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- OF THE PRIME MINISTER - 4/159 -
to wealth and a great commercial position. But six months taught him that banking was an 'abomination', and he at once went into a course of reading with a barrister. He remained at this till he was called,--for a man may be called with very little continuous work. But after he was called the solitude of his chambers was too much for him, and at twenty-five he found that the Stock Exchange was the mart in the world for such talents and energies as he possessed. What was the nature of his failure during the year that he went into the city, was know only to himself and his father,--unless Ferdinand Lopez knew something of it also. But at six-and-twenty the Stock Exchange was also abandoned; and now, at eight-and-twenty, Everett Wharton had discovered that a parliamentary career was that for which nature and his special genius had intended him. He had probably suggested this to his father, and had met with some cold rebuff.
Everett Wharton was a good-looking, manly fellow, six feet high, with broad shoulders with light hair, wearing a large silky bushy beard, which made him look older than his years, who neither by his speech nor by his appearance would ever be taken for a fool, but who showed by the very actions of his body as well as by the play of his face, that he lacked firmness of purpose. He certainly was no fool. He had read much, and though he generally forgot what he read, there were left with him from his readings certain nebulous lights, begotten by other men's thinking, which enabled him to talk on most subjects. It cannot be said of him that he did much thinking for himself;--but he thought what he thought. He believed of himself that he had gone rather deep into politics, and that he was entitled to call many statesmen asses because they did not see the things which he saw. He had the great question of labour, and all that refers to unions, strikes, and lock-outs, quite at his fingers' ends. He knew how the Church of England should be disestablished and recomposed. He was quite clear on questions of finance, and saw to a 't' how progress should be made towards communism, so that no violence should disturb that progress, and that in due course of centuries all desire for personal property should be conquered and annihilated by a philanthropy so general as hardly be accounted a virtue. In the meantime he could never contrive to pay his tailor's bill regularly out of the allowance of 400 pounds a year which his father made him, and was always dreaming of the comforts of a handsome income.
He was a popular man certainly,--very popular with women, to whom he was always courteous, and generally liked by men, to whom he was genial and good-natured. Though he was not himself aware of the fact, he was very dear to his father, who in his own silent way almost admired and certainly liked the openness and guileless freedom of a character which was very opposite to his own. The father, though he had never said a word to flatter the son, did in truth give his offspring credit for greater talent than he possessed, and, even when appearing to scorn them, would listen to the young man's diatribes almost with satisfaction. And Everett was very dear also to a sister, who was the only other living member of this branch of the Wharton family. Much will be said of her in these pages, and it is hoped that the reader may take an interest in her fate. But here, in speaking of the brother, it may suffice to say, that the sister, who was endowed with infinitely finer gifts than his, did give credit to the somewhat pretentious claims of her less noble brother.
Indeed it had been perhaps a misfortune with Everett Wharton that some people had believed in him,--and a further misfortune that some others had thought it worth their while to pretend to believe in him. Among the latter might probably be reckoned the friend with whom he was now dining at the Progress. A man may flatter another, as Lopez occasionally did flatter Wharton, without preconcerted falsehood. It suits one man to be well with another, and the one learns gradually and perhaps unconsciously the way to take advantage of the foibles of the other. Now it was most material to Lopez that he should stand well with all the members of the Wharton family, as he aspired to the hand of the daughter of the house. Of her regard he already thought himself nearly sure. Of the father's sanction to such a marriage he had reason to be almost more than doubtful. But the brother was his friend,--and in such circumstances a man is almost justified in flattering a brother.
'I'll tell you what it is, Lopez,' said Wharton, as they strolled out of the club together, a little after ten o'clock, 'the men of the present day won't give themselves the trouble to occupy their minds with matters which have, or should have, real interest. Pope knew all about when he said that "The proper study of mankind is man." But people don't read Pope now, or if they do they don't take the trouble to understand him.'
'Men are too busy making money, my dear fellow.'
'That's just it. Money's a very nice thing.'
'Very nice,' said Lopez.
'But the search after it is debasing. If a man could make money for four, or six, or even eight hours a day, and then wash his mind of the pursuit, as a clerk in an office washes the copies and ledgers out of his mind, then--'
'He would never make money in that way--and keep it.'
'And therefore the whole thing is debasing. A man ceases to care for the great interests of the world, or even to be aware of their existence, when his whole soul is in Spanish bonds. They wanted to make a banker of me, but I found that it would kill me.'
'It would kill me, I think if I had to confine myself to Spanish bonds.'
'You know what I mean. You at any rate understand me, though I fear you are too far gone to abandon the idea of making a fortune.'
'I would abandon it to-morrow if I could come into a fortune ready made. A man must at any rate eat.'
'Yes,--he must eat. But I am not quite sure,' said Wharton thoughtfully, 'that he need think about what he eats.'
'Unless the beef is sent up without horse radish!' It had happened that when the two men sat down to their dinner the insufficient quantity of that vegetable supplied by the steward of the club had been all consumed, and Wharton had complained of the grievance.
'A man has a right to that for which he has paid,' said Wharton, with mock solemnity, 'and if he passes over laches of that nature without observation, he does an injury to humanity at large. I'm not going to be caught in a trap, you know, because I like horse radish with my beef. Well, I can't go farther out of my way, as I have a deal of reading to do before I court my Morpheus. If you'll take my advice, you'll go straight to the governor. Whatever Emily may feel, I don't think she'll say much to encourage you unless you go about it after that fashion. She has prim notions of her own, which perhaps are not after all so much amiss when a man wants to marry a girl.'
'God forbid that I should think that anything about your sister was amiss!'
'I don't think there is much myself. Women are generally superficial,--but some are honestly superficial and some dishonestly. Emily at any rate is honest.'
'Stop half a moment.' Then they sauntered arm in arm down the broad pavement leading from Pall Mall to the Duke of York's column. 'I wish I could make out your father more clearly. He is always civil to me, but he has a cold way of looking at me which makes me think I am not in his good books.'
'He is like that to everybody.'
'I never seem to get beyond the skin with him. You must have heard him speak of me in my absence.'
'He never says very much about anybody.'
'But a word would let me know how the land lies. You know me well enough to be aware that I am the last man to be curious as to what others think of me. Indeed I do not care about it as much as a man should do. I am utterly indifferent to the opinion of the world at large, and would never object to the company of a pleasant person because the pleasant person abused me behind my back. What I value is the pleasantness of the man, and not the liking or disliking for myself. But here the dearest aim of my life is concerned, and I might be guided either this way or that, or to my great advantage, by knowing whether I stand well or ill with him.'
'You have dined three times within the last three months in Manchester Square, and I don't know any other man,--certainly no other young man,--who has had such strong proof of intimacy from my father.'
'Yes, and I know my advantages. But I have been there as your friend, not his.'
'He doesn't care twopence about my friends. I wanted to give Charlie Skate a dinner, but my father wouldn't have him at any price.'
'Charlie Skate is out at elbows, and bets at billiards. I am respectable,--or at any rate your father thinks so. Your father is more anxious about you than you are aware of, and wishes to make his house pleasant to you as long as he can do so to your advantage. As far as you are concerned he rather approves of me, fancying that my turn for making money is stronger than my turn for spending it. Nevertheless, he looks upon me as a friend of yours rather than his own. Though he has given me three dinners in three months,--and I own the greatness of his hospitality,-- I don't suppose he ever said a word in my favour. I wish I knew what he does say.'
'He says he knows nothing about you.'
'Oh;--that's it, is it? Then he can know no harm. When next he says so ask him how many of the men who dine at his house he can say as much. Good night;--I won't keep you any longer. But I can tell you this;--if between us we can manage to handle him rightly, you may get your seat in Parliament and I may get my wife;--that is, of course, if she will have me.'
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