Happy new year, everyone! 🎊🎉 Thanks for your patience. ❤ Glad to hear from some of you earlier this year. I’ve taken a break from writing “A man in love” during Christmas and spent some time drawing instead. 🙂 I’d like to thank all of you for your positive feedback on Chapter 15 or on Facebook. Without further ado, let me present to you a longer chapter. 💓💓💓– Ms Puddle
The day we receive the letter from France is also the day I give Master William’s bodyguards a grave warning. That morning, before he arrives at my place, the two are bored, talking to each other while leaning against the company car right outside my house. I happen to overhear their conversation.
More than once they have seen their boss wearing casual, worn-out clothes before and after work. They are wondering why the rich man does that every day and where he actually resides. Before long, they start joking around, saying that the boss must have a hideout or a gorgeous mistress somewhere. Otherwise, there’s no reason why he doesn’t live in luxury like the others in his social class.
When they are fooling about, my sudden cough from behind their backs make them jump to their feet. Startled and mortified, one opens his eyes wide with shock and the other drops his chauffeur gloves. They are probably aware by now how much the boss trusts me, so I’m not a man to be trifled with. Even though they aren’t sure how long I have been eavesdropping, they apologize in earnest.
One implores, “Mr. Villers, please forgive us and do not tell Sir Ardlay…” The other promptly claims that he’s merely an idiot who is trying to survive in this brutal society.
I nod in silence, knowing that Master William has hired them exactly because they are in their late twenties and inexperienced. At any rate, neither one of them is malicious; they are only immature. Just then, we see Master William jump off a carriage, heading towards us in a rush. Before he gets near, I warn the bodyguards in a low guttural voice, “You know I have the authority to fire you two.”
They acknowledge at once, so I add, “This is your last chance.”
“Yes, sir!” they answer unanimously, their frowns turning into strained grins.
“What’s up with you all?” The boss asks with a curious smile. Perhaps he senses something unusual has occurred amongst us. Anyway, without waiting for our replies, he explains why he’s extraordinarily late today, “I slept in this morning, so let’s get going.”
By the time we reach the office, my secretary informs us that Madam Elroy has sent a messenger here. “He’s waiting for Sir Ardlay in the visitor’s lounge, about something urgent,” she informs both of us with emphasis.
It’s when the door to the lounge is within my arm’s reach my master breaks the silence, “Georges, I have an unshakable premonition that something unpleasant will come to pass.”
I halt in my steps, mulling over what he said for a moment. “So you couldn’t sleep last night, sir?”
He sighs, cloaking his anxiety with a half smile. “I could hardly sleep for two nights in a row,” he admits, and then he gestures me to go ahead to open the door. Madam Elroy’s chauffeur is waiting for us inside, and after some brief greeting, Jacobs lowers his eyes and breaks the saddening news about Master Alistair.
“Madam is devastated by the news… she wants to see you as soon as possible, Sir Ardlay. I’ll be standing by… whenever you’re ready to leave.”
Here is the matter in a nutshell. I’m responsible for making the funeral arrangements on behalf of Sir Ardlay, due to the fact that his aunt is grieving, having lost yet another family member in the youngest generation. Master William reminds me to specify “by invitation only” such that ‘Albert’ cannot attend his friend’s funeral. Needless to say, he’ll appear incognito, disguised himself with a wig and a false moustache. He has a pair of tinted glasses like the staff in the funeral home anyway.
The following day, I get a message from Master Archie. He offers to pick up Miss Candice for the funeral, for that I write a brief rely to express my sincere gratitude. I’m indeed preoccupied with many things at hand. However, I gather Master Archie is doing his best to minimize the chance of me meeting her vagabond roommate.
The day finally comes. About half an hour before the service, Miss Candice arrives with Miss Annie and Miss Patricia, all dressed in black. I see the two ladies leading Miss Candice to greet Madam Elroy in the guest room. Oblivious to them, I’m working with a couple of helpers from the Ardlay’s household at the far corner of the spacious room, attending to the last details.
Unexpectedly, the matriarch throws a tantrum, aiming harsh words at the adopted daughter of Granduncle William and vehemently forbidding her to stay. Meanwhile, Master William is standing amongst the staff in the church, so he isn’t in the guest room with them. Or else he would have been immensely disturbed by his aunt’s unkind attitude towards Miss Candice. Not to mention that the girls burst out crying except Miss Candice, who fights back her tears and bites her bottom lip in stubborn silence. That is, no verbal protests come forth her mouth as though she has grown accustomed to the blames and criticisms the old lady frequently darts at her.
Right then, Master Archie comes in and beseeches with pleading voice, “Great Aunt Elroy, as a gentleman I won’t let Candy go home herself at this moment, and the service is about to begin. Please, I beg you… let Candy hang around somewhere on the premises until the burial is over.”
Regrettably, Madam Elroy makes no attempt to conceal her contempt. She snorts, “Archibald, you know she doesn’t deserve your concern and care.”
“Great Aunt!” Master Archie exclaims, aghast by the crude remark. His jaw drops in response, his eyes doubled in size. Some more sobbing noises from the two girls fill the air. Apparently, he isn’t the only one who feels bad for Miss Candice, but nobody here dares to openly criticize the family matriarch.
Then the powerful lady gives an advice to her grandnephew in an icy tone, “You have to be tough to succeed in the business world, Archibald. There’s no room for affection and sympathy.” This time he opts to look down and keep his mouth shut.
Having said that, Madam Elroy storms out of the room with Madam Sarah and Miss Eliza, who have been half-heartedly trying to hide their sneers. At any rate, since there’s no direct instruction from the matriarch what to do with Miss Candice, Master Archie successfully convinces her to stay put. “If I can’t give you a ride home afterwards, I’ll see to it that someone will do so.” She acknowledges with a quiet nod.
Even though Madam Elroy said there was no room for affections in the business world, during the burial ceremony she weeps with bitter sorrow as the priest is preaching, “… Alistair was a brave soul, a valiant knight to fight for peace. His words and actions matched even to the point of death… you need not despair, for even the darkest eras are governed by the Lord and will come to an end at His command…”
When it comes to premature deaths in the family, the matriarch allows herself to act sentimental, no more stern face or stoic countenance. It’s one of these rare situations where the old lady lets her real feelings show. I have witnessed her emotional ups and downs about a handful of times in my life already.
Come to think of it. No one can predict what a day will bring, or whether there’s another day in life. Take Master Anthony for example. Who could have thought he would die from falling off his favorite horse? What began as a joyous family event, intended to introduce Granduncle William’s newly adopted daughter to the relatives, became the event to loathe. Since then, Madam Elroy has made Miss Candice a scapegoat for the misfortunes in the family.
A thought then slices through my mind. If only the powerful matriarch knew the poor orphan girl was actually the one who saved her dearest nephew’s life…
Some time later, Vincent finds me amidst the guests and asks me to lead him to Master William. “Please come this way, Master Vincent.”
“Come on Georges,” he protests mildly. “You know you can forget about formality, between you and me.”
I flash him a polite smile. I used to do that before Rosemary married him. I’m slightly older than Vincent, and I still vividly remember the tough period when the two were madly in love, fighting family oppositions together and even considering elopement as the last resort. We three had practical plans sorted out, but before long my benefactor relented and let his beloved beautiful daughter marry her true love.
Unfortunately, I can’t locate Master William. He’s not where he’s supposed to be, so Vincent asks me about his adopted daughter. “I want to meet her, the girl Anthony loved… the one who saw him last.”
I glance around to ensure there are only the two of us, and then I relate to him in whispers about Madam Elroy’s insults and prejudices against the poor orphan; despite all the cold shoulder treatments Miss Candice has received from the matriarch ever since the fox hunting, she has remained cheerful, optimistic and compassionate. While listening, Vincent sighs again and again, shaking his head from time to time. Of all the family members, Vincent is probably the one who can feel empathy with Miss Candice in her isolation; they are both outsiders in the family. Madam Elroy never bothers developing a liking for Rosemary’s husband either.
“Georges, where is she?”
“I have no idea-” I begin, but before I finish my sentence, he says, “It’s alright. Let me try to find her myself, Georges. I was told she’s got a lovely face.”
“Yes, it’s true.”
He walks away, but after taking a few steps, he returns to my side, talking in a near inaudible voice, “Has she met her adoptive father… yet?”
I shake my head as my reply, and he nods, his lips curling up into a knowing smile. Then he bids me goodbye, shaking my hand, “If I don’t see you again, Georges, take care of yourself.”
I answer something along that line too. We are men of few words after all. Later, I successfully track down Master William. He’s watching Vincent from afar, who’s giving Miss Candice a fatherly embrace near the cemetery. Those who don’t know them would have assumed these two have known each other for a long time; who would believe that this is actually the first time they met?
My master then murmurs to me, “How I wish my aunt will eventually accept them as family members… It troubles me indeed, the fact that she cares so much about one’s origin. To me, what matters more is how one chooses to live his or her life, don’t you think?”
“My sentiments exactly, sir,” I agree, nodding simultaneously.
Then he relays to me that when he found out Miss Candice wasn’t allowed to attend the funeral, he felt terrible, but it was too late for him to alter his aunt’s decision.
“Besides, I didn’t want Candy to think that the mysterious Granduncle William was here but insisted not to meet her in person,” he goes on to describe his inner struggles. “However, after the funeral was over, I expressed my displeasure to my aunt and reminded her that Candy was an Ardlay, so the last thing I wanted to hear was that she would mistreat the girl again. Then I went looking for Candy.”
That explains why I couldn’t find him earlier. It turned out that Vincent ran into him while searching for the young lady, so they chatted a little before Master William led his brother-in-law to her.
Then silence falls upon us, until he ends it by speaking up, “Georges, these past days, you know, I’ve been pondering over…”
As he falters, unable to continue, I help him finish, “Not to leave her yet until another month or so.”
He’s speechless, if not nonplussed. My speculation must have caught him off guard. At this moment, I say, “Please excuse me, Master William, for changing the topic. I believe Madam Elroy is expecting us.” He acknowledges by nodding, and we go separate ways so as not to attract people’s attention unnecessarily.
Over the next few days, he manages to persuade his aunt to give him an extension with the condition that he’ll come up with a definite date for his début. The excuse he uses is “his lady friend is mourning over a new loss”. Since Madam Elroy has presumed the lady is old, she isn’t the least surprised. Besides, her nephew is seemingly firm with his resolve, and his début is long overdue, so the matriarch’s willing to concede. “I’m no longer young and energetic, William. What’s holding you back?”
She then explains that her nephew has been more hardworking than anticipated, his conduct and manners reminiscent of his late father’s, for that she’s extremely pleased. He’s essentially fulfilling his role as the heir of the family business enterprise, so his obvious reluctance for his début is beyond her comprehension. Then she suggests, “How about some time next Spring, the latest?”
That’s months away from today, and I conceal my amazement that she’s given her nephew such ample time in between. I believe Master William feels the same, and he responds in eagerness, “Sounds like a plan, Aunt Elroy.”
But of course this doesn’t mean he has accepted her suggestion. I have a feeling that he’s not ready mainly because of a special someone in his life. Merely days ago, he revealed to me that before we heard of the sad news from France, he was aware that his time as a patient was up according to his previous agreement with his aunt. Thus, he had withdrawn a considerable amount of cash from his own bank account for his roommate, ready to inform her of his imminent departure. However, he couldn’t bring himself to lie to her again, which meant he had to provide the reasons why he had kept his recovery a secret from her for months. Consequently, even to this day, his money is still securely enclosed in an envelope.
Often the strong desire for more wealth is a longing to fill an empty place in one’s life. To Master William, he’d rather live like a man in the working class because he’s undeniably drawn to Miss Candice. He told me he’s been buying takeouts for dinners lately due to his hectic schedules, which upsets his roommate because she considers this kind of expenditure extravagant. Little does she know he’s one of the richest men in the country, and extra money spent on food is his least concern. Above all, I figure he finds true contentment with her, who deeply cares about him with no strings attached. Many married couples in the high society don’t even have this kind of selfless care. Moreover, it’s highly likely Miss Candice is the source of vigor for him to deal with the tremendous responsibilities and never-ending tasks day in day out.
Soon, the days turn into weeks, and the weeks turn into months. It’s winter before we realize it, and our breaths become visible. One cold night, I hear a soft knock on my front door. It’s very late, and I’m about to call it a night. Even my diligent housekeeper is already in bed, so I ignore the noise and tell myself that I must have imagined it.
But then the knock comes again. This time, I have no more doubt someone is rapping on my front door. For Heaven’s sake, it’s near midnight!
I flick the light switch in my living room nonetheless and cautiously lift up a corner of the curtain right beside the door. A tall man is standing outside my door, his hair and clothes covered with snow. After all, it’s been snowing heavily since this morning. At this point he spins around to face my direction, and I draw in a sharp breath, at once feeling perplexed and apprehensive. Why is he here at this hour?
I unlock the door in haste, anxiously swinging it wide open; without a word, he steps past the threshold, lowering his soiled knapsack on the floor, all in slow motion as if he has to think before each movement. I then close the door behind him to stop the cold draft from coming in. Watching him from my position, I note that his blond hair is slightly dripping wet. How long has he been outdoors? Didn’t he go home as usual?
“Can I stay here, Georges, just for tonight?” he asks in a hoarse voice, which sounds like he suffers from a bad cold. In addition, he avoids having eye contact with me.
“Be my guest, sir. But-?”
I wanted to ask why, and yet I left my question hanging the moment our eyes met. He appears dreadfully tired and dejected; the sparkles in his blue eyes are missing, a stark contrast to the time when I first saw him after his recovery.
Besides, Master William is shivering, so I swiftly add a log to my fireplace. Only then it dawns on me. He’s left her… for unknown reasons. Has he been wandering around, despite the snow?
I venture, “Sir, you’re welcome to stay for as long as you need before moving back to the Ardlay’s mansion.”
In response, the corners of his mouth curve up into a smile that is half appreciative and half bitter, and I beckon him to come near the fireplace to defrost. However, he doesn’t budge and remains standing at his spot, his smile disappeared. Not only that, his features turn serious when he gazes at me, making an absurd request that baffles me, “Georges, do not tell Candy anything… about me, can you promise?”
What’s happened? I know he isn’t going to live with her forever, but what gave rise to such an impulse that he had to leave in the middle of a snowy night? Did they fight or quarrel or what? Does it imply he won’t see her anymore until his big day some time next year?
In spite of all the question marks bouncing around in my head, I make that promise without delay because there was a trace of urgency or determination in his tone. Upon hearing my words, he heaves a sigh of relief and remarks, “I know you’ll never let me down, Georges.”
But his eyes are further darkened by a shadow of guilt.
Yes, it’s a sad chapter. Hope you guys don’t mind. 😛 Anyway, I read some spoilers from the Candy Candy old novel, in which Albert disclosed to Candy in a letter that his sister Rosemary and Vincent had eloped with help from Georges, who loved Rosemary in secret. However, the entire passage no longer exists in Candy Candy Final Story (CCFS). Therefore, it’s unclear if Georges had romantic feelings for Rosemary.
Thank you all for your encouraging words to me, including those about my drawing of Candy herself shown in last chapter (the names are not in any specific order):
Marlene Mendes de Abreu, Yue Chan, Candy Bert, Antlay, Anyeli Andrew, Melisa Lopez, Martha Cervantes Quiroga, Bertgirl, Tracy Jordan, marmalade, JeannyJJ, Mariacristina Marchetti (Mariacristina), Gina Riquelme Orellana, Loren Rios, Elen Harket, Tania Frias, Mina Ferrari, Lorena Lopez Alorro, Bere M. Cavill, Delia Golds Delia Diaz, Lidia Ferzl Sandoval, Ahidee S. Ramos, Mari Palacios, Mayra Exitosa, Guadalupe Morales