| 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 |
"Now there are diversities of gifts."
—1 COR. xii. 4.
 ONE—TWO—THREE—FOUR—FIVE; five neatly-raked
kitchen-garden beds, four of them side by side, with a
pathway between; the fifth a narrow slip, heading the
others, and close to the gravel walk, as it was for
succession-crops of mustard and cress, which are often
wanted in a hurry for breakfast or tea.
Most people have stood by such beds in their own
kitchen-gardens on soft spring mornings and evenings,
and looked for the coming up of the seeds which either
they or the gardener had sown.
Radishes in one, for instance, and of all three
sorts—white-turnip, red-turnip, and long-tailed.
Carrots in another; and this bed had been dug very deep
indeed—subsoil digging, as it were; two spades' depth,
that the roots might strike freely down.
Onions in another. Beet in the fourth; both the golden
and red varieties; while the narrow slip was half
mustard and half cress.
Such was the plan here, however; and here, for a time,
all the seeds lay sleeping, as it seemed. For, as the
long smooth-raked beds stretched out dark and bare
under the stars, they betrayed no symptoms of anything
going on within.
 Nevertheless, there was no sleeping in the case. The
little seed-grains were fulfilling the law of their
being, each after its kind; the grains, all but their
inner germs, decaying; the germs swelling and growing,
till they rose out of their cradles, and made their
way, through their earthen coverlid, to the light of
They did not all come up quite together, of course, nor
all quite alike. But as to the time, the gardener had
made his arrangements so cleverly, that none was
very far behind his neighbour. And as to the difference
of shape in the first young leaves, what could it
signify? It is true the young mustards were round and
thick; the cresses oval and pointed; the carrots mere
green threads; the onions sharp little blades; while
the beet had an odd, stainy look. But they all woke up
to the same life and enjoyment, and were all greeted
with friendly welcome, as they appeared, by the dew,
and light, and sunshine, and breezes, so necessary to
them all, children of one mother, dependent on the same
influences to bring them to perfection.
What could put comparisons, and envyings, and
heart-burnings into their heads, so filling them either
with conceit or melancholy misgivings? As if there was
but one way of being right or doing right; as if every
creature was not good after its kind, but must needs be
good after somebody else's kind, or not be good at all!
As if every created thing was not good after its kind, but must needs be good after somebody else's kind, or not good at all.
It must have been some strolling half-informed grub,
one would think, who had not yet come to his full
senses, who started such foolish ideas.
It began with an enquiry at first, for no actual
unkindness was meant.
"I find I get deeper and deeper into the soil every
 day," remarked the Carrot. "I shall be I don't know how
long, at last. I have been going down regularly, quite
straight, for weeks. Then I am tapering off to a long
point at the end, in the most beautiful proportions
possible. A traveller told me the other day this was
perfection and I believe he was right."
(That mischievous vagabond grub, you see!)
"I know what it was to live near the surface in my
young days," the Carrot went on; "but never felt solid
enjoyment till I struck deeply down, where all is so
rich and warm. This is really being firmly established
and satisfactory to one's self, though still
progressing, I hope, for I don't see why there should
be a limit. Pray tell me, neighbours," added he,
good-naturedly enough, "how it fares with all the rest
of you. I should like to know that your roots are as
long, and slim, and orange-coloured as mine; doing as
well, in fact, and sinking as far down. I wish us to be
all perfect alike. Perfection is the great thing to try
"When you are sure you are trying in the right way,"
sneered a voice from the neighbouring radish bed (the
red and white turnip variety were always satirical).
"But if the long, slim, orange-roots, striking deep
into the earth, are your idea of perfection, I advise
you to begin life over again. Dear me! I wish you had
consulted us before. Why, we stopped going down long
ago, and have been spreading out sideways and all ways,
into stout, round solid balls ever since, close white
flesh throughout, inside; and not orange, but red
"White, he means," shouted another.
"Red I call it," repeated the first. "But no matter;
certainly not orange!"
 And "Certainly not orange!" cried they all.
"So," continued the first speaker, "we are quite
concerned to hear you ramble on about growing longer
and longer, and strongly advise you to keep your own
counsel, and not mention it to any one else. We are
friends, you know, and can be trusted; but you really
must leave off wasting your powers and energy in the
dark inside of the ground, out of everybody's sight and
knowledge. Come to the surface, and make the most of
it, as we do, and then you'll be a credit to your
friends. Never mind what travellers say. They've
nothing else to do but to walk about and talk, and they
tell us we are perfection too. Don't trust to them, but
to what we tell you now, and alter your course at once.
Roll yourself up into a firm round ball as fast as you
can. You won't find it hard if you once begin. You have
"Let me put in a word first," interrupted one of the
long-tailed Radishes in the same bed; "for it is of no
use to go out of one extreme into another, which you
are on the high road to do if you are disposed to take
Mr. Roundhead's advice; who, by the way, ought to be
ashamed of forcing his very peculiar views upon his
neighbours. Just look at us. We always strike
moderately down, so we know it's the right thing to do,
and that solid round balls are the most unnatural and
useless things in the world. But, on the other hand, my
dear friend, we have learnt where to stop, and a great
secret it is, but one I fear you know nothing about at
present; so the sooner you make yourself acquainted
with it the better. There's a limit to everything but
folly—even to striking deep into the soil. And as to
the soil being better so very far down, nobody
believe it; for why should it be? The great art is to
make the most of what is at hand, as we do. Time enough
to go into the depths when you have used up what is so
much easier got at. The man who gathered some of us
yesterday called out, 'These are just right.' So I
leave you to judge whether some other people we know of
must not be wrong."
"You rather overwhelm me, I own," mused the Carrot;
"though it's remarkable you counsellors should not
agree among yourselves. Is it possible, however, that I
have been making a great mistake all my life? What lost
time to look back upon! Yet a ball; no, no, not a ball!
I don't think I could grow into a solid round ball were
I to try for ever!"
"Not having tried, how can you tell?" whispered the
Turnip-Radish persuasively. "But you never will if you
listen to our old-fashioned friend next door, who has
been halting between two opinions all his life:—will
neither make an honest fat lump of it, as I do, nor
plunge down and taper with you. But nothing can be done
without an effort; certainly no change."
"That is true," murmured the Carrot, rather sadly; "but
I am too old for further efforts myself. Mistake or no
mistake, my fate is fixed. I am too far down to get up
again, that's certain; but some of the young ones may
try. Do you hear, dears? Some of you stop short, if you
can, and grow out sideways and all ways, into stout,
round, solid balls."
"Oh, nonsense about round balls!" cried the long-tailed
Radish in disgust; "what will the world come to, if
this folly goes on! Listen to me, youngsters, I beg. Go
to a moderate depth, and be content;
 and if you want
something to do, throw out a few fibres for amusement.
You're firm enough without them, I know, but the
employment will pass away time."
"There are strange delusions abroad just now," remarked
the Onions to each other; "do you hear all this talk
about shape and way of growth? and everybody in the
dark on the subject, though they seem to be quite
unconscious of the fact themselves. That fellow
chattered about solid balls, as if there was no such
thing as bulbs, growing layer upon layer, and coat over
coat, at all. Of course the very long orange gentleman,
with his tapering root, is the most wrong of the whole
party; but I doubt if Mr. Roundhead is much wiser when
he speaks of close white flesh inside, and red (of all
ridiculous nonsense) without. Where are their flaky
skins, I should like to know? Who is ever to peel them,
I wonder? Poor things! I can't think how they got into
such ways. How tough and obstinate they must be! I wish
we lived nearer. We would teach them a little better
than that and show them what to do."
"I have lived near you long enough," grumbled a
deep-red Beet in the next bed; "and you have never
taught me; neither shall you, if I can help it. A
pretty instructor you would be, who think it ridiculous
to be red! I suppose you can't grow red yourself, and
so abuse the colour out of spite. Now I flatter myself
I am red inside as well as out, so I suppose I am more
ridiculous than your friend who contrives to keep
himself white within, according to his own account; but
I doubt the fact. There, there! it is a folly to be
angry; so I say no more, except this: get red as fast
as you can. You live in the same soil that I do, and
ought to be able."
 "Oh, don't call it red!" exclaimed a golden Beet, who
was of a gentle turn of mind; "it is but a pale tint
after all, and surely rather amber than red; and
perhaps that was what the long-tailed orange gentleman
"Perhaps it was; for perhaps he calls red orange, as
you call it amber," answered the redder Beet; "anyhow
he has rather more sense than our neighbour here, with
his layer upon layer, and coat over coat, and flaky
skin over all. Think of wasting time in such
fiddle-faddle proceedings! Grow a good honest fleshy
substance, and have done with it, and let people see
you know what life is capable of. I always look at
results. It is something to get such a body as I do out
of the surrounding soil. That is living to some
purpose, I consider. Nobody makes more of their
opportunities than I do, I flatter myself, or has more
to show for their pains; and a great future must be in
store for me."
"Do you hear them? oh! do you hear them?" whispered the
Cress to her neighbour the Mustard (there had been
several crops, and this was one of the last); "do you
hear how they all talk together of their growth, and
their roots, and their bulbs, and size, and colour, and
shape? It makes me quite unhappy, for I am doing
nothing like that myself—nothing, nothing, though I
live in the same soil! What is to be done? What do you
do? Do you grow great white solid balls, or long,
orange tapering roots, or thick red flesh, or bulbs
with layer upon layer, and coat over coat? Some of them
talked of just throwing out a few fibres as a mere
amusement to pass away time; and this is all I ever do
for business. There will never be a great future in
store for me. Do speak to me,
 but whisper what you say,
for I shame to be heard or thought of."
"I grow only fibres too," groaned the Mustard in reply;
"but I would spread every way and all ways if I
could—downwards and upwards, and sideways and all
ways, like the rest. I wish I had never been sown.
Better never sown and grown, than sown and grown to
such trifling purpose! We are wretched indeed. But
there must be injustice somewhere. The soil must give
them what it refuses to us."
"Or we are weak and helpless, and cannot take in what
it offers," suggested the Cress. "Alas! that we should
have been sown only to be useless and unhappy!"
And they wept the evening through. But they alone were
not unhappy. The Carrot had become uneasy, and could
follow his natural tastes no longer in comfort, for
thinking that he ought to be a solid round ball, white
inside, and red without. The Onion had sore misgivings
that the Beet might be right after all, and a good
honest mass of red flesh be more worth labouring for,
than the pale coat-within-coat growth in which he had
indulged. It did seem a waste of trouble, a
fiddle-faddle plan of life, he feared. Perhaps he had
not gone down far enough in the soil. Some one talked
of growing fibres for amusement—he had certainly not
come to that; they were necessary to his support; he
couldn't hold fast without them. Other people were more
independent than he was, then; perhaps wiser,—alas!
And yet the Beet himself was not quite easy; for talk
as he would, what he had called fiddle-faddle seemed
ingenious when he thought it over, and he
 would like to
have persuaded himself that he grew layer upon layer
too. But it wouldn't do.
Perhaps, in fact, the bold little Turnip-Radishes
alone, from their solid, substantial growth, were the
only ones free from misgivings, and believed that
everybody ought to do as they did themselves.
What a disturbance there was, to be sure! And it got
worse and worse, and they called on the winds and
fleeting clouds, the sun, and moon, and stars above
their heads, to stay their course awhile, and declare
who was right and who was wrong; who was using, who
abusing his gifts and powers; who was making most, who
least, of the life and opportunities they all enjoyed;
whose system was the one the rest must all strive to
follow—the one only right.
But they called and asked in vain; till one evening,
the clouds which had been gathering over the garden for
days began to come down in rain, and sank swiftly into
the ground, where it had been needed for long.
Whereupon there was a general cry, "Here comes a
messenger; now we shall hear!" as if they thought no
one could have any business in the world but to settle
So out came all the old enquiries again:—who was
right—who was wrong—who had got hold of the true
secret? But the Cress made no enquiry at all, only
shook with fright under the rain; for, thought she, the
hour of my shame and degradation is come; poor useless
creature that I am, I shall never more hold up my head!
As to the Carrot, into whose well-dug bed the rain
found easiest entrance, and sank deepest, he held forth
in most eloquent style upon the whole affair;—how it
was started, and what he had said;
 how much he had once
hoped; how much he now feared.
Now, the Rain-drops did not care to answer in a hurry;
but as they came dropping gently down, they murmured,
"Peace, peace, peace!" all over the beds. And truly
they seemed to bring peace with them as they fell, so
that a calm sank all around, and then the murmur
proceeded:—"Poor little atoms in a boundless
kingdom—each one of you bearing a part towards its
fulness of perfection, each one of you endowed with
gifts and powers especially your own, each one of you
good after its kind—how came these cruel misgivings and
heart-burnings among you? Are the tops of the mountains
wrong because they cannot grow corn like valleys? Are
the valleys wrong because they cannot soar into the
skies? Does the brook flow in vain because it cannot
spread out like the sea? Is the sea only right because
its waters only are salt? Each good after its kind,
each bearing a part in the full perfection of the
kingdom which is boundless, the plan which is
harmony—peace, peace, peace, upon all!"
And peace seemed to fall more soothingly than ever upon
the ground as the shower continued to descend.
"How much more, then," resumed the murmur, "among you,
to whose inner natures gifts and powers are given, each
different from each; each good in its kind; each, if
rightly carried out, doing service in that kingdom,
which needs for its full perfection, that there shall
be mountains to rise into the skies, valleys to lie low
at their feet; some natures to go deep into the soil,
others to rejoice on its surface; some to lie lightly
upon the earth,
 as if scarcely claiming a home, others
to grasp at it by wide-spread roots, and stretch out
branches to the rivers; all good in their kind, all
bearing a part in the glory of that universe whose
children are countless as their natures are
various—none useless, none in vain.
"Upon one, then, upon all—each wanted, each useful,
each good after its kind—peace, peace, peace, peace,
peace!" . . .
The murmur subsided to a whisper, the whisper into
silence; and by the time the moon-shadows lay upon the
garden there was peace everywhere.
Nor was it broken again; for henceforth even the Cress
held up her head—she, also, good after her kind.
Only once or twice that year, when the Carrots were
gathered, there came up the strangest growths—thick,
distorted lumps, that had never struck properly down.
The gardener wondered, and was vexed, for he prided
himself on the digging of the carrot-bed. "Anything
that had had any sense might have gone down into it, he
was sure," he said. And he was not far wrong; but you
see the Carrot had had no sense when he began to
speculate, and tried to be something he was not
intended to be.
Yet the poor clumsy thing was not quite useless after
all. For, just as the gardener was about to fling it
angrily away, he recollected that the cook might use it
for soup, though it could not be served up at
table—such a shape as it was! . . .
And this was exactly what she did.
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