Meeting Nelly

Nell. Excuse me. I hoped I might say a few words with you. I enjoyed your performance very much. That epilogue made me laugh so much that tears were streaming down my face.

Talking strangely? I suppose so, although I was trying to sound like the people around me here. A foreigner? No, but… a traveller. A traveller in time. Can you understand that, Nell? Travelling through the years as you might take a carriage through the districts of London. Here is Old King Henry at his tennis, and here is William the Conqueror, and then we come to the Romans, and then back to Eleanor Gwyn and her King Charles.

Nell GwynMy home is more than three hundred years in the future, in the year two thousand and ten. I know that “future” is something that people hardly think of here, although in my time, a time of very rapid changes, the future always presses on us. Proof? Well, I could tell you of some things that will occur, but how could you tell now if I was being honest? Yes, you will have a child — within a year, in fact — and he will be made a Duke. Ah, you’re smiling, but it’s true. A line of Dukes, descended from an orange seller.

Yes, they will remember that about you in three hundred years time. And a few other things. To the people of my time, 1669 is long, long ago. But your acting career, most people will have heard of that, and your intelligence and wit. And your beauty. Well, I know: beauty fades, but you’re too young now to worry about that. Yes, I do know when and how your life will end, but I won’t tell. You will outlive King Charles though, and his deathbed command to his successor will be “Let not poor Nelly starve.”

Well, Prince James, Duke of York. I suppose there’s no harm in telling you that. No, no legitmate heirs, but a good many children. Well, it’s already four or five, isn’t it? In my time? We have a Queen, Elizabeth the Second. Well, she’s old now — over eighty, I think, but she was quite handsome as a girl. Charles, yes, he should be Charles the Third, although he’s over sixty himself, so it’s hard to say. He’s not much liked in the country, to be honest.

Well, he was unfaithful to his wife. Like another royal Charles, I know. But she was popular. When they separated, there was much public grief when she was killed in a carriage accident in Paris. And she was in the company of the son of a rich Egyptian merchant. Oh, much gossip, yes. We are a nation of gossip, worse than your time even, believe me.

Oh, yes, there are still actors. And many theatres, although they are no longer the most important places to act. You see, we have… well, can you imagine a huge painting of the scene of the play and all the players? But not static, everything moving as in reality, and the sounds of the speeches loud and clear. Well, once one of these plays is captured, in what they call a “movie”, it can be copied and shown in many different places at once. Think of it, you could be in the audience yourself and see your own performance.

No, it wasn’t flattery. You are good. Your friendship with the King might cause people to come, but that wouldn’t make them laugh and cheer. Well, if I am a madman, at least I hope I have entertained you for a while. But when your son the little Duke is born, I think you will remember what I’ve told you.


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