Menu Close



Page with ornament
The Database of Ornament

         IN one of the sweetest valleys of Cumberland, far up
beyond that celebrated vale of Troutbeck—in fact,
a very beautiful valley—lived a careful and sin-
cere sheep. The mountains were not crested with
flame at dawn, nor veiled with mist at evening,
in vain for her. In her vale and about it Nature
was at once radiant and sober. On the one hand
an isle-strawn mere lay laughing, cradled in the
bosom of the mighty hills: these were stern of
temperament and laughed but seldom; even when repentant skies crowned
them with rainbows about their tangled foreheads, they drew down their
brows, and, recalling their Point of View, still frowned. The grandeur of
their awful steeps was sweet in harmony where mosses and scant grass
cloaked them; and stranger where the patches of bracken mottled their
gray nakedness. Leftward and deeper yet, the fairest, smoothest valley,
with fields so green, so green; green touched according to the season with
pink, with mauve; touched with yellow, with gold; touched with I know
not what of all that was loveliest and best. Torrents rushed in gorges
of the steep slopes, bubbling and all but dust for their violence, or loitering
in cool, deep, faintly swirling pools, shaded or open to the magic sun, whose
rays came to play with the rillets in pure fire, or damped through shim¬
mering green of fern frond and dainty leaf. And down below, a timid
riband of peace parting the giants who had stood threatening one another
since the world was founded, ran a very brook of Eden; its purity mocked
the bluest noon, its glance was brighter than rain in summer: it was paved
with gold sand and silver pebble. Along its woolly fringes the brightest
flowers grew on stalks more slender than anywhere else; and here the
richest moths balanced themselves on the quivering stems, forecasting in
secret accident the blossoms of Paradise. With the single exception of
glaciers, no beauty was wanting in this valley which a sheep could think of
to desire.

         In the fulness of accomplished time God sent this sheep a lamb for her
own. Herself was white, as often depicted in literature; God had given her
lambkin black legs and tail, a black face and most dutiful eyes. Long the
sheep tended and watched her young, suckling it with joyous, over-brimming
tags.. Then tenderest grass was alternated (of tender grass there was no
lack in that fat vale). Sometimes the lamb grew faint and querulous, trotting
after his mother with cries not all content. Then the sheep tinged her kind¬
ness with severity; for she was sincere, and the time comes when a lambkin
must think of becoming a lamb.

        “My child,” she would say, “admire the Beauties of Nature,” and thereon
would follow indications suited to a juvenile understanding, the contours of
the crags against green or blue, the swooning dip of the kindly hills. So
the lambkin became a lamb, wise in his order, wotting well for what he had
been born into the world.

        In the valley there was an old father. He never spoke to the lamb, but


he looked as though he knew a great deal. The lamb was afraid of him, for
he had a terrible way. He was horned; that was not curious, but each of
his horns grew out in a spiral from his head; and his manner was, when he
looked, to look through this spiral with one forbidding eye. No wonder the
lamb was afeared.

         At night all the sheep, with their lambs and the old father, went to their
fold which lay lower down, a rock-piled fortress of two apartments, one of
which was larger than the other. The lamb did not know why, but always
the whole flock went into one of the rooms, generally the smaller; they
never shared them. The openings were very narrow, for one only to pass
at a time, but the sheep always went through two, and sometimes ten, abreast.
All rose very early in the morning; and with restored energy scrambled
high up the slopes, so that looking over their shoulders from time to time
they could see the level sun driving loitering night down the vale.

        “I have been wondering all night, mamma,” said the lamb one morning,
with that mealiness of demeanour proper to obedient children, “I have
been wondering all night….”

        The sheep looked earnest, for he had slept soundly.

        “I have been wondering all night whence I came into this happy valley,
to be my mother’s joy by filial obedience, and admire the Beauties of Nature.”

        The sheep was not embarrassed for an answer. But she looked round with
care, that marked circumspection might give the lamb a sense of the dignity
of their conversation. The direct answer was simple: that he came from God;
but, considering the extreme youth of her child, she said, pointing with her

        “Do you not see yonder, where the mere head of a lamb is seen above
the herbage, or yon where head and shoulders are seen, or there again added
a white fleecy back; and here are you and I walking about, free and happy,
the fairest of God’s creatures. Therefore, my son, let us eat, and from time
to time look about us to admire the Beauties of Nature. The mountains,
children of time, are emblems of eternity; the white, shining lake we see
down there is a symbol of truth. The sky above us is a beautiful figure of
changing life, which is always blue again sooner or later, however many
clouds cross its bright face. Lastly for the present, the grass, for ever green,
means love, which is the best of all. Now, son, let us eat.”

        This wisdom filled the lamb with such sobriety and reflection that he knelt
down to eat his breakfast; and, as it was more convenient, so continued for
a long time. The sheep said nothing, but seeing these things, she thought
with her heart.*

        “And whither, mamma,” asked the lamb, on another occasion, “if the
question be a right one, do we go?”

        “The question is a right one,” answered the sheep gravely, “ and in a
sense the answer is writ on all we see about us, on every feature of the face
of pious, happy Nature. And, with more precision, thus much may be said:
If we are good and eat a great deal, we go away singing in joyous bands,
led by piping hinds and tanned boys, into valleys more fair than this, though

                   * Vauvenargues: Les grandes pensées viennent du coeur.


now that may not seem possible, where grass is greener and moist, though
the sky above is always blue. It has been wisely said that there is no telling
the wonder and contentment which await us.”

        These assurances almost completed the lamb’s education, at least, so far
as his mother was concerned; but still they conversed together as loving
dam and dutiful child. One day the pasturer came into the fold, and taking
the lamb, not without rudeness, painted a fine legible “P. F.” on his white
back. The lamb resented this and showed a certain quarrelsomeness, object-
ing to his mother that a red “P. F.” was a blot on the face of Nature.

        “Peter Fancy,” laughed the sheep, in matronly banter, “there are other
things beside Nature, Sir Peter.”

        Then, little by little, the lamb trotted less and less closely at his mother’s
heels. On occasion he was known to dictate to her, and his observations
were sometimes conducted without her connivance, and communicated first
by him to “people of his own age.” He gave himself moods, being some¬
times archaic, and sometimes merely pastoral. And last of all, when by
chance they met, mother and son conversed only in monosyllables. The
lamb had found his own pursuits, and he followed them.

                                                                                                 JOHN GRAY.


MLA citation:

Gray, John. “The Beauties of Nature.” The Dial, vol. 4, 1896, pp. 15-17. Dial Digital Edition, edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2019-2020. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2020.