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sea squirt who stood on his head.

From The suns babies by Edith Howes.
Age Rating 2 to 4.

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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 annoyance. 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!"


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