Fellow Travellers with a Bird I.
Fellow Travellers with a Bird II.
Children in Midwinter
That Pretty Person
Out of Town
Under the Early Stars
The Man with Two Heads
Children in Burlesque
The Barren Shore
The Young Children
Fair and Brown
FELLOW TRAVELLERS WITH A BIRD I.
To attend to a living child is to be baffled in your humour
disappointed of your pathos and set freshly free from all the pre-
occupations. You cannot anticipate him. Blackbirds overheard year
by year do not compose the same phrases; never two leitmotifs
alike. Not the tone but the note alters. So with the uncovenated
ways of a child you keep no tryst. They meet you at another place
after failing you where you tarried; your former experiences your
documents are at fault. You are the fellow traveller of a bird.
The bird alights and escapes out of time to your footing.
No man's fancy could be beforehand for instance with a girl of
four years old who dictated a letter to a distant cousin with the
sweet and unimaginable message: "I hope you enjoy yourself with
your loving dolls." A boy still younger persuading his mother to
come down from the heights and play with him on the floor but
sensible perhaps that there was a dignity to be observed none the
less entreated her "Mother do be a lady frog." None ever said
their good things before these indeliberate authors. Even their own
kind--children--have not preceded them. No child in the past ever
found the same replies as the girl of five whose father made that
appeal to feeling which is doomed to a different perverse and
unforeseen success. He was rather tired with writing and had a
mind to snare some of the yet uncaptured flock of her sympathies.
"Do you know I have been working hard darling? I work to buy
things for you." "Do you work" she asked "to buy the lovely
puddin's?" Yes even for these. The subject must have seemed to
her to be worth pursuing. "And do you work to buy the fat? I don't
The sympathies nevertheless are there. The same child was to be
soothed at night after a weeping dream that a skater had been
drowned in the Kensington Round Pond. It was suggested to her that
she should forget it by thinking about the one unfailing and gay
subject--her wishes. "Do you know" she said without loss of time
"what I should like best in all the world? A thundred dolls and a
whistle!" Her mother was so overcome by this tremendous numeral
that she could make no offer as to the dolls. But the whistle
seemed practicable. "It is for me to whistle for cabs" said the
child with a sudden moderation "when I go to parties." Another
morning she came down radiant "Did you hear a great noise in the
miggle of the night? That was me crying. I cried because I dreamt
that Cuckoo [a brother] had swallowed a bead into his nose."
The mere errors of children are unforeseen as nothing is--no
nothing feminine--in this adult world. "I've got a lotter than
you" is the word of a very young egotist. An older child says
"I'd better go bettern't I mother?" He calls a little space at
the back of a London house "the backy-garden." A little creature
proffers almost daily the reminder at luncheon--at tart-time:
"Father I hope you will remember that I am the favourite of the
crust." Moreover if an author set himself to invent the naif
things that children might do in their Christmas plays at home he
would hardly light upon the device of the little troupe who having
no footlights arranged upon the floor a long row of--candle-shades!
"It's JOLLY dull without you mother" says a little girl who--
gentlest of the gentle--has a dramatic sense of slang of which she
makes no secret. But she drops her voice somewhat to disguise her
feats of metathesis about which she has doubts and which are
involuntary: the "stand-wash" the "sweeping-crosser" the "sewing
chamine." Genoese peasants have the same prank when they try to
Children forget last year so well that if they are Londoners they
should by any means have an impression of the country or the sea
annually. A London little girl watches a fly upon the wing follows
it with her pointing finger and names it "bird." Her brother who
wants to play with a bronze Japanese lobster ask "Will you please
let me have that tiger?"
At times children give to a word that slight variety which is the
most touching kind of newness. Thus a child of three asks you to
save him. How moving a word and how freshly said! He had heard of
the "saving" of other things of interest--especially chocolate
creams taken for safe-keeping--and he asks "Who is going to save me
to-day? Nurse is going out will you save me mother?" The same
little variant upon common use is in another child's courteous reply
to a summons to help in the arrangement of some flowers "I am quite
at your ease."
A child unconscious little author of things told in this record
was taken lately to see a fellow author of somewhat different
standing from her own inasmuch as he is among other things a
Saturday Reviewer. As he dwelt in a part of the South-west of the
town unknown to her she noted with interest the shops of the
neighbourhood as she went for they might be those of the
fournisseurs of her friend. "That is his bread shop and that is
his book shop. And that mother" she said finally with even
heightened sympathy pausing before a blooming parterre of
confectionery hard by the abode of her man of letters "that I
suppose is where he buys his sugar pigs."
In all her excursions into streets new to her this same child is
intent upon a certain quest--the quest of a genuine collector. We
have all heard of collecting butterflies of collecting china-dogs
of collecting cocked hats and so forth; but her pursuit gives her a
joy that costs her nothing except a sharp look-out upon the proper
names over all shop-windows. No hoard was ever lighter than hers.
"I began three weeks ago next Monday mother" she says with
precision "and I have got thirty-nine." "Thirty-nine what?"
FELLOW TRAVELLERS WITH A BIRD. II.
The mere gathering of children's language would be much like
collecting together a handful of flowers that should be all unique
single of their kind. In one thing however do children agree and
that is the rejection of most of the conventions of the authors who
have reported them. They do not for example say "me is;" their
natural reply to "are you?" is "I are." One child pronouncing
sweetly and neatly will have nothing but the nominative pronoun.
"Lift I up and let I see it raining" she bids; and told that it
does not rain resumes "Lift I up and let I see it not raining."
An elder child had a rooted dislike to a brown corduroy suit ordered
for her by maternal authority. She wore the garments under protest
and with some resentment. At the same time it was evident that she
took no pleasure in hearing her praises sweetly sung by a poet her
friend. He had imagined the making of this child in the counsels of
Heaven and the decreeing of her soft skin of her brilliant eyes
and of her hair--"a brown tress." She had gravely heard the words
as "a brown dress" and she silently bore the poet a grudge for
having been the accessory of Providence in the mandate that she
should wear the loathed corduroy. The unpractised ear played
another little girl a like turn. She had a phrase for snubbing any
anecdote that sounded improbable. "That" she said more or less
after Sterne "is a cotton-wool story."
The learning of words is needless to say continued long after the
years of mere learning to speak. The young child now takes a
current word into use a little at random and now makes a new one
so as to save the interruption of a pause for search. I have
certainly detected in children old enough to show their motives a
conviction that a word of their own making is as good a
communication as another and as intelligible. There is even a
general implicit conviction among them that the grown-up people
too make words by the wayside as occasion befalls. How otherwise
should words be so numerous that every day brings forward some
hitherto unheard? The child would be surprised to know how
irritably poets are refused the faculty and authority which he
thinks to belong to the common world.
There is something very cheerful and courageous in the setting-out
of a child on a journey of speech with so small baggage and with so
much confidence in the chances of the hedge. He goes free a simple
adventurer. Nor does he make any officious effort to invent
anything strange or particularly expressive or descriptive. The
child trusts genially to his hearer. A very young boy excited by
his first sight of sunflowers was eager to describe them and
called them without allowing himself to be checked for the trifle
of a name "summersets." This was simple and unexpected; so was the
comment of a sister a very little older. "Why does he call those
flowers summersets?" their mother said; and the girl with a darkly
brilliant look of humour and penetration answered "because they
are so big." There seemed to be no further question possible after
an explanation that was presented thus charged with meaning.
To a later phase of life when a little girl's vocabulary was
somewhat at random growing larger belong a few brave phrases
hazarded to express a meaning well realized--a personal matter.
Questioned as to the eating of an uncertain number of buns just
before lunch the child averred "I took them just to appetize my
hunger." As she betrayed a familiar knowledge of the tariff of an
attractive confectioner she was asked whether she and her sisters
had been frequenting those little tables on their way from school.
"I sometimes go in there mother" she confessed; "but I generally
Children sometimes attempt to cap something perfectly funny with
something so flat that you are obliged to turn the conversation.
Dryden does the same thing not with jokes but with his sublimer
passages. But sometimes a child's deliberate banter is quite
intelligible to elders. Take the letter written by a little girl to