Jane - the first Jane, Phryne’s sister Jane - had often joked that Phryne would be forever destined to spell out her name to all and sundry, by sheer dint of it’s relative peculiarity amidst the sea of Ethels and Idas, Marys and Myrtles, and - of course - Janes.
One day, they had been looking up the meaning of their names from an enormous book that Jane had unearthed from the library.
“Look,” said Jane. “Mine means ‘God has been gracious.’”
Phryne obligingly looked up from where she was sprawled across the rug in the parlour, industriously tying Jane’s shoelaces together in an intricate double-knot. “Fascinating,” she drawled.
“Oh, dear.” said Jane, a long moment later. Then - a startled laugh.
“What?” quizzed Phryne.
“You’ll never guess what your name means - “ said Jane, and then she actually snorted, and then turned bright red - a combination which so intrigued Phryne that she immediately leapt up from her state of repose.
Jane clutched the book to her chest, pushing away at Phryne with one hand. “No,” she protested, but Phryne’s arms were longer and she was able to reach past Jane and snatch up the book for herself. It was only a matter of moments to glance down the page. Phryne had always been a quick study.
“Phryne. From the Greek for toad,” Phryne said, and her voice sounded delighted.
Jane sighed. "You're lucky that your name is unusual. There are many Janes in the world, but only one Phryne.”
“Everybody is exactly as unusual as they make themselves," said Phryne. "Besides, I'm sure there are other Phrynes out there somewhere."
Twenty years later, and she still has yet to meet another Phryne - although she’d certainly met many toads.
Kissed some of them, too.
There were indeed many Janes in the world - although when the second Jane came into her life, it hurt less, somehow, as if the Jane-shaped hole in the world was - not filled, precisely - but transmuted.
That said, Phryne had made it abundantly clear that she wasn’t trying to be a mother to Jane - “think of me as an aunt,” she had announced, on the day Jane had moved in.
“Like Aunt Prudence?” Jane had asked, and Phryne’s eyebrows shot up, and then her face softened unexpectedly.
“There are worse aunts to emulate,” she said. “Although I think you will find the general consensus is that I am a tad bit more eccentric than my esteemed aunt.”
Jane was well-aware that when you were rich, madness was called eccentricity - and at first this conjured up images of Jane's own mother, however Phryne's particular brand of madness always had a method to it.
It would be an untruth to act surprised because she had known Jack was there the whole time. Jack’s presence had come to be an almost tangible thing, and if she let herself think about the reason for that too much, well - she pushed the thought from her mind for another day, another time: like a present she would unwrap later.
For now, she was here, with these people.
Mr Butler walked by armed with a vase of orchards destined for the drawing room - Phyrne reached out and deftly plucked three of the blossoms with one hand, with the other hand grabbed the ribbon from her own hair and tied it around the stems, then presented the bunch to Hugh and gave him a none too gentle shove in the direction of Dot.
Hugh extended the bouquet to Dot, who blushed prettily.
“Playing the part of the fairy godmother again?,” Jack asked. His voice was level but his eyes were smiling. Phryne was getting better at interpreting his tones.
“Do you know, I’ve always preferred elves to fairies,” said Phryne. “Much more mischievous!” Her voice turned more serious. “Dot doesn’t need a fairy godmother, anyway.”
“She needs you,” Jack insisted.
“The only thing she needed from me is to show her that she didn’t really need anyone. Dot is the dearest and best creature in the world, and I’m proud to call myself her friend.”
"You have leaves all through your hair," Jack observed.
"Oh! That must have been from when I crawled out the window," said Phryne, supremely unconcerned. "Be a dear and pull them out, would you?"
Jack obliged. "How did you get so many leaves through your hair crawling out a window?" he asked.
"The window was on the third floor," Phryne said, "so I also had to use a tree."
"I see," Jack echoed. He could see it, is the thing - he'd seen Phryne dangling out of windows before. He suspected Dot would be mending yet another pair of stockings - he wondered if she ever kept track of just how many were damaged through these misadventures. He made a mental note to ask Hugh.
"By the way, our Mr Cameron isn't as innocent as he'd like you to believe," said Phryne.
"What did you find?" asked Jack.
"Now, Jack, what makes you think there was anything to find?" Phryne asked, eyebrows arched and eyes dancing.
"You don't crawl out of windows for no reason," said Jack - at which Phryne burst into a gale of laughter.
"Oh, my dear Jack," she said, "I can think of a myriad of reasons I would crawl into and out of windows, and rest assured, collecting evidence is only one of them. But in this case, your instincts are spot-on," and she opened her hand and revealed a black baton, encrusted with a darker pattern of what appeared to be flakes of blood. "I think this should be enough to get a conviction. Rather damning, wouldn't you agree?"
"I should say so!"
"Good," she said. "Now: you have a murderer to arrest, and I have a dinner party to dazzle."
He paused at the doorway. "Phryne," he said. "Thank you."
A pleased look stole across her face - he could see it in the mirror, although she was turned away from him. Her hands paused, momentarily, from where they were deftly pinning her hat neatly into place, the tendrils that had fallen out in her window-climbing escapades already tucked away out of sight.
They were at the river, and it was night - they had stepped outside the party for a moment.
“Relax,” Phryne said. “I’m not about to let down my hair and step into the sea in nothing but my birthday suit.” She paused. “Not right this minute, at any rate, and in case you hadn’t noticed, I don’t have much hair to let down to begin with.” She raised her hand to her sleek black bob - an almost unconscious gesture, although he had learnt that Phryne’s unconscious gestures were very often anything but.
Perhaps there were no accidents, where the two of them were concerned - everything weighted with meaning, and at the same time poised to mean more, if they were to let it. They didn't let it - but the opportunity was always there, glimmering on the far reaches of possibility. One day, perhaps.
“You’re always so delightfully stern,” she said, her eyes glittering with appreciation.
“Not always,” he said, and his tone was level.
She tilted her head. “No,” she agreed, “not always.”
He was suddenly struck by the impression of a knife he had always carried with him, in the war - a sleek pocket-knife, perfectly engineered with a sharp blade and precise heft. He had kept that knife right up until the final week of his service, and then it had disappeared - probably lost on some battlefield in France, rusting in mud.
A knife needed something to cut against, to keep the blade sharp.
The parry, the thrust - like everything, it was an artform.
“Do you ever fence, Phryne?” he asked suddenly.
She tilted her head. “What an entirely odd question! I approve wholeheartedly. And yes, I have - however did you know?”
“Call it a lucky guess,” he said.
“Perhaps we may have a match, one day, Detective Inspector.”
“Perhaps,” he agreed.