Two Pairs of
Eyes by Susan Coolidge
Did it ever occur to you what a difference there is in the way in
which people use their eyes? I do not mean that some people squint, and
some do not; that some have short sight, and some long sight. These are
accidental differences; and the people who cannot see far, sometimes
see more, and more truly, than do other people whose vision is as keen
as the eagle's. No, the difference between people's eyes lies in the
power and the habit of observation.
Did you ever hear of the famous conjurer Robert Houdin, whose
wonderful tricks and feats of magic were the astonishment of Europe a
few years ago? He tells us, in his autobiography, that to see
everything at a glance, while seeming to see nothing, is the first
requisite in the education of a magician, and that the faculty of
noticing rapidly and exactly can be trained like any other faculty.
When he was fitting his little son to follow the same profession, he
used to take him past a shop-window, at a quick walk, and then ask him
how many objects in the window he could remember and describe. At
first, the child could only recollect three or four; but gradually he
rose to ten, twelve, twenty, and, in the end, his eyes would note, and
his memory retain, not less than forty articles, all caught in the few
seconds which it took to pass the window at a rapid walk.
It is so more or less with us all. Few things are more surprising
than the distinct picture which one mind will bring away from a place,
and the vague and blurred one which another mind will bring.
Observation is one of the valuable faculties, and the lack of it a
fault which people have to pay for, in various ways, all their lives.
There were once two peasant boys in France, whose names were Jean
and Louis Cardilliac. They were cousins; their mothers were both
widows, and they lived close to each other in a little village, near a
great forest. They also looked much alike. Both had dark, closely
shaven hair, olive skins, and large, black eyes; but in spite of all
their resemblances, Jean was always spoken of as lucky, and Louis as
unlucky, for reasons which you will shortly see.
If the two boys were out together, in the forest or the fields, they
walked along quite differently. Louis dawdled in a sort of
loose-jointed trot, with his eyes fixed on whatever happened to be in
his hand,a sling, perhaps, or a stick, or one of those snappers with
which birds are scared away from fruit. If it were the stick, he
cracked it as he went, or he snapped the snapper, and he whistled, as
he did so, in an absent-minded way. Jean's black eyes, on the contrary,
were always on the alert, and making discoveries. While Louis stared
and puckered his lips up over the snapper or the sling, Jean would
note, unconsciously but truly, the form of the clouds, the look of the
sky in the rainy west, the wedge-shaped procession of the ducks through
the air, and the way in which they used their wings, the bird-calls in
the hedge. He was quick to mark a strange leaf, or an unaccustomed
fungus by the path, or any small article which had been dropped by the
way. Once, he picked up a five-franc piece; once, a silver pencil-case
which belonged to the curé, who was glad to get it again, and
gave Jean ten sous by way of reward. Louis would have liked ten sous
very much, but somehow he never found any pencil-cases; and it seemed
hard and unjust when his mother upbraided him for the fact, which, to
his thinking, was rather his misfortune than his fault.
How can I help it? he asked. The saints are kind to Jean, and
they are not kind to me,voilà tout!
The saints help those who help themselves, retorted his mother.
Thou art a look-in-the-air. Jean keeps his eyes open, he has wit, and
But such reproaches did not help Louis, or teach him anything. Habit
is so strong.
There! cried his mother one day, when he came in to supper. Thy
cousinthy lucky cousinhas again been lucky. He has found a
truffle-bed, and thy aunt has sold the truffles to the man from Paris
for a hundred francs. A hundred francs! It will be long before thy
stupid fingers can earn the half of that!
Where did Jean find the bed? asked Louis.
In the oak copse near the brook, where thou mightest have found
them as easily as he, retorted his mother. He was walking along with
Daudot, the wood cutter's dogwhose mother was a truffle-hunterand
Daudot began to point and scratch; and Jean suspected something, got a
spade, dug, and crack! a hundred francs! Ah, his mother is to be
The oak copse! Near the brook! exclaimed Louis, too much excited
to note the reproach which concluded the sentence. Why, I was there
but the other day with Daudot, and I remember now, he scratched and
whined a great deal, and tore at the ground. I didn't think anything
about it at the time.
Oh, thou little imbecilethou stupid! cried his mother, angrily.
There were the truffles, and the first chance was for thee. Didn't
think anything about it! Thou never dost think, thou never wilt. Out of
my sight, and do not let me see thee again till bedtime.
Supperless and disconsolate poor Louis slunk away. He called Daudot,
and went to the oak copse, resolved that if he saw any sign of
excitement on the part of the dog, to fetch a spade and instantly begin
to dig. But Daudot trotted along quietly, as if there were not a
truffle left in France, and the walk was fruitless.
If I had only, became a favorite sentence with Louis, as time went
on. If I had only noticed this. If I had only stopped then. But
such phrases are apt to come into the mind after something has been
missed by not noticing or not stopping, so they do little good to
Did it ever occur to you that what people call lucky chances,
though they seem to come suddenly, are in reality prepared for by a
long unconscious process of making ready on the part of those who
profit by them? Such a chance came at last to both Jean and Louis,to
Louis no less than to Jean; but one was prepared for it, and the other
Professor Sylvestre, a famous naturalist from Toulouse, came to the
forest village where the two boys lived, one summer. He wanted a boy to
guide him about the country, carry his plant-cases and herbals, and
help in his search after rare flowers and birds, and he asked Madame
Collot, the landlady of the inn, to recommend one. She named Jean and
Louis; they were both good boys, she said.
So the professor sent for them to come and talk with him.
Do you know the forest well, and the paths? he asked.
Yes, both of them knew the forest very well.
Are there any woodpeckers of such and such a species? he asked
next. Have you the large lunar moth here? Can you tell me where to
look for Campanila rhomboidalis? and he rapidly described the
Louis shook his head. He knew nothing of any of these things. But
Jean at once waked up with interest. He knew a great deal about
woodpeckers,not in a scientific way, but with the knowledge of one
who has watched and studied bird habits. He had quite a collection of
lunar and other moths of his own, and though he did not recognize the
rare Campanila by its botanical title, he did as soon as the
professor described the peculiarities of the leaf and blossom. So M.
Sylvestre engaged him to be his guide so long as he stayed in the
region, and agreed to pay him ten francs a week. And Mother Cardilliac
wrung her hands, and exclaimed more piteously than ever over her boy's
ill luck and his cousin's superior good fortune.
One can never tell how a chance may develop. Professor Sylvestre
was well off, and kind of heart. He had no children of his own, and he
was devoted, above all other things, to the interest of science. He saw
the making of a first-rate naturalist in Jean Cardilliac, with his
quick eyes, his close observation, his real interest in finding out and
making sure. He grew to an interest in and liking for the boy, which
ripened, as the time drew near for him to return to his university,
into an offer to take Jean with him, and provide for his education, on
the condition that Jean, in return, should render him a certain amount
of assistance during his out-of-school hours. It was, in effect, a kind
of adoption, which might lead to almost anything; and Jean's mother was
justified in declaring, as she did, that his fortune was made.
And for thee, thou canst stay at home, and dig potatoes for the
rest of thy sorry life, lamented the mother of Louis. Well, let
people say what they will, this is an unjust world; and, what is worse,
the saints look on, and do nothing to prevent it. Heaven forgive me if
it is blasphemous to speak so, but I cannot help it!
But it was neither luck nor injustice. It was merely the
difference between eyes and no eyes,a difference which will always
exist and always tell.