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rolls, floats, condenses, borrows elements from the ambient darkness, becomes subject to unknown polarizations, assumes a kind of life, furnishes itself with some unimagined form from the obscurity, and with some terrible spirit from the miasma, and wanders ghost-like among living things. It is as if night itself assumed the form of animals. But for what good; with what object ? Thus we come again to the eternal questioning.
These animals are indeed phantoms as much as monsters; they are proved and yet improbable; their fate is to exist in spite of à priori reasonings. They are the amphibians of the shore that separates life from death. Their unreality makes their existence puzzling. They touch the frontier of man's domain and people the region of chimeras. We deny the possibility of the vampire, and the devil-fish appears. Their swarming is a certainty which disconcerts our confidence. Optimism, which is nevertheless in the right, becomes silenced in their presence. They form the visible extremity of the dark circles; they mark the transition of our reality into another; they seem to belong to that beginning of terrible life which the dreamer sees confusedly through the loophole of the night.
That multiplication of monsters, first in the Invisible, then in the Possible, has been suspected, perhaps perceived, by magi and philosophers in their austere ecstasies and profound contemplations. Hence the conjecture of a material hell. The demon is simply the invisible tiger. The wild beast which devours souls has been presented to the eyes of human beings by Saint John, and by Dante in his vision of Hell.
If in truth the invisible circles of creation continue, indefinitely, if after one there is yet another, and so forth in illimitable progression,—if that chain, which for our part we are resolved to doubt, really exist, the devil-fish at one extremity proves Satan at the other. It is certain that the wrong-doer at one end proves the existence of wrong at the other.
Every malignant creature, like every perverted intelligence, is a sphinx,-a terrible sphinx propounding a terrible riddle, the riddle of the existence of evil.
It is this perfection of evil which has sometimes sufficed to incline powerful intellects to a faith in the duality of the Deity, towards that terrible bifrons of the Manichæans.
A piece of silk stolen during the last war from the palace of the Emperor of China represents a shark eating a crocodile, which is eating a serpent, which is devouring an eagle, which is preying on a swallow, which in his turn is eating a caterpillar.
All Nature which is under our observation is thus alternately devouring and devoured. The prey prey on each other.
Learned men, however, who are also philosophers, and therefore optimists in their view of creation, find, or believe they find, an explanation. Among others, Bonnet of Geneva, that mysterious exact thinker, who was opposed to Buffon, as in later times Geoffroy St. Hilaire has been to Cuvier, was struck with the idea of the final object. His notions may be summed up thus: universal death necessitates universal sepulture; the devourers are the sextons of the system of Nature. All created things enter into and form the elements of others. To perish is to nourish. Such is the terrible law, from which not even man himself escapes.
In our world of twilight this fatal order of things produces monsters. You ask, for what purpose? We find the solution here.
But is this the solution? Is this the answer to our questionings? And if so, why not some different order of things ? Thus the question returns.
Let us live; be it so.
But let us endeavor that death shall be progress. Let us aspire to an existence in which these mysteries shall be made clear. Let us follow that conscience which leads us thither.
For let us never forget that the highest is only attained through the high.
Such was the creature into whose power Gilliatt had fallen for some minutes.
The monster was the inhabitant of the grotto, the terrible genius of the place,-a kind of sombre demon of the water.
All the splendors of the cavern existed for it alone.
On the day of the previous month when Gilliatt had first penetrated into the grotto, the dark outline vaguely perceived by him in the ripples of the secret waters was this monster.
It was here in its home. When, entering for the second time into the cavern in pursuit of the crab, he had observed the crevice in which he supposed that the crab had taken refuge, the devilfish was there lying in wait for prey.
Is it possible to imagine that secret ambush ?
No bird would brood, no egg would burst into life, no flower would dare to open, no breast to give milk, no heart to love, no spirit to soar, under the influence of that apparition of evil watching with sinister patience in the dusk.
Gilliatt had thrust his arm deep into the opening; the monster had snapped at it. It held him fast, as the spider holds the fly.
He was in the water up to his belt, his naked feet clutching the slippery roundness of the huge stones at the bottom, his right arm bound and rendered powerless by the flat coils of the long tentacles of the creature, and his body almost hidden under the folds and cross-folds of this horrible bandage.
Of the eight arms of the devil-fish three adhered to the rock, while five encircled Gilliatt. In this way, clinging to the granite on the one hand, and with the other to its human prey, it enchained him to the rock. Two hundred and fifty suckers were upon him, tormenting him with agony and loathing. He was grasped by gigantic hands, the fingers of which were each nearly a yard long, and furnished inside with living blisters eating into the flesh.
As we have said, it is impossible to tear oneself from the folds of the devil-fish. The attempt ends only in a firmer grasp. The monster clings with more determined force. Its effort increases with that of its victim; every struggle produces a tightening of its ligatures.
Gilliatt had but one resource,-his knife.
His left hand only was free, but with what power could he use it! It might have been said that he had two right hands.
His open knife was in his hand.
The antennæ of the devil-fish cannot be cut; they form a leathery substance, impossible to divide with the knife; it slips under the edge; its position in attack also is such that to cut it would be to wound the victim's own flesh.
The creature is formidable, but there is a way of resisting it. The fishermen of Sark know this, as does any one who has seen them execute certain abrupt movements in the sea. The porpoises know it also. They have a
of biting the cuttle-fish which decapitates it. Hence the frequent sight on the sea of pen-fish, polyps, and cuttle-fish without heads.
The polyp, in fact, is only vulnerable through the head. Gilliatt was not ignorant of this fact.
He had never seen a devil-fish of this size. His first encounter was with one of the larger species. Another would have been powerless with terror.
With the devil-fish, as with a furious bull, there is a certain moment in the conflict which must be seized. It is the instant when the bull lowers the neck; it is the instant when the devil-fish advances its head. The movement is rapid. He who loses that moment is destroyed.
The things we have described occupied only a few moments. Gilliatt, however, felt the increasing power of two hundred and fifty suckers.
The monster is cunning; it tries first to stupefy its prey. It seizes and then pauses awhile.
Gilliatt grasped his knife; the sucking increased.
He looked at the monster, which seemed to look at him.
Suddenly it loosened from the rock its sixth antenna, and darting it at him, seized him by the left arm.
At the same moment it advanced its head with a violent movement.
In one second more its mouth would have fastened on his breast. Bleeding in the sides, and with his two arms entangled, he would have been a dead man.
But Gilliatt was watchful. He avoided the antenna,