Charles Dickens wrote about the social conditions and injustices in 19th century England. In this story, he writes a book that isn’t merely a commentary on the appalling social divisions he witnesses, he proposes a revolution. The aristocracy hear about this book and take every step they can to destroy it and Dickens.
He joins a secret group of of reformers. The group ask Dickens to write a book that outlines what people need to do, to bring about reform.
There is a government spy within the group who reports back on what he’s heard.
The government round up and imprison all the group members on superfluous charges, except Dickens. His popularity as an author ensures he remains free. The government look to censor his books.
Dickens secretly writes the book but his publishers refuse to publish. The manuscript is hidden in the hope it can be secretly printed and distributed.
The authorities attempt to kill Dickens in a rail crash, however he survives, but his manuscript goes missing.
The manuscript is destroyed, but is it?
Chapter 1: The Slums
“Why do men seek wealth and power at the expense of others, leaving them to drown in a sea of destitution and poverty? I think I need to change it to, why do some men,” he said to himself.
Charles Dickens read the opening line of his new manuscript to himself. For the first time in his literary career he wrestled with the opening paragraph. He rang a bell on his desk to
summon his housekeeper.
“Mrs Blanksop, be a dear and fetch my hat, scarf and cane. I need to clear my head.”
“Yes Sir, right away.”
He left his house in Tavistock Square, a Georgian style London residence and
immediately hailed a Hackney Carriage.
“Where to Mr Dickens?” said the coachmen.
Most of the coachmen knew Charles Dickens, possibly one of London’s most famous
residents in 1851.
“To Shoreditch please my good man.”
The number of carriages on the roads made sure they proceeded at no great speed, which allowed him to sit back and watch Londoners going about their business. He laughed as he saw a young boy lift a gentleman’s wallet from his coat pocket, then smiled to himself thinking of his delightful character The Artful Dodger. I’m sure he needs it more than the gentleman.
They passed a street vendor selling delicious looking buns.
“Coachman,” shouted Mr Dickens, “lets stop and buy some of those buns. How many children do you have?”
“Seven Sir and another on the way. We lost our eldest just a year ago, otherwise it would be eight.”
“Right, go and buy, lets see, two each for the children, two for your good wife and one each for us, to see us on our way. I make that eighteen in total… so let’s make it a round two
bakers dozens. Here’s a shilling, that should cover it.”
“Yes Sir, thank you Sir,” said the coachman.
Munching on his bun, Charles Dickens watched a street entertainer laying on his back juggling four cabbages with his feet. He threw him a threepenny bit. I will never tire of this
effervescent street life.
They entered a street of slums. Dickens remembered his description of slums in Oliver Twist. Small filthy rooms, decaying foundations, dirt-besmeared walls full of repulsive rot and garbage.
“Sir, where exactly in Shoreditch would you like me to drop you?”
“Here will do nicely thank you. Meet me here in two hours and I’ll give you an extra
shilling for your trouble.”
“Thank you Sir,” said the coachman, grateful to earn an extra shilling to support his large family.
The street hadn’t changed in the fifteen years since researching living conditions of the poor for his books and if anything it looked and smelt even worse, if such a thing were possible.
He spotted a street urchin with bare feet and wretched clothes who looked as if he hadn’t eaten a meal for months, if ever. He probably exists on scraps thought Dickens. He called him over.
“Boy, what is your name?”
“Me? I’m Albert Sir, my mammy named me after the prince.”
“Well Albert,” said Dickens, in my eyes you are a prince. How would you like to earn yourself a half a crown?
“A half a crown Sir, what do I have to do?
“You know the street near here, with all the street traders who sell the tasty food?
“Of course Sir.”
“Well I want you to go there and ask the traders to bring their stalls here. Each one that comes I’ll give them a half a crown. Tell them Mr Dickens sent you. Do you think you can do that?
Yes Sir, Mr Dickens, I’ll be really quick.
“Good lad and for every stall that comes, I’ll pay you an extra tuppence commission.”
Albert ran off as fast as his skinny legs would carry him.
Dickens heard a young woman crying. He walked towards the distressing sound and stopped in his tracks. A mother, dressed in rags, sat on a door step holding a lifeless baby wrapped in a dirty sheet.
How in God’s name can the wealthy live with such squalor around them. Have they no conscience?
He walked over to the woman to offer solace.
“My dear, I heard you crying, may I hold your baby that I might share your grief.”
“You are kind Sir. I’m sorry I can’t stop crying…my baby…she…”
“It’s alright to cry and grieve my dear. Here, pass her to me.”
She passed over the baby to Mr Dickens who held her gently in his arms.
“Why should such a gentleman care about the likes of me and my baby?”
“Because I have a heart and conscience. Do you have other children?”
“Yes, two boys, one’s two and the other three. I’m afraid we’ll be sent to the work house. My husband’s in prison, even though he didn’t do nuffin. We have no income, I don’t know what is to become of us.”
“If you’ll allow me, I’d like to help. I’ll pay for better lodgings for you and your boys. I will also hire and pay for a governess to look after and teach your boys. While they’re with the governess, you’ll be able work. Don’t worry, I’ll provide you with clothes and a reference.”
“Sir I don’t know what to say…but ‘ere, what do you want in return?”
“I want nothing, except to see your boys grow up to be fine educated young men.”
“Is this real or have I died and gone to ‘eaven. Am I imagining all this?”
“No, this is real, wrap up your baby and we’ll arrange a proper burial and headstone.
Collect your belongings and meet me here with your boys in one hour.”
Albert ran up to him.
“Mr Dickens Sir, the jellied eel man is coming, the bun lady, pigs trotters, whelks, hot green peas, penny pies and toffee apples, oh and ginger beer man.”
“Albert you’ve done well, I make that a bonus of…let me see, one shilling and fourpence, which added to the half crown I promised makes a total of…”
“Three shillings and ten pennies,” said Albert excitedly.
“You’ve a sharp mind Albert,” said Dickens. Go and find me a street entertainer who wants to earn a half a crown and I’ll make it a round five shillings, what do you say?”
Albert shot off, “I’ll be five minutes.”
Dickens smiled to himself, happy to see someone with so little, so happy.
All the traders began to arrive. Dickens instructed them.
“Just give people what they can eat, make sure you take no money from them, I’ll settle your bills before I leave.”
Albert arrived back with a street entertainer.
“Mr Dickens, he’s a puppet-man. I love puppets.”
“Thank you Sir for coming to our party. Here’s your half a crown,” said Dickens. “Albert, here’s your five shillings, spend it wisely. Will you do something else for me?”
“Course Mr Dickens.”
“Go round and tell everyone about our street party.”
Albert ran off. Soon the street filled with people, all filling their tummies with the food on offer. A man arrived and played his fiddle and some folks began dancing. Children gathered round the puppet-man, eating their toffee apples. The London slums had never before seen such a party. They are such wonderful people, thought Dickens.
He spotted Albert watching the puppet-man while eating a huge pigs trotter and jellied eels.
“Albert, come over here,” he shouted, trying to be heard above the hubbub.
Albert rushed over, still holding his pigs trotter and jellied eels.
“How would you like to work for me?”
“Work for you Mr Dickens? But I can’t read or write.”
“You can’t, well we’ll have to rectify that won’t we. I’ll give you a job on one condition, you work with a tutor I know for two whole days a week. In one year I expect you to read a chapter of one of my books to me. Do we have a deal? Of course you’ll need lodgings, clothes and shoes.”
Charles Dickens proved to be as good as his word. The young mother became a top seamstress, her two sons became apprenticed to a firm of bookbinders. As for Albert, he read the first chapter of David Copperfield to Dickens after just three months, such was his ability to learn.