Blackfellas’ Way: A Jumbly Tale


Deirdre got in the door at Lauren’s, through her hat on the dresser and flopped down on a kitchen chair.
“Oh, Lauren,” she said “I’m simply exhausted.”
“I’m not surprised,” replied Lauren Higginsbottom, as she bustled around her kitchen, doing a final tidy up. Dinner was ready but she liked a clean kitchen before they gave thanks.
“Your work with Doc Mason is taking you all over. Why you must know nearly everything he can teach you. Doesn’t leave you much time for relaxing.”
Deirdre knew this was Lauren’s way of saying that she hadn’t been much help around the house and that Jumbly was probably missing her company. She was missing his company too. He had his own work to keep him busy and they just had not managed to find much time together.

“I’m sorry, Lauren. Here I’ll wash up. Just the thing, my hands are quite chilled.”
Lauren smiled and began laying the table as Deirdre plunged her hands into the hot water. Ooh, so nice. She really had walked miles and miles with Doc Mason today. Deirdre began telling Lauren about the injuries they had treated and what she had learnt. Lauren was a little squeamish and only listened with half an ear until Deirdre mentioned the Blackfellas.

“Goodness, did Doc Mason take you all the way out to the camp. You want to be careful going out there, you never know what you might find. Always cover up and make sure your stockings are well tucked into your boots.”
Deirdre had turned open-mouthed towards Lauren, wondering what she was leading to.
“Snakes, dear, and spiders. Leeches and bull ants. All nasty biters, can’t be too safe.”

Deirdre nodded and was about to respond when she noticed that the table was set for three. She felt a flutter of excitement. “Is Jumbly coming for tea?’ she asked.
Lauren smiled at her, “I wondered when you’d notice. Yes, he is. All excited and everything. Bet he spruces himself up,” nodding at Deirdre’s dusty clothing. Deirdre laughed. You could always rely on Lauren for her subtlety or rather lack of it. Finishing the dishes, Deirdre gave Lauren a rather soapy hug on her way upstairs to clean up.

Jumbly! How she had missed him. She hadn’t seen him since Sunday Meeting for Worship and here it was Friday already. Goodness, by the time she was up and gone after chores in the morning and off to Doc Mason’s, out with that lovely old gentleman all day, it was night before they were back and she was exhausted. Deirdre dearly wished to spend more time with Adam but the Doc really needed her. He was their only medical man for miles and miles around and he wasn’t young. What to do? Oh, Jumbly! She was so looking forward to seeing him.

Lauren was putting the food on the table, ready for serving, when there was a knock on the door. She opened it to find Jumbly taking off his boots before stepping into the kitchen.
“Jumbly! It’s so lovely to see you. Come in. Come in.” He did and scooped Lauren up in a big hug that made her blush with pleasure and fuss to be put down.

“Jumbly! Jumbly! I’ve missed you!” Deirdre came flying down the stairs and leapt in an unseemly display into Jumbly’s arms. Jumbly laughed, gathered her up and gave her a resounding kiss on her cheek.
“Well! Really! Come on, you two, we can’t let dinner get cold.” Lauren wasn’t offended by their enthusiasm in the least, just a trifle overwhelmed. Laughing, they all sat down and enjoyed a delicious roast followed by crumbly apple pie with fresh cream. When they were full to the brim, Lauren shooed them off to the sitting room while she cleaned up and made a pot of tea.

Deirdre felt suddenly shy. She and Jumbly walked into the sitting room and sat on the chairs near the fire. It wasn’t quite cold enough for a fire but Lauren loved the flames and enjoyed nodding off in front of it.

Jumbly looked at Deirdre sitting suddenly all lady like in her chair and tilted his head at her, quizzically.
“Oh, I know, Jumbly. It’s just that we hardly get to see one another and then I feel so strange. I just want to hug you and hug you and I know it’s not really proper, for all Lauren is an easy chaperone.”
Jumbly looked quite pleased at the idea of being hugged and hugged. His eyes twinkled and his smile curled into his beard. Throwing a surreptitious glance to the hallway, he gave Deirdre a truly wicked grin and patted his knee, eyebrows raised in expectation. Deirdre laughed, all awkwardness forgotten, and jumped onto Jumbly’s knee for a cuddle. Jumbly sighed and smiled at her. Such lovely brown eyes he had. Deirdre gazed deeply. Jumbly was caught by her green gaze and her hair tumbling out of it’s knot and curling around her face and gave her an extra squeeze. Deirdre could feel herself falling into him. She did so love this man. Jumbly’s eyes dropped to her lips and she nervously moistened them with her tongue. His eyes flicked back to hers, darkening with.. Deirdre had no idea but she felt the excitement in herself. She leaned forward, eyes now on Jumbly’s mouth.

Deirdre jumped guiltily from Jumbly’s lap then turned her glare on him as he rumbled a chuckle. Lauren was smiling too. Was there no decorum to be had? Deirdre heard herself and snickered which set them all off.
“No-one minds here, Deirdre. We are only too glad to see our Jumbly loving and being loved in return and you deserve Adam, we all love him and you. All you two have to decide is when to announce the banns.” Lauren and subtlety had little acquaintance.

Deirdre’s cheeks reddened. She lowered her eyes then looked up through her lashes at her Jumbly Man. He grinned at her, his smiled curling through his beard until it was wide enough for him to laugh. He raised his eyebrow and gestured palm up to Deirdre.
“Oh. Why? Why do I have to decide? Why can’t we go on as we have been? Only we hardly get to see one another and I can’t cuddle him in public and …oh.” Understanding dawned. If they were married, she’d see him every morning and every night and all night long if she wanted to stay awake and…look at him in …their …bed. Suddenly shy again, Deirdre bit her lip and swung her gaze to Lauren to see if she had read her mind, cheeks aflame. Lauren stood there, looking all pleased with herself, glancing at Jumbly and back at Deirdre. Deirdre swung back to look at Jumbly. He grinned again and raised eyebrow and hand once more. Drat that expressive face! How could she decide?

Lauren laughed and taking pity on her, led Deirdre to an arm chair.
“It’s winter now. If the Elders announce it at Meeting for Worship on Sunday, you could get married in the spring.”
Eyes wide, Deirdre looked at Jumbly, whose eyes had widened too. This was a big step but, but, “Let’s do it!”, she declared, startling everyone, herself included. That emphatically decided, they all settled down around the fire and enjoyed their tea and cake.

Deirdre was up early for her rounds with Doc Mason after a restless night trying to imagine being married. Her excitement would peak in a rush of panic and she would be left staring into the dark wondering how she would ever get to sleep. No time to sleep now, she had a hurried breakfast and left as the sun was rising. Today they were back out to the Blackfella camp down along the river. One of the men had a spear injury. No-one would say how he had come by it and Deirdre didn’t want to pry. When Doc had asked they all looked away and changed the subject. It was Men’s Business though and Doc would attend to him. The women had offered to take Deirdre out and show her bush medicine. She was very excited. She liked the Blackfellas and their little fellas, smiling with with wide mouths and white teeth. Hmm, that was something else. How was it their teeth were so good? No tooth brushes so they must have some other way to keep their teeth strong and healthy. So much to learn. Despite her restless night, Deirdre was excited. She chatted away to Doc as they trudged out to the settlement of stone huts. He grunted in response. He had many years on Deirdre and had long since run out of enthusiasm for early mornings. Still her energy lifted his spirits and they hadn’t far to walk.

Doc Mason had a long history with the Blackfellas and knew many of the family groupings that travelled through the area, along the river to the lands in the west, good kangaroo hunting grounds. This wasn’t a main gathering place but he had been there too. Invited as if he were one of the clever men and women. Blackfellas had Elders too. He knew their names and tried his best to use the words in their language he understood. Pyemarriner. He couldn’t quite get the pronunciation correct but they really enjoyed his efforts. They had more English than he had their language, which he felt quite ashamed about. He was doing his best to get their language down, so they didn’t lose it. He knew Whitefella (as they called him) history and the scientist and storyteller in him dreaded the loss. Still, he did what he could. Shared his knowledge and learned theirs.

The Pyemarriner mob were a generous people and those who treated fairly with them received like in return. They hadn’t met with much generosity from the Whitefella’s settling their Country and mourned the loss of their connection to the land taken up by more and more settlers. The village that housed the Doc was well thought of. No poisoned flour there and they honoured their Elders too. Those Whitefellas took their responsibilities seriously and the Pyemarriner could understand that. They travelled the lines from the coast to the plains, following old traditions and were always glad to see Doc. They were most entertained that he had the young woman as his apprentice. They understood passing on the learning and responsibility. She was young and full of enthusiasm. They laughed when talking about her. They had heard she was to be married to Jumbly Man, who was a great friend to them and always shared whatever he had. They thought they were a good match and had embarrassed Deirdre more than once enquiring.

This morning though, they were delighted to hear that they were going to marry in a short time. When they discovered that the wedding may fall during the season of big winds they tried to convince her to marry sooner. Deirdre didn’t understand. The women laughed and took her off to the bush and let Doc tend the wounded warrior. They’d let the men explain it to Jumbly.

Deirdre had a wonderful day, full of amazement. The women acted out the various uses the plants were put to amidst much laughter. Deirdre wrote it all down as best as she could. Between the little she knew of their language and the little they knew of hers, they managed remarkably well. She would check it with the next group to come though and compare her notes with what she had been told by others in the meantime. There was an Elder in the next family who took her responsibilities to Deirdre very seriously and would test her. Deirdre loved Aunty and saw her much as the mother she lost long ago.

As Deirdre, the women and children were returning to camp, a great shout went up. The women dropped the bags made of grasses they were carrying, full of gathered tucker, and ran back to the camp. What impressed Deirdre was how silent they were. She tried to be as quiet, as they ran swiftly, then dropped and crawled through the bushes on the outer edges of the camp. Hidden behind tall grasses and bushes, Deirdre saw to her horror a group of white men gathered around the campfire. The tribal men had rope from one neck to another, sitting on the ground away from the men but facing the fire. All weaponry was piled together on the opposite side, up against some bushes, just to the right of where the women and children were hiding. Behind the men diagonally opposite the women’s and children’s position were the horses, lightly tethered. The white men were laughing and eating the wallaby the warriors had hunted and cooked in the pit, bringing it up for the women’s and children’s return. Deirdre cast about and saw, lying near the pit, Doc Mason, his head bleeding. She held her breath to stop any sound and watched carefully until she saw his chest move.

A tiny movement to her right caught her eye as a spear was dragged stealthily though the bushes. Deirdre turned to see one of the women grinning fiercely at her. She motioned the children to creep around to the horses and let them go as quietly as possible. The woman nodded and signalled some of the women and children around to the horses. Deirdre looked again. Pointing to the men, she mimed with her hands moving around the camp and letting them go one by one. The woman nodded and several women and older children left silently. Deirdre had to get to Doc to make sure he was alright but she needed to make sure the men and weapons went first.

Deirdre knew men like this. This was the type of criminal who had killed her father in front of her and taken her for their own use. She had been beaten and raped repeatedly. Dazed she had finally managed her escape only to run lost in the bush until she stumbled upon Jumbly. Jumbly! She caught her co-conspirator’s eye once more and signalled someone fetching her Jumbly Man. The word passed and another older child disappeared without sound. Deirdre couldn’t spend time now thinking about what those men did to her. She knew it would catch up with her later but now she needed to focus.

Looking back at the campsite she saw the white men were now passing bottles of alcohol and had become noisier in the last few minutes. Glancing to the warriors, she could see that half of them had slipped silently into the bush, with the rest spreading out to take up their space. Turning her head to the right she saw that most of the weapons had been retrieved and the horses were wandering slowly away, eating noisily. The men would notice any minute, she needed to offer a distraction. Taking a breath, Deirdre looked down when a hand lightly grasped her arm. Her eyes flicked to her friend who was shaking her head, no, no. Deirdre shrugged, much as she had seen her tribal friends do, what would you have me do?

Deirdre stood and stepped into the clearing just as one of the men noticed a clubbing stick moving by itself into the bushes. “Wha?”
“Doc! Doc! Are you alright? What have you done to him?” she rounded on the men, feigning indignation when her heart was thumping with fear. If she could distract them a few minutes more until all the men were free. She daren’t look at the warriors but focussed her fury on the white men now looking at her in astonishment. Glancing down at Doc, she saw his eyes open and slightly shake his head. Sighing in relief she examined his wound.
“Quick! I’ll need warm water to clean this and then clean cloth to bind it.” There was silence behind her for a beat then an ugly laugh rang out.

“Do you now, girly? Well, that’s a shame because there’s none of that here. Just some dirty blackfellas and their…hey! Where did they go?” The man, a big brute with missing teeth and ingrained dirt whirled about the campsite. No men. No weapons. No horses!
“Why you little slut. I’ll teach you to meddle!” and he advanced toward her.

Deirdre dragged at Doc’s arm, desperately trying to help him up and away. In a few strides the brute would have had her but for a blood curdling yell and the whole tribe erupted from the bushes, brandishing weapons. The white men were quickly subdued and tied with their own ropes. The warriors surrounded them, scowling furiously down at them, threatening them with spears and clubs should they move at all.

“There’s no need for this. We were just having a bit of fun. You know the government is rounding all these fellas up. They’re not allowed to roam around free. They’re dangerous, they are.” called the big man from the centre of the circle of stinking criminals.

Deirdre had heard it all before and said about her. She was just bending to tend to Doc’s wound when she heard a shout. She looked up in time to see her Jumbly Man stride into the camp and across to her. He scooped her up in his arms and breathed his relief noisily into her hair. Checking her over for injuries, he looked down at Doc, who was sitting up now. Doc’s eyes flicked across the campsite to the men. Jumbly turned.

“Mate! Mate! You gotta help us. Look what these blackfellas have done!”
Jumbly could see the story immediately. He scowled at the white men huddled in a circle and for once they had the good sense to be quiet. Jumbly advanced on them, big and furious, and the men cowered back.

His gaze took in the warriors and the women and children, the horses still wandering away and the remains of rope where they had bound the men. His gaze returned to the white men.

“It isn’t…It isn’t what it looks like..” the big man stumbled. It was exactly what it looked like to Jumbly and he opened his mouth to vent his fury. As he roared at them, the warriors, women and children brandished their weapons and yelled war cries. The lily-livered group at the centre cowered and quivered under the onslaught of sound and fury.

The Elders and menfolk of the village arrived and the criminals were walked away to the holding cells and things put back as right as they could be. The Blackfellas packed up their campsite and hurried away from this bad place. The Head Man stopped to speak with Jumbly, indicating Deirdre, now tucked under his arm, saying they would be back for their wedding. With a flash of teeth in a wide grin, he too vanished into the undergrowth.

Jumbly helped Deirdre back to Lauren’s. Doc was already home in bed, his head wound tended and his wife worrying. The Elders gathered to decide what to do and sent a runner to the local constabulary, once again. Their village had seen more criminals in the past year than it had in its many years of quiet Quaker living.

Jumbly saw Deirdre settled, allowing Lauren to fuss over her. When she was clean, dressed, her scratches tended and wrapped in a warm quilt by the fire, she gladly drank the herbal brew Lauren had made. Jumbly was reminded of when he had found Deirdre and her long recovery at Lauren’s. Here they were again, waiting once more for the Elders for Deirdre to tell her tale.

As he listened to her story, Jumbly felt humbled by his Beloved’s courage and resourcefulness. What an amazing woman his Promised was. Jumbly felt so proud of Deirdre that he felt he could burst. That turned to concern after the Elders left and Deirdre deflated with exhaustion.

“Why? Why? Why are men so evil? Why do they do such terrible things?” she cried. Jumbly scooped her up and settled her in his lap to comfort her. Lauren reached out as if to stop him and he met her eyes. Yes, why? Why with all the terrible things Deirdre had experienced did she not despise men, was she not afraid of them? Was she afraid of him? Was that what Lauren was trying to tell him? She was obviously not over her ordeal from her tormentors and he had jumped the gun in proposing. He should give her more time. His poor Deirdre. She may never be ready. Jumbly felt his heart break. He really couldn’t blame Deirdre if that was the case and prepared to put her down.

Deirdre however, had other ideas. She threw her arms about his neck and cried into his chest. When she had finished sobbing and was soothed by the circular rubbing of her back, she said, “You know, Jumbly, if it wasn’t for the good man my father was and the good men of this village and,” she looked up at him through tear spiked lashes, “the truly excellent man you are, I can imagine being so disappointed to almost hate men.” Jumbly nodded. Deirdre sighed and nestled against him. Jumbly’s big heart started beating again.

“Thank God, there is you and more good men than bad. Thank God for you who takes away my nightmares.”
Jumbly’s startled eyes flicked up to Lauren, who nodded sadly, admitting Deirdre’s nightmares although she had never mentioned them to him.

“When we are married, I’ll have you beside me and be safe from them all. Won’t I, Adam?” her voice, muffled by his shirt, sounded sleepy. “I’m so looking forward to telling everyone on Sunday. Good news should always follow bad.” Deirdre fell asleep. Jumbly, still holding her close, felt his eyes fill with tears and saw that Lauren’s eyes were brimming too.

“She’s a brave, strong girl, your Deirdre. You make a great team.”

Jumbly nodded and sat in front of the fire, holding Deirdre close for as long as she needed.

(c) CLHHarper April 2014

Sorrow’s walls came tumbling down PART 3 – A Jumbly Tale

Jumbly joined them for breakfast every morning. Lauren was delighted to have so much company and someone to fuss over. Deirdre grew stronger every day and learnt about all the people of the village long before she met them. The Elders came to visit her and solemnly heard her story. They wrote it down and sent word to the villages around to be on the look out for these criminals. For the first time in a long time, Deirdre felt cared for and safe.

It wasn’t long before Lauren took her out to the market, stopping to chat to everyone along the way. Deirdre soon learned that everyone knew her tale. They all felt furious on her behalf and spoke their condolences for her father’s murder, her kidnapping and torture. Deirdre wondered that she didn’t feel ashamed that they all knew but it seemed that all of them placed the blame with the criminals and all of them wished her well. There is nothing like open, honest empathy to assist a traumatised person to heal and Deirdre flourished under their care.

Every morning she woke, Deirdre would freshen up and rush downstairs to help Lauren with the breakfast, watching anxiously out the window all the while, to Lauren’s amusement. Jumbly always came, right on time and they would share their morning repast after giving thanks. Quite how they communicated, Deirdre wasn’t sure, but they did.

One morning Jumbly indicated that he would take Deirdre and his little mate fishing the next day. Deirdre was delighted. She had never learned to fish and excitedly planned what they would take and where they would go. Before the day was over, Jumbly returned with her very own fishing rod and they spent a few hours casting and catching Lauren’s flowers before evening came. Jumbly went home and Lauren fairly danced into the house, smiling at Lauren. Lauren smiled back and said she could see how much Deirdre was looking forward to it and that she would pack them a lovely picnic basket. Deirdre was thrilled and helped Lauren by flittering around, getting in her way, until Lauren laughed and sent her up to bath and bed. That night Deirdre knew what her feelings for Jumbly were. His kind brown eyes, his handsome face, his big strong body and gentle hands. Holding herself tightly, Deirdre sighed and smiling, slid into sleep.

She was awake again as the sun rose over the hills to the east and flooded her room with its golden warmth. Deirdre dressed warmly and went down to the kitchen to find Jumbly and his little mate already hunched over hot cups of tea and a bundled and not-quite-awake Lauren bumping around getting breakfast. There was already a big basket of food ready packed. Deirdre exclaimed over every item and Lauren looked very pleased. The two males made appreciative sounds as they ate and Lauren felt it had been well worth loosing her beauty sleep. Jumbly and the lad snickered and Deirdre, eyeing Lauren, bustled them out the door, calling good bye.

They walked quite a way in the crisp dawn, still damp with dew and the birds just beginning their calls. The lad and Deirdre carried the rods and Jumbly the picnic basket. When they finally reached the river, the lad declared he was starving. Jumbly laughed and Deirdre agreed, knowing Lauren had packed enough food for two growing boys. After inhaling a second breakfast, the lad groaned and laid down for awhile. Deirdre and Jumbly were soon sniggering at the snores coming from such a small boy as he slid deeply into a food nap. Not long after they were laughing outright as Jumbly chased Deirdre around with squishy pieces of bait and she shrieked in horror any time he got near. Eventually they collapsed onto the bank of the river and caught their breath, still burbling with laughter whenever they caught each other’s eye. After a bit Deirdre stopped looking away and gazed deeply into Jumbly’s eyes of dark dark brown. Jumbly gazed back, a small smile tucked into his beard. Her eyes weren’t just green, he decided, they were gold too. Now that her injuries had healed and she had her health back, Jumbly thought Deirdre glowed with goodness.

“Alright, you two, I thought we were supposed to be fishing!” Deirdre blushed but smiled when Jumbly laughed good naturedly at the lad and patted his belly, causing the boy to groan. It wasn’t long before all three of them were sitting on the bank mesmerised by the glittering water. Deirdre caught a fish and excitedly squealed, following Jumbly’s gestures and the lad’s instructions until she landed it. The two males ended up on the grass, helpless with laughter, watching Deirdre’s horrified efforts to removed the hook from the flapping fish. Eventually Jumbly, unable to stand, crawled over to her to help.

So the day passed, in good friendship and fun. It was quite the best day Deirdre had ever had in her life. After cleaning their catch, more cause for shrieking and chasing, they bucketed up their fish and headed home. The lad ran ahead with the fish, eager to show his mother, and said he would drop their share at Miss Higginbottom’s. Jumbly and Deirdre waved him off and began their ramble home. Deirdre shouldered their fishing rods and Jumbly their basket which left them a free hand each. Jumbly offered his arm to Deirdre who, with much blushing, took it. Jumbly was so focussed on the feeling of her close to him that it took a moment for him to notice a change in the bush.

All was quiet. The birds were silent. The animals were not moving. Even the insects seemed to have ceased their drone. Jumbly came alert just as two filthy men stepped into the path. Deirdre screamed and pulled back behind Jumbly.

“Well, well, what have we here. I believe that belongs to us.” said one. Jumbly looked around confused, not sure what they were referring to but certain of their menace.
“Her, you bumbling idiot, she belongs to us! Must say you’ve taken good care of it and we’re very grateful it’s cleaned up so well, but we’ll be taking it now.” and the second filthy man actually reached an hand toward His Deirdre.

Jumbly looked at Deirdre and saw the fear in her eyes. He nodded at her and gestured to the men.
“Yes,” she gasped,”They killed my father and tortured me.” At her own words, some of Deirdre’s fear fell away. She wasn’t alone any more. She had an home, Friends and Beloved. Deirdre shook off the last of her fear and anger boiled up.

“Oh, come now, your old dad dying was an accident and what torture? We were just having a bit of fun. You know how it is.” the shortest filthy criminal assured Jumbly, with a sneer.

Jumbly roared! He was absolutely furious! These were the criminals who brought his Love so low. How dare they! How dare they hurt any woman! Deirdre screamed her fury at the cruel vagabonds. Yes! How dare they?! How dare they kill her father and torture her and try and excuse it. How dare they!!!

The two filthy men stumbled back in surprise only to find the villagers gathered behind them. The lad had noticed the silence and raised the alarm. The Elders and all their Friends had come running when they heard Jumbly roar. The men were quickly taken into custody and locked in the cellar of the Meeting House until the local constabulary could be contacted and deal with them. The men were pleased to go, away from Jumbly’s fury and Deirdre’s wrath. They were frightened and pleaded to be kept safe.

Jumbly and a shaking Deirdre were returned to Lauren’s home where she took care of them. Later the Elders returned and sat in Silence until balance was restored. They talked with Deirdre and would do so as often as she needed. Deirdre was fine. She knew what she needed. She needed Jumbly. Somehow the shock and horror of seeing the two men, roaring her fury at them alongside Jumbly had broken through any last reserves. Deirdre returned to the kitchen to talk with him.

Jumbly had gone home. Sadly. He understood that he loved Deirdre. For the first time in his life, Jumbly was deeply in love. He also understood that a terrible wrong had been done her and it may be some time before she would be ready. He reckoned he would just have to be patient and wait. He reckoned without Deirdre.

Just as he reached his front door, he heard his name called and turned to see Deirdre flying down the path. She hurtled into his arms, gasping and laughing. “Jumbly! I love you!” He looked down into her green eyes with the golden specks as she gazed into his deep brown eyes, full of love, for her. Jumbly smiled and his smiled curled into his beard until his mouth opened and he laughed.

and that is the end of the story

(c) CLHHarper February 2014

Sorrow’s walls come tumbling down PART 2 – A Jumbly Tale

Jumbly woke with the dawn and his eyes sought the woman. Bundled in her blanket, she was still asleep. He prepared himself, fire, breakfast and brew before she woke. The woman roused from sleep panicked, calming when she saw Jumbly on the other side of the fire. She groaned as she stood, muscles and injuries stiffening over night. Without a word, Jumbly handed her a cup of water, then the bowl of steeped herbs. She took it and tended to her wounds. The woman returned the bowl and meeting his eyes, pointed to herself and said, “Deirdre.” Jumbly smiled and burbled at her encouragingly. Her dark eyes watched him solemnly. Deirdre nodded and settled herself by the fire for breakfast.

When everything was packed and put away, Jumbly and Deirdre began their walk back to the village. Jumbly took her by the river road. It took longer but he saw that she was not ready yet for company and at the river she would have a chance to wash. They walked for hours in silence until Deirdre stumbled. Jumbly stopped and began setting up camp. Deirdre jumped up and said she could go on but somehow he gentled her and communicated that they were not in any hurry. He made their midday meal and indicated the river for a wash.

Deirdre went red with shame. Jumbly was horrified but had no way to tell her that it was not her shame. He hung his head. After a long time, Deirdre came closer and tugged on his shirt sleeve. He looked up, his eyes sad. The corner of Deirdre’s mouth lifted and she assured him that she understood that a swim was just what she needed. Jumbly beamed. Deirdre looked momentarily startled then smiled back. Jumbly found soap root for her and a place in the river that was more sheltered and private.

Once she was settled, Jumbly returned to the river near their camp and waded in for his own wash. He sang as he scrubbed and his melodic voice curled in ribbons of bright sound along the river to Deirdre. She stopped and listened. There were no words but she heard the heart of the big man in his song and the fear left her.

Deirdre returned to find Jumbly stoking the fire with a pot bubbling already. Deirdre was famished. Exhausted by her ablutions, she sat abruptly on her bed and stared at the pot. Jumbly rumbled a laugh and Deirdre turned to look at him. His clothes, which he had worn into the river and washed, were lying in the sun to dry. His spare britches were all he wore, enjoying the last of the sun on his skin. Deirdre saw a tall, very tall, well built man, with close cropped hair and kind brown eyes. His beard was neatly trimmed and his smile. Deirdre realised she was staring and sighed, looking away. Jumbly rumbled away at her and Deirdre found if she listened to his voice, not the words, and watched him, she understood him very well.

Jumbly wanted to know if she needed help with her wounds. She shook her head. Taking a breath she told him that the cuts and scratches were clean. Jumbly patted his belly, then pointed to hers. Deirdre looked away. Another deep breath. She looked back toward him and said that she was alright there too, just badly bruised and sore. Deirdre was startled by a growl and involuntarily glanced at him. He looked furious. Deirdre realised that he was angry on her behalf. She forgot to breathe for a minute. Pushing up painfully she walked toward him, patted his arm and looked straight into his gaze. “Thank you.” Jumbly breathed. The anger went out of him. He looked into her green eyes, his own dark with sadness for her. Deirdre’s breath caught. Here was a good man, a good good man. She was safe with him.

The moment passed and they busied themselves with food, drink, herbal brew and sleep. Jumbly lay looking at the stars for a long time, thinking about Deirdre. In the morning they continued on, stopping when Deirdre was too tired, letting her sleep, heal, rest and recover from her ordeal. Finally they were one night from home and Jumbly indicated they would be in the village the next day. He saw the flare of panic in her eyes, saw her master it, reason herself through it and was angry all over again about what had been done to her. It seemed to Jumbly that Deirdre was a brave, good, modest, kind woman whose life had been torn apart. He suddenly realised that while he had been taking her to his home, he hadn’t asked about hers. He was mortified.

It took awhile for Deirdre to understand what he was asking. She shook her head, eyes brimming with tears. She explained that the men who took her to use had killed her elderly father and there was nothing left for her. A great surge of pain and helpless fury swept through Jumbly. He was brought to his feet by the power of his emotion. He roared his fury into the night. Sanity returned and he feared he may have terrified her only to hear her matching roar as Deirdre screamed her loss, fear, pain and grief to the stars. Then she tumbled to the ground. Jumbly swept her up. She stiffened then relaxed in his hold. She wept, great tearing sobs that abated only when she had passed out from exhaustion.

Jumbly laid her down on her bed and bathed her poor swollen face in cool river water. He wrapped her in her blanket. She whimpered when he moved away, so he dragged his bed next to hers and held her through the night. Deirdre slept soundly, safe in his arms, for the first time in weeks since she had been taken, tortured, escaped and traveled lost and hurt.

Morning came and Deirdre felt ready to meet the villagers. She helped Jumbly tidy the campsite and they set off. All too soon they came out of the forest to the road that ran alongside the river and into the village. Deirdre moved behind Jumbly and shuffled along falling further and further behind. Jumbly stopped and looked around at her. He rumbled at her, nodding. Deirdre knew he meant to be reassuring but she just couldn’t move.

“Jumbly! You’re back!” and Jumbly’s young friend flew to greet him, fishing rod clattering behind him onto the road, barrelling into Jumbly. The Jumbly Man laughed and wrapped his young friend in a big hug. Deirdre smiled and moved closer. The lad looked shyly at her. Jumbly did the introductions which made them all laugh. Chattering excitedly, the boy looped Deirdre along with them and they lurched into the village like a drunken three legged race.

Lauren Higgenbottom, Jumbly’s very closest friend, saw him and waved, hurrying over to say, “Welcome back! We have missed you!” then noticed Deirdre who hung her head and tried to hide behind Jumbly. Jumbly hurried to explain what had happened but got so jumbled up that he just stopped.

“It’s alright, Jumbly. I can see that this young woman needs some care.” Lauren looped Deirdre, bundling her off to her house, leaving Jumbly and the lad standing open mouthed in the middle of the road. They looked at each other and laughed. Returning to pick up his rod the two talked their way down Jumbly’s path to his cottage and settled in.

Lauren, who lived vicariously, learned Deirdre’s story and soon had her soaking in an hot tub with herbs. When Deirdre was soothed and her injuries treated and bandaged, Lauren made her an hot herbal brew and bundled her off to bed. Deirdre slept the rest of the day through to morning. When she awoke she was greeted by an anxious Jumbly and amused Lauren.

“He had to see that you were alright dear. He’s been here since daybreak. Sit down and I’ll make you both breakfast.” Lauren happily bustled about while Jumbly and Deirdre smiled at each other. Deirdre sighed. She did feel better now he was here. Lauren smothered a giggle but neither of them noticed, which made her giggle all the more. She placed an enormous pot of tea and huge breakfast before them and soon they were all tucking in and talking.

“I think Deirdre should stay here for the time being, just until her wounds heal and she’s feeling a bit stronger.” Jumbly looked up in surprise and burbled a question at Deirdre.
“You’ll come and visit every day, won’t you, Jumbly?” He stared, disconcerted, looked at Lauren’s stern face and huffed his agreement. Lauren snorted in a most unladylike manner. Jumbly scowled at her which made her snort again. Deirdre looked from one to the other, perplexed, then smiled at Jumbly, poured a cup of tea and went on eating.

to be continued

(c) CLHHarper March 2014

Sorrow’s walls come tumbling down: A Jumbly Tale

Let me tell you a story

Once, the Jumbly Man was returning from washing his woes, striding along, deep in thought. It was coming close to night and he began to look about for a camp.

As the sun gave the trees ever longer shadows, he saw a she-oak that would provide shelter and fallen needles, a comfortable place to rest. As he came closer he saw a figure huddled to the side of the tree. It appeared to be a small woman, huddled in on herself. He called out a jumbly greeting, saw a flash of a face full of fear as she scrambled to her feet, trying to stumble away.

Jumbly could see she was hurt. In a few long strides, he reached her and caught her under her elbows before she tumbled. The woman whimpered and cowered away from him. He jumbled soothing sounds at her and brought her back to her position at the tree. Distressed he watched as she huddled away, her face averted, shaking in fear. In rumbly jumbly tones he told her that he would not harm her and left his canteen near her while he set about making camp.

After gathering wood for the fire, he used the she-oak leaves to make cushioning either side of the fire and placed a blanket across each. Her clothes were little more than rags. He dug into his pack and took out his long weather proof coat and laid it on the bed closest to her.

The woman had seen the canteen and was greedily gulping water, watching him from behind tangled hair and the corner of her eye. Jumbly smiled and indicated that he would get water for her to wash and make food. The woman turn her back, shaking.

Jumbly was nonplussed and shook his head, jumbling softly to himself as he tried to figure out what to do. He could see she was badly beaten, covered in bruises and swellings. The arm he could see was nearly black with bruising. He shook his head. He suspected she had not moved away because she had given up and was exhausted. That she was afraid made sense given the blood that had poured down her legs and dried there. She was injured in some way. Jumbly could help but how was he to get near her?

He returned to camp suddenly anxious that she wouldn’t be there. She was. She still had her back to him but had moved closer to the fire. Jumbly decided. He had found animals over the years, hurt, caught by snares, severe injuries, or simply exhausted beyond endurance and afraid. He decided to treat this situation as though she was a small wounded creature who needed his help.

Moving slowly about the camp site, he heated water on the fire and pulled a bowl from his sack. Sprinkling herbs from pouches into the bowl, he poured the water just before it boiled. She watched him. While it steeped, he set about making dinner. The woman’s eyes were riveted on the fire and the stew bubbling there. Jumbly scooped a cup, offered it to the woman, who reached to snatch it away. Jumbly held on to catch her eye. She scowled at him but nodded when he mimed to eat slowly. When she was done he rinsed her cup and gave her water to sip. He gave thanks and ate his own stew. The woman indicated that she wanted more food and was startled when Jumbly rumbled a laugh. Yes, there would be more if she kept down what she’d already eaten. The woman looked down at her starved, bloody, bruised body and the eyes she raised to Jumbly were haunted. She nodded, sipped her water and began to doze by the fire.

Jumbly gently moved the stew to a less hot part of the fire until later, keeping his movements slow but not silent. She hadn’t slept long before she jerked awake and looked wildly about her. Her eyes fell on Jumbly, the fire, the stew and she calmed, holding out her cup in silent entreaty. Jumbly burbled with humour and the woman tilted her head as if just now realising that she couldn’t understand his words. She took his meaning though and settled back with her second cup of stew, eating slowly, after giving thanks. When finished, Jumbly indicated the bowl of warm water and herbs with the rags he had steeped in it, for her to wash her wounds. The woman’s eyes were darkened with pain but she nodded and took the bowl, retreating from the fire for a modicum of privacy.

Jumbly could hear her soft sobs as she wiped away and cleaned the horror that had been done to her. He heated more water, slipped different herbs into her now clean cup and waited. Again, before the water boiled, he poured it into the cup and set it aside to steep. He made a drink for himself and took the chance to ready himself, his pack, the fire and campsite for the night. The woman returned. She looked exhausted. Jumbly moved slowly, took the empty bowl from her and helped her to her bed. She crumpled down and would have fallen but Jumbly caught her and handed her the brew. Sniffing, she nodded, sipped, returned the empty cup, then rolling up in her blanket, she laid down, sighed and fell asleep.

Jumbly let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding, finished cleaning up, rolled into his own blanket and lay, staring into the fire as he pondered her story. Whatever it was, she was safe now. He felt a great welling of fierce protectiveness for her and rage at those who hurt her. They would pay. He sent his rage into the Light and vowing to protect her, he gave thanks and slept.

to be continued…

(c) CLHHarper March 2014

Lauren Higgenbottom: a Jumbly Tale

Lauren Higgenbottom had always been Lauren Higgenbottom despite her efforts to change it. When she moved to Jumbly’s village she became Mrs. Lauren Higgenbottom, never thinking that anyone would notice, just hoping for a change in reputation.

Alas, as many learn the hard way, it doesn’t matter how often you change location, things would always turn out the same if you took yourself there. If you took yourself and did all the same things, you would have exactly the same result. When Lauren moved to Jumbly’s village that is just what she did. She was very disappointed to find that the addition of a title and new ears to hear her resulted in almost exactly the same scenario as in her last village and the one before that and the one before that and so on.

Lauren liked to talk. Lauren liked to talk a lot. Lauren liked to talk about other people, a lot. A lot of Lauren’s talk about other people was critical. Very little of Lauren’s talk about other people was kind. Lauren liked to hear herself talk and to see others listening to her. It made her feel important. If she felt their attention was flagging she would make the story more dramatic and her voice quite a lot louder. This habit got Lauren into trouble on more than one occasion. So difficult to remember all one’s embellishments.

Lauren grew up in a village very similar to Jumbly’s. It was over the mountain range, weeks by horse and cart. Lauren had been the youngest of eight children, which was a lot of mouths to feed. By the time she came along, her mother had lost interest and simply focussed on getting chores done, children fed, clothes wash, work taken in, pennies scraped, food found, garden tended and round again. Lauren’s father worked from before dawn until long after she was abed. In fact, Lauren didn’t know that there was a man who lived in their house until she was four years old. Early one Sunday morning, she went to the lavatory only to find a man asleep in there. She raised a hue and cry in her fright, causing all seven siblings and mother to stumble out of bed and gather around the outhouse. The man woke to find all of them staring in at him. He, in turn, got a fright and due to the endless strain of providing for his large brood, the lack of sleep and food, and being startled awake, had an heart attack on the spot and died. He was a big man and it took quite some effort to remove him from the outhouse, made all the more difficult as the frigid morning air made everything quite urgent.

Lauren’s mother was understandably angry at the loss of income and regretted the cost of a funeral, so the last sight of the father she didn’t even know she had was as the lid shut and the coffin lowered at the graveside. No-one seemed particularly perturbed. There were enough of them working now to make up the income and most of them hadn’t seen him for some time. Now she thought about it, Lauren remembered a ‘father’ being mentioned but really hadn’t put it together as an actual person. More like the fairy tales of gift giving at Christmas time. Never saw that neither.

When Lauren was five she was sent to the village school. A little nonplussed at being thrown in with all the other children, she followed her siblings and soon found out about books. Books, the stories in them and reading were like a shining beacon to Lauren. Whenever she couldn’t be found for any of her interminable chores, they all knew to hunt her at the bottom of the yard where she had draped her dad’s old army coat over a table and kept her library. Her library consisted of every book, flier, newspaper, cutting and postcard she could pilfer. She read every word over and over again. Lauren learnt so much from books. She learnt that people in books did not live like them. They had a bed to themselves (mostly), clean sheets (she wasn’t sure what that meant but suspected it had something to do with the lavatory. Anyway it sounded nice.), more than one set of clothing and food. They actually ate at least three meals a day. Lauren could only wonder what that might be like.

About this time she began to notice that not everyone in the village had as many children as their house. She suspected that some of her siblings may have fallen in with them by mistake. They certainly did not all look alike and especially not like the man in the outhouse. Then she wondered if she had been taken by mistake and if there was another family with all those clean things that were looking out the window every night wondering where on earth she had got to. When she asked her mother, she just laughed, loudly, until she choked. Then her mum pulled her over to the window which was mirror like with the dark night behind and pointed out that all of the children, including Lauren, looked exactly like her. Her mum gave her an affectionate cuff and sent her off to bed.

The idea took hold though and from then on, Lauren would sneak out most nights and she would creep from house to house, peering in at the families inside. Which of them could be hers? Maybe her mum was her mum but maybe the man in the outhouse had not been her father? Maybe if she looked at every face closely enough she would find some resemblance and she could knock on the door and dah! He would welcome her in as his long lost daughter. His family would flock around and exclaim over the state of her, whisk her off for a bath (which she wasn’t sure about), new clothes and food (which she was sure about). The story of the Prodigal Son had been told at Meeting for Worship and Lauren looked at the Elder askance for some time after, wondering.

By the time she was twelve, her mother said she’d had enough schooling and it was time to earn some money for the family. There wasn’t so many of the family left at home and there was a little more of everything because of it. Lauren found work at a bakery. This suited her very well. She was up well before the sun, off to assist the baker. The bakery was warm and filled with delicious smells and the baker gave her breakfast. By the time her tasks were finished and the bakery cleaned, Lauren would have pastries that were misshapen for her lunch and be ready for an afternoon siesta in her hideaway. A rolling library cart came through once a week with books to exchange for a penny and again the following week. Lauren made good use of the library and felt her life just couldn’t get any better.

Then her mum passed away. One night, in her rocker, just worn out with work and children. Lauren decided then and there to never have children. Another graveside burial with her siblings and niblings and Lauren wondered where she would live. Her older brother negotiated with the baker to take her in, in exchange for her services cleaning the shop in the evening. Lauren didn’t mind. She moved her few things and her many books into the little storeroom of the bakery and settled in. She fashioned herself a bed with many covers (that she got horribly tangled in and was mystified by but persisted with), shelves for her books and the floor for her clothes (that’s where they had always lived after all. The books mentioned wardrobes and she had an image of large wooden boxes, so kept her eye out for one.). Lauren was happy.

Lauren stayed happy until about eighteen (she’d lost track somewhere) when she finally blossomed and noticed boys. As she was a well fed girl who had a warm place to sleep and knew about cleanliness (thank goodness one of the books had more explanation of that, although it was a little embarrassing), the boys noticed her too. Lauren hadn’t really bothered with friends, she had her books after all and really didn’t know how to deal with the sudden looks, comments and innuendo. To counter it she would tell the stories of her favourite characters as if they were her own. As time went on she became quite enamoured of these fabrications and would embellish them. To the young men she seemed extraordinarily silly and when she had no idea of what they wanted, they lost interest.

Lauren felt bereft. For the first time in her life people had paid her attention and she wanted it back. She developed the habit of whenever anyone made eye contact with her she would bustle over to share her latest adventure. This resulted in considerable shunning and Lauren retired hurt and confused. She thought she might fare better with girls so began chatting away as she had seen other girls did, sharing her inner most thoughts whenever anyone asked how she was. Girls are more direct than boys and instead of shunning her they began to make fun of her. When they queried her outlandish tales, their prodding resulted in more embellishments and exaggerations. For a couple of years Lauren thought she had quite a few friends who would egg her on in her stories until one particularly racy tale brought it all crashing down around her ears.

The Elders visited the bakery. They spoke with the baker and flicked glances her way from the corners of their eyes. Lauren’s heart thudded. She knew they spoke about her and could not think what she had done. The baker nodded. He liked Lauren and thought her a funny little thing, always in a world of make believe. He’d wondered what would become of her but he never thought she would do this. The Elders and the baker approached her. Lauren, in the middle of sweeping, clutched at her broom. Cornered she dropped her head and apologised for whatever it was she had done wrong. What might that be? they enquired. She had no idea so they enlightened her. Lauren was horrified to discover that the stories she had shared to entertain her friends had been spread as true doings. She was considered to be a young woman of immoral stand and quite likely in the family way. Lauren blushed violently. She had never, never, never, they were just stories. Stories!

Still the damage to her reputation was done and the Elders took her away to minister to her. After several hours of every tale about herself she had ever told been produced as evidence of her misdeeds, Lauren was beyond mortification and could no longer answer. She sat mute while tears flooded down her face. Satisfied of her repentance, the Elders informed her that she would be sent to another village and apprenticed to the Herb woman for five years. Lauren, who had absolutely no interest in plants and gardening, was horrified. She begged to ask her siblings to take her in only to be told they had been consulted and made the suggestion. They wanted the source of their shame as far away as possible.

Lauren was bundled off and did her apprenticeship. She found exactly the same intolerance to her stories there. As soon as someone asked her about herself or how she was, the tales would come tumbling out. In exasperation, the Herbal woman suggested she think about teaching or writing her stories.

Lauren froze in the middle of pounding herbs. Teach and write? Of course! To do that she would have to move far away from all those who knew her so she packed up once again and headed for the coast. She was able to find a post as a governess, teaching to the children of ten families. By this time Lauren knew how to make herself presentable and had altered her speech to an original blend of pronunciations she had gleaned from books. She tried, oh she did try to observe people and act more like they did. The years rolled on with differing levels of success and a trail of governess positions and villages. Through all this travel Lauren kept telling and writing her stories. Her stories she sent off time and time again, hoping for publication.

Finally one of her stories was accepted by a popular magazine and they requested more for their serialised tales. Then they asked her to be their agony aunt correspondent. My goodness, now she could tell her stories and tell people what to do. Lauren put all her observations, her reading, her imagination to work and gained quite a following. Between her teaching pay and her writing earnings, lack of a family and frugal living, Lauren amassed a nice little nest egg and thought about buying her own home.

She was not a young woman anymore and needed to retire from teaching. Her brusque style was still in vogue as agony aunt, so she could still keep writing. Her stories were published in a range of magazines and she had been approached with putting some together into a book. Really Lauren felt quite pleased. She had left her humble beginnings far behind. Only one thing remained the same.

Lauren still did not have any friends. While she had made acute observations of the interactions between her fellow humans and could give appropriate advice to her correspondents, Lauren had simply not mastered personal relationships. She determined that when she found her retirement home she would do everything differently, not drive everyone away with her excessive embellishments but find herself as the village wise woman to whom everyone would come. Lauren was so wrapped up in this fantasy that she began telling it in the village she was about to leave. They had all had enough and pointedly told her so. Lauren was astonished. Once again she had let her imagination run away with her. This time she would focus on others. She was determined.

Lauren moved to Jumbly’s village. She called herself Mrs Higgenbottom, hoping it would give her more importance. She bought the house of Jumbly’s old friend, whose passing he was heartbroken by. She determined that she would not be the old spinster who was this old jumbled up man’s friend. By all reports he couldn’t even talk properly although people spoke with such fondness of his doings and what he had shared with them. It was most odd. She would not be the odd old woman who was his friend.

Lauren moved into the little house that had been Jumbly’s friend, and found it stuffed to the rafters with a lifetime’s collection of living. She bundled it carefully, if not a little forcefully, into a large rear garden facing room and arranged it as a rather squashed but cozy sitting room. Not that she would ever use it. She preferred a more spartan approach and the house was scoured and bare with little warmth or coziness.

Lauren kept her word to herself and made it her business to find out about everyone else’s business. The desire to share the tales hadn’t left her. The compulsion to add embellishments meant that soon Lauren was ensnared in her web of exaggerations and decorations. She saw that people began crossing the street to avoid talking to her. She knew that the Elders would not be far behind. Lauren was in despair. How could so many decades have gone past and the same thing still be happening?

That was when she began to notice Jumbly watching her. Actually it was more that he would watch the house and if she ventured into the front yard, he would smile shyly. She didn’t want to encourage him, so she would turn her head away. Never quite fast enough to miss seeing the sadness on his face, however. Lauren’s distress grew. How would everyone accept her if she was friendly to him? Although she noticed that everyone who went to great pains to avoid her, always, always, stopped and spoke to Jumbly.

Jumbly. She knew all about him. His life, his tragedy and his stories. His stories! What about hers? The tales she could tell these people if only they would listen. If only they knew who she was and that she would know the answers to all her problems. Why, why did they speak with him and not her? There he was again! Standing forlornly across the road. Why she had a good mind to, to.

Lauren’s eyes met Jumbly’s. To her surprise he was a young man. Tall, broad-shouldered, well built, his smile curled into his beard. Neatly dressed and clean as a working man could be, Lauren was finally caught by his eyes. Dark, dark brown. Brimming over with sadness, loss and grief. Something in Lauren recognised a kindred bewilderment with the world. A loss, a sadness and then Jumbly smiled. Lauren caught her breath and smiled in return.

Before she knew what she was doing, she beckoned him over and opened her gate. He rumbled across and jumbled something at her in his deep voice. Lauren nodded, of course, of course, I have kept all her things for you. Come in, come in, I’ll make a cup of tea.

And so began the friendship between the Jumbly Man and old Lauren Higgenbottom.

(c) CLHHarper March 2014

Wherefore art thou, Jumbly Man?

The Jumbly Man. Where did he come from?

I sat down one day to write a blog and fully intended to include a totally different story but The Jumbly Man arrived instead.

I do like him. I like him a lot. He is simple yet so complex, he lives his life yet has suffered great trauma and loss. He blames no-one for their misfortune yet feels justifiable rage on others’ behalf. He cannot articulate yet is understood clearly. He cares with great compassion yet wrong doers will feel the sting of his wrath. He views the world with clarity and purpose yet finds much happiness. His favourite thing is to laugh yet travels often to wash his woes. He is a solitary soul yet robustly enjoys the company of others. He loves passionately yet never holds onto bitterness.

He lets his life speak, as we Quakers say.

Jumbly lives his life simply, without fanfare or needing acknowledgment. He shares his kindnesses and empathy because that is who he is. He listens with humour but is never dismissive. Best of all, his presence heals.

Why? Because in Jumbly there is rest.

I know Jumbly’s whole story, his journey from birth to death but the tales come as they do. There’s one about Mrs Higgenbottom soon to tell then a pivotal tale for Jumbly Man. There are so many stories that weave in and out. They take their time and so must I.

I do love Jumbly. I love his patience and his kindness. I love his sense of the ridiculous. I love his capacity to love. He still has mean thoughts or uncharitable ones as he might say but it doesn’t shade his character.

Is Jumbly me or is he hope? I feel he is himself. The Jumbly Man. Adam Jumbles. If you haven’t read one of his tales you had better get started. There’s a big one coming and you’ll need to be ready.

Until then, in Jumbly time.



Scribble Sands: a Moment in Jumbly Time


Every year as the Winter storms gathered out to sea, Jumbly would make the journey from his village to the ocean. It took days and he would camp along the way.

Nights were spent lying under the stars, listening to the evening fade and the sounds of the dark begin. Jumbly would think over the year that was, everything that happened, the good and the sad, the happy and the bad, and all the pieces in between. He would think deeply about each moment, what happened and how each action led to the next. Some things were savoured and remembered with relish. Others were more difficult to think about but this was his time to consider it all.

Each morning began with the dawn chorus. Jumbly would stretch and unwrap his blanket and roll up his bed. He washed his face and brushed his head. Then he would stir the fire to light and boil water for his tea. Mixing a bit of water and salt with flour, he wrapped damper round a stick and put it to cook in the coals. When his tea was made, he added dried meat, herbs and veggies, let it all simmer, then soaked it up with hot damper. Jumbly always felt his very best meals were on this journey. Fueled up for the day, he would take down the fire, make sure no sign was left of his passing, give thanks for his sojourn and be on his way.

By the fifth day he was ready to see the ocean. There was a last run of dunes and then there it was. As far as his eyes could see, the grey waves spread, lapping at the land, singing out to sea. Above all the clouds boiled, whipped to fever by the wind, waiting to drop their load upon the land for the cycle of wet to begin.

And Jumbly, he would laugh and laugh and laugh. Arms spread wide, he would take it all in. Every brush of air, each spray of salt, wind knotting his hair and whipping his chin. For here at last was the place to release all he had learnt over the past year. Every pleasure, every sin.

Stashing his gear, Jumbly ran down the dunes to the soft soft sand. Across the sand and into the waves, he threw himself into the sea. When finally he emerged, striding through the waves, he found a sturdy stick and began to write.

As the tide turned out, Jumbly wrote in the sand. Every part of the year was expressed. Good, bad, indifferent, everything he said, thought felt and did was written. There were years where he had not much to say and years where he felt he would run out of beach. Everything was scribbled in the sands. His friends, his gains, his losses, his pains, his cross words, his kind acts, his pride, his humility. Most of all, he wrote his gratitude.

When finally he was done, he sat upon the highest dune and watched the waves come in. The sea lapped at the land again and gradually crept across the sand, washing his words out to sea. Jumbly sat until all the words were gone, every syllable, every note. All washed out to the great beyond, all washed away, all stored for those who ponder to share what he wrote.

Refreshed he made his camp for one night and in the morning began his journey home. Jumbly, oh our Jumbly Man, was ready to face what might come.

(c) CLHHarper February 2014

What Katid did: A Jumbly Tale

Let me tell you a story

Katid was born on the river. In her family’s flat boat that floated softly down stream, rocking gently side to side. Then they’d float upstream again, and the boat would slap against the current.

As a tiny baby she spent her time watching a patch of sky. She saw the sun come up and go down. She saw clouds sailing by. The gentle rocking of the boat soothed her cries. When she was hungry her mother fed her when she needed changing one of her siblings did that. Faces came and went in her patch of blue blue sky. All of them smiled and loved her. None of them stayed long.

Katid gazed in endless wonder as the sky darkened and twinkling stars came out. She gurgled at the moon before drifting to sleep.

Soon enough she could lift her head and her world view widened. On her tummy she could see the boat deck and the sides of her crib. She would be rotated with a tickle through the day as siblings or parents went past. She watched ants with great intensity as they crawled past her nose, going slightly cross eyed when they scuttled back and forth. On her back again she held long conversations with the sky, waving arms and legs for emphasis. The shapes and colours of the clouds were an amazement.

She began to roll over and was frustrated to learn the restrictions of her pen. Often she would beach against the side, wailing her fury. Her scene changed. With her pen on the lower deck she could see her family as they worked. Shoveling wood into the fire to steam upstream. Or paddles and pushes off the side as they went down. Folk from the land called out, shouts exchanged and every now and then they would fetch to a bank to trade and people would put in orders for the next passing.

By the time they reached the mouth of river their boat would be piled high with goods for market. Docking at the jetty, they sold from the boat. Katid could pull herself up by this time and called out, song-singing gobbeley gook to buyers then laughing when they waved or called back to her.

There was so much to see that Katid was exhausted each night. She only had time for a gurgled acknowledgement of the moon before falling asleep. They were at the market so long that the morning she awoke as usual alongside siblings in her pen, she was surprised by the quiet. The river rocked the boat and she fell asleep again.

Life went on. The boat travelled slowly up the river. When Katid was two she was helping with tasks that kept the boat afloat. The benefit of her height meant she was first to notice leaks or gnaws to draw attention for repair. Katid had the important job of helping her five year old brother. He had just become old enough to take water to the workers and with pride handed Katid the ladle. Katid wanted the bucket. It was too heavy until she tipped all the water out. Water that had to be boiled before drunk. She never repeated her mistake and handled the ladle with the seriousness it deserved.

Katid discussed this with the fish that came to nibble at the crumbs of bread she threw for them. They burbled back at her, in perfect accord. It was much easier to talk to fishes. The family learned to understand Katid’s jumbled words and emphatic gestures. The words never quite came out the way she thought them. Katid saw the looks her family shared whenever she spoke and tried harder to make herself understood until her father told her one day not to worry they understood. Katid realised they did so continued her burbling.

By the time she was three, the family reached the source of the river and travelled round to the back waters to stop for awhile and visit with friends not seen since before she was born.

For the first time in Katid’s short life the family relaxed and for the first time ever Katid stood on a deck that barely moved. Katid was scared to step out onto the land. She felt scared of the children who ran to greet her brothers or the loud men and women delighted to see her parents. Katid wanted to go back into the river’s current, where it was quieter. Then she met the Jumbly Man.

The Jumbly Man stood on the bank of the river. She knew he was the Jumbly Man as she had heard her brothers talk of him. Now he was here. Her brothers tumbled off the boat to greet him. Laughter and jumbled greetings were exchanged along with small gifts of sparkling stones that came from copious jumbly pockets. Katid wanted a sparkly stone. Her brothers whooped and ran off to play revelling in the freedom. Katid wanted to run.

Her parents greeted Jumbly as an old friend and with smiling glances over their shoulders at her walked after their sons to meet their village friends.

There was just Katid and the Jumbly Man. Jumbly smiled at her, then took out a sparkly stone and placed it on the ground. He turned and burbled a jumbled up sentence, smiled and wandered away. Katid was alarmed. Everyone was gone. She really wanted a sparkly stone. She really wanted to run. She really really wanted to talk in her mixed up jumbly way with the Jumbly man.

Finally she couldn’t stand it and screwing up her courage, leapt over the side of the boat. The ground was hard and didn’t move. Katid got her balance and picked up the stone.

It was as dark as the night sky and sparkled with stars. Her delighted face of wonder lifted up to the Jumbly man. He jumbled his understanding at her.

Katid laughed and taking Jumbly’s hand skipped after her family, jumbling with Jumbly all the way

and that’s the end of the story

A moment of Jumbly time: A Jumbly Tale

Way down, down at the river, where the trees trailed leaves in the silty flow, there lived a platypus. Children would dip their toes or jump right in and shriek with delight when they felt the sleek body of the platypus swoop past.

The river waters swished and swashed all the way down to the sea. There was often so much water that backwaters had carved their way, angling away from the flow. The waters there grumbled about which way to go.

The platypus enjoyed the silty waters, scooping up plenty of little fish and tiny yabbies. The children loved that the platypus lived in their river and told tales of what it’s home must look like and whether it had children. No one actually knew.

The Jumbly Man loved nothing better than to row his little dingy up the muddy waters and into the grumbly backwaters. There, where the waters were most confused, was a tumbling of rich silty goodness and a plethora of fish feeding. In a shady nook he would down anchor (actually tying off to an overhanging tree but that doesn’t sound as grand), set his hook and cast his line. Settling comfortably into the boat, he’d tip his hat and rest his eyes. The line had a tiny bell attached so if any fish came calling he would hear.

This day the platypus had followed Jumbly far from it’s territory, into to the rich goodness of the backwaters. There the platypus found a wealth of food and better territory. While Jumbly snoozed and the waters grumbled, the platypus explored.

The tinkling of a tiny bell awoke Jumbly. He jumped to pull in his line. A fine fish indeed! That was his supper taken care of, now one for the boy and his mum and one more for his friend, Mrs Higginbottom. Hooking and casting, fish in bucket, he resumed position.

Meanwhile the platypus had found a burrow, right on the bank! Who’d have thought, a home to move straight into. There was a scent of platypus around the entrance and she moved with caution inside, only to come hurriedly scuttling backwards, charged by the occupant.

Our platypus tumbled into the Grumble, sleek other at her tail. He swooped around her and again, then slid along her side and invited her into his den. She went.

Jumbly had all his fish cleaned and ready for home. Truly a wonderful activity, fishing.

(c) CLH Harper 1/10/2013

Mrs. Higginbottom – A Jumbly Tale

Mrs. Higginbottom – A Jumbly Tale

How often are we impacted by the frustrations of others? When another person is frustrated by your ability to understand exactly what they are going on about, it is difficult at times to remember that it is a reflection on them, not you.

That’s pretty much all I wanted to say about that. How about a Jumbly tale?

Let me tell you a story

Mrs. Higginbottom and the Jumbly Man

Once upon a time, a long long time ago, Mrs. Higginbottom came to live in the Jumbly Man’s village. She didn’t know anything about Jumbly at first but everyone knew just how important she was because she told them.

Mrs. Higginbottom had come to view the delightful cottage on the corner of Market Road and River Rd and the villagers had ample opportunity to view her. She had the unfortunate habit of tilting her head so she could look down her nose, over her glasses, making a moue of distaste. This gave clear viewing straight up her nostrils and small boys would hover about for a glimpse.

Mrs. Higginbottom really liked the little cottage and she could see that she would be a person of some importance in the village. They all knew this because she told them. She really liked the little garden gate, and the tumbles of flowers in the garden, the roses growing up the outside of the cottage and the cosy cottage itself.

The cottage and the village were missing it’s previous owner. Miss Lilly had gone to Heaven and they all felt sad at her passing. Jumbly most of all. So when the new resident moved into her cottage all the village watched with voyeuristic pleasure to find out if she would be anything like Miss Lilly.

Miss Lilly had been Jumbly’s very best friend and the closest he had to a mother since he was a small boy. He was in the habit of visiting her every day, helping with chores and chatting in his jumbly way. Miss Lilly had never the least bother in understanding him. The riotous tumble of flowers and scents that was Miss Lilly’s garden had been their favourite place. Many happy hours of jumbly words and laughter were shared. As Miss Lilly had aged, the Jumbly Man would make sure she had wood for her fire, her errands run and always flowers in her yard.

Everyone liked Miss Lilly. They all took it hard when she rocked herself to her final rest, one slow sunny afternoon, sitting on her porch enjoying her garden and passersby. Jumbly had found her. He was bereft. Everyone understood and they let Jumbly grieve in his own way, keeping their eye on him.

When Mrs. Higginbottom moved in, everyone was intensely interested in their new neighbour and were keen to see how Jumbly would take to her. Mrs. Higginbottom was not so keen. The villagers soon learnt all about her importance in her previous village and how she practically had to run the place herself. How they would all get by without her, she didn’t know.

Mrs. Higginbottom took to sitting in Miss Lilly’s rocker on the front porch, calling greetings to passersby. She did her best to let them know when their dress was not up to scratch, and how the Elders needed her help when she wasn’t quite so busy, and dear me those rascally children needed taking down a peg or two and don’t get her started on the Jumbly Man, after all what kind of name was that? At this point she found that people began walking swiftly by her cottage, too busy to stop and chat. Her only visitors were the same small boys, keeping silent until the soft summer day sent her to sleep and snore. There was considerable discussion about her snoring, exactly what sound it was she made. Small boy treasures were known to change hands when she would snort quickly three times in a row, if the timing was guessed right.

The Jumbly Man watched from a distance as Mrs. Higginbottom settled into Miss Lilly’s cottage and made it her own. He watched as she harangued the villagers and set her tongue to scolding. Jumbly heard her calls unheeded and watched people scamper out of her way when she went to market.

Mrs. Higginbottom found this village just like her last. The people who were so friendly at first, now avoided her and wouldn’t listen to her good advice, and she had so much good advice. Why she had an opinion on everything. It was just the same all over again as if she was invisible.

One bright morning as Mrs. Higginbottom settled herself on her porch, she noticed the Jumbly Man standing directly across the road looking at her. At first she looked away, then snuck her eyes back to see he was still looking. Not only was he looking, he was smiling. Well. Mrs. Higginbottom pulled herself out of her rocking chair and marched to her garden gate. Jumbly crossed the road and marched up to the other side of her gate.

Mrs. Higginbottom tilted her head back, looked down her nose, over her glasses and made a moue of distaste. The Jumbly Man deftly avoided her nostrils and looked down into her eyes. He looked for a long time. Mrs. Higginbottom stayed very still. Slowly her head resumed it’s normal position and she looked right back at Jumbly. Jumbly smiled.

For the first time in her life, Mrs. Higginbottom felt seen. She felt that someone had noticed her and she felt Jumbly’s smile go right down into her heart. Mrs. Higginbottom smiled back.

The Jumbly Man jumbled some words at her. Mrs. Higginbottom nodded, oh of course, come right in, I will put the kettle on for tea, and the Jumbly Man was welcomed in through her gate.

and that is the end of the story.

(c) 4th September 2013