At the Back of the North Wind, by George MacDonald

Chapter VIII

Diamond Visits Nanny

For a fortnight, Diamond went on driving his cab and helping his family. Some people began to know him and to look for him to drive them where they wanted to go. One old gentleman who lived near the stables hired him to carry him into the city every morning at a certain hour. And Diamond was as regular as clock work. After that fortnight, his father was able to go out again. Then Diamond began to think about little Nanny and went off to inquire about her.

The first day his father took up his work again, Diamond went with him as usual. In the afternoon, however, his father went home and left Diamond to drive the cab for the rest of the day. It was hard for old Diamond to do all the work but they could not afford to have another horse. They saved him as much as they could and fed him well and he did bravely.

The next morning, his father was so much stronger that Diamond thought he might go and ask Mr. Raymond to take him to see Nanny. Mr. Raymond was quite willing to go and so they walked over to the hospital which was close at hand.

When Diamond followed Mr. Raymond into the room where those children lay who had got over the worst of their illness, and were growing better, he saw a number of little iron beds. Each one of them stood with its head to the wall and in each one was a child whose face showed just how far it had left the pain behind and was getting well. Diamond looked all around but he could see no Nanny. He turned to Mr. Raymond with a question in his eyes.

“Well?” said Mr. Raymond.

“Nanny’s not here,” said Diamond.

“Oh, yes, she is.”

“I don’t see her!”

“I do, though. There she is.”

He pointed to a bed right in front of where Diamond was standing.

“That’s not Nanny!” cried Diamond.

“Yes, it is Nanny. I have seen her a great many times since you have, and that is she.”

So Diamond looked again and looked hard. “If that is Nanny,” said Diamond to himself, “then she must have been at the back of the north wind. That is why she looks so different.” He said nothing aloud, only stared. And as he stared, something of the face of the old Nanny began to come out in the face of the new Nanny. The old Nanny had been somewhat rough in her speech, her face rather hard, and she had not kept herself clean — how could she! Now, in her fresh white bed, she looked sweet and gentle and refined.

“Surely North Wind has had something to do with it,” thought Diamond. In her weeks of sickness, had North Wind carried Nanny to the country at her back — as she once had carried him — and changed her from a rough girl to a gentle maiden? As he gazed, the best of the old face, the good and true part of the old Nanny, dawned upon him like the moon coming out of a cloud. He saw that it was Nanny, indeed — but very worn and grown almost beautiful.

He went up to her and she smiled. He had heard her laugh, but he had never seen her smile before. “Nanny, do you know me?” asked Diamond. She only smiled again. She was not likely to forget him. To be sure, she did not know that it was he who had got her there. But he was the only boy except cripple Jim who had ever been kind to her.

Mr. Raymond walked about talking to the other children, while Diamond visited with Nanny. Then after a time, he stood in the middle of the room and told them a nice fairy story. He often did that and the children watched for his visits. After he finished the story, he had to go. Diamond took leave of Nanny and promised to go and see her again soon and went away with Mr. Raymond.

Now Mr. Raymond had been turning over in his mind what he could do for Diamond and for Nanny. He knew Diamond’s father somewhat. But he wanted to find out better what sort of a man he was and whether he was worth doing anything for. He decided to see if he would do anything for any body else. For that would be the very best way to find out if it were worth while to do anything for him. So as they walked away together, he said to little Diamond, “Nanny must leave the hospital soon, Diamond. They cannot keep her as long as they would like. They cannot keep her till she is quite strong. There are always so many sick children they want to take in and make better. The question is what will she do when they send her out again?”

“That is just what I can’t tell,” said Diamond, “though I’ve been thinking it over and over. Her crossing was taken long ago. I couldn’t bear to see Nanny fighting for it, especially with the poor lame boy who has taken it. Besides she has no better right to it than he has. Nobody gave it to her. She just took it and now he has taken it.”

“She would get sick again, anyway,” said Mr. Raymond, “if she went to sweeping again right away in the wet. If somebody could only teach her something to do it would be better. Perhaps if she could be taught to be nice and clean and to speak only gentle words ——”

“Mother could teach her that!” interrupted Diamond.

“And to dress babies and feed them and take care of them,” Mr. Raymond went on, “she might get a place as nurse maid somewhere. People would give her money for that.”

“Why, I’ll ask mother!” cried Diamond. “She could learn to dress our baby, you know, with me to show her how!”

“But you will have to give her food then. And your father, not being strong, has enough to do already without that.”

“Still there am I!” said Diamond. “I’ll help him out with it. When he gets tired of driving, up I get. And I could drive more if Nanny was at home to help mother.”

“Now I wonder,” said Mr. Raymond, “if you couldn’t do better with two horses. I am going away for a few months and I am willing to let your father have my horse while I am gone. He is nearly as old as your Diamond. I don’t want to part with him and yet I don’t want him to be idle. Nobody ought to be idle, not even a horse. Still I do not want him to be worked hard. Will you tell your father what I say and see if he wants to take charge of him?”

“Yes, I will,” said Diamond. “And he will come and see you about it.”

So when Diamond went home, he told his father all about it. But when his father went to see about it, he found that he must agree to work the horse only six hours a day. Then too he must take Nanny from the hospital and feed her, and teach her to be useful and keep her as long as he had Mr. Raymond’s horse. Diamond’s father could not help thinking that it was a pretty close bargain and so it was. Mr. Raymond wanted to find out if Diamond’s father was the kind of man who was willing to help some one else without getting any advantage out of it for himself. Then it would be worth while to help him. Diamond’s father was that kind of a man. So when he heard all about Nanny, he decided to accept Mr. Raymond’s offer and do the best he could.

Nanny was not fit to be moved for some time yet and Diamond went to see her as often as he could. But he went out to drive old Diamond every day now for a few hours at least. Then he had to help mind his baby brother for part of the time. So he did not go to the hospital as often as he would have liked. When he did go, he sat by Nanny’s bed and told her all that had happened to him since he had been there before. In her turn Nanny would tell him of what went on in the hospital — what visitors they had and things like that.

“Day before yesterday,” said Nanny one day, “a lady came to see us. She was a very beautiful lady. She sat down beside my bed and let me stroke her hand. She had on a most beautiful ring with a rich red stone in it. When she saw me looking at it, she slipped it off her finger and put it on mine. She said I might wear her lovely ruby for a little while if it would make me happy.”

“Her ruby!” cried Diamond. “How funny that is! Our new horse’s name is Ruby. And we took him so that we could take you to live with us, while you are getting strong again. I do believe a ruby is for good luck!”

“It did me good right then,” said Nanny. “For that night I had such a lovely dream. It began with a red sunset like my darling ruby ring. Then somehow a wind came out of it and blew me along out of the dirty streets into a yard with a lovely lawn of soft grass.”

“That was North Wind, I know!” cried Diamond. “That is what she does to me.”

“I do not know what you mean,” said Nanny. “I do not know anything about North Wind. But all at once there was no more ruby sunset but a great golden moon hanging very low and seeming to be shining just to be good to me. It was easy, I suppose, for me to dream about the moon. I’ve always been used to watching her. She was the only thing worth looking at in our street, at night.”

“Don’t call it your street,” said Diamond. “You are not going back to it. You are coming to us, you know.”

“That is too good to be true!” said Nanny.

“No, no!” cried Diamond. “How could anything be too good to be true? To be true is to be the very best thing of all. It sounds like your wicked old granny to say that!”

“Do you know, Diamond,” said Nanny, “I do not think my old granny is my real old granny at all. I don’t think she was ever any one’s granny or mother. That was why she was not good to me. Perhaps she never had any mother when she was little to be good to her. And somebody must first be good to you, don’t you think, before you can learn how to be good to any body else? Isn’t that so? But where was I in my dream? Oh yes, the big yellow moon came down closer and closer to the grass in front of me. Then somehow, it seemed to be my ruby lady. She reached out soft warm arms of golden light and took me up. I sank against her breast into very downy, golden clouds and went to sleep and left off having pain. And yet I didn’t sleep but knew it all the time, and just swung softly there all night long.”

“Wasn’t it really North Wind?” said Diamond to himself. “Perhaps it was North Wind though she doesn’t know it. Maybe the moon does just the same. What if it should some day carry her to that same country — at the back of my North Wind! Who knows?”

The nurse now came and told him it was time to go. Nanny had closed her eyes as if she were tired or asleep. So Diamond arose quietly and tip-toed away.

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