The great sea serpent


Den store søslange

There was a little sea fish of good family, the name of which I don't remember; that the more learned will have to tell you. This little fish had eighteen hundred brothers and sisters, all the same age; they didn't know their father or mother, so they had to care for themselves and swim about on their own, but that was a lot of fun. They had plenty of water to drink - the entire ocean. They didn't think about their food; that was sure to come their way. Each did as he pleased; each would have his own story, but then none of them thought about that.

The sun shone down into the water, making it light and clear. It was a world full of the strangest creatures, some of them enormously big, with great, horrible mouths that could sallow all the eighteen hundred brothers and sisters, but none of them thought about that, either, for none of them had ever been swallowed.

The little ones swam together, close to one another, as the herring and the mackerel swim. As they were swimming along at their best and thinking of nothing in particular, there sank from above, down into the midst of them, with a terrifying noise, a long, heavy thing which seemed to have no end to it; further and further it stretched out, and every one of the small fish that it struck was crushed or got a crack from which he couldn't recover. All the fishes, the small and the big as well, were thrown into a panic. That heavy, horrible thing sank deeper and deeper and grew longer and longer, extending for miles - through the entire ocean. Fishes and snails, everything that swims, everything that creeps or is driven by the currents, saw this fearful thing, this enormous unknown sea eel that all of a sudden had come from above.

What kind of thing was it? Yes, we know! It was the great telegraph cable that people were laying between Europe and America.

There were great fear and commotion among all the rightful inhabitants of the ocean where the cable was laid. The flying fish shot up above the surface as high as he could, and the blowfish sped off like a gunshot across the water, for it can do that; other fishes went to the bottom of the ocean with such haste that they reached it long before the telegraph cable was seen down there, and they scared both the codfish and the flounder, who lived peacefully at the bottom of the ocean and ate their neighbors. A couple of the starfish were so frightened that they turned their stomachs inside out, but in spite of that they lived, for they can do that. Many of the lobsters and crabs got out of their fine shells and had to leave their legs behind.

In all this fright and confusion, the eighteen hundred brothers and sisters had all become separated, never again to know or even meet each other, excepting ten of them who had remained at the same place; and after these had held themselves still for a couple of hours, they recovered from their first fright and began to be curious. They looked about; they looked up and they looked down, and there in the deep they thought they saw the frightful thing that had scared them, scared everyone, big and little. There it lay along the bottom of the ocean, extending as far as they could see; it was quite thin, but then they didn't know how thick it could make itself or how strong it was. It lay very quiet, but that, they thought, could be a trick.

"Let it lie where it is! It doesn't concern us," said the most cautious of the little fish.

But the very smallest one of them insisted on gaining some knowledge as to what that thing might be. It had come down from above, so above one could best find out about it.

And so they swam up to the surface, where there was calm weather. There they met a dolphin, which is a sort of jumping jack, an ocean rover, that can turn somersaults in the water. As these have eyes to see with, he must have seen what had happened and should know all about it. They inquired, but the dolphin had only been thinking of himself and his somersaults, had seen nothing, and didn't know what to answer, so he kept quiet and looked proud.

Thereupon they turned to the seal who had just ducked down; he was more polite, although seals eat small fishes, for today he had had his fill. He knew a little more than the dolphin.

"Many a night I have rested on a wet rock and looked far inland, miles away from here; there live some sneaky creatures who, in their language, are called people; they plot against us, but often we slip away from them, which I know how to do, and that is what the sea eel has done, too. He has been in their power, up there on the earth, for a long, long time, and from there they carried him off on a ship, to bring him across the ocean to a distant land. I saw what trouble they had, but they could manage him, because he had become weak on the earth. They laid him down in coils and circles; I heard how he 'ringled' and 'rangled' when they put him down, but still he got away from them. They held on to him with all their might; many hands held fast, but still he slipped away from them and reached the bottom; there he lies now, for a while at least, I think."

"He is rather thin!" said all the little fish.

"They have starved him," said the seal, "but he will soon be himself again, fat and big around. I suppose he is the great sea serpent that people are so afraid of and talk so much about. I had never seen him before and never believed he existed, but now I do; I'm sure he's the sea serpent!" And with that the seal dove down.

"How much he knew! How much he talked!" said all the little fish. "We have never been so enlightened before! If only it isn't all a lie!"

"We could swim down and investigate," said the smallest fish. "On the way, we can hear what others think about it."

"We're not going to move a fin to find out anything more!" said the others, and swam away.

"But I'm going to," said the smallest, and plunged down into deep water.

But the little fish was a considerable distance from the place where "that long sunken thing" lay. He looked and searched in a direction down in the deep water. Never before had he imagined the world to be so big. The herring swam in great masses, each school of them shining like a mighty boat of silver; the mackerel also swam together and looked even more magnificent. There were fishes of all shapes and with markings in all colors. Jellyfish, like half-transparent flowers, simply lay back and let the currents carry them along. Great plants grew up from the bottom of the ocean, as did fathom-high grass and palm-shaped trees, every leaf beset with shining shellfish.

At last the little fish saw a long, dark streak way down and swam toward it; but it was neither fish nor cable; it was the gunwale of a large sunken vessel, the upper and lower decks of which had been broken in two by the force of the ocean. The little fish swam inside, where the many people who had perished with the sinking of the ship had since been washed away, except for two - young woman lay stretched out with a little child in her arms. The water rocked them to and fro, and they seemed to be asleep. The little fish became quite frightened, for he didn't know that they never again could awaken. Seaweed hung like cultivated foliage over the rail above the fair forms of mother and child. It was so quiet there, so lonely. The little fish hurried away as fast as he could, out to where the water was clearer and there were fishes to see. He hadn't gone far when he met a young and terribly large whale.

"Don't swallow me!" said the little fish. "I'm so small that I'm not even a tiny bite, and it's a great pleasure for me to live!"

"What do you want way down here, where your kind never comes?" asked the whale.

So the little fish told of the strange long eel, or whatever that thing was, which had sunk and scared even the most courageous of ocean creatures.

"Ho, ho!" said the whale, and drew in such a lot of water that he had to make an enormous waterspout when he came to the surface for a breath. "Ho, ho!" he said, "so that was the thing that tickled my back when I turned around! I thought it was a ship's mast that I could use for a back-scratcher! However, it wasn't in this location; no, that thing is much farther out. I'll investigate it, though; I have nothing else to do."

And so he swam forth, the little fish following, but not too close, for there would be a powerful stream where the big whale shot through the water.

They met a shark and an old sawfish. These two had also heard of the strange sea eel that was so long and thin; they hadn't seen it, but they wanted to.

Then a catfish appeared. "I'm coming with you!" he said, and took the same course. "If the great sea serpent isn't thicker than a cable, then I'll bite it in two with one bite!" And he opened his mouth and showed his six rows of teeth. "I can bite dents in a ship's anchor, so I can easily bite through that stem!"

"There it is!" said the big whale. "I can see it!" He thought he saw better than the others. "See how it rises, see how it sways, bends, and curves!"

However, this was not the sea serpent, but an exceptionally large eel, who was many yards long, and came closer.

"I've seen him before," said the sawfish. "He's never made much fuss in the ocean here or frightened any big fishes."

And so they talked to him about the new eel and asked if he wanted to join them on their voyage of discovery.

"If that eel is longer than I," said the sea eel, "then something unfortunate will happen."

"That it will!" said the others. "There are enough of us not to have to tolerate it." And then they hurried along.

But now, directly in their way, there appeared a strange monster, bigger than them all. It looked like a floating island that could not hold itself up. It was a very old whale. His head was overgrown with seaweed, his back beset with barnacles and so many oysters and mussels that his black skin was entirely covered with white spots.

"Come along, old fellow," they said. "A new fish has come that we will not tolerate!"

"I'd rather lie where I am," said the old whale. "Leave me in peace. Let me lie. Oh, my, oh, my! I suffer from a dreadful sickness. The only relief I have is when I go up to the surface and get my back above it; then the big, nice birds come and pick at me, and that feels so good, as long they don't drive their beaks in too far; often they go right into my blubber. Just see for yourself! There is a complete skeleton of a bird stuck in my back. That bird struck his claws in too deep and couldn't get loose when I went down to the bottom. Now the little fishes have eaten him. Just see how he looks, and how I look! I have a sickness!"

"That's just imagination!" said the other whale. "I am never sick. No fish is sick!"

"I beg your pardon!" said the old whale. "The eel has a skin disease, the carp has smallpox, and all of us have intestinal worms!"

"Nonsense!" said the shark, and didn't care to hear more; nor did the others; they had something else to do.

Finally, they came to the place where the telegraph cable lay. It had a very long resting place indeed at the bottom of the ocean, from Europe to America, over sandbanks and sea mud, rocky formations and sea-plant wilderness, and, yes, entire forests of coral. The currents down there change, and whirlpools twist around; fishes crowd each other and swim in flocks greater than the countless multitudes of birds that people see when birds of passage are in flight. There are a commotion, a splashing, a humming, and a rushing; a little of that rushing still remains to haunt the big, empty conch shells when we hold them to our ears.

Yes, now they came to the place.

"There lies the animal!" said the big fishes, and the little one said so, too.

They saw the cable, its beginning and end beyond their horizon. Sponges, polyps, and seaweed swayed from the ground, rising and falling over the cable, so that now it was hidden and then visible again. Sea porcupines, snails, and worms moved over it. Gigantic spiders, with whole fringes of vermin on them, crawled along the cable. Dark-blue "sea sausages," or whatever the creatures are called that eat with their entire bodies, lay beside it and smelled this new animal that had come down to lie at the bottom of the ocean. Flounders and codfish turned about in the water, in order to hear what was said from all sides. The starfish, who could hold himself down in the mud and keep his eyes outside, lay and stared to see what would come of all this confusion. The telegraph cable lay motionless. But life and thought were in it; human thoughts went through it.

"That thing is cunning," said the whale. "It's able to hit me in the stomach, and that's my weak point!"

"Let's feel our way," said a polyp. "I have long arms; I have limber fingers. I have touched it. Now I'll feel it a little more firmly." And then he stretched his longest and most flexible arms down to the cable and around it. "It has no scales!" said the polyp. "It has no skin! I don't believe it will ever bear young ones!"

The sea eel laid down alongside the telegraph cable and stretched himself as far as he could. "That thing is longer than I am!" he said. "But it isn't length that counts; one must have skin, stomach, and flexibility! The whale - that is, the young, strong whale - dove down deeper than he ever had been. "Are you a fish or a plant?" he asked the cable. "Or are you only some piece of work from above that can't thrive down here among us?"

But the telegraph cable didn't answer; it had no means of contacting anyone at such a location. Thoughts were going through it, people's thoughts, which in a single second were heard from land to land, many hundreds of miles apart.

"Will you answer, or do you want to be broken?" asked the fierce shark, and all the other big fishes asked the same. "Will you answer, or do you want to be broken?"

The cable didn't move, but it had its own private thoughts, which it had a right to have, considering that it was filled with other's thoughts. "Let them break me; then I'll be hauled up and put in order again - that has happened to others of my kind who were in shallower waters." And so it didn't answer; it had something else to do; it telegraphed and thereby did its just duty at the bottom of the sea.

Up above, the sun was going down, as people say. It blazed like the reddest fire, and all the clouds in the heavens glowed with a fiery hue, each more magnificent than the other.

"Now we're getting the red lighting," said the polyps, "and we may be able to see the thing better, if necessary."

"At it! At it!" shouted the shark, showing all his teeth.

"At it! At it!" said the swordfish, and the whale, and the sea eel. They rushed forward, the shark leading, but just as he was about to bite the cable, the swordfish, out of pure anxiety, ran his saw right into the back of the shark; that was a great mistake, and the shark had no strength left to bite. Everything became muddled in the mud. Big fishes, little fishes, "sea sausages," and snails ran into one another, ate each other - clashed and gnashed. The cable lay still and attended to its own business, as one should do.

The dark night brooded above; but in the ocean the millions and millions of small living creatures lighted it. Crawfish, not even as big as a pinhead, gave out light. It is quite wondrous, but now that's the way it is.

The ocean creatures looked at the telegraph cable. "What is that thing, and what isn't it?" Yes, that was the question.

Presently an old sea cow appeared. People call these mermaids or mermen. This one was a she, and had a tail and two short arms to splash with; she wore seaweed and parasites over her breasts and head, and she was proud of this.

"Are you seeking knowledge and wisdom?" she said. "I am the only one who can give you this; but in return I demand that you guarantee safe pasturage on the bottom of the ocean for me and mine. I am a fish like you are, but I am also a crawling animal, through practice. I am the wisest in the ocean; I know about everything that moves down here and about all that goes on up above. That thing you are pondering over is from above, and whatever falls down from up there is dead, or will be dead, and powerless; let it lie there for what it is. It's only a man-made invention.

"I believe there is more to it than that!" said the little fish.

"Hold your tongue, mackerel!" said the big sea cow.

"Stickleback!" said the others, and that was even more insulting.

And the sea cow explained further to them that this alarming thing, which, as a matter of fact, hadn't uttered a single sound, was in its entirety nothing more than some new device from the dry land, and she delivered a little lecture about people's deceitfulness. "They want to catch us," she said; "that's all they live for. They stretch out nets for us, and come with bait on hooks to tempt us. That thing there is some sort of big string that they think we are going to bite. They are so stupid! But we are not! Don't touch that junk; in time it will unravel and all turn to dust and mud. Everything that comes from up there cracks and breaks - is good for nothing!"

"Good for nothing!" said the other ocean creatures, and held onto the sea cow's opinion, so as to have an opinion.

The little fish, however, had his own thoughts. "Perhaps that enormously long, thin serpent is the most wonderful fish in the ocean. I have a feeling it is."

"The most wonderful," say we humans, too, and we say it with knowledge and assurance.

The great sea serpent has long been the theme of song and story. It was conceived and born by man's ingenuity and laid on the bottom of the ocean, stretching from the eastern to the western lands, and carrying messages as swiftly as light flashes from the sun to our earth. It grows, grows in power and length, grows year after year, through all oceans, around the world; it is beneath the stormy seas and the glass-clear waters, where the skipper, as if sailing through transparent air, looks down and sees crowds of fishes resembling many -colored fireworks.

Deepest down of all lies the outstretched serpent, a blessed Midgard snake, which bites its own tail as it encircles the earth. Fishes and other sea creatures clash with it; they do not understand that thing from above. People's thoughts rush noiselessly, in all languages, through the serpent of science, for both good and evil; the most wondrous of the ocean's wonders is our time's.
Der var en lille havfisk af god familie, navnet husker jeg ikke, det må de lærde sige dig. Den lille fisk havde attenhundrede søskende, alle lige gamle; de kendte ikke deres fader eller moder, de måtte straks skøtte sig selv og svømme om, men det var en stor fornøjelse; vand havde de nok at drikke, hele verdenshavet, føden tænkte de ikke på, den kom nok; hver ville følge sin lyst, hver ville få sin egen historie, ja det tænkte heller ingen af dem på.

Solen skinnede ned i vandet, det lyste om dem, det var så klart, det var en verden med de forunderligste skabninger, og nogle så gruelig store, med voldsomme gab, de kunne sluge de attenhundrede søskende, men det tænkte de heller ikke på, for ingen af dem var endnu blevet slugt.

De små svømmede sammen, tæt op til hverandre, som sildene og makrellerne svømmer; men som de allerbedst svømmede i vandet og tænkte på ingenting, sank, med forfærdelig lyd, ovenfra, midt ned imellem dem, en lang, tung ting, der slet ikke ville holde op; længere og længere strakte den sig, og hver af småfiskene, som den ramte, blev kvast eller fik et knæk, som de ikke kunne forvinde. Alle småfisk, de store med, lige oppe fra havets flade og ned til dets bund, fór i forfærdelse til side; den tunge, voldsomme ting sænkede sig dybere og dybere, den blev længere og længere, milelang, gennem hele havet.

Fisk og snegle, alt hvad svømmer, alt hvad kryber, eller drives af strømninger, fornemmede denne forfærdelige ting, denne umådelige, ubekendte havål, der lige med ét var kommet ned ovenfra.

Hvad var det dog for en ting? Ja det ved vi! det var det store, milelange telegraftov, menneskene sænkede mellem Europa og Amerika.

Der blev en forskrækkelse, der blev et røre mellem havets retmæssige beboere, hvor tovet sænkedes. Flyvefisken satte til vejrs over havfladen, så højt den kunne, ja knurhanen tog fart et helt bøsseskud over vandet, for det kan den; andre fisk søgte mod havbunden, de fór med sådan hastighed, at de kom længe før telegraftovet endnu var set dernede; de skræmte både kabliau og flynder, som gik fredeligt i havets dyb og åd deres medskabninger.

Et par søpølser blev så forskrækket, at de spyede deres mave ud, men levede endda, for det kan de. Mange hummere og taskekrabber gik ud af deres gode harnisk og måtte lade benene blive tilbage.

Under al den skræk og forvirring kom de attenhundrede søskende fra hverandre, og mødtes ikke mere, eller kendte ikke hverandre, kun en halv snes blev på samme plet, og da de i et par timer havde holdt sig stille, forvandt de den første skræk og begyndte at blive nysgerrige.

De så sig om, de så op og de så ned, og der i dybden troede de at øjne den forfærdelige ting, som havde skræmt dem, skræmt store og små. Tingen lå hen over havbunden, så langt de kunne øjne; meget tynd var den, men de vidste jo ikke, hvor tyk den kunne gøre sig, eller hvor stærk den var. Den lå ganske stille, men, tænkte de, det kunne være lumskhed.

"Lad den ligge, hvor den ligger! Den kommer ikke os ved!" sagde den forsigtigste af småfiskene, men den allermindste af dem ville ikke opgive at komme til kundskab om hvad den ting kunne være; ovenfra var den kommen ned, ovenfra måtte man bedst kunne hente besked, og så svømmede de op mod havfladen, det var blikstille vejr.

Der mødte de en delfin; det er sådan en springfyr, en havstryger, der kan slå kolbøtter hen ad havfladen; øjne har den at se med, og den måtte have set og vide besked; den spurgte de ad, men den havde kun tænkt på sig selv og sine kolbøtter, ikke set noget, vidste ikke at svare, og så tav den og så stolt ud.

Derpå henvendte de sig til sælhunden, der just dukkede ned; den var høfligere, uagtet den æder småfisk; men i dag var den mæt. Den vidste lidt mere end springfisken.

"Jeg har mangen nat ligget på en våd sten og set ind mod land, milevidt herfra; der er lumske skabninger, de kaldes i deres sprog mennesker, de efterstræber os, men oftest smutter vi dog fra dem, det har jeg forstået, og det har nu også den havål, I spørger om. Den har været i deres magt, været oppe på landjorden, vist i umindelige tider; derfra har de ført den på fartøj for at bringe den over havet til et andet fjerntliggende land. Jeg så, hvilket besvær de havde, men magte den kunne de, den var jo blevet mat på landjorden. De lagde den i krans og kreds, jeg hørte, hvor den ringlede og ranglede, da de lagde den, men den slap dog fra dem, slap herud. De holdt på den af alle kræfter, mange hænder holdt fast, den smuttede dog og nåede til bunds; der ligger den, tænker jeg, til videre!"

"Den er noget tynd!" sagde de små fisk.

"De har sultet den!" sagde sælhunden, "men den kommer sig snart, får sin gamle tykkelse og storhed. Jeg antager, at den er den store søslange, som menneskene er så bange for og taler så meget om; jeg havde før aldrig set den og aldrig troet på den; nu tror jeg, den er det!" og så dukkede sælhunden.

"Hvor han vidste meget! Hvor han talte meget!" sagde de små fisk. "Jeg har aldrig været så klog før! - Når det bare ikke er løgn!"

"Vi kan jo svømme ned og undersøge!" sagde den mindste; "på vejen hører vi de andres mening!"

"Jeg gør ikke et slag med mine finner, for at få noget at vide!" sagde de andre og drejede af.

"Men jeg gør det!" sagde den mindste og styrede af sted ned i det dybe vand; men den var langt fra stedet, hvor "den lange sænkede ting" lå. Den lille fisk så og søgte til alle sider ned mod dybet.

Aldrig før havde den fornemmet sin verden så stor. Sildene gik i store stimer, skinnende som en kæmpebåd af sølv, makrellerne fulgtes også ad og så endnu prægtigere ud. Der kom fisk i alle skikkelser og med tegninger i alle farver; meduser, som halvgennemsigtige blomster, der lod sig bære og føre af strømningerne. Store planter voksede fra havbunden, favnehøjt græs og palmeformede træer, hvert blad besat med skinnende skaldyr.

Endelig øjnede den lille havfisk en lang mørk stribe dernede og styrede mod den, men det var hverken fisk eller tov, det var rælingen af et stort sunket fartøj, hvis øverste og nederste dæk var brudt itu ved havets tryk. Den lille fisk svømmede ind i rummet, hvor de mange mennesker, der var omkommet da skibet sank, nu var skyllet bort, på to nær: En ung kvinde lå der udstrakt med et lille barn i sine arme. Vandet lettede dem og ligesom vuggede dem, de syntes at sove. Den lille fisk blev ganske forskrækket, den var uvidende om, at de ikke kunne vågne mere. Vandplanter hang som løvværk ned over rælingen, hen over de to smukke lig af moder og barn. Der var så stille, der var så ensomt. Den lille fisk skyndte sig bort så hurtigt den kunne, ud hvor vandet var klarere belyst og hvor der var fisk at se. Den var ikke kommet langt, da mødte den en ung hval, så forfærdelig stor.

"Slug mig ikke!" sagde den lille fisk. "Jeg er ikke engang en mundsmag, så lille er jeg, og mig er det en stor behagelighed at leve!"

"Hvad vil du så dybt hernede, hvor din art ikke kommer?" spurgte hvalen. Og så fortalte den lille fisk om den lange forunderlige ål, eller hvad den ting nu var, der ovenfra havde sænket sig ned og forskrækket selv de allermodigste havskabninger.

"Ho, ho!" sagde hvalen og trak så voldsomt vand til sig, at den måtte sætte en mægtig vandstråle når den kom op og trak vejret. "Ho, ho!" sagde den, "så det var den ting, som krillede mig på ryggen, idet jeg vendte mig! Jeg troede, at det var en skibsmast, jeg kunne bruge til kløpind! Men på dette sted her var det ikke. Nej, langt længere ude ligger den ting. Jeg vil dog undersøge den, jeg har ikke andet at bestille!"

Og så svømmede den fremad og den lille fisk bagefter, ikke for nær, thi der kom ligesom en rivende strøm, hvor den store hval skød fart gennem vandet.

De mødte en haj og en gammel savfisk; de to havde også hørt om den sælsomme havål, så lang og så tynd; set den havde de ikke, men det ville de.

Nu kom der en havkat.

"Jeg tager med!" sagde han, den ville samme vej.

"Er den store søslange ikke tykkere end et ankertov, så skal jeg bide den over i ét bid!" og den åbnede sit gab og viste sine seks rækker tænder. "Jeg kan bide mærke i et skibsanker, sagtens kan jeg bide den stilk over!"

"Der er den!" sagde den store hval, "jeg ser den!" Han troede, han så bedre end de andre. "Se hvor den løfter sig, se hvor den svajer, bugter og krummer sig!"

Det var dog ikke den, men en umådelig stor havål, flere alen lang, som nærmede sig.

"Den der har jeg set før!" sagde savfisken, "den har aldrig gjort stort rabalder i havet, eller skræmt nogen storfisk!"

Og så talte de til den om den nye ål og spurgte, om den ville med på opdagelse.

"Er den ål længere end jeg!" sagde havålen, "så skal den ske en ulykke!"

"Det skal den!" sagde de andre. "Vi er nok til ikke at tåle den!" og så skyndte de sig fremad.

Men da kom der noget lige i vejen, et underligt uhyre, større end dem alle sammen.

Det så ud som en svømmende ø, der ikke kunne holde sig oppe.

Det var en ældgammel hval. Dens hoved var overgroet med havplanter, dens ryg besat med krybdyr og så umådelig mange østers og muslinger, at dens sorte skind var ganske hvidspættet.

"Kom med, gamle!" sagde de. "Her er kommet en ny fisk, som ikke skal tåles."

"Jeg vil hellere ligge, hvor jeg ligger!" sagde den gamle hval. "Lad mig i ro! Lad mig ligge! Åh ja, ja, ja! Jeg bærer på en svær sygdom! Min lindring har jeg ved at nå op i havfladen og få ryggen ovenfor! Så kommer de store, rare søfugle og piller mig, det gør så godt, når bare de ikke slår næbbet for dybt i, det går tit lige ind i mit spæk. Se engang dog! Hele benraden af en fugl sidder mig endnu i ryggen; fuglen slog kløerne for dybt og kunne ikke komme løs, da jeg gik til bunds. Nu har småfiskene pillet ham. Se hvorledes han ser ud og jeg ser ud! Jeg har sygdom!"

"Det er bare indbildning!" sagde hajen. "Jeg er aldrig syg. Ingen fisk er syg!"

"Undskyld!" sagde den gamle hval; "ålen har hudsygdom, karpen skal have kopper, og alle har vi indvoldsorme!"

"Vrøvl!" sagde hajen, han gad ikke høre mere, de andre ikke heller, de havde jo andet at tage vare.

Endelig kom de til stedet, hvor telegraftovet lå. Det har et langt leje på havbunden, fra Europa til Amerika, hen over sandbanker og havdynd, klippegrund og plantevildnis, hele skove af koraller, og så veksler strømmene dernede, vandhvirvler drejer sig, fisk myldrer frem, flere i flok end de talløse fugleskarer, som menneskene ser i trækfuglstiden. Der er et røre, en plasken, en summen, en susen: Den susen spøger der lidt af endnu i de store, tomme havkonkylier, når vi holder dem for vort øre.

Nu kom de til stedet.

"Der ligger dyret!" sagde de store fisk, og den lille sagde det også. De så tovet, hvis begyndelse og ende svandt i deres synskreds.

Svampe, polypper og gorgoner svajede fra grunden, sænkede og bøjede sig over det, så at det snart skjultes, snart var at se. Søpindsvin, snegle og orme rørte sig om det; kæmpemæssige edderkopper, der havde en hel besætning af krybdyr på sig, spankede hen ad tovet. Mørkeblå søpølser, eller hvad det kryb hedder, de æder med hele kroppen, lå ligesom og lugtede til det nye dyr, der havde lagt sig på havbunden. Flynder og kabliau vendte sig i vandet for at høre efter fra alle sider. Stjernefisken, der altid borer sig ned i dyndet og kun har de to lange stilke med øjne udenfor, lå og gloede for at se hvad der kom ud af det røre.

Telegraftovet lå uden bevægelse. Men liv og tanke var der i det; mennesketanker gik igennem det.

"Den ting er lumsk!" sagde hvalen. "Den er i stand til at slå mig på maven, og den er nu min ømme side!"

"Lad os føle os for!" sagde polyppen. "Jeg har lange arme, jeg har smidige fingre! jeg har rørt ved den, jeg vil nu tage lidt fastere."

Og den strakte sine smidige, længste arme ned til tovet og rundt om det.

"Den har ingen skæl!" sagde polyppen, "den har ingen skind! Jeg tror, den aldrig føder levende unger!"

Havålen lagde sig langs telegraftovet og strakte sig så langt den kunne.

"Den ting er længere end jeg!" sagde den. "Men det er ikke længden om at gøre, man må have hud, mave og smidighed."

Hvalen, den unge, stærke hval, nejede sig lige ned, dybere end den nogensinde havde været.

"Er du fisk eller plante?" spurgte den. "Eller er du kun ovenfrasværk, der ikke kan trives hernede hos os?"

Men telegraftovet svarede ikke; det har det ikke på den led. Der gik tanker igennem det, mennesketanker; de lød i ét sekund de mange hundrede mil fra land til land.

"Vil du svare eller vil du knækkes?" spurgte den glubende haj, og alle de andre store fisk spurgte om det samme: "Vil du svare eller vil du knækkes!"

Tovet rørte sig ikke, det havde sin aparte tanke, og en sådan kan den have, der er fyldt med tanker.

"Lad dem kun knække mig, så hales jeg op og kommer i stand igen, det er sket ved andre af mit slags, i mindre farvande!"

Det svarede derfor ikke, det havde andet at bestille, det telegraferede, lå i lovligt embede på havets bund.

Ovenover gik nu solen ned, som menneskene kalder det, den blev som den rødeste ild, og alle himlens skyer skinnede som ild, den ene prægtigere end den anden.

"Nu får vi den røde belysning!" sagde polypperne, "så ses den ting måske bedre, om så behøves."

"På den, på den!" råbte havkatten og viste alle sine tænder.

"På den, på den!" sagde sværdfisken og hvalen og havålen.

De styrtede frem, havkatten foran; men lige idet den ville bide om tovet, jog i bar heftighed savfisken sin sav lige ind i bagdelen på havkatten; det var en stor fejltagelse, og katten fik ikke kræfter til bid.

Der blev et mudder nede i det mudder: Storfisk og småfisk, søpølser og snegle løb mod hverandre, åd hverandre, masede, kvasede. Tovet lå stille og øvede sin gerning, og det skal man.

Den mørke nat rugede ovenover, men havets milliarder og milliarder levende smådyr lyste. Krebs, ikke så store som et knappenålshoved, lyste. Det er ganske vidunderligt, men således er det nu.

Havets dyr så på telegraftovet.

"Hvad er dog den ting, og hvad er den ikke?"

Ja, det var spørgsmålet.

Da kom der en gammel havko. Menneskene kalder det slags: Havfrue eller havmand. En hun var hun, havde hale og to korte arme at pjaske med, hængende bryst, og tang og snyltedyr i hovedet, og det var hun stolt af.

"Vil I have kundskab og kendskab?" sagde hun, "så er jeg nok den eneste, der kan give den; men jeg forlanger herfor farefri græsgang på havbunden for mig og mine. Jeg er fisk som I, og jeg er også krybdyr ved øvelse. Jeg er den klogeste i havet; jeg ved om alt, hvad der rører sig hernede, og om alt, hvad der er ovenfor. Den ting der, I grubliserer over, er ovenfra, og hvad deroppefra dumper ned, er dødt eller bliver dødt og magtesløst; lad den ligge for hvad den er. Den er kun menneskepåfund!"

"Jeg tror nu der er noget mere ved den!" sagde den lille havfisk.

"Hold mund, makrel!" sagde den store havko.

"Hundestejle!" sagde de andre, og det var endnu mere fornærmeligt sagt.

Og havkoen forklarede dem, at det hele alarmdyr, som forresten jo ikke sagde et muk, var kun påfund fra det tørre land. Og den holdt et lille foredrag over menneskenes træskhed.

"De vil have fat på os," sagde den, "det er det eneste, de lever for; de spænder garn ud, kommer med madding på krog for at lokke os. Denne der er et slags stor snøre, som de tror vi skal bide på, de er så dumme! Det er vi ikke! Rør kun ikke det makværk, det trevler op, bliver til smuld og dynd, det hele. Hvad ovenfra kommer, har knæk, bræk, dur ikke!"

"Dur ikke!" sagde alle havskabningerne og holdt sig til havkoens mening for at have en mening.

Den lille havfisk beholdt sin egen tanke. "Den umådelig lange, tynde slange er måske den vidunderligste fisk i havet. Jeg har en fornemmelse deraf."

"Den vidunderligste!" siger vi mennesker med, og siger det med kendskab og forvisning.

Den store søslange er det, omtalt længst forud i sange og sagn.

Den er født og båren, sprungen ud fra menneskets snilde og lagt på havets bund, strækkende sig fra Østens lande til Vestens lande, bærende budskab hurtig som lysets stråle fra Solen til vor Jord. Den vokser, vokser i magt og udstrækning, vokser år for år, gennem alle have, Jorden rundt, under de stormende vande og de glasklare vande, hvor skipperen ser ned, som sejlede han gennem den gennemsigtige luft, ser myldrende fisk, et helt farvefyrværkeri.

Dybest nede strækker sig slangen, en velsignelsens Midgårdsorm, der bider i sin hale, idet den omslutter Jorden; fisk og krybdyr løber med panden imod, de forstår dog ikke den ting ovenfra: Menneskehedens tankefyldte, i alle sprog forkyndende og dog lydløse kundskabsslange på godt og ondt, den vidunderligste af havets vidundere, vor tids den store søslange.

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