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The Baldwin Library
THE STORY OF A SHELL.
S^affantgne -P rtoo
tALLANTYNE, HANSON AND CO.
EDINBURGH AND LONDON
5;-?TE .E iO*R
STORY OF A SHELL
SI Romance of the sea:
M_1itij sonte S:a Ztacftings,
A BOOK FOR BOYS AND GIRLS.
J. R. MACDUFF, D.D.
AUTHOR OF ''" THE STORY OF A DEWDROP,) ETC. ETC.
S(WITH7 ILL USTRA TIONS BY A. ROIWA N.)
See what a lovely Shell!
Frail, but a work divine;
"Made so fairi;y well;
A miracle of design."
JAMES NISBET & CO., 21 BERNERS STREET.
MY DEAR WILLIE,
It is not a bad idea this of mine, since my own
journeyings, whether by land or water are otherwise
curtailed, to have a periodical holiday in paper and
print with one of my nephews.
What are called "the discerning public" would not
be a bit wiser, were I to tell them who you are, what
you are, and how I come to dedicate this Book to you.
That you are a very real and distinct personality I
well know, and that the things, under what you would
appropriately call a queer form, I have ventured to
write, are just those which are likely to interest you.
You are yet young, and your mind fast opening. I
shall not be sorry, but very much the reverse, if what
I have spoken about may help, under a pleasant form,
to foster in you a taste for the most delightful of
studies,-leading you to con for yourself a crowded
chapter in the glorious Volume of Nature. "This age,"
says Canon Kingsley, (himself one of the truest and
vi PREFATORY LETTER.
ablest students of the fair world whose beauties he so
loved to unravel-) offers no more wholesome training,
both moral and intellectual, than that which is given
by instilling into the young an early taste for outdoor
physical science" (Glaucus, p. 48).
Ever since, many years ago, I paddled close to the
shores of your favourite Arran, with venerable Goatfell
as my only spectator, and looked down on the untold
wealth and loveliness of its deep sea-garden, I longed
to know more of these hidden wonders; although little
dreaming I would have the presumption to put my
inquiries into so adventurous a shape. I shall promise
not to be saddened, or humiliated, if the pupil gets
very rapidly ahead of the Teacher. The time may
come, when you will be able to take up, and continue
the parable, which the Narrator feels he has little more
than opened. "The Harvest of the Ocean" would defy
a thousand sickles for many years to reap. No sooner
had I laid mine down, than I felt tempted to take it
up again and add some other 'marine sheaves.' But
the patience of publishers and printers, and in your case
of readers, has its limits, and I must bow.
I wish you, and any who may be induced to read
this, distinctly to understand these two things-First,
That I am a naturalist "born, not bred." In other
words, that I have no pretensions to be what is called
PREFATORY LETTER. vii
a 'scientist,' or 'expert;' but only a humble and in-
terested listener and learner at the feet of the great
Interpreters. To be a real student of the things spoken
of here, you must go elsewhere. I ask you simply to
have a gossip with me-no more-on Ocean wonder-
land. My book will have served its purpose if it puts
into your hands the poet's banner, and into your lips
that best of all motto-words, EXCELSIOR." And
secondly, I want you further to understand, that the
present Volume is not, and never was intended to, be,
in the strict sense of the word, a religious-what you
would call a Sunday book. It is rather one for your
chair at the fireside on a Saturday afternoon; or, let
us say, when wandering in holiday time by the shore,
either enjoying the glassy calm of the sea, or asking
"What are the wild waves saying ? I gladly allow
that in another, and very true sense, it is a religious
Volume; as all are, whose leading object is to admit to
fellowship and converse with a bright page, (in the
present case, in many respects the brightest and most
fascinating page,) in God's own Great Picture and Lesson-
Book of outer Nature.
I need not burden and trouble you with a full list
of my authorities It has been my main effort to
"* These include the volumes of my old and distinguished fellow-student
at Edinburgh University, in the class where he afterwards rose to be
viii PREFATORY LETTER.
simplify: for the bare scientific facts contained in the
ablest treatises, like the host of sea fauna and flora they
describe, are bristling all over with long words and
minute scientific descriptions, very important and need-
ful to the learned, but which would only weary you,
and be a needless charge, for the present at least,
on your memory. The ample footnotes are, generally
speaking, quotations justifying and explaining-at times
expanding--statements given in the text. Some of these
latter may well be deemed so astounding, as to demand
proof from reliable authorities. I am aware that Notes,"
very often, get scant justice. They are either passed
over, or dismissed with a hasty glance. May I ask the
favour from you, as an "indulgent reader," not to do so
in the present instance; as they often supply what can-
not otherwise so well be given in a dialogue form. So
Professor-Edward Forbes. The admirable works of Mr. Gosse, those of
Woodward, Ellor Taylor, Wood and Milner. The researches of Maury,
Admiral Smyth, Schleiden and Quatrefages, Dr. Hartwig and Sir Wyville
Thompson.: whatever too is reliable in the somewhat unreliable, though
full and interesting treatise of Louis Figuier; not to speak of the latest,
and when completed the greatest of all-the published results of the
voyage of the "Challenger." Though in one sense mere 'Hand-books,'
I cannot resist including, (frequent note references will abundantly justify
me in doing so,) both the Guide to the Crystal Palace and the Brighton
"Aquarium." The former seems especially misnamed a Hand-book; as it
has all the detail and accuracy of a scientific treatise. To these may
further be added volumes where the specific subject is only incidentally
touched upon, such as those of Dr. Child, Dr. Bennett, and others.
PREFATORY LETTER. ix
anxious am I to secure this, that I instructed the Printer
to put them in a larger than the usual 'note type.'
I feel assured you will join me-always a pleasant
task-in a cordial vote of thanks, alike to the gifted
friend who has put the Illustrations into artistic shape;
-also to the two able scientific friends, who have so
carefully and kindly revised the proof-sheets for me.
With regard to what may be called the outer drapery
of the narrative, I know you are too chivalrous to demur
to my having chosen, for sundry (if I might use a
big word) esthetic and pictorial reasons, a Heroine,, and
not a Hero, to illustrate my pages. I thought, moreover,
you would not care to keep my little story all to your-
self. So we shall ring the bell for the convenience of
any curious outsiders; and let young or old (for the
doorkeeper has orders to admit both) avail themselves
of any empty benches. Or, carrying out the figure that
will be familiar to you in what follows, there are spare
seats in our mimic shallop for all who care for them.
Let us hoist our sail and be off!
J. R. M.
Of ocean flowers,
Born where the golden drift
Of the slant sunshine falls
Down the green, tremulous walls
Of water, to the cool still coral bowers,
Where, under rainbows of perpetual showers-
God's gardens of the deep-
His patient angels keep
Gladdening the dim, strange solitude
With fairest forms and hues, and thus
For ever teaching us, .
That beauty, in, and of itself, is good."
"I tread the Orient halls enchanted,
I dream the Saga's dream of caves,
Gem-lit beneath the sapphire waves!
"I walk the land of El Dorado,
I touch its mimic garden-bowers,
Its silver leaves and diamond flowers !"
DO !--of all things I should lik
for my very own self."
A scrap was this from thep1 t
: ,. ..,..- -- --- ---
(i ob" 7i
4 THE STORY OF A SHELL.
of a bright young girl, as, linked hand in hand with her
father, they sauntered under the arcades of the Piazza
of St. Mark's, Venice. We shall not venture definitely
to pronounce on her years. She had, at all events,
not yet, by a considerable way, reached the formidable
borderland of 'teens,' neither had she bidden farewell
to the charm of a name which never grows old-that
The attraction to the little heroine of this story, was
the familiar shop in the south-west corner; (who that has
been at Venice does not know it well, perhaps has to
confess being more than once punished by it ?) where,
among other bright and bizarre things, are specimens of
rarest Shells,-spoils from every corner and quarter of
the earth, or rather in this case of the sea. From the
Adriatic, of course, on which the City is enthroned as
queen. But the Chinese Seas, the Indian Ocean, the
coasts of the Pacific, the Mediterranean and the wide
Atlantic, all had their contributions and representatives.
For Ettie to gaze in at that shop window was nothing
short of a veritable treat and trip to Fairyland. It was,
sooth to say, her pardonable weakness; an amiable hobby
of hers, this Shell-collecting. She had had quite a little
cabinet of her own in the old English home;-a tiny
museum filled with things as radiant and beautiful as her-
self, and that was paying them rather a compliment
THE STORY OF A SHELL. 5
than otherwise. She possessed, among others, two desir-
able qualifications,-an inquiring mind, and a love of what
was lovely;-what artists would call an eye for colour.
Such being the case, no wonder her early preferences
had been attracted towards 'the wealth of the sea.'
Any birthday money, or other scraps of fortune she had
to spare, were invested in one direction. In a word,
Ethel (or Ettie, as she was familiarly named) clung to
her Shells, as an antiquary does to his coins, or a miser
to his gold. She was wonderfully, acquainted, too, for
her years, with their names and scientific families and
ocean pedigree: indeed, in her own small way, was quite
learned on that big term Conchology. Precocious on
most subjects, she was so on this above all. In her
winter home by the Mediterranean she puzzled the old
fishermen and bored the old ladies. To the youngest or
the oldest auditory she was ready to discourse the whole
day long, if she had the chance, on valves and bivalves.
In Angelo, the very picture of a grand, rugged veteran
seafarer, of whom more hereafter-she could always
calculate on a kind and sympathetic listener; one,
moreover, who paid her back with interest in imparting
It was on a September afternoon-just the evening
before leaving for their winter residence on the Riviera, (her
mother remained at the hotel to prepare for the journey,)
6 THE STORY OF A SHELL.
that the elastic footsteps were turned in the direction
just indicated. In her pardonable enthusiasm, Ettie was
incapable of any other thought but one, her father's
promised souvenir. His tastes were, it must be allowed,
not very discordant with her own. There were not a
few counter-attractions around her; attractions which, to
others, might have been dividing and bewildering :-
Roman cameos, and Genoese filigree-work, and Floren-
tine mosaics. But no. Adjoining shop windows in that
City of cities and Piazza of piazzas, bedizened with
jewels, and lace, and, glass beads from Murano, spread
their gaudy nets in vain. Even the surrounding objects
of interest, architectural and otherwise, lost their spell.
The bronze horses surmounting the portico of the Duomo
pranced, and the Gonfalon on the great flag-staff at the
close of a festa-week fluttered, in vain. The well-
known flocks of pigeons crowding to their afternoon
banquet at the window of the Proculratie,-their white
and purple wings flashing in the light of the westering
sun,-skimmed and curveted in vain;-even the old
grotesque negro-ringers, as they clashed out the hour of
four on the famous clock-tower, boomed and thundered
unconsciously in Ettie's ears. Neither sight nor sound
could divert from the one superlative object. So there
she stands, first outside the window, and then inside the
shop, by the magnetic counter at the Piazza corner.
THE STORY OF A SHELL. 7
Well, just which you like, my dear," was her father's
generous unconditional offer, giving her the widest berth
as she stooped over a glass case containing the choicer
specimens of the vendor. To most it certainly would
have been a very perplexing problem. There were
massive bivalves gleaming with red and pearly tints.
There were lovely gasteropods with strange, contorted
whorls. There were the familiar, mottled, smooth-lipped,
oval-shaped cowries, which on putting to her ear, with
their strange, weird, never-ending monotone, would have
sung to her little soul a dreamy song about Venice for
ever; the same of which our own poet of Nature speaks
so beautifully, as being charged with some utterances
reaching beyond the bounds of time.
But there was one essentially different from all these
which was her first, and her last love. Her eye had
wandered to it at once; and no hint or suggestion could
divert to any other. Yet it seemed strange, the selection
of this specimen, in the mia'st of many apparently more
varied in their charms, certainly of form if not of colour.
It was a Shell from the coasts of Java, or rather one of
its bivalves, large of its kind, and in shape well-nigh
circular. It was rough, and slightly fluted outside; but
the interior served very amply to redeem what was other-
wise alike blemished and commonplace. It quite gleamed
with a pearly, opal splendour. The sun had now sunk
8 THE STORY OF A SHELL.
behind the houses opposite the D)uomo, leaving tlhe
.Shell emporium in the shade. But in the absence of
solar light, the black-eyed, black-bearded Antonio, lit an
oil lamp with a reflector; and if Ettie's selection had
admitted of hesitation at first, there could be no room
left for dubiety now in her partialities, as she gazed on
the shining disc of prismatic colours.
One deficiency in the Shell was conspicuous. Inside,
at the upper left-hand corner, was a gash-a regular
aperture, extending through and through: so cunningly
rounded and polished however, as scarce to deserve the
stigma of deformity-though deformity it undoubtedly
was, and certainly detracted both from the appearance
and the value. The Child was counselled by her father,
more than once, to pause before being finally committed.
He even pointed here and there at random to other un-
blemished claimants on her taste and patronage. But,
as I have told you, her mind was made up.
"Thank you again," resumed Ettie, as she gave the
donor with her impressed lips the only return possible-
thank you for this beauty. Shan't I treasure it and
always think of it as from you ?" You dear, little, lovely
gem of a thing," was the brief personal address to what
was to be from that hour the favoured prize among her
goods and chattels. She deposited it with scrupulous
care in the bag slung over her arm. Clinging again to
THE STORY OF A SHELL. 9
her father's hand, with nimble step she hastened to the
'Albergo Reale' on the Grand Canal, to exhibit the gift,
and permit her mother to share her joy.
How the tedium of the next long two days' journey,
(first to Genoa and then to the home which for the pre-
sent we shall leave indefinite,) was beguiled by her recent
acquisition, we need not stop to describe. All this was
increased when safely moored in that winter haven with
its agreeable sensations of quiet and rest, and freedom
from travelling bustle. Enough to say that Ethel fondled
her Shell as much and as tenderly as a mother would
do her baby:-kissed it, hugged it, cradled it; putit the
last thing under her pillow at night, saluted it with a
child's benediction the first thing in the morning; took
it out with her when she walked, gave it a constitutional
airing in the carriage, rambled with it up the hills, or
among the olive groves; sang matins and lullaby-vespers
to it. On special occasions, as when she went to Church,
she would put a blue ribbon through the hole, and
wear it round her neck; not dangling for common vulgar
observation, which moreover from its size would have
been impossible, but placed carefully in her bosom.
Most touching of all, after the lapse of a few months,
she would wander, now and then all by herself, to a
grave within sight of the blue sea. Seating herself on
a mossy trunk, with the Shell as her companion, she
Io THE STORY OF A SHELL.
could almost imagiu e that in it she felt the touch of a
vanished hand," or even heard "the sound of a voice
that was still."
My readers will have already guessed from this refer-
ence, that the one mournful occurrence to Ethel, that
winter, was the death of her dearly loved father. He
had battled on long, too long, with disease, amid the
fogs of England; and the balmy skies and temperature
of the Mediterranean shores, sought too late, had only
postponed, not averted the fatal end. He was soothed
with every comfort loving hands could bestow-and
with a tender watchfulness which even Ettie, owing to
her years, could not be expected to give. But the
heart that most deeply felt the coming separation, hid
and repressed many a tear, alike for the sake of her
husband and -her child. The latter, with her gentle
prattling ways, solaced long hours of weakness and
weariness. Nor can we forget the Shell in the record
of these vigils. Now it was placed in his pale, thin
fingers-now shoved under his pillow;-now it bore to
him a crimson camellia; now, it was converted into a
salver for a tiny bunch of grapes; now for a dainty
little bouquet of wild flowers. Ethel's mother could
never forget, that when the gentle spirit passed away,
the hand was locked in the Venetian gift. It lay there,
until the fresh flowers brought in it that morning and
THE STORY OF A SHELL. 11
which had been fastened to one another with a piece of
silken thread inserted in the hole we have specially
noted, were withered. No wonder that to the child,
after that saddest day in her young life, the same
souvenir was invested with a greater preciousness than
ever; a casket of gold gemmed with brilliant, would
not have had the same value.
Months-the dreary months after a deep heart-sorrow,
had passed by; the reviving season of spring had set
in. Hill and slope, wood and dell of that earthly
Paradise, were having their first tender tint of 'wild
flower, and drapery of refreshing green. The earliest
of the nightingales and cuckoos had arrived, although
it is generally a few weeks later before these birds of
spring thoroughly establish themselves; as if they par-
took in the general desire to escape, if possible, the
scourge of the pitiless 'Mistral.' Except for the duty
she owed her daughter, Ettie's mother might have con-
tinued to brood in silence and solitude in her own
villa: (a villa, we may just note in passing, most
modest and unpretending in all its ways-though it
had assumed the somewhat pretentious name of Rocca
d'Oro.) But she was too wise and loving not to con-
sider the young heart at her side; and Ettie, after a
few weeks, with the happy oblivion of childhood, had
risen above her early sorrow. Every bright forenoon, (or
12 THE STORY OF A SHELL.
afternoon, when the morning sun was oppressively hot,)
the two were seen, sometimes with book or work, or
with both together, seated on a bank overlooking the
"great blue sea. The Shell invariably formed one of the
party. Ettie felt she could work all the better, or listen
all the better, with it either strung round her neck, or
laid upon her lap. Then it was a great and endless
source of delight for her to wander down among the
shingle, to get a passing smile from old Angelo in his
blue homespun and red beretta; and when he had time,
to gratify both herself and him with a sustained gossip.
When in a more adventurous mood, she would climb
the rocks, gathering the scant trails of riband seaweed;
conning the limpet's determined little ways, as he
clung the more vigorously to his hold, the greater the
effort she made with her puny fingers to detach him; or
pursuing the razor fish as he burrowed in the sand, and
with his rapid and successful efforts eluded the same
grasp. Then she would watch, though at a considerable
distance, the ungainly tumbling and evolutions of a
stray porpoise, as on some rare occasion he wandered
from his appropriate deep-sea domains, and came, in
his gambolling way, to have a peep of dry land.
These marine attractions were occasionally varied, as
on the present occasion, by ramble and exploration in a
favourite dingle-the slope of one of the lateral valleys
THE STORY OF A SHELL. 13
that stretched into the interior on the other side of the
public highway. It is a peculiarity, with which all who
have been in the Riviera di Ponente are familiar, that
the fringe of cliff or slope contiguous to the shore is,
generally speaking, though with choice exceptions, arid
and bare. The wealth of vegetation-Nature in her
lavish profusion, is in the main confined to favoured
spots, and must be sought at some little distance. These
latter abounding nooks of loveliness are, however, within
hail of all who have the eye and soul to enjoy them, as
was the case with Ettie and her mother. That now
reached was perfect in its seclusion. So innocent
indeed was the resort described even of a footpath, that
they had come to regard it as peculiarly their own.
Though "dingle" we have called it, it was still at a
considerable elevation, commanding an enchanting view
of shore and sea. In a half garden, half grove close by,
the peasant owner was busy cutting the fronds for Palm
Sunday, not only always a memorable time along these
shores; but important to many there for their commer-
cial return-the palm leaves, the best procurable in
Europe, being eagerly sought and purchased for the
adornment of the Italian and especially the Roman
Churches" on that most impressive of all their Festivals.
For the decoration of the latter, Bordighera possesses a prescriptive
I4 THE STORY OF A SHELL.
The bank which rose gently behind-(the omission
would be unpardonable,) was starred with early flowers;
the small grape hyacinth, the snap-dragon and Spanish
saxifrage: here and there little jungles of thyme and
rosemary, fragrant narcissus and pendants of wild jas-
mine. Evergreen carobs were clinging to the rock
fissures: always a puzzle what they adhere to and how
they lived.* There were patches of the Mediterranean
Erica (heath), the great exotic of these shores; but its
flowering time was just over, while that of the oleander
had not arrived. Far up the height behind were the
silver-grey olives, at this time also in flower. Their
dull and somewhat sickly hue was relieved by an
occasional Aleppo and stone-pine-the latter with its
bare, rigid, pillar-like stem, and green tuft of horizontal
awning. Then, there were undergrowth bits of myrtle
and dwarf ilex. The fig-tree, till now naked and un-
sightly, was putting forth its tender leaf;" and wherever
there was a crevice or frontage of moist rock shielded
by foliage, there were fringes and tassels of the ever
graceful maiden-hair fern. What to Ettie was more than
"* "Such a tree can only live very partially from its roots. The
scanty or poor soil will not feed plants that only bear leaves for a few
months in the year, wherewith to extract nourishment from the air; so
Nature supplies their place by evergreens, which have all the year round
millions of lungs, in the shape of leaves, pumping nourishment, in the form of
carbon, from the air."-I)r. Bennet's Shores of the Mediterranean," p. 26.
THE STORY OF A SHELL. Il
all, the dear old blackberry was straggling and twisting
as it used to do among the gorse of English commons,
and apparently as much at home in this Hesperides, as
amid the rough blasts of northern skies. The warm
balmy air was tempered with a breeze from the waters
full in view, stretching to the far horizon, and rimmed
nearer hand with sand and shingle. Where there were
any bits of rock-these were crimson with Valerian.
The sun rose gaily, all the earth
Seemed warm again with love and spring;
The olive leaves swayed glistening
With silvery lustre, and the rills
Leapt frost-freed to a brighter birth.
A thousand scented southern balms
The zephyr wafted to her brow;
The orange hung upon the bough,
The almond flowered fair beneath
The tufted majesty of palms.
The wavelets of a tideless sea
Crept softly to the rosy shore,-
The overhanging mountains bore
Myrtle and mignonette and heath,
And fragrant tangled bryony."
"* "Who that has ever visited the borders of this classic sea, has not
felt at the first sight of its waters a glow of reverent rapture akin to
devotion; and an instinctive sensation of thanksgiving at being permitted
to stand before those hallowed waves! The very name of the Mediter-
ranean is the text from which the sermon on all other seas must be
preached."-Professor Edward Forbes' Literary Papers,' p. 107.
"There," says Canon Kingsley, "it is at last, the long line of heavenly
blue ; and over it, far away, the white-peaked lateen sails, which we have
i6 THE STORY OF A SHELL.
Reader, or readers, you know,-for doubtless you
have experienced,-what strange, unaccountable things
dreams are. The mind, whether young or old, attains
for the time an extraordinary state of activity. Years
are compressed into days,-hours into minutes,-miles
into inches; big things into little things, grave things
into laughable things, impossible things become possible
things. In fact, nothing is too odd, too absurd, too
unlikely for this dreamland or fairyland, as you care to
seen in pictures since our childhood; and there, close to the rail, beyond
the sand-hills, delicate wavelets are breaking for ever on a yellow beach,
each in exactly the same place as the one which fell before. One glance
shows us, children of the Atlantic, that we are on a tideless sea. There
it is, the sacred sea. The sea of all civilisation, and almost of all history,
girdled by the fairest countries of the world; set there, that human beings
from all its shores might mingle with each other, and become humane :-
the sea of Egypt, of Palestine, of Greece, of Italy, of Byzant, of Marseilles
and this Narbonnaise, 'more Roman than Rome herself,' to which we
owe the greater part of our own progress; the sea too of Algeria, of Car-
thage and Cyrene and fair lands now desolate-surely not to be desolate
for ever;-the sea of civilisation, not only to the Christian and to the
classic scholar, but to every man to whom the progress of his race from
barbarism toward humanity is dear, should the Mediterranean Sea be one
of the most august and precious objects on this globe; and the first
sight of it should inspire reverence and delight as of coming home-home
to a rich inheritance in which he has long believed by hearsay, but which
he sees at last with his own mortal corporeal eyes. .
The air is as glassy clear as the water, and through it at seemingly
immense distances, the land shows purple and orange, blue and grey, till
the landscape is one great rainbow. Everywhere is vastness, freedom,
repose, gentle, and yet not melancholy; because with all under the burning
blue, there is that fresh wholesome heat which in itself is life and youth
THE STORY OF A SHELL. 17
call it;-a world of fancy, in the midst of a very jumble
A restless, impulsive, fidgety spirit like Ettie's, was
not likely to be an exception to this law, or rather law-
lessness in the world of dreams. In her case they
shaped themselves into the wildest vagaries of thought
-thought that ran absolute riot: and I think you will
not be unprepared to hear that a very frequent persona-
tion in these visions of her sleeping hours, whether by
day. or by night, was her omnipresent Shell; what, if
she had lived in ancient, instead of modern Italy, would
have undoubtedly been the chief of her 'penates,'-her
So was it now. I really cannot attempt to explain or
specify-for it baffles explanation-the singular connec-
tion, or association that was formed in this dream be-
tween the Child conchologist and her constant favourite.
Let those who understand dreams (which I do not) ex-
plain the mystery. Suffice it to say, that in that morn-
ing siesta, her Shell, though it took no human shape, but
remained the very same Shell that ever it had been, some-
how or other became all at once invested with the gift of
speech. Where its tongue, or organ of utterance was,
no mortal could discover. Indeed, it was plainly visible
it had none. The sounds and words came either
from its surface, or from some invisible 'sprite' that
IS THE STORY OF A SHELL.
haunted it, and veiled its fairy personality behind the
opal curtains. But with this, what might be called (to
use the learned term) the 'philosophy of our subject,'
we have nothing to do. It is enough to say, that with
speech this dumb thing wvas gifted. In plain words, it
began to talk; and a pretty talking, and a strange talking,
and a long talking, and I may add a very intelligent
talking it had too.
Moreover, I must note further, that the Shell had not
only conversational powers, but others which turned out
to be equally marvellous. Dumb, helpless, insensate,
with its rough outside coating, and with the one black
hole in the top, it became endowed with motion in its
own native element; capable of gliding, and skimming,
and diving; at times with a slow and stately, at others
with an inconceivable speed. It appeared to remain, as
I have just said, its own individual self, alike in size and
colour, and perhaps if anything a trifle bigger. But by
one of those same privileges which belong to dreams, one
of those extravagant violations of all natural law, Ettie
herself, (the 'Child' as we shall continue familiarly to call
her,) assumed a very different and most diminutive shape.
She was reduced to the tiniest dimension, no bigger in-
deed than her last photograph, or the least bulky doll in
Our heroine may have had her juvenile faults, but,
THE STORY OF A SHELL. I9
among these, she was not vain. If vanity however had
been a characteristic, we could hardly have quarrelled
with her, had she been somewhat proud of her present
reproduction; or, to use the big word, her 'metamor-
phosis.' For only think there she was, the smallest of
entities, afloat by the brink of the sea, perched on the
lower edge of the Shell, the opal circle rising in opal
concave behind her, quite a little Queen in her pearly
chariot. Not certainly in regal robes, for she was, or
rather appeared in her vision to be, simply draped in a
dress of white, with blue sash and rosettes of the same
colour. She was equally innocent of any royal crown:
but a wreath, partly of tiny shells, and partly of wild
flowers, encircled her brow. One other feature was
peculiar. I fancy, to give greater stability and security
to this somewhat perilous seat, either by a device of
her- own, (for the little thing was ready in resources,)
or of the Shell, I cannot say,-a golden silk cord was
passed through the hole I have spoken of, and twisted
deftly and gracefully around the slender waist. Thus
moored to her seat of safety, by any mishap to topple
over into the sea was impossible.
But the particulars of the equipage will be best un-
folded by giving the conversation which seemed to form
the beginning, or 'prologue,' of the dream.
:i:. ":':" -. ... : .. .. '. .
.... ... ..... ...h
TTIE," said the Shell, as
goop-p 1 the little lady thus
found herself all at
once in so strange a position
" I am going to take you a
A voyage .-where ?-what
do you mean ? said the timorous
24 THE STORY OF A SHELL.
thing, as she imagined herself just floating off in. some
mysterious way, from the well-known ledge of rocks on
which she had often gathered limpets.
"Yes,-a voyage,-or a journey, whichever you please
to call it. I am going, my own self, to conduct you to some
of the great Seas and Oceans in the world. You have
no idea of all I shall show you. Trust me, Child. Mount
up on the little seat I have cushioned. You need not
have a fear of any kind. We shall not be above a week
away, and I promise to land you as safe on these rocks
as you now are."
"I have no liking whatever for a voyage, or for sea-
sights," was the reply. "You dear, good, kind Shell, I
know you only desire my pleasure. But I would a
thousand times rather remain at home. There is
nothing beneath these dull, moaning billows I would
care to look -at. Much as I prize our own blue waters
and daily like to watch them, I wish to go no farther
than the pretty beach they lave. I wish no higher hap-
piness, than to chase these sunny waves, and to have them
in playful mood pursuing me back again, my feet crack-
ling the brown seaweed."
You don't know," said the Shell, trying to smile as
well as a Shell could do.
"I do know," rejoined Ettie, raising herself on her
THE STORY OF A SHELL. 25
pearly seat. Look around you," she continued, waving
her little hand in the direction of the gardens and groves
behind, the Maritime Alps with their colour-memories
of rhododendrons and gentians in the blue distance,
and the rim of varied loveliness girding the whole
shore:-" I should like you to tell me what I could
see in your ocean-depths compared with these ?-dreary,
bleak, dark caves, with neither bird nor blossom, grove
Oh, Child !" was all the interruption the Shell ven-
tured to offer the excited speaker.
"Yes," she pursued-hardly giving herself time to draw
a breath-" nothing but plunging and heaving, pitching
and tossing, booming and foaming;-savage things below;
stupid gulls, and rollicking seals, and stormy petrels,
"Ettie, Ettie, my dear, how you are pelting me with
"Not half done yet," was the discouraging answer.
"You would be taking me away too at this loveliest
season. How I should miss my olive woods, my orange
and arbutus groves, my vines and palms, roses and
honeysuckles and dewy flower-cups. Then, my winged
friends of all kinds:-not to speak of favourite insect
tribes, from the smallest of them, to my pet dragon-fly,
with his sapphire plates of mail and wings of gauze.
26 THE STORY OF A SHELL.
What care I," continued the little impassioned orator, as
she now (and high time for her) was drawing to a
close-" What care I for dumb fishes, and this great
desert of salt water, compared with all these lovely sights,
and merry minstrels of my own land-home ?"
The Shell was for the moment stupefied and con-
founded, with such a gushing protest from so diminutive a
mortal. She saw, however, the necessity of an immediate
response to avoid further discussion:-
"Let me tell you in one word, my dear, that you are
in ignorance of the whole matter. I think I can pledge
myself to introduce you to what are quite equal in their
way to all you speak of. Yes, under these great stormy-
looking billows of a dozen oceans, I shall undertake to
show you hills and valleys, and plains; passes with
their cliffs and precipices; groves and arcades of sea-
forests; caves embossed with green and gold seaweed,
and decked and trellised with sea-flowers (or what for
the present I shall call sea-flowers) of every kind: these
too, not with the one uniform colour of your grasses and
ferns, but patterns as varied in hue as in that kaleido-
scope of yours. Only imagine, Ettie, your Roman Cam-
pagna with its spring patches of colour, which wither in
a few weeks, multiplied a thousandfold, and keeping
bright and beautiful the whole year round,-a winter as
well as a summer garden !"
THE STORY OF A SHELL. 27
The Child could only stare incredulously; the Cam-
pagna being her ideal of all loveliness.
"Not to waste words," continued the other, "that sea
you delight in, and so often gaze upon, is only the azure
cover, the blue tent-awning of a wondrous world of beauty.
I don't wish to wound a sensitive little soul. But just let
me remark, (you know in a whisper,) I have heard people
say, that your own loftiest and proudest hills, or vast
portions of them, are chiefly composed of the remains
of sea animals. What say you, little woman, to
that ? "
Ettie was again for the moment silenced. To say the
truth she was indignant. Her curled lip and merry
twinkle expressed what she felt, which was to this effect
-" Do you suppose I believe all this ?"
The Shell, however, was not abashed or disconcerted,
but again took up its parable:-
"Ah, my Child, though I am happy now that I have
fallen into your hands, let me tell you I have reason to
be proud, and am proud of my native element, with its
eight thousand different kinds of fishes; to say nothing
of the four thousand five hundred families and relations,
near and distant, which bear my name. Then there is
no room for narrow envy and jealousy in these vast
domains. We have no separate holdings here, such as
irritate one when they land on your Riviera shores. The
28 THE STORY OF A SHELL.
sea," continued the speaker, with the air of a Solon-" is
a freehold. We have no such thing as rights of pro-
perty, and favoured classes. We have no boundary lines
or hedges or mud-walls, keys or locks, taxes or police.
It is a great unfenced territory, where there is plenty of
elbow room. No one jostles against his fellow, or
grumbles at the fewness of his acres. Acres!" added the
Shell, as loud as a Shell could screech without risking
a fracture,-" Acres, indeed !-Mind, Child, I am no philo-
sopher; but I am told that out of the one hundred and
ninety-seven millions of square miles which the globe
covers, three-fourths of that is claimed by the ocean.*
And for your cities, why the greatest capitals in your
world, built a hundred times over and a hundred times
over again, would be nothing to what I can exhibit to
Oh, I don't care for big things," said the pigmy,
rising from her seat to show how picturesquely small
she herself was, amid the Shell's vast calculations.
"But," she continued, as if acting on the old principle
that second thoughts were best,-" I shall leave myself
"This fluid mass," in the calculation of an interesting writer, "comprises
two billions, two hundred and fifty millions of cubic miles, equal to
about the quantity of water which would be discharged by all the rivers
of the earth in forty thousand years." "If a giant hand," says another,
"were to uproot the Andes and cast them into the sea, they would be
engulfed in the abyss, and scarcely raise the general level of the waters."
THE STORY OF A SHELL. 29
in your hands, for I know you will act the part of a
"Off we go then," said the other, knowing somebody's
impulsive vacillating ways, and fearing the possibility of
as sudden a change of mind.
Before Ettie could possibly qualify or modify her
assent, she found herself--well, she knew not where.
It had been no great or violent plunge after all. She
and the Shell were sailing, in the calm of a lovely after-
noon, far, far out on the bosom of the sea. Its surface
was clear, and smooth as a sheet of glass: not a speck of
land was visible. The sun was either rising, or setting,
she hardly knew which; but a molten pathway of light
came up to where her feet tipped the water. If she
could have looked round, she would have seen the hollow
of the Shell glowing and gleaming with luscious rainbow
tints. The sky above, and in front was most gorgeous.
She would not make the avowal, though she felt it all
the same, that neither above the distant Alps in the
morning, nor the nearer Esterels in the evening, had she
ever seen such banks of clouds, tipped and glorified with
purple, and amethyst, and vermilion.
I confess," said the Shell, when it saw Ettie's eyes
so transfixed on the bastions of cloud and the vistas of
"golden glory, that is one thing I cannot promise you
where we presently purpose to descend. We have no
30 THE STORY OF A SHELL.
gleaming sunsets in the depths of the sea. But let us
start before the sun has actually set. He will guide us
at least so far on our marine journey."
So saying, in the gentlest way the little chariot and
charioteer disappeared from sight. Ettie could hardly
say she felt the transition from the clear air and pure
light of day, or indeed so much as one disagreeable sen-
sation. Onward they moved in an oblique path, down,
down, considerably downward. I have said 'considerably
downward;' for although in a dream the question of
atmospheric pressure need not be too scrupulously taken
into account," at the same time it must be noted at the
outset of this voyage, that the Shell rarely attempted de-
scent with her protege and prodigy to any very profound
depths. In addition to other reasons to which we may
afterwards refer, her own Shell-instinct seemed to direct
her to the spots where the wealth of the ample sea-
territory could be best seen and enjoyed. The situation
was, I need not remark, quite new to the little adven-
turous traveller, but the novelty was in every way an
agreeable one. Her attention for the whole next hour
-indeed so long as there was any feeble light for her-
The old theory (we speak, of course, not of dreams, but of realities)-
shared by men of Science as to "the stupendous pressure which made life
of any kind impossible in the sea-depths, is now materially exploded by
recent researches,-as well as "the waste of utter darkness."--See Sir
Wyville Thomson's Introduction to Depths of the Sea."
THE STORY OF A SHELL. 31
was absorbed with the multitudinous members (citizens
I should say) of the ocean-world. How quick and graceful
in their movements! They recalled the arrowy dartings
and gyrations of some of her familiar home-birds;-oonly
no song, no throstling ;-all was strangely silent and still.
Their diversity in size and colour was as remarkable
as their numbers. As some rather scowling, untaking
fellows, with big staring eyes occasionally passed, she
imagined them casting a surly side-glance, as if demand-
ing who this intruder was on their domain. Others
however were reassuring in their ways; others attractive.
Some with scales sparkling like silver, some as if clad in
cloth of gold; some tumbling and disporting in awkward
fashion in a bath of ultra-marine; some cleaving their
way with consummate grace: but most, it must be
allowed, very busy in satisfying the demands of appetite,
and not by any means fastidious about appropriating for
this end the inferiors of the race. All this was the more
strange to Ethel, as the immediate shores of her dearly
loved Mediterranean were by no means prolific in speci-
mens of the finny tribe :-nothing certainly compared to
the great contiguous Western Ocean. The fishermen
along the Riviera are comparatively few; and for the
best of reasons, are poorly recompensed for their toil.
The fish-markets of Nice, Cannes, and Mentone are in-
debted to the Atlantic for their most valuable stock in
2 THE STORY OF A SHELL.
trade. This paucity however, alike in number and variety,
did not apply to the outer domain of the European
Lake." And as for shells, even before the more recent
dredgings which have increased this "roll-call" of the
Great Sea, the varied kinds were reckoned at least at 6oo.
By this time the two friends had reached the bottom.
Not by any means a deep place; but the sunlight being
now almost completely withdrawn, Ettie could only
discern the dim, strange, ghostly outline of algae;-
garlands of plumarias and other streamers of seaweed:
long ribbons of the latter of delicate formation, some of
which reached all the way from the surface and hung
like pennons over her head. I say 'hung,' not waved,
for, in these still, low deeps, there is no zephyr to wave
them. So that they have the peculiarity, in most cases
at least, of being straight and rigid, yet so beautiful in
themselves, that the perpendicular shape did not make
"My pretty Child," said the Shell in quite an affec-
tionate mood, "we have had a brief journey of it this
afternoon. We have no curfew bell," it added with a
quizzical look, "down here to toll, in order to put the
lights out: I fancy for the best of reasons, that we
have none to extinguish. But you have need of rest.
-Come, here is the very kind of place I was looking
THE STORY OF A SHELL. 33
The Shell was again in motion, and they floated
calmly and silently into a tiny grotto in the rock.
Its walls were just discernible, and no more. Indeed,
they would not have been visible at all, but for some
strange-looking, round, living things, afterwards to be
spoken of, which gave out from their bodies a dull,
phosphorescent light; others of the same kind tinier
still. But these dim, moving lamps were shy of the
visitor too, and after politely lighting her to her bed-
chamber they beat their retreat outside.
"At other times," said the Shell, "it may be advis-
able for you to have a change of couch and recline on
a bed of sea-moss. But to-night keep where you are.
It will be better in every way."
So, with these delicate network of marine streamers,
like fairy bed-curtains over her head-the little drowsy
heroine, tucking both her feet up on her opal chariot,
and leaning her head back as well as she could on the
same pillow, fell fast asleep; and for anything I can tell,
dreamt of the Riviera, and home, and of the sparkling
waves on the beach, and of Angelo in his hut, and of the
limpets on the rocks, and of the Great Sun, as she had
seen it a hundred times go down in the far west, turning
everything it could touch or light upon, into burnished
CHAPTJEV t III.
HEN Ethel opened her eyes in
the morning, she was afflicted
with that first wonderment
we all feel in a strange house,
or in waking amid the novel
surroundings of a strange
bed-chamber. "Where was
she ? How had she got there?
'Was she at home? Her effort
38 THE STORY OF A SHELL
to tuck her hand under her pillow, and sing her morning
greeting to the Shell, was the first thing which recalled
her to the reality of her present very singular situation.
But she was not inclined to be morose or sentimental
under it. Not a bit of her. She gazed with wonder.
and fond delight on her new dwelling; with its floor
a mosaic of bright sand. Were its walls of alabaster ?
Had the fabled mermaids roofed it with what recalled
to her the old stalactites in the caverns of Derbyshire,
and hung outside its door these waving frond-curtains of
purple weed, and balustrades frescoed with mimic grey
and orange lichen ? Even the cockles and limpets seemed
set, like watch-dogs in their sea-kennels, to keep guard.
In a word, the Elfin voyager sank into quite a child
reverie. She saw assuredly one of these Fairy Castles,
with the tales of which her Genoese nurse used to
beguile the long winter evenings, or old Angelo, at
times a leisure hour on the shore. Her dwelling,
moreover, was not only ready furnished within, but
its outward appanagess' excited equal surprise and
approbation. There was, close to the entrance, what
might very well have passed anywhere else for a moat
and a drawbridge; and, as for the gardens,-surely it
must have been the original of Count Pallavicini's
famous one at Pegli on the Genoese coast,-the caves
and grottoes with their blue lights and natural arches,
THE STORY OF A SHELL. 39
and the little pet of an island, only with sea-limpets
instead of waterfowl, and one or two sea-snails with
their brightly-tinted shells. And then, crimson plots
of she knew not what; tiny lawns and parterres of sea-
herbage, standing very much in need of the mower
and his sickle;-and the silvery and golden scaled
fishes cutting all sorts of graceful antics and manoeuvres
around her. Oh! what could these possibly be to our
little Queen of the Shell, but her lackeys in their gold
and silver liveries, waiting upon her commands? *
Then, there were representative members of other
little tribes of shellfish. These rather amused her.
They were not inclined, no, not one of them, to be so
loyal, or deferential; for they merely peeped out of
their tiny dwellings, to see who in the world this
new visitor could be, that was creating such a com-
motion. The first law and question of nature was with
them paramount:-Could she have brought them any-
thing to eat ? But when this last point was settled
in the negative, in a huff at being disturbed for no
good purpose, down they drew their windows again,
and slammed their doors; and covering themselves up
All naturalists are agreed as to the extreme beauty of the Mediter-
ranean fishes. And as to the variety of'species, it is, enough to refer to
the ten closely printed pages in Admiral Smyth's learned and reliable work
on the Mediterranean, pp. 199-209.
40 THE STORY OF A SHELL.
with their bedclothes, resumed their sleep, and sluggard
life and ways.*
Morning reflections were cut short by the voice of the
Shell, telling Ettie to prepare for the day's duties or
pleasures. No preparations indeed were really needed to
complete her toilet, save perhaps adjusting the wreath
round her head, and re-fastening the golden cord round
her waist which she had unloosed for the night's comfort.
Accordingly, the beautiful curtains in the front of the
enchanted castle seemed to understand the necessity of
withdrawing themselves, to let our little Pilgrim of the
ocean proceed .on her way.
"I have a happy thought in my head," said the Shell,
"for to-morrow, and which will help considerably to
hasten our future journeyings. But we have nothing un-
duly to press us at present. I have a few places to call
at, quite in the neighbourhood, but which are well worth
your visiting. You can trust to my knowledge, and, above
all, to my invisible helm, to steer you in safety."
Sea life, with rare exception, revels in the shady depths, avoiding the
light. Hence the principle followed in the modern Aquarium is "to give
the animals the very smallest amount of light consistently with their
being seen at all by visitors." In the sea "many of them are always in
more or less darkness, and this shade they often seek in aquaria by hiding
in crevices of rock-work, or by burrowing in the sand and shingle, many
of them coming out of their retreats only at night." (Hand-book to C. P.
Aquarium, p. 31.) It is for the above reason that aquaria are, generally
speaking, stocked from near the shore. Specimens from the very deep sea
cannot be kept permanently alive.
THE STORY OF A SHELL. 41
Ethel nodded acquiescence, though in a sort of re-
gretful mood at leaving her first fairy palace, with its
cluster of novelties. But if any tears were actually shed,
they were speedily dried, as she felt herself again afloat
on her opal raft.
"Well," said the Shell, "we are approaching the in-
teresting household, among the members of which we
shall saunter very quietly and leisurely to-day. They
are a lowly branch among the ocean tribes; they are, how-
ever, a large and attractive one too. They are found at
great depths in one part of the sea; at other places, as
here, not very far from the surface." She spoke, not
of the surrounding algme, but of what are frequently, but
not correctly, termed corallines. We say 'incorrectly;'
because corallines are really and truly plants covered with
carbonate of lime. It was specimens of the numerous
family, naturalists call Alcyonaria,' which, as we shall see
presently, were now to claim their attention. But Ethel,
though both names were mentioned to her, naturally
clung to the more common though erroneous one: I fancy
because it was simpler, and the good Shell, in an accom-
modating spirit, did not challenge its accuracy.
"Tush, Child, here we come right among them," it
continued, as they were entering the glades of a varied
forest. Just see how strange they are; and living things
too I Those learned in ocean lore once thought them
42 THE STORY OF A SHELL.
only big sea-flowers, or sea-blossoms. I do. confess they look
very like big flower-plots, in a vast sea-garden.-But now
there can be little doubt these you now behold are what
the learned name 'Zoophytes'-life-plants; animal flowers,
or animal branches, if you like to call them. I own too,
they are among the lowest form of sea-life; some animals
would refuse to acknowledge them either as cousins or
second cousins. If your eyes were sharp enough, you
could see, in not a few, the live polyps peeping out of
their cell-like structures, as if perfectly conscious of your
passing approval. It is these organs of touch that are so
beautiful, with all the varied tints and tender shape of
flowers. Each polyp has a separate existence. Yet each
too is connected with the whole branching leaf of which
it forms a part, just as the sap is common to the entire
tree. And then, see the varied algae or seaweeds scat-
tered around them! A few we got a glimpse of last night
and this morning. They are a wonderful and perfectly
endless family." *
"* Corallines (we still use the word in its popular sense) are seen to
advantage in the Brighton Aquarium, that multum in parvo sea-world. In
one of the tanks "a delicate species of Lace Coralline (Membranipora mem-
branacea) has established itself spontaneously on the front-glass, forming
small lace-like patches of an inch or more in diameter. Examined with a
powerful pocket-lens, every patch is found to be composed of a multitude
of minute cells of an oval form; and each of these is inhabited by a fixed,
transparent animal, resembling a microscopic sea-anemone, but of more
complex organisation, and which possesses a distinct nervous system, and
has its tiny tentacles finely ciliated."--Guide-book, p. 76.
THE STORY OF A SHELL. 43
"I do believe," said Ethel, "I have seen many things
very like them, at least in shape, lying on our own
shores, or on the rocks after a storm; what the fishermen
call wrack-only they were poor, brown, dingy affairs
compared with these."
"Oh yes, I think you can well understand that,"
replied the Shell. These poor waifs and strays, the pro-
digals and castaways, after being torn and tossed and
mangled with wind and wave, cut a sorry figure in
colour or anything else, compared with such as you see
now in the enjoyment of their native element. You
may believe it is just with them, as with the flowers in
your garden at home. Pluck one of these, and its beauty
is sure soon to fade. But do look, Child, at these beauti-
ful sea-flowers unplucked!"
Ettie gazed with a will on the rare things of beauty,
both 'Alcyonaria' and Algae. She looked at one; and there,
to be sure, were great branching ferns of gorgeous colour,
in which yellow, and red, and olive prevailed, in place of
the familiar green. Then there was something, whatever
its name was, extremely like the familiar bindweed
festooned in garlands from branch to branch. Another
patch reminded her of skeleton leaves of gigantic size,
with delicate tracery and varying tints. Then, a great,
compact rounded mass, exactly as if some ocean bees had
wished to rival their friends on land, and had constructed
44 THE STORY OF A SHELL.
a series of cells. Another was very much as if a crown
of rare workmanship rested on a rock-cushion. Another
looked as if some fabled Tritons had made off with a
cactus plant, with its thick knotty branches, from Bordi-
ghera, or Monaco, and plunged it into the rival element.
Here was another, which in delicacy of net-work might
have come from the filigree workers in the Prado of
Genoa. And then, above all, and to Ettie more striking
than all, the same feeling she had experienced the pre-
vious evening, and which, as we shall find, was a frequently
occurring sensation,-the perfect stillness of this marine
solitude. Not a breath ruffled it; no tumult of street,-
no shouts of village children,-no songs returning from
the festa,-no boom of wave, nor roll of thunder, nor sound
of cataract. The winds above, for all she knew, might be,
as indeed they were at that moment, holding carnival on
the surface, but here was a Temple of everlasting Silence.
To one accustomed to the din of the upper world it
was almost oppressive. She could not help remarking,
" My old nurse, among her other fairy stories, used to tell
me of a Being the old Pagan Greeks and Romans supposed
to be the god of the winds, called 2Eolus, who dwelt in a
sea-cave and had all the tempests confined in it-letting
them loose when he pleased. But I shall never believe
Presently the sun in the upper heavens had shone out
THE STORY OF A SHELL. 45
in his full glory, penetrating with his rays to the place
where they were, and lighting up the submarine-petrified
copse (or we should rather say, what was uncommonly like
it,) with a wonderful brilliance. The branches, unlike
any real forest, seemed to assume every variety of tint.
The fins of little fishes, like the wings of humming-birds,
flashed as they darted from arcade to arcade. It was the
peculiar effect indeed of the light in that early morning
hour, which thus heightened in no small degree the
magical surroundings. The sun's rays impinging ob-
liquely on the surface of the upper waves were refracted
as in a prism, and distributed the rainbow tints-the
prismatic colours-on every several object around. Some
of the algae were tipped with blue and red and green.
A mollusc, otherwise inconspicuous outwardly, was clad
in violet :-while others-shells, fishes, rocks-had stolen
for the nonce every hue of the Bow of Heaven--a very
kaleidoscope of beauty ;-here a ruby, there a topaz,
there a sapphire."
Look, Ettie," said the Shell, singling out something
with special claims, "here is what I know will interest
you. Look at that somewhat stiff stem with the stars,
or flowers, although I again tell you they are in truth
the living polyps showing face and figure;-well, if
See this well described by Jules Verne in his interesting volume,
46 THE STORY OF A SHELL.
your little fingers would remove from the outer coating or
covering of these stems, what looks like bark;-do you
know what you would reach ? Why, Child, you would
come to a branching stalk of red coral!"
"Red coral! my favourite! At what I have stared
my eyes out in the shop windows in Nice! I have a
whole beautiful cluster of my very own, in beads, at
home, which I wear on my birthday. Have I not watched
too from Cervo and Pegli the lateen sails of the fishers
far out in the Mediterranean-I verily believe just
perhaps near where we are at this moment! Red coral!"
she again shouted, I should rather say attempted to shout,
at the top of her voice. If it were not too much of a
load for us, do let me grub up one by the root, and have
it here beside me; I could make a coachman's seat of it,
and take it home to mother !"
The Shell only raised a few opal dimples at the sim-
plicity of the idea.
Well, I shall not readily forget these thickets of
coral trees or flowers or bushes, whichever you like to
"I call them by none of these epithets," said the
Shell. "They are neither trees, flowers, nor shrubs, but I
repeat once more, little lady, they are animals very low
down, as I shortly ago said, in the scale of life; but
animals they are notwithstanding."
THE STORY OF A SHELL. 47
"Pardon me, good kind old mother," continued Et-
tie somewhat persistently, "how can you expect me to
believe this ? Only look, you see the flowers actually
"growing from the stem," pointing at the same time to
lovely floral tufts breaking out exactly as on the
branches of a shrubbery plant.
"I am not astonished, Child," replied the other, "at
your mistake, and cannot quarrel with your perversity.
But mistake it is. These flowery, fringe-like things are
springing, not from the wood or fibre of a plant, but are
what the wise people call 'organisms,' growing out of
the soft pulpy flesh which covers the rigid coral within.
If you would only touch what look so much like the
petals of a flower, they will disappear in a way that will
be sure to convince you."
See Science for All," p. 151, where the old and now exploded theory
of the coral being a marine plant is dwelt upon. The opinion of the
Latin poet Ovid is there quoted, that this member of the Ocean Vege-
table Kingdom" remained soft and pliable while under water,-but
became hardened by exposure to the air." The best corals are obtained
in the Gulf of Genoa and off the Islands of Corsica and Sicily in the
Mediterranean. Cervo, quoted above, a small attractive village on the
Riviera de Ponente, near Savona, has a tragic interest attached to it.
It was inhabited by quite a little colony of coral fishermen,-who, by a
species of freemasonry, kept to themselves, in inviolable secrecy, the
existence and position of a valuable coral reef far out from the shore.
They and their families, through the enthusiasm of a pious ecclesiastic
in the Cathedral of Savona, resolved to build a gorgeous church or
Temple, crowning the rock on which their village stood. Its foundation
stone was laid with great pomp under a temporary arbour built to repre-
sent coral; with a large piece of real coral depending from the centre of
4S THE STORY OF A SHELL.
Ettie tried the experiment-putting the point of her
finger on one of the lovely, delicate-looking things.
Animal sensitiveness was at once exhibited. The
polyp drew in its tentacles-and she was a sceptic no
But her old illusion seemed only to be more astonish-
ing than ever. "Fancy," she continued, "our orange and
fig and olive trees with foliage and fruit all alive Only
imagine, every blossom on almond or apricot--a living
animal!-with a tiny place too for retreat in the bark
when made uncomfortable by the flight of a passing bird,
or the whirr of a beetle. But as to taking a nice speci-
men with us ? "
"We shall not at all events cumber ourselves, Child,
just now," replied the Shell. "Besides, not so easily
grubbed up as you think. Nor have we tools, either to
drill the rock, or cut and polish the stem. Oh, forget
your coral, for the time being. We shall hear more of it
the roof. The inscription was placed-" L'offerta a Dio dei pescatori di
corallo "-(The coral fishermen's offering to God). They dedicated much
of their time and substance to this pious undertaking. All had been
completed save the portico or facade of the building,-and for this they
resolved to dedicate the proceeds of their next expedition to the coral
fishing on their famous reef. The little fleet-seven boats, with all the
male population-anxiously expected day after day, never returned.
From that hour (two hundred years ago) a gloom settled over the place,
and the sad and romantic tale of "the bank of the Seven Widows" still
lingers in the memories of their descendants. [See the account graphi-
cally described in Fraser's Magazine, p. 112, 1882.]
THE STORY OF A SHELL. 49
by and by, in another place and in another form; and do
let us wander at will among these algse." *
"Well," exclaimed Ethel, "that is indeed a wonderful
glade," as the Shell steered its way into the wide aisle
with its fresh arcades of beauty, a tapestry of seaweed,
-affording food for some, and shelter for others of the
marine creatures disporting themselves in its recesses.
Descriptions bearing on the red coral might be multiplied indefinitely.
As these pages are passing through the press, the eye of the writer acci-
dentally fell on the following, in one of our daily papers, illustrating and
confirming what has just been stated, with other interesting details, too
long to quote in full :-" The discovery, by an Italian naturalist, of the
supposed flowers of Corallium rubrum was considered by men of science as
conclusive of the correctness of the popular belief. When, therefore, a
surgeon of Marseilles, a little more than a hundred years ago, found that
the so-called flowers were in reality animals endowed with the power of
voluntary motion, and when he communicated the fact to the French
Academy of Sciences, that learned body, in order to protect the author
from inevitable derision, thought it prudent, in publishing his research, to
conceal his name. The surgeon, however, was right-corals, whether
precious or otherwise, being nothing more than sea-anemones that have
secreted a calcareous skeleton, and have become compound by budding.
It is these colonies of soft-bodied zoophytes which secrete the lime of
which this valuable stone is composed. Few years pass without the
discovery on some part of the Italian coast of a new bed of this valuable
material, causing a rush to the spot, and a rapid exhaustion of the coral.
Such ugly rushes, requiring sometimes the despatch of an Italian man-of.
war to keep order among the fishing fleet, will probably be less frequent
in future, owing to the new fisheries law, which secures to the discoverer
of a coral bank the exclusive right to fish upon it for two years. The
occasional richness of those submarine 'finds' may be gathered from the
fact that six hundred boats, which were sent to a newly discovered reef
off the coast of Sicily in the year I88o, took from it, in the course of a
few months, not less than eight thousand tons of coral, valued at several
million pounds sterling. The coral is usually found attached to rocks,
50 THE STORY OF A SHELL.
They were about twenty-five fathoms under water.
Here were small-looking branches, real branches this
time, with bushy tufts; others festooned from stem to
stem, but all devoid of flowers or blossoms. Here was a
great sprawling streamer poised over their heads. Some
came from the bottom, where they were moored in the
sand and gravel ; others had fixed themselves like
grappling-irons on the rocks and big stones. Some, little,
green, tiny things that looked certainly as small as
the smallest moss Ethel had ever plucked in her pine
wood on the mountains: and how beautiful! Then,
again, a monster, like a flag of distress hung out astern.*
being, according to Professor Giglioli, never found in mud nor in muddy
water, but growing mostly on a regular coral rock formed of different
species of madrepores. In some places, however, it is found attached to
shells and other marine objects. It gives out branches in all directions,
and attains a height of about one foot, with a thickness usually of less
than an inch. Precious coral varies considerably in colour, from a deep
crimson red to a delicate rose pink. It is also occasionally found marbled
white and red, while both black and white varieties occur. The finest
pink coral is said to be worth from 80 to 120 per ounce. The Romans
believed it to possess mysterious virtues, and used to hang branches of it
round their children's necks to protect them from all sorts of danger-a
superstition not yet extinct in southern Italy, where coral amulets are still
worn. In India it is in as much request at the present day as formerly
Indian pearls were in Rome. The Hindoos wear it in their turbans, and
adorn the handles of their swords and daggers with it; the rosaries of
their priests are made of coral beads, and they place it on the bodies of
their dead in order to protect them from the inroads of evil spirits."-
[Extracted from The Scotsman, April 1882.]
"* The darker-coloured algme grow, if not alone, at all events to
greatest perfection at lower depths of the sea, hidden away from the light.
THE STORY OF A SHELL. 51
"Oh, what a big fellow!" shouted out the Explorer,
as she dreaded a blow that would have entailed ship-
"Yes, big certainly-but although I shall not exactly
promise, I may take you, before our cruise is ended, to
one of the world's great oceans, where these you now see
would be pigmies compared to the algae there found.
Some very large plants, or trees, torn up from their
holdings, float on the surface for whole miles, like a
great brown or purple sea-meadow, much to the annoy-
ance of mariners. What would you think, (I know you
would hardly believe me,) were I to speak of them, yes,
-of one plant at least, a whole mile in length! But
so it is, although our tiny craft is quite as well away.^
The writer of the Crystal Palace Aquarium Hand-book, in speaking of
the specimens there inviting shady positions, remarks:-" It is unlikely
that any green algae (Chlorosperma) will grow in the gloom of these tanks,
while they are admirably suited for the red algae (Rhodosperma), which
always flourish best in much obscurity,-not only because, contrary to the
rule which obtains among most terrestrial plants, the deeper-coloured
marine plants or seaweeds grow best in the least light, and fade when
exposed to much illumination,-but also when so exposed they become
densely covered with, and have their form and character concealed by,
various green or purple filamentous weeds, which, under the stimulus of
light, tend to grow upon everything."
Professor Edward Forbes similarly describes :-" On the north-west
coast of North America there is a tangle named Nereocystis, having a
stem which measures, when full grown, three hundred feet in length, and
bears at its extremity a huge float six or seven feet long, shaped like an
enormous cask, and crowned by a tuft of more than fifty forked leaves,
each of them from thirty to forty feet long. Among this submarine
52 THE STORY OF A SHELL.
I think we cannot do better than spend the night
Ettie was somewhat drowsy, but she found it for long
impossible to shut her eyes and hide out the manifold
new beauties which the deeper sea revealed; whether
algoe or zoophytes, or, what was more likely, some new
tribal acquaintances, she did not know. She could not
be troubled with names. There were again a number of
beautiful little phosphorescent creatures (medusae), far
lovelier than last night's, some like opal and ruby, mov-
ing about in all directions, evidently the little lamp-
lighters of these regions; or rather, each a lamp of itself,
emitting in some strange way light from its body. It
looked exactly as if they had got up an illumination in
honour of herself and her Shell. The little things, too,
seemed to have donned their court dress of bright purple.
Each rivalled the other in beauty of form,-lighting
foliage, the sea-otter lies in wait for its prey, and, when tired, delights to
rest and sleep on the enormous bladders. Yet all this mass of vegetation
is moored by a stem as thin as a whip-cord." (Literary Papers, p. 300.)
" He then refers also to the Macrocystis,' just described, with "its
astonishing length of nearly one thousand feet." Also to the beautiful
green algae of the Caulerpa group, seen by Professor Harvey at the
southern extremity of Florida. "This," he adds, "is the favourite food of
turtles, and it is not improbable that those dearly prized reptiles owe
much of the delicacy and all the colour of their cherished green fat to the
verdant seaweeds just mentioned." Sir Wyville Thomson speaks of "the
Gulf weed (Sargassum bacciferum) scattering its feathery islets over vast
areas of warm, still water."-Challenger, ii. 339.
THE STORY OF A SHELL. 53
up sand and shingle, to say nothing of the reflection from
Ettie's own opal throne."
But, the command being given, it was obeyed. Ethel
untied the golden cord from her waist, and fastened it
round the stem of the stoutest coralline she could find;
adjusted her posture; folded her arms across; and amid
this mass of marine vegetation, darting of agile fishes,
and shower of marine fireworks, she seemed to forget
being already in dreamland, and in mental vision anew
"* Professor Forbes thus speaks of these lustrous effects in connection
with the Mediterranean, under another form of beauty :-" This luminosity
is especially remarkable in the Mediterranean. In our own seas it is
often very brilliant; but in the south it gains vividness through the
assistance of more luminous and larger medusme and of molluscs of the
Salpa genus which, adhering together so as to form long and tortuous
chains, shine beneath the waves like fiery serpents."-Literary Papers,
_____ CHAPTER IV.
THEL woke up next morn-
--- ing, rubbed her eyes, and
looked about her in wilder--
ing amaze. Where she
was, she had not the re-
motest conception. It was not so very
nights' lodging. There were waving
alge, and stiff artificial-like zoophytes,
and little tufted banks and rocks with
58 THE STORY OF A SHELL.
shells clinging to them-the inmates putting out their
inquisitive horns on an exploring expedition, and drawing
them in again in very nervous, fidgety fashion. Then
there were the same lords and ladies of the bed-
chamber, in their scaly liveries of gold and silver, green
and yellow, sporting about; some of them getting won-
drously familiar and presuming, as they gathered round
the strange visitor, even peering up in her face, rather
rudely and unceremoniously.
Ettie, however, did not mind these intrusive liberties;
and having completed her simple toilette, she was dis-
turbed in her reveries by the voice of her faithful
Well," said the Shell, you have had a journey of
it, Child; I verily believe you don't know a bit of you
what this new region is ?"
"That I don't!" was the answer, in the delightful
oblivion of a first waking.
In a word then," said the other, "you are in a place
you have often heard of before-you are in the great
Pacific-the tropical part of it,-one of the ocean's
vastest territories, and one abounding with rare riches.
I may well say a vast territory. We can explore
but a little nook of it, for it occupies seventy millions
of square miles. I wish," she continued, "to begin
the day with a very leisurely cruise, and not very
THE STORY OF A SHELL. 59
far from the shore, among what I am sure will interest
They started off at once, steering their way through a
pathway of azure blue, enlivened with sea-flowers of
varied colours-some of them so bright as to suggest to
Ettie's lively imagination rubies and amethysts set in
The speed was at first tolerably rapid. In beginning
to slacken, the Shell again broke silence. "Do you
know, my dear, what we are approaching ? You were so
pleased with the sights of yesterday, that I thought I
had as well transport you, all at once, in dreamy fashion,
and introduce you to some giant kinsfolk, or, I should
rather say, to their giant works."
"What can you mean ?" was the somewhat im-
Why," said the Shell, with the brevity of an agree-
able surprise, they are the Coral Islands of this dear
The Coral Islands!" exclaimed the Child. Oh!
I have heard father speak of these so often. You don't
know how I have longed to see their wonderful Babel-
builders, or if I cannot see and watch the builders, at
all events admire their work. "
They are wonderful indeed," said the Shell, all its
opal colours appearing to glow at the thought. "No
60 THE STORY OF A SHELL.
workmen in the world have ever reared what these toil-
ing pigmy creatures have done. Houses, castles, and
fortresses have been built, and are being built by the
'weest' yet sturdiest of masons.* And not only so; but
nature," observed the little philosopher, getting quite
poetical as well as learned,-" completes their work; for
on the top of these vast outer buildings, or rather when
the solid mass rises to the surface of the water, there is
placed in the course of time layer on layer of vegetable
You are getting too deep for me," said Ethel, much
interested; pray don't keep me longer in suspense."
Well, I shall pick out the tiniest I can find," said
the Shell;-" for I need not tell you there are single
islands as large as an English county, and groups of
them as large- as England itself, while many of the coral
reefs are vastly bigger still."
"* The polyp builders of the "branching coral" we have spoken of in
the preceding chapter, in connection with the red coral of the Mediter-
ranean, are quite different from the reef-builders. The latter are altogether
a more vigorous order than the former. "The organisation of those
apparently insignificant beings, and the instinct with which they are en-
dowed, adapt them to perform, with a precision never exceeded by the
most skilful chemist, one of the grandest feats of nature's laboratory. The
currents of the ocean bring to them in the sea-water a solution of carbonate
of lime, washed by the rains and carried by the rivers of remote continents
into the sea. This lime those little chemists separate from the sea-water
and form into a symmetrical structure as compact and solid as marble."-
Half Hours on the Deep, p. 236.
THE STORY OF A SHELL. 61
So saying, they both emerged to the surface, and the
same moment Ettie's eyes fell on what she might well
have mistaken for a bit of her own Riviera:-only instead
of the somewhat prevailing ooze, there were sands of pure
white-a sprinkling of shells and lumps of broken coral,
with the usual deposit of wrack and seaweed.
This outer ledge or reef was only the frame or setting
of an enchanting picture. It enclosed a mass of tropical
"A coral island, indeed!" exclaimed Ethel. But
tell me, how came these ocean builders to get hold of
pines and palms and banyans ?-this does puzzle me."
We may thus interpret, at a little greater length to our
readers, the Shell's reply. The explanation asked is alike
a simple and a beautiful one.
No sooner does the polyp builder reach the surface-
or tide-mark, than it at once dies. Life is impossible to
it without the sea surroundings. But the ocean itself
completes in a singular way what the little creature
cannot. None but those who have had the opportunity of
witnessing the effects, can believe what the force of waves
is, when lashed into fury by a storm. In this case they
break and tear up solid fragments of the polyps' work.
They grind (if I can use such a word about water)
other parts of it into powder. These are tossed along
with decayed leaves and stems and broken shells and
62 THE STORY OF A SHELL.
tangle, and other ocean drift and debris, into the centre
of the 'lagoon,' as it is called. The outer border just
spoken of, surrounding the lagoon, is first filled with
solid matter. This is gradually added to and en-
larged by fresh accumulations, till a substantial frame-
work, at all events, is constructed. In some cases the
whole circlet is, in course of ages, filled in within these
outer walls. In other cases the lagoon surrounds one or
more inner islands.*' Then other agents are called in
to complete the island creation. Many auxiliaries lend
a hand to stock these true gardens of the Hesperides.
The sea-birds make it a perch, or pausing-place for
themselves in their flight. They become, in a sense,
farmers and gardeners, by carrying in their bills from
the land and shore seeds for their own food. Some of
these they drop by accident on the new-formed island;
so that a stalk of corn is seen up-springing here; and
a wild-flower there; and a weed there. In due course,
"* These strange circular rims of coral have obtained the name of Atolls.
There is generally an opening at one side; so that they may be described
as gigantic harbours screening vessels from the fury of the storms con-
tinually breaking on the outer reef. A still more remarkable feature in
the form and construction of the Atolls is,-that there are a succession of
these of a smaller size, linked together, each with a small lagoon of its
own surrounding the great central one, exactly like a circle or series of
massive fortresses. Only, instead of the moat, as in older days, being
outside, it is transferred within. In these sheltered lagoons, where the
water is not too salt (through evaporation), the delicate order of polyps
work, and construct the more beautiful coral both in form and colour.
THE STORY OF A SHELL. 63
a regular Turkey carpet is spread, in which green, of
course, is the preponderating colour. A few of the bigger
beaks may have contrived to carry a seed as large as
an acorn or a date. The receding waves from the shore
too, and other ocean currents, bring now and then
some stray contributions, along with sand and fragments
of solid matter; perhaps tumbling a cocoa-nut on rare
occasions, or the trunk of a palm or a camphor tree.
We know how speedily even one seed germinates and
multiplies itself; so that the coral island that may
have taken ages to be formed, is in the course of years
covered with rare vegetation,-from the anemone and
forget-me-not,-the pea and bean, the wheat-stalk and
the sugar-cane, to the oak, and fig, and feathery palm.
Nor need we stop here:-for, mixed up in this drift-
wood there may be, accidentally, the eggs or shells or
cocoons of insects. So that the butterfly with his rich
brocade of red and gold,-and the beetle with his
sheaths of sombre blue, may wake up to find them-
selves among plants and flowers and the pipings and
twitterings of birds. In due course the green emerald
grass appears,-and the shrubbery for winged creatures
great and small. Thus it will be seen how the most
barren of things-lime, deposited from tiny sea-crea-
tures-can come to produce a whole Archipelago of
beauty and loveliness. Then, to crown all, appears the
64 THE STORY OF A SHELL.
ever-enterprising human being, to take possession of the
increasing island or shore. Fields are squared out;
and gardens fenced; and corn crops raised; and huts,
and houses, and villages built; and children born; and
happy families grouped round their hearths.
"I do like to hear you," said Ethel, as the Shell
paused for breath in her own telling of the story.
"My dear old lady, you have given me a discourse and
a half! What little pets of things these zoophytes
must be: I shall always think of them as the busy
bees of the ocean. Busy I know they are," pur-
sued Ettie, "but can you give me any idea how long
they take to complete their work ? How fast do they
"I am sorry to say, Child, I cannot accurately answer
your question. The madrepores are said to advance
yearly, at the apparently slow rate of from one-eighth
to half an inch.* So you may imagine the long time
required for the construction of these great walls and pre-
"Then, are these coral rocks or reefs, as you call
them, really of such great extent ?"
"* Professor Huxley estimates the rate of growth of reefs at something
under half-an-inch per annum. There are isolated cases on record, where
under very favourable circumstances the rate of growth in a mass of
madrepore has been calculated at from one to three inches a year; but
the more massive corals are very much slower.
THE STORY OF A SHELL. 65
"I have already answered your question, but I shall
do so again. That is one of the most wonderful things
about them. In this very ocean (to be more particular
than I was before) there are some a thousand miles
long, by two or three hundred broad. Quite marine
kingdoms in their way, with mountains and bays and
precipices, and what not; all constructed by billions on
billions of these polyp-toilers-and far beyond the calcu-
lation of your tables of arithmetic."
How the small Listener stared about her, as she
gazed on the strange formations! And the first feeling
of the workers' silence, more than once referred to, she
could never get over. Not a breath,-no confusion of
Babel-tongues here. What a rebuke to the sluggards
and loafers and idlers and talkers of the upper world,
young or old, these monuments of incredible labour and
"* It is but fair, however, to say that the "incredible labour" must be
taken in an ideal sense : as practically the labour is no more to them, as it
has been remarked, than bone-making is to us. The two processes are
It may be worth while to quote here the concluding sentence in Mr.
Darwin's last rDmarkable volume, on The formation of Vegetable Mould
through the action of Earthworms," and his ample recognition of the place,
among tiny workers, due to our builders of the Pacific:-" When we
behold a wide, turf-covered expanse, we should remember that its smooth-
ness, on which so much of its beauty depends, is mainly due to all the
inequalities having been slowly levelled by worms. It is a marvellous
reflection, that the whole of the superficial mould over any such expanse,
has passed and will again pass, every few years through the bodies of
66 THE STORY OF A SHELL.
Oh, do just see," said Ettie with a shout, as, oblivious
to the subject of so long a discourse, she diverted her
gaze for a moment to some other lovely objects, "how
that little fellow is nibbling! Who can he be ? and
what is he after ? and, I declare, he wears gayer cloth-
ing himself than the brightest of the gay things he is
"Why, Child," replied the Shell, that is the parrot
fish. Nibbling, you call it. It is exactly as a little
mouse would do behind your cupboard at home; only,
instead of wood, he is brave enough to attack the hard
"How he does grind away! and surely indigestible
fare it must be."
"It is, really and truly," said the other, "the coral
crust he is feasting on; and he manages to digest it too.
But he knows also that he has a better prize in the
background. His strong saw-teeth are drilling through
the casement of lime, to get at the live polyp. A
knowing, persevering, greedy customer he is. Depend on
worms." (It is calculated that there are upwards of 50,000 worms in an
acre of average garden ground; half that number in corn-fields.) "It may
be doubted whether there are many other animals which have played so
important a part in the history of the world, as have these lowly organised
creatures. Some others, however, still more lowly organised, namely,
corals, have done far more conspicuous work in having constructed innu.
merable reefs and islands in the great oceans."-P. 313.
THE STORY OF A SHELL. 67
it, he won't cease till a dainty meal rewards his efforts." "
"But we need not tarry longer," continued the Shell.
" You can have only a glimpse, at the most, of our vast
and varied sea-wonders; you must be content to pass on.
The ocean, dear, is a monster picture-gallery. Ah! does
it not remind me when I was lying snugly in your
bosom in the Pitti and Uffizzi a year ago, when your
mother had to pull you on from picture to picture;-I
helping her in my quiet way as best I could!"
"I have one question to ask you," said Ethel, ere
we go. I have observed that you never care about
taking me very deep down in our travels. I know one
"very good reason to be, that you have as little liking
for darkness as I have. But tell me-are these lowest
parts of the sea clothed with vegetation and inhabited
by living things; or does life cease entirely at certain
I am not astonished, Child, at your inquiry. It was
long supposed that no animal or vegetable existence was
to be found beyond a certain point. But not so now. From
much that others tell me, there is no blank at all events
of animal life, down even in the lowest cavities; although,
Dr. Carpenter says, these fishes appear destined to restrain the exten-
sion of the stony corals; on the newest layers of which they are enabled,
by the immense strength of their jaws and teeth, to browse without diffi-
culty; digesting the animal matter it contains, and setting free the car-
bonate of lime in a chalky state.
68 THE STORY OF A SHELL.
as you have just said, they are screened from our view
by great curtains of darkness. Also, probably, there are
there only what is called the more 'rudimentary' kind
and forms of life. But I must reserve a fuller answer to
your question for some other time. For a special reason
I wish not to linger at this spot. Indeed I am about to
give you a surprise of a very different kind, and which
will add, I am sure, in our future voyage, both to our
interest and comfort."
What this could be was beyond Ettie's comprehension,
so she said nothing. They passed slowly down to the
roots, if I may call them, of the coral reef, where little
fantastic caves and grottoes, not unlike what she had
formerly seen, disclosed themselves: only they were of
"* "The distribution of living beings has no depth of limit; but animals of
all the marine invertebrate classes, and probably fishes also, exist over the
whole of the floor of the ocean."-(Sir Wyville Thompson's General Introduc-
tion.) Professor Huxley speaks of "busy life in the depths of the ocean,"
but which, contrary to all the beliefs of naturalists of a past generation,
blindly toils and moils in the darkness and cold of the marine abysses."
On the other hand, vegetation sooner disappears. The vegetation gets
scantier and less varied, after 50 fathoms : while, according to Sir Wyville
Thompson, no plants live under ioo fathoms. It has been recognized,"
says Mr. Gosse, as a law in the upper world, that animal life being better
adapted to accommodate itself to outward circumstances, is more uni-
versally diffused than vegetable life, or at least can survive the privation
of conditions ordinarily essential to vitality longer than vegetation."-(Sea
and Land, p. 136.) A friend writes to me, that, among his sea treasures, he
has some beautiful animal structures, chiefly silicious, brought up by an
apparatus in a deep sea sounding (the deepest sounding yet known) off the
coast of Japan.
THE STORY OF A SHELL. 69
a purer colour. And when the white rocks, twisted in
various forms, were above, and the blue waters beneath
them, it was exactly like arcades of alabaster on a
pavement of sapphire.
"We are approaching the ocean stables," said the
Shell, with the very merriest twinkle her opal eye
Oh, you should stick to your learning and not
attempt drollery," returned Ettie. "Ocean stables !-
don't carry the joke too far."
"Well, it is so-call it stable, or perhaps paddock
would be more like the thing," said the other. "Let us
steer quietly round this corner, and I shall introduce
you to the steeds of the sea."
"The steeds of the sea! What have you to do with
these poetical words down here ? Speak intelligibly my
dear mother Shell."
Then, in plain prose, let it be," said the other-" Sea-
Horses:-and beautiful little fellows they are too"-
(the Shell at the moment turning adroitly round a coral
There to be sure was a sight not readily to be
forgotten. As graceful creatures as are to be found in
the world, or rather in the ocean world, not the size
of Ethel's hand in its natural condition, were cutting
all manner of capers.-Yes, horses unmistakably; for
70 THE STORY OF A SHELL.
though they had only a sort of serpentine tail, and
were innocent of legs and hoofs, yet, there was the
head of a veritable Arab, or Pegasus if you choose to
call it, champing an invisible bit, rearing on invisible
haunches, curving its supple neck, and looking every
inch worthy of drawing some princely chariot in fairy-
land. They had their feeding-ground, close by among
the a] ge. And though some were skimming and
paddling in the open water, others were browsing in
the marine forest; their 'appendages' were sometimes
twisted like corkscrews round the rushy stalks and
branches; and what amused Ettie exceedingly, was
what seemed to be a piece of family politeness, corres-
ponding in the human race to the shaking of hands:
-for, on meeting, they made it generally a point to
twist their tails round one another, and often this
singular method of exchanging courtesy (these being
ringed exactly like caterpillars) involved difficulty in
getting loose again and effecting an unwinding. Grace-
ful as were their other movements, they had one quite
peculiar to themselves, a twittering rotatory motion, as
if they were propelled by wheels. Their little eyes
were delightfully brilliant, with a blue rim; and the
colour of their scaly bodies was sometimes blue, and
sometimes a nut-brown.
Ethel was simply entranced. It was a while before
THE STORY OF A SHELL. 7
she could draw breath. Ere she succeeded with the
effort to speak, the two largest and handsomest of the
sea-stud came paddling along in most familiar fashion
towards the Shell and its occupant.
"Oh, come along-a welcome to you, dear old Castor
and Pollux," said the Shell, as if she had familiarly
known them by name all their lives. The two tiny
equine friends pirouetted around them, pawing the azure
meadows of the ocean with all they had, instead of
hoofs. How trimly they reared, and arched their necks,
apparently going through every manner of evolution for
the entertainment of the little stranger.
"Child," said the Shell, pointing in the only way it
could, with a feeling of pride to the novel acquaintances,
-" these two are to form our team during the rest of the
sea-journey. We shall travel in state now sure enough!"
"Well, you do think of queer things," said Ethel
(very much delighted, however, with the idea),-but
this is the queerest of all. Why, only think of these
beautiful creatures in my equipage," said the dot of a
sea queen, as she elevated herself on her seat, as loftily
as she could. And then, original questions poured in
succession from her lips-" Shall I drive them ? and
shall I need to harness them ? and will they not run
off, and dash us to pieces on the rocks, or overturn us
amid the alQre ?"
72 THE STORY OF A SHELL.
Oh! never fear. Old Castor I can trust for all this,
and his brother too. As for harness they need none,
except it be for the look of the thing,--what, up in the
world, would be called, 'cutting a dash.' You can
drive them abreast, or you can drive tandem if you
Oh! tandem, let it be," said Ettie, charmed with the
novel idea--the deft little steeds meanwhile paddling
close in, ready for work and for orders, whatever these
"Yes, and I know exactly what to do," exclaimed
the little woman, accompanying the action with the
word. She untied the golden cord from the hole in
the Shell; passed it in a loose loop over Castor's head
(he being selected- as leader), then with a correspond-
ing loop over Pollux' head, who in world-language
would be called wheeler. Twisting the same like a
fairy girdle round her own waist, the turn-out was
Anew arching his neck, and with a graceful move-
ment, as near to rearing as a sea-horse was capable of,
Castor broke away: Pollux followed suit; and off
they went at a rattling pace. The golden reins lay
loose in Ethel's hands. She required neither to check
nor stimulate these wiillng coursers, leaving them to
their own free-will.
THE STORY OF A SHELL. 73
Lovelier than Cleopatra in her galley looked this
proud little elfish queen in her opal chariot. But we
must reserve the novel pilgrimage for future Chapters.!
I cannot resist recording my-' grief shall I call it ?-on my last visit
to the Brighton Aquarium, to find that the two little interesting speci-
mens of Hippocampi," which formed perhaps the greatest charm in the
unique collection, had, with a few other rarities of surrounding tanks,
paid the debt of nature. It is hoped the blank may be soon if not al-
ready filled; as their movements and evolutions alike in celerity and
gracefulness are beyond description; and require to be seen, in order
to be adequately understood and admired.
ELL," said the Shell, "I think
we must let Castor and Pollux
have their will unchecked to-
day in a favourite domain of
their own. I know I need not
_nave taken you so far as the
Pacific to show you what
Swe are oing to see; for the
Mediterranean abounds with
7S THE STORY OF A SHELL.
them, and nowhere indeed are they more varied and beau-
tiful than on the shores of your own Britain. But, as I
have said, it would be ungracious, just in starting, to check
our team in taking the direction of the Anemone preserves;
so let us indulge them, without scruple or challenge."
On, the latter went, with proud, erect heads,-I cannot
tell you how far, at a thoroughly rattling pace. From
the increase of light and the transparency of the water,
Ethel imagined rightly, they could not be a long way
from the shore, for rocks were ahead, and around them:
-rocks, I might describe as little and big submerged
islands, covered with varied vegetation, and studded with
clusters of sea-anemone.
"You may have told me what you liked about the
corallines," said Ettie, breaking a long silence, "but do
you think you will ever persuade me to believe that
these we are now among are anything but lovely flowers ?
Yes, flowers at last, sure enough," she persisted, "and
crowds on crowds of them too," as she gazed in transport
on the parterres, with their red and white, green, violet,
and purple heads-sometimes streaked with blue, though
the prevailing colour was an olive-green. Without any
great stretch of the imagination, she might have supposed
herself among the exotics of the old home conservatory,
-some of them cup-shaped, like chalices ready for pre-
sentation to an ocean queen.
7THE STORY OF A SHELL. 79
Well, like flowers, I do own, Child. Just see," added
the Shell, as they were opening their tentacles exactly as
a flower unfolds to the sun. Mind, I don't say they
are anything but far down in the scale of living beings.
They have that which is called a nervous system."
A very low one, however, compared with yours. They
could not," the speaker added with all the comical ex-
pression it could muster, "with any agility perch them-
selves on a Shell, or fasten a golden rope round their
bodies, or puzzle simple folk with hard questions!-Only
look, Ettie, at the rows of these feelers: these great, broad,
orange and rose-coloured fringes, Child, are the little
arms or fingers of the animal, or all that it has for
Ethel gazed on clusters of them moored to the rock
at its base,-a capacious mouth or aperture at the
Should I rather say 'supposed' to have one; as nerves have not
actually been detected. But they are sensitive to noise as well as to touch.
A writer notes of one especially-" Its quick spasmodic closing within its
sheath on the least alarm."-(C. P. Hand-Book, p. 42.) The same writer
also observes :-" Plant-like as these humbly organised animals seem, an
intimate acquaintance with them reveals more intelligence than would be
supposed. For example, if one be fed, another in a distant part of the
same tank will become aware of the presence of food, and will open to
receive it, and this is not the effect merely of agitating the water in feed-
ing. Many have to be watched till they open or expand their tentacles
above the sand at night, to be fed."
t The Continental naturalist, Rdeaumur, who lived in the beginning of
the eighteenth century, was the first to combat and overturn the old belief
of the anemone being a sea-plant.
So THE STORY OF A SHELL.
upper end rimmed with a number of tentacles radiating
on every side.
Exactly like the petals of one of my English dahlias,
only bigger," she continued, as her eye fell on a specimen
of richer crimson. "And there is a carnation; and there
is a marigold; and there a china-aster; and there even
a gigantic daisy with its silken eyelashes; and there a
pure white lily with delicate yellow pistils and stamen.*
How can they move ? How can they walk ? How can
they eat ? They seem as if they would like to lie there
for ever, sleeping in their silken dresses ?"
Well, I confess they are rather tarry-at-home travellers,
and love to cling to the old rock as people like to do to
their firesides in the upper world; some for months,
some for years. When they do move about, it is gene-
rally in the laziest fashion possible. The only serious
journey they make is, like other friends above sea, to
seek a change of climate." t
This last is called by naturalists dianthus."
t With such tenacity do they cling to the rocks, or rather the hard base
(corallum), that it is mentioned regarding some of the more beautiful
specimens to be seen in the Brighton Aquarium, that they had to be de-
tached with the rock on which they were moored by means of hammer and
chisel. No one can have gazed on this favourite tank in the above, without
having been specially attracted. I quote from the Guide-book', p. 8S:-"The
fine clusters of delicate pink and white varieties of the Plumose Anemone
(Actinoloba dianthus), the expanded crowns of which resemble the aigrets of
downy feathers ; these, mostly inhabiting deep waters, are sometimes found
crowding the surface of submerged stones. More active than the majority
THE STORY OF A SHELL. S1
Well, they are curiosities," said Ethel. They bring
such odd thoughts into my mind. Some of them a little
bit remind me of stars; others of the ruffs in the old
pictures we bought at Florence. Oh, do look at that
one, with something circling it exactly like a hoop of
turquoise And there is another, surely a member of
the ragged school, covered over with warts-a perfect
leper! and there "
Oh, absurd, Child, don't pursue your comparisons.
One thing I advise you-beautiful as most of these floral
arms of theirs are,-not to touch them. If you venture
to take hold of an anemone, believe my word, you will
rue it. You will not handle your golden rein so com-
fortably for a time after. You see how knowing in
natural history both Castor and Pollux are. They keep
of its congeners, this species frequently changes its position, creeping slowly
by means of its adhesive base from one rock to another, and often mount-
ing the polished surface of the glass boundary of the tank which confines
it. Under these latter circumstances one of the modes in which it multi-
plies is made conspicuous: minute fragments of the fleshy base are left
adherent to the glass, and these, contracting into a rounded form, com-
mence growing tentacles, which increase in number round a central mouth
until they resemble in miniature the parent, which in time they equal also
"* I confess the loveliest bit of marine animal colour I ever saw (I might
well call it ultra-marine) was in one of the smaller glass vases at Brighton.
I mistook it for an anemone. But it was not. It was one of the Serpule
in the class of Annelids with a little plume-tuft of gills. These were blue
-fringed and no more, with the most brilliant green. An accidental tap
with my stick on the glass made the lovely vision to melt away. The ex.
quisite plumes recoiled into their dark cup, and there wilfully remained.
-'N THE STORY OF A SHELL.
at a respectful distance from these little ocean sirens.
Some fishes have to pay the penalty of death when they
come in contact with them. With all their apparent
sluggishness, they are expert hunters, too, in seizing their
prey. It is said that they exercise a formidable sway by
means of stinging, poisonous organs called cnide. Woe
betide the incautious little shellfish that ventures to
cross their path Out go the tentacles; and then, when
they touch it, the cnidce are driven into its flesh. The
victim is hooked in and swallowed at a gulp." Even
the crab, to whom we shall pay our respects I hope
Not to burden our friend the Shell with minuter details, I may add
that these organs are thickly crowded on the larger part of the skin of the
tentacles and about the mouth, also in the walls of the stomach, thus
arming the anemone inside and out. The cnidce or lasso cells are micro-
scopic cell-shaped sheathes, each containing a very long slender tubular
thread coiled up, which can be darted out instantly when needed, piercing
and benumbing the living thing seized by the tentacles.
The "daisy anemone" is said to have seven hundred tentacles. The
A nthea cereas is also formidable for its poisonous feelers: long, green in
colour tipped with lilac. The writer of the C. P. Hand-Book notes one
large British genus termed Sagartia, from a race of warriors in ancient
times called by Herodotus Sagartians, who threw out ropes to entangle
their enemies, and draw them to destruction. Some of the northern
European nations, too, used to make bronze spear-heads called paalstabs,
with a hole or eye to which a cord was attached to draw them back when
detached from a shaft and fixed into an opponent. So that the word
,agartia applied to sea-anemones is in allusion to their power of emitting
threads from their bodies, armed with poisonous missiles, and of drawing
them back again after poisoning their prey." [The accuracy of so reliable
an authority may here be open to question, as to the drawingo out" of
the cn;dre. The cnidi, when once inserted, becomes useless--exhaused,
-but others grow and take its place].
THE STORY OF A SHELL, 83
some future day, with its coat of mailed armour, is not
proof against these greedy little assailants. It is said
that if the shell of the hermit-crab is seized, the sagacious
old occupant himself walks off in a hundred hurries to
get out of their clutches. Others, and big victims too,
are pounced upon; and once seized there is no escape-
the tentacles close one after another, and they are piti-
lessly swallowed. It is the ocean version of 'The Spider
and the Fly.'"
"What!" said Ethel, in undisguised astonishment.
You don't mean to tell me that that piece of jelly,
apparently without either bone or muscle, can gulp a big
shellfish ? "
That it does, believe it or no as you like ;-devoured
with a vengeance;-nothing left or rejected but fragments
of the shell, and the tough points of the claws. This it
effects with the aid of muscular fibres, invisible though
they be. How it can digest the rest, you must ask the
wise to explain to you, for I cannot." "
"Who could dream that such a queer little being as
"* One of the most magnificent of the sea-anemone family is one popularly
known as crass. While its colours are of singular variety and beauty, its
voracity is something extraordinary. "I have often amused myself," says
Mr. Wood, "experimenting upon their powers of digestion. One single
crass, measuring barely three inches in diameter, required two crabs, each
the size of a penny, and a large limpet, before it ceased to beg with ex-
tended arms."'-Common Objects of the Sea-shore, p 105.
L4 THE STORY OF A SHELL.
that would be able to get up an appetite at all ?" said
Well, I must tell you," added the Shell, "of a
strange peculiarity, that, sea-glutton as he is, the ane-
mone can go on to almost any length of time in
fasting. He is a shrewd fellow, sure enough; like all
wise and sensible people accommodating himself to cir-
cumstances.t Only see," it continued, "how wary and
sensitive that beautiful one is, who has just managed to
get upon a hard stalk of algae, and doubtless received
a shock to his system in doing so."
Ethel looked; and saw the lovely, flower-like, living
thing she had been admiring only a minute before, draw
in all its delicate feelers, and coil itself up into an un-
gainly mass of blubber.
"They have been known to live two and even three years without
having received any nourishment."-Fredol, quoted by Figuier, p. 188.
+ It may be interesting to some readers to know the treatment in the
way of feeding which captive anemones receive. Here are the methods in
the Crystal Palace aquarium. "As for the sea-anemones, of which there
are in the aquarium over five thousand individuals, every one of them has
a morsel of food proportioned to its size, and according to the condition of
the water, given it at frequent intervals with a pair of wooden forceps by
an attendant who makes this his sole occupation; as these flower-like
creatures being so non-locomotive as to be almost absolutely fixed, cannot
pursue their food or in an aquarium obtain it in any other manner. They
are here deprived of the action of the waves, which in the actual ocean
brings them nutriment, which is arrested by their outspread and waving
tentacles. The food consumed by a few of the animals now present in the
aquarium is vegetable, consisting of green weeds (Ulva, Porp.yura, En-
tcromorpia, &c.), but by far the greater number have animal food given
THE STORY OF A SHELL 85
"Just do watch him for a few moments," added the
Shell. "Depend upon it, he will not be selfish enough
to hide his charms long."
To be sure, as Ettie continued to gaze, the little
frightened fidget had recovered courage and confidence,
-and slowly, out came the tentacles from the anew
expanded mouth, and the floral animal was once more
arrayed in its varied attractions.
"You have told me that our jelly-looking friends
have a mouth, and stomach, and muscles, and possibly
neives. What about their organs of sight ? It appears
to be all mouth and no room for eyes, but perhaps I
am not looking in the right direction for them ?"
Well, Child, I believe those better informed than a
Shell is expected to be, have even detected the power of
them. This consists of shrimps, alive or dead, crabs, mussels, oysters, and
fish, but they are never fed on 'butcher meat'" ip. 34). We cannot
omit adding from the same good authority, the following specimen of
aquatic "courtesy "-the mutual good feeling subsisting between the
hermit crab, on the one hand, and the anemone (Adamsia palliata) which
has attached itself to the shell which the former has been for some time
occupying, on the other. These, at all events, are the hermit crab's
chivalrous ways towards this brilliant companion in his place of confine-
ment :-" When the hermit changes its shell, it makes quite sure that the
new abode is to its liking, and when that is the case it returns to the
discarded shell and peels off the anemone, and carries it to the new shell,
and causes it to quickly adhere. There seems thus to be a perfect under-
standing between these two creatures, so lowly organised, yet so far
removed from each other. This has been several times witnessed in this
S6 THE STORY OF A SHELL.
vision-or all that can stand for it. In the outer rim
of the mouth-feelers there are dots-minutest pin heads
-that sparkle brightly;-and, what is very singular
beneath each of them-in the socket as it were, are a
number of delicately constructed nerve-cells very similar
to the more perfected organs of vision in the higher
order of fishes and land animals." We must not, how-
ever, get Castor and Pollux into mischief," said the
cautious Shell, who felt a responsibility for the safety of
the team, and an obligation to break off suddenly from
these contemplations, however interesting. "But, since
we are so near, just give a jerk to your rein, and by
going a little farther, we shall have a peep-it must be
nothing else-of more mischievous things still; equally
beautiful in their way."
A very short time brought the cavalcade among what
looked uncommonly like floating mushrooms ; some
crystal jelly-like masses with a kind of double feelers
at the edges, all different. Some of them dull enough in
colour and graceless in form; others the very reverse,
See an interesting paper in Science for All," p. 156, by Dr. Andrew
Wilson, where, in referring to the period of life attained by the anemone,
the singular case is mentioned of an anemone still to be seen in the
Botanical Gardens, Edinburgh, which was picked up in the Firth of Forth
by the late Sir John Dalyell in the year 1828, which, therefore, has not
only reached patriarchal years, but can boast of a numerous progeny-
upwards of a thousand. It is added, however, that such instances of pro-
longed life are rare.
THE STORY OF A SHELL. S7
whose tentacles seemed finished off with a sort of frill,
or the fringe one sees round a lady's parasol:-delicate
silvery streamers,-we may call them the brilliant daisies
of the ocean, although the daisy ought to feel proud of
"These," said the Shell, "are what we name the
family of the Medusoe, doubtless better known to you as
"How truly lovely they are," said Ettie, "pale yellow,
and brown, and scarlet, and blue, and orange, and white.
How beautifully do they spin along," she continued;
"why not call them Ocean fairies at once-with lilac
hair and silver ear-rings, and not one, but twenty
lockets round their necks: these, too, set with precious
stones. Sometimes with long thin spiral tentacles, like
the court train of a queen. Do you say they sting ? I
hardly think they could harm a fly!"
"You know what a nettle is, don't you? Not a
pleasant companion, however lightly you touch it. Well,
Child, these are sea-nettles. The Greeks used to call
them by a long name I need not trouble you with, which
Oh, I should like to hear it. My dear father used
to say all Greek words have such a nice musical ring
"Acalephce, if you must have it," replied the Shell,