The Model Millionaire by Oscar Wilde
Hughie Erskine was a good-looking man. Hughie Erskine was the best-looking gentleman in London. He had curly brown hair, grey eyes and a handsome face. He also had many friends.
However, Hughie Erskine did not have much money. His father had been an officer in the army. His father was dead. Now Hughie had his father’s sword and a few books but no money.
Hughie Erskine had tried to do several jobs. He had worked for a tea merchant selling tea. He had worked for a wine merchant selling wine. But poor Hughie was not good at anything.
Hughie was in love and wanted to get married. He loved Laura Merton, the daughter of an army officer. Laura loved Hughie, but her father did not want them to get married.
‘You are a fine young man,’ Colonel Merton said to Hughie, ‘but you have no money. My daughter cannot marry a man with no money. You may marry my daughter when you have ten thousand pounds.’
Hughie did not have ten thousand pounds. He did not have ten pounds. His old aunt gave him four or five pounds a week. Today he had only one pound in his pocket. Hughie was almost broke.
Hughie had a friend called Alan Trevor. Alan was an artist who painted pictures of people. He was a good artist and quite famous. Many people wanted him to paint their portrait. People came to Alan’s studio. Alan painted their portraits in the studio. Alan’s pictures were very expensive. He only painted pictures for rich men.
Hughie Erskine visited Alan Trevor in his studio. Alan was working on a painting.
‘What do you think of this?’ asked Alan Trevor. ‘And what do you think of my model?’
Hughie looked at the painting. It was a picture of an old beggar. Alan was painting a picture of a man who was standing in the corner of the studio.
The model was an old man dressed in old, torn clothes. The old man’s face was sad. With one hand he held out a hat. In the other hand he held a stick.
‘My model is wonderful,’ said Alan. ‘Have you ever seen such a wonderful beggar?’
‘Poor old man,’ said Hughie. ‘How sad he looks.’
‘Of course,’ said Alan. ‘I don’t want a beggar to look happy.’
‘How much is a model paid for standing in your studio?’ asked Hughie.
‘Not much,’ answered Alan, ‘only a shilling an hour.’
‘And how much money do you get when you sell a picture?’ asked Hughie.
‘For this picture, I will get two thousand pounds,’ said Alan.
‘You’re a rich man. I think the model should get some of the money,’ said Hughie.
‘Nonsense… nonsense!’ said Alan. ‘It’s difficult to be a painter. It’s not difficult to be a beggar. Few people can paint pictures. Anyone can beg.’
‘But many people want to be rich and famous painters,’ said Hughie. ‘No one wants to be a poor beggar. You artists are very unkind.’
Alan Trevor laughed. ‘I’m busy,’ he said. ‘Sit down and stop talking.’
A servant came in. ‘A gentleman is outside, sir. He wants you to paint his portrait. Can you speak to him, please?’
‘Don’t go away,’ Alan said to Hughie. ‘I’ll be back in a moment.’
Alan left the room. The old beggar sat down on a chair and rested. His hat was still in his hand.
The old man looked so sad that Hughie felt sorry for him. Hughie put his hand in his pocket. He had a pound. It was the last of his money.
Well, he needs the money more than I do, thought Hughie.
Hughie went across the room and put the pound in the old man’s hat.
The old man was very surprised. He looked at the money and smiled.
‘Thank you, sir,’ he said. ‘Thank you very much.’
Alan Trevor came back into the studio and Hughie left. He went to see Laura and told her about the beggar.
‘You gave all your money away?’ said Laura. ‘That was very-foolish. My father will never let me marry a foolish man. You are very foolish, but you are very kind and I love you very much.’
That night Hughie met Alan Trevor at a club. Alan was looking very pleased.
‘I finished that picture,’ said Alan. ‘And my model was very interested in you. He asked me lots of questions.’
‘Poor old man,’ said Hughie. ‘I wish I could help him. What did he ask you about me?’
‘He wanted to know everything about you,’ Skid Alan.
‘And what did you tell him?’
‘I told him everything,’ said Alan. ‘I told him all about you. I told him about Laura. I told him about Laura’s father. I told him you want to marry Laura hut have no money.’
‘Alan!’ said Hughie angrily. ‘You told him all about my private business?’
‘Don’t be angry,’ said Alan. ‘You don’t know who I was painting the picture for. I was painting it for the Baron von Hausberg. He is one of the richest men in Europe. Baron von Hausberg was my model. The Baron dressed up as an old beggar.’
‘The Baron von Hausberg!’ cried Hughie. ‘You mean that old beggar was the Baron himself?’
‘Yes,’ said Alan.
‘But I gave him a pound,’ said Hughie. ‘Now I feel foolish.’
‘You gave him a pound?’ said Alan. ‘That’s the funniest thing I’ve ever heard.’
Alan Trevor could not stop laughing. Hughie Erskine walked home. He felt foolish. He had given his last pound to a millionaire. Laura’s father would hear about this. The colonel would never let his daughter marry a fool.
The next day Hughie Erskine had a visitor. Hughie did not know the man.
‘How can I help you?’ asked Hughie.
‘I have come from the Baron von Hausberg,’ said the visitor.
‘The Baron von Hausberg!’ said Hughie Erskine. ‘I did not know him when we met yesterday. I want to tell the Baron that I am sorry. I think I was rude to him.’
The visitor smiled. ‘You were not rude to the Baron,’ he said. ‘The Baron asked me to give you this.’ He gave Hughie an envelope. These words were written on the envelope:
A wedding present to Hugh Erskine and Laura Merton, from an old beggar.
Inside was a cheque for ten thousand pounds.