How The Alphabet Was Made
: Just So Stories
THE week after Taffimai Metallumai (we will still call her Taffy, Best
Beloved) made that little mistake about her Daddy's spear and the
Stranger-man and the picture-letter and all, she went carp-fishing again
with her Daddy. Her Mummy wanted her to stay at home and help hang up
hides to dry on the big drying-poles outside their Neolithic Cave, but
Taffy slipped away down to her Daddy quite early, and they fished.
ntly she began to giggle, and her Daddy said, 'Don't be silly,
'But wasn't it inciting!' said Taffy. 'Don't you remember how the Head
Chief puffed out his cheeks, and how funny the nice Stranger-man looked
with the mud in his hair?'
'Well do I,' said Tegumai. 'I had to pay two deerskins--soft ones with
fringes--to the Stranger-man for the things we did to him.'
'We didn't do anything,' said Taffy. 'It was Mummy and the other
Neolithic ladies--and the mud.'
'We won't talk about that,' said her Daddy. 'Let's have lunch.'
Taffy took a marrow-bone and sat mousy-quiet for ten whole minutes,
while her Daddy scratched on pieces of birch-bark with a shark's tooth.
Then she said, 'Daddy, I've thinked of a secret surprise. You make a
noise--any sort of noise.'
'Ah!' said Tegumai. 'Will that do to begin with?'
'Yes,' said Taffy. 'You look just like a carp-fish with its mouth open.
Say it again, please.'
'Ah! ah! ah!' said her Daddy. 'Don't be rude, my daughter.'
'I'm not meaning rude, really and truly,' said Taffy. 'It's part of my
secret-surprise-think. Do say ah, Daddy, and keep your mouth open at
the end, and lend me that tooth. I'm going to draw a carp-fish's mouth
'What for?' said her Daddy.
'Don't you see?' said Taffy, scratching away on the bark. 'That will be
our little secret s'prise. When I draw a carp-fish with his mouth open
in the smoke at the back of our Cave--if Mummy doesn't mind--it will
remind you of that ah-noise. Then we can play that it was me jumped out
of the dark and s'prised you with that noise--same as I did in the
beaver-swamp last winter.'
'Really?' said her Daddy, in the voice that grown-ups use when they are
truly attending. 'Go on, Taffy.'
'Oh bother!' she said. 'I can't draw all of a carp-fish, but I can draw
something that means a carp-fish's mouth. Don't you know how they stand
on their heads rooting in the mud? Well, here's a pretence carp-fish (we
can play that the rest of him is drawn). Here's just his mouth, and that
means ah.' And she drew this. (1.)
'That's not bad,' said Tegumai, and scratched on his own piece of bark
for himself; but you've forgotten the feeler that hangs across his
'But I can't draw, Daddy.'
'You needn't draw anything of him except just the opening of his mouth
and the feeler across. Then we'll know he's a carp-fish, 'cause the
perches and trouts haven't got feelers. Look here, Taffy.' And he drew
'Now I'll copy it.' said Taffy. 'Will you understand this when you see
it?' And she drew this. (3.)
'Perfectly,' said her Daddy. 'And I'll be quite as s'prised when I see
it anywhere, as if you had jumped out from behind a tree and said "Ah!"'
'Now, make another noise,' said Taffy, very proud.
'Yah!' said her Daddy, very loud.
'H'm,' said Taffy. 'That's a mixy noise. The end part is
ah-carp-fish-mouth; but what can we do about the front part?
Yer-yer-yer and ah! Ya!'
'It's very like the carp-fish-mouth noise. Let's draw another bit of the
carp-fish and join 'em,' said her Daddy. He was quite incited too.
'No. If they're joined, I'll forget. Draw it separate. Draw his tail. If
he's standing on his head the tail will come first. 'Sides, I think I
can draw tails easiest,' said Taffy.
'A good notion,' said Tegumai. 'Here's a carp-fish tail for the
yer-noise.' And he drew this. (4.)
'I'll try now,' said Taffy. ''Member I can't draw like you, Daddy. Will
it do if I just draw the split part of the tail, and the sticky-down
line for where it joins?' And she drew this. (5.)
Her Daddy nodded, and his eyes were shiny bright with 'citement.
'That's beautiful,' she said. 'Now make another noise, Daddy.'
'Oh!' said her Daddy, very loud.
'That's quite easy,' said Taffy. 'You make your mouth all around like an
egg or a stone. So an egg or a stone will do for that.'
'You can't always find eggs or stones. We'll have to scratch a round
something like one.' And he drew this. (6.)
'My gracious!' said Taffy, 'what a lot of noise-pictures we've
made,--carp-mouth, carp-tail, and egg! Now, make another noise, Daddy.'
'Ssh!' said her Daddy, and frowned to himself, but Taffy was too incited
'That's quite easy,' she said, scratching on the bark.
'Eh, what?' said her Daddy. 'I meant I was thinking, and didn't want to
'It's a noise just the same. It's the noise a snake makes, Daddy, when
it is thinking and doesn't want to be disturbed. Let's make the
ssh-noise a snake. Will this do?' And she drew this. (7.)
'There,' she said. 'That's another s'prise-secret. When you draw a
hissy-snake by the door of your little back-cave where you mend the
spears, I'll know you're thinking hard; and I'll come in most
mousy-quiet. And if you draw it on a tree by the river when you're
fishing, I'll know you want me to walk most most mousy-quiet, so as
not to shake the banks.'
'Perfectly true,' said Tegumai. 'And there's more in this game than you
think. Taffy, dear, I've a notion that your Daddy's daughter has hit
upon the finest thing that there ever was since the Tribe of Tegumai
took to using shark's teeth instead of flints for their spear-heads. I
believe we've found out the big secret of the world.'
'Why?' said Taffy, and her eyes shone too with incitement.
'I'll show,' said her Daddy. 'What's water in the Tegumai language?'
'Ya, of course, and it means river too--like Wagai-ya--the Wagai
'What is bad water that gives you fever if you drink it--black
'Yo, of course.'
'Now look,' said her Daddy. 'S'pose you saw this scratched by the side
of a pool in the beaver-swamp?' And he drew this. (8.)
'Carp-tail and round egg. Two noises mixed! Yo, bad water,' said
Taffy. ''Course I wouldn't drink that water because I'd know you said it
'But I needn't be near the water at all. I might be miles away, hunting,
'And still it would be just the same as if you stood there and said,
"G'way, Taffy, or you'll get fever." All that in a carp-fish-tail and a
round egg! O Daddy, we must tell Mummy, quick!' and Taffy danced all
'Not yet,' said Tegumai; 'not till we've gone a little further. Let's
see. Yo is bad water, but so is food cooked on the fire, isn't it?'
And he drew this. (9.)
'Yes. Snake and egg,' said Taffy 'So that means dinner's ready. If you
saw that scratched on a tree you'd know it was time to come to the Cave.
'My Winkie!' said Tegumai. 'That's true too. But wait a minute. I see a
difficulty. So means "come and have dinner," but sho means the
drying-poles where we hang our hides.'
'Horrid old drying-poles!' said Taffy. 'I hate helping to hang heavy,
hot, hairy hides on them. If you drew the snake and egg, and I thought
it meant dinner, and I came in from the wood and found that it meant I
was to help Mummy hang the two hides on the drying-poles, what would I
'You'd be cross. So'd Mummy. We must make a new picture for sho. We
must draw a spotty snake that hisses sh-sh, and we'll play that the
plain snake only hisses ssss.'
'I couldn't be sure how to put in the spots,' said Taffy. 'And p'raps if
you were in a hurry you might leave them out, and I'd think it was
so when it was sho, and then Mummy would catch me just the same.
No! I think we'd better draw a picture of the horrid high drying-poles
their very selves, and make quite sure. I'll put them in just after
the hissy-snake. Look!' And she drew this. (10.)
'P'raps that's safest. It's very like our drying-poles, anyhow,' said
her Daddy, laughing. 'Now I'll make a new noise with a snake and
drying-pole sound in it. I'll say shi. That's Tegumai for spear,
Taffy.' And he laughed.
'Don't make fun of me,' said Taffy, as she thought of her
picture-letter and the mud in the Stranger-man's hair. 'You draw it,
'We won't have beavers or hills this time, eh?' said her Daddy. 'I'll
just draw a straight line for my spear.' and he drew this, (11.)
'Even Mummy couldn't mistake that for me being killed.'
'Please don't, Daddy. It makes me uncomfy. Do some more noises. We're
getting on beautifully.'
'Er-hm!' said Tegumai, looking up. 'We'll say shu. That means sky.'
Taffy drew the snake and the drying-pole. Then she stopped. 'We must
make a new picture for that end sound, mustn't we?'
'Shu-shu-u-u-u!' said her Daddy. 'Why, it's just like the
round-egg-sound made thin.'
'Then s'pose we draw a thin round egg, and pretend it's a frog that
hasn't eaten anything for years.'
'N-no,' said her Daddy. 'If we drew that in a hurry we might mistake it
for the round egg itself. Shu-shu-shu! I'll tell you what we'll do.
We'll open a little hole at the end of the round egg to show how the
O-noise runs out all thin, ooo-oo-oo. Like this.' And he drew this.
'Oh, that's lovely! Much better than a thin frog. Go on,' said Taffy,
using her shark's tooth.
Her Daddy went on drawing, and his hand shook with excitement. He went
on till he had drawn this. (13.)
'Don't look up, Taffy,' he said. 'Try if you can make out what that
means in the Tegumai language. If you can, we've found the Secret.'
'Snake--pole--broken-egg--carp-tail and carp-mouth,' said Taffy.
'Shu-ya. Sky-water (rain).' Just then a drop fell on her hand, for the
day had clouded over. 'Why, Daddy, it's raining. Was that what you
meant to tell me?'
'Of course,' said her Daddy. 'And I told it you without saying a word,
'Well, I think I would have known it in a minute, but that raindrop
made me quite sure. I'll always remember now. Shu-ya means rain or "it
is going to rain." Why, Daddy!' She got up and danced round him. 'S'pose
you went out before I was awake, and drawed shu-ya in the smoke on the
wall, I'd know it was going to rain and I'd take my beaver-skin hood.
Wouldn't Mummy be surprised!'
Tegumai got up and danced. (Daddies didn't mind doing those things in
those days.) 'More than that! More than that!' he said. 'S'pose I wanted
to tell you it wasn't going to rain much and you must come down to the
river, what would we draw? Say the words in Tegumai-talk first.'
'Shu-ya-las, ya maru. (Sky-water ending. River come to.) What a lot
of new sounds! I don't see how we can draw them.'
'But I do--but I do!' said Tegumai. 'Just attend a minute, Taffy, and we
won't do any more to-day. We've got shu-ya all right, haven't we? but
this las is a teaser. La-la-la!' and he waved his shark-tooth.
'There's the hissy-snake at the end and the carp-mouth before the
snake--as-as-as. We only want la-la,' said Taffy.
'I know it, but we have to make la-la. And we're the first people in all
the world who've ever tried to do it, Taffimai!'
'Well,' said Taffy, yawning, for she was rather tired. 'Las means
breaking or finishing as well as ending, doesn't it?'
'So it does,' said Tegumai. 'Yo-las means that there's no water in the
tank for Mummy to cook with--just when I'm going hunting, too.'
'And shi-las means that your spear is broken. If I'd only thought of
that instead of drawing silly beaver pictures for the Stranger!'
'La! La! La!' said Tegumai, waving his stick and frowning. 'Oh
'I could have drawn shi quite easily,' Taffy went on. 'Then I'd have
drawn your spear all broken--this way!' And she drew. (14.)
'The very thing,' said Tegumai. 'That's la all over. It isn't like any
of the other marks, either.' And he drew this. (15.)
'Now for ya. Oh, we've done that before. Now for maru.
Mum-mum-mum. Mum shuts one's mouth up, doesn't it? We'll draw a shut
mouth like this.' And he drew. (16.)
'Then the carp-mouth open. That makes Ma-ma-ma! But what about this
'It sounds all rough and edgy, like your shark-tooth saw when you're
cutting out a plank for the canoe,' said Taffy.
'You mean all sharp at the edges, like this?' said Tegumai. And he drew.
''Xactly,' said Taffy. 'But we don't want all those teeth: only put
'I'll only put in one,' said Tegumai. 'If this game of ours is going to
be what I think it will, the easier we make our sound-pictures the
better for everybody.' And he drew. (18.)
'Now we've got it,' said Tegumai, standing on one leg. 'I'll draw 'em
all in a string like fish.'
'Hadn't we better put a little bit of stick or something between each
word, so's they won't rub up against each other and jostle, same as if
they were carps?'
'Oh, I'll leave a space for that,' said her Daddy. And very incitedly he
drew them all without stopping, on a big new bit of birch-bark. (19.)
'Shu-ya-las ya-maru,' said Taffy, reading it out sound by sound.
'That's enough for to-day,' said Tegumai. 'Besides, you're getting
tired, Taffy. Never mind, dear. We'll finish it all to-morrow, and then
we'll be remembered for years and years after the biggest trees you can
see are all chopped up for firewood.'
So they went home, and all that evening Tegumai sat on one side of the
fire and Taffy on the other, drawing ya's and yo's and shu's and
shi's in the smoke on the wall and giggling together till her Mummy
said, 'Really, Tegumai, you're worse than my Taffy.'
'Please don't mind,' said Taffy. 'It's only our secret-s'prise, Mummy
dear, and we'll tell you all about it the very minute it's done; but
please don't ask me what it is now, or else I'll have to tell.'
So her Mummy most carefully didn't; and bright and early next morning
Tegumai went down to the river to think about new sound-pictures, and
when Taffy got up she saw Ya-las (water is ending or running out)
chalked on the side of the big stone water-tank, outside the Cave.
'Um,' said Taffy. 'These picture-sounds are rather a bother! Daddy's
just as good as come here himself and told me to get more water for
Mummy to cook with.' She went to the spring at the back of the house and
filled the tank from a bark bucket, and then she ran down to the river
and pulled her Daddy's left ear--the one that belonged to her to pull
when she was good.
'Now come along and we'll draw all the left-over sound-pictures,' said
her Daddy, and they had a most inciting day of it, and a beautiful lunch
in the middle, and two games of romps. When they came to T, Taffy said
that as her name, and her Daddy's, and her Mummy's all began with that
sound, they should draw a sort of family group of themselves holding
hands. That was all very well to draw once or twice; but when it came to
drawing it six or seven times, Taffy and Tegumai drew it scratchier and
scratchier, till at last the T-sound was only a thin long Tegumai with
his arms out to hold Taffy and Teshumai. You can see from these three
pictures partly how it happened. (20, 21, 22.)
Many of the other pictures were much too beautiful to begin with,
especially before lunch, but as they were drawn over and over again on
birch-bark, they became plainer and easier, till at last even Tegumai
said he could find no fault with them. They turned the hissy-snake the
other way round for the Z-sound, to show it was hissing backwards in a
soft and gentle way (23); and they just made a twiddle for E, because it
came into the pictures so often (24); and they drew pictures of the
sacred Beaver of the Tegumais for the B-sound (25, 26, 27, 28); and
because it was a nasty, nosy noise, they just drew noses for the
N-sound, till they were tired (29); and they drew a picture of the big
lake-pike's mouth for the greedy Ga-sound (30); and they drew the pike's
mouth again with a spear behind it for the scratchy, hurty Ka-sound
(31); and they drew pictures of a little bit of the winding Wagai river
for the nice windy-windy Wa-sound (32, 33); and so on and so forth and
so following till they had done and drawn all the sound-pictures that
they wanted, and there was the Alphabet, all complete.
And after thousands and thousands and thousands of years, and after
Hieroglyphics and Demotics, and Nilotics, and Cryptics, and Cufics, and
Runics, and Dorics, and Ionics, and all sorts of other ricks and tricks
(because the Woons, and the Neguses, and the Akhoonds, and the
Repositories of Tradition would never leave a good thing alone when they
saw it), the fine old easy, understandable Alphabet--A, B, C, D, E, and
the rest of 'em--got back into its proper shape again for all Best
Beloveds to learn when they are old enough.
But I remember Tegumai Bopsulai, and Taffimai Metallumai and
Teshumai Tewindrow, her dear Mummy, and all the days gone by. And it was
so--just so--a little time ago--on the banks of the big Wagai!
ONE of the first things that Tegumai Bopsulai did
after Taffy and he had made the Alphabet was to
make a magic Alphabet-necklace of all the letters,
so that it could be put in the Temple of Tegumai
and kept for ever and ever. All the Tribe of
Tegumai brought their most precious beads and
beautiful things, and Taffy and Tegumai spent five
whole years getting the necklace in order. This is
a picture of the magic Alphabet-necklace. The
string was made of the finest and strongest
reindeer-sinew, bound round with thin copper wire.
Beginning at the top, the first bead is an old
silver one that belonged to the Head Priest of the
Tribe of Tegumai; then come three black
mussel-pearls; next is a clay bead (blue and
gray); next a nubbly gold bead sent as a present
by a tribe who got it from Africa (but it must
have been Indian really); the next is a long
flat-sided glass bead from Africa (the Tribe of
Tegumai took it in a fight); then come two clay
beads (white and green), with dots on one, and
dots and bands on the other; next are three rather
chipped amber beads; then three clay beads (red
and white), two with dots, and the big one in the
middle with a toothed pattern. Then the letters
begin, and between each letter is a little whitish
clay bead with the letter repeated small. Here are
A is scratched on a tooth--an elk-tusk I think.
B is the Sacred Beaver of Tegumai on a bit of old glory.
C is a pearly oyster-shell--inside front.
D must be a sort of mussel-shell--outside front.
E is a twist of silver wire.
F is broken, but what remains of it is a bit of stag's horn.
G is painted black on a piece of wood. (The bead after G is a small
shell, and not a clay bead. I don't know why they did that.)
H is a kind of a big brown cowie-shell.
I is the inside part of a long shell ground down by hand. (It took
Tegumai three months to grind it down.)
J is a fish hook in mother-of-pearl.
L is the broken spear in silver. (K ought to follow J of course, but
the necklace was broken once and they mended it wrong.)
K is a thin slice of bone scratched and rubbed in black.
M is on a pale gray shell.
N is a piece of what is called porphyry with a nose scratched on it.
(Tegumai spent five months polishing this stone.)
O is a piece of oyster-shell with a hole in the middle.
P and Q are missing. They were lost, a long time ago, in a great
war, and the tribe mended the necklace with the dried rattles of
a rattlesnake, but no one ever found P and Q. That is how the
saying began, 'You must mind your P's. and Q's.'
R is, of course, just a shark's tooth.
S is a little silver snake.
T is the end of a small bone, polished brown and shiny.
U is another piece of oyster-shell.
W is a twisty piece of mother-of-pearl that they found inside a big
mother-of-pearl shell, and sawed off with a wire dipped in sand
and water. It took Taffy a month and a half to polish it and drill
X is silver wire joined in the middle with a raw garnet. (Taffy
found the garnet.)
Y is the carp's tail in ivory.
Z is a bell-shaped piece of agate marked with Z-shaped stripes. They
made the Z-snake out of one of the stripes by picking out the soft
stone and rubbing in red sand and bee's-wax. Just in the mouth of
the bell you see the clay bead repeating the Z-letter.
These are all the letters.
The next bead is a small round greeny lump of
copper ore; the next is a lump of rough turquoise;
the next is a rough gold nugget (what they call
water-gold); the next is a melon-shaped clay bead
(white with green spots). Then come four flat ivory
pieces, with dots on them rather like dominoes;
then come three stone beads, very badly worn; then
two soft iron beads with rust-holes at the edges
(they must have been magic, because they look very
common); and last is a very very old African bead,
like glass--blue, red, white, black, and yellow.
Then comes the loop to slip over the big silver
button at the other end, and that is all.
I have copied the necklace very carefully. It
weighs one pound seven and a half ounces. The black
squiggle behind is only put in to make the beads
and things look better.
OF all the Tribe of Tegumai
Who cut that figure, none remain,--
On Merrow Down the cuckoos cry--
The silence and the sun remain.
But as the faithful years return
And hearts unwounded sing again,
Comes Taffy dancing through the fern
To lead the Surrey spring again.
Her brows are bound with bracken-fronds,
And golden elf-locks fly above;
Her eyes are bright as diamonds
And bluer than the skies above.
In mocassins and deer-skin cloak,
Unfearing, free and fair she flits,
And lights her little damp-wood smoke
To show her Daddy where she flits.
For far--oh, very far behind,
So far she cannot call to him,
Comes Tegumai alone to find
The daughter that was all to him.