| 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 |
"I cannot make this matter plain,
But I would shoot, howe'er in vain
A random arrow from the brain."
 TWINETTE the Spider was young, hungry, and industrious.
"Weave yourself a web, my dear," said her mother, "as
you know how without teaching, and catch flies for
yourself; only don't weave near me in the corner here.
I am old and stay in the corners; but you are young and
needn't. Besides you would be in my way. Scramble along
the rafters to a little distance off, and spin. But
mind! just see there's nothing there—below you, I
mean—before you begin. You won't catch anything to eat,
if there isn't empty space about you for the flies to
Twinette was dutiful, and obeyed. She scrambled along
the woodwork of the groined roof of the church—for it
was there her mother lived—till she had gone what she
thought might fairly be called a little distance off,
and then she stopped to look round, which, considering
that she had eight eyes to do it with, was not
difficult. But she was not so sure of what there might
"I wonder whether mother would say there was
here—below me, I mean—but empty space for flies to fly
in?" said she.
But she might have stood wondering there for ever. So
she went back to her mother, and asked what she
"Oh dear, oh dear!" said her mother, "how can I think
about what I don't see? There usen't to be anything
there in my young days, I'm sure. But everybody must
find out things for themselves. Let yourself down by
the family rope, as you know how, without teaching, and
see for yourself if there's anything there or not."
Twinette was a very intelligent young spider, quite
worthy of the age she was born in; so she thanked her
mother for her advice, and was just starting afresh,
when another thought struck her. "How shall I know if
there's anything there when I get there?" asked she.
"Dear me, if there's anything there, how can you help
seeing it?" cried the mother, rather teased by her
daughter's enquiring spirit, "you with at least eight
eyes in your head!"
"Thank you. Now I quite understand," said Twinette; and
scuttling back to the end of the rafter, she began to
prepare for the family rope.
It was the most exquisite thing in the world—so fine,
you could scarcely see it; so elastic, it could be
blown about without breaking; such a perfect grey that
it looked white against black things, and black against
white; so manageable that Twinette could both make it,
and slide down it at once; and when she wished to get
back, could slip up by it, and roll it up at the same
It was a wonderful rope for anybody to make without
teaching. But Twinette was not conceited.
came as natural to her as eating and fighting do to
intelligent little boys, so she thought no more about
it than we do of chewing our food.
How she did it is another question, and not one easily
answered, however intelligent we may be. Thus much may
be hinted:—out of four little spinning machines near
the tail came four little threads, and the rope was a
four-twist of these. But as each separate thread was
itself a many-twist of a great many others, still
finer, I do not pretend to tell the number of strands
(as rope-threads are called) in Twinette's family rope.
Enough, that as she made it now, it has been made from
generation to generation, and there seems to be no
immediate prospect of a change.
The plan was for the spinner to glue the ends to the
rafter, and then start off. Then out came the threads
from the spinning machines, and twist went the rope:
and the further the spinner travelled, the longer the
And Twinette made ready accordingly, and turning on her
back, let herself fairly off.
The glued ends held fast, the four stands twined
closely together, and down went the family rope, with
Twinette at the end, guiding it. Down into the middle
of the chancel, where there were carved oaken screens
on three sides, and carved oaken seats below, with
carved oaken figures at each end of each.
Twinette was about halfway down to the stone-flagged
floor, when she shut up the spinning machines, and
stopped to rest and look round. Then, balancing herself
at the end of her rope, with her legs crumpled up round
her, she made her remarks.
"This is charming!" cried she. "One had need to travel
and see the world. And all's so nice in
 the middle
here. Nice empty space for the flies to fly about in;
and a very pleasant time they must have of it! Dear me,
how hungry I feel—I must go back and weave at once."
But just as she was preparing to roll up the rope and
be off, a ray of sunshine, streaming through one of the
chancel windows, struck in a direct line upon her
suspended body, quite startling her with the dazzle of
its brightness. Everything seemed in a blaze all around
her, and she turned round and round in terror.
"Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!" cried she, for she didn't
know what to say, and still couldn't help calling out.
Then, making a great effort, she gave one hearty
spring, and, blinded though she was, shot up to the
groined roof, as fast as spider could go, rolling the
rope into a ball as she went. After which she stopped
But it is dull work complaining to oneself, so she
soon ran back to her mother in the corner.
"Back again so soon, my dear?" asked the old lady, not
over-pleased at the fresh disturbance.
"Back again at all is the wonder," whimpered Twinette.
"There's something down there, after all, besides empty
"Why, what did you see?" asked her mother.
"Nothing; that was just it," answered Twinette, "I
could see nothing for dazzle and blaze; but I did see
dazzle and blaze."
"Young people of the present day are very troublesome
with their observations," remarked the mother;
"however, if one rule will not do, here is another. Did
dazzle and blaze shove you out of your place, my dear?"
Twinette said, "Certainly not—she had come away of
 "Then how could they be anything?" asked her mother.
"Two things could not be in one place at the same time.
Let Twinette try to get into her place, while she was
there herself, and see if she could."
Twinette did not try, because she knew she couldn't,
but she sat very silent, wondering what dazzle and
blaze could be, if they were nothing at all! a puzzle
which might have lasted her for ever. Fortunately her
mother interrupted her, by advising her to go and get
something to do. She really couldn't afford to feed her
out of her web any longer, she said.
"If dazzle and blaze kill me, you'll be sorry, mother,"
said Twinette, in a pet.
"Nonsense, about dazzle and blaze," cried the old
spider, now thoroughly roused. "I dare say they're
only a little more light than usual. There's more or
less light up here in the corners even, at times. You
talk nonsense, my dear."
So Twinette scuttled off in silence; for she dared not
ask what light was, though she wanted to know.
But she felt too cross to begin to spin. She preferred
a search after truth to her dinner, which showed she
was no commonplace spider. So she resolved to go down
below in another place and see if she could find a
really empty space; and accordingly prepared the family
When she came down, it was about a half a foot further
east in the chancel, and a very prosperous journey she
made. "Come! all's safe so far," said she, her good
humour returning. "I do believe I've found nothing at
last. How jolly it is!" As she spoke, she hung dangling
at the end of her rope, back downwards, her legs tucked
up round her as
 before, in perfect enjoyment, when,
suddenly, the south door of the church was thrown open,
and a strong gust set in. It was a windy evening, and
the draught that poured into the chancel blew the
family rope, with Twinette at the end of it, backwards
and forwards through the air, till she turned quite
"Oh dear, oh dear!" cried she, puffing, "what shall I
do? How could they say there was nothing here—oh
dear!—but empty space for flies—oh dear!—to fly in?"
But at last, in despair, she made an effort of
resistance, and, in the very teeth of the wind,
succeeded in coiling up the family rope, and so got
back to the rafters.
It was a piece of rare good fortune for her that a
lazy, half-alive fly happened to be creeping along it
just at the moment. As she landed from her air-dive she
pounced on the stroller, killed him, and sucked his
juices before he knew where he was, as people say.
Then, throwing down his carcase, she scrambled back to
her mother, and told her what she thought, though not
in plain words. For what she thought was that the old
lady didn't know what she was saying, when she talked
about empty space with nothing in it.
"Dazzle and blaze were nothing," cried she at last,
"though they blinded me, because they and I were in one
place together, which couldn't be if they'd been
anything; and now this is nothing, though it blows me
out of my place twenty times in a minute, because I
can't see it. What's the use of rules one can't go by,
mother? I don't believe you know a quarter of what's
down below there."
The old spider's head turned as giddy with Twinette's
arguments as Twinette's had done while swinging in the
 "I don't see what it can matter what's there,"
whimpered she, "if there's room for flies to fly about
in. I wish you'd go back and spin."
"That's another part of the question," remarked
Twinette, in answer to the first half of her mother's
sentence. In answer to the second she scuttled back to
the rafter, intending to be obedient and spin. But she
dawdled and thought, and thought and dawdled, till the
day was nearly over.
"I will take one more turn down below," said she to
herself at last, "and look round me again."
And so she did, but went further down than before; then
stopped to rest as usual. Presently, as she hung
dangling in the air by her line, she grew venturesome.
"I will sift the matter to the bottom," thought she. "I
will see how far empty space goes." So saying she
re-opened her spinning-machines and started afresh.
It was a wonderful rope, certainly, or it would not
have gone on to such a length without breaking. In a
few seconds Twinette was on the cold stone pavement.
But she didn't like the feel of it at all, so took to
running as fast as she could go, and luckily met with a
step of woodwork on one side. Up this she hurried at
once, and crept into a corner close by, where she
stopped to take a breath. "One doesn't know what to
expect in such queer outlandish places," observed she;
"when I've rested I'll go back, but I must wait till I
can see a little better."
Seeing a little better was out of the question,
however, for night was coming on, and when, weary of
waiting, she stepped out of her hiding-place to look
round, the whole church was in darkness.
Now it is one thing to be snug in bed when it is dark,
and another to be a long way from home and
 have lost
your way, and not know what may happen to you next
minute. Twinette had often been in the dark corner with
her mother, and thought nothing of it. Now she shook
all over with fright, and wondered what dreadful thing
darkness could be.
Then she thought of her mother's rules and felt quite
"I can't see anything and I don't feel anything,"
murmured she, "and yet here's something that frightens
me out of my wits."
At last her very fright made her bold. She felt about
for the family rope; it was there safe and sound, and
she made a spring. Roll went the rope, and up went the
owner; higher, higher, higher, through the dark night
air; seeing nothing, hearing nothing, feeling nothing
but the desperate fear within. By the time she touched
the rafter, she was half-exhausted; and as soon as she
was safely landed upon it, she fell asleep.
It must have been late next morning when she woke, for
the sound of organ music was pealing through the
church, and the air-vibrations swept pleasantly over
her frame; rising and falling like gusts of night,
swelling and sinking like waves of the sea, gathering
and dispersing like vapours of the sky.
She went down by the family rope to observe, but
nothing was to be seen to account for her sensations.
Fresh ones, however, stole round her, as she hung
suspended, for it was a harvest-festival, and large
white lilies were grouped with evergreens round the
slender pillars of the screens, and filled the air with
their powerful odour.
Still, nothing disturbed her from
her place. Sunshine streamed in through the windows—she
 felt it warm on her body—but it interfered with
nothing else; and, meanwhile, in such sort as spiders
hear, she heard music and prayer—whether as music and
prayer come to us, or as deaf men enjoy sound by touch,
let those say who can!
A door opened, and a breeze
caught her rope; but still she held fast. So music and
prayer and sunshine and breeze and scent were all there
together; and Twinette was among them, and saw flies
flying about overhead.
This was enough; she went back to the rafter, chose a
home and began to spin. Before evening, her web was
completed, and her first prey caught and feasted on.
Then she cleared the remains out of her chamber, and
sat down in state to think; for Twinette was now a
It came to her while she was spinning her
web. As she crossed and twisted the threads, her ideas
grew clearer and clearer, or she fancied so, which did
almost as well. Each line she fastened brought its own
reflections; and this was the way they went on:—
"Empty space is an old wife's tale"—she fixed that
very tight. "Sight and touch are very imperfect
guides"—this crossed the other at an angle. "Two or
three things can easily be in one place at the very
same time"—this seemed very loose till she tightened it
by a second. "Sunshine and wind and scent and sound
don't drive each other out of their places"—that held
firm. "When one has sensations there is something to
cause them, whether one sees it, or feels it, or finds
it out, or not"—this was a wonderful thread, it went
right round the web and was fastened down in several
places. "Light and darkness, and sunshine and wind, and
 sensation, and fright and pleasure, don't
keep away flies"—the little interlacing threads looked
quite pretty as she placed them. "How many things I
know of that I don't know much about"—the web got
thicker every minute. "And perhaps there may be ever so
much more beyond—ever so much more—ever so much
Those were her very last words. She kept
repeating them till she finished her web; and when she
sat up in state, after supper, to think, she began to
repeat them again; for she could think of nothing
better or wiser to say. But this was no wonder, for all
her thoughts put together made nothing but a cobweb
And when the Turk's-head broom swept it, with others,
from the roof, Twinette was no longer in the little
chamber below. She had died and bequeathed her
cobweb-wisdom to another generation. But as it was only
cobweb-wisdom, spiders remain spiders still, and still
weave their webs in the roofs of churches without
fathoming the mystery of unseen presences below.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics