Thursday, December 6, 2012

Interlude, revised

This is a revised version of the Interlude from DIM that I posted before. It's a glimpse of Helen Stoner's life in 1881, before she meets Sherlock Holmes and before Julia dies. This version includes a scene with Constable Tibbs.

See the previous Interlude for explanations of Helen's middle name and the backstory about Julia witnessing the death of their butler in India.

Fandom: Sherlock Holmes
Story: part of chapter 4 of DIM, my novel in progress
Pairing: Helen Stoner/Constable Tibbs (original male character)
Warnings: hetero, rated PG

Interlude at Stoke Moran

Roylott Manor, March 4th, 1881

Helen Enid Stoner sat at her table perusing a London magazine sent to her by her aunt in Harrow. Such souvenirs from the outside world were like small treasures in her too narrow existence. Even more precious was having the leisure time to sit and read a magazine, let alone a book. With no servants in their household for years, she and her sister Julia had had to do all the hard labour, from hauling coals and bathwater, to peeling potatoes and scrubbing the floors. Feeling faint sometimes, Helen had to abandon wearing corsets in order to just breathe sufficiently for the manual chores. Julia had also let out the seams in her drab work dresses, but she still opted for corsets and fashionable frocks whenever she went visiting. She refused to live like a lowly servant all the time, and besides, the only possible escape from their drudgery would be to find husbands. Therefore, Julia insisted on maintaining her hour-glass figure, despite their few opportunities to mingle in society. At last, Julia's determination had paid off, and her wedding was only three weeks away.

Fortunately, their stepfather had not objected to the marriage, and in anticipation of Julia leaving, he had hired a new housekeeper. Given Dr. Roylott's poor history with servants, the agency only sent out Mrs. Beale, an old woman who was desperate and foolish enough to take the position. Even if Mrs. Beale could be absent-minded sometimes, Helen would not complain about an extra pair of hands to help with cooking and cleaning.

Luckily there was no one to wait on at the moment, and Helen could finally enjoy her treasure in peace and quiet. What a breath of fresh air to read something from London!

When she found an article called "The Book of Life," she assumed from its title that it would be about philosophy or the natural world. Perhaps a discussion of Darwin's theory of evolution, or even better, a defence of that theory from a religious perspective. But upon reading it, she found instead that it discussed a logical analysis exercised on people's superficial traits. This puzzled her, especially when the author began to wax romantically and poetically.

"So all life is a great chain, the nature of which is known whenever we are shown a single link of it. Like all other arts, the Science of Deduction and Analysis is one which can only be acquired by long and patient study, nor is life long enough to allow any mortal to attain the highest possible perfection in it."

The writing was half scientific and half philosophical, lecturing with an almost a religious fervour. She looked at the author's name, but she had never heard of Sherlock Holmes before.

Meanwhile, in the corridor outside her bedroom, Helen heard the boots of her sister, walking toward the side door, at the end of the wing. Julia had her travel bag with her and was about to leave on another weekend trip to Harrow. She was smartly dressed as usual, and her rakish hat cleverly hid the white patch in her brown 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 magazine 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 saying she was 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 our Indian butler. She never witnessed that death, like I did, and she wanted to believe the best of him. To her, Roylott was still the man who protected us during the Mutiny, and she refused to think that his murderous temper would ever turn against us."

Not that the Indian Mutiny had actually reached Calcutta, where they lived, but there had been uncertainty for a time, and horrifying rumours of atrocities against women and children. Even though he wasn't a soldier, Grimesby Roylott's already fierce reputation was a reassuring thought to their mother in 1857. The twins had been six at the time, and little understood such frightening events. But they learned much when they grew older and their mother insisted on testifying to Roylott's character during his murder trial.

Julia sighed and shook her head at the memory. "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 hanged for the murder of their Indian butler.

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 spoke 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 this 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 within days. 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 romantic 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. 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 toiling away in this crumbling mansion? Trapped on these grounds by the gypsies and the horrible animals? Surrounded by the gossip in the village? It doesn't have to be this way, Helen. 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 snapped the watch closed. She looked mortified. "No!"

Julia grinned with 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 could easily guess at the reason for Helen's 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 didn't stop us from becoming indentured servants, did it? Class didn't stop Dr. Roylott from befriending those horrid gypsies, and running off our civilized neighbours. You needn't worry about the constable's income, either, since we each have an inheritance from mother."

"You make it sound so mercenary."

"It's not mercenary if he makes you happy," she insisted. "Just talk to the man, Helen. Go out 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 retrieved 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 magazine article and wondered again why the over-dramatic author had not simply called his article "The Science of Deduction and Analysis."

When Constable Tibbs did come by, he startled her with his knock on the open window shutters.

"I'm sorry, Miss Stoner." He looked in through the window, while holding onto his bicycle. "I just wanted to see if you was all right here, what with the doctor away and now your sister gone on the train."

She caught her breath and tried not to remember Julia's remarks about the constable. "I-I am well, thank you. I still have the housekeeper, Mrs. Beale, here." She would not meet his eyes.

"Yes, how is your new housekeeper?" He leaned over her window sill, since she still would not come nearer to speak to him. "Not going to run away like the last one?"

"No I don't think so," she replied. "Dr. Roylott has left with both the gypsies and animals, to give me a chance to 'break in' Mrs. Beale, I suppose."

"But it is not right that he should leave you ladies alone and defenceless, without a man around. Especially with those breaches in your park wall." Although that was why he was able to get into the estate despite the locked gate.

"I-I do not feel unsafe, as long as the animals are gone."

"The villagers feel the same way," he said. "So, is Dr. Roylott going to keep his promise this time, to have the wall repaired?"

"Yes, he said he is going to hire some builders and make several improvements to both the wall and the house."

"What about cages for his animals?"

"He says that the gypsies will now keep them during the day. When he returns, he is going to train the animals to stay within the grounds, and only roam at night, so that the villagers won't see them. The cheetah is very obedient so far, and no longer tries to chase the monkey up the trees."

"Well, that is good. You and your sister will be safer."

"Yes. Then we shall only have to lock ourselves in at night, and can walk the grounds more freely in the day."

"Perhaps you can come into the village more." He smiled. "We should like to see you."

She blushed slightly, knowing that he did not mean "we."

He ventured more boldly, "Miss Stoner, since you shall be alone this weekend, would you and Mrs. Beale care to come to dinner with my family? My mother makes an excellent stew."

Helen became shy again, and glanced away. "Oh, that is very kind, but I-I think I would prefer to stay home and catch up on my reading." She picked up her magazine again to hide behind it.

Constable Tibbs worried that he had made his family sound too humble by mentioning stew. He glanced at her and changed the subject. "What is it you're reading there, Miss?"

"Oh this?" She relaxed and finally left the table to come show him the article.

He glanced it over and found it quite curious. "Another philosopher for you?" She had taken to reading the works of Immanuel Kant and David Hume lately.

Helen shrugged. "I am not sure what he is. This reasoning that he calls deduction seems to me to be what Hume calls induction, making a series of observations and then inferring a new claim based on them. Hume says that the problem of induction is assuming that all your conclusions are correct, instead of merely probable. One cannot establish a universal truth from a series of specific instances, because the past cannot predict the future. Such logic is circular reasoning."

They talked slightly more about other books she had read, until the constable could no longer struggle to understand her. Giving back the magazine, he said he ought to return to his rounds, and she said that she should go check on Mrs. Beale in the kitchen. So he tipped his hat to her and got on his bicycle again. He rode away, thinking that he must find some way to be worthy of her.

(end of chapter)

The bits about philosophy come from my reading both online and in a college textbook I bought, so my grasp of such concepts is elementary at best. I might have to go back and change the philosophical terms that she's using, and I'm still not sure of the difference between deductive reasoning and inductive reasoning. I still remember my head hurting when I read a book on semiotics and Sherlock Holmes. I almost regret making Helen Stoner a fan of philosophy. As a Christian character, I'm not sure how Helen would react to David Hume's agnostic beliefs either.

Perhaps instead she should read more escapist literature, and I should focus instead on the drudgery she did in the house despite her social class? (I've learned in my reading about Victorian life that male servants were luxuries for the very rich, and that daily household chores were done by female servants.) But then she'd be too much like Julia.

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