Shizu’s New Year’s Present


Shizu’s New Year’s Present

Drawing by Louis Betts
It was New Year’s Eve. A gentle snow was falling everywhere and it was quite cold outdoors. Nevertheless, the people were laughing and chatting happily everywhere, and the fading sunset lingered lovingly about their happy, smiling faces. The treasure vendor came proudly along on his cart, calling his wares aloud, and stopping every once in a while to make a sale. A gay party of geisha girls, with arms linked happily about each other, passed down the main street, chatting and whispering and laughing together.
They were planning what they were going to do with the presents they had purchased, for they were just returning from a shopping tour. One of the girls hung somewhat behind the others, and there was a constrained, sad look about her face, which contrasted with the happiness visible in the others.
“Well, Shizu-san,” said one girl, turning on her sharply, “you have not purchased so much as a piece of candy. How could you be so stingy!”
The girl did not answer. Her face had flushed a hurt, painful red. The girls continued whispering spiteful little things to each other, as girls often do.
When they reached the tea garden, Shizu ran off by herself, and rushing to her little room, sat down on the mats, burying her face in her hands.
“Oh, pitiful Kwannon,” she said, “I have given all my money to my parents and now have not a sen left even wherewith to reward the kind Americazan lady.” She sobbed bitterly. After a while another geisha girl joined her, and Shizu confided in and unfolded her trouble to her. The friend thought the matter over.
“You say you were starving, and the Americazan lady bought you food?”
The girl nodded her head.
“And she secured you this position?”
“Yes, but I have been here only one week now, and I have not saved anything.”
Her friend thought the matter over, then she said very gravely: “You certainly owe a debt to the Americazan, which it would be most ungrateful for you to neglect. Come nearer, Shizu-san, let me whisper in your ear, for I see some one’s eye peering through the fusuma and know they will hear us.”
So they whispered together for some time, and after a while, Shizu rose to her feet, her face grown suddenly bright and happy. She put her arms lovingly around her friend and thanked her for her kind advice.
Now the Lennards had lived in Japan so many years that many people regarded them almost as citizens. Therefore it was not at all extraordinary that instead of celebrating Christmas, as they would have done in America, they kept instead the New Year holiday with the Japanese. So it happened that they spent a great deal of money in decorating the house with bamboo and pine and in making presents to their friends and servants.
On New Year’s morning Mrs. Lennard got up very early, in order to see that all the presents for the children were in their right places and that no vagrant had been around to disturb them. After going carefully over them in the dining-room, she passed into the adjoining room where her servants were in the habit of placing their various little gifts for herself and family, for a Japanese servant never fails to present his master or mistress with a present at New Year’s.
The American lady’s sweet face softened as she looked at the various gifts which were laid on the floor, some of them addressed to her personally, some to her husband and most to the children. The room was in semi-darkness, as the blind was down. As she crossed the room to lift it, her foot came in contact with something that made her pause for a moment in fright, for it did not feel like any ordinary toy. She stopped in the darkness and touched it with her hand. Then she rose, shivering, and pulled the blind high up.
Lying sound asleep in the midst of the presents was a little figure. She was dressed in a rose colored kimono, and there were imitation flowers and ornaments in her hair. Mrs. Lennard could see that she had taken especial pains to dress her hair well and look as nice as possible. At first she did not recognize her. Then she went close, and saw it was Shizu. She did not wake her, but stepping on tip-toe crept back to her own room.
“Walter,” she said, shaking her husband, and then as he opened injured, sleepy eyes at her, she continued: “What do you think! I could not sleep toward morning and so crept down to look at the presents. Shizu-san is lying sound asleep among them.”
“She has been stealing, I suppose,” her husband said with an angry look of suspicion. “That’s all the thanks you get for helping those beggars.”
“Don’t, Walter, I can’t believe it.”
“Well, I’ll go down, anyhow,” he said, “and fix it so she can’t get out when she wakes. She’ll find herself in a trap and will have to account for it.”
When Shizu-san awoke, she sat up blinking her little eyes at the bright sun that was dazzling them. She fancied she had drawn the blinds down before sleeping. Then she looked about her, and as she half-started to rise, she saw that both Mr. and Mrs. Lennard were in the room.
Her face suddenly broke into the most confiding, bewitching smiles. She crossed to where they were standing, and putting her little hands on her knees, smiled with pleasure and assurance.
“You lig’ me?” she asked.
“How did you get into the house?” Mr. Len- 5 nard asked, disregarding the girl’s evident anxiety to appease them. His stern voice frightened the girl for a moment. All her sweet assurance vanished, leaving her with such a pitiful, questioning little tremor on her face. She pointed vaguely toward the window.
“What have you taken?”
The girl was so mortified now that she commenced to weep very bitterly.
“I nod cum for steal,” she said, indignantly.
Now Walter Lennard was just as hard and cranky as his wife was tender and kind.
“We didn’t expect you to admit it,” he said, coldly. “However,”-—he pushed the fusuma apart,-—“as it is New Year’s you may go, but mind you, if we catch you again, off you go to prison.”
Walter Lennard felt very righteous in his indignation, for had not both he and his wife helped the girl’s family in diverse ways, in spite of being warned against her father by many who said he was a good-for-nought?
Shizu-san was shivering now. She crossed obediently to the door. Then she paused for a moment, her little heart breaking.
“What is it, Shizu-san?” Mrs. Lennard asked gently, thinking her husband had been too hard on the girl.
“Thad you kind to me,” the girl began wildly, “I thing’ all the time what kin I do. So I spik’ with Mimosa-san an’ we thing’ tha’s best’ I mek’ you present, but if I have no munney, what kin I do? Tha’s vaery sad nod have aeny munney. Tha’s account I have no present for give you. Then I thing’ I cum here, thinging tha’s bes’ I give you ME! jus’ me! for present. You lig’ me?” She paused a moment and smiled again, for she had forgotten the man’s unkindness, and remembered only her mission. Then she continued, haltingly, “P’raps you thing’ I nod good for vaery much? Yaes? You thinging thad? I worg’ for you all day an’ all nide, be true—good—foraever an’ aever.”
The American lady’s eyes were full of tears now. They were turned on her husband in dreadful reproach. He was looking out of the window, his hands in his pockets, but his indifference was too studied, and his wife knew he was ashamed of himself.
She turned very gently to the girl. “And is that why you are all dressed up to-day, dear?”
She put her arm affectionately around Shizu and kissed her, smiling through her tears.
“Come, then,” she said, “We’ll show the children our sweetest New Year’s present!”


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People Mentioned

Jean Lee Cole

Jean Lee Cole is Senior Consultant on The Winnifred Eaton Archive, author of The Literary Voices of Winnifred Eaton: Redefining Ethnicity and Authenticity (2002), co-editor of A Japanese Nightingale and Madame Butterfly: Two Orientalist Texts (2002, with Maureen Honey), and editor of the original Winnifred Eaton Digital Archive (2004). She is Professor of English at Loyola University Maryland.

Mary Chapman

Mary Chapman is the Director of The Winnifred Eaton Archive, a Professor of English, and Academic Director of the Public Humanities Hub at University of British Columbia. She is the author of the award-winning monograph Making Noise, Making News: Suffrage Print Culture and US Modernism (Oxford UP) and of numerous articles about American literature and women writers. She has also edited Becoming Sui Sin Far: Early Fiction, Journalism and Travel Writing by Edith Maude Eaton (McGill-Queen’s UP) and published essays on the Eaton sisters in American Quarterly, MELUS, Legacy, Canadian Literature, and American Periodicals. Her current research project is a microhistory of the Eaton family. For more information, see

Greg Murray

Greg Murray is the Director of Digital Initiatives at Princeton Theological and has a MA in Literature and Religion from University of Virginia. He assisted in the development of the original Winnifred Eaton Digital Archive created by Jean Lee Cole.

Ethan Gruber

Ethan Gruber is the Director of Data Science at the American Numismatic Society and has an M.A. in Art and Architectural History from University of Virginia. He assisted in the development of the original Winnifred Eaton Digital Archive created by Jean Lee Cole.

John Ivor Carlson

John Ivor Carlson is the Digital Production Editor at Yale University Press and has a PhD in Medieval Literature from University of Virginia. He assisted in the development of the original Winnifred Eaton Digital Archive created by Jean Lee Cole.

Jolie Sheffer

Jolie Sheffer is Associate Professor in English and American Culture Studies and the Director of the Institute for the Study of Culture and Society at Bowling Green State University. She was a research assistant on the original Winnfired Eaton Digital Archive created by Jean Lee Cole.

Jordan Taylor

Jordan Taylor is a teacher of Upper School Humanities, advisor, and UPenn Mentor at St. Anne’s-Belfield School. He has a M.A. in English Literature from University of Virginia. He assisted in the development of the original Winnifred Eaton Digital Archive created by Jean Lee Cole.

Winnifred Eaton

  • Born: August 21, 1875
  • Died: April 08, 1954
See the Biographical Timeline for biographical information on Winnifred Eaton.

Pseudonym used in this text

Louis Betts

  • Born: 1873
  • Died: 1961
Louis Betts (1873-1961), born in Little Rock, Arkansas, was a renowned and decorated American portrait painter particularly active in the Chicago and New York City art scenes. Beginning his career as an illustrator, he completed work for Charles Eugene Banks in his book Child of the Sun, in addition to his illustrations for several of Onoto Watanna’s works. Louis Betts’ honours included a $5,000 Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts prize and a $3,000 travelling scholarship awarded by the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts for travel in Europe.
Written by Isobel Gibson

Joey Takeda

Joey Takeda is the Technical Director of The Winnifred Eaton Archive and a Developer at Simon Fraser University’s Digital Humanities Innovation Lab (DHIL). He is a graduate of the M.A. program in English at the University of British Columbia where he specialized in Indigenous and diasporic literature, science and technology studies, and the digital humanities.