The Last Stand of the Decapods–Frank T. Bullen (December 1901)

This is a really unusual combination of non-fiction (as far as 1901 was concerned) about the ‘monsters’ which inhabit the sea, and a fantasy imagining a fight between them and whales (which to the author are obviously more advanced as they are mammals). Frank Bullen wrote many stories about the sea, and continued writing up to his death in 1915.


Probably few of the thinking inhabitants of dry land, with all their craving for tales of the marvellous, the gloomy, and the gigantic, have in these later centuries of the world’s history given much thought to the conditions of constant warfare existing beneath the surface of the ocean. As readers of ancient classics well know, the fathers of literature gave much attention to the vast, awe-inspiring inhabitants of the sea, investing and embellishing the few fragments of fact concerning them which were available with a thousand fantastic inventions of their own naive imaginations, until there emerged–chief and ruler of them all–the Kraken, Leviathan, or whatever other local name was considered to best convey in one word their accumulated ideas of terror. In lesser degree, but still worthy compeers of the fire-breathing dragon and sky-darkening “Rukh” of earth and sky, a worthy host of attendant sea-monsters were conjured up, until, apart from the terror of loneliness, of irresistible fury, and instability that the sea presented to primitive peoples, the awful nature of its supposed inhabitants made the contemplation of an ocean journey sufficient to appal the stoutest heart.

A better understanding of this aspect of the sea to early voyagers may be obtained from some of the artistic efforts of those days than from anything else. There you shall see gigantic creatures with human faces, teeth like foot-long wedges, armour-plated bodies, and massive feet fitted with claws like scythe-blades calmly issuing from the waves to prey upon the dwellers on the margin, or devouring with much apparent enjoyment ships with their crews, as a child crunches a stick of barley-sugar. Even such innocent-looking animals as the seals were distorted and decorated until the contemplation of their counterfeit presentment is sufficient to give a healthy man the nightmare, whilst such monsters as really were so terrible of aspect that they could hardly be “improved” upon were increased in size until they resembled islands whereon whole tribes might live. To these chimeras were credited all natural phenomena such as waterspouts, whirlpools, and the upheaval of submarine volcanoes. Some imaginative peoples went even farther than that by attributing the support of the whole earth to a vast sea-monster, while others, like the ancient Jews, fondly pictured Leviathan awaiting in the solitude and gloom of ocean’s depths the glad day of Israel’s reunion, when the mountain ranges of his flesh would be ready to furnish forth the family feast for all the myriads of Abraham’s children.


Surely we may pause awhile to contemplate the overmastering courage of the earliest seafarers who, in spite of all these terrors, unappalled by the comparison between their tiny shallops and the mighty waves that towered above them, set boldly out from shore into the unknown, obeying that deeply-rooted instinct of migration which has peopled every habitable part of the earth’s surface. Those who remember their childhood’s dread of the dark, with its possible population of bogeys, who have ever been lost in early youth in some lonely place, can have some dim conception–though only a dim one, after all–of the inward battle these ancients fought and won until it became possible for the epigram to be written most truly:–

The seas but join the nations they divide.

But after all we are not now concerned with the warlike doings of men. It is with the actualities of submarine struggle we wish to deal, those wars without an armistice, where to be defeated is to be devoured, and from the sea-shouldering whale down to the smallest sea insect every living thing is carnivorous, dependent directly upon the flesh of its neighbours for its own life, and incapable of altruism in any form whatever, except among certain of the mammalia and sharks. In dealing with the more heroic phases of this unending warfare, then, it must be said once for all that the ancient writers had a great deal of reason on their side. They distorted and exaggerated, of course, as all children do, but they did not disbelieve. But moderns, rushing to the opposite extreme, have neglected the marvels of the sea by the simple process of disbelieving in them, except in the case of the sea-serpent, that myth which seems bound to persist for ever and ever. Only of late years have the savants of the world allowed themselves to be convinced of the existence of a far more wondrous monster than the sea-serpent (if that “loathly worm” were a reality), the original kraken of old-world legends.

Hugest of all the mollusca, whose prevailing characteristics are ugliness, ferocity, and unappeasable hunger, he has lately asserted himself so firmly that current imaginative literature bristles with allusions to him, albeit oftentimes in situations where he could by no possibility be found. No matter, he has supplied a long-felt want, but the curious fact remains that he is not a discovery, but a reappearance. The gigantic cuttle-fish of actual, indisputable fact is in all respects except size the kraken; and any faithful representation of him will justify the assertion that no imagination could add anything to the terror-breeding potentialities of his aspect. That is so, even when he is viewed by the light of day in the helplessness of death, or disabling sickness, or in the invincible grip of his only conqueror. In his proper realm, crouching far below the surface of the sea in some coral cave or labyrinth of rocks, he must present a sight so awful that the imagination recoils before it. For, consider him but a little. He possesses a cylindrical body reaching, in the largest specimens yet recorded as having been seen, a length of between 60ft. and 70ft., with an average girth of half that amount. That is to say, considerably larger than a Pullman railway-car.

Now, this immense mass is of boneless, gelatinous matter capable of much greater distension than the body of a snake, so that in the improbable event of his obtaining an extra-abundant supply of food it is competent to swell to the occasion, and still give the flood of digestive juices that it secretes full opportunity to dispose of the burden with almost incredible rapidity. Now, the apex of this mighty cylinder–I had almost said “tail,” but remembered that it would give a wrong impression, since it is the part of the monster that always comes first when he is moving from place to place–is conical; that is to say, it tapers off to a blunt point something like a Whitehead torpedo. Near this apex there is a broad fin-like arrangement looking much like the body of a skate without its tail, which, however, is used strictly for steering purposes only.

So far, there is nothing particularly striking about the appearance of this vast cylinder except in colour. This characteristic varies in different individuals, but is always reminiscent of the hues of a very light-coloured leopard; that is to say, the ground is of a livid greenish white, while the detail is in splashes and spots of lurid red and yellow, with an occasional nimbus of pale blue around these deeper markings. But it is the head of the monster that appals. Nature would seem, in the construction of this greatest of all mollusca, to have combined every weapon of offence possessed by the rest of the animal kingdom in one amazing arsenal, disposing them in such a manner that not only are they capable of terrific destruction, but their appearance defies adequate description.

The trunk at the head end is sheath-like, its terminating edges forming a sort of collar around the vast cable of muscles without a fragment of bone that connect it with the head. Through a large opening within this collar is pumped a jet of water, the pressure of which upon the surrounding sea is sufficiently great to drive the whole bulk of the creature, weighing perhaps sixty or seventy tons, backward through the water at the rate of sixteen to twenty miles per hour. Not in steady progression, of course, but by successive leaps. At will, this propelling jet is deeply stained with sepia, a dark brown, inky fluid, that, mingling with the encompassing sea, fills all the neighbourhood of the monster with a gloom so deep that nothing save one of its own species can see either to fight or whither to fly. The head itself is of proportionate size. It is rounded underneath and of much lighter hue than the trunk. On either side of it is set an eye of such dimensions that the mere statement of them sounds like the efforts of one of those grand old mediaeval romancers whose sole object was to make their readers’ flesh creep.

It is perfectly safe to say that, even in proportion to size, no other known creature has such organs of vision as the cuttle-fish, for the pupils of such a one as I am now describing are fully 2ft. in diameter. They are perfectly black, with a dead white rim, and cannot be closed. No doubt their enormous size is for the purpose of enabling their possessor to discern what is going on amidst the thick darkness that he himself has raised, so that while all other organisms are groping blindly in the gloom, he may work his will among them. Then come the weapons which give the cuttle-fish its power of destruction, the arms or tentacles. These are not eight in number as in the octopus, an ugly beast enough and spiteful withal, but a babe of innocence compared with our present subject. Every school-boy should know that octopus signifies an eight-armed or eight-footed creature, and yet in nine cases out of ten where writers of fiction and would-be teachers of fact are describing the deadly doings of the gigantic cuttle-fish they call him an octopus, whereas he is nothing of the kind. For in addition to the eight arms which the octopus possesses the cuttle-fish flaunts two, each of which is double the length of the other eight, making him a decapod. This confusion is the more unpardonable because even the most ancient of scribes always spoke of this mollusc as the “ten-armed one,” while a reference to any standard work on natural history will show even the humbler cuttle-fish with their full complement of arms; that is, ten. But this is digression.

Our friend, then, has ten arms springing from the crown of his head, of which eight are about 40ft. in length and two are 70ft. to 80ft. The eight each taper outward from the head, from the thickness of a stout man’s body at the base to the slenderness of a whip-lash at the end. On their inner sides they are studded with saucer-like hollows, each of which has a fringe of curving claws set just within its rim. So that in addition to their power of holding on to anything they touch by a suction so severe that it would strip flesh from bone, these cruel claws, large as those of a full-grown tiger, get to work upon the subject being held, lacerating and tearing until the quivering body yields up its innermost secrets. Each of these destroying, serpent-like arms is also gifted with an almost independent power of volition. Whatever it touches it holds with an unreleasable grip, but with wonderful celerity it brings its prey inwards to where in the centre of all those infernal purveyors lies a black chasm whose edges are shaped like the upper and lower mandibles of a parrot, and these complete the work so well begun.


The outliers, those two far-reaching tentacles, unlike the busy eight, are comparatively slender from their bases to within 2ft. or so of their ends. There they expand into broad, paddle-like masses thickly studded with acetabulae, those holding, sucking discs that garnish the inner arms for their entire length. So, thus armed, this nightmare monstrosity crouches in the darkling depths of ocean like some unimaginable web whereof every line is alive to hold and tear. Its digestion is like a furnace of dissolution needing a continual inflow of flesh, and nothing living that inhabits the sea comes amiss to its never-satisfied cravings. It is very near the apex of the pyramid of interdependence into which sea-life is built, but not quite. For at the summit is the sperm whale, the monarch of all seas, whom man alone is capable of meeting in fair fight and overcoming.

The head of the sperm whale is of heroic size, being in bulk quite one-third of the entire body, but in addition to its size it has characteristics that fit it peculiarly to compete with such a dangerous monster as the gigantic decapod. Imagine a solid block of crude india-rubber, between 20ft. and 30ft. in length and 8ft. through, in shape not at all unlike a railway carriage, but perfectly smooth in surface. Fit this mass beneath with a movable shaft of solid bone 20ft. in length studded with teeth, each protruding 9in. and resembling the points of an elephant’s tusks. You will then have a fairly complete notion of the equipment with which the ocean monarch goes into battle against the kraken. And behind it lies the warm blood of the mammal, the massive framework of bone belonging to the highly-developed vertebrate animal, governed by a brain impelled by irresistible instinct to seek its sustenance where alone it can be found in sufficiently satisfying bulk. And there for you are the outlines of the highest form of animal warfare existing within our ken–a conflict of Titans, to which a combat between elephants and rhinoceri in the jungle is but as the play of school-boys compared with the gladiatorial combats of Ancient Rome.

This somewhat lengthy preamble is necessary in order to clear the way for an account of the proceedings leading up to the final subjugation of the huge mollusca of the elder slime to the needs of the great vertebrates like the whales, who were gradually emerging into a higher development, and, finding new wants oppressing them, had to obey the universal law and fight for the satisfaction of their urgent needs. Fortunately the period with which we have to deal was before chronology, so that we are not hampered by dates, and as the disposition of sea and land, except in its main features, was altogether different to what we have long been accustomed to regard as the always existing geographical order of things, we need not be greatly troubled by place considerations either.

What must be considered as the first beginning of the long struggle occurred when some predecessors of the present sperm whales, wandering through the vast morasses and among the sombre forests of that earlier world, were compelled to recognise that the conditions of shore life were rapidly becoming too onerous for them. Their immensely weighty bodies lumbering slowly as a seal does over the rugged land surface handicapped them more and more in the universal business of life, the procuring of food. Not only so, but as by reason of their slowness they were confined for hunting-grounds to a very limited area, the slower organisms upon which their vast appetites were fed grew scarcer and scarcer in spite of the fecundity of that prolific time. And in proportion as they found it more and more difficult to get a living, so did their enemies grow more numerous and bolder. Vast dragon-like shapes, clad in complete armour that clanged as the wide-spreading bat-wings bore them swiftly through the air, descended upon the sluggish whales, and with horrid rending by awful shear-shaped jaws, plentifully furnished with foot-long teeth, speedily stripped from their gigantic bodies the masses of succulent flesh. Other enemies weird of shape and swift of motion, although confined to the earth, fastened also upon the easily attainable prey that provided flesh in such bountiful abundance and was unable to fight or flee.

Well was it, then, for the whales that, living always near the sea, they had formed aquatic habits, finding in the limpid element a medium wherein their huge bulk was rather a help than a hindrance to them. Gradually they grew to use the land less and less as they became more and more accustomed to the food provided in plenty by the inexhaustible ocean; continual practice enabled them to husband the supplies of air which they took in on the surface for use beneath the waves; and, better still, they found that, whereas they had been victims to many a monster on land whose proportions and potentialities seemed far inferior to their own, here, in their new element, they were supreme–nothing living but fled from before them.

But presently a strange thing befell them. As they grew less and less inclined to use the dry land they found that their powers of locomotion thereon gradually became less and less until at last their hind legs dwindled away and disappeared. Their vast and far-reaching tails lost their length and their bones spread out laterally into flexible fans of toughest gristle, with which they could propel themselves through the waves at speeds to which their swiftest progress upon land had been but a snail’s crawl. Also their fore-legs grew shorter and wider, and the separation of the toes disappeared, until all that was left of these once ponderous supports were elegant fan-like flippers of gristle, of not the slightest use for propulsion, but merely acting as steadying vanes to keep the whole great structure in its proper position according to the will of the owner.

All these radical physical changes, however, had not affected the real classification of the whales. They were still mammals, still retained in the element which was now entirely their habitat the high organization belonging to the great carnivora of the land. Therefore, it took them no long period of time to realize that in the ocean they would be paramount; that with the tremendous facilities for rapid movement afforded them by their new element they were able to maintain that supremacy against all comers, unless their formidable armed jaws should also become modified by degeneration into some such harmless cavities for absorbing food as were possessed by their distant relatives the mysticetae, or toothless whales.


With a view to avoiding any such disaster they made good use of their jaws, having been taught by experience that the simple but effectual penalty for the neglect of any function, whether physical or mental, was the disappearance of the organs whereby such functions had been performed. But their energetic use of teeth and jaws had a result entirely unforeseen by them. Gradually the prey they sought, the larger fish and smaller sea-mammals, disappeared from the shallow seas adjacent to the land from whence the whales had been driven. And in order to satisfy the demands of their huge stomachs they were fain to follow their prey into deeper and deeper waters, meeting as they went with other and stranger denizens of those mysterious depths, until at last the sperm whale met the kraken. There in his native gloom, vast, formless, and insatiable, brooded the awful Thing. Spread like a living net whereof every mesh was armed, sensitive and lethal, this fantastic complication of horrors took toll of all the sea-folk, needing not to pursue its prey, needing only to lie still, devour, and grow. Sometimes moved by mysterious impulses one of these chimeras would rise to the sea-surface and bask in the beams of the offended sun, poisoning the surrounding air with its charnel-house odours, and occasionally finding within the never-resting, nervous clutching of its tentacles some specimens of the highest, latest product of Creation, man himself. Ages of such experiences as these had left the kraken defenceless as to his body. The absence of any necessity for exertion had arrested the development of a backbone; the inability of any of the sea-people to retaliate upon their sateless foe had made him neglect any of those precautions that weaker organisms had provided themselves with; and even the cloud of sepia with which all the race were provided, and which often assisted the innocent and weaker members of the same great family to escape, was only used by these masters of the sea to hide their monstrous lures from their prey.


Thus on a momentous day a ravenous sperm whale, hunting eagerly for wherewithal to satisfy his craving, suddenly found himself encircled by many long, cablelike arms. They clung, they tore, they sucked. But whenever a stray end of them flung itself across the bristling parapet of the whale’s lower jaw it was promptly bitten off, and, a portion having found its way down into the craving stomach of the big mammal, it was welcomed as good beyond all other food yet encountered. Once this had been realized, what had originally been an accidental entrapping changed itself into a vigorous onslaught and banquet. True, the darkness fought for the mollusc, but that advantage was small compared with the feeling of incompetence, of inability to make any impression upon this mighty, impervious mass that was moving as freely amid the clinging embarrassments of those hitherto invincible arms as if they were only fronds of seaweed. And then the foul mass of the kraken found itself, contrary to ail previous experience, rising involuntarily, being compelled to leave its infernal shades, and without any previous preparation for such a change of pressure to visit the upper air. The fact was that the whale, finding its stock of air exhausted, had put forth a supreme effort to rise, and found that although unable to free himself from those enormous cables he was actually competent to raise the whole mass. What an upheaval! Even the birds that, allured by the strong carrion scent, were assembling in their thousands fled away from that appalling vision, their wild screams of affright filling the air with lamentation. The tormented sea foamed and boiled in wide-spreading whirls, its deep sweet blue changed into an unhealthy nondescript tint of muddy yellow. Then the whale, having renewed his store of air, settled down seriously to the demolition of his prize. Length after length of tentacle was torn away from the central crown and swallowed, gliding down the abysmal throat of the gratified mammal in snaky convolutions until even his great store-room would contain no more.

The vanquished kraken lay helplessly rolling upon the wave, while its conqueror in satisfied ease lolled near watching with good-humoured complacency the puny assaults made upon that island of gelatinous flesh by the multitude of smaller hungry things. The birds returned reassured, and added by their clamour to the strangeness of the scene where the tribes of air and sea, self-bidden to the enormous banquet, were making full use of their exceptional privilege. So the great feast continued, while the red sun went down and the white moon rose in placid beauty. Yet, for all the combined assaults of those hungry multitudes, the tenacious life of that largest of living things lay so deeply seated that when the rested whale resumed his attentions he found the body of his late antagonist still quivering under the attack of his tremendous jaws. Still, its proportions were so immense that his utmost efforts left store sufficient for at least a dozen of his companions, had they been there, to have satisfied their hunger upon. And satisfied at last he turned away, allowing the smaller fry, who had waited his pleasure most respectfully, to close in again and finish the work he had so well begun.

Now this was a momentous discovery indeed. For the sperm whales had experienced, even when fish and seals were plentiful, great difficulty in procuring sufficient food at one time for a full meal, and the problem of how to provide for themselves as they grew and multiplied had become increasingly hard to solve. Therefore, this discovery filled the fortunate pioneer with triumph, for his high instincts told him that he had discovered a new source of supply that promised to be inexhaustible. So, in the manner common to his people, he wasted no time in convening a gathering of them as large as could be collected. Far over the glassy surface of that quiet sea lay gently rocking a multitude of vast black bodies, all expectant, all awaiting the momentous declaration presently to be made. The epoch-making news circulated among them in perfect silence, for to them has from the earliest times been known the secret that is only just beginning to glimmer upon the verge of human intelligence, the ability to communicate with one another without the aid of speech, sight, or touch: a kind of thought-transference, if such an idea as animal thought may be held allowable. And having thus learned of the treasures held in trust for them by the deep waters they separated and went, some alone and some in compact parties of a dozen or so, upon their rejoicing way.

But among the slimy hosts of the gigantic mollusca there was raging a sensation unknown before: a feeling of terror, of insecurity born of the knowledge that at last there had appeared among them a being proof against the utmost pressure of their awful arms, who was too great to be devoured; who on the other hand had evinced a greedy partiality for devouring them. How this information became common property among them it is impossible to say, since they dwelt alone each in his own particular lair, rigidly respected by one another, because any intrusion upon another’s domains was invariably followed by the absorption of either the intruder or the intruded upon by the stronger of the two. This, although not intended by them, had the effect of vastly heightening the fear with which they were regarded by the smaller sea-folk, for they took to a restless prowling along the sea-bed, enwreathing themselves about the mighty bases of the islands and invading cool, coral caverns where their baleful presence had been till then unknown. Never before had there been such a panic among the multitudinous sea-populations. What could this new portent signify? Were the foundations of the great deep again about to be broken up and the sea-bed heaved upward to replace the tops of the towering mountains on dry land? There was no reply, for there were none that could answer questions like these.


Still the fear-smitten decapods wandered, seeking seclusion from the coming enemy and finding none to their mind. Still the crowds of their victims rushed blindly from shoal to shoal, plunging into depths unfitted for them, or rising into shallows where their natural food was not. And the whole sea was troubled. Until at last there appeared, grim and vast, the advance-guard of the sperm whales and hurled themselves with joyful anticipation upon the shrinking convolutions of those hideous monsters that had so long dominated the dark places of the sea.

For the whales it was a time of feasting hitherto without parallel. Without any fear, uncaring to take even the most elementary precautions against a defeat which they felt to be an impossible contingency, they sought out and devoured one after another of these vast uglinesses, already looked upon by them as their natural provision, their store of food accumulated of purpose against their coming. Occasionally, it is true, some rash youngster, full of pride and rejoicing in his pre-eminence over all life in the depths, would hurl himself into a smoky network of far-spreading tentacles, which would wrap him round so completely that his jaws were fast bound together, his flukes would vainly essay to propel him anywhither, and he would presently perish miserably, his cable-like sinews falling slackly and his lungs suffused with crimson brine. Even then, the advantage gained by the triumphant kraken was a barren one, for in every case the bulk of the victim was too great, his body too firm in its build for the victor, despite his utmost efforts, to succeed in devouring his prize. So that the disappointed kraken had perforce to witness the gradual disappearance of his lawful prize beneath the united efforts of myriads of tiny sea-scavengers, secure in their insignificance against any attack from him, and await with tremors extending to the remotest extremity of every tentacle the retribution which, he felt sure, would speedily follow.

This desultory warfare was waged for long until, driven by despair to a community of interest unknown before, the krakens gradually sought one another out with but a single idea–that of combining against the new enemy. For, knowing to what an immense size their kind could attain in the remoter fastnesses of ocean, they could not yet bring themselves to believe that they were to become the helpless prey of these newcomers, visitors of yesterday, coming from the cramped acreage of the land into the limitless fields of ocean, and invading the immemorial freeholds of its hitherto unassailable sovereigns.

From the remotest recesses of ocean they came, that grisly gathering, came in ever-increasing hosts, their silent progress spreading unprecedented dismay among the fairer inhabitants of the sea. Figure to yourselves, if you can, the advance of this terrible army! But the effort is vain. Not even Martin, that frenzied delineator of the frightful halls of Hell, the terrors of the Apocalypse, and the agonies of the Deluge, could have done justice to the terrors of such a picture. Only dimly can we imagine what must have been the appearance of those vast masses of writhing flesh, as through the palely gleaming phosphorescence of those depths they sped backwards in leaps of a hundred fathoms each, their terrible arms, close clustered together, streaming behind them like Medusa’s hair magnified ten thousand times in size, and with each snaky tress bearing a thousand mouths instead of one.

So they converged upon the place of meeting–an area of the sea-bed nowhere more than 500 fathoms in depth, from whose rugged floor rose irregularly stupendous columnar masses of lava, hurled upwards by the cosmic forces below in a state of incandescence, *and solidified as they rose, assuming many fantastic shapes and affording perfect harbourage to such dire scourges of the sea as were now making the place their rendezvous. For, strangely enough, this marvellous portion of the submarine world was more densely peopled with an infinite variety of sea folk than any other. Its tepid waters seemed to bring forth abundantly of all kinds of fish, Crustacea, and creeping things. Sharks in all their fearsome varieties prowled greasily about scenting for dead things whereon to gorge; shell-fish, from the infinitesimal globigerina up to the gigantic tridacna, whose shells were a yard each in diameter; crabs, lobsters, and other freakish varieties of Crustacea of a size and ugliness unknown to-day lurked in every crevice, while about and among all these scavengers flitted the happy, lovely fish in myriads of glorious hues, matching the tender shades of the coral groves that sprang from the summits of those sombre pillars beneath. Hitherto this happy hunting-ground had not been invaded by the sea-mammals. None of the air-breathing inhabitants of the ocean had ventured into its gloomy depths or sought their prey among the blazing shallows of the surface reefs, although no more favourable place for their exertions could possibly have been selected over all the wide seas. It had long been a favourite haunt of the kraken, for whom it was, as aforesaid, an ideal spot; but now it was to witness a sight unparalleled in ocean history. Heralded by an amazing series of under waves, the gathering of monsters grew near. They numbered many thousands, and no one in all their hosts was of lesser magnitude than sixty feet long by thirty in girth of body alone. From that size they increased until some, the acknowledged leaders, discovered themselves like islands, their cylindrical carcasses huge as that of an ocean liner and their tentacles capable of overspreading an entire village.

In concentric rings they assembled, all heads pointing outward, the mightiest within, and four clear avenues through the circles left for coming and going. Contrary to custom, but by mutual consent, all the tentacles lay closely arranged in parallel lines, not outspread to every quarter of the compass and all a-work. They looked indeed in their inertia and silence like nothing so much as an incalculable number of dead squid of enormous size neatly laid out at the whim of some giant’s fancy. Yet communication between them was active, a subtle interchange of experiences and plans went briskly on through the medium of the mobile element around them. The elder and mightier were full of disdain at the reports they were furnished with, utterly incredulous as to the ability of any created thing to injure them, and as the time wore on an occasional tremor was distinctly noticeable through the whole length of their tentacles which boded no good to their smaller brethren. Doubtless but little longer was needed for the development of a great absorption of the weaker by the stronger, only that darting into their midst like a lightning streak came a messenger squid bearing the news that a school of sperm whales numbering at least a thousand were coming at top-speed direct for their place of meeting. Instantly to the farthest confines of that mighty gathering the message radiated, and as if by one movement there uprose from the sea-bed so dense a cloud of sepia that for many miles around the clear bright blue of the ocean became turbid, stagnant, and foul. Even the birds that hovered over those dark-brown waves took fright at this terrible phenomenon, to them utterly incomprehensible, and with discordant shrieks they fled in search of sweeter air and cleaner sea. But below the surface, under cover of this thickest darkness, there was the silence of death.

Twenty miles away, under the bright sunshine, an advance guard of about a hundred sperm whales came rushing on. Line abreast, their bushy breath rising like the regular steam-jets from a row of engines, they dashed aside the welcoming wavelets, every sense alert and full of eagerness for the consummation of their desires. Such had been their dispatch that throughout the long journey of 500 leagues they had not once stayed for food, so that they were ravenous with hunger as well as full of fight. They passed, and before the foaming of their swift passage had ceased the main body, spread over a space of thirty miles, came following on, the roar of their multitudinous march sounding like the voice of many waters.

Suddenly the advance guard, with stately elevation of the broad fans of their flukes, disappeared, and by one impulse the main body followed them. Down into the depths they bore, noting with dignified wonder the absence of all the usual inhabitants of the deep until, with a thrill of joyful anticipation which set all their masses of muscle a-quiver, they recognised the scent of the prey. No thought of organized resistance presented itself; without a halt or even the faintest slackening of their great rush they plunged forward into the abysmal gloom; down, down withal into that wilderness of waiting demons. And so, in darkness and silence like that of the beginning of things, this great battle was joined. Whale after whale succumbed, anchored to the bottom by such bewildering entanglements, such enlacement of tentacles that their vast strength was helpless to free them, their jaws were bound hard together, and even the wide sweep of their flukes gat no hold upon the slimy water. But the decapods were in evil case. Assailed from above while their groping arms writhed about below they found themselves more often locked in unreleasable hold of their fellows than they did of their enemies. And the quick-shearing jaws of those foes shredded them into fragments, made nought of their bulk, revelled and frolicked among them, slaying, devouring, exulting. Again and again the triumphant mammals drew off for air and from satiety, went and lolled upon the sleek, oily surface in water now so thick that the fiercest hurricane that ever blew would have failed to raise a wave thereon.

So through a day and a night the slaying ceased not, except for these brief interludes, until those of the decapods left alive had disentangled themselves from the debris of their late associates and returned with what speed they might to depths and crannies where they fondly hoped their ravenous enemies could never come. Henceforth they were no longer lords of the sea; instead of being as hitherto devourers of all things living that crossed the radius of their outspread toils, they were now and for all time to be the prey of a nobler creation, a higher order of being, and at last they had taken their rightful position as creatures of usefulness in the vast economy of Creation.


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