Tuesday, 16 October 2012

A Place By The Sea

She tried to remember everything about him as she walked lightly along the Strand on that warm July evening in 1914. Cecil was twenty two years of age, an artist – possibly the greatest – and his likes included music, places by the sea and Helen, his one true love. He was exceedingly handsome, everyone said so. He had been expected to go up to Oxford that year but had decided on one more season by the sea, painting his heart out.

Helen was free, at least for the summer and there was an expectancy in the very ether that evening, an excitement that she was sure those passing would recognise in her face. The days and weeks ahead were hers to spend as she wanted. Life was impossibly great.

Helen boarded the train at Charing Cross knowing that if she was very quick at London Bridge she could catch the 7.15 and be in Deal before sunset. He would be there at the station waiting on her and they could walk hand in hand back to his little house in Middle Street. 

As the train crossed the Thames she shielded her eyes from the sun which sat high above Westminster and then quite suddenly she thought back to that bright day when they had met only two years previous.

There had been a strange atmosphere that day in Deal when they first saw each other. It was the same day the news of the sinking of the Titanic broke and a light mist sat on the sea which gave the town an impression that it was in mourning.

Helen’s family had taken a large house for six months on the promenade and every morning Helen would stroll down the pier and not look back until she had reached the very end. Each day the reaction was the same, it always took her breath away.

However that day the tranquillity of the walk had been broken by the sobbing, as a sadness had drifted in from the water and settled on the good folks of Deal. It was rumoured that thousands may have gone down with the ship and all humanity shared in the sorrow.

Helen felt the life force drain from her that morning and when she got to the end of the pier, she neither felt like turning nor having her breath taken away. Instead she looked out to sea and whispered ‘sleep well’.
“A sad day indeed" said Cecil.
And there he was - from a plan probably created before the start of time - that Helen and Cecil’s paths should cross on that day in April, 1912.
“It ‘tis sir, very sad indeed.”

And that was that. The universe was satisfied and the two became lovers.
That first summer together in Deal was filled with love and laughter for the both of them and one would think that Cecil’s artistic endeavours would suffer - but just the opposite was true. Helen would sit quietly beside him as he painted various scenes. Over several weeks he completed a series of views of Walmer Castle which were sold in their entirety to the Warden.  

When the summer was over, Helen was due to start working at a publishing house on the Strand, in London. It was to be her ideal job as she loved writing and writers and found herself to be at ease in their company and their processes.Her publishing house, the famous Hare and Fallon closed for four weeks from the end of July until August which would allow Helen a month of freedom.

Cecil had inherited a run down house in Deal from his grandmother who always favoured his company above the rest of the family.  From her Will he received a small annual stipend which allowed him to continue his painting unencumbered.

That summer of 1912 in Deal was a perfect haven for a beautiful couple who had the world before them. Apart from the occasional visit from Cecil’s family and the obligatory meals with Helen’s parents they kept themselves to themselves.

Helen would never spend the night at the house on Middle Street and would always return to her own home despite protestations from her beau. Although her family loved Cecil’s company, they felt that despite his moderate income, his choice of career placed him outside the realm of considered husbands. After all, this was only a summer affair which would soon find its end when the interest of both parties had run its natural course.

Of course they were wrong. The love neither waxed nor waned and it grew in strength and in patience. It grew in the dark and in the sunlight and although both were sometimes apart they instinctively knew how the other felt.They had become two parts of the same organism and to deprive one half of the other one would have led to the collapse of both.

Just then a large gentleman passed through the carriage smoking a pipe and the smell of it brought Helen back to her train journey. She looked across to see an overweight woman staring at her – Helen could understand that the huge grin she had on her face would cause anyone to stare. Anytime she thought of Cecil, she grinned.

She had been working at the publishers for nearly two years now and although she still loved her job she began to resent being stuck in London through the week and only seeing Cecil at weekends. As the train rolled through Bromley her face adopted a large grin again.

And there she was back in 1912, at Christmas to be exact. One that was spent in Scotland with Cecil’s family where they owned a large estate near the Black Mount in Glencoe. It was a Christmas of snows, walks in the sharp blue skies of Rannoch Moor, of the family reading A Christmas Carol aloud by a blazing fire. It was also the Christmas where they became secretly engaged. They exchanged rings which they wore on chains around their necks.  At the local Ball to welcome in the year of 1913, Cecil and Helen raised a glass of champagne to each other. Cecil winked to Helen with only the young lovers knowing what it meant.  

On the occasional weekend, Cecil would come up to London and both he and Helen would stay in a little apartment loaned to them by Ralph Fallon, the boss of the publishing house. It was a place he used during the week before returning to his wife and children in Sussex on a Friday evening. 
Cecil took Helen to her very first football match when Woolwich Arsenal played The Wednesday and although she had no idea of the rules or what was happening, she loved the atmosphere and the excitement generated. Indeed she saw another side to Cecil.   

They attended the theatre and saw ‘Brother Alfred’ a P.G.Wodehouse play at the Savoy  but the bright lights and the excitement of London couldn’t compete with the tranquillity of their very own Deal.

In the summer of 1913 Helen had her month long break from work but unusually her parents didn’t rent their normal Deal property, instead they spent several months in Arundel and all the coaxing in the world couldn't persuade Helen and Cecil to join them. Apart from one weekend when Cecil borrowed his brother’s new car and they drove to see her family, they stayed put with Helen living at the house on Middle Street. Her family preferred not to ask about her arrangements and therefore it was never discussed.

Helen’s train jolted to a stop at Maidstone taking her once again away from her memories. The train needed to take on water and coal which allowed her some time to stretch her legs. She bought a cooling lemonade and decided to use the telephone to call The Ship public house. Someone there would walk the few doors to Cecil’s house and inform him that she would arrive just after 9.00pm.

Back on the train and Helen sank into 1913 once again. That Autumn Cecil’s family brought up the suggestion of him attending Oxford to study History, or Art if he must. To keep the peace he agreed that the following year he would indeed go up.But by the spring of 1914 there was talk of a war with Germany and if this was to be the case then Cecil wanted to spend a final summer painting by the sea.

In early July of 1914 Helen had spent her usual weekend with Cecil but this time they used most of it to discuss their futures. War or no war they would get married and live in Deal. Between his meagre income and the paintings he was now selling regularly, they could survive - just.
“It is everything I hope and dream of” said Helen, “All I want is our little place by the sea. We can raise our children here.We can be forever happy”
“We haven’t set a date for the wedding darling" said Cecil.
“We will when I get down here for the month, let's leave it until then.”

So that night in late July when Helen had walked the Strand and had boarded the train that was all that was really occupying her mind.The same evening just outside Deal, a young farmer by the name of Justin Edwards had been arguing with his wife. He wanted to expand the herd but she felt that they couldn't justify it given that war might be coming. So he stormed off to the barn and unlike his usual careful self, he left the outer gate open. Several of the cattle drifted out and across a neighbouring field.

At 8.55. the train was slowing and sounding its horn that it was about to approach the station. In her excitement Helen stood to collect her small bag but the train slammed to a halt as it hit the stray cattle on the line.Helen only bumped her head on the window but it started internal bleeding that no one could see. By the time the train pulled in to the station twenty minutes late, an anxious Cecil was waiting on his love.

He didn’t recognise the woman carried from the train as Helen. She had died before the train had come to a stop.In Cecil’s pocket were the final details for the wedding.

Helen was buried in Hamilton Road cemetery Deal - her own little place by the sea.

Cecil survived the Great War and became a painter of some repute. He sold the house on Middle Street and moved to London where he married a girl who worked at the National Gallery. They had five children.

Cecil passed away peacefully in 1968. One of his daughters was called Helen and he wore the engagement ring around his neck until the day he died. 

bobby stevenson 2012

No comments:

Post a Comment