For the most part, Helen is still skeptical and not at all charmed by Holmes yet. She's feeling nervous especially because she's 32, and expects a paternal benefactor based on Mrs. Farintosh's description, but instead she sees only a young man and some ill-defined "associate," whom she will later assume is Holmes's secretary.
Fandom: Sherlock Holmes
Story: partial Chapter 6 of DIM
Pairing: Holmes/Watson, Holmes/Helen Stoner
Warnings: implied slash and hetero, rated G
Rewrite, part 2
As she heard their approach, the lady in black turned from the bow window and rose to greet them. She was heavily veiled and seemed considerably agitated, as Mrs. Hudson had already noted.
Holmes said, "Good morning, madam. My name is Sherlock Holmes. This is my intimate friend and associate, Dr. Watson, before whom you can speak as freely as before myself." Two years practice had made this introduction quite automatic.
She murmured, "Hello," in a faint voice and shook hands with them. But she was clearly distracted, forgetting to introduce herself.
Unfazed, Holmes moved on towards the hearth. "Ha! I am glad to see that Mrs. Hudson has had the good sense to light the fire. Pray draw up to it, and I shall order you a cup of hot coffee, for I observe that you are shivering." He spoke in a casual, offhand way while not looking at her. If not for his offer of coffee, Watson would have assumed that Holmes merely wished to startle her with his amazing powers. But perhaps the coffee was intended to wake her up as well, to get a rational statement of her case.
Watson drew back an armchair for her, and she sat down. Despite the fire, she gave another shiver and whispered, almost to herself, "It is not cold which makes me shiver."
Holmes's ears were as remarkably keen as ever, so he let the bell-pull go. "What, then?" He regarded her with interest and took the chair opposite her.
Watson dropped into the basket chair nearby, to make sure that he heard anything else she might say, if she continued to whisper.
She finally raised her thick veil as she replied, "It is fear, Mr. Holmes. It is terror."
Holmes raised an eyebrow and quickly scanned her features with his customary all-encompassing glance.
Watson was surprised by her worn and haggard face, and her eyes looked wild and frightened in the firelight. Her dark hair was prematurely streaked with grey, and Watson realised suddenly why Holmes had addressed her as "madam" and not "young lady" anymore. He must have glimpsed the grey behind her veil and realised that Mrs. Hudson had described a lady younger than herself, but not younger than her lodgers. In addition, her complete mourning dress seemed to imply that she had lost a husband, which also would make her a "Madam" rather than a "Miss."
Observing the poor woman's pitiable state, Holmes smiled gently and reached forward to pat her arm. "You must not fear. We shall soon set matters right, I have no doubt." He glanced to Watson, who nodded and smiled at her too.
She awkwardly tried to smile back, but still looked uneasy, as if she had changed her mind about hiring a consulting detective.
Given her earlier determination to see him, Holmes concluded that she was surprised at how young he and Watson appeared to be. He recognised that disconcerted look from the faces of some of his older clients in the past. Also, Lestrade often still regarded him in a similarly sceptical, "I can't believe the young theorist" way; the ferret-like inspector had already served on the force for over twenty years, and so automatically disdained the younger detective, no matter his successes.
The unhappy lady stammered and nervously pulled her hand out of Holmes's grasp, "I, um, I'm so sorry for waking you two gentlemen. I-I should not have troubled you so early."
Watson leaned nearer and reassured her quickly, "No, no. It's no trouble, especially if your case is urgent, madam."
Despite the doctor's chivalry, she kept protesting, and Holmes could see that she was trying to make regretful apologies in preparation to getting up and leaving. "I hadn't thought of the hour. I've been irrational, and I shouldn't have come--"
Realising that he must impress her with his skills to keep her here, Holmes cleared his throat and remarked, "You have come in by train this morning, I see."
Stunned, she suddenly glanced at him with wide eyes. "You know me, then?"
Holmes shook his head and leaned back in his chair with his most superior air. "No, but I observe the second half of a return ticket in the palm of your left glove."
She looked to her glove and felt rather silly, then tried to calm herself.
But Holmes startled her again. "You must have started early, and yet you had a good drive in a dog-cart, along heavy roads, before you reached the station."
She gasped, as if frightened again, and Watson thought that she looked like a hunted animal. This was really too much for her nerves.
Holmes saw Watson's admonishing look, so he explained, "There is no mystery, my dear madam. The left arm of your jacket is spattered with mud in no less than seven places. The marks are perfectly fresh. There is no vehicle save a dog-cart which throws up mud in that way, and then only when you sit on the left-hand of the driver."
She stared at her jacket sleeve and finally realised she had been too preoccupied to notice such stains before against the black fabric. To think that she had been filthy all during her train ride and all while she waited in the sitting-room!
Dr. Watson offered her his handkerchief, and she noticed that he kept it tucked up his sleeve, like a military man. She had no distinct memories of her late father, but had seen the habit in many of his brother officers while her family had lived in India. As she cleaned herself, Watson spoke with friendly reassurance, "Don't be alarmed. Holmes is more observant than most."
Holmes shrugged dismissively. "It is merely my professional talent, and no doubt why you have come to see me, I presume?" He wished to get her discussing her case at last.
"I--yes," she admitted, and decided that she might as well stay. She didn't have anyone else to go to, after all, and this Sherlock Holmes had been especially recommended to her. He sounded competent, even if he looked like a twenty-ish lad.
Watson asked, "So you have come a long way this morning?"
She nodded. "Yes, I--" she glanced at Holmes almost suspiciously, "you are perfectly correct, sir. I started from home before six, reached Leatherhead at twenty past, and came in by the first train to Waterloo."
Watson started to ask her what emergency could have woken her so early, but she suddenly burst out, "Sirs, I can stand this strain no longer! I shall go mad if it continues. I have no one to turn to, none!--save only one, who cares for me, and he, poor fellow, can be of little aid." She wrung her hands and was clearly overcome with emotion.
Holmes was surprised that she was not a grieving widow after all, but in fact had a living admirer, no matter how useless the man was.
She continued, "I have heard of you, Mr. Holmes; I have heard of you from Mrs. Farintosh, whom you helped in the hour of her sore need. It was from her that I had your address. Oh sir, do you not think that you could help me too and at least throw a little light through the dense darkness which surrounds me? At present it is out of my power to reward you for your services, but in a month or six weeks I shall be married, with the control of my own income, and then at least you shall not find me ungrateful."
Holmes slipped over to his desk in a corner and consulted a small book from the locked drawer. Watson meanwhile took a notebook from his coat pocket and wrote the name "Farintosh" in it.
She looked at him and worried for a moment that the doctor was prescribing some medication for her evident hysteria. Perhaps this was why the detective worked with a doctor now, but not when Mrs. Farintosh had consulted him over two years ago? Did he have an over-abundance of agitated clients? She had tried to keep her composure, but the lack of sleep and the fear had gotten to her.
Holmes said, "Farintosh. Ah yes, I recall the case. It was concerned with an opal tiara. I think it was before your time, Watson." He scanned his case notes for any mention of someone who could be this lady in black before him, but he found no one matching her description. Mrs. Farintosh still sent him Christmas cards every year, but he had not kept them, and so could not consult them now to see what inconsequential family news and gossip she had included.
As he looked up from the book, he saw that Watson was taking notes on his words. The doctor was always highly curious about Holmes's early cases, eyeing the locked drawer obsessively, and Holmes found himself smiling again.
Realising that his client might be puzzled, he turned the smile to her in the guise of gracious reassurance. "I can only say, madam, that I shall be happy to devote the same care to your case as I did to that of your friend. As to reward, my profession is its own reward. But you are at liberty to defray whatever expenses I may be put to, at the time which suits you best." After locking away the book again, he returned and resumed his seat. "And now I beg that you will lay before us everything that may help us in forming an opinion upon the matter."
His words cheered her a little, but she still hesitated, as if unhappy to speak of her dreadful case. She said sadly, "The very horror of my situation lies in the fact that my fears are so vague, and my suspicions depend so entirely upon small points, which might seem trivial to another, that even--" she choked up once more, "he to whom of all others I have a right to look for help and advice looks upon all that I tell him about it as the fancies of a nervous woman. He does not say so, but I can read it from his soothing answers and averted eyes."
Curiously, she still refrained from using any names, as if on her guard about her privacy and anonymity. Yet she had mentioned Mrs. Farintosh, after all, and had not tried to make up a pseudonym when she met them. Perhaps she was merely not rational, due to having no coffee, nor sleep, this morning? The bags under her eyes told of a wretched night.
The lady was lost in thought, frowning to herself about her useless, and apparently dismissive man, while Watson touched her arm in sympathy.
"We shall give you all the help and advice you need," the doctor said. "There is none better to seek advice from than Holmes. He is the wisest man I know."
She followed his glance to Holmes who, rather than trying to reassure her that he would hear out all her suspicions and fears, was looking at Watson instead. He seemed stunned and blinking, and she thought she saw him even flush with pleasure, but that could be a trick of the firelight. Really, as tired as she was, she was in no condition to try reading anybody's face.
Holmes realised that he'd left his face unguarded for a moment, so he turned away and got up, offering to bring her water, as an excuse to be busy at the sideboard. Holmes wondered if Watson was still watching him or would even decide to call for coffee or breakfast as well. Thankfully, he did not, too obsessed with writing more notes in his book.
After pouring out three glasses, Holmes brought the tray to the hearth and resumed his seat. While they thanked him politely and sipped, he drank down much of his own glass. Holmes knew that he should be used to Watson's zealous flattery by now, but he kept expecting Watson to get used to him as well. In these past two years, Watson never ceased to be amazed by his deductions, no matter how trivial, and never ceased to praise him with hyperbole. Sometimes Holmes deliberately fished for compliments from him when he was bored, yet it still astonished him that Watson often volunteered other compliments like this one, out of nowhere. Holmes enjoyed them, even if he didn't understand their persistence long after the novelty of his profession should have worn off.
The lady in black cleared her throat inquiringly, so Holmes met her gaze, now that he was more composed. He saw that she was searching his grey eyes for some indication of the extraordinary wisdom and insight that both Watson and Mrs. Farintosh had said Holmes possessed. She finally gave up on the attempt and, trying to just blindly have faith, she said, "I have heard, Mr. Holmes, that you can see deeply into the manifold wickedness of the human heart. You may advise me how to walk amid the dangers which encompass me."
Intrigued by her hints about her case, he sat back and touched his fingertips together. "I am all attention, madam. I mean, Miss--?"
She realised then that she had failed to introduce herself yet. "Oh, I'm sorry." She had been rather roundabout hadn't she? So she told them, "My name is Helen Stoner, and I am living with my stepfather, who is the last survivor of one of the oldest Saxon families in England, the Roylotts of Stoke Moran, on the western border of Surrey."