| 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 |
BIRDS IN THE NEST
"Safe in the hand of one disposing pow'r,
Or in the natal, or the mortal hour,
All Nature is but art, unknown to thee;
All chance, direction, which thou canst not see."
POPE'S ESSAY ON MAN.
 ONCE upon a time there was in a wood a nest which held
eight of the dearest little eggs a hen-mother ever
looked upon with joy. At least this particular
hen-mother thought so, and her mate rather agreed with
her when they talked the matter over together. And his
opinion had weight, for in his flights he sometimes saw
other eggs, and would tell her about them on his
return. But what could they be to her own? Nothing
could be better than what was perfect, and her own were
perfect in her eyes. What a fine shape they had! How
beautifully rounded! How soft their tint! How tasteful
the arrangement of spots! All others must needs be too
light or too dark, or too something or other, to suit
her particular taste. The sea-gull, who ate snails in
the garden, boasted of his family egg as twenty times
larger and twenty times more beautiful. "But if it
more beautiful, what can that matter to us," said the
hen-mother, in conclusion, "when ours are perfect in
our eyes, and we are so very happy?"
 "And shall be so much happier yet," pursued her mate,
who, as a travelled bird, had had experience, and knew
what was in store; "when the little ones awake to a
life and enjoyment of their own, and can feed and sing,
and know and love us both."
"Ah, to be sure, to be sure, that will be rapture,
indeed," cried the hen-mother. "Thank you so much for
telling me! How silly I was, thinking I was as happy as
I could possibly be! Of course I shall be happier by
and by; and how very happy that will be, for I am happy
enough now. I wish the day were come!"
Yet she was very happy; but most so when she forgot she
was to be happier still.
And by and by the time came; and when the little ones
were all hatched, and could peer about and see their
father bringing food, and open their mouths and swallow
it very fast, and cry for more,—
"Now then, at last the happiness is perfect," said the
hen-mother; "I have nothing further to wish for."
And she watched them being fed and satisfied, and never
felt hungry herself, till they had had plenty and were
"Eight darlings in one nest! What a sight to fill one's
heart! There may be trouble enough, it's true, and very
little room to rest; but one's own eight beautiful
creatures round one, under one's wing, all chirping and
alive—this is perfection of happiness indeed!"
"You cannot say so just yet," sang the mate; but he did
not tell her this quite at first. He waited for a soft
evening in early summer before he piped about what was
"You cannot say so just yet. Our darlings are
sweet, but they are poor helpless things at present.
Wait till they have grown more feathers, have learnt to
take care of themselves, and fly and sing. They cannot
be perfect, nor can your happiness be perfect, till
then. Some of our neighbours are beforehand with us.
There were fine young birds among the boughs yesterday,
twitting our youngsters in their songs with being
"They will not have to twit long, I suppose," exclaimed
the hen-mother rather angrily. "Of course you will
bring ours forward as fast as you can. Of course they
must not be behind their neighbours. Of course they
must learn to take care of themselves, and fly and
sing, like the rest. Dear, dear! how silly I was! But
thank you so much for telling me. It's very well to be
easily pleased, and the poor helpless things are very
sweet, as you say; but of course it will be a much
grander thing when they have grown to be fine young
birds like those others; able to take care of
themselves and to twit their neighbours who can't. And
of course I shall be as happy again. I wish the time
And it did come; but there was a great deal of trouble
to be taken first. The little ones had to be nursed and
fed till their feathers had grown, and then they had to
be trained, by slow degrees and with much care, to use
their young wings in flight.
The little ones had to be nursed and fed until their feathers were grown, and then they had to be trained to use their little wings.
Now the hen-mother had
left her mate no rest till he began to teach; for,
first, she was jealous for her children's credit; and
secondly, she wanted to feel what it was to be as happy
as it was possible to be. Happy enough she was, but for
But alas! for the trouble and fear that came over her
when the teaching really began. The eight darlings must
come out of their nest, from under her
 wing; she could
help them no longer—they could scarcely help
themselves. Yet they must spread the feeble pinion, and
strain the unpractised muscle, and run a risk of
failure and even life, to insure success.
Oh, poor hen-mother, what a trying change was this,
though brought about by her own especial desire! No
wonder that, while the teaching was going on, she would
sit and shake with fright, and wish all manner of
foolish things: that they were back in the nest, of
course; but far more than that—even that they were back
in the old baby days again, in the egg-shells of their
first existence, unconscious of life and of them.
were all under my wing then, at any rate," said she;
"my own dear little ones with me, and I with them: what
more could I want?"
And, oh dear, when the youngsters were safe in the nest
once more at night, how she used to gather them under
her wings with joy!
"I am getting to like night better than day," said she
at last to her mate, "for then my birds are in the nest
again. You are training them very cleverly, I know, and
I was the first to want them to be clever like other
young birds, and they are getting cleverer day by day,
I dare say, so I ought to be happier; but the happiness
is not as pleasant as it was. How can it be, when they
are away so much, and the empty nest stares me in the
face? The risks are so many too, till they can really
fly well, and I tremble with fear. But all is right at
night, when you all come back and sing. Yes, if it
wasn't for thinking of the morrow, the happiness would
be perfect indeed then: if it were always evening, I
mean, and they and you were always here."
"It is natural you should feel as you do," replied
mate; "but you mistake the cause. If you are not quite
happy yet, it is merely because things are not quite
perfect, that is all. When the young ones can fly
really well, for instance, there will no longer be any
risk; and when they can sing better still, our music
will be pleasanter than ever; and when they are able
and independent, all your cares and anxieties will be
at an end. Wait a little longer, and you will be happy
The hen-mother sighed. "I suppose you must be right,"
said she; "I will wait. But if I could sing myself, I
would sing a mother's song about the birds in the nest.
It may not have been perfection, but it was a very
So she waited and did her best to be pleased. But for
longer and longer intervals the empty nest stared her
in the face, and she thought many things she did not
dare to say—even the old foolish wish that they were
all in their egg-shells again.
Still, every evening, when they came back and perched
in the boughs, if not in the nest, and the singing grew
sweeter and sweeter, she cheered up and rejoiced once
And now at last the nestlings were full-grown birds,
and could fly and sing as well as their parents.
Perfection had come; they were independent; nobody's
young birds could twit them now. "But now, of course,"
said their father, "they must go out and seek their
fortunes, as we did, and choose mates, and settle in
life for themselves. You see the justice of this?"
The hen-mother, to whom he was speaking, answered
"Yes;" but her heart was half broken. And when he
added, "This is the real perfection of happiness to
parents," she made no answer at all.
 "It ought to be, perhaps," thought she to herself, "but
it isn't so with me. I wonder why?" She sat on the edge
of the empty nest and wondered still; but she couldn't
find out the secret there.
Then the young ones piped to her from the woods; and at
last said she: "Things are altered, I see; I will go to
them!" and the very thought comforted her as she flew
And when she had found them, and watched them in
the full enjoyment of their own young life—listened to
them as they warbled merrily to each other among the
trees, or sported with friends here and there, she
began to understand the whole matter. She was rejoicing
in their joy rather than in her own.
And time went on: and one day as she sat, so listening,
on a branch in the centre of the wood, her mate by her
side, said she: "It is all becoming quite clear, and I
can see that you were right on the whole. This is
nearer the perfection of happiness than anything else
could be, but the quite perfect is not to be had.
Still, this is nearest and best; whether sweetest or
not, I scarcely know. But thank you for telling me! I
was selfish before: wanted my own darlings to myself,
under my own wing, in my own particular nest—safe, as I
called it—foolish that I was! Oh, narrow, narrow
thought! As if one place was safer than another, when
the sun looks down everywhere, streaming warmth and
comfort upon all! I see things differently now. The
wood is but a larger nest, and those that live in it
but a larger family. I spread out my love a little
wider, and behold my happiness spreads out too! Though
each in turn, for a time, must form his own little
circle of joy, the whole must form one larger circle
together; and who knows where it is to end?"
 She ceased, and then listened again, and truly the wood
was ringing with melodies: her mate by her side; her
children now here, now there with the dear ones they
loved. The circle grew wider and wider as time went
But by and by, when age had crept over both, the mate
had tender thoughts himself of old times, and tenderer
still for her. She had not been wrong altogether, he
whispered softly and kindly. It was not selfishness
only that had filled her heart. He would sing her the
song she used to wish she could have sung herself—a
mother's song about the birds in the nest.
And it went to the hearts of both.
Other mothers in other nests, lift up your souls, as
the circle widens from your feet. "One God and Father
of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you
all," has all together now in the circle of His care;
yea, even though a world, or the change we call death,
may seem to divide them: and He will bring His own
together at last into one home—the "Father's
House;"—one home, be the mansions never so many!
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics