The Prime Minister, by Anthony Trollope

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 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 tomorrow 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.’

Then they parted, but Lopez remained in the pathway, walking up and down by the side of the old military club, thinking of things. He certainly knew his friend, the younger Wharton intimately, appreciating the man’s good qualities, and being fully aware of the man’s weakness. By his questions he had extracted quite enough to assure himself that Emily’s father would be adverse to his proposition. He had not felt much doubt before, but now he was certain. ‘He doesn’t know much about me,’ he said, musing to himself. ‘Well, no; he doesn’t; — and there isn’t very much that I can tell him. Of course he’s wise — as wisdom goes. But then, wise men do do foolish things at intervals. The discreetest of city bankers are talked out of their money; the most scrupulous of matrons are talked out of their virtue; the most experienced of statesmen are talked out of their principles. And who can really calculate chances? Men who lead forlorn hopes generally push through without being wounded; — and the fifth or sixth heir comes to a title.’ So much he said, palpably, though to himself with his inner voice. Then — impalpably, with no even inner voice — he asked himself what chance he might have of prevailing with the girl herself; and he almost ventured to tell himself that in that direction, he need not despair.

In very truth he loved the girl and reverenced her, believing her to be better and higher and nobler than other human beings — as a man does when he is in love; and so believing, he had those doubts as to his own success which such reverence produces.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:43