Chapter 162695012

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Chapter NumberI
Chapter TitleA SAD JOURNEY.
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Full Date1878-12-21
Page Number966
Word Count14649
Last Corrected2018-03-09
Newspaper TitleThe Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1871 - 1912)
Trove TitleHester's Christmas Gift
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Hester's Christmas Gift.

BY C. H. SPENCE. Author of 'Clara Marion,' ' Tender and True,' 'Mr. Hogarth's Will,' ' The Author's Daughter,' &c.

Written for the Christmas Number of the Sydney Mail.

Chapter I.— A Sad Journey.

A long btrctch of dusty road, when here and there there -was a patch of land fenced, with crops ripe, or ripening fast. If Hester Raynor had had an agricul tural eye she might have taken stock of the prospects «f the farms, and wondered if the selectors in the neighbourhood of Quamville were likely to extend their areas of cultivation, and 6o cheapen products for that rising mining township. But she was a Sydney girl, who had scarcely ever been ten miles from the city, and although she had had an interest in the prosperity of the district when Paul Severn had settled six months before, she could not have told

?whether the crops were good or not. And now, har s Test or no harvest, was of little account to Paul, and of none to her. With instinctive economy she had taken off her gloves when she left the mail coach, and ? held up her dress well to preserve it from injury. * The well-pricked fore-finger of the left hand, and the neat fitting dress, and the general air of the girl, might lead one to suppose that her business was needlework, and probably dressmaking. She was pro bably about twenty-four years of age ; her face though sad and troubled, was pretty, and was one of those which a smile lights up into positive beautv. t Hester's lips had never been very bright, and latterly had been very anxious. It might be a false alarm, he might rally yet. He had been very ill twelve months ago, and Mrs. Lloyd ' and herself had nursed him through it. The sum mons was urgent certainly, but still the 6ight of her might revive him, and when he got the trouble off his mind, and had told her that he could not die without j confiding to her. it would be better with them both. He had always been too silent and reserved ; she had felt it even when they lived in the same house, and it had been worse when the only intercourse was by letter. Of course, he was her superior in everv way, I and he might think she could not understandor sym pathise ; but there was o»e drop of comfort in this alarming summons, that he needed her, -and-f elt he must be open with her. To be ser- ; for by telegram to come at once, and to have to start before lie had ! time to send her money, and all she had was too little ' . for the journey. She had thought it was enough ; it : paid her railway fare, but the fare for coach was | higher -than she expected, and she found herself f . .steadied -'penniless At a' town about «ix miles from Quartxville, which had gone down as the latter had : .gone .up. She had not confidence enough to ask the driver to trust her for the extra fare, or to borrow from - : strangers. She could walk, and she alighted with al ; her little jhelongings in a hand bag. It was 'a most ! uninteresting road, but she could not miss it. If there ! had been .trees to rest under ; but there was no time ! to lose, lor die must get to Paul before it was quite ? ? dark. She -could not eat the earlv breakfast Mrs. ? Lloyd had prepared for her, and she could not afford i to pay for a dinner, so she was worn-out with ! anxiety, sleep, and want of food. She thought ; of a cup of tea at Paul Severn's with eager thirsty \ longing, for there was no brook, and no water-hole = along this dry .arid road. She was unused to such : Jong walks, and was only borne up by the desire to reach her ^betrothed as soon as possible. ?-, On the outskirts of the straggling township, where a. .quartz ^crushing engine was the most prominent object, she found a miserable-looking shanty, apparently erected by some digger or reefer on the . most, primitive principles of arcliitecture, the very first house near enough to the road where she could : ask for a drink of water without losing time. She j ? - determined to ask for that slight hospitality, but it i tame half way to meet her, for a girl, of -apparently ; ten yeans old, with unkept hair, shoeless feet, and the most nondescript garments possible, came running along the road towards the weary traveller. Her - frock appeared to have been made down from a f woman's gown, without any regard to fit' or suita | bility ; a very large patterned prmt abridged as to the : ftkiri, and pinned over as to the body, with the sleeves ; curtailed, so as to show a great bum across her dirty j *un-bumed arm — a burn that had not been tenderly j dressed and wrapped up, but had been blistered and ! _ broken, and from which the child was impatiently I whisking the flies. I 'Give me some money, please ma'am,'1 said the f child, 'my mother's bad, very bad, and we ain't got !: nothing in the house.' | ' I have no money,' said Hester sorrowfully ; ' see, \- . my purse is quite empty,' and she opened her little I ? purse and showed it. | The child stared. The idea of a well-dressed, well f cared-for-woman, a stranger in the district, with good I boots on her feet, a pretty hat on her head, and a ! ring (her engaged ring) on* her ringer, going on the ? ' ?-; ' . main road to Quartz ville, without money, was inex f '*? plicable. 'Ah, you're cunning ; you've hid it in I another pocket, a safe'un.' j 'No, no; I would not walk six miles if I had : money to ride, when I am so pressed for time. I am : going to see a friend who is dying.' 'And mother says she is * dying, too ; but nobodv I never comes to see her,' said the girl sulkilv. ' Not the doctor :' 'Poctora don't come when folks can't pay him nothing ; and I burnt my arm trying to malce her .some gruel, and then she said it warn't no good, and I can't make no more, 'cos there ain't no oatmeal for it, and no gin to put in it neither.' 'Is there nobody but you: Where is vour father?' **1 ain't got no father that's any good to me, or to er. He'd never mind if we starved to death.' ; 'Where is her' ' None so far off, mother says; but he can't abide the sight of none of us. Come and just look at her ; ehe is «o cross, I can't do anything to please her ; and now, the gin bottle is emply, she groans awful.' ' But I am hurrying to my friend, all I have in the world,' said Hester, with a pleading look, as if the child could understand all that was in her heart ; but as by this time she had reached the door of the vhanty, she heard a groan so deep, so bitter, that she felt she could not pass by, even for the sake of Paul. She might send Paul's doctor to the poor woman ; she might interest the neighbours in her fate. Surely -iod would not strike down her d«-ar one until »;he

reached him, when her delay was caused by charity for one even more friendless than he was. Hester Raynor had been used to poverty all her life, to careful management of everything, and calcu lating w. to what could be done without, in order to secure what wans essential. Even when her mother and father were alive, there had been the pinches of genteel poverty, and after their death, when she had been dependent on the charity of Mrs. Lloyd, a struggling boarding-housekeeper (until she learned the business of dressmaking), there was a constant watchfulness needed to keep the wolf from the door. But anything like the poverty of this poor hut she had never seen. A woman, with death written in her face, lay on a miserable bed ; the only cooking utensils appeared to be a kettle, which was on the lire, and a f rying-pan ; a tub stood in one corner, with a few potatoes at the bottom, and some empty gin bottles on the top, and a cracked tea-cup, smelling strongly of that spirit, but now empty, lay in front of the bed.' ' Here's a lady, mother, come' to see you ; but she says she ain't got no money.' The sick woman gave one eager look at the stranger, and then relapsed into her own self-absorbed con dition, and groaned with her own personal pain. 'I'm no lady,' said Hester, 'only a poor working woman. I have had to walk from Thrall, because I could not pay my fare any further. I have been telegraphed to from Sydney to see the man I was to be married to after Christmas, for he is dying, and I must see him before he dies.' ' Dying, is he : ' said the sick woman, looking at Hester's shapely hand, and the pretty pearl and turquoise ring, which was the more interesting still, ' and I am dying, too, and who comes to see me ? I may die and welcome — a good riddance,' 6aid she with bitter emphasis. ' No,' said Hester gently, 'I shall send you help from the township. Though I have no money, I can send you food and the doctor. He would like it, I know.' 'How do you know that:' said the woman fiercely. ' There is not a man alive who is to be trusted. Look at me, left to die like a dog in a ditch, in spite of all men have said to me, and far finer speeches I have had from them than ever you listened to, I'll be bound.' 'We have all our troubles,' said Hester. 'I am losing all I have to cling to in lif e. You fear you are losing life itself, but with care, and the doctor — ' ' And with care and the doctor, or ten doctors, do you think you are going to keep what you think so fine? No.* When our time comes we must go, and I am going fast.' 'And your little girl ? ' asked Hester, who wondered that there was no mention of her, or, indeed any look at her that showed anxiety about her future. ' Oh ! she'll go to Randwick, I fancy. Her father will never stir a finger for her or for me. I'd like to brand him if I could. Polly will have a policeman to take her up for a vagrant and a beggar, and cart her off to Sydney.' 'I don't want no policeman after me,' said the child. '.But surely you can make her father providefor you and her too,' said Hester, who saw the woman wore a wedding ring. ' He's got the whip-hand of both of us somehow. I've got my marriage lines somewhere, you can come and see them after I'm gone. Not before that, for I'll be bound you'll not leave your sick man to trouble about a sick woman.' ' The sooner I get to the township, the sooner I can send you help,' said Hester giving another despair ing look round the miserable dwelling to see if any thuig could be done now. Nothing for the woman, but something for the child. She took out of her little bag on old soft, clean, white handkerchief, she washed the arm tenderly with warm water, and wrapped it up, fixing it in its place with a few firm stitches. An impatient exclamation from the mother at the idea of her child's little ailment meeting some alleviation, while her own greater sufferings were un soothed, was the only thanks she received, if we except one quick surprised glance from Polljr, who was unused to be considered at alL The child next washed the cup carefully, and gave Hester a drink of water, saying there was no tea in the house or she'd have made her some. Again Hester resumed her walk, and the temporary detraction of her thoughts by the sight of such God and man forsaken poverty and misery faded away as she came nearer the place where Paul lay' expecting her. He would be disappointed at her non-arrival by thecoach, and blame her for delay ; — would he blame her for not asking credit or borrowing money r He had always been a little sensitive about poverty, and made her* uncertain as to how to manage so as to please him. It might have been better to have risked his displeasure than to have kept him waiting for an hour and a lialf, only she would not have found out this case of distress in which she hoped to interest him. With light quick step she passed the blacksmith's shop, from xvhich the sparks -were flying furiously, though it was late — but the man, who was working for him self, did not keep to the eight-hour system, shod horses when they were brought to him, — past the public-house where idlers had congregated, and who were drinking and smoking at a little table outside, — past the wooden court-house, which was not yet super seded by the substantial structure, the money for which had been voted on the years' estimates,— and now she reached the long, low, country store, — deal- ing in all sorts and descriptions of goods that she knew by the photo sent to her, as well as by the name — Paul Severn, General Store and Post-office, which there was light still for her to read. A good-looking' young man was at the counter giving out letters and newspapers as they were asked for, and selling goods. There was no one at the drapery counter over which Hester had hoped to take her stand after Christmas, and the shopman appeared very busy. Hester timidly entered. ' How is Mr. Severn r I am Miss Raynor. He expects »ie.' ' ne was better all day till just lately, but when you did not come by the coach he was so disap pointed,' said young Tom Law. 'I was unavoidably detained,' said Hester blush ing. 'Tell him I have come— very gently.' The young man left the counter for a minute, and returned with a stout rather elderly woman who had been a sort of impromptu nurse, but who liked every opportunity of leaving her patient and helping in the shop, so she vras glad to turn over Mr. Severn, who she told the shop assistant had been jobetitiff her like a bear with a sore head for an hour and a half, to the tare of die kind little traveller. 'Hester !' said Paul in a voice that was like rfn echo of the old tone. ' How are you so late r' »? I walked from Thrall.' 'Walked— why:-' 'I was rather short of money, and had mauVa mistake about the right fare.' ' I should have telegraphed toi you to draV Suffi cient for jtjur purpose from my old office — i&tot that I was,' said Paul Severn. ** There was not much time for anything — and I had spent my money on what I thought was ^needed— and Mrs. Lloyd had just paid her rent, «8*& the doctor's bill — and I did not think you would SSdkenie to borrow, so I left no margin ; but it is no maVLer. If you are not the worse for fretting. -I am **)ne the worse for the walk.'

' My Hester walked six miles in the heat for ihe want of half-a-crown,' groaned PauL ' It really does not matter. And it led me to an adventure which interested me. I must tell you about the miserable house and dying woman I found.' Paul Severn apparently did not care much about Hester's being interested* in anyone but himself. He gave an impatient exclamation, broke into a fit of coughing, which called for all the girls practised and tender tare for the next few minutes. 'Is your doctor near at hand,' she asked. ' In the township — probably he will look round to night. Why do you ask ?' said Paul sharply. ' We must see that he goes to see this poor creature to-night. And I must look out something fit for both her and the little girl to eat. They appear literally Etarving.' ' Where do you say they are,' said Paul with a scared look. 'Not half a rule off, in a shanty by the roadside. The child begged from me, and asked me to see her mother, and I had nothing to give Paul. Nothing, except an old handkerchief to tie up little Polly's burnt arm.' A groan from the sick man, as bitter as she had heard from the poor deserted drunken vagrant, smote upon her ear as she bent tenderly over him. ' Hush, for God's sake, Hester, not yet, not yet. After waiting and longing for you all these hours, I want you for myself now. Take off your hat, darling, and fan me, for these afternoon flushes and feverish times wear me out. Ah ! that is the way — not a tornado like Mr6. Batts, but your own gentle steady motion. I feel I can breathe here to-night ; let us only think of what we can be to each other.' Hester patiently moved the fan to and fro. Mrs. Batts, delighted in the mixture of business and pleasure which could be got out of shopkeeping, lost in the full tide of gossip about Mr. Severn's young lady, and her actually walking from Thrall to Quartz ville, never thought that the girl wanted some food and refreshment. Tom Law, the assistant, was boiling over with indignation at her inattention — even while he was glad of her service — and he was always afraid to tackle a woman of such mature years, and such a voluble tongue as Mrs. Batts. Three quarters of an hour had elapsed before the medical man of the district arrived. ' The young lady has come, I hear ?' 'Surely,' said Mrs Batts ' and such a season after the mail f she walked the last, six miles, as I under stand.' 'Indeed, she must be tired then,' said Dr. Flint. ' Are you anyways acquainted with Miss Raynor, doctor r ' It do seem to be a curious sort of taste to be walking all that long way by herself, in a part of the country unbeknown to her. Queer Sydney manners, surely.' ' Miss Raynor looked very tired,' said Tom Law, in a low voice, ' ' and that old Avoman never had the civility to offer her any tea, but planted her with the sick man, and herself at the counter, where to my certain knowledge, she's 6poken a hundred words for every ha'porth she's sold.' ' When did your patient have his last meal,' said the doctor sharply. ' Just when the mail came in doctor. I remember, because he could not eat it for disappointment. To be sure he was not to suppose the lady was so fond of a walk.' ' Then if he could not eat it, he had no meal. I wonder at your neglecting your proper business in that way. See and get him and Miss Raynor some thingnice atonce.' And Mrs. Batt's, in high dudgeon, obeyed orders, and to give her due credit, was not long about her task. When he entered the sick room, he found a very exhausted-looking young woman sitting by the bed side, with one hand held in Paul's, and with the other fanning his flushed face. ' The excitement is too much for you, eh,' said he sharply. 'Oh! no, not at all. This is Dr. Flint, Miss Raynor, who you wished so much to see. Don't you think this* little woman might help to pull me through?' ' She gives you a better chance, certainly,' but there was not much encouragement in the tone. ?' Are you much fatigued with your journey, Miss Raynor r' ' I am not use to travelling ; I1 am a little tired, and it has been very hot.' ' And upon my soul that gossiping old woman has never brought us any tea — though she saw I took nothing, liing the bell Hester; twice — that means food.' Neither Paul nor Hester would speak of the walk, he because he was ashamed of his forgetfulness, and she because she feared Dr. Flint would blame him for it. She saw a little impatient gesture, and she ad justed the pillows so as to ease him. Paul always thought wonders could be done with pillows, and Hester had had much experience at Mrs. Lloyd's. As she lent over him she said sof tly. ' You must let me speak about the poor woman.' And so she described the misery of the shanty, and the appearance of the women, and begged Mr. Flint to see her that night and to be good enough to take from the store what he thought necessary. Paul did not join in the request, but he did not demur. ' I have seen the woman before. You are mistaken if you think she is utterly neglected. Some unknown friend sent her money with a request to attend to her, but the case is hopeless. Worse than yours, Mr. Severn, because you obey instructions, and she does not. All the money she gets, and she is not so poor as you think, goes to the ' Diggers Arms ' for gin. She wanted to excite your compassion to the extent of a bottle or two of her favourite liquor. I hope you gave her nothing.' ' No, I promised to send her iietp\ buf ho money.' ' I'm sorry for the child,' said Br. Flint, ' she has a dog's life of it* poor wretch.' When Mrs. Batts entered with profuse apologies, but there Vere fco biany customers, she did not see as how she teoiilu leave the counter before, and the medi cal inah was about to take leave, Hester begged him to take some bread and jam for the'tihild's supper, as well as some invalid food for the mother, which he good-naturedly did. ' Nr»Vf', see that you take good care of yomself Mies 3?*ynor ; the nurse is the next consideration to the patient. Good-night. I hope to see you looking ^fetter to-morrow, and Mr. Severn too.' CHATTm II. — A Revelation. Hester Raynor could not quite explain to herself hoW she had got engaged to Paul Severn. Her own li£e had been, up to that time, uneventful, since 'her father, and six months after her mother, had died in Mrs. Lloyd's boarding-house in an unfashionable street in Sydney, and she had been left an orphen at the age of ten. Mrs. Lloyd had kept her for a little, thinking she would be claimed by English relatives of the Raynor' s, who might also pay-off a little balance which had been left standing in the stress of continued sickness, and the necessity for funeral expenses. Sydney is, however, a long way off from Sussex and Kent, and the relatives on both sides belonged to the impecunious class of struggling people, with large families and a position to be kept up, — and the marriage had not pleased Mr. Raynor's friends, and had given mortal offence to Mis.

Raynor's. They had no personal knowledge of the little girl, and as Mrs. Lloyd wrote kindly about her, they easily convinced themselves that such a little girl woulti be a treasure in Australia in one rank of life, -while she would be a heavy burden in England ' in another and higher rank.' Mrs. Lloyd read the letters in reply to hers with indignation. She too was a struggling woman, having an invalid husband and an aged mother to maintain, and she knew that the child cost something to feed and clothe and educate. Her acquaintances, her husband, and even his mother^ thought the burden was to much, but the pitiful face of little Hester at the unkind letters, awoke a divine ? compassion in her heart, and she resolved to make some . sacrifices, and to work a little harder, so as to keep the child herself. She went to a Government school,, and did very well there, but Mrs. Lloyd would afford no extra accomplishments. Still she considered that a gentleman's daughter should not be made a drudge in. a boarding-house, and thought she effected a satisfac tory compromise by getting her taught dressmaking, which would be us'eful in any rank in life. Five days in the week Hester went out among highly respectable families ; she had an excellent connection, for she was quiet and steady, and always looked like alittle lady — so that there were few weeks that she did not earn 12s» 6d. ; Saturday she always spent at home, helping Mrs. Lloyd with the general clean-up which wound up the working week — making up her accounts — and doing needlework for herself and the family. Hester, there fore, was no burden, but really a credit to her kind, protector, so that Mrs. Lloyd often felt ehe had entertained an angel unawares. She had almost a mother's pride in her delicate beauty, her professional skill, and her lady-like manner. When Mr. Paul Severn, who was on the staff of one of the Sydney newspapers, came to live with Mrs. Lloyd, he was struck with the great difference between Hester's appearance and character from those of her associates. ? He was soon told of her parentage, and discovered i that he had known pretty well a cousin of hers in j England. He was a cold reserved man, who kept | himself to himself, but as he was regular and liberal I in his payments, gave little trouble, and kept as good. j hours as his press duties would allow of, and 'was very i temperate, without being a total abstainer, Mrs. Lloyd j regards him as a model young man ;. the negative i virtues which suited her so -well were of more account ! than any positive ones— and Hester heard nothing but j Mr. Severn's praise. He had many books, and read j and wrote a great deal. If Hester wanted information upon any point, he could always give it, and she always found it correct. '\Vhen he caught cold, after a j sudden chill, after being overheated with rowing — the j only exercise he cared about — and was laid up at ] Mrs. Lloyd's with inflammation of the lungs, which j never was thrown off, but settled upon a naturally j weak chest, he found that the days when Hester was j at home — Saturdays and Sundays — were wonderfully 1 brighter for him than any others. Hester was inter- 1 ested in him more and more when he was weak and' ] needed help — and did not resent that he had a way of I demanding her good offices. He had always tried to ' ] assist Mrs. Lloyd with all her respectable boarders, , j and somehow she felt it sufficient thanks to 6ee by his ] face that he was more comfortable. The press work ] was at a stand for a while, and he felt curiously dis- j gusted with it, and desirous of a change to a climate ? not so moist as that of Sydney, where the air was more bracing, and yet where he could get something, to do. j He had a friend, about the only friend he had' j made, who was managing a quartz csushing establish-- : ment in one of the reef districts, who wrote to him.. ' about an opening there, which though perhaps infra : dig, would bring in a good income, and in which he wouldhave no night work, whichi hadibeeii thoroughly, reprobated by Mr. Severn's medical man. Mr.. Kelly therefore advised him to buy the goodwill of 'a general! store, where the proprietor had just drunk, himself to-- I death after three years of great prosperity. Paul had' ] some capital, and his friend, Frank Kelly, couldl advance some, and if he could make up his mind to a little hard work, he might, in a few years, be able to J retire on a competence. Nobody in New South 'Wales I knew ox cared much about, his antecedents, and Frank j Kelly would like him as a storekeeper near,, Better I than as a reporter far off ; so Paul determined-to make I the change, and announced his intention suddenly at I breakfast one Sunday morning. Mrs-.- Lloyd — she1 I looked on him as a permanent income, and she was so' I much attached to him — was dismayed. Hester showed I some natural regret, which Mr. Severn thought meant I a great deal more than it really- was. All her plea^ I sant ways, her receptivertess,' her appreoiatiba e£ feis - I abilities, and her gentleness as a nurse, came up6n him I forcibly, and on the dawn of the day he asked I her to marry him. He had- never thought 1 her half eo pretty as when she looked upJ I with the flush of wonder and doubt on her face ;? I his own manner grew warmer and more impres- I sive ; he spoke beautiful, as he always could do when 1 he could be roused to e^rriesthess1, m'Wi gratitude for I her kindly services and his interest in hef dutiful 1 but undeveloped mind — and her admiration fofhi^ I intellect, her grateful, sense of his preference, and his I consciousness that she could help him with his -work, I and tend him in his sickness better than girls otherwise I her superior could, so filled her heart with that I mixture of trouble and pleasure, of pride and humility, 1 which her inexperience mistook for love. Though Mrs. I Lloyd thought she would miss her girl much, she was I motherly enough not to stand in the way of such, I excellent prospects, and the knowledge that Hester's I stuck-up relatives would hear that she 'was going to I marry a gentleman better than any of them gave a zee* I to her satisfaction. I True, Mr. Severn's health was not satisfactory, but I neither Mrs: Lloyd nor Hester has been brought up on I the modern heroic principles — and their natural pity I flowed out to a poor man who needed so much to be- I well taken care of. Paul spoke of hie attack as a I Violent one, but that he was shaking it off thoroughly*. I and expected the change to Uuartzville -would I altogether restore him, and even the medical advice I saw more the advantage to his patient than the risk to I the girl. I But neither of the lovers was in impetuous haste.. I When Mrs. Lloyd's mother, who was failing fast, and I who had become very fond of Hester, entreated her to 1 see her out, and Hester proposed that she should stay I for six months, and join him after Christinas, he made I no objection. She had her own little preparations, to I make, and it did not seem to her right to rush into the ? married state without some months for considera- ? tion. I The first three months the letters were frequent and ? | on the whole satisfactory. Mr. Severn said thebusiness ? was good, and capable of a good deal of expansion, he ? thought he could make her very comfortable, and ? longed for the time to come -when she would take ? possession of her little kingdom— butafter threemonihs ? the letters were shorter, and fewer, and less satis- I factory, each letter promised a better next time ; he ? was not so well ; instead of getting better as the ? m summer came on he seemed worse. He wished he ? had his nurse, but did not urge any hastening of the ? time. Hester's mind misgave her that he did not feel ? in sufficient health to marry, and she hesitated as to ? whether she should set him free from his engage- ? ment. ? Mrs. Lloyd took comfort in the fact that, thougft ? the letters were short, Mr. Severn never failed to w^nd m up with 'business improving,'' or 'business still ?

and ' He was only very busy and not very -well ; he wanted a -wife all the more. Hester had no expen sive tastes, and would be worth a great deal in the - *hop for her skill in making up material, and turning ndds and ends to account, would double the value of much which a country storekeeper has to sell. When old Mrs. Moore died in November, Mrs. Lloyd thought Mx. Severn would write for Hester to consent to an immediate marriage, and come at once, or make a journey down to Synney, which would be better— but there was only a desponding letter and a few common places of sympathy. He really must be very ill, but he did not answer Hester's affectionate inquiry with fulness or openness. All this lurking suspicion as to the lover's health were far more than confirmed by the telegram received the day before Hester's journey. And now she saw he was dying ; there was no question of it. She had seen death before in her childhood, and more recently in the death of Mrs. Lloyd's Biother. She knew from the doctor's manner that he eaw there was no hope, and it seemed that she should not delay the explanation she had been summoned to receive. 'Paul,' said she, about an hour after the doctor had gone, ' there is no time but the present that we can certainly call our own. It will be better to have perfect confidence ; tell me what is on your mind that you cannot die without letting me know about.' Paul Severn hesitates ; ' I'd rather wait till Frank Kelly returns from Newcastle ; he may come to morrow or next day. He is the only one who knows anything about it. He is my executor. Of course I leave everything I have to you ; not much to sell — but if I had only lived I should have made a fortune here.' ' It was not about money that you wanted to speak, surely.' ' No, not just that only ; I wanted you to see Frank and to commend you to his guardianship. You will want advice about selling the good- will and the stock in-trade, and about other things as well' — and he paused. ' I cannot alter my will now. I don't think I want to alter it, but there is a burden I leave you. I have a child who ought to be provided for by me— not a wife, Hester, not a wife. I was divorced from her years ago. She was as bad a woman as ever lived. I beggered myself to get rid of her. It is an old ugly story, and I did my best to forget it. I did not tell you, why should I, when I believed she was on the other side of the world ? The knot that galled me so cruelly had been cut asunder ; she married the man she preferred to me, and she had to drift on her own course. As for the child,' and after he had got out these sentences, with pauses for breath, he stopped to cough long and violently. Hester felt a strange, horrible apprehension seize on her ; she watched the paroxysm with a feeling that delay was mercy. ' Yes, yes,' said Paul, slowly, as he got his breath again, ' that is the woman — that is the child. My own idiotic folly, in not telegraphing about money allowed you, my Hester, to make acquaintance with the woman who has been the curse of my life. She worried me from a distance with letters, and when I acceded to her demands for money, she used it to come and squat down close to me ; and she has killed me, as well as herself, by the move. We may leave the world together, but for God's sake, Hester, let us be buried as far apart as can be done. I wish Frank had come, he would have helped me out of this.' Hester felt pained in every way — pained by the long concealment, and by the reluctant confession ; and pained to think that he would have preferred to tell this story to her in any one else's presence. If she had known of this early sorrow she would have made allowance for a somewhat exacting temper ; she would have been less painfully conscious of the dis parity of circumstances and education which made her feel that he somewhat condescended to her. And the contrast between the comfort, and even to her simple notions, the luxury of this sick bed, and that of the wretched woman who had received his marriage vows, and had borne him a child, struck cold on her heart. And that neglected, dirty, ragged child was really Paul's. Surely the unworthiness of the mother made it only the more imperative that she should have been taken from her, and brought up decently by her father. All the memories of her protected childhood, for which Paul had never seemed to be grateful enough to Mrs. Lloyd, mixed themselves up with the vision of the little girl with the burned arm, on which she had tied her handkerchief ; and of the mother, as she lay gasping for breath in her unsightly rags ; and such is the rapidity of thought, that she had half -framed a life for them, as well as gone through her own, before Paul collected herself suffi ciently to be able to explain. ' Don't think I knew I had a living child Hester. Of course, you could not know how Barbara cheated and deceived me from first to last. To get money from me she made up a story of my little Mary's sickness and death, when I was working hard to obtain a divorce, and to revenge herself she kept her concealed, and brought her up as the slave of her own passions, and then of that vile scoundrel Stone. And now, when I looked forward to be happy, and was going to turn over the blotted page for ever, and begin a fresh pure life with you, she revealed that she had been poisoning my child's mind and soul all these years. What can be expected from a child of her's, brought up till twelve years' old under her influence? But she must have a chance ; she must not starve. But it is very hard on you, Hester, darling.' 'Not so hard, Paul,' said the girl eagerly. ' She shall eat of my bread and drink of my cup, and be to me as a daughter. Oh, Paul, I am so glad there is something I can do for you ; that no one can feel the blessedness of it as I do. I have always wanted to repay to some one the goodness Mrs. Lloyd showed to me, and surely it was God who overruled the mistake of mv journey to direct me to your girl. I I felt my heart drawn to her at once. Thank God that you did not know she was alive, and forgive me for my hard thoughts of you.' And tears relieved the poor girl's heart. 'It will be so hard to reclaim her from the wretched life she has led, to cure her of her bad habits, to call out anything like affection or con science. You do not know how trying she will be to you, with all your nice orderly ways, and your strict notions about duty.' ' You do not know how patient I can be. It would have been easier if she had been young, and far easier if we could have worked hand in hand for her. But still, what you think hard will be my greatest comfort.' ' And you forgive me, Hester. It was to save you from trouble that I kept this all from you.' ' Oh ! Paul, you were mistaken there. It would have been far better for us both to have told me of the grief of your life when you asked me to marry you.' 'Not only grief , but faults, for I think my mar riage to Barbara Hall was as wrong a thing as' I ever did ; for I never respected her — never trusted her — and yet I was madly infatuated about her.' ' More in love with her than with me, Paul ?' said Hester softly. 'In such a different way; there was no com parison. She was mistress of every art to inflame the passions, to pique the curiosity, and to work upon tiie vanity of man. She was strikingly handsome, but I never thought her a good woman ; but I wanted her, and 1 had to bid high for her. You don't under

stand. I don't believe it is possible for a little, gentle, moonlight woman like you, to conceive how I was worked on. And when I was secured, how I was duped and deceived. And now she has come to spoil my life, and to spoil yours. If I live to see Frank Kelly, I must talk fully over the matter which I have-as yet only hinted at; if not, you must con sult him about the store, and this business about little Man,', which is worse.' And Paul Severn, utterly exhausted, could say no more, and sank back, leaving Hester to ponder over the strange facts he had disclosed, and to make reso lutions for the new duties awaiting her. Chapter 111. — Guardianship Accei This explanation, necessary as it was no doubt, tried severely Paul Severn's strength, and Hester felt that it shortened his life. The doctor looked very grave on his visit the following day. He had been to see Mrs. Stone in her shanty, and reported her to be sinking fast. Hester proposed to Paul to leave him for an hour or two in the care of Mrs. Batts, and to take some comforts with her. Tom Law carried for her a bundle of clean bedding, and she filled a basket full of comforts in the way of food and drink. She dismissed the young man at the door, for she wanted no ears but her ovyn to hear what might be said, and went to the dying woman in the hope of exciting more gratitude, and calling forth some expression of re pentance. Barbara Stone was so low that, at first, she could scarcely speak ; — she submitted with querulous moans to have her rags exchanged for clean linen and something more like comfort, in which operation Polly took one side of the bed and Hester the other. She revived a little on drinking the champagne and sodawater, brought from Paul's sick room to hers, though she said it wasn't so comforting as Old Tom to her stomach. Polly stared in wonder at the proceedings, and Hester looked earnestly in her face to try to trace some resemblance. It was not an ugly face, nor altogether a stupid one, but the expression, half of fear, half of cunning, baffled Hester. Her eyes were black, like her mothers ; her features were not at all like Paul's. And this woman, who now was almost repulsive in her haggard leanness, with swollen limbs and hungry eyes — matted black hair and coarse unwashed skin, had once been so hand some, and so fascinating that a clever educated gentleman like Paul Severn had married her. Hester wanted to speak freely out of the child's presence, and sent Polly out to gather sticks, and occupations of which she was particularly fond, for it was somewhat like liberty, and a little like stealing. Hester looked at the little slight figure in the incon gruous clothing, and measured her with her eves for a complete outfit. ' Your Polly is a very small child, certainly, for twelve years old,' said she to the dving woman. ' Oh ! do you think so, but how do you know she's that age ? I never told you.' ' I know all about you ; you were once Paul Severn's wife.' ' And you're the girl that was going to step into my shoes, and to find out for yourself how they'd pinch you,' said Barbara, rousing to something like vehemence in her utterance. ' No doubt he's made himself out to bean angel, and me a devil. Trust Paul Severn to make out a good case for himself. If I had a grudge against you, as I've a right to have, I'd ask no better revenge than to see you married to him for two years. He'd fret you to fiddle strings. He wants everything ; — he gives nothing. He'd have seen me starve and die by the road side with a smile on his face, and say ' a good riddance.' ' ' But he has helped you — you know he has. If you made a bad use of the money he sent you, it was not his fault,' said Hester gently. ' Oh ! he knew he was going to his account, and he thought he'd make things better for himself by send ing money for the child — not for me — he always made that clear enough. And now he's abput as near his end as I am, and he sends you to speak smooth words, and to wrap me up and wheddle me a bit, and to fancy he is doing it all himself. Oh! I know he'll say to himself ? that squares all old scores for me, and I'll go aloft no doubt.' ' ' Don't speak so hardly, Barbara Stone. I left him dying, to see you. Death is the great peace maker. If you have had any wrongs from him, or from anyone, try to forgive them before you go into the presence of God,' ' If I have had wrongs ! What else have I had all my life r I have a heavy score against Paul Severn, and more than Paul Severn. What have I done to him that he has not done to me ?' ' You deceived him about the child ; that was the cruellest wrong of all.' ' The child— he'd have taken it away if he had known, and don't you think I care about the child myself. And now,' and here Barbara groaned heavily. ' What does he mean to do to provide for Polly r' ' To leave her to me as the most precious legacy he has got to bequeath. I will do a mother's part by her — trust me for that.' ' Do you s«y so f' said Barbara, with a strange look on her face, not of joy or gratitude, but of surprise, and even apprehension. ' Does he consent to that ?' ' Yes ; it is the best thing by far that can be done. He is not rich, but he can provide us both in this way. I mean to keep on the store, and I can work to make the best of the business, and will bring up Polly to help me. A little girl will be a comfort to me when I am left alone.' ' Call the child,' said Barbara eagerly, ' call her at once.' Hester went to the door and looked out, the girl was just visible among the trees. She called loudly for her, and Polly, with a handful of sticks and bark, hastened to the shanty. ' What is your hame, eh ?' asked Barbara. ' Hester Raynor.' ' Then, Hester Raynor, promise me by your hopes of heaven that you will try to be a mother to this child when I'm gone ;— that* if you marry, or don't marry, it will be all the same ;— that you will not break your promise.' And Barbara's great black eyes looked as if they would devour the gentle little woman who knelt at her bedside. Hester promised. ' Well, you're not a bad sort after all. Let me look closer at you; my eyes get dim somehow; its the liver, the doctor says that's all wrong, and it troubles the sight. It's his lungs that's going, and I daresay he sees better, and makes pretty speeches to you about your good looks. You're nothing to what I was when I was twenty, and you're that age: Twenty-five you say. Oh, but you never could have had the dash and the go I had; but perhaps, after all, you'll do better for the child.' Then, turning to Polly, she spoke slowly but emphatically — ' Now mind what I say, if it was the last words I have to speak. You'll mind Hester Raynor and do what she tells you, and learn what she sees' fit, and you have a chance of living^ longer and dying happier than your mother. Promise,' she said imperiously. The child gave a careless promise, how different from Hester's tearful solemn vow. The one knew the mag nitude of the trust she undertook, the other was only yielding a mechanical assent to her mother's demands. , -,.,., ' Well, that's all that's needed between us I think. Go back to Paul Severn, and tell him we arc running

a race nowwhois to be put out of the world. My liver may outlast his lungs after all.' Hester left the shanty, satisfied that, in many ways, Barbara was the better for her visit, and returned to her lover. He looked brighter for a minute when she came, was pleased at the manner in which her offer of guardianship had been received, and when she sat down beside him with some stuff she was {fashioning into garments, he guessed at their destination, and her smile brought peace to his heart. Her nimble experi enced fingers worked quickly, and when he said the noise of a little hand-machine would not disturb him, she brought it in, and made more rapid progress, in spite of interruptions from Paul's own frequent requirements for care and attention. On the whole she hoped he was having a better day ; but in the evening, when Hester began to talk more fully about her plans for ToUy, and her plans for the store, shaping her future life without any reference to Paul himself, he seemed to flag a great deal. She said it would be very unwise to sell the business ; she hoped to convince Mr. Kelly that, with a few hints from him about buying goods', and a little supervision as to accounts, * she was quite able to carry it on. She would retain Mr. Law's services, who understood the grocery and general wares, and who knew the people : and was liked by them ; and the drapery side was [ just the field for turning her little talents and ac quirements to account. She heard that there was a newly opened Government school in the township, , and it would be far better for Polly to go there in the first place, and by-and-by she would get better teach ing for his little girl than she herself had got. There would be a much better chance of curing Polly's bad ! habits, and bringing her up a good useful woman here than in Sydney ; and if she, Hester, felt lonely, per haps Mr. and Mrs. Lloyd would come and join her. She thought she was cheering her patient, when she was startled by a groan of impatience. She asked if there was anything she could do for him, or if she worried him by too much talking. Paul could not put his dissatisfaction into word6, but he was ruffled by his being quietly ignored, even as a memory, in this future life, while it was he who had opened it for her. He had never in any way identified himself with Polly, in whom Hester thought she could keep up the personal service to her betrothed husband. She had thought it would have relieved the strain of anxiety in his mind to look forward to a peaceful life in the future for her and his little girl. The subtle windings of egoism are hard to be understood by a girl so unconsciously good and generous as Hester Raynor. But she 6aw that something irritated or worried him, so she changed the subject, laid down her work, and read to him, and he appeared satisfied. A message came at night that Barbara Stone was dead, and Hester sat up almost all night to complete a wearable suit of clothes for the little girl. Chapter IV.— A Discovery. 'Hester,' said Paul, next morning, 'you must go and claim the child quietly, only prepare her to behave decently. I see your clever fingers have provided an equipment for her, and you wisely chose black. She has lost a mother whom she knew no good of, and is going to lose a father whom she knows nothing of at all. You need not tell her what right she has to your kindness or to my ? love.' Here Paul sighed. ' Let her think that it is only the charity of a stranger inter ested in her wretched forlorn condition that she is indebted to. I know the sort of feeling that such a child will have if she knows she has really any legal claim upon us, and I cannot sufficiently praise your keeping back that fact in your very generous promise to her. I can trust you to do everything quietly and nicely. What a blessing, at a crisis like this, for me to have such a clever, quiet, little nurse as you, to go into queer corners, and do my spiriting, like Ariel, gently, If I see poor Polly apart from her mother, and perfectly clean and tidy, I believe I may really like her, but it was an awful sight to me when the child presented herself in- her filth and rags, with a note demanding money, less than three weeks ago,' *? Hester, therefore, had another errand to that poor shanty, and Tom Law followed her with admiring eyes as she sped, with decent clothing, and a brush and comb, and flannel and soap, for the poor orphaned child that she said she meant to bring back with her. Polly was not sitting by her mother's bedside crying, as Hester expected ; — she was feeding the fire with sticks in spite of the hot weather, and making the kettle boil to make some tea, which was her favourite refreshment, and at intervals whittling a stick with a rusty knife as an amusement. ' I suppose you're come for me,' said Polly. ' Do you want to see her. She covered her face, and the men came to measure her for the coffin, and she's to be buried to-morrow. How quick they are making the coffin and everything.' Hester looked at the set face; there was some beauty in the features now they were at rest. ' She's quiet now, but she groaned awful at the last, and 6he tossed from side to side constant till 9 o'clock. An old woman I think you sent laid her out, and said she made a beautiful corpse. Don't she look long stretched out like that ? And what' s them things, are thev for me?' Hester unwrapped the parcel, but Polly did not look so pleased as she expected her to be at the sight of the new tidy clothes. ' I made them all myself, but next things you have made you must help. Can you sew at all ? ' ' No — I never learned no sewing.' ' Can you read r ' ' Oh yes, I can read and write too.' ' Oh ! well, I must teach you to sew, and we shall see how clever you will be at it. And now, before put ting on the clean clothes which I have sat up all night to make for you, I must wash you. Clear out the tub, and the warm water in the kettle will make you a beautiful bath.' ' There's a hole in the tub,' said Polly quickly, 'it leaks dreadful.' ' Is there ?' said Hester, taking out the bottles and other articles. ' I can fill it up with a piece of rag, a little leak won't hurt this dirty floor.' But there was really no hole, it was a gratuitous lie on the child's part — the tub was nearly new. ' My dear Polly you must learn it is very wrong to to tell stories,' said Hester, gravely and kindly. ' Rinse out the tub with cold water. See, I have brought soap and a flannel.' 'No! no! no!' said the child, each time more emphaticallv than before, ' vou'll hurt mv aim, you will.' ' Did I hurt it when it was sorer than it is now ? I'll be very gentle with you.' ' I'll wash myself, but you're not to wash me. I ; can make myself clean enough.' I ' My dear child you promised your mother that you '? would obey me. This is the first thing I have asked you to do, and you must submit.' ' She'd never have let you do this — never. Mother ! :; mother!' said the child' imperiously, 'tell her I'm \ not to be scrubbed by nobody but myself.' j 'My dear Polly, this is utter nonsense. If I am ' your mother, you are all mine to )do what I please with.' ) j 'Mother never bothered me that way,' said the gir] 6ulkily. | ' It would have been better for you both if she had.

I want to see the real colour of your skin. I want to make you fit to see Mr. Severn, to whose house . I am going to take you.' ' I don't want nobody but you. I don't want no Mr. Severn, with, his cross face, fooling round me.' ' There you won't let me be a real mother at all. Would you rather have a policemen to take you to Randwick, where you would be scrubbed far harder than I will do. You have no notion what a nice place I've got for you ; a cozy place in a corner of my room for a pretty' little bed.' You'll like the store and the school.' ' I like the store and the school, but I want to Bleep in a place by myself, and I don't want no scrubbing. Promise not to do that, and I'll mind everything else you say.' Hester had heard of poor vagrants admitted to casual hands in a workhouse, who looked on compul sory scrubbing as the lowest depth of ^degradation and ignominy, but she could not believe that a child could feel a tub of soft warm water and a flannel, in soft gentle hands, like her own a grievance. She poured first hot and then cold water into the tub, and ascer tained the suitableness of its temperature with her hand, and was proceeding to take off the clothes firmly but gently, but the expression of genuine terror on the child's face arrested her. ' Oh don't, pray don't,' she screamed out in an agony of fear. ' There is something wrong— awfully wrong surely,' said Hester. ' Tell me the truth.' ' But you'll drive me away, you'll hate me. I'll have to go to Randwick, and 'not to that nice little bed, and the school, and the store, with the lollies in the window, that would all be so jolly. Oh, Miss Raynor, don't take off my clothes. I'll do it myself if you will just go away. I'll wash myself as clean as a new pin ;' and the clothes were clutched with all the strength of the little fingers. All the half-healed burn cracked with the 6train. ' You are not a girl,' said Hester slowly, ' you are a boy.' And her horrified dismayed countenance so scared the unfortunate child that he gave up the struggle, and broke out into the noisiest and the most deplorable fit of crying that she had ever witnessed in her life. No child of Paul's at all, only the child of his faithless wife and her equally unworthy seducer, but still a poor human creature utterly friendless and destitute. 'Oh! my child,' said Hester when she recovered herself sufficiently to speak; 'this changes every thing. What can Mr. Severn do for you now ?' ' It was not Mr. Severn, it was you that promised to be a mother to me. Oh ! Miss Raynor don't tell him ; you sav he is going to die soon, very soon. I'll be good. I'll be so good. I like you. I do like you. I liked you from the day when I gave you a drink of water, and when j-ou tied up my arm, but its broke up again worse, like everything else,' and the bitter cry of despair cut Hester to the heart. '' Well, my dear, since I know all, let me wash you, and make you look as well as I can ; and then, perhaps, Mr. Severn will be sorry for you and ? ' ' I'll do anything you like,'' said the boy, ' comb me hard, I'll not mind ; skin me clean with sand if you please. I'm no cry-baby ; but mother said if you found out, you'd never look at me no more.' Hester went on with her task in a stray bewilder ment of mind. She washed the little boy gently, combed out his tangled hair, even kissed the poor tearful face ; her heart flowed out to this waif all the more, because she felt that Paul's would be closed against him. She clothed him in the female garments she had brought, but she could not take him to act a lie — to appear what he was not — to a dying man. 'You must stay ; what is'your real name ; not Paul, I hope?' 'No, my name is Theodore, but mother called me Theo.' ' It is a pretty name, and rather a fine name. Then you are Theodore Stone. And alas ! not Mary Severn. She died before you can recollect, I suppose.'' Yes, but mother knew she could never get nothing out of Mr. Severn if he did not think she was alive, so she made me put on them clothes that I always hated, and pass for a girl. That's one nuisance I'll get rid of anyhow.' 'And 'you are ten years old, and not twelve.' ' Not ten till the day after Christmas.' ' Well, you have more time before you. And you must stay here till after the undertaker takes your mother's body away.' ' When vvttl you come for me.' 'I cannot say; it will depend altogether on Mr. Severn. You forget how ill he is.' ' Don't make him worse by telling him,' said Theo., who was acute enough to see that Hester herself was full of compassion for him. ' Let me be your boy, do; a boy is worth ten times more nor a girl ; let me be your own boy.' And Hester left the house with his pathetic appeal ringing in her ears. Whatever faint hopes she had tried to nurse in the presence of the unhappy child, faded away as she walked quickly back to Paul Severn's sick room. All the hardness towards Barbara ; all the fears abput his own child's inheriting the evil qualities of the mother under whose influence she had lived so long, would be intensified when he heard of the cruel deceit that had been practised on him, and the doubly bad antecedents of the poor boy, in whom she wa6 so greatly inter ested. She took her seat silently by bis pillow, took his hand in hers, and laid his finger on her engage ment ring, which he liked to feel as a sort of bond between them* ' Well, Hester,' said he feebly 'and so Barbara is at peace. How does she look ? ' ' Handsomer than when I saw her alive. I can see that she was beautiful once.' ' And the child — have you brought her ? ' ' No, Paul ;— I left her till after the funeral.' 'Why did you do such an absurd thing? Is my life so certain' that you should delay our meeting. I w anted her tidy, but you had seen to that. Plenty of of industry, but a great lack of common sense, Hester my dear. Do you not know how soon my summons may be?' 'I hope not so soon as you fear, Paul,' said Hester. ' I thought you really had more judgment, Hester. Now that the mother is gone, I feel as if my heart could warm to little Mary. I recollect her, such a pretty little creature. 'We were both handsome, with all our faults, and Mary may grow up a beauty yet.' ' I did not like to bring her just yet ; but don't be angry, Paul.' ' I'm not angry in the least,' said Paul warmly ; ' only speaking my mind.' Hester was silent a minute or two. How easy to- deceive him for these few days, and if any suspicion was aroused in the neighbourhood, or troublesome in quiries made by Mr. Kelly after Paul's death, the busi ness could be sold, and she could return with the boy to her old life in Sydney with Mrs. Lloyd. 'Why irritate him by the knowledge of the truth ? But at the same time' her own pain at feeling that she had not been confided in, made her shrink from him uncalmed — and how much worse for her deliberating to deceive. ' Paul,' she said softly. ' I have had a great sur prise : — do not let it excite you too much ; — but the child is not really Mary Severn, but Theodore Stone. ' Thank God ! ' said Paul, eagerly, 'thank God ! none of mine. I leave you without any burden; joxl are relieved of a most thankless charge. What a deep

laid scheme to wrong me out of life ! To pretend that she had lied before for her own profit at the time, and to revenge herself on me through the child afterwards ; and now, for the sake of a little temporary help, to trump up this absurd story. Hester, Hester, I could ting for joy if I had any voice left in my poor bodv. And your kindness unmasked the brat.'' ' But the poor child r' said Hester. 'None of mine — none of mine. Thank God my Mary is under the English daisies. This one does not need to curse me as the author of its miserable being. If I had only known ; if I had only had my wits about me, so as to set Kelly on the track,' she could have had no power to hurt me. Why, Hester, I might have Hred ! Lived to be marriedat Christmas, and to have left you children of our own to comfort you. You dear little woman, it is harder than ever to leave you when I seem to have just discovered your value.' '? But my promise !'* urged Hester* ?« A promise extorted by the most iniquitous deceit can have no real binding force. You can choose your own life now ; do not fret about this, darling, when it has lifted a mountain off my heart. Promise me to let the brat go where the authorities will take him ?, — he is no business of mine or of yours.' Hester could make no promise ; she said she did not and could not feel that she could let the child drift. ' Neither he nor his mother has injured me, and I have been helpful to them, we always lose those whom we help.' 'And that makes you quite absurd, Hester. Well, I ?will say no more at present, but I feel very strongly indeed on the subject. Get the book you 'were read ing last evening. And read me to sleep, if possible. I had such a wretched night.' But there was little chance of sleep for Paul Severn till the last sleep of death seized on him. Thefeverish excitement of those few days was devouring him, cough followed cough in quick* succession. ?' I'd like to see Mr. Bowen,' said he, ' if he can be had.' This was a clergyman who had a'wandering cure of three districts, and made Quartzville his head-quarters. Hester was pleased to hear this request for some spiritual strength and consolation. She had been brought up a dissenter, but had a great deal of sym pathy with the church, and intended to go- with l5aul to the Anglican service on every opportunity. Sir. Bowcn had once looked in for a third call since her arrival, but Paul had not asked for prayers, and he had rot volunteered them. But now he' was taking out his prayer book for the visitation of the sick ; then Paul stopped him. ' I want to settle some other matters first, Mr. Bowen ; I want you to help to per suade this girl to marry me while I am able to go through the service. I 'wish to leave her every pos sible right to take possession of this place and be absolute mistress here. I suppose you could get a licence by to-morrow morning.' ? ?? Certainly, ' ' answered Mr. Bowen who had the true clerical feeling about marriages being honourable in all places, times, and circumstances, and delighted in performing the ceremony per se, even though he was not always sure that the marriage was not suitable. Some sense of professional pride in their right to do it, and some alloy derived from the pecuniary ad vant ages connected with it, must intensify the relish for the marriage service on the part of the clergy of all denominations. But Hester protested strongly. She had never felt less disposed to love, honour, and obey Paul Severn than now. ' No, Mr. Bowen ; no, Paul, this is not the time for feuch vows. I do not feel like marrying, standing as I do between one death bed and another. ' ' But I am going to get well,' said Paul, with a wild light in his eyes, ' my mind is easy, far easier than it has been for months, and with your care I may cheat the doctor yet.' 'And Miss Eaynor would find her position of 'nurse more comportable. if she was really your wife, and every way you would have a better chance,' urged the clergyman. Even at the worst it would be ?better that she had the name and rights of a wife for a time, and the rights of a widow in wordly matters.' ' ' I made my will in her favour just after pur en gagement, but now I think it would be better that we should be actually married,' and Paul looked as if she should be only too glad of the additional prestige attending the name of Sirs. Severn. Hester was very «orry for him, she had been as fond of him as he would let her be, but she knew if she was his wife, she would have to obey fr'm while he lived, and he might extort ?a promise that would prevent her from choosing her own path in life after his death. ? ' It would be only a form,' she said slowly and distinctly, 'and I think it is quite unnecessary. I think we ought not to disturb our old relations to each other. I can nurse you just the same as Hester ; Baynor. If indeed you were really to recover, I might be called upon to fulfill the promise made to you, but ' all the marriage vows are made for the duties of life, ' and it would be a mockery to repeat them on the brink of the grave.' ? Mr, Bowen wondered at anyone, especially any ' woman, thinking the service which he delighted in ' could ever be inappropriate under any circumstances. '? There is no lack of love on either side,' he urged, - *' and that is sufficient for all that remains of life, were it twenty-four hours or twice twenty-four years.' ' Please do not press it ; it excites him and it pains . me,' 88id Hester decidely. 'And, by-the-by, if we do get married, I would need make another will for marriage annuls every previous ' will ; but Mr. Granger could see to that ; he could pre pare a fresh one for me to sign after the ceremony. ? Only in this case, the whole .would be left to Hester, my wife, and not to Hester Raynor. I'd like really to put this ling on your finger,' and he took from the purse urderhis pillow a thick gold ring which he had got made from a special lucky nugget taken inpayment : for some goods the first day he opened business at Quartzville. ' I shall keep it as long as I live for your sake ; but trust me, it is really better to be as you are, better for me and better for you. It is -very hard for two to be set against one, but I know I am right.' Her face had such a pitiful look that Mr. Bowen desisted from his persuasions. He said he had to go to the funeral of that poor woman, Mrs. Stone, to whom Miss Raynor had been 60 kind, on the follow ing day. She was of course to be buried at the . expense of the Government, and the child, who was absolutely friendless, would have to go under the care of the police to the Industrial School at Randwick Mr. Bowen then left off where he meant to have begun, and read the office for the Visitation of the Sick with a good deal of feeling. After he had taken leave, Paul said— ' You eee, there is not the least suspicion of any ~ connection between me and that wretched woman. ': She knew she only kept her hold on me by keeping it to herself, and you were the only person in whom she confided, and a safe little woman you are. This whole episode may be wiped clean out of your life, with the exception of the consciousness that you were a ministering angel to her as to me.' Hester was silent ; she resumed the book reading, and the fanning, which he liked. The prostration increased, he could not raise his head — he had difficulty in swallowing. She gave the night watch to Mrs. Batts with reluctance, and was out and in - a dozen times before dawn. A violent fit of bleeding from the lungs came on in the morning, and while Mr. Bowen was saying the words 'ashes to ashes,

dust to dust,' over the body of Barbara Stone, the last breath departed from that of Paul Severn. Chapter V.— The Gipt of God. Hester Raynor had no doubt in her mind as to what she should do when fche was thus left by Paul's death a perfectly free woman. She told both Dr. Flint and Mr. Bowcn that she had promised the dying mother to take care of little Theo., and that, although for some inexplicable reason of economy or convenience, the child had been dressed as a' girl since they had squatted down in the shantv outside of the township, she knew all about it, and was quite as willing to take charge of a boy. Both the gentlemen thought she would have a hard task before her, but they could bring forward no objection. Another matter'Hester felt in her conscience to settle differently from what Paul had wished. The unhappy woman who had once been his wife, should not be buried at the expend of the public, and she let the authorities know that she would pay for that very humble funeral. She gave orders to the Quartzville under taker and general carpenter and builder for a very simple funeral for her departed friend, which made that worthy, when half seas over that night, say to his drunken journeyman, 'take my word for it, that girl did not care much for Mr. Severn, or she'd have let me do things more decent. She's got all she could out of him ; the shop, and the stock, and everything he's worth in the world, and then she takes up with a pauper's brat, and grudges a honest tradesman his rightful dues, and even- little bit of hornamentation that could carry the thing off right. It is a very oue horse affair for a topping storekeeper, like Mr. Severn, but that just shows what sort of feeling she arbours in her bosom. Hennythink out of the store to dress up the girl-turned-boy in. I can't think as how Mr. Severn would a liked it.' Theo. rejoiced in his new clothes, and in the com fortable home, but he chafed at the order and clean liness and obedience that Hester required. There was a telegram sent to Mr. Kelly, and one received in reply. He was coming at once ; he hoped to be present at 'the funeral of his friend. How far did he know about Barbara Stone and her belongings r How far would he suspect ? How far would it be necessary to take him into confidence ? were questions which, disturbed Hester's mind greatly. Frank Kelly had heard of his friend's fiancee as a simple, rather uneducated girl, with ho knowledge of the world, but very fond of Paul ; and he was much struck by the contrast she presented to his precon ceived ideas when he came to make her personal acquaintance. Her dress was remarkably simple, and in a different style from that which dressmaking-girls generally affect ; her air and manner so quiet and Belf -possessed ; her voice so sweet and penetrating ; her face so much handsomer than the photograph he had seen : that he felt that, far from being in any way inferior to Paul Severn, she was really his superior. Nor did she give him the impression of being so clinging and devoted that her life, at least for a season, would be blighted by the loss of her lover. There was much to do certamly,'much to arrange for the future, and occupation is a good antidote to grief ; but, though there was kindliness and compassion in the manner in which she spoke of Paul, there was no signs of a broken heart. He had not been taken so much into confidence as Hester feared ; and when she presented Theodore as the child of the poor woman who had lived in the shanty near, he asked no sharp question, and expressed no astonishment. She explained that she had taken an interest in the child from the time she had been called in for the mother ; that Paul had spared her from time to time to see the poor woman, and take her some comforts, and that she had promised the dying woman to take charge of the child. ' Naturally,' said Mr. Kelly, ' you wish to do as well for him as you can, forpbor Severn's sake, and .with as little occasion for talk. It is a very good thing that you made the child's acquaintance for yourself, and he seems to have taken kindly to you.' ' Yes,' said He&ter quietly, ' and he says he will try to be good, but I am afraid he forgets sometimes. It* is not very easy for him to fall into regular work and orderly ways. When he goes to school after the holidays, he will have fuller occupation, and will be able to keep better out of mischief. In the meantime I teach him a little mvself , and he tries to be atteu. tive. He is very fond of the store, and likes to wait upon Mr. Law. I think, Theo. that he would let you weigh the sugar for the customers this evening. You did it very well last night, only you grudged the turn of the scale, ?which they all expect. I want, to talk to Mr. Kelly, so will you go and ask Mr. Law if he has a job for you.' The boy preferred business to being inspected by Mr. Kelly's sharp eyes, and gladly found his way to the store. - ' ' This is a heavy charge for you, Miss Raynor,' said Frank Kelly ; ' for of course the child of such a woman, brought up hitherto under her evil influences, must have many bad habits.' ' I feel my heart sink sometimes a little,' said Hester, ' for I have no experience, but I have good will. Even in the short time I have known him, he has shown some puzzling characteristics. He has not the least idea that it is wrong to tell lies, or to pick up things if he is not seen, and though he says he is fond of me, it does not make him always mind me. But don't think that I shrink from the duty. The harder it is to do, the more content I am to do it.' ' How does he like the exchange of this home for Randwick, to which I hear they were going to send him.' ' He cannot tell the difference ; of course he has a natural horror of a policeman or a police-court, but if his faults cannot be cured by individual love and individual care, they will never be cured by put ting him with hundreds of others as neglected as himself. I once went over the Industrial School at Randwick, and it made me feel I would like to have one child to give a home to.' ' Then Severn was very fortunate to find such a guardian as you. I shall help and fortify you all I can, — but let me give you one piece of advice. Do not let that boy have the idea that you are under any obligation to keep him. Does he know that he is Paul Severn's child.' ' No,' 6aid Hester, who could say that with perfect truth. ' Then pray do not let him know ; keep the threat of giving him up over his head, as a check or a spur, until he has shown himself worthy of confidence.' ' I do not mean to threaten it, for I never mean to do it,' said Hester, steadily. ' Whether I succeed or fail, I keep hold of the child so long as he needs me ; if, when he is old enough to provide for himself, he chooses to leave me I must submit.' ' It is a great task to undertake for Severn's sake.' ' It is on the child'sown account too,' said Hester, who could not bear to have this matter dwelt on. ' I must be patient with him. He has had no religious principles, nor any other principles ; he has been accustomed to/ no steady work either at home or at school, and will be some time in learning how to apply to anything.' \ 'I hope he i$ grateful to you.' ' He has to be taught to love as he has to be taught everything else. I cannot expect much for a while, except the sense of betterness in his condition, which may perhaps lead up to love. It pleases me to see

his delight in his new clothes, and in his own plate, and knife and fork, and spoon and mug, which he chose for himself out of the store. The store itself is a great delight to him, and I am sure I can train him to be useful if I can only train him to be honest. All this makes me prefer to stay here, and with your good help now and then, I feel as if I could manage nicely.' ' I am very glad that I did not conclude the agree ment, whichwas within an ace of being carried out, to leave Quartzville and take the management of a much larger concern, sixty miles off. I have been detained for a month, and nothing has come of it. But I had no idea Severn was so ill, or so near death. He was very ill in Sydney was he not?' 'Yes, at Mrs. Lloyd's — M-e nursed him through it. It was a neglected chill, and settled on bis lungs.' ' But he had had blood-spitting in England very badly ; did you not know that that was what induced him to leave for Australia ?' Hester's face showed her surprise. ' And you did not know anything about this woman either?' ' Not till I came out here on Tuesday. I made her acquaintance before I knew anything about the matter. I dare say Mr. Severn told you that I was no fine lady, but a ' working woman, and perhaps it will be better for the boy that I am one. I am very glad that you will not need to go away sixty miles off, but can help me, both with the business and Theo. Try not to be impatient with my ignorance or my stupidity. I have got to learn quite a new calling — but I always did the accounts for Mrs. Lloyd, and of course I ought to know about drapery goods well.' (2b be continued in our next.)