The Fairy Bird by Louisa M. Alcott
I’M so glad to-morrow is Christmas,
because I’m going to have lots of
“So am I glad, though I don’t expect
any presents but a pair of mittens.”
“And so am I; but I shan’t have any
presents at all.”
As the three little girls trudged home
from school they said these things, and as
Tilly spoke, both the others looked at her
with pity and some surprise; for she spoke
cheerfully, and they wondered how she
could be happy when she was so poor she
could have no presents on Christmas.
“Don’t you wish you could find a purse
full of money right here in the path?”
said Kate, the child who was going to
have “lots of presents.”
“O, don’t I, if I could keep it honestly!”
And Tilly’s eyes shone at the very
“What would you buy?” asked Bessy,
rubbing her cold hands, and longing for
“I’d buy a pair of large, warm blankets,
a load of wood, a shawl for mother, and a
pair of shoes for me; and if there was
enough left, I’d give Bessy a new hat,
and then she needn’t wear Ben’s old felt
one,” answered Tilly.
The girls laughed at that; but Bessy
pulled the funny hat over her ears, and
said she was much obliged, but she’d
rather have candy.
“Let’s look, and may be we can find a
purse. People are always going about
with money at Christmas time, and some
one may lose it here,” said Kate.
So, as they went along the snowy road,
they looked about them, half in earnest,
half in fun. Suddenly Tilly sprang forward,
“I see it! I’ve found it!”
The others followed, but all stopped
disappointed, for it wasn’t a purse; it
was only a little bird. It lay upon the
snow, with its wings spread and feebly
fluttering, as if too weak to fly. Its little
feet were benumbed with cold; its once
bright eyes were dull with pain, and instead
of a blithe song, it could only utter
a faint chirp now and then, as if crying
“Nothing but a stupid old robin. How
provoking!” cried Kate, sitting down to
“I shan’t touch it; I found one once,
and took care of it, and the ungrateful
thing flew away the minute it was well,”
said Bessy, creeping under Kate’s shawl,
and putting her hands under her chin to
“Poor little birdie! How pitiful he
looks, and how glad he must be to see
some one coming to help him! I’ll take
him up gently, and carry him home to
mother. Don’t be frightened, dear; I’m
your friend.” And Tilly knelt down in
the snow, stretching her hand to the bird
with the tenderest pity in her face.
Kate and Bessy laughed.
“Don’t stop for that thing; it’s getting
late and cold. Let’s go on, and look for
the purse,” they said, moving away.
“You wouldn’t leave it to die!” cried
Tilly. “I’d rather have the bird than the
money; so I shan’t look any more. The
purse wouldn’t be mine, and I should only
be tempted to keep it; but this poor thing
will thank and love me, and I’m so glad I
came in time!” Gently lifting the bird,
Tilly felt its tiny cold claws cling to her
hand, and saw its dim eyes brighten as it
nestled down with a grateful chirp.
THE FAIRY BIRD.
“Now I’ve got a Christmas present,
after all,” she said, smiling, as they walked
on. “I always wanted a bird, and this
one will be such a pretty pet for me!”
“He’ll fly away the first chance he gets,
and die, anyhow; so you’d better not
waste your time over him,” said Bessy.
“He can’t pay you for taking care of
him, and my mother says it isn’t worth
while to help folks that can’t help us,”
“My mother says, ‘Do as you’d be
done by;’ and I’m sure I’d like any one
to help me, if I was dying of cold and
hunger. ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’
is another of her sayings. This bird
is my little neighbor, and I’ll love him and
care for him, as I often wish our rich
neighbor would love and care for us,” answered
Tilly, breathing her warm breath
over the benumbed bird, who looked up
at her with confiding eyes, quick to feel
and know a friend.
“What a funny girl you are!” said Kate,
“caring for that silly bird, and talking
about loving your neighbor in that sober
way. Mr. King don’t care a bit for you,
and never will, though he knows how
poor you are; so I don’t think your plan
amounts to much.”
“I believe it, though, and shall do my
part, any way. Good night. I hope you’ll
have a merry Christmas, and lots of pretty
things,” answered Tilly, as they parted.
Her eyes were full, and she felt so poor
as she went on alone towards the little old
house where she lived! It would have
been so pleasant to know that she was
going to have some of the pretty things
all children love to find in their full stockings
on Christmas morning! and pleasanter
still to have been able to give her
mother something nice. So many comforts
were needed, and there was no hope
of getting them; for they could barely
get food and fire.
“Never mind, birdie; we’ll make the
best of what we have, and be merry in
spite of everything. You shall have a
happy Christmas, any way; and I know
God won’t forget us, if every one else
She stopped a minute to wipe her eyes,
and lean her cheek against the bird’s soft
breast, finding great comfort in the little
creature, though it could only love her—nothing
“See, mother, what a nice present I’ve
found!” she cried, going in with a cheery
face, that was like sunshine in the dark
“I’m glad of that, deary; for I haven’t
been able to get my little girl anything but
a rosy apple. Poor bird! Give it some
of your warm bread and milk.”
“Why, mother, what a big bowlful!
I’m afraid you gave me all the milk,” said
Tilly, smiling over the nice steaming supper
that stood ready for her.
“I’ve had plenty, dear. Sit down and
dry your wet feet, and put the bird in my
basket on this warm flannel.”
Tilly peeped into the closet, and saw
nothing there but dry bread.
“Mother’s given me all the milk, and is
going without her tea, ’cause she knows
I’m hungry. Now I’ll surprise her, and
she shall have a good supper too. She is
going to split wood, and I’ll fix it while
So Tilly put down the old teapot, carefully
poured out a part of the milk, and
from her pocket produced a great plummy
bunn, that one of the school children had
given her, and she had saved for her
mother. A slice of the dry bread was
nicely toasted, and the bit of butter set by
for her to put on it. When her mother
came in, there was the table drawn up in
a warm place, a hot cup of tea ready, and
Tilly and birdie waiting for her.
Such a poor little supper, and yet such
a happy one! for love, charity, and contentment
were guests there, and that
Christmas eve was a blither one than that
up at the great house, where lights shone,
fires blazed, a great tree glittered, and
music sounded, as the children danced
“We must go to bed early; for we’ve
only wood enough to last over to-morrow.
I shall be paid for my work the day after,
and then we can get some,” said Tilly’s
mother, as they sat by the fire.
“If my bird was only a fairy bird, and
would give us three wishes, how nice it
would be! Poor dear, he can’t give me
anything; but it’s no matter,” answered
Tilly, looking at the robin, who lay in the
basket, with his head under his wing, a
mere little feathery bunch.
“He can give you one thing, Tilly—the
pleasure of doing good. That is one
of the sweetest things in life; and the
poor can enjoy it as well as the rich.”
As her mother spoke, with her tired
hand softly stroking her little daughter’s
hair, Tilly suddenly started, and pointed
to the window, saying, in a frightened
“I saw a face—a man’s face—looking
in. It’s gone now; but I truly saw it.”
“Some traveller attracted by the light,
perhaps; I’ll go and see.” And Tilly’s
mother went to the door.
No one was there. The wind blew
cold, the stars shone, the snow lay white
on field and wood, and the Christmas
moon was glittering in the sky.
“What sort of a face was it?” asked
Tilly’s mother, coming back.
“A pleasant sort of face, I think; but
I was so startled, I don’t quite know what
it was like. I wish we had a curtain
there,” said Tilly.
“I like to have our light shine out in the
evening; for the road is dark and lonely
just here, and the twinkle of our lamp is
pleasant to people’s eyes as they go by.
We can do so little for our neighbors, I
am glad to cheer the way for them. Now
put these poor old shoes to dry, and go to
bed, deary; I’ll come soon.”
Tilly went, taking her bird with her to
sleep in his basket near by, lest he should
be lonely in the night.
Soon the little house was dark and still,
and no one saw the Christmas spirits at
their work that night.
When Tilly opened the door the next
morning, she gave a loud cry, clapped her
hands, and then stood still, quite speechless
with wonder and delight. There,
before the door, lay a great pile of wood,
all ready to burn, a big bundle and a basket,
with a lovely nosegay of winter roses,
holly, and evergreen tied to the handle.
“O, mother, did the fairies do it?” cried
Tilly, pale with her happiness, as she
seized the basket while her mother took
in the bundle.
“Yes, dear; the best and dearest fairy
in the world, called ‘Charity.’ She walks
abroad at Christmas time, does beautiful
deeds like this, and does not stay to be
thanked,” answered her mother, with full
eyes, as she undid the parcel.
There they were, the warm, thick blankets,
the comfortable shawl, the new
shoes, and, best of all, a pretty winter hat
for Bessy. The basket was full of good
things to eat, and on the flowers lay a
“For the little girl who loves her neighbor
“Mother, I really think my bird is a
fairy bird, and all these splendid things
come out from him,” said Tilly, laughing
and crying with joy.
It really did seem so; for, as she spoke,
the robin flew to the table, hopped to the
nosegay, and perching among the roses,
began to chirp with all his little might.
The sun streamed in on flowers, bird,
and happy child, and no one saw a shadow
glide away from the window. No one
ever knew that Mr. King had seen and
heard the little girls the night before, or
dreamed that the rich neighbor had learned
a lesson from the poor neighbor.
And Tilly’s bird was a fairy bird; for
by her love and tenderness to the helpless
thing, she brought good gifts to herself,
happiness to the unknown giver of them,
and a faithful little friend, who did not fly
away, but staid with her till the snow was
gone, making summer for her in the winter