IN AGES past there lived a mighty Chief, Bulane, distinguished from all other men by a sign on his breast—the full round moon. His father and his fathers of long ago had all borne the same sign, but none of the children of Bulane were moon-children. Some were marked, it is true, by a crescent or a star, but on none was the full moon, the sign of his race, and this grieved Bulane.
The Chief had two wives. The elder, whom he loved dearly, was mother of many children, but the younger had none. For this reason the head-wife scoffed at her, and said many unkind things. The younger woman accepted her gibes in silent patience, but when at last a child was given to her, she rejoiced exceedingly. It was a son, and on his breast was a full moon, the mark of royal lineage.
This filled the head-wife with rage and jealousy, and while the young mother was fast asleep, she took the new-born babe from her arms, and threw it beneath the pots at the back of the hut, thinking it would be smothered. She then placed a dog in the sleeping mother's arms, and going to the Chief, she told him that the child was a monster and had been born dead. Though deeply grieved, Bulane bade her tend the young wife kindly, and she returned to the hut.
To her dismay, she found the moon-child had not been killed as she intended, but had crawled from underneath the pots and was playing with a mouse on the ground. Knowing the woman's evil heart, the clever little animal at once dragged the child into its hole, where he remained, hidden away.
The head-wife, frightened out of her senses for fear that what she had done might be discovered, hastened back to Bulane, complaining of pain, and saying she was certain she could not recover until the hut in which the monster had been born was burnt to the ground. Bulane, who loved her, ordered that this should be done, not knowing of her wickedness.
The mouse, however, had overheard the conversation, and as the young mother was taken out before the hut was set alight, he carried the child away to the cattle kraal. Meanwhile, the hut blazed and crackled until nothing of it remained, and the wicked heart of the head-wife was at rest.
But one day when she went to the cattle kraal, she saw the moon-child sitting under a cow, and knew that she had been cheated of her revenge. Again she feigned illness, telling Bulane she could never be eased of her pain unless the cattle kraal was burned down. Much troubled at her continued sickness, Bulane ordered that this should be done also; but again the mouse had overheard. This time he took the child to the camp of some traders, and left him to their care.
He was a sweet-tempered little fellow, and soon became the darling of these men, who loved him for his pretty ways. Months passed, and presently one of Bulane's people came to make purchases from the traders. Seeing in their midst a little child whose small round face was strangely like that of the great Chief, he took him, wondering, in his arms, and found that he bore upon his breast the sign of the royal race.
Then he knew him to be indeed the son of Bulane.
When the Chief heard what his man had seen, he at once set out for the traders' camp. Seeing that the child was in truth his son, he carried him back with him to the kraal, and laid him in his mother's arms.
Then Bulane ordered many oxen to be slaughtered, and much beer to be brewed. A great feast was prepared to celebrate the return of the moon-child, whom he named as his heir, and the young mother's heart rejoiced. As for the wicked head-wife, she was driven away, and sent back to her father's people.