NLESS one is wealthy there is no use in being a charming
fellow. Romance is the privilege of the rich, not the profession
of the unemployed. The poor should be practical and prosaic.
It is better to have a permanent income than to be fascinating.
These are the great truths of modern life which Hughie Erskine
never realised. Poor Hughie! Intellectually, we must admit, he
was not of much importance. He never said a brilliant or even
an ill- natured thing in his life. But then he was wonderfully
good- looking, with his crisp brown hair, his clear-cut profile,
and his grey eyes. He was as popular with men as he was with
women and he had every accomplishment except that of making money.
His father had bequeathed him his cavalry sword and a History
of the Peninsular War in fifteen volumes. Hughie hung the
first over his looking-glass, put the second on a shelf between
Ruff's Guide and Bailey's Magazine, and lived on
two hundred a year that an old aunt allowed him. He had tried
everything. He had gone on the Stock Exchange for six months;
but what was a butterfly to do among bulls and bears? He had
been a tea-merchant for a little longer, but had soon tired of
pekoe and souchong. Then he had tried selling dry sherry. That
did not answer; the sherry was a little too dry. Ultimately he
became nothing, a delightful, ineffectual young man with a perfect
profile and no profession.
To make matters worse, he was
in love. The girl he loved was Laura Merton, the daughter of
a retired Colonel who had lost his temper and his digestion in
India, and had never found either of them again. Laura adored
him, and he was ready to kiss her shoe- strings. They were the
handsomest couple in London, and had not a penny-piece between
them. The Colonel was very fond of Hughie, but would not hear
of any engagement.
'Come to me, my boy, when you
have got ten thousand pounds of your own, and we will see about
it,' he used to say; and Hughie looked very glum in those days,
and had to go to Laura for consolation.
One morning, as he was on his
way to Holland Park, where the Mertons lived, he dropped in to
see a great friend of his, Alan Trevor. Trevor was a painter.
Indeed, few people escape that nowadays. But he was also an artist,
and artists are rather rare. Personally he was a strange rough
fellow, with a freckled face and a red ragged beard. However,
when he took up the brush he was a real master, and his pictures
were eagerly sought after. He had been very much attracted by
Hughie at first, it must be acknowledged, entirely on account
of his personal charm. 'The only people a painter should know,'
he used to say, 'are people who are bete and beautiful,
people who are an artistic pleasure to look at and an intellectual
repose to talk to. Men who are dandies and women who are darlings
rule the world, at least they should do so.' However, after he
got to know Hughie better, he liked him quite as much for his
bright, buoyant spirits and his generous, reckless nature, and
had given him the permanent entree to his studio.
When Hughie came in he found
Trevor putting the finishing touches to a wonderful life-size
picture of a beggar-man. The beggar himself was standing on a
raised platform in a corner of the studio. He was a wizened old
man, with a face like wrinkled parchment, and a most piteous
expression. Over his shoulders was flung a coarse brown cloak,
all tears and tatters; his thick boots were patched and cobbled,
and with one hand he leant on a rough stick, while with the other
he held out his battered hat for alms.
'What an amazing model!' whispered
Hughie, as he shook hands with his friend.
'An amazing model?' shouted Trevor
at the top of his voice; 'I should think so! Such beggars as
he are not to be met with every day. A trouvaille, mon cher;
a living Velasquez! My stars! what an etching Rembrandt would
have made of him!'
'Poor old chap!' said Hughie,
'how miserable he looks! But I suppose, to you painters, his
face is his fortune?'
'Certainly,' replied Trevor,
'you don't want a beggar to look happy, do you?'
'How much does a model get for
sitting?' asked Hughie, as he found himself a comfortable seat
on a divan.
'A shilling an hour.'
'And how much do you get for
your picture, Alan?'
'Oh, for this I get two thousand!'
'Guineas. Painters, poets, and
physicians always get guineas.'
'Well, I think the model should
have a percentage,' cried Hughie, laughing; 'they work quite
as hard as you do.'
'Nonsense, nonsense! Why, look
at the trouble of laying on the paint alone, and standing all
day long at one's easel! It's all very well, Hughie, for you
to talk, but I assure you that there are moments when Art almost
attains to the dignity of manual labour. But you mustn't chatter;
I'm very busy. Smoke a cigarette, and keep quiet.'
After some time the servant came
in, and told Trevor that the framemaker wanted to speak to him.
'Don't run away, Hughie,' he
said, as he went out, 'I will be back in a moment.'
The old beggar-man took advantage
of Trevor's absence to rest for a moment on a wooden bench that
was behind him. He looked so forlorn and wretched that Hughie
could not help pitying him, and felt in his pockets to see what
money he had. All he could find was a sovereign and some coppers.
'Poor old fellow,' he thought to himself, 'he wants it more than
I do, but it means no hansoms for a fortnight'; and he walked
across the studio and slipped the sovereign into the beggar's
The old man started, and a faint
smile flitted across his withered lips. 'Thank you, sir,' he
said, 'thank you.'
Then Trevor arrived, and Hughie
took his leave, blushing a little at what he had done. He spent
the day with Laura, got a charming scolding for his extravagance,
and had to walk home.
That night he strolled into the
Palette Club about eleven o'clock, and found Trevor sitting by
himself in the smoking-room drinking hock and seltzer.
'Well, Alan, did you get the
picture finished all right?' he said, as he lit his cigarette.
'Finished and framed, my boy!'
answered Trevor; 'and, by the bye, you have made a conquest.
That old model you saw is quite devoted to you. I had to tell
him all about you who you are, where you
live, what your income is, what prospects you have '
'My dear Alan,' cried Hughie,
'I shall probably find him waiting for me when I go home. But
of course you are only joking. Poor old wretch! I wish I could
do something for him. I think it is dreadful that any one should
be so miserable. I have got heaps of old clothes at home do
you think he would care for any of them? Why, his rags were falling
'But he looks splendid in them,'
said Trevor. 'I wouldn't paint him in a frock coat for anything.
What you call rags I call romance. What seems poverty to you
is picturesqueness to me. However, I'll tell him of your offer.'
'Alan,' said Hughie seriously,
'you painters are a heartless lot.'
'An artist's heart is his head,'
replied Trevor; 'and besides, our business is to realise the
world as we see it, not to reform it as we know it. A chacun
son metier. And now tell me how Laura is. The old model was
quite interested in her.'
'You don't mean to say you talked
to him about her?' said Hughie.
'Certainly I did. He knows all
about the relentless colonel, the lovely Laura, and the 10,000
'You told that old beggar all
my private affairs?' cried Hughie, looking very red and angry.
'My dear boy,' said Trevor, smiling,
'that old beggar, as you call him, is one of the richest men
in Europe. He could buy all London to-morrow without overdrawing
his account. He has a house in every capital, dines off gold
plate, and can prevent Russia going to war when he chooses.'
'What on earth do you mean?'
'What I say,' said Trevor. 'The
old man you saw to-day in the studio was Baron Hausberg. He is
a great friend of mine, buys all my pictures and that sort of
thing, and gave me a commission a month ago to paint him as a
beggar. Que voulez-vous? La fantaisie d'un millionnaire!
And I must say he made a magnificent figure in his rags, or perhaps
I should say in my rags; they are an old suit I got in Spain.'
'Baron Hausberg!' cried Hughie.
'Good heavens! I gave him a sovereign!' and he sank into an armchair
the picture of dismay.
'Gave him a sovereign!' shouted
Trevor, and he burst into a roar of laughter. 'My dear boy, you'll
never see it again. Son affaire c'est l'argent des autres.'
'I think you might have told
me, Alan,' said Hughie sulkily, 'and not have let me make such
a fool of myself.'
'Well, to begin with, Hughie,'
said Trevor, 'it never entered my mind that you went about distributing
alms in that reckless way. I can understand your kissing a pretty
model, but your giving a sovereign to an ugly one by
Jove, no! Besides, the fact is that I really was not at home
to-day to any one; and when you came in I didn't know whether
Hausberg would like his name mentioned. You know he wasn't in
'What a duffer he must think
me!' said Hughie.
'Not at all. He was in the highest
spirits after you left; kept chuckling to himself and rubbing
his old wrinkled hands together. I couldn't make out why he was
so interested to know all about you; but I see it all now. He'll
invest your sovereign for you, Hughie, pay you the interest every
six months, and have a capital story to tell after dinner.'
'I am an unlucky devil,' growled
Hughie. 'The best thing I can do is to go to bed; and, my dear
Alan, you mustn't tell any one. I shouldn't dare show my face
in the Row.'
'Nonsense! It reflects the highest
credit on your philanthropic spirit, Hughie. And don't run away.
Have another cigarette, and you can talk about Laura as much
as you like.'
However, Hughie wouldn't stop,
but walked home, feeling very unhappy, and leaving Alan Trevor
in fits of laughter.
The next morning, as he was at
breakfast, the servant brought him up a card on which was written,
'Monsieur Gustave Naudin, de la part d M. le Baron Hausberg.'
'I suppose he has come for an apology,' said Hughie to himself;
and he told the servant to show the visitor up.
An old gentleman with gold spectacles
and grey hair came into the room, and said, in a slight French
accent, 'Have I the honour of addressing Monsieur Erskine?'
'I have come from Baron Hausberg,'
he continued. 'The Baron '
'I beg, sir, that you will offer
him my sincerest apologies,' stammered Hughie.
'The Baron,' said the old gentleman
with a smile, 'has commissioned me to bring you this letter';
and he extended a sealed envelope.
On the outside was written, 'A
wedding present to Hugh Erskine and Laura Merton, from an old
beggar,' and inside was a cheque for £10,000.
When they were married Alan Trevor
was the best man, and the Baron made a speech at the wedding
'Millionaire models,' remarked
Alan, 'are rare enough; but, by Jove, model millionaires are
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