When Calls the Heart(4)

By: Janette Oke

"Lay aside your hat and join me," she called. I detected excitement in her voice.

I placed my light shawl and hat on the hall table and took a chair opposite Mother. I felt I could use a cup of strong, hot tea.

"I got a letter from Jonathan," Mother announced as she handed me my cup.

I assumed then that her excitement was due to Jonathan's letter, or the news that it contained.

Jonathan was still special to Mother. Being her firstborn and only child from her first marriage, he was also her first love in many ways. Julie had on occasion suggested that Mother loved Jonathan more than the rest of us. I tried to convince Julie that Mother did not love him more-just differently.

I often thought how difficult it must have been for her to give him up, to let him go. Jonathan had been just nineteen when he decided that he must go west. I was only four years old at the time and too young to really understand it all, but I had been aware after he left that something was different about our home, about Mother, though she tried hard not to let it affect the rest of us. Three months after Jonathan had left, baby Matthew had arrived, and Mother's world had taken on new meaning. Yet not even Matt had taken Jonathan's place in her heart.

And now Mother sat opposite me, calmly serving tea, though I could tell that she felt anything but calm. Whatever the news in Jonathan's letter, I sensed that Mother was excited rather than concerned, so her tenseness did not frighten me.

"How is he?" I asked, choosing to let Mother pick her own time and words for revealing her excitement.

"Oh, just fine. The family is well. Mary is feeling fine. She is due soon now. Jonathan's lumber business is growing. He had to hire another clerk last month."

It all sounded good. I was happy for this older brother whom I barely remembered, vet somehow I felt that Mother's present mood did not stem from any of the facts that she had so hurriedly stated. I mumbled a polite response about being glad for Jonathan's good fortune and sipped my tea. I did wish that Mother would get to the point.

Mother didn't even lift her cup; instead, she reached into the bosom of her gown and removed Jonathan's recent letter. We were all used to her doing that. Whenever a letter from Jonathan arrived, she would read it through a number of times and then tuck it in the front of her dress. She carried it around with her for days and would pull it forth and reread it whenever time allowed.

She carefully unfolded it now. But rather than pass it to me as she normally did, she began to hurriedly read aloud. She passed quickly through Jonathan's greetings as though she was anxious to get to the real heart of the letter. As I continued to sip my tea, I could hear the excitement growing in her voice. She suddenly slowed down, and I knew that she intended for me to hear and understand every word.

" `There is no end to opportunities here in the West. I know several men who came out with nothing and who now have great homes and flourishing businesses. All that one needs is determination, stamina and a bit of horse sense.' "

Surely Mother isn't contemplating urging Papa to moue West was the foolish thought that popped into my mind. Mother read on.

" `I have given a great deal of thought to my family lately. It would be so good to have one of my own here. I miss you all so much. Especially you, Mother, but you know that.

" `It's easy to think of the West as a man's land, and so it is; but there are plenty of opportunities here for women as well. And I might add that we in the West realize that if' we are to grow strong, we need fine young women to make homes for our men and ensure proper families for our future.' "

I must have grimaced some as I thought, What a cold, calculating watt to look at marriage. But Mother continued without interruption-I had missed a few words.

" ... so I thought of Elizabeth.'

Confusing thoughts exploded in my mind. Elizabeth? Me? Me WHAT? Is he suggesting that I go bargain-hunting for some western shopkeeper or backwoods rancher for a husband? Not me! Never! Never! I felt that I would rather die first.

The blood had drained from my face as I started to rise from my chair. "Never," I whispered to myself. But Mother had paid no attention to my soft gasp and hurried on.

" `Teachers are sorely needed here. Many mothers in country areas still must tutor their children. But these women have little time and no training. We are anxious to change all of that. We want our next generations to be well educated, because in the future we hope to pick the leaders of our new province from among our own.

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