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.

'Small-person-with-no-manners-who-ought-to-be-spanked! You?'

'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!