Monday, May 4, 2009

Interlude at Stoke Moran

To cleanse my palate, here's a story about Helen and Julia Stoner. It's set on the same day that Watson reads Holmes's "Book of Life" article and learns that he is a consulting detective. I may include this fic as part of the chapter covering STUD, or I may hold it back as a flashback/memory that Helen has after SPEC, because she feels guilty about not believing Julia's suspicions about Dr. Roylott.

I have given Helen a middle name of Enid, because that is her name in Doyle's 1910 Speckled Band play. Also, I should note that I previously made up a backstory where the twins were 12 years old at the time that Roylott beat the native butler to death, and that Julia witnessed it. Helen ran away in fright, the mother (whom I named Fidelia) ran to call for help from the police, some male servants tried to get Roylott to stop, and a maid forcibly tried to drag Julia from the room. Julia refused to go or to have her eyes covered. Instead she fiercely yelled at Dr. Roylott as being a horrible monster, nothing like her real (long-dead) father. Roylott almost came over to beat her too, but returned to the butler because the other servants were trying to take him away. Roylott then savagely bashed his head in. Julia watched in horror, then fainted, and since then her hair grew white in a patch above her right temple. Roylott was convicted and served a long prison sentence in India. But he made excuses to his wife about his inherited temper, and promised that he would never do any harm to her or the girls. Then a dozen years later Roylott was released from prison and the family moved to England, so that Roylott could try to start a practice in London. But Fidelia died in a railway accident in 1875, and Roylott immediately brought the girls to Stoke Moran. They would have been 24 at the time, and eligible for marriage.

Fandom: Sherlock Holmes
Story: part of Chapter 4, of Deeper in Memory
Pairing: implied Holmes/Helen Stoner
Warnings: hetero, rated PG

Interlude at Stoke Moran

Roylott Manor House on March 4th, 1881

Helen Enid Stoner sat at her table reading an article from a London magazine. Such imports from the outside world were one of the few luxuries that she allowed herself.

In the corridor outside her bedroom, she heard the boots of her sister, heading in the direction of the side door, at the far end of the wing. Julia had her travel bag with her and was about to leave on another weekend trip to Harrow. Her rakish hat cleverly hid the white patch in her hair.

"Goodbye," Helen called absently through the open doorway.

Instead of replying, Julia stopped and stared at her bookish twin with sorrow and concern. Since Dr. Roylott was away with the gypsies again, she decided to take a risk. Julia put down her bag and stepped into the room. "Helen, won't you come with me?"

Helen looked up from the article and shook her head. "No. Say hello to Aunt Honoria for me." She very deliberately failed to mention the half-pay major, whom she knew would be taking the opportunity to have a tryst with his fiancée under the cover of the maiden aunt.

Julia ignored the slight. "Please. We'll leave a note for Dr. Roylott saying that you need to come with me to be fitted again for your bridesmaid dress."

Helen raised an eyebrow and finally put the magazine down on the table. "So," she said disapprovingly, "you propose to lie to our stepfather even more than usual, and to leave our poor servant alone with him, when he returns?"

Julia threw up her hands in frustration. "My God, Helen, you worry about leaving the servant alone with him, but you do not worry about leaving yourself alone with him!"

"Mrs. Beale is new and addled, and not used to Dr. Roylott's temper. She cannot handle him the way--"

"You are not handling him, Helen!" Julia stomped her feet and managed to disarrange her hat. She gruffly unpinned it and tossed it aside, fairly shaking with emotion. "You are not handling him any better than our poor late mother did. Always making excuses for him, always accepting his nonsense about an 'inherited maniacal temper, worsened by the heat of the Indian sun!' You, who believe in science!"

Helen did not answer her sister for some moments, and when she did, she whispered with feeling, "Do not insult our mother."

Julia sighed wearily and sank into the other chair. She ran her fingers through her disarranged hair and spoke as calmly as she could, "I do not mean to, Helen. Believe me, I am not calling her stupid. I'm calling her blinded by love. I'm saying that he fooled her and soothed her and plied her with a thousand promises to make her forgive him for killing the poor native butler. She never witnessed that death, like I did, and she wanted to believe the best of the man she had married. What kind of a position would she have been in, alone with two adolescent girls to raise? She had to stay with him." Julia bit her lip, then muttered, "Damn divorce laws. Damn court for not accepting the testimony of a 12-year-old girl that the fiend deliberately beat him to death." She wished, as ever, that Roylott had been convicted of murder and hanged.

Helen stared at Julia with wide eyes, knowing full well what grim justice Julia wished. It half frightened her, this fierceness, almost like a bloodthirsty obsession when it came to Dr. Roylott. Their mother had often looked at Julia with fear too, worried that Julia had been permanently affected by the violent death that she had witnessed; just as her hair had acquired a white patch on that day, so too her heart must have acquired a black scar. Helen on the other hand, had memories of Julia being defiant and strong-willed for years before that trauma, so she held the opinion that Julia's violence of temper was bred in her by the Indian sun as well. How odd that Julia couldn't see that irony.

Julia noticed Helen's silence and misread her shocked face. "I'm sorry for swearing. It's the influence of the half-pay major," she joked. She took hold of Helen's hand and pleaded earnestly, "Helen, I will be married soon and gone. But how can I leave you here with him?"

"I am not in danger--"

"You are at the very least in danger of becoming a spinster," Julia insisted. "We are thirty now. You are running out of time. Please come meet someone. The half-pay major has many brother officers that we can introduce to you, and you can find your own escape from horrible place."

Helen sharply withdrew her hand and shook her head. "Forgive me if I do not trust your judgement in love matches."

"Helen, please. It's been three months. Is that not a respectable engagement?"

She would not let it go. "You met the man last Christmas, and became engaged to him before leaving Harrow again. You barely knew him!"

"Forgive me if I was in a panic about turning thirty, and needed a hasty proof that he was not toying with my affections! Besides, I know him well enough now, after all our secret visits. We have courted out of order I suppose."

Helen merely snorted.

Julia shrugged. "Fine. I won't fix you up. But please choose someone for yourself, Helen! Why not Percy, for example?"

She wrinkled her nose. "Percy Armitage? He's just a friend."

"I know, but there are marriages enough that are based on amicable friendship instead of passion. He is eligible and you could win him, if you would only make an effort when we see him at Aunt Honoria's. Do up your hair nice. Wear a fashionable dress, and borrow a corset from me." (Helen had long abandoned restrictive clothing since she did not go out entertaining much.) "Smile at him more and flirt. You can charm him if you only try."

"In the same way that you charmed that half-pay major?" Helen had suspicions that Julia had permitted the half-pay major some liberties with her person.

Julia would not be intimidated into blushing. "I permitted him only kisses under the mistletoe that Christmas. Frequent and immoderate kisses, to be sure, but why not? I'm a grown woman. I wanted to stop merely reading about romances and finally experience one in the flesh."

Helen frowned sharply at the last word.

Julia was defiant. "I'm sorry, but I cannot live a life entirely of the mind, as you do. I have flesh, that feels pleasure. I have desires--"


Julia tried another strategy. "Even living a pure life, isn't Stoke Moran driving you mad? Do you not ever feel suffocated in this house? Trapped on the grounds by the gypsies and the horrible animals? Surrounded by the gossip in the village? You can leave here, same as me. Just pursue Percy. I'll help you arrange a visit to him in Crane Water."

Helen shook her head and coldly looked at her watch. "You shall be late for your train if you do not get the dog-cart soon."

Julia watched her sister's face and frowned, thinking over Percy once more. "Wait a minute. You don't like him enough for marriage. You like someone else. It's that Constable Tibbs isn't it?"

Helen turned to her sharply and dropped the watch. She looked mortified. "No!"

Julia grinned with the delight. "He is sweet on you. Always protective and kind whenever you have to handle one of stepfather's brawls with the villagers. And you like him too."

"I do not!"

Julia thought she knew the reason for the denials. "Oh it doesn't matter that he's just a policeman, Helen. Don't be afraid about stepping down socially. If he likes you and you like him, what does it matter? Our so-called status does nothing to help us. Talk to him. Go walking with him."

"I do not need your love advice! Now do hurry to your train!" She snatched up her magazine again and refused to meet her sister's eyes anymore.

Julia thought about missing her train for the next one, but then again, what if she left Helen alone to see Constable Tibbs? He would surely come by to check on her, since Dr. Roylott was away, and could not object to attention from a male admirer. So Julia merely grabbed her hat and pinned it in place again. "Good day, Helen." She grabbed her bag, then walked out the side door.

After her sister's boots died away, Helen at last breathed out. She frowned and did her best to dismiss the mental images of kissing the smitten constable. She went back to reading the article titled "The Book of Life," and wondered again why this "S. Holmes" had chosen a religious name for his scientific treatise.

This is also a few weeks or more before Julia's intended wedding, though I can only guess the date based on Helen saying that Julia was dead within a fortnight of her wedding day. I'm assuming that Roylott is away with the gypsies only temporarily, while obtaining his snake or getting the changes made to Julia's room.

I'm implying that Helen does not love Percy or think of him that way at all. She might like Tibbs, but marrying him would not help her escape the village, merely the Roylott manor house. But after Julia's death, Helen feels quite grief-stricken and lonely. So when Percy proposes to her, Helen accepts out of desperation to leave Stoke Moran.

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