“To them the love of woman
hath gone down,
Dark roll their waves o’er manhood’s noble head.
O’er youth’s bright locks, and beauty’s flowing crown;
Yet shall they hear a voice, ‘Restore the dead.’
Earth shall reclaim her precious things from thee.
Give back the dead, thou Sea!”
CHAPTER IX—THE CORAL-REEF
Now you want to know what I meant when I talked of a bit of lime going out to sea, and forming part of a coral island, and then of a limestone rock, and then of a marble statue. Very good. Then look at this stone.
What a curious stone! Did it come from any place near here?
No. It came from near Dudley, in Staffordshire, where the soils are worlds on worlds older than they are here, though they were made in the same way as these and all other soils. But you are not listening to me.
Why, the stone is full of shells, and bits of coral; and what are these wonderful things coiled and tangled together, like the snakes in Medusa’s hair in the picture? Are they snakes?
If they are, then they must be snakes who have all one head; for see, they are joined together at their larger ends; and snakes which are branched, too, which no snake ever was.
Yes. I suppose they are not snakes. And they grow out of a flower, too; and it has a stalk, jointed, too, as plants sometimes are; and as fishes’ backbones are too. Is it a petrified plant or flower?
No; though I do not deny that it looks like one. The creature most akin to it which you ever saw is a star-fish.
What! one of the red star-fishes which one finds on the beach? Its arms are not branched.
No. But there are star-fishes with branched arms still in the sea. You know that pretty book (and learned book, too), Forbes’s British Star-fishes? You like to look it through for the sake of the vignettes,—the mermaid and her child playing in the sea.
Oh yes, and the kind bogie who is piping while the sandstars dance; and the other who is trying to pull out the star-fish which the oyster has caught.
Yes. But do you recollect the drawing of the Medusa’s head, with its curling arms, branched again and again without end? Here it is. No, you shall not look at the vignettes now. We must mind business. Now look at this one; the Feather-star, with arms almost like fern-fronds. And in foreign seas there are many other branched star-fish beside.
But they have no stalks?
Do not be too sure of that. This very feather-star, soon after it is born, grows a tiny stalk, by which it holds on to corallines and sea-weeds; and it is not till afterwards that it breaks loose from that stalk, and swims away freely into the wide water. And in foreign seas there are several star-fish still who grow on stalks all their lives, as this fossil one did.