Jack stared wordlessly at the women in the doorway. Phryne stepped around him and said, "Rosie, please come in."
Jack almost imperceptibly shook his head, whether in an attempt to deny her entry or shake off the momentary stupor that finding her on the doorstep caused him, he wasn't sure. His mouth opened and then closed with a snap and he resigned himself to dealing with whatever she had brought to them.
Phryne offered her hand, which Rosie studiously ignored as she stepped past both Phryne and Jack.
"I need to speak to my husband - alone!" The last word was almost spat out and caused Phryne to take a step back, but her eyes narrowed as she prepared to tell Rosie to leave. Jack beat her to it.
"Rosie, I am not your husband any longer; you made that choice if I remember correctly. Now, please leave." The words were spoken with iron-clad civility, but there was no mistaking that he had no intention of allowing her behavior to continue.
"I will not! I must speak to you, Jack." Her words held an emphatic plea that both Phryne and Jack recognized. It was unlikely that she would just go away.
"Jack, perhaps you should speak with your ex-wife so that she can be on her way." The quiet words brooked no resistance for Jack; he knew that tone and he knew also that the best way to get rid of Rosie was to find out what she wanted.
"Very well, Rosie," he said, stepping aside and ushering her into the parlor.
Rosie stepped past Phryne and then Jack, head held high, and although her face was terribly pale and her eyes red-rimmed, she seemed more in control of the situation than they did.
"Rosie, would you care for some tea?" Phryne asked.
"NO, she would not; she isn't staying that long," Jack stated, standing in the parlor now, hands planted on his hips in an unspoken demand for action.
"Very well, then," Phryne said, pulling the door closed behind her. When she turned around she saw Dot and Mr. Butler both standing in the dining room, questions clearly written on their faces.
"I don't know," she told them, wearing a frown on her normally good-natured face. She shrugged and went into the kitchen, Dot and Mr. Butler both following behind.
"It's been quite a day, hasn't it, Miss?" Dot said, setting out cups for tea as Mr. B put the kettle on.
"More than you could imagine," Phryne said, and couldn't help how curious she was about what was happening in the parlor.
"What do you want, Rosie?"
"Is that anyway to talk to your wife, Jack?" Rosie said, looking at him as she took a seat. He was angry, she could tell by the way his body stood ramrod straight. His eyes watched as she sat down and settled into the chair, and a look of resignation crossed his face. Her face took on a softer look as she said, "Please, Jack. I need your help."
He sighed and said, "Rosie, you are no longer my wife, a fact that I'm sure you haven't forgotten. Say what you have to say and then leave." He hated being so harsh but she seemed determined to make trouble and he found he hadn't a bit of patience for it.
"In the eyes of the church, we are still married, you know. They don't believe in divorce, Jack," she stated simply.
He stood silently, waiting for her to speak again. He thought it very convenient of her to think of such things when it suited her. When she wanted the divorce she seemed to forget that fact.
"Oh, alright," she said with a huff of annoyance, realizing that he wasn't going to say anything about her statement. "Jack, I need your protection now, the protection of our marriage. You must realize that I'm in a very precarious situation as far as society goes. Moving back into your house will allow me some time to recover a bit. Since we don't know what is going to happen with father, well, the support would be invaluable to me."
He couldn't believe her presumption; that she was ignoring their divorce, the divorce that she wanted to begin with was almost funny. Believing for a moment that he would agree to such a ridiculous ploy was pure foolishness.
"No; now it's time for you to leave." He wasn't really such a cold-hearted bastard he told himself.
"Jack, be reasonable, please. It would only be for a short time, until things have settled down a bit." When she saw that her words had no impact on him she lowered her head, to hide her face a bit and told him, "Surely you wouldn't just cast me out? We were married for 16 years after all."
The years of their marriage sped through his brain; the good times early on and the worst times in later years. There was no love lost between them, no romantic love at all and hadn't been for many years. Of course he cared what happened to her, how could he not, but this was asking too much. He didn't want to have to toss her to the wolves because she would be eaten alive by them.
But could he cast her out alone now? A hard question to answer.
Earl drove slowly through the streets, trying hard not to attract any attention, especially of the constabulary type. At the safe house Sidney exited the automobile while Earl continued on with their cargo; Sidney decided it was none too soon because the stench that rolled off of the odious man was horrendous.
Inside, after he bathed and ate, he decided to sleep for a few hours. The safe house wasn't luxurious, far from it. Certainly it was barely adequate he thought as he gazed at a bed that was covered in a rough textured coverlet that looked neither sufficiently warm nor comfortable. He took what comfort he could from the fact that it wasn't the gaol and that it was temporary as well.
They had much to accomplish later in the evening, task's that would require careful planning and daring. He wanted to be at his best when he killed Phryne Fisher and Jack Robinson. By this time tomorrow he and Rosie would be out of Australia permanently and good riddance to it he decided. He'd been moving money and his seat of operations to Singapore for the past few years and it was all ready for them. Rosie would look beautiful swathed in the rich silks and jewels of the Orient. The thought left a smile on his face as he fell asleep.
When Earl returned to report that his mission was accomplished Sidney nodded approval. "I want you to go and keep an eye on Miss Fisher's residence to see what is going on there. But for god's sake, don't let them see you!" he cautioned.
Earl nodded and headed off to do the job for the boss. It'd be a nice quiet afternoon he thought with a coarse smile. Miss Fisher was a looker and maybe he'd get himself a good long look.
Phryne sipped nervously at the cup of tea that Dot had sat before her. It might as well have been brackish river water for all that she bothered to taste it; she was beside herself with curiosity about what was happening in the parlor.
Both Dot and Mr. Butler continued to wonder about the ring on Miss Fisher's finger; it was a beautiful emerald and thus far she'd said nothing about it. Maybe it was the reason for the family dinner tonight Dot supposed, although she couldn't help but wonder about that because her Miss wasn't wearing the ring when she had Dot arrange the dinner this morning.
Phryne's pensive attitude did not suit her at all. She didn't waste time worrying about things; she took action to solve whatever was bothering her. But this was beyond her abilities; whatever was going on in that parlor it was between Jack and his former wife.
It didn't bother her that he had aformer wife; they both had relationships in the past although admittedly hers were severely limited in duration. A small shiver crept up her spine at the thought of what might have happened if she'd stayed with Rene Dubois; she might have, at least for awhile had it not been for Mac and her other flat mates.
He made her feel as alive as the war had deadened her. Was there ever a war that left anyone feeling happy? Certainly not the women, who usually were the ones in the ambulance services taking care of the poor souls who were unfortunate enough to end up in their care. Or they waited at home, dreading each and every knock on their doors.
Phryne was strong, she knew that, but days, weeks, eventually years of caring for them, a never ending, swirling miasma of pain and suffering ultimately made even the stoutest of hearts grow numb. If it didn't, you wouldn't survive it all Mac had told her. She knew that it was the truth, after holding the hand of hundreds of soldiers as they died, giving what comfort she could in their last moments of life, hoping that she had somehow made a difference in their last minutes.
The ones that survived were profuse in their gratitude, and Phryne had received more than one marriage proposal from a young man who saw her as their personal angel. She smiled and tenderly rebuffed them, trying to let them know that since life went on that all those things that they were missing from home, all those people, would be waiting anxiously for their return from this thing they called war.
War. The brutalization and perversion of life and all for what she wondered. Would it ever end? Would countries ever decide to just live peacefully among themselves, let their people be and encourage them to find a way to live with peace? It seemed an unlikely prospect as long as men continued to beat their chests like savages and claimed to be the supreme ones.
But it had ended, thankfully; that war but Phryne felt sure that there would be another, sooner or later. The numbers showed that the death toll was 16 million people, mostly men but enough women and children caught in the wrong place at the wrong time to make that number horrific in the end. Armistice, lay down your arms they declared, it's over, now everyone can be at peace again. How was that supposed to happen? A seize fire referred to the guns, the militant hostilities; it had nothing to do with the state of mind that the population was left to deal with. Phryne was certain that she wasn't the only one who carried around ghastly emotional scars of it all.
Paris after the war was magnificent; almost as if the war had never happened. People were desperate to put it behind them, live in the moment and Phryne and her friends were no different. None of them had much money, so Phryne and Mac shared a flat with two other girls from the ambulance unit. Claire and Blythe were the perfect girls to live with while all of them determined what to do. Phryne knew that she could write home, have money sent but perhaps she just needed this time, just for her, to help her forget the past few years.
A stroke of luck helped her find Pierre and Veronique Sarcelle; posing as one of his models was a perfect diversion for her and even paid a bit of money, enough to allow her to live on anyway. It was a bit unnerving the first time she shed her clothing, however it was apparent quickly that the only woman that Pierre was interested in was Veronique; Phryne was only a body to be painted and so he did.
Pierre was enthusiastic but he was also funny and Phryne enjoyed the hours spent with the Sarcelle's. He would spend days sketching onto a canvas only to scream in frustration and toss his hands in the air because he couldn't get her hand just so. Then he'd swish his charcoal over the canvas, cursing as he did so, an action that would usually cause a great deal of dialog between he and Veronique. At first Phryne couldn't understand much of their conversation at all and was convinced that he hated her, hated her body, but in time as she understood more she knew that wasn't the problem at all. Like many artists, Pierre was a perfectionist and when it wasn't just so, he grew angry with himself.
Phryne spent many happy days and evenings with the Sarcelle's. Veronique would go to the vendre and bring back bread and fruit and rich red wine which would fortify their energies for the evenings.
All that changed 3 months after she started modeling for Pierre. A friend of theirs came around to see them. Rene Dubois had been in the south of France for a year, learning about the Fauvist and Cubist style of painting with his friend Jacques Villion. The technique was a bold impressionist style that Rene loved and he came back determined to convert Pierre to it.
As soon as he saw Phryne he considered himself in the presence of beauty itself. She took his breath away and he knew at once that he had to have her, as an artist and as a man.
As much as he admired her, desired her, he kept his distance at first; she was Pierre's model and there are some things that a man must respect about his friend and taking his model was one of them. Still, belle un peu, his beautiful one, as he thought of her cast longing looks in his direction from time to time so to take the edge off he threw himself into his art, finally painting a fantastic mural in the new style on the wall at Café Anatole, much to the crowds appreciation and enthusiasm.
She approached him then, after his magnificent performance, the desire and longing he saw reflected in her stunning blue eyes too much temptation to resist. They made love that night, glorious, soul-searing love! He would never be the same again; his heart would never soar higher than it did with her.
He told her that, time after time, usually after he had chastised her for a seeming infraction of his ideals. He must be uppermost in her mind at all times! He only allowed her to continue her work with Pierre because of his long friendship with him. He demanded that only he, Rene Dubois fill her mind and heart.
The more time they spent together the more Phryne saw through his machinations, his bravado; he was a scared and jealous man, and not just of her relationship with Pierre and Veronique. He was jealous of the talent that Pierre had, the sheer genius of his work, the way his brushstrokes made the paintings come to life. Phryne saw through his attempt at scorn for his old friends talent, saw straight through to the marrow of it and the venom and vitriol of it made her feel ill.
Her friends had grown worried about her as she became more subdued and withdrawn from them, not understanding that even her friendships with them were being criticized by Rene.
He resented her time with them, urging her to move in to his loft with him so that they could be together all the time. As the demands for obedience grew harsher, she grew more melancholy and fearful of what would happen between them.
"Phryne, you must leave him!" Claire urged. "Seriously, the man grows more deranged daily."
"She's right, Phryne," Mac told her, worry filling her pale blue eyes. "Dear girl, this is not love, this is about possession." Mac knew that Phryne felt guilty because Rene claimed he loved her and could not live without her.
She knew they were right, but how did she break away? She was positive he'd come after her and Pierre wasn't finished with the current painting of her; he claimed that it was the best he had ever done and she knew that she would spoil it if she left.
The decision, when it came was easy. After practically dragging Phryne away from a session with Pierre, Rene staked his claim to her, vehemently. "You are MINE. Body, mind and soul," he told her. It wasn't enough that the fingers that held her face tightly dug in and caused pain, the final indignation came with a sharp slap to her face. He walked away without a backwards glance, likely expecting that she would follow obediently.
As the pain, rage and finally determination took over, she knew that she had had enough.
She ran for the flat as the tears that streaked her face cemented her resolve to get away. Out of breath, she practically ran up the 5 flights of stairs and threw open the door and closed it quickly, leaning against it as if to make sure he couldn't follow.
Blythe and her lover, Michel was there as well as Mac. "What is wrong, mon cherie?" Michel asked, concern for her showing clearly in his face.
"What has he done, now?" Mac asked and stepped close to her to eye her friend carefully.
The impression of his hand was still faintly showing and Mac turned away with a cure. "Are you ready to get away now?" Her eyes dared Phryne to deny the truth.
"I…I don't know how, I haven't enough centimes to get across town; how one earth could I get to England because if I stay here he will surely find me."
They all pooled their money; Mac was determined to accompany her to England, to her family. They found enough to cover the train fare, but the crossing was out of the question. After a few minutes of debate Michel came up with a solution; his cousin was a fisherman in Escalles. There was no phone for him but Michel would write a note to him that the girls would deliver; Michel was sure that he would help them.
Claire came home as Mac and Phryne were hurriedly throwing clothes into a valise. When she was told what was happening she added a bit of money to the pot, for food or whatever they might need she told them.
Phryne wrote a note to Pierre and Veronique but found that her words were terribly inadequate to express her guilt for leaving so suddenly and her gratitude for their friendship. Several of her tears marred the surface of the note, but there wasn't time to do it over. Claire promised her that she would personally take it to Pierre and Veronique and they all promised to not tell Rene where she had gone.
It worried Phryne a great deal, what might happen when he discovered she had left him. He could be vengeful she knew and she worried what he would do to her friends. Michel promised her that all would be well and she could only hope that he understood the dangers.
The train to Escalles took almost 4 hours and then another 2 until they found Alain Leclere. He was a weathered fisherman, older than his cousin Michel and a bit grizzled in looks. But he had very kind eyes and after he read the note from Michel he nodded and agreed to take them to Folkstone across the channel where they should be able to reach her parents.
"Merci, monsieur Leclere. Merci beau coup." Phryne barely managed to choke the words out, so overcome with gratitude for the man's kindness.
" Non, ce n'est pas un problème un peu," he told her. The girl was still shaking from the encounter with the monster who had struck her. It was no problem for him to help her he decided.
Crossing the channel went quickly and when they reached Folkstone, Phryne again thanked him for his help. As he watched them go he shook his head, saying a small prayer that God would be with them and get them to safety.
The crossing gave Phryne a chance to think, to decide her destiny perhaps. She had been victimized as a child by her father, usually in one of his drunken stupors but too often to ignore. Being locked in a closet, complete darkness surrounding her had scared her witless at times. He had told her many a time that it was for her own good, that her attitude must change. Even though she feared the dark, it also strengthened her resolve to not let herself be victimized and for a while, Rene made her forget that.
Never again, she decided. No man would ever make her do something that she didn't want to do; no man would ever own her again.
Mac watched as Phryne found herself on that journey; the resolve to take charge of her own destiny in her friend was miraculous to observe.
Phryne took a sip of her now cold tea and wondered how long she had been lost in the past. The past had a lot to teach a person if you only listened. She only hoped that Jack remembered and was listening.
To be continued…