My appreciation to many of you for your enthusiastic feedback to the first chapter, so I hope you like this too. 😍
— Ms Puddle
When I thought there couldn’t be any more surprise in one day, I stumble upon a scene that is least expected inside the Ardlay’s family premises.
Minutes after the porter has opened the front gate for my car to pass through, I notice a newly polished car parked on the side of the road, but all its tires are flat. Though no souls cross my vision, the angry noises of some people quarreling drift over when I keep driving.
“Can’t you understand? He’s her big brother!” a man hollers in irritation.
“Yeah, she said that. But so what?” replies another man in contempt. He adds, “I can give her a job if she begs me-”
Yet the first man interrupts impatiently, “Can’t you two stop bullying her for a change?”
A lady instantly responds in a high-pitched voice, “You’re under a spell, Archie! I’ve told you many times… she’s a witch!”
“Please don’t say that…” comes a tremulous voice of another lady.
“No?” The bully questions in a challenging tone. “If I were you I’d be very anxious… your boyfriend seems to care about another girl way too-”
Before he finishes, my eyes finally find them around the bend amongst the trees. At this very moment, Master Archie punches Master Neil in the face.
As the latter groans and staggers backward, loud shrieks cut through the air; both Miss Eliza and Miss Annie have covered their eyes and squealed for different reasons.
Without delay I jam my foot on the brake so hard that my car screeches to an abrupt stop. Miss Annie clutches her boyfriend’s arm, violently shaking her head in disapproval. His chest heaves in exasperation as he tries to compose himself. His cousin, on the other hand, is having a nosebleed. He squeezes his nose bridge with his handkerchief, and his sister is busy fumbling in her purse possibly for another handkerchief.
Turning off the engine, I get off my car at once and intentionally slam the door shut, striding across the lawn towards them. Once they’re aware of my presence, their mouths drop, and I can hear a collective gasp from them. They probably wonder how much I have witnessed.
After all, I’m the right-hand man of the patriarch, and they have no idea that he has been missing until today. What if I inform Granduncle William of their fight?
When I greet them one by one, Master Archie flicks his head back to swing his shoulder-length hair off his pretty face, where he has pasted a strained smile. The ladies respond with polite nods, their faces flushed with embarrassment. By now, Master Neil has managed to stop his bleeding, and he’s the only one who speaks up, “Georges, let Granduncle William know that Archie has poked all the tires of my car!”
After firing his accusation, he nurses his nose with a handkerchief, not without exaggerating grimace on his face. Master Archie then retorts, “That’s nothing compared to what you have done to Candy! Mind you, she’s Granduncle William’s adoptive daughter!”
“What’s happened to Miss Candice?” At once I ask in consternation. This is exactly what I have dreaded before coming here, that misfortune has befallen her due to my prolonged neglect.
But Miss Annie looks alarmed. She swiftly stands on her tiptoe and murmurs something to her boyfriend’s ear. Within seconds, regret flashes across his features as though he has made a terrible mistake. Then he turns to me and says ruefully, “Georges, I’m sorry. Annie and I have to run some errands.”
Apparently, they rather not involve me in solving Miss Candice’s problem, and I have no rights to push them to answer my question. At my understanding nod, he grabs his girlfriend’s hand to escape the scene.
But Master Neil glances at me then glances at them. Enraged, he yells at their back, “Wait! You have to pay for the repairs!”
Yet they keep heading towards the mansion, ignoring his strong protest. Master Neil grunts and takes off, running after them, as if he can’t take the insult, but I have a hunch that he is also dodging my question about Miss Candice.
For the time being, Miss Eliza looks dreadfully uncomfortable to be the only one left behind. She may or may not be an accomplice to her brother’s scheme, but she should be aware of what’s going on. When I begin “Miss Eliza”, she fidgets with her purse and comes up with some random excuse that doesn’t make much sense, all the while avoiding my eye contact. Then, without warning, she practically scurries away.
Why are people acting so secretive around me today?
It’s unfortunate I couldn’t quite hear their arguments earlier. My instinct tells me Master Neil has intentionally got Miss Candice into some kind of trouble, and Master Archie has found out about it somehow, but it’s not life threatening enough to appeal to Granduncle William.
Of course I can do some investigation myself, but this is not the right time and place. Besides, now that Master Archie is seemingly unwilling to disclose anything about Miss Candice, I have to proceed with my plan B. At any rate, my mission here now is to get a suit or two for Master William. Yet, I have to be cautious lest I run into Madam Elroy inside the mansion.
When my benefactor passed away in his prime, Madam Elroy vowed to protect the sole heir, the young boy Master William, at all cost. She went to the extreme of hiding him from people. Dedicating the entire east wing to him, she appointed a few middle-aged maids to be responsible for his daily needs. In addition, a separate entrance was constructed to reach his hideout directly from behind the servants’ quarter. Up till now, only about a dozen people are aware of this secret path, including his private tutors who signed the non-disclosure agreement.
In other words, Master William has always been a lonely ‘prisoner’, being isolated from most relatives in his clan and the rest of the household staff except the butler. Therefore, he had my full pity. The day he chose to run away, I wasn’t the least surprised. Because I was the closest male figure to him, he often confided in me his frustrations of being forced to lead a secluded life and prohibited to appear in public. If I were him, I would have been fed up too.
That day, it was a gathering of relatives and friends in Lakewood. As in Chicago, my young master was being confined in a large room. I was supposed to take him out to somewhere else, but I was tied up with tasks. Due to his shiny blond hair and handsome face, his presence in the midst of other young people wearing costumes of the Highlanders and playing bagpipes was soon to be discovered by a senior member in the clan.
Fuming, Madam Elroy did not hesitate to rebuke her misbehaving nephew. She chastised him for being irresponsible and disobedient because he had deliberately broken her rules by leaving his room without her permission and even mingling with the crowd, dressed like his peers. To this day, I still can’t forget her harsh words and icy stare.
Since there was no hint of defiance in her nephew’s manner, especially he had his head bowed low in sorrows, she paused at long last and merely ordered him to return to his room. Little did she expect that he would disobey her again. Otherwise, she would have commanded me to escort him back.
Some time later, she summoned me to check on him, and her expression had softened significantly. I believe she realized that she had been a bit too stern and unreasonable earlier. After all, her nephew had been compliant all these years.
But he was nowhere to be found. Because a car was also missing, Madam Elroy collapsed into her maid’s arms. In a haste, the butler found a handful of helpers to search the neighborhood for a blond-haired lad in a formal kilt. I drove farther away to start my aimless search.
I managed to find him hours later. He, a reckless teenager, didn’t even bring money with him as he escaped. Lucky for me, somewhere in a rural village near an orphanage, I could hear him playing his bagpipe. He was a proficient player. Not to mention that his bagpipe was one of the finest in the world. Tracing the source of the blaring sound of this musical instrument, I could spot him standing at the peak of a hill. His Scottish kilt and fly plaid in bright tartan couldn’t be more conspicuous. Before long, I found the car with his family insignia.
Who would have predicted that I would come back to the same orphanage years later to ask for signatures for the adoption papers?
Now that I think about it, I recall I also heard his hearty laugh for the first time in many years. Yet I wasn’t in the mood to ask him why and what had happened up there. The instant he saw me treading up the hill, he immediately dashed down the other way. Nonetheless, fear of losing him again lent wings to my feet. As soon as I caught him, all I cared was to bring him home. Besides, my emotions got the best of me then. I literally shed big drops of tears, which I had hardly ever done in my whole life, except when Rosemary had breathed her last.
Only then I realized I truly cared about the boy from the bottom of my heart, not unlike a father to a son, even though he was my master. My anguished state must have thrown him off balance. His resplendent blue eyes were suddenly filled with sympathy and kindness, and he completely yielded and followed me to the car.
Of course I didn’t let him drive. I could easily send someone to pick it up later. Neither of us spoke a word on the way back, but I sensed that my relationship with him had advanced to a new level.
Madam Elroy had relented as a result, giving her nephew slightly more freedom than before and even forgiving him for losing his badge, the heirloom as well as the symbol of him being a male descendant of the family. But she wasn’t the only one changed. There was something different about Master William himself, but I couldn’t quite pinpoint exactly what it was. Yet, I could tell he had matured somewhat.
Meanwhile, I do my best to attempt to find a couple of summer suits for my master. As I tuck them into a suitcase, I doubt they still fit him. They were tailor made when he graduated from the college in London. This afternoon, he related to me that he had to carry heavy dishes around day in and day out before quitting his dishwashing job. No wonder his shoulders have obviously broadened.
When I’m done zipping up the suitcase, I let my glance wander around his spacious room once more. It’s been well kept like someone dwells here, but the truth is this room has been unoccupied ever since its master left for England to expand the family business when the kids in the next generation were also sent to study abroad at St. Paul’s academy.
I sigh and shake my head in resignation. Time flies by so fast indeed. The master of this room has remained uninterested to reclaim his rights to live in luxury. At this point, I start to comprehend Master William’s decision of living in a tiny apartment. The companionship of his lady friend must have meant a lot to him.
Just when I reach out to flick the light switch, Madam Elroy unexpectedly appears with her maid. Startled, I can’t help but inhale a sharp breath. I almost thought I saw a ghost. Yet, I promptly collect myself and greet her with my utmost courtesy.
The matriarch nods and begins, “Georges, Archibald told me you’d arrived, but I didn’t summon…”
But her attention drifts to the suitcase in my hand, and she inquires with her eyebrows cocked in skepticism, “What are you doing here in William’s room?”
The part about Master William as a youth is my imagination based on the epilogue in Candy Candy Final Story (CCFS), from Albert’s perspectives.