At the Back of the North Wind, by George MacDonald

Chapter V

Diamond’s Father Loses His Employment

When he woke once more, a face was bending over him. It was not North Wind’s, however; it was his mother’s. He put out his arms to her and she clasped him to her heart and burst out crying.

“What is the matter, mother?” cried Diamond.

“Oh, Diamond dear! You have been so ill!” she said.

“Why no, mother dear. I have only been at the back of the North Wind,” returned Diamond.

“I thought you were dead,” said his mother.

At that moment, the doctor came in. He drew his mother aside and told her not to talk to Diamond. He must be kept as quiet as possible. And indeed, Diamond felt very strange and weak. But he soon got better with chicken broth and other nice things.

And it was a good thing that he could get well and strong again. For since he had come to Sandwich, a sad thing had happened to his father. Mr. Coleman, his father’s employer, had failed in business. It had come about in this way. Miss Coleman, who had looked so like North Wind that night on which he had seen her having her long black hair combed beside the fire, had a lover, a Mr. Evans. Now Mr. Evans was poor and felt ashamed to marry Miss Coleman until he had made more money and could live finely. This was a sort of false pride and it brought about great trouble for them all.

For Mr. Coleman took Mr. Evans into partnership to help him along. As soon as that happened, Mr. Evans began to urge Mr. Coleman to go into business ventures which were not honest but in which they could make a great deal of money. It was not so bad at first, but as they went on, it became more and more dishonest.

They could not seem to get out of it, however, and get back to carrying on their business in the right way. So North Wind had to take a hand and teach them better. It was Mr. Coleman’s ship she sank that night when she carried Diamond into the cathedral to wait for her. In the one boat-load of people which North Wind drove off to a desert island, was Mr. Evans. He had gone along on the ship to manage the business. Now he found that it would have been better to have been poor and stayed at home to marry Miss Coleman than to be ship-wrecked and have to live on a desert island because he longed so to be rich.

The loss of the ship ruined Mr. Coleman. He had to sell off his house and his horses, old Diamond among them, and go and live in a poor little house in a much less pleasant place. He had to begin again to work and learn how much better it is to be honest and contented than to try to get rich quickly. And poor Miss Coleman thought her lover was drowned and was very, very unhappy.

Nobody suffers alone. When old Diamond was sold, young Diamond’s father was thrown out of work. Then he had no way to earn money to keep Diamond and his mother and the new little baby brother who had come to them. How Diamond did wish he was big enough to do something! But of course, he could think of nothing he could do. Besides he had to get well and strong first, anyway. His father sent word that he and his mother were to stay down at Sandwich until he found something to do and a place where he could make a home for them. It was a very fortunate thing that Diamond’s aunt was glad to keep them with her as long as ever they were willing to stay.

One day when Diamond was getting strong enough to go out, his mother got his aunt’s husband, who had a little pony cart, to carry them down to the sea-shore. A whiff of sea air, she said, would do them both good. They sat down on the edge of the rough grass which bordered the sand. Away before them stretched the sparkling waters of the ocean, every wave of which flashed out its delight in the face of the great sun. On each hand, the shore rounded outward, forming a little bay. Dry sand was about their feet, and under them thin wiry grass.

After a time, his mother stretched out her hand for the basket which she had brought with her and she and Diamond had their dinner. Diamond did enjoy it, the drive and the fresh air had made him so hungry! But he was sorry that his mother looked so sad and depressed. He knew she was thinking about his father and how they now had no home. But there was nothing for him to do. So he lay down on the sand again, feeling sleepy, and gazed sleepily out over the sand. “What is that, mother!” he said.

“Only a bit of paper,” she answered looking where he pointed.

“It flutters more than a bit of paper would, I think,” said Diamond.

“I’ll go and see if you like,” said his mother.

She rose and went and found that it was a little book partly buried in the sand. Several of its leaves were clear of the sand and these the wind kept blowing about in a very fluttering manner. She took it up and brought it to Diamond.

“What is it, mother?” he asked.

“Rhymes, I think,” said she.

“I am so sleepy,” he said. “Do read some of them to me.”

“Well, I will,” she said and began one. “But this is such nonsense,” she said again. “I will try to find a better one.”

She turned the leaves, searching, but three times with sudden puffs the wind blew the leaves rustling back to the same verses.

“I wonder if that is North Wind,” said Diamond to himself. To his mother he said, “Do read that one. It sounded very nice. I am sure it is a good one.”

His mother thought it might amuse him although she could not find any sense in it. So she read on like this:

I know a river

whose waters run asleep,

run, run ever,

singing in the shallows,

dumb in the hollows

sleeping so deep;

and all the swallows

that dip their feathers

in the hollows

or in the shallows

are the merriest swallows of all!

“Why!” whispered Diamond to himself sleepily, “that is what the river sang when I was at the back of the north wind.”

And so with the daisies

the little white daisies

they grow and they blow

and they spread out their crown

and they praise the sun;

and when he goes down

their praising is done

and they fold up their crown

till over the plain

he is rising amain

and they’re at it again!

praising and praising

such low songs raising

that no one hears them

but the sun who rears them!

and the sheep that bite them

awake or asleep

are the quietest sheep

with the merriest bleat!

and the little lambs

are the merriest lambs!

they forget to eat

for the frolic in their feet!

“Merriest, merriest, merriest,” murmured Diamond as he sank deeper and deeper in sleep. “That is what the song of the river is telling me. Even I can be merry and cheerful — and that will help some. And so I will — when — I— wake — up — again.” And he went off sound asleep.

It was not very long after this that Diamond and his mother could go home again. His father had now found something to do and this is how it came about. He one day met a cabman who was a friend of his and this friend said to him, “Why don’t you set up as a cabman yourself — and buy a cab?”

“I haven’t enough money to buy a horse with — and a cab,” said Diamond’s father.

“Look here,” answered his friend. “I just bought an old horse the other day, cheap. He is no good for the hansom I drive, for when folks take a hansom, they want to drive like the wind. But for a four-wheeler that takes families and their luggage, he’s the very horse. I bought him cheap and I’ll sell him cheap.”

“Oh, I don’t want him,” said Diamond’s father.

“Well, come and see him anyway,” said his friend. So he went.

What was his delight on going into the stable to find that the horse was no other than his own old Diamond! Diamond, grown very thin and bony and long-legged. The horse hearing his master’s voice, turned his long neck. And when his old friend went up to him and laid his hand on his side, he whinnied for joy and laid his big head on his master’s breast. This settled the matter. Diamond’s father put his arms around old Diamond’s neck and fairly cried.

The end of it was that Diamond’s father bought old Diamond again, together with a four-wheeled cab. As there were some rooms to be had over the stable, he took them, wrote to his wife to come home, and set up as a cabman.

It was late in the afternoon when Diamond and his mother and the baby reached London. His father was waiting for them with his own cab but they had not told Diamond who the horse was. For his father wanted to enjoy the pleasure of his surprise when he found it out. He got in with his mother without looking at the horse and was quite proud of riding home in his father’s cab.

When he got to the stables where their rooms were he could not help being a little dismayed at first. But he thought of the song of the river at the back of the north wind and just looked about for things that were pleasant. He said to himself that it was a fine thing that all their old furniture was there. Then he began to search out the advantages of the place.

A thick, dull rain was falling and that was depressing. But the weather would change and there was a good fire burning in the room, which a neighbor had made for them. The tea things were put out and the kettle was boiling on the fire. And with a good fire and tea and bread and butter, things cannot be so very bad.

But Diamond’s father and mother were rather miserable and Diamond began to feel a kind of darkness spreading over him. At the same moment, he said, “This will never do! I can’t give in to this. I’ve been at the back of the north wind. Things go right there and they must be made to go right here!”

So he said out loud, “What nice bread and butter this is!” And when he had eaten it, he began to amuse the baby who was soon shrieking with laughter. His father and mother had to laugh too and things began to look better.

It was indeed a change for them all, not only from Sandwich but from their old place. Instead of the great river where the huge barges with their brown and yellow sails went up and down, their windows now looked out upon a dirty paved yard. There was no garden more for Diamond to run into when he pleased, with gay flowers about his feet, and lofty trees over his head.

Neither was there a wooden wall at the back of his bed with a hole in it for North Wind to come in at when she liked. Indeed, there was such a high wall that North Wind seldom got into the place. And the wall at the head of Diamond’s new bed only divided it from the room where a cabman lived who drank too much beer and came home to quarrel with and abuse his wife. It was dreadful for Diamond to hear the scolding and the crying. But he was determined it should not make him miserable for he had been at the back of the north wind.

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