Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Tuesday, April 23, 2024


 "Love at First Sight"  by Richard Middleton  (from New Tales of Horror by Eminent Authors, edited anonymously by "John Gawsworth" (T. Fytton Armstrong), 1943; reprinted in The Little Book of Horrors, edited by Sebastian Wolfe, 1992)

A brief slice of the macabre.

Our narrator has known Benham for years at his club, but had never met his wife until after Benham was married.  In our narrator's mind, the wife is only known as Darling.  That fist night at Benham's house, he was seated between his host and Darling.  She could tell from her eyes that she was attracted to him.  When Benham stepped out for an errand, our narrator kissed Darling,  She made no protest.  Alas, our narrator was poor and Benham was rich.  But our narrator determined that he, and he alone, would possess Darling.

He has a small cottage in the wood in Surrey.  He persuaded Darling to come with him to the cottage for a week during which they would live on love.  After the week, because there was no future for them without money, they would kill themselves.  During that week at the cottage, they dug their grave.  They would lie at the bottom of the grave, anticipating what would come at the end of the week, then emerge to continue their lovemaking.  

At the end of their week they climbed into the grave with a pistol.  Darling was nervous and perhaps was having second thoughts.  Our narrator pressed the pistol into her hands and urged her to fire a bullet into her brain.  He would then follow.  She hesitated still.  Then...BANG!  Her shaking hands caused great damage but did not kill her.  I horror, our narrator leaped from the grave; the pistol lay beside Darling's shattered countenance in the grave.  Suddenly, Benham was there behind him, yelling, "For God's sake!  Cover her up!"  Our narrator still could not move, so Benham filled the grave, mourning his dog.  Our narrator could not understand.  There was no dog.

A tale of mental aberration worthy of de Maupassant.

Richard Middleton (1882-1911) was an English poet and short story writer, best known for the classic humorous tale "The Ghost Ship."   He worked as a clerk from 1901-1907 at the Royal Exchange Assurance Corporation; but was unhappy and during his evenings "affected a Bohemian life," becoming friends with Arthur Machen, Arthur Ransome, and Edgar Jepson.  He became an editor at Vanity Fair, and fellow editor Frank Harris to whom he stated his desire to be a poet; Harris soon published Middleton's poems "The Bathing Boy."  Throughout his brief life Middleton suffered from severe depression,  He committed suicide in December 1911, at age 29, by ingesting a bottle of chloroform, which had been prescribed for his "melancholia."  The following year, the short story collection on which his reputation is based, The Ghost Ship and Other Stories, was published.  John Gawsworth helped maintain his reputation by publishing a collection of prose miscellany, Pantomime Man, 1in 1933.  Gawsworth also included a number of Middleton's previously unpublished stories in his several anthologies, including New Tales of Horror by Eminent Authors, which presented six new stories by Middleton, including "Love at First Sight."

An interesting bit.  A young Raymond Chandler met Middleton and decided to postpone his writing career:  "Middleton struck me as having far more talent than I was ever likely to possess: and if he couldn't make a go of it, it wasn't very likely that I could."


  1. I've been Meaning To read more of Middleton for five decades, but don't think I've gone beyond "The Ghost Ship" since reading it in Hal Cantor's GHOSTS AND THINGS at age 8...amusing Chandler anecdote. Plus ca change...

  2. Maybe this story would be better categorized as as "Love at First Grave."