Tobias was just finishing up the last of the dishes when the fellas came barging through the kitchen door.
“How’s your penmanship, Mr. B?” the taller, friendlier cabby demanded cheerfully.
Tobias turned toward them with a placid smile, “It’s exceptional, Cecil.”
Cec and Bert turned to each other with a knowing, ‘See—I told you so,’ look and then turned back to him, “We’ve got a job for you!”
He finished drying the serving platter and put it back in its proper location, “I am quite satisfied with my current employment, thank you, gentlemen.”
Bert smirked at him, “Nah, you don’t understand, this job is for Miss Fisher.”
“Ah, I see! In that case, how may I be of service?”
The cabbies explained how they’d obtained what was probably a Russian driver’s license that they planned to alter to look like it was for Dottie.
“Why didn’t you lead with that in the first place? It could have saved us some time. I have some tools that can help. Won’t be a moment,” Tobias left the boys grinning at each other as Dottie entered the kitchen.
He had a set of very fine pens as well as a carving blade in the office off of the parlour. Miss Fisher was entertaining the Inspector in the parlour so he went through the back hallway. It is unseemly to eavesdrop and he would never dream of—but the door between the parlour and the office was open—and he couldn’t help but hear his pain.
“You’re right. You’re right I’m off my game,” Tobias dared not breathe. “When I heard about the motor car accident…”
“Hugh sent you a message,” his mistress responded to the heartbroken man.
“All I heard… was ‘Miss Fisher’ and a crashed motor car.”
“Jack. You thought it was me?” Oh no, that poor man. Tobias could feel the weight of grief through the wall. “Well,” his employer sounded defiant now, “I’m still here.”
Oh no, Miss. That’s not going to help matters.
“No thanks to your driving.” Tobias heard him stand, “Thank you for the night cap. I must be getting home.”
He heard the front door close and a loud exasperated sigh coming from the parlour. Tobias Butler was a very proper man. A very proper butler. He knew his place and he knew his boundaries. On the other hand, his employer, the Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher was not a particularly proper woman and boundaries didn’t seem to matter as much to her as people. He liked Inspector Robinson. He could tell from the interactions of his Miss and the Inspector that they had developed very deep feelings for each other, even though neither were willing to admit it. He recognized it, of course. He knew true love from his own life with Aurelia, rest her soul.
He knocked on the door frame separating the office from the parlour. He heard a sharp intake of breath and announced himself, “Excuse me, Miss Fisher.”
She exhaled and responded in a small, exhausted voice, “Yes, Mr. Butler?”
He entered the room and seeing that her cocktail glass was empty now, her eyes were rimmed red and damp, and it looked as if she’d just dragged her fingers through her hair in frustration, nodded towards the glass tacitly asking if she’d like a refill. She nodded and he moved to fix her a refresher.
As he mixed the drink, she pulled her knees up to her chest, hugging them tightly to her. Her head was drooped in sadness.
He handed her the drink, “Pardon me, Miss Fisher. I know this is none of my business, but I’m afraid I heard the last of your conversation with Inspector Robinson this evening.”
Phryne took the drink and stared at her butler trying to work out what he’d just said, “You were eavesdropping?”
“Not intentionally, Miss. I’d merely come into the office to get items to help with the caper at the racetrack, and well—I’m terribly sorry to have overstepped.”
“No, Mr. Butler, it’s all right. I just don’t understand why Jack is so angry that I’m alive.” She took a long sip of her drink and then placed it against her forehead.
Mr. Butler stood silently for a moment, deciding whether her confusion was a silent plea for clarification or simply rhetorical. Somewhere in the back of his mind he heard the voice of his beloved Aurelia urging him to, ‘Go on, Toby. Tell ‘er, love.’
“If I may, Miss Fisher,” he began, “Have you thought to consider that he was not angry so much as afraid?”
Phryne looked up at him, “Afraid? Afraid of what?”
“Of losing you, Miss.”
“Of losing—but I’m perfectly fine. It was just a simple miscommunication. We have those all the time.” he could tell she wasn’t understanding.
“Dorothy relayed to me what happened from Hugh’s perspective, Miss. When the Inspector arrived on the scene of the accident, he was bereft.”
“It was a simple misunder—”
“The Inspector is in love with you, Miss.” Tobias was trying to grab the words and suppress them as they came out of his mouth, but it felt like his darling Aurelia had taken hold of his vocal chords and forced his speech.
Shock froze the faces of both Tobias and his Miss Fisher.
Finally, he spoke again, “I’m terribly sorry, Miss. I don’t know what came over me, I’ll leave you to—”
“Mr. Butler, wait. What do you mean the Inspector is in love with me?” her face was a mixture of fear, curiosity, and joy.
“It’s not my place to—”
“It is now. I need to know what you mean,” Phryne insisted.
Tobias cleared his throat, “All right. I—we—the whole staff really, has noticed how he looks at you. How he speaks to you. How respectful he is of you. But when I heard him tonight, oh, Miss Fisher. When he thought you had died, a piece of him died with you.”
“But I’m still here,” she echoed her comments from earlier.
“And he’s still grieving the part of himself he lost. I don’t think he realized until he thought he lost you how deeply he loves you. And then when he tried to share his pain…”
“I dismissed it,” tears were welling in her eyes. “Oh, Mr. Butler, what have I done? I’ve broken his heart! I never meant to do that.”
She stood and started looking for her shoes, “I need to go to him. I need to talk to him. I need to tell him I’m sorry he was hurt. It wasn’t my fault, but it wasn’t his either!”
“I can drive you,” Tobias smiled at her as she steadied herself on his arm. Too many whiskeys.
Phryne smiled, “Thank you, Mr. Butler. You are an angel incarnate!”