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Strange Capers

Chapter Text

“We that are true lovers run into strange capers.”
― William Shakespeare, As You Like It

 


 

September 15th, 1929

 

Jack!

This flight has not been quite the smooth sailing (if you’ll pardon the expression) we had envisioned. I had dared to hope we could meet father’s ship in a port along the way and allow for an earlier return; I am thankful now that I did not mention such a possibility to all of you, as it was in vain. There is very little chance we could recover the distance, and attempting to do so now is the longer and more dangerous flight path. It is all the way to England after all; a British autumn instead of an Australian summer. How positively delightful.

My only hope now is that you will have found some mad way to take me up on my offer. I am not seeing half as much of this journey as I would like, between minding my father and minding the plane, and I’d rather enjoy a companion on the journey back.

With any luck we will be back in old Blighty by the end of the month, even with the delays, and I hope to have news of you by then.

Yours,

Phryne

 

———

 

September 15th, 1929

 

Miss Fisher,

It has been nearly two weeks since you set off for England, and we’ve not had so much as a telegraph. Though she will deny it adamantly, I believe the new Mrs. Collins stops by the station just as much to ask us for news as she does to bring Collins his lunch. I struggle to believe that it has not occurred to her that he could bring it with him, and so that is the most likely explanation.

Your family are all well, Phryne. Jane’s fully settled into boarding at Warleigh Grammar for the term; she too stops by the station for news, as if it is more likely to arrive here than to the school. She’s a far cry from the wayward child you dragged home for a delousing and interrogation a year ago; she misses you, I think, though I’ll deny it if you ever say as much.

Most importantly, I have had a particular exchange in my mind all this time. It seems almost too dream-like to believe. But if you were sincere in your offer, telegraph me. Nothing like weeks in a cramped cabin to spend my time and money, I think.

Fly safely, Miss Fisher.

Jack

 

———

 

OCT 5 1929

 

UTTERLY SINCERE -(STOP)- DO NOT COME -(STOP)- WILL EXPLAIN SOON

 

———

 

October 6th, 1929

 Jack,

 I must make this perfectly clear: I was utterly sincere in my offer. I have thought of little else, as that letter I wrote (the same date as yours, I believe; a small detail that made me smile.) indicated. But as you’ve no doubt heard by now, the American stock market has crashed and so has the sky. It turns out that father cannot even sell an estate properly. My own finances are secure, and I do so hope that things in Australia never become so dire as is predicted here, but not only do I have to untangle a snarled web of deceptions and poor investments (and a large portion of them American! I cannot imagine what my father was thinking), I have everyone who works for the property relying on it. There’s a good thirty families, Jack, between the farm and the businesses; I am afraid that I would make a poor hostess indeed.

I will write to you when I know more, but I may be in England for some time. Hopefully not so long that you are able to afford to upgrade your accommodations, because I am rather eager to continue where we left off.

Phryne

P.S. If the parcel I am also sending does not arrive in time, happy birthday Jack.

 

———

 

Phryne looked at the stack of papers before her and sighed. Three months she’d been in England, and every day brought bad news from a new quarter. It seemed every week was some new date she had missed in Australia—she’d hoped to be back for Aunt Prudence’s birthday in November, her first without Arthur, then the anniversary of Janey’s disappearance, then her birthday or Christmas. New Years was out, and with the information that had arrived today Jane’s February birthday was likely to be a write-off. She’d have to arrange a gift to be delivered to her ward on the day.

Jack’s letters were the one positive to the situation; she loved hearing from Jane about what she was learning in school (and, she thought, her burgeoning attraction to a schoolmate, if she read between the lines), and how Dot was finding married life—she’d offered the newlyweds Wardlow until her return, and the latest news from Mac and occasionally Mr. Butler. But it was always news, and it reminded her of all she was missing for no greater adventure than a London winter and dire financial repercussions. The letters from Jack brought her the most joy; she supposed it was because they were the most like their discussions at home, interesting tidbits she had not witnessed and books he had read, and just for a moment she did not feel as if she were thousands of miles away from those she loved.

 

———

 

February 17th, 1930

 

Miss Fisher,

I had a visitor arrive today—I almost did not recognise the young lady from behind. Jane’s cut her hair into a bob that has scandalised her teachers and suits her wonderfully. She has also, it seems, inherited your powers of persuasion. I’m to escort her and two friends to a Gilbert and Sullivan production as a birthday treat. Why she believed me to be the likeliest target I do not know, but I have hope that we will at least not find murder this time. Though murder might be preferable, if I had a charming investigative partner by my side instead of giggling teenaged girls. I’ve asked Doctor MacMillan to accompany us, but based on her horrified expression and muttering about urgent bowel operations, I suspect she’ll decline.

Jack

 

———

 

March 3rd, 1930

 

Inspector Robinson,

I have heard from a little birdy that you not only accompanied my ward to the theatre, you took her for dinner beforehand! And there was much said about the figure you cut in your dinner suit. It seems she’s now quite the talk of the school, and several girls are hoping you will make a reappearance. I’m just disappointed to have missed it.

I went to the theatre myself, on the arm of the youngest and most charming son of a Duke, a production of As You Like It that I think you would have enjoyed. “Time travels in diverse paces with diverse persons. I’ll tell you who time ambles withal, who time trots withal, who time gallops withal, and who he stands still withal.” Time seems to stretch relentlessly before me, my return to Australia always further away. I feel as if I am on a sinking ship, plugging small holes and ignoring the enormous waves crashing over the rails. I thought of escaping, just to the continent for a few weeks, but even that seems impossible at the moment.

(Thank you, Jack, for being there for Jane when I could not be. It is not easy to worry for her from afar—her tour of the continent notwithstanding—and it is a comfort to know that she has the constabulary on her side if needed.)

Phryne

 

———

 

Jack sat in his study, rereading Phryne’s latest letter. Her words lacked her usual irreverent joy; he wished there was something he could do. He found he could no longer place the exact tone of her voice, the precise shade of her lipstick. But he could not forget how she looked when she was feeling vulnerable, or the sheer joy of heading on an adventure when she’d left. Life had no business weighing on her, in his opinion. Which was worth exactly nothing, in the grand scheme of things. He sighed, opening his childhood copy of As You Like It; it was an old habit, to retreat to another man’s words, but one that served him well. His own words would do neither of them any good, an offer to shoulder some of her burden.

He could, perhaps, offer a distraction at least.

 

———

 

April 9th, 1930

 

Miss Fisher,

I insist, as an officer of the law, that you take yourself to the continent immediately for some pressing investigation. And if you really cannot manage that, a long flight in your airplane might give you a sense of perspective. I am puzzling over a case of my own; it is an old one, a burglary that led to a death, and the same method has been deployed on a recent break-in. I have included the particulars on a separate sheet, along with summaries of the suspects. If you are free to consult at this distance, it would be greatly appreciated.

Jack

 

———

 

APR 27 1930

 

INTERVIEW BROTHER AGAIN -(STOP)- LOOK UNDER FLOORBOARDS IN STUDY -(STOP)- MISS MELBOURNE -(STOP)- GIVE MAC JANE MY LOVE

 

———

 

APR 29 1930

 

YOU MORE COMP THAN CONST FROM ENG -(STOP)- HOW DO YOU DO IT -(QUERY)- MELBOURNE SENDS THEIR LOVE

 

———

 

Phryne traced the telegram message, smiling slightly. She could so clearly see Jack’s exasperated pride when her hunch had proven itself—really, from his notes it was clear he already suspected the man—and she missed seeing it up close. There was nothing for it though; they’d just discovered that the foreman at the mill had been skimming money from the coffers, and now the estate’s only completely reliable source of income was in trouble. She’d have to borrow from her own funds to shore it up.                                        

She wanted to go home. She wanted to stomp her feet and shout and be on the next boat to Melbourne. But she could not leave innocent families to suffer in poverty because of her father’s incompetence. She’d go over the books, meet with the solicitor. And when she was done, she would curl up with the telegram and write her reply.

 

———

 

May 2 1930

Jack,

Really, the case was so very simple with the evidence you had gathered. I almost—almost—suspect that you had no need of my services at all. I will not check the Melbourne newspaper for the date of arrest; I fear if I did I would either be disappointed in your investigative skills or my ability to help.

Things are much the same here as they have been all along. Honestly, I did not think it possible to make such a mess of one’s finances. And it’s not just my father. There is nothing to dull the spirits quite like seeing people who have never had to worry a day in their lives suddenly scrambling. At least my mother knows how to economise. She does not like doing so, and some of her so-called necessities are absurd, but she’s in better position than most if we can keep my father out of it. But that is not the sort of news that interests you, I’m sure.

I am in London for business at the moment. I took a walk along the Thames today, and found myself in front of Scotland Yard. No murders or gallant detective-inspectors to be seen, more’s the pity. I miss City South. I miss Hugh on the desk looking blindsided the minute I step through the door, I miss the slightly musty smell in the ladies’ lavatory, and the telephone numbers scrawled on the wall in reception. I even miss that swill you call tea.

(I miss perching on your desk most of all, with the sunlight coming through the window and illuminating your profile as you read an autopsy report. I miss stealing your biscuits—now that you know I’ve found them, I’m sure you’ll find somewhere else to hide them. I miss… I miss Melbourne very much, Jack.)

Do write again soon.

Phryne

 

———

 

June 11, 1930

Miss Fisher,

The desk, the constable, the must, and the telephone numbers are all awaiting your return. I’m afraid the station tea has improved, but I presume you will do your best to bear up under the disappointment. We haven’t gotten much sunlight as of late—it is a particularly grey winter, I think—but perhaps you will be back to see the summer.

Doctor MacMillan stopped by the station today. She, vexingly, seems to be under the impression that I am incapable of feeding myself—I blame Mrs. Collins for that, personally—but makes an excellent drinking companion, even if she did manage to drink three men under the table last night. I don’t envy her her headache this morning. I thought she’d throw Collins out of the morgue.

 

———

 

Jack stared at his half-written letter and sighed.The letters were getting harder to write, and further apart. There were only so many ways that they could repeat themselves. Even the unusual cases seemed to have flown the continent at the same time as Phryne, for the most part. Any news—the Collins expecting, Jane’s schooling, her cabbies purchasing a new taxi after an incident Jack tried very hard to know nothing about lest he need to arrest them—no doubt came from other sources. And it seemed that anything he wrote was filled with longing. Because he longed for her; he missed her as an investigative partner, as a friend, as the lover that never quite was. And her own responses were… tired. Even when she wrote of parties and interesting meetings, it was balanced out by some new crisis she alluded to but could not outright share. If he was nearer he could listen, truly listen, and offer her what comfort he could. But she was alone. Well, not alone, but… he sighed again. Without the people who loved her.

He put the pen to paper and told her the story of his first arrest of Elsie Tizzard. She had teased him many times about the details he kept carefully guarded. But it was all he could offer, at this distance.

 

———

 

September 4, 1930

Miss Fisher,

Your trip to Bath sounds wonderful. I am surprised that the tale was not accompanied by you and a gentleman friend slipping into the baths at midnight, but perhaps you thought best to leave that off any paper record. A wise choice. I hear that the botanical gardens by the Royal Crescent have some truly fascinating specimens, a statement that will no doubt make you glad that I was not your companion for that particular journey. I am glad that you enjoyed yourself, even if it was not far afield.

Jack

 

———

 

September 21 1930

Jack,

I am, it seems, rather more drunk than I first thought. I should not send this; I likely will not. But it is Janey’s birthday—I was flying last year, and almost forgot until that night. But not this year. There are no distractions to be found—I’ve just discovered that my father has spent five thousand pounds of money I had set aside to leave the estate and my parents self-sufficient, and not all of it recoverable—and all I want is to be home. I want to drive my Hispano so shockingly fast you scold me, and be greeted at the door by Mr. Butler and an aperitif, and to listen to Aunt P drone on and on about some benefit I care nothing for, and be interrupted by “The inspector, Miss”—have you ever noticed that you are just The Inspector to him?—and turn just as you hang your own hat and coat by my door and greet you with a whiskey. The best whiskey I own, I think. And you would take up residence at my mantelpiece and we would talk about nothing much at all, and at the end of the evening you would look at me. Just look. And I would kiss you, because I can’t think of a single reason why I shouldn’t. And then in the morning you would leave obscenely early, and I’d stay in bed. Then I’d meet Mac for lunch, I think, and while I hope we’d have a wonderful time I fully expect somebody would drop dead over the soup and we’d all end up investigating.

Mac likes you, you know. She told me that you’ve just closed a difficult case, one you are unlikely to tell me about before the trial. But I would listen. I would.

Wishing I was home,

Phryne

 

———

 

October 14, 1930

Miss Fisher,

I wish I could scold you that your penmanship is worse than mine. I wish I could write about the case Mac mentioned. I wish… I wish you would come home. Hang your father and his utter lack of scruples. But I know that you cannot. Take care of yourself though, Phryne. Please. And I know that this is overstepping the bounds of propriety—a fact you no doubt appreciate—and we need never speak of it again. My next letter will treat it as if nothing has changed. Jane’s roped me into yet attending yet another theatre production, so no doubt there will be some entertaining tale to come from that. And if not, there is always the story of the time Will and I were almost arrested… But know, for now, that you are missed, desperately.

Yours,

Jack

 

———

 

It was a rainy afternoon in late November—as if there was any other type in England—when the letter arrived, mixed in with a dozen invitations for holiday events. She read it, twice, and cried. She was tired. And no doubt she would regain her usual insouciance soon enough, but for now she was tired. She was surrounded by so many people, and none of them knew her with as much intimacy as one paragraph in a familiar scrawl. But she had a business dinner to attend, and so she folded the letter with great care and returned it to the envelope. She could not bear to reply today, and she placed it with the others. And there it sat, closed but not forgotten, for nearly a year.