At the Back of the North Wind, by George MacDonald

Chapter I

Diamond Makes the Acquaintance of North Wind

There was once a little boy named Diamond and he slept in a low room over a coach house. In fact, his room was just a loft where they kept hay and straw and oats for the horses. Little Diamond’s father was a coachman and he had named his boy after a favorite horse.

Diamond’s father had built him a bed in the loft with boards all around it, because there was so little room in their own end of the coach house. So when little Diamond lay there in bed, he could hear the horses under him munching away in the dark or moving sleepily in their dreams. His father put old Diamond, the horse after whom he was named, in the stall under the bed because he was quiet and did not go to sleep standing, but lay down like a reasonable creature.

Little Diamond sometimes woke in the middle of the night and felt his bed shaking in the blasts of the north wind. Then he could not help wondering if the wind should blow the house down and he should fall down into the manger, whether old Diamond might not eat him up before he knew him in his night gown. And though old Diamond was quiet all night long, yet when he woke up he got up like an earthquake. Then little Diamond knew what o’clock it was, or at least what was to be done next, which was — to go to sleep again as fast as he could!

Often there was hay at little Diamond’s feet as he lay in bed, and hay at his head, piled up in great heaps to the very roof. Sometimes there was none at all. That was when they had used it all and had not yet bought more. Soon they bought more, and then it was only through a little lane with two or three turnings in it that he could reach his bed at all.

Sometimes when his mother undressed him in her room and told him to trot away to bed by himself, he would creep into the heart of the hay first. There he would lie, thinking how cold it was outside in the wind and how warm it would be inside his bed; and how he would go to his bed when he pleased; only he wouldn’t just yet; he would get a little colder first. As he grew colder lying in the hay, his bed seemed to him to grow warmer. Then at last, he would scramble out of the hay, shoot like an arrow into his bed, cover himself up, snuggle down, and think what a happy boy he was!

He had not the least idea that the wind got in at a chink in the wall and blew about him all night. But the back of his bed was of boards only an inch thick, and on the other side of them was the north wind. Now these boards were soft and crumbly, and it happened that a soft part in them had worn away.

One night after he lay down, little Diamond found that a knot had come out of one of them and the wind was blowing in upon him. He jumped out of bed again, got a little wisp of hay, twisted it up and folded it in the middle. In this way, he made it into a cork and stuck it into the knot-hole to keep the wind out. But the wind began to blow loudly and angrily. Just as Diamond was falling asleep, out blew his hay cork and hit him on the nose!

It was just hard enough to wake him up and let him hear the wind whistling through the hole. He searched about for his hay cork, found it, and stuck it in harder. He was just dropping off to sleep once more, when pop! with an angry whistle behind it, the cork struck him again, this time on the cheek. Up he rose once more, got some more hay to make a new cork, and stuck it into the hole as hard as ever he could. But he was scarcely laid down again, before pop! it came on his forehead. So he gave it up, drew the bed-clothes over his head, and was soon fast asleep.

AGAINST THIS HE LAID HIS EAR, AND THEN HE HEARD THE VOICE QUITE DISTINCTLY
Against this he laid his ear, and then he heard the voice quite distinctly

Next day, little Diamond forgot all about the hole. But his mother found it when she was making up his bed and pasted a piece of thick brown paper over it. So when Diamond snuggled down into his bed that night, he did not think of it at all. But before he dropped asleep, he heard a queer sound and lifted his head to listen. Was somebody talking to him? The wind was rising again and beginning to blow and whistle. Was it the wind? He moved about to find out who or what it was, and at last, happened to put his hand upon the knot-hole with the paper pasted over it. Against this he laid his ear and then he heard the voice quite distinctly.

“What do you mean, little boy, by closing up my window?”

“What window?” asked Diamond.

“You stuffed hay into it three times last night! I had to blow it out again three times!”

“You can’t mean this little hole? It isn’t a window. It is a hole in my bed.”

“I did not say a window. I said it was my window!”

“But it can’t be a window!” said Diamond. “Windows are holes to see out of.”

“Well, that is just what I made this window for.”

“But you are outside,” answered Diamond. “You can’t want a window.”

“You are quite mistaken. Windows are to see out of, you say. Well, I am in my house, and I want windows to see out of.”

“But you have made a window into my bed.”

“Well, your mother has three windows into my dancing hall, and you have three into my garret.”

“Dear me!” said Diamond. “Still you can hardly expect me to keep a window in my bed for you. Now, can you?”

“Come!” said the voice. “You just open that window!”

“Well,” said Diamond, “mother says I should be obliging. Still it is rather hard. You see, the north wind will blow right in my face if I do!”

“I am the North Wind!” said the voice.

“O-o-oh!” said Diamond. “Then will you promise not to blow in my face if I open your window?”

“I cannot promise that,” said the North Wind.

“But you will give me the tooth-ache. Mother has it already.”

“But what is to become of me without a window!” cried the voice.

“I am sure I don’t know. All I say is that it will be worse for me than for you.”

“No, it will not,” replied the voice. “You shall not be the worse for it — I promise you that. You will be much the better for it. Just believe what I say, and do as I tell you.”

“Well, I can pull the clothes over my head,” said Diamond. So he felt around with his little sharp nails, got hold of one edge of the paper and tore it off. In came a long whistling stream of cold that struck his little naked chest. He scrambled and tumbled in under the bed-clothes and covered himself up. There was no paper between him and the voice now, and he felt — not frightened exactly — but a little queer.

“What a strange person this North Wind must be,” thought Diamond, “to live in what they call ‘Out-of-Doors,’ I suppose, and make windows into people’s beds.”

Now the voice began again. He could hear it quite plainly, even with his head under the bed-clothes. It was still more gentle now, though it was six times as large and loud as before. And he thought it sounded a little like his mother’s .

“What is your name, little boy?” it asked.

“Diamond,” answered Diamond under the bed-clothes.

“What a funny name!”

“It is a very nice name,” replied the boy.

“I am not so sure of that,” said the voice.

“Well, I am!” returned Diamond. “I think it is a very pretty name.”

“Diamond is a useless thing, rather,” said the voice.

“That is not true. Diamond is very useful — and as big as two — and so quiet all night! But doesn’t he make a jolly row in the morning, getting up on his four great legs! It is like thunder!”

“You do not seem to know what a diamond is!” cried the voice.

“Oh, don’t I, just! Diamond is a great and good horse, and he sleeps right under me. He is old Diamond and I am young Diamond. Or, if you like it better, Mr. North Wind, if you are so particular, he is big Diamond and I am little Diamond. And I do not know which of us my father likes best!”

A beautiful laugh, soft and musical, sounded somewhere near him. But the boy kept his head under the clothes.

“I am not Mr. North Wind,” said the voice.

“You told me you were the North Wind,” cried Diamond.

“I did not say Mr. North Wind,” said the voice.

“Well, I do say Mr. for my mother tells me always to be polite.”

“Then let me tell you that I do not think it at all polite for you to say Mr. to me,” answered the voice.

“Isn’t it? Well, I am sorry then.”

“But you ought to know better,” said the voice. “You can’t think it is polite to lie there with your head under the bed-clothes and never look to see what kind of a person you are talking to! I want you to come out with me.”

“I want to go to sleep!” said Diamond.

“Will you take your head out of the bed-clothes?” said the voice a little angrily.

“No!” said Diamond crossly.

The moment he said the word a fierce blast of wind crashed in the wall and swept the clothes off him. He started up in a fright. Leaning over him was the large, beautiful, pale face of a woman. Her dark eyes had begun to flash a little but the rest of her face was very sweet and beautiful. What was very strange, though, was that away from her head streamed out her black hair in every direction like dark clouds. Soon it fell down about her again and then her face came out of it like the moon out of the clouds.

“Will you go with me now, little Diamond?” asked the North Wind bending over him and speaking very gently.

“Yes, yes!” cried Diamond, stretching out his arms toward her. “Yes, I will go with you, dear North Wind. I am not a bit afraid. I will go! But,” he added, “how shall I get my clothes? They are in mother’s room and the door is locked.”

“Oh never mind your clothes. You will not be cold. Nobody is cold with the North Wind.”

“I thought everybody was,” said Diamond.

“That is a great mistake. People are not cold when they are with the North Wind — only when they are against it. Now will you come?”

“Yes, dear North Wind. You are so beautiful I am quite ready to go with you.”

“Ah, but I may not always look beautiful. If you see me with my face all black, don’t be frightened. If you see me flapping wings like bat’s wings, as big as the whole sky, don’t be afraid. If you hear me raging, you must believe that I am just doing my work. Nay, Diamond, if I change into a serpent or a tiger, you must not let go your hold of me, for it will be I just the same. And now, come!”

She turned away and went so swiftly that she was gone before Diamond was more than started. When he finally got down the stairs and out into the yard, no one did he see. And there he stood with his bare feet on the hard stones of the paved yard.

“I dare say she is hiding somewhere to see what I will do,” said Diamond. So around the end of the stable he went to see if he could find her. But at once, sharp as a knife, the wind came against his little chest and bare legs. And stronger and stronger the wind seemed to blow. It was so cold! All at once, he remembered that she had said that people were not cold if they went with the North Wind. So he turned his back and trotted again toward the yard and sure enough, he began to feel almost warm once more!

On and on, North Wind blew him and, presently, she seemed to shove him right against a small door in a wall. It opened and she blew him through it and out into the very middle of the lawn of the house next door. It was here that Mr. Coleman lived who was his father’s master and who owned big Diamond. So little Diamond did not feel entirely strange, and then, too, there was a light in one window that looked friendly. As long as he could see that, Diamond could not feel quite alone or lonely. But all at once, the light went almost out. Then indeed, he felt that it was dreadful to be out in the night alone, when every body else was gone to bed! That was more than he could bear and it was not strange that he burst out crying.

Some one in the house heard the sound of his sobbing and came out and found him there. He was taken into the house and into a room which had a bright light and a warm fire in it. Beside this, he found Miss Coleman, the young lady daughter of the house, who was having her long dark hair brushed out before going to bed. Somehow in that state, she looked just like the beautiful North Wind that he had been searching for. Without stopping to think, he ran right into her arms for comfort.

After he was warmed and comforted, they took him back home and knocked on the door to arouse his mother, to come and get him. She was much surprised to see him, you may be sure. She carried him up to his bed again and tucked him snugly in. And there he fell fast asleep.

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