A Traveller in Little Things by W. H. Hudson
It is surely a rare experience for an unclassified man, past middle
age, to hear himself accurately and aptly described for the first time
in his life by a perfect stranger! This thing happened to me at
Bristol, some time ago, in the way I am about to relate. I slept at a
Commercial Hotel, and early next morning was joined in the big empty
coffee-room, smelling of stale tobacco, by an intensely respectable-
looking old gentleman, whose hair was of silvery whiteness, and who
wore gold-rimmed spectacles and a heavy gold watch-chain with many
seals attached thereto; whose linen was of the finest, and whose outer
garments, including the trousers, were of the newest and blackest
broadcloth. A glossier and at the same time a more venerable-looking
"commercial" I had never seen in the west country, nor anywhere in the
three kingdoms. He could not have improved his appearance if he had
been on his way to attend the funeral of a millionaire. But with all
his superior look he was quite affable, and talked fluently and
instructively on a variety of themes, including trade, politics, and
religion. Perceiving that he had taken me for what I was not--one of
the army in which he served, but of inferior rank--I listened
respectfully as became me. Finally he led the talk to the subject of
agriculture, and the condition and prospects of farming in England.
Here I perceived that he was on wholly unfamiliar ground, and in return
for the valuable information he had given me on other and more
important subjects, I proceeded to enlighten him. When I had finished
stating my facts and views, he said: "I perceive that you know a great
deal more about the matter than I do, and I will now tell you why you
know more. You are a traveller in little things--in something very
small--which takes you into the villages and hamlets, where you meet
and converse with small farmers, innkeepers, labourers and their wives,
with other persons who live on the land. In this way you get to hear a
good deal about rent and cost of living, and what the people are able
and not able to do. Now I am out of all that; I never go to a village
nor see a farmer. I am a traveller in something very large. In the
south and west I visit towns like Salisbury, Exeter, Bristol,
Southampton; then I go to the big towns in the Midlands and the North,
and to Glasgow and Edinburgh; and afterwards to Belfast and Dublin. It
would simply be a waste of time for me to visit a town of less than
fifty or sixty thousand inhabitants."

He then gave me some particulars concerning the large thing he
travelled in; and when I had expressed all the interest and admiration
the subject called for, he condescendingly invited me to tell him
something about my own small line.

Now this was wrong of him; it was a distinct contravention of an
unwritten law among "Commercials" that no person must be interrogated
concerning the nature of his business. The big and the little man, once
inside the hostel, which is their club as well, are on an equality. I
did not remind my questioner of this--I merely smiled and said nothing,
and he of course understood and respected my reticence. With a pleasant
nod and a condescending let-us-say-no-more-about-it wave of the hand he
passed on to other matters.

Notwithstanding that I was amused at his mistake, the label he had
supplied me with was something to be grateful for, and I am now finding
a use for it. And I think that if he, my labeller, should see this
sketch by chance and recognise himself in it, he will say with his
pleasant smile and wave of the hand, "Oh, that's his line! Yes, yes, I
described him rightly enough, thinking it haberdashery or floral texts
for cottage bedrooms, or something of that kind; I didn't imagine he
was a traveller in anything quite so small as this."
 
 
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