"O, Mamma! See that wicked-looking cat on the fence! She'll have one of those dear little rabbits in a minute!"
Mattie's sweet face grew pale with fear, and she trembled all over.
"It's only a picture, my dear," said Mattie's mother. "The cat can't get down, and so the rabbits are safe."
"But it looks as if she could--as if she'd jump right upon the dear little things. I wish there was a big dog, like Old Lion, there. Wouldn't he make her fly?"
"But it's only a picture. If there was a dog there, he couldn't bark nor spring at the cat."
"Why didn't the man who made the picture put in a dog somewhere, so that we could see him, and know the rabbits were safe?"
"Maybe he didn't think of it," said Mattie's mother.
"I wish he had."
"Perhaps," said the mother, "he wished to teach us this lesson, that, as there are evil and hurtful things in the world, we should never be so entirely off of our guard as the children playing, with the rabbits seem to be. Dear little things! How innocent and happy they are! There is not a thought of danger in their minds. And yet, close by them is a great cat, with cruel eyes, ready to spring upon their harmless pets. Yes; I think the artist meant to teach a lesson when he drew this picture."
"What lesson, mother?" asked Mattie. "O, I remember," she added quickly. "You said that it might be to teach us never to be off of our guard, because there are evil and hurtful things in the world."
"Yes; and that is a lesson which cannot be learned too early. Baby begins to learn it when he touches the fire and is burnt; when he pulls the cat too hard and she scratches him; when he runs too fast for his little strength, and gets a fall. And children learn it when they venture too near vicious animal and are kicked or bitten; when they tear their clothes, or get their hands and faces scratched with thorns and briers; when they fall from trees, or into the water, and in many other ways that I need not mention. And men and women learn, it very, very, often in pains and sorrows too deep for you to comprehend."
Mattie drew a long sigh, as she stood before her mother, looking, soberly into her face.
"I wish there wasn't anything bad in the world," she said. "Nothing that could hurt us."
"Ah, dear child!" answered the mother, her voice echoing Mattie's sigh, "from millions and millions of hearts that wish comes up daily. But we have this to cheer us: if we stand on guard--if we are watchful as well as innocent--we shall rarely get hurt. It is the careless and the thoughtless that harm reaches."
"And so we must always be on guard," said Mattie, still looking very sober.
"There is no other way, my child. 'On guard' is the watchword of safety for us all, young and old. But the harm that comes from the outside is of small account compared with the, harm that comes from within."
"From within, mother! How can harm could from within?"
"You read about the 'hawk among the birds'?"
"Yes, yes--O, now I understand what you mean! Bad thoughts and feelings can do us harm."
"Yes; and the hurt is deeper and more deadly than any bodily harm, for it is done to the soul. These rabbits are like good and innocent things of the mind, and the cat like evil and cruel things. If you do not keep watch, in some unguarded moment angry passions evil arise and hurt or destroy your good affections; just as this cat, if she were real, would tear or kill the tender rabbits."
"O, mother! Is it as bad as that?" said Mattie.
"Yes, my dear; just as bad as that. And when any of these good and innocent feelings are destroyed by anger, hatred, jealousy, envy, revenge and the like, then just so much of heavenly good dies in us and just so far do we come under the power of what is evil and hurtful. Then we turn aside from safe and pleasant ways and walk among briers and thorns. Dear Mattie! consider well the lesson of this picture, and set a watch over your heart daily. But watching is not all. We are told in the Bible to pray as well as watch. All of us, young and old, must do this if we would be in safety; for human will and human effort would all be in vain to overcome evil if divine strength did not flow into them. And unless we desire and pray for this divine strength we cannot receive it."