The portrait was that of the great pianist, Fortune Dolbrowski; and its presence on the wall of Mr. Grew’s sitting-room commemorated the only exquisite hour of his life save that of Ronald’s birth. It was some time before the latter memorable event, a few months only after Mr. Grew’s marriage, that he had taken his wife to New York to hear the great Dolbrowski. Their evening had been magically beautiful, and even Addie, roused from her habitual inexpressiveness, had quivered into a momentary semblance of life. “I never—I never—” she gasped out helplessly when they had regained their hotel bedroom, and sat staring back entranced at the evening’s evocations. Her large immovable face was pink and tremulous, and she sat with her hands on her knees, forgetting to roll up her bonnet-strings and prepare her curl-papers.
“I’d like to write him just how I felt—I wisht I knew how!” she burst out suddenly in a final effervescence of emotion.
Her husband lifted his head and looked at her.
“Would you? I feel that way too,” he said with a sheepish laugh. And they continued to stare at each other shyly through a transfiguring mist of sound.
Mr. Grew recalled the scene as he gazed up at the pianist’s faded photograph. “Well, I owe her that anyhow—poor Addie!” he said, with a smile at the inconsequences of fate. With Ronald’s telegram in his hand he was in a mood to count his mercies.
“A CLEAR twenty-five thousand a year: that’s what you can tell ’em with my compliments,” said Mr. Grew, glancing complacently across the centre-table at his boy’s charming face.
It struck him that Ronald’s gift for looking his part in life had never so romantically expressed itself. Other young men, at such a moment, would have been red, damp, tight about the collar; but Ronald’s cheek was only a shade paler, and the contrast made his dark eyes more expressive.
“A clear twenty-five thousand; yes, sir—that’s what I always meant you to have.”
Mr. Grew leaned back, his hands thrust carelessly in his pockets, as though to divert attention from the agitation of his features. He had often pictured himself rolling out that phrase to Ronald, and now that it was actually on his lips he could not control their tremor.
Ronald listened in silence, lifting a nervous hand to his slight dark moustache, as though he, too, wished to hide some involuntary betrayal of emotion. At first Mr. Grew took his silence for an expression of gratified surprise; but as it prolonged itself it became less easy to interpret.
“I—see here, my boy; did you expect more? Isn’t it enough?” Mr. Grew cleared his throat. “Do they expect more?” he asked nervously. He was hardly able to face the pain of inflicting a disappointment on Ronald at the very moment when he had counted on putting the final touch to his felicity.