Marriage Proposal

By: SilvorMoon

The grandfather clock, an heirloom passed down through almost as many generations as there had been such things, chimed the hour in an authoritative tone. Mr. Crocketts set his teacup aside and got to his feet with a slight sigh. This was probably the easiest part of his job, and he hated to see it end. Pegasus would insist on having a bodyguard with him when he traveled, but it was only a formality here at the ancestral home of the von Schroider family, so Crocketts was mostly free to do as he wished. Unfortunately, the chiming of the clock meant his semi-weekly vacation was at an end. He left the room and went in search of his master.

Pegasus and Siegfried were in the solarium together, involved in an animated and half- joking debate over the correct temperature for serving red wine, with one insisting that it was meant to be had at room temperature, and the other staunchly maintaining that this custom was a holdover from the days before central heating, and both of them agreeing that it was absolutely shameful that some people actually defiled the noble beverage by putting ice cubes in it. A bottle of the substance in question sat between them to help with the debate, and it showed signs of having been frequently consulted. Neither of them noticed that someone else had come into the room; they were both completely absorbed in their conversation. Crocketts cleared his throat, and both of them jumped, as if they had forgotten for the moment that anyone besides each other existed.

"Sir," said Crocketts, "I hate to interrupt, but you did tell me to let you know when it was four o'clock."

Pegasus sighed. "So I did. The time goes past too quickly."

"Are you sure I can't tempt you to stay a while longer?" asked Siegfried.

"It would only be postponing the inevitable. I really do have to get home. There are things that must be done tomorrow, or else I certainly would stay another day."

"I know," Siegfried answered regretfully. "Until next time, then."

The two of them rose and clasped hands.

"If you get lonely, give me a call!" said Pegasus. "Day or night! I'm up till all hours, most days... and you need to take a break from your work once in a while. Too much stress is bad for your skin, you know," he teased.

As usual, Siegfried missed the joke. "I'll certainly give the offer my consideration."

"I will await your call with great anticipation! Farewell, noble flower of the Rhineland! My life will be as a barren winter garden without you to brighten it, and I shall live in hope of the spring of your return!" Pegasus enjoyed mimicking his friend's flowery mode of speech, which he seemed to find amusing. Whether or not he was also sincere, Crocketts could only guess, and didn't care to speculate on too deeply.

The two said their farewells, and Pegasus reluctantly left. Crocketts was a little relieved; he tired of the long goodbyes. The two had been doing this every weekend for the last three months, and they still carried on as if it would be a year between their next visit. The bodyguard found it all to be a little ridiculous, but then, he was not an affectionate man by nature.

Pegasus, on the other hand, saw nothing funny about it. He was as earnest in this as he was in anything else he did, if not more so. He didn't often take likings to people, but when he did, they were deep and unshakable, and he had taken a liking to Siegfried von Schroider almost from the moment they'd met. The passion and determination to which Siegfried had shown in pursuing his goals had impressed Pegasus favorably (he'd been more than willing to overlook the little thing about taking over Kaiba Corporation - after all, if Pegasus refused to do business with anyone who'd ever tried to take over Kaiba Corp., he'd have no one left to do business with). Upon being presented with an admirable and intelligent young man of similar age, rank, interests, and occupations, it would have been more unlikely if they hadn't taken a liking to each other. Besides, Pegasus sometimes said, only half-jokingly, you had to admire a man who took such care of his clothes and hair.

As far as Pegasus was concerned, it was all just a friendship, based on shared interests and a certain amount of business necessity. After all, they were partners now, and it behooved them to stay on good terms... and if they just happened to honestly enjoy each other's company, so much the better! Of course, Pegasus had an artist's eye, and enjoyed having beautiful things around him, up to and including people, and he couldn't say he hadn't noticed that Siegfried was an attractive young man... but it was still just a friendship, and it was going to stay that way. That was what he thought, right up to the night when Siegfried decided to get married.

It came as a surprise to Siegfried. He had always taken it for granted that he was going to get married someday, but it had never really crossed his mind to cast that "someday" into more definitive terms. For that matter, he hadn't taken much thought as to what the bride to be was going to be like, other than of course she would be reasonably attractive and accomplished and from a good family. They'd put their resources and produce a child or two to carry on the family name. He'd not given a whole lot of thought to what else they would do together, and usually kept any thought of it at all as far away from his mind as he could.

Unfortunately, it seemed that his mother had not been quite so forgetful. She found him sitting alone in the solarium, sipping disinterestedly at the last few drops of wine and gazing wistfully off into space.

"Don't you have anything better you could be doing?" she asked.

"Mother, you know today was my day off," he answered evenly. "I'm entitled to a moment of repose from time to time. And it's Pegasus who helped me bring our company back from the brink of collapse. Don't you think I have good reasons to cultivate his friendship?"

"I suppose," she said, pursing her lips a little. She had never quite been able to fathom why Siegfried couldn't save the company without Pegasus's help. The fact that Siegfried had completely botched his solo attempt to eliminate the competition, and that it was only Pegasus's incredible flair for being able to spin anything into good public relations that had saved him, was completely lost on her. As far as she was concerned, Siegfried was a bottomless wellspring of talent, and was only slightly wayward when it came to applying it properly. "But perhaps you should really be thinking of finding help a bit more... family-oriented."

"I have. Leonhard helps me a great deal these days. The one good thing that came out of the whole KC Grand Prix debacle was to make a hero out of him. I couldn't get by if I didn't have him winning people back to our side. And he's been helping me develop our new gaming platform."

"That wasn't what I had in mind," his mother replied. "Siegfried, you're not a child anymore, and your father... well, they say there is very little likelihood of his ever improving. Leonhard is, as you say, progressing nicely, but he's still much too young to take full responsibility, and if something ever happens to you... Well, the point is, Siegfried, dear, that you are coming of age soon, and it's never too early to start thinking about heirs."

Siegfried very nearly dropped his glass.

"I'm too young to get married," he said.

"But you need to start early," his mother replied. "You can't just wait until you turn twenty-one to start looking. You need to start looking now, before all the respectable girls are taken."

"There are always more being born," said Siegfried. "You know I intend to marry someday, but I have much too much to do right now to make life any more complicated by going courting. I'll do it when things settle down a bit."

"And what if something happens to you in the meantime? No, I won't rest easily until I know you're at least safely engaged. It's for the good of the family, you know. How can you be so selfish?"

She had said the magic words. Siegfried sighed.

"I don't mean to be selfish, Mother," he said resignedly. "Of course I will abide by your judgement."

"I knew you'd see reason. You always were a good boy at heart," said his mother, beaming. "I was thinking that we could invite over some guests next weekend. Just a dozen or so eligible young women, and a few male guests so there can be dancing. You can look over the girls and see if anyone strikes your fancy."

This sounded remarkably glib to Siegfried; he suspected she had already had the invitations engraved already, and had just been waiting for now to talk him around.

"You want me to pick out a bride in one evening?" he asked. He'd been known to agonize for hours over which suit to wear; he could hardly be expected to pick out a lifelong companion in one day.

"It will be more than one evening. I was thinking more along the lines of the entire weekend."

"But I had planned to visit Pegasus. He's expecting me."

"You'll just have to tell him there's been a change of plans," his mother said resolutely. "I don't approve of you spending so much time with him. I think he's teaching you bad habits. You didn't drink so much before you met him."

"Taking a glass or two on weekends isn't going to kill me," he said irritably. "Very well. I can see you've made up your mind. You can have your party and I will go to it, but I don't promise to make any decisions."

With that, he swept grandly off to the safety and sanctity of his room. Once safely behind closed doors, he dropped into a chair and pressed his head into his hands, wondering exactly how he was going to get out of this one. In desperation, he reached for his telephone and dialed a number.

"Hello!" said a cheerful voice. "Miss me already? I haven't even made it home yet. I thought you were a rose, not a clinging vine."

"Pegasus, this isn't a joking matter!" said Siegfried. "My life as I know it is over! Why is it that just when I think my happiness is at its fullest flower, someone comes and tramples it underfoot?"

"Well, it can't be that bad if you're writing poetry about it. Come, come - tell Pegasus all about it, and let's see if he can make it all better."

"I doubt even you can fix this," Siegfried replied. "I'm going to get married."

There was a pause on the other end of the connection. "I didn't even think you were interested."

"I'm not."

"Then why do it?"

"My mother. She says I have to find a suitable bride and start thinking about having heirs to carry on the family name."

"But you don't want to do it."

"Absolutely not! I've barely got my company under control right now. The last thing I need is to find myself shackled to someone I care nothing about and have to muddle through an engagement and a wedding when I need to be concentrating on my work."

"Well, then," said Pegasus, "it seems to me that the answer is a simple one."

"Really?" asked Siegfried, desperately hopeful. "What is it?"

"Don't do it."

Siegfried deflated. "I can't not do it. Mother will make me. Honestly, Pegasus, you have no idea. She's the most formidable old battle-axe you've ever encountered. My noble ancestors would have proudly carried her into battle and smote their enemies with her." He sighed. "And she does have a point. It's my familial obligation."

"My dear boy, is that your excuse for everything? That it's for the good of the family? Whose family are we talking about?"

"Mine, of course," said Siegfried crossly.

"Meaning you are a part of this family?"


"As a matter of fact, I seem to recall that you are the head of the family?"

"In a manner of speaking..."

"So why don't you do something that's good for you? It seems to me that if you're the most important person in this family, the best you can do is have a care for yourself, once in a while. Besides, I seem to recall that you have a brother who is perfectly capable of someday marrying and producing heirs. If you will forgive the personal remark, he strikes me as exactly the sort who's likely to marry some pleasant young lady and have two-point-four children and a dog. You're not exactly in a position to need a two-car garage and a picket fence, but... I am off the topic. The point is, you don't have to take responsibility for everything. If all else fails, you can take a leaf from the book of the late lamented Mr. Kaiba and adopt someone. It won't be the end of the world if you don't get married."

"I suppose you're right," said Siegfried. "I only agreed to go to this party, anyway. I can do that and let the matter drop. But that means I'll have to cancel our meeting this weekend."

"There will be other weekends. My life will be a dry, dreary wasteland without your presence, but I'll muddle through somehow."

"Thank you for hearing me out, Pegasus. You are eternally my refuge in times of trouble."

"That sounds more like the Siegfried I know! Now have your party, enjoy yourself, and don't worry. I won't let you do anything foolish!"

After they had said their goodbyes, Siegfried felt much better about the whole thing. It was just a temporary problem, after all. He would go through with this foolish plan of his mother's and let the whole thing drop. Really, how bad could it be?

The next week went by an in a blur, for which Siegfried was deeply grateful. Any possibility of remembering it afterwards was one he would have avoided at any cost. He was obligated to write dozens of letters, expressing his personal pleasure that all these guests would be cluttering up his home for three days. He was forced to make final approval for the music, the food, the flower arrangements. His choice of clothing had to be decided beforehand, so as to be absolutely certain that he would put his best face forward, and he was fitted and fussed over until even he was thoroughly sick of it, and half-wished he could just go to the party naked. He had nothing to be ashamed of, after all. Then again, he told himself, his goal in this situation was to come through it without a female attached to him; he didn't want to encourage them.

The dreaded day arrived at last, and Siegfried found himself in the castle ballroom, greeting his guests. No one would have guessed how he was actually feeling about being there. His smile never slipped; his good manners never wavered. He had been brought up to do this kind of thing. It was an unsettling thought for him: all his life, he'd seen the most important aspect of his existence as being the fact that he would someday run the Schroider Corporation. It hadn't occurred until now just how much of his training had been to teach him to win a bride.

As long as he was here, he thought he might as well have a look at his options. His eyes roved around the room, and he mentally evaluated each of the ladies who had gathered here to entice him.

Too short... too fat... too plain... too old... too dowdy... Are these really the best the world has to offer me? There's not one among them I feel the least bit attracted to, much less one I'd want to marry.

He thought wistfully of what he could be doing right now: if this had been an ordinary weekend, he could have been visiting with Pegasus right now. He would probably have just arrived, and he and his friend would be tucked into a comfortable parlor in the old Crawford family manor, surrounded by no more intrusive company than Pegasus's cherished books and paintings. They'd make a feint at talking about business, but would always wind up deep in conversation on something else - everything from classical mythology to debates on the most superior flavor of ice cream.

At least Pegasus is easy on my eyes, he thought ruefully. A dance had begun, and he had allowed himself to be pulled into the embrace of a most determined young woman who appeared to be desperate to catch his attention. The dress she was wearing might have been attractive on its own, but it could have benefitted from a few extra inches of material here and there. It was also the wrong color for her skin tone. Pegasus was always well-groomed, both stylishly and modestly dressed. As far as Siegfried was concerned, if you didn't care enough about yourself to learn to present yourself properly, you didn't deserve for him to care about you.

I wonder why it is that a woman is considered best dressed when she's least dressed, but a well-dressed man shows nothing but his hands and face? So much more interesting that way. It leaves more to the imagination. It takes a bit of talent to learn to highlight your good points without blatantly begging for attention like this.

The song ended, and he did what was expected of him and swapped partners. His new dance partner was at least better dressed than the previous ones, but she made up for it with an overabundance of makeup. She was trying desperately to cover up any signs of age, but he could still see the tiniest hint of gray beginning to show at the roots of her dark hair.

What was Mother thinking? She must be ten years older than me, at least. Then again, Pegasus is a good bit older than I am... but he's never going to show his age, not with that hair of his. He'll look the same at fifty as he does now. Even now, he had to stifle a laugh. I expect if I told him this, he'd just say that he doesn't age; he just matures like fine wine.

After what seemed like an eternity, the dancing was abandoned in favor of dinner. He took his seat at the table and did his best to look like he was attending to the conversation around him. He managed well enough; no one seemed to really want him to say much, just so long as he looked like he was paying attention. He nodded and made encouraging noises as the two young ladies on either side of him prattled on about local gossip and what was currently playing on television.

Pegasus always has something interesting to say.

The girl on his left was being particularly annoying - not so much because of what she was saying, but what she was doing. She was eyeing him like an appraiser would eye a jewel, and he could almost hear the sound of her calculating the worth of his clothes, his jewels, and making guesses at everything else he must own. The state of her own clothing made him suspect that she had been chosen for accomplishments and bloodlines rather than for net worth, and suspected he knew why she was here.

A family fortune in an attractive package. I suppose there are people who would marry for that, but I would just as soon not let one of those into my family. At least Pegasus sees me as something more than a source of income. I think he actually cares about me...

The night dragged on and on, and dinner and talking and dancing and flirting all ran together in an endless, agonizing blur. As he grew more tired and frustrated, one thought in his mind: I want to be with Pegasus.

Relief finally came at about two in the morning, when the tired guests were sent off to their rooms to sleep. Siegfried did his best to make it look as if he were really sorry to see them all go, and as soon as they were out of sight, made a beeline for his room. He didn't feel like trying to work out what time it was in America, and he didn't really care anyway. It was time to see how much his partner had meant when he said that Siegfried could call any time, day or night.

Much to his relief, the phone was answered on the third ring, and Pegasus sounded just as cheerful as ever.

"Siegfried, my boy, I wasn't expecting to hear from you today! I thought you would be out enjoying your little soiree."

"Pegasus, can I make a small request?" asked Siegfried.

"But of course! Whatever your heart desires."

"I've heard rumors that you have connections with the criminal underworld. Nothing substantial, but there are whispers that you have employed some people who are not entirely of good repute."

"Well, people do talk, you know. I don't like to draw attention to that kind of gossip with a formal denial. Why do you bring it up?"

"Kidnap me!"

"I beg your pardon?"

"I cannot stand another moment of this! For hours and hours, I've been trying to stay calm and courteous to a garden of gaudy weeds. If these are the finest flowers of my nation, then we are in a pitiable state."

"I see. So lightning didn't strike, eh?"

"I wish it had! Anything to enliven this interminably dull party! I can't believe I agreed to go through two more days of this. Two days! I'm going to go insane, Pegasus - stark raving mad."

"Throw them out!"

"After all the work I've done to improve my public image? Talking to these people is as exciting as watching grass grow, but they can ruin my reputation if I'm not at least polite to them."

"Ah, yes. I can see how that might be a bit of a problem. I suppose you could feign illness."

"Mother will send for the doctor if I so much as sneeze."

"Arrange for a power outage?"

"I'm sure they'd trace it to me somehow."Siegfried sighed. "It doesn't matter - I don't expect you to get me out of this. I just wanted someone to talk to who understood. I wish none of this were happening. All the time I'm here, I'm really thinking how much I would rather be enjoying one of our quiet weekends together."

"I feel the same way. You're the only one around here I can have a decent conversation with. To be absolutely selfish, I'm perfectly happy that you haven't met anyone. Whoever she was, I would be jealous of her. A rare flower like yourself shouldn't be given to just anyone."

"Trust me," said Seigfried, "I haven't been thinking of anyone but you." He sighed. "I'm exhausted. I need my beauty rest if I'm not going to look like a zombie tomorrow."

"You'd be a very pretty zombie."

"That's not funny."

"Then why are you laughing?"

"All right, all right. It's only funny coming from you. But I must sleep. Goodnight, Pegasus. Call me sometime tomorrow - it will give me an excuse to leave the party for a few minutes. Otherwise, I'll be joining my father in the asylum."

The two of them said their goodbyes. When the connection was broken, Pegasus sat back in his chair, stroking his chin and looking deeply thoughtful. Truth be told, he had been missing his most favored business partner far more than he'd imagined he would. He hadn't realized how much he had been coming to depend on having an understanding companion around. He hadn't had anyone he could really talk to in years, and the thought that this person he was coming to genuinely care about was possibly about to find someone else who would take his place - take precedence over him, really - was enough to give him an unpleasant twinge. Siegfried was the only person he had to care about right now, and he'd gotten rather used to having someone to focus his emotional energies on. Getting a phone call in the middle of the night and hearing that his friend was absolutely miserable without him... well, if he had been a totally unselfish person, he would have felt sorry for poor Siegfried. As things stood, he felt sorry for poor Siegfried... and also absurdly pleased that this intelligent, cultured, attractive person would rather be with him than with a bevy of the most desirable young woman in all of Germany.

Well, my dear boy... if you want me, you'll get me.

"Crocketts," he called, "get me air transportation. I am going to do something particularly wicked."

Supposedly, it was entertainment. A few musicians had gathered and were giving a miniature concert in one of the larger parlors, for the entertainment of the guests. Normally, Siegfried appreciated music, provided it was of good taste, but he would have selected something a bit less amorous. It was obviously meant to set the mood, but it was only serving to set Siegfried's nerves on edge.

I can't take any more of this! I'll find Mother and make her call this thing off early. There has got to be some excuse good enough to get everyone out of here...

Just then, the parlor doors burst open, and he whipped his head around to see what was going on.

A couple of masked gunmen, for example. That just might do it.

"Don't anyone make a move!" shouted the shorter of the two gunman. Like his taller, thinner companion, he was dressed head to toe in a baggy black sweatsuit, and his face was covered by a black ski mask and sunglasses. He was holding a gun in his hand - not waving it threateningly, but simply holding it, coolly and calmly, as if he knew exactly what to do with it. For a moment, Siegfried was inclined to panic, but then he suddenly realized the voice was vaguely familiar.

"We don't want to hurt anybody. We're going to make this nice and easy," the gunman continued. "Just hand over Siegfried von Schroider, and we'll go away and leave the rest of you alone."

Oh! Siegfried realized suddenly. Kidnap me. Right. Right, then!

His hand flew to his mouth in a gesture of shock and dismay - or at least, that's what it looked like; he was really doing his best to cover a smile.

"Oh! Oh! Whatever shall I do?" he wailed theatrically, and with a groan, he feigned a swoon, allowing himself to fall gracefully to the floor. The slim, silent gunman knelt and carefully scooped him up. Siegfried was grateful to his captor for taking such pains not to wrinkle his good clothing or tangle his hair. He could only imagine how dramatic he must look, with his hair cascading nearly to the floor and one slender arm dangling languidly. He wished he could see himself.

"We're just leaving now," said the first gunman. "Everyone stay right here. If you move, the boy is shot. No one leaves this room for the next twenty minutes. Do you understand? The minute we see anyone following us, this boy dies."

There were frightened nods. The two kidnappers walked serenely out of the room, carrying an unprotesting Siegfried, who was still doing all he could not to laugh. He forced himself to remain still and silent until he'd been carried out of the castle. A nondescript car was waiting outside to receive him, and he was ushered into the backseat by his captor, who sat down beside him. The other climbed into the front.

"Drive, Jeeves!" said the thin kidnapper, grandly waving a hand.

"That isn't funny," said the gruff-voiced driver, but he nevertheless started the car and sent it wheeling off into the forests that surrounded the von Schroider castle.

Meanwhile, in the back seat, Siegfried had given himself over to mirth, laughing until there were tears in his eyes.

"I don't believe you!" he gasped out, as he gradually began to get control of himself.

"Why not?" said Pegasus mildly, peeling of his mask. "You did ask to be kidnapped. I thought I did a rather neat job of it, didn't you?"

"Yes, but... good lord, what is my brother going to think? Leonhard - he'll be in a panic."

"Not to worry, dear boy!" Pegasus replied. "I sent him an e-mail explaining everything. He was very kind about disabling the security cameras for us, and arranging for the guards to be elsewhere. Such a fine, upstanding young man, he is. Reminds me a bit of myself at that age."

"Still, threatening people with guns..."

"Oh, these?" Pegasus brandished his weapon. "So glad I didn't have to use it. I'm a dreadful shot. I suppose I can discharge it now, though."

He pulled the trigger. A brilliant pink suction dart shot across the length of the car and affixed itself to the windshield.

"Stop that!" Crocketts scolded.

"Oh, come on! You know you want to!"

"I just don't believe this," Siegfried was saying. "How do you think you're going to get away with this?"

"Who is going to prove it? Nobody saw our faces. No one heard my voice, and no one in that room would have recognized Crocketts. There's no evidence left behind. Who on earth is going to believe that I would go through all the bother of kidnapping you when you come and go in my house all the time? What possible motive could I have? Besides, you came of your own free will. You don't plan to press charges, do you?"

"Now that you mention, it... no."

"Then there's not a problem! We'll give you back tomorrow, and everything will be all right again."

"Did you explain to Mother about this?" Siegfried asked.

"No. I told young Leonhard to leave that decision up to you. You can call her, if you like."

Siegfried considered for a moment. He smiled.

"Let's not," he said.

"Good! Then that's all settled," said Pegasus brightly. "And in the meantime, we still have part of a weekend left! So, my precious blossom, what shall we do?"

Siegfried met his eyes and smiled. "Dear Pegasus, I leave it entirely up to you."

From the front seat, Crocketts grumbled, "Break it up, you two! At least wait until we get to the hotel"

He was answered by nothing but vague rustlings. He sighed.

"Do I have to separate you two?"

On Sunday morning, the matron of the von Schroider clan was pacing the floor, wringing her hands and bewailing the loss of her eldest son, and just when things seemed to be going so well! She had already called the police twice today, and each time they had told her they had no leads and nothing to report. It was maddening. Surely someone, somewhere would rise to the reward she had offered and let her know where her darling son might be.

Just then, the door opened, and Siegfried sauntered lazily past on his way to his rooms.

"Good morning, Mother," he said.

"Siegfried!" His mother flung himself at him and began trying to cry on his expensive clothes. "Oh, my darling boy, I'm so glad you're all right!"

"Dear Mother, what is the matter with you! Control yourself!" he said.

"But - but I thought you were dead!"

"Dead? Why should I be dead? I've never felt better."

"But those horrible men! They kidnapped you!"

"I wasn't kidnapped," said Siegfried. "Can't imagine where you got the idea. I've been visiting with Pegasus, just like I do every other weekend."

"You weren't," she said blankly. "I saw you. They kidnapped you. They had guns!"

"They didn't kidnap me. I went voluntarily. And they weren't real guns. And if you are going to continue to put me up for auction like a bit of antique furniture, then I will have to do something a bit more drastic next time to make sure everyone gets the point that I am quite unavailable. Now, do be sensible and call the police to let them know there's been a misunderstanding."

Her eyes widened. "You mean you planned all this?"

"No, but it seemed like a good idea to go along with it. I told you, I don't want to get married right now. I don't want to even get engaged right now. As a matter of fact, I am under a strong impression that I'm going to remain unmarried for the rest of my life. If you want heirs, I suggest you start thinking of some other way to provide them, because I'm not going to do it."

"And why not?" she demanded.

Siegfried smiled. "Dear Mother, for the sake of your frazzled nerves. I'd rather not tell you."

She stared at him a long time. Little things began to fall into place inside her head.

"You - that man - did you?" she spluttered.

"Oh, no," said Siegfried. "Pegasus is very proper. He'd never do that on a first date. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go change. I'm afraid I didn't pack any clothes for this little jaunt, and you know how I hate to wear the same thing two days in a row."

He walked off, smiling happily, leaving his mother to collect her wits and to call the police. He had a singular feeling that he didn't have to worry about being married off anymore.