ONCE long ago there lived in Basutoland a chief who had many herds of cattle and flocks of sheep, and also a beautiful daughter called Takane, the joy of his heart, and her mother's pride. Takane was loved by Masilo, her cousin, who secretly sought to marry her, but she liked him not, neither would she pay heed to his entreaties. At length Masilo wearied her so, that her anger broke forth, and with scorn she said--"Masilo, I like you not. Talk not to me of marriage, for I would rather die than be your wife." "Ho! is that true?" asked Masilo, the evil spirit shining out of his eyes. "Wait a little while, proud daughter of our chief; I will yet repay you for those words." Takane laughed a scornful laugh, and, taking up her pitcher, stepped blithely down to the well. How stupid Masilo was, and why did he keep on troubling her? Did he think, the great baboon, that she would ever marry him? Ho! how stupid men were, after all!
But in Masilo's heart there raged a devil prompting him to deeds of revenge. It whispered in his ear, and, as he listened, he smiled, well pleased, for already he saw the desire of his heart within his reach. Patience and a little cunning, and she should be his.
The next day Masilo obtained his uncle's consent to his giving a feast at a small village across the river for youths and maidens, as was the custom of his tribe. He then paid a visit to the old witch-doctor, who promised to send a terrible hailstorm upon the village in the middle of the feast. Next he went to all the people of the village, and, because he was a chief's son, and had power in the land, and they were afraid to offend him, he made them promise that none of them would allow Takane to enter their huts; but he said no word of the hailstorm, only he told the people the evil eye would smite them if they disobeyed him.
Early the next day all the villages were astir with excitement; the youths set out in companies by themselves, the maidens following later, singing and dancing as they went. How lovely Takane looked, her face and beautifully rounded limbs shining with fat and red clay; the bangles on her arms and ankles burnished until human endeavour could do no more. Soon all were assembled, and dancing, singing, feasting, and gladness held sway. Suddenly the sky grew dark, the rain-god frowned upon the village, and hail poured in fury down upon the feast. Away ran old and young, seeking shelter in the friendly huts. Takane alone remained outside. As she ran from hut to hut, the people crowded to the doorway, and, when she implored them to take her in, they replied that indeed they would gladly do so, but how could they find room for even one more? Did she not see how some of them were almost outside the door already? At length she came to a hut in which there was only one old woman, sitting shivering over a small fire. "Mother," exclaimed Takane, "I pray you, let me come in, for I am nearly dead already." The old woman placed herself in the doorway, exclaiming, "Go away; don't you see my house is full?" But the girl gently pushed her aside and entered.
After the storm had passed, the merry-makers returned to their homes, Masilo alone remaining behind, in the hope of discovering Takane's dead body, or hearing something of her fate. As he wandered here and there, he saw her coming towards him, unconscious of his presence, and evidently on her way to cross the river. Quickly he hid behind a huge boulder until she had passed, when he cautiously followed her, overtaking her just as she reached the bank of the river. Now by this time the river was getting almost too full to cross in safety, and the Water Spirit was angrily murmuring, for he wanted a sacrifice of a human being to satisfy him. Masilo went up to Takane, who stood hesitating whether to cross or not, and, seizing her by the hand, drew her into the river, until the water came up to her neck.
"Will you marry me now, Takane, or shall I let the Water Spirit have you? I know you cannot swim; so if you won't marry me, I shall take you into the deep hole by that tree and push you in. Say, now, will you marry me?"
"No, Masilo, I will never marry you, never. Let the Water Spirit take me first;" and she struggled to free her hand, but he was strong, and he held her fast. Again he drew her farther into the river, until the water reached her lips.
"Now, Takane, is not life with me better than death with the Water Spirit for husband? Say, will you marry me now?"
"I choose rather death in the black pool, with the cold stones for my bed and the water for my covering, than life with you as my husband. Haste, haste, for I am weary and would sleep."
Her continued refusal to marry him so infuriated Masilo, that, seizing her by the hair of her head, he swam out towards the pool, into which he pushed her with a fierce laugh, saying, "There! go drown! It is too late now to change your mind." He then turned, and in a few moments reached the bank, and, without one backward glance, walked off to his hut.
Now a wonderful thing happened to Takane. When Masilo pushed her into the pool, the hungry water took her swiftly down towards the tree which grew out of the middle of the river. She did not sink, because her "blanket" (literally the skin mantle worn by Basuto before the introduction of blankets) was not yet wet through, and, as she passed under the tree, the blanket caught in a low branch and held her firmly. There she remained for some time, vainly trying to pull herself up into the tree. At length she succeeded in doing so, and for the moment at any rate was safe, but, as she looked at the water all round her, and realized that even when the river was low she could not reach the bank unaided, she felt that it would be better to drown at once than to die a slow death from starvation, which seemed the only fate before her if she remained in the tree. Still, something might happen, some one might pass and see her. Yes, she would wait at least a little while; so, arranging herself as comfortably as she could, she prepared to pass the night in the tree.
The next morning Masilo came down to the river with the cows. Takane hid herself as much as possible, but his sharp eyes soon discovered her.
"Oh, ho! What strange bird is that?" he exclaimed. "How came it in the tree? I must try to catch it." Then, seeing that Takane remained motionless, he sat down on the bank and began to eat his "bogobe" with great enjoyment. "See what nice bread I have. Are you not hungry, Takane? Shall I send you some? But no, you do not need it. You are so fat, you will live for a long time. Well, I must go away now, but I will come again to-morrow. It is nice to see the dear little Takane so happy."
The next day Masilo came again, and ate his breakfast on the river bank, taunting Takane all the while. This he did on several following days, until Takane became so weak that she neither heard nor saw him, and would have fallen into the water were it not that her blanket held her firmly to the tree. Meanwhile, there was mourning in her father's house and village, for all thought she had been drowned in trying to cross the river after the storm.
One day, Takane's little brother followed Masilo when he took the cattle out to graze. When they came near the river, Masilo told the child not to come any farther, saying if he was a good boy, and did what he was told, he would get a present of some little birds which were in a tree in the river. Masilo then left the child and paid his daily visit to Takane, but the little boy, full of curiosity, followed unseen, and to his great astonishment saw, not a bird's-nest, with the promised young, but his sister Takane, almost unrecognisable from starvation. He listened for a little while to the conversation, then, fearing Masilo's anger if he were discovered, he crept back to the herd. When Masilo returned, he told the child the birds were not quite big enough to leave their nest. The little boy then went home and told his parents what he had seen. They made him promise to keep his secret; then, calling their medicine man, they hurriedly took counsel together. Late that night, when the village was wrapped in darkness, the parents of Takane and the medicine man set out for the spot where the girl was hidden. The medicine man called upon the spirit of the water to aid them, and soon Takane lay in her mother's arms, too weak even to speak. Slowly and tenderly they bore her back to her home, where for days she lay between life and death. Masilo and the other villagers were told that a sick stranger was in the hut, therefore they must not enter, and, as this is the custom of the people, they thought nothing more of it. Masilo, it is true, had been down to the river and had found Takane gone, but he only thought that at last she had fallen into the water and been drowned. Several times he went down to see if the Water Spirit had given up its victim, but no sign of Takane's real fate came to warn him.
When two moons had come and gone, the old chief saw that the time to punish Masilo had come, so, calling all his people to assemble on a certain day, he made preparations for a great feast. When the day came, the people all assembled in the open space in front of the khotla (court-house), leaving a wide path from the chief's hut to the centre of the open space. This path was carpeted with new mats, and skin karosses were laid on the ground for the chief and his family to sit upon. Masilo, by right of his near relationship to the chief, took a prominent place in the inner circle, while, unknown to him, several warriors quietly took their stand immediately behind him. Presently the old chief issued from his hut, followed by his chief councillor and medicine man; behind them came Takane's mother, leading by the hand Takane herself, no longer a living skeleton, but plump, smiling, and lovely as ever. A stir like the beginning of a storm shook the people, while Masilo, with a wild cry, turned to escape, but was quickly caught by the armed warriors, who had remained motionless behind him. Briefly the old chief related the story; then, raising his hand and pointing at the terrified Masilo, he cried, "What, my children, shall be the fate of this toad?" With one voice, the people answered, "The cruel death for him! the cruel death for him!"
A smile of approval passed over the chief's face, and, making a sign to the warriors who held Masilo, he turned his back on the trembling wretch, who was dragged off to a distance and tortured to death, while the village feasted and danced.
When darkness once again enfolded the land, the dead body of Masilo was taken to a secret spot and buried, and life at the village returned to its daily duties; but the spirit of Masilo could not rest, and still strove to possess Takane, as his body had longed for her.
One day the daughters of the village, accompanied by Takane, went forth to gather reeds for the making of mats. They wandered far in their search, and were growing weary, when one of them cried: "See! there are reeds, beautiful reeds, as many as we shall need;" and they looking, saw, even as their companion had said, a small bed of beautiful reeds. Soon all were busily engaged in cutting down armsful of the desired plant; but Takane, being a chief's daughter, was not allowed to work as hard as the other girls, and soon seated herself down to rest in the middle of the reed bed.
When the sun was low in the sky the girls prepared to return home, but Takane could not rise from the ground, nor could her companions lift her. Again and again they tried to move her, but to no purpose; she seemed to have become rooted to the ground. Finally, she persuaded them all to return and obtain help from the village.
"Will you not be afraid, sister, if we leave you alone?" they asked.
"Of what shall I be afraid?" Takane replied. "It is yet light, and the home is near. Haste, for I am hungry, and the night is coming."
The girls then left her and ran home. No sooner had they disappeared, than Takane heard a noise amongst the reeds behind her, and, looking round, she saw Masilo standing there.
"Oh, ho! Takane! you are mine at last! Guessed you not that this was my grave, and that it was I who held you firmly to the ground, so that not even all your companions could raise you? Come now, for we must hasten, lest we be caught by your father's people. By the spirits of my fathers, I have sworn that you shall be my wife."
"But you yourself are a spirit. How, then, can you marry me, and what need have you of a wife? Are you going to kill me even as you were killed?"
"True, I was a spirit, but I am now a man, and you are my wife. Come, for I tarry no longer." So saying, he seized her hand and began to run with her away from their old home, while she, filled with superstitious dread, offered only slight resistance. On they ran, ever onward, all through the night and far into the new day. At length, utterly weary, Takane lay down, and refused to go any farther. All around them were strange mountains and valleys, but no sign of human habitation. Here, then, Masilo resolved to remain, and here he built his hut, with the aid of Takane, who, now that she was powerless to escape, became a happy and devoted wife, obeying Masilo as even a wife should. Soon other wanderers came to dwell near them, and ere many years passed Masilo was chief of a happy, prosperous little village, and Takane the mother of sons and daughters whose beauty made her heart glad.