The Lilac Fairy Book
A Fish Story
Perhaps you think that fishes were always fishes, and never lived anywhere except in the
water, but if you went to Australia and talked to the black people in the sandy desert in
the centre of the country, you would learn something quite different. They would tell you
that long, long ago you would have met fishes on the land, wandering from place to
place, and hunting all sorts of animals, and if you consider how fishes are made, you will
understand how difficult this must have been and how clever they were to do it. Indeed,
so clever were they that they might have been hunting still if a terrible thing had not
One day the whole fish tribe came back very tired from a hunting expedition, and looked
about for a nice, cool spot in which to pitch their camp. It was very hot, and they thought
that they could not find a more comfortable place than under the branches of a large tree
which grew by the bank of a river. So they made their fire to cook some food, right on the
edge of a steep bank, which had a deep pool of water lying beneath it at the bottom.
While the food was cooking they all stretched themselves lazily out under the tree, and
were just dropping off to sleep when a big black cloud which they had never noticed
spread over the sun, and heavy drops of rain began to fall, so that the fire was almost put
out, and that, you know, is a very serious thing in savage countries where they have no
matches, for it is very hard to light it again. To make matters worse, an icy wind began to
blow, and the poor fishes were chilled right through their bodies.
'This will never do,' said Thuggai, the oldest of the fish tribe. 'We shall die of cold unless
we can light the fire again,' and he bade his sons rub two sticks together in the hope of
kindling a flame, but though they rubbed till they were tired, not a spark could they
'Let me try,' cried Biernuga, the bony fish, but he had no better luck, and no more had
Kumbal, the bream, nor any of the rest.
'It is no use,' exclaimed Thuggai, at last. 'The wood is too wet. We must just sit and wait
till the sun comes out again and dries it.' Then a very little fish indeed, not more than four
inches long and the youngest of the tribe, bowed himself before Thuggai, saying, 'Ask my
father, Guddhu the cod, to light the fire. He is skilled in magic more than most fishes.' So
Thuggai asked him, and Guddhu stripped some pieces of bark off a tree, and placed them
on top of the smouldering ashes. Then he knelt by the side of the fire and blew at it for a
long while, till slowly the feeble red glow became a little stronger and the edges of the
bark showed signs of curling up. When the rest of the tribe saw this they pressed close,
keeping their backs towards the piercing wind, but Guddhu told them they must go to the
other side, as he wanted the wind to fan his fire. By and by the spark grew into a flame,
and a merry crackling was heard.
'More wood,' cried Guddhi, and they all ran and gathered wood and heaped it on the
flames, which leaped and roared and sputtered.