A long time ago there was a beautiful island close by the place in the east where the sun rises. The sea was all around it, and at noonday the sun in the sky seemed to slant just above it. Being near the equator and in a tropic clime the winds were soft and warm and full of the odor of sweet flowers. Sometimes the sea was smooth and clear as glass and then the goldfish and sea mosses floated near the surface and glittered in the sunlight.
At night the moon came out big and round like a silver ball and the stars shone very clear because there was no smoke nor fog in the air. In the moonlight the queer little flying fish would jump up out of the water and dart forth and back in the funniest way as if they were playing some kind of game. Their tiny wet wings glistened like silver gauze, and, when everything else was still, made a peculiar whirring sound by all flapping at once.
The beach was strewn with quantities of conch and abalone shells, also other species of all shapes and sizes and they were as dainty in color as it is possible to imagine. The children of the Happy Island often held the larger ones to their ears to listen to the murmurs and complaints of the insects and other forms of life living inside them. This was only a fancy, but many sea shells do have a soft musical cadence if we care to hear it. Some poets believe that they were the first musical instruments, and that the inhabitants of the sea send messages ashore in this manner.
The ferns grew almost as tall as the trees and there were hundreds of birds skimming through the air, or flitting through the branches singing and chattering and having a very happy time. They were not afraid because no one threw stones at them or tried to frighten them. Everybody was glad to see them put up their little bills and ruffle up their throats in singing, or else spread out their wings and splash water all over their backs while they stood on a pebble or twig taking a morning bath. The people said that when the birds were twittering and chirping they were talking to each other. When they were singing they were telling God how thankful they were for the warm sunshine and plenty to eat.
There was a wonderful city in the center of the island named the City of the Golden Gates because it was surrounded by a high wall of very thick stones, with a great number of gates of gold through which the animals and people passed in and out. Here lived the Old Man of the Sea, as the king was called, and his son was a beautiful youth known as the Golden Hearted because he was so gentle and kind. He was a swift runner and could shoot well with a bow and arrow and was strong enough to wrestle with a big man, but he preferred to make gold ornaments and vessels for his father and was often permitted to go into the king’s treasure house to watch the workmen polish the precious gems which they found in great abundance by digging into the mountains near the city.
The people knew all about white and black pearls and how to get them from the bed of the ocean. In full sight of the island was a large reef of pink and white coral and the young prince went there many times to see the curious little insects building their graceful, airy houses over some rock hidden by the water. He sometimes imagined that he heard the mermaids calling to him. What he really did hear was the wind dashing the waves in and out of the coral chambers as if it were determined to wash them away. The reef was an excellent place to fish, and the Golden Hearted and his companions had many a fine day’s sport there while the divers were searching for the pearl oysters. He fished with a drag-net made by himself, and he could let it out and haul it in again like a regular sailor. He never killed any of the fish, and the divers would not give him the pearls they found because they were compelled to kill the oysters to get them, and this they said made the pearls unlucky and was the reason why they are round and shining like tear drops. The miners brought him all the emeralds they could find, because this was the happiness-bringing stone. Its color is like the soft grass in the springtime, and they wanted him to be always young and have everything his heart desired.
The royal gardens were his special care and in them he was allowed to cultivate any kind of tree or plant or grain. Then from them he must learn the names and habits of the trees producing the best wood for building houses, what plants were good to heal the sick, and all about the grains useful for food either for man or animals. Every flower that had a perfume grew in a separate part of the garden, and those shedding their fragrance at night only were in a bed by themselves. He was required to know the difference between single and double species and why there is such a difference in the same family of plants.
Honey bees, big-winged butterflies, crickets and beetles hid in the flowers or flew above them, and these all taught a lesson to the young prince who had no other books. The honey bee was an industrious little fellow continually building a piece of comb or else filling it with honey. The butterfly, on the other hand, did not work at all but changed from an ugly grub into a caterpillar and finally into a gorgeous butterfly with spotted wings and bright eyes. The king told his son that the butterfly was like a soul—the immortal part of ourselves—and he wished him to be as busy as the bee, and to do no more harm to other creatures than does the pretty butterfly.
The cricket was a cheerful, merry chap, usually singing at the top of his voice, and the beetle tried to push all of the dirt out of the garden. If he found anything he did not like he would roll and tumble with it, even if it were much bigger than himself. This amused the Golden Hearted very much, and when he grew tired of his own occupations he would run out into the garden and watch the beetles.
One day he went into the splendid throne-room where his father was giving audience to some wise old men who were foretelling what was going to happen to the king and the people of the Happy Island. They urged the king to send some member of his household to the strange land over the sea, toward the setting sun, where the people were in barbarism.
The Golden Hearted was much interested and thought here was an opportunity to do some good for the weak and helpless. Springing forward he said:
“Dear father, let me go. I am able to sail the seas and am willing to devote my life to teaching these poor people how to live like brothers.”
The king felt proud of the young prince, but he loved him so dearly that it was hard to let him go, and also hard to refuse such a noble, manly request.
“Do you know, my son, this will entail a great deal of hardship and self-denial?” he asked.
“Yes, father, but God intends us to earn all the good things in life; He will not give them to us for nothing. That is His good law, which makes us healthy, happy and wise—three of the most precious possessions in the world.”
“Go, my Golden Heart, and may God bless and keep you always,” said the king. “Take a green-throated humming-bird for your guide, and when you find the land, journey on until you come 16to a place where a cactus grows at the base of a rock and there is a golden eagle soaring in the air above it. Halt there and found a city, and name it in honor of the sun.”
Then all the wise men begged to go with him, and for days after there were great preparations made for the departure of the king’s son. At daybreak one morning he set sail in a snake-skin boat, and all the inhabitants came with the king to throw flowers and emeralds into the sea because they wished to show respect to the Golden Hearted. It was their method of blessing him and wishing him good luck. The whole shore line, as far as he could see, was lighted up by bonfires where the people burned resin and perfume to commemorate his going.
At the water’s edge stood the old sea king with his long white hair and beard blowing in the wind. By his side was a cream-white horse with three plumes in the top of its bridle reins and a square, red blanket edged with deep fringe on its back. Crowns and moons and stars of gold and silver were scattered over the blanket to show that the horse belonged to the royal prince. Back of the king was a long line of young warrior priests mounted on white horses, with red blankets, and carrying reversed spears in their hands. They bowed their heads when the poor old father leaned over on the horse’s neck and cried as if his heart would break as the boat with his only son in it pushed off from the shore. Snatching a torch from the hand of an attendant, the Golden Hearted waved it on high. Fire with them was a symbol of wisdom, and when the king saw it, he answered the signal by waving a torch, and the warrior priests flashed their spears in the bright sunlight, and the people sent up a deafening shout.
This meant that they were willing to sacrifice their future king for the good of a strange race of men who needed a teacher to show them how to cultivate the land and how to build cities and live civilized. The people of the Happy Island would not send a common man for a teacher. No, indeed; they gave the best they had—their dearly loved prince with the golden heart—to help their less fortunate neighbors. And he gave up all luxury and comfort because he would rather be useful, than live in ease as a king. The name of the island was Atlantis, and the new country was our own—America.