| 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 |
NIGHT AND DAY
"The city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon to shine in it; for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof."
—REV. xxi. 23.
 IN 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
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
"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,"
 "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
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.
Oh, the boasting of Day at these times! He really thought it would be the greatest possible blessing if there were to be no Night.
"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
"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
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
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
And from time to time, according as we keep
 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
Ĉolian 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!"
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