At the Back of the North Wind, by George MacDonald

Chapter IV

The Land at the Back of the North Wind

One morning, Diamond’s mother did not think he was feeling very well and when he told her that he had a little headache, she was sure of it. Now there was an aunt of his living at Sandwich and his mother decided to send him there for a change. So giving him two pence for spending money, she packed him off to Sandwich for a visit.

He soon made great friends with an old woman who kept a toy-shop there, where he spent his two pence. One hot day when he had been walking about more than he ought and was tired, he went into the toy-shop to rest. The old woman had gone out but he thought it would be all right for him to sit down on a box and rest.

All at once, he heard a gentle whirring somewhere amongst the toys. Among them was a whistle that had a wind-mill at the end which turned when you blew the whistle. No one was blowing the whistle now and yet the wind-mill was turning and turning and turning.

“What can it mean?” said Diamond out loud after watching for a few moments.

“It means me,” answered the tiniest voice he had ever heard.

“Who are you, please?” asked Diamond.

“Well, really, I begin to be ashamed of you!” cried the voice. “You are as bad as a baby that doesn’t know its mother in a new bonnet!”

“Not quite so bad as that, dear North Wind,” said Diamond. “And I am so glad to see you. Did you sink the ship?”

“Yes.”

“And drown everybody?”

“Not quite. One boat got away with six or seven men in it.”

“And you took the others to that queer place the gentleman spoke of,” said Diamond to himself. Aloud he said, “Please, North Wind, I want you to take me to the country at the back of the north wind.”

“That is not so easy,” said North Wind and was silent so long that he thought she must have gone away. But presently she spoke again.

“It is not so easy,” she said thoughtfully. “But we shall see. We shall see. You must go home, now, my dear, for you do not seem very well.”

So Diamond went home. That afternoon, his head began to ache very much and he had to go to bed. In the middle of the night, his aunt came in to feel his forehead and to give him a drink of lemonade. Then he went off to sleep, but was awake again soon, for a burst of wind blew open his lattice window. The same moment, he found himself in a cloud of North Wind’s hair, with her beautiful face, set in it like a moon, bending over him.

“Quick! Diamond!” she said. “I have found such a chance!”

“But I am not well,” said Diamond.

“I know. But you will be better for it.”

“Very well,” said Diamond; and getting out of bed, he jumped into North Wind’s arms. Sure enough, the moment he felt her arms fold about him, he began to feel better. It was a moonless night and very dark, with glimpses of stars when the clouds parted.

“We shall soon get to where the waves are dashing about,” said North Wind. And soon, Diamond looking down saw the white glimmer of breaking water far below him.

“You see, Diamond,” said North Wind, “it is very difficult to get you to the back of the north wind for that country lies in the very north itself. Now, of course, I cannot blow northwards, for then I should have to be South Wind. The north is where I come from — it is my home though I never get nearer to it than the outer door. I can only sit on the door-step and hear the voices in there, behind me. Since I cannot blow in that direction to get there, I have just to draw into myself and grow weaker and fainter as I go. That makes it hard for me to carry anything — even you — with me when I go that way. So I must get some help. Let me get rid of a few of these clouds. There! What do you see now?”

“A boat,” said Diamond.

“A ship,” said North Wind, “whose captain I know well. I have often helped him to sail his eighty miles a day northward.”

“He must have tacked often to do that,” said Diamond who had been watching the ships at Sandwich.

“Yes, that gave him a share in the business. It is not good at all — mind that, Diamond — to do everything for those you love and not give them a share in the doing. It is not being really kind to them. If South Wind had blown that ship straight north, the captain would just have smoked his pipe all day and got stupider and stupider. But now I am going to put you aboard his ship. Do you see that round thing on the deck like the top of a drum? Below that is where they keep their spare sails. I am going to blow it off and drop you through upon the sails. You will find it nice and warm and dry. Just coil yourself up there and go to sleep.”

A moment more, and he felt himself tumbled in on the heap of sails. Hour after hour, he lay comfortably there. He could hear the straining of the masts, the creaking of the boom, and the singing of the ropes with the roaring of the wind; also the surge of the waves past the ship’s sides and the thud with which every now and then one would strike her.

All at once arose a terrible uproar. The cover was blown off again, a fierce wind rushed in, snatched him up and bore him aloft into the clouds. Down below, he saw the little vessel, he had been in, tossing on the waves like a sea-bird with folded wing. Near it was a bigger ship which was on its way to the north pole.

“That big ship will give us a lift now,” said North Wind. Swooping down she tucked him snugly in amongst some flags. And now on and on, they sped toward the north. How long it was, Diamond did not know, but one night she whispered in his ear, “Come up on deck, Diamond.”

Everything looked very strange. Here and there on all sides, were huge masses of floating ice looking like cathedrals and castles and crags, and beyond them a blue sea. Some of the icebergs were drifting northward, one passing very near the ship. North Wind seized Diamond and with a single bound, lighted on it. The same instant, South Wind began to blow and North Wind hurried Diamond down the north side of the berg and into a cave. There she sat down as if weary on a ledge of ice.

Diamond was enraptured with the color of the air in the cave, a deep, dazzling, lovely blue that was always in motion, boiling and sparkling. But when he looked at North Wind he was frightened.

He saw that her form and face were growing, not small, but transparent like something dissolving away. He could see the side of the blue cave through her very heart. She melted slowly away till all that was left was a pale face with two great lucid eyes in it.

“She is dying away!” he said. “Of course, as we go northward, she is dying away more and more.”

After a little, he went out and sat on the edge of his floating island and looked down into the green ocean. When he got tired of that, he went back into the blue cave. He felt as if in a dream. He was not hungry, but he sucked little bits of the berg at times.

At length, far off on the horizon, there rose into the sky a shining peak, and his berg floated right toward it. Other peaks came into view as he went on, and at last his berg floated up to a projecting rock. Diamond stepped ashore and a little way before him saw a lofty ridge of ice with a gap in it like the opening of a valley. As he got nearer, he saw it was not a gap but the form of a woman, her hands in her lap and her hair hanging to the ground.

“It is North Wind on her door-step!” said Diamond joyfully and hurried on.

HE WAS SURE IT WAS NORTH WIND BUT HE THOUGHT SHE MUST BE DEAD AT LAST
he was sure it was North Wind but he thought she must be dead at last

She sat motionless with drooping head and did not move nor speak. He was sure it was North Wind but he thought she must be dead at last. Her face was white as the snow, her eyes blue as the ice cave, and she had on a greenish robe like the color in the hollows of a glacier.

He walked toward her instantly and put out his hand to lay it on her. There was nothing there but intense cold. All grew white about him. He groped on further. The white thickened about him and he felt himself stumbling and falling. But as he fell, he rolled over the threshold. It was thus that Diamond got to the back of the north wind.

And what did he find? There was no North Wind in sight nor snow nor ice. It was a country where even the ground smelled sweetly, though Diamond thought the odour must come out of the flowers. A gentle air breathed in his face but he was not quite sure he did not miss the wind. A river as clear as crystal ran not only through the grass but over it too. It murmured a low, sweet song as it ran. There was no sun nor moon but a pure cloudless light always, and the blue arch of the sky seemed like a harp playing the soft airs of Heaven. There were many people there and all the people seemed happy and yet as if they were going to be happier some day.

Nothing ever went wrong at the back of the north wind and the only thing one ever missed was some one he loved who had not yet got there. But if one at the back of the north wind wanted to know how things were going with any one he loved, he had only to go to a certain tree, and climb up and sit down in the branches.

One day, when Diamond was sitting in this tree, he began to long very much to get home again. And no wonder! For he saw his mother crying. Now if you wished anything at the back of the north wind, you could follow your wish if you could find the way. So Diamond knew that he must now find North Wind. He could not go home without her and therefore he must find her. He went all about searching and searching. One day as he was looking and looking, he thought he caught a glimpse of the ice ridge and the misty form of North Wind seated as he had left her. He ran as hard as he could. Yes, he was sure it was she. He pushed on through the whiteness, which began to thicken around him. It was harder and harder to go but he struggled on and at last reached her and sank wearily down at her knees. At that same moment, the country at her back vanished from Diamond’s view.

North Wind was as still as Diamond had left her. But as he touched her, her face began to change like that of one waking from sleep. He clambered up upon her breast. She gave a great sigh, slowly lifted her arms, and slowly folded them about him, until she clasped him close.

“Have you been sitting here ever since I went through you, dear North Wind? It has been like a hundred years!” said Diamond.

“It has been just seven days,” said North Wind smiling. “Come now, we will go.”

The next moment, Diamond sat alone on the rock. North Wind had vanished. But something like a cockchafer flew past his face. Around and around him in circles it went.

“Come along, Diamond,” it said in his ear. “It is time we were setting out for Sandwich.”

It seemed to drop to the ground but when he looked Diamond could see nothing but a little spider with long legs which made its way over the ice toward the south. It grew and grew till Diamond discovered that it was not a spider but a weasel. Away glided the weasel and away went Diamond after it. The weasel grew and grew and grew till he saw it was not a weasel but a cat. Away went the cat and away went Diamond after it. When he came up with it, it was not a cat but a leopard. The leopard grew to a jaguar and the jaguar to a Bengal tiger.

Of none of them was Diamond afraid for he had been at North Wind’s back and he could be afraid of her no longer whatever she did or grew to be. The tiger flew over the snow in a straight line for the south, growing less and less to Diamond’s eyes till it was only a black speck upon the whiteness. Then it vanished altogether.

And now Diamond felt that he would rather not run any further and that the ice had got very rough. Besides he was near the precipices that bounded the sea. So he slowed up his pace to a walk and said to himself, “North Wind will come back for me, I know. She is just teasing me a little. Then, too, she must get started some way to grow bigger and bigger all the time!”

“Here I am, dear boy,” said North Wind’s voice behind him.

Diamond turned and saw her as he liked best to see her, standing beside him a tall, beautiful woman.

“Where is the tiger?” he said. “But of course, you were the tiger. It puzzles me a little. I saw it such a long way off before me, and there you are behind me. It is odd, you know.”

“None of these things is odder to me than to see you eat bread and butter,” said North Wind.

“I should just like to see a slice of bread and butter!” cried Diamond. “I am afraid to say how long it is since I had anything to eat!”

“You shall have some soon. I am glad to find you want some!”

She swept him up in her arms and bounded into the air. Her tresses began to lift and rise and spread and stream and flow and flutter. And North Wind and Diamond went flying southward. The sea slid away from under them like a great web of shot silk, blue shot with gray, and green shot with purple. The stars appeared to sail away past them, like golden boats on a blue sea turned upside down. Diamond himself went fast, fast, fast — he went fast asleep in North Wind’s arms.

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