He didn’t shout. That would not be dignified. Rather, the arrogant and decisive tone of voice was more socially acceptable. The old man could inject enough ice into his voice to lower the temperature of the room.
“You will marry her, wastrel, or there shall be no provisions for an inheritance. Your mother, God rest her soul, doted upon you too much in this life to produce a man of worth. Now, you will do what is expected of you.”
Bryce didn’t intend to snort at the word inheritance, but he did. Either father didn’t notice or chose to ignore it. He knew there was nothing to leave behind to all the children. A marriage of alliance will be mutually advantageous, but it was dubious that Bryce would see a penny of it regardless.
“Mr. Wynnholm,” Bryce began. The man wasn’t Father, but a Mister. “I will not be party to forced marriage with this woman. We have not even met. Your intention is cruel to her, even more than to myself.”
He forced the words out with strength to prevent the interruption that was expected.
Continuing, “I am not one of your employees and possess no other value to you than to resuscitate your squandered fortune.” Bryce thought for a moment. “No, I lie, the money you pissed away. You do realize that vices do not have to be so expensive, yes? At least Mother kept your spending in some restraint. She had a better eye for your,” Bryce cast about for a suitable word, “special friends.”
The little speech served to further infuriate the old man, though this was only shown by his haughtily raised head and , to Bryce, the comical expression of superiority.
“Such noble sentiments,” Wynnholm responded, “yet still foolish and naive. You could be better like your siblings and do the duty the family demands of you. This will happen, but tonight rather than wait for the assigned time. That will be but a formality. Marriage is inescapable for you and, should it be required, Laughlin will be sent along to ensure cooperation. I shall return in one hour. Be presentable.”
Wynnholm turned on his heel and stalked from the room. The lock clicked after the door was shut. Bryce sighed at the theatrics. He would never stoop to such a farce. An hour was sufficient time since everything was prepared.
The house was crammed with hidden recesses and concealed cupboards, he reached into one of the latter, drawing out a well-packed satchel and the length of rope. Securing the rope to a decorative gargoyle (he never understood why it was indoors), Bryce looked down from the windowsill. The groundskeepers were too busy preparing for the festivities, but it was prudent to look regardless.
Bryce wasn’t the strongest man, but he was amateurishly athletic. The weight on his arms immediately set them to fire in any event. It was obvious he must get down the rope quickly before he got down the rope too quickly.
He had only made it a few feet before a sound to the right caught his attention. Struggling to hold tight, he turned his head. A pretty young woman with a pert nose was likewise struggling down her own rope. They stared at each other for a moment before silently returning to their journey down.
A moment later, a great gust of wind forced her dress up, leaving Bryce with a full view.
“Are you wearing jorts?”
She looked nonplussed before replying, “Well, yes. Why?”
“Oh nothing, nothing. I just hadn’t seen anyone wearing them in some time.”
They nodded at each other, then returned to the task at hand. She seemed to be at least marginally better than he, but Bryce could hear her grunting with effort. So, naturally, they were stopped again.
“I say, are you wonderful children making your escape?”
Bryce looked at the face emerging from the window between them.
“Good evening, Nan. Shouldn’t you have taken your pills and gone to bed by now?”
“Oh, I just pretend to swallow them now and spit them out when the nurse leaves. Hello, young lady.”
Nan sighed. “This reminds me of the first time I eloped. He turned out to be a horse’s ass, so I wasn’t bothered when he was flogged after we were found. He took it like a real man, and didn’t scream. I hope you are as romantic as that when they catch up to you two.”
Bryce swallowed and shared an alarmed look with his fellow climber.
“Sorry, Nan, I do love to hear your stories, but we are in a rush.”
“Oh, of course you are,” she said with a wistful smile. “You children enjoy your freedom while you may. Night!”
Both climbers voiced, “Goodnight, Nan,” in unison, then resumed their descent.
When they reached the ground, both quietly wrang their exhausted hands. A handshake was quite out of the question, so Bryce introduced himself.
“Hi. I am Bryce Much Wynnholm.”
The young woman mulled this over, silently mouthing the word several times before responding.
“Pleased to meet you. I am Doraleen Marjorie Spindle.”
Bryce took his turn to turn the words over in his mouth.
“So, Miss Spin…”
Bryce hesitantly began to mouth the last option, but her never moved from his as she slowly turned her head sideways.
“So, how about Madge?”
She looked thoughtful for a moment.
“Yes,” she approved.
They exchanged bland smiles, nodded in agreement, and slipped, platonically, into the night.