THE GREAT SEA-SERPENT 1051
and getting my back above it! then the big sea-birds come and pick me. It is so nice, if only they don't put their beaks too far in ; they often go right into my blubber. Just look ! The whole skeleton of a bird is still sitting on my back, it stuck its claws too far in and could not get loose, when I went to the bottom ! No,w the little fishes have picked him. See how he looks, and how I look ! I have an illness !'
' It is only imagination ! ' said the young whale ; ' I am never ill. No fish is ill ! '
1 Excuse me,' said the old whale, ' the eel has a skin-disease, the carp is said to have small-pox, and we all suffer from worms.'
' Rubbish,' said the shark ; he could not be bothered listening to any more, nor the others either, they had other things to think about.
At last they came to the place where the telegraph cable lay. It had a long lair on the bottom of the sea, from Europe to America, right over the sand-banks and sea-mud, rocky bottoms and wildernesses of plants and whole forests of coral. Down there the currents are ever changing, whirlpools turn and eddy, fish swarm in greater numbers than the countless flocks of birds which we see at the time of their migration. There is a movement, a splashing, a buzzing, and a humming ; the humming still echoes a little in the big empty sea-shells, when we hold them to our ears. Now they came to the place.
1 There lies the beast,' said the big fish, and the little one said the same thing. They saw the cable, whose beginning and end lay beyond the range of their vision.
Sponges, polypi and gorgons swayed about from the bottom of the sea, sank and bent down over it, so that it was seen and hidden alternately. Sea-urchins, snails, and worms crawled about it; gigantic spiders, with a whole crew of creeping things upon them, stalked along the cable. Dark-blue sea-cucumbers (or whatever the creatures are called—they eat with the whole of their body) lay and seemed to snuff at the new animal which laid itself along the bottom of the sea. Flounders and cod-fish turned round in the water so as to listen on all sides. The star-fish, which always bores itself into the mud and only leaves the