I am not the right man for this.
I am acutely aware of that.
While, unlike my brother, I have some grasp of what are considered ‘common human decencies,’ I’ve been left in no doubt that I am terrible at them. I am for formalities: I can tell a prime minister that his government will fall in less than three months but more than one, and he should be preparing for it. I can tell generals that they are relieved of command. I’ve told a mother-in-law that her son’s wife has been in a fatal car accident, with someone to whom she was not married. For all of these, I was the perfect messenger: a tone of perfect calm and reason in a really good suit, a message in an almost transparent medium. None of them would expect (or welcome) my attempt at comfort.
I am not prepared to tell Martha Hudson that Sherlock is dead.
I might possibly be someone who could tell her John Watson was in hospital; his condition, though worse than anyone intended, is not serious. Not his physical condition, at least. Watson would have been a better messenger than I. He lives on the edge of his skin, emotions and concerns passing over him and informing him in a way I cannot understand my brother’s tolerating. He might know what to say. He might actually know how she feels.
I don't need to know in so much detail.
Anthea has informed me that Mrs. Hudson’s neighbour, her closest friend, is in Bournemouth. “I think Mrs. Turner will have to cut her holiday short,” I suggest to one of the people in the room immediately adjoining my office. “She’s 81; please exercise as much care as you can summon in extracting her.”
I’m sending Lancelyn-Greene; at least Mrs. Turner will have something attractive to look at on her way home. It’s still early; my brother’s fall was only six hours ago, and though she may wonder, in a regular, fussy sort of way, where her tenants are, she won’t become severely worried until after tea.
Until it hits the television, and the newspapers, as it will. I can slow the news media to a crawl for long enough for Roger to reach Bournemouth, but not much longer. I can’t keep the reporters from her door for much more time than that, either. And Sherlock’s death is not the only matter in my hands by any means (Pakistan, as usual; Spain…), but it seems it will use most of my time today.
I thank God our mother did not live to deal with this; no, to be honest: that she did not live long enough for me to have to deal with her about this. I’ll have to call the cousins, I suppose, including the Essex ones next in line for the house. Sherlock detested them, it’s one thing we agreed upon. Not too late to have a child, is it? I wonder if I can adopt someone secretly.
Being the last of one’s family focusses one’s mind very strangely.
My solicitor will expect me to change my will, but there are already clauses for my brother’s predeceasing me. It will do well enough. I wonder when Sherlock last had one drawn up.
Funeral. Solicitor. Caterer. How does anyone with actual working hours deal with a death? Relatives, I suppose, and friends. I speak briefly to Anthea; Sherlock’s will appears in my in-box almost at once. And his bank statement. Waiting for probate is for other people. The tax situation is going to be a Gordian knot; we’ll have to see how long we can stall having to undertake it.
He’s done a reasonable job of things there. More sentimental than I would have expected, and more recent: three weeks ago. The family money comes back to me, of course, with a private note to make sure as little ends up with the Essex relatives as is consonant with maintaining the house. Some charitable bequests. Dr. Watson is not going to need to practice medicine any longer. I’m sure he’ll take that well. And Martha Hudson; he must have cared for her more even than I thought.
This is going to be dreadful.
Leaving my office (again; I spent the early morning at St. Bart’s) is like leaving a cocoon. A very busy one. Perhaps an anthill, but quieter, and not full of communication pheromone (certainly an advantage). In any case, in all cases, it is an orderly place where the natural tendencies of people to talk and balk have been retrained. I cannot understand why Sherlock, whose dislikes and mine are otherwise so similar, loathed even visiting. He thought I liked the control I have there; he never saw that it was not only the control I value, but the calm.
It’s a place where the unspeakable is dispassionately considered and so, to whatever extent we can, it is disarmed. No one calls me a freak (would it really be such a bad thing to have Sally Donovan killed? Slippery slope be damned) or demands I put aside rational engagement of the difficulty at hand to spare anyone’s feelings. I know he wasn’t confident in negotiating the outside world; it hindered his work, it actually distressed him; and it is caring what other people think of you that is the real disadvantage.
At the office, success is the only standard for admiration. People know me to be competent; my position has been well-earned. If Sherlock had cared even to modulate his scorn for people who couldn’t keep up, he would have earned respect and position as well. And done a great deal more good than he did in his pursuit of tawdry, private, small-scale criminals.
Though no one could accuse James Moriarty of being any of those. And John Watson’s will not be the only voice calling my treatment of him incompetent.
The day is turning out to be one of the loveliest this summer; the clouds of the earlier morning have burned off and revealed a sky of endless blue. I fear it will linger in my memory like the blue skies over Manhattan a decade ago. I haven’t had to see the tapes of Sherlock’s fall onscreen in an endless repeat. Only once, enough to know the scene will haunt my dreams. Only one man falling, this time; the one lying on the rooftop doesn’t show, doesn’t count.
We’ve arrived. I send the car away, knock on the door of 221b. Mrs. Hudson opens it, speaking on her mobile phone. “—Nothing like that, Elsie—“ she sees me, and stops. The confusion on her face clears into frozen pallor. “Oh. Wait a minute, dear —“she moves the phone aside. No greeting. “Did you send someone to bring my neighbour back?”
“Yes, Mrs. Hudson.” She understands all of this without a word.
“Elsie? I think I would like it if you came back with him. No, I don’t, but I’ll tell you when you get here. It isn’t good news. No. Thank you, dear, thank you so much. See you soon.” She ends the call, steps aside, and opens the door wider. Her lips shape the word “Tea?”
She precedes me to the kitchen and makes the familiar motions, still not speaking. Not really old enough to remember the Blitz, but she must have grown up hearing about it, surrounded by people who formed the legend of the indomitable Londoner. She pours water into the pot and straightens herself against the counter, her back to me. “All right. What’s happened?”
Is there any easy way to do this, that someone who was good at caring about people could do well? “Dr. Watson’s had a nasty knock on the head; he’s in hospital for a few days, perhaps, but he’ll be all right.”
She brings mugs, milk jug and sugar, tea pot to the table, and sits down; I sit across from her. She pours for us both, hesitates, gives herself two sugars. “And Sherlock?”
“I am so sorry, Mrs. Hudson.” I think that’s the formula. It comes truly enough from my mouth.
Her eyes cast down, close. Perhaps if she can’t see me, her grief is private. But I could see her start to mourn the moment she saw my face at the door. After a few seconds she tries to sip at her tea; the cup rattles once as she puts it down. Her hands on either side of her face, holding it together, not covering. She inhales, half a sob. Before I can provide my handkerchief she’s pulled hers out — folded almost as cleanly as my own, with a crocheted lace edge as old, perhaps, as she is. She shakes it open, sits just pulling it through her fingers. Nothing so messy as tears, for now.
“That dear, daft boy… I thought, I knew he’d never make old bones.”
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old
“What happened?” she asks, much sooner than I would have expected.
I can’t tell her the words as baldly as they were told me. “He fell from a height, Mrs. Hudson; from the roof of St. Bart’s Hospital.”
“It was quick, then. They say that’s good.”
Was it? Did the time he took to fall slow down for him, as it seems to do in a accident? Did he have time to know what had happened, would happen?
“The newspapers are going to say a lot of things, Mrs. Hudson. They will say he jumped, deliberately.” And he did, of course, but no need for her to have to deal with that straightaway. “I can’t say exactly what happened, but it was more complicated than that.” Can’t say, won’t say, can’t say…
“Was John—was Dr. Watson there?”
“He was nearby. He saw my brother fall. He was hit by a cyclist as he went to, to help.” Really, that cannot be why he rushed toward Sherlock. There is no help for someone who falls from that height onto concrete.
“I saw him this morning — he thought something was wrong here but then he dashed away again.”
“It wasn’t long after that. I didn’t want you to have to hear this from the television.”
“And you’ve sent someone to fetch back Mrs. Turner. That was,” she pauses, “rather thoughtful of you.” She means that it would have amazed Sherlock. But details are important, and killing off his landlady through inattention would be… wasteful. “How are you doing, dear?”
She would ask. She has just lost someone we believe she loved as a son, and she’s asking about me. Despite a reality that’s been in everyone’s lives since Cain and Abel, no one would say Sherlock and I love one another ‘like brothers.’ “I don’t really know,” I say. “It’s a shock, of course, though… like you, I know he’s lived on the edge for much too long.”
“I had such hopes of Dr. Watson’s being able to calm him down a little…so did he, of course.”
My brother had hopes of Dr. Watson?
“I mean, so did Dr. Watson hope to calm him down a little,” she clarifies. “‘Tame him,’ he said, ‘not domesticate him.’”
I had thought Dr. Watson had more sense, but he has had not my years of experience. “I can’t see anyone having been able to do that.”
“He was eating more. Playing violin in the night a bit less. I shall miss that; it annoyed some of the neighbours but I thought it was lovely… You said Dr. Watson was in hospital? Where? What happened to him?”
He was running across a street to Sherlock’s broken body— “He was crossing the street in front of the hospital and a cyclist drove into him; he hit his head on the ground. He passed out almost at once; the nearest A&E is at the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel. One of his friends on the staff went with him; I believe he’s called Dr. Watson’s sister.” I know that Harriet Watson is there already, in fact. I wonder what effect this will have on her latest attempt at sobriety.
We drink our tea in silence. Mrs. Hudson sighs. “What happens now?”
“I’m afraid you’re going to have reporters here in a little while. You might want to take Mrs. Turner and go back to Bournemouth.”
“No,” she answers without hesitation. “We’ve had them before, often enough. And, Mycroft, I know what you’re talking about. Sherlock gets all the papers; I’ve seen that pack of lies in _The Sun_, I thought might be what Dr. Watson was dashing home about. Do you know if Sherlock saw it?”
“I fear he did.” I thought the worst part of this was over, but no. “It seems possible that that— that the story — he may not have fallen by accident.”
“No,” she says, but without the conviction of a moment ago. “No, he wouldn’t —, he would never —. He didn’t.”
“I know, but… that’s the impression he seems to have left behind.” Now I have hurt this unflagging old woman; I may as well have gut-punched her myself. But she shakes out of it quickly.
Her hands are fluttering, she’s walking around the kitchen hardly looking at her surroundings. “No,” she says, simply, strongly. “Take me to Dr. Watson. You can have your pretty young man bring Mrs. Turner to me there, can’t you?”
“Yes, of course, but he’s likely to be —incapacitated for the next day or so—“
“If he’s awake at all, I want to be there. His sister and Sherlock didn’t get on, that’s the last thing John needs.“
Disregarding me, she darts out of the room to comb her hair and fetch her coat and bag; then she changes her mind on the way out and goes up the seventeen stairs to John and Sherlock’s rooms, unlocks the door. “He’ll need clothes; can you unplug his computer?”
She knows her way around his laundry. I put John’s laptop into the bag on his chair, with the charger.
Sherlock’s computer is in the kitchen, next to some experiment he won’t be finishing. Closing the lid is like closing my brother’s eyes, somehow. Whatever else I know and feel, it’s a blow.
We— I come from a cadet branch of a cadet branch. Our home in Sussex is large and inconvenient and outdated by most reasonable standards, but the National Trust will be delighted to have it (in surely no more than another generation). It doesn’t leak much; the furnaces are capable for their age; perhaps slightly less than half a million pounds would make it energy-efficient and ecologically sustainable. A different younger brother would have been delighted to lay out the grounds in permaculture gardens. A different older brother might have looked forward to doing so in his retirement. I know my mother felt it was haunted by my father’s parents. I haven’t spent longer than two (interminable) weeks in it at a time since I was eleven. I don’t quite understand how generations of country squires spawned two such urbanites as my brother and I, even with the inflow of Parisian genes. But in any case, we are not quite the largest house near to the village, and we lack a chapel and a graveyard of our own.
It would be much easier if we did; I could persuade the holder of the benefice to my way of thinking more easily if it lay in my gift. As it is, the vicar says we certainly cannot have a burial on a day’s notice. I wonder if they need to publish banns —‘any just cause why Sherlock Holmes should not be laid to rest?’ but this is obviously the rambling of a guilty mind.
Mrs. Hudson is not pleased at all that I have no intention of waiting for Dr. Watson to be recovered enough to attend, but the shrillness of the press has made her understand some of the reasons for my haste— the sooner my brother is to be buried, the less likely they will find out about it.
I should have stuck up for a grave in Highgate, but Sherlock’s will is inconveniently precise. It would not be unrealistic to believe he did that on purpose.
The vicar also expects us to have a church service. If Anthea did not agree with him … but she and Mrs. Hudson have determined that this is where they will take their stand.
Anthea takes me aside to ask whether I would really prefer a non-denominational gathering in a plasterboard hall painted beige with IKEA furnishings and a recording of ‘A Day in the Life,’ to one in a five hundred year-old stone building with stained glass memorials to the Great War and something for people to sing that scans. I suppose there is no choice.
She asks me whether there is a way to demonstrate the laws of motion or thermodynamics so as to encourage people to go on in the face of the their losses and their own eventual death. I explain that although thermodynamics has a great deal to do with life and death, science is not concerned with either state in individuals. She thanks me for demonstrating the separation of the non-overlapping magisteria so clearly.
The mark of a good administrator is finding people to complement one’s own weaknesses.
In the event of my own death, I shall arrange to elope. Possibly something along the lines of rumoured retirement in the Canadian North. No one should be put through this labyrinth of ritual, hypocrisy, and social convention. To my nearly certain knowledge, Sherlock last made any pretence of religious devotion sometime in the Lower Sixth form (around the time he discovered tobacco). Neither of us even bother to take the Lord’s name in vain. Even in aid of some kind of cultural heterogeneity (a boat whose sailing is not unlamented but surely long past)…
Arguing with a pastorally inept priest about the ‘Christian’ treatment of suicides is a new low on a list that includes ransoming children from warlords and cleaning up lethally infectious bacterial agents.
He gives me a list of groups for those coping with a suicide in the family. He is having difficulty comprehending my lack of ‘denial.’
If Pakistan goes completely to hell I shall blame my brother. And Anthea. The vicar now believes she is my wife, or some contemporary equivalent. This may, in fact, be accurate. Given the state of the marriages I know of, it would be better than most.
Detective Inspector Lestrade flatly refuses to contribute a eulogy. He tells me that he will discuss my brother any time over real ale at a pub, but he does not feel he can or should make any public statement. With difficulty, I remind myself that these are not grounds to make sure the enquiry into his professional conduct goes badly.
He will, however, read from Scripture. Would I mind if he redacts the passage so as to have more appropriate context for Sherlock’s life? The concept of departing even slightly from the suggested script will give the vicar hives. I accept Inspector Lestrade’s condition with alacrity.
The psalm will be sung by the local choir, and therefore completely unintelligible.
Dr. Molly Hooper, apprehensive to hear my voice on the telephone, is entirely willing to read a passage of first-century apocalyptic prophecy.
The city editor of _The Independent_ will read a piece recalling Sherlock’s contributions to the life and safety of Greater London. Eulogy solved. Mrs. Hudson admits that that paper’s coverage has been fair and tasteful, so he’ll be safe coming to the church.
The kitchen of the family house has been condemned as unusable by the caterers; we shall not be able to bake the funeral meats at home.
I am envious of Dr. Watson’s Ativan-fuelled indisposition.
Two days is not really enough time to prepare for a funeral. At least we shall not have to wear matching colours.
Deliver us not into the bitterness of eternal death.
I wonder whether any of those assembled actually believe in the doctrine of the resurrection, whether of Jesus alone or with any application to themselves. Whether anyone is actually comforted by the promise of supernatural companionship, even when it’s stated explicitly that it may not do them any earthly good. Whether any entreaty on our part would have the slightest effect on an almighty God.
It certainly doesn’t stop anyone from acting as though it will.
Redeem our failure. Bind up the wounds of past mistakes. Transform our guilt to active love and by your forgiveness make us whole.
Ritual is a powerful force upon a willing group. The liturgy of royalty binds the nation together even if the individuals are staunch republicans. But disbelieving in Divine Right doesn’t make Elizabeth II disappear; going through the motions of believing in God ought not to have much effect on events either way. Possibly it’s not the pretence of believing in God that makes a difference, so much as of believing we are part of a community, of admitting our common mortality. Of agreeing, in however stylised a fashion, that we don’t like it.
Possibly it’s been so long since I last heard ‘To Be a Pilgrim’ that I am paying arrears of emotional debt.
I wear a wire. The angle of the camera will prevent posterity from knowing that Anthea and Mrs. Hudson are holding my hands.
In the face of death we discover how many things are still undone, how much might have been done otherwise. An understatement of heroic proportion.
Some comfort comes from simply knowing one is passing through the stages of bereavement, surely: not so much ‘denial, anger, bargaining and acceptance’ as ‘apprehension, inconvenience, accommodation, and survival.’ I feel distinctly better once we leave the church, impatient during the actual interment, and nearly despairing during the reception afterward.
I am told it was a lovely funeral; someone nearby replies that that is a contradiction in terms. I will promote her.
“You can come out,” I tell him. The house is empty; we sit in the library, with a fire despite the fading sunlight outside. Cold house. He’s been staying in my rooms; I rarely spend time here, but it’s secure, with internet and darknet capabilities he would never have been able to use on Baker Street. It’s been less than 72 hours since his death; his knee is beginning to improve and his shoulder would be better, if he actually were to rest it. I was relieved when the first exhilaration of his fall wore off; I have not seen much of him since that first day. The fact that he has not abused any of the painkillers is remarkable; it seems possible that, on some level, my brother is growing up. A pity it’s so late. He seems to have spent most of the time sleeping, when he’s not trying to fathom my department’s reports on Moriarty’s organisation. They aren’t good news. His tracks were not easy to follow when he was alive.
“You look tired, Mycroft.”
“Being dead was certainly easier than surviving you. I had to make conversation for the better part of four hours and Anthea refused to let me have unwatered Scotch.”
“You shouldn’t have invited so many people.”
“Once the Palace became involved a number of things were out of my hands. Give me the bottle now, please.” I wonder if, in fact, I would not rather have a cup of tea. Socialisation by Mrs. Hudson is a powerful force. “What are you waiting for?”
He looks concerned. “Permission to leave, but I’m resigned to your pet medico keeping me here another 48 hours. What else?”
“I was expecting more criticism about the way I handled your funeral.”
“It seemed rather more Christian than necessary, but on the whole… I quite liked the reading Lestrade did. Not just the usual portion of that chapter.”
I would glare, but I am too tired. “When did you become familiar with the Wisdom of Solomon?”
“Police funerals. Client funerals. Homeless network funerals. A very occasional wedding. I regard them as anthropological expeditions.”
“I’ve spent the last three days telling the very few people who would listen that you hadn’t been to church since you left school.”
“And Mrs Hudson drags John and me to Lessons and Carols on Christmas Eve. Drags me, I should say. John enjoys it. Is he still in hospital?”
“I thought it would be best.”
This temperate ghost of my brother doesn’t show his teeth. I _have_ been high-handed. Not to incur Sherlock’s resentment feels wrong. He seems… not penitent, exactly, but considerate. Rather as though he were aware I had just buried my brother.
He pours himself a very small whiskey, showing respect for the anti-inflammatories in his system, and sits down in the chair across from me. “No one demanded a look inside the coffin?”
“No. James Moriarty was left in peace. I hope he enjoys the wreaths.”
“And a much better funeral than he deserved. Than I deserved, either. You did me proud, Mycroft.”
“Mrs. Hudson and Anthea did you proud. And the piece from _The Independent_ was laudatory without being fulsome. It will be printed tomorrow.”
“You cried during the hymn.”
What does he expect me to say? “Social cues are very hard to ignore. And ‘crying’ is an exaggeration.”
He allows me to evade this one direct hit. “I will try to make this death worth the trouble.”
“It came upon us sooner than I had planned.”
“A proper death, then.”
“And the sooner we can stop calling it that—“
“You despise euphemism.”
“It sounds more final than it actually is.” A remark much more like our usual fencing. “I fear your journey through the underworld is just beginning. And you’ll have to be your own psychopomp; I’ll give you what help I can, but …”
“I know. We have been making a series of partially planned reactions for the past two years; this is our chance to take the initiative. Without Moriarty’s own guidance—“
“We may not be able to trace his network at all.”
“I think I can,” Sherlock says.
“Your life depends upon it,” I say. It’s more true than I care to admit, than I have cared to admit, than any emotions I have shown or felt have been able to convey.
“It’s my life,” Sherlock says.
“There was a church full of people who disagreed, and I don’t know how many more who would have been there had they known. Or,” I add, completely unkindly, “if I had not had them drugged.”
For a moment this gravely polite Sherlock disappears into the snarling ingrate to whom I am accustomed. Some topics are not open to discussion, even in this new truce his death has brought about. Alcohol, exhaustion, sorrow — I have buried my brother, whether he yet lives or not, and both of us know it has cost me — I reach across to lay my hand on his arm. “Please. I don’t want to have to do this again, in public or in private. There are a few of us who have a sure and certain hope of your resurrection, and more than a few who… Just do what you can.”
Sherlock looks more honest than I have seen him in thirty years. “If I don’t succeed, there’s not much to come home to. Are you really sure your own position is safe?”
It’s kind of him to include me as part of his home. “More than yours is,” I say.
Accept from us all that we feel even when words fail; deliver us from despair, and give us strength to meet the days to come.
Italicized portions come from the Church of England's funeral and burial services. Lestrade read a portion of chapter 2 of the Wisdom of Solomon as well the usual funeral portion of chapter 3. He's read it too many times.