A new home
I spent a month at Moor House, in an atmosphere of warm friendship. I learned to love what Diana and Mary loved — the little old grey house, the wild open moors around it, and the lonely hills and valleys where we walked for hours. I read the books they read, and we discussed them eagerly.
Diana started teaching me German, and I helped Mary to improve her drawing. We three shared the same interests and opinions, and spent the days and evenings very happily together.
However, St John hardly ever joined in our activities. He was often away from home, visiting the poor and the sick in Morton. His strong sense of duty made him insist on going, even if the weather was very bad. But despite his hard work I thought he lacked true happiness and peace of mind. He often stopped reading or writing to stare into the distance, dreaming perhaps of some ambitious plan. Once I heard him speak at a church service in Morton, and although he was an excellent speaker, there was a certain bitterness and disappointment in his words. He was clearly not satisfied with his present life.
The holiday was coming to an end. Soon Diana and Mary would leave Moor House to return to the wealthy families in the south, where they were both governesses, and St John would go back to the vicar’s house in Morton, with Hannah, his housekeeper. Although his cold manner made it difficult for me to talk to him, I had to ask him whether he had found any employment for me. ‘I have,’ he answered slowly, ‘but remember I am only a poor country vicar, and can’t offer you a job with a high salary, so you may not wish to accept it. There’s already a school for boys in Morton, and now I want to open one for girls, so I’ve rented a building for it, with a small cottage for the schoolteacher. Miss Oliver, who lives in the area and is the only daughter of a rich factory-owner, has kindly paid for the furniture. Will you be the schoolteacher? You would live in the cottage rent-free, and receive thirty dollars a year, no more.’
I thought about it for a moment. It was not as good as being a governess in an important family, but at least I would have no master. I would be free and independent.
‘Thank you, Mr. Rivers, I accept gladly,’ I replied. ‘But you do understand?’ he asked, a little worried. ‘It will only be a village school. The girls will be poor and uneducated. You’ll be teaching reading, writing, counting, sewing, that’s all. There’ll be no music or languages or painting.’
‘I understand, and I’ll be happy to do it,’ I answered. He smiled, well satisfied with me.
‘And I’ll open the school tomorrow, if you like,’ I added. ‘Very good,’ he agreed. Then looking at me, he said, ‘But I don’t think you’ll stay long in the village.’
‘Why not? I’m not ambitious, although I think you are.’ He looked surprised. ‘I know I am, but how did you discover that? No, I think you won’t be satisfied by living alone. You need people to make you happy.’ He said no more.
Diana and Mary lost their usual cheerfulness as the moment for leaving their home and their brother came closer.
‘You see, Jane,’ Diana explained, ‘St John is planning to become a missionary very soon. He feels his purpose in life is to spread the Christian religion in unexplored places where the people have never heard the word of God. So we won’t see him for many years, perhaps never again! He looks quiet, Jane, but he’s very determined. I know he’s doing God’s work, but it will break my heart to see him leave!’ and she broke down in tears.
Mary wiped her own tears away, as she said, ‘We’ve lost our father. Soon we’ll lose our brother too!’
Just then St John himself entered, reading a letter. ‘Our uncle John is dead,’ he announced. The sisters did not look shocked or sad, but seemed to be waiting for more information. St John gave them the letter to read, and then they all looked at each other, smiling rather tiredly.
‘Well,’ said Diana, ‘at least we have enough money to live on. We don’t really need any more.’
‘Yes,’ said St John, ‘but unfortunately we can imagine how different our lives might have been.’ He went out. There was a silence for a few minutes, then Diana turned to me.
‘Jane, you must be surprised that we don’t show any sadness at our uncle’s death. I must explain. We’ve never met him. He was my mother’s brother, and he and my father quarrelled years ago about a business deal. That’s when my father lost most of his money. My uncle, on the other hand, made a fortune of twenty thousand dollars. As he never married and had no relations apart from us and one other person, my father always hoped we would inherit uncle John’s money. But it seems this other relation has inherited his whole fortune. Of course we shouldn’t have expected anything, but Mary and I would have felt rich with only a thousand dollars each, and St John would have been able to help so many more poor people!’ She said no more, and none of us referred to the subject again that evening.
The next day the Rivers family returned to their separate places of work, and I moved to the cottage in Morton.