AN: As with most things I write, it started with an image in my head which wouldn't go away. I don't know if I've done it justice but I wanted to give Phryne a chance to learn a little about the tightly guarded personal life of DI Jack Robinson and for Jack to realise he can cope perfectly well on his own, but it's kind of nice not to have to once in a while.
Special thanks to Seldarius & to SilverSentinal21 for their poking, prodding, encouraging & correcting - I appreciate it. Without it I may never stop fiddling with my work long enough to actually publish any of it. Any errors, particularly ones involving the grammatical evil Passive Voice, are entirely my fault.
Disclaimer: To Kerry Greenwood and the ABC I say merely: imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
PS: We're all hoping rather desperately for a third season and to those of you in Australia - I think it might be worth the effort to vote in Tv Week's Logie Awards for Miss Fisherit could be a total waste of your time but the ABC might also be looking to see how many votes it gets, perhaps we might even win something ;) If you're not in Australia but you want to vote PM me.
Jack Robinson was not having a good day. In fact, that was putting it mildly. For the first time in his entire working life he'd been sent home. Chided like a schoolboy and informed he was off duty for 48 hours. He was, in the brief moments between the waves of frustration and boredom, prepared to admit that he wasn't well. He was fairly sure he had a fever and he did have a kicker of a headache but that had never stopped him working before and he would much rather be shut up in his office at the station than stuck hanging around the house. There used to be a system, if you didn't look well you'd be left alone with your paperwork - heaven knows there was always mountains of the stuff - unless something really urgent came up or you actually collapsed.
He'd tried sitting at the desk in his study when he'd first come home but as he hardly ever used the room anything he moved sent up a cloud of dust which made his already compromised nose and throat unbearable. He couldn't face food so the kitchen didn't appeal to him, the parlour was one of the coldest rooms in the entire house and Jack didn't feel like tending a fire and he couldn't even sit outside because it was raining. Reluctantly he admitted that the most obvious solution was to go to bed, sleep it off and maybe by this evening he'd feel up to sitting by the fire reading the paper.
Dimly Jack was aware that something had woken him. It was a familiar sound that had penetrated the haze of sleep but it got lost in the muddle of an over tired mind before it was properly processed. He probably should investigate but he could feel the waves of tiredness tugging at him, pulling him back towards sleep and made no real effort to resist.
The second time he heard it. A determined knocking which beat a tattoo into his already sore head. He wanted desperately to pull his pillow over his head in an attempt to smother the abrasive sound but he knew it would never do. There weren't many people who would knock on the front door of a Senior Detective-Inspector of the Victorian Police without due cause, which meant it was his duty to answer it. He'd have a few choice words for them if it wasn't deathly important. But, ever a man of principle, Jack pulled back the covers, stuck unwilling feet into waiting moccasins and threw on a dressing gown to ward off the chill which seemed to have descended over the entire house. Not that he had spent enough time there in the past few weeks to have been able to say definitively that it was colder now than on previous mornings but as he attempted a purposeful stride between his bedroom and his front door he decided that perhaps he should keep the aga lit overnight after all. It's not like there was any need for rationing these days, but old habits were hard to kick and there didn't seem much point now that he was here alone. Bemused by his strangely domestic thoughts, Jack barely paused between reaching the large oak door and opening it, through long habit and training had him ready to slam it shut at the first sign of trouble.
For a moment Jack stood staring at Miss Fisher in stupefaction, coherent thought deserting him. His first thought, that he was hallucinating, was quickly dismissed as not even in his wildest dreams could he have imagined Phryne so demurely dressed. You would almost think she was trying to blend into the working class suburb she was now in the thick of. The casual observer perhaps could be fooled into accepting the simple pattern as confirmation that this was just another middle class woman in her store bought dress and coat, but up close Jack could see the elegant cut which hugged Phryne's figure like a glove and the shine of what was likely real silk lining the boxy coat, belying its inexpensive illusion. Even in disguise Phryne was unable to escape her sense of style.
Jack was exceptionally glad now that he'd had the presence of mind to put on his dressing gown. Decorum aside, it made a better shield than flannel pyjamas. Not as good as a three piece suit and overcoat but on par with a dinner suit, in terms of layers at least, and when it came to Phryne Fisher, any defence was better than none.
"How-" Jack began roughly and was forced to clear his throat, which was suddenly uncomfortably dry. This gave Phryne the opportunity she had been waiting for.
"You weren't at the station this morning Jack. You can't have expected me not to notice."
She said it with such conviction that Jack wondered vaguely whether he could possibly have forgotten he'd planned to see her this morning? It had him wanting desperately to wipe his suddenly clammy forehead. But no, he was certain that, at the very least, Collins would have reminded him if he had. He supposed it was inevitable, given her penchant for arriving unannounced, that she would show up on the one morning he wasn't there.
"Yes but why are you here?" Jack asked, resisting the temptation to lean against the door for support. It really wasn't a good day for houseguests.
"You expected me to abandon you in your time of need?"
"This is hardly a 'time of need', Miss Fisher. You can see for yourself I'm perfectly alright." Jack ground out, silently cursing his constable's attachment to Dorothy Williams which had undoubtedly been the weak point from which Miss Fisher had extracted her information, yet again.
"Come on Jack. Both of us know up the only thing stopping you from collapsing right here and now is your misplaced sense of pride. The fact that you are arguing with a woman standing on your front veranda in your night things and in view of half the suburb is hardly helping your case."
"You could always leave." Jack said wearily, knowing he'd already lost this particular battle just by opening his front door.
"And have Mrs Sydnum wondering why you turned away the daughter of a dear friend of your mother's who'd been kind enough to call knowing you were ill?"
Of course she'd taken the time to introduce herself to his neighbours. That was perfectly reasonable behaviour, just like lying about her connection to his mother. But as irate as he wanted to be about the deception he wasn't foolish enough to think that it wasn't a genuine attempt to respect his sensibilities and protect his reputation. At the Fisher residence unmarried male visitors were unremarkable; you couldn't live within 10 miles of Phryne and not realise her nature. But that was not Jack's nature. Reputation and decorum were important to him so there had never been any reason for any member of his street to remark on his behaviour and Phryne's actions ensured no one would think twice about her coming. His mother, he thought ruefully, would have approved.
Reluctantly Jack stepped back, holding the door open for Phryne to pass by him into the hall. It was at that point that Jack noticed the large wicker picnic basket which had been sitting inoffensively at Phryne's feet and was now hanging from the crook of one of Phryne's delicate arms.
Knowing it was unlikely that Phryne could be convinced to leave again quickly and correctly deducing that she was again resorting to feeding him to get what she wanted, Jack lead the way to the kitchen. He wanted to point out that he'd been more than capable of preparing three meals a day for himself long before he met Miss Fisher but he couldn't deny that the food prepared by her staff was superior to anything he could make himself and there was no point letting good food go to waste. Resigned to his good fortune, Jack tried to at least appear discouraging; after all he didn't want to encourage her inviting herself to his house. If there was a small voice in his head which said 'the way you've taken to making yourself at home in Miss Fisher's parlour?' Jack chose to ignore it.
Reaching the kitchen Jack made a small concession to his ill health by choosing to lean against the kitchen bench while Phryne deposited her basket on the table.
"Dot was all for making you some ghastly invalid's broth and packing her mother's herbal remedies but I managed to convince her that you would insist you weren't sick and therefore we needed a hearty picnic instead." Phryne said cheerfully, making no mention of his choice of position.
"So you manipulated Miss Williams into providing you with a lunch you'd like rather than one which would do most good to the person you were visiting?" Jack asked coolly, goading her.
"So you're willing to admit you are sick? Because Dot did say I could call and she'd send Cec & Burt with the broth. Parsnip, kale and potato I think she said it was."
It was only Jack's good manners which stopped him pulling a face at the thought of a watered down combination of such dull vegetables which would no doubt be loaded with foul tasting herbs. He'd been forced to take some while recuperating once and his stomach roiled at the thought.
"We needn't trouble her, I'm sure she's got plenty of useful things to do in your absence Miss Fisher."
"Like take Hugh lunch?" Phryne asked sweetly.
"Constable Collins -" Jack began hotly.
"-is none of your concern today, Jack. But to give credit where credit is due, I doubt either of them would be able to carry out such a scheme. I on the other hand, come bearing a veritable feast."
Jack wanted to laugh as she pulled a full bottle of whisky out of the basket and set it aside before plunging back in for cold meat, cheese, fresh baked bread, a potato salad, mustard, chutney, butter, a garden salad, some hard boiled eggs; somehow managing to fill the entire kitchen table with edible delicacies and finally having to move the basket to make way for the thermos of coffee and something which smelled suspiciously like one of Mr Butler's apple pies.
Jack stared at the mountain of food and realised Phryne's gambit. He could eat and drink as heartily as he normally would when presented with Miss Williams and Mr Butler's excellent preparations or he could admit that he actually wasn't all that well and plead down to a lesser fare. Up until a moment ago he would have been quite happy to maintain his line of defence that she didn't need to stay because he wasn't unwell, he merely got offered some time off in exchange for all the overtime he'd been working. But the idea of sitting down to lunch and just seeing how his uncooperative stomach handled its first food of the day while Phryne watched did not appeal to him one bit.
"We could," Phryne said lightly, her eyes sparkling as she teased him gently, "start with coffee and plain bread and see whether we are hungry."
"Coffee first sounds reasonable." Jack agreed, thankful that for once she didn't have to best him.
Phryne, looking for all the world like this was her kitchen rather than his, bustled about lighting the aga and hunting for plates, cutlery and mugs rather than asking. He supposed he shouldn't be surprised that she had the necessary domestic knowledge to look at home in a kitchen but given her appearance of complete dependence on Miss Williams and Mr Butler it was easy to forget there was a time where she had been entirely dependant on herself for survival. He waited until she had everything she wanted assembled and had taken a seat before he took his seat opposite her. With silent accord Jack applied himself to carving up the loaf while Phryne poured their coffee.
Relief poured though Jack as no wave of nausea accompanied the smell of freshly baked bread as it reached his nostrils. Indeed if anything smelling the combination of fresh coffee and bread made him wonder if he should have attempted breakfast after all. But it was still with extreme caution that he took his first bite.
If Phryne was watching for his reaction she was doing a remarkable job of hiding that fact. For all intents and purposes she looked completely absorbed in spreading mustard on her piece of bread and deliberating over whether to put ham or roast beef on next. Looking more closely Jack realised her piece of bread had a sizable corner missing; she had been as good as her word then, starting with plain bread to decide if she was hungry. And if you considered that following the ham she'd added cheese, slices of egg and salad, it could be surmised she was indeed very hungry. He appreciated the ruse all the more for it.
There was a span of companionable silence while Phryne was absorbed completely in the task of eating or preparing what she'd eat next and Jack, who was more cautious in his approach to his food (although his stomach was, so far, complying), found himself watching her with wry amusement. You'd think she hadn't eaten in days, rather than the short hours between her preferred late breakfast and now. She could certainly not be said to be shy about her appetite. Jack found his thoughts straying to Rosie, who seemed perpetually conscious of the importance of not over eating, even in the privacy of their home, while always insisting Jack must eat more than he actually wanted to, adding a level of strain to shared meals that had had Jack secretly looking forward to the nights he'd have to work late and would end up having dinner alone in the kitchen after Rosie had gone to bed. Jack knew it was more than the realities of post-war rationing that limited her appetite and saw her practically forcing food on him but she would never allow him to broach the subject and it had become just one more stone in the wall which had risen between them.
At last Phryne sat back, cradling her mug of coffee in one hand and surveying the considerable dent they'd made in the feast laid out before them. She looked pleased that he too had eaten well but apparently saw no need to comment on the fact.
"You'd better tell me about your mother Jack. Having claimed her acquaintance, I should at least know her first name if I'm not to tip the punters off that all is not what it seems."
"And here I thought you could bluff your way out of anything." Jack said sardonically, catching her slightly off guard.
He could practically see her debating whether she should be defending her abilities or pointing out it was his loss if she got it wrong. But he relented, not wanting to have that particular conversation any more than she wished to. "Mary Lydia Robinson. But most people know her as Lydia because her mother's name was Mary. She was a Shaw before her marriage to my father, John Robinson."
"A Shaw? That's a well-known Melbourne family, my mother and Aunt Prudence would almost certainly have known of her then. It's funny how sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction. I've forgotten so much of Aunt Prudence's lectures on the old established families of Melbourne, she did try ever so hard to make a high society lady out of me all those years ago. But the Shaws, I seem to remember there was some story about one of the sons, Rupert maybe? I just can't put my finger on it but Aunt P made some example out of it."
Jack didn't quite know what to say to that. He had always known that his mother's family had been well respected but he'd never imagined them to have been on a similar standing to Miss Fisher's relations. He might actually learn something of his own history.
"Her father, my grandfather, was Robert Shaw." Jack said quietly, curious to see if Phryne could pull memories out of that extraordinary mind of hers and provide answers to questions which he had often wondered about. "I don't remember much about my grandfather. Just a quiet, slightly shabby old man who did magic tricks with threepences for his grandson and told fantastic stories of his long sea voyages to England with his firm as a young man. The rest of the adults seemed to wave him off but if you sat and listened..." Jack smiled, lost for a moment in the memories.
Glancing Phryne's way Jack knew she'd remembered, but something held her back from sharing it.
"It's about money isn't it?" Jack guessed and seeing her wince ever so slightly he knew he'd been right. "I'd rather know Phryne, it doesn't matter now but I feel as though many of the pieces are there I just can't connect them."
"It's nothing scandalous, Jack." Phryne said quietly, pausing as though hoping he'd decide he didn't want to know what she'd remembered Aunt Prudence saying. But Jack merely nodded and waited for her to continue. With a sigh, Phryne capitulated. At least she could remove the petty disdain for misfortune that had coloured the version she'd been told.
"Robert's first wife, Eliza, was loved by everyone but died very young leaving Robert with two teenage girls to bring up alone."
"My mother and my aunt," Jack mused.
"Yes. It was inevitable that he would remarry but the woman he married, Marion, I believe was not of such good heritage as your true grandmother. Rumour says that while the girls adored and doted on their father and were sisterly to the son resulting from the union, the girls were not discrete about their dislike of their stepmother. But all of that - well the lesson on public support of your elders was superseded by another." Phryne swallowed, she usually could discuss her disdain for Aunt Prudence's behaviour so easily but in this case the example she had to use was one which could wound Jack's pride and give rise to unhappy allusions.
"One about marrying within your own class?"
"Yes. But that inference was unfair. The economic crash of 1891 forced Robert's machinery business into foreclosure and wiped out much of their savings. Eliza's family had been wealthy, whereas Marion's people were not, meaning they could not turn to them for support and the shock of losing his life's work seems to have caused Robert's health to decline. Whether Eliza's family were able to escape unscathed from the financial crisis and could have helped out I don't know. I believe it is spite alone which says that Marion miss managed what money they did have. But regardless of the cause, financial troubles forced Robert out to pick fruit to provide income for the family despite failing health and increasing age. Both girls were already engaged by then but married fairly quickly, removing much of the financial burden but Robert Shaw's name no longer held such prestige."
"Which explains both his shabby appearance and why my grandmother - or at least the woman I thought of as my grandmother - was never welcomed to the house, while my grandfather was a frequent and lengthy guest. My mother's affection for him was plain for anyone to see, indeed he lived with us for his last year when Gran had died and he'd become too old to live alone, she spent hours reading to him, Shakespeare mostly."
"I've often wondered where your love of the Bard came from."
"Mother would read his plays aloud, she had this incredible ability to put on different voices for each of the characters, bringing them to life. My father used to say it was the only way to get my brother and I to sit still for long enough for our dinner to digest, but he too would sit in the parlor after dinner and listen for the hour before Grandpa would retire to his rooms."
"She sounds wonderful."
There was an odd, keening note in Phryne's voice and Jack, seeking out her expressive eyes, was startled to recognise it as envy. It had never occurred to him that he might have something which The Hon. Miss Phryne Fisher could ever desire in such a way.
The wry remark that had been on the tip of his tongue stalled there. He didn't know much about Phryne's parents but what little could be gleaned from off-hand remarks about her father were none of them complementary and as far as he could remember, she'd never once mentioned even having a mother. He'd just assumed - but no, that wasn't quite true. On their very first case, John Andrew's murder, he'd overheard Mrs Stanley refer to her sister as Phryne's mother and made some remark that she'd been fortunate the war had turned out as it had, leaving her lowly husband entitled. But that remark gave no real hint as to her character other than that she had grown up in a fairly wealthy family but married, in her sister's eyes at least, below her own station in life.
With a gentleness which belied his curiosity, Jack agreed, "she is wonderful, lively even now."
He was rewarded by an expression so eager Jack was reminded of a small child he'd once told of the voyage to war by boat. Maybe it was this which provoked his next, most unwitting remark. "She often asks me to tell her of your most recent exploits when I visit."
Jack capitalised on Phryne's momentary appearance of speechlessness to try and some how explain. He certainly had not had any intention of ever letting slip he'd discussed Phryne with anyone at all, much less his mother.
"Ever since the first day I returned home from my training to be a Constable, Mother always insisted the pay off for her allowing me to go off and risk my life protecting the city was that I must come bearing at least one amusing incident for every one which caused so much as a bruise on my skin or a mark on my uniform. As I grew more independent it changed, I no longer had to account for my welfare so closely but I was expected, each Sunday to select the best of the week's crop of amusing anecdotes. Rosie I'm afraid tended to dislike it, trying to insist I be more serious when discussing my work, wanting to talk of what I was doing to help secure that next promotion but after the war I came to treasure those Sunday afternoons, they meant I had to find light even in the darkest of days, such as the Police Strike."
"And some days I'm that light?"
"You are certainly responsible for the lion's share of the scrapes I get into," Jack paused watching her indignation rise until she was just about to speak before continuing himself, "and there aren't too many titled women who climb onto the roof-tops of trains to admire the view or can be found standing guard over freshly dead corpses at jazz clubs."
He was rewarded with the laugh he'd grown to love, the one which spoke of reckless abandon and uninhibited delight.
"So much happened that day I'd quite forgotten about getting up on top of that train. What with the dead body, meeting Jane and collecting the Hispo. But you have to admit, Jack, it was a fabulous view and so peaceful."
"Peace and tranquillity is something I doubt I'll ever associate with you Miss Fisher."
When they were settled in the parlour after their long and leisurely lunch, of which Jack had partaken far more than he'd anticipated, Phryne began to prowl about his bookshelves, pausing frequently to examine books that caught her attention. Jack was anxious to distract her, feeling something akin to intimacy at having her show such interest in something so personal as the books he loved.
"I suspect, Miss Fisher that dress is not quite up to your usual standards."
Phryne turned with a cat-like smile, obligingly removing the finger she'd been running over the spines of his books, but he could tell she knew he was intentionally distracting her and chose, for the moment at least, to be diverted.
"It was Dot's idea actually. She managed, with that impeccable tact of hers, to point out that sometimes wearing clothes that cost more than all the furniture in the house you are visiting gets in the way of making a favourable impression. She put it more prettily than that but you get the general idea. As blending in seemed advisable today, I thought I'd try my disguise out on you."
As Jack had often compared Miss Fisher's lavish lifestyle to his personal salary (and found the disparity striking) he was amused and pleasantly surprised in Miss Williams' tenacity in tackling the topic. Although, in fairness, Phryne was not one who spent money for the purpose of parading her wealth and superiority in the way Mrs Stanley and her peers did. Phryne simply liked beautiful and indulgent things and would still buy them if their price suddenly dropped to the point everyone could afford them.
Feeling obliged to add something to the topic Jack noted wryly: "I think you can quite safely say your own friends would hardly recognise you. Yet I would wager it is not quite as genuinely 'common' as you'd like people to believe."
Phryne's laugh and mischievous look made Jack remember another discussion they'd had on the dangers of fashion and realise belatedly this was not such a safe topic after all.
"I will admit we took the problem to Renee Fleuri who managed to strike a compromise between looking ordinary and me not feeling like I was walking around in a shapeless sack! Dot is a most accomplished seamstress and she did her best to find a pattern in one of her sewing magazines which would suit me but it is surprisingly difficult to content oneself with a dress design which, by being so adaptable, becomes so poorly proportioned once you supply your own measurements. So then I tried the department store Myer; it was quite ridiculous, the trousers there fit me just fine so why it was that every dress I tried was a disaster I'll never know."
When Jack merely raised his eyebrows Phryne tried valiantly to defend her vanity.
"You'll have to use your imagination, Jack but I'll try to explain."
Jack couldn't help but smile at the comic expression of annoyance and self-deprecation as Phryne gestured wildly mimicking first a too tight waist with a chest piece which wouldn't stay up.
"I could hardly breathe but every time I relaxed the top piece shifted and I nearly got stuck permanently half-in and half-out of that dress because I forgot I couldn't take a full breath and took one just as Dot was helping it over my head. And then there was the one which fit perfectly up the top but the skirt made me look like I'd been given one of Aunt P's dresses," Phryne held her hands a good 6-inches either side of her hips and wiggled them in a most unflattering (but accurate) impersonation of the waddle with which the aforementioned Mrs Stanley moved.
"And then, if they hadn't been bad enough, I found one with a pattern both Dot and I liked (a rarity I can assure you Jack, in the pre-made market) and at first, we thought it would be a perfect fit and for the most part it was, it just hung like curtains!"
It was then that Phryne finally abandoned her position next to his bookshelves, making a beeline for the cream drapes which hung so inoffensively around the wide bay window. Before he could so much as open his mouth to protest, Phryne had wrapped herself loosely in the drapes such that they hung like a shapeless sack around her. It was impossible not to laugh at the dignified Miss Fisher, draped so unceremoniously in cream curtain material, looking like a street urchin pretending to be a bride swathed in white while actually wearing a bedsheet.
Any time Jack thought he was finally getting his mirth under control Phryne would strike yet another pathetic pose and he'd be back to gasping for air.
In the end it was a coughing fit which resolved it. He'd been doing such a good job of neither acting nor, if he was honest, feeling ill since Miss Fisher arrived. At first it had been defiance that made him suppress the hitherto insuppresible urge to sniff, cough and sneeze; later he'd been so caught up in all her stories and her enthusiasm that he simply hadn't thought about it. Apparently laughter was the one thing his lungs would not tolerate too much of.
Jack never saw Phryne untangle herself from his curtains (which he'd never again be able to look at with a straight face), the first he was aware of her presence by his side was a delicate hand rubbing soothing circles on his back while another rested lightly on his knee.
"Don't fight it Jack, the more you try and force yourself to stop the harder your lungs will fight to cough. Better to hack good and proper, pretend to be submissive and the urge will subside." Phryne said gently, her lips perilously near his right ear.
Unwillingly, Jack relaxed his efforts to suppress the cough. Nothing changed and he was just about ready to wave her and her foolish ideas away when he felt his chest clear and he was able to take long shuddering breaths, the impulse to cough nowhere to be seen. The hand at his back never wavered, continuing its ministrations despite his breathing rapidly returning to normal. It was with distinct reluctance that Jack sat up, assured at last that he wasn't going to relapse, forcing her to remove the hand from his back. For a moment they sat looking at one another, eye-to-eye as she knelt beside him, connected by the hand which rested on his knee.
"I'm sorry Jack, I should have realised -" Phryne said, remorse filling her usually bright eyes.
"I'd almost forgotten myself," Jack said hoarsely, resisting the urge to reach out his hand to smooth the furrows in her brow, hoping she'd understand it wasn't her fault.
"I should get you some brandy," Phryne said but made no move to leave his side, her eyes still watching him as though expecting a relapse.
"I would have thought whisky was your tonic of choice, Miss Fisher. More refined." Jack said archly, managing a smile now the air came easily through his lungs again.
"And it's mere coincidence that you happen to prefer whisky to brandy?" Phryne laughed, gently bumping his knee as she got up to find each of them a drink, "fortunately for you, knowing you'd never admit to being sufficiently unwell to require it, I had the good sense to leave the brandy at home and instead brought some of Mr Butler's finest Scotch Whisky."
Jack knew enough of Phryne's curiosity, being the primary cause of most of the scrapes she got into, to realise it was only a matter of time before she went back to exploring the room. He had therefore been cautious to ensure he neither focused on, nor studiously avoided looking at, the walnut secretary writing desk almost directly opposite where he was sitting lest he give away his reluctance for her to look too closely at the items sitting on top of it. Had the idea that The Hon. Phryne Fisher would ever actually be in his parlour browsing his possessions occurred to him he would have put them inside the locked fold down panel which formed the writing surface. Jack, pretending to be engrossed in his book, knew the moment she realised the slides she'd been casually examining were the photos Collins had taken of her down at the station, the young constable trying in vain to capture just one which could be used as an official mug shot. Her sharp intake of breath followed by the rapid shuffling of multiple slides prompting him to lift his head just in time to see her pick up the piece of card which had been leaning up against them, no doubt also recognising the handwriting as her own.
The package the handwritten card had come with had arrived on his desk at the station just two days after his appearance in the Federal Magistrates Court. Two days after Phryne's greatest fear had been confirmed: that Foyle was alive, free from prison and actively hunting not just Phryne but Jane too. It was a small box of some sort, not more than 7-inches long, 3 wide and 1 thick, but seeing Phryne's distinctive handwriting on the brown paper wrapping he'd hardly wanted to open it; lest it be more evidence for him to file in the ever-growing collection of objects which could be used in court against Foyle, when they finally caught him. Why else would Phryne be sending him something in the middle of the case which had defined so much of the person she was today? Never a man who put off unpleasant tasks, Jack had carefully removed the wrapping and opened the small leather case it contained. Hiding the box's contents from view was a handwritten note on stiff white card, addressed not to 'Detective-Inspector Jack Robinson', but simply 'Jack' and instead of a reference to Murdoch Foyle, it was a quotation from Tennyson's poem: 'Idylls of the King / The Passing of Arthur'
The old order changeth, yielding place to new,
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.
For a long moment he'd stared at the note and all he could think was that she knew about his divorce and even more incredibly, she understood. For a woman whom most considered to be lacking any shred of respect for the institution of marriage, her choice of verse spoke volumes of her empathy. Far from sending him a bottle of whisky, (which had been George Sanderson's approach), she'd taken the time to find a quotation from a poet he loved which captured, perhaps better than he could even explain himself, his struggle to find peace with this challenge to his identity as a man who honoured his word, no matter what the personal cost. Who better to receive from advice than King Arthur, who embodied the dedication of one's life to a code of honour and service. It was the advice he gave to Sir Bedivere who feared the change that would come on Arthur's death: not to fear change, for change, painful as it might seem, is a necessary part of life.
Lifting the card he'd realised there was something on the back at the same moment that he'd discovered the extent of her gift. Nestled on a bed of white silk was a beautiful fountain pen.
Not just any fountain pen but one he recognised instantly as part of the new line of Parker Duofolds complete with gold nib and a black pearl barrel engraved with 'J. Robinson'. A pen which was worth more than his weekly salary. Stunned he'd turned his attention back to the note which had accompanied it, reading the reverse for the first time.
Sometimes you have to write your own happy ending.
I have enclosed a suitable pen for this task.
The 'suitable pen' had burnt a hole in his pocket for ten-days before he'd had the courage to use it at the station. The pen might not literally be made of gold but, as with most expensive things, looking at it there was no mistaking its worth, especially when compared to its counterpart provided by the Victorian Police Force. In fact Jack doubted he even would have used it then if it hadn't been for his own, far less trustworthy pen developing a serious leak on a day when he'd had to sign and date every page in a quarter-inch-high stack of typed affidavits for presentation in Court later that day. By the time he'd finished the task having not smudged or blotted a single page Jack was starting to get quite attached to the ostentatious instrument. Although Jack had used the pen often in her presence since then, Phryne had never mentioned it. He'd come to the conclusion that the gift had been her way of acknowledging his divorce without pressing him for any information he was unwilling to give.
Bringing the note home and leaning it up against the slides, which were gathering dust now, had seemed like a perfectly logical decision. Until today when she was standing in his parlour with a slide in one hand, Tennyson quote in the other saying his name in a tone that said he'd achieved something which had eluded him for the entirety of their two year acquaintance. He had finally done something which shocked Miss Fisher.
"You kept these, Jack? I was sure you would have had them destroyed under some charge such as mockery of police procedures."
"It seemed a shame to destroy them given how much grief Collins had in taking them in the first place. When they no longer fit in my desk at the station I could hardly put them in the archive so they ended up here. The Tennyson quote, I have kept more fondly." At mention of the quote, Jack became more serious, "I never thanked you for your gift."
"There wasn't any need to –"
"It meant a lot to me, to know that you understood – that it wasn't – that I wasn't alone in seeing the order of my world changing. Divorce was not something I ever wanted. An amicable but broken marriage seemed preferable. Standing by my word was, I thought, the only honest and honourable option. You made me realise, over the course of some months that while I still held those beliefs dear they were not so common any more and so, when Rosie's request came, I made no move to challenge it. I would not ever have denied it had she truly wanted it but before I would have tried to fight for the principle, though our marriage by that point brought neither of us any joy. But, Phryne, I needed those words." Jack spoke roughly, torn between his usual reticence and the need, now that he'd begun, to confide in her.
"It was so easy to see our separation as a personal failure, after all I was the one who'd changed. I'd carried this guilt around with me all these years, hoping we'd find our way back - clinging to tradition like a lifeline, and when I signed it away, I felt relief and that was almost unbearable."
"And you had to rush back to my aid, pretending nothing had happened." Phryne said gravely, realising again, more clearly without the obstruction of her own pain, how hard that blow must have struck him.
"I'd hardly had a chance to think beyond the Judge signing the papers and having some place I needed to be - it was a welcome distraction. And with everything that followed," Jack paused, his mind dredging up not just their desperate rush through the grounds in pursuit of Jane but also that moment when she'd started to undo his tie asking him to be her Roman soldier, the two opposite emotions warring for his attention. "I was amazed that, in the middle of all of it, your darkest hour, you had taken the time to recognise it."
"You expected I'd repay that iron-clad support, when I'd needed you the most, by neglecting your darkest hour?" Phryne asked with passion but none of the blame he felt he deserved for the assumption.
Jack put a hand to his hair, rough fingers running through it, disarranging what even illness had left unblemished, "Lest one good custom should corrupt the world." Jack said on a sigh, meeting her gaze. "A reprieve. A last minute pardon that stayed an execution. That's what those words were to me then."
Jack could see the concern clouding those sharp blue eyes, the desire to provide some comfort but he needed to finish his piece, having opened the floodgates he suddenly wanted to tell her just how important her actions had been.
"No matter how strong your feelings are towards any other person they can never be more powerful than the impact of hating yourself. Your own mind is the one thing you can't ever escape and I would have hated myself for being so happy, for wanting to be free."
"No. You never deserved that." Phryne's response was swift and emphatic. Jack could see she had more to say but he needed to say his piece.
"Those words reminded me there doesn't have to be someone to blame and sometimes things that seem wrong can be right. And any time I waver, those words and the pen you provided are a reminder that there is more than one right path."
"I was worried at first," Phryne began hesitantly, "you're not the type to show off new toys but then again, I saw so much of you in that week but you never used it..." she trailed off, seemingly at a loss for words.
"You thought I might not have used the pen or mentioned it because it offended me?" Jack was genuinely surprised, to take offense had never occurred to him.
"It might have been too soon. There are ways of reading that card that make its sentiment sound terribly dismissive. In those first few days I said the message on the back aloud in so many different tones, trying to figure out just how bad it could have sounded, that Dot got quite worried about my sanity."
Jack couldn't help but smile at the image of Miss Fisher pacing about her parlour declaring 'Sometimes you have to write your own happy ending. I have enclosed a suitable pen for the task.' over and over again with different inflections. And he was glad of the distraction, sharing that much about his feeling had been draining.
"I doubt it's the most worrying thing she's ever had to deal with on your account. I tend to question your sanity on a weekly basis, sometimes even more frequently than that."
"Perhaps slightly less frequently now than when I first met you."
"Well, I was relieved when you started using it." Phryne said, choosing to deflect rather than pursue that particular line of thought.
Jack tried to think how he could possibly explain to her that his reluctance to use it stemmed from the simple fact it was so blatantly beyond his personal means. Their friendship was no secret but he hadn't any intention of creating opportunities for his men to ask questions from for which there were no satisfactory answers. Reluctantly he realised it would be easiest to let her see for herself just how great the disparity was between her gift and the standard issue.
"If you turn that statuette of the boy getting water from a well upside down you'll find a key which will open the front panel of the desk."
"I get to know where the key is hidden?" Phryne asked clearly intrigued, as she turned the figurine on it's head, catching the key as it fell out from the well.
"In the farthest right pigeon hole you will find a fountain pen." Jack said, pointedly ignoring the fact he was giving away anything and sticking to the practical task at hand.
Jack watched as Phryne visibly battled her instinctive curiosity to see and explore everything inside his desk and turned back to face him holding the pen he'd mentioned with a quizzical expression as she looked at the thoroughly unremarkable and obviously inexpensive instrument.
"Each member of the Victorian Constabulary is issued a fountain pen for the completion of official paper work."
"Like this one?" Phryne asked sceptically as she looked at it more closely.
"All of which are identical to that one." Jack said, amused at her distaste when she removed the cap and noted the leak which had been it's downfall.
"And no one sees the need to supply their own?"
"They do the job." Jack said loyally, adding the necessary caveat 'some of the time' under his breath.
"But surely as a Detective-Inspector -" Phryne began but trailed off at the look Jack threw her.
"George was the only one I knew to have brought his own," Jack said quietly, finding himself back where they had begun this rather ridiculous conversation.
"What changed your mind?" Phryne asked no longer defensive, her eyes registering something like pain on the mention of George's name. And the pain there reminded him they had yet to finish that conversation but he didn't have the energy, now they'd moved to a safer one, to go back to it. So he forged ahead.
"That one," Jack said gesturing at the pen she now held well away from her dress, "developed the severe and irremediable leak, which you have just discovered, on a day when I had over a hundred pages to date and sign for Court."
"And you had the other one on you."
"I'd been carrying it around like a token for over a week," Jack admitted.
"And once you'd started using it?" Phryne's eyes regained some of their mischief.
"You could never go back," Jack agreed grinning, "although it has attracted its fair share of attention."
"Jealousy is a dangerous thing, Jack, you may need to guard it with your life."
"It's difficult to successfully steal a man's pen when his name is engraved on it."
"Definitely worth the extra effort then," Phryne said gesturing as though signing his name in the air. "J Robinson - I wasn't sure if your name was genuinely Jack or if you family dabbled in the dark art of calling every John, Jack and every William, Bill."
"Well it's -"
"Oh, Jack!" Phryne looked down in horror at the pen in her hand which was hemorrhaging ink all over her hand. The way it had been ever since she'd waved it around in a terrifyingly close replica of his signature.
"I'm sure between Mr Butler and Dot we can fix it," Phryne said looking fretful.
"It should have been thrown out ages ago, I never liked it." Jack said dismissing the pen without further thought. His mind was still spinning as to how to find out just how well she could forge his signature and what she intended to do with that knowledge.
"That seems a bit extreme, Jack."
"It is fatally wounded I'm afraid and it has served it's duty very well."
"Surely, Dot -"
"What does Miss Williams know about fountain pens with leaks?" Jack asked mystified at why Phryne was taking this so seriously.
"Fountain pens? Nothing I assume and besides that is fatally wounded, it really must go out."
"My point exactly. So why, if not for the pen, do we need Miss Williams?" Jack asked wondering if the head cold really was so bad he couldn't hold a sensible conversation. Then again, when was any conversation with Miss Fisher to be considered sensible?
"The rug, Jack." Phryne pointed at the one she was standing on, though Jack saw no reason to.
"What about my rug, Miss Fisher?"
"When I - fatally wounded your pen, I'm afraid it bled all over the rug. But I'm sure -"
"Ah. This is Miss Williams' area of expertise perhaps? She's certainly had a lot of practice getting blood out of your clothes, Miss Fisher." Jack said dryly but couldn't keep his face straight watching Phryne trying to find a way to dodge that one without returning to the topic of the rug she'd ruined. She settled for busying herself with putting the pen which caused all the drama in the waste paper basket.
"I honestly don't care that much if the rug under my desk has ink on it," Jack said wearily. "But if you must do something, why don't you call Miss Williams and ask her if it can wait until tomorrow? If we have to I'll send it home with you now but -" Jack felt a strange reluctance for Phryne to leave. He'd wracked his brains when she'd first arrived for just such an opportunity but now that she was here, well it was a damn sight better than having to rest like an invalid on his own.
"I'm sure Dot can tell me enough to get it by until tomorrow," Phryne said over her shoulder as she headed back to his entrance hall and the phone he had to have installed so the constable on duty could contact him if he was needed.
Looking around and feeling slightly lost now Phryne had bustled off on her mission, Jack sat back down on the lounge. He was bone tired but far more at peace than he had been. From the hall he overhead scraps of Phryne's conversation and hoped fervently Miss Williams' instructions could be carried out without needing to fill his house with all of her staff.
Jack heard the clink of the receiver being replaced but instead of Phryne appearing, he heard the opening and closing of cupboards and drawers in the direction of the kitchen. He was definitely seeing a far more domesticated Miss Fisher today than ever before. It should have surprised him that she could be so practical but like all of her other unexpected skills, he couldn't help but admire her for it. All be it rather grudgingly.
"Dot said I'd either need vinegar, cornstarch or rubbing alcohol - thankfully I found the vinegar first, I'm sure I would have made a frightful mess with cornstarch."
Jack's eyes flew open to see Phryne kneeling next to the desk with a small bowl in one hand and a cloth in the other, drabbing rather gingerly at the rug. He didn't even remember shutting his eyes and he probably should now regret opening them, but he didn't.
"We should be thankful for small mercies then," Jack said dryly as he tried to avert his eyes from the sliver of creamy skin beyond the base of her neck which her dress revealed as she lent forward over her work. With every movement she made, the fabric shifted giving him a slightly different view of those two regal collarbones and the skin, so smooth and pale it could have been sculpted from marble by the Italian Masters, which surrounded them. A man could get lost exploring something so perfect, Jack mused, imagining the warmth of that skin beneath his lips.
"It does seem to be working," Phryne said with something which sounded an awful lot like pride.
With a wrench, Jack tore his thoughts back to reality. Miss Fisher was cleaning the rug she had spilt ink on and he was clearly becoming feverish and suffering delusions because he was ill. There was nothing more to it. Jack reached for his copy of A Midsummer Night's Dream and began to read from the random page it opened to as though his very sanity depended on it, tuning out Miss Fisher's running commentary on her progress as a budding parlour maid.
The shadows had grown long as they'd whiled away the day talking and reading in companionable silence. The bright afternoon sun, which had removed all trace of the rain the day had started with, was now creeping closer to its evening rest despite its summer reign lasting longer than its winter one. Jack smothered another yawn as Phryne got up to find another book to read, having finally tired of his rather battered copy of 'Much Ado About Nothing', he was surprised how much he was enjoying his unexpected day off.
"You're tired Jack, rest, there's no need to entertain me." Phryne said gentle severity, changing course to perch on the end of the sofa he was reclined on.
"I don't sleep peacefully, Miss Fisher." Jack said with an exasperated sigh, his expression grim.
"What man who came home from the front only to take up a post protecting our streets could?" Phryne asked, meeting his gaze, all trace of levity gone. Her cool insight cutting through Jack's well-fortified barriers like a hot knife through lard.
"You said yourself you're not here to nurse me, so having assured yourself I'm neither at death's door nor attempting to escape house arrest, you can leave me to it." Jack retorted, trying one last feint.
"I did enough nursing during the war, Jack, to last a lifetime." Phryne paused as though assessing him for some hidden signal which would tell her whether to go on.
Despite his usual reticence on everything which related to the war, Jack found himself curious to know more of the darkness which resided within Miss Fisher's heart. He knew about Janey and Dubois, but the war too had shaped her. What made her cling so desperately to her freedom and live with such apparent recklessness? So he waited, and wondered what pain it would bring him to know.
"I spent four years on a Red Cross ambulance crew serving the battlefields in France. Learning how far the spirit can be bent before it is broken and yet how fragile the body is which holds it. There were times when I believed I'd never be clean again, that the mixture of blood and mud which covered everything I owned would never leave me. That the stench of death would become the only scent I knew. They would reach for us, entrusting to us as to angels: their last words; their love for those waiting back home and their mates who'd fallen beside them; their fear of what came next and for the men who'd taken their spots in the trenches..." Phryne's eyes shone with unshed tears but her voice remained low and steady. "I may not have stood side-by-side in the trenches, Jack, but I know a little about terrors that creep in with the fading of the light."
"When the crew was disbanded I felt like I'd lost Janey all over again. They had become my family, my purpose. Medicine on the front line, it was more essentialised - one didn't fuss about protocols when holding a man's entrails in while a doctor closed the gap they spilled from. You worked as fast and as smart as you could, knowing many wouldn't last out the night but that this one might be the one who did. I couldn't face the idea of nursing in peacetime, not when so many were rejoicing the mere fact we were alive so I used my lack of formal training as an excuse to join them and escape the darkness we'd lived in for four long years."
Jack moved to speak, wishing desperately that he knew what to say to smooth some of the frayed edges she was exposing on her soul but Phryne hadn't finished.
"But as Jane and Dot can attest, I didn't learn those skills in hell itself to stand idle when those I care about are ill. So, while I didn't come here to nurse you Jack, if Hugh had been wrong and instead of a suffering a head cold I'd found you pale and infirm, I would have stayed and tended to you as best I could. I would have brought all the medical connections and convenience I could wield into this very house and set up camp until you were well again."
Looking into Phryne's eyes and seeing the darkness there which he saw in his own eyes every morning Jack was humbled and saddened. Darkness that hid the shadows which grew longer as the years passed, of men: friends and foes, who had not left the battlefield and that lingering question of whether this soul, the one these eyes revealed, had been left so badly torn asunder by what sights these eyes had seen, what deeds these hands had performed that it had become a shadow itself. A mere marker that here lay the remains of a once whole and beautiful soul, capable of love and laughter, destroyed by the ravages of war. While to all the world Phryne represented all that was light, joyful and carefree, those who she allowed to scratch the surface found something far more beautiful. The pain and loss she had endured had given her strength and bravery but there was vulnerability too, when she let you into that tightly guarded circle of people she cared for. And she did care for him.
Knowing he should be keeping his distance (if nothing else, he was probably infectious) but finding his resolve weakened by the knowledge she was not only willingly giving up a day she would otherwise have filled gaily to tend to his ills, but that doing so was also reminding her of the dark days of war, Jack lent forward, his left hand finding its way to gently support the back of her head as he pressed his lips to her forehead, wishing he could take away her pain that easily. He tried to put everything he felt, everything he wanted to say into that one, inadequate gesture. A kiss that didn't even truly reach skin due to her ever-present fringe.
"Thank you, Phryne," Jack said huskily, easing back enough to look into her eyes without relinquishing his fingers' position in her hair, "for everything."
"Always, Jack." Phryne replied softly, her hand reaching out to cover his where it lay on the copy of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' he'd been too tired to finish. Jack had turned his hand over to twine with hers as she'd reached for it, pleased as he'd been in the past, at the feeling of her delicate hand resting in his larger, calloused one.
Looking down at their joined hands, still resting on one of Shakespeare's greatest works, Phryne smiled. "Now rest, Jack, refreshing my knowledge of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' will be more than enough to keep me occupied."
"I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, / Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows." Jack quoted quietly, reluctant to relinquish this moment with her but feeling his tiredness rising again.
"Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine, / With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine." Phryne replied, continuing to quote the description of the bower where Titania sleeps. She paused, giving his hand another squeeze before releasing it to take up the text they quoted.
Following her lead Jack let his hand slide gently from her hair and seeing her preparing again to remind him to rest found another great poet come to mind.
"Rest and be thankful." Jack mused, quoting Wordsworth with a smile, "So may the Soul, through powers that Faith bestows, Win rest, and ease, and peace, with bliss that Angels share."
Phryne laughed, as he'd expected, releasing the tension that had crackled between them.
"I'm hardly an angel, Jack, but I find company is often the best ally one has against the terrors which lurk behind the vale of sleep. And besides, you'll likely wake up hungry and need me to fix you dinner."
Shaking his head Jack resigned himself to her company, and his tiredness, putting off the discussion until dinnertime when, if nothing else, he'd have propriety on his side with regards to her staying.