For the third in my now series of fictional character interviews, I have selected a character who it has been an absolute pleasure and a privilege to write. Whenever she turns up she takes over the spotlight and I thought it would be fun to write up an interview with her. So here, I present, the former Princess Anna of Ardeluta, a lady of absolute class.
A Lady Of Class
She knows how to make an entrance; barging through the door of the coffee house ten minutes late and flinging her overcoat at a leaving customer, fully expecting them to suddenly become her personal cloak room attendant. She then sits at a different table to the one that I am on, one closer to the window, and starts clicking her fingers at the barista behind the counter.
‘You, girl,’ she shouts loud enough so that the whole house can hear. ‘I shall have a black tea with lemon. Quick sharp if you wouldn’t mind.’ The barista is so frightened that she gets to it at once. I have to admit that I’m scared as well, though that doesn’t stop me getting up and moving over to Anna’s table. If this scenario proves anything, it’s that when she’s around things will be her way or not at all. If she thinks it improper, usual practice will go out of the window.
‘I only agreed to meet you here because Max convinced me,’ she huffs. ‘It is an awful place.’ She looks around and sneers at the décor. ‘What is wrong with a refined dining establishment?’ A refined dining establishment, I point out, is not a good place for an informal interview. Business meetings perhaps, but not a chat. ‘Nonsense! Alice and I meet with Lady Beddgelert in the Albion Dining Rooms every week. That is the classiest establishment in Bangor and it is ideal for our gossips.’ This is not gossip though, I tell her. ‘Well. Even more reason for us not to be here. If this is not gossip then we have no excuse not to have met in the Albion.’
Anna loves to gossip and as her tea arrives, the barista is trembling, she begins telling me the latest news from high society ( the latest news from 1920, of course.)
‘Lady Prestatyn has been poisoning her husband,’ she whispers. She doesn’t say this as though it is rumour but outright fact. ‘She told Lady St Helens that she’s been buying arsenic to get rid of the weeds in her garden.’ And that’s unusual for 1920? ‘She doesn’t have a garden! She lives in a Mayfair townhouse. So what is she doing with the arsenic? If it were for rats I might understand but then why say she is getting rid of weeds?’ Anna asks indignantly. She picks up her tea and sniffs it as though Lady Prestatyn has dropped arsenic into it. Drinking it, she purses her lips in disapproval but does not comment.
From the moment she steps into your life you can tell that Anna is a sophisticated lady. She wears her regality on her sleeve, in the way she walks, in the way she talks, in the way she behaves. This is understandable given that there was a time in her life when she was a step above us all on the social ladder. She was a princess.
‘I still might have been one if it weren’t for those god awful men.’ She is referring to the leaders of a revolution in her kingdom of Ardeluta, now part of Romania, some forty years ago (from her perspective.) ‘It was absolutely terrible. Carlo (her brother and heir to the kingdom) struck a local peasant farmer for insubordination and then it all flared up and we had to run away. Of course, he shouldn’t have done it, hit the peasant I mean, but it was still an overreaction to depose us.’ Things weren’t that simple though. The revolution was the end result of years of high taxation and oppression by the ruling family, the striking of the peasant being the final straw. ‘The oppression was hardly our fault. It was the people who came before us. Father did his best to relieve the situation, to lower taxes, but it wasn’t good enough. And how were we to know there was an international anarchist group operating in the area?’
The silver lining, after being chased across Europe, was that she found herself under the protection of the man who was to change her life, Max Morfasson.
‘I thought he was very impudent and rude when we first met. He was very controlling, wishing me to do all this and that. He claims it was for my own protection and he has a point but some of it, like making me ride in a third class choo-choo carriage, was completely uncalled for. I foiled him on that one of course. I had to. I couldn’t spend the night with the low born women we were sharing a compartment with. They were ghastly. So I upgraded our tickets when he wasn’t looking.’
Less than a week later Max and Anna were married.
‘I loved him by then, of course I did, how could I not? But we were manipulated by the local hill farmers. We had not even admitted our love to ourselves, let alone each other, but they convinced us both that we were destined to be lovers and that we ought to get married right away. Absolute hokum!’ Was it though? Max and Anna are still together forty years later and she herself just said she loves him. ‘Oh, it wasn’t hokum that we were in love. That much was true. But we needn’t have got married there and then. And the way they suggested it… All through dreams and prophecies and such nonsense. I didn’t believe in things like that then and I certainly don’t believe in them now.’ So why, if she didn’t believe in those things, did she go through with it? Instead of giving an answer she looks me over with a withering glare. I don’t ask again but instead wonder what Max thinks of what happened ‘Max is a gullible imbecile when it comes to such matters. He believes in fairies and ghosts and all kinds of nonsense. He thinks the farmers were absolutely right.’
The form and suddenness of the marriage, which was a traditional hill farmer’s ceremony, caused a scandal amongst the upper classes.
‘Everybody thought we’d been through some pagan ritual. We hadn’t, it was perfectly Christian, but because we hadn’t married in church it wasn’t seen as proper. It was legal, they had to admit as much, but it wasn’t proper. When the news broke we had the late Marquess of Anglesey banging on the front door calling us heathens and a disgrace to society. That was very hypocritical of him considering he used to go around in women’s clothing and ended up having his marriage annulled. The Beddgelerts understood though they were still shocked by the suddenness of it.’
Despite being a former princess and a well-known figure in high society, her best friend is the Dowager Lady Beddgelert, wife of the last Earl, who fell from a precipice in 1886, Anna has no titles of merit. She is a simple Mrs. No longer a princess thanks to the dissolution of her kingdom, and not a countess or a lady or anything of any rank.
‘I have grown used to it. The idea of being Lady Morfasson appeals to me but Max is unlikely to be given a peerage. As a foreigner they certainly won’t give me one. I doubt that Max will be knighted either, despite all he’s done for the country.’
She begins to go off on a tangent.
‘You know, when the national intelligence services were set up around ten years ago nobody informed us or asked for advice or anything. We only found out from Sir David Windrush, who was in the civil service at the time. He died last year. Max is the foremost expert in espionage in the country, and probably the most experienced spy too. And nobody thought to consult him.’ Is she forgetting Sidney Reilly, the so called ‘Ace of Spies?’ Is he not more expert in espionage than Max? ‘No he is not. How old is Reilly? Max has at least twenty years on him and he’s been doing it all since he was born. I doubt the same could be said of Reilly. He’s not a nice man either. There is something sinister about him. You’d think that would be true of all spies, considering that it is a sinister profession, but I’ve spent enough time working with Max to know that it isn’t. Most of them are perfectly amiable and polite. Some are even charming. In that line of work you have to leave everything at the office door. If you don’t then you’re in trouble.’ Does she, I wonder, find it difficult to keep certain things to herself, certain matters of espionage that she is inevitably privy too?
‘Max is constantly telling me not to gossip about some things but I always tell Lady Beddgelert, whatever it might be. I can trust her and she has not once betrayed my confidence. She knows that our work is very important.’
Coming up fast, Anna knows, is the next generation. Her only son, Monty, recently returned from a three year spell in India and is currently engaged to Alice, eldest daughter of Count Nuneaton.
‘Montgomery is slowly taking over the family business and he’s bringing Alice into things as his partner. He isn’t there yet, but he’ll cope given enough time. Max is not as young as he was. He’s seventy five now and he can’t keep working for much longer. I thought last year that might be it, that I might lose him. He developed a fever and he was bedridden for three weeks. Monty was still in India and I had to call him back at once. Max recovered, thank goodness.’ She begins to grumble and diverts again. ‘The India business was a silly thing though. I should never have had to call Montgomery back. He got this notion in his head that he wanted to go to France and fight in the war. Of course, that was out of the question so he decided to pursue Alice to India instead. Then… And this is the silliest thing of all… He gets himself caught up in some nasty business on the North West Frontier. He’s lucky to be alive, foolish boy.’ What does she think of Alice, her future daughter in law? ‘She is a good girl, though sometimes too flippant for my tastes. Montgomery loves her though, that is what matters.’
Anna, overall, seems contented with the hand that life has drawn her but is this even close to what she imagined when she was young?
‘No. Do not be so foolish. Which of us ever gets what we imagined when we were young? I certainly never thought that I would get married, especially not in a traditional hill farmer’s ceremony. If I did get married I thought it would be to someone of Father’s choosing, a Viennese whirl instead of a Welsh dumpling. I think I much prefer my life the way it turned out to how I imagined it would be. As nice as a Viennese whirl is, it isn’t very filling. I’d rather have my Welsh dumpling.’
There is something of the Lady Bracknell about Anna, something high class, waspish and snobbish. But she doesn’t just command the respect and admiration of those around her, nor does she demand it. She sucks it in like a human vacuum cleaner. Respect for her appears to be the natural order of the universe. Throughout our interview all eyes have been turned towards her, everybody listening to what she has to say. It is no wonder, when she arrived on these shores forty years ago, that Max and the people of his small corner of Wales, fell in love with her. Everybody in this coffee house has just done the same. You just can’t help it.
Image from thepursemuseum.com
MAX & ANNA is available worldwide from (in paperback & eBook form) from Amazon. You can also find her in this extract from The Khyber.