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Richard Middleton: And Who Shall Say—? (Online Text)

Richard Barham Middleton
(1882 — 1911)

Was a British short story writer, poet and essayist.

Middleton believed that British society showed an indifference towards art and artists and this was source of great frustration to him. Often classed as being the typical stereotypical romantic writer, he committed suicide at 29-years-old.  After his death Middleton's work (published and unpublished) was collected together and published in book form for the first time, gaining him popular and critical recognition.

"And Who Can Say—?" was first published in The Ghost Ship and Other Stories by Richard Middleton (1912). 



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And Who Shall Say—?

by Richard Middleton

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Richard Middleton
It was a dull November day, and the windows were heavily curtained, so that the room was very dark. In front of the fire was a large arm-chair, which shut whatever light there might be from the two children, a boy of eleven and a girl about two years younger, who sat on the floor at the back of the room. The boy was the better looking, but the girl had the better face. They were both gazing at the arm-chair with the utmost excitement.

"It's all right. He's asleep," said the boy.

"Oh, do be careful! you'll wake him," whispered the girl.

"Are you afraid?"

"No, why should I be afraid of my father, stupid?"

"I tell you he's not father any more. He's a murderer," the boy said hotly. "He told me, I tell you. He said, 'I have killed your mother, Ray,' and I went and looked, and mother was all red. I simply shouted, and she wouldn't answer. That means she's dead. His hand was all red, too."

"Was it paint?"

"No, of course it wasn't paint. It was blood. And then he came down here and went to sleep."

"Poor father, so tired."

"He's not poor father, he's not father at all; he's a murderer, and it is very wicked of you to call him father," said the boy.

"Father," muttered the girl rebelliously.

"You know the sixth commandment says 'Thou shalt do no murder,' and he has done murder; so he'll go to hell. And you'll go to hell too if you call him father. It's all in the Bible."

The boy ended vaguely, but the little girl was quite overcome by the thought of her badness.

"Oh, I am wicked!" she cried. "And I do so want to go to heaven."

She had a stout and materialistic belief in it as a place of sheeted angels and harps, where it was easy to be good.

"You must do as I tell you, then," he said. "Because I know. I've learnt all about it at school."

"And you never told me," said she reproachfully.

"Ah, there's lots of things I know," he replied, nodding his head.

"What must we do?" said the girl meekly. "Shall I go and ask mother?"

The boy was sick at her obstinacy.

"Mother's dead, I tell you; that means she can't hear anything. It's no use talking to her; but I know. You must stop here, and if father wakes you run out of the house and call 'Police!' and I will go now and tell a policeman now."

"And what happens then?" she asked, with round eyes at her brother's wisdom.

"Oh, they come and take him away to prison. And then they put a rope round his neck and hang him like Haman, and he goes to hell."

"Wha-at! Do they kill him?"

"Because he's a murderer. They always do."

"Oh, don't let's tell them! Don't let's tell them!" she screamed.

"Shut up!" said the boy, "or he'll wake up. We must tell them, or we go to hell—both of us."

But his sister did not collapse at this awful threat, as he expected, though the tears were rolling down her face. "Don't let's tell them," she sobbed.

"You're a horrid girl, and you'll go to hell," said the boy, in disgust. But the silence was only broken by her sobbing. "I tell you he killed mother dead. You didn't cry a bit for mother; I did."

"Oh, let's ask mother! Let's ask mother! I know she won't want father to go to hell. Let's ask mother!"

"Mother's dead, and can't hear, you stupid," said the boy. "I keep on telling you. Come up and look."

They were both a little awed in mother's room. It was so quiet, and mother looked so funny. And first the girl shouted, and then the boy, and then they shouted both together, but nothing happened. The echoes made them frightened.

"Perhaps she's asleep," the girl said; so her brother pinched one of mother's hands—the white one, not the red one—but nothing happened, so mother was dead.

"Has she gone to hell?" whispered the girl.

"No! she's gone to heaven, because she's good. Only wicked people go to hell. And now I must go and tell the policeman. Don't you tell father where I've gone if he wakes up, or he'll run away before the policeman comes."


"So as not to go to hell," said the boy, with certainty; and they went downstairs together, the little mind of the girl being much perturbed because she was so wicked. What would mother say tomorrow if she had done wrong?

The boy put on his sailor hat in the hall. "You must go in there and watch," he said, nodding in the direction of the sitting-room. "I shall run all the way."

The door banged, and she heard his steps down the path, and then everything was quiet.

She tiptoed into the room, and sat down on the floor, and looked at the back of the chair in utter distress. She could see her father's elbow projecting on one side, but nothing more. For an instant she hoped that he wasn't there—hoped that he had gone—but then, terrified, she knew that this was a piece of extreme wickedness.

So she lay on the rough carpet, sobbing hopelessly, and seeing real and vicious devils of her brother's imagining in all the corners of the room.

Presently, in her misery, she remembered a packet of acid-drops that lay in her pocket, and drew them forth in a sticky mass, which parted from its paper with regret. So she choked and sucked her sweets at the same time, and found them salt and tasteless.

Ray was gone a long time, and she was a wicked girl who would go to hell if she didn't do what he told her. Those were her prevailing ideas.

And presently there came a third. Ray had said that if her father woke up he would run away, and not go to hell at all. Now if she woke him up—.

She knew this was dreadfully naughty; but her mind clung to the idea obstinately. You see, father had always been so fond of mother, and he would not like to be in a different place. Mother wouldn't like it either. She was always so sorry when father did not come home or anything. And hell is a dreadful place, full of things. She half convinced herself, and started up, but then there came an awful thought.

If she did this she would go to hell for ever and ever, and all the others would be in heaven.

She hung there in suspense, sucking her sweet and puzzling it over with knit brows.

How can one be good?

She swung round and looked in the dark corner by the piano; but the Devil was not there. And then she ran across the room to her father, and shaking his arm, shouted, tremulously—

"Wake up, father! Wake up! The police are coming!"

And when the police came ten minutes later, accompanied by a very proud and virtuous little boy, they heard a small shrill voice crying, despairingly—
More Stories by
Richard Middleton

"The police, father! The police!"

But father would not wake.

Richard Middleton (1882 — 1911)