“We must locate the family of this woman.” Felix informed the other men who where with him. They had just finished digging up Amelia’s grave and found it missing the remains of an infant.
“Where do we begin?” one of the men asked.
“We will go to the cottage where they lived. I do not believe anyone lives there, but there could be letters or other papers that give the information we need.”
The men agreed. They had worked with Felix for many years and trusted his decisions.
When the group arrived at the cottage, they forced the door open and entered. There was no care used in their search, the men opened all drawers and cupboards, looking in each room and tossing items out of their way when needed.
“There is nothing here. No letters, papers, nothing personal at all.” Felix was shocked. “It is as if the child and her family just disappeared from the world.”
“Could there be a solicitor or someone who holds the legal papers of the duke? Someone must have them, showing the duke owned the estate.” Liam stated.
“Take a man with you to Ramsgate. Ask around for someone who would know the solicitor from twenty years ago. Also check with the local magistrate. He might know about the owner of the cottage. It was never sold, so someone must know who to contact if there was a problem here.” Felix demanded.
There was a sound at the entrance door, followed by someone entering the building. “What is happening here? Who are you?” a woman asked as she entered the room where the men were gathered.
“Who are you? Do you live here?”
“Yes, I take care of the cottage for the owners.” Mrs Dunn stated. “What are you doing here? There is nothing to steal, I only have a few coins in my reticule.”
“We demand information of the owners. Who do you inform if there is a problem?”
“I speak with Mr Thompson in Ramsgate. He handles all repairs.”
“Is he the owner of the cottage?”
“No, he is a solicitor. He handles many properties in the area for their owners. This cottage has not had the owner live here in many years.” Mrs Dunn was becoming nervous.
“The owner, what is the owner’s name?”
“I believe the name is Augustine. Mr and Mrs Augustine.”
“They are dead. Their bodies are buried in the cemetery in Ramsgate. Who owns the property now?”
“The Augustine family is all I have ever known.” The housekeeper stated. “I have only been here the last ten years. My mother was the housekeeper before me.”
“Where is your mother?” Felix asked.
“She died, which is why I took her position. My husband and I take care of the property since my mother’s death.”
“We need information of the family. The Augustines had a daughter. Where is she?”
“Forgive me, but I know nothing about a daughter. My mother spoke of Mrs Augustine’s dying with her child.”
Felix reached out and struck the woman across her cheek. “Where is the Augustine daughter? Tell me now or we will beat the information from you.”
Tears were beginning to flow down Mrs Dunn’s cheeks. “I swear to you, I do not know what you are asking. I do not know of a daughter. If there is any problem, we always send word to Mr Thompson.”
“Where is your husband?”
“He will be home soon from Ramsgate.”
“When he arrives, he will need to return to Ramsgate and bring Mr Thompson back here. Only when we receive the information we require, will you be released.”
Mrs Dunn felt a lump develop in her throat. Fear began to wrap its cold fingers around her heart. What would these men do to her and her husband? “Please, do not harm us. I am certain my husband will be able to assist you.”
“He had better, or both of you will suffer terribly.” Felix hissed.
The sound of Mr Dunn’s footsteps was heard coming up the path to the entrance door. As the doorknob began to turn, Mrs Dunn realized their lives were in danger. But she could make a difference for her husband.
“Fred, run. Run…save yourself.” Mrs Dunn shrieked.
The door flew open and one of the men attempted to capture Mr Dunn’s arm. Seeing that there were too many men, all carrying weapons, the man pulled back and threw the bag of supplies he had just bought, striking the closest man in the chest and knocking him backwards. Giving his wife a quick glance, Fred Dunn knew there was no possibility of getting to her. Fleeing for safety, Mr Dunn evaded the men and hurried back down the path towards Ramsgate.
Hearing the sound of pistols being fired only spurred the man further. He knew the area, having lived all his life on farm just a few miles away from the cottage, which gave him the advantage to escape the men.
As he ran, his thoughts turned to his wife. Had he left her to die at the hands of those men? Knowing his dear wife, she would not wish for them both to die, after all, she had called to him to run away. Could she forgive him for being unable to protect her?
Mr Dunn heard horses racing in his direction, so he hid himself amongst the bushes. In his heart, he was certain that the men had likely killed his wife. Though devastated, he knew that he had to reach Ramsgate to find assistance. While hiding, questions continued to flow through his mind. Who were these men? What did they want?
Mr Dunn had known a little of the couple who had owned the cottage and the surrounding lands. He knew of the gentleman’s tragic death, followed by the wife’s death in childbirth with their only child dying with her. At the time, his mother in law was the housekeeper. She did not speak of the couple, leading Fred Dunn to believe there had been a secret about the family. When Mrs Timmons was dying, she begged her daughter and son in law to take over the care of the small estate. The current owners had not been to the house in almost twenty years, nor had they any contact with the Dunns.
After having been hiding for more than an hour, Mr Dunn made his way into Ramsgate. He found his way to the office of Mr Thompson. Unfortunately, the men had arrived at the office before him and had tossed everything about in the office. Not finding anyone there, especially not finding a body of the solicitor, Mr Dunn made his way to Mr Thompson’s home.
The solicitor was surprised to see Mr Dunn, especially as the man had hurried through Ramsgate to find him.
“Mr Thompson, something has happened. Men were at the cottage, they have my wife. When I opened the door, Jessie screamed for me to run. I heard them fire their guns. My poor Jessie, they may have killed her.”
“Come in, come in. I will send my footman for the constable immediately.” Mr Thompson was quick to realize the situation. Once the footman was called and sent for the constable, Mr Thompson returned his attention to Mr Dunn, who had more to tell him.
“Your office, someone has been there, and it appears that they were looking for something. They threw papers all about.”
“Calm yourself, Mr Dunn. We will get to the bottom of all of this. The first thing we need to do is return to the cottage to ensure your wife is well. The constable will bring men with him, as we cannot go alone.”
Mr Dunn nodded. “Your wife and children, they must be protected as well. Do you have any weapons in the house?”
“I do, and one of my men is also my guard. He can protect my family, have no fear.”
“What could those men want at the cottage? We do not keep much money there, nothing of great value. We do not even know the owners.”
“Pray that the men did not want to know about the family who owns the property. They are very private, as there is information about them that would be dangerous in the wrong hands.”
“Mr Thompson, what is it you have kept from us? My wife may have been killed, your office has been ransacked, and I had to run for my life. What possible reason could these men have for such behavior?”
The solicitor walked over to the window and looked outside. “Come with me. It is a discussion to have in my study.”
As they walked further into the house, Mr Thompson motioned for the butler to come towards him. “Have Matthews be prepared for trouble. Be careful when answering the door, as there is a group of men who might be coming here uninvited.”
The butler nodded his head. The staff of the Thompson household were constantly on guard, as a solicitor could easily make enemies. Mr Thompson had dealings with some powerful people, and powerful people could make powerful enemies.
Mr Dunn took his seat in the chair before the desk, prepared to listen.
After sitting in his own chair, Mr Thompson began.
As Mr Thompson finished informing Mr Dunn of who had owned the simple estate, there was a knock on the door of the study. “Enter.” He called out.
“Mr Thompson, the constable and his men are here.” The butler announced.
“Very good. Please have them join us here.”
The men quickly entered the study. Mr Thompson stood to greet them. “Men, we have a situation that requires your assistance. Mr Dunn had returned home to discover a group of men in the house. Mrs Dunn cried out for him to run. As he ran, he heard shots ring out. We fear Mrs Dunn may have been killed. When Mr Dunn arrived at my office, he found it to be ransacked. I had returned home early, as my youngest child has been ill. Our first priority is to accompany Mr Dunn to the cottage that he and his wife are caretakers.”
The constable, Mr Haggerty, nodded in agreement. “Sounds as if these men have a particular concern over the cottage. It is one of your clients who own the estate?”
“It is. The men might be searching for the family of the previous owner. The Augustines died near twenty years ago. Mr Augustine was murdered, and his wife died during childbirth.” The solicitor stated.
“Augustine? A grave in the cemetery has been dug up and opened, and it was the grave of Mrs Amelia Augustine.” Mr Haggerty stated. “Is there a reason these men would be searching Mrs Augustine’s grave?”
“They were most likely searching for the Augustine’s daughter. The headstone includes the name of a baby girl born to them, though it is not the girl’s real name and the child did not perish. For her safety, it was told that the baby died along with the mother. If these men have dug up the grave, they know that there was no infant buried with her mother. This is why they went to the cottage and my office. The men are looking for information as to where the girl is located.”
Mr Haggerty remembered the murder of Mr Augustine, though he was unaware of the man’s true identity. He had assisted the previous constable, and had assisted taking the gentleman’s body to the undertaker. “We had best hurry to the cottage. If there is any possibility of finding clues to the men and where they are, it is best to find them quickly.”
Haggerty, his deputies, and other men who assisted when necessary, all mounted their horses, as did Mr Thompson. A horse had been brought around for Mr Dunn to use to make the difficult journey back to the cottage, as the caretaker knew in his heart that they would discover his wife’s body.
Upon their arrival at the cottage, Mr Haggerty insisted on Mr Dunn remaining outside the building while he entered with one of his men. The two entered with their pistols drawn, prepared to confront anyone inside.
Haggerty and one of his men searched the cottage room by room. In one of the upstairs bedrooms, they discovered Mrs Dunn. She was alive, though she had been struck multiple times. Those who had struck her had also tied her hands and feet, placing a gag in her mouth.
“Mrs Dunn, let us assist you.” Haggerty said as he pulled a knife from his boot, which he used to release her from her bonds. “We will send for a physician to tend you.”
“My husband, did those men kill my Fred? They said they shot him, that they had killed him.”
“Mr Dunn is unharmed. He feared you were dead. Your husband made it to Ramsgate to bring us here.”
Mrs Dunn’s tears grew, though this time the tears were of relief, as she had been terrified that she was a widow. “Thank you, thank you, thank you. I would not know how to live without my dear Fred.”
“Come, let us move you downstairs. Your husband will be grateful that you are alive and we have some questions to ask of you.”
“If you allow me to lean against you as I walk, I should be able to make my way downstairs.”
Haggerty offered the woman his arm and carefully escorted her downstairs to the parlor. His assistant stepped outside to inform Mr Dunn that his wife was alive, causing the man to rush inside to see her for himself. Mr Thompson followed Mr Dunn, as he too wished to know more about the men who had invaded the cottage.
Ever so gently, Mr Dunn took his wife into his arms. “My dear, I feared the worst. Are you well? I can see the bruising on your cheeks. Should we call for the apothecary?”
“I am well. Only a few bruises, now that I know you are well and unharmed. My heart was broken when they told me that you had been shot and killed.”
“As was mine, thinking they had shot you. Thanks be to God for protecting you from those men.” Mr Dunn kissed the back of each of his wife’s hands.
“Mrs Dunn, can you tell us what the men were after? What did they say to you?” Mr Haggerty inquired.
“They wanted to know about the owner of the cottage, mostly of the family of the owner. Something about a child that was born to the couple. But I remember that my mother told me years ago that the child died with the mother. It was a little girl, and she was buried with her mother.” Mrs Dunn looked from her husband, to Haggerty, and then to Mr Thompson.
“The girl did not die with her mother.” Mr Thompson stated. “After the duke was murdered in Ramsgate, the family decided it was safest for the girl to be declared deceased. The family feared that the men who tracked down the duke would come for the girl. When the mother died, it was believed to be best that the child was believed to have died as well. It has protected her all these years.”
“Can you notify the family and inform them of the situation?” Haggerty asked. “If necessary, I can send one of my deputies to deliver any messages.”
“I will send my man. He knows the way and is familiar to the family’s solicitor. He might be alarmed if I send a stranger to him without notice.” Mr Thompson stated. “In the meantime, Mr and Mrs Dunn, it would not be wise for you to remain here until we capture these men. I know my client would be very willing to pay for you to stay at an inn in Ramsgate for the time being. Your meals will be covered as well. If you will pack some of your belongings, we will make sure you are safely escorted into town.”
Mr Thompson had requested the use of writing supplies, which were located in the study of the house, while the Dunns packed. The men who had been searching the cottage as the desk had been rummaged through, and Thompson set things to right before using the rather old writing supplies which were kept in one of the drawers before the solicitor began to write.
The time we have dreaded has come. Several men came to the cottage, searching for the owner of the estate. Fortunately, Mr and Mrs Dunn escaped with no more than some bruising and fear. Mrs Dunn directed the men to me, as the Dunns do not know anything of your family connections. I had gone home early, and fortunate I did, as the men raided my office, tossing it about in search of information. Everything connected with your family has been kept in my safe at my house, so they found nothing in their search.
One of the more important pieces of information is that your sister in law’s grave has been dug up. You must assume that it means the men know that your niece is alive, not buried in the grave with Mrs Augustine. I am sending this letter to you with my personal man whom you know. If anyone else arrives, be cautious. I will send a letter through London, allowing my man to lose anyone who will likely attempt to follow him. Bart’s military service will come in handy in evading the enemy.
My prayers for your niece’s safety continue. The duke was a good friend, and I will do all in my power to protect his daughter.
My regards to your family,
The letter was sanded, and using his ring, sealed the missive. When he arrived home, he would give it to his man and instruct him to misdirect anyone who might be following him.
Once Mr and Mrs Dunn were prepared to leave, Haggerty and Mr Thompson, along with the men who had joined them, loaded them into the Thompson carriage and the group made their way back to Ramsgate. Haggerty had the feeling they were being watched, though he could not say from where the men were watching them.
The Dunns were taken to the inn closest to Mr Thompson’s home, where the solicitor instructed the innkeeper that the bill for their lodging and meals was to be sent to him. Two of the deputies were left to protect the couple so they could rest and recover from the ordeal.
Haggerty accompanied Mr Thompson to his home, where they ensured that the Thompson family were safe.
“If you do not mind, Mr Thompson, I would feel better if I were to remain here, to see that nothing happens overnight. Your man is well known for his skills with weapons, but these men do not practice the same ethics that your man does. Having more of us to handle any attempt they might try would ease my mind.”
“Of course. To be honest, I would prefer all the extra protection to keep my family safe. My wife is expecting any day and I do not wish for her to have any complications due to these men.”
“Very good. If you could have your cook prepare some strong coffee, I would be grateful.”
The solicitor smiled. “Should I have her leave out some bread and cold meat, just in case the coffee is not enough?”
“You read my mind, Mr Thompson.” The constable smiled.