The Case of the Missing Brougham, a short story by Lisa H. Owens at
Lewis Collard

The Case of the Missing Brougham

The Case of the Missing Brougham

written by: Lisa H. Owens



James struggled to stay upright on the brougham coach’s box-seat as he thrust his entire being into turning the monstrosity. He’d lost young Philip—the footman—along with the crates, on a particularly twisted stretch of terrain around the Forked Tree, a notable landmark on the south bank of River Great Ouse, but now was not the time to think of such matters. There would be time to mourn the loss of Philip, his grandson, later. The life of Lord Walter and the twins’ safety depended upon his next move.
Though the wind whooshed past his ears, James could still hear peppered gunfire close behind. He leaned and yanked with every ounce of core strength his aged body could muster, bringing the horses around to careen north off the main road and plunge headlong into the woods. The river rapids roared below, and the road-weary James urged his team on with renewed fury. Fanny and Flora were dearer to him than his own recently departed mother, but still he brought the coarse leather of the reins down again and again, drawing blood from his blistered hands and strips of flesh from the withers of the frenzied mares.

Bump-bump-bump, down the hill they plummeted, the coach’s axles snapping like twigs, and James’ knees buckled, sending him flying over the leading edge of the box-seat. His boots dragged from rump to shoulder across the slickened backs of Fanny and Flora, as he flew over and beyond two sets of ears pinned back like those of Trojan warhorses.
Time slowed as the mares broke free of their harnesses, sliding clear of the coach’s bulk, and James continued—airborne—feeling the bitter sting of age vanish from his weary bones. He was a headstrong lad jumping off the barn roof, wrapped in homemade wings fashioned of burlap feed sacks. Flying! Flying!

He closed his eyes. His rich laughter, born of hysteria, ping-ponged through the trees and dense underbrush and the chill air stroked his cheeks. James glided for a moment longer, then plummeted like a stone, landing in the sulphurous mud lining the riverbank. His eyes flew open to watch the coach race towards him like a derailed train. It devoured his legs first, then demolished his frail body. James Richard Devon’s last thought might have been of the certain demise of Lord Walter and his charges, trapped within the floundering coach, but that thought was quashed before he had time to process it. His head was crushed like a ripe pumpkin by the battered carriage cab as it roared over him, before slipping over the bank into the tumultuous stretch of the river below.


November 3, 1815

Dearest Lizzy-Bug,

The new year approaches and our little world is topsy-turvy, as plans for Clara’s spring wedding have me in such a state, one from which I may never recover. I fear, dear Sister, the pull is strong to take on Gran’s evening laudanum ritual. Do not be alarmed. ‘Tis but my skewed sense of humor, forever hard at work, as you are well aware!

I pace the floor with bated breath as I await news of Walter’s travels to London and the decisions to be made regarding the outcome of the twins’ appointment with Phillip Rundell. We have high hopes he will take on the challenge of moulding the pair into modern ladies before Clara’s big day.

I wish I could regale you with words of wit and whimsy, but, alas, I must take leave with many hugs and kisses as…

Lady Sarah stared off into the distance. She would finish the letter to Elizabeth later, once she had more information regarding Walter’s trip to Mr. Rundell’s shop in Soho. Her toast and tea still sat untouched, and she laid the quill aside, standing to pace the wide oak floorboards in the day room. News of the coach’s arrival should have reached Vallie Manor hours earlier and she fretted, wringing her plump hands. She once again sat at the writing desk, dipped the quill, then mindlessly set it back in the inkpot. She arose to don her bonnet and pelisse before carrying the tepid cup of tea through the bustling kitchen to the side door.

Sarah was greeted by a wintery chill as she stepped outside to scour the long drive for signs of a messenger on horseback and then looked skyward. It had been ages since carrier pigeons were used to convey news in these modern times, but her heart raced as she imagined dear Walter and the twins at the mercy of a band of starving disenfranchised soldiers. She swiped a wayward tear and tugged the brim of her straw bonnet low over her eyes to shield the mid-morning sun. Birds aplenty soared overhead, but alas, not a one bore resemblance to the docile carrier pigeons of bygone days.
She heard shouting from the stables and turned to watch two stable hands, each toting a leather halter casually draped over a shoulder, sprint down the gravel lane. A pair of horses covered in enough muck to be of an indistinguishable breed, plodded towards the boys, lowering their heads as halters were gently draped over their bedraggled muzzles. The duo meekly followed along behind as the boys led them to the stable at a snail’s pace. Sarah gasped as they finally drew near, and she recognized Fanny and Flora, James’ beloved Cleveland Bays. More shouts ensued as swarms of servants poured from the manor house and the estate’s various outbuildings to surround the lads leading the exhausted horses, and Grandmother’s best teacup shattered on the cobblestone drive when Sarah fainted.


The detached brougham cab proved to be watertight. It swirled and bobbled downstream along river’s edge, dislodging from the occasional malformed root and low hanging branch that blocked its path. The twins were fine—unmoved by the perilous turn of the journey. Lord Walter Vallie, however, did not fare so well. His nearly severed head listed to the left, positioned slightly below the interior water line, and bits of brain matter drifted out to leave a gory trail in the wake of the coach-cab-turned-raft.

On the road above, the highwaymen dismounted, pocketing their pepperbox revolvers, upon spying the ruptured state of the road’s surface and deep grooves leading into the woods. They followed the trail of flattened weeds and bushes to water’s edge, catching a glimpse of the floating brougham heading downstream—the same direction from whence they’d come. Back towards the beginning of their journey of pilfering and plundering. It seemed a sleeveless errand as the six-man crew backtracked through the dense thicket in a fruitless attempt to follow the river’s crooked course. They lost sight of their quest as it rounded the heavily wooded curve near the Fork Tree, where it split into two smaller tributaries. By the time they reached the tree, the floating coach cab was out of sight, and they stopped to take note of their surroundings.

A familiar aroma, wafting on the light breeze, tickled their nostrils. Like a bee to nectar, the six dishevelled knights of the road tracked the source of the smell, following it uphill to find the scene of the brougham’s earlier disastrous loss of cargo. They heard moaning in the bushes and found the broken adolescent footman—writhing in pain. He was surrounded by splintered debris and the contents of a half-dozen or so busted wooden crates.

“Lawks! How ‘bouts this for a turn up for the books?” Samson, the burley leader, ignored the gravely injured young man, focusing instead on the bounty. He couldn’t believe his eyes—or their great, good fortune. The twins could rot in hell for all he cared, as they gathered the bottles still intact, uncorking and sampling their contents, an otherworldly green liquid called Absinthe, which tasted like spirits of turpentine with a pinch of liquorice root tossed in for good measure. The origin of the strange brew was mysterious—French, Swiss or a marriage of the two—as a French and Swiss Coat of Arms were stamped on the wax seals and the Pernod Fils labels.

“Down the hatch, ye dandy. This’ll fix what ails ye.” Samson was uncharacteristically generous as he shared sips with the injured boy. The jug-bitten derelicts guzzled the rot-gut concoction, their eyes misting as they wept for their dear old mothers, broke out in song, retched and pissed their breeches, before finally passing out, Samson protectively spooning the body of the dying footman.


Mr. Rundell strode through the workshop, giving praise to this one and a harsh look to that one, keeping his distance until he’d decided who held true talent. Those few who could turn a simple stone of peridot into a priceless work of art. He was on edge as he looked at his bejewelled wrist timepiece, a gift created by Mr. Bridge his most promising apprentice-turned-business-partner. Bridge had expanded on the first of its kind, a delicate wristlet timepiece designed by Abraham-Louis Breguet for the Queen of Naples.

Rundell was miffed by Lord Walter’s failure to arrive (with the prearranged six crates of Absinthe—Rundell’s fee), in a timely fashion at this highly coveted appointment. The combination of his artistry and the pristine workmanship associated with his shop were in high demand this time of year, what with winter events and Christmas Balls soon to begin. He took pity on Lord Walter; for it was an arduous journey from Bedford to Soho, after all. He would give the old blow-hard until half past one to show with the notorious twins, and not a moment more. He continued his inspection, stopping to admire the handiwork of Storr, a budding new partner already the talk of the town, if he did say so himself.

“Tight work, Paul,” high praise indeed coming from the Goldsmith to the King.


The discovery of young Philip Devon was the first clue in the case of the missing brougham. A vagrant found his body, lightly decayed and carefully wrapped in a moth-eaten army blanket, beneath the Fork Tree on the river. Someone had placed wax seals stamped with a pair of Coat of Arms—one Swiss; the other French—on the boy’s eyelids.
Though it was outside London proper, the Bow Street Runners were initially on the case in an unofficial capacity, once they discovered the boy’s connection with Vallie Estate and Lord Walter’s disappearance. Palms were generously greased, and a senior investigator was assigned to lead the case. It was official and Inspector Franklin would stay fully invested, as long as the money kept flowing. Times were tough and they were mystified someone had taken such care to honor young Philip and preserve his body’s dignity yet did not have the heart to report his demise.

The next clue to turn up, was the pancake alongside the riverbank that was once James Richard Devon, Vallie Estate’s irreplaceable coachman. The investigation into Lord Walter and the twins was ongoing and a team of investigators was out in full force, combing the woods and riverbanks for clues to the trio’s whereabouts and signs of the missing brougham. They suspected Lord Walter had abandoned Lady Sarah to begin life anew in America, with the twins by his side, as he appeared to have an immeasurable amount of gambling debt and his eldest daughter’s upcoming nuptials to finance. And it was a well-known fact that he loved the races… and his thoroughbreds. But the investigators maintained a stiff upper lip (and an outstretched palm) and began their search at the Fork Tree, working north and east depending on the flow of the river and its many tributaries as they travelled towards the Wash in the North Sea. Those early efforts were unsuccessful, and Lady Sarah demanded Vallie Estate’s barrister secure mudlarks to search the boggy river bottoms. The request was denied. Crime was at an all-time high and manpower limited.

Lady Sarah was saddened by the disappearance of her husband, Lord Walter Vallie, but beside herself with grief at the loss of her precious twins. She had placed Clara’s wedding on an indefinite hold until the twins (and Lord Walter by default) were located, but the investigation dwindled—as did Reginald’s love for Clara—and they all agreed to call it a day.


The sun dipped below the horizon and a full harvest moon arose to cast its golden glow in an autumn sky, already awash with stars. The waterlogged coach cab grew heavy as it took on more water but still continued on its measured northeasterly path along River Great Ouse and through its many tributaries, drawing near the North Sea. The creatures of the night nipped out of the woods to sniff the ripe essence of Lord Walter, then tucked back into their hidey-holes, as the brougham passed by on its steady course to the Wash.

The twins were soggy, but comfortable, on their journey. Each precious gemstone snug in a customized compartment nestled in velveteen within the saturated burl jewel box. As was a longstanding family tradition, the box along with two rose-cut diamonds—their combined weight totalling just over six carats—would be a wedding day gift presented to Clara, Lady Sarah Rose Vallie’s eldest daughter. The Rose Twins, as they’d been lovingly named centuries earlier, had been a gift to Sarah Vallie (nee Rose) on the day of her wedding to Lord Walter, and their disappearance her fault. It had been her idea to send the Rose Twins to Soho for a miraculous transformation, becoming showstoppers in a stunning platinum tiara, custom designed for Clara by the one and only Goldsmith to the King.

The River Great Ouse widened as it neared the Wash, an area riddled with undertows as the salt water frolicked with the fresh water of the river. The brougham coach cab finished its river journey as it exited River Great Ouse to enter the vastness of the North Sea. The outgoing tide embraced the cab and its passengers enticing them to forego the safety of the cove. To explore the unknown—Lord Walter and the Rose Twins—embarking on an eternal sea-faring journey.


August 21, 1816

My Dearest Lizzy-Bug,

Humble apologies are in order for my thoughtlessness regarding keeping you in the know, where affairs of Vallie Estate and the heart are concerned. Walter’s whereabouts remain a mystery and his sole brother, Francis, stands to inherit the estate. Mine and Clara’s fate are not yet determined, but fret not, for I am in love.

Yes! ‘Tis too soon—just over eight months since Walter went missing. But alas, Barrister Humble is making progress on the annulment of our marriage, citing abandonment. It seems my husband has vanished into thin air!

I have come to agree with the theory proposed by Inspector Franklin when the case was winding down in March, days before the cancelation of Clara’s wedding. It must be true. Walter fled to America with the Rose Twins to escape his gambling debts. It seems to be a trend since Lord Byron’s recent dally to America. I am certain the pair of them are thick as thieves, having a jolly old time in New York City unencumbered by debt and shrewish wives. Sad as this may be, it is the sole logical conclusion to the mysterious case of the missing brougham.

Heavens! I truly miss the twins, as will future Rose generations—but for the prestige and stability the pair of gemstones provided. Without them I am but another destitute Royal.

Speaking of ‘destitute’ and on a jocular note, I am engaged to be married to a common man, William Fox from Derby, once my marriage is annulled. How we met is a story for another time, and I know I shall forever be shunned by the Ton, but I care not.
I predict the two of you shall get along famously! Much like you, Mr. Fox is a romantic—an artist and inventor. His mind is brilliant. Full of big ideas recently inspired by the rainiest year to have ever befallen stodgy old England. The rainy weather has certainly ‘whetted’ his appetite for adventure. He has the idea to construct a head piece that is part hat and part umbrella using a frame made of lightweight steel. It’s all a bit secret and I just know I shall once again rejoin high society and find a husband worthy of Clara’s love.

I depart you now with hugs and kisses, for you and the entire wretched lot of idle nieces and nephews residing within your household. Clara and myself may join them soon, if all else fails.

Your Forever Older (and wiser) Sister,

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