| 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 |
MOTES IN THE SUNBEAM
 IT was a bright, sunshiny day at Christmas-tide, when,
once upon a time, two little girls were sitting on
their mamma's sick-bed. One was a very little thing,
who could only just talk, and she was leaning her curly
head against the bed-post. The other, some two or three
years older, was sitting on a pillow near her mother.
The children were not talking much, for there was a new
baby in the house, and everybody was very quiet, though
very happy; and these two little sisters of the
new-comer had only been admitted to see poor mamma, on
condition that they would be very good and make no
But the active spirits of young animals cannot be long
kept under; and so it happened that a strong gleam of
winter sunshine, entering into the room through a
half-opened shutter, shot right across the middle of
the bed, and attracted the eyes and attention of both
the children; for up and down in this narrow strip of
light danced innumerable sparkling motes.
child, the Kate of our story, had a little open box in
her hand, and she stretched it out, up and down, into
the beam, and whispered in a
half-  giggle of delight,
"I'll catch the stars." Her mamma looked on and smiled,
for the merry Kate made the play very amusing to
herself. She pretended to catch the shining motes in
the empty box; and then put on a face of mock surprise
and disappointment at finding nothing inside when she
peeped to see. Moreover, she kept up a little talk all
the time: "There's one:—oh, he's such a beauty!—I must
have him!" and then she dashed the box once more into
the streak of light.
But this sport and the smiles on mamma's face soon
became irresistible to the little Undine child by the
bed-post, and she said, very gently, "Give me some,
"Some 'what?', my little Undine?" asked mamma: "what
Undine glanced at her mother, and then at the motes,
and then she said, "Stars;"—but there was a misgiving
look on her face as she spoke.
"No, they're not stars,—are they, Mamma?" observed the
wiser Kate: "they're nothing but dust;"—and the box
danced about quicker than ever.
"They're not dust," pouted the offended little one:
"Well then, here, you shall have a boxful," cried Kate,
thrusting the box on to Undine's lap, and covering it
over with her pinafore: "Take care of them—take care of
them—or they'll all go out."
Very carefully and slowly did Undine uncover the box,
and with a very grave and enquiring face did she
examine it both inside and out, in search of the stars;
and then, in one of those freaks of change so common to
children, she burst into a gay laugh, tossed the box up
like a ball, and cried out, "They're
 nothing but
dust—nothing but nasty, dirty dust! There they go!"
And, "There they go!" echoed Kate; and forthwith the
children commenced a jumping and noise, which quickly
brought the nurse to the room, and an order for the
removal of the riotous little damsels.
"But, Mamma," enquired Kate, in a grave whisper, before
she went away, "why does the dust look so like stars?"
"Because the sun sent his light upon it," answered
mamma. "Sunshine is like love, Kate,—it makes
everything shine with its own beauty. You and Undine,"
added she, kissing her little girl's fat cheek, "are
stars in my eyes, because I see you in the sunshine of
"But we're not 'nothing but nasty, dirty dust,' in
reality," observed Kate, shaking her head very
knowingly, as she led her little sister from the room.
Those of my young readers who have lived in the North
of England, will remember the fine old Christmas hymn
that is sung in that part of the country. They will
remember the many happy snowy Christmas-eves on which
they went to bed, delighted at the thought of hearing
it in the night; and how a curious thrill of pleasure
came over them when they really were roused from sleep
by the solemn and beautiful sounds of—
"Christians awake! salute the happy morn
Whereon the Saviour of mankind was born;"
—sung by the village waits, usually the church singers
of the place. As I think of these things myself, I
almost hear the grand old melody; and can just fancy
some little urchin, more hardy than the rest
 of his
companions, creeping out of his snug bed to peep behind
the blind at the well-known old men and girls, all
wrapped up in great coats and cloaks, to protect them
from the stormy December night.
I can fancy, too, how,
after feeling very chilly as he stood at the window, he
would go back to the warm bed, and say how cold the
poor waits must be! and how, between whispering about
the waits and listening to the music, those children
would while away one of the happiest hours of merry
Christmas; and then, after hearing the sounds revive
and die away in other more distant parts of the
village, would drop asleep as easily as tired labourers
Well! you wonder what this Christmas hymn has to do
with my story of Kate and Undine? Merely this,—that one
of the verses begins thus:—
"Oh may we keep and ponder in our mind,
God's wondrous love in saving lost mankind."
And this is taken from a passage in Scripture, to which
I want to call your attention—namely, that wherein it
is said of the Virgin Mary, that she "kept and pondered
in her heart" the wonderful things the shepherds had
told her of our Saviour.
Other people talked about
them, and made a fuss about them, and then very likely
forgot them; but Mary "pondered them in her
practice which has, alas! gone sadly too much out of
fashion; for everybody nowadays is so busy either
learning or talking, that for "pondering things in the
heart" there seems to be neither time nor inclination.
Nevertheless, mothers are still more apt to do it than
anybody else. Indeed, they are constantly
 pondering in
their minds the things that their children say, or the
things that people say of them. Sometimes they may
ponder foolishly, but I hope not often, especially if
they ponder in their hearts, and not in their heads
Now the mother of Kate and Undine was a great ponderer;
and as she had, especially just then, nothing else to
do, you may be sure how she pondered over the pretty
scene of her two little ones and the motes in the
sunbeam. And the dust did look very like stars, she
confessed to herself, as she lay looking up at the
"But how wise," thought she, "the sober Kate felt at
her own superior knowledge! how proud to recognise dust
for dust, even under its most sunny aspect! And yet how
often, before life is ended, may she not make Undine's
mistake herself, and take even dust for stars, merely
because the sun shines upon it!"
And here the poor mamma uttered a short prayer that she
might be enabled to instil good principles into her
children's minds, that so Kate, and Undine too, might
know dust for dust whenever they saw it, let the
outward world shine upon it never so brightly.
And then she looked up at the sunbeam, as it streamed
across her sick-bed, till she thought it was like so
many things, she felt her head becoming quite confused.
It was like love, as she had said—yes; but it was like
cheerfulness—like good-temper—like the Gospel charity:
for do not the commonest things of life, and the
dullest duties of life, shine, star-like, under their
rays? Yes; but it was most of all like "the peace of
God, which passeth all understanding;" for that
lightens up the dark career of earthly existence,
leads the soul upward along the bright path of its
rays, till it reaches the everlasting home of light
"Ay, ay," thought the mother, as she looked once more:
"Motes in the sunbeam as we are—miserable dust and
ashes in ourselves—the light streams down upon us and
transfigures us: we follow the light upwards, and
become the children of light ourselves."
Her head had indeed become confused amidst similes, and
fancies, and half-waking dreams; but before she could
think the matter over, clearly and distinctly, she had
fallen fast asleep.
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