Chapter 16 - I Am Here Now

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As John bounded up the stairs two at a time to the Hale's front door, he couldn't recall any occasion where he had ever traversed from one side of town to the other in so short a time. Though his worry was excessive and probably unjustified, John could do little to shake the ominous feeling that something was very wrong.

He rapped briskly on the door and waited impatiently for Dixon to greet him. Considering the circumstances and his unease, John doubted he would be very charitable or accommodating if the servant dared to sulk. In fact, he was tempted to enter the home on his own and make his way to one or both of the Hales, but John guessed the action would only aggravate Dixon, slowing his efforts down in the long run. Though unable to stop the involuntary and anxious fidgeting of his body, he did somehow manage to resist invading the premises.

After what seemed like an eternity that was perhaps only minutes, Dixon, having spied him through the curtains adorning the adjacent window, yanked open the door, piercing him with a silent scowl that spoke more of her censure than words ever could. He presumed Margaret had shared their news, fanning the kindling flames of the servant's disapproval into a raging inferno. Before she had any chance of denying him information or entry, he took the opportunity to dowse her ire.

"Dixon, there is reason to believe Margaret may be in danger. Is she here?"

His words had the predicted effect, transforming her glower into widened eyes and a slackened jaw. After a few moments of stilled shock, she shook her head vigorously and began wringing her hands.

He gave a curt nod, his voice brusque as he demanded, "Where did she go?"

The servant tripped over her words, so eager was she to get them out. "To the post. On Charles Street. Oh, Miss Margaret! What shall I tell Mr. Hale?"

The last thing John needed was Mr. Hale worked up. The man's health and emotions were already suffering, and something like this would do him no favors. No, he would proceed on his own, following some eerie sense of foreboding that was seemingly propelling him forward.

"Speak nothing of this to Mr. Hale. Not yet. I will see if I can find her."

John spun on his heel and practically leapt down the stairs in his haste, disregarding the surprised stares of passersby in the cramped thoroughfare. It seemed the entirety of Milton would witness the wide gamut of his emotions by the end of the day, he thought caustically.

It was his good fortune that Charles Street was not too far away from Margaret's home, so close in fact that a hackney cab was unnecessary. Instead, he hurried on foot through crowds and street traffic, his steps quick and resolute. Turning a corner, Charles Street came into view, the post office at its heart.

He stopped and scrutinized the busy square from left to right, blocking out the sounds of peddling vendors, conversing inhabitants, and clicking hooves. His initial survey caught no sign of Margaret, and he tamped down his immediate frustration. A second perusal of market stalls and strolling pedestrians offered similar results. Cursing inwardly, he resumed his task, making his way toward the office.

Inside, he felt the absence of his fiancé acutely in the large but mostly uninhabited space, sending his spirits reeling. Where could she be? Had she run another errand? He left the office, a bell ringing an incongruously bright finality as he shut the door behind him.

Several steps away from the door, the faint crinkle of paper underfoot reached his ears, averting his attention momentarily from his purpose. Glancing down, he lifted the toe of his shoe, pivoting it away from the letter as his heel kept it from blowing away. Though soiled by dusty shoe imprints, Margaret's name in crisp, masculine handwriting was unmistakable. His interest seized, John bent over to snatch it up, staring for a few moments in both dread and wonderment. Noticing it was open, he whipped it over to read it, oblivious to the crowd parting in avoidance of him.

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