Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve

Well it's almost here! It's a rare movie that I go out to see on opening day, but I don't think I could stand to wait any longer. I've just got to brave the cold weather tomorrow and be thankful I'm not in the northern regions of this country, where the weather would be much worse.

In the mean time I've been working on my SPEC rewrite again. As I said, I really hated dropping the opening part where Helen sneaks out of Stoke Moran and Roylott bruises her wrist, so I'm going to add that back (in third person) to the beginning. I'll just cut out the stuff about Helen's train ride into London and her arrival at Baker Street, to speed up getting to Holmes knocking Watson up. I haven't finished the conversion of the old Reminiscences text yet, only getting through Helen waking up and deciding to go see Holmes, with a flashback to a discussion with Mrs. Farintosh a month ago.

I've also been working at the other end of the story, after Roylott has died and the police are investigating, some of which I posted in Part 3 of Reminiscences. I've managed to have Watson comfort Holmes without needing to do a deduction about anything, but it's still only in sketch form (present tense), rather than fully fleshed out.

Hmm, it appears that this Chapter 6 is growing quite large and unwieldy and may need to be split into two or more chapters, though I'm not sure where to draw the dividing line.

Fandom: Sherlock Holmes
Story: partial chapter 6 of DIM
Pairing: Holmes/Watson, Holmes/Helen Stoner
Warnings: hetero, pre-slash

Splash. In the dark room, Helen looked up from the basin of water into the mirror, meeting her own blue eyes even as the water dripped from her eyelashes. She was breathing raggedly from fright, and from her sudden leap out of bed. Still ignoring the chair that she'd knocked aside in her rush, she knelt before the vanity and folded her arms around herself as she shivered. She did not reach for a towel to dry her face, because she wanted the chill sensation on her skin to convince her that she was truly awake now.

It couldn't be. Not that whistle. Not again. Surely it was only a nightmare?

Just then she heard the metallic clang, which nearly made her jump. Oh God. What was that? Why did it sound close by?

Shaking all over, she could not bring herself to turn around and look, so she remained on the floor before the mirror. Her wildly unkempt hair, with its innumerable grey streaks, made her appear like some strange, frantic ghost. And she knew exactly which ghost too. Julia. She could never forget the loss of her twin, or the horrible mystery of her death, still unsolved two years later.

Unable to bear the mirror's image anymore, Helen put her head down on the vanity top and cried, breaking down utterly. Was she going mad? Was this her fault somehow? Her punishment for having been unkind to her sister, for not having listened to her before it was too late? But surely not? God could not be so cruel, to teach Helen a lesson by taking away Julia just before her wedding. Before Julia could live happily at last and enjoy her freedom from Stoke Moran. No, Helen could understand it if Julia had lived and, after some terrible row, shunned her sister after her marriage, but nothing worse than that. Not this monstrosity of a death. No one could deserve that.

Still moaning, Helen finally began to calm down enough to raise her head and dry her tears. Then she reached out and found her timepiece nearby, which she opened softly. Her eyes adjusted to the dim light, and soon she read the time as not long past three in the morning. It gave her a fresh shiver to realise that the time matched that of Julia's scream two years ago.

Finally picking up the chair from the floor, Helen sat down in it and finally turned around to look at the bed. Nothing moved there and all was still in the dead of the night. But she could not brave going back to sleep, so she remained in the chair and hugged her knees close to her. She decided one thing at least: she would not sleep in this room anymore. In the morning she would pack her bags and move to her aunt's house in Harrow.

The dawn arrived with excruciating slowness, and Helen immediately dressed so that she could sneak out of the manor house before anyone else awoke. But then she recalled that the first trains for London would not depart for more than an hour, even if she took the dogcart to Leatherhead right now. Most likely the innkeeper at the Crown wouldn't be awake this early either. So Helen decided to just sneak into her former bedroom and pack her bags to go.

As quietly as she could, she unlocked the massive bolt on her door and then she crept down the curved hallway to her former bedroom on the end of the wing.

As she packed a small bag, she thought over what she would say to Aunt Honoria to explain her sudden departure from Stoke Moran. Honoria would certainly welcome her in, even at this early hour, for she was suspicious of Dr. Roylott too. Even her new friend Mrs. Farintosh agreed, when told the tale of Julia's death.

"How can you let her live with him?" she'd asked with a gasp.

Before Honoria could answer, Helen had protested, stubbornly trying to be rational and unbiased, despite her stepfather's fearsome reputation. "He could not have harmed her. The door was locked and the window bolted. I'm sure of it."

"Might he not have made a duplicate key?"

"Even if he had, I would have heard him open the door and go into the corridor after she screamed. No. He was in his room, and Julia unlocked her door only after I rushed to her. He did not emerge until after that." In fact, at the time, Helen had thought uncharitably that Dr. Roylott should have heard Julia's scream at the same time as she, and should not have been so tardy to investigate.

"But there was a terrible storm that night. Maybe you couldn't hear him over the rain and wind--"

"Please! Please can we not talk of this?" She had no desire to question her hearing once again, as if she had not gone over the night's events a thousand times already.

"Oh! Oh of course." Mrs. Farintosh looked duly contrite for pursuing the dreadful subject on what should be the happy occasion of Helen's engagement party. "I'm so sorry, my dear."

Honoria apologised as well for bringing the subject up. She had asked Helen if she wished to use Julia's wedding dress, which had been saved and never worn. Or would Helen be more comfortable wearing a new dress? Naturally Mrs. Farintosh had asked about Julia and why her dress was never worn. "I should have simply said that Julia passed away, and no more. I'm sorry."

"Thank you." Helen managed to calm down again, and she said awkwardly, "I, um, I should prefer a new dress, though I'm not sure that Stepfather will grant me the money to buy a new one."

"I can buy one for you. Anything you wish dear."

"Thank you."

The conversation then drifted into more innocuous topics, such as how Helen met Percy, and the status of the Armitage family in Crane Water.

However, after the party ended, Mrs. Farintosh took Helen aside. "I am so sorry for before."

"You don't have to apologise again--"

"No, no, but I want to make it up to you, dear. I want to help you."

She looked puzzled and cautious. "Help me?"

"Yes. At least, I know someone who can help you. Sherlock Holmes, a private detective who helped me--"

"A detective?" She shook her head dismissively and tried to go.

"No, please, my dear. Listen to me. Even if your stepfather did not harm Julia at all," Mrs. Farintosh sounded sceptical of this, "don't you still wish to know how she died? If only for your own peace of mind?"

Helen hesitated, then whispered, "Yes. Yes I do. I think that she must have died of fright, but I don't know what she could have seen." What on earth could be the speckled band?

"Exactly, and Mr. Holmes can solve that mystery for you."

Helen scoffed. "He can solve what the police could not?" Not only the village police, but the Surrey county police had been called in, all to no avail.

"Yes, I'm sure of it. That is what he did for me in my case two years ago."

"Two years! But that's just it. Julia's been gone for two years already. The trail is cold. There is no evidence left now. He cannot do it."

"But he can! I'm sure of it. He is amazing. Why if you just met him--"

"It's impossible. You are thinking of some far fetched mystery novel."

Mrs. Farintosh persisted, praising Sherlock Holmes to high heaven, calling him a genius and a miracle worker who had saved her from terrible consequences. She wrote down the man's address and insisted that Helen take it. "Please, if only to humour an old busybody friend of your aunt. Just take it, and I won't say a word more."

Helen reluctantly took the note and put it in her pocket. She had a vague memory that she had heard that odd name "Sherlock Holmes" somewhere before, but could not recall precisely where. So she saved the note and intended to look it up once she got home to Stoke Moran, but she soon forgot.

Recalling that conversation from a month ago, Helen decided to find that note. Luckily, she had not moved most of her things from this room yet, and she was able to find it in one of her books, being used as a bookmark.

Helen still doubted that any detective could solve the mystery of Julia's death, but perhaps he could at least investigate the whistling sound and metallic clang. Both of those were fresh occurrences, so perhaps a private detective could indeed discover some answer. It would ease her mind at least. She could not live with uncertainty for another six weeks until her wedding.

[Helen leaving, but being caught by Roylott, who bruises her wrist; she screams and escapes to the Crown Inn, taking the dogcart to Leatherhead, for a London train. Holmes knocking up Watson. The rest of the SPEC case, then crossing the street to the Crown Inn and reporting Roylott's death. Sleep, then Helen waking up to Tibbs and Holmes. Crossing the street again to see about the snake.]

[Watson/Holmes sketch]

After Holmes finds out that snakes don't drink milk, he returns to the Crown Inn with Miss Stoner and Mr. Tibbs. Mrs. Beale is now awake, and the county inspector is waiting to interview the ladies at the local police station, so Tibbs leaves with them.

Holmes waits alone for Watson to return from his errand.

At last Watson arrives, finding him in distress. "What's wrong?"

"Everything." H explains about his snake blunder, and then babbles miserably that he's solved the case through sheer luck.

"No, Holmes! You've solved this case as you always do. You found all the clues, and interpreted them perfectly."

"Hogwash! My deductions were preposterous. I'm a fool. An idiot who believes in myths."


"I might as well have been looking for a dragon or ogre from a fairy tale!"

"Holmes, stop it!" Watson rushes to him and actually hugs him this time. "You saved her," he said soothingly. "Roylott was trying to kill her, and he was using that snake. You were right."

Holmes leans against his shoulder. "Only by chance. Pure coincidence."

"No, you've got it wrong. It's only by chance that Miss Stoner knows that snakes don't drink milk. Only because this zoologist fellow kept talking about it. Otherwise she wouldn't have known, nor would Roylott. Then Roylott would have failed once the snake died, and he'd have to use some more conventional method. It's only chance that he chose this exotic method. It's only chance that Julia was the first to get engaged, instead of Helen, whose room did not touch his. It's only by chance that Roylott's ventilator wasn't discovered before. No, to me it seems that Roylott's murder plot was based on chance. If anything, you were more extraordinary on this case than normal, because you solved it despite the element of chance. You were wonderful."

Holmes is amazed by how Watson can twist his failure into some kind of success. Strange flattery in his comforting. "But I should have known it myself. I am a scientist. I study poisons, even ones from foreign lands."

"Poisons yes, but what snakes eat is not poison. Holmes, you told me you study only those things that are useful to your profession. When is training a snake going to be useful to you? Everyone else thinks that snakes drink milk, even the natives of India! How are you to have known this obscure fact?"

"I-I suppose you are right," Holmes conceded. "But if I had been wrong--if Roylott had not used a snake, but something else, our vigil could have been disastrous."

"It very nearly was." Watson caressed Holmes's hair. "You shouldn't have risked your life like that. You should have told me. My God, what good could my pistol have done to the snake in the darkness?"

"I lit the match."

"And blinded me, Holmes."

"Oh." Holmes frowned, as he realized why Watson had not responded to his "You see it?" questions. "Another example of my blunders today."


Holmes sat back, and insisted, "It's not just this case, either. Remember how I lost track of Mrs. Sawyer during Jefferson Hope's case? And how I incorrectly assumed that both pills were poison, until the wretched dog wouldn't die?"

"Holmes, how were you to know that Hope would be that fair to his victims?"

"You yourself pointed out to me that my plan to capture Hope by fetching his cab to Baker Street was stupid. It was pure dumb luck that we succeeded."

"No, Holmes. It wasn't dumb luck that you figured out the man's name by telegramming the Cleveland police."

Holmes shakes his head. "My career is based on sheer luck. My methods aren't scientific at all, just wild guesses."

"No, no!" Watson grabbed him again, by the shoulders. "You are a great detective. You are just human, that's all. Humans make mistakes. It's inevitable. But you still solve the cases most of the time. I mean, today we woke up very early, and you were just very tired, especially when you could not nap in the afternoon. You were up until 5 this morning and only had a fitful sleep on the sofa. You just need to rest."

"Do you think so?"

"Yes. Why don't you lie down?"

He sighed. "All right."

"Good." Watson stood up with him and drew back the bedcovers.

Holmes hesitated, however, when he remembered that Miss Stoner had slept part of the night in that bed. He wanted to withdraw to the sitting-room sofa again, but Watson wouldn't hear of it.

"Lie down!"

When Holmes did so, he was relieved to realise that the bed did not smell of Miss Stoner at all. No, since he'd moved her to the other bed, and Watson slept in it, it now smelled of Watson. Holmes sighed and settled down.

"Good night. I mean, good morning." Watson turned out the light and drew the curtains for him, then went to the sitting-room, where he began to write notes on the case and what had happened just now. He'd never seen Holmes so upset and so insecure before. It pleased him to realise that Holmes did need him.

So that's all I've rewritten so far. Right after this, Helen Stoner will be interviewed by the Surrey county police inspector, who has just scolded Tibbs for letting her and Holmes see the crime scene and discuss the case. After telling what she witnessed that night, Helen realises that the county inspector suspects that Holmes and Watson deliberately conspired to murder Dr. Roylott. Helen makes up her elaborate lie about Roylott sleepwalking and being accidentally killed by his secret pet. The inspector finally believes her, and agrees to let her, Mrs. Beale, Holmes, and Watson go.

They leave together for Leatherhead from which they can catch a train to London. (Harrow is north of London, from what I understand, so London would be on the way to Aunt Honoria Westphail's house.) Perhaps on the train Watson will have another opportunity to soothe Holmes and discuss the case.

I'll certainly have to go back to Interlude to put Holmes's full name on his "Book of Life" article.

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