Do you know this is actually my 300th post? 😀 🙂 I can hardly believe this is happening, but I must thank all my readers and friends for their continued support. Without their encouragement and brilliant comments, I wouldn’t have come this far. Please accept my deep gratitude! ❤ ❤ ❤
I know I’ve taken a long time to update, so thank you all for waiting patiently! Many things happened in this chapter, and I hope you will like it as much as I have enjoyed writing it. Please kindly let me know if you find any mistake, and thank you in advance.
Roughly a week after the grand opening party, Eliza and Mrs. Leagan paid the McPhersons a surprise visit on a Sunday afternoon. Darren’s sisters had been invited to a party, and his father was out meeting his friends. Yet Darren didn’t feel like socializing with the Leagans, but his mother advised him to stay for a while, her reason being, “Son, it’s impolite to leave when we have visitors.”
When the four were having tea at the patio, Mrs. Leagan somehow coaxed Mrs. McPherson into going back inside the house with her, leaving the two young people alone by themselves. When Darren was in an attempt to find a valid excuse to leave, Eliza could hardly wait to relay to him about the history of the orphan girl, providing many details of the lowly tasks she had to do, which included taking care of their horses, Caesar and Cleopatra.
“That’s why we underestimated the wile of this person,” she cautioned and continued her story of the servant girl.
All Eliza’s cousins had been the orphan girl’s willing victims, individually begging the mysterious family patriarch to adopt her. Not only that, the orphan had managed to steal dear Anthony from Eliza, luring him to a secluded corner in the forest during the fox hunting, leading him to his ultimate death.
Darren was suspicious and yet immensely disturbed to a point that he had to curb his curiosity. He felt rather ashamed that he wanted to hear more, but it was against his principles to talk something bad about someone behind one’s back. Hence, he decided to excuse himself, pulling himself up, “Miss Eliza, I beg your pardon. I have to go.”
But Eliza wouldn’t give up so soon. She raised her voice with a sneer on her face, “Don’t you want to know her scandal with the famous Broadway actor, Terrence Graham?”
Darren froze on the spot, staring at her, but Eliza sighed and pretended to sip at her tea casually. Only when their eyes met again did she start relating to him about Candy’s night visits at the stable back at St. Paul’s Academy, and how the orphan and the son of a duke had been caught in their tryst and punished by the school because of their shameless behavior.
“She disappeared into thin air, leaving London as well. I guess she was chasing after her lover,” Eliza added, shrugging her shoulders and feigning nonchalance, but her face was inadvertently distorted by contempt. At this point, Darren drew away, repelled, and resolved not to listen to her poisonous words anymore. He said he had a long list of things to do before leaving for Chicago.
“You’re going to Chicago? Why?” Eliza hollered, standing up from her chair as well.
He turned his head over his shoulder, saying honestly, “I want to see Miss Candice.”
She laughed but covered her mouth quickly. “Don’t you know she’s back to where she belongs?”
While he didn’t quite understand what she meant, unaware that Miss Candice no longer lived in Chicago, he politely bid her goodbye without answering her question. Based on her behavior at the party, he could tell Miss Eliza was terribly jealous of Miss Candice. Hence, he told himself not to fully believe her tales. The beautiful blond lady he had met during the opening party had looked sophisticated yet guileless; in fact, she had the innocence that he hadn’t seen in anyone her age, but Eliza had described her as though she had always been a wild, promiscuous girl. He shook his head violently to chase away the negative thought, this can’t be true… Miss Candice was like an angel…
Eliza had no idea it had taken Darren days to persuade his father to let him go to Chicago. No matter how many different reasons his father had provided to convince him why Miss Candice wasn’t the right girl for him, Darren had insisted otherwise.
One day, the old man had been pushed to his limit that he had demanded in reproach, being utterly blunt with his son, “What if you find out that the girl has been sleeping with her guardian?”
The question had caught Darren off balance, and for a long moment nothing had come forth his mouth even though he had never believed the malicious gossip. Several minutes later, Darren had lowered his eyes and finally replied, clearing his throat, “Then I will give her up.”
Mr. McPherson had hidden his great relief. At least my son isn’t out of his mind yet. Aloud, the old man replied, “Give me one more day to think about it, Darren.”
The following day, after some serious consideration, the father had given Darren his consent. Mr. McPherson would contact his friend in Chicago, Mr. Moore, so that Darren could temporarily reside in his house for a short period of time. “Son, remember that city is notorious of having the worst crime rate, so please keep in touch with us by telegram.”
Nodding in eagerness, Darren had promised his father that the trip wouldn’t be entirely personal. He would also explore new opportunities for the family business and return to Miami as soon as possible.
Unfortunately, his conversation with Miss Eliza today had considerably troubled him. Darren couldn’t help questioning why Miss Candice, being merely twenty, had been involved with several men already. Nevertheless, his plan to leave Miami this coming week had remained unchanged. His mission was to collect evidence that Miss Candice was a good girl, just being in love with her legal guardian. Therefore, Darren was going to prove that her handsome guardian would at most keep her as his mistress, which was a common practice among wealthy men for many generations. Eventually Sir Ardlay would marry a lady from the same social class for legitimate heirs.
Much to his surprise, Neil appeared the day of his departure, even offering Darren a ride to the train station. Darren highly suspected Miss Eliza had convinced her brother to bad-mouth Miss Candice, and Darren was right. Eliza had begged Neil to do exactly that, hoping that Darren would give up his pursuit.
Yet, contrary to Darren’s expectations, Neil praised Miss Candice for being one of a kind, and her scandal back in London with the Broadway actor had been a trap. Needless to say, Neil didn’t disclose the truth that his own sister had framed her fellow students. Neil went on explaining why Miss Candice had to break up with the Broadway actor many months later, and Neil confessed that he himself had helplessly fallen for her too.
“I was dying to marry her,” said Neil. A sad chuckle escaped his lips after that.
Darren was staggered. “Seriously?” he asked in disbelief, his mouth dropped open.
Neil let out a bitter laugh. “But Granduncle William refused to give me his blessings.”
Neil glossed over the details, as though the family patriarch had unreasonably forbidden the marriage. Initially, Darren felt genuinely sorry for Neil, but while he continued to listen, Darren realized an important fact was missing. “What about Miss Candice? Did she love you?”
Without a word, Neil shook his head in a pensive manner. He then moved the car to the side of the road outside of the train station and turned off the engine. Awkward silence fell upon them until Neil spoke up again, “I wish I could turn back the clock. I could have treated her a lot better when she first arrived at my house as our playmate… who would have predicted the worm could morph into a butterfly one day…”
As his voice faded in remorse, Darren remembered Eliza’s stories and figured out why Miss Candice couldn’t accept Neil. He might have bullied her in the past. At this point, Neil sighed and added, “Darren, tell you what, I personally approached the director at St. Joanna Hospital. Granduncle William had indeed lost all his memory while living with Candy. However, I strongly believe she has remained untainted… based on her raw reaction when I confronted her for living together with a male patient. She claimed she treated him as her big brother. Everyone thought he was merely a bum… nobody ever suspected his true identity, not even Candy herself.”
Neil finished in a wistful tone, chuckling to himself. Darren believed him totally. Otherwise, Neil wouldn’t have wanted the girl so desperately back then. Then Neil revealed, “I still admire her, and I wish she could look at me differently, but I’ve already moved on in my life. Anyway, if I were you, I would waste no time and directly ask Granduncle William for his permission to court Candy. After all, he can’t be so selfish to keep her with him forever, right?”
Darren felt tremendously encouraged, and he nodded thoughtfully. When Neil wished him luck, he thanked Neil for the ride. Then Darren headed toward the train platform without looking back. Unbeknownst to Darren, Neil actually wished him success. Though Neil knew he would never have Candy in his life, deep inside he didn’t want the young family head to have her either. First, Neil couldn’t imagine how his sister would react if Candy would actually become the lady of the house. If nobody had ever died of jealousy before, Eliza might be the first one in human history. Besides, Neil himself was envious of the only male descendant in the Ardlay’s clan. He already has everything a man could ever want… seriously… he can get any lady he likes.
In fact, even to this day, Neil hadn’t been able to forget the most intimidating moment in his life when Granduncle William had annulled his engagement to Candy in front of the guests. Since then, Neil had held suspicions about the true nature of Candy’s peculiar relationship with her legal guardian. Hence, Neil had been observing them closely during the opening party and sensed that the family patriarch had developed feelings towards his young ward, and it seemed Candy wasn’t immune to his charms either. Nevertheless, the adoption must have been the tangible obstacle, so that was why nothing had happened yet.
Due to the harsh winter conditions, Darren fell ill with high body temperature the day after arriving at Chicago. The family doctor of the Moores said it was nothing serious; just that Darren wasn’t accustomed to the cold weather outside Florida. Darren managed to inform his family and urge them not to worry about him. He would quarantine himself, staying inside the guest room of Mr. Moore’s house until he was recovered.
Because of that, Darren had lots of time to reflect, and he honestly asked himself day after day why he had been attracted to Miss Candice in the first place. Her beauty must have been the major reason, but he couldn’t deny he barely knew her. Both Eliza and Neil had given him two vastly different portrayals of her life, and he was more confused than ever who had told him the truth. Perhaps his father had been right, that he had never been this headstrong before. One reason could be he had subconsciously shut his heart down ever since Bessie’s abrupt death. Thus, when Miss Candice made him realize that he was no longer on the rebound, that he might be able to love again, he had been irrational, assuming she must be the right one for him.
As a result, his stubborn persistence had blinded him, making him obstinate and unwilling to heed his father’s advice or take a step back to sort out his real feelings for this beautiful blond girl. With hindsight, the more he thought about Neil’s side of the story, the more he wondered if he had misjudged her legal father. Perhaps the patient had fallen in love with the nurse without knowing her identity either. In other words, the man’s love for the young girl might have been pure and true. If this was the case, Darren wouldn’t want to get in their way. Even now, Darren still vividly remembered the loving embrace between them back in the garden of the luxurious resort.
Nonetheless, his pride wouldn’t let him leave Chicago right now with no concrete achievement. If possible, he would like to listen to Sir William Ardlay’s side of the story as well. Thus, one early sunny morning about ten days later, Darren clad himself in his best suit before heading to the Ardlay’s principal mansion. Regrettably, the butler informed him that Sir Ardlay didn’t normally take visitors at home except for friends. Besides, he was out of town and wouldn’t return from his trip till two weeks later. The family matriarch, Madam Elroy, wasn’t fit to meet with any visitor either.
That was the last thing the young man expected to hear. At the young man’s disappointed expression, the butler added, “Mr. McPherson, if you want to see Sir Ardlay, you will need to make an appointment at the head office.”
Despite feeling crestfallen, Darren copied the address of the head office down in his notebook. Then, Darren casually asked about Miss Candice, but the truth caught him off guard. According to the butler, Miss Candice had never ever resided here as a family member.
Leaving the grand mansion, the young man slumped against the seat inside the carriage, feeling defeated and discouraged. Darren couldn’t stop questioning if Neil had intentionally concealed the fact that Miss Candice had already returned to the orphanage for roughly two years. Not that this really mattered, but as the negative thought that his mission had been a complete waste of time slithered into his mind, Darren felt like someone just slapped him in the face. Presently, the carriage drew close to Mr. Moore’s house, and Darren suddenly changed his mind.
As he had promised his father before, he would explore new business opportunities during the trip. Therefore, he had planned to meet with his old friends for lunch in a restaurant close to the University of Chicago today. For the time being, he still had a couple of hours before noon, so he might as well go to the university now and dawdle his time away by rambling around the campus. When he navigated the main quadrangles, he heard a lady’s voice coming around the corner of the building, “Stop following me around!”
She sounded annoyed and panicked. “I told you many times… I had a… boyfriend!”
A man snickered, “I know… but he’s looooong dead, sweetheart!”
The word “dead” hit Darren like a brick, and at that instant, he was overcome with pity. Determined to help the unknown lady, he dashed towards the source of the noises, and he saw a young lady clumsily scurrying towards him. Within seconds, she tripped and flew forward, her hands outstretched. Not only her large bag fell off her shoulder, but her glasses flew off her face and landed on the ground. Right when she was about to fall on her face, someone’s arms caught her arms just in time.
“Are you alright?” asked Darren. The moment their gaze met, when he looked down and she looked up, he drew in a sharp gasp as the mortified look in her eyes mesmerized him; he was rooted to his spot, staring at her in stupor.
On the other hand, her face and neck had crimsoned. Despite her limited vision, they were so close that she could see he had a pair of gorgeous eyes, but she immediately thanked him and drew herself away from him, pulling herself up to her full height, draping her bag over her shoulder and brushing the dirts off her clothes.
By then, Darren had regained his composure. He stooped down and picked up the glasses for the young lady. She sincerely thanked him again and took the glasses from his hand, but they were broken and beyond repair.
“Oh dear, I’m going to be late to my class!” she yelped, obviously exasperated.
Without hesitation, he offered to walk with her till she reached her destination, but she was taken aback. His penetrating gaze made her feel extremely shy and awkward, and she blushed profusely in no time. As much as she wanted to turn him down, she knew she couldn’t get very far without her glasses.
Yet, while she was hesitating, she didn’t know her bashfulness made him want to protect her even more. No, Darren hadn’t totally forgotten Miss Candice yet, but at the same time he couldn’t quite explain why he found this young lady intriguing. Yes, she was a pretty woman, but this time it wasn’t her appearance that seized his attention. Perhaps Bessie was a shy girl just like her? In fact, her timid visage and the indecisive way her hands clasped together reminded him of Bessie, so much so that he felt warmth burning at the back of his eyes.
Hence, to ease the tension, he introduced himself, telling her that he had come all the way from Miami to visit his old friends working near the university campus. When he was done talking, the young lady finally agreed to let him walk her back to her residence so that she could get her spare pair of glasses. What surprised him was that he felt truly elated for the first time since Bessie had been killed.
Based on the lady’s description, they scuttled down the path towards the residence. Neither of them spoke a word, but Darren felt her shake as he held her elbow and guided her all the way to the front entrance of the residence building. She then made herself meet his eyes and appreciated him for his kindness. “I can manage from here, Mr. McPherson,” she said, trying her best to use a level tone. “Thank you.”
Nodding to her, he questioned, suddenly bold, “May I know your name?”
She avoided his earnest gaze and replied in a near inaudible voice, “Patricia O’Brien.”
He saw a lovely flush spreading all over her face, and the next thing he knew, he heard himself ask, “Miss Patricia, would you give me the honor to walk with you to your class?”
Noting her shocked expression, he reasoned with a half smile, shrugging his shoulders, “Just in case the stalker comes back… you know.”
More than a month had elapsed since Candy had returned from Miami. She had received a telegram from Albert the day following his departure, telling her that George had contracted the common flu and deserved a break. Albert would work closely with several subordinates as a result, and yet he had promised to write to her as soon as possible.
Nonetheless, without waiting for his letter, Candy had written to Albert a few days afterwards, asking for George’s mailing address and telling Albert details of her daily life, both at the clinic and the orphanage. Near the end, she had written,
‘… Dr. Martin said next time you really had to allocate some time for him. He passed his warmest regards to you too…
Hope to see you soon,
She had debated whether to tell him about her feelings, but she had opted not to. She would rather do this when she saw him in person again.
Yet, for unknown reason, since then Candy hadn’t heard from Albert, not even a word. It had been a long winter, with frosts and gales, and she had missed him a lot, checking the mailbox every day with anticipation. After feeling disappointed many times, she had begun doubting her own words to Miss Pony and Sister Lane regarding Albert after seeing him off at the train station, “I strongly believe… like me, Albert had been suppressing his own emotions… struggling with his feelings for me…”
Back then, to her great astonishment, neither Miss Pony nor Sister Lane had attempted to talk her into thinking otherwise. Candy had braced herself to respond to a lecture from her foster mothers, but Sister Lane, with tears in her eyes, had promised to support her decision. Similarly, Miss Pony had wiped her eyes behind the glasses, nodding in understanding.
Today, Candy finally got a letter addressed to her, but it was from Archie, not Albert. In the letter, Archie talked about coping in Massachusetts as a student.
‘… So how are you, Candy? I hope the trip to Miami went well? To me, just the imagination of traveling this far gives me headache… I heard that the reconstruction would start this Spring…’
Then Archie updated Candy about Annie and Patty. He probably wasn’t aware that Candy had been keeping in touch with her friends too, so a couple of days later, Candy wrote her reply to Archie after putting the kids to bed,
Have you got used to your new life there yet? …
The war is finally over, but the world is still in chaos. We can’t shake off the uneasiness, but we have to keep going! …
Albert and Granduncle William.
Sometimes I still wonder if they are the same person.
Archie, at that time, you were too stunned to speak, with your eyes wide opened, just pointing at Albert!
I mean the instant you learned that Albert was actually Granduncle William!
That look on your face at that very moment! Archie, do you remember how many times you asked yourself again after that? Nine times! Including your muttering monologue…
As the head of the Ardlay family, Albert seems to be very busy now.
So busy that he doesn’t have much time to talk with me…
Patty… says she wanted to be a teacher after she graduated from the University in Chicago!
Now the Pony’s Home is under extension and alteration.
Mr Cartwright, the land owner, has sold us the land at a favorable price. Miss Pony and Sister Lane are greatly pleased that they can bring up children at ease from now on!
Thanks to Granduncle William…
When Candy read what she had written, she was a little embarrassed that she had talked a lot about Albert as though her thoughts had been completely occupied by him, which was true. She wondered if Archie would find it odd at all, and yet, being the sensitive one among them, Archie should be able to perceive her deep friendship with Albert all these years. In fact, none of them had ever once suspected the notion that Granduncle William was a man well advanced in age. Therefore, Candy supposed Archie could imagine the magnitude of her shock at the discovery of Albert’s full name.
More than a week later, Candy received yet another letter, and this time it was from Albert at last. Sister Lane gave it to her after dinner, and Miss Pony kindly suggested, “Candy, go ahead and read it in the office.”
Candy normally helped clearing the dishes and washed them with the older kids, but she understood she was excused from the chores this evening. Therefore, she thanked her foster mothers and instantly retreated to the office. Left completely to herself, she unfolded the letter in a haste.
Albert in his letter apologized for not writing sooner. Due to some unforeseen but urgent issues and indescribably tremendous workload, he hadn’t had much time to rest ever since he had returned. Besides, her previous letter had been misplaced, so he hadn’t known about its existence till early March.
George has long recovered…
I’m writing to you from Boston, Massachusetts. George and I just had a dinner with Archie. He said he would write a reply to you…
We will possibly return to Chicago tomorrow and stay for hopefully less than two weeks before we embark on another trip for a new business prospect. If necessary, we may spend the Easter  weekend there… but believe it or not, I finally get the hang of handling stress. Things are well under control during this business trip as well, so I’ve been having deep slumbers the last few days…
Here is George’s mailing address… He knows that I’ve told you a lot about his past, and my compensation to him is to cook a gourmet meal for him. Just kidding, Candy. George just shrugged it off. Yet, Candy, please keep his story to yourself. Do it for me, alright?
Candy, I will see if I can drop by to see you. It depends on how things go.
Take care and please pass my regards to Miss Pony, Sister Lane and the kids,
When Candy finished reading this, she heaved out a long sigh of relief. Albert hadn’t forgotten about her, but she could tell he was extremely preoccupied with work, having major deadlines nearly every other week. At least he had been sleeping better, and she found solace in knowing that he planned to visit her despite his frantic schedule.
She decided, when he comes… I’ll let him know how I feel about him… unless… unless…
She read his letter again, and there was no trace of romance in his writing. Thus, the same gloomy thought struck her again, that she had misconstrued him when he had pulled her into his arms after hearing her stowaway adventure. Although she tried her best tucking the nagging doubt to the back of her mind, her intuition about his deep feelings for her had become questionable.
In order to distract herself, Candy yawned aloud and stretched her arms high above her head. Then, she sat down by her desk and found the letter she had written weeks ago to George. A proper thank you letter was long overdue, and when she put his address on the envelope, she believed he would understand that she had meant to send it while he had been sick. At this moment, she closed her eyes and contemplated her own words in this lengthy letter; her doubts had been lifted somewhat after that. As Albert had said before, George knew him better than anyone else in the world. Back then, without George’s deliberate act of disobedience, she might have lost Albert forever.
Candy was so absorbed in her thoughts that Miss Pony’s voice made her jump, “Already writing a reply, my dear?”
The young lady whipped back around, unable to believe why she hadn’t heard Miss Pony coming. Without warning, tears brimmed in her emerald eyes. No, she couldn’t write to Albert yet, not tonight. As though Miss Pony could see through her thoughts, Miss Pony opened her arms and held Candy against her bosom. Much against her will not to worry her foster mothers, Candy couldn’t keep her feelings bottled up any longer. She poured her heart out, and Miss Pony kept nodding.
Candy felt consoled even though she wished Albert was here holding her in his arms, giving her the love and security she craved. But what Miss Pony said next considerably comforted her, “We never know what lies just around the corner. Who can predict what awaits us behind the bend? It may be something wonderful or devastating, life-changing or trivial.”
She then gently pushed Candy away and looked at the girl over the rim of her glasses, asking, “Have you ever regretted meeting Albert?”
Candy couldn’t have responded faster and louder, shaking her head determinedly, “No, not at all!”
Miss Pony rarely directly used his middle name, so Candy understood her mother meant her first encounter with the man by the waterfall, not her legal guardian. As Candy had written to Archie, they were like two different persons to her even now. No matter what had transpired so far, she was only glad that she had met Albert the vagabond. In spite of his scary appearance and their age gap, for unknown reason they could strike an instant rapport back then, like someone had connected them with an invisible tie. Now that Candy thought back, his beautiful blue eyes were always full of kindness, and his words could fill her heart with warmth and reassurance that everything would turn out fine. Hence, the very thought of losing Albert terrified her.
As Candy relaxed into her foster mother’s embrace, she began relating to Miss Pony what her heart had been telling her lately to ward off the negative thoughts. “I can’t shake off the impression that there is an invisible thread tethering Albert and me together. No matter how far apart we were in the past, we would stumble across each other at some point, in London or in Chicago. More and more it has been occurring to me that there is a meaning in all these things.”
Her foster mother sighed, relief coursing through her. “My sentiments exactly, honey.”
Miss Pony had noticed the palpable change in Candy’s temperament these days. She had become reticent and preferred the solitude up on Pony’s Hill. Miss Pony prayed that God would open Candy’s eyes and give her the patience and serenity she needed until Albert was ready to come clean.
“Miller, why isn’t William down for breakfast yet?” Madam Elroy asked the butler, putting down her cutlery abruptly, as though she realized she shouldn’t be eating here all by herself.
“Madam Elroy,” the butler replied in a respectful tone. “Master William left already, and he said he wouldn’t return till later tonight.”
Upon hearing that, her grey eyebrows knitted tightly together in a puzzled frown. “Do you know where he’s gone? Didn’t he return late last night from a socialite function?”
“That’s right, Madam Elroy, but I regret to inform you that I do not know where Master William is,” the butler answered, lowering his head slightly.
“For Heaven’s sake, it’s Sunday today!” she grumbled in an upset tone, her chest heaving up and down. The butler said nothing but dipped his head even more. That was when the matriarch sighed and asked him to contact George by telephone, so he swiftly bowed, saying, “With your permission.”
Madam Elroy, indulging in her sulks, didn’t have much appetite to eat lately, being alone most of the time and surrounded by maids and servants. The mansion had been eerily quiet ever since Archie had left last year to pursue his study in Massachusetts. His parents had gone back to attend their business overseas, his fiancée had returned to her parents, and the shy girl with a pair of glasses had long moved out to live in the residence.
On top of that, no matter how much the matriarch wanted to deny it, her health was gradually deteriorating. Given that her conditions were up and down, she had been feeling lonely and feeble. She understood that her dear nephew had been preoccupied with business ever since he had returned from Miami, having gone to several short business trips already. However, even now that George had recovered, William was hardly around to keep her company, either having dinners with business partners or attending social functions for business purposes. He was so busy that he might have to spend Easter in the east coast, far away from home.
On one hand, Madam Elroy was relieved that William had proven himself capable and worthy of being an Ardlay just like his late father, fulfilling his responsibilities as the family head. On the other hand, she would want to get in touch with William in person, not through his personal assistant or the butler. She actually forgot when was the last time they had had dinner together here in this dining room.
Her maid came in at this moment to check if Madam Elroy had finished her breakfast. If so, the maid was supposed to take the old lady back to her bedroom. However, the plate before Madam Elroy was only half eaten, and it looked like she had long stopped working on it.
“Madam, are you ready to go back to your room?” the maid ventured softly.
“Wait,” the old lady said pensively, peering out of the set of large glass doors and windows, which overlooked the grand, manicured garden.
Just then, the butler returned to report, “Madam Elroy, according to George’s housekeeper, he also left early this morning and wouldn’t be back home till after this evening. She has no clue how to get hold of him either.”
The old lady had a feeling that William and George were together, going out for some adventure. Thus, she dismissed the butler without turning her eyes away from the windows. When he was gone, she ordered, “Marge, prepare my wheelchair. It’s a nice day today.”
The maid thus wrapped a wool shawl around the old lady’s shoulders and put on one of the lady’s favorite bonnets before taking her outside. Madam Elroy eased up when the maid was pushing her wheelchair around the garden. Dr. Leonard was right. The old lady should come out more to breathe the fresh air and soak the warmth of the sun now that spring had arrived. It was sunny and breezy; the air was filled with bird songs, and the flower fragrance floated upon the breeze. Madam Elroy couldn’t help drawing in a deep breath, and as she let it out in a long sigh, a touch of contentment softened her customarily stolid countenance.
However, her mood was ruined when she spotted some workers moving some wooden furniture, chairs and a small coffee table, towards the mansion. Some were carrying various parts of what looked like a four-poster bed, entering through the side door that led to the servants’ quarter.
“Who has ordered new furniture?” the matriarch murmured under her breath, apparently displeased. She had a feeling William must know about this but wanted to keep her in the dark.
Marge hesitated, unsure how to respond. Months ago, Master William, had ordered the servants to remove the existing furniture from one of the larger bedrooms with a scenic view of the lake, which was located near his master bedroom but far from Madam Elroy’s room. Then, Master William had specifically directed all servants not to go in that room until further notice. Rumors said that he would take charge of renovating and refurnishing this bedroom for Miss Candice, who, despite being an adopted child in the family, had only stayed in a guest room whenever she had come to Chicago.
The next thing Marge knew, Madam Elroy had snatched the cane from the side of the wheelchair and practically charged towards the movers by taking the shortcut – the gravel path that wasn’t smooth enough for a wheelchair.
Marge hurried to Madam Elroy’s side to give her a hand. The old lady hated to look like an invalid, but these days she needed the cane for long distance. The pain was unbearable for the time being, but with inexplicable anger rising inside her, she managed to walk in a steady pace, leaning most of her weight on the cane.
But before the old lady got to her destination, Miller the butler approached her with fast steps, panting as if running out of breath. “Madam Elroy, I have been looking for you. We have just received a telegram from the London office. It requires Sir Ardlay’s immediate attention, so what do you think we should do?”
A few days after Sir Ardlay returned from Boston, his secretary apprised him that someone named Darren McPherson from Miami, Florida had booked the last appointment to see him later this afternoon. The boss masked his surprise and inwardly steeled himself in case the young man would give him a hard time.
After shaking hands with each other, Darren began, “Sir Ardlay-”
Albert waved him off. “Please don’t be so formal, unless you want me to address you as Mr. McPherson?”
Darren stared at him, nonplussed. Patty was right. The young millionaire was actually a down-to-earth guy, who had once worked at Blue River Zoo back in London and stayed in Africa for many months. Hence, albeit being reluctant, Darren conceded at last, “Alright, shall I call you William or Albert?”
Darren wasn’t joking, so when Albert threw his head back and guffaw, Darren’s jaw dropped in response. Then the taller man composed himself and uttered, “It’s up to you. Most of my close friends call me Albert.”
When Darren merely nodded, smiling, unsure how to address the blond-haired man, Albert asked, “So, tell me, Darren, why are you here?”
Albert’s assumption that Darren had come for Candy was wrong. What Albert had never expected was that Darren was straightforward about what he had observed at the opening party, including the loving hug in the dim garden. Darren didn’t hide his reasonable suspicions and talked about the gossips that had been circulating. Nevertheless, Darren had recently befriended Patty and learned a lot about Candy and her long term, traveler friend. To conclude, Darren said, “I feel bad to have judged you too quickly and unfairly… assuming that you were just one of the typical rich guys in the high society.”
Since Darren was being frank and genial, Albert kept his calm demeanor. He had been listening without commenting or defending himself, so when Darren was done talking, he made his request known without any more delay, “So do I have the honor to hear your story too, Mr. President?”
The president sank into his high back leather chair to ponder, rolling his eyes to the ceiling and gathering his thoughts for about a minute or so. Then, leaning forward over the large mahogany desk, with his hands folded, he started recounting his days of being an amnesiac patient. “I went through hell those days. I was a complete stranger to myself, not knowing where to go or if I would ever recover… as if my life wasn’t miserable enough, everyone in the hospital treated me with contempt, like I was some sort of a criminal. I realized nobody cared if I existed or not, like they couldn’t wait to get rid of me… except Candy the amiable nurse. She offered me her friendship, giving me a shelter where I could rest and bringing me hope that I would eventually remember who I was. Like a lifeline to a drowning person… her compassion and support saved me from despair… It meant so much… to me…” he faltered, unable to keep the tremor from his voice.
So he stood up from his leather chair and turned around to face the windows, watching the blazing sunset in downtown Chicago. “Being an orphan, she wanted a big brother, and it was the least I could do. I mean… what else could I offer other than being there for her? I owe her my life, and I could never pay back her kindness… How could people slander me as a wicked man who was atrocious enough to deflower an innocent minor?”
Albert was without a doubt indignant by the unsubstantiated attack of his person. Darren believed him but was at a loss of what to say, and Albert added after heaving a sigh, “If you put yourself in my shoes, you would understand why I’d rather remain a penniless man who washed dishes for a living than remembering that I was actually the wealthy and generous benefactor who had signed the adoption papers.”
Albert then whirled around and began filling him in about why he had adopted young Candy. Darren acknowledged that Sir Ardlay’s intentions back then had been honorable, granting the individual requests of his dear nephews. When Darren recalled Eliza’s words about her cousins, Albert sighed again, shaking his head. “None of my nephews knew that I was less than ten years older than them… Who would have thought the girl they all adored would later come to my rescue at my rock bottom?”
The next thing Darren knew, the half-an-hour appointment was over, so Darren cleared the lump in his throat, saying, “I know my time is up, but before I go, I have one question for you, and I hope you will tell me the truth.”
Nodding, the charismatic president in his tailored three-piece suit looked him in the eye. Then Darren inhaled deeply before asking point-blank, “Who is Miss Candice to you, now?”
But Albert seemingly dodged his question, “I’d like to show you my workshop. Are you free tonight?”
Darren was told to meet him at the front gate of the Ardlay’s mansion around half-past eight. Darren was more than curious, and when Albert reappeared, if it wasn’t for his blue eyes and wavy blond hair, Darren wouldn’t be able to recognize him. The charming millionaire had disguised himself like a lowly worker with his face smeared with dirt. He caught the surprise in Darren’s eyes and laughed. “When Candy first met me, I looked much worse, with full beard and dark glasses, and she actually fainted… twice!”
Darren couldn’t help laughing out loud, shaking his head at the same time. Then Albert led him to his secret workshop. Only George knew where exactly to find him in the evenings or weekends.
On their way there, Albert explained to Darren what he had been doing in his workshop these past weeks whenever he had some free time to himself. He had hired a carpenter to help him design and assemble some wooden, rural style furniture for a special lady in his heart, who was turning twenty-one early May. However, when the carpenter was off, Albert would try to continue where he left off.
Darren arched an eyebrow. “For Miss Candice?”
Upon hearing her name, the tall man’s face broke into a wide grin that went to his eyes. “Yes, my goal is to make her 21st birthday unforgettable. I want her to know I’m doing everything I can to make her happy.”
Darren thought, she certainly holds a special place in his heart. Then Albert went on giving details of his preparations for her birthday, and affection was evident in his voice. Darren was touched to know that Albert had put in extra effort and time to ensure that her bedroom was ready by May.
When the two men arrived at the workshop, Darren saw a familiar-looking man in a dark suit standing by the door. He was Sir Ardlay’s personal assistant, George.
After George and Darren had exchanged greetings, Darren heard George say to his young boss, “Sir William, I’m pleased to inform you that I have successfully tracked down Caesar. Like Cleopatra, he will arrive in April as well.”
The way Albert’s face lit up indicated that he was overjoyed to hear that. The names seemed to ring a bell with Darren. Who are they? What makes them so special to Albert?
Then Albert’s cheerful voice cut into Darren’s thoughts, “Don’t push the horses, and are they in good shape to travel long distance?”
When he and George continued their conversation, it dawned on Darren that Albert had cared about Miss Candice enough to find the horses for her. She must have been very fond of them, and Darren bet it was another birthday surprise for her. Albert was surely going to lavish his love on her.
After George had finished his report, Darren cleared his throat aloud to get their attention. “Sir William Ardlay, or Albert, I think Miss Candice may faint again upon seeing a parade of presents.”
A chuckle came out of his throat before he replied, “I do hope she will like the presents I have put together.”
Darren was unprepared to hear the uncertainty in Albert’s voice, and when Darren was about to reassure him that Miss Candice would definitely appreciate the product of sweat and tears and many sleepless nights, Albert abruptly changed the topic and asked him if he would want to see Candy again.
Darren shook his head. “I don’t think she still remembers me, and I plan to go back to Miami this weekend.”
Neither Albert nor George had seen this coming. Then Darren explained that she probably wouldn’t remember much about him. Their interactions had been limited to dancing only months ago. Then Darren took his leave so that Albert could continue whatever he had planned to do tonight.
After bidding them goodbye, Darren walked away with mixed feelings. His trip hadn’t been a waste after all. He had accomplished his original mission, and he must admit he had made a 180-degree turn; he was no longer bent on pursuing Miss Candice. Rather, Darren could comprehend how she and Albert were bound to each other by fate, their lives seemingly intertwined since years ago, so Darren wished their love would prevail in the end.
Then Patty’s adorable face surfaced in his mind, and his face broke into a smile. He had successfully frightened the stalker out of his wits by pretending to be Patty’s distant cousin and threatening to beat him up if he would ever bother her again. The stalker was but a coward, and after seeing Darren walking with Patty a handful of times on the campus, the stalker had decided to find another target.
Talking about Patty, Darren found it hard to believe she was unaware of her best friend’s feelings. Though he would meet with her at least one more time before leaving Chicago, Darren would keep his mouth shut about the romance between Miss Candice and her guardian. As a matter of fact, Darren had promised Albert not to breathe a word of it to anyone, not even Patty.
Albert yearned to see Candy even more after meeting with Darren and listening to his opinions. In fact, the urge to see her was increasing at an alarming rate every day that Albert had difficulties concentrating at work. He missed her so much that his chest ached with longing. Yet, in order to carry out his plan, he needed one whole day off, which included driving back and forth plus spending some time with her in private. Therefore, whenever his mind went miles away, he forced himself to focus on his current task. I have to get this done way before the upcoming, long business trip! Candy… if only you know how much I can’t wait to see your smile…
Driven by his immense desire to see her, despite coming home late after the socialite party on Saturday night, Albert managed to achieve his major goal before the deadline by staying up till the small hours of Sunday morning to finish off a crucial report. Several hours later, Albert took a shower at the crack of dawn and had a simple breakfast. The weather looked promising to him, it’s going to be a marvelous day! Therefore, after informing the butler that he wouldn’t come back until later this evening, he drove to George’s place with high spirits.
George was an early riser as usual, and when the young boss dropped off the report, telling his loyal assistant his agenda for today, George swiftly inquired with concern in his voice, “But Sir William, you look exhausted. Are you sure you can drive for hours?”
Shrugging his shoulders, Albert shook his head and countered, sounding impatient, “You should know I can’t keep on putting it off, right, George?”
“Sir-” said George, not giving up.
Yet his boss kept on without waiting for him to finish, “Thanks for your concern, George. True, I didn’t get a wink of sleep last night… but I must see her today! What if there’s no more sunny Sundays before her birthday? So this is the opportunity I can’t afford to miss…” he halted to collect his thoughts, knowing that his faithful friend, whose face now marred by a worried frown, had only meant well.
At George’s understanding nod, Albert waved his hand and uttered a request, his lips curling up, “So, wish me luck!”
Before George could respond to that, Albert went straight towards the driver’s seat of his car. But George hurried to his side and offered, “Please, Sir William, let me give you a ride there. Believe me, and forgive me for being insolent, you have dark circles under your bloodshot eyes.”
In the twinkling of an eye, a shadow of apprehension crossed his handsome face. Albert was glued to the spot, asking with angst in his tone, “Do I look awful?”
He had been tossing and turning last night, too flustered to sleep, feeling anxious about how Candy would react to his revelation. Yet, the last thing he wanted was to look horrible on a day like this. Thus, when George quietly lowered his gaze as his answer, Albert finally caved in and acknowledged he had been impulsive, paying no thought to what might have happened if he collapsed on his way there. Therefore, he allowed George to take him to Pony’s Home.
During the ride, with George driving by his side, Albert was able to fall sound asleep like a baby. The past two weeks had been grueling and tiresome, and he was deprived of rest. Above all, he had been agonizing over how to confess to Candy in a most memorable way. Thanks to Darren. His unexpected visit had reminded Albert of his badge that Candy had carried with her all the way to Miami.
“Candy, want to race to the stream with us?” a couple of kids asked after the Sunday mass, having fishing rods in their hands.
She turned them down with her signature smile, “Miss Pony needs my help with laundry. We want to take advantage of a warm, sunny and breezy day like today, so the earlier we start the better.”
Together with older kids, Candy was either busy washing or hanging the washed items on a line in the open air, or else the pile of clothes would take forever to finish. While working very hard, most of them were chatting, but Candy was quiet. She was contemplating and debating whether to ask Albert to annul the adoption when she turned twenty-one in May. If so, what reasons would she provide? It had been many weeks since she had last seen him. Deep inside, she was hoping he would show up on her birthday, celebrating with her, just the two of them, and then she would decide whether to discuss the adoption issue with him. She then breathed out a heavy sigh. It’s not going to happen I guess… He’ll probably travel somewhere in the country that day… She had missed him so much lately that nearly her every thought had been about him when it should have been about other things.
When the sun was high up in the sky, the laundered clothes were all out waiting to dry, so Candy and the rests took their deserved break. All of them, except Candy, hurried down the hill to join the other kids, frolicking in the stream, but Candy went back to the orphanage to check if her mothers needed any help with lunch preparations.
No sooner did Candy enter the kitchen area than someone knocked on their front door. “I’ll go get it,” said Candy.
She swung open the door, and once her eyes adjusted to the bright light behind the visitor with a towering figure, she sucked in a sharp breath, stunned but elated. Am I dreaming?
The young man who appeared out of the blue flashed her his irresistible smile, keeping his eyes trained on hers. “Good morning, Candy. How are you?”
It’s him. It’s his voice! But wait a minute… Her heart skipped a beat. Something different about him arrested her gaze, but she couldn’t yet grasp what it was, except that he looked particularly young and rejuvenated today.
While Candy remained standing in a daze, Miss Pony and Sister Lane enthusiastically welcomed the visitor, beckoning him to sit down while they brought him some refreshments. He appreciated their hospitality but politely declined their offer. Instead, he stayed standing near Candy and invited her in earnest, “Let’s go to Pony’s Hill, Candy.”
Candy was beside herself with joy. Albert had definitely come for her and couldn’t wait to be alone with her. While she nodded, a flush rose from her neck and spread into a lovely glow over her cheeks.
Although it wasn’t the first time they went to Pony’s Hill together, Candy had a hunch that Albert’s thoughts were preoccupied with some serious matter. From the moment he had stepped in the Pony’s Home, despite smiling, he seemed uneasy and tensed with a hint of consternation. Yet she trailed after him, trudging up the hill with her heart pounding erratically in her chest. Little did she know he was so nervous that his forehead was covered with perspiration, but nothing would break his resolve this time. Besides, he had reminded George to stay away because he would take his time to talk to Candy today.
Up at the peak, Albert stopped at the location where they could overlook the Pony’s Home. The trees, scattered around them, had grown thick since the arrival of spring, but they could scarcely block the sweeping view of the awesome blue sky that was garnished with fluffy white clouds. Candy carefully observed his movements, trying to surmise what he had in store for her, but she willed herself to patiently wait for him to break the silence. He had been extraordinarily quiet after inviting her to come here with him.
With his back facing her, he gathered his courage by remembering how she had come into his life so miraculously that particular day so many years ago. Meanwhile, not only the perfect weather and surroundings gave him the peace of mind, but the warmth of the sun and the fresh smell of new grass fueled his confidence. To proceed, Albert spun around to face Candy with an air of determination. He had been pondering for years about disclosing this secret, and he reckoned the time was ripe for him to take the plunge.
Therefore, he fixed his eyes on hers and plastered a smile on his face. With his hands tightly clenched on his sides, he summoned his voice, exerting all his strength not to sound jittery, “Candy… it’s about time you give the badge back to me…”
Having said that, he released his breath that he had been holding. There… I made it… at long last… Yet, the next minute felt like eternity to him; he was like someone waiting for his sentence, sweating and quivering for the unpredictable outcome.
But that was an utterly unexpected turn of events to Candy. With a blank expression, she gaped at Albert, her beautiful green eyes doubled in size. Her mouth hung open in bewilderment. Badge? What badge?
Nevertheless, the way his tender blue eyes sparkled like sapphires and his ruffled blond hair glittered under the glaring sunlight struck a chord with her. In a fraction of a second, his request suddenly made sense to her, and she gasped with enlightenment. Moist began to form in her emerald orbs when she pictured him wearing the highland kilt. Her mind then flew back in time, to the day when Annie had left with her adoptive parents.
Albert… Granduncle William… Of course he was the gentle Scottish boy playing his bagpipe to cheer me up! Right here under the same blue sky on Pony’s Hill… His remark became my motto…
Every single detail of her first encounter with Prince on the Hill flooded back into her head like a dam had broken loose, how she had cried like a wolf and how the kind teenage boy had appeared to her out of nowhere. Before she knew it, a torrent of tears were streaming down her cheeks, and her petite body started trembling visibly. This is surreal… It’s too good to be true… I’ve fallen in love… with my first love without knowing…
As he took in the sight of the grown-up version of the crybaby, waves of relief suffused him. He felt like a load had been taken off his shoulders because what he had dreaded before, that she might deny or reject him right off the bat, didn’t occur. On the contrary, it was most satisfying for him to watch her tearful, emotional reactions. She remembers… and she understands…
Right then, between her sobs she came up with a mild retort, “You mean I’m… prettier when I smile…?”
For sure she knows who I am now… she’ll always be beautiful to me… He wanted to reply, but he was highly emotional that his voice seemed stuck in his throat. Thus, he inhaled some calming breaths in an effort to control his turbulent emotions, but they broke through his last barrier that contained his feelings. As a result, a warm mist clouded his vision when he answered in a hoarse voice, “Now, you’re also pretty when you’re crying, little girl.”
He essentially admitted he was her prince. His words of confirmation, so filled with nostalgia, stirred the depths of her soul. Not to mention that his intense gaze was scrutinizing, like he was trying to gain access to her inner thoughts. Hence, her eyes shone with joy behind the uncontrollable tears, and her entire being was overwhelmed with rapture. She felt like she was floating in a cloud and her heart would explode with happiness in any minute.
My beloved Prince on the Hill… so wonderful and handsome… Yes! Prince on the Hill has come back to Pony’s Hill… specifically for me… How come I have never realized… he’s been with me all these years, supporting me. Whenever I’m down, he will hold me tight in his arms… comforting me and giving me strength…
When the gentle breeze caressed her tear-stained face, she perceived her handsome prince had been quietly standing next to her and waiting for her to respond. Oh Albert, you know all along who my Prince on the Hill was and how I have felt about him… how embarrassing that you have heard me praise him countless times! All this time of wondering if you have special feelings for me…
Then the realization hit her. So is this your love confession to me? Oh my God… Please tell me I’m not dreaming a sweet dream!
Slowly, a delightful but bashful smile spread across her countenance. When she raised her teary eyes to his moist ones, he beamed at her as though he intuited her mind, and he flung his arms wide in an inviting gesture.
But at this very instant, the blaring sound of a car horn captured their attention, causing them both to turn their heads towards the car located down the hill.
 Easter in 1919 was April 20.
Note: My sincere appreciation goes to the following people for their comments to the previous chapter:
Delia Diaz, Candy Bert, 陳以琳, Luna, Reeka, Tiny 12, Anonymous, antlay31, Vera García, QuevivaCandy, Ruth, Evelyn, Anonymous, Cristina Marchetti. I hope I haven’t missed anyone. 😉 There are new names, and thank you for writing to me. I’d also like to thank the silent readers for following this story. 😀
I believe those who have read Candy Candy Final Story (CCFS) will find various parts of this chapter familiar. I have tried my best to be faithful to CCFS, so I hope you enjoy reading my interpretation and imagination.
I figure the confession might happen on a Sunday when both Albert and Candy were free from work. He had intended to stay talking with her for as long as necessary, but some urgent issues had spoiled his plan. Even Candy complained Albert had vanished in a blink of an eye. Therefore, the reason I put here in the story was an emergency in the London office where its time zone was hours ahead.
Based on Albert’s request in his letter to Candy (shown in the CCFS epilogue), asking her to write in her usual lively style, I strongly believe the two had been keeping in touch with each other by writing letters ever since she had moved back to the orphanage.
In addition, in Candy’s first letter to her Prince on the Hill, she asked under which sky he was traveling, so I suppose she had somehow known about his imminent business trip before his important confession.