Jack cleared his throat and felt an urge to tug at his collar; for a moment he felt a bit breathless as he contemplated Rosie's request.
Sixteen years they'd been together; that many years built a deep relationship between two people. The insular perspective of it made her request all the more desperate. The good and the bad, they'd both been a party to it all and he couldn't forget that. She was willing, or possibly hopeful that they could move past the bad for the benefit of the future; her future, that is.
His deeply rooted introspection of how he had failed her came raging through his conscience; how he'd firmly built a wall to separate them. It had been a wall meant to protect her from the pain he lived and relived almost daily but it had done more than that, it had torn them apart.
John had told him once that had there ever been substance to their marriage that it would have weathered the storm, but whether or not that was true, Jack never found out. Rosie turned increasingly to others for support and comfort, to Sidney Fletcher and that set. At the time he didn't feel as if he could blame her; they were lively, full of fun, everything that had deserted him. He'd watched as she partook of various social engagements with little concern; perhaps even a bit of relief for her having found something that she delighted in.
The time came of course when he realized that Sidney was more than just a friend to her. He felt sure that there had been no intimacy between them, other than of shared interests and a common background but the longing looks shared between them spoke of a desire greater than friendship. When she asked for a divorce, he first felt devastated and then realized it was the best for all concerned.
Was it because Miss Fisher was by then already irritating him to the point that he sometimes couldn't see straight? Possibly, he admitted, in fact likely. The annoyance brought him to life in a way and he'd felt the layers of his frozen being begin to thaw.
He and Phryne, he felt as if he'd waited a lifetime for her. Had anyone ever understood him as she did and still loved him? The dark, secret painful parts he had buried away all seemed to matter little to her and more and more to him as well. She had helped him to heal; mutual pain, a common reference for them made it all seem to fade away. If he helped Rosie as she asked, he'd lose all that.
Rosie watched as Jack's thoughts took hold of him; she knew him well and understood that he was letting the past grip him painfully. She felt a bit guilty about it; while playing house with Jack wasn't what she really wanted, it would provide her with the ability to get her life together again.
If only Sidney would have been completely honest about what he was doing! That would have made her walk away from him. Wouldn't it? She didn't know; she loved him dearly, he meant the world to her. He'd told her the girls were all to be servants, that he'd bought their indentures, even though it was no longer a common practice. She hadn't really liked that, but he told her the girls would at least have chances at better lives than if they stayed in the convent. But slaves? Never would she have supported that. Especially if they were to be sex slaves, as it seemed to be indicated. How could he?
How could her father have allowed it? She didn't understand and it all sickened her. Because of what he'd done, her former husband was a bit of a hero to her she acknowledged. She looked at him again, into his eyes and realized he'd made a decision; one she wasn't going to like.
"Rosie, I can't let you move into the house, you know that don't you? It's not right."
"Because of Miss Fisher, I suppose?"
"No, not that," he told her and then amended, "Not only that."
"Don't be coy, Jack. I saw the ring on her finger; your grandmother's ring, the one you never gave to me." Her eyes blazed with hurt indignation.
It would do little good to explain the circumstances of the ring to her; she'd never accept that. How could she when he hoped that in time, Phryne would regard it as an engagement ring as well?
Instead, he spoke softly and said, "I'm not being coy, Rosie. Phryne is my future; you and I, we shared a past, it's true but it is a past filled with pain, for both of us. I can't go back there."
The sincerity of his words stabbed at her, causing her to take in a deep, painful breath. It was true and she could do nothing but acknowledge that. She nodded at him and turned her head for a moment in an effort to keep him from seeing her tears.
"Rosie, why not go to your aunt and uncles in England? You have cousins there, family. Let that be a new start for you?"
She hadn't thought of that; while she knew that the scandal would make its way to England, it certainly wouldn't cause as much disgrace there as it did here. Perhaps she could make a new start there, put this all behind her.
She gave him a slightly teary smile and nodded. "I think you may be right, Jack. It would be the best move I could make." She rose from the chair and added, "I think it's time I left now. I'm sorry to have disturbed you today."
Jack walked her to the front door, trying to think of something to say to her, other than goodbye. He knew that he'd let her down, but he wasn't going to change his mind about it.
"Well, Jack, thank you for seeing me." She met his eyes for a moment and saw that while he was clearly upset, he was standing firm. She nodded, almost imperceptibly and added, "Goodbye, Jack," before leaving.
He watched as she walked down the sidewalk towards the corner without a backward glance. He couldn't see the tears that marred her face.
Earl sat in the Ford, watching Miss Fisher's house. Not a thing going on there and he thought that is was a waste of his time. He knew he could be down with his mates, betting on the races with the other punters. No, instead here he sat, bored to death.
A movement near the house caught his attention. A woman was crossing the street in front of the house and she looked familiar. Finally he realized it was Rosie Sanderson, the boss's girl. He hopped out of the car and walked towards her, calling out her name.
"Miss? Miss Sanderson?"
Rosie looked up and spied Earl, one of Sidney's employees heading for her. It puzzled her; why would he be here today. She halted and waited for him, curious about it.
"Miss," Earl said, a bit breathless from his dash down the street. His mind was rushing quickly, trying to decide what to do; what to say to her. "Miss, would you like a ride?"
Rosie had been on her way to the tram stop a few blocks away. She wasn't terribly fond of Earl, but it was decidedly better than waiting at the stop on this cold day for the tram. She eyed him speculatively, wondering if he could be trusted.
"I can't imagine what brings you down here, Earl," she said, watching his face closely.
"Just takin' care of some business, Miss. Let me get you out of this cold."
"Business? In St. Kilda? I find that rather strange. Do you know someone here?"
"Not exactly, Miss. Just doin' a favor for a…friend."
Something about the way he didn't quite meet her gaze was concerning to her. She decided to take her chances waiting at the tram stop in the cold. "I will just go ahead and catch the tram, Earl, but thank you for the offer of the ride."
Earl wasn't sure what to do. He didn't want to tell her that the boss was out, not out here in public anyway and not by stating it flat out. Still, he felt sure the boss would want to see her; in fact he knew that he intended to see her. But obviously the lady was determined not to ride with him.
"Okay then, Miss. I just thought you might want to come with me and see an old friend." He wondered if it had been subtle enough; maybe too subtle he thought as no recognition at all flickered across her face. "Miss? I'll deliver ya safely, I promise."
Rosie glanced around her; she had the strangest of feelings. What was he talking about, old friend? It seemed very odd, and yet, a glimmer of understanding began to surface. Surely it couldn't be?
She made a decision and with a nod she agreed to follow him to his car. She hoped that it wouldn't be the last thing she ever did.
Phryne, Dot and Mr. B all heard the front door close and drew a collective breath as they heard footsteps that made their way into the kitchen as Jack walked through the doorway.
Phryne set her cup of tea down into the saucer with more force than necessary and it made an alarming sound; she hoped that she hadn't broken it but she also didn't care enough to examine it as she came to her feet, taking in the tense look on Jack's face.
He gave her a slight smile, an effort to show her that he was fine but it was a wasted effort because she saw right through it.
"What's wrong?" She walked to him, looking him straight in the face and watched as indecision marred his features.
It wasn't that he wouldn't tell her about Rosie's visit, but he was trying to collect his thoughts about it. "Phryne…" he began and then cleared his throat. "Perhaps, we might…"
He didn't have a chance to finish the sentence when she walked past him, heading to the parlor. He followed her and inside the doors she said, "Now tell me what is wrong, and don't tell me nothing, Inspector. I can see by your face that something clearly is."
He sat down on the loveseat and she sat next to him and turned to face him , trying to wait patiently. He noticed that her usually generous mouth was drawn into a frown and sighed.
"Rosie wanted my help; help that I refused to provide."
"Yes? What sort of help?"
"She wanted to move back into my house, to use the move as a sort of social buffer."
"I see. How did she take that?"
"She seemed to accept it, but it was hard for her I believe."
"And hard for you as well, I think. To refuse her I mean," Phryne said, knowing it to be the truth.
He'd been with her for so many years; Phryne couldn't really understand how the longevity of that affected a person, not in a marriage that is. As she'd seen last night, there was still some sort of commonality between them because of their marriage, however truly awful it had been.
Jack nodded, acknowledging her words. Yes, it was hard for him to do that, but he knew it wouldn't do her any good to come back into his life. At best it would only hurt her and his relationship with Phryne and at worst, it would dredge up their painful past. Neither of them needed to revisit that.
"It is for the best, but I'm sure she doesn't see it that way. I did suggest that now might be an opportune time to visit family in England."
"A sensible suggestion, Jack. Will she have the funds to do that do you think?"
"I hadn't thought of that. I'll have to check with Annabelle." At Phryne's confused face he added, "Annabelle Barrington, her sister."
"Married to John Barrington?" At his nod she said, "I have heard of him. He is with the Mason banking group isn't he?"
"Yes. John and I grew up together and we served together in the war. When we were at university he married Annabelle and that is how I met Rosie."
Phryne smiled, today was a remarkable day to be sure. She learned about his family and a lifelong friend. This was an admirable turn of events. "So what did you study at university, Jack?"
"I studied to be a barrister, actually. Second year I decided that I would rather be on the side of catching criminals, as opposed to defending them. My father was not pleased," he said with a laconic smile.
Phryne's eyebrows raised a fraction as she digested this news. She knew that he was educated, his knowledge of Latin, German, chemistry and Shakespeare all told her that because it was beyond what was taught in secondary school but it was the subject that surprised her. "Why, Jack, how rebellious of you! I do approve of your rogue behavior!"
"Rogue behavior, Miss Fisher? I hadn't quite thought of it that way. I just couldn't imagine myself as a stuffy barrister."
"I'm sure your father didn't see it that way, Inspector. Now, didn't we have a date to go and collect some of your things from your house?" She pulled him close to her and tilted her head up for a kiss; Jack, being a clever man immediately got her point and claimed her lips for a searing kiss.
She melted against him; the kiss made her feel heady with desire and her knees began to shake a bit as well. She pulled away with a delighted laugh. "Jack, you do have a way of making me feel all breathless and tingly. Now, we have to go and get your things; I do not intend on letting you leave me this night and I fully desire to wake up in your arms tomorrow morning!"
He swallowed a bit nervously as he looked into her eyes; what he saw in them took his breath away. Love and desire, need and impatience as well. He smiled and nodded before agreeing, "Yes, that is exactly where I intend on being." He leaned down for another kiss but was interrupted by the ringing of the telephone.
He heard Phryne mutter 'damn' under her breath before she called out, "I have it, Mr. B!"
"Hello, Miss Phryne Fisher speaking. Yes, how are you Commissioner? Good, how is Sylvia?"
She paused as she listened to his reply. "Yes, wonderful. Jack did tell me of that. I'll expect her call."
She frowned this time as she listened. "As a matter of fact he's right here, Commissioner." She handed the phone to Jack, suddenly afraid. Matlock's tone had been tense, despite the pleasantries.
"Robinson speaking." Jack listened for a minute, making non-committal replies occasionally. Finally he said, "I'll be on the lookout; thank you sir for letting me know."
As he hung up the receiver Phryne asked, "Jack, whatever is wrong?"
"Sidney Fletcher has escaped from gaol. There is no word on his whereabouts, but they are searching for him as we speak. Commissioner Matlock urged me to be on the lookout for him."
"Does the commissioner believe you are in danger?" Phryne held her breath for a moment as she waited for him to answer.
Jack debated for a half a moment as to what to tell her. The commissioner felt that they both could be targets for Fletcher. He decided he had to be truthful because they both needed to keep their eyes open.
Phryne nodded at the news, satisfied that her had told her the truth. "We'll just be cautious then. Should we postpone our dinner tonight?"
That might be a good idea Jack thought but then decided against it. "No, let's have the dinner. I doubt that Fletcher would make a scene in a busy restaurant."
"Alright, then dinner it is. Now, shall we go to your house?"
That might be a dangerous move, but hopefully Fletcher had already departed out of Melbourne completely. That would be the intelligent thing for him to do. Not knowing that for a fact though gave Jack a bit of pause to consider. Finally, common sense won out; he needed some things and he also needed to speak to Mrs. Mayton.
"Alright, Phryne, let's go."
She smiled as she pulled on her coat and slipped a hat on her head as well as gloves.
"We're taking my car, Miss Fisher," he warned sternly, but his eyes twinkled a bit with amusement. His only response was a lifted eyebrow and a smile.
Earl drove the Ford through the back streets of Abbottsford cautiously, trying not to gather any attention. Everything about his demeanor, as well as the automobile was unremarkable, blending easily into the working class neighborhood.
Rosie sat silently, trying not to feel alarmed as they drove through streets that were completely unfamiliar to her. Finally they pulled into a drive and around the back of a nondescript house on a very quiet street. Finally, Earl shut the automobile off and got out and opened the door for her.
"Excuse me, Earl? Where are we?"
"Just come along, Miss. Please?" he added when it seemed as if she might not follow him.
He opened the back door to the house and held it for her. She reluctantly stepped through into a small and dingy kitchen. There were dirty dishes sitting on the table and in the sink she noted and wrinkled her nose in distaste. Suddenly, she heard a voice she recognized and smiled. It would be okay, she knew.
"Earl, what the devil are doing back here? I told you to watch that bitch Miss Fisher's house…" Sidney said as he walked through a doorway. He stopped dead in his tracks as he spotted Rosie standing in the room.
"I thought I'd bring ya a present, Mr. Fletcher," was all Earl had time to get out before Sidney had swept Rosie into a close embrace, placing light kisses all over her face before sealing his lips with hers.
Earl grinned and dug around for something to eat. Mr. Fletcher could thank him later on.
To be continued…