LUNGILE sat in the sunshine watching her mother put the finishing stitches in her sedwaba. It was a great occasion. The sedwaba, you know, is the name of the full kilt of black ox-skins which no girl wears till her bridal morning. It takes a long time to make. Lungile’s father had prepared the skins many months ago. He had brayed them on the inner side and dyed them inky-black with charcoal, till they looked quite like velvet. And then Lungile’s mother, who sewed better than anyone for miles around, cut out the kilt so that it should fit tightly round the waist but fall into cunning folds at the knee, and stitched all the pieces together most beautifully. Now the kilt was ready and Lungile might set out for the home of her betrothed as soon as ever she pleased.
That evening she saw all the maids who were to accompany her to the wedding, and arranged the day of departure. It was kept a dead secret; Lungile’s father and mother would not expect to know, for every Kafir bride loves to slip away in the early morning without farewells. Two days later, at the first flush of day, Lungile and her maids set out on their journey. It was early summer; the first rains were over and the valleys and hills were covered with thousands of flowers, vivid scarlet or blue like the sky, while here and there were great patches of delicate yellow, the very hue of the English primrose. The air was fresh and crystal-clear, and the girls laughed and sang songs of travel. Lungile was full of joy, for her bridegroom was a Chiefs son, and she had chosen him out of many wooers. For she was not only beautiful; she was just as good and industrious as she was lovely, and many suitors had asked her in marriage. She hoed all her father’s lands, and the beer she made was the best for many miles, so that there was no kraal where she would not have been welcome.
The girls journeyed together for some days, till at length they reached the bridegroom’s lands, and went straight to his father’s kraal. His mother greeted them with every kindness, and showed them a beautiful hut in which they might live till all the preparations for the wedding were made. They had been expected for some time, and now that they had arrived every man and woman in the kraal was kept busy.
While the women ground corn or went out to gather wood, the bridegroom and his father considered what oxen should be killed for the feast.
"We will take two of those the Chief Maginde sent as your sister’s marriage-gift," said the father. "They are the finest in the herd, but you are my eldest son, and deserve the best we can do." The first ox was driven up and killed with much ceremony; the bride was delighted to see what fine beasts her father-in-law was giving for her pleasure. All the women in the kraal were now busy getting water and preparing the fires; only Lungile and her maidens sat in their hut, thinking of the wedding which was so soon approaching.
When all was ready for cooking and the guests already nearing the kraal, the meat was cut into long strips and set on the fire to roast. To the horror of the bridegroom’s mother, who was watching it, the meat began to jump about on the fire. It simply would not keep quiet, and after attempting to make it lie still twice, she became frightened.
"There must be witchcraft here," said she, and called her husband to see this strange thing. She left the strips of meat on the fire, but when she returned with all the wedding party at her heels not a vestige of the meat remained. All had disappeared, nobody knew where.
"The animal was undoubtedly bewitched," said the father. Everyone looked at the bride’s hut; she was a stranger, and they already expected all was not well with her.
"Bring the white bull," said the father. "He is the finest we have; perhaps if we kill him it may break the spell."
The white bull was brought forward. He was the chief of all the cattle the bridegroom’s father had received on his daughter’s marriage two years before, and because of his colour he was held to be a harbinger of peace and good fortune. He was snow-white from head to tail, save for two long black horns of great beauty. All praised the Chiefs kindness and generosity in giving him, and felt sure all would now be well.
The young men soon killed the bull and the meat was cut up. This time it was placed in large pots to boil. All stood by and watched; even the bride had heard of the trouble and waited anxiously in her hut, for witchcraft at her wedding was indeed a misfortune.
For a while all seemed quiet. Then the water began to boil in the pot in which the bull’s head had been placed. Instantly there leaped out of the pot a beautiful young man, with a bearing like that of a great Chief. He ran away with incredible speed, and even as he ran changed into a handsome buck with glancing horns. In a moment he was out of sight.
The whole company broke up in horror. "Bring the bride here," said the Chief; "without doubt she is a witch, and has brought trouble on us all."
In a few minutes poor Lungile was brought out of her hut with her attendant maids, trembling and weeping.
"Go back home," shouted the Chief, "and never let us see your face again. You are no wife for my son, nor would any decent family ever receive you. I send you back to your father and demand my marriage-gift of cattle; he may deal with you as he thinks fit."
"I am innocent of all harm," cried Lungile. "I have cast no spells and wish no evil to anyone. I will work hard and be a good daughter to you."
"Go, go back to your father," said all the women together. "You have brought witchcraft here, and are accursed."
Then they drove her out quickly, nor did she attempt any more to prove her innocence, but travelled home with her bridesmaids in bitter tears.
Her father and mother received her back, and were horrified when they heard of her treatment. They did not for a moment believe their daughter was a witch, and they were very sorry to send back the cattle; but what could they do? The marriage-gift was returned, and Lungile took her old place in the kraal again and worked as hard and as well as ever. Only no more suitors came for her hand, for no one quite liked the story of the white ox with the black horns. It looked as if the kilt of black ox-skins might never be worn.
More than a whole year went by; Lungile gradually forgot her troubles and her bridegroom that was to have been. She went out one day in autumn; the air was cool, the sun shone brightly over the great plains. She had been told to gather dried mealie-stalks from her father’s lands, and sang gaily as she walked along the narrow path. Just as she was about to turn off towards the fields a beautiful buck came in sight. To her great surprise it did not run away, but circled round her, running across the path and slipping in and out of the bushes. As she watched it she seemed to recognise its form.
"Where have I seen this beautiful animal before?" said she, and thought a minute. "Why, it is the very same buck that jumped out of the pot at my wedding-feast!"
The recollection made her very sad for a moment, but she soon threw back her head and laughed. "Now he shall really be killed," said she; "it is many days since we had meat. I will see if I can catch him as he passes."
The buck continued to dance around her, coming nearer and nearer, but always just slipping out of her hands. They had now left her father’s lands behind, and were drawing nearer and nearer to the mountains. Once she touched the buck with her hands, but he jumped away. She followed till they came to a stream which flowed down a green valley. There the buck stooped to drink by a great bush covered with heart-shaped leaves, on which still lingered a few scarlet blossoms. Lungile jumped forward and seized him by the horns. He did not seem to mind, but shook his head and made her follow him by a tiny path which ran up the valley, following the course of the stream. Lungile found the buck was far stronger than she thought. She could not turn him back, and kept looking from left to right to see if anyone was coming who would kill her game for her.
But the valley was empty and wild. High waving grass surrounded her on either side, extending to the foot of great rocky cliffs; before her lay a long narrow valley, closed at the end by a great round mountain. As they went on a huge forest came into view, which clothed the lower slopes of the mountain. A blue shadow began to creep across the valley. Lungile saw it, and thought, "No one is in sight, I shall hardly reach home before dark. The buck is too strong for me; I must give him up."
She let him go with a sigh, and hurried back so as to reach the plains again before sundown. She had not gone far when she turned her head out of curiosity to see if the buck were still in sight. To her intense surprise he was following her, walking in a cloud of mist which shone gloriously in the sun. She stood still, and in a few minutes the buck was at her side.
"What do you want?" said Lungile.
The buck only looked at her with his great brown eyes, and said nothing. Lungile spoke again. She was sorry for the buck, and felt sure that he was in trouble.
This time the buck answered in a soft, low voice, "Follow me to the forest yonder."
"I will come," said Lungile, and turned once more to the great mountain and the forest at its foot.
Before long they reached the first great trees, and there at the very entrance they saw a sight which made Lungile cry out in terror. A huge ogre seated on a wolf was staring at them. Round his forehead he wore a string of animals’ eyes, which made him look yet more horrible.
Lungile turned to run, but the buck said to her calmly, "Come, and you will see what I can do," and walked straight towards the ogre. The girl followed, but shivered as she heard the ogre say to the buck, "Ha, you will do splendidly for the wolf’s supper, and that fine young girl for mine!"
Then he opened his huge mouth, stretched out his long arms, and darted forward to catch the buck, who did not move. But the instant his arms touched him the buck changed, and became a most beautiful young man. The wolf, scared to death, ran trembling into the bush, and the ogre, taken at a disadvantage, was strangled forthwith.
When he lay dead the young man took the crown of animals’ eyes from the monster’s head and threw them on the ground. Instantly they became living bucks. They all looked at the man with great affection, and followed his every movement.
The young man then turned to Lungile and said, "Be kind to these animals, and help them. Remember I also was a buck. Stay here a few days, and do this for me. Gather spinach every morning, and sing this fairy song:
"Once my true love was a buck,
Once my true love was a buck;
Now he is changed into a fine, strong young man.
Now, bucks—Oh, bucks,
Change yourselves, and become young men."
"I will do so," said Lungile, with love and admiration in her eyes. "But tell me, are you not the white ox who was killed at the wedding feast? And who are these bucks who are all to be transformed?"
"I am indeed that very white ox," said the young man. "I am a great Chief, and because my lands were better than the Chief Maginde’s, and I had finer cattle and stronger people, he hated me. One day he bewitched me, and turned me into a white ox, and all my people, he said, should be bucks. None should be free till I could change my form and become once more a man. Then he sent me as a marriage gift to the father of your betrothed, and so I came to be killed. Through me you lost your first lover, but do not grieve. Now I am once more a great Chief, I can give you all you want if you will be my bride."
Lungile consented with great joy, for the fairy buck was handsomer and more gallant than any youth she had ever beheld. She stayed in the forest for many days. Every morning at sunrise she rose when the dew was still heavy and sang the fairy song, gathering spinach up and down the hillside. And every day more and more bucks came in from the mountains, and assembled in the forest. They brought with them their does and their little ones. In seven days many thousands had assembled. Then one morning as she sang the magic song they all changed, and at sunrise they were men, women, and children.
Thus the enchanted buck regained his people, and won a most kind and beautiful bride. He took Lungile back to her father, gave a marriage gift such as no one had ever seen before, and then made her his wife amid great rejoicing.