How strange that a live animal should grow on a stalk, like a flower!
Not quite like a flower. A flower has roots, by which it feeds in the soil. These things grow more like sea-weeds, which have no roots, but only hold on to the rock by the foot of the stalk, as a ship holds on by her anchor. But as for its being strange that live animals should grow on stalks, if it be strange it is common enough, like many far stranger things. For under the water are millions on millions of creatures, spreading for miles on miles, building up at last great reefs of rocks, and whole islands, which all grow rooted first to the rock, like sea-weeds; and what is more, they grow, most of them, from one common root, branching again and again, and every branchlet bearing hundreds of living creatures, so that the whole creation is at once one creature and many creatures. Do you not understand me?
Then fancy to yourself a bush like that hawthorn bush, with numberless blossoms, and every blossom on that bush a separate living thing, with its own mouth, and arms, and stomach, budding and growing fresh live branches and fresh live flowers, as fast as the old ones die: and then you will see better what I mean.
Yes; but not more wonderful than your finger, for it, too, is made up of numberless living things.
My finger made of living things?
What else can it be? When you cut your finger, does not the place heal?
And what is healing but growing again? And how could the atoms of your fingers grow, and make fresh skin, if they were not each of them alive? There, I will not puzzle you with too much at once; you will know more about all that some day. Only remember now, that there is nothing wonderful in the world outside you but has its counterpart of something just as wonderful, and perhaps more wonderful, inside you. Man is the microcosm, the little world, said the philosophers of old; and philosophers nowadays are beginning to see that their old guess is actual fact and true.
But what are these curious sea-creatures called, which are animals, yet grow like plants?
They have more names than I can tell you, or you remember. Those which helped to make this bit of stone are called coral-insects: but they are not really insects, and are no more like insects than you are. Coral-polypes is the best name for them, because they have arms round their mouths, something like a cuttlefish, which the ancients called Polypus. But the animal which you have seen likest to most of them is a sea-anemone.
Look now at this piece of fresh coral—for coral it is, though not like the coral which your sister wears in her necklace. You see it is full of pipes; in each of those pipes has lived what we will call, for the time being, a tiny sea-anemone, joined on to his brothers by some sort of flesh and skin; and all of them together have built up, out of the lime in the sea-water, this common house, or rather town, of lime.