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?

CHAPTER I. THE STAR-FISH TAKES A SUMMER JOURNEY. CHRIST BLESSING THE CHILDREN. facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail