The Bunyip

: The Brown Fairy Book

Long, long ago, far, far away on the other side of the world, some young

men left the camp where they lived to get some food for their wives and

children. The sun was hot, but they liked heat, and as they went they

ran races and tried who could hurl his spear the farthest, or was

cleverest in throwing a strange weapon called a boomerang, which always

returns to the thrower. They did not get on very fast at this rate, but

> presently they reached a flat place that in time of flood was full of

water, but was now, in the height of summer, only a set of pools, each

surrounded with a fringe of plants, with bulrushes standing in the

inside of all. In that country the people are fond of the roots of

bulrushes, which they think as good as onions, and one of the young men

said that they had better collect some of the roots and carry them back

to the camp. It did not take them long to weave the tops of the willows

into a basket, and they were just going to wade into the water and pull

up the bulrush roots when a youth suddenly called out: 'After all, why

should we waste our time in doing work that is only fit for women and

children? Let them come and get the roots for themselves; but we will

fish for eels and anything else we can get.'

This delighted the rest of the party, and they all began to arrange

their fishing lines, made from the bark of the yellow mimosa, and to

search for bait for their hooks. Most of them used worms, but one, who

had put a piece of raw meat for dinner into his skin wallet, cut off a

little bit and baited his line with it, unseen by his companions.

For a long time they cast patiently, without receiving a single bite;

the sun had grown low in the sky, and it seemed as if they would have to

go home empty-handed, not even with a basket of roots to show; when

the youth, who had baited his hook with raw meat, suddenly saw his line

disappear under the water. Something, a very heavy fish he supposed,

was pulling so hard that he could hardly keep his feet, and for a few

minutes it seemed either as if he must let go or be dragged into the

pool. He cried to his friends to help him, and at last, trembling with

fright at what they were going to see, they managed between them to land

on the bank a creature that was neither a calf nor a seal, but something

of both, with a long, broad tail. They looked at each other with horror,

cold shivers running down their spines; for though they had never beheld

it, there was not a man amongst them who did not know what it was--the

cub of the awful Bunyip!

All of a sudden the silence was broken by a low wail, answered by

another from the other side of the pool, as the mother rose up from her

den and came towards them, rage flashing from her horrible yellow eyes.

'Let it go! let it go!' whispered the young men to each other; but the

captor declared that he had caught it, and was going to keep it. 'He had

promised his sweetheart,' he said, 'that he would bring back enough meat

for her father's house to feast on for three days, and though they could

not eat the little Bunyip, her brothers and sisters should have it to

play with.' So, flinging his spear at the mother to keep her back, he

threw the little Bunyip on to his shoulders, and set out for the camp,

never heeding the poor mother's cries of distress.

By this time it was getting near sunset, and the plain was in shadow,

though the tops of the mountains were still quite bright. The youths had

all ceased to be afraid, when they were startled by a low rushing sound

behind them, and, looking round, saw that the pool was slowly rising,

and the spot where they had landed the Bunyip was quite covered. 'What

could it be?' they asked one of another; 'there was not a cloud in the

sky, yet the water had risen higher already than they had ever known it

do before.' For an instant they stood watching as if they were frozen,

then they turned and ran with all their might, the man with the Bunyip

running faster than all. When he reached a high peak over-looking all

the plain he stopped to take breath, and turned to see if he was safe

yet. Safe! why only the tops of the trees remained above that sea of

water, and these were fast disappearing. They must run fast indeed if

they were to escape. So on they flew, scarcely feeling the ground as

they went, till they flung themselves on the ground before the holes

scooped out of the earth where they had all been born. The old men were

sitting in front, the children were playing, and the women chattering

together, when the little Bunyip fell into their midst, and there was

scarcely a child among them who did not know that something terrible

was upon them. 'The water! the water!' gasped one of the young men; and

there it was, slowly but steadily mounting the ridge itself. Parents and

children clung together, as if by that means they could drive back

the advancing flood; and the youth who had caused all this terrible

catastrophe, seized his sweetheart, and cried: 'I will climb with you

to the top of that tree, and there no waters can reach us.' But, as he

spoke, something cold touched him, and quickly he glanced down at his

feet. Then with a shudder he saw that they were feet no longer, but

bird's claws. He looked at the girl he was clasping, and beheld a great

black bird standing at his side; he turned to his friends, but a flock

of great awkward flapping creatures stood in their place He put up his

hands to cover his face, but they were no more hands, only the ends of

wings; and when he tried to speak, a noise such as he had never heard

before seemed to come from his throat, which had suddenly become narrow

and slender. Already the water had risen to his waist, and he found

himself sitting easily upon it, while its surface reflected back the

image of a black swan, one of many.

Never again did the swans become men; but they are still different from

other swans, for in the night-time those who listen can hear them talk

in a language that is certainly not swan's language; and there are even

sounds of laughing and talking, unlike any noise made by the swans whom

we know.

The little Bunyip was carried home by its mother, and after that the

waters sank back to their own channels. The side of the pool where

she lives is always shunned by everyone, as nobody knows when she may

suddenly put out her head and draw him into her mighty jaws. But people

say that underneath the black waters of the pool she has a house filled

with beautiful things, such as mortals who dwell on the earth have no

idea of. Though how they know I cannot tell you, as nobody has ever seen