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eye of his boy's. Ronald's symmetry had been marred by the insolent fist
of a fourth former whom he had chastised for alluding to his father as
"Old Buckles;" and when Mr. Grew heard the epithet he understood in a
flash that the Buckle was a thing to blush for. It was too late then
to dissociate his name from it, or to efface from the hoardings of the
entire continent the picture of two gentlemen, one contorting himself in
the abject effort to repair a broken brace, while the careless ease
of the other's attitude proclaimed his trust in the Secure Suspender
Buckle. These records were indelible, but Ronald could at least be
spared all direct connection with them; and from that day Mr. Grew
resolved that the boy should not return to Wingfield.

"You'll see," he had said to Mrs. Grew, "he'll take right hold in New
York. Ronald's got my knack for taking hold," he added, throwing out his

"But the way you took hold was in business," objected Mrs. Grew, who was
large and literal.

Mr. Grew's chest collapsed, and he became suddenly conscious of his
comic face in its rim of sandy whiskers. "That's not the only way," he
said, with a touch of wistfulness which escaped his wife's analysis.

"Well, of course you could have written beautifully," she rejoined with
admiring eyes.

"_ Written?_ Me!" Mr. Grew became sardonic.

"Why, those letters - weren't _they_ beautiful, I'd like to know?"

The couple exchanged a glance, innocently allusive and amused on the
wife's part, and charged with a sudden tragic significance on the

"Well, I've got to be going along to the office now," he merely said,
dragging himself out of his rocking-chair.

This had happened while Ronald was still at school; and now Mrs. Grew
slept in the Wingfield cemetery, under a life-size theological virtue of
her own choosing, and Mr. Grew's prognostications as to Ronald's ability
to "take right hold" in New York were being more and more brilliantly


RONALD obeyed his father's injunction not to come to luncheon on the day
of the Bankshires' dinner; but in the middle of the following week Mr.
Grew was surprised by a telegram from his son.

"Want to see you important matter. Expect me to-morrow afternoon."

Mr. Grew received the telegram after breakfast. To peruse it he had
lifted his eye from a paragraph of the morning paper describing a
fancy-dress dinner which had taken place the night before at the
Hamilton Gliddens' for the house-warming of their new Fifth Avenue

"Among the couples who afterward danced in the Poets' Quadrille were
Miss Daisy Bankshire, looking more than usually lovely as Laura, and Mr.
Ronald Grew as the young Petrarch."

Petrarch and Laura! Well - if _anything_ meant anything, Mr. Grew
supposed he knew what that meant. For weeks past he had noticed how
constantly the names of the young people appeared together in the
society notes he so insatiably devoured. Even the soulless reporter was
getting into the habit of coupling them in his lists. And this Laura and
Petrarch business was almost an announcement...

Mr. Grew dropped the telegram, wiped his eye-glasses, and re-read the
paragraph. "Miss Daisy Bankshire ... more than usually lovely..." Yes;
she _was_ lovely. He had often seen her photograph in the papers - seen
her represented in every conceivable attitude of the mundane game:
fondling her prize bull-dog, taking a fence on her thoroughbred, dancing
a _gavotte_, all patches and plumes, or fingering a guitar, all tulle
and lilies; and once he had caught a glimpse of her at the theatre.
Hearing that Ronald was going to a fashionable first-night with the
Bankshires, Mr. Grew had for once overcome his repugnance to following
his son's movements, and had secured for himself, under the shadow of
the balcony, a stall whence he could observe the Bankshire box without
fear of detection. Ronald had never known of his father's presence at
the play; and for three blessed hours Mr. Grew had watched his boy's
handsome dark head bent above the dense fair hair and white averted
shoulder that were all he could catch of Miss Bankshire's beauties.

He recalled the vision now; and with it came, as usual, its ghostly
double: the vision of his young self bending above such a white shoulder
and such shining hair. Needless to say that the real Mason Grew had
never found himself in so enviable a situation. The late Mrs. Grew had
no more resembled Miss Daisy Bankshire than he had looked like the happy
victorious Ronald. And the mystery was that from their dull faces,
their dull endearments, the miracle of Ronald should have sprung. It was
almost - fantastically - as if the boy had been a changeling, child of a
Latmian night, whom the divine companion of Mr. Grew's early reveries
had secretly laid in the cradle of the Wingfield bedroom while Mr. And
Mrs. Grew slept the deep sleep of conjugal indifference.

The young Mason Grew had not at first accepted this astral episode as
the complete cancelling of his claims on romance. He too had grasped at
the high-hung glory; and, with his fatal tendency to reach too far when
he reached at all, had singled out the prettiest girl in Wingfield.
When he recalled his stammered confession of love his face still tingled
under her cool bright stare. The wonder of his audacity had struck her
dumb; and when she recovered her voice it was to fling a taunt at him.

"Don't be too discouraged, you know - have you ever thought of trying
Addie Wicks?"

All Wingfield would have understood the gibe: Addie Wicks was the
dullest girl in town. And a year later he had married Addie Wicks...

He looked up from the perusal of Ronald's telegram with this memory in
his mind. Now at last his dream was coming true! His boy would taste
of the joys that had mocked his thwarted youth and his dull gray
middle-age. And it was fitting that they should be realized in Ronald's
destiny. Ronald was made to take happiness boldly by the hand and lead
it home like a bridegroom. He had the carriage, the confidence, the high
faith in his fortune, that compel the wilful stars. And, thanks to
the Buckle, he would have the exceptional setting, the background of
material elegance, that became his conquering person. Since Mr. Grew
had retired from business his investments had prospered, and he had been
saving up his income for just such a contingency. His own wants were
few: he had transferred the Wingfield furniture to Brooklyn, and his
sitting-room was a replica of that in which the long years of his
married life had been spent. Even the florid carpet on which Ronald's
tottering footsteps had been taken was carefully matched when it
became too threadbare. And on the marble centre-table, with its
chenille-fringed cover and bunch of dyed pampas grass, lay the
illustrated Longfellow and the copy of Ingersoll's lectures which
represented literature to Mr. Grew when he had led home his bride. In
the light of Ronald's romance, Mr. Grew found himself re-living, with
a strange tremor of mingled pain and tenderness, all the poor prosaic
incidents of his own personal history. Curiously enough, with this new
splendor on them they began to emit a small faint ray of their own. His
wife's armchair, in its usual place by the fire, recalled her placid
unperceiving presence, seated opposite to him during the long drowsy
years; and he felt her kindness, her equanimity, where formerly he had
only ached at her obtuseness. And from the chair he glanced up at the
large discolored photograph on the wall above, with a brittle brown
wreath suspended on a corner of the frame. The photograph represented
a young man with a poetic necktie and untrammelled hair, leaning
negligently against a Gothic chair-back, a roll of music in his hand;
and beneath was scrawled a bar of Chopin, with the words: "_ Adieu,

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

"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

"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

Ronald moved uneasily in his chair and his eyes wandered upward to the
laurel-wreathed photograph of the pianist above his father's head.

"_ Is_ it that, Ronald? Speak out, my boy. We'll see, we'll look
round - I'll manage somehow."

"No, no," the young man interrupted, abruptly raising his hand as though
to silence his father.

Mr. Grew recovered his cheerfulness. "Well, what's the matter than, if
_she's_ willing?"

Ronald shifted his position again, and finally rose from his seat.

"Father - I - there's something I've got to tell you. I can't take your

Mr. Grew sat speechless a moment, staring blankly at his son; then he
emitted a puzzled laugh. "My money? What are you talking about? What's
this about my money? Why, it ain't _mine_, Ronny; it's all yours - every
cent of it!" he cried.

The young man met his tender look with a gaze of tragic rejection.

"No, no, it's not mine - not even in the sense you mean. Not in any
sense. Can't you understand my feeling so?"

"Feeling so? I don't know how you're feeling. I don't know what you're
talking about. Are you too proud to touch any money you haven't earned?
Is that what you're trying to tell me?"

"No. It's not that. You must know - "

Mr. Grew flushed to the rim of his bristling whiskers. "Know? Know
_what?_ Can't you speak?"

Ronald hesitated, and the two men faced each other for a long strained
moment, during which Mr. Grew's congested countenance grew gradually
pale again.

"What's the meaning of this? Is it because you've done something ...
something you're ashamed of ... ashamed to tell me?" he suddenly
gasped out; and walking around the table he laid his hand on his son's
shoulder. "There's nothing you can't tell me, my boy."

"It's not that. Why do you make it so hard for me?" Ronald broke out
with passion. "You must have known this was sure to happen sooner or

"Happen? What was sure to hap - ?" Mr. Grew's question wavered on his lip
and passed into a tremulous laugh. "Is it something _I've_ done that you
don't approve of? Is it - is it _the Buckle_ you're ashamed of, Ronald

Ronald laughed too, impatiently. "The Buckle? No, I'm not ashamed of
the Buckle; not any more than you are," he returned with a sudden
bright flush. "But I'm ashamed of all I owe to it - all I owe to
you - when - when - " He broke off and took a few distracted steps across
the room. "You might make this easier for me," he protested, turning
back to his father.

"Make what easier? I know less and less what you're driving at," Mr.
Grew groaned.

Ronald's walk had once more brought him beneath the photograph on the
wall. He lifted his head for a moment and looked at it; then he looked
again at Mr. Grew.

"Do you suppose I haven't always known?"

"Known - ?"

"Even before you gave me those letters - after my mother's death - even
before that, I suspected. I don't know how it began ... perhaps from
little things you let drop ... you and she ... and resemblances that I
couldn't help seeing ... in myself ... How on earth could you suppose
I shouldn't guess? I always thought you gave me the letters as a way of
telling me - "

Mr. Grew rose slowly from his chair. "The letters? Dolbrowski's

Ronald nodded with white lips. "You must remember giving them to me the
day after the funeral."

Mr. Grew nodded back. "Of course. I wanted you to have everything your
mother valued."

"Well - how could I help knowing after that?"

"Knowing _what?_" Mr. Grew stood staring helplessly at his son. Suddenly
his look caught at a clue that seemed to confront it with a deeper
bewilderment. "You thought - you thought those letters ... Dolbrowski's
letters ... you thought they meant ..."

"Oh, it wasn't only the letters. There were so many other signs. My love
of music - my - all my feelings about life ... and art... And when you
gave me the letters I thought you must mean me to know."

Mr. Grew had grown quiet. His lips were firm, and his small eyes looked
out steadily from their creased lids.

"To know that you were Fortune Dolbrowski's son?"

Ronald made a mute sign of assent.

"I see. And what did you mean to do?"

"I meant to wait till I could earn my living, and then repay you ...
as far as I can ever repay you... But now that there's a chance of
my marrying ... and your generosity overwhelms me ... I'm obliged to

"I see," said Mr. Grew again. He let himself down into his chair,
looking steadily and not unkindly at the young man. "Sit down, Ronald.
Let's talk."

Ronald made a protesting movement. "Is anything to be gained by it?
You can't change me - change what I feel. The reading of those letters
transformed my whole life - I was a boy till then: they made a man of me.
From that moment I understood myself." He paused, and then looked up at
Mr. Grew's face. "Don't imagine I don't appreciate your kindness - your
extraordinary generosity. But I can't go through life in disguise. And I
want you to know that I have not won Daisy under false pretences - "

Mr. Grew started up with the first expletive Ronald had ever heard on
his lips.

"You damned young fool, you, you haven't _told_ her - ?"

Ronald raised his head quickly. "Oh, you don't know her, sir! She thinks
no worse of me for knowing my secret. She is above and beyond all
such conventional prejudices. She's _proud_ of my parentage - " he
straightened his slim young shoulders - "as I'm proud of it ... yes, sir,
proud of it..."

Mr. Grew sank back into his seat with a dry laugh. "Well, you ought to
be. You come of good stock. And you're father's son, every inch of you!"
He laughed again, as though the humor of the situation grew on him with
its closer contemplation.

"Yes, I've always felt that," Ronald murmured, flushing.

"Your father's son, and no mistake." Mr. Grew leaned forward. "You're
the son of as big a fool as yourself. And here he sits, Ronald Grew."

The young man's flush deepened to crimson; but Mr. Grew checked his
reply with a decisive gesture. "Here he sits, with all your young
nonsense still alive in him. Don't you see the likeness? If you don't,
I'll tell you the story of those letters."

Ronald stared. "What do you mean? Don't they tell their own story?"

"I supposed they did when I gave them to you; but you've given it a
twist that needs straightening out." Mr. Grew squared his elbows on the
table, and looked at the young man across the gift-books and the dyed
pampas grass. "I wrote all the letters that Dolbrowski answered."

Ronald gave back his look in frowning perplexity. "You wrote them? I
don't understand. His letters are all addressed to my mother."

"Yes. And he thought he was corresponding with her."

"But my mother - what did she think?"

Mr. Grew hesitated, puckering his thick lids. "Well, I guess she kinder
thought it was a joke. Your mother didn't think about things much."

Ronald continued to bend a puzzled frown on the question. "I don't
understand," he reiterated.

Mr. Grew cleared his throat with a nervous laugh. "Well, I don't know
as you ever will - _quite_. But this is the way it came about. I had a
toughish time of it when I was young. Oh, I don't mean so much the fight
I had to put up to make my way - there was always plenty of fight in
me. But inside of myself it was kinder lonesome. And the outside didn't
attract callers." He laughed again, with an apologetic gesture toward
his broad blinking face. "When I went round with the other young fellows
I was always the forlorn hope - the one that had to eat the drumsticks
and dance with the left-overs. As sure as there was a blighter at a
picnic I had to swing her, and feed her, and drive her home. And all the
time I was mad after all the things you've got - poetry and music and all
the joy-forever business. So there were the pair of us - my face and my
imagination - chained together, and fighting, and hating each other like

"Then your mother came along and took pity on me. It sets up a gawky
fellow to find a girl who ain't ashamed to be seen walking with him
Sundays. And I was grateful to your mother, and we got along first-rate.
Only I couldn't say things to her - and she couldn't answer. Well - one
day, a few months after we were married, Dolbrowski came to New York,
and the whole place went wild about him. I'd never heard any good music,
but I'd always had an inkling of what it must be like, though I couldn't
tell you to this day how I knew. Well, your mother read about him in the
papers too, and she thought it'd be the swagger thing to go to New York
and hear him play - so we went... I'll never forget that evening. Your
mother wasn't easily stirred up - she never seemed to need to let off
steam. But that night she seemed to understand the way I felt. And when
we got back to the hotel she said suddenly: 'I'd like to tell him how I
feel. I'd like to sit right down and write to him.'

"'Would you?' I said. 'So would I.'

"There was paper and pens there before us, and I pulled a sheet toward
me, and began to write. 'Is this what you'd like to say to him?' I
asked her when the letter was done. And she got pink and said: 'I don't
understand it, but it's lovely.' And she copied it out and signed her
name to it, and sent it."

Mr. Grew paused, and Ronald sat silent, with lowered eyes.

"That's how it began; and that's where I thought it would end. But it
didn't, because Dolbrowski answered. His first letter was dated January
10, 1872. I guess you'll find I'm correct. Well, I went back to hear him
again, and I wrote him after the performance, and he answered again. And
after that we kept it up for six months. Your mother always copied the
letters and signed them. She seemed to think it was a kinder joke, and
she was proud of his answering my letters. But she never went back to
New York to hear him, though I saved up enough to give her the treat
again. She was too lazy, and she let me go without her. I heard him
three times in New York; and in the spring he came to Wingfield and
played once at the Academy. Your mother was sick and couldn't go; so I
went alone. After the performance I meant to get one of the directors to
take me in to see him; but when the time came, I just went back home
and wrote to him instead. And the month after, before he went back to
Europe, he sent your mother a last little note, and that picture hanging
up there..."

Mr. Grew paused again, and both men lifted their eyes to the photograph.

"Is that all?" Ronald slowly asked.

"That's all - every bit of it," said Mr. Grew.

"And my mother - my mother never even spoke to Dolbrowski?"

"Never. She never even saw him but that once in New York at his

The blood crept again to Ronald's face. "Are you sure of that, sir?" he
asked in a trembling voice.

"Sure as I am that I'm sitting here. Why, she was too lazy to look at
his letters after the first novelty wore off. She copied the answers
just to humor me - but she always said she couldn't understand what we

"But how could you go on with such a correspondence? It's incredible!"

Mr. Grew looked at his son thoughtfully. "I suppose it is, to you.
You've only had to put out your hand and get the things I was starving
for - music, and good talk, and ideas. Those letters gave me all that.
You've read them, and you know that Dolbrowski was not only a great
musician but a great man. There was nothing beautiful he didn't see,
nothing fine he didn't feel. For six months I breathed his air, and I've
lived on it ever since. Do you begin to understand a little now?"

"Yes - a little. But why write in my mother's name? Why make it a
sentimental correspondence?"

Mr. Grew reddened to his bald temples. "Why, I tell you it began that
way, as a kinder joke. And when I saw that the first letter pleased and
interested him, I was afraid to tell him - _I couldn't_ tell him. Do you
suppose he'd gone on writing if he'd ever seen me, Ronny?"

Ronald suddenly looked at him with new eyes. "But he must have thought
your letters very beautiful - to go on as he did," he broke out.

"Well - I did my best," said Mr. Grew modestly.

Ronald pursued his idea. "Where _are_ all your letters, I wonder?
Weren't they returned to you at his death?"

Mr. Grew laughed. "Lord, no. I guess he had trunks and trunks full of
better ones. I guess Queens and Empresses wrote to him."

"I should have liked to see your letters," the young man insisted.

"Well, they weren't bad," said Mr. Grew drily. "But I'll tell you one
thing, Ronny," he added suddenly. Ronald raised his head with a quick
glance, and Mr. Grew continued: "I'll tell you where the best of those
letters is - it's in _you_. If it hadn't been for that one look at life I
couldn't have made you what you are. Oh, I know you've done a good deal
of your own making - but I've been there behind you all the time. And
you'll never know the work I've spared you and the time I've saved you.
Fortune Dolbrowski helped me do that. I never saw things in little again
after I'd looked at 'em with him. And I tried to give you the big view
from the stars... So that's what became of my letters."

Mr. Grew paused, and for a long time Ronald sat motionless, his elbows
on the table, his face dropped on his hands.

Suddenly Mr. Grew's touch fell on his shoulder.

"Look at here, Ronald Grew - do you want me to tell you how you're
feeling at this minute? Just a mite let down, after all, at the idea
that you ain't the romantic figure you'd got to think yourself... Well,
that's natural enough, too; but I'll tell you what it proves. It proves
you're my son right enough, if any more proof was needed. For it's just
the kind of fool nonsense I used to feel at your age - and if there's
anybody here to laugh at it's myself, and not you. And you can laugh at
me just as much as you like..."



"WHAT'S become of the Daunt Diana? You mean to say you never heard the

Ringham Finney threw himself back into his chair with the smile of the

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Online LibraryEdith WhartonTales of Men and Ghosts → online text (page 5 of 22)