When Calls the Heart(5)

By: Janette Oke

" `You say that Elizabeth is a fine teacher and a sensible young woman-and I am sure that she is. I talked today with a school superintendent whom I know. He is short of teachers. and some of those that he does have, he would replace if he could. He says that if Elizabeth is willing to come west, he would gratefully give her a position, and, as I said before, it would be so good to have someone from my family here.' "

Stunned, I watched Mother's eyes continue on down the page, but she was reading silently now. I got the impression that. I was temporarily forgotten and that her thoughts were with her beloved son Jonathan somewhere out West.

I was glad for those few moments to compose myself before I had to meet her eyes again. Jonathan was actually proposing that I go west. For what? Before he had suggested the teaching opportunities, he had written that they needed young women to "ensure proper families." Well, I in no way intended to help them do that. Definitely not!

I hoped that Mother wouldn't be too hard on Jonathan when she replied to the letter. I knew that he had meant well, though he must have known that our mother would never agree to a daughter of hers, on the pretense of teaching, going off to the wilds to find herself a man. Even if that isn't Jonathan's intent at all, I reasoned, and he is simply looking for more teachers, I have a perfectly good teaching position right where I am.

Mother finished reading Jonathan's rather lengthy letter and again tucked it in her bosom. Her tea had grown cold, but she absently reached for her cup and sipped from it with a faraway look in her eyes. I was on the verge of, "Look, Mother, don't let it upset you. Jonathan meant well, but you needn't fear. I have no intention of taking it seriously, . . ." when she lifted her eyes from her cup and looked directly at me. I expected a mild reprimand of Jonathan, but instead she said simply, "Well?" She smiled at me, and I could easily detect eagerness in her voice.

I was startled and flustered.

"Well?" I questioned back, wondering just what she meant. I couldn't understand Mother's rather extraordinary reaction to Jonathan's preposterous proposal. Is she actually thinking that I would even glue the matter consideration? How CAN she? Surely she must see that it is totally ... And then in a flash it came to me. I was to be Mother's love-offering to Jonathan, his "piece-of-the-family" presented to him over the miles. Somehow my going west to be with him would bring comfort to my mother's heart.

I loved her. She was a dear mother. Never would I wish to hurt her. I didn't dare bluntly blurt out that the whole idea was outlandish and that Jonathan had been foolish even to suggest it. With Mother sitting there before me, the "well" still lingering in her gaze, I couldn't say no. But could I say yes? Definitely not. But I could say maybe, until I had taken time to think this whole thing through, to sort it out in my mind, and to plan some way I could get out of it without hurting my mother.

"Well-it's-it's such a surprise. I'd-I'd never thought of the possibility of leaving-of going ..."

My mind fumbled about for words but found none to still the look of concern creeping into Mother's eyes. I willed my confused mind into control and hurried on.

"It sounds-interesting-very interesting." I tried to put some sparkle into my voice, but it. was difficult when I could hardly get the words past my tight throat.

Mother relaxed some, and her eves began to shine again. It was a moment before I realized that they were bright with unshed tears. I felt almost panicky. I couldn't disappoint her-at least not at the moment. I tried to swallow away the lump in my throat and forced a smile as I put down the fragile china cup.

"It's-well-I'll-I'll do some thinking about it and we'll-well, we'll see...."

Mother reached out and touched my hand. The tears spilled a bit from her eyes, wetting her dark lashes and dropping onto her cheeks.

"Beth." she said, "there is no one whom I would rather send to Jonathan than you."

I was touched, but frightened. I swallowed hard again, attempted another smile and rose from my chair. After a light kiss on Mother's forehead, I excused myself. I had to get away, alone, where I could think. My whole world was spinning around, and I felt that if I didn't soon get control of things, I would end up hurling off somewhere into space.

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