I can hardly believe it’s been over a month since I last updated! I truly appreciate your patience, my friends. 😍 I had taken a two-week vacation, so I didn’t write until I returned. Besides, since I’ve got new responsibilities lately, I can only write a little every day.
On the other hand, Fay is very hard-working (unlike me 😌) on her translations of CCFS. So far, she has completed the first section in volume 1 of Candy Candy Final Story. Please write a comment or two to encourage her. I know some of you have done that, and I’d like to thank you on her behalf. 😘
Without further ado, here is the new chapter. Hope you like it!
— Ms Puddle
“Georges, why are you still standing? Didn’t you hear what I said?”
The question jolts me out of my stupor; the accusing voice awakens a part of my brain that has been frozen in the moment when Master William was in denial of his own feelings. I must inform him! Miss Candice is in big trouble!
I swiftly compose myself and reply, “I’m sorry, Madam Elroy, with your permission.”
When a guttural sound escapes her throat as her approval, I add with my head bowed low, hiding my reluctance, “I will be back… shortly.”
As I straighten my neck, Madam Sarah remarks, “Georges, we will be waiting for the girl here.”
“Yes, Madam Sarah, I understand,” I answer but avoid making eye contact with her. Then I turn on my heels, heading out of Madam Elroy’s study. At this instant, Master Neal appears out of nowhere. I didn’t know he is in the room all along when the matriarch explained to me why it was an urgent situation and the Lagans must see me this Thursday morning before work.
Master Neal says to me, a smug smile gracing his lips, “Georges, I have full confidence in you; just remember your role in the family and whom you always represent. Do whatever you can to bring her to us.”
“And we will handle the rest,” appends Madam Elroy in an authoritative tone. “I will also inform Granduncle William myself.”
I spin my head over my shoulder to give her a silent nod of acknowledgement. It’s essentially a warning from her, that I should not contact him.
Minutes after I leave the room, I run into Miss Eliza in the hallway. It looks like she woke up not long ago, and she’s heading towards the study. When I see her face to face, she is taken aback, unsure of what’s going on. After all, I don’t often come to the mansion, unless being summoned for some important tasks.
And it’s no exception today; a tough job has just been imposed on me.
It’s a lie. A scam.
The judgemental words has been troubling me ever since I perceived why they decided to send me to pick up Miss Candice. Despite being fully aware of the injustice, I ought to obey the matriarch, acting like I come on Granduncle William’s behalf.
By the time I arrived at the House of Magnolia, I realize my knuckles have turned white; I must have clutched the steering wheel very hard, out of anger and frustration. How I wanted to say no to Madam Elroy but couldn’t do so when she saw through my hesitance and reminded me, “Don’t forget my late brother’s kindness to you, Georges. You practically owed him your life, so when his family members are in need of your service, you should not think twice.”
Needless to say, they take advantage of the fact that Master William is not in town; lately, he’s been residing in Lakewood. Since he must be in the dark, how do I inform him without offending Madam Elroy?
At any rate, they have to see Miss Candice at once or else Master Neal will enlist in the army. Talking about him, I’ve promised Master William to keep an eye on his moves, but who could have predicted he would come up with such a threat? It scares his parents so much that they would do anything just to stop him from taking that route.
Obviously, Master Neal has it all calculated and everyone manipulated. When I had no choice but to take the order from Madam Elroy, she assumed I’d be able to reach Miss Candice by simply giving me the note written by Master Neal. “Here, Georges, this is the address of Neal’s bride.”
She’s utterly unaware of her dear nephew’s feelings for the orphan girl. It’s the apartment where he has spent many months together with her. If Madam Elroy had known, she wouldn’t have insisted giving Miss Candice to another man.
I drag my heavy feet up the staircase in the apartment building, wishing so badly that the girl has gone out for work. In that case, I can use the excuse that I couldn’t find her at home, which gives me some time to contemplate the best possible way to get in touch with Master William. Who else in the clan has the authority to deal with the matriarch thus resolve this mess?
Unfortunately, almost as soon as I knock on the wood, I can hear loud footsteps from inside. The next thing I know, the girl opens the door wide, her sparkling round eyes holding a glint of anticipation of who the visitor might be. Upon recognizing my face, she inhales a sharp breath and covers her mouth, blushing profusely. The anticipation in her features is now replaced by a mix of disappointment and bewilderment. Despite wearing no make-up and looking astonished, she’s a beautiful lady nonetheless. Master Neal must have found her desirable, so much so that he decided to skip the courtship.
With a heavy heart, I take this chance to speak before she can say anything, “Miss Candice, I am here to pick you up.”
“Pick me up?” she echoes, her emerald eyes doubled in size.
“Madam Elroy is waiting for you.”
That’s the best I can do without giving away too much information. Since then, she’s been throwing questions at me, nonstop. She can hardly suppress her curiosity and puzzlement, especially she knows better than anyone how much the matriarch loathes the adopted daughter of Granduncle William.
Throughout the ride, I exert all my effort to keep my mouth shut, as though I didn’t hear her. I was explicitly ordered not to reveal anything to her beforehand. Madam Elroy will do the talking herself.
‘Candy won’t accept me… I’m not the same man she’s befriended…’
Master William’s guilt-laden voice suddenly rings in my ears, and right after that, his dejected look resurfaces in my head. This reminds me. It’s been slightly over a month since I last heard from Mr. Hastings, the private investigator who helped leading Miss Candice to Mr. Graham in Rockstown. Since then, things have taken an absolutely unexpected course.
I don’t remember exactly how we could have lost track of the president. It was only a minute ago we saw him leaving the office building, but once we are on the hustling streets of downtown Chicago, he’s nowhere to be seen. I promptly send the bodyguards to search in two opposite directions, one to the right the other to the left. “I will go straight ahead,” I say. “The boss shouldn’t have gone too far.”
I said this because Master William didn’t grab his winter coat with him. Not only the weather in this Windy City can be unpredictable, but the temperature is near freezing point.
“Let’s meet back here in twenty minutes,” I order the men before we split up.
However, our search fails. Since there’s a meeting later today for the senior executives, I hope this will bring the president back to the office. Yet, by the time Madam Elroy has arrived, he hasn’t shown up. His aunt is more upset than alarmed because none of us, including myself, is aware of his whereabouts.
The meeting is thus dismissed, and she follows me to my office, not without complaints. “William should not deliberately miss a meeting like this! More importantly, how could he leave without his bodyguards?”
Just then, someone raps on my door, and my secretary barges in with a note in her hand. After some quick exchange of greetings with the old lady, she shows me the piece of paper. “Mr. Villers, the security guard on the first floor found this stuck in the company’s mailbox…” she falters. Only then I realize her hands are visibly shaking.
“What’s this?” Madam Elroy asks with a tremulous voice, horror creeping up on her wrinkled face.
I swiftly take the note, reading with growing consternation,
‘If you want him back alive, drop a briefcase of cash at…’
The old lady literally wails before I can finish reading.
As Miss Candice and I walk down the long corridor that leads to the Madam Elroy’s study, I can almost feel the walls closing in on me. Not only that, my conscience continuously nags me, urging me to rescue Miss Candice from their hands, not unlike what I did years ago. What am I doing here? How am I going to face Master William after this?
The dreaded moment finally comes. Just then, Miss Eliza storms out of the study in exasperation, hollering at her brother. At this very instant, she notices our presence. Miss Eliza freezes on the spot, staring at the visitor, but this only lasts several seconds. She then glares at Miss Candice, lashing out at the poor girl about her lowly origin and even uttering curses. Never in my life have I seen Miss Eliza lose her manners like this, but right at this instant Master Neal appears to rebuke her, his tone rather impatient and bossy, “That’s enough! Eliza!”
She bites her bottom lip before scurrying away with wounded pride. Yet, their bickering scene seems to have distracted Miss Candice, and she appears amused for a couple of seconds. At the same time, Master Neal takes in the sight of his target with satisfaction. Then he utters to her, “You can’t get away this time.”
Because of his complacent remark and the impish smirk on his lips, Miss Candice comes to her senses, remembering why she’s here. I feel worse, watching her becoming more perplexed and fazed. It makes me feel like I’m committing a crime when I announce the arrival of Miss Candice. As expected, I get the approval right at once, and I open the door for her. When the heavy doors are about to shut behind her, she casts me a ‘help me’ glance. Judging from my somber facial expressions, she must have sensed that perils await her.
Meanwhile, I stay in the proximity of the study, my heart frantically pounding against my chest. I must act before it’s too late, but what can I do? I was told that the engagement party would be held this coming Sunday regardless of the girl’s reactions. Before long, quarreling noises can be heard from inside the room, but I can only imagine how the girl tries to fight for her own happiness.
Concerning the kidnap, we have some debate of whether to involve the police, but Madam Elroy makes the final call, “No cost is too great to save William’s life. Plus, the police force is notorious for corruption.”
It’s decided that the bodyguards will accompany me to the specified location tonight. However, a few hours before midnight, Master William unexpectedly shows up at the front entrance, completely drenched and feverish. He also reveals in a breathless voice, “I escaped.”
It wasn’t raining, so the security guard at the gate panics at the sight but manages to take him back to his room. Then he runs to update the butler, who promptly summons the family doctor after sending a messenger to the matriarch.
By the time Madam Elroy rushes to the young heir’s bedroom, the servants have helped their master finish a lukewarm bath, giving him pajamas to change. The doctor has also arrived, ready to examine him, but it doesn’t take him long to suggest, “Please take Mr. Ardlay to the hospital. Quick!”
At the emergency, Dr. Leonard, the deputy director, makes a point to come to greet Madam Elroy. He recognizes the patient right away, and only then she discloses who he really is. The doctor is shocked beyond words. “Rumors say that he’s a stubborn old man!?”
“It’s a long story,” she replies, not very keen. The doctor can tell she’s not in the right mood, and he promises before leaving the room, “I’ll see to it that there will be two or more doctors taking care of Mr. Ardlay!”
She looks somewhat relieved, and some time later, we are informed that the heir might have contracted pneumonia, so he needs to be hospitalized for monitoring. Needless to say, he’s transferred to a private room with nurses dedicated to address his needs.
It’s not until a week later that we know he’s got the bad flu, not pneumonia. Relief washes over the matriarch, and as he’s undoubtedly recovering, she inquires when he can go home. The doctors in charge reckon that he can be discharged.
What troubles all of us is that the heir has been exceptionally quiet all this time. He’s even unwilling to relate to us how he could escape. He only said, “I had to beat two of them and later submerged myself in an icy swamp.”
Before leaving the hospital, he does request to meet with Dr. Leonard, alone. Nobody knows why, but I suspect he wants to relay to the deputy doctor about a certain amnesiac patient, who arrived at the hospital, unconscious, more than two years ago.
At any rate, the matriarch has another plan for her nephew. Since Master William is physically weak, she persuades him to reside in Lakewood villa for a month or so. The fresh air and warmer weather will do him good, and he deserves more rest in order to fully recuperate for his upcoming début.
Regardless of what she says, Master William perceives that she’s still frightened, not yet mentally recovered from the incident. In short, she’s plausibly afraid that the kidnappers, he said three of them, will return. Since he’s not fit enough to work full-time yet, he acquiesces to her proposal and moves to the villa with his servants and bodyguards.
Three weeks have elapsed since then. It’s a warm Saturday in early spring, I’m heading to the Lakewood villa to visit my young master, like I always do on a weekly basis. Lately, he’s getting a lot better, and he’s capable to work half a day or even more, sometimes till late evening. Even then, he hasn’t stopped spending an hour or two in the solarium every morning, a habit he’s recently developed to improve his health. No servant will disturb his solitude unless he rings the bell, which he rarely does. His bodyguards are free to roam the area in the mornings too.
By the time I arrive, he’s back to his study, working on some business documents already. The moment I knock on his door, he responds, “Georges, is that you? Come on in.”
A pair of resplendent blue eyes meet mine when I swing open the heavy wooden door. He looks rejuvenated and handsome, and I greet him, “Good morning, sir, how are you today?”
“Fine, I’m fine,” he replies in an upbeat tone, his smile broadened and his eyes lit up. He looks well-rested I must say. Then he gestures me to sit down when he appends, “As a matter of fact, I think I am ready to move back to Chicago.”
“That’s good news indeed!” I respond, my eyebrows raised with enthusiasm. “Looks like you’re back to your healthy weight.” He had worked so hard before the incident that he lost some weight.
Nodding with a bright smile, he utters, “For the first time in my life, I’m glad to have obliged with my aunt. She insists the fresh air and warm sunshine are beneficial to me, and it’s true.”
As we laugh, he reveals that he’s getting bored to stay indoors all the time, and he likes strolling around the gardens and gates whenever it’s warm and the sun is high up in the sky. One day, the weather was so pleasant that he went to the Mountain Lodge on foot. Since that day, he’s gone more than twice already, staying overnight with some animals. The servants are all aware of his preference and prepared the kitchen in case he’ll go again.
Up till now he has avoided mentioning about a certain lady in his life, so I venture in a casual tone, “Nice, it’s where you met Miss Candice for the first time.”
Without second thought, he corrects me, “No, it was the second time. Have you forgotten?”
I pretend to have forgotten that, and he reminds me of Pony’s Home. “Right, sir… how can I forget that?” I chuckle.
After that, silence falls upon us; Master William says nothing, apparently lost in deep thought. Minutes later, he stands up and faces the windows, uttering with frequent halts, his voice forlorn, “I’ve thought about it… Candy won’t accept the real me… I’m not the same man she’s befriended… In a nutshell, she’s looking for Albert, but when she finds out I’m not Albert, that I lied to her, I’m not sure how she will react… or if she will forgive me…”
His voice trails off, and I’m rendered speechless. Then he concludes, “I might even lose her forever.”
“I don’t think so,” I respond emphatically.
But he shakes his head, slowly spinning around to face me. Nevertheless, he wants to dodge this topic by bringing up business issues.
Yet I interrupt him as he sits down, slapping my forehead, “Oh I almost forgot!”
As he cocks his eyebrow questioningly, I relay to him about Dr. Leonard. “The doctor came to my office early last week just because he wanted to let you know that Room 0 no longer served as a room for poor patients, thanks to your generosity. The hospital might convert it into a storage instead.”
The young man is pleased. Then I present to him a letter of apology from the deputy doctor. My master is caught off guard. “The doctor has apologized already! I told him I’d long forgiven the hospital staff, including him.”
“Perhaps, he couldn’t believe it, sir,” I reason.
He averts his eyes and turns quiet for a long time. I patiently wait for him to speak again, and when he does, he breathes out a sigh of resignation first. “Without that painful experience, I wouldn’t have lived with Candy, pretending to be her big brother… The days in the House of Magnolia were the happiest times in my life yet…”
His deep, stirring voice is filled with loneliness, and I can’t help saying, “You still want to be her friend.”
He emits a bitter chuckle, his eyes dimmed with sorrow, “But I know, there’s no turning back. The day we meet again, tentatively a week before my début, our friendship will most likely end.”
“Pardon my insolence, sir. I’m afraid you’re imagining the worst possible scenario that won’t occur.”
“Maybe, or maybe not,” he murmurs, putting on a faint smile. Clearly, he is unconvinced. Come to think of it, the charming heir is a coveted bachelor, a man of stature in the high society. Who could have thought he would have to deal with doubts and insecurities about his relationship with a young lady?
Later, when we are busy going through the business reports from various departments, he suddenly gets distracted, saying, “I know for a fact that Candy can’t draw. I’ve been scratching my head, wondering who drew the portrait for her, which must be an excellent job… otherwise, how could the private investigator recognize that the man was me?”
Amused, I nod in agreement, and he asks, smiling somewhat childishly, “Anyway, do you think I’ll ever have the chance to take a look at that picture?”
He shrugs his shoulders. “I thought… no, I can’t decide if I want her to know about my role in leading her to Rockstown…”
He stops talking abruptly, his face reddened, likely affected by the rush of embarrassment triggered by the undeniable implications of this entire Rockstown episode. As he diverts his eyes to his desk, I become aware that he might have mulled over the investigator’s report hundreds of times by now; he’s probably intrigued to a point that he couldn’t curb his urge to talk to someone about it.
After some awkward silence, he adds, “As a matter of fact, I have a feeling she will not broach the subject once she finds out who I am…”
Right… how mortifying it must be when she realizes the man whom she was looking for all over the small town turns out to be none other than her legal guardian.
When Miss Candice comes out of the study, she walks in slow motion, seemingly distressed and thrown in a state of agitated confusion. Then she leans against the closed doors, her eyes downcast. Her disheartened state compels me to take some action. I call her name, “Miss Candice!”
She looks up, her petite frame shaking and big drops of tears rolling down her cheeks. “Georges…”
Then she can’t stop complaining about the Ardlays, in particular Granduncle William, the most serious of which is that she is treated not as a person but as a commodity. He ordered her to marry Neal against her wish proves that he thinks she is at his disposal. Every negative word from her mouth stabs my heart like a knife, especially I know his name is being misused so that Master Neal can get what he wants.
“Is that why Granduncle William adopted me?” she cries with bitterness.
That’s the last straw for me.
“Go to Lakewood,” I hear myself murmur under my breath.
After a flabbergasted moment, her jaw drops and her eyebrows furrow deeper in response.
“He’s in the Lakewood villa,” I add in a whisper. No, I haven’t forgotten my promise to my master that winter night long ago, but Miss Candice is at risk.
“Georges…” she mumbles, her surprise still not dissolved. After all these years, she knows I’m not supposed to tell, so I utter, “This is the first time I’ve ever disobeyed him.”
For sure Madam Elroy can’t blame me for violating her trust. Strictly speaking, I’m not the one who apprises him of the forced engagement. Above all, I think sending Miss Candice to Lakewood is the right thing to do, not only for her but also for my young master, a man in love.
Note: Thank you very much for reading. This chapter is mainly my imagination, inspired by the manga version. I’ve always wondered why Albert was in Lakewood, especially he had been obviously occupied with work before. It’s like he had too much time to spare, even fixing Stear’s swan boat! Besides, Georges knew exactly how Candy could find her adoptive father in the solarium. Hence, I got some ideas from Daddy-long-legs, in which Master Jervie was suffering from pneumonia when Judy was invited to visit her Daddy.
To the wonderful ladies below, please accept my gratitude. Because of you, I have pushed myself to finish this chapter. Thank you! ❤
Tracy Jordan, Mariacristina Marchetti, Martha Cervantes Quiroga, Candy Bert, JeannyJJ, Sarah, marmalade, Natalia G de Acevedo, Marlene Mendes de Abreu, Loren Rios, Anyeli Andrew, Delia Diaz