| 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 LIGHT OF LIFE
"Except the Lord build the house, their labour is but lost that build it."
—PSALM cxxvii. 1.
 "WHAT more could have been done for it than I have
done!" The cry came from an afflicted heart.
It was uttered by Hans Jansen, the Hamburgh printer's
only son, as he sat moaning over a dying rose-tree in
the corner of a little back-yard behind his father's
Hans Jansen was what is commonly called not all there;
that is, he could not see and comprehend the things of
this life as his neighbours did. More than half of what
passed around him was hidden from his eyes. He was in
part, though not altogether, an idiot.
It was a great distress to his parents that this should
be the case—it had been so once, however. But, being
good Christians, they had reconciled themselves to it,
and learned by degrees, to see comfort through the
cloud. If Hans was below the rest of the world in some
ways, he was above them in others.
The fear of God and
the love of his neighbour had come to him almost as an
instinct; at any rate without the struggles some people
have to go through
 before their hearts are touched by
either one or the other. He wouldn't have missed saying
his prayers night and morning, or grace at meals, to
please an emperor; and an unkind word about any one
could never be got out of him.
Truly their Hans was
ripening for a better state of existence, whether he
had any book-learning or not. He had nothing to fear,
but everything to hope for, from death.
And he had one passion—one special cause of enjoyment
and delight. He doated on flowers, and was seldom seen
without one in his button-hole all the summer through.
But this was because his good-nature had made him many
friends, who took a pleasure in seeing him pleased, and
gave him a nosegay when they could. It was very well
known that he had no garden of his own.
Mr. Jansen's house was a red brick one, in a row, with
a square enclosure in front, covered with pebbles, and
a square yard at the back, which had a pump in the
middle and a dog-kennel on one side. It is true this
yard was covered with soil and there were scrubby
patches of grass upon it here and there; but it was
used for a drying-ground and had never once been
brightened by flowers since the day it was first
parcelled out and the walls were built round it, across
which were now stretched the lines on which the linen
was hung to dry.
The fact was, Mr. Jansen had not wished for a garden.
He was busy from morning to night at his printing
business in the town; his wife had quite enough on her
hands in household cares; and no effectual work could
be expected from an idiot child.
How Hans came to be so fond of flowers was a
but there are many mysteries of this sort in the world.
It had been so from his baby-days, and many were the
hours he had spent, unnoticed, in a corner of that
back-yard, grubbing in the old black soil, "making
believe" to have a garden with beds and walks like
those he had seen elsewhere.
Nay, once or twice he had
tried to grow mustard and cress, and even sweet-peas, a
few seeds of which were given him by a neighbour's
child; but somehow or other, nothing ever came of these
real attempts, and he had to make himself happy with
the make-believe garden at the end.
But it was no make-believe plant he was wailing over
now, but a real Géant de Batailles rose-tree, which had
been given him many weeks before. It was thus:—A
good-natured nursery gardener, who knew his father, had
let him walk through his grounds one flower-show day,
before the company came; and having, by chance, noticed
poor Hans sobbing from excitement at sight of the
glories round him, his own heart melted; for he had an
only and clever son himself, and he felt sorry for the
darkness over his friend's child.
So when Hans was
going away he gave him, not only a nosegay of the
tulips and hyacinths, but a fine young rose-tree in a
pot; "as fine a Géant de Batailles as had ever been
raised," said he to Hans, as he offered it, adding that
it would flower in six or eight weeks, and brighten all
the place up by its rich blaze of colour.
Hans trembled as he received it, and he stood with his
mouth half open, irresolute and abashed, wanting to
speak, yet not daring.
"What is it, boy?" asked the nursery gardener. "Speak
 "How do you make your flowers so beautiful?" gasped
Hans, half afraid of what he had said.
"Well, well," returned the nursery gardener, with a
smile, "some in one way and some in another; but we
don't tell our secrets to everybody. Nevertheless, I'll
tell you how to make your rose beautiful, for you'll
make no bad use of anything, I'll be bound. You've a
yard or a court, or some place with soil in it, eh?"
"Yes, yes," cried Hans.
"Then I'll tell you what you must do," pursued the
nursery gardener. "Dig a hole in a sheltered place,
pretty deep, you know, and put in a bone or two, and
some hair (my son shall give you a handful) at the
bottom. Then turn the plant out of the pot, not
disturbing the ball of earth for the world remember;
and set it right down upon the hair. Then fill up the
hole neatly with soil, and say nothing about what
you've done to anybody, and there's an end. Keep it
sheltered, mind, and water it at first, or if you see
it get very dry, and with soap-suds whenever you can
get them. Soap-suds and bones and hair are the main
things. There 's nothing like them for bringing roses
to perfection. You'll have flowers as big as a hat, and
as bright as cherries, before the summer's over, if you
do as I say, and look well after the plant. There! good
luck to you and it! Good-bye."
And this was the plant—this, poor wizened thing—over
which Hans was moaning. But how had it come to this?
That was the difficulty. The gardener's son had given
Hans the hair, and he had found the bones,—there were
plenty by the dog-kennel; and he had dug the hole and
put them at the bottom; and he had turned the plant out
 of the pot, and not broken the ball of earth; and he
had placed it upon the hair, and filled up the hole;
and watered it at first, and whenever he saw it get
very dry, and with soap-suds on a wash-day; for he had
only to ask and have, without question or trouble.
had done everything, in short—surely everything! For he
had put it in the most sheltered spot he could find—in
the self-same corner where he had played at
make-believe gardens as a child; and it seemed as if an
old dream had suddenly come true. And as to looking
well after it,—could a miser have watched his gold with
more jealous care?
And no one had interfered; for he
had told nobody, partly from some indefinite idea that
the nursery gardener had ordered him not; partly
because he thought it would be so nice to surprise his
mother, some day before the summer was over, by the
rich blaze of colour that was to brighten all the
The very maid who hung out the clothes in the yard
didn't know of it; for to keep the secret, and make the
shelter of the tree more complete, he had set up boards
across the corner where it was planted, from wall to
wall, and no one could see what was there. They looked
upon the boards as some idle freak of the idiot mind.
It was the buds that failed first; those buds which
ought to have swollen and grown larger day by day. Even
his eye, sharpened now by anxious care, could detect
that they rather dwindled than increased in size; and,
observing this more and more as time went on, he one
day summoned courage to walk to the Nursery Gardens,
and tell his fears to the giver of the plant.
 But he, when he found that all he had ordered had been
done, only smiled.
"I tell you again," said he, "and from long experience,
there's nothing like bones and hair for bringing roses
to perfection. You can't go wrong with them. Give it a
little more water or soap-suds. You've perhaps a light
soil in your place. Give it more water. The buds will
swell fast enough, I'll be bound. Indeed, I fancy
you're watching it so closely you can't see true. It's
easy enough to do that, I can tell you. The buds are
grown, I suspect—though you don't think so. Leave it
to itself. Don't fancy anything wrong. It's sure to be
right with bones and hair and soap-suds. They're the
finest rose-manure in the world."
Hans listened with his mouth open, nodded his head,
with a "Thank-you!" at the end, and went away, hoping
he had not "seen true." And he did not take the boards
down nearly so often afterwards, lest his watching too
closely should do harm. But every time he did take them
down, he grew more and more unhappy.
The healthy green
of the leaves was no longer to be seen; as for the
buds, they shrivelled gradually more and more. Growth
anywhere there was none. Inch by inch the plant was
dying—or Hans thought so, and he rubbed his eyes for
further light in vain.
And one day, when the last
leaves which remained had crinkled up and turned brown,
he sat down on the ground, and wailed, as I have said:—
"What more could I have done for it than I have done?"
The dream of a dream come true at last, was over. The
make-believe garden was still the only one he had ever
enjoyed. He must go back to it again.
 He replaced the boards, for he shrank from the very
sight of the dying plant, and sat down on the ground
again, though he scarcely knew why.
But presently there was a barking of the dog, and an
opening of the door, and a shouting of "Hans!" by his
mother. The nursery gardener was passing that way, and
had called to admire the roses he expected to see. Hans
could not speak, but led the way to the corner of the
yard, and, when they were there, he pointed to the
boards before he took them down, and exclaimed, trying
to smile through his tears:
"I couldn't have sheltered it more, could I? It's never
been scorched, or chilled, or blown upon, even. It's
had bones, and hair, and water, and all you ordered,
and I've looked well after it, and yet it's dead, I
As he spoke, Hans lifted down the boards, and exposed
the withered tree.
The nursery gardener stared at it, and then at Hans, in
"You don't mean to say you've kept it so all the time?"
cried he. "Why, what have you been thinking about, man?
How could you expect it to live? Why, it's had no
"You said nothing about that," replied Hans, his face
distorted with bewilderment and grief. "You said you
made roses beautiful with bones, and hair, and
soap-suds, and that I should make mine beautiful with
"But not without sunshine," shouted the nursery
gardener, quite excited at the idea of such a mistake.
Hans made no answer. He could not utter another word.
He sat down on the ground again and hid his face in his
 "I must have spoken like a fool," exclaimed the nursery
gardener, half to himself. "But who'd have thought of
anybody fancying a plant could get on without light?
Well, perhaps I ought to have thought though," added
he, as his eyes fell on poor Hans' doubled-up figure.
Then, laying his hand on the lad's shoulder, it came
into his heart to try and explain matters.
"Look up, Hans," said he. "It's not your fault at
all—it's mine. There was something I forgot to tell
you. I spoke like a fool when I talked of making roses
beautiful with manure and things like that, as if they
could do it themselves. I didn't mean that. It is God
who makes the roses, you know, and He makes them so
that they can't do without the light He chooses them to
live in, and that's the light from heaven—do you see?"
Here the nursery gardener paused to consider how he
must go on, and Hans shuffled a bit, and then looked up
at his friend. And his friend saw the light from heaven
streaming on that sad, half-intelligent face, with the
red eyes straining upwards for comprehension; and he
"So they can't do without God's light, let you give
them what manure you will. They're only helps, Hans,
such things as those."
"A man may help or hinder what God intends, by good or
bad management, it's true; but that's all, and that's
all I meant. Bones, and hair, and soap-suds are the
finest rose-manure in the world, that's true too, and
it's a great secret; but they're all nothing—nothing,
lad!—without God's secret—the light from heaven. Do you
see what I mean, Hans?"
"I'm trying," said Hans.
 "Hans," continued the nursery gardener, "it's been my
fault, not yours; and you shall have another rose-tree,
or we'll save this one yet, for if there's a bit of
life left in it, God's light may bring it round. But
tell me, now. You are a very good lad, you know, at
times—indeed, I fancy always; but no matter, we'll call
it at times. What makes you ever good?"
Hans' catechism had been short, but sound; and he
answered at once, "God's grace."
"Now that's just it!" shouted the nursery gardener, in
delight. "That's just what I meant. And all the
schooling, and teaching, and trying in the world won't
do without God's grace, will they, Hans?"
Hans nodded his negative assent.
"No, they're only manures and helps," pursued the
nursery gardener, "and very good things, no doubt, the
same as bones, and hair, and soap-suds for roses, and
there's nobody can dispute about them. But all the
helps in the world can do nothing without the main
thing God chooses them to thrive by, and that's God's
grace for a man, and God's light for a plant; and what
one is for one, that the other is for the other, and
it's my opinion it's the light of Heaven for both."
If Hans did not quite follow the thread of the nursery
gardener's argument he must be excused. The nursery
gardener understood what he meant himself, and that was
something; and Hans added to his small stock of
observations the useful truth he had bought so dearly,
viz., that plants cannot live without light.
Those who are interested further in his fate will be
glad to hear that the nursery gardener soon after
turned one side of the old printer's back-yard into
 a garden, at his own expense, and gave Hans such plants
and help, that both mother and son had a few bright
flowers of their own the next year to delight their
But more than this. The poor lad proved so watchful and
attentive; so obedient, too, to advice in his own small
matters; and the rational occupation to an end seemed
so evidently to clear a something from the confusion of
his mind, that it struck the nursery gardener one day
to trust him with some little employment on his more
important premises. And the experiment was not
unsuccessful. On the one subject of flowers Hans became
not only trustworthy but intelligent.
And so it came to pass, that it was in the nursery
garden, among the flowers—his only idea of an earthly
paradise—that the poor idiot ended his days. Thence,
guileless as the beautiful creatures which surrounded
him, and trusting as the Highest Wisdom could have made
him, did the spirit, so long pent
in an imperfect earthly tabernacle, return to the great
Lord of life and light and intelligence, without whom
"nothing is strong, nothing is holy."
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