December 18, 1889
Lady Claire Trevelyan
Dear Lady Claire,
It is with shock and great distress that I must inform you of a most unfortunate incident in which I fear I must bear some of the blame. I beg your forgiveness, though in your place I should find it hard to do so.
Following another importunate tube from Mr. Ainsley Morton III, the director of the glassworks about which we have corresponded previously, I travelled again this morning to Toll Cottage to make my own estimation of its value in hopes of entering into some negotiation on your behalf—not, I might add, with a view to making any sale, about which you were very firm, but in hopes of finding some mutually agreeable arrangement concerning lot lines and the manufactory’s future expansion.
To my very great horror, upon approaching the property, I was astounded to see the high stone walls completely broken down, as if from an explosion of some kind. Within, nothing remained of the cottage except the lower portion of the chimney, which had not burned. All else was razed, with smoke still rising from the wreckage. The vegetable garden, though in its winter dormancy, had been trampled into the mud as though the feet of several persons had passed over it. On the river frontage, the dock and porch were likewise burned to the water line.
Of the curious perambulatory domicile for your hens I saw no sign. Nor was there any sign of life on the property at all—and believe me, I spent the morning searching every inch in the company of two bobbies from the Vauxhall substation who responded to my distress summons.
My dear young lady, I am so very sorry. I cannot think what accident of chemistry or experimentation (which I know occurs among your charges) would have caused such total loss of life and property.
I urge your prompt return to London, though I deeply regret this terrible incursion into the festivities no doubt taking place within the bosom of your family. My greetings to your mother … and I hope she will not construe my felicitations upon her recent engagement to Squire Jermyn Penhale as impertinence.
I remain your servant,
Richard Arundel, Esq.