Friday, May 15, 2009

Reminiscences, part three

"Snakes do not drink milk, Mr. Holmes."

Something we've all wanted to say since reading SPEC, right? So I put the words into Helen's mouth at last. The thing is that I'm having more trouble rewriting parts 1 and 2 of "The Reminiscences of Helen Stoner," so I'm posting part 3 first. Odd, I know, but it gives the flavor of why Holmes is awed by Helen Stoner. She's constantly surprising him and throwing him off kilter. This is my version of Helen Stoner, part way between a damsel in distress and a Mary Sue. I will try to tone down the Mary Sue when I finish the full rewrite.

[Note, the chapter should all be in first person from Helen's point of view, but during the sketch part I fall back into third person. I have also decided that Constable Tibbs should have already been elevated to a higher rank by the time of SPEC. He first met Helen back in 1880 or so, and has mooned over her ever since. His career ambition is partly to impress her, even though he now accepts that she's engaged to Percy instead. He knows the rules of social class.]

Reminiscences of Helen Stoner, part 3

Fandom: Sherlock Holmes
Story: partial chapter 6 of Deeper in Memory
Pairing: Holmes/Helen Stoner, implied Helen Stoner/Harry Tibbs
Warnings: hetero, rated PG

I woke suddenly to the sound of a vigorous pounding in the next room.

"You see it, Watson? You see it?"

I snatched up my watch and saw that it was three thirty in the morning. What was happening? Were they all right? Mr. Holmes's voice struck terror into me. The striking ceased, and I listened for some indication of what they were doing now. Then I heard a ghastly and mangled scream, straining and rising out of the dark. I needed several moments before I recognised the distorted voice as my stepfather's. The agonising sound echoed loudly all through the great stone house, turning me cold.

Finally, it stopped.

I ran from my bed and hurriedly unlocked and opened my door. I stepped out and peered around the curve of the corridor. Then the middle door flung open, and I saw the detectives run out with my lamp and head to Dr. Roylott's room. Mr. Holmes knocked while Dr. Watson stood by with a pistol in his hand. Then Mr. Holmes tried the handle and opened the door, rushing in with Dr. Watson.

I came further down and glanced into the middle room, finding that only a small candle and a cane remained as vague evidence of whatever had just occurred. There was no sign of their shoes.

When I turned again, I saw Mrs. Beale coming from the front hall, pale and trembling. She had obviously woken with the scream, and now hesitated on approaching Dr. Roylott's open door. I ran to her and put my arm around her.

"It is a cobra!" Mr. Holmes said suddenly from within the room. "The deadliest snake in India."

We were startled and silent. There were further murmurs inside and then we heard hurried movements that ended with a sharp metallic clang. It was the safe!

I stood with Mrs. Beale and tried not to betray my own shivering. She clung to me and whispered, "Who was that? What's happened?"

The men exited and closed the door behind them.

"Mr. Holmes!" I called.

They turned back to see us with some surprise.

"Oh, Miss Stoner, there you are. Is this your housekeeper?" Mr. Holmes came toward us, extending his hand to Mrs. Beale before he gave a start. "Where are your slippers, Miss Stoner? Come, you mustn't all be standing about." He led us quickly into the middle room as Dr. Watson brought the lamp.

Mr. Holmes closed the door and hurriedly fumbled with the lock. I looked over his shoulder and then reached across his hand to push the key further in. It finally turned and the bolts clicked sharply into place.

"Ah." He turned to me. "I could have used your expertise. It took me twice as long to open it just now."

"It just sticks--oh, did you have trouble finding the key? I'm so sorry, I forgot to leave it in the lock--"

"No," he said, with a half-surprised smile. "Careless of me to not ask you this afternoon," he murmured.

Backing away, I turned and looked for Dr. Watson quickly. Having set the lamp down next to the candle, he sat with Mrs. Beale upon the bed, soothing her distress and introducing himself to her in reassuring murmurs. "Yes, we came from London and...."

Coming over to them, I stepped on the cane, which now lay on the floor instead of on my bed. I stopped and picked it up, leaning it against the bureau. Startling me from behind, Mr. Holmes brought a chair over and suddenly sat me down. He knelt and peered at my feet. "It was your footprint in the mud!" he muttered. "But why no shoes?"

I blinked and curled back my cold feet, pulling them under my dressing-gown. I couldn't stand the suspense. "Did you mention a snake, Mr. Holmes?"

He looked up, narrowing his eyes at me, then slowly nodded. "Yes, but we have it locked up now. It came down your bell-rope and we attacked--"

"Ah, and in what condition is my stepfather now?"

He looked at Dr. Watson, and then turned back. "Where is the nearest police station, Miss Stoner?"

"The police?"

"Yes, we need to report the death of Dr. Roylott."

I was stunned and Mrs. Beale gasped, beginning to cry. "Oh, that dreadful scream! Oh!"

"Dead?" I stumbled over my half-formed thoughts. "Already? But Julia lived for close to an hour! How--?"

"Your sister must have had an exceptionally strong constitution, to not have died within ten seconds of her scream, as Roylott has just now. She made it to striking a match and getting to the corridor all on her own. He might too have had a more horrid experience because he could see and fully comprehend the danger that was coming at him, too quickly for him to flee from or fight off. Also, there was a lack of brandy--"

Dr. Watson interrupted, dismissing such speculations impatiently as he tried to calm Mrs. Beale. "When is the next train to Harrow, Miss Stoner?"


Mr. Holmes suddenly grabbed my hands and turned them over, examining the palms. He sprang up and climbed onto the bed, considerably disturbing Mrs. Beale and closely peering at the bell-rope.

I looked back to Dr. Watson. "I don't think for another two hours."

"Is there any other place you can go?"


"They'll come back with us to the Crown, then," said Mr. Holmes, nudging past his friend and getting down. He went over to the window, listened a moment, and then unbarred the shutters. He leaned out and then came back with two pairs of shoes in his hands. He dropped them and barred the shutters.

"Ah," he said when he examined the shoes, "the cheetah had a fondness for my left heel. I'll just walk with a limp, I guess." He looked up at me. "If your stepfather were not gone, I'd congratulate him on the fine set of teeth that his feline has."

Dr. Watson rose and turned, now that Mrs. Beale had quieted and become equally puzzled by Mr. Holmes's behaviour. I shrugged at her and whispered lamely, "That is Dr. Watson and Mr. Holmes."

The doctor listened at the window. "Do you think it's safe to go out yet?"

"The gypsies lock the animals up at about five o'clock," I said.

Mr. Holmes checked his watch. "Quite an hour still. I wonder if their master's scream would startle them away or attract them near." He went back to the door and opened it, peeking out. "I can't hear or see anything through the windows," he reported. He went out further into the corridor.

Then he came back in, locking the door. "There's nothing about, so far. I saw the light of a fire spring up, though, down at the far south of the estate. Would that be the gypsies? Ah, that's good. And they're in charge of the baboon and the cheetah, you said? I see." He suddenly smiled, "Do you suppose this is our lucky night, Miss Stoner?"

I had no answer to that. He was getting quite obscure.

His smile broadened. "Wouldn't it be very providential, in fact very logical, if the animals were spooked all the way back to the gypsies? And the gypsies, very naturally, would be spooked enough to lock the animals up, for fear that some violence might arise. They might even, if they had enough loyalty to Dr. Roylott and enough trust of the police, try to go to the nearest station to report a wild attack on the doctor by his animals. The man never locked his door, did he? Or they might scent deep trouble and quickly make a dash from the county altogether." He came nearer, picking up the cane and running it through his hands thoughtfully. "Either way, it seems that we would be safe from Dr. Roylott's pets."

"But how can we be sure?" asked Dr. Watson. "Suppose they dashed first, and didn't wait for the animals to come back to them?"

"Then why take the risk of lighting the fire that would attract them? Think about it, Watson. If you were the leader of a band of gypsies, with tents, property, women, and children to move, would you try outrunning a cheetah, on any vehicle? It'd be better to wait for the animals to come and to capture them, with perhaps an amplified version of whatever methods you usually use to coax them peacefully into their cages. The horrid scream of Dr. Roylott may have startled them, but it would not rob them entirely of their wits."

"Perhaps so. But how do we know when the animals are captured? Between the gypsies dashing from the county and dashing to the police, from here we cannot tell the difference, for they'd probably not think to put out their fire in either case."

"Ah, good point. Well, it seems that we can only know by testing, so," he moved to the window with the cane, "I'll do the honours."


"Mr. Holmes, stop!" I said, jumping up. "Don't go. Just wait here until five o'clock, won't you?"

He paused and turned from the shutters he was unbarring. "I'm afraid not," he shook his head. "It's rather urgent that we get the police here, and medical examiners. I don't know how long the venom will last in Dr. Roylott's system. It's obvious that the venom somehow dissipates into the body of the victim after death. How else could Julia be found without poison? --Unless," he let go of the bars, looking thoughtful, "the county coroner could not identify the traces of such an exotic animal. Eastern venoms cannot be among his regular medical knowledge, can it? --Or was it the brandy, after all, that did it? Did your stepfather do anything unusual with the brandy, Miss Stoner?"


"Yes. Mixing it before administering it to Julia. Hesitating to examine her wou--" He gripped my arms rather suddenly. "Are you certain there was no wound on her, Miss Stoner, not even the tiniest thing?"

"I--I don't know what you mean."

In his urgency he nearly shook me, his voice intensified. "Two little dark spots, not more than an inch apart?"

"No! Nothing I know of."

He let go of me, irritated. "It must be a mistake," he insisted. "She must have had bitemarks somewhere, and very likely inflamed by the toxin. How could a competent coroner not find--!"

I stopped him, grabbing his sleeve. "Sir, these details are all jumbled. I--I don't understand. What were you saying about the brandy?"

"Oh, that. I thought it at least possible that he could have slipped a small dose of antivenin in the brandy to inoculate the remains of the venom. After all, the poison had severely affected her already, and nobody would think to examine the contents of his brandy bottle when it was perfectly clear that the cause of her death occurred before either you or he had gone into the corridor."

I sat down again. "I see."

". . . But I have so few details of what Roylott knew about poison. Did he chemically find some way to alter the strength or composition of the snake's venom by feeding it some home-made formula in the milk? Did he have time to administer anything in the brandy?" He turned to me, still preoccupied, "What exactly did he do that night, Miss Roy—Stoner?"

"Um, I don't know," I told him slowly, regretting that I should have to disappoint his theories. "I was so preoccupied at first with Julia that I did not think to wonder how long it took for Dr. Roylott to come to the corridor. Once he did, he at first just felt for her pulse, then he got up and retrieved some brandy from his room. When he returned, he poured it down her throat and generally tried to revive her. At least, that was how it appeared."

"Oh of course, yes. Then what?"

"Then he said we needed to send for help, so he left me pouring the brandy and rushed out the front door, going to capture his animals and send them to the gypsies. Mrs. Beale arrived then, and we both sat with Julia until Dr. Roylott came back. He told us that it was safe now and that we should hurry to the village together. He remained alone with Julia since he was a doctor, after all. She died before we returned with help, and that is all I know."

Mr. Holmes stared at me, not looking well. "I don't believe it! He was acting like a dutiful guardian. There's no way now to verify anything he did in all the time he was alone with her, save that it wasn't obvious enough to leave evidence. He probably didn't need to do anything but examine her, anyway, in hopes of covering her wound. He most certainly was careful about it. Ah, he's too clever by far. He was quite confident when he left you alone with her, trusting that she would not have the strength to come to again and that even if she did, her words would be taken as delirium."

I nodded. "That was the problem. Despite anyone's intuitive suspicion of him, his actions that night could only be described as complete and automatic selflessness for Julia. The police repeatedly checked every fact they had but could find no real excuse to bring a charge against him. The coroner did no better on the evidence, and the two years since have changed nothing, of doubts or evidence." I bit my lip. "I've driven myself mad trying to decide if her vigorous pointing at Dr. Roylott's room was an accusation or the natural plea of a dying person for the nearest medical help possible."

He nodded. "Yes, this is an impossible and hateful case indeed! No wonder you--" he trailed off into unintelligible murmurs, shaking his head.

Dr. Watson cleared his throat quietly, holding up his open watch. "I think it would be safe now."

"What?" Mr. Holmes looked up. Indeed, neither of us had noticed that the doctor had begun writing again in his notebook, and his efficient, secretarial pose in a chair startled us.

Mr. Holmes blinked at the displayed watch. "Oh, the time. So much for urgency," he sighed. "Well, you and I can at least testify that Dr. Roylott was definitely found bitten. The snake still on him and all."

"Yes. And all the problematic details that you were just discussing can be settled by the police, when they examine him and his brandy. Also," he tapped his pencil in his notebook, "Julia's reference to 'the speckled band' ought to be enough to confirm that the snake had been involved in her death, too." He made the note on his page and then snapped the notebook shut.

The men got on their shoes and began checking for the sounds of animals. Mrs. Beale and I went to my old room, which still retained the majority of my clothes, and hurriedly put on heavy cloaks and boots. Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson moved my bureau (in the centre room) in front of Dr. Roylott's door, as a way of securing it without requiring someone to be locked inside with the body. Then they took up the lamp and walked with us in the chill, dark morning toward the Crown Inn.

I shivered as I unlocked the gate, hearing Mrs. Beale breathe unevenly behind me while we hesitated for what seemed to be an interminable time. Dr. Watson looked behind us with his pistol in his hand, just in case the animals were free after all. Mr. Holmes stood silently, holding up the lamp for me to see. The gate finally opened and we went through, shutting it quickly behind us. I locked it, for I wasn't entirely sure that I believed in luck either.

At the Crown, we roused the landlord fairly soon, for he had not quite gone back to sleep since he heard the haunting scream of more than an hour ago.

Dr. Watson quickly told him, "Dr. Roylott has died horribly in the night. We've evacuated the ladies and we need to contact the nearest police and to telegram the county officials as well."

"You'll need the dog-cart, then, for Leatherhead. Hurry inside and I'll fetch it." He let us all in, shut the door, and disappeared to get dressed. Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson scurried us up the stairs and brought us into the rooms they had taken. As they relit the fire and warmed themselves, we went to crawl into the beds and shiver under the blankets. As I kicked off my boot and rather unfortunately hit the wall, I heard the detectives talking in the sitting-room.

"No, no. I insist, Watson. You stay here with them and catch a little sleep after your long night. I'll hurry on to the police and take care of everything. The officials will come here anyway to wake everyone again and take statements. I'll be fine."

"No, Holmes. My shoulder couldn't stand the couch anyway. The rest would do you more good."

"Rest? Why I'd be pacing around with nothing to do. I'm in much better condition than those ladies, I assure you."

"Don't be silly, Holmes. You said you had difficulty taking a nap this afternoon, and you didn't eat a thing after you woke. I'll go."

"No, Watson. The ladies will resign themselves to hysterics soon, and they'll need your peculiar skill in comforting."

"Nonsense! All Mrs. Beale needed was an explanation, however disordered, and you saw how completely in her wits Miss Stoner was. I'm going."

"Watson, please. I won't stay! --Ah, there's the landlord calling for us. I'm off now. Well, fine, come with me if you want."

The door slammed and they were gone. Not long after that, I heard the front door slam as well, and the dog-cart drove away.

I sighed and turned to Mrs. Beale to say, "What a strange mood Mr. Holmes is in. Talking wildly about luck before, and now he's suddenly irritable."

Mrs. Beale did not answer me, so I went over to the bed where she lay. She was not merely trying to get warm; she had ceased to tremble and was asleep already. So I pulled the blanket over her and turned out the lamp beside her bed.

My mind was still racing too much to sleep, though, so I went out to the sitting-room and warmed myself by the fire. I went over Mr. Holmes's words about the case once more, trying desperately to come up with some clue that I had missed two years ago. Unfortunately, I had nothing to match his suggestions about the brandy or puncture wounds.

I paced and paced around the room, wishing that Mr. Holmes had stayed so that we could discuss the case more clearly and sequentially. Or perhaps if Dr. Watson had only left his notebook for me to consult. Surely he would have some notes of what he had discussed with Mr. Holmes while they had waited here at the Crown? How on earth had Mr. Holmes concluded that Dr. Roylott was using a snake? All he had talked about this afternoon was a cat. He had refused to tell me his theory at the time, so perhaps he had not made his decision yet. What had changed his mind? Did Dr. Watson suggest the snake after they had time to consult together? I could get nowhere.

Eventually I realised that I was cold and tired enough to collapse as well. So I returned to the other room and lay down in the second bed. Burying myself in the blankets, I reached over to the nearby lamp and turned it out.

I slept, but not peacefully. Somewhere in my dreams I drifted restlessly without vision. In deep black I heard screams and pounding and even laughter. The echoes chased all about in circles, sounding shrill. Mud had a wet, close touch like blood on my hands, leaving me no anchor until the morning. Yet before I woke, long before, I heard something that lingered beyond the dream, that even now retains vividness.

"Ah, the ladies have commandeered both our spots," a crisp accent said. Pairs of footsteps moved closer.

A whisper of a lower voice.

The answer of the other. "I shan't allow you to sleep on the couch, the chairs, or the floor, Watson. Let me just do a little shifting here. . . ."

Coldness brushed me. I was raised, weight floating, the whole air surrounding me. All things became an odd-feeling movement. I thought I was falling, but landed suddenly on a bed, just as before. I felt an elbow at my back and the sighs of a sleeper. Cold hands placed a blanket on me and closed my blinking eyes.

"There," the soft breath.

A murmur from another direction.

"What? No, no, I evacuated the bed for you. I don't need it. No, I tell you I won't. Don't argue with me at this time of night! Yes, perhaps I am a little frantic!" The whispers were hoarser, then there was a groan. "Already the atmosphere of these females nauseates me. Just hand me my pipe and a blanket, please. I need to get out of here. No, not that one from the bed. The one we had from the landlord just now. Yes I know it's cold! No, please, keep everything else for yourself. Thank you. Good-night, or good-morning, rather." A door creaked and shut.

Some time later, I fully awoke. I felt steady, deep breathing behind me and a close margin of warmth. Presently I realised it was Mrs. Beale lying next to me, but I half doubted myself because I had thought it a dream. I stirred and slowly glanced around.

Mr. Holmes was sitting cross-legged on the floor, frowning to himself and folding his hands in his lap. He was before the windows, barefoot and only half dressed, with a dressing-gown thrown on top.

I raised my head above the covers. "Mr. Holmes?"

He looked up and turned to me with a surprised kind of smile. "Miss St--" He half rose as he spoke. However he halted, turning with an odd glance in another direction, and sank back to the floor. "Good morning," he said quietly.

I frowned and wondered at Dr. Watson's odd silence. So I sat up and turned about, finding a slumbering Mrs. Beale as expected, but beyond her a most jarring surprise. Dr. Watson was nowhere to be seen.

Instead, Mr. Tibbs sat in a chair at the far wall, officially presiding, as it were. He was of high enough rank now that he no longer wore a uniform, but his face and his tender, smiling eyes still made him look like the young constable who always used to drop by to check on me. (Tibbs used to be a constable when they first met about three years ago, but he's risen in the local village police. He now is able to be called Mister.)

His too familiar gaze made me blush.

Mr. Tibbs turned a little red too, and he promptly apologised for intruding upon me while I was indecent. "I just--I just was waiting for you to wake up, Miss Stoner. Didn't--didn't want to disturb you after your dreadful night."

I blinked then finally managed breathlessly, "Uh, thank you, Mr. Tibbs."

He smiled too fondly. "The least I could do."

I looked away to keep him from seeing the dampness in my eyes. He was always just so kind and gallant with me, not of course realising the irony of his eagerness to see me, and my own hoping each time we met to be the last. These constant civil troubles, and once even a criminal charge against my stepfather, were so very exhausting and straining to the nerves. I wondered how long he had been watching me sleeping.

"What time is it?" I said quietly, glancing around for the clock.

"Half past eight now. Did you sleep well, Miss? If you're still tired, you can just lie back down again, and we'll go wait in the other room. I don't really have to take your statement just now." [Why didn't he wait in the other room already? He wanted to watch her sleep, but knew it would look questionable being alone with the sleeping women, so he made Holmes wait with him? So it would look more like he was watching a prisoner?]

"No thank you," I answered. "I was waking on my own, and I--" Mr. Holmes was just quietly frowning again, looking down at his feet, his knees drawn up. "--really couldn't sleep again now."

"Then perhaps you'd like some breakfast out in the sitting-room?" dear Mr. Tibbs said. "Then you'll be quite steady when you give your statement."

I blushed. "Not--just now." I found myself curling up under the covers and sinking my face timidly in against my drawn up knees. He was too, too sweet and attentive. I thought again how I might have reacted had he proposed to me, not Percy. Had Julia been right, after all?

Mr. Holmes sat silently. What he sensed about us made him uncomfortable, I was sure. I swallowed faintly, ashamed of myself again on behalf of Percy.

"Mr. Holmes," I said when I found my voice, "where is Dr. Watson?"

He didn't really look at me. "Oh nowhere really." He spread out the fingers of his hand before him. "Just doing his usual disappearing." He loosened up, shifting his position. "You can ask Mr. Tibbs himself to explain."

"I'm asking you," I said, frowning at his overstated boredom. "Please."

He gave a mild, slow shrug. "Dr. Watson is speaking on our behalf to the county police inspector, about sending a telegram to a Scotland Yard friend of ours, and to our landlady, about personal arrangements. In the meantime, I'm as good as threadbare here, for all that these clothes we telegrammed for yesterday do us now. You see, we came rather ill-prepared yesterday, Miss Stoner, expecting that we'd only spend a very short, businesslike afternoon with you. Possibly a meal in the evening at most."

"Evening?" I said. "Oh yes. You came without luggage. You'd obviously just come from the station on the cart, and could not have had time to drop off anything at the village yet. I should have remembered that when you left for the Crown later."

He stared at his feet again, and shrugged. "We had some little embarrassment in explaining our over-dusty clothes to the landlord, but we gave an excuse I'd used earlier about being concerned with your building repairs. Seeing that we had to stay the night and actually observe the phenomenon in your room, we sent a telegram for our landlady to post a change of clothes and some other things to us, which soon arrived that evening. However, when we came to the stile again, we had difficulty jumping cleanly down and unfortunately spoiled a second set of clothes. There was nothing to be done until morning, and we expected to muddle through for the brief while until we could throw on our overcoats and head on an early train to London. But here we are the next morning; your stepfather is dead, we have no change of clothes, the county police are detaining us, and as you can see, I'm rather the worse for the wear of the two of us." He pulled at the collar of his dressing-gown. "The light of day certainly does reveal unkind truth, doesn't it? I'm hardly presentable."

I sat up. "Detaining you?"

Mr. Tibbs answered, "The county inspector insisted on it, Miss. He wanted to wait until we had your statement, and Mrs. Beale's, to confirm those of these gentlemen. As Mr. Holmes said, we're also awaiting a response from the Scotland Yard man that they gave as a reference. Just a precaution, Miss." [Tibbs is an authority in the village, but the Surrey County inspector is overriding him.]

"I see."

This is the sketch part:

more uneasiness. Tibbs offers to leave the room and let her dress. Miss Stoner nods, and they step out.

After she puts on her cloak and boots from last night, she joins them in the sitting room. She then asks if she can return to the manor to get a proper change of clothes and to pack her bags.

"To go to Harrow?" He hoped that she would only stay with her aunt for a little while. She would need to come back for the inquest of course.

"Yes, please. I'll wait until I give my statement of course, but I'd rather make only one last trip to that house."

"Of course, Miss. I'll escort you myself." But first he needs someone to take over watching Mr. Holmes. Starts to call to a constable outside.

She interrupts, suggesting that Holmes come with her, as there are clothes she could lend to him. Not Dr. Roylott's but some leftover clothes from her late father. Julia adored and idolized their father, keeping some old suits and even a uniform from the late Major-General. (Or maybe instead say that it's from some male servant who left them years ago.) "It might fit you imperfectly, but there are shoes too which I think you could manage."

"Very kind of you."

Mr. Tibbs still doesn't want to leave Holmes alone with her, though, so he gets a constable to sit and wait for Mrs. Beale to wake, then comes along with them to the Roylott Manor house. Holmes is still limping along with his chewed on shoes, and he's very quiet.

There are policemen all about the manor, and even some at the south of the estate, where the cheetah and baboon are indeed caged. Some officers (from the county) are confused, think that Miss Stoner's arrival is against police procedure. But Tibbs insists that she must be allowed to get decent before seeing the inspector. "What's wrong with you county people?"

Finally they all enter the house and go to the wing with the bedrooms. Helen soon points Holmes to the spare clothes, then goes to her old room to change.

Once Holmes finishes repairing his appearance, he drapes his dressing gown on his arm and holds his damaged shoes. After standing with Mr. Tibbs for a while, he can't take it anymore. So he goes to her door and knocks. Clearing his throat, "Miss Stoner, do you wish to pack for your housekeeper as well?"

"Oh yes, in a minute. Come in."

He blinks, and finds Mr. Tibbs glancing sharply. "Come in?"

"Yes, I'm just packing my things now."

"All right." He and Tibbs come in hesitantly. Holmes quickly glances all around, reading her room as signs of her personality and life, which he had refused to do yesterday afternoon.

Having already packed her clothes, she is now gathering up some books and tying them together. Then she picks up a recently repaired watch from the vanity table; it was meant as a wedding present for Percy, and it makes her sigh and feel awkward again. But in the mirror she sees Holmes, who looks much neater and businesslike now. Much more like he did in Baker Street, before he became all unpredictable.

So she turns around and asks him, "Um, Mr. Holmes, do you think I could ask you some questions now?"

Tibbs interrupts, saying that they must not discuss events until she gives her independent testimony. The county inspector wants to be there.

"Really? But I'm not asking about the events that happened last night. I know enough. I really want to ask about Julia's death two years ago. He was supposed to explain it to me."

Holmes blinks and almost protests, but she continues, "I hired him to find out what happened. Surely he can give me his report?"

Tibbs is still uncertain, but he oh so wants to be helpful to her.

She seemingly changes the subject. "Would you get a bag for Mr. Holmes to put his things in?" She motions Holmes to put down his clothes on her chair.

"Certainly." Tibbs turns and calls for a constable to fetch.

At the same time, Helen asks Holmes, "How did you know a snake had killed her?"

Holmes stares at her, wondering at her audacity. What kind of hold did she have on Mr. Tibbs?

Tibbs comes back in. "Miss."

"Please, I just want to know. What was the clue?"

Holmes looks indecisively between her and the policeman, who sighs and shuts the door tolerantly. So Holmes says, "It was a number of things. Once I saw the ventilator, and the way the bell-rope bridged to your bedpost, the bed itself being clamped..."

"But a snake? How did you know it was in the safe? You had even talked of a cat."

"Oh, I was only joking there. It was the milk of course that confirmed the snake."

"The milk?"

"Yes, evidently Dr. Roylott had trained the snake using the milk and the whistle to--"

"Trained the snake?" She's staring at him strangely. "By feeding it milk?"

He nodded, and glanced at Tibbs, who said, "Yes, he told us all this in his statement, Miss. I think we had better stop here--"

Miss Stoner suddenly said, "Snakes do not drink milk, Mr. Holmes."

"What?" He looks shocked, and even Mr. Tibbs raised his eyebrows in confusion.

Miss Stoner sat down on her bed. "I don't blame you for thinking so; it's a common enough myth, not only here, but in India as well. The natives there even hold a festival in which they keep feeding snakes milk because they believe it will bring them blessings and luck. But it's not actually true, Mr. Holmes."

He stared at her. "Are you sure of this?"

"Yes," she nodded. "Remember when I told you that Dr. Roylott had an Indian correspondent who sent him animals? That man was Dr. ----, a zoologist who used to come visit us in Calcutta. Once he even attended the snake festival with our family, and all the while he would scoff at the offerings of milk. 'Rubbish!' he'd say. 'Snakes are reptiles, not mammals, and they do not drink milk of any kind. They only wander into barns to eat the rats living there! But the myth and the tradition is so engrained in these peasants that they don't listen to reason.' Dr. ---- told us that the snakes only appear to drink the milk out of desperation. Prior to the festival, people capture the snakes, then keep them in clay pots for a week. They're so thirsty by then, they'd drink anything. But the milk actually makes them sick."

Holmes is pale, sitting down in a chair, right on top of his dressing gown.

Tibbs takes the other chair and then pulls out his notebook, thinking he should get this down as part of Helen's statement.

Helen continues, "The festival is supposed to honour their god who in legend defeated a giant snake and made a river safe for people again. Dr. ----'s theory is that the ritual of feeding milk was originally an effort to drown and kill the snakes, thereby defeating them just like the god. But somehow or another the legends got twisted around and the original meaning of the ritual was lost, and now they just celebrate it out of tradition."

Wide-eyed, H murmurs, "Like the Musgrave Ritual."


"Never mind."

She shrugs it off and continues, more to Tibbs who is paying attention. "That was his theory, anyway. But he was adamant that snakes do not willingly drink milk; he had tried it out experimentally with snakes that had not been dehydrated. So I doubt that anyone could train a snake with milk."

Holmes whispered, "And Roylott knew this too?"

She nods. "Certainly. Dr. ---- was his friend."

Holmes sits there shocked and numb.

She says, "I wish you'd told me that's what you suspected, instead of suggesting a cat." She'd felt rather foolish at the time, and it annoyed her now to think that he was only flippantly joking with her.

"I-I'm sorry." He tries to get his brain working again. "Then what was the milk for?"

She says, "It wasn't milk!"


She nods vigorously. "I only realized it last night when I was thinking over what we'd found. That bowl had been sitting out all day, presumably since Dr. Roylott left that morning at 6 AM. Perhaps it had been there for days even. And yet, it did not smell sour, did it?"

Holmes gasps and realises she's right. There was no putrid smell.

She states matter-of-factly, "It could not have been milk."

"Then--then what was it?" he asks desperately.

"I don't know." She's confused that he thinks she knows.

He suddenly stands up and leaves the room. Tibbs and Miss Stoner follow after. Holmes rushes down the hall and tries to get into Dr. Roylott's room.

Tibbs grabs his arm and stops him. "Now just a minute." This is most certainly against police procedure. The room is blocked off (but with constables rather than a bureau) until the investigation is over.

H explains, "I have to look at it. I have to know what it is."

"It's not there anymore, Mr. Holmes!"

H finally calms, but still looks pale. "It isn't?"

Tibbs answers. "We confiscated it, along with all the other evidence you told us about. The dog-lash, the safe, the chair that had foot-marks on it, the brandy... everything. We're still working on somebody to open the safe and to handle the snake if it's still alive when we open it." He turns to Miss Stoner worriedly. "You said those snakes stay alive in those pots for a week?"

She nods. "But pots are different than safes. They're not really airtight."

"No, probably not. But we did find a few air holes drilled into the bottom of the safe and could hear the snake all hissing and moving because we were jostling around its den. It's still alive for now."

"Oh." she shivers.

"But the milk!" Holmes insists. "What was it?"

"We'll find out soon enough. Be patient." He makes H step away from the door.

(later will find out that it's a warming bath for the snake, to rouse it at 3 AM. Also, Roylott didn't keep the snake there all the time. Most of the time it was with the gypsies as part of their act, and Roylott just got the snake from them when he was plotting murder. The snake climbed up and down the carved bedpost, and the bell-pull was just a disguise for the ventilator. Will not dispute snake hearing, though.)

H just looks miserable. He can't believe he didn't notice that the milk wasn't milk. He had made an assumption based on a myth. He was an idiot!

Tibbs says with some authority, "Now Miss Stoner, let's talk no more of it, and finish your packing instead."

"Oh very well." She clearly wasn't going to get anything out of Holmes now.

Tibbs leads them back Helen's room.

H sits, stunned and embarrassed by how wrong his deductions were. After a silence he suddenly declares, "I-I solved this case by pure luck."

This time Helen asks, "What?"

H nods. "I was completely wrong about the milk and the snake."

"Not completely. There was a snake after all."

"But I was wrong about him training the snake with milk!"

"It's not important."

"It is important!" he insists. His career depends on trifles. "And I'm probably wrong about the brandy too. And the puncture marks. Oh God, did I get anything right?" mutters again about it being an impossible case.

"Mr. Holmes, please stop." She tries to reassure him that it's all right. She's been trying to solve it for two years, and he's done it in one day.

"By pure luck!" shakes his head.

"You have saved my life. I am perfectly satisfied as a client." But after a thought, she adds, "I wish you had told me all this before. If I had known there was a deadly snake involved, I wouldn't have let you and Dr. Watson risk your lives for me. I would have packed and gone to Harrow until my marriage."

Holmes says, "You would not have been safe. Dr. Roylott would have devised some other scheme."

"He couldn't have. There's only six weeks left, and he could not set something up at my Aunt Honoria's house."

"He could have improvised something on the spur of the moment. Do you really think your mother was only accidentally killed in Crewe?"

She gasps and remembers the railway accident. "You mean...?" Now she sits down, pale. "I've been so blind."

Tibbs goes to comfort her, looking a little annoyed at Holmes. "He's only guessing. He doesn't have any proof, or he would have said something earlier."

She cries. "Oh God." And she had spent these last eight years defending Roylott, for the memory of her mother!

Tibbs holds her, no longer annoyed so much as happy to be close to her. But he's also trying desperately not to show such inappropriate enjoyment while she's crying.

H stares at them for a moment, then turns away. He's been blind as well, and he might as well have been guessing. He sighs and wonders how he'll explain all his blunders to Watson.]

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