| Parables from Nature|
|by Margaret S. Gatty|
|Parables for children inspired by nature. This collection includes all 29 stories from the first, second, third, and fourth series, originally published in separate volumes. Ages 6-12 |
THE CIRCLE OF BLESSING
"Freely ye have received, freely give."
—MATTHEW x. 8.
 "COME back to me, my children let us not part,"
murmured the sea to the Vapours, which rose from its
surface, drawn upwards by the heat of the tropical sun.
"Return to my bosom, and contribute your share to the
preservation of my greatness and strength."
"There is no lasting greatness, but in distributed
good," replied the Vapours; "behold we carry your
cooling influence to the heated air around. Let us
alone, oh Sea! The work is good."
"Come back to me, my children, let us not part," murmured the Sea to the Vapours. " . . . Return to my bosom, and contribute your share to the preservation of my greatness and strength.
"But carried on at my expense," murmured the Sea. "Is
the air your parent, and not I, that you are so careful
of its interests and so neglectful of mine? Why are you
thus ungrateful to me, from whom your very existence
springs? O foolish children! by diminishing my power
you are sapping the foundations of your own life. Your
very being depends on mine."
"Small and great, great and small, we all depend on
each other," sang the Vapours as they hovered in the
air. "Mighty Ocean, give us of your abundance for those
that need. It is but little that we ask."
"Divided interests are the ruin of fools," muttered the
 "But extended ones the glory of the wise," replied the
Vapours, as they still continued to rise. "See, now,
have we not done ourselves, what we would have you also
do? Behold, we have left our salts in your bosom for
those that need them."
"And I have cast them as a useless burden to my lowest
depths," exclaimed the Sea, indignantly. "Have I not
enough, already? Superfluous bounties deserve but
little thanks, methinks."
"Yet in those depths, perchance they may be as welcome
as we to the air above," persisted the Vapours. "It is
ever thus: and all will be made good at last. Small and
great, great and small, we are dependent on each other
"Begone, then," moaned the Sea. "You, who are willing
to sacrifice a certain good for an uncertain fancy,
begone, and be yourselves the first victims of your
folly. The breezes, that are now driving you forward
across my surface, will rise to fury, and blow you into
nothingness as you proceed. Lost among the stormy
gusts, where will be your use to others or my
recompense for your loss? You will not even exist to
repent of this mad desertion of your home. Adieu! for
ever and for ever, adieu!"
"Adieu, but not for ever," answered the Vapours, as
they dispersed before the wind.
It was not a satisfactory parting, perhaps; for, often
as their race had made the journey round the earth, it
had never fallen within the power of any portion of
them to explain the course of their career, to the
surface sea, which had originally grudged their
However, the Vapours had now commenced their
circuit, and were carried onward by the steady
south-east trade-winds to the regions of equatorial
 calms, that wonderful belt of heat and accumulation,
where they were met by breezes which in like manner
were travelling from the north, and here this meeting
caused for a while a lingering in the career of both.
But these opposing winds, laden with vapours from the
two hemispheres, had each their mission, and worked
under an appointed law.
It was their province to carry the exhalations from
north and south into the cooler upper sky where once
more their course was free to travel round the world.
Lifted up thus, however, no sooner had the Vapours
entered a more temperate atmosphere, than their
particles expanded, and a portion of them clung
together in drops, which, whilst under the influence of
excessive heat, was never the case. They thus became
much heavier than before; so heavy, indeed, that the
winds were not able to bear them aloft.
"You cannot carry us all," said the Vapours to their
struggling supporters. "Some of us will, therefore,
return with a message of comfort to the mighty Sea, to
tell him all is well."
But even when they came down in torrents of rain to his
bosom, the Sea grumbled still. "It is well that a part,
at least, of what was lost, returns," said he. But he
neither knew nor cared what became of the rest.
The rest, however, fared happily and well; for high
above earth and sea—so high, indeed, that they in no
way interfered with the winds that swept below—they
were borne along by the upper currents of air which
were travelling to the north, and carried them forward
on their journey of beneficence, and never-ceasing
Surely, it must have been a sweet sensation to
drifted along by a never-varying breeze through the
higher regions of the sky, undisturbed by care, in a
dream of delicious idleness and ease. But this was but
a portion of the career of the Vapours from the Sea.
the next meeting, at the outskirts of the tropics, with
travellers like themselves coming in the opposite
direction, there was a fresh pressure of opposing
breezes, a temporary lingering, and then a descent, by
which they left those higher regions for ever.
Henceforth, they were to be dispersed by surface winds
on their course of usefulness to man.
And if, when cradled in that blissful passage high
over the Tropics, those Vapours had for a time
forgotten their mission, there was no possibility of
forgetting it henceforth. Taken up with triumphant
delight by all the varying breezes that sport over the
northern hemisphere, there was no direction in which
they were not to be found. A portion was wanted here,
another portion there; the snows of Iceland, and the
vineyards of Italy, the orange groves of Spain, and the
river which pours over the mighty rocks at Niagara,
must all be fed at their appointed seasons, and the
food was travelling to them now.
But the eye would weary which strove to look
sympathisingly round the vast expanse of the globe. It
is enough if we can follow the Vapours through some
stages of their journey of love.
On the summit of a mountain, over whose sides the gorse
and heather were wont to flower together in bright
profusion, and with their lovely intermixture of hues,
all the ground was parched and dry. A burning sun by
day, rarely followed by
 dewy nights; a summer drought,
in fact, had ruled for weeks over the spot, and the
shrunken flower-buds and parched leaves bore painful
witness to the fact. The little mountain tarn below was
almost dry, and the Sundew plants by its sides, which
were wont to revel in the damp surrounding moss, had
lost their nature altogether, and never now offered
their coronet of sparkling drops to the admiration of
those that passed.
The pretty tumbling waterfall lower down, too, which
travellers used to delight to visit, and which was fed
by streams from the hills, was reduced to a miserable
trickle. Cottage children were sent to fetch water from
distances so great that they sat down and wept by the
road-side on their errand; and farmers wore a gloomy,
anxious look, which told of a thousand fears about
their crops and cattle.
But, while they were thus troubled and careful, lo, the
rescue was coming from afar! yea, travelling towards
them upon the wings of the wind. Vapours from tropical
seas, Vapours which had left behind them their
no-longer-needed salt, were coming accumulated as
clouds, to fall as gracious rain and dews upon the
thirsty regions of the North.
They are variable and fantastic winds, perhaps, that
course over the northern hemisphere. Not steady and
uniform in their direction, like the trade-winds in the
Tropics; nor like those upper currents far above the
trade-winds, which carry the Vapours to the second
belts of calms. No! variable and fantastic they
certainly are, and, therefore, we cannot reckon on
their arrival to a day,—nay, not to a month; but on
their arrival at last, we may always surely depend, and
perhaps, in this trial
 of patient expectation, a lesson
of quiet faith is intended to be learnt.
And so, just as farmers, and cottage children, and the
earth, and its flowers, and leaves, and springs of
water, had all sunk into a state of dismal distrust and
discomfort, the deliverance came to them as they slept!
Slight variations in the wind had been observed for
more than a day; but still no change of weather took
place, until one night a steady breeze from the
south-west set in, and prevailed for hours. And
presently there was a gathering up of clouds all over
the sky, though in the darkness of the night their
arrival passed unobserved.
Gracious clouds! they were the Vapours of the Sea,
which, after many wanderings, had found their way here,
at last, on their mission of love. And lo! the sound
of waters was heard once more on the dried-up hills,
and sweet, heavy showers dropped down on the delighted
earth. All night long it continued, and all night long
the earth was streaming tears of joy; and another day
and another night succeeded, during which more or less
of rain or dew continued to descend.
"Welcome, welcome, oh ye Showers and Dew!" were the
Earth's first words; and, "Leave me now no more," her
"Poor Earth, poor Earth!" murmured the Vapours, which,
condensed into rain-drops, were trembling, like
diamonds on the leaves and flowers in the sunshine of
the second dawn. "Poor Earth, poor Earth! you too
refuse to learn the law which brought us here. What you
have received so freely, will you not freely give?"
"Nay; but linger with me yet," expostulated
 the Earth;
"and let me rather store you up for my own use
hereafter. What do I know of the future, and what it
may bring forth? How can I be sure that the fitful
winds will supply me again in time of need? I cannot
afford to think of others. Leave me, leave me not."
"None must store against an uncertain future evil, when
so many are suffering under a present one," replied the
Vapours; "nevertheless, a message of comfort will come
to you, after we are gone."
And so, when the sun shone out in his heat and glory,
the diamond rain-drops were drawn upwards from the
flowers and leaves into the air once more. Only the
little Sundews kept their coronets of crystal beads
throughout the day, as was their custom: though how
they managed it, it would be hard to say.
Perhaps as their own natural juices are so thick and
clammy, these, mingling with the Vapours as they
exuded, held them longer fast.
"You are our prisoners," was the triumphant cry of the
Sundew leaves, as they glistened in their liquid gems.
"Nay, but why would you detain us, selfish flowers?"
exclaimed the Vapours.
"Oh, you shall go, you shall go; but only gradually, as
the moisture courses through our veins to re-supply
your place. This is our way of life. But we must hear
all from you first. All! all! all! and most of all, why
you have tarried so long, till we had almost perished
in the dreadful drought?"
It was a long story the Vapours had then to tell, of
their irregular passage to the Polar Seas; and how,
after their chilly sojourn there as snow, they had
passed southwards once more on the summits
 of drifting
icebergs, and again been exhaled, and given back to the
ministry of the wandering winds.
"Surely," said they, "we have touched no place in all
our wild journeyings where we have not left some
blessing behind. Here and there, indeed, folks think
they have had too much of us, and here and there too
little; but, oh, my delicate friends, believe us, we
are faithful and true to our mission all over the
world. Behold, we pour into the earth as rain, or slide
into it as moisture; and lo, the soil gives its gases
into our care, and the roots of the plants draw us and
them up together, and feeding on them, expand and
flourish, and grow; and when the useful deed is done,
and the sun shines down on our labour, up we ascend
again to its absorbing rays, to be carried forward
again and again, to other gracious deeds. Blame us not
therefore, if, in turning aside to some other case of
need, we have come a little late to your hills. Own
that you have not been forgotten!"
"It is true," murmured the Sundews in return; "but
remember, we pine and die without your presence."
"Dear little Sundews, there is not a plant in all the
boggy heaths that is so dear to us as you are. See now,
we linger with you yet; there is moisture in your mossy
bed around this tarn to last for many weeks; and ever
as a portion of us steals away, its place shall be
supplied from below, so that your leaves shall never
miss their sparkling diadem of gems."
The Sundews had no need to tremble after that; but as
the exhalations went up from the surface-ground, and
the moisture sank lower and lower down into it, a fear
stole over the Earth, that another
 thought might arise,
for she knew not that all would return to her again in
due season. But, when in the cool of the evening the
Vapours descended upon her bosom, as refreshing mist
and dew, she received a portion of comfort.
Nevertheless, like the Sea, she grumbled on. "It is
well that a part, at least, of what was lost, returns!"
she remarked in her greedy anxiety, as the Sea had done
before; and, like him, she neither knew nor cared what
became of the rest.
There was a mission for every portion, however, and
through the now saturated ground the rain-drops sank
together, amidst roots, and stones, and soil,
moistening all before them as they went, and
replenishing the springs that ran among the hills.
The tumbling Waterfall had, by this time, well nigh
given up hope. The mournful trickle with which it fell,
was an absolute mockery of its former precipitous
haste;—when lo! some sudden influence is at work, a
rush of vigour flows into the exhausted veins; there is
a swelling in the distant springs, nearer and nearer it
comes, and now over the rocky ledge there is a heavier
flow: a little more, and yet a little more: and then,
at last, a rush of water full and fresh is heard!
"Welcome, welcome! oh, ye Springs and Floods," cried
the Waterfall, as once more it rolled in its beauty
along its precipitous course, scattering foam and spray
upon the moss and flowers that graced its edge. "Stay
in the mountains always, that I may thirst no more;
leave me, leave me not again!"
"You too, who live by giving and receiving," cried the
Vapours as they flushed the stream—"you too, wishing to
stop the gracious course of good? Oh shame, shame,
 And then, as if in mockery of the request, a playful
gust blew off from the waterfall as it descended, some
of its glittering spray, and tossed it to the sunshiny
air, where it dispersed once more in smoky mist—but
only to return again in time of need.
Down in the lower country, where stately houses,
enclosed in noble parks, adorned the land, a beautiful
lake lay stretched under the noon-day sun. It was fed
by the stream which, at some miles' distance, received
the tumbling waterfall into its course, and then ran
through the lake's broad sheet, escaping at the further
end in a quick-flowing rill. On the placid mirror-like
surface majestic swans swept proudly by, not
unsusceptible of the freshening in the water from the
filling of the springs above.
A little pleasure-boat was floating lazily about,
impelled occasionally forward by the stroke of an oar
from a youth, who with one companion of his own age,
and an elderly man who sat abstractedly reading a book,
formed the passengers of this tiny bark.
The rower's young companion was lounging in a
half-sitting, half-reclining posture in the bows of the
boat, and both were gazing at the old Baronial Hall,
which, with its quaint turrets, long terraces, and
picturesque gardens, faced the lake at a slightly
distant elevation, where it stood embosomed in trees.
"Well! if the place were to be mine,"
lounger, with his eyes fixed upon it, "I know exactly
what I should do. I would throw all your agricultural
and educational, and endless improvement schemes
overboard at once; leave them for those whose business
it is to look after them; and enjoy myself, and live
like a prince while I had the chance."
 "And die worse than a beggar at last," cried the other
youth, as he rested on his oars and looked at his
cousin who had spoken—"I mean without a friend! You
cannot secure even enjoyment, in stagnation," added he.
"The very pond here is kept pure by giving out through
a stream at one end, what it receives through a stream
at the other."
"And the stream from which it receives," said the old
man, looking up from his book, "is a type of God
Himself; and the stream to which it gives, is a type of
the human race. Those who receive from the fountain,
without giving to the stream, work equally against the
laws of Nature and of God."
A few strokes of the oar here carried the boat away.
Well it is with those who in the
secrets of Nature read the wisdom of God!
Softly did that summer evening sink upon the park and
the old Baronial Hall, and heavy were the mists and
dews that hung over the woods, and gardens, and
flowers, and great was the rejoicing in the country
round, when after a time, they were followed by
fertilizing rains. Fertilizing rains!—the words are
easily spoken, but who knows their full meaning, save
he who has watched over corn-fields or vineyards,
threatened with ill-timed drought?
We take a great deal
for granted in this world, and expect that everything
as a matter of course ought to fit into our humours,
and wishes, and wants; and it is often only when danger
threatens, that we awake to the discovery, that the
guiding reins are held by One whom we had well-nigh
forgotten in our careless ease.
"If it had not thundered, the peasant had not
 made the
sign of the cross," is the rude proverb of a distant
land; and peasant and king are alike implicated in its
"It is all right now," observed the farmer, as he
returned home in the evening, after contemplating the
goodly acres drenched and dripping with rain.
And it was all right indeed, for, long after the farmer
had forgotten his previous anxieties in sleep, the
circle of blessing was at work in the length and
breadth of his fields. There, the condensed vapours
sank into the willing soil, which gave to them her
gases and her salts.
There, the fibres of the roots of
corn and grass sucked up the welcome food which brought
strength and power into the juices of the plant; and
then, by slow but sure degrees, the stunted ears began
to fill, and men said the harvest would be good.
"Stay with us for ever," asked the Corn-ears of the
Vapours, as they felt themselves swell under the
The Vapours made no answer, for
they did not like to speak of death; but they dealt
gently with the corn, and did not leave it till it had
ripened gradually for the harvest, and no longer needed
their aid; and then they exhaled once more into the
air, to follow out their mission elsewhere.
A curly-headed urchin stood by a pump, looking
disconsolately at the huge heavy handle, which he could
not lift. A little watering-pot was grasped in his
hands, and it was easy to see what he wanted. Some one
passing by observed him, and with a smile gave him
help. A very few strokes of the handle brought up the
water from below, the little watering-pot was filled,
and the child ran away.
He had a garden of his own: a
garden in which
 a few kidney-beans in one place, and
sweet-peas in another, with scatterings of mustard and
cress, formed a not very usual mixture; but it served
its purpose of giving employment and pleasure to the
The kidney-beans which he hoped to eat one day at
dinner, were evidently the objects of his most
attentive care, for he soaked them again and again with
the water from his pot, tossing only a few drops of it
over the flowers.
Little guessed he of the long long
journey the Vapours of the Sea had made before they
helped to fill the springs which fed the well over
which the pump was built. Little guessed he either of
what would become of them when, after helping to fill
his kidney-beans with delicate juices, they returned
back to the ministry of the winds.
When he touched his pinafore, after he had finished his
work, he found it soaked with wet; and when, soon
after, he saw it hung in front of the fire to dry, he
sat down and amused himself by watching the steam as it
rose from the linen, under the influence of heat.
Trifling it seems to tell;—an every-day occurrence of
life, not worth a record: yet there was a law even for
the vapour that rose from the infant's pinafore in
front of the nursery fire. Nothing shall be lost of
that which God has ordained to good; and the Vapours
were soon on their mission again. Through chimney or
window they escaped to the cooler air, and returned to
their ceaseless work.
"Give us of your salts," was at last their request, as
they percolated through the lower ground to join the
mighty rivers which ran into the Sea. "Give us of your
salts, and lime, and mineral virtues,
 oh thou Earth!
that we may bear them with us to the Sea from whence we
"Is not the Sea sufficient to itself?" enquired the
"None are sufficient to themselves, oh, careful
Mother!" answered the Vapours as they streamed in water
along their way. "Small and great, great and small, we
all depend on each other. How shall the Shells, and
Coral Reefs, and Zoophytes of the deep continue to grow
and live, if you refuse them the virtues of your soil?
Give us of your salts, and lime, and the mineral
deposits of your bosom, oh, Mother Earth! that they may
live and rejoice."
"Have you nothing to offer in return?" asked the
"Do you not know that we have left a blessing behind us
wherever we have been?" exclaimed the Vapours. "But no
matter for the past. See, we will do ourselves as we
would have you do. We will bind ourselves in beauty in
the caves of your kingdom, and live with you for ever."
So, as they passed on their way, loading themselves
with the virtues of the Earth, some turned aside, and
sinking to the subterranean depths, oozed with their
limy burden through the roofs of caverns and sides of
rocks, and hung suspended in graceful stalactites, or
shone out in many-sided crystal forms.
"Now I am satisfied," observed the Earth. "What I see I
know. They have left me something behind for what they
have taken away."
"And now we are satisfied," cried the rest of the
Vapours, as they poured into the rivers and were
carried out into the Sea. "Have we not returned with a
blessing and treasures in our hand?"
And thus, from age to age, ever since the primary
went up from the earth and watered the whole face of
the ground, the mighty work has gone on, and still
continues its course. For not to inactivity and
idleness did the Vapours now return, but only to
recommence afresh their labours of love.
rejoicing on their way, through all varieties of
accident, of climate, and of place, whether as Snow or
Hail, as Showers or Dews, as Floods or Springs, as
Rivers or as Seas, the waters are still obediently
fulfilling His word who called them into being, and are
carrying the everlasting Circle of Blessing round the
Oh, ye Showers and Dew; oh, ye Winds of God; oh, ye Ice
and Snow; oh, ye Seas and Floods; verily, even when man
is mute and forgetful, ye bless the Lord, ye praise Him
and magnify Him for ever!
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