HAT might not a stone teach us if we could only make
it tell its story; or, rather, if we could read what it
offers to eyes that know how to decipher the
inscription? Perhaps some very interesting facts. A
pebble has so long a life! It is as old as the world.
It has witnessed events of the remotest antiquity, but
is a silent witness and guards its secrets so well that
we can get little clue to them even by the most
attentive study. Nevertheless let us attempt to study.
"We will go down to the river near by, where the water
runs over a bed of stones that are worn smooth as if
some patient marble-cutter had taken it into his head
to polish them. There are some almost as round as
balls, others oval, still others flat, some large and
some small, some short and some long, and others that
are white, ash-colored, gray, black, or reddish. The
smallest look not unlike the sugarplums that fill the
confectioner's jars. All are remarkable for their
polished surface. Their smooth outlines are pleasing to
the touch. These water-worn stones found in our streams
are known as pebbles or pebble-stones.
"Who fashioned and polished them in this manner? A
fragment of stone such as is broken from a
 rock by some chance does not look at all like this. It
is irregular, angular, rough to the touch. On the rocky
slopes of mountains are seen only stones as shapeless
as those that the road-maker leaves piled up along the
way after he has broken them. Why, then, when under
water are they always sleek and round? The answer is
not far to seek.
"As a result of the disturbance created by storms, by
the melting of great masses of snow, and by violent
freshets, the river receives a vast quantity of loose
stones that have been swept down from the neighboring
slopes. These stones are at first shapeless, with the
sharp edges and the many irregularities of stones
broken by chance. Henceforth they are under water in
the bed of the river. What will be the result? You will
know if you stop to think what would take place if a
multitude of little irregular pieces of stone were
shaken for a long time in a rolling cask.
"Falling against one another unceasingly, clashing
together and in constant friction, these pieces would
gradually lose their sharp corners, tone down their
little roughnesses, and end by becoming perfectly
smooth. Marbles, which you prize so highly, are rounded
and polished in this way. Small pieces of stone are
first roughly shaped with a hammer, then thrown into a
rolling cask, and there the work is finished and
brought to perfection.
"Running water plays the same part as the rolling cask.
At the season of high water the force of the current
displaces the stones lying at the bottom of the stream
and carries them away, rolling them long
 distances. Continually dashed one against another,
these stones gradually become rounded, after which the
loose sand carried away with them rubs and smooths
them; and lastly the fine mud that is washed over them
again and again imparts, by its gentle action, the
final polish. But work of this sort takes a long time.
If months do not enable the river to fashion its
pebble-stones, it will take years; if years are not
enough, it will take centuries; for in this matter time
is of no account.
"That is how every stream, from the largest to the
smallest, strews its bed with rounded pebbles, often in
vast quantities. Running water has rolled them along
while shaping them; it has carried them sometimes long
distances, so that in order to find stones of like
nature you would have to go back to the mountains where
the brook or the river had its rise. There only would
be found the rock that had yielded the fragments
destined to become the pebbles of the plain.
"What, you may ask, is the use of this history of
pebble-stones? You will see. Each of us may have
chanced to notice, far from any stream, either in a
flat country or on some hillside or even on some
considerable height, great piles of round, polished
pebbles similar in every way to those rolled down by
rivers. In each instance there is the same smooth
surface, the same rounded shape like that of a ball or
an egg or a big sugar-plum or a disk. The stones we
select one by one on the river-bank in order to make
them skim along the surface of the water are not better
 "What, then, has given to these pebbles the form they
wear? Evidently running water, for they do not differ
from the pebbles found in brooks and rivers. Water has
washed them thither, polishing them on the way by
mutual friction—the same process that goes on in
every river-bed. There is no doubt about that: their
rounded form tells the story of these stones very
"But to-day these piles of pebbles, covering large
tracts of land to a great depth, occupy regions that in
many instances have not even the tiniest brooklet.
Where formerly rivers ran and impetuous torrents
roared, there is now nothing but dry land. The streams
have all disappeared and their beds alone remain,
sometimes several leagues wide, like those of the
largest rivers of the world.
"History makes no mention of these ancient streams. Nor
can it speak of the them, for it is doubtful whether
man ever saw them; and if he saw them, the centuries
have effaced all remembrance of them. Trails of pebbles
are the only witnesses that tell us where these streams
"Now these pebble-trails occupy steep slopes and lofty
heights that rise far above the surrounding plains.
Never could rivers have run over such heights. A stream
must have for its bed some ravine, not a ridge of
hills. How, then, can we reconcile these two
contradictory facts, that running water has certainly
been there, as proved by the multitude of smooth
pebbles still remaining, and that water could not have
reached such heights even in the greatest floods?
 "The contradiction disappears and everything is
explained when we consider that the earth's surface is
subjected to constant variation. Time works changes in
all things, even in mountains. In the course of
centuries what was once a valley may become a plain,
and what was a plain may rise and form a hill.
Earthquakes and the sudden uprising of Monte Nuovo,
near Naples, have already furnished us some information
on this curious subject; and pebbles furnish us still
more. They tell us that the heights they now occupy
were formerly plains or valleys where mighty rivers
ran; they bear witness that what is now a pebbly
mountain-side where one would search in vain for the
tiniest spring was in ancient times the bed of a raging
torrent; they teach us, in a word, that in ages long
past profound upheavals changed the surface of the
earth. Such is the strange history that a pebble tells
us when we know how to question it."