Monday, January 18, 2010

Chapter 8 of DIM

I haven't posted many details about Chapter 8 yet, except as described in my Helen notes, so I'll post a sketch here. This is where we first meet Irene Adler in the book, and Holmes hardly notices her, because he's focused on Helen at the time.

I previously posted a version of this on my Geocities website, but I've added onto it with stuff about Irene Adler and later Percy Armitage. Generally trying to fill in more details from the outline.

I should revise it a little more to include Helen Stoner having a maid or something. Even though she learned to be quite independent in Stoke Moran, it still would not seem very respectable for her to travel to America and rent a house all by herself, let alone have a male guest. Perhaps instead Holmes intended to stay with Hargreave or the Pinkertons, but something or other came up and he took the spare room.

Fandom: Sherlock Holmes
Story: Chapter 8 of DIM
Pairing: Holmes/Helen Stoner
Warnings: G, hetero

Irene Adler and the 1884 visit

How specifically does Irene Adler know the Pinkertons or the police? Did Detective Hargreave arrest her once while she was walking around New York in male costume, and she had to explain herself as practising her role for the opera? Then she just decided to keep dropping by for fun? Or she somehow gets into a regular poker game or something with the policeman and the Pinkertons. This would have to be sometime after Holmes's "missing year in America" in 1874; he would be back in London by the time that Irene Adler joins their group.

Anyway, Irene meets them periodically when not in Europe singing, and Helen Stoner arrives in about 1883-4, after her SPEC case. Then Irene meets the Crown Prince of Bohemia in Warsaw, and they have a brief romance, which Irene soon regrets.

What had made her lose her good sense then, with that Crown Prince? Wilhelm had seemed cynical and utterly amused by the social game that he saw through as well. He treated Irene as worldly wise, but refrained from certain assumptions and from insulting her intelligence. He had been intriguing and original in his manner and his courtship of her, coming to observe her at certain cast rehearsals. He had called her a woman of steel, applauding her fencing skills on the stage. He had arranged a most silly, but lovely photograph of themselves standing together; she was in male costume at the time, but he affectionately kept his arm around her waist all the same. She had thought that she met her true kin in this man, and indulged in the indiscretion of falling in love with him, of all things.

But she hadn't counted on his being cowardly and treacherous. When the matter of the succession to his father's throne came into some dispute, he deferred quite immediately to his advisers who warned of scandal and gossip. Suddenly he became the stern soul of discretion and propriety, packing her and her bags off to parts elsewhere, without a kind goodbye or note of apology. He portrayed himself as entrapped, even planting the seeds of rumour about some supposed attempt of hers at blackmail, to make sure that she would be shunned out of the national opera house and indeed, out of Bohemia. It was a selfishly brutal move that wounded her heart more than anything else he might have done. He had changed, his prior sweetness now overwhelmed by expediency and his arrogant belief that the world revolved around him.

So Irene had fled home to America, and had come upon Helen Stoner's doorstep unexpectedly, suddenly needing support and kindness and womanly friendship as she had truly never needed them before. She felt somewhat ridiculous pounding on that door, when she had known Helen as only an acquaintance previously, part of her social circle in New York.

Helen Stoner was an Englishwoman who had been suffocatingly sheltered all her life, and now that she had independent means, wished to taste some wide and diverse life experiences, even to the dismay of her fiancé back in England. She was surprisingly unsnobby about social class as well, welcoming all sorts into her rented rooms in New York. She came to the circle as a friend to policeman Wilson Hargreave and even some Pinkerton detectives, having received a rather exclusive introduction from a former agent.

Irene had spoken with her politely, but hardly knew her. Certainly not enough to come pounding on her door tonight in this frantic, illogical state. But Helen Stoner it was. Irene tried to stay focused and proud once she realised that she came unexpectedly upon Helen and her visitor. (This proper Englishwoman with a man staying in her house? An odd idea.) But Irene had uncontrollably broken down into tears and apologies, even as she insisted that she would not intrude. Helen would take none of her protests, bringing her inside.

"Holmes, this is Irene," she murmured. Then she asked with a silent look, "Do you mind?" and just as silently he nodded to her request and slipped away, going up the stairs as if fully comfortable and familiar with the house.

Irene and Helen then had a nice long talk, and after her thorough cry, Irene felt better enough to insist again that she would go. Helen protested the lateness of the hour and urged her to stay the night, only yielding finally to Irene's insistence that the sitting-room sofa would do for her. Irene apologised again and asked if she had not been rude to Helen's guest. "Mr--?"

"Holmes," she answered. "The detective I told you of--Sherlock Holmes."

"London Pinkerton," Irene nodded, recalling how Helen had earlier described the man. "Detecting another case?" she ventured.

"No," she said, rather sharply. After an awkward pause, she elaborated, "Visiting, that's all. We have mutual friends in New York and London."

"Oh." Irene watched Helen rise and go fetch some linens and blankets for her. "Helen?"

She did not turn around. "Yes?"

"Am I--Did I interrupt... something?"

Helen stared long and silently into the linen closet. "No." She left it at that.

They made the sofa as a bed and then said good-night. Helen turned out the lights and went up the stairs.

Much later, awake after a fitful sleep, Irene heard the sound of whispers. She crept from the sitting-room and peered out to find the door across the hall ajar. The hearth fire lit and glowing upon them, Helen and her guest sat upon the floor in their night-clothes and dressing gowns, murmuring back and forth.

Irene discerned only that he appeared to be showing her some card game, and meanwhile telling stories of how some Pinkertons had taught it to him long ago. She laughed and happily clapped at each successful turn she played. Even when he won this "admittedly irregular game", she remained amused and dropped her cards with a shrug. She yawned and blinked.

He leaned near and patted her hand softly, murmuring that he kept her too late. She smiled and leaned against his shoulder, returning his caress.

After a pause, he reached up and touched her face very faintly, as though only to brush aside her stray, disordered hair. But he lingered, and they were both silent, almost... expectant, for some moments. His eventual letting go and looking away seemed to explain why they had risked coming downstairs, rather than meet in either's bedroom. There seemed so much more to risk upstairs, than here below.

He only stared into the fire, while Helen stared at him.

Helen decides the next day to tell Holmes that she will end her engagement with Percy, and she kisses him. He at first kisses her back, but pulls away again. He asks what kind of a cunning temptress is she, corrupting him like this? Not satisfied with how many suitors she has already? He brings up Mr. Tibbs and accuses her of manipulating him too on the Roylott case. (Perhaps also some allusion to the "most winning woman I ever knew" who poisoned three children for insurance money.)

She's stunned and hurt, calling him a bastard. He leaves and returns to London early, while she cries. Irene Adler now comforts her and tells Helen, "All men are selfish cowards!"

[Afterward, Wilhelm will try burglarizing Irene's home for the photograph, and she'll ask the Pinkertons for help as bodyguards to prevent her being waylaid and searched. She'll eventually move to England to try to escape Wilhelm too.]

Meanwhile Helen leaves New York for England again. She visits her aunt Honoria first, to confess her heartbreak, and to admit guiltily that she had not loved Percy.

"I know dear. I sensed it when I realized that you were writing letters constantly to that detective, and yet Percy had hardly a word from you. I knew you'd need time to sort things out." Whenever Percy complained to Honoria about the postponed wedding, Honoria told him to be patient, because Helen was effectively mourning Julia's death and their mother's all over again. "She cannot think of marriage now."

Helen realizes that she shouldn't have strung Percy along, when he could have married some other girl by now. So she goes to visit Percy in Crane Water. Apologises and gives him back his engagement ring.

Percy asks why she doesn't love him. Weren't they friends once, and why wasn't that enough?

Helen frowns. "To be honest, it was when you didn't believe me about Julia's death, and dismissed my fears."

Percy says that he was trying to soothe her, to remind her to be rational instead of suspicious like Julia had been. "You and I both used to discuss how Julia was unfairly prejudiced against Dr. Roylott, and I thought that's what you'd want me to keep doing. I'm sorry. How was I to know that your stepfather really was guilty of murder?"

Helen nods and understands him better. She wishes him good luck in finding a new bride, and they part.

She goes to visit the Surrey County police and finds Tibbs promoted there. Seeing her without her engagement ring, he now has enough courage to propose to her. She is flattered and warm but protests that it is too soon. Would seem heartless and callous to Percy. Tibbs agrees to wait, but is happy to know that she does like him and disregards any social class issues. She leaves without changing her story on Roylott's death.

Helen returns to Harrow to discuss her talks with Percy and Tibbs. Writes to Irene also about these and wonders what she wants to do. Ponders contacting Dr. Watson as well.

After some time passes, she returns to inquire whether Tibbs is still interested, or has met some other girl, as Percy has. Tibbs is very interested still, and is even prepared with a ring to propose to her formally.

She's stunned and kisses his cheek again. She warns him that they must get to know each other better, and he nods, clinging to her hand. Still smiling at each other, she agrees to come to his house for tea.

While they sit talking of all that's happened since they last met, she reaches for his hand and asks him to kiss her. He at first kisses just her hand, but she wants more. She is recalling how H reacted to her kiss, and she needs to know that Tibbs's feelings can survive a real kiss. So he moves to the sofa where she sits, and they kiss. She enjoys it and they get carried away, embracing. She asks him to repeat his proposal, so that she can accept it. He does so, and they smile tenderly at each other.

Set the SCAN events five years later in 1889, when the now King of Bohemia becomes obnoxious in his efforts to retrieve the photograph from Irene, who's still nursing a heartache and wounded pride even though Godfrey has been trying to win her affections and her trust, however slowly. After suffering burglaries and such nuisances, she threatens to send the photograph to the King's fiancée, just to spite him. He plays himself off as the victim of her malicious intents, and Holmes and Watson are initially fooled. But their eyes are opened after Irene has fled. Holmes keeps the photo of her and updates his index books, but he doesn't recall his brief personal acquaintance with her.

After SCAN, Holmes opens a letter from Helen about Irene; he had ignored it earlier in his eagerness to share the case with Watson. He writes her back to tell her what has occurred. She answers by confessing her (distant) part in the affair, and apologising. Thus he finally recognises and recalls Irene from the 1884 visit which he has tried so hard to forget.

As for her marriage, Irene disappears to the Continent with Godfrey, then the Nortons fake their deaths to fool the King into abandoning any further pursuit. They tell Helen of this through coded telegrams, and she offers them her name for an alias. So they start new lives on the Continent using the name of Stoner.

Holmes also thinks about how Helen's invisible hand, even now, touches his life. She can correct his errors and faults even after all these years and this long distance. How extraordinary. How... lonely.

More about Helen's engagement to Tibbs is in my previously posted Helen notes, although I did change Holmes's 1890 Reunion with Helen.

Irene does not mean that Holmes is literally a Pinkerton anymore. He used to be, but realized that he didn't want to be a private eye like them, and he returned to England to be a "consulting detective" instead. Still, they taught him useful skills like handling firearms, working with the police, tailing suspects, etc., and he remembers them fondly.

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