could see no sign of it, any more
than you can see the cars while they go through the tunnel under the
street. The principal passengers by this train were icebergs, who were
in the habit of coming down on it every year, in order to reduce their
weight by a little exercise; for they grow so very large and heavy up
there in the North every winter, that some sort of treatment is really
necessary to them when summer comes. I only call the icebergs the
principal passengers, because they take up so much room; for thousands
and millions of other travellers come with them,--from the white bears
asleep on the bergs, and brought away quite against their will, to the
tiniest little creatures rocking in the cradles of the ripples, or
clinging to the delicate branches of the sea-mosses. I said you could
see no sign of the great water train from above: that was not quite
true, for many of the icebergs are tall enough to lift their heads far
up into the air, and shine with a cold, glittering splendor in the
sunlight; and you can tell, by the course in which they sail, which way
the train is going deep down in the sea.

The star-fish took passage on this train. He didn't start at the
beginning of the road, but got in at one of the way-stations somewhere
off Cape Cod, fell in with some friends going South, and had altogether
a pleasant trip of it. No wearisome stopping-places to feed either
engine or passengers; for this train moves by a power that needs no
feeding on the way, and the passengers are much in the habit of eating
their fellow-travellers by way of frequent luncheons.

In the course of a few weeks, our five-fingered traveller is safely
dropped in the Caribbean Sea; and, if you do not know where that sea is,
I wish you would take your map of North America and find it, and then
you can see the course of the journey, and understand the story better.
This Caribbean Sea is as full of mountains as New Hampshire and Vermont
are; but none of them have caps of snow like that which Mount Washington
sometimes wears, and some of them are built up in a very odd way, as you
will presently see.

Now the star-fish is floating in the warm, soft water among the
mountains, turning up first one eye and then another to see the wonders
about him, or looking all around, before and behind and both sides at
once,--as you can't do, if you try ever so hard,--while his fifth eye is
on the lookout for sharks, besides; and he meets with a soft little
body, much smaller than himself, and not half so handsomely dressed, who
invites him to visit her relatives, who live by millions in this
mountain region. "And come quickly, if you please," she says, "for I
begin to feel as if I must fix myself somewhere; and I should like, if
possible, to settle down near my brothers and sisters on the Roncador
Bank."





Next: CHAPTER II. CORALTOWN ON RONCADOR BANK.

Previous: THE CARRYING TRADE



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