Rosamond Oliver kept her word and would generally call at the school during the course of her morning ride. It also happened that her visits coincided with Mr. Rivers daily catechizing lesson. Keenly you observe how the eye of the young visitress pierces the pastor’s heart. A sort of instinct seems to warn him of her entrance and even when he does not quite see it, his cheek would glow and his marble-seeming features would change indescribably, becoming expressive of a repressed fervor.
Often Miss Oliver would also visit you at your cottage, and one evening, with her usual thoughtless, yet inoffensive inquisitiveness, she noticed your pencil sketches of a few of your scholars and of sundry views from nature, taken in the vale of Morton. She was electrified with delight.
“Did you draw these pictures? What a miracle you are! You draw better than my drawing master!” Would you sketch a portrait of me to show to papa?”
“With pleasure,” you reply. And you delight in drawing such a perfect and radiant model.
It has been several weeks since undertaking the labors of a village schoolteacher. With your efforts, you inspire your students to acquire quiet and orderly manners and to learn their tasks regularly. The rapidity of some in their progress is surprising and you begin to personally like some of the best girls, and they like you.
You are becoming a favorite in the neighborhood, as the parents seem to regard you with approbation and friendly smiles. To live amidst general regard is like “sitting in the sunshine, calm and sweet.” Serene inward feelings bud and bloom. Your heart often swells with thankfulness, and yet, amidst all this calm, some nights you still rush into strange dreams - dreams agitating, stormy, and stirring. Dreams where, amid unusual scenes, charged with adventure and romantic chance, you still meet Mr. Rochester, and then the sense of being in his arms, hearing his voice, meeting his eye - loving him, being loved by him. The hope of passing a lifetime at his side is renewed and then you awake - recalling where you are and how situated. Then the still, dark night witnesses the convulsion of your despair. By nine o’clock the next morning you punctually open the school - tranquil and settled.
Perhaps it is these dreams that push you to risk St. John’s irritation and displeasure by remarking on his feelings for Rosamond. For one evening, when his unannounced visit to your cottage interrupts your work on Miss Oliver’s portrait, you take notice of how his eyes determinedly slide away from your sketch.
“Is this portrait like?” you ask bluntly.
“Like? Like whom? I did not observe it closely.”
“You did observe it. But if you do not know her, I have no objection to your looking at it again.” Rising you place the image in his hand.
St. John almost starts at your sudden and strange abruptness and he looks at you astonished. Gleefully you smile as you think “Oh, that is nothing yet, I will not be baffled by your obtuseness.”
“A well-executed picture,” he says. “A very graceful and correct drawing.”
“Yes, I know that. But who is it like?”
With hesitation he answers, “Miss Oliver, I presume.”
“Of course. And now I will reward your guess with a promise to paint a careful duplicate if the gift will be acceptable to you.”
He continues to gaze at the picture in silence; the longer he holds it, the more he seems to covet it.
You start again, “Would it comfort you, or wound you to have a similar painting?”
Furtively he raises his eyes and glances at you disturbed. “That I should like to have it is certain; whether it would be judicious or wise is another question.”
You are sure that Rosamond does love him and that her father would not be opposed to the match. Whatever reservations St. John holds, surely it can be dismissed in the face of such a congenial love match as this?
With asperity you reply, “As far as I can see, it would be wiser and more judicious if you were to take to yourself the original at once.”
By this time St. John has laid the picture on the table before him. He does not seem shocked or angry by your audacity - it seems like he is beginning to feel a relief at having the topic discussed so frankly.
“Does she like me?” he asks.
“Certainly, better than anyone else. She talks of you continually.”
St. John’s face falls slightly. “It is very pleasant to hear this. But it is strange. While I love Rosamond Oliver with all the intensity of a first passion, I experience at the same time a calm consciousness that she is not the partner suited to me. And that I should discover this a year after marriage.
“You see, I am resolved to be a missionary. God has an errand for me; to bear afar and deliver well His message. My nature is one that demands an active life, and ministry in a small village bears uniform duties that weary me to death. I long for an existence where my powers can gather their full strength and spread their wings. I have only a few more of my affairs to set right and I hope to leave for India within a few weeks. Rosamond - a sufferer, a laborer, a missionary’s wife? No it would be impossible for me to marry her.”
St. John is ever a puzzle to you. He has never spoken of his lofty plans before. After a considerable pause you say, “And Miss Oliver? Are her disappointment and sorrow of no interest to you?”
“Miss Oliver is surrounded by suitors; in less than a month, my image will be effaced from her heart.”
“You speak coolly, but the conflict wears away your resolve. I see how you suffer.”
“No, if I seem restless or anxious, it is only over the prospects of my departure. Just this morning I received news that my successor’s arrival has been delayed yet again.”
“I remark on how you tremble and become flushed whenever Miss Oliver enters the schoolroom. But I see that I cannot turn you from your goal. Might you relinquish your scheme of becoming a missionary and find some good to do in another parish?”
“I cannot relinquish my vocation. It is my foundation on earth for a mansion in heaven. It is dearer than the blood in my veins. Do not pity me. As you have taken my confidence by storm, know that I am simply a cold, hard, ambitious man. Natural affection only has power over me. Reason, and not feeling is my guide and my desire to rise higher and do more than others is insatiable. I honor endurance, perseverance, industry and talent because they are the means by which men achieve great ends. When I color and shake before Miss Oliver it is a mere fever of the flesh and not a convulsion of the soul.”
Having said this, he stands and takes his hat, once more looking at the portrait. “She is indeed lovely,” he murmurs.
“And may I paint one like it for you?”
“No, but I thank you for your offer.”
He draws another sheet over the painting, a mere scratch sheet of yours, and suddenly he starts and tears off a piece at the bottom.
“What is the matter?” you ask, curious.
“Nothing in the world,” he replies, replacing the paper with another on top. The slip he has torn disappears into his glove and with a hasty nod he vanishes.
Alas, your attempt at matchmaking has not succeeded.
Go to FORTY-SIX