Young Man, Go Under
YOUNG MAN, GO UNDER
BY CLARENCE DAY, JR.
TTHE Old Explorer was reading some thing in his newspaper and shaking his head over it, and each time he shook his head his glasses slipped and he had to replace them. I looked over his shoulder. The headline was, "Modern Methods of Fishing." The article said that, with the new improved trawlers which now were in use, the annual catch of flatfish in the North Sea was five hundred million.
The Old Explorer laid down the paper, shook his head again, dropped his glasses, and solemnly said to me, feeling around for them:
"Aren't we ridiculous!"
"What have we done now?" I asked.
"Five hundred million!" he laughed sardonically. "Why, what does that amount to? Two or three flatfish apiece, for a whole year, for Europe. There are many billions of fine fresh flat fatfish—fat fratflish, I mean—there are billions of armies of these and other fish in the sea. We skim off a silly little fraction of this annual crop, and then publish newspaper articles about our improved methods!"
He looked out of the club window for a while, at the drizzling rain. "In the Bo-Bolo Estuary, which I once explored on my way to Sumatra," he said, "there is a tribe that still uses forked sticks when they plow their fields to grow corn, and they are as proud of those sticks and of their corn crop, as—well, as all men are everywhere, I suppose, of whatever they do. If they ever get to publishing statistics in Bo-Bolo Land, I dare say they will figure out the number of grains of corn grown and show that this means eighteen grains apiece, and be awfully pleased with themselves. That's what makes all men ridiculous, their complacency with their primitive ways. I tried to make those Bo-Bolo chiefs understand how small their crops really were, but they thought that I was talking foolishness when I explained what was possible. Yet with some of our old-fashioned hand plows, let alone the machine kind, they could all be rolling in corn in that estuary, instead of half starving."
"And you mean that we, on our part, could be rolling in flatfish?" I asked, looking twice as sardonic as he had. I do not like flatfish.
"I mean that the whole thing is ridiculous. The Bo-Bolo men scratch the surface of the earth with forked sticks, and we dip from small, toy-like trawlers into the top of the sea."
"The top?" I inquired. "We can't go down under to fish, can we?"
"Why not, sir? Why can't we go under the sea for anything we choose? There it lies. These explorers of yours who have found the poles have merely mapped out the earth. They appear to suppose that all the work is done. No exploring left. Ha! There are whole realms, and right at our doorsteps—the floor of the sea.
"The sea is full of mountains to be climbed down, and forests to hunt in," he whispered. "There are monsters that roam in those depths, still unknown to man. Man has always been interested in new animals. Well, there they are. It is horribly cold in those depths, but what cares man for that? It is horribly hot in earth's tropics, but has that kept him out? If he stays where he belongs, and where he can live with most comfort, it bores him; but a place that's unfit for human habitation attracts him at once.
"The Roosevelts of the future won't go to Africa for their hunts—they'll dive overboard, and shoot old, astonished sea dragons with undersea guns. The Beebes will desert South America for some submarine jungle, to study its nut-bearing orchids, or to collect five-toed clams. They'll need to take plenty of air along, just as Peary took pemmican; they'll need to plant air stations, to be used like the oases in deserts; but all necessary inventions will be made, once there is a demand.
"And think of the chance to make good, in careers undersea. Greeley's cry was, 'Young man, go west!' Mine is, 'Young man, go under!' Our cowboys rode the range until the prairies and plains were fenced in; our fishboys will ride deep, new ranges, on tough broncho sharks; they will brand herds of wild fish and fight about them in strange, frontier posts. Those wide, fertile sea-lands lie waiting for adventurous youth, yet they stick around here tamely, these stay-at-homes, with their conventional minds. Apparently it was the same way when America was first discovered, how ever. It was a good hundred years before conventional families planned to move over here.
"Men could build fine submarine castles with air pipes to the surface. The sea bottom could be lit with the richest electric lights of all colors. If respectable men don't soon begin going, some nation like Germany, which desires new colonies, will send convicts down there as settlers. The German flag will float, or swim, everywhere. Rubber-coated flags, doubtless.
"Think of the commercial possibilities! The gold mines! The long mountains of dark, greenish rock, in which priceless new kinds of jewels, sea jewels, lie hid. . . .
"Are our empire builders getting blind or afraid? They used to be bold. Cecil Rhodes is dead, but why does John Hays Hammond remain above water level?"
He gazed out of the window again at the cool, drizzling rain. A determined look came into his old eyes. He suddenly rose. He marched to the desk where the telephone directories hang, and when I followed to watch him he was looking up the address of a dealer in diving suits.