ONCE, long ago, there lived a Prince named Sanfu, who was a great hunter. It was the sport he loved above all others, and every day during the season he set out from home very early, and hunted till dusk. He was young and handsome, and as yet he had no wife, but engaged in adventures at every opportunity.
One day in midwinter he collected his weapons, called his dogs, and set out to hunt. He carried assegais, which he could use either as spears or as darts, and knobkerries to knock down the smaller game. The air was clear and bright, the country full of wild creatures, yet look as he might he could find nothing. He hated to return home empty-handed, so he hurried on from bush to bush till he came into a strange country, which he had never before visited. He looked across the valley and saw in the distance two great mountains, whose twin peaks stood out against the cloudless sky in glorious tints of ruddy-gold. The right-hand mountain was clothed in bush almost to the summit, only the topmost crags being bare. There was no sign of man anywhere; surely this forest at least must abound in game.
So Sanfu took up his assegais and kerries and set out to explore the new land. He followed the course of a tiny stream, leaping from rock to rock in the dim green light of the forest. The trees were so thick overhead that the sun never came through, but below one could walk freely on a carpet of long green moss. Every now and then a cave-rat darted out at the Prince's very feet, but his knobkerrie always missed it; a few minutes later he would see a magnificent buck, with head thrown back, standing in front of a thicket. But the moment he came within striking distance his prey was gone. So he toiled on, always disappointed, but always seeing something worth his pursuit, till at length the trees grew thinner and farther apart. Gradually they dwindled down to mere bushes, and Sanfu found himself on the high grass slopes above the forest. He left the stream and made straight for the pass between the two mountain peaks, determined to see what lay beyond.
The highest point once gained, he looked down into a beautiful wooded valley with several fine streams, the very place for game. Sanfu straightaway began the descent, but at closer view he found that the slopes were covered with huge boulders, and the grass was so high that it would be impossible to see any game. He persevered for some time, then he decided to turn back and try his luck once more in the forest.
But when he looked round to retrace his steps he found it was impossible. For the twin peaks had suddenly become a precipitous wall without break or opening, and the grassy slopes had turned to hard granite cliffs without so much as a foothold. Sanfu looked once more at the valley. Then he found that he was in a sort of basin surrounded on every side by steep hills crowned with inaccessible rocks. Puzzled and weary he went forward, hoping at least to find water and a place to rest for the night. For it was now not far from sundown, the air was growing cold, and it was useless to think of going much farther. But the rocks only seemed to grow higher and higher; he could see no open space, nor was there any sound of water. The whole valley was absolutely silent.
Suddenly he heard footsteps behind him. He turned his head, and was astonished to see a human being. It was an old woman leaning on a black wand, on the top of which perched two black birds.
"Tell me, old woman," said the Prince, "am I near a kraal?"
But the old woman said nothing. He repeated the question. The old woman only touched her ears and her mouth with one hand, and shook her head. Then Sanfu knew that she was deaf and dumb. So he turned and continued to thread his way in and out of the tall boulders, the old woman following on behind. Presently he heard in the far distance the cooing of a dove.
"Where there are doves," thought the Prince, "there are trees and perhaps water."
He pursued his way, guided by the soft melancholy cry. Soon he could distinguish words, for the dove was singing the lament that all the doves have sung from the beginning of things:
"Ku waffa baba
Eu waffa mama
Ku waffa imfo wetu
Ku waffa dadc wetu
'Ngi hlala etwe
Inhleziwe s'ame' tshon, tshon, tshon, tshon, tahon.”
"My father is dead;
My mother is dead;
My brethren are dead;
My sisters are dead;
I sit here alone.
My heart is sinking, sinking, sinking, sinking, sinking."
"Not much farther now,” thought the Prince, as the singing grew clearer, and a minute later he found himself in an open space. Here a most curious sight met his eyes. No trees were to be seen, but on his left hand there rose up an enormous black cliff. You can imagine how strange it looked, for all the boulders and the crags above were red, but this rock was jet black. Below on his right flowed a wide, black river. It was deep and silent; not so much as a speck of foam appeared on its waters.
At the base of the cliff were three huge caves, and in one of these, right in the middle, sat a pure white dove of exquisite beauty. Two ravens stood one on either side of her, and the moment they saw the Prince they began to dance. They danced faster and faster till at last they lay down exhausted at the feet of the White Dove. Then the beautiful bird spoke.
"Welcome, Prince," said she. “We are so glad to see you; we have been waiting here for years."
"Why are you glad to see me?" replied Sanfu, who knew at once that he had met with a great adventure. "What can I possibly do for you?"
"You can do us the greatest imaginable service," said the Dove. "Look at this cave and repeat the following words three times:
"River, river, wonderful river, mighty river.
Loose your might and change us into human beings;
You it was who bewitched us,
Now change us again."
The Prince obeyed, and a marvellous thing happened. The cave seemed to open out, and suddenly the whole valley was filled with a burst of most wonderful song. For within were thousands of beautiful birds of every kind there is in the world. They flashed and shone in the sunlight — golden orioles and many-coloured lorys, the emerald cuckoo and all the exquisite finches. Then there were dainty little black honey-suckers, whose lustre is like mother-of-pearl, and graceful doves of every hue. And beyond all these were gorgeous birds from the great forests of the far north such as Sanfu had never seen. He gazed in wonder and delight for a long time. Then he turned to the White Dove and said, "What do you want me to do now?"
"Repeat these words once more," said the White Dove.
He repeated them again. To his astonishment the second cave opened out and thousands of animals appeared — great herds of buck with beautiful horns, both small and great, noble elephants and tall giraffes, and lions and tigers with glossy skins. Their cries almost drowned the call of the birds, but they appeared to live in peace and did one another no harm.
"Do you see those animals?" said the Dove to the amazed Prince. "Those are my father's men."
"Who then are the birds?" asked Sanfu.
"They are the beautiful women and the girls who live in his kingdom."
"And the third cave? What does that contain?"
"Ah!" said the Dove. "That is the greatest wonder of all. But it cannot be opened yet."
"Is there nothing else I can do to help you?" said the Prince. "For you appear to be under some terrible enchantment."
"You can do everything," cried the White Dove. "Do not leave this valley. Stay here for one year and we shall be delivered."
"That I cannot possibly do," said the Prince, "for no one will know what has become of me.”
"If you refuse," said the Dove, with a determination you would never have expected of her," you yourself will be changed into an enormous hairy spider and dwell in a house of dried leaves and moss. Everyone who sees you will run away, and you will live a life of loneliness and misery."
"You have no consideration for my mother's tears," replied Sanfu. "I am the only son of my father. They will both think I am killed."
"You shall be fully rewarded," said the Dove; "if you do this for us you will never regret it. But if you refuse you become a horrible spider, and neither your mother nor your father will ever recognise you again."
"Very well," said the Prince. "I promise to stay with you and help you."
"Give me your wand," said the Dove to the Mute Woman. "The Prince must be hungry."
The old woman gave the wand, and as it left her hand she herself disappeared. The Dove took it and threw it on the ground, but curiously enough the two black birds perched on the top did not stir and were thrown down with the staff.
Directly the wand touched the ground there appeared an excellent meal, bowls of porridge and thick milk, and strips of meat served on a fine mat, and to crown all a big calabash full of good beer. Sanfu was very hungry and thirsty. He ate and drank well, and then lay down to sleep under a rock.
He kept his word and never attempted to leave the valley. The Mute Woman did not appear again, and the White Dove sat in front of the cave and sang her former melancholy song. She never spoke at all, and might have been nothing more than an ordinary bird. Every day food appeared, and although it was winter and the nights bitterly cold, Sanfu never so much as shivered in spite of having neither a roof to cover him nor karosses in which to wrap himself.
"So far I have done well," thought he," but what shall I do when the rains come and the heavy thunderstorms? I shall be washed away or killed by the hail."
Clouds began to appear every day, and the weather grew oppressively hot. At last one evening a tremendous thunderstorm arose, and Sanfu thought that his last hour had come. To his astonishment not a drop of rain touched him, and the ground on which he slept remained quite dry. After that he troubled himself no more, but passed his time as best he could in solitude and weariness till the summer was past and the winter once more appeared. At last the year was complete, and on the morning of the happy day he went to the Dove.
"The year is over," said he, “and now at last I can return to my parents. How glad I am to think I can see home once more!"
"You cannot be more glad than I," said the Dove, "for now I too shall be free. Repeat the charm once more."
Then the Prince repeated the words :
"River, river, wonderful river, mighty river,
Loose your might and change us into human beings;
You it was who bewitched us,
Now change us again" —
and the cave which had never opened before suddenly began to expand. The whole of the rocky basin melted away and instead appeared open country, well-wooded and full of good pasture. Great herds of cattle roamed on the hills, and countless goats and sheep. The high, inaccessible cliffs were gone, and instead appeared the twin mountain peaks just as Sanfu had seen them a year ago.
"Now repeat the charm again," said the Dove.
At the magic words the other two caves opened and the beautiful birds flew out all over the meadows, while the animals came and ranged themselves in ranks. The second time the words were repeated every creature suddenly assumed the head and arms of human beings, and at the third repetition they stood complete men and women. The animals became magnificent warriors in serried ranks, at whose head stood a splendid man in leopard-skins, their King. By his side marched two fine Princes, and an old and wise magician with a long black wand. They were the two ravens and the Mute Woman, as you have no doubt guessed already. But the birds had changed to hundreds and thousands of beautiful girls, laughing and singing. They came down the hillside running towards the Prince, and at their head was the loveliest woman he had ever beheld.
"I am the White Dove," said she. "See what you have done for me! Now repeat the charm for the last time."
And at the wonderful words the Black River and the Black Rock both disappeared. In their place were seen ripe fields of mealies and Kafir corn. Big orange-coloured pumpkins and shining green calabashes lay among the com, and there were well-grown patches of beans and ground-nuts. All was ready for gathering, the joyous harvest was at hand, and the men and women had only to reap.
Then everyone greeted the Prince with cries of welcome.
"We owe you everything," said the King. "I will give you a hundred fine cattle, and goats and sheep without end."
But Sanfu was silent and did not reply.
"You do not seem pleased," said the King. "Is there anything else we can give you? You have only to ask."
"All I want," answered Sanfu, looking at the White Dove, "is the Princess. I want no cattle, for I am a rich man, and my father a very great Chief. But I will give hundreds of oxen for the Princess if only I may have her for my wife."
The Princess looked at him with delight, but the King hesitated and said he must confer with his chief men. He consulted with them day after day for many weeks — not, I think, because he did not care for Sanfu, but simply to show that he was a great King, and his daughter not to be had for the mere asking.
At last, when poor Sanfu was worn out with anxiety, for he loved the Princess dearly, the King said he was ready to receive him.
"The Princess is yours," he said, "on condition that you stay here and live in our country. Go home first, and bring what men you will as your followers, but do not leave us altogether."
The Prince willingly promised for the sake of the White Dove. He went home, told all his adventures to his father and mother, and in the end all his people rose up and came with him. The wedding of Sanfu the hunter and the White Dove was celebrated with great festivities, and, as you may well believe, was soon followed by many more between his men and the beautiful girls who once were many-coloured birds.