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sea squirt who stood on his head.
From The suns babies by Edith Howes.
Start of Story
Age Rating 2 to 4.
Far out into the waters of a quiet bay stretched a wooden jetty, old
and rotting and scarcely ever used. The browned and blackened timbers
that showed above the water-line were by no means beautiful, but at
their feet was fairyland. Here, in pale green clearness, forests of
delicate seaweeds bent their gold and amber beads to the gentle
movement of the water; swift-finned fishes, gay in scarlet and silver
and bronze, swam the forest pathways and chased each other in and out
cool shaded bowers beneath the filmy branches; most beautiful of all,
myriads of long-tubed sea-squirts waved their pink and crimson balls
from the jetty piles, like great closed poppies in the sea.
How they waved! Up and down, backwards and forwards. Not moved by the
water, but moving in the water, though never freed from the jetty
piles. After all, these were not flowers, but animals.
Continually they opened their pink, round mouths to let the water pass
through their bodies, in the hope that each fresh mouthful might
contain a meal. Again and again, squirt! They were forced to throw
out some fragment of shell or rock which had floated in and caused
At the foot of one pile there was some excitement, for a baby
sea-squirt was setting out to see the world. He was impatient to be
off, but his mother was giving him a great deal of advice. If you had
seen him lying in the water you would never have recognised him as the
sea-squirt's son. No mother and son were ever more unlike. She was
big, with a thick-skinned tube half a yard long, and a ball at the top
shaped like a quince; he was tiny and soft, and looked like a baby
tadpole. She was gaily coloured; he was colourless and jelly-like.
She was fixed to the jetty pile; he could swim. Yet, in spite of these
great differences, mother and son they were.
"Dear child," she said, "whatever you do, never stand on your head."
"Of course not," he replied; "I shall never wish to."
"But you will wish to," cried his mother. "You won't be able to help
it. It runs in the family. Listen, son. Once I was like you; I could
swim and move about to find my food. Before me, all our grandfathers
and grandmothers for millions of years back were for a part of their
lives like you. If they had never stood on their heads they might have
grown eyes and backbones and fins, and become as great and clever as
the fishes. But because those old grandparents became lazy and stood
on their heads till they grew to the rocks, we in turn have all grown
lazy, and we in turn have been punished by the loss of our swimming
powers. If you could only break loose from the family's bad habit, you
might start a glorious free race of sea-squirts. All the most
successful creatures in the sea are those that have backbones and eyes.
You have the beginnings of these two things in you, but if you stand on
your head you will lose them, as I have done. You will become fixed
and helpless like the seaweeds. Promise me never to stand on your
head. Promise me that you will keep moving."
"Yes, mother. Oh, yes. Good-bye. Good-bye." The impatient little
fellow could wait no longer.
"How grown-ups talk!" he thought. "As if I should ever wish to stand
on my head!"
He swam about for several hours, enjoying himself exceedingly in this
great wet world. At last he came to the end pile of the jetty. Here,
to his great astonishment, there suddenly came upon him the most
overpowering desire to stand on his head. To stand on his head! The
very thing his mother had foretold. Well, she was right, after all, so
perhaps she was right in advising him to keep moving. "I will swim
on," he said.
He swam on bravely. But before him was the wide open sea, with no
comfortable piles to rest against. And oh! how he longed to rest.
Just to put that heavy head of his down against something firm--how
delightful that would be! That was a splendid pile, that last one! So
strong and wide. It could not matter if he rested just a few minutes.
He really would not stay long.
So, forgetting his promise, this foolish baby swam back. Down went his
head against the comfortable pile, and alas! there he has stayed ever
since. His mother's wise words faded from his mind. He was too lazy
to stir. From his head tiny tubes grew on to the wood, holding him
there for life.
What a change has come over him! Tail and little growing eye and
backbone, all have died away; in their place has grown the long tube
with the gaily-coloured fleshy ball at its end, through which the water
runs with every wave, bringing sometimes food, sometimes nothing but
sand and stones. Gone are the old swimming powers, the old free life.
Gone is all chance of growing into something strong and grand and
successful. He is beautiful, but he is helpless.
I wonder does he ever think of what might have been? Does he ever say,
sadly: "If I had but kept moving on!"