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- OF THE PRIME MINISTER - 3/159 -


'And I don't suppose you would refuse me even if I were hard up, as you call it.' There had been affairs before between the two men in which Lopez had probably been the stronger, and the memory of them, added to the inspection which was still going on, was heavy upon poor Sexty.

'Oh, dear, no;--I wasn't thinking of refusing, I suppose a fellow may be a little surprised at such a thing.'

'I don't know why you should be surprised, as such things are very common. I happen to have taken a share in a loan a little beyond my immediate means, and therefore want a few hundreds. There is no one I can ask with a better grace than you. If you ain't--afraid about it, just sign it.'

'Oh, I ain't afraid,' said Sexty, taking his pen and writing his name across the bill. But even before the signature was finished, when his eye was taken away from the face of his companion and fixed upon the disagreeable piece of paper beneath his hand, he repented of what he was doing. He almost arrested his signature half-way. He did hesitate, but had not pluck enough to stop his hand. 'It does seem to be an odd transaction all the same,' he said as he leaned back in his chair.

'It's the commonest thing in the world,' said Lopez picking up the bill in a leisurely way, folding it and putting it into his pocket-book. 'Have our names never been together on a bit of paper before?'

'When we both had something to make by it.'

'You've nothing to make and nothing to lose by this. Good day and many thanks,--though I don't think so much of the affair as you seem to do.' Then Ferdinand Lopez took his departure, and Sexty Parker was left alone in bewilderment.

'By George,--that's queer,' he said to himself. 'Who'd have thought of Lopez being hard up for a few hundred pounds? But it must be all right. He wouldn't have come in that fashion, if it hadn't been all right. I oughtn't to have done it though! A man ought never to do that kind of thing,--never,--never!' And Mr Sextus Parker was much discontented with himself, so that when he got home that evening to the wife of his bosom and his little family at Ponders End, he by no means made himself agreeable to them. For that sum of 750 pounds sat upon his bosom as he ate his supper, and lay upon his chest as he slept,--like a nightmare.

CHAPTER 2

EVERETT WHARTON.

On that same day Lopez dined with his friend Everett Wharton at a new club, called the Progress, of which they were both members. The Progress was certainly a new club, having as yet been open hardly more than three years; but still it was old enough to have seen many of the hopes of its early youth become dim with age and inaction. For the Progress had intended to do great things for the Liberal Party,--or rather for political liberality in general,--and had in truth done little or nothing. It had been got up with considerable enthusiasm, and for a while certain fiery politicians had believed that through the instrumentality of this institution men of genius and spirit, and natural power, but without wealth,--meaning always themselves,--would be supplied with sure seats in Parliament and a probably share in the Government. But no such results had been achieved. There had been a want of something,--some deficiency felt but not yet defined,--which had hitherto been fatal. The young men said it was because no old stager who knew the way of pulling the wires would come forward and put the club in the proper groove. The old men said it was because the young men were pretentious puppies. It was, however, not to be doubted that the party of Progress had become slack, and that the Liberal politicians of the country, although a special new club had been opened for the furtherance of their views, were not at present making much way. 'What we want is organization,' said one of the leading young men. But the organization was not as yet forthcoming.

The club, nevertheless, went on its way, like other clubs, and men dined and smoked and played billiards and pretended to read. Some few energetic members still hoped that a good day would come in which their grand ideas might be realized,--but as regarded the members generally, they were content to eat and drink and play billiards. It was a fairly good club,--with a sprinkling of Liberal lordlings, a couple of dozen of members of Parliament who had been made to believe that they would neglect their party duties unless they paid their money, and the usual assortment of barristers, attorneys, city merchants, and idle men. It was good enough, at any rate, for Ferdinand Lopez, who was particular about his dinner, and had an opinion of his own about wines. He had been heard to assert that, for real quiet comfort, there was not a club in London equal to it, but his hearers were not aware that in the past days he had been black-balled at the T and the G. These were accidents which Lopez had a gift of keeping in the background. His present companion, Everett Wharton, had, as well himself, been an original member;--and Wharton had been one of those who had hoped to find in the club a stepping-stone to high political life, and who now talked often with idle energy of the need for organization.

'For myself,' said Lopez, 'I can conceive no vainer object of ambition than a seat in the British Parliament. What does any man gain by it? The few are successful work very hard for little pay and no thanks,--or nearly equally hard for no pay and as little thanks. The many who fail sit idly for hours, undergoing the weary task of listening to platitudes, and enjoy in return the now absolutely valueless privilege of having MP written on their letters.'

'Somebody must make the laws for the country.'

'I don't see the necessity. I think the country would do uncommonly well if it were to know that no old law would be altered or new law made for the next twenty years.'

'You wouldn't have repealed the corn laws?'

'There are no corn laws to repeal now.'

'Nor modify the income tax?'

'I would modify nothing. But at any rate, whether laws are to be altered or to be left, it is a comfort to me that I need not put my finger into that pie. There is one benefit indeed in being in the House.'

'You can't be arrested.'

'Well;--that, as far as it goes, and one other. It assists a man in getting a seat as the director of certain companies. People are still such asses that they trust a Board of Directors made up of members of Parliament, and therefore of course members are made welcome. But if you want to get into the House, why don't you arrange it with your father, instead of waiting for what the club may do for you?'

'My father wouldn't pay a shilling for such a purpose. He was never in the House himself.'

'And therefore despises it.'

'A little of that, perhaps. No man ever worked harder than he did, or, in his way, more successfully; and having seen one after another of his juniors become members of Parliament, while he stuck to the attorneys, there is perhaps a little jealousy about it.'

'From what I see of the way you live at home, I should think your father would do anything for you,--with proper management. There is no doubt, I suppose, that he could afford it?'

'My father never in his life said anything to me about his own money affairs though he says a great deal about mine. No man ever was closer than my father. But I believe he could afford almost anything.'

'I wish I had such a father,' said Ferdinand Lopez. 'I think that I should succeed in ascertaining the extent of his capabilities, and in making some use of them too.'

Wharton nearly asked his friend,--almost summoned courage to ask him,--whether his father had done much for him. They were very intimate; and on one subject, in which Lopez was much interested, their confidence had been very close. But the younger and weaker man of the two could not quite bring himself to the point of making an inquiry which he thought would be disagreeable. Lopez had never before, in all their intercourse, hinted at the possibility of his having or having had filial aspirations. He had been as though he had been created self-sufficient, independent of mother's milk or father's money. Now the question might have been asked almost naturally. But it was not asked.

Everett Wharton was a trouble to his father,--but not an agonizing trouble, as are some sons. His faults were not of a nature to rob his father's cup of all its sweetness and to bring grey hairs with sorrow to the grave. Old Wharton had never had to ask himself whether he should now, at length, let his son fall into the lowest abysses, or whether he should yet again struggle to put him on his legs, again forgive him, again pay his debts, again endeavour to forget dishonour, and place it all to the score of thoughtless youth. Had it been so, I think that, if not on the first or second fall, certainly on the third, the young man would have gone into the abyss, for Mr Wharton was a stern man, and capable of coming to a clear conclusion on things that were nearest and even dearest to himself. But Everett Wharton had simply shown himself to be inefficient to earn his own bread. He had never declined even to do this,--but had simply been inefficient. He had not declared, either by words or by actions, that as his father was a rich man, and as he was an only son, he would therefore do nothing. But he had tried his hand thrice, and in each case, after but short trial, had assured his father and his friends that the thing had not suited him. Leaving Oxford without a degree,--for reading of the schools did not suit him,--he had gone into a banking-house, by no means as a mere clerk, but with an expressed proposition from his father, backed by the assent of a partner, that he should work his way up


OF THE PRIME MINISTER - 3/159

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