At the Back of the North Wind, by George MacDonald

Chapter 22

Mr. Raymond’s Riddle

MR. RAYMOND took Diamond home with him, stopping at the Mews to tell his mother that he would send him back soon. Diamond ran in with the message himself, and when he reappeared he had in his hand the torn and crumpled book which North Wind had given him.

“Ah! I see,” said Mr. Raymond: “you are going to claim your sixpence now.”

“I wasn’t thinking of that so much as of another thing,” said Diamond. “There’s a rhyme in this book I can’t quite understand. I want you to tell me what it means, if you please.”

“I will if I can,” answered Mr. Raymond. “You shall read it to me when we get home, and then I shall see.”

Still with a good many blunders, Diamond did read it after a fashion. Mr. Raymond took the little book and read it over again.

Now Mr. Raymond was a poet himself, and so, although he had never been at the back of the north wind, he was able to understand the poem pretty well. But before saying anything about it, he read it over aloud, and Diamond thought he understood it much better already.

“I’ll tell you what I think it means,” he then said. “It means that people may have their way for a while, if they like, but it will get them into such troubles they’ll wish they hadn’t had it.”

“I know, I know!” said Diamond. “Like the poor cabman next door. He drinks too much.”

“Just so,” returned Mr. Raymond. “But when people want to do right, things about them will try to help them. Only they must kill the snake, you know.”

“I was sure the snake had something to do with it,” cried Diamond triumphantly.

A good deal more talk followed, and Mr. Raymond gave Diamond his sixpence.

“What will you do with it?” he asked.

“Take it home to my mother,” he answered. “She has a teapot — such a black one! — with a broken spout, and she keeps all her money in it. It ain’t much; but she saves it up to buy shoes for me. And there’s baby coming on famously, and he’ll want shoes soon. And every sixpence is something — ain’t it, sir?”

“To be sure, my man. I hope you’ll always make as good a use of your money.”

“I hope so, sir,” said Diamond.

“And here’s a book for you, full of pictures and stories and poems. I wrote it myself, chiefly for the children of the hospital where I hope Nanny is going. I don’t mean I printed it, you know. I made it,” added Mr. Raymond, wishing Diamond to understand that he was the author of the book.

“I know what you mean. I make songs myself. They’re awfully silly, but they please baby, and that’s all they’re meant for.”

“Couldn’t you let me hear one of them now?” said Mr. Raymond.

“No, sir, I couldn’t. I forget them as soon as I’ve done with them. Besides, I couldn’t make a line without baby on my knee. We make them together, you know. They’re just as much baby’s as mine. It’s he that pulls them out of me.”

“I suspect the child’s a genius,” said the poet to himself, “and that’s what makes people think him silly.”

Now if any of my child readers want to know what a genius is — shall I try to tell them, or shall I not? I will give them one very short answer: it means one who understands things without any other body telling him what they mean. God makes a few such now and then to teach the rest of us.

“Do you like riddles?” asked Mr. Raymond, turning over the leaves of his own book.

“I don’t know what a riddle is,” said Diamond.

“It’s something that means something else, and you’ve got to find out what the something else is.”

Mr. Raymond liked the old-fashioned riddle best, and had written a few — one of which he now read.

I have only one foot, but thousands of toes;
My one foot stands, but never goes.
I have many arms, and they’re mighty all;
And hundreds of fingers, large and small.
From the ends of my fingers my beauty grows.
I breathe with my hair, and I drink with my toes.
I grow bigger and bigger about the waist,
And yet I am always very tight laced.
None e’er saw me eat — I’ve no mouth to bite;
Yet I eat all day in the full sunlight.
In the summer with song I shave and quiver,
But in winter I fast and groan and shiver.

“Do you know what that means, Diamond?” he asked, when he had finished.

“No, indeed, I don’t,” answered Diamond.

“Then you can read it for yourself, and think over it, and see if you can find out,” said Mr. Raymond, giving him the book. “And now you had better go home to your mother. When you’ve found the riddle, you can come again.”

If Diamond had had to find out the riddle in order to see Mr. Raymond again, I doubt if he would ever have seen him.

“Oh then,” I think I hear some little reader say, “he could not have been a genius, for a genius finds out things without being told.”

I answer, “Genius finds out truths, not tricks.” And if you do not understand that, I am afraid you must be content to wait till you grow older and know more.

Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 23:09