(A Story of the Stone Age.)
Punch, January 7, 1914
Of all the young bachelors in his tribe not one was more highly esteemed than Ug, the son of Zug. He was one of the nicest young prehistoric men that ever sprang seven feet into the air to avoid the impulsive bite of a sabre-tooth tiger, or cheered the hearts of brave elders searching for inter-tribal talent by his lightning sprints in front of excitable mammoths. Everybody liked Ug, and it was a matter of surprise to his friends that he had never married.
One bright day, however, they were interested to observe that he had begun to exhibit all the symptoms. He brooded apart. Twice in succession he refused a second help of pterodactyl at the tribal luncheon table. And there were those who claimed to have come upon him laboriously writing poetry on the walls of distant caves.
It should be understood that in those days only the most powerful motive, such as a whole-hearted love, could drive a man to writing poetry; for it was not the ridiculously simple task which it is to-day. The alphabet had not yet been invented, and the only method by which a young man could express himself was by carving or writing on stone a series of pictures, each of which conveyed the sense of some word or phrase. Thus, where the modern bard takes but a few seconds to write, “You made me love you. I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to do it,” Ug, the son of Zug, had to sit up night after night till he had carved three trees, a plesiosaurus, four kinds of fish, a star-shaped rock, eleven different varieties of flowering shrub, and a more or less lifelike representation of a mammoth surprised while bathing. It is little wonder that the youth of the period, ever impetuous, looked askance at this method of revealing their passion, and preferred to give proof of their sincerity and fervour by waiting for the lady of their affections behind a rock and stunning her with a club.
But the refined and sensitive nature of Ug, the son of Zug, shrank from this brusque form of wooing. He was shy with women. To him there was something a little coarse, almost ungentlemanly, in the orthodox form of proposal; and he had made up his mind that, if ever he should happen to fall in love, he would propose by ideograph.
It was shortly after he had come to this decision that, at a boy-and-girl dance given by a popular hostess, he met the divinest creature he had ever seen. Her name was Wug, the daughter of Glug; and from the moment of their introduction he realised that she was the one girl in the world for him. It only remained to compose the ideograph.
Having steadied himself as far as possible by carving a few poems, as described above, he addressed himself to the really important task of the proposal.
It was extraordinarily difficult, for Ug had not had a very good education. All he knew he had picked up in the give and take of tribal life. For this reason he felt it would be better to keep the thing short. But it was hard to condense all he felt into a brief note. For a long time he thought in vain, then one night, as he tossed sleeplessly on his bed of rocks, he came to a decision. He would just ideograph, “Dear Wug, I love you. Yours faithfully, Ug. P.S. R.S.V.P.,” and leave it at that. So in the morning he got to work, and by the end of the week the ideograph was completed. It consisted of a rising sun, two cave-bears, a walrus, seventeen shin-bones of the lesser rib-nosed baboon, a brontosaurus, three sand-eels, and a pterodactyl devouring a mangold-wurzel. It was an uncommonly neat piece of work, he considered, for one who had never attended an art-school. He was pleased with it. It would, he flattered himself, be a queer sort of girl who could stand out against that. For the first time for weeks he slept soundly and peacefully.
Next day his valet brought him with his morning beverage a piece of flat rock. On it was carved a simple human thigh-bone. He uttered a loud cry. She had rejected him. The parcel-post, an hour later, brought him his own ideograph, returned without a word.
Ug’s greatest friend in the tribe was Jug, son of Mug, a youth of extraordinary tact and intelligence. To him Ug took his trouble.
Jug heard his story, and asked to see exactly what he had ideographed.
“You must have expressed yourself badly,” he said.
“On the contrary,” replied Ug, with some pique, “my proposal was brief, but it was a model of what that sort of proposal should be. Here it is. Read it for yourself.”
Jug read it. Then he looked at his friend, concerned.
“But, my dear old man, what on earth did you mean by saying she has red hair and that you hate the sight of her?”
“What do you mean?”
“Why, this ichthyosaurus.”
“That’s not an ichthyosaurus. It’s a brontosaurus.”
“It’s not a bit like a brontosaurus. And it is rather like an ichthyosaurus. Where you went wrong was in not taking a few simple lessons in this sort of thing first.”
“If you ask me,” said Ug disgustedly, “this picture-writing is silly rot. To-morrow I start an Alphabet.”
* * * * *
But on the morrow he was otherwise employed. He was standing, concealed behind a rock, at the mouth of the cave of Wug, daughter of Glug. There was a dreamy look in his eyes, and his fingers were clasped like steel bands round the handle of one of the most business-like clubs the Stone Age had ever seen. Orthodoxy had found another disciple.
Unsigned story as printed; credited to P. G. Wodehouse in the Index to Vol. 146 of Punch.
the modern bard: Joseph McCarthy, lyricist of “You Made Me Love You” and other popular songs