Jack held Rosie as sobs tore through her body, patting her much as he would a small child. The shock of it all, the betrayal of Sidney Fletcher and her father must have been overwhelming to her. He felt he could do no less than to try and help her through this first shock wave of pain and humiliation. Certainly, it was a shock to him, a blow that struck him in his gut, learning that George Sanderson, his mentor who had personally guided his career, the Chief Commissioner, was involved in all this. He'd admired George Sanderson with a respect that was built of many years of appreciation for what he'd learned from him, the sense of justice that he had imbued to Jack. And still, in the end, he had succumbed to temptation to - what? To turn a blind eye on his godson's endeavors? To sanction them? The thought made Jack's stomach roil for a moment and he swallowed down the bitter bile that had surged upwards like an army determined to overtake him.
Both of the men in her life had left Rosie desolated, alone in a world where she would surely be ostracized, turned away from her set and social groups like rubbish. Their divorce had been a huge strike against her, but Sidney Fletcher's money and connections saw to it that it was mostly hidden from her.
Of course, all this came after Jack had deserted her as well, in a matter of speaking. His inability to communicate his pain, pain that still clutched greedily at his mind from time to time had left him emotionally bereft. So he'd shut her out after the war, but what else could he have done. Rosie was not the kind of woman who would have suffered the truth about war.
After 15 years of marriage and a year after a divorce, he still cared about her happiness. It wasn't love, but more of a nagging guilt that held him so tight at times that he felt he couldn't breathe, as if being strangled by an incompetent executioner. After all, he'd let her down terribly; he'd let them both down. The truth was, she never really knew why, never understood the changes in him after the war and he'd been unable to tell her either. How do you tell someone what you saw, what you did and that sometimes only the will to survive drove you onward. Could he tell her how it felt when his bayonet penetrated the chest of another human, the sound of steel on bone, the whoosh of air rushing out of a body? Another person, someone who was probably as young as he was, maybe with a wife of his own.
Jack couldn't forget the smells that had surrounded them in the trenches; blood, sulfur, death or of the keening wails of injury and suffering that ripped through the air, not only of his comrades but from the Germans as well. It would have been indecent to tell a gentle woman such as Rosie of those things so he had remained silent on the subject, tucking it away in his own mind forever. Of course it didn't really remain there, but it was a struggle he tried to carry on with by himself.
Jack glanced around to see that Phryne had left and the pit of his stomach clenched in pain as if he'd been sucker-punched. She'd been through so much; she needed comforting as well, he was sure of it but being Phryne she wouldn't want anyone to know. He felt a moment of panic and desperation; he needed to get to her but first he needed to get Rosie home to her sister's house.
He tried to gently pull her arms off of him and the sobs increased in volume and pitch, the high timbre almost hurting his ears. He redoubled his efforts and told her, "Rosie, let's get you home to Annabelle's; you'll feel better there. Come along now," he said, taking her arm from around his neck and leading her out of the station.
The ride to Annabelle's home was strangely quiet. Rosie stopped crying, and in fact Jack thought for a moment that he saw her mouth twist upwards for half a moment, but he put it down to the lateness of the night and the darkness inside the automobile, lighted only by an occasional street lamp. She never said a word and Jack felt that she was trying to come to terms with the events of this night.
Her world was about to be turned upside down, no denying it he knew. Annabelle's husband, Elliott was an affluent business man, from a prominent family with a history that was above reproach. The Barrington's had, like Phryne, connections to the king and used their wealth and notability to promote charity and compassion to the cities less fortunate individuals. There were so many individuals who were ragged survivors of life, struggling to take any step they could due to the current financial circumstances and the still aching wounds of a war that had taken so many young men and crippled others. Hopefully under the umbrella of the Barrington's, Rosie might shelter and find her way in life. But even that wouldn't be easy for her or Annabelle either for that matter.
Jack parked the car in front of the Barrington home and noted that other than an entry light, the house was dark. He sighed, knowing that what was to come would not be easy; Annabelle would have to be told of the night's goings on. He opened his door and came around to Rosie's side and opened her door for her before holding his hand out to help her out of the vehicle. Almost as soon as she took it the sobs started again and Jack guided her as quickly to the door as possible in the hope that she wouldn't wake the neighbors.
She fumbled with her key at the door and Jack took it from her, patiently working the lock and opening the door for her to enter. He'd been a visitor many times in the Barrington household and steered Rosie into the front parlor, turning the switch to light the room. A quick glance around showed several bottles of alcohol on a side table and he went to it, pouring Rosie a shot of brandy in hopes that it would steady her a bit as the sobbing had risen to near deafening levels since she had seated herself on an emerald green and mauve upholstered sofa.
"Rosie, drink this," he all but commanded, hoping to keep her from rousing the whole household.
She drank it straight down without a sputter and handed the glass back to him. He refilled it and set it on a table in front of her in time to see Barlow, the Barrington's butler enter the room, attired in a gray woolen dressing gown. Jack stepped over closer to him so that they might speak without having to yell over the sobs that continued.
"Barlow, you should wake Mr. and Mrs. Barrington. I'm afraid I have some bad news for them."
"Mr. Barrington is not here, Detective Robinson. I'm afraid he is in Sidney at the moment." He acknowledged Jack's nod of understanding and added, "I shall wake Mrs. Barrington then."
"Waking Mrs. Barrington is not necessary," Annabelle stated, heading down the staircase. "Jack, always good to see you but what on earth has happened?" She greeted Jack with a light kiss on his cheek and was perplexed by his uneasy demeanor, deciding that Rosie had somehow gotten herself into trouble; probably something to do with that rogue she called her fiancé.
Since they had been children Annabelle had detested Sidney Fletcher. Coldly cruel, until he wanted something, Sidney had been a careless human being, always dragging Rosie into one scheme or another that usually got both of them into trouble. When he and his family had went to England before the war everyone had breathed a sigh of relief; everyone except for Rosie that is. She had idolized that irreverent fool and actually missed him. Lucky for the family that Constable Jack Robinson had entered their lives and Rosie had been well and truly smitten, seeming to forget all about Sidney.
She had put Fletcher behind her and appeared sincerely in love with the handsome young constable. They were married a year later, much to the admiration of the family and Rosie had been deliriously happy, setting up a home for them. She seemed to float through her life, as did Jack, so much in love they were.
Until the war began a year later. Afterward everything changed including Sidney Fletcher returning, never having spent a moment fighting for God and country. Annabelle shuddered with the thought of that despicable man who seemed proud to have circumvented that proud service by attending university. The coward's way Annabelle always thought.
As soon as Rosie spied Annabelle she rushed across the room and threw herself into her elder sister's arms. Annabelle raised an eyebrow in inquiry to Jack and he shook his head. It was clear that something was terribly wrong and she led Rosie back to the sofa and listened as Rosie poured out the whole tale, interspersed with comments by Jack at times.
As she listened her eyes narrowed and her face became angry, her hazel eyes sparking dangerously as she heard the tale.
"So that abominable man has finally managed to drag our father down with him?" she said, and her loathing for Sidney was not held back at all. "Now father is in jail no doubt because Sidney has managed to enter him into his deceitful machinations."
"No, Annie, NO. Sidney would never..." Rosie started but she was quickly cut off by her sisters raised voice.
"Yes, Sidney has and you know for a fact that he has done many a sly deed in the past, Rosie. I'll make no excuses for him and neither shall you; I won't allow it."
"No, Sidney was only trying to help those poor girls; out of Australia they could start a new life, begin anew. That's all. Father was just to help make sure that the poor girls got the help they needed."
As he listened, the implications of Rosie's word's washed over Jack; she had known of what was happening and never said a word. Accomplice! The word screamed through his head and he took a step back towards the door, repelled by the knowledge of this revelation.
Rosie looked at him and the look of horror and disgust that was stained upon his countenance was frightening for her to see. She couldn't lose him now; he was all that stood between her and losing, at the very least her social standing. And jail a desperate voice inside her whispered.
She had to make him understand and protect her. They could marry again, yes, they could and it would be alright.
"Jack," she said holding out a pleading hand. "Please, it's not what you think, I swear it."
"Then what exactly IS it, Rosie?" His voice was piercing, his words clipped, reminding Annabelle of someone shattering glass with a hammer. She could tell that Rosie had finally, utterly lost Jack. She stood to pull her sister back into the parlor since she had followed Jack into the foyer.
Rosie was speechless, realizing her mistake of admitting her knowledge of Sidney's activities. She took a deep breath, trying to calm her nerves and said, "Jack, I - I didn't really understand what they were doing. I thought they were helping the girls, really I did. I didn't know they were- were selling them as…slaves," her voice trailed off as she raised her eyes hopefully to Jack.
Jack just shook his head, contempt darkening his eyes until they resembled blackened coal rather than their usual deep brown. Rosie made to rush to him again and he put out a hand to stop her. "NO, stay away from me. Annabelle, I must leave you now. I have to check on someone else." His eyes implored her understanding.
Annabelle gave him a brief nod and a very thin smile. No good was going to come of this. Jack would eventually do his duty, without a doubt which likely meant gaol for Rosie, if not hanging at the end of a noose. Rosie knew of the treachery, there was no getting past that.
"You're going to her, aren't you, Jack?" Her face once again bathed in tears and sorrow, however real they may or may not have been. "That woman! The whore of society who spreads her legs for any man. Do you think I don't know of her? Everyone does," she finished with a twisted laugh, desperation only a breath away.
"Yes, I'm going to Phryne," he told her, and his voice held a dangerous edge to it. It took everything he had not to reach out and grab her, to shake the filth out of her. He turned and exited the door and paid no mind to the scream he heard from her, the stream of obscenities that he wasn't aware she knew almost bringing him to his knees. The pain was nearly physical, stabbing him in his gut and taking away his breath as well. He forced himself to walk, to keep walking to the car, to leave this place.
He needed to see Phryne, as much as he needed air right now. Would she even want to see him, after what had happened at the police station? He didn't know but he had to find out.
To be continued...