BOOK TALK: THE MODEL MILLIONAIRE by Oscar Wilde

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–Read India Initiative—

This is only an attempt to create interest in reading. We may not get the time to read all the books in our lifetime. But such reviews, talk and synopsis will at least convey what the book is all about.

 

THE MODEL MILLIONAIRE

By Oscar Wilde

 

    Oscar Wilde was an Irish poet and playwright. He lived during 1854-1900.

    Unless one is wealthy there is no point in being a charming fellow. Romance is the privilege of the rich and not the profession of the unemployed. The poor should be practical and unsentimental. It is better to have a routine permanent income than to be a captivating personality. These were some great truths of life which Hughie Erskine never realised. Intellectually Hughie was of fair consequence. He had never said an anything brilliant in his life nor had he said anything offending. But yes. He was a wonderful person and good looking. He had brown hair with clear cut profile and grey eyes. He was popular with men as he was with women and he had every competence except that of making money. His father had bequeathed him his cavalry sword along with a history of peninsular war in fifteen volumes. Hughie had hung the first over his looking glass. And he had put the second on a shelf between Ruff’s guide and Bailey’s magazine. He lived on two hundred a year that was allowed to him by his old aunt.

    He had tried everything. He had worked in a stock exchange for six months but was a butterfly to do among bulls and bears. He had even been a tea merchant for a longer period of time but soon tired out Pekoe and Souchung (variety of tea). Then he tried selling sherry. But there also he didn’t n do well. Finally he became nothing but a delightful, ineffectual young man with a perfect profile but no profession.

     To make matters worse he was in love. The girl he loved was Laura Merton, daughter of a retired colonel who had lost his temper and digestion in India and had never found either of them again. Laura adored Hughie and he was ready to anything for her. They were the handsomest couple of London. But they did not have a penny-piece between them. The colonel was very fond of Hughie but could not hear about their engagement.

    And he used to say. Come to me my boy when you have ten thousand pounds of your own in your pocket and then we will see about it. This used to sadden Hughie who then used to look glum and go to Laura for consolation.

    One morning when he was on his way to Holland Park, where Mertons lived. He dropped by to see a great friend of his, Alan Trevor. Trevor was a greater painter. And an artist too. That was a rare combination. He was a strange rough fellow with a freckled face and a red ragged beard. But when he took up the brush he was a real master. Moreover, his pictures were largely sought after. He was very attached to Hughie mainly because 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 artistic pleasure to look at an intellectual repose. To talk to, men who are dandies and women who are darlings rule the world, at least they should do so.’ After he got to know Hughie better he liked him quite as much for his bright buoyant spirits. And his generous reckless nature. Because of which he had given him the permanent entrée to his studio.  

    When Hughie came in he found Trevor applying finishing touches to a wonderful life size painting of a beggar man. The beggar himself was standing on a raised platform in a corner of the studio. He looked a wizened old man with a face like wrinkled parchment and a 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 everyday.’ And he goes on to praise the beggar.

    ‘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.’

    ‘Pounds?’

    ‘Guineas. Painters, poets and physicians always get guineas.’

    ‘Well I think the model should have a percentage.’ Cried Hughie, laughingly. ‘They work quite 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! Its 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 frame maker 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. He rested for a moment on a wooden bench that was behind him. He looked so forlorn and wretched that Hughie could not help pitying him, so he felt 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 hand.

    The old man started, and a faint smile flitted across his withered lips. ‘Thankyou sir,’ he said, ‘thank you.’

    Soon Trevor arrived when Hughie took his leave blushing a little at what he had done. He spent the day with Laura, got an affectionate scolding for his extravagance, and had to walk home.

    That night he strolled into the Palette Club at about 11’o clock. He 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 wretched! I wish I could do something for him. I think it is dreadful that anyone should be so miserable. I have got heaps of old clothes at home—do you think he should care for any of them? Why his rags were falling to bits.’

   ‘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 ten thousand pounds.’

    ‘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 Barron-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? La fantaisie d’un millionaire! 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 you’ll never see it again. ‘Son affaire c’est I 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 love, no! besides the fact is that I really was not at home today. To anyone; 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 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 anyone. I should 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 couldn’t stop feeling horrible. He walked home feeling very unhappy and leaving Alan Trevor in fits of laughter.

    The next morning, when he was at breakfast, the servant brought him a card on which was written, ‘Monsieur Gustave Naudin! Dela 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.’ Hughie bowed.

    ‘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 High Erskine and Laura Merton, from an old beggar!’ And inside was a cheque of ten thousand pounds.

    When they 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 love, model millionaires are rarer still.’

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Synopsis by Kamlesh Tripathi

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https://kamleshsujata.wordpress.com

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