Holmes Boys #5: It’s My Brother’s
By J. H. Watson
~ 3,400 Words
Mycroft Holmes was trying very hard to pretend that he didn’t feel like a complete boob in his riding clothes sitting atop a stocky pony who looked equally uncomfortable. It had not helped that his little brother, Sherlock, giggled uncontrollably whenever he saw Mycroft in the riding habit.
Mummy, of course, looked like perfection in her riding attire. She was slim, lithe, poised, and there was something about the way she held the riding crop, the small gestures she made with it, the way she occasionally twisted the leather in her gloved hands, that caught not only Mycroft’s attention, but the attention of some of the other boys, particularly the older ones. Certainly the other men in attendance followed her with their eyes.
Most of the other women were also slender and poised, but lacked the quiet confidence, the je nais se quoi as Mycroft’s French tutor put it, that Mummy possessed. Mycroft had heard his father say that Mummy had “an aura of power.” Mycroft had decided that it was good thing to have so he was secretly practicing cultivating it. The cultivation might have gone a bit better without his weedy little brother asking him why he looked like he was constipated.
At the moment, Mycroft felt strongly that the only aura he had, or would ever have where sport was concerned, was the funk of boredom — and sweat. A rivulet crept down his cheek from under his helmet. He fought an urge to wipe it away with his coat sleeve.
The other boys and girls wore their inherently silly riding outfits on their slender, taunt frames with a certain nonchalance. They appeared fit, trim, sporty, secure and relaxed. They were veritable poster children for affluence and influence.
Mycroft suspected he looked more like Lady Beatrice “Bunny” Wigglesworth, the plump, pallid younger daughter of the Earl of Hamilton. Bunny never looked liked she was wearing her riding clothes so much as they were wearing her — and she didn’t fit.
Bunny was the only member of a polo mad family who was actually afraid of all things equine, including her squat, little pony. She always looked as miserable as Mycroft felt. The two were invariably paired at the end of the line up and usually ignored by the others.
Mycroft wasn’t afraid of horses, but he didn’t like them much. He didn’t wish them any particular ill. He was perfectly willing to live and let live provided their lives did not connect with his. And he saw no reason why he should torture one for an hour or more twice a week when he could be spending the time on something valuable like reading the Financial Times or John LeCarré. But Mummy was very pleased that he was Bunny’s partner and encouraged Mycroft to be “helpful” and kind.
He didn’t actually need the encouragement. He rather liked Bunny and she was quite possibly the only friend Mycroft had — or might ever have.
Which would have surprised everyone else if they had known, because Bunny was what the adults euphemistically called “intellectually challenged” and the other students simply called dumb. Mycroft, on the other hand was called “intellectually gifted” by the adults and a “know-it-all” by the other children. “Know-it-all” was the kindest and politest term used, usually because there were adults present.
What no one else seemed to understand was that Bunny was always trying her best. She worked at understanding things. And she really appreciated someone taking the time to explain things to her. The other people Mycroft met didn’t seem to even try to use their brains. It drove him mad. Mummy said his brains were his secret weapon and he could use them to get whatever he wanted.
So far his brains hadn’t gotten Mycroft out of the riding lessons.
Mummy wanted him to “rub shoulders” with the sons and daughters of the upper classes and to “fit in” so Mycroft was learning to ride along with assorted other sports as part of his preparation for Eton. Mummy, of course, already knew how to ride. Today was a special parent-child outing so she’d come in her riding togs to renew connections and make new ones.
As usual Mycroft and Lady Beatrice sat together at the end, and a bit apart, from the rest of the students. On occasion, when someone needed help with his or her homework or had a problem that needed solving, Mycroft would suddenly find himself invited to ride alongside his “good friend,” but the friendships lasted as long as the problems. Mummy was right again. Mycroft was learning many valuable lessons in relationships.
Mycroft saw his parents talking with Bunny’s parents. Mummy saw him watching her and gave a nod of her head towards Bunny. Mycroft looked at Bunny who, perched upon the roundest, shortest, laziest pony in the entire United Kingdom, had a sickly smile of terror upon her face.
Mycroft leaned towards her and said, “It will be fine. We’ll go last and take our time.”
Bunny looked at him with such an obvious hero worship, Mycroft blushed. She asked, “Is that your little brother?”
Mycroft glanced back at where their parents stood in conversation. Sherlock saw him and pulled a face. Mycroft replied, “Yes.”
“Is he as smart as you?”
“Oh. It must be hard for him.”
“Why do you think so?”
“No matter how hard you try, you’re never as good.”
Mycroft looked hard at Bunny and saw something he’d never seen before glint behind her expression. “Bunny, do you resent the fact you aren’t as smart as your brother and sister?”
“Sometimes. I used to be a lot. But then I noticed it made things easier. No one expects much from me. Mummy and Daddy are always pushing Babs and Bobbie. No one pushes me.” She looked down at the pony beneath her. “Well, except this.” Then she looked directly at Mycroft and added, “But sometimes I still get mad about being dumb.”
“Because I have to try hard all the time and they don’t have to try hardly at all. And even when I try really hard and they say ‘good job’ or ‘good girl,’ no one really means it.”
“I do. I think you are quite amazing because you try really hard and do your best and the others don’t try much at all.”
“I know. That’s why I like you.” Bunny smiled shyly, tilted her head down and then peeked up at him from under her eyelashes to see how he reacted. Mycroft was suddenly hotter than usual and felt a flush crawl up his face.
“You look stupid. Why are you all red? Are you having a stroke?”
Mycroft looked down to see Sherlock looking up at him from the area beneath his left boot. Father had insisted on Sherlock coming after the last time he’d been left alone with the staff.
Mycroft had been reading a book with young boys who were used as chimney sweeps in the 19th century and Sherlock had gotten it into his head to see if small boys really could climb up chimneys. Sherlock had managed to get about six feet up the flue before Nanny found him missing.
It’d taken a day maid, a team of carpet and upholstery cleaners, a professional chimney sweep and four bathes to clean up the resulting mess. Sherlock had deemed the entire affair a resounding success because not only had he proved that the book was telling the truth about the viability of young boys to become sweeps, but he’d dislodged the desiccated remains of a bat and two starlings which he insisted were to be placed in shoe boxes, carefully labeled with the common and latin names of the contents, and stored in his room for further study after Father called them “specimens.” Mummy declared his clothes beyond redemption and asked Mycroft to try to remember that his little brother appeared to be suggestible.
Mycroft thought it horribly unfair that he was being somehow held responsible since he’d been off at a stupid riding lesson against his will. He couldn’t be held accountable for every dumb idea that came into his little brother’s head! But he said nothing.
Now Mycroft asked Sherlock, “What are you doing here? And where did you get that riding crop?”
“It’s Mummy’s. She let me hold it.”
More likely than not, Sherlock had pinched it Mycroft thought. Sherlock had developed a rather communistic view about other people’s property of late and Mycroft feared what Mummy was going to say when she found out. He scowled down at his little brother and said, “Well, take it back to her.”
Sherlock stepped under the pony’s belly to stand between Mycroft and Bunny. The action spooked Mycroft’s pony. It flicked a hind hoof forward and shifted it’s weight.
“Be careful! Never go under a horse’s belly, Sherlock. It’s dangerous!” Mycroft hissed.
Bunny’s fat pony didn’t like the movement or the sudden appearance of a small, potential predator at its side and shuffled a step sideways. This alarmed poor Bunny who said, “Oh.” She simultaneously tightened her grip on both her hands and her legs which caused the pony to toss his head, take a confused step forward, and tense in anticipation of possibly having to actually engage in exercise. “Oh. Don’t!” Bunny called out.
Mycroft released his reins, reached over, and took a firm grip on the bridle of Bunny’s pony with his right hand. As he turned in his saddle to look over his shoulder, he saw Sherlock lift his arm in a swing and cried out, “Stop!”
But it was too late. The riding crop landed on the pony’s rump with a stinging slap. To its own surprise, as well as everyone else’s, the pony shot off as if running the Grand National. Mycroft was pulled right out his stirrups and off his own pony. He later recalled a sharp snap and a hot pain shooting up his arm, but at that moment he was only aware that Bunny was tipping precariously to her left and his feet were dragging the ground due to the pony’s diminutive size. Mycroft braced Bunny in the saddle with his left hand and dug the heels of his boots into the dirt of the practice arena and allowed all of his weight to sag back. It seemed to take forever but in reality was only a few seconds before the pony, not at all used to making this much effort, slowed to a couple of stumbling steps and then stopped.
Mycroft’s father and Bunny’s mother, Lady Hamilton, reached them a moment before one of the riding school staff. Bunny was quickly assisted to the ground and Lady Hamilton hugged her and began checking if she was alright. But when Mycroft started to remove his hand from the bridle, he stopped, blanched as white as his shirt and fainted. He came to in his father’s arms, surrounded by staring faces. A path was silently clearing for Mummy to advance with a frightened-looking Sherlock trailing her.
“Broken arm,” announced Mycroft’s father.
“Radius,” whispered Sherlock, peeking from behind Mummy.
“What happened?” asked Lord Hamilton.
Mycroft saw Sherlock’s eyes widened with fear, but he stepped out from behind Mummy, swallowed hard twice and started to open his mouth. Bunny jumped in with, “Something startled my pony and he just took off.”
Sherlock glanced towards Bunny who was looking at Mycroft. Mycroft added, “I think it was a Tabanidae.”
“You think the horse was scared by a terrorist?” asked one of the more obnoxious older boys with a snort of derision and rolling his eyes at the other students. Some of them sniggered.
“Tabanidae, not Taliban,” Mycroft replied.
“Tabanidae is a horse-fly, stupid,” Sherlock said.
“Sherlock, don’t be insulting,” Mummy said without looking at her youngest.
Bunny said, “It might have been a bee.”
Mummy looked quickly from Lady Beatrice to Mycroft and back to Lady Beatrice. She gave Mycroft a slight smile. Mycroft felt a knot in his stomach.
“Well, whatever it was, I’m very grateful, young man, that you acted so bravely and saved my daughter from a fall,” Lord Hamilton said, giving Mycroft a pat on the back that made him wince as it shook his arm. “Bunny thinks the world of your son,” Lord Hamilton continued, addressing Father and Mummy. “It’s always Mycroft showed me how to do this and Mycroft told me about that. I swear she knows more about economics than I do.”
Mycroft thought that this was probably true considering Lord Hamilton had lost quite a bit in Equitable Life. But he said nothing. He was afraid if he spoke again it would come out as a scream. He spotted the emergency medical services arriving.
Lord Hamilton continued, “When he’s back on his feet, how about coming out for a visit to our place, Holmes? Bring Mycroft so that Bunny can thank him properly. She’d have taken a header for certain, if he hadn’t hung on.”
“That would be lovely,” Mummy replied. “Mycroft is very fond of Lady Beatrice.” Mummy had answered Lord Hamilton but she was exchanging a look with Lady Hamilton. Mycroft felt the knot in his stomach grow tighter. The paramedics gave Mycroft a shot of something that thankfully put him to sleep.
When he awakened, he found his arm in a cast and sling and Mummy sitting beside him on the exam table. Sherlock sat across on another chair, looking as invisible as he could holding Mycroft’s riding coat and shirt in his lap. Mummy said Father was visiting a man he knew from school who was a surgeon on staff.
Once in the car heading home, Mummy said, “I noticed my riding crop ended up on the backseat floor. Did you put it there, Sherlock?”
A very small voice answered, “Yes.”
“And I also noticed there appeared to be a couple of horse hairs caught in the braiding. If I examine them closely, will they match Lady Beatrice’s pony?”
An even smaller voice replied, “Yes.”
“Do we need to discuss this further?”
The car was filled with silence for a full minute before Mummy said, “Why did you lie about the horse-fly, Mycroft?”
Mummy caught Mycroft’s gaze in the rearview mirror. He said, “I thought it wouldn’t look good if people knew Sherlock caused the accident.”
“So you were protecting the family name.”
Father said, “Good. Protecting the family name is good. Best not get caught lying, though.”
Mother said, “I’m glad you’ve made friends with Lady Beatrice. I gather she doesn’t have many friends.”
Sherlock opened his mouth to say something, but Mycroft reached across with his left hand and tapped his brother on the knee. Sherlock closed his mouth and continued to stare out the side window.
“Then the friendships she makes will be lasting ones,” Mother replied.
Mummy and Father then discussed possible arrangements needed for an upcoming dinner party. Nanny made a great fuss over Mycroft when she saw the cast and an even bigger one when she heard how he’d acquired it. He was put into pajamas (the arm having to be cut open to accommodate the cast), given dinner in bed (which included pudding for once), and told to let Nanny know the moment he needed another painkiller or pillow or anything else (which he took complete advantage of by having her trotting back and forth with everything from tissues to a new lamp, claiming that his current one was too bright and hurt his eyes, but really it was just ugly which hurt his eyes in a different way).
Sherlock had been quiet since the hospital and had eaten his dinner with unusual acquiescence. He’d even offered Mycroft his pudding, but Mycroft said his own was enough. When Nanny went downstairs to her own dinner, Sherlock came over and stood by Mycroft’s bed. After a moment, he asked, “Want anything?”
“Would you get me my book on the desk?”
Sherlock dashed over and back and after handing the book to Mycroft, he remained beside the bed. Mycroft was finding it a bit unnerving, but was rather enjoying a repentant Sherlock. Mycroft attempted to open and read the hardcover book, but try as he might, there was no convenient way to hold it open and turn a page. After a few minutes wrestling with it, he pushed it aside, leaned back, and closed his eyes.
“Want me to read it to you?” Sherlock asked.
At another time, it might have been amusing to Mycroft to see what his two-going-on-three-year old brother would come up with for the biography of Cardinal Richelieu, but tonight Mycroft was too tired and sore. So he said, “Why don’t you read me one of your books?”
He heard Sherlock pad away and return. Mycroft felt his little brother scooch onto the edge of the bed and lean against the headboard. Mycroft kept his eyes shut and his mind opened to whatever story his brother chose to tell about one of his favourite picture books, possibly Where the Wild Things Are or Mr. Archimede’s Bath. Instead he heard, “Peter Pan by jay em bar-rye.”
“The author’s name is pronounced ‘barry’.”
“Oh. Okay. How do you know?”
“I looked it up.”
“Not now, Sherlock. Maybe tomorrow.”
There was a moment of silence and then, “Okay.”
There was the sound of turning pages and then “Chapter one. Peter breaks through. All children, except one, grow up. They soon know that they will grow up, and the way Wendy knew was this…”
Mycroft opened his eyes and saw Sherlock sitting beside him running his fingers over the words as he kept on with, “…One day when she was two years old she was playing in the garden, and she plucked another flower and ran with it to her mother.”
Mycroft interupted, “You can read.”
Sherlock looked at his older brother. “Yes. Reading to you.”
“How did you learn to read?”
“Read some more.”
Sherlock once more began to speak as his index finger glided under the words. “I suppose she must have looked rather delightful for Mrs. Darling put her hand to heart and cried,’Oh, why can’t you remain like this for ever!’”
Mycroft interrupted again. “Why do you run your finger under the words?”
“Because you do.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Yes, you do. Every time you read to me, you run your fingers under the words and when you get to the end of the page, I turn it.”
Mycroft now recalled all the times he’d read his brother to sleep. He had pointed at each word so that Sherlock would know when to turn the page. Apparently, Sherlock had made the connection between the words Mycroft said and the words on the page. And apparently, even the sounds of the letters. Mycroft made mental note to research how this could work in the morning.
“Can you read without using your finger?”
“Okay,” Sherlock said and then continued reading. “This was all that passed between them on the subject, but henceforth Wendy knew that she must grow up. You always know after you are two. Two is the beginning of the end.”
He stopped and looked at Mycroft. Mycroft held his brother’s gaze for several moments before Sherlock said very solemnly, “I’m more than two. I’m almost three.”
“After New Year’s.”
The silence fell between them again. Mycroft was pretty sure Sherlock didn’t really understand how long it was until New Year’s but, after the reading, he wouldn’t have placed a bet on it.
“Will you still be here?”
“Yes. I don’t leave for Eton until I’m thirteen.”
The silence stretched again like a rubber band on a toy plane being twisted tighter and tighter.
The words came out in a very soft whisper, hesitant, like an offering of uncertain value. Sherlock’s expression was intense and questioning. Mycroft fought to control a smile, unknowingly matching his little brother’s knitted brow.
There was a beat, and then Sherlock exhaled like the release of the rubber band, the wind ruffling the tips of Mycroft’s hair.
Mycroft said, “I believe you were reading me a story.”
“You’ll like this one. Nanny says it has crocodiles and Indians and pirates and a duel and a big dog in it.”
Mycroft took the book from Sherlock and opened the front cover to a bookplate saying “Ex Librus” and a neatly printed “Mycroft Holmes.”
He sighed and said, “I know.”
### End ###