Jack drove sedately through the streets of Melbourne, completely aware that Phryne was shifting restlessly in her seat. No matter how much he loved her, he was not breaking the speed limit for her.
Actually, what was bothering her was that they weren't heading to Richmond at all and she was slightly confused. Perhaps he had a stop to make first she decided, but as they entered a predominately residential area of Parkville her confusion increased.
Parkville was a lovely area of Melbourne, the University was there and some very nice homes as well. If Phryne were to be honest with Jack, she would have to admit that she had once driven by his home in Richmond, not too long after they started working together. Yes, she knew it was an invasion of his privacy, but curiosity had gotten the better of her. There in Richmond she had spied a neat and tidy bungalow home; it was exactly the kind of home she imagined Jack would live in.
She looked around her at the beautiful homes they were passing; all were well kept, with manicured lawns and quite lovely. It was an older neighborhood, judging by the large trees that would provide much needed shade in the summer months but now they were bare, having surrendered their leafy cloaks for winter.
She glanced out the window at the sky and saw a watery, pale yellow sun trying to peek through a dismally bleak sky and hoped for the sun, mentally crossing her fingers childishly. Wasn't everything better when the sun shone on it? Not that anything was wrong; on the contrary, everything was right. Except for the fact that Sidney Fletcher had escaped gaol and his whereabouts were unknown.
Jack had tried to reassure her that he'd be caught quickly if he was still in Melbourne. "Phryne, every constable in the city are on the lookout for him."
"Should we cancel our dinner plans, do you think?" She hoped that he wouldn't want that. While Fletcher being on the loose was unnerving, she refused to be intimidated by it; she would not let it disturb her life!
Jack pulled up into the drive of a large home and turned the automobile off. "Jack?" she questioned.
"This is my home, Phryne," he told her, noticing the confused look on her face. He held back a smile; he had a feeling Miss Fisher had done a bit of sleuthing in the past.
"I thought you lived in Richmond, Jack?"
"Yes, I do own a house in Richmond. That is where Rosie and I lived when we were married. After the divorce I decided I needed to get out of that house that only held bad memories for me, start again. So I moved into my grandparent's home; it’s a shame in a way, it's much too large for me, half of it is closed off. Mrs. Mayton has more than she can handle to keep it in good shape. Two of my mother's girls help her once a week to do the heavy cleaning as Mrs. Mayton is getting older now. She was with my grandparent's for many years. I sort of inherited her," he finished with a grin, the lop-sided one that always made her feel charmed by him.
He got out of the car and came around to open the door for her. As she stepped out she couldn't help but notice the appeal and warmth of the home. It was truly welcoming with its red-tiled roof and wide steps leading up to a large, wraparound porch. "It's lovely, Jack."
He nodded and told her, "This was my grandmother's favorite, of all their houses. Come on, let's get inside, it's chilly out here!" He held out his arm and she wrapped hers through it as they ascended the stairs.
Inside Phryne looked around her with interest. The foyer was warm and inviting; the colors were perfectly matched with the wood trim and the staircase that led to the second level. The pale gold of the walls, the deep umber of stone flooring by the entry way made a visitor feel welcome.
They headed to the left and were in a large parlor, in similar colors. The walls were painted a very pale shade of cream and she loved the furnishings; all Victorian in style and perfectly at home in the room. A large fireplace occupied part of one wall and at the end of the room stood a beautiful grand piano.
"Impressive, Jack." She walked over to the piano and let her fingers pick out a few notes. "Do you play regularly?" She knew that he must; when he played at her house he was quite good.
"Fairly often, but not usually often enough. It seems that I spend too many evenings with a delectable woman I know," he teased and leaned down to kiss her lightly.
A moment later they were interrupted by an older woman who came into the room. "Oh, excuse me, Master Jack! I didn't mean to disturb!"
"No, please, Mrs. Mayton, come in. I'd like to introduce you to Miss Phryne Fisher. This is Mrs. Mayton; she has the daunting task of keeping house for me and trying to keep me in line." His smile at the woman was one of happiness and affection.
"At last, I finally meet the Hon. Miss Fisher! Master Jack has spoken of you many times. Please, have a seat and I'll fetch some tea and biscuits!" She nodded to the sofa and smiled indulgently at 'Master Jack'. Clearly the older woman was very fond of him.
Once she had left the room Phryne whispered, "Master Jack? Oh, I do like that!"
He smiled at her laugh, it sounded somewhat musical in this room. Perhaps it was the acoustics of it, he wasn't sure; he only knew that he had pictured her in this room a hundred times, but it was even better now that she was actually here.
Instead of sitting she wandered around the room, looking at knick-knacks and pictures, stopping to examine one occasionally. She stared at a picture for a moment and turned to him in question.
"That is me, Jaime, Maude and Amanda. It was taken before Jaime went to university."
"Jaime is older than you?"
"Yes, by 3 years. Maude is almost 2 years older and Amanda is a year younger."
Phryne nodded as she gazed at the picture. Jack and Amanda more closely resembled one another as did Jaime and Maude. Jack and Amanda both took after their mother she had noticed earlier which must mean that Jaime and Maude favored their father.
Another picture was clearly very old, a daguerreotype she thought. It showed a couple, obviously on their wedding day. Neither was smiling really but somehow the picture conveyed a sense of happiness. Her eyebrows raised in question as Jack stood next to her, watching as she examined the picture.
My grandparents, on their wedding day in 1843. It's a treasured photograph, the daguerreotype was fairly new then and this picture has been taken great care of since that time."
She nodded, knowing that he cherished the photograph. "This is your mother's parents?" At his nod she continued, "Did you mother have any siblings?"
"Yes, an older brother, Maxwell and his wife, Maria. They were both killed in a fire at the sugar plantation. Maria was pregnant at the time."
Phryne digested this news solemnly. Losing a son in those times was harsh luck, but at least Jack's mother had survived. "And your sister and her husband run the sugar business now?"
"Yes, they do. It's thriving, due to Wesley's solid management skills. Maude is also equally active in the business," he told her and watched her smile.
"I see. It seems the Robinson women really are quite modern. I do approve, Jack. Of the whole family actually, that is unless your brother is a beast who keeps his wife under his thumb!"
"I'll let you be the judge of that this weekend," he told her. Their chat was cut short as Mrs. Mayton entered carrying a tea tray. She sat it on a table in front of the sofa and Phryne and Jack both took a seat.
"This smells wonderful, Mrs. Mayton, and the biscuits look delicious. I've often wondered where Jack got his private stash of biscuits from and now I have the answer!"
Mrs. Mayton laughed. "Yes, Master Jack has quite a sweet tooth, Miss Fisher. Always has."
"Mrs. Mayton, I'd like you to go and stay with your sister for a few days, if you would."
"Well, why ever should I do that?"
Jack explained about Sidney Fletcher. "I do not believe he would have any intentions to harm you, but if he has ill intent towards me, I don't want you here on your own. I'm going to be spending several days at Miss Fisher's home, to keep an eye on things there."
Phryne tried to keep her face straight at Jack's words. Surely Mrs. Mayton knew it was more than that?
She got her answer a few moments later when Mrs. Mayton replied, "Master Jack, don't try to pull the wool over my eyes. You know as well as I do that is not the only reason and I must say, it's about time!" She fixed Phryne with a pleased look and added, "He's been mooning over you for months now. His mother and I were both in despair that he'd ever get around to this. You treat him right, young woman!"
Phryne met her eyes honestly. "I give you my solemn promise that I will take very good care of him. He is very dear to me, Mrs. Mayton."
The housekeeper nodded, pleased with the answer. "Good to hear. I supposed you'll be needing some things for a few days visit?"
"Yes, but I'll collect them myself after we finish tea. Perhaps you could call your sister to make arrangements and Miss Fisher and I will take you to her house when we leave here."
"Nonsense! I can take the tram, as always, Master Jack!"
"No, we will take you. So please contact Mrs. Herrold and then collect the things you might need for a few days."
Mrs. Mayton stared at him for a moment and then realized that he meant business. This was the police officer talking and she knew better than to object. "Of course. I'll get ready."
They watched her leave the room, still not altogether happy, but both of them knew it was for the best. Phryne poured the tea and placed biscuits on plates as well. With her first bite she smiled and commented, "This is wonderful. I'm surprised you're not all roly poly if you eat biscuits like this very often." She took another bite and chewed it thoughtfully. It really was delicious.
He chuckled at her words. "It's probably due to chasing down criminals, Miss Fisher." When she rolled her eyes at him he laughed again. "Might be because I ride my bike frequently as well."
The information made her smile. "Do you still go exploring the neighborhoods of North Richmond, Inspector?"
"Occasionally. That is my Sunday morning activity; some go to church to talk to God. I ride my bike."
"To talk to God?" she asked, suddenly curious. Okay, more curious she thought.
"So to speak. It helps me to clear my head, work off stress." He ate another biscuit and waited for her reply. He knew she'd have one.
Except she didn't. She just digested the information with interest and filed it away. Everyone needed a way to unwind and this was evidently Jack's. Personally, she liked to tear about in her Hispano. To each his own she decided.
A thought came to her and she spoke up with it. "I'm glad that Jane isn't home yet; hopefully he'll be captured by that time. I wouldn't care to have to worry about her again."
Jack noticed her small shiver and wondered if she were thinking about Murdoch Foyle. It made sense for her to think about the threat he had posed. Frankly, Jack hadn't thought about Jane in all this, not just about Fletcher but also about him and Phryne. His voiced his concerns aloud.
"Jack, she'll be very happy, I'm sure. She adores you, has always looked up to you."
Both of them smiled when they thought about Jack's first encounter with Phryne's adopted daughter; perhaps that first meeting wasn't so pleasant between them but they had quickly moved past it.
Phryne took in the vulnerable look on Jack's face and realized how much he hoped her words were true. He and Rosie had 'never been blessed' in his words. Did he want to be a father? Would he be happy to be a father figure to Jane? She had no doubt that Jane would be thrilled about it, having Jack share their household.
"Jack, you have both come a long way since that first meeting." She reached out and took his hand and he slowly looked at her; she saw his doubt registered in his eyes. "She will love you, just as I do. In truth, I think she already does. When she calls home and writes letters she always asks after you."
"She does?" He looked a bit relieved at her words. "I - I look forward to getting to know her better. Before she left she told me she was very interested in history and geography, which is why she was looking forward to her tour of Europe so much."
"She still is; my mother has dragged her to every castle imaginable and she isn't tired of them at all. She loved their time in France as well. They met my friend Claire who I served in the ambulance unit with. I think they all had a grand time there."
He nodded and saw that they had eaten all the biscuits; he amended that to he had eaten most of them with a smile. "Shall we go and pack a few things for me? I'm sure Mrs. Mayton will be done before too long."
"Does she live in?"
"In a way, she actually lives in a cottage out back. It is convenient for all of us."
She agreed and followed him up the stairs as he told her a bit about the house. Upstairs she was impressed with the spaciousness of the rooms and especially all the bathrooms, it made it very convenient for guests. All the bedrooms were closed off except for Jack's and as soon as she stepped through she realized that she would have known it was Jack's room anywhere. She smiled at that thought; it just looked like Jack.
A large bed stood by the windows, close enough to catch cool breezes but far enough away to miss pesky frigid drafts. In one corner sat a large, over-stuffed chair and ottoman, with a table beside it, upon which rested a book. When she picked it up she saw that it was The Bishop Murder Case; she grinned and said, "Don't you get enough of murder on the job?"
He gave her a slightly cocky smile and said, "You never know, I might learn something new, Miss Fisher. You might find that book interesting yourself. That is if you can pull yourself away from Lady Chatterley's Lover!"
"You never know, Inspector. You might learn something from that one!" she countered and saw a dangerous gleam spark in his eyes.
He came to her and pulled her tightly against him and tipped her head back as he took her lips in a kiss that left her breathless. "You think so?" he asked as he saw her lick her lips and take a deep breath.
She turned from him for a moment to regain her composure. "Time will tell, Inspector," she said playfully, but both of them knew that he didn't need the help of any book. "Are you ready to gather your things?"
"Of course. I just need to get a valise out of the closet, won't be but a minute," he told her. True to his word, he was right back and started opening drawers, looking for the clothing items he wanted. Before she knew it, his packing was done. She had picked out several ties to go with a suit he was bringing with him and they were both satisfied with the choice.
"I still believe that I'm capable of taking the tram to my sister's house, Master Jack."
Jack couldn't help but notice that every time Mrs. Mayton addressed him Phryne had a smile that tugged on the corners of her mouth. He was positive he'd hear more about this later.
"Nonsense, Mrs. Mayton, I insist." He carried his valise out to the automobile and then came back to pick up her small bag. "Is this all you're taking with you?" The bag was curiously light.
"All I need. Not going to be there for long am I?"
"Master Jack? I forgot to mention that your mother and sister came by earlier, as did Miss Sanderson. She told me to get a room ready for her, but I decided to wait to hear from you before I did that. I hope I wasn't being impertinent."
"No, not at all. Did you tell them I was at Miss Fisher's?"
"No, I'm sure I had no idea where you were, if you weren't at work."
Obviously they had all taken a guess and got it right. Perhaps they knew him better than he thought they did.
After they dropped Mrs. Mayton at her sister's house they went back to St. Kilda, to Phryne's home. All was quiet there, something that they were both thankful for.
After Rosie managed to pull herself out of Sidney's embrace she chided him with "What are you doing out of gaol? They'll be looking for you everywhere."
"Now, Rosie, don't fret my love. I've made arrangements for us to leave together. In a few days we're going to Singapore to start a new life. I've been transferring money and business holdings there for a year, in preparation for something like this. We'll be safe there, Rosie, happy. I promise you, it will be wonderful."
Singapore? Leave Australia? The thought was actually a bit scary for her; this was home, Annabelle was here. If they left, they'd be fugitives and could never come home. She wasn't sure she wanted that, no matter how much she loved Sidney.
"I - I'm not sure, Sidney. I think you should turn yourself in; darling, we'll get the best barrister, we'll fight this. You can say that you didn't know what was going on."
"It's too late for that, Rosie. They know how deeply I'm involved. I have to go. If I stay I'll hang and I'm not going to let that happen."
"Sidney, why weren't you honest with me about it all?"
"Would you have wanted to know the truth, Rosie? The whole truth?"
He saw a stricken look cross her face and had his answer. A tear slipped down her cheek and he kissed it away, understanding how much she would feel the pain of what had happened.
"Rosie, I'm so sorry for it all. But I wouldn't change a thing, even if I could. My love, it has given us the means to have a grand life, a life away from here and the conventional way of life that we lead. In Singapore, things are different. Rosie, you are a like a shooting star, you'll be a queen of society there."
She bit her lower lip as she contemplated what he'd told her. She loved him, no denying that, she loved him with all her heart. But could she walk away from everyone and everything in her life?
"I don't know Sidney; won't they find us there? I can't bear the thought of having to look over our shoulder for the rest of our lives."
"I promise you, my love, it won't be like that." He tilted her chin up a bit so he could look into her eyes. "Just trust me, Rosie. I'll take care of us."
She finally nodded, still a bit unsure of this plan. She knew that she wouldn't even have the chance to say goodbye to Annabelle or even to see her father. That hurt, so much. He could die and she wouldn't be here with him. She looked around the room and walked to a chair to sit down for a bit. She needed to think.
Would he let her go, now that she'd seen him and knew where he was? She rested her hands in her lap, picking lightly at her thumb nail, an old habit since her childhood days. She knew she had better go along with him for now at least.
"Rosie, I need to go and speak with Earl for a moment. I'll be back soon."
She watched as Sidney disappeared into the kitchen and sat back in the chair and pulled in a deep breath. Her stomach felt like it was doing flip flops, she needed some tea to settle it. Surely somewhere in that kitchen she could find some tea and a clean cup?
"I want you to go back to Miss Fisher's house and watch it. If you see them out, I want them both shot dead. If you don't see them, break in, but either way, I'd better hear of their deaths in the morning. Do you understand, Earl? It won't be good for you if you can't follow my orders."
Rosie backed away as quietly as she could. She needed to get out of here. No matter what, she couldn't sit here and let Jack and Phryne Fisher be killed.
To be continued…