For Anne to thank her for all of her support
by J.H. Watson
Mycroft didn’t turn around as his baby brother slipped quietly into the room. A moment later, Sherlock put his little two-year old hands on the table and pulled himself up on tiptoes to peer over the edge. “What?”
“My lesson,” Mycroft said as he checked again to make certain he had everything on the list. He checked off each item lined up in front of him on a tray: a bowl of lemons cut in half by Cook, a box of baking soda, a bottle of dishwashing liquid, a measuring cup, a set of measuring spoons, a smaller measuring cup, and a tall, 12 ounce glass.
“Why?” asked Sherlock, bobbing once as he got tired of standing on tiptoe.
“Because I have to finish this assignment for school.”
Mycroft carefully wrote down the title of the experiment, the date, and the time in his workbook. He then wrote down his name as the researcher. He unconsciously chewed the end of his pencil for a moment as he thought about what to write down next.
“So I’ll get a good grade.”
He glanced at his brother who was now bobbing up and down like a jack-in-the-box.
“Because Mummy and Father want me to.”
“So I can get into Eton or Harrow.”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Sherlock! Stop bobbing up and down!”
“Here. Sit on this chair. Don’t fall off.”
As Mycroft lifted his brother up and sat him down firmly, Sherlock asked, “Why?”
“Because it will hurt.”
“And don’t ask why because you know exactly why. You bang yourself up enough and I’m the one who always gets in trouble for it.” This was true. Sherlock was sporting a small bandage over his right eyebrow where he’d fallen while trying to climb to the top of the dresser to get to Mycroft’s Action Man figure. Mummy chastised Mycroft for not anticipating the consequences of his actions and leaving the figure where Sherlock could see it. Mycroft considered the consequences of Sherlock wandering out of his sight and said, “So just sit there quietly and you can watch me do a chemistry experiment.”
Sherlock put his sharp little elbows on the table, rested his head on his fist, and automatically asked, “Why?”
“So I can study the chemical reaction of mixing an acid and a base.”
Mycroft sighed. “It’ll be fun. Just watch. Here. I’ll even put you down as my assistant.”
Mycroft wrote in his workbook “Assistant: Sherlock Holmes” and showed it to Sherlock who took the workbook in his hands and stared at it hard before giving it back to Mycroft. Then Mycroft very carefully squeezed the juice of two lemon halves into the smaller measuring cup and carefully recorded the amount in his workbook.
“Because as scientists we have to measure and record everything we do.”
“Because we want to be very accurate.”
Mycroft set the lemon juice aside and picked up the baking soda. “Why?”
“So we can repeat the experiment again.”
“So we can be certain that we get the same results every time.”
“So we know it works. Will you just sit there quietly and watch?”
Mycroft set down the baking soda and looked sternly at his little brother. “Do you want me to have to go explain to Mummy that she has to watch you because Nanny is doing your laundry and you won’t let me finish my lessons?”
Sherlock thought that over for roughly thirty seconds before answering, “No.”
“Okay, then just sit there and watch. Quietly.”
Mycroft now measured out eight grams of the baking soda and placed it in the bottom of the tall glass. He methodically recorded the amount and the action. Next, he measured five milliliters of the dishwashing liquid and place it into the tall glass and stirred the baking soda and the dishwashing liquid together.
“Goo,” announced Sherlock.
“Yes, it is gooey,” agreed Mycroft. “We need to make a note of that in our research log.” He meticulously wrote down the steps and the results in his workbook.
“I already told you why. We need to record everything so that we, or someone else, can follow the same steps and get the same results. It’s called the scientific method, Sherlock.”
“Because it’s the scientific way of finding out answers. And don’t ask why,” Mycroft said cutting off his little brother as he opened his mouth. “Just watch and observe.”
Mycroft picked up the measuring cup of lemon juice. “Now we’ve got our base, the baking soda, in our glass. Watch what happens when we add the lemon juice which is an acid.”
Mycroft proceeded to pour all the lemon juice into the glass. The goo at the bottom fizzed up in an eruption of foam, overflowing and running down the outside. Sherlock’s eyes widened and he giggled with delight.
“The baking soda which is the base combines with the acid, in this case our lemon juice, and they release carbon dioxide which is a gas. The soap traps the carbon dioxide which causes it to bubble up.”
“It’s chemistry, Sherlock. Everything in the whole world is made up of chemicals. Chemistry is the science that studies the composition, structure, properties and reaction of the stuff that makes up everything.”
“Yes, even you. Now let me finish writing this up and then I’ll read you a story.”
“To reward you for being good. But—” Mycroft quickly added as his baby brother opened his mouth to ask “Why” again, “if you keep asking me why, I won’t get finished and you won’t get a story.”
Sherlock furrowed his little brow into a scowl and his mouth into a frown, but didn’t say anything. Mycroft bent over his workbook and began studiously writing. He paused to read what he’d written, vigorously erased a paragraph, and hunkered over his paper to re-write the offending words. He then began to draw a picture of his experiment. He looked up to scan the tall glass of foamy soap just as Sherlock was bending over and lifting the glass slightly to his mouth.
But it was too late.
“Ewww!” Sherlock said, dropping the glass the few inches back onto the tabletop where it promptly fell over and the foam flooded the table. Mycroft rescued his workbook with one hand and swept his brother out of the way with the other. He watched in horror as the mess spread and began dripping to the floor. Sherlock was still pressed against Mycroft spitting and making faces, but he was slowly slipping to floor. Mycroft pulled him back farther away from the expanding muck. He set his workbook on a dresser and knelt down to face his brother.
“Never, never, put anything in your mouth that you don’t know is safe to eat. Especially if you don’t know what it is exactly or where it came from. Do you understand?”
Sherlock scrunched up his face and spit again before saying, “Icky! Bad!”
“Yes, it is and it serves you right if you get a tummy ache from it. Did you swallow any?”
Sherlock shook his head, but continued to stick out his tongue and make faces. “Soap.”
“Yes. And lemon juice and baking soda. Come on. Let’s get that taste out of your mouth.” Mycroft took his little brother by the hand and led him to the bathroom. He filled a glass with water and said, “Take a drink and then swish it around your mouth and then spit.” Sherlock looked at him skeptically. “Like this,” Mycroft said before demonstrating the procedure.
Sherlock made a tentative effort in case there was something other than water in the glass and then he seemed to take great delight in the process. Mycroft left him, taking a towel into the other room and cleaning up the spilled experiment. When he returned he found Sherlock had rinsed and spit with greater and greater energy until the water had spilled out of his mouth onto his clothes. Mycroft sighed. Now he needed to clean his little brother.
It took a full thirty minutes before Mycroft could go back to his work. He looked down the hall, but Nanny still hadn’t returned. Mycroft looked back at his brother who was climbing back onto the chair at the table. Mycroft fetched his workbook and another pencil and sat down next to Sherlock.
Sherlock pointed to the remaining lemon halves and said, “Fruit!”
“Yes. They’re lemons.”
“Right. Citrus limonum is its botanical name. Can you say citrus?” Mycroft chewed on the pencil’s eraser as he read over the next assignment. He got up and found a small paintbrush near the art supplies, when he turned around, he saw his brother about to lick a lemon half.
Too late. Sherlock’s face scrunched up in distaste and he looked accusingly at Mycroft. “Uck!”
Mycroft rushed back to the table and took the lemon from Sherlock. “What did I tell you about putting unknown things in your mouth.”
“Fruit. Citrus. Icky.”
“It just needs sugar, Sherlock. But I hope you learned a lesson now. You must stop putting strange things in your mouth. It could be poison and then you’d get sick and possibly die.”
“It could happen, so stop tasting things you don’t know. Okay?”
Sherlock pondered this for a moment before saying, “‘K.”
“Now sit here — quietly — and I’ll show you how to make secret messages.”
Sherlock put his finger to his lips and said, “Shhh.”
“That’s right. Secret.”
“Because sometimes you want to write things that other people can’t see or read.”
“Because you don’t want them to know what you know.”
“Because…” Myrcroft was momentarily stumped. He didn’t know if he could explain that having information that another person didn’t gave you a kind of power. At least not so that Sherlock would understand it. Then again, if Sherlock could understand it, Mycroft wasn’t so certain he wanted his little brother to understand it. Sherlock tended to figure out how to get his own way too often already. So Mycroft said, “Because it’s fun. Here let me show you.”
Mycroft dipped the paintbrush into the lemon juice and very carefully and precisely printed his name on a page in his workbook. “See? That’s my name.” He then repeated the procedure and printed Sherlock’s name. “And there’s your name?”
“You can’t write.”
Sherlock grabbed for the brush, but Mycroft caught his hand and said, “You can’t write. You’ll just make a mess.”
Sherlock crossed his arms in front of his chest and put on his pouty face. Mycroft knew that meant trouble later unless his brother was distracted in some way. He said, “Give me your hand.”
Sherlock simply stared at him and shook his head.
“Sherlock, give me your hand and we’ll put your handprint on a page.”
Sherlock tentatively held out his hand. Mycroft took it and said, “Spread out your fingers.” Then Mycroft gently dipped the palm of Sherock’s hand into the bowl of lemon juice and pressed it against a clean page of his workbook.
“Yes. But what happened to your name?”
Sherlock looked at the page where Mycroft had painted both of their names and his eyes grew wide. “Gone!”
“It’s disappeared so you can’t see it.”
Sherlock stood on his chair and leaned over the workbook, bending closer and closer in his inspection until his nose nearly touched the page. He crinkled his nose as he sniffed. “Lemons.”
“Yes. The lemon juice is still there, but you can’t see it. It’s transparent.”
“Right. And look. Your handprint has disappeared as well.”
Sherlock sniffed the page, looked at Mycroft and said, “Disappeared. Transparent.”
“Correct. But we can make them appear again by using chemistry.”
Sherlock gave his brother a suspicious look. “Science.”
“Right again. All we have to do is apply some heat, like this.” Mycroft picked up his workbook and walked over to the table beside Sherlock’s bed. Sherlock clambered off the chair and followed. Mycroft then took off the lampshade and turned on the lamp. He then held the page of the workbook with the names on it up close to the lightbulb.
After a moment, Sherlock asked, “Why?”
“You’ll see in a minute. Be patient.”
Sherlock gave a dramatic sigh, but said nothing. As the paper heated up, the names began to appear brownish-red against the white paper. Sherlock’s eyes grew large. Mycroft did the same with the next page and soon Sherlock’s handprint faded into view.
Mycroft set down the workbook and began reassembling the lampshade. “The lemon juice is an acid. Wherever the lemon juice touches the paper, the paper becomes thinner and weaker, so it burns more quickly than the paper around it. It’s a chemical reaction to the heat.”
At that moment, Nanny opened the door of the Nursery. She carried a large laundry basket filled with folded clothes and set it on the floor. “Mycroft, please put these away while I go get your tea.”
After Nanny left, Mycroft dragged the heavy basket over to his dresser and began methodically putting away his undergarments and pajamas. His shirts and trousers would arrive neatly pressed and ready to hang in the wardrobe. Next he dragged the laundry basket to his brother’s dresser and started putting away all of Sherlock’s things. Pants neatly rolled and lined up beside the socks which were systematically arranged by color. Shirts and shorts also arranged by color. Just as Mycroft was putting away the last set of pajamas, he heard a splash and looked quickly at the table.
Sherlock teetered on the edge of the chair with his hand inside the bowl of lemon juice. “Sherlock!”
Sherlock looked up startled, lost his balance and fell to the floor with an emphatic crash. Mycroft raced over to see his brother blink once in shock and then open his mouth and say, “Ow!” Mycroft bent down and Sherlock wrapped his arms around Mycroft. Mycroft could feel the sticky, little hands on his neck as he lifted his brother. As he set Sherlock down on his bed, Sherlock began to wail. Great, monstrous tears began to fall down Sherlock’s cheeks and onto Mycroft’s shoulder. Mycroft was rocking his brother and saying, “Shh. Shhh. It’s going to be all right. Let me look at you.” when Father, followed by Mummy, came into the room.
“What’s all this about?” his father asked.
“Sherlock fell off the chair.”
“And what was he doing on the chair?”
Sherlock had stopped crying when his parents came in. Sniffling loudly, he said, “Science.”
“I see. Here.” His father pulled out a huge, white handkerchief and handed it to Sherlock. “Blow.” Sherlock did and offered it back to his father. Mycroft took it and wiped away the tears still on his cheeks before folding it up and putting it in his own pocket.
“And where is Nanny?” asked Mummy.
“Fetching our tea,” answered Mycroft quietly. He knew what was going to come next.
“Then why weren’t you watching your brother?”
“I was putting away the laundry.” With the arm not cradling his brother, Mycroft pointed to the abandoned laundry basket and its lone pair of sleepers.
His father bent down and switched on the Paddington Bear lamp as he said, “Well, little man, let’s see if there’s any damage, shall we?”
Sherlock let go of Mycroft and sat very still as his father peered at his face and ran a hand through Sherlock’s hair. Sherlock winced when their father touched the side of his face as he looked closer. “Yes, you’ve got a bump there alright. I think you might even have a black eye. Did you hurt anything else?”
Sherlock pointed towards his forearm and his father took his hand. “Your hand’s all sticky.”
Mummy sighed. “Mycroft why is your brother always sticky?” Mummy asked.
“Science,” said Sherlock.
A smile played lightly at the corner’s of Mummy’s mouth. She sat down beside Sherlock who promptly slid towards her. Mycroft felt a small pang of jealously. “That’s close enough, dear, until we get you cleaned up. Mycroft go and get two cold, damp wash clothes.”
When Mycroft returned, his mother told Sherlock to hold out his hands and she took one of the wash clothes and quickly wiped them off. “Lie back.” Sherlock did and she placed the second cloth against his bruised temple and said, “You be Mummy’s brave little soldier and hold this. I’ll have Nanny bring you an ice pack.”
As she said this Mycroft became aware of a growing odor like paper burning. Then he saw with horror the small, reddish-brown handprints appearing on the lampshade beside the bed and before he could think what to do, the shade caught fire. It didn’t burst into flames or anything near as dramatic, but a small flame did ignite at the right thumb of the print in the front of the shade. Within a moment Mycroft’s father had snatched up the first wash cloth and extinguished the tiny flame. Next he whipped the shade off the lamp and stared at it.
“Chemical reaction,” said Sherlock.
“Quite,” replied his father. He looked at Mycroft and said, “The lemon juice experiment?”
“Citrus limonum,” Sherlock added.
“Perhaps,” said his mother, “you should start him on something a little less flammable.”
Mycroft’s father looked at his watch in a meaningful way and his mother stood up. “We have to leave for the theatre. Let him rest until Nanny arrives with your tea and then put him to bed early when he’s finished. I’ll let her know to keep an eye out for a possible concussion and call the doctor if there are any symptoms.”
“And Mycroft do try not to kill him. He’s the only brother you’ll ever have.”
Mycroft looked down at his shoes so that Mummy wouldn’t see the pain on his face and said, “Yes, Mummy.”
Mummy then did something Mycroft would never forget. She came over and kissed the top of his head and raised his face with her hand. She looked into his surprised expression and said, “You’re a good boy. I think you’ll make us proud some day.”
As she turned and started out of the room, Sherlock watched her with a frown of disappointment and then turned to glare at Mycroft. Father bent down and patted Sherlock on the head and said, “You get some rest and you’ll be as good as new in the morning. That’s my brave little man.”
After their parents had left the room, Sherlock started to get up.
“You heard what Mummy and Father said. You’re suppose to rest until Nanny gets back.”
Sherlock took the wash cloth he still held in his hand and threw it at his brother. Mycroft sighed, picked it up and said, “You should stay in bed like Father said.”
Mycroft realized Sherlock was in pain when instead of arguing, his brother lay back on the bed, his lower lip trembling, and said nothing. “I’ll go and rinse this in some more cold water and then I’ll come back and read to you. You pick out a book, okay?”
Sherlock nodded, his lip still quivering a bit. He swallowed hard and then reached into the basket of books beside his bed.
Mycroft returned quickly and gave the wash cloth to Sherlock. He climbed upon Sherlock’s bed and adjusted himself so that he sat against the headboard with his legs outstretched in front of him. Sherlock curled up beside him with the newly cold wash cloth pressed against the side of his face.
“Better?” asked Mycroft.
“I’ll read and you can turn the pages, okay.”
“The Story of Babar.” As he read Mycroft pointed to each word so Sherlock would know when to turn the page. “In the great forest a little elephant is born. His name is Babar. His mother loves him very much. She rocks him to sleep with her trunk while singing softly to him.”
Mycroft kept reading and pretended he didn’t know why Sherlock had chosen this particular book, but he was glad Nanny came with tea before the mother elephant was shot. After tea, when Sherlock was tucked into bed, he agreed to let Mycroft switch to Encyclopedia Brown Solves Them All, but only after Mycroft told Sherlock he wouldn’t understand it because it was written for children Mycroft’s age.
They’d only gotten to the second mystery when Sherlock started yawning and fighting to keep his eyes open. Within another ten minutes, Mycroft looked down and saw his brother sound asleep. Gently, so as not to awaken him, Mycroft slid his little brother beneath the covers. Sherlock stirred but didn’t open his eyes. In the glare of the lamp’s bare bulb, Sherlock’s right eye looked puffy. There was a dark blue cast to the skin around and next to it. Combined with the bandage above the eye, Sherlock looked like he’d been in a fight.
Given his little brother’s nature, it was probably prophetic Mycroft thought as he turned off the bedside lamp and went to finish reading his history assignment.
### The End ###