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THE GREAT SEA-SERPENT

 

 THERE was a little seafish of good familythe nameI cannot rememberyou must get that from the learnedThe little fish had eighteen hundred brothers and sisters allof the same agethey did not know either their father ortheir motherthey had just to take care of themselves atonce and swim aboutbut that was a great delight to them

They had plenty of water to drinkthe whole of theseathey did not think about foodthat would come of itselfevery one would do just as he likedevery one wouldhave his own storybut none of them thought about thateither

The sun shone down into the waterand lighted it upround about themit was so clearit was a world with themost wonderful creaturesand some frightfully bigwithenormous mouths which could have swallowed the eighteenhundred brothers and sistersbut they did not think of thateitherfor none of them had been swallowed yet

The little ones swam about togetherclose up to eachotheras herring and mackerel swimbut as they swamabout in the waterdoing their very best and thinking ofnothingthere sank from above right into the middle ofthemwith a frightful noisea longheavy thing thatwould not stop cominglonger and longer it stretched itselfand every one of the little fishes which it struckwassquashed or got a blow which it could never get overAllthe little fishesand the big ones tooright from the surface of the sea down to the bottomswam away in alarmthe heavymonstrous thing sank deeper and deeperandbecame longer and longermiles in lengththroughout thewhole sea

Fishes and snailseverything that swimseverythingwhich crawls or drifts with the currentsnoticed this fright-ful thingthis immenseunknown seaeelwhich had suddenly come down from above

What kind of a thing was itWe know what it wasIt was the great leaguelong telegraph wirewhich wasbeing laid down between Europe and America

There was a scare and a great commotion among thelawful inhabitants of the sea where the wire was sunkThe flying-fish sprang into the air above the seaas highas it couldthe gurnard flew the length of a gunshotabove the waterother fish sought the bottom of the seaand fled so quickly that they arrived there long before thetelegraph wire had even been sightedthey frightenedboth the codfish and the flounderwhich were swimmingabout peacefully in the depths of the sea and eating theirfellow creatures

A pair of seacucumbers were so scared that theyvomited their stomachs outbut they still livedfor theycan do thatMany lobsters and crabs came out of theirgood harnessand had to leave their legs behind them

Among all this fright and commotionthe eighteenhundred brothers and sisters got separated from each otherand never met againor knew each otheronly abouta dozen remained in the same placeand when they hadkept quiet for an hour or twothey began to get over theirfright and become inquisitiveThey looked round aboutthey looked upand they looked downand there in thedepths they thought they saw the terrible thing which hadfrightened themfrightened both big and littleThe thinglay along the bottom of the sea as far as they could spyitwas very thinbut they did not know how thick it couldmake itselfor how strong it wasit lay very stillbutthisthey thoughtmight be its cunning

"Let it lie where it isIt does not concern us"saidthe most cautious of the little fishesbut the very smallestof them would not give up getting to know what the thingcould beIt came down from aboveup above wouldtherefore be the best place to get news about itand sothey swam up to the surface of the seaThe weather wasquite calm

There they met a dolphina kind of acrobata vagrant of the sea who can turn somersaults on the surface ofthe waterit had eyes to see withand it must have seenand would know all about itThey inquired of itbut ithad only thought of itself and its somersaultshad seennothingcould give no answerand so was silent andlooked haughty

Thereupon they addressed themselves to a seal whojust then divedit was more politealthough it ate littlefishesbut today it was fullIt knew a little more than thedolphin

"I havemany a nightlain on a wet stone andlooked towards the landmiles away from hereThere areclumsy creatures therewho in their language are calledmenthey hunt after usbut often we escape from themIhave known how to do thatand so has the seaeel you nowask aboutIt has been in their powerbeen upon the landno doubt from time immemorialfrom there they have takenit on board a ship to convey it over the sea to another distant landI saw what trouble they hadbut they manageditit had become so weak with being on shoreThey laid itin coils and twistsI heard how it rattled and clattered asthey laid itbut it escaped from themescaped out hereThey held it with all their mightmany hands held fastbut it slipped from them and got to the bottomit liesthereI thinktill later on"

"It is rather thin"said the litile fishes

"They have starved it"said the seal"but it willsoon come to itselfand get its old thickness and bignessI imagine it is the great seaserpentwhich men are soafraid of and talk so much aboutI have never seen it be- foreand never believed in itnowI believe that this isit"and so the seal dived

"How much he knewHow much he talked"said thelittle fishes"I have never been so wise before!—If onlyit is not a lie"

"We could swim downand investigate"said thesmallest one"on the way we may hear others'opinions"

"I won't make a single stroke with my finsto get toknow anything"the others saidand turned about

"But I will"said the smallestand set off into deepwaterbut it was far from the place where"the long sunkenthing"layThe little fish looked and searched about on allsides down in the deep

It had never noticed before how big the world wasTheherring went in great shoalsshining like big silver boatsthe mackerel followedand looked even more magnifi-centThere came fish of all shapes and with markings ofall coloursJellyfisheslike halftransparent flowersal-lowed themselves to be carried to and fro by the currentsGreat plants grew from the bottom of the seafathom-highgrass and palm-shaped treesevery leaf adorned withshining shells

At last the little fish spied a long dark stripe andmade towards itbut it was neither fish nor cableit wasthe railing of a big sunken shipwhose upper and lowerdecks were broken in two by the pressure of the seaThe little fish swam into the cabin where so many people hadperished when the ship sankand were now all washedaway except twoa young woman lay stretched out therewith a little child in her armsThe water lifted them andseemed to rock themthey looked as if they were asleepThe little fish was very frightenedit did not know thatthey would never waken againWater-plants hung like foliage over the railing and over the lovely bodies of motherand childIt was so still and lonelyThe little fish hur- ried away as quickly as it couldout where the water wasclearer and where there were fishes to be seenIt had notgone very far before it met a young whaleso frightfullybig

"Don't swallow me"said the little fish"I am noteven a tasteI am so littleand it is a great pleasure tome to be alive"

"What are you doing down herewhere your kinddoes not come"asked the whale

And so the little fish told about the longwonderfuleelor whatever the thing waswhich had come downfrom above and frightened even the most courageous in-habitants of the deep

"Hoho"said the whaleand sucked in so muchwater that it had to send out a huge spout of itwhen itcame up to the surface to draw breath"Hoho"it said"so it was that thing which tickled me on the back as Iturned myselfI thought it was a ship's mast which Icould use as a clawingpinBut it was not at this spotNothe thing lies much farther outI will investigate itI have nothing else to do"

And so it swam forward and the little fish behindnot too nearfor there came a tearing current where thebig whale shot through the water

They met a shark and an old saw-fishthey also hadheard about the strange sea-eelso long and so thintheyhad not seen itbut they wanted toNow there came acatfish

"I will you"it saidit was going the sameway"If the great sea-serpent is no thicker than an anchorropeI shall bite it through in one bite"and itopened its jaws and showed its six rows of teeth"I canbite a mark in a ship's anchorso I can surely bitethrough that stalk"

"There it is"said the big whale"I see it"

He thought he saw better than the others"Lookhow it lifts itselflook how it swaysbendsand curvesitself"

It was not ithoweverbut an immensely big conger-eelseveral yards longwhich approached

"I have seen that one before"said the sawfish"ithas never made a great noise in the seaor frightened anybig fish"

And so they spoke to it about the new eelandasked if it would go with them to discover it

"Is that eel longer than me"said the conger"thenthere will be trouble"

"That there will be"said the others"We arestrong enough and won't stand it"and so they hastenedforward

But just then something came in the waya wonderful monsterbigger than all of them put togetherItlooked like a floating islandwhich could not keep itselfup

It was a very old whaleIts head was overgrown withseaplantsits back was thickly set with creeping thingsand so many oysters and musselsthat its black skin wasquite covered with white spots

"Come with usold one"said they"a new fishhas come herewhich is not to be tolerated"

"I would rather lie where I am"said the oldwhale"Leave me aloneLet me lieOhyesyesyesI suffer from a serious illnessI get relief by going up tothe surface and getting my back above itthen the bigseabirds come and pick meIt is so niceif only theydon't put their peaks too far inthey often go right intomy blubberJust lookThe whole skeleton of a bird isstill sitting on my backit stuck its claws too far in andcould not get loosewhen I went to the bottomNow thelittle fishes have picked himSee how he looksand howI lookI have an illness"

"It is only imagination"said the young whale"Iam never illNo fish is ill"

"Excuse me"said the old whale"the eel has askindiseasethe carp is said to have smallpoxand weall suffer from worms"

"Rubbish"said the sharkhe could not be bothered listening to any morenor the others eitherthey hadother things to think about

At last they came to the place where the telegraphcable layIt had a long lair on the bottom of the seafrom Europe to Americaright over the sandbanks andseamudrocky bottoms and wildernesses of plants andwhole forests of coralDown there the currents are everchangingwhirlpools turn and eddyfish swarm in greaternumbers than the countless flocks of birds which we see atthe time of their migrationThere is a movementasplashinga buzzingand a hummingthe humming stillechoes a little in the big empty seashellswhen we holdthem to our earsNow they came to the place

"There lies the beast"said the big fishand thelittle one said the same thingThey saw the cablewhosebeginning and end lay beyond the range of their vision

Spongespolypi and gorgons swayed about from thebottom of the seasank and bent down over itso that itwas seen and hidden alternatelySeaurchinsshailsandworms crawled about itgigantic spiderswith a wholecrew of creeping things upon themstalked along the cableDark-blue seacucumbersor whatever the creaturesare calledthey eat with the whole of their bodylay andseemed to snuff at the new animal which laid itself alongthe bottom of the seaFlounders and cod-fish turnedround in the water so as to listen on all sidesThe starfishwhich always bores itself into the mud and onlyleaves the two long stalks with eyes sticking outlayand stared to see what the result of all the commotionwould be

The cable lay without movingbut life and thoughtwere in in all the sameThe thoughts of men went throughit

"The thing is cunning"said the whale"It is quitecapable of hitting me in the stomachand that is my tenderspot"

"Let us feel our way"said the polypus"I have longarmsI have supple fingersI have touched itI will nowtake hold a little more firmly"

And it stretched its supplelongest arm down to thecable and round about it

"It has no scales"said the polypus"it has noskin"

The seaeel laid itself down beside the cableandstretched itself out as far as it could

"The thing is longer than I"it said"but it is notthe length that mattersone must have skinstomachandsuppleness"

The whalethe strong young whaledropped itselfdown deeper than it had ever been before

"Are you fish or plant"he asked"or are you onlysomething from above which cannot thrive down hereamongst us"

But the cable answered nothingthat is not its way ofdoingThoughts went through itthe thoughts of mentheyran in a secondmany hundreds of miles from land toland

"Will you answer or will you be snapped"asked theferocious sharkand all the other big fishes asked thesame"Will you answer or be snapped"

The cable paid no attentionit had its own thoughtsit is full of thoughts

"Only let them snap meand I shall be pulled up andput right againthat has happened to others of my kind inlesser channels"

And so it answered nothingit had other things to doit telegraphed and lay in lawful occupation at the bottom ofthe sea

Up above the sun setas men sayit looked like thereddest fireand all the clouds in the sky shone like firethe one more magnificent than the other

"Now we will get the red light " said the polypus"and so the thing will perhaps be seen better if that isnecessary."

" On it on it" shouted the cat-fish and showed allhis teeth

" On it on it"said the sword-fish the whale andthe sea-eel

They hurled themselves forward the cat-fish firstbut just as they were going to bite the cable the saw-fishdrove his saw with great force into the back of the cat- fish that was a great mistake and the cat had no strength to bite. There was a commotion down there in the mud big fishes and little fishes sea-cucumbers and snails ran intoeach otherate each othermashed each other and squashed each other The cable lay still and did its workas it ought to do

Dark night brooded above the seabut the millions and millions of living sea animals gave out light Crabsnot so big as pin-heads gave out light It is very wonder-ful but so it is . The sea animals gazed at the cable. " What is the thing and what is it not"

Yes that was the question"

Then came an old sea-cow Men call that kind mermaids or mermen This onea shehad a tail andtwo short arms to paddle with hanging breastand sea-weed and creeping things in her head and she was very proud of that

" Will you have knowledge and information "said she"then I am the only one who can give it to you butI demand for it free grazing on the bottom of the sea for me and mine I am a fish like you and I am also a rep-tile by practiceI am the wisest in the seaI know abouteverything that moves down here and about all that isabove as well. That thing there which you are puzzling about is from aboveand whatever is dumped down from up there is dead or becomes dead and powerless let it alone for what it is it is only an invention of man "

"I believe there is something more than that about it" said the little sea-fish

" Hold your tongue mackerel" said the big sea- cow

"Stickleback" said the othersand there were stillmore insulting things said. And the sea-cow explained to them that the whole cause of alarmwhich did not say a single word itselfwas only an invention from the dry land And it held a little discourse over the tiresomeness of men

" They want to get hold of us" it said"it is the onlything they live forthey stretch out nets and come with baiton a hook to catch usThat thing there is a kind of big linewhich they think we will bitethey are so stupidWe are not that Don' t touch it and it will crumble to pieces thewhole of itWhat comes from up there has cracks and flaws and is fit for nothing"

"Fit for nothing" said all the fishes and adopted thesea-cow 's opinion so as to have an opinion

The little sea-fish had its own thoughts " The enor- mous long thin serpent is perhaps the most marvellous fish in the sea I have a feeling like that"

" The most marvellous" we men say alsoand say itwith knowledge and assurance

It is the great sea-serpent talked about long beforeinsong and story It is conceived and bornsprung from man' s ingenuity and laid at the bottom of the sea stretch- ing itself from the eastern to the western lands bearing message as quickly as beams of light from the sun to our earth It growsgrows in power and extent grows from year to year through all the seasround the earth under the stormy waters and under the glass- clear water where the skipper looks down as if he sailed through transparent air and sees fish swarming like a whole firework show of colours

Farthest down the serpent stretches itselfa world- serpent of blessingwhich bites its tail as it encircles theearthFish and reptiles ran against it with their heads theydo not yet understand the thing from above the serpent of the knowledge of good and evil filled with human thoughtsand declaring them in all languages yet silent itselfthemost marvellous of the marvels of the deep the great sea-serpent of our time

 


 

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