1048 THE GREAT SEA-SERPENT
There they met a dolphin, a kind of acrobat, a vagrant of the sea who can turn somersaults on the surface of the water; it had eyes to see with, and it must have seen and would know all about it. They inquired of it, but it had only thought of itself and its somersaults, had seen nothing, could give no answer, and so was silent and looked haughty.
Thereupon they addressed themselves to a seal who just then dived; it was more polite, although it ate little fishes ; but to-day it was full. It knew a little more than the dolphin.
' I have, many a night, lain on a wet stone and looked towards the land, miles away from here. There are clumsy creatures there, who in their language are called men ; they hunt after us, but oftenest we escape from them. I have known how to do that, and so has the sea-eel you now ask about. It has been in their power, been upon the land, no doubt from time immemorial; from there they have taken it on board a ship to convey it over the sea to another distant land. I saw what trouble they had, but they managed it; it had become so weak with being on shore. They laid it in coils and twists ; I heard how it rattled and clattered as they 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 lies there, I think, till later on ! '
* It is rather thin,' said the little fishes.
' They have starved it,' said the seal, ' but it will soon come to itself, and get its old thickness and bigness. I imagine it is the great sea-serpent, which men are so afraid of and talk so much about. I have never seen it before, and never believed in it; now, I believe that this is it,' and so the seal dived.
I How much he knew ! How much he talked ! ' said the little fishes, ' I have never been so wise before !—If only it is not a lie ! '
1 We could swim down and investigate ! ' said the smallest one ; ' on the way we may hear others' opinions.'
' I won't make a single stroke with my fins, to get to know anything,' the others said, and turned about.
c But I will! ' said the smallest, and set off into deep water ; but it was far from the place where ' the long