At the Back of the North Wind, by George MacDonald

Chapter VII

Diamond Drives the Cab

within a month he was able to spell out most of the verses for himself

The question of the tall gentleman as to whether Diamond could read or not, set his father to thinking it was high time he could. As soon as old Diamond was fed and bedded, he began the task of teaching him that very night. It was not much of a task to Diamond for his father took for the lesson book the same one which North Wind had waved the leaves of on the sands at Sandwich. Within a month, he was able to spell out most of the verses for himself. But he never found in it the river song which he thought his mother had read from it. Could it have been North Wind doing the reading in his mother’s voice?

It was not long before Diamond managed with many blunders to read all the rhymes in his book to his mother. Then he said, “In a week or so, I shall be able to go to the tall gentleman and tell him I can read.” But before the week was out he had another reason for going to the gentleman, whose name he found out was Mr. Raymond. For three days, Nanny had not been at her crossing. Diamond was quite anxious about her, fearing she must be ill. On the fourth day not seeing her yet, he said to his father, “I want to go and look after Nanny. She can’t be well.”

“All right,” said his father. “Only take care of yourself, Diamond.”

So Diamond set off to find his way to Nanny’s home. It was a long distance and he had to ask his way over and over again. But he kept on without getting discouraged and at last he came to it.

Happily for Diamond, the ugly old granny had gone out. He laid his ear to the door and thought he heard a moaning within. He tried the door and found it was not locked. It was a dreary place indeed — and very dark, for the window was below the level of the street and was covered with mud. And the smell in the room was dreadful!

He could see next to nothing at first but he heard the moaning plainly enough now. Soon he found his friend lying with closed eyes and a white suffering face on a heap of rags in a corner. He went up to her and spoke but she made him no answer. She did not even hear him. Taking out a lump of barley sugar candy he had brought for her he laid it down beside her and hurried away. He was going to find Mr. Raymond and see if he could not do something for Nanny.

It was a long walk to Mr. Raymond’s door but he got there at last. Yet after all, the servant was not going to let him in, only Mr. Raymond came out into the hall just then and saw him and recognized him at once.

“Come in, my little man,” he said. “I suppose you have come to claim your six-pence.”

“No, sir, not that.”

“What! Can’t you read yet?”

“Yes,” said Diamond. “I can now a little. But I’ve come to tell you about Nanny — the little girl at the crossing.”

“Oh, yes, I remember her,” said Mr. Raymond. “What is it about Nanny?”

Diamond told him all about her — how she was sick, and how dark it was where she lived and with bad smells. Now, Mr. Raymond was one of the kindest men in London and was well known at the children’s hospital. He hurried there now, and some one went from there at once to find Nanny. Before night, they sent a litter for her and soon the little girl was lying in a nice clean bed, though she was too sick to know anything about it.

Diamond overheard a doctor say to Mr. Raymond, “How do you suppose the little chap knew what to do about Nanny?”

“He doesn’t know that I have been at the back of the north wind,” he said to himself. “If you have once been there, it just comes to you how to do a little to help.”

After Nanny had been well seen to, Mr. Raymond took the boy home with him and they soon settled the matter of the six-pence between them.

“And now, what will you do with it?” the gentleman asked him.

“Take it home to my mother,” answered Diamond. “She has a tea-pot with a broken spout and she keeps all her money in it. It isn’t much but she saves it up to buy shoes for me. And there’s the baby — he’ll want shoes soon. And every six-pence is something, isn’t it?”

“To be sure, my little man. And here is the book for you, full of pictures and stories.”

There were poems in it too, and Diamond at once began to puzzle out one of them which ran like this:

I have only one foot, but thousands of toes;

My one foot stands but never goes.

I have many arms and they are 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.

In the summer, with song I shake and quiver,

But in winter, I fast and groan and shiver.

When Diamond ran home with his new book in his hand, he found his father at home already. He was sitting by the fire and looking rather miserable for his head ached and he looked sick. The next day, he had to stay in bed while his wife nursed him, and Diamond took care of the baby. By the next day, he was very ill indeed. And it was not long before their money was all gone.

Diamond’s mother could not help crying over it but she came into Diamond’s room so that the poor sick father should not hear it. Diamond was frightened when he heard her sobbing and said, “Is father worse?”

“No, no,” said his mother, “he is better. But the money is all gone and what are we to do?”

“Don’t cry,” said Diamond. “We’ll get along some how. Let me read to you out of North Wind’s book.”

So he read a little story about the early bird that caught the nice fat worm.

“I wish you were like that little bird, dear,” said his mother, “and could catch something to eat!”

After she was gone away, Diamond lay thinking and somehow he seemed to hear the murmur of North Wind’s river blowing through his thoughts and telling him about something he could do. The next morning he got up as soon as he heard the men moving in the yard. When he went down, the stable was just opened. “I’m the early bird, I think,” he said to himself, “and I hope I’ll catch the worm.”

he fastened the cheek-strap very carefully

He would not ask any one to help him because he was afraid he would be kept from doing what he wanted. With the aid of an old chair, he got the harness on old Diamond. The dear old horse opened his mouth for the bit just as if Diamond was giving him an apple. He fastened the cheek-strap very carefully, and got all the pieces of harness on and buckled. By this time some of the men were watching him to see if he would get it all done by himself. And when he put old Diamond between the shafts, got his whip, and jumped up on the box, the men broke into a cheer.

The cheer brought his mother to the window and when she saw her little boy setting out all alone in the cab, she called “Diamond! Diamond!” But Diamond did not hear her for the rattle of the cab and so he drove away. He was very much afraid no one would hire him because he was such a little driver. But before he got to his regular stand, he was hailed by a man who wanted to catch a train and was in too great a hurry to think about the driver. He got a good fare for that and reached the cab-stand the first one after all. As the other cabmen came, he told them about his father and said that he was going to drive the cab in his place.

“Well, you are a plucky one!” they all said. “And you shall have a fair chance with the rest.”

And he did, for another gentleman came up very soon for him. When he saw the boy, he was much astonished. “Are you the driver of this cab?” he asked. “Yes, sir,” answered Diamond, showing his father’s badge of which he was proud.

“You are the youngest cabman I ever saw!” said the gentleman greatly amused. “But I believe I’ll risk you!”

He jumped in and soon found that Diamond got him over the ground very well. The trip was one of several miles and the gentleman paid him three shillings for the drive. When Diamond got back, he stopped at a stand where he had never been before and got down to put on old Diamond’s nose-bag of oats. The men there did not treat him very nicely and a group of rough boys came up and began to torment him. But who do you think came to his rescue? Why, the drunken cabman whose room was next to Diamond’s and whose baby Diamond had once rocked and put to sleep.

“What is up here?” the cabman asked.

“Do you see this young snip?” the boys cried, “He pretends to drive a cab!”

“Yes, I do see him,” said the cabman. “I see you, too. You’d better take yourselves away from here or you won’t find me very agreeable!”

And they went in a hurry!

When Diamond went home that night, he carried one pound, one shilling and six-pence. His mother had grown very anxious and was almost afraid to look when she heard his cab coming at last. But there was the old horse, and there was the cab, all right! And there was Diamond on the box his face as triumphant as a full moon! One of the men took the horse to put him up and Diamond ran into the house and into the arms of his mother!

“See! See!” he cried. “Here is the worm I caught!” He poured out the six-pences and shillings into her lap. His mother burst out crying again, but with joy this time and ran to show his father. Then how pleased he was! And Diamond snatched up the baby and began to sing and dance, he was so happy!

The next morning, Diamond was up almost as early as before. But the men would not let him do the harnessing any more. They got the cab all ready for him and sent him in to eat all the breakfast he could and get well bundled up. His first passenger was a young woman to be taken to the docks. When he started back some roughs came along and tried to steal his fare. But a pale-faced man came up and beat them off with his stick, and told Diamond to drive away. Diamond begged him to get into the cab and ride. The man said he could not spare the money to ride — he was too poor.

“Oh, do come!” said Diamond. “I don’t want the money. You helped me. Let me help you.”

“Well,” said the man, “if you will take me to Chiswick, I can pay for that. Drive to the Wilderness — Mr. Coleman’s place. I’ll show you when we get there.”

Now Diamond had been thinking he had seen the gentleman before and when he said this, it flashed upon him that it was Mr. Evans who had been going to marry Miss Coleman. North Wind had sunk his and Mr. Coleman’s ship because their business was not honest and was making bad men of them. She had carried Mr. Evans away to a desert island. He had just got back again and was poor now and humble and willing to begin to work again in an honest way.

It was plain he did not know that Mr. Coleman had been ruined too and had been forced to sell the Wilderness and move into a poor house in the city. But Diamond knew, and as he drove along he was thinking what he ought to do. The gentleman would not find Miss Coleman at the Wilderness. And if he told him where she lived now, perhaps he would not go to see her because he would be so ashamed of having brought all this trouble on her by trying so hard to be rich.

Still he must want to see her very much and she must want to see him. So Diamond made up his mind to drive straight to where Miss Coleman lived now, and then they could explain to each other. So on he went.

Now the wind was blowing furiously and when old Diamond finally got to Miss Coleman’s house and held back to stop, one of the straps of the harness broke. Diamond jumped down and opened the cab door and asked the gentleman if he would not step into this house where friends of his lived and wait while he mended the strap. Then he ran and rang the bell and whispered to the maid who came to call Miss Coleman. A few minutes later, he was not at all sure he had done the right thing. For suddenly there came the sound of a great cry and then a running to and fro in the house. But after a little while, they came and called him in and Miss Coleman put her arms around him and hugged him tight!

The rest of the day, he did very well. And what a story he had to tell his father and mother that night about Mr. Evans and the Colemans. They were sure he had done right and he was so glad!

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:58