Friday, 26 September 2014

The Final Day of Charles Dickens

On the south-east corner of this great island, lies a little town known by the name of Deal. It has known invasion, battles, piracy and smuggling, and yet it has always managed to shine in its best light. And it was this feature which attracted Eugene Albright, a millionaire from the United States, to build a mansion on the edge of the town.

Albright had made his money in the American Civil war and in 1865 when Lincoln was assassinated, Albright thought it pertinent to leave his homeland for England; at least until things had cooled down.

His mansion, which lay in the shadows of Walmer Castle, took four long years to complete. Now, on a clear sunny day, one could sit in the upstairs’ lounge of Albright Court, and clearly view the coast of northern France.

Eugene, or ‘Gene as he preferred to be called, was a very contented man indeed. He used his wealth and growing influence to associate himself with the Great and Good of his adopted land. He would gather the elite in a way that a poorer man might collect insects.

He was known for his common-sense and occasional kindness, and although still very much in love with his wife, Gene would be the subject of amorous assaults by many of the single and widowed ladies in the area.

He dealt with most men in confidence and honesty, and it was these traits which found him a great friend of the author Charles Dickens: a man whom he had met when dining with friends in Broadstairs.

In one particular area Albright had become a close confident of Dickens, and that was in the matters of the heart. Dickens had formed an attachment to a much younger lady by the name of Ellen Ternan (or Nelly as she was known). This had started when Nelly was only eighteen years of age and had continued unfailingly ever since.

And so it was with a heavy heart that Dickens found himself in the company of his great friend, Gene Albright on a warm June morning in 1870.

“I say Charles, this is an unexpected pleasure,” which Gene followed with a very sincere handshake. He was truly pleased to see his friend. “Something exceptional must have transpired to bring you to our little piece of Kent, not bad news I hope,” and with that he bade his friend to sit.

Charles was reluctant at first to discuss anything other than the approaching storm heading from the Channel.

“If you would rather sit and contemplate, then my modest home is at your disposal,” Gene said without any hint of irony.
Charles smiled at his friend. 
“Forgive me, my good and great companion, I was lost in my thoughts,” said Dickens. “I owe you an explanation.”
“You owe me nothing,” said Gene.

“But I do. I have been a master of deceit and this has, of late, caused me a great remorse.”
“Do tell.”

And so for the first and only time in his life, one soul, other than Ellen and Charles, would know the full extent of his affair with the younger woman.

“I was an old man when I met Nelly, but she overwhelmed me with her beauty and with her youthful countenance. I was in love deeper than I had ever dreamt possible. Everything that laid a path to this point was merely a trinket in comparison. Soon we were meeting at every opportunity. I would change my name and skulk in dark places in order to keep this love a secret. Did you know that when we were in France there was a child? A boy. A beautiful little boy who was ours for the very briefest of time. But dear friend, it is not quantity in this life that is of importance, it is quality and I tell you this, I would have taken one day with that child in the universe, than a thousand years without him. I felt like a ruler of the world, I tell you my fine companion, there was nothing I could not do with Nelly by my side. Then God changed his opinion of both me and Nelly when we were incarcerated in a most unfortunate of circumstances.”

“The Staplehurst accident,” interjected Gene.
“Just so, just so, a most distressing occurrence. I do not believe that I have healed my mind and heart fully since that fateful day. I travelled to the great lands of America and had hoped that Nelly would have joined me there, but once again circumstances were against us. There was too much conversation about Nelly, and about me and Nelly. Therefore I advised my little cherub to stay at home. One evening when I was in Philadelphia, I probably imbibed more than was good for the soul. I felt that the bad luck which both, Nelly and I had received was possibly a judgement from above. I set to the fire all my diaries and documentation which referred to my little one.”
“You burned your correspondence?”
“Indeed, I did. When I depart this life, I want nothing of our love to be known.”
“And that is why you have arrived upon my door?” Asked Gene.
“’Tis not, my fellow, it is not. My grave concern is with regard to Nelly herself, for in all out glorious years of companionship, I have never uttered a word on how much I love her.”
“Never. I felt that it was all understood in our silences. There was no need to express such deep held emotions, at least that is what I believed, but now I have an ache which I believe will only be healed by honesty and truth.”
“I am failing to see where you have misled anyone, Charles.”
“I have never told Nelly that I love her, truly and whole heartedly, love her. “

Surely it was understood, as you have said?”
“’Tis not sufficient. Not for this life or for any other,” said Dickens, sadly.

“Then it must be rectified, forthwith and with all haste. You must make your way to wherever this angel has settled on Earth and put these matters to right,” Gene had never meant anything in his life, as much as this plea to Charles.

“That is what I wanted to hear, dearest friend. ‘Tis a comfort to have such a thing, bring warmth to my chiselled heart. I will make my way with all speed. There is no time to lose.”

With that, Mister Charles Dickens took the next train to London Town, an activity that he was very chary to participate in, given the disaster at Staplehurst. But he braved the journey all the way home to Gad’s Hill. There, he took a cheque and walked via the underpass he had constructed below the road to his favourite hostelry. There he cashed the cheque; it was for sixteen shillings, eight shillings to take him by Hansom cab to Nunhead, and eight shillings for the return journey.

All the way there, he anticipated what he might say to his love, his soul mate, his little Nelly. It was as the Hansom entered Peckham that he first felt a dizziness and pains in his head. By the time he reached Nelly’s house, opposite the church, he had fallen into a coma.

Nelly ordered the Hansom to return Mister Dickens and her, to Gad’s Hill in Higham, Kent.

He never regained consciousness. Nelly left the Hansom at the gate of Dickens’ home and walked to the station.
Dickens died at home the following day, the 9th of June, 1870. Five years to the day since the Staplehurst rail crash.

In his pocket was the 8 shillings.

bobby stevenson 2014 
Dickens lost one diary in the US, which resurfaced in the 1930s and led to
the world finding out about Nelly.

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