A voice from the past
I promised to stay at Morton school until Christmas, when St John would be able to find another teacher. He was there when I closed the school for the Christmas holidays. I was quite sorry to have to say goodbye to some of my pupils.
‘You see what progress they have made! And you’ve only worked here a few months!’ he said. ‘Imagine how much more good you could do if you gave your whole life to teaching!’
‘Yes,’ I answered, ‘but I couldn’t do it for ever. Don’t mention school, I’m on holiday now!’
He looked serious. ‘What are your plans?’
‘I want you to let me have Hannah for a few days. She and I are going to clean Moor House from top to bottom, and make all the Christmas preparations that you know nothing about, being only a man. Everything must be ready for Diana and Mary when they come home next week, for a really wonderful holiday.’
St John smiled but he was still not satisfied with me. ‘That’s all right for the moment, but I hope, Jane, that you’ll look higher than domestic activity, and think about a better way of using your energy and intelligence in the service of God.’
‘St John, I have so many reasons for happiness. I am determined to be happy despite your scolding!’
That week Hannah and I worked harder than we had ever worked in our lives before, but at last all was ready. It was a delight to see Diana’s and Mary’s faces when they arrived cold and stiff from their long journey, and saw the warm fires and polished furniture, and smelt the cakes and meat dishes cooking.
We three spent the whole of Christmas week in perfect happiness. The air of the moors, the freedom of home, and the beginning of independence made Diana and Mary happier than I had ever seen them. Only St John remained apart from our conversations and laughter. He continued his serious studies, and spent much time visiting the sick as usual.
‘Do you still intend to be a missionary?’ Diana asked him once, a little sadly.
‘Nothing has changed or will change my plans,’ he answered. ‘I shall leave England in a few months’ time.’
‘And Rosamund Oliver?’ asked Mary gently. ‘Rosamund Oliver is engaged to a Mr. Granby, a very suitable young man, according to her father.’ His face was calm. I realized he had managed to overcome what he called his weakness.
Gradually our life at Moor House lost its holiday feeling, and as we took up our usual habits and regular studies again, St John sat with us more often. Sometimes I had the impression he was observing us. One day, when Diana and Mary were out and I was learning German, he suddenly said to me, ‘I want you to learn Hindustani instead of German. I’ll need it for my missionary work in India, and you could help me to learn it by studying with me. I’ve chosen you because I’ve noticed you have better powers of concentration than either of my sisters.’ It seemed so important to him that I could not refuse, and when his sisters returned, they were surprised to find me learning Hindustani with St John.
From now on we spent a lot of time together, studying. I had to work very hard to satisfy him. Under his influence, however, I felt I was losing my freedom to be myself. I could no longer talk or laugh freely, as I knew he only approved of serious moods and studies.
I fell under his freezing spell, obeying all his commands without thinking.
One evening, at bedtime, as he kissed his sisters good night, and was holding out his hand to shake mine, as usual, Diana said, laughing, ‘St John! You aren’t treating Jane like one of the family! You should kiss her too.’ I was rather embarrassed, but St John calmly kissed me, and did so every evening after that.
I had not forgotten Mr. Rochester in all these changes of home and fortune. His name was written on my heart, and would stay there as long as I lived. Not only had I written to ask Mr. Briggs more about him, I had also written twice to Mrs. Fairfax. But after I had waited in vain for six months, I lost hope, and felt low indeed. Diana said I looked ill, and needed a holiday at the seaside, but St John thought I ought to concentrate on more serious work, and gave me even more Hindustani exercises to do.
One day, while he and I were walking on the moors, he announced, ‘Jane, I’ll be leaving in six weeks.’
‘You’re doing God’s work. He’ll protect you,’ I replied. ‘Yes, it seems strange to me that all my friends don’t want to join me. God offers a place in heaven to all who serve Him. What does your heart say to that, Jane?’
‘My heart is silent — my heart is silent,’ I murmured. ‘Then I must speak for it,’ said the deep, stern voice. ‘Jane, come with me to India as a missionary!’
Was it a call from God? I felt as if I was under a terrible spell, and I trembled, afraid that I might not be able to escape.
‘Oh St John, don’t choose me!’ I begged. But it was useless appealing to a man who always did what he believed to be his duty, however unpleasant it was.
‘God intended you to be a missionary’s wife,’ he continued. Trust in Him, Jane. Marry me, for the service of God.’