And Who Shall Say, by 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
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
"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
"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,"
"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
"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
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
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
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
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,
"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
"The police, father! The police!"
But father would not wake.