When I discovered that Miss Oliver’s father greatly admired the Rivers family, and would have no objection to her marrying a vicar, I decided to try to persuade St John to marry her. I thought he could do more good with Miss Oliver’s money in England, than as a missionary under the baking sun in the East.
My chance came some weeks later, when he visited me one November evening in my little cottage. He noticed a sketch I had been doing of Miss Oliver, and could not take his eyes off it.
‘I could paint you an exact copy,’ I said gently, ‘if you admit that you would like it.’
‘She’s so beautiful!’ he murmured, still looking at it. ‘I would certainly like to have it.’
‘She likes you, I’m sure,’ I said, greatly daring, ‘and her father respects you. You ought to marry her.’
‘It’s very pleasant to hear this,’ he said, not at all shocked by my honesty. ‘I shall allow myself fifteen minutes to think about her.’ And he actually put his watch on the table, and sat back in his chair, closing his eyes. ‘Married to the lovely Rosamund Oliver! Let me just imagine it! My heart is full of delight!’ And there was silence for a quarter of an hour until he picked up his watch, and put the sketch back on the table.
‘Temptation has a bitter taste,’ he said, shaking his head. ‘I can’t marry her. You see, although I love her so deeply, I know that Rosamund would not make a good wife for a missionary.’
‘But you needn’t be a missionary!’ I cried. ‘Indeed I must! It’s the great work God has chosen me to do! I shall carry with me into the darkest corners of the world knowledge, peace, freedom, religion, the hope of heaven! That is what I live for, and what I shall die for!’
‘What about Miss Oliver?’ I asked after a moment. ‘She may be very disappointed if you don’t marry her.’
‘Miss Oliver will forget me in a month, and will probably marry someone who’ll make her far happier than I ever could!’
‘You speak calmly, but I know you’re suffering.’
‘You are original,’ he said, looking surprised. He had clearly not imagined that men and women could discuss such deep feelings together. ‘But believe me, I have overcome this weakness of mine, and become as hard as a rock. My only ambition now is to serve God.’ As he picked up his hat before leaving, something on a piece of paper on the table caught his eye. He glanced at me, then tore off a tiny piece very quickly, and with a rapid ‘Goodbye!’ rushed out of the cottage. I could not imagine what he had found to interest him so much.