THE STORY OF A STONE

By David Starr Jordan

Once on a time, a great many years ago, so many years that if your father should give you a dollar for every year you could buy up the whole town you live in and have enough left to pay the National Debt; in those old days when the great Northwest consisted only of a few hills, ragged and barren, and full of copper and quartz; in the days when the Northern Ocean washed the crest of Mount Washington and wrote its name upon the Pictured Rocks, and the tide of the Pacific swept over Plymouth Rock and surged up against Bunker Hill; when the Gulf of Mexico rolled its warm and shallow waters as far north as Escanaba and Eau Claire; in fact, an immensely long time ago—there lived somewhere in Oconto County, Wisconsin, a little jelly-fish. It was a curious creature, about the shape of half an apple, and the size of a cat's thimble, and it floated around in the water and ate little things and opened and shut its umbrella, pretty much as jelly-fishes do in the ocean now.

It had a great many little feelers that hung down all around like so many mites of snakes, and so it was named Medusa, after that lady in the old times who wore snakes instead of hair, and who felt so badly because she couldn't do them up. Well, our little Medusa floated around and opened and shut her umbrella for a long time—a month, or a year, perhaps—we don't know how long. Then, one morning, down among the sea-weeds, she laid a whole lot of tiny eggs, transparent as crab-apple jelly and much smaller than a dew-drop on the end of a pine-leaf. Now she leaves the scene, and our story henceforth concerns only one of these eggs.

Well, one day, the sun shone down into the water—the same sun that shines through your window now—and a little fellow whom we will call Favosites, because that was his name, woke up inside of the egg and came out into the great world. He was only a wee bit of floating jelly, shaped like a cartridge pointed at both ends. He had at his sides an immense number of little paddles that went flapping, flapping all the time, keeping him constantly in motion, whether the little fellow wanted to go or not. So he kept scudding along in the water, dodging from right to left, to avoid the ungainly creatures that wanted to eat him. There were crabs and clams, of a fashion that neither you nor I will ever see alive. There were huge animals with great eyes, savage jaws and long feelers, that sat in the end of a long, round shell and glowered at him, and smaller ones of the same kind that looked like lobsters in a dinner-horn.

But none of these got the little fellow, else I should not have any story to tell.

At last, having paddled about long enough, he thought of settling in life. So he looked around until he found a flat bit of shell that just suited him, when he sat down upon it, and grew fast, like old Holger Danske, in the Danish myth. Only, unlike Holger, he didn't go to sleep, but proceeded to make himself at home. So he made an opening in his upper side, and rigged for himself a mouth and a stomach, and put a whole row of feelers out, and began catching little worms and floating eggs and bits of jelly and bits of lime,—everything he could get,—and cramming them into his little stomach.

He had a great many curious ways, but the funniest of all was what he did with the bits of lime. He kept taking them in and tried to wall himself up inside with them, as a person would stone a well or as though a man should swallow pebbles and stow them away in his feet and all around under the skin, till he had filled himself full.

But little Favosites became lonesome all alone on the bottom of that old ocean, among so many outlandish neighbors; and so, one night, when he was fast asleep, and dreaming as only a coral animal can dream, there sprouted out of his side, where his sixth rib would have been if he had had so many, another little Favosites, who very soon began to eat worms and wall himself up as if for dear life. Then, from these two another and another little bud came out, and another and another little Favosites was formed, and they all kept growing up higher and higher, and cramming themselves fuller and fuller of limestone, till at last there were so many of them, and they were so crowded together, that there wasn't room for them to grow round; so they had to grow six-sided, like the cells in a honeycomb.

Once in a while, some one in the company would get mad because the others got all of the lime, or would feel uneasy at sitting still so long and swallowing stones, and would secede from the little union, without as much as saying "Good-bye," and would sail around like the old Medusa, and would lay more eggs, which would hatch out into more Favosites.

Well, the old ones died or swam away or were walled up, and new ones filled their places, and the colony thrived for a long time, and had accumulated quite a stock of lime. But, one day, there came a freshet in the Menomonee River, and piles of dirt and sand and ground-up iron ore were brought down, and all the little Favosites' mouths were filled with it. They didn't like the taste of iron, so they all died; but we know that their house was not spoiled, for we have it here. So the rock-house they were making was tumbled about in the dirt, and the rolling pebbles knocked the corners off, and the mud worked its way into the cracks and destroyed its beautiful whiteness.

There it lay for ages, till the earth gave a great, long heave, that raised the rest of Wisconsin out of the ocean, and the mud around our Favosites' house packed and dried into hard rock and closed it in; and so it became part of the dry land. There it lay, imbedded in the rock for centuries and centuries.

Then, the time of the first fishes came, and the other animals looked on them in awe and wonder as the Indians eyed Columbus. They were like the gar-pike in our Western rivers, only much larger,—as big as a stove-pipe,—and with a crust as hard as a turtle's shell. Then there came sharks, of strange forms, savage and ferocious, with teeth like bowie-knives. But the time of the old fishes came and went, and many more times came and went, but still Favosites lay in the ground.

Then came the long, hot, wet summer, when the mists hung over the earth so thick that you might almost have cut them into chunks with a knife, like a loaf of gingerbread; and great ferns and rushes, big as an oak and tall as a steeple, grew over the land. Huge reptiles with jaws like a front door, and teeth like cross-cut saws, and little reptiles with wings like bats, crawled and swam and flew.

But the ferns died, and the reptiles died, and the rush-trees fell into the swamps, and the Mississippi, now become quite a river, covered them up, and they were packed away under great layers of clay and sand, till at last they were turned into coal, and wept bitter tears of petroleum. But all the while Favosites lay in the rock at Oconto.

Then the mists cleared up and the sun shone and the grass began to grow, and strange animals began to come and feed upon it. They were funny little zebra horses, no bigger than a Newfoundland dog, and great hairy elephants, and hogs with noses so long they could sit on their hind legs and root, and lots of still stranger creatures that no man ever saw alive. But still Favosites lay in the ground.

So the long, long summer passed by, and the autumn, and the Indian summer; and at last the great winter came, and it snowed and snowed, and it was so cold that the snow wasn't off by the Fourth of July; and then it snowed and snowed till the snow never went off at all; and then it got so cold that it snowed all the time, till the snow covered all the animals, and then the trees, and then the mountains. Then it would thaw a little, and streams of water would run over the snow; then it would freeze again, and pack it into solid ice. Still it went on, snowing and thawing and freezing till the ice was a mile deep over Wisconsin, and the whole United States was one great skating rink.

So it kept on for about a million years, until once when the spring came and the south winds blew, it began to thaw up. Then the ice came sliding down from the mountains and hills, tearing up rocks little and big, from the size of a chip to the size of a meeting house, crushing forests as you would crush an egg-shell, and wiping out rivers as you would wipe out a chalk-mark. So it came pushing, thundering, grinding along slowly enough, but with tremendous force, this mile-deep glacier, like an immense plow drawn by a million oxen.

So the ice plowed across Oconto County, and little Favosites was rooted out from the quiet place where he had lain so long; but, by good fortune, he happened to slip into a crevice in the ice, where he wasn't much crowded, else he would have been ground to powder, as most of his relatives were, and I shouldn't have had this story to tell.

Well, the ice slid along, melting all the while, and making great torrents of water which, as they swept onward, covered land with clay and pebbles, till at last it came to a great swamp, overgrown with tamarac and cedar. Here it stopped and melted, and all the rocks and stones and dirt it had carried with it, little Favosites and all, were dumped into one great heap.

Ages after, a farmer in Grand Chote, Michigan, plowing up his clover field, to sow for winter wheat, picked up a curious bit of "petrified honeycomb," and gave it to the schoolboys to take to their teacher, to hear what he would say about it. And now you have read what he said.