Night and Day
I N old times, long long ago, when Night and Day were young and foolish, and had not discovered how necessary they were to each other's happiness and well-being, they chased each other round the world in a state of angry disdain; each thinking that he alone was doing good, and that therefore the other, so totally unlike himself in all respects, must be doing harm, and ought to be got rid of, altogether, if possible.
Old northern tales say that they rode, each of them in a car with a horse to it; but the horse of Night had a frosty mane, while that of Day had a shiny one. Moreover, foam fell from Frosty-mane's bit as he went along, which dropped on the earth as dew, and Shiny-mane's mane was so radiant that it scattered light through the air at every step.
And thus they drove on, bringing darkness and light over the earth in turn—each pursuing and pursued; but knowing so little of this simple fact, that one of their chief causes of dispute was, which was going first. For of course if they had been able to settle that, it would have been known which was the more important of the two. But as they drove in a circle the point could not be decided, since what was first on one side was sure to be last on the other; as anybody may see who tries to draw their journey.
They never gave this a thought, however, and there were no school-masters about just then to teach them. So round and round the world they went, without even knowing that it was round, still less that there is no such thing as first and last in a circle. And they never succeeded in overtaking, so as to pass each other, though they sometimes came up very close, and then there was twilight.
Of the two, one grumbled and the other scolded the more, and it is easy to guess which did which. Night was gloomy by nature, especially when clouds hid the moon and stars, so her complaints took a serious, melancholy tone. She was really broken-hearted at the exhaustion produced all over the world by the labours and pleasures which were carried on under the light of day, and used to receive the earth back as if it was a sick child and she a nurse, who had a right to be angry with what had been done to it.
Day, on the contrary, was amazingly cheerful, particularly when the sun shone; never troubled his head about what was to happen when his fun was over: on the contrary, thought his fun ought to last for ever because it was pleasant, was quite vexed when it was put a stop to, and had no scruple in railing at his rival; whose only object, as it seemed to him, was to overshadow and put an end to all the happiness that was to be found.
"Cruel Night," he exclaimed, "what a life you lead me! How you thwart me at every turn! What trouble I have to take to keep your mischief in check. Look at the mists and shadows I must drive on one side before I can make the world bright with my beautiful light! And no sooner have I done so than I feel your cold unwholesome breath trying to come up to me behind! But you shall never overtake me if I can help it: though I know that is what you want. You want to throw your hateful black shadow over my bright and pleasant world."
"I doing mischief which you have to keep in check!" groaned Night, quite confused by the accusation. "I, whose whole time is spent in trying to repair the mischief other people do: your mischief, in fact, you wasteful consumer of life and power! Every twelve hours I get back from you a half worn-out world, and this I am expected to restore and make as good as new again, but how is it possible? Something I can do, I know. Some wear and tear I can renew and refresh, but some, alas! I cannot; and thus creep in destruction and death."
"Hear her," cried Day, in contempt, "taunting me with the damage I do, and the death and destruction I cause! I the life-giver, at whose touch the whole world awakes which else might lie asleep for ever. She, the grim likeness of the death she talks about, and bringing death's twin sister in her bosom."
"You are Day the destroyer. I Night, the restorer," persisted Night, evading the argument.
"I am Day the life-giver, you Night the desolator," replied Day, bitterly.
"I am Night the restorer, you Day the destroyer," repeated Night.
"You are to me what death is to life," shouted Day.
"Then death is a restorer as I am," exclaimed Night.
And so they went on, like all other ignorant and obstinate arguers; each full of his own one idea, and taking no heed of what the other might say. How could the truth be got at by such means? Of course it could not, and of course, therefore, they persisted in their rudeness. And there were certain seasons particularly when they became more impertinent to each other than ever.
For instance, whenever it was summer, Day's horse, Shiny-mane, got so strong and frisky that Night had much ado to keep her place at all, so closely was she pressed in the chase. Indeed, sometimes there was so little of her to be seen that people might have doubted whether she had passed by at all, had it not been for the dew Frosty-mane scattered, and which those saw who got up early enough in the morning.
Oh, the boasting of Day at these times! And really he believed what he said. He really thought it would be the greatest possible blessing if he were to go on for ever, and there were to be no Night. Perhaps he had the excuse of having heard a whisper of some old tradition to that effect: but the principal cause of the mistake was, that he thought too much about himself, and too little about his neighbour.
"Fortunate world," cried he; "it must be clear to every one, now who it is that brings blessings, and does good to you and your inhabitants. Good old earth, you become more and more lovely and fruitful, the more and more I shorten the hours of Night and lengthen my own. We can do tolerably well without her restoring power it would seem! If we could be rid of her altogether, therefore, what a Paradise there would be! Then the foliage, the flowers, the fruits, the precious crops of this my special season would last forever. Would that it could remain uninterrupted!"
"He is praying for a curse. Were it granted no life could exist," murmured Night; and Frosty-mane's dew fell in tears as she spoke. No one heard her, however, but the dew was very acceptable, for the weather was very hot.
And she had her revenge; for when it was summer on one side the globe it was winter on the other; and then it was her turn to boast, as it was in winter that Frosty-mane came out in all his glory; every now and then running his car so nearly side by side with that of Day, that he squeezed him up into the smallest possible compass, besides putting out half his light.
On which Night kept up a sort of murmuring triumph, "Good, good, very good: this is something like rest at last; now worn-out Nature is recruiting herself to some purpose. Now weary muscles may gather strength instead of giving it out. Now strained eyes may recover brightness, and worn brains energy. Now all the secret forces of Nature are at work, and exhaustion is being repaired on every side. Now trees and plants may keep their gases for themselves, and earth hold her own. Now waste and consumption cease, for the wear and tear of life have stopped. Ah, if it could but cease for ever! Then the world would be renewed, indeed, and giant races of man and beast and plant arise!"
"But never glow with the light of active life, or be seen but in the pale unmeaning moonlight," sneered the mortified Day, but he struggled in vain to make himself heard. The truth is he was in the background just then, and nobody cared to listen. Yet he made his presence known from time to time at mid-day, by the light of Shiny-mane's hair. Nothing could quite put that out, even in winter when the weather was fine; and sometimes it shone over the ice and snow so brightly that they glittered like diamonds or might almost have been taken for fireworks.
And so things went on till a check came, and it came in a very odd way. It is not always very easy to tell the exact causes of change even in one's own mind, much less in other people's, so I do not pretend to trace the whole process out in this case.
But Night and Day did grow wiser as time went on, for, as every one knows, there is no squabbling or boasting going on between them now. On the contrary, they glide after each other as gently and sweetly as possible, without any kicking of horses or rumbling of chariot wheels. And one may conclude that after the first flush of feeling cooled down, they were better able to look round them and judge dispassionately of each other.
And, lo and behold! they discovered at last that there were just two portions of the globe where each had in turn his own way as nearly as possible for six whole months at a time, viz. at the Poles: and that yet, nevertheless, the brilliant consequences which they had insisted would occur under these circumstances, never took place. On the contrary, those were the dreariest and most desolate portions of the whole globe,—barren wastes of ice and rock, where both animal and vegetable life were at the lowest possible ebb.
Nothing could be more mortifying, it must be owned. In vain did Shiny-mane drive round and round that frozen horizon with a light that was never interrupted: where was the promised Paradise which was to follow?—the foliage, the flowers, the fruits, the precious crops which should have adorned this unchecked reign of Day, where were they?
The dove would have sought in vain here for even a shrub on which to rest her foot. Scarcely a wandering seagull ever disturbed the death-like stillness of the air.
Day, the life-giver, looked down upon a kingdom without life! What wonder if he began at last to distrust himself! What wonder if he went on to suspect that there might be some truth in what Night had said after all! That she might in some way or other be Night the restorer; in some way, however mysterious and unaccountable, be necessary to his own prosperity.
—And it was the same with Night, when her turn came round. In vain did Frosty-mane distil his dews. They were useful—at least Night thought so—everywhere else; but here, what did they avail? Here was the unbroken rest which was to recruit and refresh all Nature: now her secret powers might work as they pleased: there was no waste of power now either from labour or heat, or any other destructive cause: but where were the giant races of man and beast and plant that were to arise in consequence? The wear and tear of life had stopped, but what was the Earth advantaged?
Night, the restorer, ruled, but over a kingdom where there was nothing to restore! Well might tears mingle with her dews. Well might she call to the morning stars to bring back that Day whom once she had dreaded as a rival, but now longed for as a friend. Day the life-giver, he had called himself, and Day the life-giver perhaps he was. Certainly without him she could do nothing; at any rate here, where he was not, the whole world was a blank!
They had made a terrible mistake, that was clear; and if they did not at first see that there must be other and more important powers at work, besides theirs, or the good old earth would not be what it is in most places, they must be excused. People cannot grow quite wise all at once, and they had made a very good beginning by learning to distrust themselves; that being always the first step towards doing justice to a neighbour.
"I called you Day the destroyer, bright and beautiful friend," murmured Night, in her softest tones; "you who bring light over my shadows, and make my good deeds known to all men. Day, the life-giver, forgive me, and return at the seasons appointed. Touch the earth with your glory from time to time, lest all things perish from its face, and it and I are forgotten together."
"But I mistook your friendly shadow for that of death," answered Day, with his sweetest smile, though tears trembled in his eyes as he thought of the injustice, causing the brightest of rainbows to span the landscape below: "and that was a thousand times worse! You, in whose silence and rest the very fountains of life are renewed. Ah, while earth remains what it is, an everlasting day—a day without night—would be destruction! Dear friend, forgive me, and ever and ever return."
"There is nothing to forgive," whispered Night, as she came round once more. "And death also may restore as I do," added she tenderly; for the harvest moon was shining upon long fields of golden corn, some waving still, some gathered into sheaves; and she felt particularly hopeful about everything.
"Anyhow we are friends—loving, helpful friends," sang Day.
"Friends—comforting and abiding friends," echoed Night, in return, as the weary world sank on her bosom; eyes closing, limbs relaxing, and flowers folding, as if the angel of rest had come down from heaven.
And friends they were and remain, though long ages have passed away since the time the old northern tales tell of; and though now the wise men will not allow that Night and Day drive round the world in cars with horses to them. Well, perhaps they don't.
Perhaps it is really true that the earth is a dark ball, hanging in the open space which we call the firmament of heaven, moving slowly round the shining sun, but spinning like a top all the time itself, so that first one side and then the other faces the brightness; and thus there is a constant change from light to darkness and darkness to light going on all over the world; and this makes Day and Night.
But no matter which way the changes come. Night and Day are the work of the Lord; and, like all the other "works of the Lord" which the three children in the fiery furnace called upon to praise Him, have a voice, and say many things worth listening to, especially now that they are no longer young and foolish.
And from time to time, according as we keep our ears open or shut, little streams of melody do float round us from the natural world, as musical sounds break out from the strings of an old-fashioned Æolian harp when the wind blows over it, or sweep along the wires of the electric telegraph on breezy days. Listen only, and you will hear. And which speaks you can surely guess, for they praise each other now and not themselves. One sings—
"Dear Night, whom once I dreaded as the dark end of life and enjoyment. Dear Night, whom now I know as the forerunner of life renewed. Welcome, blessed restorer; take our worn-out child to your bosom. Drop over her striving and straining your mantle of repose. All her day-labourers grow weary, for a portion of life goes from them, in the toil of limb and of muscle, in the working of eye and of brain; in all the changes that circle round an ever-changing world. Restore what thou canst and mayst, let the rest remain in hope; for the mercy thou bringest now, foreshadows a greater in store. Oh, type of the mighty change which must one day pass upon all; of the deep mysterious rest in which all things shall be renewed; of the needful, hopeful death which quickens unto life! Dear Night, my sister and friend, the twilight shades approach, and I see in thankful peace your darker shadows beyond."
And the other answers in turn.
"Dark and secret my mission; men call me Night the gloomy; but I hold in my bosom the germs of a glory full of hope; hiddenly working within, till thou, the life-giver, returnest, to break through the mists and shadows, and touch my nurslings with light. So, at the first creation, at the touch of the first young dawn, lo! gleams of life universal were lit all over the world, and Nature, amazed, awoke in songs of thanksgiving and joy.
"So come, then, Day the life-giver, ever and ever reviving the slumbering germs I nourish, the hidden life I feel. Welcome for this, but thrice welcome as type of a dayspring eternal, that shall dawn at last on the night of sin and sorrow and death; when, our secret missions accomplished, our secret workings completed, thou and I, oh, life-giving Day, shall merge our blessings in one:—when the light that never wastes, and the life that never wearies, shall be one with the rest eternal, that remaineth evermore!"