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Title: The Philistine: A Story
Author: E M Delafield
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1302141.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: May 2013
Date most recently updated: May 2013

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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: The Philistine: A Story
Author: E M Delafield


Published in Harper's Magazine, May 1926


*

He was rather a stolid little boy, but they did their very best with
him.

He had, of course, exactly the same treats as the other children, the
same pleasures, the same privileges. His toys and presents were better
than theirs, if anything, because his aunt, in her heart of hearts,
knew him to be less attractive than her own Cynthia and Jeremy and
Diana.

For one thing, Colin wasn't as good-looking as they were, and for
another, he was less intelligent. Cynthia, at nine years old, had a
vivid, original mind, and the few people--but they were people who
really knew--to whom Lady Verulam showed her little poems had seen
great promise in them.

Jeremy, a year younger, had thick, tight curls of brown hair all over
his head, beautiful, long-lashed brown eyes, and an adorable smile. His
manners were perfect. He said things--innocent, naive, irresistible
things--about God, and the fairies, and how much he loved his mother.

Lady Verulam's youngest girl, Diana, was precociously intelligent too,
with a delightfully extensive and grown-up vocabulary at five years
old. She had straight, square-cut bobbed brown hair like Cynthia, but
she was lovelier than either of the others, and her eyes were a pure,
deep blue, fringed with long, curled black lashes.

All Lady Verulam's artist friends wanted to paint Diana, but only Sir
Frederick Lorton, the best known portrait-painter in England, was
allowed to do so. The portrait was exhibited at the Royal Academy.

Colin was the only child of Lady Verulam's widowed brother-in-law, and
he had been sent home to her from India when his mother died. He had
been five years old then, and now he was eight.

He was a dear little boy, and Lady Verulam felt remorsefully that he
might have been a _darling_ little boy if it hadn't been that Cynthia
and Jeremy and Diana unconsciously set such a very high standard of
charm and intelligence. Intelligence counted for so very much, in that
political-artistic section of society in which the Verulams lived. Most
children of wealthy parents could be made tolerably pretty, after all,
and if they weren't born with brains and personality they stood little
chance of individual distinction.

Not that Colin hadn't got personality.

Lady Verulam, who was President of the Cult of the Children Society,
and had written a little book about child-psychology, had studied Colin
on his own merits, as it were. And she quite recognized that he had
character, and even imagination, of a sort, although when the children
were all taken to see "Peter Pan" and told to clap their hands if they
believed in fairies, he was the only one of Lady Verulam's large party
who didn't clap.

"But I _don't_ believe in them, really," said Colin, rather pale.

"But Tinker-Bell!" protested Jeremy, "She'd have died if we hadn't
clapped!"

"And we do believe in fairies," said Cynthia firmly.

"Then it was all right for you to clap," said Colin. "There were enough
of you without me."

But afterwards he was very silent for a long while and looked worried.

Lady Verulam saw that and she changed her seat in one of the intervals
and came beside him.

"Do you like it, darling?"

"Oh, yes," he said, unusually emphatic. But his face hadn't grown
scarlet with excitement, like little Diana's, and he wasn't
delightfully, stammeringly enthusiastic, like Jeremy. Presently he
asked Lady Verulam in rather a troubled way:

"I wasn't unkind or naughty, was I, not to clap for Tinker Bell?"

"Not at all," she was obliged to answer. "The children were only asked
to clap if they believed in fairies."

"I don't really believe in them," Colin said apologetically. "Do you,
Aunt Doreen?"

"Shall I tell you a secret?" she answered, bending her charming,
smiling face down to his. "I like to _pretend_ that I believe in
fairies, little Colin."

Anyone of the others would have responded to her whimsical
fancy--they'd have understood. But Colin only looked up at her with
solemn gray eyes staring rather stupidly out of a puzzled face.

"Do you?" was all he said.

"Oh, belovedest, isn't it marvelous!" said Cynthia, her eyes shining
and dancing with sheer rapture.

Well, Colin hadn't got the same capacity for enjoyment, that was all.
And even if he'd had it, he wouldn't have been able to express it in
words.

He was an _ordinary_ child.

"He'll never suffer as much as I'm afraid my darlings will, because
he'll never feel as much," said Lady Verulam to the French nursery
governess, who had so many certificates of her training as a teacher,
and as a student of psychology, and as a hospital nurse, that she was
as expensive as a finishing-governess.

"Probably not, Lady Verulam. But I think they do one another good.
Cynthia's and Jeremy's enthusiastic ways will help Colin to be less
stolid in time. And in one way, of course, it's a relief that he's not
as excitable as they are."

The head-nurse said the same.

Diana before a party or a pantomime was positively ill with excitement
sometimes. They never dared to tell her of anything until just before
it was going to happen.

But Colin never looked forward to things like that. He lived in the
present.

"Such a relief," said Lady Verulam rather wistfully. She couldn't help
wondering sometimes what her brother-in-law, Vivian, would think of his
only child, when he came home...But Colin's mother, whom she had known
well as a girl, had been rather stolid, too.

Every day the children went to play in Kensington Gardens. The little
procession came out at the front door of the house in Lowndes Square,
and Lady Verulam, who adored her children, watched them from the window
of the dining room where she was having breakfast after her ride in the
Park.

First the under-nurse and the footman, carefully lifting the smart
white perambulator down the steps, then Nurse, in stiff white piqué,
carrying the rose-colored silk bundle that was the four-months-old
baby, and depositing him carefully among his lacey shawls and pillows,
under the silk-fringed summer awning of the pram. Then Diana, adorable
in a tiny, skimpy frock of palest lemon color, with lemon-colored
streamers falling from her shade hat and sandals on her beautiful
little slim brown feet. She was carrying a ridiculous little doll's
parasol and walking by herself, just as she always did. There was a
certain dainty pride about Diana that never allowed her to accept the
nurse's hand. She walked by the side of the pram, erect and exquisite.

After the nursery party, Mademoiselle and the elder children came down
the steps. In the gardens, they would all coalesce, but the nursery
party always started first.

Lady Verulam, peeping out between the window-boxes of scarlet geraniums
and white daisies and the edge of the red-striped sun blind, watched
them.

Mademoiselle was neat, efficient, French-looking--from the top of her
shiny black straw hat, tipped forward over her black hair, to the
black patent-leather belt placed very low down on her short-sleeved
black-and-white check frock, and the pointed tips of her buttoned black
boots. She was drawing on black kid gloves, that came half-way up her
arms.

One on each side of her, were the two little boys. They were dressed
alike, in white silk shirts and silk ties, and dark knickerbockers.
Neither wore a cap, and Jeremy's thick curls looked burnished in the
strong July sunlight. People always turned to look at him and at those
wonderful curls.

Colin's hair was quite straight, and it suited him best to have it
cut very short. It was of no particular color. Both little boys held
themselves very upright, but while Colin was stocky and rather short,
Jeremy was tall and slim and beautifully made, like a little statue.

Then Cynthia came out of the house, quick and slender and radiating
vitality in every graceful gesture. Her frock and hat were the replica
of little Diana's, but instead of the minute, absurd parasol, some
heavenly instinct had caused her to take from the big glass bowl in the
hall a handful of great mauve sweet peas that looked like butterflies
against the pale, soft folds of her frock.

Cynthia's strong, instinctive sense of beauty was a joy to her mother.

She seemed to dance, rather than walk, along the hot pavement, her
long, slim brown legs bare to the sun. From the little vivid, glancing
gesture of her hands and head, Lady Verulam knew that she was talking.
She could even guess what Cynthia was talking about--the party.

They were giving a party the next day on Colin's birthday, just before
going down into the country. It was, actually, three years since the
Verulams had given a children's party. One thing and another had
prevented it.

This was called Colin's party but, as usual, the other children were
far more excited about it than he was.

Lady Verulam herself was a tiny bit excited about it because for the
first time Royalty--very young Royalty--was to be her guest.

She wanted the party to be a great success.

Smiling, she turned away from the window.



Cynthia's mother had been quite right. The children were talking about
the party.

"I'm looking forward to it more than I've ever looked forward to
anything in all my life," said Jeremy solemnly. "I think if anything
happened to prevent it now I'd die."

"Oh, no, you wouldn't," said Cynthia scornfully. "Besides, nothing
_could_ happen to prevent it."

They knew little of disappointments, any of them. They were not allowed
to experience disappointments if their mother could possibly prevent it
because they were such terribly highly strung children.

"Mademoiselle, may Diana be told about the party yet?"

"She may be told, but she isn't to know which day it is till the
last minute," said Mademoiselle, who knew very well that it would be
impossible to keep sharp little Diana from the infectious excitement
and sense of preparation that had already begun to pervade the house.

So they were able to talk about the party freely when they joined Diana
and the nurses.

Cynthia did not want to talk about anything else, and the others always
followed her lead. Except sometimes Colin, who was what Nurse called
"independent."

He was independent to-day, and when he grew tired of hearing Cynthia
and Jeremy discuss what games they would play at the party, and Diana
chatter about her new frock with the roses on it, he got up and went
away and bounced his ball on the Broad Walk.

He was pleased about the party, and Aunt Doreen had allowed him to
choose what the entertainment should be, and he had chosen a conjuror,
and she had said that _perhaps_ he would have a cable from Daddy, like
last year, for his birthday--but Colin didn't feel that he could think,
and talk, and plan about nothing but the party, like the others.

Mademoiselle often said that he had no imagination, and Colin felt sure
that she was right. He wasn't certain that he even wanted to have an
imagination, much. He knew that he was stupid, compared with Jeremy
and Cynthia, but at least he didn't have crying fits--like a girl--as
Jeremy occasionally had, and he didn't stammer from pure eagerness as
Cynthia did when she got excited.

He did hope, very much, that there might be a cable from Daddy on his
birthday, because that would be something of his very own. No one would
be able to say that the others cared more than he did, because it
wouldn't have anything at all to do with the others.

Feeling rather mean but not able to help it, Colin secretly wished that
the others mightn't know anything at all about his cable if it did
come. Then they couldn't exclaim and be excited and say things and make
Colin feel--and look--stupider than ever.

On the way home he was very silent, trying to think of a plan by which
he could prevent the other children from seeing his cable. Perhaps
they'd be so busy getting ready for the party that they wouldn't
remember about it.

When the next day came it really seemed as though it might be so.

The children flew up and down stairs, even down into the kitchen where
the good-natured chef showed them the cakes, and the jellies and the
pink and white creams, and dishes of colored sweets, and an amusing log
made out of of chocolate with chopped-up green stuff all over it and
cream inside it.

They ran into the dining room, too, and saw the long, decorated table
and the rows of little gilt chairs.

"There are other chairs in the drawing-room--millions more of them, for
the conjuror," said Diana.

"Let's go up there."

"Let's," said Cynthia and Jeremy.

They dashed off.

Colin was just going to follow when he looked out of the window. He had
been looking out of the window at intervals all day long.

But this time a telegraph boy really was crossing the square and
glancing up at the numbers. It must, surely, be Daddy's cable, and he
could take it himself and open it and there'd be nobody there to say
that he didn't seem to care half as much as Master Jeremy, not if it
_were_ his own father...

Colin, for once moving quickly, ran out to the hall and opened the
front door before the boy could ring the bell.

"Is it a foreign telegram--a cable?" he asked anxiously.

"Yes, addressed Verulam."

"Then it's mine," said Colin with decision. "There isn't any answer."

He had often heard this said and felt sure it was right.

The telegraph boy, whistling, went away.

Colin retreated to the linen cupboard on the schoolroom landing which
was large and light, and to which people seldom came, and sat down on
the floor to decipher his birthday cable.

_Regret inform you Major Vivian Verulam dangerously ill cholera will
cable progress._

Colin's face slowly became pink and then the color ebbed away again and
left him rather white. He sat on the floor of the linen cupboard for a
long while, not moving.

If Aunt Doreen knew about the cable, the party would have to be
stopped, surely. And Diana would cry herself ill, and everybody would
be in a dreadful state, and what would happen to all those beautiful
cakes? Probably they would be vexed with him, too, for having opened
the telegram.

Colin's mind, his slowly moving, tenacious mind, had not yet begun to
work on the exact meaning of "dangerously ill." For days he had heard
of nothing but the party, and the party had become the alpha and omega
of existence.

It was impossible that it should be stopped. "If no one knows but me,"
thought Colin, "it'll be all right."

He had a horrible feeling that it would be naughty to say nothing about
the cable, and yet he felt that they would all blame him if he told
about it and stopped the party. Nothing mattered, really, except the
party. They had thought he didn't understand what a great event it was
because he couldn't get excited like the others, but at least he could
see how very important they all thought it.

Presently he stuffed the cable into the pocket of his breeches,
rose slowly and carefully to his feet, and went into the schoolroom
again.



The brilliant, successful party was over, the gilt chairs were stacked
together, seat upon seat, ready to be taken away again, and the
children--each one with a beautiful present--had all long since gone
home.

Cynthia and Jeremy and Colin and Diana had been put to bed. Jeremy had
said, "Thank you, you darling, beautiful Mummie, for such a lovely,
_glittering_ party."

His choice of words was always fantastic and charming.

Even Colin had hugged his aunt with unusual enthusiasm and said he'd
never enjoyed any party so much.

"No wonder," said Mademoiselle to Nurse, with whom she was on friendly
terms.

"That conjuror was good, wasn't he?" said Nurse. "The best in London,
they say. I never saw anything like him, myself. Why, _I_ couldn't have
told how he got those toys into the box with the flags."

"If you please, Nurse," said the under-nurse, entering with her hands
full of little garments, "I found this in Master Colin's pocket."

She put the crumpled telegram, in its torn envelope, into Nurse's hands.

Nurse put on her spectacles and read it and said, "What in the name of
gracious--" and handed the telegram to Mademoiselle.

There was a knock at the door and the housemaid came in.

"If you please, Nurse, her Ladyship wishes to see you in the boudoir at
once."

"Take this," said Mademoiselle, with presence of mind and gave back the
telegram.

In the boudoir Lady Verulam sat with another telegram open in front of
her. Her pretty face was pale and tearstained.

"Nurse, I'm afraid there's bad news from India. Master Colin--poor
little boy--his father is very ill, I'm afraid. I don't quite
understand, but we think--"

"I beg your pardon, my lady. Is it anything to do with this? Florence
found it, opened like that, in the pocket of Master Colin's every-day
pair of knickerbockers."

Lady Verulam read the cable, read it again, compared it with the one
she held, and turned bewildered, almost frightened eyes upon the nurse.

"But this one must have come before the other one--the one I've got,"
she said. "Who opened it?"

"Master Colin must have done it, my lady. And never said a word--"

"He couldn't have understood."

"Is the news in the second telegram worse, my lady?"

"It says that Major Verulam is getting weaker and we must expect--"
she chocked a little. "We didn't understand and Sir Frederick is
telephoning now to Whitehall, to see if they can give us any further
particulars. But I _can't_ understand--"

She looked at the crumpled telegram again and again.

"This must have come hours ago--before the party. How _could_ he have
got hold of it?"

"The children were all over the place, my lady--up and down stairs,
watching the men getting things ready. Master Colin might have got to
the door and opened it just when the telegram was delivered."

"But it was addressed--oh, oh, poor little boy! It was only addressed
to Verulam. He must have thought it was a cable for his birthday--I
see--that's what happened--that's why he opened it."

"But, excuse me, my lady, why didn't he say anything to anybody? He's
quite old enough to understand."

Nurse was respectfully indignant, but Lady Verulam was only tearful and
unspeakably bewildered.

"I must go up to him--"

"I beg your pardon, my lady, he's asleep. They all are now, even Miss
Diana, but Master Colin was asleep before any of them, though not being
so excitable as the others."

"Then I can't wake him," said Lady Verulam irresolutely. "It would
only upset him. And there may be news in the morning--one way or the
other."

There was no more news in the morning, however, and Lady Verulam was
obliged to send for Colin. She wasn't angry with him--even if his
father hadn't been dying, it was against her principles to be angry
with any child--but her gentleness met with very little response.

He didn't seem to understand that his father, whom he scarcely
remembered, was very ill and might be going to die. His lack of
imagination was absolute.

"But why didn't you bring the telegram to me, darling? I quite
understand that you opened it by mistake, but you must have known it
was important and that you ought to tell about it."

Colin began to cry.

She reasoned with him, and petted him, and even spoke severely to him,
but he was sulky and frightened and would not say a word. At last, in
despair, she sent him upstairs again.

Ten minutes later Cynthia came flying down to her mother's room, her
lovely mop of hair disordered, her brilliant little face glowing.
"Mummie, may I tell you what I think about Colin? Nurse doesn't
understand--nor Mademoiselle, nor any of them--but I think I do."

"Tell me, precious," said Lady Verulam. She had great faith in the
intuition of this sensitive, intelligent little daughter of hers.

Cynthia put her arms round her mother's neck and whispered earnestly.

"I think Colin opened the telegram about poor Uncle Vivian just before
the party, and he did understand what it was, and he thought it
would spoil the party and p'raps--p'raps put it off altogether, and
that's why he wouldn't say anything. He didn't want all of us to be
unhappy--he knew we were looking forward so to the party."

"My darling! What makes you think that?"

"It's what I'd have done," said Cynthia, her eyes shining. "I would,
truly, Mummie, if my heart had been breaking--I'd have kept that
dreadful telegram all to myself and let all the others enjoy the party
and even have pretended that I was enjoying it too."

"My sweet--I believe you would. But if that was it, why didn't poor
little Colin come to me as soon as the party was over?"

"Mummie, you know you were with the grown-ups who stayed after
we'd gone to bed, and I'm sure he was waiting till you came to say
good-night. And you never did."

"Nurse said you were all asleep--Colin must have gone quickly off to
sleep, after all."

"But, Mummie," said Cynthia quickly, "he's very little, and one can't
always keep awake, even if it's most important, and Colin especially,
he's always such a sleepy head--"

"I know," said Lady Verulam.

She thought, although she did not say so, that Colin's insensitiveness
had always been rather remarkable, and that where Cynthia might, as she
had just said, have felt her heart to be "breaking," Colin was quite
capable of falling asleep in mere reaction from an unwonted emotional
strain.

She was touched at Cynthia's generous understanding and inclined to
accept her interpretation.

"Poor little Colin!" she said softly. "It was brave and unselfish of
him to want everyone else to enjoy the party first...although it was
a mistake, and I still don't understand why he couldn't explain to me
this morning."

"Mummie, you know Colin never can explain anything," said Cynthia
reproachfully.

That was perfectly true. How clever she was! Lady Verulam kissed
Cynthia in silence. In her heart of hearts she couldn't help feeling
that, dreadful though it was to have been entertaining on such a scale
while her brother-in-law was dying, it would have been very, very
difficult to know what to do if the bad news had reached her when it
should have reached her, just as the preparations for the party were
being completed.

"You do understand about Colin, don't you, Mummie? Because Mademoiselle
isn't being a bit nice to him, and she says he has no heart and that
he didn't show the telegram because he didn't want the party to be
stopped, and then afterwards he was afraid to tell."

"I'll speak to her," said Lady Verulam. Mademoiselle was always
inclined to be hard on Colin. She couldn't bear what she called his
_phleqme britannique_. Lady Verulam did not for a moment believe her
interpretation to be the true one. She would sooner trust to Cynthia's
quick sympathies.

According to Cynthia, little Colin had really been rather heroic. He
must have had a dreadful weight on his little mind, all through the
festivities...

Tender-hearted Lady Verulam found the tears rising into her eyes at the
thought of it. She felt as though she had always been unjust to Colin,
who had so little imagination, and couldn't express himself with fire
and poetry and clearness like her own children. And now perhaps she had
alienated him by not understanding or appreciating his self-sacrifice,
and he would be less willing than ever to talk to her.

Before she saw Colin again a third cable had arrived.

Major Vivian Verulam was not going to die. He had turned the corner.

The joy and relief of the good news pervaded the house, and even
Mademoiselle kissed Colin--who rubbed his cheek vigorously after the
salute--and said nothing more about his having no heart. But Lady
Verulam, who, like her children, was highly strung, had worked herself
up on Colin's behalf, and she told Mademoiselle and Nurse as well
that they had all of them misunderstood Colin, and that there were
unsuspected depths of bravery and unselfishness in his childish heart.

There came, gradually, to be a feeling throughout the big household in
Lowndes Square that this was so. Colin might be less wonderful than
were Cynthia and Jeremy and Diana, but he, too, had had his moment--his
exalted and inspired moment.



Three months later Major Verulam came home on sick leave.

He made friends with his son--an enduring friendship. They resembled
each other in many ways, and he never seemed to expect or to desire
from Colin enthusiasms and demonstrations that would have been equally
alien to them both.

He was, indeed, the only person who ever heard Colin's own version of
his behavior on the day of the party.

"You see, Daddy, I opened the telegram because I thought it was from
you, for me on my birthday, like the year before, and when I saw it
said you were ill I did think it would mean stopping the party, and
that would have been dreadful."

"Were you so frightfully keen about the party?"

"It wasn't so much that, but there'd have been such a lot of fuss about
it, and they--all the others--had been so excited--and everything was
ready--men had come all on purpose to bring the little gold chairs,
Daddy, and to arrange the flowers and things--It would have been so
dreadful, to stop it all."

"I see what you mean. And certainly it wouldn't have done _me_ any
good, as far as that went. But why didn't you tell them afterwards, old
man? Aunt Doreen wouldn't have been angry with you, would she?"

"Oh, no, she's never angry."

"Well, then--"

Colin colored faintly.

"You see, Daddy, I didn't know you as well then as I do now, did I? And
the party was fun, and the conjuror such a very, very clever one."

He gazed up at his father with solemn, trustful eyes.

"I quite and completely forgot all about the telegram till I woke up
next morning," said Colin.


THE END



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