He was sitting at the front seat of his car, driving through the main streets of Chicago, while his mind was half concentrated in the traffic and the next appointment he was going to have with his lawyer. Since he had been obliged to take care of the Andrew's legacy four years ago, his life had turned into a kind of hell. Attaining his majority of age as specified in his father's testament, had changed his entire existence the day of his twenty third birthday.
Albert wrinkled his forehead as he evoked his progenitor, a father he hadn't known but whose presence was as real as the buildings that surrounded him. His glance stopped momentarily at the marvellous greenness that was filling the branches of the trees, after overcoming their brief wintry death. The intensity of the colour reminded him of a pair of radiant emerald eyes who had looked at him with deep love and tender.
Pauna, my dear sister. How hard it had to be for you to lose daddy when you were a youngster! How much you had to hate me for causing our mother's death when I was born! But you were always so kind to me. You were like a flower, beautiful and ephemeral as Spring. And Anthony made you so happy...
Not even the gentle breeze, the resplendence of that morning, nor the beginning of Spring was able to enlighten Albert's sad thoughts. The monotony of his days managing the Family business; Chicago society's constraint, so hypocritical and self concerned about gossips; the burden of responsibility, having to fulfil everybody's expectations... made his life a prison from which he didn't know how to escape.
If only I could be brave enough to follow my conscience and heart's dictates, he was thinking at the time while descending from his car in front of Weston & Associates headquarters, the prestigious law firm.
Conversely from what was expected from one of the most important millionaires of the US industry, William Albert Andrew Jr. maintained a life style very artless, nearly austere. His attire, though elegant and impeccable, showed little fashion concern and a strong interest towards simplicity and functionality. His hair, that he had let grow, was spread in locks over his shoulders, giving him an air of informality so far away from the instituted canons fixed by the traditionalist society of Chicago.
Though Albert paid no attention to the chattering that circulated helplessly about him, due to his public notoriety, he had gained a reputation of rebelliousness that emphasised the mystery that encompassed his entire person. His fairly inactive social life, his reticence to participate in the soirées organised by his pairs, the rare occasions when he arranged meetings at his mansion located in one of the most prestigious residential areas of the city, had won him many curious glares and also respect for the meticulousness of his business management. The fact that he rarely attended those social circles added more interest to his visits, and was welcomed by the gentlemen, who considered his opinions and criteria, as well as the ladies, who loved his attractive appearance and fantastic sense of humour. Charming host and perfect guest, he had gained the admiration of the high society of Chicago, who wished to enjoy his presence more frequently, and even the approval of those sceptics who had predicted his failure as businessman due to his youth and lack of experience.
Weston & Associates had represented legally the Andrews for the last three generations. Montgomery Weston, the president of the firm, had also been Albert's father's intimate friend and had assumed the child's custody after his parents' death. Though Pauna had been the one that took personal care of his brother and welcoming him in her house after her marriage, Montgomery had become his tutor until his twenty first birthday. That day Albert assumed full rights and obligations linked to his being heir and head of the Family, as his father had stated in his last will.
Montgomery and Albert had maintained a narrow friendship along the years, despite their not meeting often. In a sense, Monty had meant for the young Albert the father he had never known. When Pauna died, leaving his brother in the most absolute despair at the age of thirteen, his tutor advised him to enter St Paul College in London. Surrounded by youngsters of his very same age, in a totally different atmosphere, Albert could begin to forget his tragedy and was able to find a purpose for his life.
The young man entered the building and greeted the receptionist courteously.
"How are you feeling today, Ms Stewart? How is it possible that each time I see you I find you even more beautiful?"
A matron over her fifties, she smiled at him with affection; her eyes blazing with joy over the innocent gallantry.
"I think that next Christmas I will buy a pair of glasses for you, Albert. Though if you could see me the way I really am, your visits will lose all your interest."
"You are very humble," he replied with half a smile. "I'm sure you have broken dozens of hearts in this last week, not to talk about all the children that may have become your devoted fans after listening to one of your amazing stories."
While listening to him, the woman remembered the child that Albert had been fifteen years ago. Well educated, gentle, sensitive, he was endowed with wisdom unsuited for his age. He had adored listening to her tales while he waited for Mr. Weston to receive him on those rare occasions when he came to the bureau.
"Maybe, but none of them know how to pay me properly. Do you remember? A tale paid with a song,"she said as she looked at him with complicity.
"Of course I remember. How couldn't I! I still wonder how you could endure the noises I made with the bagpipe that my sister had given me."
Candy was right, it sounded like snails running, he thought for an instant.
"It was a marvellous harmony, Albert. Don't deceive yourself. You are gifted with music ability. I assure you that you played with such a passion that strange Scottish instrument. You seemed to be a bard, in the period of great Wallace, giving his farewell before the battle."
He saluted her and tried to imitate a melancholic Scottish poet. From his throat came out sad notes similar to a strange chirping.
"Don't make silly things, Albert,"she could say as she managed to control her laughter. "It's a pity you haven't brought music again over this place. Nevertheless I have only met a boy who really liked my stories. And that boy has become a man who doesn't need anymore an elder as myself to amuse him."
"You exaggerate, Miss Stewart," he whispered as he half sat over her desk. "My life is so boring!"
"Maybe, because you want it to be so," she said as she winked her eye.
Albert seemed to get angry.
"But what kind of ideas are filling that imaginative little head?"
She lowered her voice.
"I know I shouldn't pay attention to gossips, but I am sure that more than one young girl in this city would adore that you courted her."
For a moment a dark shadow covered Albert's smile. It only lasted an instant, not even Ms. Stewart noticed it.
"Not only are you a great party," she continued, "but also a very attractive man. I would be the first to celebrate the occasion if you ever get married."
At that moment, the telephone rang. Albert stood up while Ms. Stewart indicated him by signs that Mr. Weston was waiting for him in his office. He smiled at her and began to go up the stairs that led to the first floor. Montgomery was standing at the door of his bureau.
"Albert, my dear boy," he greeted him as he invited him to enter the place.
There was a scent of wood and cigar in the room. Albert was trapped for a moment in the remembrance of a youngster that came to visit his tutor.
"What is the purpose for this visit?" he asked as he embraced the young man. "And how is your beautiful protégée? I suppose this is a visit of courtesy as your financial affairs seem to go on fairly well and you already have a perfectly organised personal life. You are too serious for your age, my boy. Your father would be very proud of you, as much as I am. Being your tutor has always been too easy."
Both of them took a seat in the great sofa where they always had conversed. Albert looked at Monty as he realized that the man had grown older. Besides, he wasn't anymore a young adolescent tied to a tutor, but an adult owner of his decisions. This gave him the strength he needed to convince himself of the rightness of his resolution.
"Would you like some brandy, whisky?" Montgomery offered.
"Thank you Monty, but it is very soon for me to start drinking,"Albert replied as he cleaned the sleeve of his jacket of an invisible speck of dust.
Montgomery patted his back.
"As you wish, but I think you shouldn't give up the few pleasures that a gentleman can enjoy. You take life very seriously, considering you are only twenty-seven years old. Ah, before I forget. Next week my wife is holding a party to celebrate my daughter's birthday. Why don't you come with Candy?"
Albert stood in silence. Was it possible that Melissa were nearly a woman yet? That reminded him of Candy's birthday, she was about to be twenty-one years old. Her birthday is in May, in five week's time exactly.
"I don't know if I will be able, Monty. This is precisely the reason for my visit. I am considering making a trip and I must make a lot of arrangements. I also happen to be preparing a party for Candy. Although you know that I regard the traditions of the high society of Chicago as old fashioned and Victorians, maybe is about time to let Candy enjoy a night specially dedicated to her. Now that she is going to arrive to her majority of age, everybody must know her as a member of our Family and attribute her the rights that she has inherited. Since that moment, she won't need me as a tutor."
Monty smiled at him with approbation.
"That is very well done, Albert. And you need rest. You have done nothing but work for the last four years. You should learn to enjoy more and work less. I suppose that Melissa will understand your reasons. At her age, women only think about flirting, and she will have thousands of admirers to care."
Albert stood up and got near the window. The street was full of passers-by: young paper boys announcing the first issue of the morning, brokers walking frantically towards the Chamber of Commerce, blue-collars striding to their offices. Montgomery, accustomed to Albert's sudden silences, relaxed while mentally made balance of his working day. His reflections were interrupted when Albert began to speak again.
"The truth is that I am tired of living in Chicago. I want to leave this place, but I don't know for how long. It could be for various years. You are a fabulous businessman and I want you to be in charge of my affairs until I decide to come back."
Montgomery's smile froze in his lips. He couldn't believe what he was hearing. His mind was twisting dangerously while he tried to find out reasons to make Albert desist from his decision.
"Except for the five years that I lived by myself, far away from everything that meant being an Andrew," he continued, "I have always followed my father's will and your advises as my tutor. Living those years in my way has been the best gift you have ever given to me, Monty. When I finished my studies at St Paul, when I was eighteen years old, you promised me liberty in exchange of two conditions: I had to be ready to assume my legate when I attained to majority of age, and I had to study Law. I lived as I wanted to, without restrictions, I thank you for that, but I also kept my promise. I studied Law and also the animal life, because animals are my passion. The day of my twenty-third birthday I took my inheritance in charge, so as responsibilities of my new position in the Family. Nevertheless, four years have passed and I am not happy. I don't want to continue living like this."
Albert sighed while he continued contemplating the streets. He felt as if his soul had been relieved from a heavy burden. His heart shouted jubilantly at the sight of what he could do with his life since that moment. Free at last, he thought.
Monty came near him and placed his hand over his shoulder. Albert turned to face him and couldn't avoid his distress at seeing his former tutor's glance.
"You know that could never be, Albert," he listened him saying as his heart cried knowing that Monty could never understand him. "I am the first person who would like to see you happy and free to chose your own destiny. But you cannot deny who you are nor your duties. If I would let my affection to guide you myself, I probably would tell you to follow your true wishes but, I am a man of honour, and cannot let you do it. I would be a poor advisor if I didn't warn you of the mistake you are about to make. I don't have authority to stop you, you're the Lord of your fate, but you aren't free to charge your burden over my shoulders. Many people depend on you, Albert. On your decisions, on your sense of opportunity, on your business instinct. You have qualities enough to perform your role. You own a fortune that could help to change the social reality we are living. On the other hand, I am old. I lack your youth, your enthusiasm, your strength, your ideas to make something profitable of your inheritance. I could manage it in your absence but your father wanted that Andrew's fortune could change the world. And I think that in your heart you want the same. You are so alike to him! Only a man comparable to you could succeed. You can do so many things! Think about it, Albert, before making a decision. Weston & Associates could maintain your fortune, even enlarging it, but we cannot take decisions to transform society. Only you can do it!
Albert understood the truth hidden in his tutor's hard words, but that couldn't ease off the pressure he felt in his soul. He shuddered when he imagined a life in Chicago, chained by his fortune and captive of responsibilities he didn't desire. Nevertheless his sense of duty didn't agree and a deep grief invaded him. Unable to protect himself from the melancholy that Albert showed, Monty tried to make up a solution that could satisfy both.
"I think you deserve and need rest, my boy. I am talking seriously. You have worked intensively in the past months. Enjoy a period of holidays, and think about this conversation. Over that period, you must state how long, I will manage your affairs. I know that you will take the best decision for all... And now, let me offer you a drink. We both need it."
The mansion was silent. The scarce servants that Albert maintained, as a man of few necessities, had gone to bed hours ago. Only he continued awake, his chambers illuminated were the unique points of colour in the obscure building. His loyal Capucine lay at rest at his feet while he was reading one of the documents that he had to revise that night. He had finally made a resolution, in accordance to Monty's words. He had resolved to take a year to meditate over his situation and find an answer for the doubts that were mortifying him. He presumed that closing his affairs will take at least two more months, enough to finish his arrangements and assure Candy's position in the Family. Afterwards he intended to embark in route towards Africa.
When he was studying Zoology at University he had been remarkably fascinated by the African fauna, specially by the great anthropoids that were supposed to live in familiar groups over Virunga volcanoes, in Belgian Congo, in the north of Lake Kivu. Studying gorillas at their natural habitat seemed to him an exciting and scientifical experience as there was no specific documentation published on that matter at all.
Albert couldn't avoid smiling at the perspective. He sensed how his blood accelerated in his veins as his turbulent thoughts followed inexplicable courses. He felt full of energy, of projects, of illusion. He imagined how it would be living on his own, depending exclusively on his strengths and ingeniousness, far away from civilisation and its stupid rules. Living in communion with Nature, in an idyllic and savage country, enjoying the most beautiful nightfalls of the earth; savouring each moment, relishing the fact of procuring his own sustenance.
His daydreaming prevented him from realising that the door of his chamber had been opened and a noiseless figure had entered the room. Only a slight caress over his shoulder drove him back to reality.
"What were you thinking about, Albert?" asked a feminine voice, energetic and soft at the same time. "You seemed so happy... I didn't want to disturb you."
Albert took her hand and placed a kiss.
"I am so sorry, milady Candy. I hadn't heard you coming. Have you had dinner already?"
She shrugged her shoulders showing her lack of interest. "I haven't, Albert. There was so much work at the hospital... I am dying of fatigue."
He curled his lips and looked at her very seriously. "Candy, sometimes you are such a child! So worried about your patients and you always forget yourself. Come with me! I think that Hannah left something prepared for you."
Candy gestured her absolute weariness and let her body sank in a close chair.
"But Albert... I am so exhausted! I cannot eat anything, I really don't have the strength."
He took her hand as his face showed his determination. Candy let him led her without opposing any resistance. She hardly could maintain her eyes open.
"You work even more than I do, Albert," she whispered as they went down the stairs. "It is more than two o'clock at night, what are you doing awake?"
He stared at her with joy as he shook her palm. It was small but capable, accustomed to hard working. It irradiated warmth, as everything in her.
"How could I go to bed without knowing if you had already had dinner? Your lack of interest in yourself worries me a lot," he said as they went into the kitchen.
As Albert had predicted, Hannah had left some beef and a salad. Although Candy had thought that she had no appetite, she began to pick up the food before Albert could notice.
Sitting at the table, watching how he heated the beef, she began to tell him about her workday, as she had done many nights before. The kitchen had become their common place of reunion since they had begun to live together again four years ago, when he had put an end to her engagement to Neil Legan. This had been the best present he could have given her. That and also inviting her to live with him in his mansion of Chicago, where both of them could take care of their mutual obligations and also enjoy their company.
Talking with him, after a hard day, and observing his dexterity preparing victuals, fulfilled her with the pleasant sensation of being at home, safe and caressed. He always seemed to know which were her needs, anticipating her minimal desires. In some way, he substituted the parents and brothers she had never had. He was her family, and that warmed her with pleasure.
"Do you know that Flammy has come back?" she continued. "She was conferred a decoration for her courageousness when the war finished, three years ago. Now she is the chief nurse in the surgery department. I think that despite the time passed, she doesn't seem to like me at all. I am very happy to work under her supervision, she had learnt a lot. If I had had the braveness to follow her to the front..."
Candy couldn't see the fear that his face showed for an instant, because she was at his back. Only imagining that Candy's life could have been at risk made his heart ache with anxiety. Nevertheless he didn't say a word, he had learnt in his childhood to hide his dreads to others. He neither wanted to frighten the girl. It had been difficult to gain her confidence; now, she trusted him all her concerns instead of facing them alone, as she did in the past.
"She used to say that I was a frivolous person, more worried about flirting than about working,"she commented, unaware of Albert's thoughts.
"This is ready," he said as he came near to the table with a steaming plate in his hands. He placed it in front of the girl as he kissed her cheek. "And don't worry about Flammy, she will soon realise that you are an excellent nurse. I am the living proof of it."
As he talked, he had sat next to Candy and began to peel an orange. She glanced at him, very serious.
"Albert... Thanks," she said in undertone, her voice a caress, nearly inaudible except for himself. "Thanks for taking care of me during these past years. Thanks for being by my side, helping me to overcome so many difficulties. If it hadn't been for you, I would have died in sorrow when I knew that Terry had married Susanna. Despite that, I thought that I had already forgotten him, I think that this love will always be with me, wherever I go. Now it is merely a deaf rumour, distant, not the tempest in which I was drowning in the past. Thank you for enduring me. I know it wasn't easy."
He turned his face to her, trying to transmit all his understanding; desiring that days didn't pass so slowly and her injuries had had time to heal completely.
"Candy," he murmured. "Time always helps to heal wounds, all kind of wounds. You are a strong woman. You are full of energy, full of passion. Someday you will fall in love again. That doesn't mean that you will forget about Terry, as I am sure that he hasn't forgotten about you. You will learn to be happy with his remembrance, and it will cause you no more pain but tenderness for the great love you had the opportunity to live."
She knew that he was right, but she also knew that thinking about ever forgetting Terry damaged her more than anything. I don't want to find another man. I want to live forever with his memory. But it hurts so much!
"Albert!" she shouted, drowning in her tears as she buried her face in her hands. "Why? Why can't I forget him?"
He remained silent but opened his arms. She took refuge between them, sinking in her personal hell. Sitting over his knees, she hid her face in his chest wetting his shirt with hot tears. He stayed motionless, rocking her, stroking her hair, singing a Scottish lullaby until she fell asleep. Then, he took her to her bedroom.
Your sadness will fade, Candy. I promise. And one day, you will be completely happy again.
2000 Rosa Carmona