Uncollected Pieces for Young Readers
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The Christmas Eyes.
Sarah O. Jewett.
Margery's mother was busy reading a letter, and Margery herself sat disconsolately by the window wishing that she could go out doors to play. It was not because other children had gone, for, to tell the truth, this child almost always played by herself. It was snowing fast, and she was the more dismal because she feared that she must wait until spring before she went again to a lovely place which she had found only the day before. This had been a mild day for the season, for indeed, she had not been cold at all while she walked about the large garden. Down at the farthest end of it she had found an English sparrow's nest built into a place in the wall where a stone had slipped out. This was behind a place of hedge that was so thick in summer that nobody thought of seeing anything the other side; but now the leaves had fallen, and when Margery's ball had bounced sideways and rolled in under these bushes, and she had crept through to get it, she had been at first startled, and then very much pleased.
For there had been a great rustling and fluttering over her head and then everything was silent but her own little heart, which was beating away famously. She was afraid it was the place where the bats lived, which flew about in the summer evenings, always making her very uncomfortable; but in a minute, when she dared to look around, she saw the bird's nest in the wall. Then she crept all the way through the bit of hedge and found that she could stand upright and could look into the nest, and could even walk to and fro a little way, as if it were a small room, and there were chinks in the wall from which the mortar (which had smoothed it all over when it was built) had fallen out.
Margery thought it would be an excellent place to play in. It was very warm that day, and she began to make plans about bringing some of her playthings there, and then she said to herself that she would wait a little while to see if the sparrows would come back. She would bring some pieces of bread from the house and see if she could not tame the birds; and, to tell all the truth, with a very few words, she was as happy as she possibly could be. She hurried to the house and ran back again with some bread, as if her corner of the wall might disappear while she left it, and she put some large crumbs (which the birds might have seen all the way across the garden) on the edge of the nest and scattered others upon the ground.
And then she kept very still and made herself as small as she could, and watched.
Presently there was a chirping and chattering over head, and then a bird came down almost to the nest, and saw Margery and flew away again, and yet she hoped that its quick eyes had had time to see the bread, so she did not doubt that the sparrow would know she was its friend. She still kept very quiet, and I suppose that the birds looked at her and talked about her, and found out what a good friend she was, while she could not see them. And presently one came down to the bush and sat on a twig and bobbed its head about and looked at her with its bright eyes to make perfectly sure she could be trusted, and then went over to its nest. Margery crouched, and waited, and saw at last that some of the crumbs had disappeared, and hated the thought of moving lest she should frighten her shy friend away.
After a while somebody came out to look for her and she had to speak and to move. The sparrow scurried away again, but Margery was as pleased as she could be, because she thought she could go to the sparrow-house, as she at once called the new play-place, every day, and she did not doubt that the sparrows would eat from her fingers and perch on her shoulders and be very good friends with her in a day or two.
But alas, the very next morning poor Margery waked to find that she had taken a bad cold, and more than that, there was a great white snow storm. Her poor little bones ached, and she thought of the bird's nest and the long winter which she did not like, and she cried a little while she ate her breakfast, and afterward when she was sitting in the library with her mother, she cried a little more, and she would not stay by the fire, though everybody said it would be better, but wrapped herself in a little shawl of her grandmother's and went to the window seat and curled herself up against the corner of it, as forlorn as she could be, and as if she were a little wet bird herself who was quite discouraged with the weather.
"Margery," said her mother, looking up with a smile from the letter which she had read three or four times, "do you know what day it will be a week from Tuesday?"
"Christmas?" asked Margery, for she knew that it was almost as near as that to the day she longed to see.
"Yes," said her mother, "and from whom do you think I have a letter?"
Margery did not know.
"It is from your Grand-aunt Peggy, and she asks if you will come to her for a little visit."
Margery shook her head, but did not say anything.
"I think it would be very nice if you would like to go," said mamma. "I shall miss you very much, but Aunt Peggy is a very old lady now and you are her little namesake, and I wish you to be fond of her because she is so fond of you. Bridget shall go with you, and that will keep you from being lonely, and I think you will have such a good time that you will always like to remember it."
"Yes," said Margery, "I will go, if Bridget can stay with me until I go to sleep every night. It is so frightening in that big bed with the curtains. But I like to go to see Aunt Peggy. Can I have my presents all in a box to open Christmas morning?"
"Yes," said mamma, and she came to kiss Margery, and she brought a little silk blanket striped with gay colors, and tucked her all up in it, and kissed her again, and then went to the library table to write Aunt Peggy a letter, for she was an impatient old lady, as every one well knew. But Margery thought more of the snow and the bird's nest than she did of the visit, for that was a week's distance away. She watched the snowflakes, she looked out across the garden and the black rows of box, and the gray rosebushes and the thin trees. She wondered why everything out of doors took off its leaves in winter. She thought they would look so much warmer if they wore them, and it would keep the winds away. In fact she did not see any reason why there should be any winter at all. And then she thought about the visit a little, and was sure there would be plenty of little round frosted cakes, and she was quite grand in her own small way, because she was going to pay a visit by herself; for though Bridget would be there, it was not like having mamma to say that one must go to bed or must not eat this thing or that, which were not so good for her as something else. Though Margery meant to be a good girl, and though sometimes she made mistakes like all the rest of us, she was usually to be trusted.
As she sat by the window she saw a sparrow come flying through the snowflakes, and, to her delight, he perched upon the outer window sill, and stayed there for a minute, looking at her as if he had something very particular to say. Margery had only time to wish there were some crumbs ready, when he turned and darted away, and she gave a little sigh and wished that he had stayed. Mamma's pen was scratching away as fast as it could, to finish the letter, and Margery listened to it and found she was growing sleepy. Then suddenly the sparrow came flying back, and this time it came right through the glass, and perched on the window-sill, inside, and walked sideways until it was as close to Margery as it could get, and asked in a queer, little, chirping voice, if she were perfectly sure [t]here was no cat in the room.
"Oh, yes," said Margery; "mamma does not like cats, you know" -- and the bird quietly began to smooth its feathers, which were wet and rumpled, but presently when they were all in order, it sat up very straight and asked, "What do you suppose I have come for?"
But Margery did not know.
"We were very sorry to find the weather so bad to-day; we hoped that you would come to see us again," said the bird politely.
"Oh," said Margery, "you are that bird, aren't you? All sparrows look just alike, you know; but I suppose you can tell each other apart just as people can."
"Of course," said the sparrow, and he pecked at Margery as if he were angry with her, and she could not help laughing.
"If you only knew us as well as we know you!" said the bird; "but most of you torment us when you are young and forget us when you grow up. You keep cats, and you frighten us every time you go out of doors. We have rights as well as you." And he hopped back and forth two or three times. "I don't mean that you do such things. All the birds in the garden know you and like you; and I came to bring you a present, because you were very nice to us yesterday and gave us such a good supper."
"I was so glad you were not frightened," answered Margery, "but you needn't have brought me anything." Though, if the truth must be told, she was longing to know what the present might be.
The bird stood on one claw and felt under one wing with the other, as if there were a pocket there, and took out two little pieces of something that looked like glass. Margery saw them, and felt greatly disappointed; she thought there would be something much nicer than those. She would have liked even a pretty feather better, and she could not help thinking that the birds must find so many pretty things that have been lost. She had been wondering if somebody wouldn't give her a ring for a Christmas present.
"When people are very good to us, and very gentle, and when they like to please other people," chirped the small guest, in his funny voice, which made Margery keep wishing to smile, "we give them some new eyes. You put them over the old ones, and you can see better forever afterward, for you will see what people are wishing for[.] They will make you more and more useful, and so you will grow happier and happier. Now open your eyes wide!" and the sparrow flew quickly to Margery's notes and held it with one claw while he reached with the other first to the right eye and then to the left, and dropped the new eyes upon the old ones. And then he flew away, while Margery rubbed her eyes because she thought they felt queerly. And she wondered if she really should see anything that she had not seen before.
And suddenly her mother stood beside her, laughing, and she said she had been waiting some time for Margery to wake up, and at last had touched her small nose with one finger, because the dressmaker had come to try her new dress on and was in a great hurry. Margery was bewildered with the sudden change that affairs had taken. She looked out of the window earnestly, but the bird was nowhere in sight, and she wished that her mother had not waked her and was sorry that she must try the dress on. Miss Noyes, the dressmaker, looked cold and tired as our friend went slowly into the room up-stairs where she was sitting, and suddenly, instead of thinking of turning herself reluctantly about to be pinned and unpinned, Margery really began to understand what Miss Noyes was thinking of.
"Here is this child who has more clothes already than she can wear out," Miss Noyes seemed to be saying to herself, "and there's my little niece Janie, who is longing for a new pretty dress to wear to the Christmas party, but I don't see how I can possibly get it. There are all those heavy bills to pay for her mother's long illness."
"Where's Janie now?" asked Margery -- for sometimes she had seen the little niece and liked her, though, as I have said, Margery liked best to play alone. Miss Noyes looked surprised and answered that Janie was at home.
"May I give her my red dress that I have outgrown, mamma?" asked Margery, and mamma said, Yes indeed, if it would fit Janie; she had thought of it herself. And Miss Noyes looked at first one and then the other, and flushed a little, half with surprise and half with delight. "It is more welcome than I can tell anybody," she said -- but Margery told nobody her surprising secret.
The days went one by one, and time after time Margery astonished herself and other people. She watched her father and mother and Bridget and the other people in the house, and tried to see how many wishes of theirs she could read with her new eyes. I cannot say that her conscience did not give her a good deal of help, but every one said how thoughtful she was growing, and papa had only to sit down and look tired in his big chair before the library fire, for the little girl to bring him his slippers and a cigar and a match, and mamma would be lying down and hear the letters drop into the mail-box on the door, and Margery would go as quick as a flash to bring them in, and she would put away the things she had been playing with because mamma thought the room looked untidy when she same in. And if she were making a noise, she would know that people wished she would stop, and altogether she grew very wise, and more than once she ran up stairs and brought down things mamma had forgotten, and nobody could understand it.
The time at last came when she was to go to Aunt Peggy's, and everybody was very sorry to have her leave home. The last thing she did was to ask the gardener to carry some pieces of bread to her friends behind the hedge, and as the snow was not deep he was quite willing, though he laughed a little when Margery asked him, and promised not to tell when she confided the secret of the bird's nest.
It was the day before Christmas, and a very good day for the journey to Aunt Peggy's, which was not a very long one, though Bridget and Margery felt a great responsibility in making it. They had never taken a great many journeys, and they were very glad when they were safely inside Aunt Peggy's door. She was a very grand-looking old lady, with little bunches of gray curls each side her face. She was quite severe upon people who had not good manners, and who did not do the things she though they ought, but after all she was very kind-hearted, and she was very fond of her little namesake Margery: and all day, before it was time for Margery to come, she had been hurrying the maids, and had been going up and down stairs, and looking everywhere, and trying to think of everything lest something should be forgotten and the visit be made a failure. It was a large, old-fashioned house, and very lonely for one person, and so, after the little traveller had had her wraps taken off, and had warmed her hands and her feet, and had gone to speak to Susan and Martha, and to say how do you do all over again to old Thomas, though he had opened the door for her; -- after all this it was very pleasant for Aunt Peggy to take hold of the child's little hand and lead her to the dining room, and look up again and again to see her at the other side of the table. And Margery wondered once or twice if the new eyes would be of any use to her now. Aunt Peggy seemed to have everything she wanted, and she did so many things for other people, but how could anybody do anything for her?
Yet, after tea was over, and they had gone back to the parlor, the bird's eyes did see a wish, for poor Aunt Peggy looked over at the little girl and thought it would be a great wonder if she were not homesick. How could she care about a humdrum old lady like herself, and was it possible that a dear little girl like Margery, really cared anything about her. It was most likely she came because her father and mother sent her, and thought it would be best. She wished that her little grand-niece would really grow fond of her, it would make life so much pleasanter, for she was lonely now that most of her old friends were dead.
And Margery left her cricket on the other side of the fireplace, though she would not have thought of it before she had the new eyes, and she went softly to Aunt Peggy's side, and gave her a dear kiss, and said, "I was so glad when I could come, Aunty;" and then whispered, "I love you very much." And Aunt Peggy lifted her into her lap, though some people might have said Margery was too heavy, and kissed her again and again, and said she was a great comfort.
The next day was Christmas, and a great many queer things happened; for when the old lady forgot to tell Thomas something, and remembered it too late, Margery scampered after him down the street, because she happened to have her hat and cloak on, and said what Aunt Peggy had wished; and she even knew when the old parrot wanted his cage door opened so that he could come out and walk about, and she knew when Bridget wished she need not stay by her after she went to bed, because she would like to spend the Christmas evening with her friends, and so Margery bravely said she would not be afraid to go to sleep alone, and everybody said that there never was so good a child, or one who did so many sweet things, and that she was like sunshine in the house. But if Margery overheard any such praise, she told herself that the bird had been very good to give her the new eyes and to make this Christmas such a pleasant one. For besides giving pleasure to other people, she herself was made happy a great many times a day. And she could not help laughing afterward at the surprise of some old ladies who came to see Aunt Peggy, and who wished she were not there, so she would not hear some things they wished to say, for she at once got up and walked away, and when Aunt Peggy asked the reason she said shyly, without thinking, that the ladies had wished she would go for a little while. It was very funny that after they went away they sent her a present of a little bronze bird that looked just like her wise sparrow that lived in the wall. Margery was almost sure that the bird had something to do with it himself.
When the visit was over poor Aunt Peggy said she did not know how she should get on without her dear little guest; and if Margery had not longed to see something more of the bird who could talk, I think she would have felt worse about going away. But he never came through the window again, and though she saw sparrows by the dozen, they always flew away from her, and not one ever came to speak to her, and the snow is still so deep in the garden that she cannot go to the nest. Though she has the new eyes all the time -- at least she thinks she has -- but even if the fancy about the bird has helped her to use them, and if she might have seen all her chances sooner for being thoughtful and kind to people if she had cared to see them, still the dream has brought her pleasure and happiness, and it is a dear lesson that she never will forget, that came to her just in time for Christmas.
So, if we think we have only one kind of eyes that see the outsides of things, and if we are dull, and find it hard to do what people want us to, and if we do the wrong thing, and make our friends uncomfortable, let us remember that anybody who really wishes for the other eyes can have them. If we have been thinking that we should like to make everybody happy this Christmas day, and trying to think of just the right present to give to the friends we are fond of and wish to please, we must have eyes that see clearly. And the whole secret is this, if we only let a loving and thoughtful heart look through we can soon make new eyes of our own old ones. If we do everything that we see we can do for the people we work and play with, we shall have a true Christmas day of peace and good will.
SARAH O. JEWETT
"The Christmas Eyes" appeared in The Christmas Traveller, No.III, Back page, Boston, December, 1883. The Christmas Traveller was an annual holiday extra of the Boston Evening / Daily Traveller.) This text is available courtesy of the Boston Public Library.
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English sparrow: Now generally known as the house sparrow, Passer domesticus, this European sparrow was imported to the Americas where it has become one of the most numerous of birds.
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cricket: a wooden footstool.
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Edited and annotated by Terry Heller, Coe College
Uncollected Pieces for Young Readers
Main Contents & Search