Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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(...As rosy-cheeked, brown-haired Annie Dove)


RGL e-Book Cover
Based on a painting by John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836-1893)

Ex Libris

Distributed by the Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate, Inc., 1938

This version published in 3 parts in
The Montana Oil and Mining Journal, June 11, 18 and July 7, 1938

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2023
Version Date: 2023-11-30
Produced by Paul Moulder and Roy Glashan

All original content added by RGL is proprietary and protected by copyright.

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Beginning in 1938, the Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate, Inc. marketed a number of short stories by Marie Belloc Lowndes under the general title "They Met Murder on the Way." Some of the stories in this series were published without an individual title. These they are identified on RGL's Marie Belloc Lowndes page in the RGL story files by the first few words of the stories themselves. —R.G.


Annie, seeing the floor below clearly now, felt faint and overcome by nausea.

AS rosy-cheeked, brown-haired Annie Dove hurried along the broad High Street of Wallerton on a June late afternoon, it would not have occurred to any of the prosperous townsfolk to have thought her lot in life in any way enviable. For one thing she was an orphan, and those of the people who knew her in that English country town were aware that her home was with her grandmother, in a village nearby. Also some of them might have remembered that when her mother died, six years ago, "she had taken on something awful."

Even now, though she kept this fact to herself, she sometimes seemed to hear her mother's voice sounding in her ear, and then her lips would quiver, and tears would come into her eyes. Yet she had a happy, cheerful, obliging nature, and lately she had made friends with a boy, who took her most Saturdays to the movies.

Annie was 17, and had been for four months hired girl to Dr. and Mrs. Cheam. Her post was not a pleasant one, for Mrs. Cheam was a mean and nagging woman, but Annie had become so fondly devoted to three-year-old Mark Cheam, that she meant to stick it out for at any rate a year.

The house for which she was bound was called The Red House. It was over a hundred years old, and just now the mellowed brick front was almost entirely covered with bunches of wistaria blossom.

As she knew the back door was locked, the girl turned the latch key of the front door; and she was tiptoeing along the hall, for the dining room was open, when she suddenly heard Mrs. Cheam utter her name in a querulous pitched voice, "That Annie Dove sleeps so sound, that I sometimes wonder she ever wakes up at all."

Poor Annie! She blushed to the roots of her soft brown hair. It was true that she was a sound sleeper, and on two occasions she had been awakened by her mistress coming into the room and giving her a good shake. But now she had an alarm clock, so she was never late, and she always knew the time of the day.

"She's the best girl we've had since Mark was born, Florence, and she manages the child very cleverly." It was the doctor speaking this time.

Innocent Annie Dove had become very fond of Dr. Cheam, for he was blessed or cursed with that gift of sympathy, or charm, call it what you will, which causes most of the women brought in contact with him to like a man, ay, and sometimes more than like him.

As the young maid passed the dining room door, she heard Mrs. Cheam observe, in a tart tone, "I suppose that phone call just now was from Mrs. Dingle?" There came the sharp answer: "Of course, not; she's perfectly well, now." "Then what was her excuse for ringing you up this morning? I heard her."

Annie hated hearing her employer and his missus rowing each other, as she put it. The girl who had been there before had delighted in their quarrels and now and again some woman when serving Annie in a shop would say, giggling, "The doctor and Mrs. Cheam goes on something awful, don't they? And it's all her fault, for he's as meek as a lamb, poor man."

Two or three minutes later, as she hung up her hat behind the kitchen door, she couldn't help again hearing what the husband and wife were saying, for they had come out into the hall. "You might as well tell me where you're going this evening—"

"I've told you a thousand times that a doctor is forbidden to talk about his patients."

She mimicked him. "Forbidden? That's good. I suppose you think that if you told me any little bit of amusing gossip that came your way, the Medical Council would get hold of you? It was lucky you never knew how near I was to writing to the President of the Council, and telling him that I'd caught you comforting a young slut whose lover had jilted her, by kissing her in your office."

The Medical Council? Even Annie Dove had come to know by now that if a British doctor is discovered to have made love to a patient, he is struck off the Medical register by the dreaded Medical council, and so can no longer practice his profession.

What was it—maybe something in the way her husband looked at her, that altered Mrs. Cheam's voice? She said in a wheedling tone, "You've eaten very little tonight, Henry, and I expect Annie will be in bed long before you come in. I'll grill you a few bones myself, and we'll each have an iced brandy and soda."

"I shan't want any supper, for if you must know where I'm going, it's a baby case. If I'm late they'll give me something to eat there," and then there came the sound of the front door being shut with a bang.

The mistress of The Red House turned into a room on the right side of the hall. It was called the white parlor, and would have been an exceptionally charming room had the woman who spent much of her time there had any love of beauty, or taste. As it was, the parlor had an unlived-in look, and everything in it had been bought at small local sales, and was not even worth the little money Mrs. Cheam had given for it.

After washing up, Annie Dove had her supper, and then went up to bed.

* * *

THE Red House consisted of two stories, and had been very little altered since the year when it had been built, when George the Third was King of England.

At the head of the staircase was the principal bedroom. The furniture there consisted of the twin beds of the doctor and his wife, a gentleman's wardrobe of painted wood, and a chest of drawers which served as a dressing table, in which no single drawer drew in and out easily. Next door was the doctor's dressing room, where he always slept when he had been out late.

Then came the bathroom. It had no window, and was lighted by a skylight in the roof.

The nursery was a good-sized corner room in which Annie Dove's iron bed and little Mark's cot looked lost. There was one cane chair, and across a corner hung a faded curtain behind which Annie was supposed to keep her clothes.

In theory Mark's cot was by the farther wall, far from his young nurse. But the child would sometimes have a nightmare, and Annie, when she dared to do so, moved the cot close to her own bed.

When Mark awoke early—for he was a nervous, highly strung child—instead of beginning to cry as he used to do with his other nurse, he would give a look at the pink and white face of his dear Annie, and as often as not go to sleep again without making a sound.

That tart remark, "Annie Dove sleeps so sound I wonder she ever wakes up at all," maybe acted on her subconscious mind, for tonight the girl found she couldn't go to sleep.

But there was a more tangible reason. This was that Mrs. Cheam went on moving downstairs. The missus went from the sitting room to the dining room, then into the kitchen, and at last Annie heard her go into the doctor's study. In this study, which was also his office, nothing was allowed to be disturbed, a fact which greatly irritated his wife.

At last Mrs. Cheam came upstairs, and walked along to the nursery. She opened the door, and Annie held her breath. Oh, how glad she was that she hadn't moved little Mark's cot close to her bed! But Mark's mother, after listening for a few moments, closed the door, walked away down the passage and, surprisingly, went downstairs again. But the nursery door, of which the old handle did not always work properly, slipped open again.

* * *

WHAT time was it—that Annie never knew—when she was awakened by a loud explosion of sound in the house. But she at once recognized the voice of Mrs. Cheam, raised in violent anger.

The girl sat up in bed and listened, for very, very clearly could she hear all that was being said, or rather shouted, downstairs.

"You needn't shake your head, Henry, and as for your smile, I could kill you when you look at me like that! Of course I know where you've been. A baby case? I didn't say anything when you told me that lie, though I remembered your saying a month ago, how funny it was that you weren't expecting a baby case for months and months. I'm not quite the fool you take me for."

The raucous voice paused, but apparently only for the speaker to take breath, for it started again: "It's just 13 days ago since Mrs. Dingle parted with that maid she was so proud of, who had been with her for so long! She has a day-woman now, who comes, at eight in the morning, and leaves at eight in the evening."

There followed what seemed to Annie, listening in the darkness, an ominous silence, and then: "I don't suppose you've kept a reckoning of how often you've stayed out half the night in the last 13 days? But I have kept a reckoning, and I've just written a letter to the President of the General Medical Council."

And then, at last, the doctor spoke, and Annie was surprised at the quietness of his voice. No doubt he was too tired to go for the missus as she deserved. "Have you posted that letter?" he asked.

"Well, no, I haven't, for it was too late to catch tonight's post. Besides, I went on hoping—" and then the angry voice faltered—"that you'd have some real excuse to give for yourself."

Again there came the doctor's quiet tones: "Do you remember exactly what you wrote in that letter?"

"Of course, I remember every word—not that I'm going to tell you. But there's one thing I put in it that I don't mind your knowing," and then Mrs. Cheam laughed aloud. "I've made no bones as to who the patient happens to be you've been carrying on with so long."

"D'you mean you've mentioned Mrs. Dingle by name?"

"Mentioned her? I should think I have! Though I don't suppose you know it, the whole town's talking about you and that woman."

There came a change in Dr. Cheam's voice, it became the voice of a fiercely angry man. "If you send that letter to the General Medical Council you'll ruin not only me, but your child and yourself as well."

"I don't care—"

"And you won't have hurt Mrs. Dingle."

"Oh, won't I? Well see about that." And then—what was it that he muttered? Annie Dove, straining her ears, thought it was. "Yes, we'll see about that."

* * *

THERE followed the sound of Mrs. Cheam's footsteps on the stairs, and of their turning into her bedroom. As for the doctor, he apparently went into the kitchen, no doubt to find something to eat. But no, for he only stayed there for a few moments. Then, he too, came upstairs, and went into his dressing room.

Annie felt deeply dismayed, for if the missus came down tomorrow morning and posted the letter she had boasted of having written, it would be the end of her own, Annie's life in The Red House, as well as the end, in another sense, of the doctor and his missus. The girl's eyes filled with tears, though it was the thought of leaving little Mark that brought them there. She knew it would be more than easy for her to get a pleasanter job.

She got up, and quietly she shut the door. Mark gave a sudden fretful cry. He had slept through that terrible quarrel downstairs, and yet he awoke, now, because his nurse had slipped out of bed. She brought his cot across close to her, and gave a pat to his little hand.

Now, at last, surely she would be able to go to sleep properly, and not have what her granny called "cat naps." But hardly had she lain back on her pillow and shut her eyes than she seemed to hear, as in a dream, her dead mother's voice, and that voice said, "Keep mum, dearie, keep mum." What a funny thing to say, but funny things are said in dreams as we all know.

* * *

IT must have been about two o'clock when Annie Dove again awoke. This time it was a scream, followed by a dreadful moan, that woke her. Sitting up she listened, terror filling her heart, and then again, and again, and again, came thudding sounds of blows raining down on—she couldn't think what they were raining down on, or from whence they came!

The sounds stopped as suddenly as they had begun, and she told herself that that scream and awful moan must have come from some poor animal being done to death in the darkness of the night.

At last she heard a door being opened very, very quietly, and she knew it for the door of Mrs. Cheam's room. Each of the doors in that old house had its own individual, and now, to Annie Dove, familiar creaking sound. There followed the doctor's footsteps, far slower than usual, as well as heavy and firm, but they did not stop at his dressing room, as she had expected them to do; they went on into the bathroom. Then came the click of the electric light being turned on in there, and the bolt being run into its socket. What a strange time of night to have a bath! Yet that was what the master was going to do, for she could hear the water, both hot and cold, gushing out. When anyone had a bath in that house everyone in the house knew it, and soon Annie knew that the doctor had not got into the bath, for she could not but have heard him do it, had he done so.

* * *

AFTER a while the girl again fell asleep, only, however, to be awakened for a third time, for, uttered just outside her door with startling clearness, came the question: "Are you awake, Annie?"

It was not the doctor's usual kindly voice that uttered these four words. It was a fierce, suspicious voice.

Almost did she cry out: "Yes, sir, I'm awake! Is there anything I can do for you?" But "Keep mum, dearie, keep mum," seemed to echo in her ears, and she did keep mum.

Again came the question and it sounded strangely ominous: "Are you, awake, Annie?" And this time, filled with unreasoning fear, she cowered under the bedclothes.

Even when little Mark, doubtless hearing his father's voice, stirred restlessly in his sleep and gave a whimpering cry, she only put out a hand and stroked his cheek. Thank God he didn't wake up and call out: "Nannie! Nannie!" Had he done that, something seemed to tell her that she would surely have answered him. But oh, how long it seemed before she heard the doctor turn away from her door and go very slowly, very heavily down the staircase.

She slipped out of bed, and tiptoeing over to the door she opened it a crack, and listened. Drawers were being roughly opened and shut, downstairs in the sitting room, and she knew that Dr. Cheam was looking for the letter his wife had always been threatening to write, and apparently had really written last night.

Then she heard the lid of the oak chest in the hall being turned back.

That chest was the one good thing in the house, and it had been left to the doctor by a grateful patient. It was in there that were kept the big sheets of clean brown paper in which had been wrapped any large parcels that came to the house. Mrs. Cheam was the tidiest woman that ever lived. She hated to see even a little bit of string lying about.

As she closed her door quietly, Annie smiled. How could the doctor have supposed the missus to have hidden that letter in the chest? It was probably in her pocket.

* * *

ANNIE awoke to feel Mark's podgy little hand stroking her face, and the sunlight streaming in through the gap between the thin curtains. She was dismayed to see that it was five minutes to eight, for Mrs. Cheam always had a cup of tea in bed at half-past seven. As for the doctor, he always got up early, and did quite a lot of work in the study before his breakfast was served in the dining room at half-past eight.

The girl dressed hurriedly, gave Mark a golliwog which by his mother's order he was never allowed to have in bed, opened her door, and flew downstairs into the kitchen. To her relief and surprise she saw that there was a tray on the table, and that on the tray there stood two cups, in each of which were the remains of tea.

The doctor often made himself a cup of tea in the kitchen, but this was the first time be had taken the trouble to make one for his wife. Then she noticed that there was also an envelope on the table on which was written "Annie Dove," in Dr. Cheam's clear hand writing.

The note ran "Dear Annie: We had a telephone message in the night explaining that Mrs. Cheam's sister is seriously ill. So I am motoring her up to Durham. Please tell anyone who phones, or calls, that I shall not be back till late tonight, if then. Yours truly, Randall Cheam."

All the strange sounds she had heard in the night were now explained! The missus was evidently very fond of her sister, and had uttered that fearful scream and moan on receiving that bad news. Annie couldn't help feeling glad that she would not be scolded as a lie-abed, and that a nice long day, with her dear little Mark, lay before her.

She put a kettle on the fire, and took in the milk from outside the door which gave into the yard. The gates, opening on a side street, were wide open, and on the dusty stone pavement were the marks of the doctor's car.

As she was drinking her cup of tea, she warmed some milk for Mark. Why shouldn't she give the child his bath in the big bath this morning? This was his special treat, forbidden by his mother, allowed by his father.

Having gone upstairs with the child's cup of milk held in her right hand, with her left hand she turned the handle of the bathroom door. To her surprise, the door did not open. It had evidently been locked from the outside, and the key taken away.

"She is a nasty thing!" muttered the girl to herself. On two previous occasions Mrs. Cheam had locked the bathroom door for some hours. Once when she had left a real lace dress—her most precious possession—to soak in soapy water, and another time when she had been determined to prevent Annie from bathing Mark in the big bath. On that occasion, too, she had gone out for the day.

* * *

A LITTLE later Annie was downstairs again, with Mark trotting at her heels. She couldn't do the bedrooms till the afternoon, for soon the telephone and the front door bell would be ringing incessantly. So she started with the white parlor, and then there came over her a feeling of unease, for the drawer in the table at which Mrs. Cheam sat and wrote the few letters she did write, was wide open, and everything in it, including the envelopes and letters which their owner kept tidily docketed, had been tossed about.

It was plain that having failed to find what he was seeking in the oak chest, the doctor, while his wife was dressing, had made yet another hurried attempt to find the letter she had taunted him with having written concerning his friendship with the pretty widow, Mrs. Dingle.

All that morning, in The Red House, the telephone rang again and again, and In between came the callers at the door. Some of them were quite disagreeable, for they seemed to think it a monstrous thing that the doctor should have gone away and left them with their aches and pains, just because his sister-in-law had fallen ill.

At last came the time for Mark to have his sleep. It was almost as if he knew his mother wasn't in the house, for he screamed and bellowed, and in the end he had to be carried upstairs to the nursery.

"There now, you are a naughty boy!" cried Annie, as she panted, for Mark was a heavy child.

But she said the cross words quite kindly, for she loved the naughty boy. Pinning the curtains together, she gave Mark a drink of water, and even sang a little hymn. At the last line of the verse he fell asleep.

Hungry by now, the girl ate the meager meal which had been provided for her, and just as she had finished, there came a ring at the front door.

It was only a Mrs. Scratchard, who lived opposite The Red House. She drew a pension from a prosperous son in Canada, so she had nothing to do but look out of her window, and talk about her neighbors.

"I've just come over to find out what's happened," she began. "There's been an awful lot of coming and going to your door, and all the blinds are down, too. Looks as if there's been a death in the house."

"The blinds ain't down," said Annie indignantly. "I pulled them up myself, this morning."

"I'm not talking of the ground floor. But every blind that is a blind is still drawn down, upstairs. Is anyone sick?"

"Mrs. Cheam's sister's been taken awful ill, and she and the doctor went off early this morning, right up to Durham."

"I thought there was something wrong," said the old lady in a pleased tone, and she walked back across the street.

The girl ran upstairs, and opened the door of Mrs. Cheam's room. Yes, here everything was still in darkness, so quickly she pushed the curtains back and drew up the blinds.

Then she glanced at the two beds. One had not been slept in. As for the other, it was as if there had been a rough attempt to make the bed and the coverlet had been drawn right up to the pillow. And then she saw something which really did surprise her. This was that under the coverlet there were no sheets, and only one blanket. Here was a real mystery, and one far beyond the simple girl's mind to solve.

She next went into the dressing room and pulled up the blind there, too. Here everything was as usual. The doctor was not a tidy man, and of course last night he had been in a hurry.

Annie couldn't get into the bathroom because the door was locked, and there came over her a sudden longing to know for sure why Mrs. Cheam had locked that door, and she made up her mind to find out.

To do this was easier than it sounds, for at the end of the corridor, just beyond the nursery, a ladder led to a trap door opening onto the tiled roof of The Red House.

Annie had gone up there once by Mrs. Cheam's order, to shut the bathroom skylight during a great storm of rain and snow. She ran up the ladder, pushed open the trap door, and found herself in the bright sun, up on the roof. Kneeling down, she began moving along across the tiles on her hands and knees, till she reached the skylight. Once there, pushing it up as far as it would go, she peered down.

For a minute or two, blinded by the sunlight about her, she saw nothing. Then, gradually, there appeared the long gray shape of the bath. It was filled, almost to the top, with deeply discoloured water, and in the brownish water lay the sheets and the blanket from off Mrs. Cheam's bed.

All at once, seeing now quite clearly, Annie Dove, leaning dangerously far over the aperture, saw something else in the bathroom, for lying on the floor, to the right of the bath, was a torn piece of brown paper on which lay what looked like a large piece of raw meat.

Throwing herself back with a gasping cry, and feeling not only faint but overcome with nausea, she crawled feebly away. Then, turning around, she stretched out on the tiles and shut her eyes.

* * *

HOW long did she stay up there, with the hot sun beating down on her pallid face? There was nothing to tell her, but later she remembered that she had been roused by hearing Mark crying in the nursery. Even so, when she reached the trap door, she suddenly felt as if she couldn't go down into the house which she now knew had been the scene of a dark and awful deed. But at last she put a numb foot on the top rung of the ladder and slid down.

Muttering to herself, she took the child out of his cot, put on his best summer coat and round shady hat, and making a hurried selection among his clothes, put them into her pilgrim basket. She left her own things untouched, for she felt a kind of horror of what she had worn during the months she had been in The Red House.

Holding Mark's hand tightly in hers, she crept timorously downstairs, and walked out into the stable-yard. Then, when they were in the side street on which it opened, she counted over all the money she had in the world. Fifteen shillings and sixpence? Surely enough for her and Mark to be taken to her granny's cottage in a motor car. She couldn't face the journey in an omnibus where she would be sure to know most, if not all, of her fellow passengers.

Nearby was a garage. "Well, missie, what can I do for you?" said the owner of the place. "That's Dr. Cheam's little boy, isn't it? What a fine little chap!"

"Is fifteen shillings and sixpence enough for me to give you to take me to Bolton village? My granny lives there, and I generally takes the bus, but I'm in a hurry today."

"Is the old lady ill?"

She looked at him mutely. It was as if she could not speak.

"I've an idle afternoon, so I'll take you over myself, and you can keep your money," he said kindly.

"Thank you very much," said Annie Dove.

"You do look bad," said the man in a concerned tone. "Seems to me I ought to drive you to the cottage hospital instead of to Bolton."

"It's the hot sun makes me feel queer," she murmured, and taking the child up in her arms, she hid her white face in his stout little body.

* * *

LONG days went by in the tiny cottage, delightful days for Mark, anxious, miserable days for Annie Dove. Then a neighbor ran in with the exciting news that two hundred miles away five brown paper parcels had been found containing pieces of the body of Mrs. Florence Cheam, and further, that all over the country was a wild hue and cry for the murdered woman's husband!

One morning, all of a sudden—Annie had lost count of time—the Police Inspector of Wallerton came up the path leading to the cottage.

"Now then, Annie Dove," he exclaimed, as she opened the door, I've come to ask you what you can tell me about this dreadful affair at The Red House? Dr. Cheam gave himself up last night and, according to his statement, you know nothing of the gruesome business. But that old gossip, Mrs. Scratchard, says you must have heard everything that happened, and that's why I'm here."

He pushed past the girl into the kitchen-sitting room. "Is that the poor little boy?" and, as she nodded: "Can't understand anything said in front of him, eh?"

"He's only three years old," she answered in a choking voice. And then she cried, "You will let me keep him, won't you, Mr. Inspector? My grandma has got her old-age pension, and I can get a well-paid job right close here, as kitchen maid in the big house."

"No one else is likely to want the unlucky little chap." And after a pause he added: "I suppose the doctor ordered you to bring the child out here the evening before he started on his grisly work?"

Annie remained silent, and he took her silence for assent.

"Stands to reason that if you'd been in the house he'd have had to kill you, too, for you couldn't have helped hearing him hitting her with the kitchen coal-hammer. Our surgeon says he must have gone on doing that long after she was dead."

As Annie said nothing, he went on crossly. "What a damned fool that Mrs. Scratchard is! She's always giving us a spot of trouble."

Then he sat down, for it was a hot day. "Before I go back to Wallerton, I want to know what you thought of Dr. Cheam, my girl? We liked the doc quite a lot, up at the police station."

"I liked him too," her voice shook. "But the missus—she was an awful nagger."

"Her being a nagger won't save him from the gallows. There's many a man who'd do away with a nagging wife if he weren't afraid of being hanged."

And then Annie's grandmother spoke for the first time: "Don't you be talking like that," she croaked. "It's downright wicked! A man and a woman takes each other for better or worse when they gets married."

"'Twas Mrs. Cheam got the worst of it all right," and he chuckled. Then he got up. "I've a lot of people to see who maybe can give me important information about this affair. Damn that Mrs. Scratchard for having sent me on a wild goose chase!"

All the same, when half out of the door, he turned round. "There's no little worth-while thing you can tell me about the doctor, I suppose?"

Annie shook her head, and—kept mum.


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.