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within her, independent of the occupation
in which she was engaged. As a matter of
fact, she was not greatly interested in the
subject of her study — that very 'Aid to the
Doubtful' of which she had spoken so
eulogistically to her aunt ; it was Father
Vane's own book, and so far had a strong
claim on her attention, but a translation
from the Latin is not generally a work of
absorbing interest — and besides, she had
herself no doubts. And yet from habit,
from that principle of overcoming nature,
or, at the worst, of seeming to do so, which
had become her rule in life, she sat with the
book before her as resolutely as though
both were carved in stone. Nature, how-
ever, is difficult to expel — they failed to do
it of old, says the poet, with a pitchfork,
and the crozier of the bishop has no better
luck — and Sister Edith's thoughts wandered
though her gaze was fixed. She was



26 LESS BLACK

thinking of the truant boy, who had not yet
returned home (her ears had never ceased
to listen for his step upon the pavement),
and her heart was heavy within her on his
account. Young as he was, he had from a
child been a source to her of deep anxiety.
She had yearned to take his mother's place
from the moment he had lost her, but that
had been denied her (indeed, of late years
his father had cut off all connection between
them), yet before he went to school she had
had opportunities of reading his character,
which she had done of course after her own
lights. The irreverence of the boy, as she
termed his naturalness, had shocked her.
There now came into her mind some ex-
amples of it. He had attempted on one
occasion, at the immature age of five, to
carve the joint at luncheon. His father had
put him quietly aside, with ' The master of
the house always carves, my boy.'

' Who carves in heaven, papa ?' he had
inquired.

It was a child's question, which would
have provoked a smile among sensible



THAN WERE PAINTED. 27

folks. It is doing" no wrong to either Mr.
Francis Talbot or his sister to say that,
differing as they did in almost all matters
of opinion, they agreed in this, to ignore
common sense as much as possible. Even
Mr. Talbot, however, perceived that his
son's question had better be answered cate-
gorically, so he answered, ' The Master.'

1 Then he must have a big knife,' returned
the child.

These remarks of Richard — for there had
been many of the like kind — had given
Sister Edith a great deal of pain. She saw
in them a nature far too much ' at ease in
Zion,' and subsequent events had confirmed
her fears. Master Dick had shown him-
self something worse than irreverent with
reference to sacred things, or what Sister
Edith considered as such ; and his father
had not corrected him — in some matters he
had even encouraged him, out of opposition
to herself. In all things connected with his
son he was lax and lenient, though stern
enough in his dealings with the rest of the
world.



28 LESS BLACK

Richard's stay for a few days at his
grandmother's in Gresham Street, on his
leaving Eton, had been looked forward to
by Sister Edith as an opportunity for
regaining her old influence over the lad;
but it was doubtful whether he had not
already passed beyond it. It is but just to
say that she had nc idea of converting him
to her particular views, but only to win him
from evil ways, for that he had fallen into
such she was well-nigh convinced. He
had been flogged at school — a punishment
which, in its disgrace, she considered little
inferior to being placed in the pillory ; and
once he had come home to the Tower in
what might almost be termed ' custody.
His private tutor, at least, had accom-
panied him, bearing an intimation from the
school authorities that it would be better
for all parties if Master Richard Talbot
were quietly withdrawn by his friends.
This catastrophe had, it is true, been
averted, and Eton had once more taken to
her bosom her prodigal son ; but the sin
that had almost procured his expulsion was



THAN WE'RE PAINTED. 29

no less, in Sister Edith's view, than if it
had borne that shameful fruit. Master
Richard, being but sixteen years of age,
had got drunk at that famous inn ' The
Christopher,' at an entertainment given to
some boon companions, and on being asked
his name by a master of the college, had
replied without hesitation, ( Beelzebub.'
And now the clock of the neighbouring
church was chiming midnight, and this
young reprobate had not yet come home.
What orgie might he not be engaged in ?
To what unimaginable depravity might he
not have succumbed ?

As the last solemn stroke of the hour
died away, Sister Edith took up her read-
ing-lamp, and with a glance, as usual, at
the symbol of her faith, which had some-
thing of appeal this time, as well as rever-
ence in it, she left the room, and softly
descended the stairs. All was silent in
the house, but from the basement, as she
descended the back stairs, there came to
her ear a stertorous sound as though the
kitchen clock was choking. Mr. Dun-



30 LESS BLACK

combe was fast asleep in an arm-chair
before the fire, and snoring as only a very
plethoric person in a posture favourable to
the development of that gift can snore.

1 Duncombe ! Duncombe ! "Duncombe f*
ejaculated Sister Edith.

1 Aw right : whatch is it ? Goodness
me, Miss Edith, I beg your pardon.'

1 There is no offence, Duncombe ; I
came down to say you need not sit up any
longer for Master Richard. I will do that
myself.'

' But you'll be so tired, miss ; I've been
used to keep awake o' nights for my
betters.'

* No matter ; you have your work to do
to-morrow, and I have none. I will let
Master Richard in — only you need not say
anything about it/

She meant, or thought she meant, that
he was to be silent about this delegation of
duty to her, but he replied, to her annoy-
ance, ' Oh yes, ma'am ; I quite under-
derstand. Young people will be young
people, and Master Richard is forgetting



THAN WE'RE PAINTED. 31

how time flies, no doubt. There is no
need, as you say, to make a fuss about it ;
and her ladyship shall never know/

Considering his slumberous condition,
Mr. Duncombe had really divined the
thoughts of his young mistress pretty ac-
curately. ' I am afraid, miss,' added he,
1 you will have to sit in the dining-room,
or you will not hear the bell.' How Mr.
Duncombe himself had arranged matters
for hearing the bell when lie was sound
asleep, Edith did not think it necessary to
inquire.

She took her lamp and book into the
room indicated, and prepared to continue
her vigil. Her motive for so doing was
partly, as she had said, to relieve the man
from his watch ; for she thought it wrong
that an old servant should be kept out of
his bed by her nephew's dissipation, but
chiefly that there should be no witness but
herself of Dick's return. It was probable
that it might be at some disreputable hour
in the morning, and even possible that he
might have taken too much to drink. How-



32 LESS BLACK

ever astray Sister Edith may have gone
in her religious faith, the principle of self-
sacrifice, on which all goodness worthy of
the name is built, was strong within her;
her merit, however, was less than in some
other cases, for by long use of the virtue
she had almost become unconscious of its
exercise. She denied herself, as other
people please themselves, mechanically.

A dining-room is rarely a pleasant place
wherein to pass the small hours of the
morning ; and the dining-room in Gresham
Street was especially melancholy. Its vast
mahogany table, so far from being sugges-
tive of banqueting (of which, indeed, it
had been innocent for the last twenty
years), seemed adapted rather for the
coffin of its proprietor, while all the acces-
sories — the dark oak paneling, the sombre
curtains, and the ancestral pictures on the
walls — would have suited admirably with a
lying-in-state. But Sister Edith, who had
been used to keep the watches of the night
by the beds of the sick and dying, wasted
no thought upon these unpleasant sur-



THAN WE'RE PAINTED. 33

roundings, while if she was impatient for
her nephew's return, it was solely for his
own sake. Not till she had finished her
book, indeed, did she allow herself the
luxury of thought at all; and even then not
without some scruple — for she had been
warned by her spiritual adviser against a
tendency she had to 'dream.'

It was, however, but her actual past that
now obtruded itself upon her. Her mind
reverted to the days of her youth, when
she had been her father's favourite, and as
he was wont to call her after her mother's
death, and not without reason, ■ his right
hand.' At that time Francis Talbot had
been a very different man from what he
had since become ; he was then a spend-
thrift and a profligate, and it had been her
mission to excuse him, so far as was pos-
sible, to his outraged parent. She had not
been credited even then with the exercise
of any such good office. Her brother had
been jealous of her influence over the old
man, and had accused her not only of hypo-
crisy (which was to be expected) but of

vol. 1. 3



34 LESS BLACK

self-seeking — of wishing to ingratiate her-
self with her father at his expense. This
had been terrible to her; not on account of
its falsehood, but because of certain hints
that had been dropped by persons who had
obtained great influence over her, that a
disposition in her favour of her fathers
wealth would be of advantage to the best
interests of mankind, while its reverting
to her brother's hands would be an unmiti-
gated evil. These hints had been very
skilfully wrapped up, and she had been
enabled to ignore them, but they had
lodged in a pigeon-hole of her mind, and
gave her trouble there. Then suddenly
Francis had had his ' call,' as he termed it
— which, whencesoever it had come, had
certainly carried him in a very different
direction from that he had hitherto pursued.
It had not, however, reconciled him to his
father, who perhaps suspected its genuine-
ness ; while it had made those persons
still more resolute against him of whose
influence with Edith we have already
spoken. She had been warned, and this



THAN WERE PAINTED. 35

time broadly, that it was her duty to pre-
vent, if possible, her father's estate passing
into the hands of an enemy of the Church.
Edith Talbot shrank from harming her
brother's interests ; she shrank from harm-
ing those of the Church ; and she was abso-
lutely indifferent to her own. How she
would have eventually decided is doubtful,
but at this critical period Mrs. Francis
Talbot, who had been hitherto childless,
gave birth to a son. From that moment
all thoughts of enriching the Church at
the expense of her brother vanished from
Edith's mind. She felt that she could
never deprive that innocent child of any
portion of his birthright. This confidence
was, however, by no means shared by
Francis. For his own part, he was dead
to the world, and worldly goods were dross
in his eyes ; but he shuddered at the thought
of the wealth of the Talbots passing into
Jesuits' hands. Rather to the surprise of
Algernon Talbot's friends and neighbours,
it was found when he died that this mis-
fortune had not taken place. By a will

3—2



36 LESS BLACK

made many years back, he left the greater
part of his property and all his landed
estate, to his son, with only a moderate
provision for his daughter. This circum-
stance had somewhat mollified her brother's
resentment against her, but he still believed
in his heart that she had done her best to
disinherit him. It had not been so, as
we know. Her love for her father, whom
she had tended through a miserable illness
with unflinching devotion, had had no
sordid taint She was thinking of him
now ; picturing him in his arm-chair in the
old library at the Tower with his dogs
about him, and herself reading aloud to
him some record of the chase. He had
had no sympathy with her in spiritual
things ; they were matters, indeed, on which
he was disinclined to think at all. But
when she thought of him, she felt, in spite
of all teachings to the contrary, that there
were other ways of reaching heaven beside
the one that she had chosen. He had
loved her, and trusted her, and died with
his feeble hand in hers.



THAN WD RE PAINTED. 37

Five o'clock ! How clearly the strokes
fell on the silent town upon its Sabbath.
In half an hour it would be time for her
to go to matins. With that duty, no other
— short of one of life or death — was ever
permitted by her to interfere. She went
upstairs and prepared herself to go out,
though with a sinking heart She stood
in fear of two things. Richard might come
home in her absence, when it would be
impossible to conceal from Lady Earnshaw
the hour at which he returned ; and,
secondly, some accident might have hap-
pened to him. It was characteristic of her,
and her peculiar training, that this appre-
hension was on the whole the lesser one
of the two. Had she been his mother —
and her solicitude for him was almost as
great as though she was — it would by this
time have swallowed up all others. But
death itself was in her eyes far less terrible
than shame and sin ; for she knew them
both. Her path had lain among them,
as the course of a pure streamlet lies under
thorns, briars, and between rugged rocks.



33 LESS BLACK

The vilest had respected her ; the most
brutal had not molested her. Her calling
had not indeed been always welcomed as
one of mercy and love, but it had been
tacitly acknowledged to be well-meaning,
and there is no doubt that her professional
costume — though to many of us it seems
to protest too much — had been a protection
to her. With her hood thrown over her
head, and draped in simple black and grey,
she now descends the stairs like a good
ghost, whose heart is still with the strug-
gling world that she has left ; she softly
opens the door (she has a latch-key of her
own to let herself in with) and steps into
the empty street. She glances quickly to
left and right, but no living creature is to
be seen ; she stands, and for an instant
listens intently for a quick young footstep,
but no sound breaks the silence of the
Sabbath morn. Then, with a deep sigh,
she hurries on through short cuts that she
knows, and presently comes within hearing
of a little bell that does not peal, nor toll,
nor ring, but tinkles like the sheep-bell



THAN WE'RE PAINTED. 39

heard among the solitary hills, and marks
the presence of a little fold (or, so it seems
to her) of Christ's own Church. Then
suddenly it is swallowed up by another
sound, a bacchanalian song — some * strange
experience of Moll and Bess ' — which
breaks out in a shrill, clear voice and fills
the street ; she turns the corner and meets
the singer face to face, a handsome lad,,
with feverish eyes, and haggard face, who
has evidently kept vigil like herself, though
after another fashion.

' Oh, Dick !' she cries, a volume of re-
proof in her sad tones.

' By jingo !' says the boy. Then, with
sudden consciousness of the pain in the
other's face, ' I'm awfully sorry, Aunt Edie,
I am indeed.'



CHAPTER III.

A PICKLE.

It was scarcely possible for two persons of
one race to present a greater contrast to
one another than did Edith Talbot and her
nephew as they stood together looking into
each other's eyes, and, after the first shock
of meeting, silent. The woman in her robe
of charity, pale, pained, and austerely re-
proachful ; the boy, in evening dress, rich
with studs and watchguard, but with an air
of careless fashion seldom seen in adol-
escence (a period of life which is generally
conscious of fine raiment), and with a smile
of roguish humour, which not even the
seriousness of his position could banish
from his pleasant face.



LESS BLACK THAN WERE PAINTED. 41

' You will break my heart, Dick, and the
hearts of all who love you,' said Edith,
slowly. ' Come with me.'

She would have taken his hand, but with
a boy's pride he offered her his arm instead,
and thus they moved on together. The
bell had again made itself heard, and for
the first time attracted the boy's attention.

' You are going to matins, Aunt Edie, I
suppose,' said he, gently.

1 I am, and you are going with me. I
cannot say — I do not feel equal to saying
— what is in my heart about you. Perhaps
in God's house,' she murmured, half aside,
'and by the mouth of his appointed
minister, some good seed may be sown
even in this neglected soil that may bear
fruit. Don't speak, Dick, think ; search
your own soul, and pray for grace to
cleanse it.'

* I'm awfully sorry, Aunt Edie ; I really
am. I know I'm a bad lot compared to
you ; and if you think that matins will do
me good, though I'm uncommon sleepy —
but, I say, isn't this St. Ethelburga's ?'



42 LESS BLACK

1 Hush ! yes.' They were drawing near
the church, though slowly, for Master
Richard was by no means walking at the
same lively pace he had used when his
aunt met him, and which had seemed to
keep time to his reckless song.

' But the governor wrote to me that I
was not to go to St. Ethelburga's.'

' That is true, I had forgotten/ said
Sister Edith, stopping short. ' I must not
make you disobey your father/

' I'll do it, you know, for your sake, Aunt
Edie,' observed the young gentleman,
placidly, while a smile twinkled at the
corners of his mouth ; 'I'll do anything to
please you/

1 It was not to please myself, Dick, that
I was going to take you — alas, how far he
is ' (she went on unconsciously) ' even from
understanding what is right ! There is not
even the germ of good.'

' I say again, Aunt Edie, I am a bad lot.
But even the devil, you know, is not so black
as he's painted.' He was perfectly serious;
quite unconscious of the humorous inappro-



THAN WERE PAINTED. 43

priateness of his you know in the case of the
person he was addressing. ' Of course it's
late, a great deal later than I thought it
was ; but I have really not been doing any
particular harm. I met some old Eton
fellows at Greene's, and went home with
them to their hotel, and we played
cards '

1 Cards F groaned Sister Edith. ' You
played cards, and on Sunday morning.'

'Well, we began on Saturday night.
And Sunday don't begin till one gets up,
you see. If one sat up on Sunday night
till past twelve, and began then, I should
say that was playing on Sunday, if you
like. It would be the letter versus the
spirit. Now you have been to bed, and I
have not.'

' I have not been to bed, Dick ; I have
been sitting up for you all night.'

' Oh ! Aunt Edie, how awfully good of
you ! Then you sent Duncombe to bed in
order that you might let me in without
grandmamma's knowing about my being so
late. You are a regular trump — I mean



44 LESS BLACK

an angel. I don't deserve to have such an
aunt. What a beast I was to be saying,
" Just one more deal " (for I was the one
that always wanted it) when you were wait-
ing up for me all the while — but then, you
know, I didn't know it/

' My sitting up is nothing, Dick. I
would sit up for a week, not to screen you,
indeed (as you imagine), from the conse-
quences of your misconduct, but to save
you from your own self/

' I am a selfish beggar, I know/ observed
Dick, penitently. ' I am afraid I have kept
you from matins, for one thing/

' Yes, the door is shut ; it is now too
late,' she sighed, as though her words had
suggested something deeper than their
ordinary meaning. 'We will come home
at once, and you can get to bed for an
hour or two.'

' And you, Aunt Edie ?' There was
genuine tenderness in the lad's tone ; it
was her personal kindness that moved him
most, but he had a glimmer of the spiritual
solicitude that was agitating his companion



THAN WERE PAINTED. 45

upon his account. ' I hope you will also
get some rest. I have told you the worst
about myself, I have indeed. Sitting up
is what every Eton fellow does when he
gets a chance ; and we only played six-
penny loo.'

' You were playing for money then —
gambling ?'

1 Well, you wouldn't have us play for
nothing ; that would be mere waste of time.'

The naivete of this remark, as well as
its Johnsonian wisdom, were utterly lost
upon Sister Edith.

1 You think it right, then, to win the
money of your friends ?'

1 If I can get it, certainly ; unhappily I
had no such luck, for I lost a brace of
couters.'

1 A what ?'

1 A couple of sovereigns.'

' And where did you get the couple of
sovereigns— you, who have just returned
from school — to pay your debts with ?

' Well, I didn't steal them, Aunt Edie,'
returned the young fellow, doggedly.



46 LESS BLACK

' I wish to know, however, how you pro-
cured them.'

'Well, really, that is Confession, and the
governor is dead against it ; and, besides,
a fellow is not bound to criminate himself,
you know ; that's the law of England.'

' You committed a crime, then, to get
possession of this money ?'

' A crime ? Certainly not. I did quite
right — that is, I served somebody out
quite right — but then I know you wouldn't
think so.'

1 Whether you choose to tell me or not,
my poor lad,' said Sister Edith, gravely,
' there is Someone who knows it, whose
ill opinion is more to be feared than mine.
I do not press you in this matter from any
idle curiosity, believe me ; but I have found,
in my own case, when I have done amiss,
that to confess it — though, indeed, it should
be to some duly authorised person — makes
the burthen of sin the lighter.'

' Well, as to that, this don't weigh upon
me a feather's weight,' answered Dick,
frankly ; ' but still, you have been so



THAN WERE PAINTED. 47

awfully good to me, Aunt Edie, that sooner
than vex you, I'll tell you all about it.
You see, I was " sent up ' ' to the doctor's
a week or two ago — that's the head-master,
you know — and though I had a lot to say
about it, and it was very hard lines, he
wouldn't hear a word, and swished me.'

' Swished you ?'

1 Yes, that's flogged me, of course ; he
gave me ten cuts, and I owed him one
for each of them, and now I've paid him.
They cost him just a guinea a piece.'

' I don't understand, Dick.'

1 Well, it's this way. When one leaves
Eton for good, you call upon the doctor
to wish him good-bye, and you leave ten
guineas lying about somewhere (but where
he finds it quick enough, I'll warrant), just
as you leave a pound and a shilling at the
other sort of doctor's done up in white paper;
it's the usual fee to the head-master, which
every fellow's governor sends him, to be
given at the proper time ; but it's not set
down, I believe, in his college expenses.
When a head- master is very displeased



48 LESS BLACK

with a boy's conduct while at the school,
he returns him this " leaving gift," as a
mark of censure. You may imagine, how-
ever, that it takes a good deal to displease
him to that extent. At all events, he
showed no signs of being so mortally
offended with me. I had my own feelings,
on the other hand, with respect to that
" swishing," and though he saw the money
wrapped up very neatly in my hand, he
never saw any more of it. Perhaps he
thought extreme delicacy of mind caused
me to put it away behind the furniture
somewhere, and he has been looking for
it ever since. I only wish he may get it/

' It appears to me, sir/ said Sister Edith,
severely, ' that you have robbed either your
father or your master/

1 That is not my view of the matter,
Aunt Edith/ returned Dick, seriously,
' and I have really thought about it a great
deal. You see the governor never expected
to see his money again, and as for the
doctor, he has had a fine imposed upon
him for injustice.'



THAN WE'RE PAINTED. 49

' He must have the money, sir, by to-
morrow's post/

4 He shall have twenty-five bob of it, if
you insist upon it, Aunt Edie, but the
other eight pound fifteen is gone in — in
lucifers and sundries/

1 In lucifers and sundries !' repeated
Sister Edith, in astonished tones.

1 Well, that is in miscellaneous expenses ;
charities, and so on. At all events, it's
gone.'

1 What, have you spent nearly nine
pounds in the two days you have been in
London ?'

1 Yes, and I wish I had spent the rest of
it, if you are thinking of paying it to the
doctor.'

1 I don't know what to say, or what to
do with you, Dick,' cried Sister Edith, in
great perplexity.

'Say nothing at all, Aunt Edie ; let by-
gones be bygones ; and as for doing — just
let me in with your latchkey ; there's no-


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