Disclaimer: Candy Candy and all characters belong to Kyoko Mizuki, images to Yumiko Igarashi and anime to Toei Animation.

Note: My heartfelt appreciation goes to all of you who have taken the time to write to me here on fanfiction, on my blog or in private! Most people want encouragement, and so do I. Therefore, I can't express how grateful I am to have continued support from some of you, chapter after chapter.

I can't believe I have written 34 chapters already! Some of you might have noticed that my chapter is of medium length, not too short but not too long either to keep it focused. I hope you like this update, and if you do, please write a review in a language of your choice! But if you spot any mistake, please don't hesitate to let me know too. Thank you in advance!

-Ms Puddle

Chapter 34: Departure

The Ardlays owned coaches to allow them private travel in large groups. Today, two coaches were used to transport the family members to and from hospital to welcome Stear home. Archie had arranged that he, Annie, Mrs. Sarah Leagan and Great Aunt Elroy would be in one coach, whereas his parents, Patty and Stear were in the other.

However, due to the fact that Great Aunt Elroy and Mrs. Leagan had to attend some urgent business, a family car had come to the hospital to pick them up instead. Hence, only Archie and Annie were in the coach. When they were getting near the grand entrance of the mansion, Annie suddenly remembered Candy, and she asked, "Have you heard from Candy yet, Archie?"

Archie shook his head slightly and frowned. "No, I haven't. I did send my letter to Pony's Home as instructed. I don't know what's happened to her… so I went to find Albert, but he had moved. He no longer works in that restaurant either."

"Is that right?" she asked with her eyes widened and eyebrows furrowed worriedly. She had no idea about Candy's relationship with Albert. Archie had promised Candy to keep that a secret until she was ready to inform her friends herself.

When Archie helped Annie get off the coach, Annie happened to notice Patty running with her head hung low. A hand flew to her lips as Annie gasped, "Archie, look!"

He spun his head towards that direction, his eyes following where she was pointing. His parents, who were standing right beside their coach, were apparently bewildered too. Then Archie mumbled with apprehension, his hand raking his soft hair, "Oh no… don't tell me Stear has said something to upset her again!"

At this moment, Stear was cautiously getting down from the coach as well, and Archie and Annie exchanged a swift glance. Archie would go check on Stear while Annie would seek to talk to Patty, who seemed to have disappeared inside the mansion already.

=o=o=o=

Neil picked up Candy's picture again after the private investigator had left the car and shut the passenger door. Neil murmured, his finger tracing her lips, "You won't be lonely for long. I'll make you mine very soon."

With one last look he kissed the girl in the picture and tucked it safely into the envelope. After that, he turned on the ignition and drove towards the city of Chicago. Moments later, he flicked a glance at his rearview mirror and spotted a familiar black car a distance away. There it is again! That stalker!

Since about a week ago, Neil had begun suspecting that someone had been following him. Just to make sure, Neil had arranged to meet with the private investigator near his family villa in this remote area. Now that the same car appeared again, Neil knew he had been right all along and determined to find out who that was and why this guy was trailing after him like a loyal dog.

Hence, Neil made a big U-turn abruptly and sped along the long and winding road. As expected, that black car also made a turn afterwards and continued to follow Neil's car. Whenever Neil changed his speed, either faster or slower, the driver in that black car would do the same as long as a safe distance was maintained. Some time later, Neil reached a place where there were no other people or cars in sight, and Neil pressed the pedal further down and made another U-turn all of a sudden, heading directly towards the black car. The driver was horrified and attempted to veer left to avoid the imminent collision, swerving onto the incorrect side of the road, but it was too late. When the cars were about to crash into each other, the driver turned off the engine as his last resort. Neil hit the foot brakes, which screeched the vehicle to a stop in a nick of time, the front of the car merely inches from the passenger door of the other car.

The driver in the black car was absolutely dumbstruck, still trying to process what was happening. In a lightning fast motion, Neil got off and dashed towards him. The next thing the man knew Neil had turned the handle and opened the car door, grabbing his collars and hauling him out of his seat.

As the poor man's grey eyes were opened wide as saucers and his sunglasses sliding off the bridge of his nose and onto the ground, Neil was surprised that this man didn't look sturdy enough to fend anyone off. Neil figured the man was possibly in his mid-thirties or even older. His hair was dark brown but streaked with lighter strands or grey hair.

Then Neil yelled at his face, "Who are you?"

Upon hearing Neil's question, he hesitated, remembering what he was allowed to tell under a critical situation. Neil noted the sweat drops on the man's forehead, and with a fierce look, Neil tightened his grip on the man's collars. "You'd better be honest with me unless you want to taste my fists!"

The man swallowed hard, but he kept his mouth shut nonetheless. Few seconds of awkward silence later, Neil lifted up his knee and slammed it right into the man's defenseless gut.

"Ouch!" the man cried and fell to his knees, clutching his stomach in pain. Neil hadn't let go of his collars and threatened, "It will be your groin next!"

As if to prove his point, Neil stomped his right shoe down on the man's sunglasses, snapping them in half and shattering the lenses. The man stopped cowering and raised his trembling arms in surrender, his chest heaving. As Neil glared at him, he finally spoke up with a tremulous voice. "I was paid to keep an eye on you."

"I know that, you idiot!" Neil snorted with a crooked smirk. "Who ordered you?"

"The right hand man of your family patriarch."

The mention of that was enough to throw Neil off balance. Ever since the adoption, Uncle William had not once stood up for his legal daughter against Great Aunt Elroy, who had deliberately isolated the orphan girl from any family gatherings. Besides, rumours said that Uncle William had been ill for a long while.

Because Neil was in a daze, the poor man seized the opportunity to push him off and literally ran for his life. Unfortunately, Neil snapped himself back to the present and caught the man's shoulders, throwing his body to the black car. While the man let out an agonized groan and scrambled to get up, Neil twisted his arm to his back and jammed his face against the windshield, snarling, "Tell me, what are their names?"

The man grimaced in pain but gave no answer. Neil yelled, "How do I know you're not lying to me!"

Then came the panicked yet muffled voice from the man, "I don't know... He only told me... to pass you a message... in case you have... you have found out about me."

Suddenly, they both heard a car honking from afar. Neil released the man and mumbled with a growl, "Give it to me, now!"

With shaking hands, the man reached into his inner pocket and pulled out a small brown envelope. Almost right after Neil had snatched it from him, a luxury car passed by and stopped. As the chauffeur was rolling down the driver's seat window, he asked, "Is everything alright?"

Neil laughed to hide his nervousness, "Of course! It was a small accident, and that's all!"

The chauffeur couldn't stop doubting the young man's answer as he glanced skeptically back and forth between the young man and the other man, whose hair was disheveled and face slightly bruised. Besides, the wrinkled tail of his shirt was hanging out of his pants.

On the other hand, as the poor man tugged his shirt back in place, he gathered that this was likely his only chance to escape from Neil Leagan. His task was done after all, so he said to the chauffeur, "Thank you for asking, sir. It's settled now."

Having said that, the man rushed back to his black car in a blink of an eye. As soon as he started the engine, he turned his steering wheel and drove off. Neil merely smiled and shrugged his shoulders at the chauffeur, who responded with a frown, "Please move your car, young man. It's blocking the road."

"I'll do that right away," replied Neil cordially, hoping that this chauffeur would leave him alone, so he added, "Enjoy your day, mister!"

"You too, young man!" the chauffeur said with a sigh before he left the scene.

Neil didn't move the car however. The road was quite deserted anyway. As he huddled back into the driver's seat, he carefully tore the edge of the sealed envelope. Feeling anxious, he checked the contents inside. There was only a piece of paper, in which it said,

'To the attention of Master Neil Leagan,

Just so you know, he wasn't the only one watching you. I'm here to inform you that this is the last warning from Sir William Ardlay. We have registered complaints pertaining to your recent misconduct towards his adoptive daughter. Should you get near her again without his permission, Sir Ardlay will not accept any excuse and take measures to give you appropriate punishment.

Yours truly,

George'

"Damn you old man!" Neil swore out loud as he pounded his fist onto the steering wheel furiously after reading the note. "So I got tricked! That fool's main job was to pass this message to me! No wonder I could easily handle him… so who else are watching..."

His voice faded as he lost himself in deep thought. Before long, an idea dawned on him, and he let out a cackle of malicious delight. "Permission right, old man? I know what to do then."

=o=o=o=

With a feeling of uneasiness, Annie rapped on Patty's door but no one answered, so she knocked a little harder. "Patty?"

About a minute later, she heard Patty's feeble voice, "Come in, Annie."

So she cautiously swung the door open and saw Patty sprawling on her bed with her face down, seemingly weeping.

"Patty, what's going on? You know you can tell me," Annie said in her soothing voice, her hands reaching Patty's shoulders to flip her onto her back. Oh… she isn't crying, but her face is flushed nonetheless, like she is flustered.

When Patty observed Annie's expression, she knew she had worried her friend unnecessarily, so she pulled herself up in a sitting position and beckoned her friend to sit beside her on the bed. Once Annie lowered herself down next to Patty, the latter opened up and told Annie what had transpired during the ride home, stressing what she had done in response to Stear's apology.

"So that's it?" Annie couldn't believe her ears, and she let out an exaggerated sigh of relief. Annie had imagined various scenarios much worse than that.

Yet her shy friend grumbled, "What do you mean, Annie? I don't know what came over me… I shouldn't have-"

"Patty!" Sensing the regret in her voice, Annie interrupted Patty's statement right away. "It was actually wonderful!"

The shy girl looked blank and confounded. "Why?"

"Haven't you heard?" Annie asked thoughtfully. "Actions speak louder than words!"

As Patty pondered this, she put her spectacles back on as if this could help her analyze the situation. Then Annie explained, "My friend, don't you know that your action has achieved way more than words alone could have done?"

Before Patty could respond, Annie leaned closer and added in a voice barely over a whisper as though she was afraid someone would overhear their conversation, "Come on... tell me. Was this your first?"

Her friend blushed even more, and even her ears and neck turned red. She admitted with her eyes fixed on her lap, "Stear is the first man in my life… but he has not… not shown his affection explicitly…"

Patty paused, and Annie helped her finish it, "Then out of the blue, he was simply gone without any warning."

The young lady with auburn hair nodded, lowering her head further. Annie wrapped her arm around her friend and her other hand held Patty's. "So you have never been kissed?"

She shook her head violently in response, her face completely reddened by now, but within seconds she felt compelled to clarify, "But Annie, don't get me wrong. I love him regardless... I thank God with all my heart... that he is back... yes, with injuries, but he's safe now."

After saying that, a couple of teardrops landed on Annie's arm, and Annie held her sobbing friend in her arms, inwardly planning to talk to Archie afterwards. Perhaps she and Archie should play Cupid for Patty and Stear.

=o=o=o=

Inside the little enclosed carriage, Albert continued to hold Candy close to him after lavishing kisses on her. While she rested her cheek on his shoulder, he placed his chin on the crook of her neck, contemplating how to open up about having met her on Pony's Hill when she had been only a little girl.

"So how old are you, Albert?"

Her question was quite unanticipated, but it was reasonable nonetheless, so he jokingly replied, "Make a guess?"

She giggled before loosening his grip. She then brushed his bang aside, combing his unruly hair to look into his blue eyes. "Didn't we agree you were 24? I know it was long time ago, but were we far off?"

A chuckle escaped his throat. "24? When did we agree on that?"

She thought about it for a moment before answering, "I think it was the evening after your car accident, Albert."

"Oh yes!" he exclaimed when he recalled what had taken place that evening. Blinking teasingly at her, he murmured, "I remember it now, Candy. You were jealous of-"

She pouted her lips and crossed her arms, her face becoming pinkish. "Don't mention that again, Albert!"

He gave a mighty chortle and wrapped his arm around her shoulder. "Yes, Candy, you were quite right. I just turned 25 as a matter of fact." [1]

"Did you really?" she asked seriously as she straightened up herself. "When was your birthday?"

"It was the day when we set off to Pony's Home together," he answered in a level tone, a small smile gracing his lips.

As she pondered his reply for a couple of minutes, searching her memory for the exact date, she averted her eyes and her mouth formed a little 'o'. Later, she raised her face to him. "So it was a Monday… was it June 28?" [2]

With an exaggerated nod, he praised her, "Good memory!" Even his eyes were smiling now.

"Happy belated birthday, Albert!" she said right away, and he grinned ear-to-ear, giving her shoulder a loving squeeze. "I was very happy that day, Candy, thanks to you. It was the first time we traveled together after all."

However, she suddenly dropped her gaze as in defeat, which made Albert perplexed. "What's the matter?"

She cast him a rueful glance before she let out a long sigh. "You are so rich… I don't know what kind of birthday present I can give you…"

He was instantly relieved. "No worries. You have already given me the biggest present yet."

It was her turn to get confused. "What was it? How come I didn't even know?"

His face broke into a satisfied smile as he drew her in further without a word. When she snuggled up to him, he remarked with deep affection, his warm breath fanning on her cheek, "You gave me everything I could ever want when you agreed to marry me the day when we were up on Pony's Hill."

"Oh that…" she whispered, apparently touched. "Albert, what can I say? You're the best thing that's ever happened to me too..." she responded a few seconds later, her voice shaky and thick.

She tightened her arms around his torso while rubbing her face against his neck. He returned her embrace, savoring the moment while sniffing her flowery scent. Meanwhile, all the stress and drama since her birthday in early May flashed through her head. She had lost him twice. The first time he had left her right after the lion attack, and the second time she had made a heartbreaking decision to terminate their relationship. Hence, it meant all the more to her that she could finally return to his sheltering arms.

"Candy? Talking about Pony's Hill..."

His voice trailed off when he gathered his thoughts. Without looking up, she caressed his cheeks lovingly. "Yes?"

He began, "By now you should know... I'm a Scottish?"

"Of course, why?" she asked, her fingers tracing his jawline while wondering why he had abruptly changed the topic.

He cleared his throat before he ventured, "As per our family tradition, each boy in the direct family line will be given a-"

The gentle swaying of the carriage had turned into a sharp jolt as it came to a halt, causing him to stop in the middle of his confession. She gently pushed herself away from him and swiftly drew apart the curtains inside the carriage. He did the same and looked out, and they both knew that they had reached their destination. She sighed lightly and murmured to herself, "It's about time."

No sooner had she said that than the door was opened from outside. The coachman appeared and made a polite bow. "We have arrived, sir."

Albert nodded once and then got off reluctantly. Candy carefully put his letters inside her handbag and moved along as well. As he turned back to give her a hand, his gaze had not left her face. The closer to the departure time, the more intolerable the sinking sensation in his gut became. Although he would definitely arrange her to come back to work in Chicago, he couldn't seem to rid his mind off the wait that he had to endure before he was able to see his beloved again.

Likewise, her throat ached with the tears she had been trying to hold back. She wished she could just forget her job and leave with him. Now that they had reunited, how could she withstand the days when she couldn't see his tender eyes and smile? It was like she finally rediscovered the treasure she had lost only to have it taken away from her again.

When they were heading towards the platform in pensive silence, George spotted them and quickly made his way to meet them. When Albert noticed George, as soon as he got near Albert made a gesture to introduce the lady beside her, "George, please meet my fiancée, Miss Candice White."

Noting that he had intentionally omitted her legal family name, George cocked his thick eyebrow for a second before he sincerely shook his master's hand. "Congratulations, Sir William!"

"Thank you, George!" Albert happily shook hands with him and replied with a genuine grin that went all the way to his blue eyes.

George made a polite nod. "Glad to be of help, sir!"

Then in a reserved manner George said to Candy, "It's my utmost pleasure to see you here with my young master, Miss Candice. Please accept my apology-"

"Oh no!" she interjected, waving her hands frantically. "Please don't say that, George. I'm the one who should apologize-"

Before she could finish, Albert clasped both her hands and implored, "Candy, please don't. How about we just let the past go? What matters more is that you have come back to me now."

Then they all heard the announcement for the passengers going to Chicago. This was the call for first boarding, and George subsequently said to Candy, "Miss Candice, do you see the man in black suit over there?"

She looked up as directed and saw a stout-looking man with dark sunglasses about a few yards away, who reminded her of one of Neil's minions. Instantly, her brows knitted together into a questioning frown.

"What about him?" She didn't sound very upbeat.

"People call him Jack Frost," said George. [3]

"Jack Frost?" she repeated doubtfully, her frown deepening. When she looked at that man again, he nodded at her direction.

"Not his real name, Miss Candice, but he can act as your bodyguard if necessary."

She couldn't believe her ears. "Bodyguard?"

"Yes," Albert joined in solemnly, giving her hand a squeeze. Once again Albert really had to thank George to think ahead of him. Weeks ago, Jack Frost had been ordered to investigate where Candy had gone, and since he had located her correctly, he had been keeping a watch on her.

Then Albert added, "Just in case, I have requested George to send several men to keep Neil at bay too."

"Neil… I see," she mumbled under her breath, nodding with an understanding expression.

"So Candy, before I go," urged Albert, "let me see you get into his car so that I can have peace of mind."

"No!" she protested, pleading simultaneously. "Please let me stay with you a bit longer. I've gone outside the hospital occasionally, and I can take care of myself, Albert."

While Albert was debating with himself, George stated, "Sir William, here's your ticket, and I will wait for you on the platform."

Then George said goodbye to Candy, "See you soon, Miss Candice."

"Goodbye, George! Please take care of Albert for me!"

"Certainly," said George, obviously more relaxed than ever. He couldn't be happier that Sir William and Miss Candice had resolved their major stumbling block.

Upon hearing that, Albert covered his forehead with a hand and complained, "Candy!"

She retorted, her eyes shining with mischief, "What's wrong with that?"

"Please excuse me, sir." George hid his smile and quietly left their side to give them privacy.

So Albert took Candy's hand and sauntered toward to the platform. Although he had really wanted to tell her the truth about her prince, he dropped the idea for now. He figured he ought to do that when they had plenty of time to talk or reminisce. However, there was one more thing he had to say before departure.

Hence, as they were pacing on the platform, Albert remarked, "Seriously, Candy, the adoption documents have been kept in Lakewood all these years. Neither George nor I had a chance to go there yet."

"That's OK, Uncle William," she bantered, stressing the last two words. As she winked at him with her hands crossed on her back, he threw her a mock glare. "What? What did you call me?"

She laughed, doing all that to mask her sadness. Then she repeated, drawling her words, "I called you... Un-cle-Will-"

He held her shoulders to stop her from going further, interrupting her bantering remark. In a split second, he tilted his head and kissed her near the corner of her mouth, which caught her off guard. Then he feigned his anger and lowered his voice, leaning even closer. "If you say that again, Miss Candice White, I will kiss you right here with many witnesses around us."

Putting up a playful grin, she placed her right hand on her waist. She surmised that he wouldn't dare, so she challenged, "No you won't, Uncle Will-"

But her voice was cut off by a loud whistle from the train, followed by the last call for boarding. Without any more delay, he pulled her into his arms and hugged her extremely tight, nearly smothering her again. He breathed to her ear, "Do take care, Candy! Don't leave the hospital without a friend. Never underestimate the Leagans."

He sounded heavy-hearted. Then he gently let go of her. She was fighting back her tears, but through her blurry vision, she noted the glint of moisture in his eyes too. Before she knew it, George and Jack Frost had come, bringing their luggages with them. Candy's sparkling eyes were tearing Albert apart, and it took everything he had to turn on his heels to board the train without looking back.

If Albert could have a choice, he'd rather stay with Candy here, partly because he had anticipated drama and troubles back home, and partly because he had truly enjoyed leading a simple life with his love. His original plan with her before his recovery had sometimes resurfaced in his mind. They had thought of starting their new lives here as two ordinary citizens in the working class. Yes they had to make their ends meet, but they had been very happy and content with each other back then.

Once Albert boarded, George followed him too. As the hissing of steam rang in the air, Albert felt a hard knot forming in his throat. I miss you already, Candy. We'll make it through this. Our love for each other should be able to conquer the obstacles.

Then Albert ceased his step and peeked out the train window, searching for the familiar figure. It didn't take him long to find her in the crowd, and she was crying into her hands. He felt his heart breaking, and without much thought of consequence, he rushed back to the door, ignoring George's voice from behind, "Sir William!"

Albert recklessly alighted the train and hollered with all his might in the midst of the hustling crowd, "Candy!"

Candy thought she heard Albert calling her name. With doubts, she raised her head, her eyes striving to track the source of his voice. As he pushed through the crowd going towards her, she spotted him finally, and she flew to him in response. The people then made way for them accordingly, taking in their exuberance and marveling at their eagerness. Steam hissed, and the time to depart was near. When Candy heard the gentle clacking of wheels on tracks, she flung herself onto Albert and clung to his neck with her arms. She closed her eyes next, breathing in his familiar fragrance one more time. Much to her astonishment, she felt a fleeting touch on her lips as he brushed hers with his own, kissing her so softly. Her eyes shot open, and for a second she wondered if she had imagined it, but he already lowered her down on her feet and released her, whispering, "I love you, always."

"I love you too," she breathed.

The next thing she knew he was scampering back to the moving train. Luckily, the train hadn't accelerated yet, so he managed to jump onto the last step of the departing train as it was leaving the platform. His loyal assistant, who was standing at the doorway from a few train cars away, just kept shaking his head.

Then Candy cried on top of her lungs, waving her arms up high above her head, "Have a safe trip home, Albert!"

As the train gradually picked up its speed, Albert waved back at her and shouted with hands cupped to his mouth, "I will see you soon, Candy! Take care!"

=o=o=o=

By the time Neil got back to the Chicago mansion, the butler informed him that Stear and the others had come home. "That's good. Do you know where my mother is?"

"I believe she's not home at the moment, Master Neil," answered the butler.

As Neil was heading back to his room, Eliza appeared out of nowhere as though she was expecting him. "What's up, Neil? Where have you been these days?"

"It's none of your business," he answered curtly if not impatiently.

Then she scoffed, "Don't tell me you're dating your dream girl, who never shows up."

Noting her scowl, he replied in a matter-of-fact tone, "You actually know her. I will bring her in very soon."

She was apparently stunned, and she gaped at her brother for about two seconds before she inquired with much curiosity, "Can't you just tell me, Neil? Who's the lucky girl? One of my friends in St. Paul's Academy?"

He shook his head with a smirk. "I doubt she is ever your friend, but let me remind you, my dear sis, you have no say when it comes to this matter."

That being said, she was offended, and she didn't bother hiding it. She raised a skeptical eyebrow and sneered, "Not my friend? Who's that then?"

A crooked smile materialized on his face, but he chose not to answer her yet. "You will know soon, Eliza. Now, seriously, where's our mother?"

She purposely acted obnoxiously. "Give me at least two reasons why you're looking for her first. She's very busy running errands for Great Aunt Elroy you know."

Her last statement intrigued him, and he rubbed his chin for a long moment before asking, "Why?"

She shut her eyes and turned slightly away from him, biting her bottom lip stubbornly without answering. Then he bribed her, "Eliza dear, do you know I'm meeting with my friends later this evening? If you like, I can bring you along and introduce you to them."

She whirled around instantaneously and stared at her brother to see if he meant it. As he shrugged his shoulder and extended his arms out to appear innocent, she obliged with his request just as he had expected. "According to mother, very important relatives will be arriving tonight, and Great Aunt Elroy really wanted to impress them with generosity and hospitality."

"Relatives?" he echoed. "Do you know who?"

She shook her head. "I was told that they would stay in this mansion as guests, and mother urged me to befriend with the young lady and take her out shopping for elegant gowns. Great Aunt Elroy is planning to host a grand party in their honor."

=o=o=o=

"Is there anything else you want from me, Madam Elroy?" Her assistant Mr. Burke inquired before leaving her study.

Madam Elroy replied, "Yes, Burke. Did you have a chance to talk to Mrs. Danes at all?"

A complacent smile adorned his lips as he answered the question he had been waiting for, "Absolutely, Madam. I pretended to have let the secret slip by accident as per your order."

She gave him a nod of approval at once. "So what exactly did you tell her?"

He took a glimpse at his notebook and replied, "I said the upcoming party would serve as Sir William's debut, introducing him as the family patriarch to the relatives. Also, you would announce the courtship between him and his future bride, Miss Beatrice McGee."

She looked very pleased. "Excellent job, Burke! Now you can go."

He made a bow. "Thank you, Madam! With your permission."

After her heavy door was clicked shut, Madam Elroy sank in her leather chair and sighed. She had learned from Neil that Candice had been missing for weeks, but she had not known that Neil had been trying to track that girl down. Hence, when Madam Elroy had found out from George that the business at New York had had great progress, she had dreaded that they would go look for that orphan girl afterwards. Old Mr. McGee had heard of the existence of William's so-called daughter years ago and demanded an explanation. So far Madam Elroy had managed to convince him that it had been solely William's impulsive action, and Madam Elroy had guaranteed that she would handle that issue for sure when the right time came. Now that Candice was not in town, it was the best opportunity to take some action.

William, I have done all these for the sake of our family, and one day you will be grateful that I have cleared the path for you.

=o=o=o=

"Miss Ardlay?" a man's deep voice came from behind Candy.

She spun around and saw Jack Frost, his hand holding her handbag. "You have dropped this just now," he said in a neutral tone as though this was nothing unusual.

"Oh… thank you," she responded with a sheepish smile, wiping her tears with the back of her hand. Then what happened next took her by surprise. He retrieved a tiny rectangular shaped box from his pocket and passed it to her. "Sir Ardlay asked me to give this to you, and please do not open it until you're inside my car."

She nodded in understanding and took the box and the handbag from him. As she placed the box inside her handbag, she also double checked if Albert's letters were still there. Relieved that she hadn't lost any of his letters, she looked up at Jack and surprisingly found that he had taken off his sunglasses, revealing a pair of dark, cold eyes. In addition, she saw two small scars on his eyelids, cutting across his thick black brows. He seemed to know what she was thinking, and he remarked, "I was a soldier once."

Right after that, he put his sunglasses back on and left an icy comment, "I'm ready to go, Miss Ardlay. Please follow me."

She wondered why George had found someone like Jack Frost to protect her, but she obediently trailed after this big guy. He ended up walking alongside her even though he was leading the way. When he went up to his car, a navy blue one, he opened the door to the rear seat for her. "Miss Ardlay, please."

Once he settled on the driver's seat, he remarked, "Now you can open the box, Miss Ardlay."

Then he started driving without another word. She couldn't wait to see what was inside the box. As soon as she untied the knot and removed the lid, she took in a sharp breath. It was an exquisite dagger with sheath and an ivory handle. Then she found a note underneath that. Unfolding it she saw Albert's handwriting.

'My dearest Candy,

I found this antique in New York, and I determined to give this to you for self-defense purpose, so do not use it unless someone like Neil is harming you. Your bodyguard will teach you which spot to attack to be most effective but still not fatal.

Love lots,

Albert'

She checked the date and realized that Albert had written this more than two weeks ago. He must have sent this to Jack Frost from New York. Back then she had just deserted him, and yet he had worried about her safety.

Then Jack Frost's voice broke into her thoughts, "I received the parcel a while ago and have been waiting for the order when to pass it to you, Miss Ardlay."

"I see," she said. "Thank you. When will you teach me how to use it?"

"I will do it soon, Miss Ardlay," came his blunt reply.

"Ok," she responded in a casual tone, putting the dagger back in the box and re-tied the knot carefully. After that, she rummaged through Albert's letters but couldn't decide which one to read first. Then she found that he had dated each of them on the envelope. Albert, I miss you… and I will definitely read your letters and write to you...

At this point, she couldn't help reliving the moments on the train platform when Albert had risked missing the train just to embrace her one more time. Now she was certain that he had kissed her then, although it had been very brief. She closed her eyes and wrapped her arms around herself next, trying to contain the many emotions that were coursing through her body for the time being.

Maybe I should go ahead and request a job relocation… our principal should be able to help me...

=o=o=o=

Author's note:

Thank you for reading. I hope to hear from you soon!

Also, I'm struggling whether to illustrate a scene from last chapter (I've got one suggestion) or draw from this chapter. If you have any suggestion, please feel free to write to me. No guarantee though because sometimes it depends if I'm inspired. Thank you for your understanding!

Footnote:

[1] I have decided to stick to Albert's original age in the manga or the old Candy Candy novel because I think it makes more sense. It's hard to imagine why Candy couldn't see her prince in Albert if he had indeed appeared to her at 17 as stated in CCFS. If you like, please read my posts on my blog for more details, "Age difference between Candy and Albert" or "Candy's memory of Prince on the Hill".

[2] I did a quick check and found that June 28, 1915 was a Monday. In Chapter 21 "Proposal", I wrote that they left for Pony's Home on a Monday morning.

[3] Jack Frost is a spirit and the personification of crisp, cold, winter weather, a variant of Old Man Winter. He is supposedly a friendly spirit, but he can be very dangerous because he can cover whoever insult him with snow or turn them into frost.