THE GREAT SEA-SERPENT
THERE was a little sea－fish of good family；the nameI cannot remember，you must get that from the learned．The little fish had eighteen hundred brothers and sisters allof the same age；they did not know either their father ortheir mother；they had just to take care of themselves atonce and swim about，but that was a great delight to them．
They had plenty of water to drink—the whole of thesea；they did not think about food—that would come of it－self；every one would do just as he liked，every one wouldhave his own story—but none of them thought about thateither．
The sun shone down into the water，and lighted it upround about them；it was so clear，it was a world with themost wonderful creatures，and some frightfully big，withenormous mouths which could have swallowed the eighteenhundred brothers and sisters；but they did not think of thateither，for none of them had been swallowed yet．
The little ones swam about together，close up to eachother，as herring and mackerel swim；but as they swamabout in the water，doing their very best and thinking ofnothing，there sank from above right into the middle ofthem，with a frightful noise，a long，heavy thing thatwould not stop coming；longer and longer it stretched it－self，and every one of the little fishes which it struck，wassquashed or got a blow which it could never get over．Allthe little fishes，and the big ones too，right from the sur－face of the sea down to the bottom，swam away in alarm：the heavy，monstrous thing sank deeper and deeper，andbecame longer and longer，miles in length—throughout thewhole sea．
Fishes and snails，everything that swims，everythingwhich crawls or drifts with the currents，noticed this fright-ful thing，this immense，unknown sea－eel，which had sud－denly come down from above．
What kind of a thing was it？We know what it was！It was the great league－long telegraph wire，which 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 sunk．The flying-fish sprang into the air above the sea，as highas it could；the gurnard flew the length of a gunshotabove the water；other fish sought the bottom of the sea，and fled so quickly that they arrived there long before thetelegraph wire had even been sighted：they frightenedboth the cod－fish and the flounder，which were swimmingabout peacefully in the depths of the sea and eating theirfellow creatures．
A pair of sea－cucumbers were so scared that theyvomited their stomachs out；but they still lived，for theycan do that．Many lobsters and crabs came out of theirgood harness，and had to leave their legs behind them．
Among all this fright and commotion，the eighteenhundred brothers and sisters got separated from each oth－er，and never met again，or knew each other；only abouta dozen remained in the same place，and when they hadkept quiet for an hour or two，they began to get over theirfright and become inquisitive．They looked round about，they looked up，and they looked down，and there in thedepths they thought they saw the terrible thing which hadfrightened them，frightened both big and little．The thinglay along the bottom of the sea as far as they could spy；itwas very thin，but they did not know how thick it couldmake itself，or how strong it was．it lay very still；butthis，they thought，might be its cunning．
"Let it lie where it is！It does not concern us，"saidthe most cautious of the little fishes，but the very smallestof them would not give up getting to know what the thingcould be．It came down from above；up above wouldtherefore be the best place to get news about it，and sothey swam up to the surface of the sea．The weather wasquite calm．
There they met a dolphin，a kind of acrobat，a va－grant of the sea who can turn somersaults on the surface ofthe water；it had eyes to see with，and it must have seenand would know all about it．They inquired of it，but ithad only thought of itself and its somersaults，had seennothing，could give no answer，and so was silent andlooked haughty．
Thereupon they addressed themselves to a seal whojust then dived；it was more polite，although it ate littlefishes；but today it was full．It knew a little more than thedolphin．
"I have，many a night，lain on a wet stone andlooked towards the land，miles away from here．There areclumsy creatures there，who in their language are calledmen；they hunt after us，but often we escape from them．Ihave known how to do that，and so has the sea－eel you nowask about．It has been in their power，been upon the land，no doubt from time immemorial；from there they have takenit on board a ship to convey it over the sea to another dis－tant land．I saw what trouble they had，but they managedit；it had become so weak with being on shore．They laid itin coils and twists；I heard how it rattled and clattered asthey laid it；but it escaped from them，escaped out here．They held it with all their might，many hands held fast，but it slipped from them and got to the bottom；it liesthere，I think，till later on！"
"It is rather thin，"said the litile fishes．
"They have starved it，"said the seal，"but it willsoon come to itself，and get its old thickness and bigness．I imagine it is the great sea－serpent，which men are soafraid of and talk so much about．I have never seen it be- fore，and never believed in it；now，I believe that this isit，"and so the seal dived．
"How much he knew！How much he talked！"said thelittle fishes，"I have never been so wise before！—If onlyit is not a lie！"
"We could swim down：and investigate！"said thesmallest one；"on the way we may hear others'opinions．"
"I won't make a single stroke with my fins，to get toknow anything，"the others said，and turned about．
"But I will！"said the smallest，and set off into deepwater；but it was far from the place where"the long sunkenthing"lay．The little fish looked and searched about on allsides down in the deep．
It had never noticed before how big the world was．Theherring went in great shoals，shining like big silver boats；the mackerel followed，and looked even more magnifi-cent．There came fish of all shapes and with markings ofall colours．Jelly－fishes，like half－transparent flowers，al-lowed themselves to be carried to and fro by the currents．Great plants grew from the bottom of the sea，fathom-highgrass and palm-shaped trees，every leaf adorned withshining shells．
At last the little fish spied a long dark stripe andmade towards it，but it was neither fish nor cable—it wasthe railing of a big sunken ship，whose upper and lowerdecks were broken in two by the pressure of the sea．The little fish swam into the cabin where so many people hadperished when the ship sank，and were now all washedaway except two：a young woman lay stretched out therewith a little child in her arms．The water lifted them andseemed to rock them；they looked as if they were asleep．The little fish was very frightened；it did not know thatthey would never waken again．Water-plants hung like fo－liage over the railing and over the lovely bodies of motherand child．It was so still and lonely．The little fish hur- ried away as quickly as it could，out where the water wasclearer and where there were fishes to be seen．It had notgone very far before it met a young whale，so frightfullybig．
"Don't swallow me，"said the little fish，"I am noteven a taste，I am so little，and it is a great pleasure tome to be alive！"
"What are you doing down here，where your kinddoes not come？"asked the whale．
And so the little fish told about the long，wonderfuleel，or whatever the thing was，which had come downfrom above and frightened even the most courageous in-habitants of the deep．
"Ho，ho！"said the whale，and sucked in so muchwater that it had to send out a huge spout of it，when itcame up to the surface to draw breath．"Ho，ho！"it said"so it was that thing which tickled me on the back as Iturned myself！I thought it was a ship's mast which Icould use as a clawing－pin！But it was not at this spot．No，the thing lies much farther out．I will investigate it；I have nothing else to do！"
And so it swam forward and the little fish behind，not too near，for there came a tearing current where thebig whale shot through the water．
They met a shark and an old saw-fish；they also hadheard about the strange sea-eel，so long and so thin；theyhad not seen it，but they wanted to．Now there came acat－fish．
"I will you，"it said；it was going the sameway．"If the great sea-serpent is no thicker than an an－chor－rope，I 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 anchor，so 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 itself，look how it sways，bends，and curvesitself！"
It was not it，however，but an immensely big con－ger-eel，several yards long，which approached．
"I have seen that one before，"said the saw－fish；"ithas never made a great noise in the sea，or frightened anybig fish．"
And so they spoke to it about the new eel，andasked 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 way，a wonder－ful monster，bigger than all of them put together．Itlooked like a floating island，which could not keep itselfup．
It was a very old whale．Its head was overgrown withsea－plants；its back was thickly set with creeping thingsand so many oysters and mussels，that its black skin wasquite covered with white spots．
"Come with us，old one，"said they；"a new fishhas come here，which is not to be tolerated．"
"I would rather lie where I am，"said the oldwhale．"Leave me alone！Let me lie！Oh，yes，yes，yes．I suffer from a serious illness！I get relief by going up tothe surface and getting my back above it！then the bigsea－birds come and pick me．It is so nice，if only theydon't put their peaks too far in；they often go right intomy blubber．Just look！The whole skeleton of a bird isstill sitting on my back，it stuck its claws too far in andcould not get loose，when I went to the bottom！Now thelittle fishes have picked him．See how he looks，and howI look！I have an illness！"
"It is only imagination！"said the young whale；"Iam never ill．No fish is ill！"
"Excuse me，"said the old whale，"the eel has askindisease，the carp is said to have small－pox，and weall suffer from worms．"
"Rubbish，"said the shark；he could not be both－ered listening to any more，nor the others either，they hadother things to think about．
At last they came to the place where the telegraphcable lay．It had a long lair on the bottom of the sea，from Europe to America，right over the sand－banks andsea－mud，rocky bottoms and wildernesses of plants andwhole forests of coral．Down there the currents are everchanging，whirlpools turn and eddy，fish swarm in greaternumbers than the countless flocks of birds which we see atthe time of their migration．There is a movement，asplashing，a buzzing，and a humming；the humming stillechoes a little in the big empty sea－shells，when we holdthem to our ears．Now they came to the place．
"There lies the beast，"said the big fish，and thelittle one said the same thing．They saw the cable，whosebeginning and end lay beyond the range of their vision．
Sponges，polypi and gorgons swayed about from thebottom of the sea，sank and bent down over it，so that itwas seen and hidden alternately．Sea－urchins，shails，andworms crawled about it；gigantic spiders，with a wholecrew of creeping things upon them，stalked along the ca－ble．Dark-blue sea－cucumbers（or whatever the creaturesare called—they eat with the whole of their body）lay andseemed to snuff at the new animal which laid itself alongthe bottom of the sea．Flounders and cod-fish turnedround in the water so as to listen on all sides．The star－fish，which always bores itself into the mud and onlyleaves the two long stalks with eyes sticking out，layand stared to see what the result of all the commotionwould be．
The cable lay without moving，but life and thoughtwere in in all the same．The thoughts of men went throughit．
"The thing is cunning！"said the whale．"It is quitecapable of hitting me in the stomach，and that is my tenderspot！"
"Let us feel our way！"said the polypus．"I have longarms，I have supple fingers！I have touched it，I will nowtake hold a little more firmly．"
And it stretched its supple，longest arm down to thecable and round about it．
"It has no scales，"said the polypus，"it has noskin．"
The sea－eel laid itself down beside the cable，andstretched itself out as far as it could．
"The thing is longer than I！"it said，"but it is notthe length that matters，one must have skin，stomach，andsuppleness．"
The whale，the strong young whale，dropped 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 nothing：that is not its way ofdoing．Thoughts went through it；the thoughts of men；theyran in a second，many hundreds of miles from land toland．
"Will you answer or will you be snapped？"asked theferocious shark，and all the other big fishes asked thesame．"Will you answer or be snapped？"
The cable paid no attention，it had its own thoughts；it is full of thoughts．
"Only let them snap me，and I shall be pulled up andput right again；that has happened to others of my kind inlesser channels．"
And so it answered nothing，it had other things to do；it telegraphed and lay in lawful occupation at the bottom ofthe sea．
Up above the sun set，as men say；it looked like thereddest fire，and all the clouds in the sky shone like fire，the 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 first，but 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 other，ate each other，mashed each other and squashed each other． The cable lay still and did its workas it ought to do．
Dark night brooded above the sea，but the millions and millions of living sea animals gave out light． Crabs，not 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 one—a she—had a tail， andtwo short arms to paddle with， hanging breast，and 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 practice．I am the wisest in the sea；I know abouteverything that moves down here， and about all that isabove as well. That thing there which you are puzzling about is from above，and 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 others，and there were stillmore insulting things said. And the sea-cow explained to them that the whole cause of alarm，which did not say a single word itself，was 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 for；they stretch out nets and come with baiton a hook to catch us．That thing there is a kind of big linewhich they think we will bite，they are so stupid！We are not that！ Don' t touch it and it will crumble to pieces， thewhole of it．What 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 also，and say itwith knowledge and assurance ．
It is the great sea-serpent talked about long before，insong and story． It is conceived and born，sprung 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 grows，grows in power and extent， grows from year to year， through all the seas，round 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 itself，a world- serpent of blessing，which bites its tail as it encircles theearth．Fish 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 itself，themost marvellous of the marvels of the deep， the great sea-serpent of our time．