At the Back of the North Wind, by George MacDonald

Chapter VI

Diamond Learns To Drive a Horse

The wind blew loudly all night long, the first night Diamond slept in his new home, but he did not hear it. My own belief is that when Diamond slept too soundly to remember anything about it in the morning, he had been all night at the back of the north wind. Sometimes something did seem to remain in his mind like the low far-off murmur of the river singing its song. He sometimes tried to hold on to the words it sung. But ever as he came awaker — as he would say — one line faded away and then another. At last there was nothing left but the sense that everything went right there and could — and must — be made to go right here.

That was how he awoke that first morning and he jumped up at once saying, “I’ve been ill a long time and given a great deal of trouble. Now let’s see how I can help my mother.”

When he went into her room, he found her lighting the fire and his father just getting up. So he took up the baby who was awake too and cared for him till his mother had the breakfast ready. She was looking gloomy and his father too was silent. Diamond felt that in a few minutes, he would be just as miserable. But he tried with all his might to be jolly with the baby and presently his mother just had to smile.

“Why, Diamond, child!” she said at last. “You are as good to your mother as if you were a girl — nursing the baby and toasting the bread, and sweeping up the hearth. I declare a body would think you had been among the fairies.”

“I’ve been at the back of the north wind,” said Diamond to himself happily.

And now his father was more cheerful too. “Won’t you come out and see the cab, Diamond?” he asked.

“Yes, father, in just a minute after I put the baby down.”

So his father went on ahead. When Diamond got out into the yard, the horse was between the shafts. Diamond went around to look at him. The sight of him made him feel very queer. He could not make it out. What horse was it that looked so familiar? When he came around in front and the old horse put out his long neck and began rubbing against him, Diamond saw it could be no other than old Diamond and he just put his arms around his neck and cried.

“Isn’t it jolly, father!” he said. “Was there ever anybody so lucky as we! Dear old Diamond!” He hugged the horse again and kissed both his big, hairy cheeks. He could only manage one at a time, however — the other cheek was so far off on the other side of old Diamond’s big head. And now his father took up the reins to drive off.

“Oh, father, do let me drive a bit!” cried Diamond jumping up on the box beside him. His father put the reins into his hands and began to show him how to drive. He let Diamond drive quite a little way and then the boy jumped down and ran gaily back to his mother.

Now it happened that the man who sold old Diamond back to his father, saw how delighted little Diamond was to learn to drive. And that evening, shortly before Diamond’s father came home, the man asked Diamond’s mother if the boy might not go a little way with him.

“He cannot go far,” said his mother, “for he is not very strong yet.”

“I will take him only as far as the square,” said the man.

Diamond’s mother said he might go as far as that. Dancing with delight, Diamond ran to get his cap and in a few minutes was jumping into the cab. The man gave him the reins and showed him how to drive safely through the gate and Diamond got along famously. Just as they were turning into the square, they had an adventure. It was getting quite dusky. A cab was coming rapidly from the other direction, and Diamond pulling aside and the other driver pulling up, they just escaped a collision. And there was his father!

“Why, Diamond, it is a bad beginning to run into your own father,” he said.

“But, father, wouldn’t it have been a bad ending for you to run into your own son!” answered the boy. And both men laughed heartily.

“He is a good little driver, though,” said the man. “He would be fit to drive on his own hook in a week or two. But he had better go back with you now.”

“Come along then, Diamond,” said his father. Diamond jumped across into the other cab and they drove away home.

It was not long before Diamond was a great favorite with all the men about the stables — he was so jolly! It was not the best place in the world for him to be brought up in and at first he did hear a good many rough and bad words. But as he did not like them, he never learned to say them and they did him little harm. Before long, the men grew rather ashamed to use them. One would nudge the other to remind him that the boy was within hearing and the words choked themselves before they got any further.

One day, they gave him a curry comb and brush to try his hand on old Diamond’s coat. He used them deftly and thoroughly as far as he could reach.

“You must make haste and grow,” the men told him. “It won’t do to clean a horse half way up and leave his back dirty, you know.”

“Put me up,” said Diamond. In a moment he was on the old horse’s back with the comb and brush. There he combed and brushed and combed and brushed. Every now and then, old Diamond would whisk his tail and once he sent the comb flying out of the stable door to the great amusement of the men. But they brought it back to him and Diamond finished his task.

“Oh, dear!” said Diamond, when he had done. “I’m so tired!” And he laid himself down at full length on old Diamond’s back. The men were much amused and from that time were always ready to teach him to drive.

So in one way and another, he did learn to drive all sorts of horses, and through the most crowded streets in London city. One day his father took him on his own cab and as they were standing waiting for a passenger, his father left him alone for a few minutes. Hearing a noise, Diamond looked around to see what it was. There was a crossing near the cab-stand where a girl was sweeping. Some young roughs had picked a quarrel with her and were now trying to pull her broom away from her. Diamond was off his box in a moment and running to the help of the girl. The roughs began to act worse than ever. Just then Diamond’s father came back and sent them flying. The girl thanked Diamond and began sweeping again as if nothing had happened.

She did not forget her friends, however. A moment after, she came running up with her broom over her shoulder, calling “Cab, there! Cab!” And when Diamond’s father reached the curbstone, who should it be but Mrs. Coleman and Miss Coleman! Diamond and his father were very happy to see them again and gladly drove them home. When they wanted to pay for it, Diamond’s father would not hear of it, but jumped on his box and drove away.

It was a long time since Diamond had seen North Wind or even thought much about her. Now, as his father drove along, he was thinking not about her but about the crossing sweeper. He was wondering what made him feel as if he knew her quite well when he could not remember anything of her. But a picture arose in his mind of a little girl running before the wind, and dragging her broom after her. From that, he recalled the whole adventure of the night when he had gone out with North Wind and made her put him down in a London street.

A few nights after this, Diamond woke up suddenly, believing he heard the north wind thundering along. But it was something quite different. South Wind was moaning around the chimneys, to be sure, for she was not very happy that night. But it was not her voice that had wakened Diamond. It was a loud angry voice, now growling like that of a beast, now raving like that of a madman. It was the voice of the drunken cabman whose room was just through the wall at the back of Diamond’s bed.

At length, there came a cry from the woman and a scream from the baby. Diamond thought it was time somebody did something. He jumped up and went to see. The voice of the crying baby guided him to the right door and he peeped in. The drunken cabman had dropped into a chair, his wife lay sobbing on the bed, and the baby was wailing in its cradle.

Diamond’s first thought was to run away from the misery of it. But he remembered at once that he had been at the back of the north wind. People who had been there must always try to destroy misery wherever they saw it. But what could he do? Well, there was the baby. He stole in and lifted it into his arms and soon had it on his knee, smiling at the light that came in from the street lamp. He began to sing to it in a low voice — the song of the river as it ran over the soft grass and among the flowers in the country at the back of the north wind. He sang on till the baby went sound asleep. He himself got sleepier and sleepier, though the cabman and his wife only got wider awake all the time. At length, Diamond found himself nodding. He got up and laid the baby gently in its cradle and stole quietly out and home again to his own bed.

“Wife,” said the cabman, “did you see that angel?”

“Yes,” answered his wife, “it is little Diamond who lives in the next yard.”

She knew him well enough. She was the neighbor who had the fire lighted and the tea ready for them when Diamond and his mother came home from Sandwich on that rainy, gloomy night. Her husband was somehow very sorry now and ashamed of the misery he had caused — was it the song of the river which Diamond had sung that caused it? He tried hard to forget where the drink shop stood and for a good many weeks managed to keep away from it.

One day when their cab was waiting for a fare, Diamond jumped down to run a little and stretch his legs. He strolled up to the crossing where Nanny and her broom were to be found in all weathers. Just as he was going to speak to her a tall gentleman stepped upon the crossing. He was glad to find it clean and he gave the girl a penny. When she made him a courtesy, he looked at her again and said, “Where do you live, my child?”

“Paradise Row,” she answered. “Next door to the Adam and Eve — down the area.”

“Whom do you live with?” he asked.

“My wicked old granny,” she replied.

“You should not call your granny wicked,” said the gentleman.

“But she is!” said Nanny. “If you don’t believe me, you can come and take a look at her.”

The gentleman looked very grave at hearing her. It was not a nice way for a little girl to talk. He was turning away, when he saw the face of Diamond looking up into his own.

“Please,” said Diamond, “her granny is very cruel to her sometimes — and shuts her out in the streets at night if she happens to be late.”

“So, my little man. And what can you do?” asked the gentleman turning towards him.

“Drive a cab,” said Diamond proudly.

“Anything else?” asked the gentleman smiling.

“Take care of the baby,” said Diamond; “clean father’s boots and make him a bit of toast for his tea.”

“You are a useful little man,” said the gentleman. “Can you read?”

“No, but father and mother can and they are going to teach me soon.”

“Well, here is a penny for you, and when you learn to read, come to me and I will give you six-pence and a book with fine pictures in it.”

He gave Diamond a card with his address on it. “Thank you,” said Diamond and put the card into his pocket. The gentleman walked away but he saw Diamond give the penny to Nanny and say, “I have a father and mother and little brother and you have nothing but a wicked old granny. You may have my penny.”

The girl put the penny in her pocket and Diamond asked, “Is she as cruel as ever?”

“Just the same. But I get more coppers, so I can buy myself some food. She is so blind that she doesn’t see that I do not eat her old scraps. I hide them in my pocket.”

“What do you want them for?”

“To give to cripple Jim. His leg was broken when he was young, so he isn’t good for much. But I love Jim. I always keep something for him.”

“Diamond! Diamond!” called his father, just then.

So Diamond ran back and told him about the gentleman and showed him the card he had given him.

“Why, it is not many doors from our stables!” cried his father looking at the address. “Take care of it, Diamond. One needs all the friends he can get in this world.”

“We’ve got many friends,” said Diamond. “Haven’t we? There’s mother and the baby and old Diamond — and the man next door who drinks — and his wife and baby — and Mrs. Coleman and Miss Coleman — and — and a many!”

His father just laughed and drove off.

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