I appreciate all the friends who have given me feedback to Chapter 3 on Facebook or here. Your enthusiasm certainly motivates me to keep writing. 🙂 Hope you also like my new update to “A man in love”. 😍 If you do, I’d like to hear from you. Thank you! 😘
— Ms Puddle
I whirl around and find myself face-to-face with a middle-aged man clad in a long white coat, his lips slightly pouted and his thick brows tightly knitted together in disapproval. His piercing eyes are scrutinizing my face; maybe the doctor-like man thinks I’m a guy who likes fooling around with the nurses. If so, he can’t be more mistaken.
Within seconds, the nurses who were laughing before have straightened up and got a grip on themselves. They return to their posts at the reception right away and serve the other visitors as though nothing unusual has happened.
Their actions suggest that this man must have held a high position in this hospital. I’m grateful for his timely interruption, which effectively helps me simmer down. In fact, I still haven’t eaten ever since my young master appeared to me this late afternoon. Feeling both hungry and tired, I honestly want to return to my humble abode. This explains why my impatience has got the better of me just now, and I’m glad I didn’t make a scene here.
Therefore, I decide to let go of my grudge, and I present my business card to him to introduce myself, which will hopefully clear any possible misunderstanding. As the doctor studies my business card, he murmurs my name, and his deep frown gradually loosens. After gingerly inserting my business card into the notebook in his hand, he gives me a friendly handshake and says in earnest, “Mr. Villers, it’s my honor to meet you in person at long last! I’m Leonard, the deputy director. Tell me, what brings you here today? How can I help you?”
His eagerness tells me that he does recognize my name. The Ardlay family hasn’t stopped giving generously to various organizations every year, and this hospital is on our list. I have signed numerous such donation cheques and letters on behalf of Sir William A. Ardlay over the years. As Madam Elroy has predicted, her nephew’s name is now widely known in the society and his image as a mysterious, wealthy but very charitable man is well established.
“I’m here for Miss Candice White-” I begin. Out of the corner of my eye, I note that the nurses are shooting stealthy glances at me while whispering to one another. I believe the doctor has observed the same, so he offers, “Sir, let’s talk in my office. Do you mind?”
Though I didn’t plan to linger around, I accept his invitation nonetheless. Judging from the nurses’ negative reactions to my request to see Miss Candice, I have a feeling that she is not very popular among her fellow workers for some reason.
But rather than heading straight to his office, Dr. Leonard wants to give me a brief tour to their newly renovated facilities. I have no choice but oblige. With gratitude, he shows me the particular equipment that has been purchased after receiving the generous donation from Sir William A. Ardlay earlier this year. He asserts with confidence, “This significantly speeds up the diagnosis and ensures our patients will be properly treated.”
After the tour, I follow the doctor and enter into a relatively big office. He pours me a cup of tea from a teapot and motions for me to sit in a chair across from his desk. I’m in desperate need to quench my thirst after all the talking back in the Ardlay’s mansion and here in the hospital, so I thank him and pick up the cup. As I sip the warm liquid, he plops himself down in his high back leather chair and rests his arms on the desk with his hands folded. Then I finally resume my original mission, “Dr. Leonard, about Miss Ardlay-”
Before I can finish stating my goal, he leans forward and inquiries with a concerned expression, “Is anything wrong, Mr. Villers? Did Madam Elroy send you here to check on me?”
That renders me speechless. Madam Elroy? Was she here? Why? Once again, I reprimand myself for not listening to the old lady when she was delivering her lengthy talk.
But I clear my throat with exaggeration, contemplating how I should respond to his question. I lift the cup up to my lips and take another sip of my tea. Did Madam Elroy ask the doctor a favor? Why do I sense that it’s related to Miss Candice?
Fortunately for me, the awkward silence between the doctor and me doesn’t last long; he speaks up in eagerness without waiting for a response from me, “Mr. Villers, rest assured that her wish is my command. I’ve taken care of things as per her request, so I fired Miss Ardlay yesterday and also informed the other hospitals in the vicinity to blacklist her.”
Words are inadequate to describe my astonishment. While listening, I hold myself as motionless as possible; it takes every ounce of my strength to conceal the waves of my emotions. I couldn’t have imagined this is the consequence of my negligence. Before coming here, I thought Master Neil was the one who got Miss Candice in big trouble, but it turns out Madam Elroy has taken charge behind the scenes.
But why did Madam Elroy go to this extreme? What crime did Miss Candice commit to deserve such disciplinary measures? At any rate, I feel terribly sorry for the girl; not to mention I can’t forgive myself for this outcome. Besides, I don’t remember when I last gave her an allowance. How is she going to earn a living?
My brain is spinning fast. Since I represent the Ardlays, I can’t do anything that contradicts the matriarch’s direct order. To avoid sounding like a moron or arousing any suspicion, I decide to play along in hopes of fishing some information out of the doctor. At the very least, I have to find out where Miss Candice resides.
Presently, I manage to force a fake smile. “Madam Elroy will be pleased.” I intentionally stressed the last word. “Thank you very much for your cooperation, Dr. Leonard.”
A half smirk plays at the corner of his lips. “Don’t mention it. My apology for my oversight.”
All of a sudden, an idea strikes me. I have to take the risk now, so I furrow my brow and cautiously articulate my thoughts into words, “As a matter of fact, we are all worried… Miss Candice no longer keeps in touch with us.”
The doctor gasps first before asking with his eyes narrowed, “I’ve been wondering about this… Mr. Villers, is she really an Ardlay, you know what I mean?”
“Yes,” I confirm, revealing that she’s the adopted daughter of Sir Ardlay. Upon hearing that, his jaw literally drops and a horrified frown forms on his face. Then I explain that she later found a calling of her life and determined to be independent. The fact that she wanted to support herself upset Madam Elroy very much.
Minutes later, the doctor’s features soften noticeably with compassion. He remarks while nodding in agreement, “She’s actually one of the top notch nurses I’ve seen; she’s enthusiastic, hardworking and caring. Her dazzling smile always brought sunshine to the patients she was responsible for. In fact, some asked me today why she wasn’t around anymore…”
The voice of the seemingly downcast doctor fades; then he breathes out a long sigh of resignation. I follow up without delay, “Dr. Leonard, but do you know that Sir Ardlay has respected his adopted daughter’s decision and let her find her own path? Regrettably, she has essentially disappeared from the family soon after she moved from Mary Jane Nursing School to this hospital… and now… she’s at the end of her rope…”
I couldn’t have sounded more dejected, and I’ve deliberately paused several times, all the while keeping my eyes focused on his. When I stop talking, he can’t help but look away as if he’s disturbed by a twinge of conscience. Then I resume with conviction, “I suppose I can help her in secret… it’s about time to take her home-”
At this point, it seems something dawns on the doctor. He cuts me off by exclaiming, “It’s her friend from Italy! She has to hide from her family because of him!”
“Italy?” I echo unknowingly, aghast at what he said. What did Miss Candice do with a man from Italy? Is it true that she’s hiding from us because of a man?
But the doctor doesn’t seem to have heard me; he mutters to himself, “I did notice her incongruous behavior, but she insists he’s merely a friend who helped her a lot in the past.”
“A friend in the past?” I repeat his words in a murmuring voice.
But Dr. Leonard doesn’t find my reaction odd. He looks up to meet my gaze and continues, “However, the young man didn’t recognize her at all… well, I wasn’t surprised, because the patient suffered from a serious case of amnesia.”
Another young man with amnesia? What’s happened lately?
At this very instant Master Stear’s smiling face flashes across my mind, but I quickly dismiss the thought as unsound or even ludicrous. It can’t possibly be him! Otherwise, Miss Candice should have brought him home already.
Yet, I ask, “Did her friend enlist himself in the war?”
The doctor shrugs his shoulders. “Not sure. Perhaps? Who knows?” Then his lips curl into a strained smile as he adds with a bitter chuckle, crossing his arms across his chest, “Mr. Villers, yes, do all you can to help Miss Ardlay open her eyes. She’s incredibly stubborn and strong-willed… even denied any wrongdoing with the patient. However, I think she’s but a young woman. People can easily take advantage of her without her knowing, especially when that someone is a very handsome man.”
His remark terrifies me. Fearing the worst possible scenario, I catch the doctor taking a surreptitious glance at the clock on the wall. I take that as a hint that I have outstayed my welcome. Despite feeling disappointed at my failed attempt to help Miss Candice, it’s probably time for me to leave. When I ponder over what random excuse I can come up to end our conversation without making it sound too abrupt, he drops his arms and says to me, “Actually, I might be able to do something for you, Mr. Villers. Please wait for me here.”
What a pleasant surprise! While I don’t know what is on his mind, I appreciate his thoughtfulness and wait patiently in his office. Meanwhile, so many questions and unknowns are bouncing around in my head. How can I face Master William tomorrow, let alone break the bad news to him that Miss Candice has likely hooked up with a mysterious man?
As a matter of fact, who’s this culprit from Italy? Did she meet him back in London? What’s their relationship? My anxiety and rage grow as I wonder what sort of thing the male patient and Miss Candice did that everyone thinks is unacceptable. If I remember correctly, Madam Elroy used the word “misconduct”, didn’t she? Besides, Dr. Leonard couldn’t fire a nurse without a legitimate reason.
Soon enough, the deputy director returns and explains with relief, “Just as I thought. I could try the guest lounge where we keep our old records in the cabinets. The room is unoccupied when the nurses are supposed to be on duty at this hour.”
I swiftly pull myself up from the chair. As he flips open his notebook and retrieves an envelope, passing it to me, he leans closer and speaks in a very low voice as though he’s afraid someone will hear him, “I wrote her home address down on paper for you.”
I thank the kind doctor from the depth of my heart and shake his hand to express my appreciation. After bidding him goodbye, I leave the hospital as fast as my feet can carry me. On the way to my car, I become aware why the nurses at the reception were giving me a hard time. They must have assumed I’m one of Miss Candice’s guy friends, and that she’s being promiscuous in her relationships.
In short, no matter what’s actually occurred, the girl’s reputation is tainted. No wonder Madam Elroy has seen to it that she won’t be able to find a job anymore and wants to marry her off as soon as possible.
I must get to the bottom of this mess. In addition, I have to find a way to get rid of this suspicious man in Miss Candice’s life, even if it may cost us a fortune. He might have somehow discovered the nature of her relationship with the Ardlays, and money can plausibly resolve the problem.
Once I slump down in the driver’s seat, I tear open the envelope. But my eyes nearly pop out of my head when I read the doctor’s scribble on the piece of paper.
Oh my God…
In shock I drape myself over the steering wheel. How could this have happened? I don’t understand… when and how did they meet…?
Suddenly, I realize I might have jumped to conclusions. With a tinge of hope that my memory is weakened by fatigue after the grueling day, I hastily reach inside my pocket to take out the handwritten note from Master William. When I unfold it with trembling hands, I can feel panic bubble within me.
Comparing the two handwritings practically sends chills down my spine. For the first time in my life I wish I was completely wrong. Only when I reluctantly acknowledge that I’m not imagining things, my young master’s words ring in my ears, I lost all my memory after an accident in Italy.
Note: Once again, this chapter is my imagination based on the Candy Candy manga.