How The First Letter Was Written
: Just So Stories
ONCE upon a most early time was a Neolithic man. He was not a Jute or
an Angle, or even a Dravidian, which he might well have been, Best
Beloved, but never mind why. He was a Primitive, and he lived cavily in
a Cave, and he wore very few clothes, and he couldn't read and he
couldn't write and he didn't want to, and except when he was hungry he
was quite happy. His name was Tegumai Bopsulai, and that means,
-not-put-his-foot-forward-in-a-hurry'; but we, O Best
Beloved, will call him Tegumai, for short. And his wife's name was
Teshumai Tewindrow, and that means, 'Lady-who-asks-a-very-many-questions';
but we, O Best Beloved, will call her Teshumai, for short. And his little
girl-daughter's name was Taffimai Metallumai, and that means,
'Small-person-without-any-manners-who-ought-to-be-spanked'; but I'm
going to call her Taffy. And she was Tegumai Bopsulai's Best Beloved and
her own Mummy's Best Beloved, and she was not spanked half as much as
was good for her; and they were all three very happy. As soon as Taffy
could run about she went everywhere with her Daddy Tegumai, and
sometimes they would not come home to the Cave till they were hungry,
and then Teshumai Tewindrow would say, 'Where in the world have you two
been to, to get so shocking dirty? Really, my Tegumai, you're no better
than my Taffy.'
Now attend and listen!
One day Tegumai Bopsulai went down through the beaver-swamp to the
Wagai river to spear carp-fish for dinner, and Taffy went too. Tegumai's
spear was made of wood with shark's teeth at the end, and before he had
caught any fish at all he accidentally broke it clean across by jabbing
it down too hard on the bottom of the river. They were miles and miles
from home (of course they had their lunch with them in a little bag),
and Tegumai had forgotten to bring any extra spears.
'Here's a pretty kettle of fish!' said Tegumai. 'It will take me half
the day to mend this.'
'There's your big black spear at home,' said Taffy. 'Let me run back to
the Cave and ask Mummy to give it me.'
'It's too far for your little fat legs,' said Tegumai. 'Besides, you
might fall into the beaver-swamp and be drowned. We must make the best
of a bad job.' He sat down and took out a little leather mendy-bag, full
of reindeer-sinews and strips of leather, and lumps of bee's-wax and
resin, and began to mend the spear. Taffy sat down too, with her toes in
the water and her chin in her hand, and thought very hard. Then she
'I say, Daddy, it's an awful nuisance that you and I don't know how to
write, isn't it? If we did we could send a message for the new spear.'
'Taffy,' said Tegumai, 'how often have I told you not to use slang?
"Awful" isn't a pretty word,--but it would be a convenience, now you
mention it, if we could write home.'
Just then a Stranger-man came along the river, but he belonged to a far
tribe, the Tewaras, and he did not understand one word of Tegumai's
language. He stood on the bank and smiled at Taffy, because he had a
little girl-daughter of his own at home. Tegumai drew a hank of
deer-sinews from his mendy-bag and began to mend his spear.
'Come here,' said Taffy. 'Do you know where my Mummy lives?' And the
Stranger-man said 'Um!'--being, as you know, a Tewara.
'Silly!' said Taffy, and she stamped her foot, because she saw a shoal
of very big carp going up the river just when her Daddy couldn't use his
'Don't bother grown-ups,' said Tegumai, so busy with his spear-mending
that he did not turn round.
'I aren't,' said Taffy. 'I only want him to do what I want him to do,
and he won't understand.'
'Then don't bother me,' said Tegumai, and he went on pulling and
straining at the deer-sinews with his mouth full of loose ends. The
Stranger-man--a genuine Tewara he was--sat down on the grass, and Taffy
showed him what her Daddy was doing. The Stranger-man thought, 'This is
a very wonderful child. She stamps her foot at me and she makes faces.
She must be the daughter of that noble Chief who is so great that he
won't take any notice of me.' So he smiled more politely than ever.
'Now,' said Taffy, 'I want you to go to my Mummy, because your legs are
longer than mine, and you won't fall into the beaver-swamp, and ask for
Daddy's other spear--the one with the black handle that hangs over our
The Stranger-man (and he was a Tewara) thought, 'This is a very, very
wonderful child. She waves her arms and she shouts at me, but I don't
understand a word of what she says. But if I don't do what she wants, I
greatly fear that that haughty Chief, Man-who-turns-his-back-on-callers,
will be angry.' He got up and twisted a big flat piece of bark off a
birch-tree and gave it to Taffy. He did this, Best Beloved, to show that
his heart was as white as the birch-bark and that he meant no harm; but
Taffy didn't quite understand.
'Oh!' said she. 'Now I see! You want my Mummy's living address? Of
course I can't write, but I can draw pictures if I've anything sharp to
scratch with. Please lend me the shark's tooth off your necklace.'
The Stranger-man (and he was a Tewara) didn't say anything, so Taffy
put up her little hand and pulled at the beautiful bead and seed and
shark-tooth necklace round his neck.
The Stranger-man (and he was a Tewara) thought, 'This is a very,
very, very wonderful child. The shark's tooth on my necklace is a
magic shark's tooth, and I was always told that if anybody touched
it without my leave they would immediately swell up or burst, but
this child doesn't swell up or burst, and that important Chief,
Man-who-attends-strictly-to-his-business, who has not yet taken any
notice of me at all, doesn't seem to be afraid that she will swell up or
burst. I had better be more polite.'
So he gave Taffy the shark's tooth, and she lay down flat on her tummy
with her legs in the air, like some people on the drawing-room floor
when they want to draw pictures, and she said, 'Now I'll draw you some
beautiful pictures! You can look over my shoulder, but you mustn't
joggle. First I'll draw Daddy fishing. It isn't very like him; but Mummy
will know, because I've drawn his spear all broken. Well, now I'll draw
the other spear that he wants, the black-handled spear. It looks as if
it was sticking in Daddy's back, but that's because the shark's tooth
slipped and this piece of bark isn't big enough. That's the spear I want
you to fetch; so I'll draw a picture of me myself 'splaining to you. My
hair doesn't stand up like I've drawn, but it's easier to draw that way.
Now I'll draw you. I think you're very nice really, but I can't make
you pretty in the picture, so you mustn't be 'fended. Are you 'fended?'
The Stranger-man (and he was a Tewara) smiled. He thought, 'There must
be a big battle going to be fought somewhere, and this extraordinary
child, who takes my magic shark's tooth but who does not swell up or
burst, is telling me to call all the great Chief's tribe to help him. He
is a great Chief, or he would have noticed me.'
'Look,' said Taffy, drawing very hard and rather scratchily, 'now I've
drawn you, and I've put the spear that Daddy wants into your hand, just
to remind you that you're to bring it. Now I'll show you how to find my
Mummy's living-address. You go along till you come to two trees (those
are trees), and then you go over a hill (that's a hill), and then you
come into a beaver-swamp all full of beavers. I haven't put in all the
beavers, because I can't draw beavers, but I've drawn their heads, and
that's all you'll see of them when you cross the swamp. Mind you don't
fall in! Then our Cave is just beyond the beaver-swamp. It isn't as high
as the hills really, but I can't draw things very small. That's my Mummy
outside. She is beautiful. She is the most beautifullest Mummy there
ever was, but she won't be 'fended when she sees I've drawn her so
plain. She'll be pleased of me because I can draw. Now, in case you
forget, I've drawn the spear that Daddy wants outside our Cave. It's
inside really, but you show the picture to my Mummy and she'll give it
you. I've made her holding up her hands, because I know she'll be so
pleased to see you. Isn't it a beautiful picture? And do you quite
understand, or shall I 'splain again?'
The Stranger-man (and he was a Tewara) looked at the picture and
nodded very hard. He said to himself, 'If I do not fetch this great
Chief's tribe to help him, he will be slain by his enemies who are
coming up on all sides with spears. Now I see why the great Chief
pretended not to notice me! He feared that his enemies were hiding in
the bushes and would see him deliver a message to me. Therefore he
turned his back, and let the wise and wonderful child draw the terrible
picture showing me his difficulties. I will away and get help for him
from his tribe.' He did not even ask Taffy the road, but raced off into
the bushes like the wind, with the birch-bark in his hand, and Taffy sat
down most pleased.
Now this is the picture that Taffy had drawn for him!
'What have you been doing, Taffy?' said Tegumai. He had mended his spear
and was carefully waving it to and fro.
'It's a little berangement of my own, Daddy dear,' said Taffy. 'If you
won't ask me questions, you'll know all about it in a little time, and
you'll be surprised. You don't know how surprised you'll be, Daddy!
Promise you'll be surprised.'
'Very well,' said Tegumai, and went on fishing.
The Stranger-man--did you know he was a Tewara?--hurried away with the
picture and ran for some miles, till quite by accident he found Teshumai
Tewindrow at the door of her Cave, talking to some other Neolithic
ladies who had come in to a Primitive lunch. Taffy was very like
Teshumai, especially about the upper part of the face and the eyes, so
the Stranger-man--always a pure Tewara--smiled politely and handed
Teshumai the birch-bark. He had run hard, so that he panted, and his
legs were scratched with brambles, but he still tried to be polite.
As soon as Teshumai saw the picture she screamed like anything and flew
at the Stranger-man. The other Neolithic ladies at once knocked him down
and sat on him in a long line of six, while Teshumai pulled his hair.
'It's as plain as the nose on this Stranger-man's face,' she said. 'He
has stuck my Tegumai all full of spears, and frightened poor Taffy so
that her hair stands all on end; and not content with that, he brings me
a horrid picture of how it was done. Look!' She showed the picture to
all the Neolithic ladies sitting patiently on the Stranger-man. 'Here is
my Tegumai with his arm broken; here is a spear sticking into his back;
here is a man with a spear ready to throw; here is another man throwing
a spear from a Cave, and here are a whole pack of people' (they were
Taffy's beavers really, but they did look rather like people) 'coming up
behind Tegumai. Isn't it shocking!'
'Most shocking!' said the Neolithic ladies, and they filled the
Stranger-man's hair with mud (at which he was surprised), and they beat
upon the Reverberating Tribal Drums, and called together all the chiefs
of the Tribe of Tegumai, with their Hetmans and Dolmans, all Neguses,
Woons, and Akhoonds of the organisation, in addition to the Warlocks,
Angekoks, Juju-men, Bonzes, and the rest, who decided that before they
chopped the Stranger-man's head off he should instantly lead them down
to the river and show them where he had hidden poor Taffy.
By this time the Stranger-man (in spite of being a Tewara) was really
annoyed. They had filled his hair quite solid with mud; they had rolled
him up and down on knobby pebbles; they had sat upon him in a long line
of six; they had thumped him and bumped him till he could hardly
breathe; and though he did not understand their language, he was almost
sure that the names the Neolithic ladies called him were not ladylike.
However, he said nothing till all the Tribe of Tegumai were assembled,
and then he led them back to the bank of the Wagai river, and there they
found Taffy making daisy-chains, and Tegumai carefully spearing small
carp with his mended spear.
'Well, you have been quick!' said Taffy. 'But why did you bring so
many people? Daddy dear, this is my surprise. Are you surprised,
'Very,' said Tegumai; 'but it has ruined all my fishing for the day.
Why, the whole dear, kind, nice, clean, quiet Tribe is here, Taffy.'
And so they were. First of all walked Teshumai Tewindrow and the
Neolithic ladies, tightly holding on to the Stranger-man, whose hair was
full of mud (although he was a Tewara). Behind them came the Head Chief,
the Vice-Chief, the Deputy and Assistant Chiefs (all armed to the upper
teeth), the Hetmans and Heads of Hundreds, Platoffs with their Platoons,
and Dolmans with their Detachments; Woons, Neguses, and Akhoonds ranking
in the rear (still armed to the teeth). Behind them was the Tribe in
hierarchical order, from owners of four caves (one for each season), a
private reindeer-run, and two salmon-leaps, to feudal and prognathous
Villeins, semi-entitled to half a bearskin of winter nights, seven yards
from the fire, and adscript serfs, holding the reversion of a scraped
marrow-bone under heriot (Aren't those beautiful words, Best Beloved?).
They were all there, prancing and shouting, and they frightened every
fish for twenty miles, and Tegumai thanked them in a fluid Neolithic
Then Teshumai Tewindrow ran down and kissed and hugged Taffy very much
indeed; but the Head Chief of the Tribe of Tegumai took Tegumai by the
top-knot feathers and shook him severely.
'Explain! Explain! Explain!' cried all the Tribe of Tegumai.
'Goodness' sakes alive!' said Tegumai. 'Let go of my top-knot. Can't a
man break his carp-spear without the whole countryside descending on
him? You're a very interfering people.'
'I don't believe you've brought my Daddy's black-handled spear after
all,' said Taffy. 'And what are you doing to my nice Stranger-man?'
They were thumping him by twos and threes and tens till his eyes turned
round and round. He could only gasp and point at Taffy.
'Where are the bad people who speared you, my darling?' said Teshumai
'There weren't any,' said Tegumai. 'My only visitor this morning was the
poor fellow that you are trying to choke. Aren't you well, or are you
ill, O Tribe of Tegumai?'
'He came with a horrible picture,' said the Head Chief,--'a picture that
showed you were full of spears.'
'Er--um--Pr'aps I'd better 'splain that I gave him that picture,' said
Taffy, but she did not feel quite comfy.
'You!' said the Tribe of Tegumai all together.
'Taffy dear, I'm afraid we're in for a little trouble,' said her Daddy,
and put his arm round her, so she didn't care.
'Explain! Explain! Explain!' said the Head Chief of the Tribe of
Tegumai, and he hopped on one foot.
'I wanted the Stranger-man to fetch Daddy's spear, so I drawded it,'
said Taffy. 'There wasn't lots of spears. There was only one spear. I
drawded it three times to make sure. I couldn't help it looking as if it
stuck into Daddy's head--there wasn't room on the birch-bark; and those
things that Mummy called bad people are my beavers. I drawded them to
show him the way through the swamp; and I drawded Mummy at the mouth of
the Cave looking pleased because he is a nice Stranger-man, and I
think you are just the stupidest people in the world,' said Taffy. 'He
is a very nice man. Why have you filled his hair with mud? Wash him!'
Nobody said anything at all for a long time, till the Head Chief
laughed; then the Stranger-man (who was at least a Tewara) laughed; then
Tegumai laughed till he fell down flat on the bank; then all the Tribe
laughed more and worse and louder. The only people who did not laugh
were Teshumai Tewindrow and all the Neolithic ladies. They were very
polite to all their husbands, and said 'idiot!' ever so often.
Then the Head Chief of the Tribe of Tegumai cried and said and sang, 'O
Small-person-without-any-manners-who-ought-to-be-spanked, you've hit
upon a great invention!'
'I didn't intend to; I only wanted Daddy's black-handled spear,' said
'Never mind. It is a great invention, and some day men will call it
writing. At present it is only pictures, and, as we have seen to-day,
pictures are not always properly understood. But a time will come, O
Babe of Tegumai, when we shall make letters--all twenty-six of 'em,--and
when we shall be able to read as well as to write, and then we shall
always say exactly what we mean without any mistakes. Let the Neolithic
ladies wash the mud out of the stranger's hair.
'I shall be glad of that,' said Taffy, 'because, after all, though
you've brought every single other spear in the Tribe of Tegumai, you've
forgotten my Daddy's black-handled spear.'
Then the Head Chief cried and said and sang, 'Taffy dear, the next time
you write a picture-letter, you'd better send a man who can talk our
language with it, to explain what it means. I don't mind it myself,
because I am a Head Chief, but it's very bad for the rest of the Tribe
of Tegumai, and, as you can see, it surprises the stranger.'
Then they adopted the Stranger-man (a genuine Tewara of Tewar) into the
Tribe of Tegumai, because he was a gentleman and did not make a fuss
about the mud that the Neolithic ladies had put into his hair. But from
that day to this (and I suppose it is all Taffy's fault), very few
little girls have ever liked learning to read or write. Most of them
prefer to draw pictures and play about with their Daddies--just like
old tusk a very long time ago by the Ancient Peoples. If you read my
story, or have it read to you, you can see how it is all told out on the
tusk. The tusk was part of an old tribal trumpet that belonged to the
Tribe of Tegumai. The pictures were scratched on it with a nail or
something, and then the scratches were filled up with black wax, but all
the dividing lines and the five little rounds at the bottom were filled
with red wax. When it was new there was a sort of network of beads and
shells and precious stones at one end of it; but now that has been
broken and lost--all except the little bit that you see. The letters
round the tusk are magic--Runic magic,--and if you can read them you
will find out something rather new. The tusk is of ivory--very yellow
and scratched. It is two feet long and two feet round, and weighs eleven
pounds nine ounces.]
THERE runs a road by Merrow Down--
A grassy track to-day it is--
An hour out of Guildford town,
Above the river Wey it is.
Here, when they heard the horse-bells ring,
The ancient Britons dressed and rode
To watch the dark Phoenicians bring
Their goods along the Western Road.
And here, or hereabouts, they met
To hold their racial talks and such--
To barter beads for Whitby jet,
And tin for gay shell torques and such.
But long and long before that time
(When bison used to roam on it)
Did Taffy and her Daddy climb
That down, and had their home on it.
Then beavers built in Broadstonebrook
And made a swamp where Bramley stands:
And bears from Shere would come and look
For Taffimai where Shamley stands.
The Wey, that Taffy called Wagai,
Was more than six times bigger then;
And all the Tribe of Tegumai
They cut a noble figure then!