| 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 UNKNOWN LAND
"But now they desire a better country."—HEBREWS xi. 16.
 IT mattered not to the Sedge Warbler whether it were night
She built her nest down among the willows, and reeds, and
long thick herbage that bordered the great river's side, and
in her sheltered covert she sang songs of mirth and
rejoicing both by night and day.
"Where does the great river go to?" asked the little ones,
as they peered out of their nest one lovely summer night,
and saw the moonbeams dancing on the waters as they hurried
Now, the Sedge Warbler could not tell her children
where the great river went to; so she laughed, and said they
must ask the Sparrow who chattered so fast, or the Swallow
who travelled so far, next time one or other came to perch
on the willow-tree to rest.
"And then," said she, "you will
hear all such stories as these!"—and thereupon the Sedge
Warbler tuned her voice to the Sparrow's note, and the
little ones almost thought the Sparrow was there, the song
was so like his—all about towns, and houses, and gardens and
fruit-trees, and cats, and guns;
 only the Sedge Warbler made
the account quite confused, for she had never had the
patience to sit and listen to the Sparrow, so as really to
understand what he said about these matters.
But imperfect as the tale was, it amused the little ones
very much, and they tried then to sing like it, and sang
till they fell asleep; and when they awoke, they burst into
singing again; for, behold! the eastern sky was red with the
dawn, and they knew the warm sunbeams would soon send
beautiful streaks of light in among the reeds and flags that
sheltered their happy home.
Now, the Mother-bird would sometimes leave the little ones
below, and go up into the willow-branches to sing alone; and
as the season advanced she did this oftener and oftener; and
her song was plaintive and tender then, for she used to sing
to the tide of the river, as it swept along she knew not
whither, and think that some day she and her husband and
children should all be hurrying so onward as the river
hurried,—she knew not whither also,—to the Unknown Land
whence she had come. Yes! I may call it the Unknown Land;
for only faint images remained upon her mind of the country
whence she had flown.
Now the mother-bird would sometimes leave the little ones below, and go up into the branches to sing alone.
At first she used to sing these ditties only when alone, but
by degrees she began to let her little ones hear them now
and then—for were they not going to accompany her? and was
it not as well, therefore, to accustom them gradually to
think about it?
Then the little ones asked her where the Unknown Land was.
But she smiled, and said she could not tell them, for she
did not know.
"Perhaps the great river is travelling there all
thought the eldest child. But he was wrong. The great river
was rolling on hurriedly to a mighty city, where it was to
stream through the arches of many bridges, and bear on its
bosom the traffic of many nations; restless and crowded by
day; gloomy, dark, and dangerous by night! Ah! what a
contrast were the day and night of the mighty city to
the day and night of the Sedge Warbler's home, where the
twenty-four hours of changes God has appointed to Nature
were but so many changes of beauty!
"Mother, why do you sing songs about another land?" asked a
young tender-hearted fledgling one day. "Why should we leave
the reed-beds and the willow-trees? Cannot we all build
nests here, and live here always? Mother, do not let us go
away anywhere else. I want no other land, and no other home
but this. There are all the aits in the great river to
choose from, where we shall each settle; there can be
nothing in the Unknown Land more pleasant than the reed-beds
and the willow-trees here. I am so happy!—Leave off those
Then the Mother's breast heaved with many a varied thought,
and she made no reply. So the little one went on—
"Think of the red glow in the morning sky, Mother, and the
soft haze—and then the beautiful rays of warm light across
the waters! Think of the grand noonday glare, when the broad
flags and reeds are all burnished over with heat. Think of
these evenings, Mother, when we can sit about in the
branches—here, there, anywhere—and watch the great sun go
down behind the sky or fly to the aits of the great river,
and sing in the long green herbage there, and then come home
by moonlight and sing
 till we fall asleep; and wake singing
again, if any noise disturb us, if a boat chance to paddle
by, or some of those strange bright lights shoot up with a
noise into the sky from distant gardens. Think, even when
the rain comes down, how we enjoy ourselves, for then how
sweet it is to huddle into the soft warm nest together, and
listen to the drops pattering upon the flags and leaves
overhead! Oh, I love this dear, dear home so much!—Sing
those dreadful songs about another land no more!"
Then the Mother said—
"Listen to me, my child, and I will sing you another song."
And the Sedge Warbler changed her note, and sang to her
tender little one of her own young days, when she was as
happy and as gay as now, though not here among the
reed-beds; and how, after she had lived and rejoiced in her
happiness many pleasant months, a voice seemed to rise
within her that said—"This is not your Rest!" and how she
wondered, and tried not to listen, and tried to stop where
she was, and be happy there still. But the voice came
oftener and oftener, and louder and louder; and how the dear
partner she had chosen heard and felt the same; and how at
last they left their home together, and came and settled
down among the reed-beds of the great river. And, oh, how
happy she had been!
"And where is the place you came from, Mother?" asked the
little one. "Is it anywhere near, that we may go and see
"My child," answered the Sedge Warbler, "it is the Unknown
Land! Far, far away, I know: but where, I do not know. Only
the voice that called me thence is beginning to call again.
And, as I was obedient and hopeful once, shall I be less
 and hopeful now—now that I have been so happy? No,
my little one, let us go forth to the Unknown Land, wherever
it may be, in joyful trust."
"You will be with me;—so I will," murmured the little Sedge
Warbler in reply; and before she went to sleep she joined
her young voice with her mother's in the song of the Unknown
One day afterwards, when the parent birds had gone off to
the sedgy banks of a neighbouring stream, another of the
young ones flew to the topmost branches of some
willow-trees, and, delighted with his position, began to
sing merrily, as he swung backwards and forwards on a bough.
Many were the songs he tried, and well enough he succeeded
for his age, and at last he tried the song of the Unknown
"A pretty tune, and a pretty voice, and a pretty singer!"
remarked a Magpie, who unluckily was crossing the country at
the time, and whose mischievous spirit made him stop to
amuse himself, by showing off to the young one his superior
wisdom, as he thought it.
"I have been in many places, and even once was domesticated
about the house of a human creature, so that I am a pretty
good judge of singing," continued Mr. Mag, with a cock of
his tail, as he balanced himself on a branch near the Sedge
Warbler; "but, upon my word, I have seldom heard a prettier
song than yours—only I wish you would tell me what it is all
"It is about the Unknown Land," answered the young Warbler,
with modest pleasure, and very innocently.
"Do I hear you right, my little friend?" inquired the Magpie
with mock solemnity—"The Unknown Land, did you say? Dear,
dear! to think of finding
 such abstruse philosophy among the
marshes and ditches! It is quite a treat! And pray, now,
what is there that you can tell an odd old fellow like me,
who am always anxious to improve myself, about this Unknown
"I don't know, except that we are going there some day,"
answered the Sedge Warbler, rather confused by the Magpie's
"Now, that is excellent!" returned the Magpie, chuckling
with laughter. "How I love simplicity, and, really, you are
a choice specimen of it, Mr. Sedge Warbler. So you are
thinking of a journey to this Unknown Land, always
supposing, of course, my sweet little friend, that you can
find the way to it, which, between you and me, I think there
must naturally be some doubt about, under the circumstances
of the place itself being unknown! Good evening to you,
pretty Mr. Sedge Warbler. I wish you a pleasant journey!"
"Oh, stop, stop!" cried the young bird, now quite distressed
by the Magpie's ridicule; "don't go just yet, pray. Tell me
what you think yourself about the Unknown Land."
"Oh, you little wiseacre, are you laughing at me? Why, what
can any body, even so clever a creature as yourself think
about an unknown thing? You can guess, I admit, anything you
please about it, and so could I, if I thought it worth while
to waste my time so foolishly. But you will never get beyond
guessing in such a case—at all events, I confess my poor
abilities can't pretend to do anything more."
"Then you are not going there yourself?" murmured the
"Certainly not. In the first place, I am quite
where I am; and, in the second place, I am not quite so easy
of belief as you seem to be. How do I know there is such a
place as this Unknown Land at all?"
"My father and mother told me that," answered the Sedge
Warbler, with more confidence.
"Oh, your father and mother told you, did they?" sneered the
Magpie, scornfully. "And you're a good little bird, and
believe everything your father and mother tell you. And if
they were to tell you you were going to live up in the moon,
you would believe them, I suppose?"
"They never deceived me yet!" cried the young Sedge Warbler
firmly, his feathers ruffling with indignation as he spoke.
"Hoity, toity! what's the matter now, my dainty little cock?
Who said your father and mother had ever deceived you?
without being a bit deceitful, I take the liberty to inform
you that they may be extremely ignorant. And I shall leave
you to decide which of the two, yourself; for, I declare,
one gets nothing but annoyance by trying to be good-natured
to you countrified young fellows. You are not fit to
converse with a bird of any experience and wisdom. So, once
for all, good-bye to you!"
And the Magpie flapped his wings, and was gone before the
Sedge Warbler had half recovered from his fit of vexation.
There was a decided change in the weather that evening, for
the summer was now far advanced, and a sudden storm had
brought cooler breezes and more rain than usual, and the
young birds wondered, and were sad, when they saw the dark
sky, and the swollen river, and felt that there was no warm
sun-  shine to dry the wet, as was usual after a mid-day
"Why is the sky so cloudy and lowering, and why is the river
so thick and gloomy, and why is there no sunshine, I wonder?" said one.
"The sun will shine again to-morrow, I dare say," was the
Mother's answer; "but the days are shortening fast; and the
storm has made this one very short; and the sun will not get
through the clouds this evening. Never mind! the wet has not
hurt the inside of our nest. Get into it, my dear ones, and
keep warm, while I sing to you about our journey. Silly
children, did you expect the sunshine to last here for
"I hoped it might, and thought it would, once, but lately I
have seen a change," answered the young one who had talked
to her mother so much before. "And I do not mind now,
Mother. When the sunshine goes, and the wet comes, and the
river looks dark and the sky black, I think about the
Then the Mother was pleased, and, perched upon a tall flag
outside the nest, she sang a hopeful song of the Unknown
Land; and the father and children joined—all but one! He,
poor fellow, would not, could not sing; but when the voices
ceased, he murmured to his brothers and sisters in the nest—
"This would be all very pleasant and nice, if we could know
anything about the Land we talk about."
"If we were to know too much, perhaps we should never be
satisfied here," laughed the tender little one, who had
formerly been so much distressed about going.
"But we know nothing," rejoined the other bird; "indeed, how
do we know there is such a place as the Unknown Land at
 "We feel that there is, at any rate," answered the
Sister-bird. "I have heard the call our mother tells about,
and so must you have done."
"You fancy you have heard it, that is to say," cried the
Brother; "because she told you. It is all fancy, all
guess-work; no knowledge! I could fancy I heard it too, only
I will not be so weak and silly; I will neither think about
going, nor will I go."
"This is not your Rest," sang the Mother, in a loud clear
voice, outside; and "This is not your Rest," echoed the
others in sweet unison; and "This is not your Rest," sounded
in the depths of the poor little Sedge Warbler's own heart.
"This is not our Rest!" repeated the Mother. "The river is
rushing forward; the clouds are hurrying onward; the winds
are sweeping past, because here is not their Rest. Ask the
river, ask the clouds, ask the winds, where they go
to:—Another Land! Ask the great sun, as he descends away out
of sight, where he goes to:—Another Land! And when the
appointed time shall come, let us also arise and go hence."
"Oh! Mother, Mother, would that I could believe you! Where
is that other Land?" Thus cried the distressed doubter
in the nest. And then he opened his troubled heart, and told
what the Magpie had said, and the parent birds listened in
silence, and when he ceased—
"Listen to me, my son," exclaimed the Mother, "and I will
sing you another song."
Whereupon she spoke once more of the land she had left
before; but now the burden of her story was, that she had
left it without knowing why. She "went out not knowing
whither,"—in blind obedience,
 faith, and hope. As she
traversed the wide waste of waters, there was no one to give
her reasons for her flight, or tell her, "This and this will
be your lot." Could the Magpie have told her, had he met her
there? But had she been deceived? No! The secret voice which
had called and led her forth, had been one of Kindness.
she came to the reed-beds she knew all about it. For then
arose the strong desire to settle. Then she and her dear
partner lived together. And then came the thought that she
must build a nest. Ah! had the Magpie seen her then,
building a home for children yet unborn, how he would have
mocked at her! What could she know, he would have asked,
about the future? Was it not all guess-work, fancy, folly?
But had she been deceived! No! It was that voice of Kindness
that had told her what to do. For did she not become the
happy mother of children? And was she not now able to
comfort and advise her little ones in their troubles? For,
let the Magpie say what he would, was it likely that the
voice of Kindness would deceive them at last?
she; "in joyful trust let us obey the call, though now we
know not why. When obedience and faith are made perfect, it
may be that knowledge and explanation shall be given." So
ended the Mother's strain, and no sad misgivings ever
clouded the Sedge Warbler's home again.
Several weeks of changing autumn weather followed after
this, and the chilly mornings and evenings caused the songs
of departure to sound louder and more cheerily than ever in
the reed-beds. They knew, they felt, they had confidence,
that there was joy for them in the Unknown Land.
 But one
dark morning, when all were busy in various directions, a
sudden loud sound startled the young ones from their sports,
and in terror and confusion they hurried home. The old nest
looked looser and more untidy than ever that day, for some
water had oozed in through the half-worn bottom. But they
huddled together into it, as of old, for safety. Soon,
however, it was discovered that neither Father nor Mother
were there; and after waiting in vain some time for their
return, the frightened young ones flew off again to seek
Oh! weary, weary search for the missing ones we love! It
may be doubted whether the sad reality, when they came upon
it, exceeded the agony of that hour's suspense.
It ended, however, at last! On a patch of long rank herbage
which covered a mud bank, so wet that the cruel sportsman
could not follow to secure his prey, lay the stricken parent
birds. One was already dead, but the Mother still lived, and
as her children's wail of sorrow sounded in her ear, she
murmured out a last gentle strain of hope and comfort.
"Away, away, my darlings, to the Unknown Land. The voice
that has called to all our race before, and never but for
kindness, is calling to you now! Obey! Go forth in joyful
trust! Quick! Quick! There's no time to be lost!"
"But my Father—you—oh, my Mother!" cried the young ones.
"Hush, sweet ones, hush! We cannot be with you there. But
there may be some other Unknown Land which this may lead
to;" and the Mother laid her head against her wounded side
Long before the sunbeams could pierce the heavy
 haze of the
next autumn morning, the young Sedge Warblers rose for the
last time o'er their much loved reed-beds, and took
flight—"they knew not whither."
Dim and undefined hope, perhaps, they had that they might
find their parents again in the Unknown Land. And if one
pang of grief struck them when these hopes ended, it was but
for a moment, for, said the Brother-Bird—
"There may be some other Unknown Land, better even than
this, to which they may be gone."
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