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CHAPTER II. CORALTOWN ON RONCADOR BANK.

from The Stories Mother Nature Told Her Children





Where is Roncador Bank, and who are the little settlers there? If you
want me to answer this question, you must go back with me, or rather
think back with me, over many thousands of years; and, looking into this
same Caribbean Sea, we shall find in its south-western part a little
hill formed of mud and sand, and reaching not nearly so high as the top
of the water. Not far from it float some little, soft, jelly-like
bodies, exactly resembling the one who spoke to the star-fish just now.
They are emigrants looking for a new home. They seem to take a fancy to
this hill, and fix themselves on bits of rock along its base, until, as
more and more of them come, they form a circle around it, and the hill
stands up in the middle, while far above the whole blue waves are
tossing in the sunlight.



How do you like this little circular town seen in the picture? It is the
beginning of Coraltown, just as the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth
was the beginning of Massachusetts. Now we will see how it grows. First
of all, notice this curious fact, that each settler, after once choosing
a home, never after stirs from that spot; but, from day to day, fastens
himself more and more firmly to the rock where he first stuck. The part
of his body touching the rock hardens into stone, and as the months and
years go by, the sides of his body, too, turn to stone; and yet he is
still alive, eating all the time with a little mouth at his top, taking
in the sea-water without a strainer, and getting consequently tiny bits
of lime in it, which, once taken in, go to build up the little body into
a sort of limestone castle; just as if one of the knights in armor, of
whom we read in old stories, had, instead of putting on his steel
corselet and helmet and breastplate, turned his own flesh and bones into
armor. How safe he would be! So these inhabitants of Coraltown were safe
from all the fishes and other fierce devourers of little sea creatures
(for who wants to swallow a mail-clad warrior, however small?); and
their settlement was undisturbed, and grew from year to year, until it
formed a pretty high wall.



But, before going any farther, you may like to know that these settlers
were all of the polyp family: fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters,
uncles and aunts,--all were polyps. And this is the way their families
increased: after the first comers were fairly settled, and pretty
thoroughly turned to stone, little buds, looking somewhat like the
smallest leaf-buds of the spring-time, began to grow out of their edges.
These were their children, at least one kind of their children; for they
had yet another kind also, coming from eggs, and floating off in the
water like the first settlers. These latter we might call the free
children or wanderers, while the former could be named the fixed
children. But even the wanderers come back after a short time, and
settle beside their parents, as you remember the one who met the star-
fish was about to do.

It was not very easy for you or me to think back so many thousand years
to the very beginning of Coraltown, nor is it less difficult to realize
how many, many years were passing while the little town grew, even as
far as I have told you.

The old great-grandfathers and great-grandmothers had died, but they
left their stone bodies still standing, as a support and assistance to
their descendants who had built above them; and the walls had risen, not
like walls of common stone or brick, but all alive and busy building
themselves, day after day, and year after year, until now, at the time
of the star-fish's visit, the topmost towers could sometimes catch a
gleam of sunlight when the tide was low; and when storms rolled the
great waves that way, they would dash against the little castles,
breaking themselves into snowy spray, and crumbling away at the same
time the tiny walls that had been the polyps' work of years. Do you
think that was too bad, and quite discouraging to the workers. It does
seem so; but you will see how the good God, who is their loving Father
just the same as he is ours, had a grand purpose in letting the waves
break down their houses, just as he always does in all the
disappointments he sends to us. Wait till you finish the story, and tell
me if you don't think so.

And now let us see what the star-fish thought of the little town and its
inhabitants. "Ah, these are your houses!" he said. "Why don't you come
out of them, and travel about to see the world?"--"These are not our
houses, but ourselves," answered the polyps; "we can't come out, and we
don't want to. We are here to build, and building is all we care to do;
as for seeing the world, that is all very well for those who have eyes,
but we have none."

Then the star-fish turned away in contempt from such creatures,--"people
of neither taste nor ability, no eyes, no feet, no water-strainers; poor
little useless things, what good are they in the world, with their
stupid, blind building of which they think so much?" And he worked
himself off into a branch water-train that was setting that way, and,
without so much as bidding the polyps good-by, turned his back upon
Coraltown, and presently found a fellow-passenger fine enough to absorb
all his attention,--a passenger, I say, but we shall find it rather a
group of passengers in their own pretty boat; some curled in spiral
coils, some trailing like little swimmers behind, some snugly ensconced
inside, but all of such brilliant colors and gay bearing that even the
star-fish felt his inferiority; and, wishing to make friends with so
fine a neighbor, he whirled a tempting morsel of food towards one of the
swimming party, and politely offered it to him. "No, I thank you,"
replied the swimmer, "I don't eat; my sister does the eating, I only
swim." Turning to another of the gay company with the same offer, he was
answered, "Thank you, the eaters are at the other side; I only lay
eggs." "What strange people!" thought the star-fish; but, with all his
learning, he didn't know every thing, and had never heard how people
sometimes live in communities, and divide the work as suits their fancy.

While we leave him wondering, let us go back to Coraltown. The crumbling
bits, beaten off by the waves, floated about, filling all the chinks of
the wall, while the rough edges at the top caught long ribbons of
seaweed, and sometimes drifting wood from wrecked vessels, and then the
sea washed up sand in great heaps against the walls, building buttresses
for them. Do you know what buttresses are? If you don't, I will leave
you to find out. And the polyps, who do not know how to live in the
light and air, had all died; or those who were wanderers had emigrated
to some new place. Poor little things, their useless lives had ended,
and what good had they done in the world?





Next: LITTLE SUNSHINE.

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



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