Dot had returned from her meeting with Father Grogan later than anticipated. It had been almost Seven O’clock when she had let herself in through the kitchen door. Mr Butler was away for the weekend – a relative was ill and Miss Fisher had of course agreed when he had respectfully asked for a few days leave. The house was suspiciously silent, and Dot moved through the dining room, towards the parlour. The doors were open, a fire fading fast in the grate. A gentlemen’s overcoat and hat were on the coat stand in the hallway. Dot examined them, they seemed familiar. There was however, no-one in the parlour. Dot tentatively put her head around the door frame, checking closely. No, the parlour was definitely empty.
A thud sounded above Dot’s head, a faint peel of giggling following. Oh. Oh. Dot knew that thud; that was the sound of a shoe being flung across Miss Fisher’s bedroom. She judged where the thud had come from, and guessed that the shoe had hit the fireplace. She sighed; she really hoped she wouldn’t have to play another round of ‘hunt Miss Fisher’s clothing’.
Curiosity was a terrible sin, Dot knew that. But in the long list of sinful goings on that Miss Fisher had exposed her to, it was very low down the list indeed. Dot crept up the stairs, avoiding the treads which she knew squeaked. As she reached the first floor, she observed Miss Fisher’s room. A gentle thumping sound was shaking the door in its frame. Suddenly the words ‘Oh Jack’ could be heard through the door. Dot clamped her hand to her mouth to prevent a squeal from emerging. She knew she had recognized that overcoat. She quickly dropped back down a few stairs to peer over the balustrade. Oh yes, that was Inspector Robinson’s overcoat and hat, hanging innocently in the hallway.
Dot stood, partway down the stairs, her brain trying to process everything. When had this happened? It had been a strange few weeks. Miss Fisher had been ushering Dot out of the house in the evenings more than usual, but there had been no overnight ‘guests’ as far as Dot knew. There had been no stockings to mend without question, no disrupted pillows on the other side of Miss Fisher’s bed, no clothes strewn across the floor, or on the side table, or the chaise in Miss Fisher’s room. In fact, all of Dot’s observational skills told her that Miss Fisher had not shared her bed with anyone in the past month or so.
The thumping of the door was becoming more noticeable, more frequent, more urgent. ‘Phryne’ gasped a man’s voice, the timbre of which was unmistakable. Dot clamped her hands over her ears, and hurried quietly down the stairs. This was too much for her to bear witness to. She looked at the clock in the hallway and made an instantaneous decision. She picked up the telephone receiver and dialled the number for City South Police Station. Hugh answered, and Dot hastily arranged to meet him when his shift ended. She retreated to the kitchen, wrote a note for Miss Fisher which she left on the kitchen table, donned her coat, hat and gloves, picked up her handbag and quickly left the house, locking the kitchen door behind her.
When Dot returned to the house several hours later, she found her note still on the table, now with an addendum, “Darling Dot, many thanks, hope you had fun with Hugh! PS: Ham was delicious; please ask Bert and Cec to source more champagne, P”. The house was now mercifully quiet. Dot retreated to her room, using the back stairs. She set her alarm clock for the morning, and dozed off into a surprisingly restful sleep.
Dot was busily preparing a Victoria Sponge cake in the kitchen the next morning, steadfastly ignoring the low scraping sounds which she could hear coming through the ceiling. There was a light tapping on the kitchen door. Hugh was stood on the back step, helmet in hand, uniform buttons brightly polished.
“Morning Dottie, I hope you don’t mind me popping round” Hugh beamed as Dot beckoned him to come inside. Dot swallowed, guiltily. She prayed that the scraping sound was not the prelude she suspected it was.
“Of course not Hugh, it’s lovely to see you” she replied, raising herself up on her tiptoes to kiss Hugh’s cheek lightly, “would you like a cup of tea? The kettle has just boiled.”
“Tea would be lovely Dottie, thank you. You are very good to me”. Hugh sat down at the table, his back to the door through to the dining room.
It was as Dot put the cup of tea, and slice of cake she had found, in front of Hugh that the ‘whumping’ started. Slowly at first, ‘whump’, pause, ‘whump’, pause, ‘whump’. Dot blushed. Hugh looked at her.
“Dottie, what’s that noise?”
“What noise?” replied Dot. She was going to burn in hell for this, but there were some things a ladies’ companion never discussed, even with her betrothed.
The ‘whumping’ got louder, as what Dot knew full well was the sound of the headboard of Miss Fisher’s bed being ground against the wall grew more intense. Dot wondered sometimes how the plaster managed to stay on the wall at all. Now was not the time for such thoughts.
“Hugh, what time are you due in work?” asked Dot, hoping it was very soon.
“Oh, not till Nine. I’m picking up an extra shift”. It was only half past seven.
With horror Dot realised that ‘an extra shift’ meant one not under the auspices of Inspector Robinson. She wondered if her mother needed a hand with anything at home today. She wondered how much of the St Kilda foreshore she could stroll down before dark. She wondered, idly, whether she could find the courage to ride the Great Scenic Railway at Luna Park. Staying in the house was not an option Dot wished to pursue.
The noise from upstairs grew louder still, the sound of the headboard more insistent yet. A guttural moan, which Dot identified as Miss Fisher’s, could plainly be heard.
“Dottie, what is that noise? Don’t tell me you can’t hear that? Is Miss Fisher here? Is she hurt, should you go and check on her?” Hugh was flummoxed; Dottie was sat across from him entirely calmly, whilst it appeared obvious to him that her Mistress was in some distress.
Dot looked Hugh squarely in the eyes. Hugh knew that look; it was the look that meant he had no clue what was going on, and that he was somehow very wrong. Dot made a decision.
“Hugh Collins, what I am going to tell you now, must never, ever be repeated. Miss Fisher would kill me.” She took a sip of her tea, “that sound is Miss Fisher and a gentleman visitor. And I know who it is, and I am not going to be drawn any further. And I will not furnish you with any further explanation. That noise is, entirely normal. For Miss Fisher.” Dot took a bite of her cake. It was far too early in the morning for cake, but Dot felt she needed the sugar rush.
Hugh looked at Dot, his mouth dropping open in shock, “when you say, ‘a gentleman visitor’, are you saying she has a man in her room?”
“But it’s Seven Thirty in the morning”.
“But. But. She’s not married!” Hugh was scandalized.
Hugh went quiet. His mind was trying to work out what was going on.
“Does this happen often?” he asked.
“I am not going to be drawn on this matter Hugh Collins! I have said too much already”.
Hugh stared at the ceiling. The noise was, somehow, becoming more pronounced. “Oh Gooooooodddddddddddd” came a moan which Dot again identified as Miss Fisher. Dot felt herself blush, fully aware that Hugh’s boss was the man causing her Miss to be this vocal.
“Did she just blaspheme?” asked Hugh, agog.
“That’s quite common, actually. I’ve prayed for forgiveness on Miss Fisher’s behalf numerous times” said Dot, now resigned to the inevitability of this conversation.
The noise subsided.
“Oh” said Hugh, confused. Dot sighed. Experience taught her that this was not the finale, merely the entrée. Dot drank her tea, re-filled her cup and quietly finished her piece of cake.
Very slowly, the ‘whumping’ noise re-started. Hugh swallowed nervously.
“How long does this go on for?” he was becoming worried about Dot’s future expectations, based on her reaction to the activity above them.
“Well, I had to come and meet you from work last night, because of,” she indicated the ceiling. Hugh somehow went even redder. Dot continued, “but by the time I came home, they’d gone quiet. There’s nothing in Miss Fisher’s social calendar either today or tomorrow, so they could be there some time” said Dot, sighing slightly.
“An entire weekend?” Hugh sputtered. He was going to have to talk to someone about this. He wasn’t sure who, or how, or even what he was going to say. Maybe he could borrow that book from Miss Fisher again? She at least would plainly not be embarrassed. Maybe he could ask Inspector Robinson? He used to be married. But that would feel very awkward. Hugh continued considering his options.
“Phhhrrrrryyyynnnnneeeeee” a voice bellowed, in a tone that Dot was quite sure she had never heard the Inspector use in polite company. She had to get Hugh out of here, and now. Numerable, numerable mornings spent like this led Dot to believe that Miss Fisher was probably perilously close to screaming the Inspector’s name loud enough to be heard by anyone walking past on The Esplanade, and she knew there was only so much truth she could hide from Hugh.
“You should get to work Hugh. I’ll be fine. I have cakes to bake” she took his tea from him, the creaking and pounding of the headboard becoming as persistent as a jackhammer.
Hugh stood, nervously, “if you’re quite sure Dottie” he bent down to lightly kiss her on the cheek. He was almost out of the door, when, from above, Phryne screamed; the intensity of the pleasure driving away any consideration for propriety which still remained.
“OH, JACK” Phryne screamed, with such clarity that it could not possibly be mistaken for any other name.
Hugh’s mind had never worked so quickly. He looked at Dot and gasped. “Hugh Collins, you must never speak of this!” said Dot, pushing him through the door and shutting it firmly behind him.
On Monday morning Inspector Robinson bounced into City South looking simultaneously shattered and ten years younger than he had on Friday evening.
“Morning Collins” he greeted, briskly heading for his office. Hugh blushed bright red.