John paused before taking his hand off the bannister at the top of the stairs. He stared at the bound packet in his hand, turning it over and scrutinizing every detail. His father and Lord Maycourt had been corresponding regularly for years, but for some reason John was moved at this moment to wonder why. Sir Reginald had no other correspondents and was not a social man.
A burning desire ran through his veins, a desire to tear open the packet and see for himself what the relationship was between the two men. He was nearly shaking with frustration.
He forced himself to breathe. His reaction was too strong, too sudden. Had this been building up in him all these years? Did he resent his father's secretive correspondence?
No, it was something else. He was reacting instinctively, viscerally. Whatever it was, he did not consciously know what it was. He was, however, certain of one thing:
Something had happened.
He steeled himself, took another breath, and strode to his father's door. No sooner had he raised his fist to knock, when his father's voice called out.
"Bring it in, boy. Bring it in."
John narrowed his eyes. He was not a boy, and he was not a servant, but Sir Reginald seem to regard him as both. Stiffly, he turned the knob and pushed the door open.
"Give it to me, will you?"
John strode to his father's bedside and handed over the packet. "Lorraine is downstairs--"
"Yes, yes," Sir Reginald muttered, waving him away with a wrinkled, veiny hand. "Wait outside."
John drew a long breath in through his nostrils and stepped towards the door.
"Where's my quill?" The sharpness in the voice had increased a notch. John hadn't thought that possible.
"Here, Father. On top of the dresser."
"What's it doing there?"
"I wouldn't know, Father."
"Bah! You wouldn't know your brow from your backside if someone shone a light on it. Bring it here."
John was nearly quivering again, this time from rage. He imagined himself striding to the bed and running the quill through the old man's eye.
Instead, he moved quietly to the dresser, picked up the quill and ink, and returned to the bedside.
"Well, on the table, then," Sir Reginald grunted.
John put the items on the bedside table and headed back towards the door. "I'll be outside."
Sir Reginald waved him away again, then turned his attention to fussing with the packet and extracting the envelope inside. John stepped into the hall, closing the door behind him rather more firmly than he'd intended.
"Mind how you close that door," came a muffled bellow from inside.
John took a few steps down the hall and placed both hands on the railing. He leaned heavily, hung his head, and once again tried to slow his breathing. He tried to listen to the sounds around him rather than the repeating string of curses his mind was conjuring.
Finally, after a few minutes, he settled down. He stood, turned around, and leaned back against the rail.
He had only a moment of peace, however, before his father's muffled voice called out his name.
Returning to the bedroom, he opened the door and stepped in. His father was already waving the packet at him like it was his private ensign.
"Take it, will you? Lord Maycourt is waiting for my reply."
"Yes, Father." John took the thoroughly-shaken package from his father's hand and retreated a step. "Will there be anything else?" He tried to keep the disdain from his voice.
"Yes," Sir Reginald barked, waving in the general direction of his bedside table. "Take that bloody quill and put it back on the dresser where it belongs."
Suppressing a smirk, John obediently picked up the quill and ink and carefully laid them on top of the dresser, in the exact position in which he'd found them.
"Go on, then. Lord Maycourt hasn't all day."
John stepped outside, closing the door a bit more softly this time, and headed for the stairs.
As he studied the packet again, he slowed his pace. He turned it over in his hands, examining it as he had before. It looked the same as before, but this time, John knew, there was something different. The seal on the envelope inside was already broken. No one would know...
He glanced furtively around him. No one was nearby, and he heard no sounds of movement. Quickly, he unwrapped the envelope, opened it, and slid out the letter inside.
The first part of the note was in Lord Maycourt's hand:
It has finally happened, as we knew it must. I've received word from Mister Witherspoon, and he has seen for himself. We must act quickly.
The part below that was in his father's hand:
I shall have the items shipped immediately by messenger to Mister Witherspoon at his establishment. We must meet in person as soon as possible.
John looked up from the letter, a deep frown creasing his brow. What on Earth were they talking about? This Witherspoon they mentioned, he was an innkeeper in London. What could he possibly have to do with...?
John replaced the letter in the envelope, rewrapped the packet, and went back downstairs.