It wasn’t exactly a plan, but it was something that she had been thinking about for some time; and as the day got nearer, the more she wanted to do it before it was too late. From the day of her birth, and probably before, her whole life had been mapped out for her: a giant ‘to-do’ list of things to be ticked off as they had occurred. She knew that she had been sheltered from the harsh realities of the real world and she was not unappreciative or ungrateful, but she had grown up with the mantra ‘With privilege comes responsibility’, and now she was ready to do her duty But all she wanted first was a little freedom: her own little cache of memories to draw on in the years ahead of unceasing obeisance towards conformity.
At about three a.m. she got out of bed and quickly dressed, and from the place that she thought it most unlikely to be discovered, she took out the bag that she had ‘borrowed’ from the domestic staff when she came upon it, unattended, and into this she put a few basic items of clothing and toiletries. Then, going to her writing bureau, she sat down, took out a sheet of paper and an envelope, and wrote in her neat hand: I am safe. Please allow me some time to be myself, then I will contact you. Anna. Folding the paper, she placed it into the envelope and sealed it, before writing ‘Papa’ on the front and leaving it on her pillow where it would be easily found.
Having lived in the royal apartments for most of her twenty-one years, she knew that security was practically non-existent inside, so donning a long coat, a woollen hat that covered her head and a scarf her face, she slipped out of the building and into the night.
At 05:45, Sam Whelan walked down the stairs from his living quarters over the shop. He’d done this almost every morning for the last five years since his parents had retired early to a bungalow near the coast to see out their days in a place where there were no stairs to climb, no heavy boxes to lift, and no deliveries to oversee. Sam had moved into the apartment with his wife, Debbie, where they planned to spend several decades together until it was their turn to either pass on the shop to their children, or sell up and move to their own equivalent of a seaside bungalow. However, the hit-and-run driver who had knocked Debbie down and left her dying in the road had put an end to the dream.
He turned off the shop’s alarm and turned on the lights, and then walking through to the front he opened the door to collect the bundles of newspapers that were always left there. This morning, however, as well as the papers, he found a young woman huddled in the doorway. He placed a hand on her shoulder: “Are you all right, Miss?” Anna opened her eyes: “ ... I’m so c-cold!” He helped her up and supported her.
“ ... Come on! Let’s get you inside and into the warm!” He led her to the stairs at the back that he had only just descended. “If you can just sit here for a couple of minutes... ”
Leaving her, still shivering, he quickly dragged the newspaper bundles inside, shut and bolted the door, then turned off the shop lights. There weren’t usually many customers this early and anyone who did turn up, would ... well ... just be unlucky!
Once upstairs he took her straight through to his bedroom, where the bed he had so recently vacated would still be warm. Helping her out of her coat and her boots, he laid her down, otherwise fully-clothed, and covered her up. “Get some sleep, Miss!”
She smiled weakly at him and whispered “Thank you!” then closed her eyes. Sam went downstairs to get the shop ready for opening. He didn’t do newspaper deliveries any more, as there was not enough demand to warrant it, although a few were put aside for regular customers, so after setting the papers out in racks, it was business as usual.
At ten o’clock his assistant, Mary Elmsworth, arrived, so he took the opportunity to pop upstairs to see how his ‘guest’ was getting on. She was sleeping, but had obviously been awake, because a pile of women’s clothes now lay on the floor next to the bed. Sam picked them up and loosely folded them before placing them on a chair. He looked at the sleeping figure in the bed; she was certainly very pretty and there was something familiar about her that he couldn’t quite put his finger on. He quietly returned downstairs to carry on with his shopkeeping chores.
“Can you manage for bit, Mary?” he asked, rhetorically, “I’m going to get some lunch.” Mary was more than capable: she’d worked for Sam for two years, ever since his wife ... He climbed the back stairs once more, stopping outside the bedroom and glancing in.
“Good morning! Please come in!”
“Well, you’re looking a lot better than you did earlier this morning!”
“Yes ... thank you! You were very kind to take me in like that; I hadn’t expected it to be that cold. My name is An ... Angela. What’s yours?”
“Sam ... Sam Whelan. Pleased to meet you, Angela!” He couldn’t help noticing her porcelain skin and the elegant curve of her neck: like one of those marble statues that you see in museums.
“Are you hungry, Angela ... I was just about to make myself some lunch?”
“Oh, gosh! I’m absolutely starving! I haven’t eaten since about eight o’clock last night.”
“Well, it shouldn’t take long to cobble something together. Would you like to take a bath or a shower first?”
“Ooh, yes please! I’d love a bath! Um ... do you have a robe or something that I can borrow, Sam?”
“Of course! Hanging on this door. The bathroom is just along the landing. Would you like me to run it for you?”
“If you wouldn’t mind!” she said, smiling. Sam left the room, pulling the door closed behind him. Anna wasn’t really sure that she wanted to get out of bed, it was so warm and snug, and there was a residual aroma that she actually found very attractive. But she pushed off the covers, then walked over to where the robe was hanging from the hook on the door. She put it on, luxuriating in the feel of soft cotton towelling against her skin, from her neck to mid-calf. She took a moment to really look around the room. She was unused to clutter: her rooms were tidied daily, and although familiar, they still had a sense of impersonality; unlike this room, which was full of evidence of real people living in it.
She had only seen Sam, but there were photographs of him and the pretty dark-haired woman; obviously his wife, judging from the clothing they were wearing. Anna wondered if she would be meeting her later. But then she saw the small photograph, not framed, but tucked into the corner of the mirror frame. It showed a simple, black marble headstone, with the inscription:
Cherished Wife and Daughter
Much Loved and Never Forgotten
Anna pushed the tears off of her cheeks with the back of her hand; she felt the guilt of intrusion into another person’s life. Sam had been so kind to her, but even now he must still be feeling his sense of loss. As she opened the bedroom door he was coming out of the bathroom. He smiled and the warmth of his affection pierced her heart.
“It’s all ready for you, Angela. Take your time, there’s plenty more hot water if you want it.”
It was a very simple meal, but Anna couldn’t remember one that tasted better.
“That was lovely, Sam! I’ve never learned to cook.”
“ ... Wha ... not even beans on toast!” he said, playfully.
“No ... not even that!” She omitted to say that she didn’t think that she’d ever even had it, let alone cooked it.
“I’m not really a cook, my wife ... my wife always used to do the cooking... ”
“I’m truly sorry, Sam; I saw your photographs in the bedroom.” His eyes betrayed his sadness, but he tried to smile.
“That’s life! These things happen, but life goes on.”
Anna had never really had to deal with such deep emotions, but some part of her consciousness made her reach out and squeeze his hand. In that moment she decided that he had to be told the truth.
“Sam, do you know who I am?” He looked intently at her face; there was something...
“My name isn’t Angela, it’s Anna Maria Louise. Does that sound familiar?” She recognised the shock of acknowledgement in his face.
“But you’re... ” She nodded.
“I suppose you could say that I ran away! You probably know what’s about to happen to me; it wasn’t my choice, but I accept the reasoning behind it. He’s a nice man and I’m sure that in time we will both grow into the relationship.”
“ ... But, in this day and age; I didn’t think that sort of thing still went on.” Anna smiled:
“It’s more common than you know, Sam. Some of my relatives are permitted to marry for love alone, but I’ve known ever since I was a little girl that my Prince Charming would be chosen for me. I’m 21 now and considered to be of the right age.”
“So are they looking for you? Will you ... will I ... get into trouble if you’re found here?”
“Goodness Gracious, no! I left my father a note, and you’ve been nothing but kind, Sam, and you helped me when I needed it most; if anything, you should get a reward.”
“I wouldn’t want that ... er, Ma’am. In fact, I’d rather no one ever knew.”
“Yes, I understand. I’ve put you in a very awkward position, so if you’d rather I went... ”
“No ... not at all! You’re welcome to stay for as long as you want, of course.”
.... There is more of this story ...