| 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 TRUTH
"We know that all things work together for good."—ROM. viii. 28.
 "DETESTABLE phantom!" cried the traveller, as his horse
sank with him into the morass; "to what a miserable end
have you lured me by your treacherous light!"
"The same old story for ever!" muttered the
Will-o'-the-Wisp in reply. "Always throwing blame on
others for troubles you have brought upon yourself.
What more could have been done for you, unhappy
creature, than I have done? All the weary night through
have I danced on the edge of this morass, to save you
and others from ruin. If you have rushed in further and
further, like a headstrong fool, in spite of my warning
light, who is to blame but yourself?"
"I am an unhappy creature, indeed," rejoined the
traveller: "I took your light for a friendly lamp, but
have been deceived to my destruction."
"Yet not by me," cried the Will-o'-the-Wisp, anxiously.
"I work out my appointed business carefully and
ceaselessly. My light is ever a friendly lamp to the
wise. It misleads none but the headstrong and
"Headstrong! ignorant!" exclaimed the
States-  man, for
such the traveller was. "How little do you know to whom
you are speaking! Trusted by my King—honoured by my
country—the leader of her councils—ah, my country, my
poor country, who will take my place and guide you when
I am gone?"
"A guide who cannot guide himself! Misjudging, misled,
and—though wise, perhaps, in the imperfect laws of
society—ignorant in the glorious laws of Nature and of
Truth—who will miss you, presumptuous being? You have
mistaken the light that warned you of danger for the
star that was to guide you to safety. Alas for your
country, if no better leader than you can be found!"
The Statesman never spoke again, and the
Will-o'-the-Wisp danced back to the edge of the black
morass; and as he flickered up and down, he mourned his
luckless fate—always trying to do good—so often
vilified and misjudged. "Yet," said he to himself, as
he sent out his beams through the cheerless night, "I
will not cease to try; who knows but that I may save
somebody yet! But what an ignorant world I live in!"
"Cruel monster!" shrieked the beautiful Girl in wild
despair, as her feet plunged into the swamp, and she
struggled in vain to find firmer ground, "you have
betrayed me to my death!"
"Ay, ay, I said so! It is always some one else who is
to blame, and never yourself, when pretty fools like
you deceive themselves. You call me 'monster'—why did
you follow a 'monster' into a swamp?" cried the poor
"I thought my betrothed had come out to meet me. I
mistook your hateful light for his. Oh, cruel
 fiend, I
know you now! Must I die so young, so fair? Must I be
torn from life, and happiness, and love? Ay, dance!
dance on in your savage joy."
"Fool as you are, it is no joy to me to see you
perish," answered the Will-o'-the-Wisp. "It is my
appointed law to warn and save those who will be
warned. It is my appointed sorrow, I suppose, that the
recklessness and ignorance of such as you, persist in
disregarding that law, and turning good into evil. I
shone bright and brighter before you as you advanced,
entreating you, as it were, to be warned. But, in
wilfulness, you pursued me to your ruin. What cruel
mother brought you up, and did not teach you to
distinguish the steady beam that guides to happiness,
from the wandering brilliancy that bodes destruction?"
"My poor mother!" wept the Maiden; "what words are
these you speak of her? But you, in your savage life,
know nothing of what she has done for me, her only
child. Mistress of every accomplishment that can adorn
and delight society, my lightest word, my very smile,
is a law to the world we move in."
"Even so! Accomplished in fleeting and fantastic arts
that leave no memorial behind them—unacquainted with
the beauty and purposes of the realities around you,
which work from age to age in silent mercy for gracious
ends, and put to shame the toil that has no aim or end.
Oh that you had but known the law by which I live!"
The Maiden spoke no more, and then she ceased to
struggle. The Will-o'-the-Wisp danced back yet another
time to the edge of the black morass: "For," said he,
"I may save somebody yet. But what a foolish world I
 "The old Squire should mend these here roads," observed
Hobbinoll the Farmer to his son Colin, as they drove
slowly home from market in a crazy old cart which shook
about with such jerks, that little Colin tried in vain
to keep curled up in a corner. It was hard to say
whether the fault was most in the roads,—though they
were rather rutty, it must be owned,—or in the
stumbling old pony who went from side to side, or in
the not very sober driver, who seemed unable at times
to distinguish the reins apart, so that he gave sudden
pulls, first one way and then the other. But through
all these troubles it comforted the Farmer's heart to
lay all the blame on the Squire for the bad roads that
led across the boggy moor.
Colin, however, took but
little interest in the matter; but at length, when a
more violent jerk than usual threw him almost sprawling
on the bottom of the cart, he jumped up, laid hold of
the side planks, and began to look around him with his
half-sleepy eyes, trying to find out where they were.
At last he said, "She's coming, father."
"Who's coming?" shouted Hobbinoll.
"T' mother," answered Colin.
"What's she coming for, I wonder," said Hobbinoll;
"we've enough in the cart without her."
"But you're going away from her, father," expostulated
Colin, half crying. "I see her with the lanthorn, and
she'll light us home. You can't see, father; let me
have the reins." But Hobbinoll refused to give up the
reins, though he was not very fit to drive. In the
struggle, however, he caught sight of the light which
Colin took for his mother's lanthorn.
"And is that the fool's errand you'd be going
cried he, pointing with his whip to the light. "It's
lucky for you, young one, you have not had the driving
of us home to-night, though you think you can do
anything, I know. A precious home it would have been at
the bottom of the sludgy pool yonder, for that's where
you'd have got us to at last. Yon light is the
Will-o'-the-Wisp, that's always trying to mislead
folks. Bad luck befall him! I got halfway to him once
when I was a young 'un, but an old neighbour who'd once
been in himself was going by just then, and called me
back. He's a villain is that sham-faced
With these words the Farmer struck the pony so harshly
with his heavy whip, twitching the reins convulsively
at the same time, at the mere memory of his adventure
in the bog, that little Colin was thrown up and down
like a ball, and the cart rolled forward in and out of
the ruts at such a pace, that Hobbinoll got home to his
wife sooner than she ever dared to hope for on market
"They are safe," observed the Will-o'-the-Wisp, as the
cart moved on, "and that is the great point gained!
Nevertheless, such wisdom is mere brute experience. In
their ignorance they would have struck the hand that
helped them. Nevertheless, I will try again, for I may
yet save some one else. But what a rude and ungrateful
world I live in!"
"I see a light at last, papa!" shouted a little Boy on
a Shetland pony, as he rode by his Father's side along
the moor. "I am so glad! There is either a cottage or a
friendly man with a lanthorn who will help us to find
our way. Let me go after him; I can soon overtake him."
And the little boy
 touched his pony with a whip, and in
another minute would have been cantering along after
the light, but that his Father laid a sudden and a
heavy hand upon the bridle.
"Not a step further in that direction, at any rate, if
you please, my darling."
"Oh, papa!" expostulated the child, pointing with his
hand to the light.
And, "Oh, my son, I see!" cried the Father, smiling;
"and well is it for you that I not only see, but know
the meaning of what I see at the same time. That light
is neither the gleam from a cottage, nor yet a friendly
man with a lanthorn, as you think, though, for the
matter of that, the light is friendly enough to those
who understand it. It shines there to warn us from the
dangerous part of the bog. Kind old Will-o'-the-Wisp!"
pursued the Father, raising his voice, as if calling
through the darkness into the distance—"Kind old
Will-o'-the-Wisp, we know what you mean; we will not
come near your deathly swamps. The Old Naturalist knows
you well—good-night, and thank you for the warning."
saying, the Naturalist turned the reins of his son's
pony the other way, and they both trotted along,
keeping the beaten road as well as they could by the
"After all, it was more like a lanthorn than those
pictures of the nasty Will-o'-the-Wisp, papa," murmured
the little Boy, reluctantly urging his pony on.
"Our friend is not much indebted to you for the pretty
name you have called him," laughed the Father. "You are
of the same mind as the poet, who, with the licence of
his craft, said—
'Yonder phantom only flies
To lure thee to thy doom.' "
"Yes, papa, and so he does," interposed the Boy.
"But, indeed, he does no such thing, my dear—on the
contrary, he spends all his life in shining brightly to
warn travellers of the most dangerous parts of the
"But the shining seems as if he was inviting them to go
after him, papa."
"Only because you choose to think so, my dear, and do
not inquire. Does the sailor think the shining of the
lighthouse invites him to approach the dangerous rocks
on which it is built?"
"Oh, no, papa, because he knows it is put there on
purpose to warn him away."
"He only knows by teaching and inquiry, Arthur; and so
you also, by teaching and inquiry will learn to know
that this Will-o'-the-Wisp is made to shine for us in
swamps and marshes as a land-beacon of danger. The laws
of Nature, which are the acted will of God, work
together in this case, as in all others, for a good
end. And it is given to us as both a privilege and a
pleasure to search them out, and to avail ourselves of
the mercies, whilst we admire the wonders of the great
Creator. Can you think of a better employment?"
The fire was very bright, and the tea was warm and
good, that greeted the travellers, Father and Son, on
their arrival at home that night. Many a joke, too,
passed with Mamma as to the sort of tea they should
have tasted, and the kind of bed they should have laid
down in, had they only gone after the Will-o'-the-Wisp,
as young Arthur had so much wished to do.
And for just a few days after these events—not more,
for children's wisdom seldom does, or ought to, last
much longer—Arthur had every now and then a wise and
philosophical fit, and on the principle, that, however
much appearances might be to the contrary, the laws of
Nature were always working to some good and beneficent
end, he sagely and gravely reproved his little sister
for crying when a shower of hailstones fell; "For
surely," said he, "though we cannot go out to-day, the
storm is doing good to something or somebody
It was a blessed creed! though it cost him a struggle
to adhere to it, when the lightning flashed round him,
and the thunder roared in the distance, and he saw from
the windows dark clouds hanging over the landscape.
When someone said the storm had been very grand, he
thought—yes, but it was grander still to think that all
these laws of Nature, as they are called,—this acted
will of God—was for ever working night and day, in
darkness and in light, recognised or unheeded, for some
wise and beneficent end.
Yes! when he was older he would try and trace out these
ends—a better employment could not be found. And it may
be, that in long after years, when the storms and the
clouds that gathered round him were harder yet to look
through, because they were mental troubles—it may be,
that then, from amidst the tender recollections of his
infancy, the gleaming of the Will-o'-the-Wisp would
suddenly rise and shine before him with comfort. For
the Student of Nature who had traced so many blessed
ends out of dark and mysterious beginnings, held fast
to the humility and faith of childhood; and where
mind was unable to penetrate, his heart was contented
Meanwhile the Will-o'-the-Wisp had heard the kind
good-night that greeted him as the travellers passed by
on that dark evening. And his light shone brighter than
ever, as he said: "I am happy now. I have saved the
life of one who not only is thankful for it, but knows
the hand that saved him." With these words he cheerily
danced back again to his appointed post.
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