ONCE upon a time the King of Uganda went to Koja to see his herd of cows, and while he was there a strange thing happened.
The people near Mount Elgon saw a white patch high up on the mountain, and they said: "It is snow." But the patch moved down the mountain side, and they said: "It is a cloud." But still it moved on, and when it reached the foot-hills they saw that it was a flight of snow-white birds.
No one had ever seen such birds before; they flew on over the plain towards the Lake, right across the Great Lion River, which is really a country all to itself.
People lived in the river on little islands made of reeds and papyrus, one house on each island and a canoe tied up near the door, and they have no roads; the river is their only road when they go to the banks to buy and sell.
They have their own customs and their own language. The birds did not stop on the river islands; they flew right over into Busoga till they came to the Nile, and then they crossed the Nile and flew right over the forests and hills of Kyagwe till they came to Koja, where the King was, and they settled down on the herd of cows.
All the people marvelled to see these snow-white birds, and the King said: "This is a good omen; something fortunate will happen to the country." Then he went back to the capital and the Katikiro met him and said: "A stranger has arrived in the country; he is different from any man we have ever seen, and he has a little child with him."
The King commanded them to bring the stranger before him, and when he came he asked him questions, but he knew no language that the chiefs knew, only a few words of Swahili, which were no use.
At first the people thought he ought to be killed, for they said: "He is different from any man we have ever seen; perhaps he is a spy sent to prepare the way for some enemy who will eat up our country."
But the King remembered the white birds and said: "I will not kill him; he will bring good fortune to the country."
Then he called an old chief whom he loved and trusted and said: "Take away this man, and take care of him and his child; teach him Luganda and our customs; some day he will bring us good fortune."
So the old chief took the stranger to his home and gave him a house to live in and a garden, and boys to wait on him, and an old woman to take care of the child, for she was a little girl, and every day he taught him Luganda, and they became great friends, and at last he was able to speak, and the chief took him to the King.
Then the King asked him many questions about his country and his people, and what his name was, but when he said it no man could pronounce it, it was too difficult.
And every day the King called him, and the people all knew that the stranger was the King's friend, and they called him "Mugenyi," which means "Stranger," because they could not pronounce his name.
The little girl grew up different from all the other children in Uganda. She had long golden hair and blue eyes, and a skin like milk, and she grew strong and big, and the people loved her and called her "Joy" or "Snowbird"; but her father said: "Her name is Sorrow."
After some time the King heard that a great army was marching against his country, and he collected his soldiers and made his chiefs generals over them, and prepared to march to Budu, where the enemy was advancing.
Then Stranger said: "I will go with you and teach the chiefs how to build a great fort, and we will stop the enemies of the King from crossing the border."
So the King gave him the command of the army, and they marched to Budu and built a great fort and drove back the enemy and killed thousands of warriors, and when those who were left saw Stranger commanding the Baganda they were afraid, for he wore strange clothes made of barkcloth, and they said: "He is a wizard; we cannot fight against him."
So the enemy was utterly beaten, and the Baganda went back to their homes victorious.
Then the King was much pleased and gave Stranger many presents and cows, and the old chief loved him more and more, and they swore the oath of friendship, which is the most sacred oath in the world.
As the years went on the old chief noticed that his friend looked sorrowful and sad, and that he sat alone on the hill-side looking over the Great Lake, with only little Sorrow near him, and that he often looked at the child with eyes that were full of tears, and one day he said to him:
"My brother, I am grieved to see you so changed. Cannot you tell your sorrow to me, your great friend?" And Stranger said:
"Come away with me to the hill-side and I will tell you."
So the two friends and little Sorrow set out at sunset, and when they reached a shady spot on the hill-side overlooking the Great Lake they sat down, and the child chased butterflies and picked flowers round them.
For a long time they were silent, and then Stranger spoke: "I came to you a stranger, full of sorrow, and you made me welcome, and I learnt your language and your customs, and your country became my country, and I never meant to leave Uganda, but now I look at my little child and I know that I was wrong; I must return to my own people, for a girl must be brought up by the women of her father's tribe."
Then he told the old chief who he was and all his history, and the old man listened silently, for though he had often wondered, all these years, he had never asked questions.
Little Sorrow came and sat on her father's knee, and soon she fell asleep, and the moon rose over the lake, and the stars twinkled in the dark sky, and still the two friends sat on the hill-side while Stranger poured out his history.
And the old chief said: "You are right; a girl must be brought up by the women of her father's tribe." The next day they went to the King, and told him Stranger's decision, and the King was very sorrowful and said to the old chief: "Is it well?" And he answered: "It is well."
All the chiefs and people were very sorry when they heard that Stranger was going, and brought them many presents, and Sorrow said good-bye to all her friends, and the old chief saw them safely across the borders of Uganda. And when he returned to the capital he found everyone talking of Stranger and the little girl, and telling each other about them, and wondering who they really were and where their country and home really was; but the old chief alone was silent, for he alone knew the real history of Stranger and the secret of his life, and sometimes in the evening he would climb the hill-side and sit where he had sat with his friend, and the tears would roll down his cheeks, for he knew that he would never see him again.
And if you go to the province of Budu you will see the fort which Stranger helped the King to build, for the ruins are still there, and the snowbirds never left Uganda, you will always see them with the cows; but if you ask about little "Joy," whom her father called Sorrow, the people will shake their heads and say: "Perhaps there was a little girl, perhaps it was a spirit, perhaps it was only a snowbird–who knows?"
Only the old chief ever knew who Stranger really was, and a Muganda will never betray the secret of his friend.