from
At the Back of the North Wind
by
George Macdonald

George Macdonald

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At the Back of the North Wind

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children’s fantasy

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At the Back of the North Wind

(1871)

Chapter I

The Hay-Loft
For one side of the room was built only of boards, and the boards were so old that you might run a penknife through into the north wind. And then let them settle between them which was the sharper! I know that when you pulled it out again the wind would be after it like a cat after a mouse, and you would know soon enough you were not at the back of the North Wind.

‘Nobody is cold with the North Wind.’

‘I thought everybody was,’ said Diamond.

‘That is a great mistake. Most people make it, however. They are cold because they are not with the North Wind, but without it.’

If Diamond had been a little older, and had supposed himself a good deal wiser, he would have thought the lady was joking. But he was not older, and did not fancy himself wiser, and therefore understood her well enough.

‘But what’s beautiful can’t be bad. You’re not bad, North Wind?’

‘No; I’m not bad. But sometimes beautiful things grow bad by doing bad, and it takes some time for their badness to spoil their beauty. So little boys may be mistaken if they go after things because they are beautiful.’

Topic:

Beauty

Chapter 2

The Lawn
Diamond, however, had not been out so late before in all his life, and things looked so strange about him!—just as if he had got into Fairyland, of which he knew quite as much as anybody; for his mother had no money to buy books to set him wrong on the subject.

Topic:

Books (general)

He began to wonder whether he was in a dream or not. It was important to determine this. ‘For,’ thought Diamond, ‘if I am in a dream, I am safe in my bed, and I needn’t cry. But if I’m not in a dream, I’m out here, and perhaps I had better cry, or, at least, I’m not sure whether I can help it.’ He came to the conclusion, however, that, whether he was in a dream or not, there could be no harm in not crying for a little while longer: he could begin whenever he liked.

Topic:

Dreams

Chapter 3

Old Diamond

‘Why should you see things,’ returned North Wind, ‘that you wouldn’t understand or know what to do with? Good people see good things; bad people, bad things.’

Chapter 4

North Wind

‘I wonder you’re so good. I should kill myself.’

‘Oh no, you wouldn’t! When I think of it, I always want to see what’s coming next, and so I always wait till next is over.’

Topic:

Suicide

Chapter 5

The Summer-House

‘How do you know that?’

‘It would become you better to ask how you are to know it.’

‘You’ve just told me.’

‘Yes. But what’s the use of knowing a thing only because you’re told it?’

Topic:

Authority

Chapter 7

The Cathedral

‘How kind you are, North Wind!’

‘I am only just. All kindness is but justice. We owe it.’

Topic:

Justice

Chapter 9

How Diamond Got to the Back of the North Wind
Everything looked very strange, indeed; for here was a town abandoned by its nurse, the sea, like an old oyster left on the shore till it gasped for weariness. It used to be one of the five chief seaports in England, but it began to hold itself too high, and the consequence was the sea grew less and less intimate with it, gradually drew back, and kept more to itself, till at length it left it high and dry: Sandwich was a seaport no more; the sea went on with its own tide-business a long way off, and forgot it. Of course it went to sleep, and had no more to do with ships. That’s what comes to cities and nations, and boys and girls, who say, ‘I can do without your help. I’m enough for myself.’

‘It is not good at all—mind that, Diamond—to do everything for those you love, and not give them a share in the doing. It’s not kind. It’s making too much of yourself, my child. [...]

‘But how could he be a man of sense and grumble at you when you were doing your best for him?’

‘Oh! you must make allowances,’ said North Wind, ‘or you will never do justice to anybody.’

Chapter 12

Who Met Diamond at Sandwich
It is a hard thing for a rich man to grow poor; but it is an awful thing for him to grow dishonest, and some kinds of speculation lead a man deep into dishonesty before he thinks what he is about. Poverty will not make a man worthless—he may be worth a great deal more when he is poor than he was when he was rich; but dishonesty goes very far indeed to make a man of no value—a thing to be thrown out in the dust-hole of the creation, like a bit of a broken basin, or a dirty rag.
Chapter 16

Diamond Makes a Beginning
But to try to make others comfortable is the only way to get right comfortable ourselves, and that comes partly of not being able to think so much about ourselves when we are helping other people. For our Selves will always do pretty well if we don’t pay them too much attention.
Diamond learned to drive all the sooner that he had been accustomed to do what he was told, and could obey the smallest hint in a moment. Nothing helps one to get on like that. Some people don’t know how to do what they are told; they have not been used to it, and they neither understand quickly nor are able to turn what they do understand into action quickly. With an obedient mind one learns the rights of things fast enough; for it is the law of the universe, and to obey is to understand.

Topic:

Education

Chapter 17

Diamond Goes On
Some may think it was not the best place in the world for him to be brought up in; but it must have been, for there he was. At first, he heard a good many rough and bad words; but he did not like them, and so they did him little harm. He did not know in the least what they meant, but there was something in the very sound of them, and in the tone of voice in which they were said, which Diamond felt to be ugly. So they did not even stick to him, not to say get inside him.

‘Though, to be sure,’ said Diamond’s father—with what truth I cannot say, but he believed what he said— ‘some ladies is very hard, and keeps you to the bare sixpence a mile, when everyone knows that ain’t enough to keep a family and a cab upon. To be sure it’s the law; but mayhap they may get more law than they like some day themselves.’

Topic:

Economics

‘Bless the child! he forgets nothing,’ said his mother. ‘Really, Diamond, a body would need to mind what they say to you.’

‘Why?’ said Diamond. ‘I only think about it.’

‘That’s just why,’ said the mother.

‘Why is that why?’ persisted Diamond, for he had not yet learned that grown-up people are not often so much grown up that they never talk like children—and spoilt ones too.

Chapter 18

The Drunken Cabman
Diamond was knowing in babies, and he knew he could do something to make the baby happy; for although he had only known one baby as yet, and although not one baby is the same as another, yet they are so very much alike in some things, and he knew that one baby so thoroughly, that he had good reason to believe he could do something for any other. I have known people who would have begun to fight the devil in a very different and a very stupid way. They would have begun by scolding the idiotic cabman; and next they would make his wife angry by saying it must be her fault as well as his, and by leaving ill-bred though well-meant shabby little books for them to read, which they were sure to hate the sight of; while all the time they would not have put out a finger to touch the wailing baby.
For that great Love speaks in the most wretched and dirty hearts; only the tone of its voice depends on the echoes of the place in which it sounds. On Mount Sinai, it was thunder; in the cabman’s heart it was misery; in the soul of St John it was perfect blessedness.
Chapter 19

Diamond’s Friends

‘Why, child, you’re just counting everybody you know. That don’t make ’em friends.’

‘Don’t it? I thought it did. Well, but they shall be my friends. I shall make ’em.’

‘How will you do that?’

‘They can’t help themselves then, if they would. If I choose to be their friend, you know, they can’t prevent me.’

Topic:

Friendship

Chapter 22

Mr Raymond’s Riddle

Now if any of my child readers want to know what a genius is—shall I try to tell them, or shall I not? I will give them one very short answer: it means one who understands things without any other body telling him what they mean. God makes a few such now and then to teach the rest of us.

Topic:

Genius

I have only one foot, but thousands of toes;

My one foot stands, but never goes.

I have many arms, and they’re 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.

I grow bigger and bigger about the waist,

And yet I am always very tight laced.

None e’er saw me eat—I’ve no mouth to bite;

Yet I eat all day in the full sunlight.

In the summer with song I shake and quiver,

But in winter I fast and groan and shiver.

Answer

Topic:

Riddles

Chapter 26

Diamond Takes a Fare the Wrong Way Right
Before he got home again, he had even begun to understand that no man can make haste to be rich without going against the will of God, in which case it is the one frightful thing to be successful.

Topic:

Wealth

Chapter 28

Little Daylight

Now wicked fairies will not be bound by the laws which the good fairies obey, and this always seems to give the bad the advantage over the good, for they use means to gain their ends which the others will not. But it is all of no consequence, for what they do never succeeds; nay, in the end it brings about the very thing they are trying to prevent. So you see that somehow, for all their cleverness, wicked fairies are dreadfully stupid, for, although from the beginning of the world they have really helped instead of thwarting the good fairies, not one of them is a bit the wiser for it.

Chapter 32

Diamond and Ruby
It is a strange thing how the pain of seeing the suffering of those we love will sometimes make us add to their suffering by being cross with them. This comes of not having faith enough in God, and shows how necessary this faith is, for when we lose it, we lose even the kindness which alone can soothe the suffering.
Chapter 33

The Prospect Brightens

You never made that song, Diamond,’ said his mother.

‘No, Mother. I wish I had. No, I don’t. That would be to take it from somebody else. But it’s mine for all that.’

‘What makes it yours?’

‘I love it so.’

‘Does loving a thing make it yours?’

‘I think so, Mother—at least more than anything else can.’

Chapter 34

In the Country
But one part of it was, that the highest wisdom must ever appear folly to those who do not possess it.
Chapter 35

I Make Diamond’s Acquaintance

What would you see if I took you up

To my little nest in the air?

You would see the sky like a clear blue cup

Turned upside downwards there.

What would you do if I took you there

To my little nest in the tree?

My child with cries would trouble the air

To get what she could but see.

What would you get in the top of the tree

For all your crying and grief?

Not a star would you clutch of all that you see—

You would only gather a leaf.

But when you had lost your greedy grief,

Content to see from afar,

You would find in your hand a withering leaf,

In your heart a shining star.

Chapter 36

Diamond Questions North Wind

‘But what’s the good of talking about it that way, when you know it was only a dream? Dreams ain’t true.’

‘That one was true, Nanny. You know it was. Didn’t you come to grief for doing what you were told not to do? And isn’t that true?’

Topic:

Truth

‘I’ve been thinking about it a great deal, and it seems to me that although any one sixpence is as good as any other sixpence, not twenty lambs would do instead of one sheep whose face you knew. Somehow, when once you’ve looked into anybody’s eyes, right deep down into them, I mean, nobody will do for that one any more. Nobody, ever so beautiful or so good, will make up for that one going out of sight.’

Topic:

Individuality

Chapter 37

Once More

The sun is gone down

And the moon’s in the sky;

But the sun will come up

And the moon be laid by.

The flower is asleep

But it is not dead,

When the morning shines,

It will lift its head.

When winter comes,

It will die—no, no;

It will only hide

From the frost and the snow.

Sure is the summer,

Sure is the sun;

The night and the winter

Are shadows that run.

Topic:

Hope

‘She didn’t hear you with her ears.’

‘What did she hear me with?’

‘With her heart.’

‘Where did she think the words came from?’

‘She thought they came out of the book she was reading. She will search all through it to-morrow to find them, and won’t be able to understand it at all.’

‘Oh, what fun!’ said Diamond. ‘What will she do?’

‘I can tell you what she won’t do: she’ll never forget the meaning of them; and she’ll never be able to remember the words of them.’

‘I thought I liked the place so much,’ said Diamond to himself, ‘but I find I don’t care about it. I suppose it’s only the people in it that make you like a place, and when they’re gone, it’s dead, and you don’t care a bit about it.’

‘Everything, dreaming and all, has got a soul in it, or else it’s worth nothing, and we don’t care a bit about it. Some of our thoughts are worth nothing, because they’ve got no soul in them. The brain puts them into the mind, not the mind into the brain.’

‘But how can you know about that, North Wind? You haven’t got a body.’

‘If I hadn’t, you wouldn’t know anything about me. No creature can know another without the help of a body.’

text checked (see note) Jan 2006

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