The Wardlow Book Club had been Jane’s idea, although the role of president had been assigned to Jack Robinson.
They used to meet at Wardlow on Saturdays, every two weeks. Each time there was a different theme to discuss. It could be about a specific genre, a period, an author. It was up to Jack’s criteria and inspiration but he accepted a lot of Jane’s suggestions.
Every member of the found family was also a member of the Warldow Book Club. However, this week there was an absence. Mrs Stanley was attending a charity luncheon and had also notified them that the following meeting she would not be present for the same reason. And this was a fact that Jack intended to take advantage of.
As the reunion was coming to an end, after an inflamed speech by Doctor Macmillan about the importance of books for scientific divulgation, it was time for the president to announce the agenda for next time.
“Thank you for your intervention, Mac.” He said. “Next meeting, and taking in consideration that Mrs Stanley isn’t going to be here and that it may be for the best if she doesn’t know about this, the theme is banned books.”
All the members, sitting in armchairs making a circle in Wardlow’s parlour looked at their leader with surprised eyes.
“Jack!” Phryne gasped but it was not so much of a surprised gasp, more of a delighted one.
“S-sir…” Hugh Collins started. “Are you sure? It's illegal. ”
“I know perfectly well that it’s illegal, constable .” The Detective Inspector replied. “In my opinion, it shouldn’t. We are not on duty and no one else outside these walls needs to know.”
“Do you need us to get more books or is Miss Fisher’s collection enough?” Bert asked.
“Ah, so you gentlemen are also the book providers.” Jack commented.
“Every illegal item that enters this house has had our hands in it and we take pride in that.” Bert raised his cup of tea, toasting with Cec.
“Agreed, mate.” Cec added.
“Between Miss Fisher’s collection and mine, we should have plenty.” Mr Butler intervened.
“You collect banned books?” Jane asked, intrigued.
Everyone was appalled by the piece of information the man had just revealed.
“No. But my Aurelia did.”
“Your wife must have been a remarkable woman.” Mac said.
“She really was.” He smiled.
After a moment of silence, in which they contemplated how much of Mr Butler’s life they still did not know about, Jack continued.
“Now we have settled the logistics, the main speaker for our next meeting is our banned books specialist, Miss Fisher. Although that title now seems disputed by Mr Butler.”
“Oh, Jack! You say the nicest things about me.” She grinned.
“I ain’t gonna miss this meeting for anything.” Bert said and this time was Mac who clinked her tea cup with his.
“I better start praying for all of us.” Dot confessed.
Two weeks later
Each member had read a different book as was their habit. The main speaker would expose the book he or she had read and expose opinions about it. After the presentation, the other members would discuss the things said and compare with their books. Every meeting, the speaker changed, allowing them all to occupy this position.
“Miss Fisher, will you do the honours and present the book you read?” Jack asked.
“Of course, Jack!” She started. “I read Lady Chatterley’s Lover by DH Lawerence. The main character is Constance Chatterley. She is married to Sir Clifford Chatterley, who came back injured from the Great War. Their relationship is tense. He wants a purely intellectual relationship but their emotional connection is strained. She realises that she needs the physical aspect and begins an affair with Oliver Mellors, the gamekeeper. Together, they discover the possibilities of a relationship that is both physical and intellectual. The mind/body theme is transversal to the whole book and also the differences between classes.”
“Why is it banned?” Jane asked curiously.
“Well, I would say for the explicit sex scenes, use of obscene words and the underlying critic to the division between classes.”
“I must say I really like this book. It is an act of rebellion against our society and the rules imposed on us; against the idea that love is only a duty, the signing of a contract. Why should a woman limit herself to a purely intellectual relationship when that’s not her will but her husband’s? I wish more women would have the courage to free themselves and live how they want. Like Constance did.”
“I fully support that.” Mac agreed.
“The first time I read this book…”
“On the train to Ballarat?” Jack interrupted.
“Yes… You noticed that?”
“You were a suspect in my case, I took note of everything you did.” He shrugged.
“A suspect… I helped you solve the case.” She rolled her eyes. “Anyway, the first time I read it I was rooting for Constance, wishing her to find happiness in a purely physical relationship. But since that, I've found that it’s possible and much better to have a relationship with a deep connection between bodies and minds.” She said this last part looking directly at Jack, as if they were the only people in the room.
He smirked back at her, holding her gaze. The air between them was charged with electricity.
“Oh, for God’s sake, we’re still here you know?” Doctor Macmillan bursted.
“They’re like that all the time, what did you expect?” Jane said and Mac had to agree.
“Yes, even over dead bodies…”
“Dottie, why are you crying again?” Hugh asked with concern for his wife, making him forget the current conversation and reducing the red flush on his cheeks.
“I’m so happy for Miss Fisher and the Inspector.” Dorothy accepted a handkerchief offered by Cec and blew her nose. “They are so perfect for each other.”
“I ain’t no bloody doctor but last time Dot started crying like this, she was with child.” Bert remarked.
“But I am. Dot, can you go to my office on Monday?”
She nodded yes with her head and Hugh got up from his seat, taking her hand.
“Come on, Dottie. Let’s go to the kitchen and get some more tea.”
They left the room and Jane, noticing her adoptive mother and the Inspector, felt the need to share her thoughts.
“My goodness, it’s been like five minutes and you’re still staring adoringly at each other.”
“We’re gonna get diabetes from all this sugar!” Mac added.
“Do you have a problem with it?” The lady detective asked, shocked by their friends aggravating opinions.
“Yes! You two are frustrating.” If anyone could honestly complain, that person was Elizabeth Macmillan. “First, you were dancing around each other and didn’t admit your feelings. Now you’ve finally admitted, are even more smitten! I don’t have patience for your lovesick foolishness.”
“Do you agree with her?” Phryne asked the whole room.
“Yes!” Jane was the first to answer, which shocked the couple. What a traitor.
“Yeah!” Bert said while Cec nodded.
“And Mr Butler must too, putting up with you every day, he’s just too polite to complain.”
“Oh no, Doctor Macmillan. I have no problem whatsoever! Miss Fisher raised my salary significatively when the Inspector joined the household.”
“Really, Phryne?” Jack asked her, slightly offended. “Am I that much of an inconvenience?”
“Come on, darling! You eat for a whole battalion.” She said while he rolled his eyes. “And poor Mr Butler has witnessed so many of our fights, he deserves the compensation.”
“That Mr Butler deserves it, I have no doubt. But if you think me to be a burden, I could have stayed in my house.”
“You’re being ridiculous, Jack!”
“I didn’t mean to offend you, Sir.” Mr Butler tried to intervene.
“Nevermind Mr Butler, this isn’t really about that. He’s still mad at me for my last breaking and entering. Aren’t you, Jack?”
“You broke in Russel Street! What am I supposed to do if questions start being asked?”
“Jack, I only did it because it was the only way to find the truth. I was extremely careful. Do you really think me stupid and careless enough to risk your job? I love you.”
“Don’t. You’re not winning this by seducing me.”
“I think that’s our cue to leave.” Mac said and all of them except Phryne and Jack left as fast as possible. The couple didn’t even notice the bustle around them.
Half an hour later, before Elizabeth Macmillan left through the main entrance, she saw Phryne sitting in Jack’s lap, both smiling adoringly at each other. Lovesick fools, indeed.