| 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 GENERAL THAW
"Ah! when shall all men's good
Be each man's rule, and universal Peace
Lie like a shaft of light across the land?"
 ICE, Snow, and Water—only think of such near
neighbours—blood relations, so to speak, from the
creation—squabbling about their rights and dignities,
and which was best of the three; instead of living
pleasantly together, giving and taking in turn, as the
case might be.
But so it was, and the facts were these. It was a very,
very hard winter that year, and the ice on the mill-dam
grew so thick and strong, and was, besides, so
remarkably smooth and fine, that it forgot its origin,
and fancied itself a crystal floor.
Fancying himself a crystal floor, the Ice got to look down upon the Water which flowed beneath him as an impertinent intruder; and considered it a piece of great familiarity, on the part of the Snow, to come dropping upon him from the sky.
Only think what nonsense! But there is no nonsense
people will not be ready to believe, when they once
begin to meditate upon their own perfections.
And so, fancying himself a crystal floor, the Ice got
to look down upon the Water which flowed underneath
him as an impertinent intruder; and considered it a
piece of great familiarity, on the part of the Snow, to
come dropping upon him from the sky.
 In fact his head was so full of his own importance in
the world, that it seemed to him everybody else ought
to be full of it too, and keep at a respectful
distance, and admire him. And he made some very
unpleasant remarks to that effect.
For instance: "I should be much obliged to you,"
observed he one day to the water which ran into the dam
from the stream, "if you would have the goodness to
turn yourself in some other direction, when you find
yourself coming near me. Over the fields to the right
hand, or to the left; or into the ditches, if you
please; anywhere, in fact, but just under me. You
fidget me to death with your everlasting trickling and
movement. Pray amuse yourself in some other way than
by disturbing people in such a position as mine. I dare
say you have no notion of how disagreeable you make
yourself to others: you are so used to your own ways
yourself. But the truth is, I can bear it no longer,
and you must carry your restlessness somewhere else—it
distracts my attention from my friends!"
Now the "friends" he spoke of were the skaters and
sliders, who did nothing but praise his beauty as they
darted along on his surface, making beautiful figures
as they went.
"But I wish," answered the Water, as it kept running
in, "that you would not talk nonsense, but leave me a
little more elbow-room, instead of pressing so close
upon me that I get thinner and thinner every day. If
you don't, I shall certainly break out if I can, and be
at the top myself. I've no notion of being kept down by
my neighbours, however grand and polished they may be.
Just take care of yourself, and look out. If the
springs on the moors should get loose, and the streams
 and come in here with a rush, I should lift you up
like nothing, and silly enough you would look. Turn in
another direction, indeed!—into the ditches if I
please—many thanks for the pleasant suggestion—and all
to accommodate you! Why, I should as soon think of
sinking into the ground, and I hope I know my own level
better than that! Meantime I give you notice. If you
won't be obliging yourself, you must expect no favour
from me, and it will be good-bye to your beauty and
grandeur if I can only squeeze through!"
"If!" shouted the Ice, in a mocking tone.
"If? well, if!" echoed the Water in a rage. "Stiff and
strong as you are, it only wants a thaw in the hills to
send a torrent our way, and the whole thing's done.
But what do you know about thaws, and hills, and
torrents, and the force of pent-up water, fixed in one
place as you are, and never getting any information?
. . .
"Now if you were to ask my advice . . . who know so
much more than you do . . . and could give you a
hint or two . . . upon yielding gracefully to
necessity . . . it would be greatly to your
advantage. . . . But . . . ."
But the but died away, and was lost; for, even while
the Water was talking, some of it was freezing; and as
it froze, its voice got thinner and thinner, till at
last it could not be heard at all!
Meantime, the Ice got thicker and thicker, and more
conceited every minute. And said he, "It cannot be
worth my while to trouble myself with what is happening
underneath me! There the Water is, and there he must
remain, let him brag and chatter as he will; he at the
bottom, and I at the top. As to making out what he
means by his long talk, that's
 hopeless. He stuck fast
in the middle of the story himself. I wish he would get
out of the way; but as he won't,—well,—there he must
stay, I suppose—he at the bottom, and I at the top.
He's all in a muddle with his ifs and his threats. But
one cannot expect firmness of mind from anything so
restless as he is. It needs some solidity of character
to maintain one's position in life. Rolling stones
gather no moss. I sit firm. And here come my friends to
do me honour, I declare!"
And come they did; and in such quantities, that the
mill-dam Ice had never felt half so grand before.
It was really the prettiest sight in the world! Here
were beautiful ladies in chairs, pushed along from
behind by gay young men. There, other young men were
skating or sliding; sometimes shooting by like stars,
sometimes stooping to hit balls, which flew half across
the large expanse of ice by the effort of one blow;
sometimes cutting figures, which the eye could scarcely
follow, so rapid and brilliant were the movements.
While, in a separate corner, children were sliding and
shouting, tumbling down, laughing, and getting up
again, as happy as any of the others.
Really the Ice, on whom this pretty scene took place,
must be excused for feeling a little vain. It seemed to
him as if it was all done in compliment to himself;
for, you see, he had never been at school to learn any
better, and find out how insignificant everybody is to
"That I should be treated with such
honour and distinction! that I should be the supporter
of such a brilliant assembly! that I should be
necessary to the happiness of such crowds!"
the Ice's reflections from time to time, as his friends
continued their sports. Talk he could not, for he was
lost in a rapture of delight; and he felt that, as life
could have nothing more to give he wished it might last
on in this way for ever. Poor Ice! He thought only of
himself! As to the trickling of the water underneath
him, it fidgeted him no longer. "What can I or my
friends care for such trifles?" was his consolatory
So it trickled away unattended to, and presently the
day closed in, and the company went away home. And
then, as night drew on, the wind veered to the south,
and a drizzle of snow began to fall. It was very light
at first—mere snow-dust, in fact, and in the darkness
the Ice knew nothing of what was happening, for feel it
he could not.
But by degrees the drizzle turned into
flakes, which dropped with graceful delay through the
air, and said to themselves as they did so, "How we
shall be admired by the world when it awakes! It isn't
every day in the year it's so beautifully drest. It's
only now and then it has visitors from the skies. Do
let us cover it well over, so that it may find itself
white altogether for once!"
Which they did; and when the morning came not a bit of
the mill-dam Ice was to be seen. Indeed, he might have
gone on all day, fancying it was night (for everything
was dark to him, as he lay underneath in the shade of
the snow-fall), but that one or two luckless urchins,
who wanted to slide, came and kicked some of it away
with their feet.
And then he found out the truth. There he was, covered
up with a great white sheet, and couldn't see out! His
beauty, his friends, his glories,
 where were they now?
He thought of yesterday, and his heart almost broke!
Oh! who had dared to send those miserable Snow-flakes
to disfigure him thus? Never was insolence like this!
The trickling of the water below was a trifle, a mere
nothing by comparison!
The Snow-flakes were amazed. "We come of ourselves,
nobody sent us," murmured they, as they still kept
falling gently from the sky, and dropping like
eider-down on the ice; "and we have the right to come
where we please. Who can hinder us, I wonder? The
clouds are too heavy to carry us all, so some of us
come down. My sisters and I were nearest, so here we
are. We don't understand your rudeness. You ought to be
flattered that we choose to come—we, who are used to
be carried about by the breezes, and live in the
clouds! But such a reception as this, why, it hurts the
feelings, of course!"
"The feelings!" shouted the Ice, half ready to crack
with vexation; "you to talk of feelings, who have flung
yourselves uninvited on my face; beggarly wanderers as
you are, without house or home; and have spoilt my
beauty and happiness at once! . . . "
He couldn't go on; the words stuck fast as he tried.
"Beggarly wanderers!" echoed the Snow-flakes, almost
losing their temper as they repeated the words: "now
see what comes of being low-born, and envious, and
vile. See what it is to live in the dirty hole of an
earthly world! You don't know the good when it comes to
you, you dreary, motionless lump of ignorant matter!
Beggarly wanderers, indeed! This to us, who are carried
about by the breezes, and live in the clouds of the
 us! Who would lower themselves to your level
by choice? And beauty—you talk of beauty, as if we
could find any here but what we bring ourselves. Fancy
the beauty of dingy, dirty stuff like this earth of
yours! But, of course, you know no better; and what is
worse, you won't learn when you might. Oh dear, what it
is to be low-born, and envious, and vile! Oh dear, what
it is to belong to the winds and the skies, and to find
one's self in an alien land!"
"If the winds and the skies are so fond of you, let
them come and take you away," cried the Ice. "I ask
only one thing—Begone! Begone with your mincing conceit
and your beauty, you are not worthy that I should hold
"You braggart! we should like to hide you and cover you
over for ever," muttered the Snow-flakes. "And we don't
intend to go for your pleasure and whim. Here we are,
and here we shall stay, let you squall and bawl as you
will. We at the top, and you at the bottom; and there
you may remain!"
And such seemed likely to be the case; but by and by,
when all the clouds had passed over, and no more snow
was falling, and the sun had begun to shine, a party of
skaters and sliders came and stood on the bank of the
And said they one to another,—first, "What a pity!" and
then, "But the snow is not very thick;" and then, "It
surely might be shovelled away if we had but two or
three men with shovels and brooms." So they sent for
two or three men with shovels and brooms, and these
swept and shovelled, and shovelled and swept, till a
great space of the ice was left clear, and the snow was
laid in heaps on the sides.
 It was a very hard case for the snow! Such a poor,
soft, delicate thing to be so ill-used,—it was really
cruel work! Pushed, and flung, and dirtied, and
shovelled about till she was ready to melt with
But there is no helping one's fate, so she lay along
the sides of the mill-dam, grumbling and groaning—the
only satisfaction she could get.
"So inhospitable to visitors anyhow," cried she; "and
so stupid to visitors like us! But this comes of
leaving one's station to mix with things below. And to
soil my lovely colour with their hateful besoms and
brooms! And to squeeze me and throw me about with
their odious shovels, as if I was dirt! Ah! we who
belong to the sky should never come near the earth,
that's very clear. People here don't know what it is to
be delicate and refined. Oh, mercy! what comes next?
. . ."
She might well exclaim. The party of sliding boys had
quarrelled,—a sort of fun-quarrel among themselves. So
there was just now a rush to the side of the dam, a
seizing and pommelling, and squeezing of snow into
lumps by a dozen active little hands; and then the
balls were let fly in every direction; and some hit
necks, and others faces, and others jackets, and others
caps; and all got messed and broken, and thrown about.
There is no knowing when the fight would have ended, if
the skaters had not interfered.
The scattered, begrimed morsels could not utter a
single word. But the Ice talked fast enough. "Now you
have got your deserts," cried he gaily. "Now you see
what it is to come and boast over your betters. Oh,
you're too delicate and refined for earth, are you?
Well, then, keep in the sky.
 Nobody wants you here—I
told you that before. See, now, you have to sit in a
corner, and watch how the world admires me! You wanted
to hide me for ever, did you, you poor, soft, foolish
thing? But my friends knew better than that, and now
you've got your deserts. I shall have you all in order
one of these days. You and the water below, with his
fidgety spite. What a droll idea it is! Why, you both
want to be at the top, if—poor dears!—you only could.
And you can't see—poor blind things!—that I'm
one fit to stand alone!"
"We will soon see to that," growled the Water from
below, and surely rather louder than usual. "I feel
what I feel, and you'll feel it presently, too. If I
can't stand alone, I can bide my time. We both want to
be at top, do you say? And who are both, if you please?
Are you classing me, with my strength, and that flimsy
snow together? What a judge you must be!"
"As if strength was the only merit!" murmured what
still remained of flaky snow on the ice. "What a
coarse, earthy notion! But it's just what one might
expect; they're all alike down here, Water and Ice and
all; no fit companions for us: but we've found that out
too late. We lowered ourselves to come down,—the
more's the pity, I'm sure!"
Were there ever three creatures so silly as the Water,
the Snow, and the Ice? I dare not answer, No.
Well, before the day was over, the skaters had asked
each other, as they passed and repassed, "Was there not
a softness on the ice?"—"Was not the snow less crisp?"
But all was perfectly safe, so people did not stop to
talk then: only, as they went home, they agreed that a
thaw was coming.
 Which remark, the Ice, not hearing, knew nothing about.
So he never suspected why the water underneath was more
fussy than ever, but thought it was all out of spite to
himself; so he raved and scolded away; boasting that
his friends should one day help him to get rid of it,
as they had done just now of the snow. "It's a great
thing to have powerful friends!" cried he,
But the water gurgled and giggled, and made no answer.
The truth was, that one or two springs in the hills had
got loose from a few hours' thaw; and a strong stream,
though not a torrent, was pouring into the dam. And
presently there was a cry for room.
"More room! more room! make much more room! You
stiff-necked Ice, do you hear?"
And now the contest began.—"I shall not give way an
inch, you noisy vagabond Water!"
—"If you don't, I shall wash you away!"
—"You shall wash the world away first. I shall maintain
—"We shall see about that in a minute."
And so they went on, while the Snow-heaps whimpered at
the sides, "What a coarse-minded couple they are! What
it is to be low-born and vile! We are quite unfit to be
Meantime, the water poured in, and kept swelling more
and more; till at last there was a heaving upward—in
spite of all he could do—of the crystal floor; and by
and by a sharp crack rang along its surface, from one
end to the other.
He could not maintain his position after all!
And now came another, and another, and these were along
the sides, as the lift-up came; and at
 one corner in
oozed the water itself. It had no chance of bragging,
however; for as fast as it touched the surface it
froze, and was turned to ice.
So this was all the Water could do then, for the thaw
in the hills had stopped. But the Ice never rallied
again, because of those horrible cracks. He was laughed
at on every side—he who had boasted so much! For the
Water below and the Snow above, who were ready enough
to tease each other at other times, were willing to
join together now in spiting a common foe. Such is the
way of the world!
And when a real general thaw came in the air, and all
over the country, as it soon did, and the sliders and
skaters withdrew—oh, dear, those were dismal days for
the poor deserted Ice!—"My friends forsake me," cried
he, "and my foes rejoice! Those cracks have broken my
heart! I believe it is melting away."
And it was; but the Snow-flakes were the first to
disappear, and then the Ice became wet outside. And
said he: "The water has squeezed through, I declare!
This comes of keeping bad company; but, anyhow, the
Snow-flakes are gone, and that's civil at least. They
did what they were asked, and that's something."
Now the Water had not squeezed through, and the
Snow-flakes had not been civil; but the cleverest
people make mistakes sometimes.
And presently the Water below found the pressure upon
him not quite so great. There was a little more room to
move in. So said he: "Dear me! this is good. My friend
the Ice is giving way. 'Better late than never,' we'll
say. He's coming to reason at last."
But the Ice was not coming to reason—he was
melting away. And as he got thinner and thinner, he
struggled less and less with the Water; and said he,
"We shall all live to be friends and neighbours at
last, I believe."
But they lived to be far more than that, for one day
they found themselves brothers! For when the Ice got so
thin that the water poured over the sides, it broke
into a thousand fragments, and went rolling and
tumbling about, dissolving away every minute. And the
snow-heaps which had stuck on the sides fell in too,
and they all rolled about together, Ice and Snow and
Water in one. And they wept, and rolled, and tumbled,
and tumbled, and rolled, and wept; and cried they,
"What have we been doing? What folly have we been
talking? Scolding, and thwarting, and boasting, when,
my friends—my dear, dear friends—we are all of us
It was a long and happy embrace: it is going on still!
But, oh! what a pity they did not find the truth out
sooner! Let those who are brothers by nature think of
this, and not wait for The General Thaw—Death.
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