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The Sacred Milk Of Koumongoe

from The Brown Fairy Book





Far way, in a very hot country, there once lived a man and woman who had
two children, a son named Koane and a daughter called Thakane.

Early in the morning and late in the evenings the parents worked hard
in the fields, resting, when the sun was high, under the shade of some
tree. While they were absent the little girl kept house alone, for her
brother always got up before the dawn, when the air was fresh and cool,
and drove out the cattle to the sweetest patches of grass he could find.

One day, when Koane had slept later than usual, his father and mother
went to their work before him, and there was only Thakane to be seen
busy making the bread for supper.

'Thakane,' he said, 'I am thirsty. Give me a drink from the tree
Koumongoe, which has the best milk in the world.'

'Oh, Koane,' cried his sister, 'you know that we are forbidden to touch
that tree. What would father say when he came home? For he would be sure
to know.'

'Nonsense,' replied Koane, 'there is so much milk in Koumongoe that he
will never miss a little. If you won't give it to me, I sha'n't take the
cattle out. They will just have to stay all day in the hut, and you know
that they will starve.' And he turned from her in a rage, and sat down
in the corner.

After a while Thakane said to him: 'It is getting hot, had you better
drive out the cattle now?'

But Koane only answered sulkily: 'I told you I am not going to drive
them out at all. If I have to do without milk, they shall do without
grass.'

Thakane did not know what to do. She was afraid to disobey her parents,
who would most likely beat her, yet the beasts would be sure to suffer
if they were kept in, and she would perhaps be beaten for that too. So
at last she took an axe and a tiny earthen bowl, she cut a very small
hole in the side of Koumongoe, and out gushed enough milk to fill the
bowl.

'Here is the milk you wanted,' said she, going up to Koane, who was
still sulking in his corner.

'What is the use of that?' grumbled Koane; 'why, there is not enough to
drown a fly. Go and get me three times as much!'

Trembling with fright, Thakane returned to the tree, and struck it a
sharp blow with the axe. In an instant there poured forth such a stream
of milk that it ran like a river into the hut.

'Koane! Koane!' cried she, 'come and help me to plug up the hole. There
will be no milk left for our father and mother.' But Koane could not
stop it any more than Thakane, and soon the milk was flowing through the
hut downhill towards their parents in the fields below.

The man saw a white stream a long way off, and guessed what had
happened.

'Wife, wife,' he called loudly to the woman, who was working at a little
distance: 'Do you see Koumongoe running fast down the hill? That is some
mischief of the children's, I am sure. I must go home and find out what
is the matter.' And they both threw down their hoes and hurried to the
side of Koumongoe.

Kneeling on the grass, the man and his wife made a cup of their hands
and drank the milk from it. And no sooner had they done this, than
Koumongoe flowed back again up the hill, and entered the hut.

'Thakane,' said the parents, severely, when they reached home panting
from the heat of the sun, 'what have you been doing? Why did Koumongoe
come to us in the fields instead of staying in the garden?'

'It was Koane's fault,' answered Thakane. 'He would not take the cattle
to feed until he drank some of the milk from Koumongoe. So, as I did not
know what else to do, I gave it to him.'

The father listened to Thakane's words, but made no answer. Instead,
he went outside and brought in two sheepskins, which he stained red
and sent for a blacksmith to forge some iron rings. The rings were then
passed over Thakane's arms and legs and neck, and the skins fastened on
her before and behind. When all was ready, the man sent for his servants
and said:

'I am going to get rid of Thakane.'

'Get rid of your only daughter?' they answered, in surprise. 'But why?'

'Because she has eaten what she ought not to have eaten. She has touched
the sacred tree which belongs to her mother and me alone.' And, turning
his back, he called to Thakane to follow him, and they went down the
road which led to the dwelling of an ogre.

They were passing along some fields where the corn was ripening, when a
rabbit suddenly sprang out at their feet, and standing on its hind legs,
it sang:

Why do you give to the ogre Your child, so fair, so fair?

'You had better ask her,' replied the man, 'she is old enough to give
you an answer.'

Then, in her turn, Thakane sang:

I gave Koumongoe to Koane, Koumongoe to the keeper of beasts; For
without Koumongoe they could not go to the meadows: Without Koumongoe
they would starve in the hut; That was why I gave him the Koumongoe of
my father.

And when the rabbit heard that, he cried: 'Wretched man! it is you whom
the ogre should eat, and not your beautiful daughter.'

But the father paid no heed to what the rabbit said, and only walked on
the faster, bidding Thakane to keep close behind him. By-and-by they met
with a troop of great deer, called elands, and they stopped when they
saw Thakane and sang:

Why do you give to the ogre Your child, so fair, so fair?

'You had better ask her, replied the man, 'she is old enough to give you
an answer.'

Then, in her turn, Thakane sang:

I gave Koumongoe to Koane, Koumongoe to the keeper of beasts; For
without Koumongoe they could not go to the meadows: Without Koumongoe
they would starve in the hut; That was why I gave him the Koumongoe of
my father.

And the elands all cried: 'Wretched man! it is you whom the ogre should
eat, and not your beautiful daughter.'

By this time it was nearly dark, and the father said they could travel
no further that night, and must go to sleep where they were. Thakane was
thankful indeed when she heard this, for she was very tired, and found
the two skins fastened round her almost too heavy to carry. So, in spite
of her dread of the ogre, she slept till dawn, when her father woke her,
and told her roughly that he was ready to continue their journey.

Crossing the plain, the girl and her father passed a herd of gazelles
feeding. They lifted their heads, wondering who was out so early, and
when they caught sight of Thakane, they sang:

Why do you give to the ogre Your child, so fair, so fair?

'You had better ask her, replied the man, 'she is old enough to answer
for herself.'

Then, in her turn, Thakane sang:

I gave Koumongoe to Koane, Koumongoe to the keeper of beasts; For
without Koumongoe they could not go to the meadows: Without Koumongoe
they would starve in the hut; That was why I gave him the Koumongoe of
my father.

And the gazelles all cried: 'Wretched man! it is you whom the ogre
should eat, and not your beautiful daughter.'

At last they arrived at the village where the ogre lived, and they went
straight to his hut. He was nowhere to be seen, but in his place was his
son Masilo, who was not an ogre at all, but a very polite young man. He
ordered his servants to bring a pile of skins for Thakane to sit on, but
told her father he must sit on the ground. Then, catching sight of the
girl's face, which she had kept down, he was struck by its beauty, and
put the same question that the rabbit, and the elands, and the gazelles
had done.

Thakane answered him as before, and he instantly commanded that she
should be taken to the hut of his mother, and placed under her care,
while the man should be led to his father. Directly the ogre saw him he
bade the servant throw him into the great pot which always stood ready
on the fire, and in five minutes he was done to a turn. After that the
servant returned to Masilo and related all that had happened.

Now Masilo had fallen in loved with Thakane the moment he saw her. At
first he did not know what to make of this strange feeling, for all his
life he had hated women, and had refused several brides whom his parents
had chosen for him. However, they were so anxious that he should marry,
that they willingly accepted Thakane as their daughter-in-law, though
she did bring any marriage portion with her.

After some time a baby was born to her, and Thakane thought it was the
most beautiful baby that ever was seen. But when her mother-in-law saw
it was a girl, she wrung her hands and wept, saying:

'O miserable mother! Miserable child! Alas for you! why were you not a
boy!'

Thakane, in great surprise, asked the meaning of her distress; and the
old woman told her that it was the custom in that country that all the
girls who were born should be given to the ogre to eat.

Then Thakane clasped the baby tightly in her arms, and cried:

'But it is not the customer in MY country! There, when children die,
they are buried in the earth. No one shall take my baby from me.'

That night, when everyone in the hut was asleep, Thakane rose, and
carrying her baby on her back, went down to a place where the river
spread itself out into a large lake, with tall willows all round the
bank. Here, hidden from everyone, she sat down on a stone and began to
think what she should do to save her child.

Suddenly she heard a rustling among the willows, and an old woman
appeared before her.

'What are you crying for, my dear?' said she.

And Thakane answered: 'I was crying for my baby--I cannot hide her for
ever, and if the ogre sees her, he will eat her; and I would rather she
was drowned than that.'

'What you say is true,' replied the old woman. 'Give me your child, and
let me take care of it. And if you will fix a day to meet me here I will
bring the baby.'

Then Thakane dried her eyes, and gladly accepted the old woman's offer.
When she got home she told her husband she had thrown it in the river,
and as he had watched her go in that direction he never thought of
doubting what she said.

On the appointed day, Thakane slipped out when everybody was busy, and
ran down the path that led to the lake. As soon as she got there, she
crouched down among the willows, and sang softly:

Bring to me Dilah, Dilah the rejected one, Dilah, whom her father Masilo
cast out!

And in a moment the old woman appeared holding the baby in her arms.
Dilah had become so big and strong, that Thakane's heart was filled with
joy and gratitude, and she stayed as long as she dared, playing with her
baby. At last she felt she must return to the village, lest she should
be missed, and the child was handed back to the old woman, who vanished
with her into the lake.

Children grow up very quickly when they live under water, and in less
time than anyone could suppose, Dilah had changed from a baby to a
woman. Her mother came to visit her whenever she was able, and one day,
when they were sitting talking together, they were spied out by a man
who had come to cut willows to weave into baskets. He was so surprised
to see how like the face of the girl was to Masilo, that he left his
work and returned to the village.

'Masilo,' he said, as he entered the hut, 'I have just beheld your wife
near the river with a girl who must be your daughter, she is so like
you. We have been deceived, for we all thought she was dead.'

When he heard this, Masilo tried to look shocked because his wife had
broken the law; but in his heart he was very glad.

'But what shall we do now?' asked he.

'Make sure for yourself that I am speaking the truth by hiding among the
bushes the first time Thakane says she is going to bathe in the river,
and waiting till the girl appears.'

For some days Thakane stayed quietly at home, and her husband began
to think that the man had been mistaken; but at last she said to her
husband: 'I am going to bathe in the river.'

'Well, you can go,' answered he. But he ran down quickly by another
path, and got there first, and hid himself in the bushes. An instant
later, Thakane arrived, and standing on the bank, she sang:

Bring to me Dilah, Dilah the rejected one, Dilah, whom her father Masilo
cast out!

Then the old woman came out of the water, holding the girl, now tall and
slender, by the hand. And as Masilo looked, he saw that she was indeed
his daughter, and he wept for joy that she was not lying dead in the
bottom of the lake. The old woman, however, seemed uneasy, and said to
Thakane: 'I feel as if someone was watching us. I will not leave the
girl to-day, but will take her back with me'; and sinking beneath the
surface, she drew the girl after her. After they had gone, Thakane
returned to the village, which Masilo had managed to reach before her.

All the rest of the day he sat in a corner weeping, and his mother who
came in asked: 'Why are you weeping so bitterly, my son?'

'My head aches,' he answered; 'it aches very badly.' And his mother
passed on, and left him alone.

In the evening he said to his wife: 'I have seen my daughter, in the
place where you told me you had drowned her. Instead, she lives at the
bottom of the lake, and has now grown into a young woman.'

'I don't know what you are talking about,' replied Thakane. 'I buried my
child under the sand on the beach.'

Then Masilo implored her to give the child back to him; but she would
not listen, and only answered: 'If I were to give her back you would
only obey the laws of your country and take her to your father, the
ogre, and she would be eaten.'

But Masilo promised that he would never let his father see her, and that
now she was a woman no one would try to hurt her; so Thakane's heart
melted, and she went down to the lake to consult the old woman.

'What am I to do?' she asked, when, after clapping her hands, the old
woman appeared before her. 'Yesterday Masilo beheld Dilah, and ever
since he has entreated me to give him back his daughter.'

'If I let her go he must pay me a thousand head of cattle in exchange,'
replied the old woman. And Thakane carried her answer back to Masilo.

'Why, I would gladly give her two thousand!' cried he, 'for she
has saved my daughter.' And he bade messengers hasten to all the
neighbouring villages, and tell his people to send him at once all the
cattle he possessed. When they were all assembled he chose a thousand of
the finest bulls and cows, and drove them down to the river, followed by
a great crowd wondering what would happen.

Then Thakane stepped forward in front of the cattle and sang:

Bring to me Dilah, Dilah the rejected one, Dilah, whom her father Masilo
cast out!

And Dilah came from the waters holding out her hands to Masilo and
Thakane, and in her place the cattle sank into the lake, and were driven
by the old woman to the great city filled with people, which lies at the
bottom.





Next: The Wicked Wolverine

Previous: How The Little Brother Set Free His Big Brothers



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