“What does that mean?”
Captain Vyell explained. The canaille, he said, were the common folk, whose part in this world was to be ruled. He explained further that to belong to the upper or ruling class it did not suffice to be well-born (though this was almost essential); one must also cultivate the manners proper to that station, and appear, as well as be, a superior. Nor was this all; there were complications, which Dicky would learn in time; what was called “popular rights,” for instance—rights which even a King must not be allowed to override; and these were so precious that (added the Collector) the upper classes must sometimes fight and lay down their lives for them.
Dick perpended. He found this exceedingly interesting—the more so because it came, though in a curiously different way, to much the same as Miss Quiney had taught him out of the catechism. Miss Quiney had used pious words; in Miss Quiney’s talk everything—even to sitting upright at table—was mixed up with God and an all-seeing Eye; and his father—with a child’s deadly penetration Dicky felt sure of it—was careless about God.
This, by the way, had often puzzled and even frightened him. God, like a great Sun, loomed so largely through Miss Quiney’s scheme of things (which it were more precise, perhaps, to term a fog) that for certain, and apart from the sin of it and the assurance of going to hell, every one removed from God must be sitting in pitch-darkness. But lo! when his father talked everything became clear and distinct; there was no sun at all to be seen, but there was also no darkness. On the contrary, a hundred things grew visible at once, and intelligible and common-sensible as Miss Quiney never contrived to present them.
This was puzzling; and, moreover, the child could not tolerate the thought of his father’s going to hell—to the flames and unbearable thirst of it. To be sure Miss Quiney had never hinted this punishment for her employer, or even a remote chance of it, and Dicky’s good breeding had kept him from confronting her major premise with the particular instance of his father, although the conclusion of that syllogism meant everything to him. Or it may be that he was afraid. . . . Once, indeed, like Sindbad in the cave, he had seen a glimmering chance of escape. It came when, reading in his Scripture lesson that Christ consorted by choice with publicans and sinners, he had been stopped by Miss Quiney with the information that “publican” meant “a kind of tax-collector.” “Like papa?” asked the child, and held his breath for the answer. “Oh, not in the least like your dear papa,” Miss Quiney made haste to assure him; “but a quite low class of person, and, I should say, connected rather with the Excise. You must remember that all this happened in the East, a long time ago.” Poor soul! the conscientiousness of her conscience (so to speak) had come to rest upon turning such corners genteelly, and had grown so expert at it that she scarcely breathed a sigh of relief. The child bent his head over the book. His eyes were hidden from her, and she never guessed what hope she had dashed.