‘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. À chacun son métier. 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?’ exclaimed Hughie.
‘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 full dress.’
‘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 de 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 breakfast.
‘Millionaire models,’ remarked Alan, ‘are rare enough; but, by Jove, model millionaires are rarer still!’
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