| 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 |
NOT LOST, BUT GONE BEFORE
"—Will none of you in pity
To those you left behind, disclose the secret?"
 "I WONDER what becomes of the Frog, when he climbs up
out of this world, and disappears, so that we do not
see even his shadow; till, plop! he is among us again,
when we least expect him. Does anybody know where he
goes to? Tell me, somebody, pray!"
Thus chattered the Grub of a dragon-fly, as he darted
about with his numerous companions, in and out among
the plants at the bottom of the water, in search of
The water formed a beautiful pond in the centre of a
wood. Stately trees grew around it and reflected
themselves on its surface, as on a polished mirror; and
the bulrushes and forget-me-nots which fringed its
sides seemed to have a twofold life, so perfect was
their image below.
"Who cares what the Frog does?" answered one of those
who overheard the Grub's enquiry; "what is it to us?"
"Look out for food for yourself," cried another, "and
let other people's business alone."
"But I have a curiosity on the subject,"
the first speaker. "I can see all of you when you pass
by me among the plants in the water here; and when I
don't see you any longer, I know you have gone further
on. But I followed a Frog just now as he went upwards,
and all at once he went to the side of the water, and
then began to disappear, and presently he was gone. Did
he leave this world, do you think? And what can there
"You idle, talkative fellow," cried another, shooting
by as he spoke, "attend to the world you are in, and
leave the 'beyond,' if there is a 'beyond,' to those
that are there. See what a morsel you have missed with
your wonderings about nothing." So saying, the saucy
speaker seized an insect which was flitting right in
front of his friend.
The curiosity of the Grub was a little checked by these
and similar remarks, and he resumed his employment of
chasing prey for a time.
But, do what he would, he could not help thinking of
the curious disappearance of the Frog, and presently
began to tease his neighbors about it again, What
becomes of the Frog when he leaves this world? being
the burden of his enquiry.
The minnows eyed him askance and passed on without
speaking, for they knew no more than he did of the
matter, and yet were loth to proclaim their ignorance;
and the eels wriggled away in the mud out of hearing,
for they could not bear to be disturbed.
The Grub got impatient, but he succeeded in inspiring
several of his tribe with some of his own curiosity,
and then went scrambling about in all directions with
his followers, asking the same unreasonable questions
of all the creatures he met.
Suddenly there was a heavy splash in the water,
 and a
large yellow Frog swam down to the bottom among the
"Ask the Frog himself," suggested a Minnow, as he
darted by overhead, with a mischievous glance of his
eye. And very good advice it seemed to be, only the
thing was much easier said than done. For the Frog was
a dignified sort of personage, of whom the smaller
inhabitants of the water stood a good deal in awe. It
required no common amount of assurance to ask a
creature of his standing and gravity, where he had been
to, and where he had come from. He might justly
consider such an enquiry as a very impertinent piece of
Still, such a chance of satisfying himself was not to
be lost, and after taking two or three turns round the
roots of a water lily, the Grub screwed up his courage,
and approaching the Frog in the meekest manner he could
assume, he asked—
"Is it permitted to a very unhappy creature to speak?"
The Frog turned his gold-edged eyes upon him in
surprise, and answered—
"Very unhappy creatures had better be silent. I never
talk but when I am happy."
"But I shall be happy if I may talk," interposed the
Grub, as glibly as possible.
"Talk away then," cried the Frog; "what can it matter
"Respected Frog," replied the Grub, "but it is
something I want to ask you."
"Ask away," exclaimed the Frog, not in a very
encouraging tone, it must be confessed; but still the
permission was given.
"What is there beyond the world?" enquired the Grub, in
a voice scarcely audible from emotion.
 "What world do you mean?" cried the Frog, rolling his
goggle eyes round and round.
"This world, of course, our world," answered the Grub.
"This pond, you mean," remarked the Frog, with a
"I mean the place we live in, whatever you may choose
to call it," cried the Grub pertly. "I call it the
"Do you, sharp little fellow?" rejoined the Frog. "Then
what is the place you don't live in, the 'beyond' the
And the Frog shook his sides with merriment as he
"That is just what I want you to tell me," replied the
"Oh, indeed, little one!" exclaimed the Froggy, rolling
his eyes this time with an amused twinkle. "Come, I
shall tell you then. It is dry land."
There was a pause of several seconds, and then, "Can
one swim about there?" enquired the Grub, in a subdued
"I should think not," chuckled the Frog. "Dry land is
not water, little fellow. That is just what it is not."
"But I want you to tell me what it is," persisted the
"Of all the inquisitive creatures I ever met, you
certainly are the most troublesome," cried the Frog.
"Well, then, dry land is something like the sludge at
the bottom of this pond, only it is not wet, because
there is no water."
"Really!" interrupted the grub, "what is there then?"
 "That's the difficulty," exclaimed Froggy. "There is
something, of course, and they call it air; but how to
explain it I don't know. My own feeling about it is,
that it's the nearest approach to nothing, possible. Do
"Not quite," replied the Grub, hesitating.
"Exactly; I was afraid not. Now just take my advice,
and ask no more silly questions. No good can possibly
come of it," urged the Frog.
"Honoured Frog," exclaimed the Grub, "I must differ
from you there. Great good will, as I think, come of
it, if my restless curiosity can be stilled by
obtaining the knowledge I seek. If I learn to be
contented where I am, it will be something. At present
I am miserable and restless under my ignorance."
"You are a very silly fellow," cried the Frog, "who
will not be satisfied with the experience of others. I
tell you the thing is not worth your troubling yourself
about. But, as I rather admire your spirit, (which, for
so insignificant a creature, is astonishing,) I will
make you an offer. If you choose to take a seat on my
back, I will carry you up to dry land myself, and then
you can judge for yourself what there is there, and how
you like it. I consider it a foolish experiment, mind,
but that is your own look-out. I make my offer, to give
"And I accept it with a gratitude that knows no
bounds," exclaimed the enthusiastic Grub.
"Drop yourself down on my back, then, and cling to me
as well as you can. For, remember, if you go gliding
off, you will be out of the way when I leave the
The Grub obeyed, and the Frog, swimming gently
reached the bulrushes by the water's side.
"Hold fast," cried he, all at once, and then, raising
his head out of the pond, he clambered up the bank, and
got upon the grass.
"Now then, here we are," exclaimed he. "What do you
think of dry land?"
But no one spoke in reply.
"Halloo! gone?" he continued. "that's just what I was
afraid of. He has floated off my back, stupid fellow, I
declare. Dear, dear, how unlucky! but it cannot be
helped. And, perhaps, he may make his way to the
water's edge here after all, and then I can help him
out. I will wait about and see."
And away went Froggy, with an occasional jaunty leap,
along the grass, by the edge of the pond, glancing every
now and then among the bulrushes, to see if he could
spy the dark, mailed figure of the dragon-fly Grub.
But the Grub, meanwhile? Ah, so far from having floated
off the Frog's back through carelessness, he had clung
to it with all the tenacity of hope, and the moment
came when the mask of his face began to issue from the
But the same moment sent him reeling from his
resting-place into the pond, panting and struggling for
life. A shock seemed to have struck his frame, a deadly
faintness succeeded, and it was several seconds before
he could recover himself.
"Horrible!" cried he, as soon as he had rallied a
little. "Beyond this world there is nothing but death.
The Frog has deceived me. He cannot go there, at any
And with these words, the Grub moved away
 to his old
occupations, his ardour for enquiry grievously checked,
though his spirit was unsubdued.
He contented himself for the present, therefore, with
talking over what he had done, and where he had been,
with his friends. And who could listen unmoved to such
a recital? The novelty, the mystery, the danger, the
all but fatal result, and the still unexplained wonder
of what became of the Frog—all invested the affair
with a romantic interest, and the Grub had soon a host
of followers of his own race, questioning, chattering,
and conjecturing, at his heels.
By this time the day was declining, and the active
pursuit of prey was gradually becoming suspended for a
time; when, as the inquisitive Grub was returning from
a somewhat protracted ramble among the water-plants, he
suddenly encountered, sitting pensively on a stone at
the bottom of the pond, his friend the yellow Frog.
"You here!" cried the startled Grub; "you never left
this world at all, then, I suppose. What a deception
you must have practised upon me! But this comes of
trusting to strangers, as I was foolish enough to do."
"You perplex me by your offensive remarks," replied the
Frog, gravely. "Nevertheless, I forgive you, because
you are so clumsy and ignorant, that civility cannot
reasonably be expected from you, little fellow. It
never struck you, I suppose, to think what my
sensations were, when I landed this morning on the
grass, and discovered that you were no longer on my
back. Why did you not sit fast as I told you? But this
is always the way with you foolish fellows, who think
you can fathom and investigate everything.
 You are
thrown over by the first practical difficulty you
"Your accusations are full of injustice," exclaimed the
It was clear they were on the point of quarrelling, and
would certainly have done so, had not the Frog, with
unusual magnanimity, desired the Grub to tell his own
story, and clear himself from the charge of clumsiness
if he could.
It was soon told; the Frog staring at him in silence
out of those great goggle eyes, while he went through
the details of his terrible adventure.
"And now," said the Grub, in conclusion, "as it is
clear that there is nothing beyond this world but
death, all your stories of going there yourself must be
mere inventions. Of course, therefore, if you do leave
this world at all, you go to some other place you are
unwilling to tell me of. You have a right to your
secret, I admit; but as I have no wish to be fooled by
any more travellers' tales, I will bid you a very good
"You will do no such thing, till you have listened as
patiently to my story as I have done to yours,"
exclaimed the Frog.
"That is but just, I allow," said the Grub, and stopped
Then the Frog told how he had lingered by the edge of
the pond, in the vain hope of his approach, how he had
hopped about in the grass, how he had peeped among the
bulrushes. "And at last," continued he, "though I did
not see you yourself, I saw a sight which has more
interest for you, than for any other creature that
lives," and there he paused.
"And that was?" asked the inquisitive Grub,
curiosity reviving, and his wrath becoming appeased.
"Up the polished green stalk of one of those
bulrushes," continued the Frog, "I beheld one of your
race slowly and gradually climbing, till he had left
the water behind him, and was clinging firmly to his
chosen support, exposed to the full glare of the sun.
Rather wondering at such a sight, considering the
fondness you all of you show for the shady bottom of
the pond, I continued to gaze, and observed
presently,—but I cannot tell you in what way the thing
happened,—that a rent seemed to come in your friend's
body, and by degrees, gradually and after many
struggles, there emerged from it one of those radiant
creatures who float through the air I spoke to you of,
and dazzle the eyes of all who catch glimpses of them
as they pass,—a glorious Dragon-fly!
"As if scarcely awakened from some perplexing dream, he
lifted his wings out of the carcase he was forsaking;
and though shrivelled and damp at first, they stretched
and expanded in the sunshine, till they glistened as if
"How long the strange process continued, I can scarcely
tell, so fixed was I in astonishment and admiration;
but I saw the beautiful creature at last poise himself
for a second or two in the air before he took flight. I
saw the four gauzy pinions flash back the sunshine that
was poured on them. I heard the clash with which they
struck upon the air; and I beheld his body give out
rays of glittering blue and green as he darted along,
and away, away, over the water in eddying circles that
seemed to know no end. Then I plunged below to seek you
out, rejoicing for your sake in the news I brought."
The Frog stopped short, and a long pause followed.
 At last—"It is a wonderful story," observed the Grub,
with less emotion than might have been expected.
"A wonderful story, indeed," repeated the Frog; "may I
ask your opinion upon it?"
"It is for me to defer mine to yours," was the Grub's
"Good! you are grown obliging, my little friend,"
remarked the Frog. "Well then, I incline to the belief,
that what I have seen accounts for your otherwise
unreasonable curiosity, your tiresome craving for
information about the world beyond your own."
"That were possible, always provided your account can
be depended upon," mused the Grub with a doubtful air.
"Little fellow," exclaimed the Frog, "remember that
your distrust cannot injure me, but may deprive
yourself of a comfort."
"And you really think, then, that the glorious creature
you describe, was once a——"
"Silence," cried the Frog; "I am not prepared with
definitions. Adieu! the shades of night are falling on
your world. I return to my grassy home on dry land. Go
to rest, little fellow, and awake in hope."
The Frog swam close to the bank, and clambered up its
sides, while the Grub returned to his tribe, who rested
during the hours of darkness from their life of
activity and pursuit.
"Promise," uttered an entreating voice.
"I promise," was the earnest answer.
"Faithfully?" urged the first speaker.
 "Solemnly," ejaculated the second.
But the voice was languid and weak, for the dragon-fly
Grub was sick and uneasy. His limbs had lost their old
activity, and a strange oppression was upon him.
The creatures whom he had been accustomed to chase,
passed by him unharmed; the water-plants, over which he
used to scramble with so much agility, were distasteful
to his feet; nay, the very water itself into which he
had been born, and through which he was wont to propel
himself with so much ingenuity, felt suffocating in its
Upwards he must go now, upwards, upwards! That was the
strong sensation which mastered every other, and to it
he felt he must submit, as to some inevitable law. And
then he thought of the Frog's account, and felt a
trembling conviction that the time had come, when the
riddle of his own fate must be solved.
His friends and relations were gathered around him,
some of his own age, some a generation younger, who had
only that year entered upon existence. All of them were
followers and adherents, whom he had inspired with his
own enthusiastic hopes; and they would fain have helped
him, if they could, in this hour of weakness. But there
was no help for him now, but hope, and of that he
possessed, perhaps, even more than they did.
Then came an earnest request, and then a solemn
promise, that, as surely as the great hopes proved
true, so surely would he return and tell them so.
"But, oh! if you should forget!" exclaimed one of the
younger generation, timid and uneasy.
"Forget the old home, my friend?" ejaculated the sick
Grub, "forget our life of enjoyment here,
 the ardour of
the chase, the ingenious stratagems, the triumph of
success? Forget the emotions of hope and fear we have
shared together, and which I am bound, if I can, to
"But if you should not be able to come back to us,"
"More unlikely still," murmured the half exhausted
Grub. "To a condition so exalted as the one in store
for us, what can be impossible? Adieu, my friends,
adieu! I can tarry here no longer. Ere long you may
expect to see me again in a new and more glorious form.
Till then, farewell!"
Languid, indeed, was the voice, and languid were the
movements of the Grub, as he rose upwards through the
water to the reeds and bulrushes that fringed its bank.
Two favourite brothers, and a few of his friends, more
adventurous than the rest, accompanied him in his
ascent, in the hope of witnessing whatever might take
place above; but in this they were, of course,
From the moment when, clinging with his feet to the
stem of a bulrush, he emerged from his native element
into the air, his companions saw him no more.
Eyes fitted only for the watery fluid, were incapable
of the upward glance and power of vision which would
have enabled them to pierce beyond it; and the little
coterie of discoverers descended, mortified and
sorrowful, to the bed of the pond.
The sun was high in the heavens when the dragon-fly
Grub parted from his friends, and they waited through
the long hours of the day for his return; at first, in
joyful hope, then in tremulous anxiety, and, as the
shades of evening began to deepen around, in a gloomy
fear, that bordered at last on despair. "He has
forgotten us," cried some. "A death
 from which he never
can awake, has overtaken him," said others. "He will
return to us yet," maintained the few who clung to
But in vain messenger after messenger shot upwards to
the bulrushes, and to various parts of the pond, hoping
to discover some trace of the lost one. All who went
out, returned back dispirited from the vain and weary
search, and even the most sanguine began to grow sick
Night closed at last upon them, bringing a temporary
suspension of grief; but the beams of the next rising
sun, while it filled all Nature beside with joy and
hopefulness, awakened them, alas! to a sense of the
bitterest disappointment, and a feeling of indignation
at the deception which had been practised upon them.
"We did very well without thinking of such things,"
said they; "but to have hopes like those held out, and
to be deceived after all—it is more than we can be
expected to bear in patience."
And bear it in patience they did not. With a fierceness
which nothing could restrain, they hurried about in the
destructive pursuit of prey, carrying a terrible
vengeance in all directions.
And thus passed on the hours of the second day, and
before night a sort of grim and savage silence was
agreed upon among them, and they ceased to bewail
either the loss of him they had loved, or their own
But on the morning of the third day, one of the Grub's
favourite brothers came sailing into the midst of a
group who were just rousing up from rest, ready to
commence the daily business of their life.
There was an unnatural brilliancy about his eyes, which
shone as they had never done before, and
 startled all
who looked at them, so that even the least observant
had their attention arrested as he spoke.
"My friends," said he, "I was, as you know, one of our
lost relation's favourite brothers. I trusted him, as
if he had been a second self, and would have pledged
myself a thousand times for his word. Judge, then, what
I have suffered from his promise remaining still
unfulfilled. Alas! that he has not yet returned to us!"
The favourite brother paused, and a little set in a
corner by themselves murmured out, "How could he? The
story about that other world is false."
"He has not returned to us," recommenced the favourite
brother. "But, my friends, I feel that I am going to
him, wherever that may be, either to that new life he
spoke about, or to that death from which there is no
return. Dear ones! I go, as he did, upwards, upwards,
upwards! An irresistible desire compels me to it; but
before I go, I renew to you—for myself and him—the
solemn promise he once made to you. Should the great
hopes be true, we will come back and tell you so. If I
return not—but rely on me; my word is more to me than
The Grub rose upwards through the water followed by the
last of the three brothers, and one or two of the
younger ones; but on reaching the brink of the pond, he
seized on a plant of the forget-me-not, and clinging to
its firm flower-stalk, clambered out of the water into
the open air.
Those who accompanied him, watched him as he left the
water; but, after that, they saw no more. The blank of
his departure alone remained to them,
 and they sank
down, sad and uneasy, to their home below.
As before, the hours of the day passed on, and not a
trace of the departed one was seen. In vain they dwelt
upon the consoling words he had spoken. The hope he had
for a time re-awakened, died out with the declining
sun, and many a voice was raised against his treachery
and want of love. "He is faithless," said some. "He
forgets us, like his brother, in his new fortune,"
cried others. "The story of that other world is false,"
muttered the little set in the corner by themselves.
Only a very few murmured to each other, "We will not
One thing alone was certain, he did not return; and the
disappointed crowds took refuge from thought as before,
in the fiercest rapine and excitement, scattering
destruction around them, wherever they moved.
Another day now elapsed, and then, in the early dawn
following, the third and last brother crept slowly to a
half-sleepy knot of his more particular friends, and
roused them up.
"Look at my eyes," said he; "has not a sudden change
come over them? They feel to me swelled and bursting,
and yet I see with a clouded and imperfect vision.
Doubtless it is with me now, as it was with our dear
ones before they left us. I am oppressed, like them.
Like them, an invisible power is driving me upwards, as
they were driven. Listen, then; for on my parting words
you may depend. Let the other world be what it will,
gorgeous beyond all we can fancy of it, blissful beyond
all we can hope of it, do not fear in me an altered or
forgetful heart. I dare not promise more. Yet if it be
possible, I will return. But, remember, there may well
 that other world, and yet we, in ours, may misjudge
its nature. Farewell, never part with hope. With your
fears I know you never can part now. Farewell!"
And he too went upwards, through the cool water to the
plants that bordered its side; and from the leaf of a
golden king-cup he rose out of his native element into
that a๋rial world, into which water-grub's eye never
yet could pierce.
His companions lingered awhile near the spot where he
had disappeared, but neither sign nor sound came to
them. Only the dreary sense of bereavement reminded
them that he once had been.
Then followed the hours of vain expectation, the
renewed disappointment, the cruel doubts, the hope that
struggled with despair.
And after this, others went upwards in succession; for
the time came to all when the lustrous eyes of the
perfect creature shone through the masked face of the
Grub, and he must needs pass forward to the fulfilment
of his destiny.
But the result among those who were left was always the
same. There were ever some that doubted and feared,
ever some that disbelieved and ridiculed, ever some
that hoped and looked forward.
Ah! if they could but have known, poor things! If those
eyes, fitted for the narrow bounds of their water
world, could have been endued with a power of vision
into the purer element beyond, what a life-time of
anxiety would they not have been spared! What ease,
what rest would have been theirs!
But belief would, in that case, have been an
irresistible necessity, and hope must have changed her
And the Dragon-fly, meanwhile, was he really
as they thought? When he burst his prison-house by the
water side, and rose on glittering wings into the
summer air, had he indeed no memory for the dear ones
he had so lately left? No tender concern for their
griefs and fears? No recollection of the promise he had
Ah! so far from it, he thought of them amidst the
transports of his wildest flights, and returned ever
and ever to the precincts of that world which had once
been the only world to him. But in that region also, a
power was over him superior to his own, and to it his
will must submit. To the world of waters he could never
The least touch upon its surface, as he skimmed over it
with the purpose of descent, brought on a deadly shock,
like that which, as a water-grub, he had experienced
from emerging into air, and his wings involuntarily
bore him instantly back from the unnatural contact.
"Alas! for the promise made in ignorance and
presumption, miserable Grub that I was," was his
bitter, constantly repeated cry.
And thus, divided and yet near, parted yet united by
love, he hovered about the barrier that lay between
them, never quite, perhaps, without a hope that some
accident might bring his dear ones into sight.
Nor was his constancy unrewarded, for as, after even
his longest roamings, he never failed to return to the
old spot, he was there to welcome the emancipated
brother, who so soon followed him.
And often, after that, the breezy air by the forest
pond would resound in the bright summer afternoons,
with the clashing of Dragon-flies' wings, as, now
backwards, now forwards, now to one side, now to
 another, without turn or intermission, they darted over
the crystal water, in the rapture of the new life.
It might be, on those occasions, that some fresh
arrival of kindred from below, added a keener joy to
their already joyous existence. Sweet assuredly it was
to each new-comer, when the riddle of his fate was
solved, to find in the new region, not a strange and
friendless abode, but a home rich with the welcomes of
those who had gone before.
Sweet also it was, and strange as sweet, to know that
even while they had been trembling and fearing in their
ignorant life below, gleams from the wings of those
they lamented, were dropping like star-rays on their
home, reflected hither and thither from the sun that
shone above. Oh! if they could but have known!
Beautiful forest pond, crowded with mysterious life, of
whose secrets we know so little, who would not
willingly linger by your banks for study and for
thought? There, where the beech-tree throws out her
graceful arms, glorying in the loveliness that is
reflected beneath. There, where in the nominal silence
the innocent birds pour out their music of joy. There,
where the blue forget-me-not tells its tale of old
romance, and the long grasses bend over their pictured
shadows. There, where the Dragon-flies still hover on
the surface of the water, longing to reassure the
hearts of the trembling race, who are still hoping and
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