| 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 ALPHABET WAS MADE
 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. Presently she began to
giggle, and her Daddy said, "Don't be silly, child."
 "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
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 wide-open."
"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.
 "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 mouth."
"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 this.
"Now I'll copy it.
" said Taffy.
"Will you understand this when
you see it?"
said her Daddy.
And she drew this.
"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
"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
"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.
"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.
Her Daddy nodded, and his eyes were shiny bright with
" she said. "Now make another noise, Daddy."
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
"You can't always find eggs or stones.
 We'll have to scratch a
round something like one."
And he drew this.
" said Taffy,
"what a lot of noise-pictures we've
made,—carp-mouth, carp-tail, and egg! Now, make another noise,
"Ssh!" said her Daddy, and frowned to himself, but Taffy was too
incited to notice.
"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 be disturbed."
"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
"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
are 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
"Ya, of course, and
it means river too—like Wagai-ya—the Wagai
"What is bad water that gives you fever if you drink
"Yo, of course."
" said her Daddy. "S'pose you saw this scratched by the
side of a pool in the beaver-swamp?
" And he drew this.
"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 was bad."
 "But I needn't be near the water at all. I might be miles away,
hunting, and still—"
"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 round him.
"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.
"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. So'd I."
"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 do?"
"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
"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
 "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.
"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."
said Tegumai, looking up. "We'll
say shu. That means
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!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 incitement. He went on till he had drawn
"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
"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, didn't I?"
"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 gotup 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
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
"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!"
" 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,
"And shi-las means that your spear is broken. If I'd only thought
of that instead of drawing silly beaver pictures for the
"La! La! La!" said Tegumai, waiving 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.
"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.
"Then the carp-mouth open.
That makes Ma-ma-ma! But what about
this rrrrr-thing, Taffy?"
 "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
"'Xactly," said Taffy. "But we don't want all those teeth: 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.
"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
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
"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
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
pictures partly how it happened.
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; and they
just made a twiddle for E, because it came into the pictures so
often; and they drew pictures of the sacred Beaver of the
Tegumais for the B-sound; and because it was a
nasty, nosy noise, they
 just drew noses for the N-sound, till
they were tired; and they drew a picture of the big
mouth for the greedy Ga-sound; and they drew the pike's
again with a spear behind it for the scratchy, hurty Ka-sound;
and they drew pictures of a little bit of the winding Wagai river
for the nice windy-windy Wa-sound; and so on and so
and so following till they had done and drawn all the
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
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 the letters—
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 cowrie-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 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 the holes.
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
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.
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