| Just So Stories|
|by Rudyard Kipling|
|Fanciful explanations, that delight both young and old, of how some curious things came to be, including stories of how the elephant got his trunk, how the camel got his hump, and how the alphabet was invented. Ages 6-9 |
HOW THE FIRST LETTER WAS WRITTEN
 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, "Man-who-does-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,
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
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 said—'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
"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 spear.
"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 fireplace."
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
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
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
"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
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. Therefore he
turned to me his back, and let the wise and wondetful 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
said Tegumai; "but it has ruined all
 my fishing for the
day. Why, the whole dear, kind, nice, clean, quiet Tribe is here,
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
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
"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 longtime, 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
you've hit upon a great invention!"
"I didn't intend to; I only wanted Daddy's black-handled spear,"said Taffy.
"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 Taffy.
THIS is the story of Taffimai Metallumai carved on an 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 Broadstone brook
And made a swamp where Bramley stands:
And hears 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!
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