The Travelling Talker – December 1922

There is nothing like talk for developing the mind said a school master to me. Children should be encouraged to talk with their parents especially at meal-times. The difficulty I have with my boys is that few of them can express what they mean in answering a question. Thoughts are not clear until they are formulated. It is through hope that the human brain has developed. I believe in talking.

I thought of this the other day when I was travelling some distance with a little girl who had been placed under my care. She was a stranger to me but her mother at the terminus had asked if I was going as far as S…… where an aunt would meet the child. It happened that I was going farther so the nicely dressed girl was placed opposite to me.

I hesitated about opening a conversation with a question. Probably —- remembering my school master’s remarks — she would have an undeveloped mind and be unable to say more than yes or no to a stranger.

I decided not to bother her and took up the weekly I had bought to read. Presently when the train slowed into a station, she asked me if we were far from S…….. Noting that there was an entire absence of timidity in her looks and address, I asked her if she had ever travelled alone before. “Oh. yes,” she had travelled from Leeds to London with nobody to look after her. An aunt met her at St Pancras.

Her tongue was loosened and she proceeded to relate the history of her various journeys all over the kingdom. Have you friends in all these places? I asked. Yes. She had aunts. two in London, one in Leeds, three in America one or two in Australia, two in Birmingham and two…..but how many aunts have you? was my natural query, breaking in on this unfinished list.  Oh father has 19 sisters. There were 21 in his family. No wonder she could talk.

After informing me of the ages of her brothers and sisters and proudly telling me she was 12 — I am very little amn’t I —- I would have guessed her at 10 or less for her size. She began to talk about the slowness of trains on the line. “They should have run an express,” she said. “They lose a lot of passengers because it is is so slow.”

Something in the wise assurance of her air as she said this prompted me to hazard the remark, “Your father’s on the line, is he?” She nodded. We had heard a lot of talk about railway lines and their difficulties.

Then she glanced off again to London. She didn’t like London. It was too noisy in Picadilly where two of the 19 aunts lived. S. wasn’t bad for a week-end but there was no place like Carlisle. Again, remembering my school master and his views on talk, I asked her if she attended the secondary school. She shook her head gravely. She had gone to that for a bit but didn’t like it. You learned nothing there but cheek. She pursed her lips as she looked at me, “ Cheek I call it. Nothing else. Father took me away.”

She was the precious young one and the gift of talk was highly developed in her, one perceived. She almost humbled me by the general self assurance of her direct gaze. She was accustomed to attention, admiration, appreciation of her lightest words. I wondered if all the aunts adored her and if some of them had a word to say about her up-bringing.

“Teacher was cross because I said I must get out soon to catch this train” She pursed her pretty lips again — for she was a pretty child —” but she had no right to be ……”

Then we steamed into the station — and she was a real child as she grabbed her bag and made a rush for the carriage door without once glancing at me and literally fell out into the waiting arms of two girls a little bigger than herself. I picture her — self confident, expansive, sage, travelled, talkative —— at the aunt’s supper table.

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