At the Back of the North Wind, by George MacDonald

Chapter IX

Things Go Hard with Diamond’s Family

It was a great delight to Diamond, when at length Nanny was well enough to leave the hospital and go to their house. She was not strong yet but Diamond’s mother was very careful of her. She took care she should have nothing to do that she was not fit for. If Nanny had been taken straight from the street, it is pretty sure she would not have been so pleasant in a nice house nor so easy to teach. But the kindness they had shown her in the hospital while she was ill so long had changed her quite a little.

As she got better, the colour came back to her cheeks, her step grew lighter and quicker, her smile shone out more readily, and it was clear she would soon be a treasure of help. It was great fun to see Diamond teaching her how to hold the baby and wash and dress him. Nanny had never had a little brother or sister to care for and she and Diamond often had to laugh over her awkwardness. But she was soon able to do it all as well as Diamond himself.

Things, however, did not go very well with Diamond’s father from the first coming of the horse, Ruby. It almost seemed as if the red beast brought bad luck with him. The fares were fewer and the pay less. Ruby’s work did indeed make the week’s income at first a little more than it used to be. But then there were two more to feed. After the first month, however, he fell lame, and for the whole of the next month, Diamond’s father did not dare work him at all. It cost just as much to feed him and all he did was to stand in the stable and grow fat.

And after he got well again, it was not much better. Times had then become hard and fewer and fewer people felt that they could afford to ride in cabs. The cabmen got fewer and fewer shillings to live on. Diamond’s household had less and less to buy food and clothing with. Then too, Diamond’s mother was poorly for a new baby was coming.

Diamond’s father began to feel gloomier and gloomier and if Diamond had not made himself remember that he had been at the back of the north wind, he would have been gloomy himself. But when his father came home, Diamond would get out his book and show him how well he could read. Besides he taught Nanny how to read and as she was a very clever little girl, she picked it up very fast. Nanny was such a comfort about the house that Diamond’s father just had to cheer up a little when he came home at night and the dull day’s work was over.

After the new baby came, Diamond sang to her and of course he had to make up new songs to sing to her because she was a little sister baby. It would never do, he said, to sing the little brother songs to her. While he sang, his father and mother could not help listening and forgetting for the time how bad things were getting to be.

The three months Mr. Raymond had spoken of were now gone and Diamond’s father was very anxious for him to come back and take Ruby off his hands, for he did not seem to work enough to pay for his keep. Then he was so lazy and fat, while poor old Diamond had got so thin he was just skin and bones! For Diamond’s father was an honest man and felt that he must stick to his promise to feed Ruby while he kept him, whether old Diamond got enough to eat or not. But he did wish Mr. Raymond would come, though when he looked at Nanny he felt that he would be sorry to lose her. For it was understood that a place as a nurse girl would be found for her when Ruby was taken away.

Mr. Raymond did not come, however, and things got worse and worse. Diamond could do little but drive old Diamond in the cab whenever he could be of help that way, and sing to the two babies at home. At last, one week was worse than anything they had yet had. They were almost without bread before it was over.

It was Friday night, and Diamond like the rest of the household had had very little to eat that day. His mother would always pay the week’s rent before she spent anything even for food. His father had been very gloomy — so gloomy that he was very cross. It had been a stormy winter and even now that spring had come, the north wind often blew. When Diamond went to his bed, which was in a tiny room in the roof, he heard it like the sea, moaning. As he fell asleep, he still heard the moaning, and presently, he heard the voice of North Wind calling him. His heart beat very fast, it was such a long time since he had heard that voice! He jumped out of bed, but did not see her. Yet she kept on calling.

“Diamond, come here! Diamond, come here!” the voice repeated again and again.

“Dear North Wind,” said Diamond, “I want so much to come to you but I can’t tell where to find you.”

“Come here, Diamond!” was all her answer.

So he opened his door and trotted down the long stair and out into the yard. A great puff of wind at once came against him. He turned and went with it, and it blew him up to the stable door and kept on blowing.

“She wants me to go into the stable,” said Diamond. “But the door is locked.”

Just then, a great blast of wind brought down the key upon the stones at his feet from where it was kept hanging high above his head. He picked it up, opened the door, and went in without much noise. And what did he hear? He heard the two horses, Diamond and Ruby, talking to each other. They talked in a strange language, yet somehow he could understand it.

“You ought to be ashamed of yourself,” old Diamond was saying, “sleek and fat as you are, and so lazy you get along no faster than a big dray-horse that is pulling tons!”

“Oh, I like to be fat and lazy!” said Ruby.

“And you like to hear master abused on account of you, too, I dare say,” replied old Diamond angrily. “Why don’t you get up a little speed, while you are drawing a fare, at least! The abuse master gets for your sake is quite shameful! No wonder he doesn’t get many fares when he has you!”

“Well, if I worked as hard as I could, I’d be a bag of bones like you!”

“I’m proud to work!” said old Diamond. “I wouldn’t be as fat as you, not for all you’re worth. You are a disgrace! Look at the horse next you. He is something like a horse — all skin and bones. He knows he has got his master’s wife and children to support and he works like a horse!”

“I might get lamed again, if I didn’t go slowly and carefully,” said Ruby.

“Lame again!” snorted old Diamond. “It’s my belief you lamed yourself on purpose so you could stay in the stable and stuff yourself and grow fat! You selfish beast!”

“I might get angry at you,” said Ruby, “if I didn’t know a little better than you do how things are coming out. What do you think my master would say if he were to come back — and he may come any day now — and find me all worn down to a rack of bones and lamed into the bargain? Do you think anything would make him believe that your master had used me right and as he promised he would? And isn’t it better he should live a little hard himself and prove himself to be an honest man who does what he says he’ll do? You don’t know everything, old Diamond. You would not probably believe me if I told you that enduring bad things is often just a way for bringing good things about. But you’ll see!”

Old Diamond just snorted sleepily in reply and gave all his attention to doubling up his knees and getting down upon the floor to go to sleep. The racket he made gave young Diamond a start. With a shiver, he seemed to come awake and see the stable door standing open. He trotted out of it, back up the long stairs, and tumbled into bed. But Ruby’s words kept sounding in his head.

“Is it like what’s in my book?” he said to himself sleepily — “that about a blessing in disguise, when things look bad but are working out all right — like things at the back of the north wind?” He got sleepier, however, as he tried to think and was fast asleep before he knew it. The next morning, he sang to the baby more cheerily than ever and here is part of the song he sung:

Where did you come from, Baby dear?

Out of everywhere into here.

Where did you get your eyes so blue?

Out of the sky as I came through.

Where did you get this pearly ear?

God spoke and it came out to hear.

But how did you come to us, you dear?

God thought of you and so I am here.

“You never made that song, Diamond,” said his mother.

“No, mother. But it’s mine just the same, for I love it.”

“Does loving a thing make it yours?”

“I think so, mother. Baby’s mine because I love her, and so are you. Love makes the only my-ness, doesn’t it, mother?”

“Perhaps so, Diamond. Yes, I think it does,” said his mother.

When his father came home for his dinner he looked very sad. He had not got a single fare the whole morning.

“We shall just have to go to the work-house,” he said and dropped into a chair in despair. Just then, came a knock at the door and in walked Mr. Raymond! Of course, he wanted to see the horses at once. And when he saw how fat Ruby was and how poor was faithful old Diamond — and when, moreover, he remembered how poor and starved the family looked though Nanny was still there and kindly treated — he knew that Diamond’s father had been stanch and true to his bargain, though it had turned out to be a hard one. He was a man worth helping — that was clear! And Mr. Raymond was now ready to help him as much as he needed.

He first pointed out that old Diamond needed only to be fattened up and Ruby thinned down to make of them a fine pair of horses for his country home to which he was now going. And Diamond’s father should go along as coachman. There would be regular wages again and a much more comfortable home in the country.

“And now, will you sell me old Diamond?” asked Mr. Raymond. “If you will, here are twenty pounds for him, if you think that is enough.”

“I will sell him to you, sir,” answered Diamond’s father, “if you promise to let me buy him back if I can, if you ever wish to sell him. I could not part with him without that. Though as to who calls him his, that is nothing. For I believe it’s true what my little Diamond says — that it’s loving a thing that makes it yours.”

“You shall have that chance,” said Mr. Raymond. So the bargain was made. How Diamond capered about at the thought of going to the beautiful country to live and having a yard and grass to play on! It would be like the old home at Mr. Coleman’s — perhaps even nicer than that. How he danced the baby and sang to it!

“And North Wind told me, Baby dear! She sang in my ears how bad things are just a chance to make good things come!”

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