Femme Friday: Lady Hilda Trelawney Hope
Lady Hilda Trelawney Hope, apparently the “most lovely woman in London” in addition to being one hell of a Secret Agent Super Spy, might not at first blush seem the perfect choice for a Femme Friday. After all, Lady Hilda steals the impolitic diplomatic letter left in her husband’s charge with apparently no greater trouble than if she had been rifling through his loose change to run down the corner store and pick up some cigarettes. She is one of two criminals in “The Second Stain,” she the thief and Eduardo Lucas the blackmailer who compels her to theft; but I would argue that she is one of the most formidable women in sixty tales, and in my headcanon, every month or so she goes out for three-martini lunches with the unnamed woman who turned Charles Augustus Milverton into Swiss cheese.
We meet her in high Watsonian fashion, with our good doctor waxing still more than usually poetic over Lady Hilda’s “subtle, delicate charm” and the “beautiful colouring of that exquisite head,” and her “queenly presence,” which was “tall, graceful, and intensely womanly.” (My new goal in life is for my presence to be “intensely womanly,” which I wonder quite how best to accomplish short of wearing my ovaries as epaulettes.) While Watson adjusts his trousers discreetly, Holmes treats his unexpected visitor with remarkable courtesy—no, he says, he cannot reveal the full import of her husband Trelawney Hope’s visit, but the missing material could well cause Hope’s political career, if not all of Europe, to go tits up.
Lady Hilda is sincere and persuasive; though terrified, she is poised and composed. She cleverly chooses the one chair in the room which will afford her privacy by lighting her from the back, and after Holmes gives his regretful denials, she neither berates him nor even disagrees with his principles. All told, it is a curious interview indeed for a noblewoman in desperate straits to carry on with a Bohemian hired detective, and both parties treat each other with considerable respect.
It is not until Holmes and Watson are invited to the murdered Eduardo Lucas’s crime scene by a delightfully warm Lestrade that we learn Lady Hilda is a full metal badass in combat boots. After being told that Trelawney Hope could be ruined, Lady Hilda—whose only thought was for her husband in the first place, as she was convinced the “foolish letter, a letter of an impulsive, loving girl” would be in her husband’s eyes “criminal” if revealed—promptly decides to don a disguise, create a secret identity as a typist with a taste for gore, and wheedle her way into the room where the letter was hidden. She next pretends to faint in front of the constable, thereby easily ridding herself of him, steals her own letter back, dusts her hands and mucks up the placement of the carpet, and is off home again before you can say “ninja.” One wonders where women of the peerage learn such sweet moves.
What troubles me most about this whole scenario is how obviously Lady Hilda loves her husband and how much she is willing to sacrifice for him when this Trelawney chappie is, let us be real here, kind of a power tool. First off, his name is “Trelawney.” Second, it’s certainly reasonable for a diplomat dealing with scads of sensitive information to neglect to confide in his wife high matters of state; but the way he completely dismisses her from that aspect of his life is disappointing to anyone who has ever watched “House of Cards.” Finally, Lady Hilda is so certain that he would reject her upon learning of her past that I feel confident in labeling him an asshat. Lady Hilda is being alternately ignored and abused by the men in this story, and despite the direness of her situation, she navigates all with intentions fully rooted in loyalty and love.
When Holmes confronts Lady Hilda about the theft, she rebuffs him completely—not once, but six times in a goddamn row. This is Sherlock Holmes we’re talking about here—you know, that fella whose orders are almost impossible to ignore? Fortunately, Lady Hilda at last decides to enlist Holmes’s help, seeing as Sherlock Holmes thinks about as highly of blackmailers as he does chigger bites. After Holmes arranges for the letter to magically reappear and this Trelawney sap scampers off like a rabbit to show it to the wife he just ordered out of the room, all is well again, and one supposes that this mental banana peel will never imagine his spouse has a knack for international espionage. As for Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson—they sure as hell is toasty know better.
Lyndsay Faye is the author of several novels, has been translated into 13 languages, but remains in love with English. You can find out more about them at lyndsayfaye.com & poke her on twitter @LyndsayFaye.
BSB Lyndsay, ASH “The Fascinating Daughter of a California Millionaire,” BSI “Kitty Winter.”