Thank you for following the story “A man in love”, and I’d like to thank those who have left their encouraging words 😍 on Chapter 10 or on Facebook. You have certainly motivated me to keep writing! 💓💓💓💓
— Ms Puddle
Sir William would like to meet with only the chief executives and senior vice presidents before his début. Even then, given such a short notice, gathering roughly half a dozen of people still takes some time. While waiting, Sir William gets down to business and begins to familiarize himself with the issues of high priority.
Only the eldest amongst us, the chief financial officer, the CFO, has met Sir William before when the young heir attended his father’s funeral. Therefore, the moment Sir William enters the meeting room with me, the murmuring of the group hushes. Everyone looks at the charming young man with undisguised curiosity, for I didn’t inform them of the purpose of this emergency meeting. Their gazes naturally follow the mysterious man as he makes his way towards the chairman’s seat, and two vice presidents strain their necks as though they want to take a better look at him. When he sits down, I stand beside him and formally address him as “Sir William A. Ardlay”.
Right then, there is a collective gasp in the room. The CFO already knows about his presence because my secretary has approached him for the office key earlier, so except for him, everyone else appears astonished. Three have their jaws dropped, one peers above his reading glasses in disbelief, and two are squinting, trying to get a clearer view of the man. Contrary to the rampant rumor, William A. Ardlay is a man in his mid-twenties. Despite his towering figure and the dark suit, which certainly help to make him look more mature, he appears like a fresh college graduate compared to the rest of us, and because of him, the average age in this room is decreased by at least a few years.
Presently, I clear my throat aloud to shift their focus back to me, and I start reading the note from Madam Elroy, which she dictated to me back in her hospital room,
‘With great delight, I’d like to announce my retirement. Due to the untimely passing of my late brother, William C. Ardlay, in his forties, I’ve served as the interim president, training up his only son, William A. Ardlay. Slightly more than fifteen years have since elapsed, and it’s time to begin the official transition. As you can see, he’s more than capable to take over, and I believe disruption will be minimal. Thank you all for the great memories, and you will surely see me around.’
Thereafter, most of their shocking expressions have faded. However, nobody makes a move or a sound, possibly still processing the news. This awkward silence lasts for about three seconds until Master William pulls himself up to his full height; at once, the CFO gives the others a cue, “Let’s welcome our new president, Sir William A. Ardlay!”
At their applause, Master William takes a step back, giving a bow like a musician who has just finished performing a marvelous piece of music. His obvious humbleness, quite a contrast to his aunt, has put them at ease; their countenances gradually relax, and the applause grows louder. At this moment, the new leader speaks up, stepping forward, “Thank you. I’ve got lots to learn from my late father and Aunt Elroy, but with assistance from every single one of you, I’m more than excited to lead the enterprise towards the new era.”
With that, he receives thunderous applause and cheers, and they stand up one after another to show their respect and support. As a matter of fact, none of them is aware that the legitimate heir has gone missing for a very long time, and Madam Elroy’s health issues have caused consternation among them. Therefore, it’s only natural they welcome a confident and energetic man to fill his father’s shoes.
Master William then raises his arms to calm the commotion. “Please sit down!” he says but remains standing. It’s then he begins delivering a speech, which I didn’t see it coming, but apparently he has it prepared beforehand. He doesn’t even need to read from any note; either he has it completely memorized or he has rehearsed many times. This further demonstrates his resolve and keen interest to undertake the leadership role. Come to think of it, his decision to embrace his destiny might have been triggered by another factor-his experience of suffering as a poor, amnesiac patient. As he has implied back in the woods today, it takes more than resilience to survive such adversity or personal tragedy. No wonder he made a silent vow to himself, that he would take care of Miss Candice till the end. Blessed is the positive influence a supportive and loving soul can have on another!
Regardless of what really motivates the heir, his message is precise and captivating, which is imbued with the spirit of reformation. He uses the analogy that he’s the sea captain, who requires a crew to ensure safe and efficient operations, and together they can work towards the success of the voyage. Thus, from now on, he will make a point to work closely with each of them, and he strives to be open for ideas and suggestions, in particular how to deal with the unprecedented difficulties the company is currently facing in war-torn Europe. With his striking looks, charismatic personality and moving speech, he soon wins the audience’s hearts. However, I suppose Master William has only begun. For the next few months, he will have to put his words into actions in order to keep their confidence.
Therefore, we will spend the remainder of the day and tomorrow morning, meeting with one executive at a time in the president’s office. They are to take turns to introduce themselves and their departments, giving highlights of their responsibilities, and account for their latest achievements and regrets. The first one is the CFO. He says the company is financially healthy in spite of the Great War. Then he jokes that he should also consider retirement because he’s one year older than Madam Elroy. “Your father would have been proud of you, sir!”
Though Master William doesn’t recognize his face, he has full respect for the old man. “Mr. Maxwell, there’s no need for strict formality between you and me.”
But he insists, “I’ve been working for the Ardlays my whole life, and I’ve never dropped formality, not even once.”
Then the old man pauses, facing me, “Mr. Villers, I want to have the rest of the meeting with the president alone. Thank you.”
I comply with his request and go back to my office until it’s time for the next executive. The original plan is to allocate half an hour for each, but most of them takes longer than anticipated. Other than Mr. Maxwell, nobody else asks me to leave. In general, they all give positive feedback, looking forward to working under the new leadership. One even takes at least fifteen more minutes to finish, admiring the new president; he says his speech was inspiring, which has reinvigorated his thinking and jostled his mind. By the time we shake hands with the last executive for the day, Sir William fidgets restlessly, like sitting on pins and needles. Yet, I can sense he tries his best to hide his impatience by taking frequent sips of his coffee. I believe I’m the only one who notices that he glances up on the clock on the wall from time to time, or he softly drums his fingers on his mahogany executive desk. Luckily, this vice-president isn’t very talkative, and he doesn’t use up the entire slot, bidding us good evening five minutes before his time is up.
Then Master William and I compare our notes and discuss briefly what we should do first thing tomorrow after meeting with the rest of the executives. I suggest Master William should also meet with the board of directors, and he readily acknowledges that it is necessary. Hence, I will arrange one such meeting.
When we wrap things up and leave the office building at long last, the sky is tinged by the setting sun, with streaks of rosy, feathery clouds stretched across the horizon. I’m driving Sir William back to my house, as per his instruction. I casually broach the subject, “So did Mr. Maxwell tell you any secret?”
Master William throws his head back and guffaws. He then snickers, “No, not really. He related to me that he was one of the elders back then, supporting my aunt’s idea of protecting me, an eight-year-old boy, from the world.”
My master takes a brief pause before he resumes, “I didn’t know someone actually challenged their decision, claiming he had the rights to be the successor. Anyway, Mr. Maxwell reassured that it had been taken care of, and he gave me lots of valuable suggestions and advice, like a wise man indeed. Most importantly, he reminded me not to push myself beyond my limits like my deceased father.”
When we arrive at dusk, my housekeeper tries to persuade her beloved master to stay for dinner, but he politely declines with this excuse, “I’m meeting a friend, and I’m running late.”
No sooner does the nanny let go of him than he rushes inside a room to change. At any rate, he’s in such a scurry that even a fool can tell he’s anxious to leave as soon as possible. Earlier this afternoon, I emptied one of my closets to store the briefcase, the dark suits and polished leather shoes he has inherited from my benefactor. When he reappears in his casual outfit, he has restored his wavy hair in its unruly style. Then he strides across the living room towards my front door, but I stop him in his track and offer in earnest, “Sir William, please give me the honor to drive you home.”
As expected, he hesitates, his eyebrows drawn together in a somber expression, so I murmur under my breath while leaning towards him, “Your sister must be worried, sir.”
Hands by his side, he clenches his fists for two long seconds, giving in after a soft sigh, “You’re always right, Georges.”
His frown is now transformed into a strained smile. I heave an exaggerated sigh of relief, taking my keys with me. I then inform my housekeeper, “I’ll be back for dinner.” Because of the late lunch near the hospital, I’m not very hungry at present.
On our way there, I notify the young master beside me, “My secretary Mrs. Thompson is more efficient than usual. In Chicago, experienced bodyguards are in high demand, but she already shortlisted some candidates for interview tomorrow and the day after. Do you have any specific criteria in mind, sir? I understand Madam Elroy wants the bodyguards to have at least two years of practical experience, preferably having worked for the rich people from the high society before.”
Master William considers my question for some moments before he answers, “They need to provide some solid evidence that they can be tight-lipped, and they can keep their mouth shut regardless of what comes their way. In addition, ask them why they left their previous jobs. Don’t hire them if they were fired for whatever reason.”
“Yes, sir!” I assure at once.
“When there are two to three left, I want to interview them myself.”
I acknowledge, nodding, “Of course.”
Then he adds, “If you do hire one or two, don’t let them know about my whereabouts. They will come directly to the office building in the mornings and will be dismissed in the evenings.”
“But-” I retort, remembering Madam Elroy’s instructions.
He waves his finger at me, a smug smile gracing his lips. “Georges, just don’t tell my aunt. Whenever I pay her a visit, which I have promised to do twice a week in the first month, the bodyguards will accompany me to give her the peace of mind. For work, they can be in the same car with me wherever I go, but that’s it, understand?”
I nod very slowly, swallowing hard. What if his aunt finds out?
Then I realize he said ‘first month’. How much longer is he going to stay with Miss Candice?
At this point, the traffic suddenly slows down to a crawl, and Master William rolls down the window and sticks his head out to check. “No wonder! There are some road blocks down the street, and two damaged cars are seemingly waiting to be towed away,” he observes.
“Is that right?”
“I hope nobody is seriously injured.”
Then he throws an unexpected question, “Georges, you can drop me off here, can’t you?”
“Sir, we are approximately two miles away from your apartment building,” I explain even though I can guess the reasons behind his request.
He insists, a sense of urgency evident in his voice, “This is close enough.”
We stare at each other for a moment before I remark with a salute, “Yes, commander!”
He laughs as I step on the brake and signal him to open the door.
“See you tomorrow morning!” he says, slamming the car door shut. Without any more delay, he practically sprints towards his destination.
I shake my head. Master William really can’t wait to see his roommate!
While contemplating which route I should take to go home, I figure making a U-turn somewhere is probably the fastest. Regrettably, after I make a detour, I become aware that I’m not very familiar with the roads off the major intersections. Not only it’s getting dark, but unlike the city, street lights are sparse. To make things worse, the moon is only a sliver. As a result, I end up getting lost, to my dismay. I gather Happy Clinic should be nearby, and from there I should figure out how to get back. Hence, in a desperate attempt to locate it, I randomly drive around, hoping to grab some pedestrians to ask for directions, but unfortunately, the neighborhood is quiet. Minutes later, I spot the far corner down the block is well lit. It turns out to be a marketplace, and I decide not to waste any more fuel. I park my car and walk towards the crowd. Perhaps I can buy some fresh fruits before heading home.
Meanwhile, there are plenty of adults and children milling about, just as I thought; this is plausibly a popular place to hang out after dinner. Thus, there is bound to be someone who can direct me back to the city. After paying for a bag of apples, I ask the man in the booth for directions. I can hardly believe my luck; he’s the first person I have chosen to ask for help, and he actually knows the answer to my question. Then I thank him and pick up my apples.
While returning to my car, I buy some oranges too. Little did I expect I’d stumble upon a scene that makes me feel like hiding. About three yards away, Master William is leaning against a lamppost, holding two large bags of groceries in his arms. He’s not alone. A lady with voluminous hair is right beside him, rapidly moving her arms up and down. I can’t see her face, but I guess she’s giving him an animated account of something that happened to her today. Due to their height difference, she has to crane her neck to talk to him. Their blond hair practically shines under the light, making them all the more conspicuous.
I tell myself I must leave before Master William discovers my presence, but I can’t help observing the genuine grin on his face and the way he beams at the lady without a hint of reserve; he is without a shadow of a doubt very happy with her, if not exuberant. All of a sudden, that lady with blond curls spins herself around, her index finger pointing at where I stand, which startles me and almost makes me jump. I swiftly lower my head and turn on my heels, heading towards the other fruit stands as though nothing unusual has occurred. Miss Candice hasn’t changed much; no, I can’t be more wrong. Even a glance is enough for me to see what a natural beauty she’s become.
I don’t think she recognized me amongst the crowd, or else she would have reacted. However, my young master likely did. The split second before I avert my gaze, I saw him freeze with wide open, incredulous eyes.
Note: Based on Candy Candy Final Story, WAA’s true identity had always been a secret to many people. I believe Albert must have met the senior management at some point, so why not now? 😉 I hope my imagination makes sense to you. I’d like to thank my dear friends below (not in any specific order) for their continued support; their positive feedback to my previous chapter is much appreciated! ❤❤ I know there are silent readers out there too, so thank you for following. 🙂
Tracy Jordan, Gina Riquelme Orellana, Mariacristina Marchetti (mari), marmalade, Candy Bert, Evelyn, antlay31, Sarah, JeannyJJ, Martha Cervantes Quiroga