At Phryne's house a solemn group pulled up in Hugh's car. Bert had gone to his boarding house and Mr. Butler rode with Dorothy and Hugh. The three of them drank a cup of tea at the kitchen table and the quiet was broken occasionally by a few words, spoken in hope or fear.
Mr. Butler finally excused himself to his bed and Dorothy and Hugh walked into the front hall so they could say their goodbyes.
Hugh kissed her lightly and then looked worried as she broke down and cried against his shoulder. It wasn't like Dottie to cry much at all, but this sobbing was tearing his heart out.
"Hey, Dottie, it's alright. I'm here," he murmured against her hair while he patted her back in futile consolation. Futile because it wasn't helping one bit, in fact it seemed to make it worse. In desperation he picked her up and went into the parlor and sat down and held her in his arms, letting her cry it out.
Dottie loved Miss Fisher with all her heart and they both knew that had she not come along when she did they might never have met; worse still, Dorothy might have ended up on the streets or in the convent. When her tears seemed to be abating a bit he pulled his handkerchief out of his pocket and handed it to her to dry her tears with.
"Hugh, don't leave tonight. Stay here, please."
Hugh stood up immediately, practically dumping Dottie on the floor. "Dottie!" he stammered, shocked at her words.
"I don't mean with me; in a spare room. It would be comforting for me know you are close, Hugh. Mr. Butler is here as well."
"Dottie, it's not proper; the neighbors will know. I can't." He watched as her lower lip began to tremble and sighed. "Alright, Dottie. Let's lock up and you can show me a room to sleep in. I want you to be able to rest tonight."
Hugh spent the night a mere 15 feet away from the woman he loved and desired. But it made her happy and that was all that mattered, at least he kept telling himself that. It was hard to lay there in his bed and hear her when she moved around in her bed.
He told himself that it was perverted to desire her after all that she was going through with Miss Fisher. He tried thinking about his mum and how ashamed she would be to know that her only son was fighting off carnal thoughts about a woman; even if it were the woman he was going to marry.
Thoughts of his mother upset him at the best of times. She was more than angry since he'd told her he was converting to Catholicism so that he could marry Dottie. In his heart he feared that his mum would never forgive Dottie; he wasn't even sure she'd ever forgive him. She'd certainly never forget; this was an affront to her basic Christianity. The inspector told him that once there were children that it would help smooth things a bit but Hugh still wasn't sure about that. The thing was, before he'd told her that Dottie was a Catholic she had liked her. He'd tried to ease his mum into the situation, but it hadn't helped a bit. Now, she barely spoke to him when he mentioned Dottie and if Dottie was with him she wouldn't even look at either of them.
He heard Dottie's bed creak again and tried to block the sound out. He pulled a pillow over his head and tried singing a nursery song to change the direction his thoughts were taking. He was a very bad man for the thoughts he had, especially in the light of the seriousness of the situation.
He finally fell asleep a little while later and tossed restlessly. When he woke up he saw the evidence of his dreams, waving proudly in front of him and muttered a curse that Dottie would have been shocked to hear.
When he made his way downstairs he smelled breakfast cooking. Mr. Butler was at the stove when he entered the kitchen and Dottie was slicing bread at the table. She looked up as he came in and he could tell by her pale and drawn face that she hadn't slept well either.
Mr. Butler silently handed him a mug of tea but gave him a small smile that he hoped would help ease the younger man's embarrassment at Tobias knowing that he'd spent the night here. He knew that the young constable had slept in a separate bedroom, but he also knew that he'd not slept well. That room was directly above his own and bed springs make a lot of noise when you're tossing and turning.
Jack and Mac continued their vigil, speaking at times and at others silent. Jack saw Mac looking at the ring on Phryne's finger and felt a rush of guilt sweep over him.
He cleared his throat and said, "We're not really engaged you know." He hoped that admitting the truth would lift the burden of deceit from him but it didn't really help.
Mac's mouth twitched up at the corner's as she looked at Jack. "You think not?"
"No, she agreed to wear it as a symbol of the love we share, that's all." The words almost hurt him to admit, like a knife stabbing at his heart.
Mac laughed out loud then and Jack stared at her as if she'd gone round the bend. "Jack, you know her well enough to know that she doesn't do anything she doesn't want. She knows what that ring means and I'd bet that you didn't have to convince her to agree to wear it. Tell me I'm wrong but I'll be it was her idea, wasn't it?"
Jack started to deny her words but then the memory of the conversation came back to him and he realized, possibly for the very first time that it really was Phryne's idea. It couldn't be, could it? She wanted to marry him, at least at some time?
"You know I'm right, don't you? Jack, she's unconventional as hell, but it's my belief that she is so in love with you that she won't mind marrying you one bit."
Jack shook his head in denial. Yes, she was unconventional and marriage and commitment didn't suit her; she'd proven that many a time. "No, she'll never want to do that and I'll never ask her to."
"Because you're afraid she'll say yes or afraid she'll say no?" Mac's eyes sparkled with humor a bit as she watched Jack as he searched for an answer. "If she says yes you'll be worried that she only did it to please you; if she says no, you'll feel horrible because she'll know that you really want to marry her. But you needn't worry about it. She might not yet be ready to admit it but she's ready to marry you. You'll just have to trust me on it," she told him as he began to protest.
"I can't believe that. She's…she's ran from any commitment as far as I can tell."
"No, she ran from men who wanted to corner her, to take away her independence. Jack, that's not something you've ever done. Quite the opposite in fact. When you tried to end your relationship did she allow that?"
He opened his mouth to deny her words but then closed it just as quickly. She was right about that; even when she knew that it pained him to have her close she only retreated enough to allow him a bit of space. She never went away and blast the woman, she knew exactly what she was doing! Strangely though, it hadn't really angered him; he didn't want her gone, not really. He'd just needed a bit of time to regroup and collect himself before they continued on. In the end, it hadn't felt as if they had ever been apart at all.
He realized that Mac was waiting for his answer and he met her gaze evenly across the bed. "You are quite right, Doctor. Maybe she does want to marry me, eventually."
Mac nodded and the two shared a bit of a conspiratory smile that helped them both to relax a bit. A few minutes later the matron came in carrying a tray with a pot of tea and the both smiled at her in thanks.
Mac looked at him over the rim of the cup and said, "We'll just keep this conversation our secret. Wouldn't do to let Prudence in on it. Oh, that's Aunt Prudence to you! Jack, however did you manage that?"
He smiled and said, "I haven't the faintest idea to tell you the truth. But I'll not say a word. If she finds out she's likely to order my execution."
"At the very least," Mac agreed dryly.
At two in the morning Mac stood up and said, "I'm going to go and try and sleep a couple of hours. Jack as your physician I'd recommend you do the same thing."
"I don't think I can," he said softly, his voice full of sorrowfully.
"Well, you have the cot, give it a shot." She smiled at her unintentional rhyme. "I'm tired, what can I say?" She gave him a brief nod and left him alone in the room.
He stood up again and walked around the room, stopping every few steps to glance back at Phryne. She was still a bit restless, but showed no apparent signs of waking up which might not be a worry for the doctors but it definitely worried him. This had to be the longest the woman had ever stayed put he decided.
Mac came back into the room carrying a brace for his arm and a bottle of some pills. "Do you still have any tea left?" At his affirmative nod she opened the bottle and took out two tablets and handed them to him. "For the pain."
He protested that he didn't feel any pain, which was probably true at this point. He was focused on Phryne, not his own injury but Mac knew that by morning his arm was going to be hurting badly. She watched as he took the pills, mostly because he seemed afraid of what she'd do if he didn't. He stayed silent as she slipped his arm into the brace and adjusted it as best she could to keep his arm still.
"You'll thank me in the morning. Now, again I'll caution you to try and rest."
He nodded at her as she again left the room. He began pacing again and tried to tell himself that Phryne would be okay. He just had to believe that, keep repeating it. He stopped next to the bed and looked down at his love. She looked so small, so fragile. The bandage that wrapped around her head and the bruises that continued to develop on her face positively scared him to death. His heart clutched and his breath caught in his throat as she mumbled his name again. He sat down next to her on the bed after looking out the door to make sure the matron wasn't watching him. He felt as if he were a youth, sneaking into a peep show. If she caught him the matron would definitely not go easy on him he was sure.
He stroked her arm and it seemed to settle her a bit; it seemed natural for him to lie next to her, just for a little bit. She seemed to settle even more. Maybe it was the warmth of his body, he really wasn’t sure. He tried to make himself comfortable without encroaching on her; he didn't want to bump into her and cause her any further harm.
An hour later the matron stepped into the room to check on her patient and found Jack, fast asleep on the bed with Phryne. The patient wore a slight smile. Was it possible she knew her fiancé was with her? Anything was possible the matron decided and left the two of them to rest. Things were likely to get worse before they got better. Head injuries were a tricky business.
At six in the morning Mac and Dr. Harrison stood in the doorway, watching Jack and Phryne. The matron stood behind the doctors, her eyes taking in the site. Phryne had shifted in the night to turn a bit, facing Jack. His body was curled around hers in a protective manner and even after so many years of being cynical about the healing arts when family members interfered she had to admit that in this case it just might help the lady to get better faster. She certainly seemed to take comfort in his nearness she had to admit.
Still, they needed to examine Miss Fisher and Mac gently woke Jack up and he looked startled by their presence. Whether it was because they found him in the bed with Phryne or because he'd managed to get some sleep she was unsure. He moved to get up and found out the Mac was totally correct, his arm hurt like hell this morning. She saw him wince and told him she'd get him something more for the pain.
"I'm sorry; she just seemed a bit restless and when I touched her she settled a bit. I didn't mean to fall asleep." He looked at them hoping that he hadn't committed an egregious error and waited for Dr. Harrison, or worse, the matron to speak.
"She looks none the worse for wear, Dr. Harrison," the nurse stated. The next few minutes Jack stood by and watched as they checked Phryne; the only concern was that her temperature was a bit elevated, but otherwise nothing else had changed.
The rise in temperature frightened Jack; that could mean she was developing an infection and that was the thing that Mac said they had to be worried about. He said another prayer that she would escape that fate; just let her heal and wake up, he asked.
He was suddenly aware of how disheveled he looked as he ran his fingers through unruly locks of hair that had fell down over his forehead. Jack excused himself to find the lavatory and try to pull himself together. He looked a fright and almost laughed because he rarely paid that much attention. Yes, he liked to be neat and presentable, but other than making sure his hair was combed and he was dressed in a tidy manner he thought little about his appearance. Right now, with his hair cockeyed, his clothes a rumpled, bloodied mess he was quite appalled. He washed up as best he could and found that moving his arm was a small bit of agony. Dark circles rimmed his eyes as well and he acknowledged that while he might have slept a little, it did nothing to refresh him.
Back in Phryne's room he found that the matron had brought him more tea and the hot and steamy brew smelled heavenly. She'd also found a few biscuits which he managed to choke down as well. They tasted of pasteboard, but he at least imagined that he felt a bit stronger after he was done. Mac handed him two tablets again and he swallowed them without a protest.
At eight precisely Prudence arrived, clucking to herself as she saw how the bruises on her niece's face had deepened overnight. Prudence thought that Jack didn't look much better but hesitated before she spoke the words. He was clearly deeply upset about Phryne and no doubt his injury was painful for him. He would do well to go home to rest and eat, but telling him would likely garner her nothing but wasted effort. Not because he was mean spirited but because he was obviously so worried about her niece.
She decided to take a chance of voicing her thoughts when Constable Collins arrived with Miss Williams. After the discussion was held and questions answered by Dr. Harrison Prudence gently suggested to Jack that he might benefit by a trip home to rest.
He only nodded tiredly; there seemed to be little fight left in him. Prudence tut-tutted in concern over her soon to be nephew, a thought that would have further distressed Jack had he known about it.
Prudence hadn't slept well herself; worry about Phryne and thinking about the alliance between her niece and the Inspector had held sleep at bay a good portion of the night. She had come to the conclusion that she quite approved of the engagement between the two of them. He came from a good family, a top family in fact and if his chosen profession was less than desirable, she could always applaud him for the humanistic philanthropy of it. He was a loyal and steadfast companion for Phryne and certainly he had a calming effect on her behavior. She was sure of it.
Jack finally surrendered reluctantly but he knew that everyone was concerned about him and they needed to focus their attention on Phryne, not him. He and Hugh had little to say to one another on the way back to Phryne's home; there was never a question as to where he was going.
Not as far as he was concerned anyway. Mr. Butler had breakfast waiting for him and then listened as Jack told him of the progress, or lack of progress with Phryne.
"There is little I can say to you, Inspector that will ease your fears, but I do know Miss Fisher to be a woman of substantial strength of will and I feel that will stand her in good stead where healing is concerned. She will let nothing stand in her way to a full recovery, I am sure."
Jack acknowledged that was true; it was the same thing Mac had tried to tell him too. But when you're watching a loved one in such serious circumstance it was very hard not to focus on the worst scenarios. He'd love her no matter what and he'd show her that every day the rest of her life if she'd let him. The question was, would she?
To be continued…
I hope you all enjoyed the chapter. I will be taking a brief holiday break and won't be posting again until January 5, 2015. I hope you have a lovely holiday season. May the new year brings blessings and joy to your lives. Happy New Year to all of you!
Now, a little Christmas gift for you!