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HESTER'S SHRINE.

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[ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.) HESTER'S SHRINE. BY HUGH SPENDER. CHAPTER I. WHAT memories of years ago her name calls forth There rises before me, as in a dream, the gabled homestead with its tnullioned windows, and wall terrace, a subtle air of u.'d world romance pervading its lofty hall, its old oak staircase and lligti wainscoted rooms. And, in the cavern gloom of the dining hall, who but Aunt Hester, with her sweet face and temper that matched it, so that we chilaren called her Aunt Patience. She mlone of all her generation still lingers in the old farmhouse, but her life creeps on » broken wing, and an air of tragic resig- nation has taken the place of her glad patience. There is reason for this, and if anyone is to be pitied, it is Hester Towns- hend. It was a day in June, many years ago. that Hester, then in the spring-time of life, came home with tears in her eyes but a great joy 011 her face. She said she would soon be leaving us, and for many weeks after, the uneventful routine of life was broken by the visits of her lover. Mr. Lawson held a commission in » cavalry regiment, stationed in the bar- racks of the neighbouring county town. He used to come to the Hall for the shooting parties that Squire Townshend —my guardian and Hester's brother— fave, and in this way fell in love with er. He was a good-natured fellow, a crack shot,and a favourite in his regiment, and he was apparently very devoted to Hester. I remember her inconsolable grief on the day the news came that he had been ordered off with his regiment to the Crimea. The weeks went by and letters came at intervals, telling of heroic deeds and still more heroic sufferings. Hester's imagination was fired, and she lived in a stage of unnatural excitement and exal- tation. Alas! one winter morning when the ground was covered with snow, the name of Lawton appeared in the list of the killed. The years slowly passed, and with them Hester's first agony of grief, let she continued to devote her life to the memory of her dead hero. He had died on the battlefield, gloriously fighting for hIs country. She determined to follow in his footsteps, as far as she could, hy clevoting her days to the good of her country in the cure of the sick and suffer- ing in the village at the gates of the Hall. But her first duty in the day was to spend an hour in the little oratory she had dedicated to the memory of her lover. There she would light the candles on the altar that she had raised—that Masses might be said, with permission of the Bishop, for the repose of his soul—and drawing his faded letters from their cas- ket, meditate on the Calvary of her life. In the evening she would glide away again to the little chapel, after a day scent in good works. Hester continued to live at the old Hall, when the Squire had been laid to bis rest, and all his wards had flitted. The broad acres had been sold, and there was only left the garden, ^"3 clipped trees, its 1 vied wall, and teiraces briffhfc with flowers in summer. She lingered like a shadow of the past living in the memories of the kyS(?ne:, _;i|ao.p Strange stories were told in the g Of her lonely life, and, with the ^ceptior of old Nanny, she found it keep her servants, for her habit of roam- ing hither and thither through the deser- ted house at night, talking to apparently questioning and answering some unseen presence, scared the rustic mind. On these occasions it was whis- nered that her face was radiant with an unearthly light, and that she held commu- nion with the spirit of her lover. Thus would Farmer Jasper make the bair of the villagers stand on end as he told the story, at the bar of the "Ihtee Kines how he had seen a ghostly figure flitting up the Jane to the Hall, had heard the clank of steel scabbard 011 the road, and the jingle of spurs. But Hester cared for none of these tales and remained more and more rapt in memories of the past. Her hair whitened, and her face grew .more wan Iml nathetic as each anniversary passed. Still she remained to me the gracious Smile ladv I had always known, until an toppeoed that shattei-ed h,r Jasper was returning: home one November evening* after his < R «ttbe inn, when he WM'topped by elderly man who ask tt?^roTTo\v'5 end in the village- W bless me'" ^ktr»n Startled at first bj^v Townshend as atrancer through the dark, and asked him, without ceremony, what his but>i- D<SYou"dbebest leave tl.e My .lone to-night," he added in a warning voice. «•It be a sad night up.theer. ««I don't want to disturb the g^od Jad* to-night," was the answer. But ldl me, my friend, what do yon Iuea,ll? There give all the tofonnatioi.needed h<> "She"imli"'ti"K the lady at Hie began.. F 11 HI nib, were 111 Hall with a jerk oC n*t oul, Jove with a i iirid 'e gol- fighting Roosians ye». since, an £ kii]e*\ t0j £ every via. 'J the day of°'is over it; and e\ iy li<rll,s tiie candies "Look" he added, slran. window? She be there praying for KS ri n,„ ,in s..v he went on, that she 'as been secn wa.lkiIJg about the gal'- den talkiug softly to Ii. in peculiar inter^t. „m.„|oiis old sr& xs: ir v. believe the larmer■ bM.uifce si y seemed to him incmuble. CHAPTER II. i'nes in the morning and He*f" v' in 1 he bc-st of ate a !iisg(>r>f] wife were spirits. e>:i»Mustcd every unusually l.>s5V(i;, • y pai Tlsoy Xinpled to put J he "w^ 8<Trr„ 1 "ns^d in. the not to bt. «i> questions. W retired' to the bar to find FmaHJ, re bun,ing to discuss Farmer J«M^f h ho!ir ai;d to tel! them the (l.ueh1 1' the in vster ious s! innger how he had «i the qilile sure the evening »>L„ nobleman, dis- tliat he :\vho had come to spyout guised, of coui^t 11P, iians, of future the land with a VIt .• £ «■ declaring that invasion. Jaspei J ^liGr-ities, when he would warn the a t the stranger passed u & cheery from the parlour^ lked wiih rapid "Good morning' street, They all, strides up the < o door of with one accord, ran to LU inn to waXch him. dreaming in Meanwhile, Hester Th(j her chapel that m t all the previous had been the saaaest m year. AH day long the candles had been burning m the dim oratory, and she had spent long hours there. She felt strangely lone and miserable this morning, and lighted fresh candles on the altar, for their glow gave her the sense of a con- soling presence. Gathering together the faded letters she loved so passionately, and pressing the precious leaves to her lips, she drew near the altar that she might read them beneath the shadow of her martyr's portrait. Sin- ul hardly begun, before the bell cla. 1 with a strident peal through the i-ti.ise. Hastily putting the letters in their casket, she snuffed out the candles, and glided out of the chapel, locking the door. Someone in the village she thought must be seriously ill, and she hastened her footsteps. \Vhen sick- ness or death came to the cottage, Hester was always there to comfort a&d console the stricken. Half-way down the stairs she met old Nanny, who told her with a puzzled air that a stranger wished to see her. "Stranger?" echoed Hester, taken aback. "I know of no strangers in our village. But, perhaps, it is someone who has come- and she broke off, unable to think who it could be. "Show him into the parlour, and I will lome down directly," she nodded to the old servant. Did you ask his name or business, Nanny?" "He said be would prefer not to give his name, and would rather tell you himself what he wanted. But he was a. nice-spoken gentleman for air that," said Nanny. OM Nanny's curiosity was whetted, and she was anxious for the interview to take place. Hester paused, a little flutter at her heart. She was so unaccustomed to strangers. Then smoothing out the folds of her black dress and putting an uncon- scious touch to her hair, she went downstairs. With sudden resolution, she turned the handle of the door and entered the parlour. The blinds of the bow window that looked on the lawn were half-way down, and in the "dim light Hester was vaguely conscious of a sturdy figure outlined against the shortened view of the green grass and bare trees. He made a step forward, then hesitated, as she came in. I am afraid," he began and faltered, "you don't remember me." Remember you. I don't think I have bad the pleasure She drew back with a touch of half- frightened wonder in her face. Some vague trouble stirred her heart, awakened by the echo of his voice. "Why, Hester, don't you know me?" he blurted out, coming nearer, and then noticing her sudden pallor. "I should have known you anywhere, even after all these years. Why, you've hardly changed at all"—with an attempt at a laugh. Then continuing hastily: "But have Ialtered so muchtbatyou don't know me ? Have you no word of welcome for the long lost on his return, when he comes to look you up the first of all ? But Hester said nothing, only stood with staring eyes and white, parted lips, breathing in fitful gasps. He watched her closely, at a loss to understand her great emotion. Then breaking into a harsh laugh: This is a nice sort of greeting for one." He checked himself and went on more deliberately. "Why, Hester, the past is past, and what is the good of thinking of the old story. We can't be boy and girl again, you know. But come, give me your hand, for the sake of old friendship. I want to make what amends I can for the past. How can I help you? 'Tout passe, tout lasse, tout casse'-you know the old proverb. But I swear that I never meant to behave badly. It was all that cursed wound, and then I was taken prisoner. Haven't you a word to say ? But Hester still continued silent, and her fixed stare was a reproach more bitter than many words. Then she lifted her hand, and pointed with stiff fingers to the door. Go," she said, and her voice bore no sign of her emotion, "and let me never see you again." "Well, then, I will go," he said, with some touch of soldierly dignity. "B:¡t you are wrong, Hester. I could do a great deal to assist you. If you would listen-I could explain all." He hesitated for a. moment, hoping that she would relent. But she still pointed to the door. A sudden gust of anger swept over him. "My wife is waiting for me," he hissed, "and won't be sorry to see me back again so soon." With this parting thrust, he bowed and left the room. He had the air of a man who bad done what he could, and felt that there was nothing more to be said. Hester remained standing rigid, immov- able. Her eyes were still fixed in a glassy stare on the spot where he had stood, hut the corners of hermouth drooped pitifully; her hands plucked at her gown. It was the face and figure of a stricken woman. The minutes went slowly by, as if each tick of the clock sounded a knell. Hester never knew how much time had passed, when a familiar haud touched her on the shoulder. It was old Nanny, who looked white and scared. Be anything the matter, mistress ? You be so strange-like and still. i>o ee, she wheedled, in her most coaxing voice, "sit down and tell old Nanny w^at has happened." She spoke with the confidence of an old servant, and tried to draw her mistress to a chair, slow tears of great pity gathering in her eyes. But Hester pushed poor Nanny almost rudely to one side, and passed out of the room, with unfaltering steps, and a stern resolve on a set face. StraIght np the stairs she went to her chapel. Once there, she walked to the altar, and tore down the wreath with maddened hands. Then she turned to the pne ateu and seized the portrait lying on it. The frame fell with a clatter on the ground, and the glass was shivered. She tram- pled on it as it lay, and then, catching Seht of the casket of letters, her rage as suddenly died, and, with a cry of anguish, she sank down, holding the relic to her h<When Nanny next saw her mistress, she was lying prone amidst the wreck of her shrine.

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