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Nonsense and Insensibility

Chapter Text

The family of Holmes had long been settled in Sussex. Their estate was large, and their residence was at Musgrave Hall, where, for many generations, they had lived in so respectable a manner as to engage the general good opinion of their surrounding acquaintance.

 

Tragedy came; Mr. Holmes died. No sooner was his funeral over, than James Moriarty, without sending any notice of his intention to the Holmes family, arrived at Musgrave Hall with his wife Irene, their son Jimmy, and all their attendants. No one could dispute their right to come; the estate was entailed upon Mr. Moriarty, and became his from the moment of his uncle’s decease. However, James and Irene Moriarty had never been favourites with any of the Holmes family. Still, they had had no opportunity, till the present, of showing them with how little attention to the comfort of other people they could act when occasion required it.

 

Before his death, Mr. Holmes had extracted a promise from his nephew to look out for the interest of his aunt and cousins. James Moriarty had assured his uncle that he would do everything in his power to make them comfortable. Mr. Holmes was rendered easy by such an assurance, and James Moriarty had then leisure to consider how much there might prudently be in his power to do for them.

 

He was not an ill-disposed young man, unless to be rather cold-hearted and rather selfish is to be ill-disposed. He was, in general, well respected; for he conducted himself with propriety in the discharge of his ordinary duties. Had he married a more amiable woman, he might have been made still more respectable than he was: he might even have been made amiable himself; for he was very young when he married, and very fond of his wife. But his wife was a strong caricature of himself: more narrow-minded and selfish. 

 

Irene Moriarty now installed herself mistress of Musgrave Hall; and the Holmes family were degraded to the condition of visitors. So acutely did Mrs. Holmes feel this ungracious behaviour, and so earnestly did she despise Mrs. Moriarty for it, that, on the arrival of the latter, she would have quitted the house forever, had not the entreaty of her eldest son induced her first to reflect on the propriety of going, and her own tender love for all her three children determined her afterwards to stay, and for their sakes avoid a breach with their cousin.

 

Mycroft, this eldest son, whose advice was so effectual, possessed a strength of understanding, and coolness of judgment, which qualified him, though only nineteen, to be the counsellor of his mother, and enabled him frequently to counteract, to the advantage of them all, that eagerness of mind in Mrs. Holmes which must generally have led to imprudence. Mycroft had an excellent heart; his disposition was affectionate, and his feelings were strong; but he knew how to govern them. It was a knowledge which his mother had yet to learn; and which one of his brothers had resolved never to be taught.

 

Sherlock's abilities were, in many respects, quite equal to Mycroft's. He was sensible and clever; but eager in everything: his sorrows, his joys, could have no moderation. He was generous, amiable, interesting: he was everything but prudent. The resemblance between him and his mother was strikingly great.

 

Mycroft saw, with concern, the excess of his brother's sensibility; but by Mrs. Holmes it was valued and cherished. They encouraged each other in the violence of their affliction over the death of Mr. Holmes. The agony of grief which overpowered them at first, was voluntarily renewed, was sought for, was created again and again. They gave themselves up wholly to their sorrow, seeking increase of wretchedness in every reflection that could afford it, and resolved against ever admitting consolation in future. 

 

Mycroft, too, was deeply afflicted; but still he could struggle, he could exert himself. He could consult with his cousin, could treat both James and Irene Moriarty with proper attention; and could strive to rouse his mother to similar exertion, and encourage her to similar forbearance.

 

Sherrinford, the other brother, was a good-humored, well-disposed boy; but as he had already imbibed a good deal of Sherlock's flair for the dramatic, without having much of his sense, he did not, at thirteen, bid fair to equal his brothers at a more advanced period of life.

 

When he had given his promise to Mr. Holmes, James Moriarty had meditated within himself to increase the fortunes of his cousins by the present of a thousand pounds apiece. He then really thought himself equal to it. The prospect of four thousand a year from the Musgrave estate, in addition to his present income, warmed his heart, and made him feel capable of generosity. Yes, he would give them three thousand pounds: it would be liberal and handsome! In addition to the seven thousand they already had between them, it would be enough to make them completely easy. He could spare so considerable a sum with little inconvenience. He thought of it all day long, and for many days successively, and he did not repent.

 

Irene Moriarty, though, did not at all approve of what her husband intended to do for his cousins. To take three thousand pounds from the fortune of their dear little boy would be impoverishing him to the most dreadful degree. She begged James to think again on the subject. How could he answer it to himself to rob his child, and his only child, too, of so large a sum? And what possible claim could Mycroft, Sherlock, and Sherrinford, who were related to him only as cousins, which she considered as no relationship at all, have on his generosity to so large an amount? Why was he to ruin himself, and their poor little Jimmy, by giving away all his money to the Holmes family?

 

"It was my uncle's last request to me," replied her husband, "that I should assist his widow and sons."

 

"He did not know what he was talking of, I dare say; ten to one but he was light-headed at the time. Had he been in his right senses, he could not have thought of such a thing as begging you to give away half your fortune from your own child."

 

"He did not stipulate for any particular sum, my dear Irene; he only requested me, in general terms, to assist them, and make their situation more comfortable than it was in his power to do. Perhaps it would have been as well if he had left it wholly to myself. He could hardly suppose I should neglect them. But as he required the promise, I could not do less than give it; at least I thought so at the time. The promise, therefore, was given, and must be performed.”

 

“I believe you are already amply discharging your duty,” replied Irene, “by allowing them to remain here at Musgrave Hall.”

 

Chapter Text

Mrs. Holmes remained at Musgrave Hall several months; not from any disinclination to move, for when her spirits began to revive, and her mind became capable of some other exertion than that of heightening its affliction by melancholy remembrances, she was impatient to be gone, and indefatigable in her inquiries for a suitable dwelling in the neighbourhood of Musgrave Hall (for to remove far from that beloved spot was impossible). But she could hear of no situation that at once answered her notions of comfort and ease, and suited the prudence of her eldest son, whose steadier judgment rejected several houses as too large for their income, which his mother would have approved.

 

Mrs. Holmes had been informed by her husband of the solemn promise on the part of his nephew in their favour, which gave comfort to his last earthly reflections. She doubted the sincerity of this assurance no more than he had doubted it himself, and she thought of it for her sons' sake with satisfaction, though as for herself she was persuaded that a much smaller provision than seven thousand pounds would support her in affluence. For their cousin's sake, too, for the sake of James Moriarty’s own heart, she rejoiced; and she reproached herself for being unjust to his merit before, in believing him incapable of generosity. His attentive behaviour to herself and her sons convinced her that their welfare was dear to him, and, for a long time, she firmly relied on the liberality of his intentions.

 

The contempt which she had, very early in their acquaintance, felt for Irene Moriarty, was very much increased by the farther knowledge of her character, which half a year's residence in her family afforded; and perhaps the two ladies might have found it impossible to have lived together so long, had not a particular circumstance occurred to give still greater eligibility, according to the opinions of Mrs. Holmes, to her sons' continuance at Musgrave Hall. This circumstance was a growing attachment between her eldest son and the half-brother of Irene Moriarty, a gentleman-like and pleasing young man, who was introduced to their acquaintance soon after his sister's establishment at Musgrave Hall, and who had since spent the greatest part of his time there.

 

Some parents might have encouraged the intimacy from motives of interest, for Greg Lestrade was the eldest son Irene’s mother’s second husband, who had died very rich; and some might have repressed it from motives of prudence, for, except a trifling sum, the whole of his fortune depended on the will of his mother. But Mrs. Holmes was alike uninfluenced by either consideration. It was enough for her that he appeared to be amiable, that he loved her son, and that Mycroft returned the partiality. It was contrary to every doctrine of hers that difference of fortune should keep any couple asunder who were attracted by resemblance of disposition; and that Mycroft's merit should not be acknowledged by everyone who knew him, was to her comprehension impossible.

 

Greg Lestrade was not immediately recommended to their good opinion by any peculiar graces of person or address. His manners required intimacy to make them pleasing. Though handsome, he was too diffident to do justice to himself; but when his natural shyness was overcome, his behaviour gave every indication of an open, affectionate heart. His understanding was good, and his education had given it solid improvement. 

 

Unfortunately, he was neither fitted by abilities nor disposition to answer the wishes of his mother and half-sister, who longed to see him distinguished — as — they hardly knew what. They wanted him to make a fine figure in the world in some manner or other. His mother wished to interest him in political concerns, to get him into parliament, or to see him connected with some of the great men of the day. Irene wished it likewise; but in the meanwhile, till one of these superior blessings could be attained, it would have quieted her ambition to see him driving a barouche. But Greg had no turn for great men or barouches. All his wishes centered in domestic comfort and the quiet of private life. Fortunately for his mother and sister, he had a younger brother who was more promising.

 

Greg had been staying several weeks in Musgrave Hall before he engaged much of Mrs. Holmes' attention; for she was, at that time, in such affliction as rendered her careless of surrounding objects. She saw only that he was quiet and unobtrusive, and she liked him for it. He did not disturb the wretchedness of her mind by ill-timed conversation. She was first called to observe and approve him farther, by a reflection which Mycroft chanced one day to make on the difference between him and his sister. It was a contrast which recommended him most forcibly to Mrs. Holmes.

 

"It is enough," said she. “To say that he is unlike Irene is enough. It implies everything amiable. I love him already."

 

"I think you will like him," said Mycroft, "when you know more of him."

 

"Like him!" replied his mother with a smile. "I feel no sentiment of approbation inferior to love."

 

"You may esteem him."

 

"I have never yet known what it was to separate esteem and love."

 

Mrs. Holmes now took pains to get acquainted with Greg Lestrade. Her manners were attaching, and soon banished his reserve. She speedily comprehended all his merits; the persuasion of his regard for Mycroft perhaps assisted her penetration; but she really felt assured of his worth: and even that quietness of manner, which militated against all her established ideas of what a young man's address ought to be, was no longer uninteresting when she knew his heart to be warm and his temper affectionate.

 

No sooner did she perceive any symptom of love in his behaviour to Mycroft, than she considered their serious attachment as certain, and looked forward to their marriage as rapidly approaching.

 

"In a few months, my dear Sherlock,” said she, "Mycroft will, in all probability, be settled for life. We shall miss him; but he will be happy."

 

“Oh, Mummy! What shall we do without him?"

 

"My love, it will be scarcely a separation. We shall live within a few miles of each other, and shall meet every day of our lives. You will gain a brother-in-law, a truly affectionate brother-in-law. I have the highest opinion in the world of Greg's heart. But you look grave, Sherlock; do you disapprove your brother's choice?"

 

"Perhaps," said Sherlock, "I may consider it with some surprise. Greg is very amiable, but yet — he is not the kind of young man — there is something wanting — his figure is not striking; it has none of that grace which I should expect in the man who could seriously attach my brother. His eyes want all that spirit, that fire, which at once announce virtue and intelligence. And besides all this, I am afraid, Mummy, he has no real taste. Music seems scarcely to attract him, and though he admires Mycroft's drawings very much, it is not the admiration of a person who can understand their worth. It is evident, in spite of his frequent attention to Mycroft while he draws, that in fact he knows nothing of the matter. He admires as a lover, not as a connoisseur. 

 

“To satisfy me, those characters must be united. I could not be happy with a man whose taste did not in every point coincide with my own. He must enter into all my feelings; the same books, the same music must charm us both. Oh, Mummy! How spiritless, how tame was Greg's manner in reading to us last night! I felt for Mycroft most severely. Yet he bore it with so much composure, he seemed scarcely to notice it. I could hardly keep my seat. To hear those beautiful lines which have frequently almost driven me wild, pronounced with such impenetrable calmness, such dreadful indifference!"

 

"He would certainly have done more justice to simple and elegant prose. I thought so at the time; but you would give him Cowper."

 

"Nay, Mummy, if he is not to be animated by Cowper! — But we must allow for difference of taste. Mycroft has not my feelings, and therefore he may overlook it, and be happy with Greg. But it would have broken my heart, had I loved him, to hear him read with so little sensibility. Mummy, the more I know of the world, the more am I convinced that I shall never see a man whom I can really love. I require so much! He must have all Greg's virtues, and his person and manners must ornament his goodness with every possible charm."

 

"Remember, my love, that you are not yet seventeen. It is too early in life to despair of such a happiness. Why should you be less fortunate than your mother? In one circumstance only, my Sherlock, may your destiny be different from hers!"

Chapter Text

"What a pity it is, Mycroft," said Sherlock, "that Greg should have no taste for drawing."

 

"No taste for drawing!" replied Mycroft. "Why should you think so? He does not draw himself, indeed, but he has great pleasure in seeing the performances of other people, and I assure you he is by no means deficient in natural taste, though he has not had opportunities of improving it. Had he ever been in the way of learning, I think he would have drawn very well. He distrusts his own judgment in such matters so much, that he is always unwilling to give his opinion on any picture; but he has an innate propriety and simplicity of taste, which in general direct him perfectly right."

 

Sherlock said no more on the subject; but the kind of approbation which Mycroft described as excited in Greg by the drawings of other people, was very far from that rapturous delight, which, in his opinion, could alone be called taste. Yet, though smiling within himself at the mistake, Sherlock honoured his brother for that blind partiality to Greg which produced it.

 

"I hope, Sherlock," continued Mycroft, "you do not consider him as deficient in general taste. Indeed, I think I may say that you cannot, for your behaviour to him is perfectly cordial, and if that were your opinion, I am sure you could never be civil to him."

 

Sherlock hardly knew what to say. He would not wound the feelings of his brother on any account, and yet to say what he did not believe was impossible. At length he replied:

 

"Do not be offended, Mycroft, if my praise of him is not in everything equal to your sense of his merits. I have not had so many opportunities of estimating the minuter propensities of his mind, his inclinations and tastes, as you have; but I have the highest opinion in the world of his goodness and sense. I think him everything that is worthy and amiable."

 

"I am sure," replied Mycroft, with a smile, "that his dearest friends could not be dissatisfied with such commendation as that. I do not perceive how you could express yourself more warmly."

 

Sherlock rejoiced to find his brother so easily pleased.

 

"Of his sense and his goodness," continued Mycroft, "no one can, I think, be in doubt, who has seen him often enough to engage him in unreserved conversation. The excellence of his understanding and his principles can be concealed only by that reserve which too often keeps him silent. You know enough of him to do justice to his solid worth. But of his minuter propensities, as you call them, you have from peculiar circumstances been kept more ignorant than myself. He and I have been at times thrown a good deal together, while you have been wholly engrossed on the most affectionate principle by our mother. 

 

“I have seen a great deal of him, have studied his sentiments and heard his opinion on subjects of literature and taste; and, upon the whole, I venture to pronounce that his mind is well-informed, his enjoyment of books exceedingly great, his imagination lively, his observation just and correct, and his taste delicate and pure. His abilities in every respect improve as much upon acquaintance as his manners and person. At first sight, his address is certainly not striking; and his person may not immediately be called handsome, till the expression of his eyes, which are uncommonly good, and the general sweetness of his countenance, is perceived. At present, I know him so well, that I think him really handsome. What say you, Sherlock?"

 

"I shall very soon think him handsome, Mycroft, if I do not now. When you tell me to love him as a brother-in-law, I shall no more see imperfection in his face, than I now do in his heart."

 

Mycroft started at this declaration, and was sorry for the warmth he had been betrayed into, in speaking of Greg. He felt that Greg stood very high in his opinion. He believed the regard to be mutual; but he required greater certainty of it to make Sherlock's conviction of their attachment agreeable to him. Mycroft knew that what Sherlock and his mother conjectured one moment, they believed the next — that with them, to wish was to hope, and to hope was to expect. He tried to explain the real state of the case to his brother.

 

"I do not attempt to deny," said he, "that I think very highly of him — that I greatly esteem, that I like him."

 

Sherlock here burst forth with indignation — "Esteem him! Like him! Cold-hearted Mycroft! Oh! Worse than cold-hearted! Ashamed of being otherwise. Use those words again, and I will leave the room this moment."

 

Mycroft could not help laughing. "Excuse me," said he; "and be assured that I meant no offence to you, by speaking, in so quiet a way, of my own feelings. Believe them to be stronger than I have declared; believe them, in short, to be such as his merit, and the suspicion — the hope — of his affection for me may warrant, without imprudence or folly. But farther than this you must not believe. 

 

“I am by no means assured of his regard for me. There are moments when the extent of it seems doubtful; and till his sentiments are fully known, you cannot wonder at my wishing to avoid any encouragement of my own partiality, by believing or calling it more than it is. In my heart I feel little — scarcely any — doubt of his preference. But there are other points to be considered besides his inclination. He is very far from being independent. What his mother really is we cannot know; but, from Irene's occasional mention of her conduct and opinions, we have never been disposed to think her amiable; and I am very much mistaken if Greg is not himself aware that there would be many difficulties in his way, if he were to wish to marry a man who had not either a great fortune or high rank."

 

Sherlock was astonished to find how much the imagination of his mother and himself had outstripped the truth.

 

"And you really are not engaged to him!" said he. "Yet it certainly soon will happen. But two advantages will proceed from this delay. I shall not lose you so soon, and Greg will have greater opportunity of improving that natural taste for your favourite pursuit which must be so indispensably necessary to your future felicity. Oh! If he should be so far stimulated by your genius as to learn to draw himself, how delightful it would be!"

 

Mycroft had given his real opinion to his brother. He could not consider his partiality for Greg in so prosperous a state as Sherlock had believed it. There was, at times, a want of spirits about Greg which, if it did not denote indifference, spoke of something almost as unpromising. A doubt of Mycroft’s regard, supposing him to feel it, need not give him more than inquietude. It would not be likely to produce that dejection of mind which frequently attended him. A more reasonable cause might be found in the dependent situation which forbade the indulgence of his affection. 

 

Mycroft knew that Mrs. Lestrade neither behaved to her son so as to make his home comfortable at present, nor to give him any assurance that he might form a home for himself, without strictly attending to her views for his aggrandizement. With such a knowledge as this, it was impossible for Mycroft to feel easy on the subject. He was far from depending on that result of Greg’s preference of him, which his mother and brother still considered as certain. Nay, the longer they were together, the more doubtful seemed the nature of his regard; and sometimes, for a few painful minutes, Mycroft believed it to be no more than friendship.

 

But, whatever might really be its limits, it was enough, when perceived by Irene, to make her uneasy, and at the same time (which was still more common) to make her uncivil. She took the first opportunity of affronting Mrs. Holmes on the occasion, talking to her so expressively of her brother's great expectations, of Mrs. Lestrade's resolution that both her sons should marry well, and of the danger attending any young person who attempted to draw him in; that Mrs. Holmes could neither pretend to be unconscious, nor endeavor to be calm. She gave Irene an answer which marked her contempt, and instantly left the room, resolving that, whatever might be the inconvenience or expense of so sudden a removal, her beloved Mycroft should not be exposed another week to such insinuations.

 

In this state of her spirits, a letter was delivered to her from the post, which contained a proposal particularly well timed. It was the offer of a small house, on very easy terms, belonging to a relation of her own, Sir Michael Stamford, a gentleman of consequence and property in Devonshire. The letter was from this gentleman himself, and written in the true spirit of friendly accommodation. He understood that she was in need of a dwelling; and though the house he now offered her was merely a cottage, he assured her that everything should be done to it which she might think necessary, if the situation pleased her. 

 

He earnestly pressed her, after giving the particulars of the house and garden, to come with her sons to Baker Manor, the place of his own residence, from whence she might judge, herself, whether Baker Cottage could, by any alteration, be made comfortable to her. He seemed really anxious to accommodate them, and the whole of his letter was written in so friendly a style as could not fail of giving pleasure to his cousin; more especially at a moment when she was suffering under the cold and unfeeling behaviour of her nearer connections. 

 

Mrs. Holmes needed no time for deliberation or inquiry. Her resolution was formed as she read. The situation of Baker, in a county so far distant from Sussex as Devonshire, which, but a few hours before, would have been a sufficient objection to outweigh every possible advantage belonging to the place, was now its first recommendation. To quit the neighbourhood of Musgrave Hall was no longer an evil; it was an object of desire; it was a blessing, in comparison of the misery of continuing the Moriartys’ guest; and to remove forever from that beloved place would be less painful than to inhabit or visit it while such a woman was its mistress. She instantly wrote Sir Michael Stamford her acknowledgment of his kindness, and her acceptance of his proposal; and then hastened to show both letters to her sons, that she might be secure of their approbation before her answer were sent.

 

Mycroft had always thought it would be more prudent for them to settle at some distance from Musgrave Hall, than immediately amongst their present acquaintance. On that head, therefore, it was not for him to oppose his mother's intention of removing into Devonshire. The house, too, as described by Sir Michael, was on so simple a scale, and the rent so uncommonly moderate, as to leave him no right of objection on either point; and, therefore, though it was not a plan which brought any charm to his fancy, though it was a removal from the vicinity of Musgrave Hall beyond his wishes, he made no attempt to dissuade his mother from sending a letter of acquiescence. 

 

Chapter Text

No sooner was her answer dispatched, than Mrs. Holmes indulged herself in the pleasure of announcing to James and Irene Moriarty that she was provided with a house, and should incommode them no longer than till everything were ready for her inhabiting it. They heard her with surprise. Irene said nothing; but her husband civilly hoped that Mrs. Holmes would not be settled far from Musgrave Hall. She had great satisfaction in replying that she was going into Devonshire. 

 

Greg turned hastily towards her, on hearing this, and, in a voice of surprise and concern, which required no explanation to her, repeated, "Devonshire! Are you, indeed, going there? So far from hence! And to what part of it?" 

 

She explained the situation. It was within four miles northward of Exeter.

 

"It is but a cottage," she continued, "but I hope to see many of my friends in it. A room or two can easily be added; and if my friends find no difficulty in travelling so far to see me, I am sure I will find none in accommodating them."

 

She concluded with a very civil (if not particularly sincere) invitation to Mr. and Mrs. Moriarty to visit her at Baker Cottage; and to Greg she gave one with still greater affection. Though her late conversation with Irene had made her resolve on remaining at Musgrave Hall no longer than was unavoidable, it had not produced the smallest effect on her in that point to which it principally tended. To separate Greg and Mycroft was as far from being her object as ever; and she wished to show Irene, by this pointed invitation to her brother, how totally she disregarded her disapprobation of the match.

 

Mrs. Holmes took Baker Cottage for a twelvemonth; it was ready furnished, and she might have immediate possession. No difficulty arose on either side in the agreement; and she waited only for the disposal of her effects at Musgrave Hall, and to determine her future household, before she set off for the west; and this, as she was exceedingly rapid in the performance of everything that interested her, was soon done. 

 

The horses which were left her by her husband had been sold soon after his death, and an opportunity now offering of disposing of her carriage, she agreed to sell that likewise at the earnest advice of her eldest son. For the comfort of her children, had she consulted only her own wishes, she would have kept it; but the discretion of Mycroft prevailed. His wisdom, too, limited the number of their servants to three; two maids and a man, with whom they were speedily provided from amongst those who had formed their establishment at Musgrave Hall.

 

The man and one of the maids were sent off immediately into Devonshire, to prepare the house for their arrival; for as Lady Stamford was entirely unknown to Mrs. Holmes, she preferred going directly to the cottage to being a visitor at Baker Manor; and she relied so undoubtingly on Sir Michael's description of the house, as to feel no curiosity to examine it herself till she entered it as her own. Her eagerness to be gone from Musgrave Hall was preserved from diminution by the evident satisfaction of Irene in the prospect of her removal; a satisfaction which was but feebly attempted to be concealed under a cold invitation to her to defer her departure. 

 

James Moriarty told Mrs. Holmes again and again how exceedingly sorry he was that she had taken a house at such a distance from Musgrave Hall as to prevent his being of any more service to her. Now was the time when his promise to his uncle might with particular propriety be fulfilled. Since he had neglected to do it on first coming to the estate, their quitting his house might be looked on as the most suitable period for its accomplishment. But Mrs. Holmes began shortly to give over every hope of the kind, and to be convinced, from the general drift of his discourse, that his assistance extended no farther than their maintenance for six months at Musgrave Hall. He so frequently talked of the increasing expenses of housekeeping, and of the perpetual demands upon his purse, which a man of any consequence in the world was beyond calculation exposed to, that he seemed rather to stand in need of more money himself than to have any design of giving money away.

 

In a very few weeks from the day which brought Sir Michael Stamford's first letter to Musgrave Hall, everything was so far settled in their future abode as to enable Mrs. Holmes and her sons to begin their journey.

 

Many were the tears shed by them in their last adieus to a place so much beloved.

 

"Dear, dear Musgrave Hall!" said Sherlock, as he wandered alone before the house, on the last evening of their being there; "when shall I cease to regret you? When learn to feel a home elsewhere? Oh, happy house, could you know what I suffer in now viewing you from this spot, from whence perhaps I may view you no more? And you, ye well-known trees! But you will continue the same; no leaf will decay because we are removed, nor any branch become motionless although we can observe you no longer! No; you will continue the same; unconscious of the pleasure or the regret you occasion, and insensible of any change in those who walk under your shade! But who will remain to enjoy you?" 

 

Chapter Text

The first part of their journey was performed in too melancholy a disposition to be otherwise than tedious and unpleasant. But as they drew towards the end of it, their interest in the appearance of a country which they were to inhabit overcame their dejection, and a view of Baker Valley as they entered it gave them cheerfulness. It was a pleasant, fertile spot, well wooded, and rich in pasture. After winding along it for more than a mile, they reached their own house. A small green court was the whole of its domain in front; and a neat wicket gate admitted them into it.

 

As a house, Baker Cottage, though small, was comfortable and compact; but as a cottage it was defective, for the building was regular, the roof was tiled, the window shutters were not painted green, nor were the walls covered with honeysuckles. A narrow passage led directly through the house into the garden behind. On each side of the entrance was a sitting room, about sixteen feet square; and beyond them were the offices and the stairs. Four bedrooms and two garrets formed the rest of the house. It had not been built many years and was in good repair. 

 

In comparison of Musgrave Hall, it was poor and small indeed; but the tears which recollection called forth as they entered the house were soon dried away. They were cheered by the joy of the servants on their arrival, and each for the sake of the others resolved to appear happy. It was very early in September; the season was fine, and from first seeing the place under the advantage of good weather, they received an impression in its favour which was of material service in recommending it to their lasting approbation.

 

The situation of the house was good. High hills rose immediately behind, and at no great distance on each side; some of which were open downs, the others cultivated and woody. The village of Baker was chiefly on one of these hills, and formed a pleasant view from the cottage windows. The prospect in front was more extensive; it commanded the whole of the valley, and reached into the country beyond. The hills which surrounded the cottage terminated the valley in that direction; under another name, and in another course, it branched out again between two of the steepest of them.

 

With the size and furniture of the house Mrs. Holmes was upon the whole well satisfied; for though her former style of life rendered many additions to the latter indispensable, yet to add and improve was a delight to her; and she had at this time ready money enough to supply all that was wanted of greater elegance to the apartments. 

 

"As for the house itself, to be sure," said she, "it is too small for our family, but we will make ourselves tolerably comfortable for the present, as it is too late in the year for improvements. Perhaps in the spring, if I have plenty of money, as I dare say I shall, we may think about building. These parlors are both too small for such parties of our friends as I hope to see often collected here; but one must not expect everything. I shall see how much I am before-hand with the world in the spring, and we will plan our improvements accordingly."

 

In the meantime, till these alterations could be made from the savings of an income of five hundred a year by a woman who never saved in her life, they were wise enough to be contented with the house as it was; and each of them was busy in arranging their particular concerns, and endeavoring, by placing around them books and other possessions, to form themselves a home. Sherlock's pianoforte and violin were unpacked and properly situated; and Mycroft's drawings were affixed to the walls of their sitting room.

 

In such employments as these they were interrupted soon after breakfast the next day by the entrance of their landlord, who called to welcome them to Baker, and to offer them every accommodation from his own house and garden in which theirs might at present be deficient. Sir Michael Stamford was a good-looking man about forty. He had formerly visited the Holmes family, but it was too long ago for his young cousins to remember him. His countenance was thoroughly good-humoured; and his manners were as friendly as the style of his letter. Their arrival seemed to afford him real satisfaction, and their comfort to be an object of real solicitude to him. 

 

He said much of his earnest desire of their living in the most sociable terms with his family, and pressed them so cordially to dine at Baker Manor every day till they were better settled at home, that, though his entreaties were carried to a point of perseverance beyond civility, they could not give offence. His kindness was not confined to words; for within an hour after he left them, a large basket full of garden stuff and fruit arrived from the manor, which was followed before the end of the day by a present of game. He insisted, moreover, on conveying all their letters to and from the post for them, and would not be denied the satisfaction of sending them his newspaper every day.

 

Lady Stamford had sent a very civil message by him, denoting her intention of waiting on Mrs. Holmes as soon as she could be assured that her visit would be no inconvenience; and as this message was answered by an invitation equally polite, her ladyship was introduced to them the next day.

 

They were, of course, very anxious to see a person on whom so much of their comfort at Baker must depend; and the elegance of her appearance was favourable to their wishes. Lady Stamford was not more than six or seven and twenty; her face was handsome, her figure tall and striking, and her address graceful. Her manners had all the elegance which her husband's wanted. But they would have been improved by some share of his frankness and warmth; and her visit was long enough to detract something from their first admiration, by showing that, though perfectly well-bred, she was reserved, cold, and had nothing to say for herself beyond the most commonplace inquiry or remark.

 

Conversation, however, was not lacking, for Sir Michael was very chatty, and Lady Stamford had taken the wise precaution of bringing with her their eldest child, a fine little boy about six years old, by which means there was one subject always to be recurred to  in case of extremity, for they had to enquire his name and age, admire his beauty, and ask him questions which his mother answered for him, while he hung about her and held down his head, to the great surprise of her ladyship, who wondered at his being so shy before company, as he could make noise enough at home. On every formal visit a child ought to be of the party, by way of provision for discourse. In the present case it took up ten minutes to determine whether the boy were most like his father or mother, and in what particular he resembled either, for of course everybody differed, and everybody was astonished at the opinion of the others.

 

An opportunity was soon to be given to the Holmes family of debating on the rest of the children, as Sir Michael would not leave the house without securing their promise of dining at the manor the next day. 

 

Chapter Text

Baker Manor was about half a mile from the cottage. The Holmes family had passed near it in their way along the valley, but it was screened from their view at home by the projection of a hill. The house was large and handsome; and the Stamfords lived in a style of equal hospitality and elegance. The former was for Sir Michael's gratification, the latter for that of his lady. 

 

They were scarcely ever without some friends staying with them in the house, and they kept more company of every kind than any other family in the neighbourhood. It was necessary to the happiness of both; for however dissimilar in temper and outward behaviour, they strongly resembled each other in that total want of talent and taste which confined their employments, unconnected with such as society produced, within a very narrow compass. Sir Michael was a sportsman, Lady Stamford a mother. He hunted and shot, and she humoured her children; and these were their only resources. Lady Stamford had the advantage of being able to spoil her children all the year round, while Sir Michael's independent employments were in existence only half the time. Continual engagements at home and abroad, however, supplied all the deficiencies of nature and education; supported the good spirits of Sir Michael, and gave exercise to the good breeding of his wife.

 

Lady Stamford prided herself upon the elegance of her table, and of all her domestic arrangements; and from this kind of vanity was her greatest enjoyment in any of their parties. But Sir Michael's satisfaction in society was much more real; he delighted in collecting about him more young people than his house would hold, and the noisier they were the better was he pleased. He was a blessing to all the juvenile part of the neighbourhood, for in summer he was forever forming parties to eat cold ham and chicken out of doors, and in winter his private balls were numerous enough for any young person who was not suffering under the insatiable appetite of fifteen.

 

The arrival of a new family in the country was always a matter of joy to him, and in every point of view he was charmed with the inhabitants he had now procured for Baker Cottage. Mrs. Holmes’ sons were young, handsome, and unaffected. It was enough to secure his good opinion; for to be unaffected was all that a young man could want to make his mind as captivating as his person. The friendliness of Sir Michael’s disposition made him happy in accommodating those whose situation might be considered, in comparison with the past, as unfortunate. In showing kindness to his cousins, therefore, he had the real satisfaction of a good heart.

 

Mrs. Holmes and her sons were met at the door of the house by Sir Michael himself, who welcomed them to Baker Manor with genuine warmth; and, as he attended them to the drawing room, repeated to the young gentlemen the concern which the same subject had drawn from him the day before, at being unable to get any other smart young people to meet them. They would see, he said, only one gentleman there besides himself; a particular friend who was staying at the manor, but who was neither very young nor very gay. 

 

He hoped they would all excuse the smallness of the party, and could assure them it should never happen so again. He had been to several families that morning in hopes of procuring some addition to their number, but it was moonlight and everybody was full of engagements. Luckily Lady Stamford's mother had arrived at Baker Manor within the last hour, and as she was a very cheerful, agreeable woman, he hoped the young gentlemen would not find it so very dull as they might imagine. The young gentlemen, as well as their mother, were perfectly satisfied with having two entire strangers of the party, and wished for no more.

 

Mrs. Hudson, Lady Stamford's mother, was a good-humoured, merry, elderly woman, who talked a great deal, seemed very happy, and a bit vulgar. She was full of jokes and laughter, and before dinner was over had said many witty things on the subject of lovers; hoped they had not left their hearts behind them in Sussex, and pretended to see them blush whether they did or not. Sherlock was vexed at it for his brother's sake, and turned his eyes towards Mycroft to see how he bore these attacks, with an earnestness which gave Mycroft far more pain than could arise from such commonplace raillery as Mrs. Hudson's.

 

Captain Watson, the friend of Sir Michael, seemed no more adapted by resemblance of manner to be his friend, than Lady Stamford was to be his wife, or Mrs. Hudson to be Lady Stamford's mother. He was silent and grave. His appearance, however, was not unpleasing, in spite of his being, in the opinion of Sherlock and Sherrinford, an absolute old bachelor, for he was on the wrong side of thirty; but still, his face was handsome, his countenance was sensible, and his address was particularly gentlemanlike.

 

There was nothing in any of the party which could recommend them as companions to Mycroft or Sherlock; but the cold insipidity of Lady Stamford was so particularly repulsive, that in comparison of it the gravity of Captain Watson, and even the boisterous mirth of Sir Michael and his mother-in-law, was interesting. Lady Stamford seemed to be roused to enjoyment only by the entrance of her four noisy children after dinner, who pulled her about, tore her clothes, and put an end to every kind of discourse except what related to themselves.

 

In the evening, as Sherlock was discovered to be musical, he was invited to play. The instrument was unlocked, everybody prepared to be charmed, and Sherlock, who sang very well, at their request went through the chief of the songs which Lady Stamford had brought into the family on her marriage, and which perhaps had lain ever since in the same position on the pianoforte, for her ladyship had celebrated that event by giving up music, although by her mother's account, she had played extremely well, and by her own was very fond of it.

 

Sherlock's performance was highly applauded. Sir Michael was loud in his admiration at the end of every song, and as loud in his conversation with the others while every song lasted. Lady Stamford frequently called him to order, wondered how anyone's attention could be diverted from music for a moment, and asked Sherlock to sing a particular song which Sherlock had just finished. 

 

Captain Watson alone, of all the party, heard Sherlock without being in raptures. He paid him only the compliment of attention; and Sherlock felt a respect for him on the occasion, which the others had reasonably forfeited by their shameless want of taste. His pleasure in music, though it amounted not to that ecstatic delight which alone could sympathize with Sherlock’s own, was estimable when contrasted against the horrible insensibility of the others; and he was reasonable enough to allow that a man over thirty might well have outlived all acuteness of feeling and every exquisite power of enjoyment. He was perfectly disposed to make every allowance for the Captain's advanced state of life which humanity required. 

 

Chapter Text

Mrs. Hudson was a widow with an ample fortune. She had only two daughters, both of whom she had lived to see respectably married, and she had now therefore nothing to do but to marry all the rest of the world. In the promotion of this object she was zealously active, as far as her ability reached, and missed no opportunity of projecting weddings among all the young people of her acquaintance. She was remarkably quick in the discovery of attachments, and had enjoyed the advantage of raising the blushes and the vanity of many a young person by insinuations over some particular love interest. This kind of discernment enabled her, soon after her arrival at Baker, decisively to pronounce that Captain John Watson was very much in love with Sherlock Holmes. 

 

She rather suspected it to be so, on the very first evening of their being together, from his listening so attentively while Sherlock sang to them; and when the visit was returned by the Stamfords' dining at the cottage, the fact was ascertained by his listening to Sherlock again. It must be so. She was perfectly convinced of it. It would be an excellent match, for Captain Watson was rich, and Sherlock Holmes was uncommonly clever and handsome. Mrs. Hudson had been anxious to see Captain Watson well married, ever since her connection with Sir Michael first brought him to her knowledge; and she was always anxious to get a good spouse for every young person.

 

The immediate advantage to herself was by no means inconsiderable, for it supplied her with endless jokes against them both. At the manor, Mrs. Hudson laughed at the Captain, and in the cottage at Sherlock. To the former her raillery was probably, as far as it regarded only himself, perfectly indifferent; but to the latter it was at first incomprehensible; and when its object was understood, Sherlock hardly knew whether most to laugh at its absurdity, or censure its impertinence, for he considered it as an unfeeling reflection on the Captain's advanced years, and on his forlorn condition as an old bachelor.

 

Mrs. Holmes, who could not think a man ten years younger than herself so exceedingly ancient as he appeared to the youthful fancy of her son, ventured to clear Mrs. Hudson from the probability of wishing to throw ridicule on his age.

 

"But at least, Mummy, you cannot deny the absurdity of the accusation, though you may not think it intentionally ill-natured. Captain Watson is certainly younger than Mrs. Hudson, but he is over a dozen years my senior; and if he were ever animated enough to be in love, must have long outlived every sensation of the kind. It is too ridiculous! When is a man to be safe from such wit, if age and infirmity will not protect him?"

 

"Infirmity!" said Mycroft. "Do you call Captain Watson infirm? I can easily suppose that his age may appear much greater to you than to our mother; but you can hardly deceive yourself as to his being a hearty and vigorous man!"

 

"Did not you see him favouring his left shoulder?”

 

“That has nothing to do with his age,” said Mycroft. “The man was a soldier; his injury was nobly earned.”

 

“Nevertheless,” replied Sherlock, “can you deny he is in the stage of declining life?”

 

"My dearest child," said his mother, laughing, "at this rate you must be in continual terror of my decay; and it must seem to you a miracle that my life has been extended to the advanced age of forty."

 

"Mummy, you are not doing me justice. I know very well that Captain Watson is not old enough to make his friends yet apprehensive of losing him in the course of nature. But a man of thirty has nothing to do with matrimony."

 

"Perhaps," said Mycroft, “a man of thirty and one of seventeen had better not have anything to do with matrimony together. But if there should by any chance happen to be someone who is single at seven and twenty, they should not think Captain Watson's being thirty any objection to his marrying."

 

"Someone of seven and twenty," said Sherlock, after pausing a moment, "can never hope to feel or inspire affection again. If, at that age, one’s home be uncomfortable, or one’s fortune small, I can suppose that one might submit to a compact of convenience, and the world would be satisfied. In my eyes it would be no marriage at all, of course. To me it would seem only a commercial exchange, in which each wished to be benefited at the expense of the other."

 

"It would be impossible, I know," replied Mycroft, "to convince you that someone of seven and twenty could feel for a man of thirty anything near enough to love, to make him a desirable companion. But I must object to your dooming Captain Watson to the constant confinement of a sick chamber, merely because he chanced to complain yesterday (a very cold damp day) of a slight ache in one of his shoulders."

 

"But he talked of flannel waistcoats," said Sherlock; "and with me a flannel waistcoat is invariably connected with aches, cramps, rheumatisms, and every species of ailment that can afflict the old and the feeble."

 

"Had he been only in a violent fever, you would not have despised him half so much. Confess, Sherlock, is not there something interesting to you in the flushed cheek, hollow eye, and quick pulse of a fever?"

 

Soon after this, upon Mycroft's leaving the room, Sherlock said, “Mummy, I have an alarm on the subject of illness which I cannot conceal from you. I am sure Greg Lestrade is not well. We have now been here almost a fortnight, and yet he does not come. Nothing but real indisposition could occasion this extraordinary delay. What else can detain him at Musgrave Hall?"

 

"Had you any idea of his coming so soon?" asked Mrs. Holmes. "I had none. On the contrary, if I have felt any anxiety at all on the subject, it has been in recollecting that he sometimes showed a lack of pleasure and readiness in accepting my invitation, when I talked of his coming to Baker Cottage. Does Mycroft expect him already?"

 

"I have never mentioned it to him, but of course he must."

 

"I rather think you are mistaken, for when I was talking to him yesterday of getting a new grate for the spare bedchamber, he observed that there was no immediate hurry for it, as it was not likely that the room would be wanted for some time."

 

"How strange this is! What can be the meaning of it? But the whole of their behaviour to each other has been unaccountable! How cold, how composed were their adieus! How languid their conversation the last evening of their being together! In Greg's farewell there was no distinction between Mycroft and me: it was the good wishes of an affectionate brother to both. Twice did I leave them purposely together in the course of the last morning, and each time did he most unaccountably follow me out of the room. 

 

“And Mycroft, in quitting Musgrave Hall and Greg, cried not as I did. Even now his self-command is invariable. When is he dejected or melancholy? When does he try to avoid society, or appear restless and dissatisfied in it? I cannot at all understand my brother’s feelings.” 

Chapter Text

The Holmes brothers were now settled at Baker Cottage with tolerable comfort to themselves. The house and the garden had become familiar, and the ordinary pursuits which had given to Musgrave Hall half its charms were engaged in again with far greater enjoyment than Musgrave Hall had been able to afford, since the loss of their father. Sir Michael Stamford, who called on them every day for the first fortnight, and who was not in the habit of seeing much occupation at home, could not conceal his amazement on finding them always employed.

 

Their visitors, except those from Baker Manor, were not many; for, in spite of Sir Michael's urgent entreaties that they would mix more in the neighbourhood, and repeated assurances of his carriage being always at their service, the independence of Mrs. Holmes' spirit overcame the wish of society for her children; and she was resolute in declining to visit any family beyond the distance of a walk. There were but few who could be so classed; and it was not all of them that were attainable. 

 

About a mile and a half from the cottage, along the narrow winding valley of Allenham, they had, in one of their earliest walks, discovered an ancient, respectable looking mansion which, by reminding them a little of Musgrave Hall, interested their imagination and made them wish to be better acquainted with it. But they learnt, on enquiry, that its possessor, Lady Smallwood, an elderly woman of very good character, was unfortunately too infirm to mix with the world, and never stirred from home.

 

The whole country about them abounded in beautiful walks. The high downs which invited them from almost every window of the cottage to seek the exquisite enjoyment of air on their summits, were a happy alternative when the mud of the valleys beneath shut up their superior beauties; and towards one of these hills did Sherlock and Sherrinford one memorable morning direct their steps, attracted by the partial sunshine of a showery sky, and unable longer to bear the confinement which the settled rain of the two preceding days had occasioned. The weather was not tempting enough to draw their mother and elder brother from their pencil and their book, in spite of Sherlock's declaration that the day would be lastingly fair, and that every threatening cloud would be drawn off from their hills; and the two boys set off together.

 

They gaily ascended the downs, rejoicing in their own penetration at every glimpse of blue sky; and when they caught in their faces the animating gales of a high south-westerly wind, they pitied the fears which had prevented their mother and Mycroft from sharing such delightful sensations.

 

"Is there a felicity in the world," said Sherlock, "superior to this? Sherrinford, we will walk here at least two hours."

 

Sherrinford agreed, and they pursued their way against the wind, resisting it with laughing delight for about twenty minutes longer, when suddenly the clouds united over their heads, and a driving rain set full in their faces. Chagrined and surprised, they were obliged, though unwillingly, to turn back, for no shelter was nearer than their own house. One consolation however remained for them, to which the exigence of the moment gave more than usual propriety; it was that of running with all possible speed down the steep side of the hill which led immediately to their garden gate.

 

They set off. Sherlock had at first the advantage, but a false step brought him suddenly to the ground; and Sherrinford, unable to stop himself to assist him, was involuntarily hurried along, and reached the bottom in safety.

 

A gentleman, carrying a gun, with two pointers playing round him, was passing up the hill and within a few yards of Sherlock, when his accident happened. He put down his gun and ran to be of assistance. Sherlock had raised himself from the ground, but his foot had been twisted in his fall, and he was scarcely able to stand. The gentleman offered his services; and perceiving that the younger man’s modesty declined what his situation rendered necessary, took him up in his arms without farther delay, and carried him down the hill. Then passing through the garden, the gate of which had been left open by Sherrinford, he bore Sherlock directly into the house, whither Sherrinford was just arrived, and quitted not his hold till he had seated him in a chair in the parlour.

 

Mycroft and Mrs. Holmes rose up in amazement at their entrance, and while the eyes of both were fixed on the stranger with an evident wonder and a secret admiration which equally sprung from his appearance, he apologized for his intrusion by relating its cause, in a manner so frank and so graceful that his person, which was uncommonly handsome, received additional charms from his voice and expression. Had he been even old, ugly, and vulgar, the gratitude and kindness of Mrs. Holmes would have been secured by any act of attention to her child; but the influence of youth, beauty, and elegance, gave an interest to the action which came home to her feelings.

 

She thanked him again and again; and, with a sweetness of address which always attended her, invited him to be seated. But this he declined, as he was dirty and wet. Mrs. Holmes then begged to know to whom she was obliged. His name, he replied, was Victor Trevor, and his present home was at Allenham, from whence he hoped she would allow him the honour of calling tomorrow to enquire after Mr. Holmes. The honour was readily granted, and he then departed, to make himself still more interesting, in the midst of a heavy rain.

 

His manly beauty and more than common gracefulness were instantly the theme of general admiration, and the laugh which his gallantry raised against Sherlock received particular spirit from his exterior attractions. Sherlock himself had seen less of his rescuer than the rest, for the confusion which crimsoned over his face, on Mr. Trevor’s lifting him up, had robbed him of the power of regarding him after their entering the house. But Sherlock had seen enough of him to join in all the admiration of the others, and with an energy which always adorned his praise. 

 

Victor Trevor’s person and air were equal to what Sherlock’s fancy had ever drawn for the hero of a favourite story; and in his carrying him into the house with so little formality, there was a rapidity of thought which particularly recommended the action to him. Every circumstance belonging to him was interesting. His name was good, his residence was in their favourite village, and Sherlock decided that of all manly dresses a shooting-jacket was the most becoming. His imagination was busy, his reflections were pleasant, and the pain of a sprained ankle was disregarded.

 

Sir Michael called on them as soon as the next interval of fair weather that morning allowed him to get out of doors; and Sherlock's accident being related to him, he was eagerly asked whether he knew any gentleman of the name of Victor Trevor at Allenham.

 

"Victor Trevor!" cried Sir Michael. "What, is he in the country? That is good news! I will ride over tomorrow, and ask him to dinner on Thursday."

 

"You know him, then," said Mrs. Holmes.

 

"Know him! To be sure I do. Why, he is down here every year."

 

"And what sort of a young man is he?"

 

"As good a kind of fellow as ever lived, I assure you. A very decent shot, and there is not a bolder rider in England."

 

"And is that all you can say for him?" cried Sherlock, indignantly. "But what are his manners on more intimate acquaintance? What his pursuits, his talents, and genius?"

 

Sir Michael was rather puzzled.

 

"Upon my soul," said he, "I do not know much about him as to all that. But he is a pleasant, good-humoured fellow, and has got the nicest little black bitch of a pointer I ever saw. Was she out with him today?"

 

But Sherlock could no more satisfy him as to the colour of Mr. Trevor's pointer, than Sir Michael could describe to him the shades of his mind.

 

"But who is he?" asked Mycroft. "Where does he come from? Has he a house at Allenham?"

 

On this point Sir Michael could give more certain intelligence; and he told them that Mr. Trevor had no property of his own in the country; that he resided there only while he was visiting Lady Smallwood, at Allenham Court, to whom he was related, and whose possessions he was to inherit; adding, to Mycroft, "Yes, yes, he is very well worth catching, I can tell you, Mr. Holmes; he has a pretty little estate of his own in Somersetshire besides; and if I were you, I would not give him up to my younger brother, in spite of all this tumbling down hills. Master Sherlock must not expect to have all the men to himself. Captain Watson will be jealous, if he does not take care."

 

"I do not believe," said Mrs. Holmes, with a good-humoured smile, "that Mr. Trevor will be incommoded by the attempts of either of my sons towards what you call catching him. It is not an employment to which they have been brought up. Men are very safe with us, let them be ever so rich. I am glad to find, however, from what you say, that he is a respectable young man, and one whose acquaintance will not be ineligible."

 

"He is as good a sort of fellow, I believe, as ever lived," repeated Sir Michael. "I remember last Christmas at a little hop at the manor, he danced from eight o'clock till four, without once sitting down."

 

"Did he indeed?" cried Sherlock with sparkling eyes, "and with elegance, with spirit?"

 

"Yes; and he was up again at eight to ride to the hounds."

 

"That is what I like; that is what a young man ought to be. Whatever be his pursuits, his eagerness in them should know no moderation, and leave him no sense of fatigue."

 

"Aye, aye, I see how it will be," said Sir Michael. "I see how it will be. You will be setting your cap at him now, and never think of poor Captain Watson."

 

"That is an expression, Sir Michael," said Sherlock, warmly, "which I particularly dislike. I abhor every commonplace phrase by which wit is intended; and 'setting one's cap at a man,' or 'making a conquest,' are the most odious of all. Their tendency is gross and illiberal; and if their construction could ever be deemed clever, time has long ago destroyed all its ingenuity."

 

Sir Michael did not much understand this reproof; but he laughed as heartily as if he did, and then replied,

 

"Aye, you will make conquests enough, I dare say, one way or other. Poor Captain Watson! He is quite smitten already, and he is very well worth setting your cap at, I can tell you, in spite of all this tumbling about and spraining of ankles." 

 

Chapter Text

Sherlock's Preserver, as Sherrinford, with more elegance than precision, styled Victor Trevor, called at the cottage early the next morning to make his personal enquiries. He was received by Mrs. Holmes with more than politeness; with a kindness which Sir Michael's account of him and her own gratitude prompted; and everything that passed during the visit tended to assure him of the sense, elegance, mutual affection, and domestic comfort of the family to whom accident had now introduced him. Of their personal charms he had not required a second interview to be convinced.

 

Mycroft was a fine, handsome young man, and Sherlock was still handsomer. His face was so striking, that when in the common cant of praise, he was called beautiful, truth was less violently outraged than usually happens. In his eyes there was a life, a spirit, an eagerness, which could hardily be seen without delight. From Victor Trevor their expression was at first held back, by the embarrassment which the remembrance of his assistance created. But when this passed away, when Sherlock’s spirits became collected, when he saw that to the perfect good-breeding of the gentleman, Mr. Trevor united frankness and vivacity, and above all, when he heard him declare, that of music and dancing he was passionately fond, Sherlock gave him such a look of approbation as secured the largest share of his discourse to himself for the rest of his stay.

 

It was only necessary to mention any favourite amusement to engage him to talk. Sherlock could not be silent when such points were introduced, and he had neither shyness nor reserve in their discussion. They speedily discovered that their enjoyment of dancing and music was mutual, and that it arose from a general conformity of judgment in all that related to either. 

 

Encouraged by this to a further examination of his opinions, Sherlock proceeded to question him on the subject of books; his favourite authors were brought forward and dwelt upon with so rapturous a delight, that any young man of one and twenty must have been insensible, indeed, not to become an immediate convert to the excellence of such works, however disregarded before. Their taste was strikingly alike. The same books, the same passages were idolized by each — or if any difference appeared, any objection arose, it lasted no longer than till the force of Sherlock’s arguments and the brightness of his eyes could be displayed. Victor Trevor acquiesced in all his decisions, caught all his enthusiasm; and long before his visit concluded, they conversed with the familiarity of a long-established acquaintance.

 

"Well, Sherlock," said Mycroft, as soon as he had left them, "for one morning I think you have done pretty well. You have already ascertained Mr. Trevor's opinion in almost every matter of importance. You know what he thinks of Cowper and Scott; you are certain of his estimating their beauties as he ought, and you have received every assurance of his admiring Pope no more than is proper. But how is your acquaintance to be long supported, under such extraordinary dispatch of every subject for discourse? You will soon have exhausted each favourite topic. Another meeting will suffice to explain his sentiments on picturesque beauty, and second marriages, and then you can have nothing farther to ask."

 

"Mycroft," cried Sherlock, "is this fair? Is this just? Are my ideas so scanty? But I see what you mean. I have been too much at my ease, too happy, too frank. I have erred against every commonplace notion of decorum; I have been open and sincere where I ought to have been reserved, spiritless, dull, and deceitful. Had I talked only of the weather and the roads, and had I spoken only once in ten minutes, this reproach would have been spared."

 

"My love," said their mother, "you must not be offended with Mycroft — he was only in jest. I should scold him myself, if he were capable of wishing to check the delight of your conversation with our new friend." 

 

Sherlock was softened in a moment.

 

Victor Trevor, on his side, gave every proof of his pleasure in their acquaintance, which an evident wish of improving it could offer. He came to them every day. To enquire after Sherlock was at first his excuse; but the encouragement of his reception, to which every day gave greater kindness, made such an excuse unnecessary before it had ceased to be possible, by Sherlock's perfect recovery. 

 

Sherlock was confined for some days to the house; but never had any confinement been less irksome. Victor Trevor was a young man of good abilities, quick imagination, lively spirits, and open, affectionate manners. He was exactly formed to engage Sherlock's heart, for with all this, he joined not only a captivating person, but a natural ardour of mind which was now roused and increased by the example of Sherlock’s own, and which recommended him to his affection beyond everything else.

 

Victor Trevor’s society became gradually Sherlock’s most exquisite enjoyment. They read, they talked, they sang together; his musical talents were considerable; and he read with all the sensibility and spirit which Greg had unfortunately lacked.

 

In Mrs. Holmes' estimation he was as faultless as in Sherlock's; and Mycroft saw nothing to censure in him but a propensity, in which he strongly resembled and peculiarly delighted his brother, of saying too much what he thought on every occasion, without attention to persons or circumstances. In hastily forming and giving his opinion of other people, in sacrificing general politeness to the enjoyment of undivided attention where his heart was engaged, and in slighting too easily the forms of worldly propriety, he displayed a want of caution which Mycroft could not approve, in spite of all that he and Sherlock could say in its support.

 

Sherlock began now to perceive that the desperation which had seized him at sixteen and a half, of ever seeing a man who could satisfy his ideas of perfection, had been rash and unjustifiable. Victor Trevor was all that his fancy had delineated in that unhappy hour and in every brighter period, as capable of attaching him; and his behaviour declared his wishes to be in that respect as earnest, as his abilities were strong.

 

Mrs. Holmes, too, in whose mind not one speculative thought of their marriage had been raised by his prospect of riches, was led before the end of a week to hope and expect it; and secretly to congratulate herself on having gained two such sons-in-law as Greg Lestrade and Victor Trevor.

 

Captain Watson's partiality for Sherlock, which had so early been discovered by his friends, now first became perceptible to Mycroft, when it ceased to be noticed by them. Their attention and wit were drawn off to his more fortunate rival; and the raillery which Captain Watson had incurred before any obvious partiality arose, was removed when his feelings began really to call for the ridicule so justly annexed to sensibility. Mycroft was obliged, though unwillingly, to believe that the sentiments which Mrs. Hudson had assigned Captain Watson for her own satisfaction, were now actually excited by Sherlock; and that however a general resemblance of disposition between the parties might forward the affection of Mr. Trevor, an equally striking opposition of character was no hindrance to the regard of Captain Watson. 

 

Mycroft saw it with concern; for what could a silent man of thirty hope, when opposed to a very lively man of one and twenty? And as he could not even wish him successful, he heartily wished him indifferent. Mycroft liked Captain Watson, in spite of his gravity and reserve. His manners, though serious, were mild; and his reserve appeared rather the result of some oppression of spirits than of any natural gloominess of temper. Sir Michael had dropped hints of past injuries and disappointments, which justified Mycroft's belief of his being an unfortunate man, and he regarded him with respect and compassion.

 

Perhaps Mycroft pitied and esteemed Captain Watson the more because he was slighted by Victor Trevor and Sherlock, who, prejudiced against him for being neither lively nor young, seemed resolved to undervalue his merits.

 

"Watson is just the kind of man," said Victor Trevor one day, when they were talking of him together, "whom everybody speaks well of, and nobody cares about; whom all are delighted to see, and nobody remembers to talk to."

 

"That is exactly what I think of him," cried Sherlock.

 

"Do not boast of it, however," said Mycroft, "for it is injustice in both of you. He is highly esteemed by all the family at the manor, and I never see him myself without taking pains to converse with him."

 

"That he is patronised by you," replied Victor Trevor, "is certainly in his favour; but as for the esteem of the others, it is a reproach in itself. Who would submit to the indignity of being approved by such a woman as Lady Stamford, that could command the indifference of anybody else?"

 

"But perhaps the abuse of such people as yourself and Sherlock will make amends for the regard of Lady Stamford, as well as her husband and her mother. If their praise is censure, your censure may be praise, for they are not more undiscerning, than you are prejudiced and unjust."

 

"In defence of your protege you can even be saucy."

 

"My protege, as you call him, is a sensible man; and sense will always be valued by me. Yes, Sherlock, even in a man of thirty. He has seen a great deal of the world; has been abroad, has read, and has a thinking mind. I have found him capable of giving me much information on various subjects; and he has always answered my inquiries with the readiness of good-breeding and good nature."

 

"That is to say," cried Sherlock contemptuously, "he has told you that in the East Indies the climate is hot, and the mosquitoes are troublesome."

 

"He would have told me so, I doubt not, had I made any such inquiries, but they happened to be points on which I had been previously informed."

 

"Perhaps," said Victor Trevor, "his observations may have extended to the existence of nabobs, gold mohrs, and palanquins."

 

"I may venture to say that his observations have stretched much further than your candour. But why should you dislike him?"

 

"I do not dislike him. I consider him, on the contrary, as a very respectable man, who has everybody's good word, and nobody's notice; who has more money than he can spend, more time than he knows how to employ, and two new coats every year."

 

"Add to which," cried Sherlock, "that he has neither genius, taste, nor spirit. That his understanding has no brilliancy, his feelings no ardour, and his voice no expression."

 

"You decide on his imperfections so much in the mass," replied Mycroft, "and so much on the strength of your own imagination, that the commendation I am able to give of him is comparatively cold and insipid. I can only pronounce him to be a sensible man, well-bred, well-informed, of gentle address, and, I believe, possessing an amiable heart."

 

"Mr. Holmes," cried Victor Trevor, "you are now using me unkindly. You are endeavouring to disarm me by reason, and to convince me against my will. But it will not do. You shall find me as stubborn as you can be artful. I have three unanswerable reasons for disliking Captain Watson: he threatened me with rain when I wanted it to be fine; he has found fault with the hanging of my curricle; and I cannot persuade him to buy my brown mare. If it will be any satisfaction to you, however, to be told that I believe his character to be in other respects irreproachable, I am ready to confess it. And in return for such an acknowledgment, which must give me some pain, you cannot deny me the privilege of disliking him as much as ever."

Chapter Text

Little had Mrs. Holmes or her sons imagined, when they first came into Devonshire, that so many engagements would arise to occupy their time as shortly presented themselves, or that they should have such frequent invitations and such constant visitors as to leave them little leisure for serious employment. Yet such was the case. When Sherlock was recovered, the schemes of amusement at home and abroad, which Sir John had been previously forming, were put into execution. The private balls at the manor then began; and parties on the water were made and accomplished as often as a showery October would allow. 

 

In every meeting of the kind Victor Trevor was included; and the ease and familiarity which naturally attended these parties were exactly calculated to give increasing intimacy to his acquaintance with the Holmes family, to afford him opportunity of witnessing the excellencies of Sherlock, of marking his animated admiration of him, and of receiving, in Sherlock’s behaviour to himself, the most pointed assurance of his affection.

 

Mycroft could not be surprised at their attachment. He only wished that it were less openly shown; and once or twice did venture to suggest the propriety of some self-command to Sherlock. But Sherlock abhorred all concealment where no real disgrace could attend unreserve; and to aim at the restraint of sentiments which were not in themselves illaudable, appeared to him not merely an unnecessary effort, but a disgraceful subjection of reason to commonplace and mistaken notions. Victor Trevor thought the same; and their behaviour at all times was an illustration of their opinions.

 

When Victor Trevor was present, Sherlock had no eyes for anyone else. Everything he did, was right. Everything he said, was clever. If their evenings at the manor were concluded with cards, Mr. Trevor cheated himself and all the rest of the party to get Sherlock a good hand. If dancing formed the amusement of the night, they were partners for half the time; and when obliged to separate for a couple of dances, were careful to stand together and scarcely spoke a word to anybody else. Such conduct made them, of course, most exceedingly laughed at; but ridicule could not shame, and seemed hardly to provoke them.

 

Mrs. Holmes entered into all their feelings with a warmth which left her no inclination for checking this excessive display of them. To her it was but the natural consequence of a strong affection in a young and ardent mind.

 

This was the season of happiness to Sherlock. His heart was devoted to Victor Trevor, and the fond attachment to Musgrave Hall, which he brought with him from Sussex, was more likely to be softened than he had thought it possible before, by the charms which his society bestowed on their present home.

 

Mycroft's happiness was not so great. His heart was not so much at ease, nor his satisfaction in their amusements so pure. They afforded him no companion that could make amends for what he had left behind, nor that could teach him to think of Musgrave Hall with less regret than ever. 

 

Neither Sir Michael Stamford nor Mrs. Hudson could supply to him the conversation he missed, although they both were everlasting talkers, and from the first had regarded him with a kindness which ensured him a large share of their discourse. Sir Michael was outgoing and friendly to a fault, and yet never revealed any of his inner feelings. Mrs. Hudson, on the other hand, had already repeated her own history to Mycroft three or four times; and he had known very early in their acquaintance all the particulars of Mr. Hudson's last illness, and what he said to his wife a few minutes before he died. 

 

Lady Stamford was more agreeable than her husband and mother only in being more silent. Mycroft needed little observation to perceive that her reserve was a mere calmness of manner with which sense had nothing to do. Towards her husband and mother she was the same as to them; and intimacy was therefore neither to be looked for nor desired. She had nothing to say one day that she had not said the day before. Her insipidity was invariable, for even her spirits were always the same; and though she did not oppose the parties arranged by her husband, provided everything were conducted in style and her two eldest children attended her, she never appeared to receive more enjoyment from them than she might have experienced in sitting at home; and so little did her presence add to the pleasure of the others, by any share in their conversation, that they were sometimes only reminded of her being amongst them by her solicitude about her troublesome boys.

 

In Captain Watson alone, of all his new acquaintance, did Mycroft find a person who could in any degree claim the respect of abilities, excite the interest of friendship, or give pleasure as a companion. Victor Trevor was out of the question. He was a lover; his attentions were wholly Sherlock's, and a far less agreeable man might have been more generally pleasing. Captain Watson, unfortunately for himself, had no such encouragement to think only of Sherlock, and in conversing with Mycroft he found the greatest consolation for the indifference of his brother.

 

Mycroft's compassion for Captain Watson increased, as he had reason to suspect that the misery of disappointed love had already been known to him. This suspicion was given by some words which accidentally dropped from him one evening at the manor, when they were sitting down together by mutual consent, while the others were dancing. His eyes were fixed on Sherlock, and, after a silence of some minutes, he said, with a faint smile, "Your brother, I understand, does not approve of second attachments."

 

"No," replied Mycroft, "his opinions are all romantic."

 

"Or rather, as I believe, he considers them impossible to exist."

 

"I believe he does. But how he contrives it, without reflecting on the character of our own father, who was a widower before he married our mother, I know not. A few years, however, will settle his opinions on the reasonable basis of common sense and observation; and then they may be more easy to define and to justify than they now are, by anybody but himself."

 

"This will probably be the case," Captain Watson replied; "and yet there is something so amiable in the prejudices of a young mind, that one is sorry to see them give way to the reception of more general opinions."

 

"I cannot agree with you there," said Mycroft. "There are inconveniences attending such feelings as Sherlock's, which all the charms of enthusiasm and ignorance of the world cannot atone for. His systems have all the unfortunate tendency of setting propriety at nought; and a better acquaintance with the world is what I look forward to as his greatest possible advantage."

 

After a short pause, Captain Watson resumed the conversation by saying, "Does your brother make no distinction in his objections against a second attachment? Or is it equally criminal in everybody? Are those who have been disappointed in their first choice, whether from the inconstancy of its object, or the perverseness of circumstances, to be equally indifferent during the rest of their lives?"

 

"Upon my word, I am not acquainted with the minutiae of his principles. I only know that I never yet heard him admit any instance of a second attachment's being pardonable."

 

"This," said Captain Watson, "cannot hold; but a change, a total change of sentiments — No, no, do not desire it; for when the romantic refinements of a young mind are obliged to give way, how frequently are they succeeded by such opinions as are but too common, and too dangerous! I speak from experience. I once knew a lady who in temper and mind greatly resembled your brother, who thought and judged like him, but who from an enforced change — from a series of unfortunate circumstances—"  

 

Here he stopped suddenly; appeared to think that he had said too much, and by his countenance gave rise to conjectures, which might not otherwise have entered Mycroft's head. The lady would probably have passed without suspicion, had Captain Watson not behaved as though what concerned her ought not to escape his lips. As it was, it required but a slight effort of fancy to connect his emotion with the tender recollection of past regard. 

 

Mycroft attempted no more. But Sherlock, in his place, would not have done so little. The whole story would have been speedily formed under his active deduction; and everything established in the most melancholy order of disastrous love. 

 

Chapter Text

As Mycroft and Sherlock were walking together the next morning, the latter communicated a piece of news to his brother, which in spite of all that Mycroft knew before of Sherlock's imprudence and lack of consideration for propriety, surprised him by its extravagant testimony of both. Sherlock told him, with the greatest delight, that Victor Trevor had given him a horse, one that he had bred himself on his estate in Somersetshire. Without considering that it was not in their mother's plan to keep any horse, that if she were to alter her resolution in favour of this gift, she must build a stable to receive it, and keep a servant to care for it, he had accepted the present without hesitation, and told his brother of it in raptures.

 

"He intends to send his groom into Somersetshire immediately for it," Sherlock added, "and when it arrives we will ride every day. You shall share its use with me. Imagine to yourself, my dear Mycroft, the delight of a gallop on some of these downs."

 

Most unwilling was Sherlock to awaken from such a dream of felicity to comprehend all the unhappy truths which attended the affair; and for some time he refused to submit to them. As to an additional servant, the expense would be a trifle; Mummy he was sure would never object to it; as to a stable, the merest shed would be sufficient. 

 

Mycroft then ventured to doubt the propriety of his receiving such a present from a man so little, or at least so lately known to him. This was too much.

 

"You are mistaken, Mycroft," said Sherlock hotly, "in supposing I know very little of Victor Trevor. I have not known him long, indeed, but I am much better acquainted with him than I am with any other creature in the world, except yourself and Mummy. It is not time or opportunity that is to determine intimacy: it is disposition alone. Seven years would be insufficient to make some people acquainted with each other, and seven days are more than enough for others. I should hold myself guilty of greater impropriety in accepting a horse from our cousin, than from Victor Trevor. Of James I know very little, though we lived together for six months; but of Victor my judgment has long been formed."

 

Mycroft thought it wisest to touch that point no more. He knew his brother's temper. Opposition on so tender a subject would only attach him the more to his own opinion. But by an appeal to his affection for their mother, by representing the inconveniences which that indulgent mother must draw on herself, if (as would probably be the case) she consented to this increase of establishment, Sherlock was shortly subdued; and he promised not to tempt their mother to such imprudent kindness by mentioning the offer, and to tell Victor Trevor when he saw him next, that it must be declined.

 

Sherlock was faithful to his word; and when Victor Trevor called at the cottage, the same day, Mycroft heard him express his disappointment to him in a low voice, on being obliged to forego the acceptance of his present. The reasons for this alteration were at the same time related, and they were such as to make further entreaty on his side impossible. 

 

His concern, however, was very apparent; and after expressing it with earnestness, he added, in the same low voice, "But, Sherlock, the horse is still yours, though you cannot use it now. I shall keep it only till you can claim it. When you leave Baker to form your own establishment in a more lasting home, Queen Mab shall receive you."

 

This was all overheard by Mycroft; and in the whole of the sentence, in his manner of pronouncing it, and in his addressing Sherlock by his given name alone, he instantly saw an intimacy so decided, a meaning so direct, as marked a perfect agreement between them. From that moment, Mycroft doubted not of their being engaged to each other; and the belief of it created no other surprise than that he, or any of their friends, should be left, by tempers so frank, to discover it by accident.

 

Sherrinford related something to Mycroft the next day, which placed this matter in a still clearer light. Victor Trevor had spent the preceding evening with them, and Sherrinford, by being left some time in the parlour with only him and Sherlock, had had opportunity for observations, which, with a most important face, he communicated to his eldest brother, when they were next by themselves.

 

"Oh, Mycroft!" he cried, "I have such a secret to tell you about Sherlock. I am sure he will be married to Mr. Trevor very soon."

 

"You have said so," replied Mycroft, "almost every day since they first met on High-church Down; and they had not known each other a week, I believe, before you were certain that Sherlock wore Victor Trevor’s picture round his neck; but it turned out to be only the miniature of our great uncle."

 

"But indeed this is quite another thing. I am sure they will be married very soon, for he has got a lock of Sherlock’s hair."

 

"Take care, Sherrinford. It may be only the hair of some great uncle of his."

 

"But, indeed, Mycroft, it is Sherlock's. I am almost sure it is, for I saw him cut it off. Last night after tea, when you and Mummy went out of the room, they were whispering and talking together as fast as could be, and Mr. Trevor seemed to be begging something of Sherlock, and presently he took up the scissors and cut off a lock of his hair; and he kissed it, and folded it up in a piece of white paper; and put it into his pocket-book."

 

For such particulars, stated on such authority, Mycroft could not withhold his credit; nor was he disposed to it, for the circumstance was in perfect unison with what he had heard and seen himself.

 

Sherrinford's sagacity was not always displayed in a way so satisfactory to his eldest brother. When Mrs. Hudson asked him one evening at the manor, to give the name of the young man who was Mycroft's particular favourite, which had been long a matter of great curiosity to her, Sherrinford answered by looking at his brother, and saying, "I must not tell, may I, Mycroft?"

 

This of course made everybody laugh; and Mycroft tried to laugh too. But the effort was painful. He was convinced that Sherrinford had fixed on a person whose name he could not bear with composure to become a standing joke with Mrs. Hudson.

 

Sherlock felt for him most sincerely; but he did more harm than good to the cause, by turning very red and saying in an angry manner to Sherrinford, "Remember that whatever your conjectures may be, you have no right to repeat them."

 

"I never had any conjectures about it," replied Sherrinford. "It was you who told me of it yourself."

 

This increased the mirth of the company, and Sherrinford was eagerly pressed to say something more.

 

"Oh! Pray, Master Sherrinford, let us know all about it," said Mrs. Hudson. "What is the gentleman's name?"

 

"I must not tell, ma'am. But I know very well what it is; and I know where he is too."

 

"Yes, yes, we can guess where he is; at his own house at Musgrave to be sure. He is the curate of the parish I dare say."

 

"No, that he is not. He is of no profession at all."

 

"Sherrinford," said Sherlock with great warmth, "you know that all this is an invention of your own, and that there is no such person in existence."

 

"Well, then, he is lately dead, Sherlock, for I am sure there was such a man once, and his surname begins with an L."

 

Most grateful did Mycroft feel to Lady Stamford for observing aloud, at this moment, that it rained very hard, though he believed the interruption to proceed less from any attention to him, than from her ladyship's great dislike of all such inelegant subjects of raillery as delighted her husband and mother. The topic of the weather, however, started by her, was immediately pursued by Captain Watson, who was on every occasion mindful of the feelings of others; and much was said on the subject of rain by both of them. 

 

Victor Trevor opened the piano-forte, and asked Sherlock to sit down to it; and thus amidst the various endeavours of different people to quit the topic, it fell to the ground. But not so easily did Mycroft recover from the alarm into which it had thrown him.

 

A party was formed this evening for going on the following day to see a very fine place about twelve miles from Baker, belonging to the sister and sister-in-law of Captain Watson, without whose interest it could not be seen, as the proprietors, who were then abroad, had left strict orders on that head. The grounds were declared to be highly beautiful, and Sir Michael, who was particularly warm in their praise, might be allowed to be a tolerable judge, for he had formed parties to visit them at least twice every summer for the last ten years. They contained a noble piece of water, a sail on which was to a form a great part of the morning's amusement. Cold provisions were to be taken, open carriages only to be employed, and everything conducted in the usual style of a complete party of pleasure.

 

Chapter Text

Their intended excursion to Whitwell turned out very differently from what Mycroft had expected. It had appeared rather a bold undertaking, considering the time of year, and that it had rained every day for the last fortnight; and he had persuaded Mrs. Holmes, who had already a cold, to stay at home. Mycroft himself was prepared to be wet through and fatigued; but the event was still more unfortunate, for they did not go at all.

 

By ten o'clock the whole party was assembled at Baker Manor, where they were to breakfast. Though it had rained all night, the morning was rather favourable, as the clouds were then dispersing across the sky, and the sun frequently appeared. They were all in high spirits and good humour, eager to be happy, and determined to submit to the greatest inconveniences and hardships rather than be otherwise.

 

While they were at breakfast the letters were brought in. Among the rest there was one for Captain Watson; he took it, looked at the direction, changed colour, and immediately left the room.

 

"What is the matter with Watson?" said Sir Michael.

 

Nobody could tell.

 

"I hope he has had no bad news," said Lady Stamford. "It must be something extraordinary that could make Captain Watson leave my breakfast table so suddenly."

 

In about five minutes he returned.

 

"No bad news, Captain, I hope,” said Mrs. Hudson, as soon as he entered the room.

 

"None at all, ma'am, I thank you."

 

"Was it from Avignon? I hope it is not to say that your sister is unwell."

 

"No, ma'am. It came from town, and is merely a letter of business."

 

"But how came the hand to discompose you so much, if it was only a letter of business? Come, come, this won't do, Captain; so let us hear the truth of it."

 

"My dear madam," said Lady Stamford, "recollect what you are saying."

 

"Perhaps it is to tell you that your cousin is married?" said Mrs. Hudson, without attending to her daughter's reproof.

 

"No, indeed, it is not."

 

"Well, then, I know who it is from, Captain. And I hope she is well."

 

"Whom do you mean, ma'am?" said he, colouring a little.

 

"Oh! You know who I mean."

 

"I am particularly sorry, ma'am," said he, addressing Lady Stamford, "that I should receive this letter today, for it is on business which requires my immediate attendance in town."

 

"In town!" cried Mrs. Hudson. "What can you have to do in town at this time of year?"

 

"My own loss is great," he continued, "in being obliged to leave so agreeable a party; but I am the more concerned, as I fear my presence is necessary to gain your admittance at Whitwell."

 

What a blow upon them all was this!

 

"But if you write a note to the housekeeper, Captain Watson," said Sherlock, eagerly, "will it not be sufficient?"

 

He shook his head in evident regret.

 

"We must go," said Sir Michael. "It shall not be put off when we are so near it. You cannot go to town till tomorrow, Watson, that is all."

 

"I wish it could be so easily settled. But it is not in my power to delay my journey for one day.”

 

"If you would but let us know what your business is," said Mrs. Hudson, "we might see whether it could be put off or not."

 

"You would not be six hours later," said Victor Trevor, "if you were to defer your journey till our return."

 

"I cannot afford to lose one hour." 

 

Mycroft then heard Victor Trevor say, in a low voice to Sherlock, "There are some people who cannot bear a party of pleasure. Watson is one of them. He was afraid of catching cold I dare say, and invented this trick for getting out of it. I would lay fifty guineas the letter was of his own writing."

 

"I have no doubt of it," replied Sherlock.

 

"There is no persuading you to change your mind, Watson, I know of old," said Sir Michael, "when once you are determined on anything. But, however, I hope you will think better of it. Consider, here are the two Miss Careys come over from Newton, the three Holmes brothers walked up from the cottage, and Mr. Trevor got up two hours before his usual time, on purpose to go to Whitwell."

 

Captain Watson again repeated his sorrow at being the cause of disappointing the party; but at the same time declared it to be unavoidable.

 

"Well, then, when will you come back again?"

 

"I hope we shall see you at Baker," added her ladyship, "as soon as you can conveniently leave town; and we must put off the party to Whitwell till you return."

 

"You are very obliging. But it is so uncertain, when I may have it in my power to return, that I dare not engage for it at all."

 

"Oh! He must and shall come back," cried Sir Michael. "If he is not here by the end of the week, I shall go after him."

 

"Aye, so do, Sir Michael," cried Mrs. Hudson, "and then perhaps you may find out what his business is."

 

"I do not want to pry into other men's concerns. I suppose it is something he is ashamed of."

 

Captain Watson's horses were announced.

 

"You do not go to town on horseback, do you?" added Sir Michael.

 

"No. Only to Honiton. I shall then go post."

 

"Well, as you are resolved to go, I wish you a good journey. But you had better change your mind."

 

"I assure you it is not in my power."

 

He then took leave of the whole party.

 

"Is there no chance of my seeing you and your brothers in town this winter, Mr. Holmes?” Captain Watson asked.

 

"I am afraid, none at all,” Mycroft replied.

 

"Then I must bid you farewell for a longer time than I should wish to do."

 

To Sherlock, he merely bowed and said nothing.

 

"Come Captain," said Mrs. Hudson, "before you go, do let us know what you are going about."

 

He wished her a good morning, and, attended by Sir Michael, left the room.

 

The complaints and lamentations which politeness had hitherto restrained, now burst forth universally; and they all agreed again and again how provoking it was to be so disappointed.

 

"I can guess what his business is, however," said Mrs. Hudson exultingly.

 

"Can you, ma'am?" said almost everybody.

 

"Yes; it is about Miss Morstan, I am sure."

 

"And who is Miss Morstan?" asked Sherlock.

 

"What! Do not you know who Miss Rosamund Morstan is? I am sure you must have heard of her before. She is the Captain’s ward.”

 

"Indeed!"

 

"Oh, yes. I dare say the Captain will leave her all his fortune,” said Mrs. Hudson. “If he does not marry, that is,” she added, with a sly look at Sherlock.

 

When Sir Michael returned, he joined most heartily in the general regret on so unfortunate an event; concluding, however, by observing that as they were all together, they must do something by way of being happy; and after some consultation it was agreed that although true happiness could only be enjoyed at Whitwell, they might procure a tolerable composure of mind by driving about the country. 

 

The carriages were then ordered; Victor Trevor's was first, and Sherlock never looked happier than when he got into it. They drove through the manor very fast, and were soon out of sight; and nothing more of them was seen till their return, which did not happen till after the return of all the rest. They both seemed delighted with their drive; but said only in general terms that they had kept in the lanes, while the others went on the downs.

 

It was settled that there should be a dance in the evening, and that everybody should be extremely merry all day long. Some more of the Careys came to dinner, and they had the pleasure of sitting down nearly twenty to table, which Sir Michael observed with great contentment. 

 

Victor Trevor took his usual place between the two elder Holmes brothers. Mrs. Hudson sat on Mycroft's right hand; and they had not been long seated, before she leant behind him and Victor Trevor, and said to Sherlock, loud enough for them both to hear, "I have found you out in spite of all your tricks. I know where you spent the morning."

 

Sherlock coloured, and replied very hastily, "Where, pray?" 

 

"Did not you know," said Victor Trevor, "that we had been out in my curricle?"

 

"Yes, yes, Mr. Impudence, I know that very well, and I was determined to find out where you had been to. I hope you like your house, Master Sherlock. It is a very large one, I know; and when I come to see you, I hope you will have new-furnished it, for it wanted it very much when I was there six years ago."

 

Sherlock turned away in great confusion. Mrs. Hudson laughed heartily; and Mycroft found that in her resolution to know where they had been, she had actually made her own maid enquire of Mr. Trevor's groom; and that she had by that method been informed that they had gone to Allenham, and spent a considerable time there in walking about the garden and going all over the house.

 

Mycroft could hardly believe this to be true, as it seemed very unlikely that Victor Trevor should propose, or Sherlock consent, to enter the house while Lady Smallwood was in it, with whom Sherlock had not the slightest acquaintance.

 

As soon as they left the dining-room, Mycroft enquired of him about it; and great was his surprise when he found that every circumstance related by Mrs. Hudson was perfectly true. Sherlock was quite angry with him for doubting it.

 

"Why should you imagine, Mycroft, that we did not go there, or that we did not see the house? Is not it what you have often wished to do yourself?"

 

"Yes, Sherlock, but I would not go while Lady Smallwood was there, and with no other companion than Mr. Trevor."

 

"Mr. Trevor, however, is the only person who can have a right to show that house; and as we went in an open carriage, it was impossible to have any other companion. I never spent a pleasanter morning in my life."

 

"I am afraid," replied Mycroft, "that the pleasantness of an employment does not always evince its propriety."

 

"On the contrary, nothing can be a stronger proof of it, Mycroft; for if there had been any real impropriety in what I did, I should have been sensible of it at the time, for we always know when we are acting wrong, and with such a conviction I could have had no pleasure."

 

"But, my dear brother, as it has already exposed you to some very impertinent remarks, do you not now begin to doubt the discretion of your own conduct?"

 

"If the impertinent remarks of Mrs. Hudson are to be the proof of impropriety in conduct, we are all offending every moment of our lives. I value not her censure any more than I should do her commendation. I am not sensible of having done anything wrong in walking over Lady Smallwood's grounds, or in seeing her house. They will one day be Mr. Trevor's, and — "

 

"If they were one day to be your own, Sherlock, you would not be justified in what you have done."

 

Sherlock blushed at this hint; but it was visibly gratifying to him; and after a ten minutes' interval of earnest thought, he came to his brother again, and said with great good humour, "Perhaps, Mycroft, it was rather ill-judged in me to go to Allenham; but Mr. Trevor wanted particularly to show me the place; and it is a charming house, I assure you.

 

“There is one remarkably pretty sitting room up stairs; of a nice comfortable size for constant use, and with modern furniture it would be delightful. It is a corner room, and has windows on two sides. On one side you look across the bowling-green, behind the house, to a beautiful hanging wood, and on the other you have a view of the church and village, and, beyond them, of those fine bold hills that we have so often admired. I did not see it to advantage, for nothing could be more forlorn than the furniture, but if it were newly fitted up it would be one of the pleasantest summer-rooms in England."

 

Could Mycroft have listened to him without interruption from the others, Sherlock would have described every room in the house with equal delight. 

 

Chapter Text

The sudden termination of Captain Watson's visit at the manor, with his steadiness in concealing its cause, filled the mind and raised the wonder of Mrs. Hudson for two or three days; she was a great wonderer, as everyone must be who takes a very lively interest in all the comings and goings of all their acquaintance. She wondered, with little intermission, what could be the reason of it; was sure there must be some bad news, and thought over every kind of distress that could have befallen him, with a fixed determination that he should not escape them all.

 

"Something very melancholy must be the matter, I am sure," said she. "I could see it in his face. Poor man! I am afraid his circumstances may be bad. I do think he must have been sent for about money matters, for what else can it be? I wonder whether it is so. Perhaps it is about Miss Morstan and, by the bye, I dare say it is, because he looked so conscious when I mentioned her. Maybe she is ill in town. I would lay any wager it is about Miss Morstan. It is not so very likely he should be distressed in his circumstances, for he is a very prudent man, and to be sure has such a large estate. I wonder what it can be! Maybe his sister is ill at Avignon, and has sent for him over. His setting off in such a hurry seems very like it. Well, I wish him out of all his trouble with all my heart."

 

So wondered, so talked Mrs. Hudson, her opinion varying with every fresh conjecture, and all seeming equally probable as they arose. Mycroft, though he felt really interested in the welfare of Captain Watson, could not bestow all the wonder on his going so suddenly away which Mrs. Hudson was desirous of his feeling; for besides the fact that the circumstance did not in his opinion justify such lasting amazement or variety of speculation, his wonder was otherwise disposed of. 

 

Mycroft’s attention was engrossed by the extraordinary silence of his brother and Victor Trevor on the subject of their relationship, which they must know to be peculiarly interesting to them all. As this silence continued, every day made it appear more strange and more incompatible with the disposition of both. Why they should not openly acknowledge, to his mother and himself, the engagement which their constant behaviour to each other declared to have taken place, Mycroft could not imagine.

 

He could easily conceive that marriage might not be immediately in their power; for though Victor Trevor was independent, there was no reason to believe him rich. His estate had been rated by Sir Michael at about six or seven hundred a year; but he lived at an expense to which that income could hardly be equal, and he had himself often complained of his poverty. However, for this strange kind of secrecy maintained by them relative to their engagement, which in fact concealed nothing at all, Mycroft could not account; and it was so wholly contradictory to their general opinions and practice, that a doubt sometimes entered his mind of their being really engaged, and this doubt was enough to prevent his making any inquiry of Sherlock.

 

Nothing could be more expressive of attachment to them all, than Victor Trevor's behaviour. To Sherlock it had all the distinguishing tenderness which a lover's heart could give, and to the rest of the family it was the affectionate attention of a son and a brother. The cottage seemed to be considered and loved by him as his home; many more of his hours were spent there than at Allenham; and if no general engagement collected them at the manor, the exercise which called him out in the morning was almost certain of ending there, where the rest of the day was spent by himself at the side of Sherlock, and by his favourite pointer at his feet.

 

One evening in particular, about a week after Captain Watson left the country, Victor Trevor’s heart seemed more than usually open to every feeling of attachment to the objects around him; and on Mrs. Holmes' happening to mention her design of improving the cottage in the spring, he warmly opposed every alteration of a place which affection had established as perfect with him.

 

"What!" he exclaimed. “Improve this dear cottage! No. That I will never consent to. Not a stone must be added to its walls, not an inch to its size, if my feelings are regarded."

 

"Do not be alarmed," said Mycroft. "Nothing of the kind will be done; for my mother will never have money enough to attempt it."

 

"I am heartily glad of it," he cried. "May she always be poor, if she can employ her riches no better."

 

"Thank you, Mr. Trevor,” said Mrs. Holmes, smiling. “But you may be assured that I would not sacrifice one sentiment of local attachment of yours, or of anyone whom I loved, for all the improvements in the world. Depend upon it that whatever unemployed sum may remain, when I make up my accounts in the spring, I would even rather lay it uselessly by than dispose of it in a manner so painful to you. But are you really so attached to this place as to see no defect in it?"

 

"I am," said he. "To me it is faultless. Nay, more, I consider it as the only form of building in which happiness is attainable, and were I rich enough I would instantly pull Combe down, and build it up again in the exact plan of this cottage."

 

"With dark narrow stairs and a kitchen that smokes, I suppose," said Mycroft.

 

"Yes," cried he in the same eager tone, "with all and everything belonging to it. In no one convenience or inconvenience about it, should the least variation be perceptible. Then, and then only, under such a roof, I might perhaps be as happy at Combe as I have been at Baker."

 

"I flatter myself," replied Mycroft, "that even under the disadvantage of better rooms and a broader staircase, you will hereafter find your own house as faultless as you now do this."

 

"There certainly are circumstances," said Mr. Trevor, "which might greatly endear it to me; but this place will always have one claim of my affection, which no other can possibly share."

 

Mrs. Holmes looked with pleasure at Sherlock, whose fine eyes were fixed so expressively on Victor Trevor, as plainly denoted how well he understood him.

 

"How often did I wish," added he, "when I was at Allenham this time twelvemonth, that Baker Cottage were inhabited! I never passed within view of it without admiring its situation, and grieving that no one should live in it. How little did I then think that the very first news I should hear from Lady Smallwood, when I next came into the country, would be that Baker Cottage was taken: and I felt an immediate satisfaction and interest in the event, which nothing but a kind of prescience of what happiness I should experience from it can account for. 

 

“Must it not have been so, Sherlock?" he added, speaking to him in a lowered voice. 

 

Then continuing his former tone, he said, "And yet this house you would spoil, Mrs. Holmes? You would rob it of its simplicity by imaginary improvement! And this dear parlour in which our acquaintance first began, and in which so many happy hours have been since spent by us together, you would degrade to the condition of a common entrance, and everybody would be eager to pass through the room which has hitherto contained within itself more real accommodation and comfort than any other apartment of the handsomest dimensions in the world could possibly afford."

 

Mrs. Holmes again assured him that no alteration of the kind should be attempted.

 

"You are a good woman," he warmly replied. "Your promise makes me easy. Extend it a little farther, and it will make me happy. Tell me that not only your house will remain the same, but that I shall ever find you and yours as unchanged as your dwelling; and that you will always consider me with the kindness which has made everything belonging to you so dear to me."

 

The promise was readily given, and Victor Trevor's behaviour during the whole of the evening declared at once his affection and happiness.

 

"Shall we see you tomorrow to dinner?" asked Mrs. Holmes, when he was leaving them. "I do not ask you to come in the morning, for we must walk to the manor, to call on Lady Stamford."

 

He engaged to be with them by four o'clock.

Chapter Text

Mrs. Holmes' visit to Lady Stamford took place the next day, and two of her sons went with her; but Sherlock excused himself from being of the party, under some trifling pretext of employment; and his mother, who concluded that a promise had been made by Victor Trevor the night before of calling on him while they were absent, was perfectly satisfied with his remaining at home.

 

On their return from the manor, they found Victor Trevor's curricle and servant in waiting at the cottage, and Mrs. Holmes was convinced that her conjecture had been just. So far it was all as she had foreseen; but on entering the house she beheld what no foresight had taught her to expect. They were no sooner in the passage than Sherlock came hastily out of the parlour, apparently in violent affliction, with his handkerchief at his eyes; and without noticing them ran upstairs. 

 

Surprised and alarmed, they proceeded directly into the room he had just quitted, where they found only Victor Trevor, who was leaning against the mantel-piece with his back towards them. He turned round on their coming in, and his countenance showed that he strongly partook of the emotion which over-powered Sherlock.

 

"Is anything the matter with him?" cried Mrs. Holmes as she entered. "Is he ill?"

 

"I hope not," he replied, trying to look cheerful; and with a forced smile presently added, "It is I who may rather expect to be ill — for I am now suffering under a very heavy disappointment!"

 

"Disappointment?"

 

"Yes, for I am unable to keep my engagement with you. Lady Smallwood has this morning exercised the privilege of riches upon a poor dependent cousin, by sending me on business to London. I have just received my dispatches, and taken my farewell of Allenham; and I am now come to take my farewell of you."

 

"To London! And are you going this morning?"

 

"Almost this moment."

 

"This is very unfortunate. But Lady Smallwood must be obliged; and her business will not detain you from us long, I hope."

 

He coloured as he replied, "You are very kind, but I have no idea of returning into Devonshire immediately. My visits to Lady Smallwood are never repeated within the twelvemonth."

 

"And is Lady Smallwood your only friend? Is Allenham the only house in the neighbourhood to which you will be welcome? For shame, Mr. Trevor. Can you wait for an invitation here?"

 

His colour increased; and with his eyes fixed on the ground he only replied, "You are too good."

 

Mrs. Holmes looked at Mycroft with surprise. Mycroft felt equal amazement. For a few moments everyone was silent. Mrs. Holmes first spoke.

 

"I have only to add, my dear Mr. Trevor, that at Baker Cottage you will always be welcome; for I will not press you to return here immediately, because you only can judge how far that might be pleasing to Lady Smallwood; and on this head I shall be no more disposed to question your judgment than to doubt your inclination."

 

"My engagements at present," replied Victor Trevor, confusedly, "are of such a nature — that — I dare not flatter myself —" 

 

He stopped. Mrs. Holmes was too much astonished to speak, and another pause succeeded. This was broken by Victor Trevor, who said with a faint smile, "It is folly to linger in this manner. I will not torment myself any longer by remaining among friends whose society it is impossible for me now to enjoy."

 

He then hastily took leave of them all and left the room. They saw him step into his carriage, and in a minute it was out of sight.

 

Mrs. Holmes felt too much for speech, and instantly quitted the parlour to give way in solitude to the concern and alarm which this sudden departure occasioned.

 

Mycroft's uneasiness was at least equal to his mother's. He thought of what had just passed with anxiety and distrust. Victor Trevor's behaviour in taking leave of them, his embarrassment, and, above all, his unwillingness to accept his mother's invitation, a backwardness so unlike a lover, so unlike himself, greatly disturbed him. 

 

One moment Mycroft feared that no serious design had ever been formed on his side; and the next that some unfortunate quarrel had taken place between him and Sherlock. The distress in which his brother had quitted the room was such as a serious quarrel could most reasonably account for, though when he considered what Sherlock's love for Victor Trevor was, a quarrel seemed almost impossible.

 

But whatever might be the particulars of their separation, his brother's affliction was indubitable; and Mycroft thought with the tenderest compassion of that violent sorrow which Sherlock was in all probability not merely giving way to as a relief, but feeding and encouraging as a duty.

 

In about half an hour his mother returned, and though her eyes were red, her countenance was not uncheerful.

 

"Our dear Victor Trevor is now some miles from Baker, Mycroft," said she, as she sat down to work, "and with how heavy a heart does he travel?"

 

"It is all very strange. Last night he was with us, so happy, so cheerful, so affectionate. And now, after only ten minutes notice, he is gone. Gone, too, without intending to return! Something more than what he owned to us must have happened. He did not speak, he did not behave like himself. You must have seen the difference as well as I. What can it be? Can they have quarrelled? Why else should he have shown such unwillingness to accept your invitation here?" 

 

"It was not inclination that he wanted, Mycroft; I could plainly see that. He had not the power of accepting it. I have thought it all over, I assure you, and I can perfectly account for everything that at first seemed strange to me as well as to you."

 

"Can you, indeed!"

 

"Yes. I have explained it to myself in the most satisfactory way. But you, Mycroft, who love to doubt where you can — it will not satisfy you, I know. But you shall not talk me out of my trust in it. I am persuaded that Lady Smallwood suspects his regard for Sherlock, disapproves of it (perhaps because she has other views for him) and on that account is eager to get him away; and that the business which she sends him off to transact is invented as an excuse to dismiss him. This is what I believe to have happened. 

 

“He is, moreover, aware that she does disapprove the connection. He dares not, therefore, at present, confess to her his engagement with Sherlock, and he feels himself obliged, from his dependent situation, to give in to her schemes, and absent himself from Devonshire for a while. You will tell me, I know, that this may or may not have happened; but I will listen to no cavil, unless you can point out any other method of understanding the affair as satisfactory at this. And now, Mycroft, what have you to say?"

 

"Nothing, for you have anticipated my answer."

 

"Then you would have told me that it might or might not have happened. Oh, Mycroft, how incomprehensible are your feelings! You had rather take evil upon credit than good. You had rather look out for misery for Sherlock, and guilt for poor Victor Trevor, than an apology for the latter. You are resolved to think him blamable, because he took leave of us with less affection than his usual behaviour has shown. 

 

“Is no allowance to be made for inadvertence, or for spirits depressed by recent disappointment? Are no probabilities to be accepted, merely because they are not certainties? Is nothing due to the man whom we have all such reason to love, and no reason in the world to think ill of? To the possibility of motives unanswerable in themselves, though unavoidably secret for a while? And, after all, what is it you suspect him of?"

 

"I can hardly tell myself. But suspicion of something unpleasant is the inevitable consequence of such an alteration as we just witnessed in him. There is great truth, however, in what you have now urged of the allowances which ought to be made for him, and it is my wish to be candid in my judgment of everybody. Victor Trevor may undoubtedly have very sufficient reasons for his conduct, and I will hope that he has. But it would have been more like him to acknowledge them at once. Secrecy may be advisable; but still I cannot help wondering at its being practiced by him."

 

"Do not blame him, however, for departing from his character, where the deviation is necessary. But you really do admit the justice of what I have said in his defence? I am happy — and he is acquitted."

 

"Not entirely. It may be proper to conceal their engagement (if they are engaged) from Lady Smallwood — and if that is the case, it must be highly expedient for Victor Trevor to be but little in Devonshire at present. But this is no excuse for their concealing it from us."

 

"Concealing it from us! My dear child, do you accuse Victor Trevor and Sherlock of concealment? This is strange indeed, when your eyes have been reproaching them every day for incautiousness."

 

"I want no proof of their affection," said Mycroft; "but of their engagement I do."

 

"I am perfectly satisfied of both."

 

"Yet not a syllable has been said to you on the subject, by either of them."

 

"I have not wanted syllables, where actions have spoken so plainly. Has not his behaviour to Sherlock, and to all of us, for at least the last fortnight, declared that he loved and considered him as his future husband, and that he felt for us the attachment of the nearest relation? Have we not perfectly understood each other? Has not my consent been daily asked by his looks, his manner, his attentive and affectionate respect? 

 

“My Mycroft, is it possible to doubt their engagement? How could such a thought occur to you? How is it to be supposed that Victor Trevor, persuaded as he must be of your brother's love, should leave him, and leave him perhaps for months, without telling him of his affection — that they should part without a mutual exchange of confidence?"

 

"I confess," replied Mycroft, "that every circumstance except one is in favour of their engagement; but that one is the total silence of both on the subject, and with me it almost outweighs every other."

 

"How strange this is! You must think wretchedly indeed of Victor Trevor, if, after all that has openly passed between them, you can doubt the nature of the terms on which they are together. Has he been acting a part in his behaviour to your brother all this time? Do you suppose him really indifferent?"

 

"No, I cannot think that. He must and does love Sherlock, I am sure."

 

"But with a strange kind of tenderness, if he can leave him with such indifference, such carelessness of the future, as you attribute to him."

 

"You must remember, my dear mother, that I have never considered this matter as certain. I have had my doubts, I confess; but they are fainter than they were, and they may soon be entirely done away. If we find they correspond, every fear of mine will be removed."

 

"A mighty concession indeed! If you were to see them at the altar, you would suppose they were going to be married. Ungracious boy! But I require no such proof. Nothing in my opinion has ever passed to justify doubt; no secrecy has been attempted; all has been uniformly open and unreserved. You cannot doubt your brother's wishes. It must be Victor Trevor therefore whom you suspect. But why? Is he not a man of honour and feeling? Has there been any inconsistency on his side to create alarm? Can he be deceitful?"

 

"I hope not, I believe not," said Mycroft. "Suspicion of his integrity cannot be more painful to yourself than to me. It has been involuntary, and I will not encourage it. I was startled, I confess, by the alteration in his manners this morning; he did not speak like himself, and did not return your kindness with any cordiality. But all this may be explained by such a situation of his affairs as you have supposed. 

 

“He had just parted from Sherlock, had seen him leave in the greatest affliction; and if he felt obliged, from a fear of offending Lady Smallwood, to resist the temptation of returning here soon, and yet aware that by declining your invitation, by saying that he was going away for some time, he should seem to act an ungenerous, a suspicious part by our family, he might well be embarrassed and disturbed. In such a case, a plain and open avowal of his difficulties would have been more to his honour, I think, as well as more consistent with his general character; but I will not raise objections against anyone's conduct on so illiberal a foundation as a difference in judgment from myself, or a deviation from what I may think right and consistent."

 

"You speak very properly. Victor Trevor certainly does not deserve to be suspected. Though we have not known him long, he is no stranger in this part of the world; and who has ever spoken to his disadvantage? Had he been in a situation to act independently and marry immediately, it might have been odd that he should leave us without acknowledging everything to me at once: but this is not the case. It is an engagement in some respects not prosperously begun, for their marriage must be at a very uncertain distance; and even secrecy, as far as it can be observed, may now be very advisable."

 

They were interrupted by the entrance of Sherrinford; and Mycroft was then at liberty to think over the representations of his mother, to acknowledge the probability of many, and hope for the justice of all.

 

They saw nothing of Sherlock till dinner time, when he entered the room and took his place at the table without saying a word. His eyes were red and swollen; and it seemed as if his tears were even then restrained with difficulty. He avoided the looks of them all, could neither eat nor speak, and after some time, on his mother's silently pressing his hand with tender compassion, his small degree of fortitude was quite overcome. He burst into tears and left the room.

 

This violent oppression of spirits continued the whole evening. Sherlock was without any power, because he was without any desire, of command over himself. The slightest mention of anything relative to Victor Trevor overpowered him in an instant; and though his family were most anxiously attentive to his comfort, it was impossible for them, if they spoke at all, to keep clear of every subject which his feelings connected with Victor Trevor. 

 

Chapter Text

Sherlock would have thought himself very inexcusable had he been able to sleep at all the first night after parting from Victor Trevor. He would have been ashamed to look his family in the face the next morning, had he not risen from his bed in more need of repose than when he lay down in it. But the feelings which made such composure a disgrace, left him in no danger of incurring it. He was awake the whole night, and he wept the greatest part of it. He got up with a headache, was unable to talk, and unwilling to take any nourishment; giving pain every moment to his mother and brothers, and forbidding all attempt at consolation from either. His sensibility was potent enough!

 

When breakfast was over, Sherlock walked out by himself, and wandered about the village of Allenham, indulging the recollection of past enjoyment and crying over the present reverse for the chief of the morning.

 

The evening passed off in the equal indulgence of feeling. Sherlock played over every favourite song that he had been used to play to Victor Trevor, every air in which their voices had been oftenest joined, and sat at the instrument gazing on every line of music that he had written out, till his heart was so heavy that no farther sadness could be gained.

 

This nourishment of grief was every day applied. Sherlock spent whole hours at the pianoforte alternately singing and crying; his voice often totally suspended by his tears. When he rose from that instrument, he took up his violin, and played his own most melancholy compositions. In books too, as well as in music, he courted the misery which a contrast between the past and present was certain of giving. He read nothing but what they had been used to read together.

 

Such violence of affliction indeed could not be supported forever; it sunk within a few days into a calmer melancholy; but these employments, to which Sherlock daily recurred, his solitary walks and silent meditations, still produced occasional effusions of sorrow as lively as ever.

 

No letter from Victor Trevor came; and none seemed expected by Sherlock. His mother was surprised, and Mycroft again became uneasy. But Mrs. Holmes could find explanations whenever she wanted them, which at least satisfied herself.

 

"Remember, Mycroft," said she, "how very often Sir Michael fetches our letters himself from the post, and carries them to it. We have already agreed that secrecy may be necessary, and we must acknowledge that it could not be maintained if their correspondence were to pass through Sir Michael's hands."

 

Mycroft could not deny the truth of this, and he tried to find in it a motive sufficient for their silence. But there was one method so direct, so simple, and in his opinion so eligible, of knowing the real state of the affair, and of instantly removing all mystery, that he could not help suggesting it to their mother.

 

"Why do you not ask Sherlock at once," said he, "whether he is or he is not engaged to Victor Trevor? From you, his mother, and so kind, so indulgent a mother, the question could not give offence. It would be the natural result of your affection for him. He used to be all unreserve, and to you more especially."

 

"I would not ask such a question for the world. Supposing it possible that they are not engaged, what distress would not such an enquiry inflict! At any rate it would be most ungenerous. I should never deserve his confidence again, after forcing from him a confession of what is meant at present to be unacknowledged to anyone. I know Sherlock's heart: I know that he dearly loves me, and that I shall not be the last to whom the affair is made known, when circumstances make the revealment of it eligible. I would not attempt to force the confidence of anyone; of a child much less; because a sense of duty would prevent the denial which his wishes might direct."

 

Mycroft thought this generosity overstrained, considering his brother's youth, and urged the matter farther, but in vain; common sense, common care, common prudence, were all sunk in Mrs. Holmes' romantic delicacy.

 

It was several days before Victor Trevor's name was mentioned before Sherlock by any of his family; Sir Michael and Mrs. Hudson, indeed, were not so nice; their witticisms added pain to many a painful hour; but one evening, Mrs. Holmes, accidentally taking up a volume of Shakespeare, exclaimed,

 

"We have never finished Hamlet, Sherlock; our dear Victor Trevor went away before we could get through it. We will put it by, that when he comes again… But it may be months, perhaps, before that happens."

 

"Months!" cried Sherlock, with strong surprise. "No — nor many weeks."

 

Mrs. Holmes was sorry for what she had said; but it gave Mycroft pleasure, as it produced a reply from Sherlock so expressive of confidence in Victor Trevor and knowledge of his intentions.

 

One morning, about a week later, Sherlock was prevailed on to join his brothers in their usual walk, instead of wandering away by himself. Hitherto he had carefully avoided every companion in his rambles. If his brothers intended to walk on the downs, he directly stole away towards the lanes; if they talked of the valley, he was as speedy in climbing the hills, and could never be found when the others set off. But at length he was secured by the exertions of Mycroft, who greatly disapproved such continual seclusion. 

 

They walked along the road through the valley, and chiefly in silence, for Sherlock's mind could not be controlled, and Mycroft, satisfied with gaining one point, would not then attempt more. Beyond the entrance of the valley, where the country, though still rich, was less wild and more open, a long stretch of the road which they had travelled on first coming to Baker lay before them; and on reaching that point, they stopped to look around them, and examine a prospect which formed the distance of their view from the cottage, from a spot which they had never happened to reach in any of their walks before.

 

Amongst the objects in the scene, they soon discovered an animated one; it was a man on horseback riding towards them. In a few minutes they could distinguish him to be a gentleman; and in a moment afterwards Sherlock rapturously exclaimed,

 

"It is he — it is indeed! I know it is!" and was hastening to meet him, when Mycroft cried out,

 

"Indeed, Sherlock, I think you are mistaken. It is not Victor Trevor. The person is not tall enough for him, and has not his air."

 

"He has, he has," cried Sherlock, "I am sure he has. His air, his coat, his horse. I knew how soon he would come."

 

He walked eagerly on as he spoke; and Mycroft, to screen Sherlock from particularity, as he felt almost certain of its not being Victor Trevor, quickened his pace and kept up with him. They were soon within thirty yards of the gentleman. 

 

Sherlock looked again. His heart sunk within him; and abruptly turning round, he was hurrying back, when the voices of both his brothers were raised to detain him. A third, almost as well known as Victor Trevor's, joined them in begging him to stop, and he turned round with surprise to see and welcome Greg Lestrade.

 

He was the only person in the world who could at that moment be forgiven for not being Victor Trevor; the only one who could have gained a smile from him; but he dispersed his tears to smile on him, and in his brother's happiness forgot for a time his own disappointment.

 

Greg dismounted, and giving his horse to his servant, began walking back with them toward Baker, whither he was purposely coming to visit them.

 

He was welcomed by all three Holmes brothers with great cordiality, but especially by Sherlock, who showed more warmth of regard in his reception of him than even Mycroft himself. To Sherlock, indeed, the meeting between Greg and his brother was but a continuation of that unaccountable coldness which he had often observed at Musgrave Hall in their mutual behaviour. 

 

On Greg's side, more particularly, there was a deficiency of all that a lover ought to look and say on such an occasion. He was confused, seemed scarcely sensible of pleasure in seeing them, looked neither rapturous nor gay, said little but what was forced from him by questions, and distinguished Mycroft by no mark of affection. Sherlock saw and listened with increasing surprise. He began almost to feel a dislike of Greg; and it ended, as every feeling must end with him, by carrying back his thoughts to Victor Trevor, whose manners formed a contrast sufficiently striking to those of his brother-in-law elect.

 

After a short silence, which succeeded the first surprise and enquiries of meeting, Sherlock asked Greg if he came directly from London. No, he had been in Devonshire a fortnight.

 

"A fortnight!" Sherlock repeated, surprised at his being so long in the same county with Mycroft without seeing him before.

 

Greg looked rather distressed as he added that he had been staying with some friends near Plymouth.

 

"Have you been lately in Sussex?" asked Mycroft.

 

"I was at Musgrave Hall about a month ago."

 

"And how does dear, dear Musgrave Hall look?" cried Sherlock.

 

"Dear, dear Musgrave Hall," said Mycroft, "probably looks much as it always does at this time of the year. The woods and walks thickly covered with dead leaves."

 

"Oh," cried Sherlock, "with what transporting sensation have I formerly seen them fall! How have I delighted, as I walked, to see them driven in showers about me by the wind! What feelings have they, the season, the air altogether inspired! Now there is no one to regard them. They are seen only as a nuisance, swept hastily off, and driven as much as possible from the sight."

 

"It is not everyone," said Mycroft, "who has your passion for dead leaves."

 

"No; my feelings are not often shared, not often understood. But sometimes they are." 

 

As Sherlock said this, he sunk into a reverie for a few moments; but rousing himself again, "Now, Greg," said he, calling his attention to the prospect, "here is Baker valley. Look up to it, and be tranquil if you can. Look at those hills! Did you ever see their equals? To the left is Baker Manor, amongst those woods and plantations. You may see the end of the house. And there, beneath that farthest hill, which rises with such grandeur, is our cottage."

 

"It is a beautiful country," he replied; "but it must be muddy in winter."

 

"How can you think of mud, with such objects before you?"

 

"Because," replied Greg, smiling, "among the rest of the objects before me, I see a very dirty lane."

 

"How strange!" said Sherlock to himself as he walked on.

 

"Have you an agreeable neighbourhood here? Are the Stamfords pleasant people?"

 

"No, not all," answered Sherlock; "we could not be more unfortunately situated."

 

“Sherlock!" cried his brother. "How can you say so? How can you be so unjust? They are a very respectable family; and towards us have behaved in the friendliest manner. Have you forgot, Sherlock, how many pleasant days we have owed to them?"

 

"No," said Sherlock, in a low voice, "nor how many painful moments."

 

Mycroft took no notice of this; and directing his attention to their visitor, endeavoured to support something like discourse with him, by talking of their present residence, and extorting from him occasional questions and remarks. Greg’s coldness and reserve mortified him severely; he was vexed and half angry; but resolving to regulate his behaviour to him by the past rather than the present, Mycroft avoided every appearance of resentment or displeasure, and treated him as he thought he ought to be treated from the family connection. 

 

Chapter Text

Mrs. Holmes was surprised only for a moment at seeing Greg Lestrade; for his coming to Baker Cottage was, in her opinion, of all things the most natural. Her joy and expression of regard long outlived her wonder. He received the kindest welcome from her; and shyness, coldness, reserve could not stand against such a reception. They had begun to fail him before he entered the house, and they were quite overcome by the captivating manners of Mrs. Holmes. 

 

Mycroft had the satisfaction of seeing Greg soon become more like himself. His affections seemed to reanimate towards them all, and his interest in their welfare again became perceptible. He was not in good spirits, however. He praised their house, admired its prospect, was attentive, and kind; but still he was not in good spirits. The whole family perceived it, and Mrs. Holmes, attributing it to some want of liberality in his mother, sat down to table indignant against all selfish parents.

 

"What are Mrs. Lestrade's views for you at present, Greg?" said she, when dinner was over and they had drawn round the fire. "Are you still to be a great orator in spite of yourself?"

 

"No. I hope my mother is now convinced that I have no more talents than inclination for a public life!"

 

"But how is your fame to be established? For famous you must be to satisfy all your family; and with no inclination for expense, no affection for strangers, and no profession, you may find it a difficult matter."

 

"I shall not attempt it. I have no wish to be distinguished; and have every reason to hope I never shall be. Thank heaven I cannot be forced into genius and eloquence."

 

"You have no ambition, I well know. Your wishes are all moderate."

 

"As moderate as those of the rest of the world, I believe. I wish as well as everybody else to be perfectly happy; but, like everybody else it must be in my own way. Greatness will not make me so."

 

"Strange that it would!" cried Sherlock. "What have wealth or grandeur to do with happiness?"

 

"Grandeur has but little," said Mycroft, "but wealth has much to do with it."

 

"Mycroft, for shame!" said Sherlock. "Money can only give happiness where there is nothing else to give it. Beyond a competence, it can afford no real satisfaction, as far as mere self is concerned."

 

"Perhaps," said Mycroft, smiling, "we may come to the same point. Your competence and my wealth are very much alike, I dare say; and without them, as the world goes now, we shall both agree that every kind of external comfort must be wanting. Your ideas are only more noble than mine. Come, what is your competence?"

 

"About eighteen hundred or two thousand a year; not more than that."

 

Mycroft laughed. "Two thousand a year! One is my wealth! I guessed how it would end."

 

"And yet two thousand a year is a very moderate income," said Sherlock. "A family cannot well be maintained on a smaller. I am sure I am not extravagant in my demands. A proper establishment of servants, a carriage, perhaps two, and hunters, cannot be supported on less."

 

Mycroft smiled again, to hear his brother describing so accurately his and Victor Trevor’s future expenses at Combe Magna.

 

"Hunters!" repeated Greg. "But why must you have hunters? Everybody does not hunt."

 

Sherlock coloured as he replied, "But most people do."

 

"I wish," said Sherrinford, striking out a novel thought, "that somebody would give us all a large fortune apiece!"

 

“Oh, that they would!" cried Sherlock, his eyes sparkling with animation, and his cheeks glowing with the delight of such imaginary happiness.

 

"We are all unanimous in that wish, I suppose," said Mycroft, "in spite of the insufficiency of wealth."

 

"Oh dear!" cried Sherrinford. "How happy I should be! I wonder what I should do with it!"

 

Sherlock looked as if he had no doubt on that point.

 

"I should be puzzled as to how to spend a large fortune myself," said Mrs. Holmes, "if my children were all to be rich without my help."

 

"You must begin your improvements on this house," observed Mycroft, "and your difficulties will soon vanish."

 

"What magnificent orders would travel from this family to London," said Greg, "in such an event! What a happy day for booksellers, music-sellers, and print-shops! You, Mycroft, would give a general commission for every new print of merit to be sent you — and as for Sherlock, I know his greatness of soul, there would not be music enough in London to content him. And books! — Thomson, Cowper, Scott — he would buy them all over and over again: he would buy up every copy, I believe, to prevent their falling into unworthy hands; and he would have every book that tells him how to admire an old twisted tree. Should not you, Sherlock? Forgive me, if I am very saucy. But I was willing to show you that I had not forgot our old disputes."

 

"I love to be reminded of the past, Greg — whether it be melancholy or gay, I love to recall it — and you will never offend me by talking of former times. You are very right in supposing how my money would be spent — some of it, at least; my loose cash would certainly be employed in improving my collection of music and books."

 

"And the bulk of your fortune would be laid out in annuities on the authors or their heirs."

 

"No, Greg, I should have something else to do with it."

 

"Perhaps, then, you would bestow it as a reward on that person who wrote the ablest defence of your favourite maxim, that no one can ever be in love more than once in their life. Your opinion on that point is unchanged, I presume?"

 

"Undoubtedly. At my time of life opinions are tolerably fixed. It is not likely that I should now see or hear anything to change them."

 

"Sherlock is as steadfast as ever, you see," said Mycroft. "He is not at all altered."

 

"He is only grown a little more grave than he was."

 

"Nay, Greg," said Sherlock, "you need not reproach me. You are not very gay yourself."

 

"Why should you think so!" replied he, with a sigh. "But gaiety never was a part of my character."

 

"Nor do I think it a part of Sherlock's," said Mycroft. "I should hardly call him a cheerful character. He is very earnest, very eager in all he does — sometimes talks a great deal and always with animation — but he is not often really merry."

 

"I believe you are right," Greg replied. "And yet I have always set him down as gay."

 

"I have frequently detected myself in such kind of mistakes," said Mycroft, "in a total misapprehension of character in some point or other: fancying people so much more gay or grave, or ingenious or stupid than they really are, and I can hardly tell why or in what the deception originated. Sometimes one is guided by what they say of themselves, and very frequently by what other people say of them, without giving oneself time to deliberate and judge."

 

"But I thought it was right, Mycroft," said Sherlock, with false solemnity, "to be guided wholly by the opinion of other people. I thought our judgments were given us merely to be subservient to those of our neighbours. This has always been your doctrine, I am sure."

 

"No, Sherlock, never. My doctrine has never aimed at the subjection of the understanding. All I have ever attempted to influence has been the behaviour. You must not confound my meaning. I am guilty, I confess, of having often wished you to treat our acquaintance in general with greater attention; but when have I advised you to adopt their sentiments or to conform to their judgment in serious matters?"

 

"You have not been able to bring your brother over to your plan of general civility," said Greg to Mycroft. "Do you gain no ground?"

 

"Quite the contrary," replied Mycroft, looking expressively at Sherlock.

 

"My judgment," Greg returned, "is all on your side of the question; but I am afraid my practice is much more on your brother's. I never wish to offend, but I am afraid that I often seem negligent, when I am only kept back by my natural shyness. I have frequently thought that I must have been intended by nature to be fond of low company; I am so little at my ease among strangers of gentility!"

 

"Sherlock has not shyness to excuse any inattention of his," said Mycroft.

 

"He knows his own worth too well for false shame," replied Greg. "Shyness is only the effect of a sense of inferiority in some way or other. If I could persuade myself that my manners were perfectly easy and graceful, I should not be shy."

 

"But you would still be reserved," said Sherlock, "and that is worse."

 

Greg started. "Reserved! Am I reserved, Sherlock?"

 

"Yes, very."

 

"I do not understand you," replied he, colouring. "Reserved! How — in what manner? What am I to tell you? What can you suppose?"

 

Mycroft looked surprised at his emotion; but trying to laugh off the subject, said, "Do not you know my brother well enough to understand what he means? Do not you know he calls everyone reserved who does not talk as fast, and admire what he admires as rapturously as himself?"

 

Greg made no answer. His gravity and thoughtfulness returned on him in their fullest extent — and he sat for some time silent and dull. 

Chapter Text

Mycroft saw, with great uneasiness, the low spirits of their guest. His visit afforded but a very partial satisfaction, while Greg’s own enjoyment in it appeared so imperfect. It was evident that he was unhappy; Mycroft wished it were equally evident that he still distinguished him by the same affection which once he had felt no doubt of inspiring; but hitherto the continuance of Greg’s preference seemed very uncertain; and the reservedness of his manner contradicted one moment what a more animated look had intimated the preceding one.

 

Greg joined Mycroft and Sherlock in the breakfast-room the next morning before the others were down; and Sherlock, who was always eager to promote their happiness as far as he could, soon left them to themselves. But before he was half way upstairs he heard the parlour door open, and, turning round, was astonished to see Greg himself come out.

 

"I am going into the village to see my horses," said he, "as you are not yet ready for breakfast; I shall be back again presently."

 

 ***

 

Greg returned to them with fresh admiration of the surrounding country. In his walk to the village, he had seen many parts of the valley to advantage; and the village itself, in a much higher situation than the cottage, afforded a general view of the whole, which had exceedingly pleased him. This was a subject which ensured Sherlock's attention, and he was beginning to describe his own admiration of these scenes, and to question him more minutely on the objects that had particularly struck him, when Greg interrupted him by saying, 

 

"You must not enquire too far, Sherlock. Remember, I have no knowledge in the picturesque, and I shall offend you by my ignorance and want of taste if we come to particulars. I shall call hills steep, which ought to be bold; surfaces strange and uncouth, which ought to be irregular and rugged; and distant objects out of sight, which ought only to be indistinct through the soft medium of a hazy atmosphere. You must be satisfied with such admiration as I can honestly give. I call it a very fine country, because it unites beauty with utility — and I dare say it is a picturesque one too, because you admire it; I can easily believe it to be full of rocks and promontories, grey moss and brush wood, but these are all lost on me. I know nothing of the picturesque."

 

"I am afraid it is but too true," said Sherlock. "But why should you boast of it?"

 

"I suspect," said Mycroft, "that to avoid one kind of affectation, Greg here falls into another. Because he believes many people pretend to more admiration of the beauties of nature than they really feel, and is disgusted with such pretensions, he affects greater indifference and less discrimination in viewing them himself than he possesses. He is fastidious, and will have an affectation of his own."

 

"It is very true," said Sherlock, "that admiration of landscape scenery has become a mere jargon. Everybody pretends to feel and tries to describe with the taste and elegance of him who first defined what picturesque beauty was. I detest jargon of every kind, and sometimes I have kept my feelings to myself, because I could find no language to describe them in but what was worn and hackneyed out of all sense and meaning."

 

"I am convinced," said Greg, "that you really feel all the delight in a fine prospect which you profess to feel. But, in return, your brother must allow me to feel no more than I profess. I like a fine prospect, but not on picturesque principles. I do not like crooked, twisted, blasted trees. I admire them much more if they are tall, straight, and flourishing. I do not like ruined, tattered cottages. I am not fond of nettles or thistles, or heath blossoms. I have more pleasure in a snug farm-house than a watch-tower — and a troop of tidy, happy villagers please me better than the finest bandits in the world."

 

Sherlock looked with amazement at Greg, and with compassion at his brother. Mycroft only laughed.

 

Before the middle of the day, they were visited by Sir Michael and Mrs. Hudson, who, having heard of the arrival of a gentleman at the cottage, came to take a survey of the guest. With the assistance of his mother-in-law, Sir Michael was not long in discovering that the name of Lestrade began with an L, and this prepared a future mine of raillery against the devoted Mycroft, which nothing but the newness of their acquaintance with Greg could have prevented from being immediately sprung. But, as it was, he only learned, from some very significant looks, how far their penetration, founded on Sherrinford's indiscretion, extended.

 

Sir Michael never came to Baker Cottage without either inviting the Holmes family to dine at the manor the next day, or to drink tea with them that evening. On the present occasion, for the better entertainment of their visitor, towards whose amusement he felt himself bound to contribute, he wished to engage them for both.

 

"You must drink tea with us to night," said he, "for we shall be quite alone — and tomorrow you must absolutely dine with us, for we shall be a large party."

 

Mrs. Hudson enforced the necessity. "And who knows but you may raise a dance," said she. "And that will tempt you, Master Sherlock."

 

"A dance!" cried Sherlock. "Impossible! Who is to dance?"

 

"Who! Why, yourselves, and the Careys, and Whitakers, to be sure. What! You thought nobody could dance because a certain person who shall be nameless is gone?”

 

"I wish with all my soul," cried Sir Michael, "that Victor Trevor were among us again."

 

This, and Sherlock's blushing, gave new suspicions to Greg. "And who is Victor Trevor?" said he, in a low voice, to Mycroft, by whom he was sitting.

 

Mycroft gave him a brief reply. Sherlock's countenance was more communicative. 

 

Greg saw enough to comprehend, not only the meaning of others, but such of Sherlock's expressions as had puzzled him before; and when their visitors left them, he went immediately round to him, and said, in a whisper, "I have been deducing, as you are so fond of doing. Shall I tell you my deduction?"

 

"What do you mean?"

 

"Shall I tell you?”

 

"Certainly."

 

"Well then; I deduce that Mr. Trevor hunts."

 

Sherlock was surprised and confused, yet he could not help smiling at the quiet archness of Greg’s manner, and after a moment's silence, said,

 

"Oh, Greg! How can you? — But the time will come I hope… I am sure you will like him."

 

"I do not doubt it," replied he, rather astonished at Sherlock’s earnestness and warmth; for had he not imagined it to be a joke for the good of his acquaintance in general, founded only on a something or a nothing between Mr. Trevor and Sherlock, he would not have ventured to mention it. 

 

Chapter Text

Greg remained a week at the cottage; he was earnestly pressed by Mrs. Holmes to stay longer; but, as if he were bent only on self-mortification, he seemed resolved to be gone when his enjoyment among his friends was at the height. His spirits, during the last two or three days, though still very unequal, were greatly improved. He grew more and more partial to the house and environs — never spoke of going away without a sigh — declared his time to be wholly disengaged — even doubted to what place he should go when he left them — but still, go he must. 

 

Never had any week passed so quickly — he could hardly believe it to be gone. He said so repeatedly. Other things he said, too, which marked the turn of his feelings and gave the lie to his actions. He had no pleasure at Musgrave Hall; he detested being in town; but either to Musgrave Hall or London he must go. He valued their kindness beyond anything, and his greatest happiness was in being with them. Yet, he must leave them at the end of a week, in spite of their wishes and his own, and without any restraint on his time.

 

Mycroft placed all that was astonishing in this way of acting to Mrs. Lestrade’s account; and it was happy for him that Greg had a mother whose character was so imperfectly known to him as to be the general excuse for everything strange on the part of her son. Disappointed, however, and vexed as he was, and sometimes displeased with Greg’s uncertain behaviour to himself, Mycroft was very well disposed on the whole to regard his actions with all the candid allowances and generous qualifications which had been rather more painfully extorted from him, for Victor Trevor's service, by his mother. 

 

Greg’s want of spirits, of openness, and of consistency, were most usually attributed to his want of independence, and his better knowledge of Mrs. Lestrade's disposition and designs. The shortness of his visit, the steadiness of his purpose in leaving them, originated in the same fettered inclination, the same inevitable necessity of temporizing with his mother. The old well-established grievance of duty against will, parent against child, was the cause of all. 

 

Mycroft would have been glad to know when these difficulties were to cease, this opposition was to yield — when Mrs. Lestrade would be reformed, and her son be at liberty to be happy. But from such vain wishes he was forced to turn for comfort to the renewal of his confidence in Greg's affection, to the remembrance of every mark of regard in look or word which fell from him while at Baker Cottage.

 

"I think, Greg," said Mrs. Holmes, as they were at breakfast the last morning, "you would be a happier man if you had any profession to engage your time and give an interest to your plans and actions. Some inconvenience to your friends, indeed, might result from it — you would not be able to give them so much of your time. But,” she continued with a smile, “you would be materially benefited in one particular at least — you would know where to go when you left them."

 

"I do assure you," he replied, "that I have long thought on this point, as you think now. I always preferred the church, as I still do. But that was not smart enough for my family. They recommended the army. That was a great deal too smart for me. As for the navy, it had fashion on its side, but I was too old when the subject was first started to enter it — and, at length, as there was no necessity for my having any profession at all, as I might be as dashing and expensive without a red coat on my back as with one, idleness was pronounced on the whole to be most advantageous and honourable, and a young man of eighteen is not in general so earnestly bent on being busy as to resist the solicitations of his friends to do nothing. I was therefore entered at Oxford and have been properly idle ever since."

 

"Come, come, Greg,” said Mrs. Holmes. “You are in a melancholy humour. But remember that the pain of parting from friends will be felt by everybody at times, whatever be their education or state. Know your own happiness. You lack nothing but patience — or, to give it a more fascinating name, call it hope. Your mother will secure to you, in time, that independence you are so anxious for; it is her duty, and it must ere long become her happiness to prevent your whole youth from being wasted in discontent. How much may not a few months do?"

 

"I think," replied Greg, "that I may defy many months to produce any good to me."

 

This desponding turn of mind, though it could not be caught by Mrs. Holmes, gave additional pain to them all in the parting, which shortly took place, and left an uncomfortable impression on Mycroft's feelings especially, which required some trouble and time to subdue. But as it was his determination to subdue it, and to prevent himself from appearing to suffer more than what all his family suffered on Greg’s going away, he did not adopt the method so judiciously employed by Sherlock, on a similar occasion, to augment and fix his sorrow, by seeking silence, solitude, and idleness. Their means were as different as their objects, and equally suited to the advancement of each.

 

Mycroft sat down to his drawing-table as soon as Greg was out of the house, busily employed himself the whole day, neither sought nor avoided the mention of his name, appeared to interest himself almost as much as ever in the general concerns of the family, and if, by this conduct, he did not lessen his own grief, it was at least prevented from unnecessary increase, and his mother and brothers were spared much solicitude on his account.

 

Such behaviour as this, so exactly the reverse of his own, appeared no more meritorious to Sherlock, than his own had seemed faulty to him. The business of self-command he settled very easily: with strong affections it was impossible, with calm ones it could have no merit. That his brother's affections were calm, he dared not deny, though he frowned to acknowledge it; and of the strength of his own, he gave a very striking proof, by still loving and respecting that brother, in spite of this mortifying conviction.

 

Without shutting himself up from his family, or leaving the house in determined solitude to avoid them, or lying awake the whole night to indulge in melancholy meditation, Mycroft found every day afforded him leisure enough to think of Greg, and of Greg's behaviour, in every possible variety which the different state of his spirits at different times could produce: with tenderness, pity, approbation, censure, and doubt. There were moments in abundance, when, if not by the absence of his mother and brothers, at least by the nature of their employments, conversation was forbidden among them, and every effect of solitude was produced. His mind was inevitably at liberty; his thoughts could not be chained elsewhere; and the past and the future, on a subject so interesting, must be before him, must force his attention, and engross his memory, his reflection, and his fancy.

 

From a reverie of this kind, as he sat at his drawing-table, Mycroft was roused one morning, soon after Greg's leaving them, by the arrival of company. He happened to be quite alone. The closing of the little gate, at the entrance of the green court in front of the house, drew his eyes to the window, and he saw a large party walking up to the door. Amongst them were Sir Michael and Lady Stamford and Mrs. Hudson, but there were two others, a gentleman and lady, who were quite unknown to him. 

 

Mycroft was sitting near the window, and as soon as Sir Michael perceived him, he left the rest of the party to the ceremony of knocking at the door, and stepping across the turf, obliged Mycroft to open the casement to speak to him, though the space was so short between the door and the window, as to make it hardly possible to speak at one without being heard at the other.

 

"Well," said he, "we have brought you some strangers. How do you like them?"

 

"Hush! They will hear you."

 

"Never mind if they do. It is only Mr. and Mrs. Hawkins. Janine is very pretty, I can tell you. You may see her if you look this way."

 

As Mycroft was certain of seeing her in a couple of minutes, without taking that liberty, he begged to be excused.

 

"Where is Sherlock? Has he run away because we are come? I see his piano-forte is open."

 

"He is walking, I believe."

 

They were now joined by Mrs. Hudson, who had not patience enough to wait till the door was opened by a servant before she told her story. She came hallooing to the window. 

 

"How do you do, my dear? How does your mother do? And where are your brothers? What! All alone! You will be glad of a little company to sit with you. I have brought my other daughter and son-in-law to see you. Only think of their coming so suddenly! I thought I heard a carriage last night, while we were drinking our tea, but it never entered my head that it could be them. I thought of nothing but whether it might not be Captain Watson come back again. So I said to Sir Michael, ‘I do think I hear a carriage; perhaps it is Captain Watson come back again —’" 

 

Mycroft was obliged to turn away from her, in the middle of her story, to receive the rest of the party, who had now been shown in by the servant. Lady Stamford introduced the two strangers; Mrs. Holmes and Sherrinford came down stairs at the same time, and they all sat down to look at one another, while Mrs. Hudson continued her story as she walked through the passage into the parlour, attended by Sir Michael.

 

Mrs. Hawkins was several years younger than Lady Stamford, and totally unlike her sister in every respect. She had a very pretty face, and the finest expression of good humour in it that could possibly be. Her manners were by no means so elegant as her sister's, but they were much more prepossessing. She came in with a smile, smiled all the time of her visit, except when she laughed, and smiled when she went away. 

 

Her husband was a grave looking young man of five or six and twenty, with an air of more fashion and sense than his wife, but of less willingness to please or be pleased. He entered the room with a look of self-consequence, slightly bowed to the ladies, without speaking a word, and, after briefly surveying them and their apartments, took up a newspaper from the table, and continued to read it as long as he stayed.

 

Mrs. Hawkins, on the contrary, who was strongly endowed by nature with a turn for being uniformly civil and happy, was hardly seated before her admiration of the parlour and everything in it burst forth.

 

"Well! What a delightful room this is! I never saw anything so charming! Only think, Mama, how it is improved since I was here last! I always thought it such a sweet place, ma’am,” (turning to Mrs. Holmes) “but you have made it so charming! Only look, sister, how delightful everything is! How I should like such a house for myself! Should not you, Mr. Hawkins?"

 

Mr. Hawkins made her no answer, and did not even raise his eyes from the newspaper.

 

"Mr. Hawkins does not hear me," said she, laughing. "He never does sometimes. It is so ridiculous!"

 

This was quite a new idea to Mrs. Holmes; she had never been used to find wit in the inattention of anyone, and could not help looking with surprise at them both.

 

Mrs. Hudson, in the meantime, talked on as loud as she could, and continued her account of their surprise, the evening before, on seeing their friends, without ceasing till everything was told. Mrs. Hawkins laughed heartily at the recollection of their astonishment, and everybody agreed, two or three times over, that it had been quite an agreeable surprise.

 

"You may believe how glad we all were to see them," added Mrs. Hudson, leaning forward towards Mycroft, and speaking in a low voice as if she meant to be heard by no one else, though they were seated on different sides of the room; "but, however, I can't help wishing they had not travelled quite so fast, nor made such a long journey of it, for you know,” (nodding significantly and pointing to her daughter) “it was wrong in her situation. I wanted her to stay at home and rest this morning, but she would come with us; she longed so much to see you all!"

 

Mrs. Hawkins laughed, and said it would not do her any harm.

 

"She expects the baby in February," continued Mrs. Hudson.

 

Lady Stamford could no longer endure such a conversation, and therefore exerted herself to ask Mr. Hawkins if there was any news in the paper.

 

"No, none at all," he replied, and read on.

 

"Here comes Sherlock," cried Sir Michael.

 

He immediately went into the passage, opened the front door, and ushered Sherlock in himself. Mrs. Hudson asked him, as soon as he appeared, if he had not been to Allenham; and Mrs. Hawkins laughed so heartily at the question, as to show she understood it. 

 

Mr. Hawkins looked up on Sherlock’s entering the room, stared at him some minutes, and then returned to his newspaper. 

 

Mrs. Hawkins' eye was now caught by Mycroft’s drawings, which hung round the room. She got up to examine them.

 

“Oh, dear! How beautiful these are! Well! How delightful! Do but look, Mama, how sweet! I declare they are quite charming; I could look at them forever." And then, sitting down again, she very soon forgot that there were any such things in the room.

 

When Lady Stamford rose to go away, Mr. Hawkins rose also, laid down the newspaper, stretched himself and looked at them all around.

 

"My love, have you been asleep?" said his wife, laughing.

 

He made her no answer; and only observed, after again examining the room, that it was very low pitched, and that the ceiling was crooked. He then made his bow, and departed with the rest.

 

Sir Michael had been very urgent with them all to spend the next day at the manor. Mrs. Holmes, who did not choose to dine with them oftener than they dined at the cottage, absolutely refused on her own account; her sons might do as they pleased. But they had no curiosity to see how Mr. and Mrs. Hawkins ate their dinner, and no expectation of pleasure from them in any other way. They attempted, therefore, likewise, to excuse themselves; the weather was uncertain, and not likely to be good. 

 

But Sir Michael would not be satisfied — the carriage should be sent for them and they must come. Lady Stamford, too, though she did not press their mother, pressed them. Mrs. Hudson and Mrs. Hawkins joined their entreaties. All seemed equally anxious to avoid a family party; and the young gentlemen were obliged to yield.

 

"Why should they ask us?" said Sherlock, as soon as they were gone. "The rent of this cottage is said to be low; but we have it on very hard terms, if we are to dine at the manor whenever anyone is staying either with them, or with us."

 

"They mean no less to be civil and kind to us now," said Mycroft, "by these frequent invitations, than by those which we received from them a few weeks ago. The alteration is not in them, if their parties are grown tedious and dull. We must look for the change elsewhere."

Chapter Text

As Mycroft and Sherlock entered the drawing-room of the manor the next day, at one door, Janine Hawkins came running in at the other, looking as good-humoured and merry as before. She took them all most affectionately by the hand, and expressed great delight in seeing them again.

 

"I am so glad to see you!" said she, seating herself between Mycroft and Sherlock, "for it is so bad a day I was afraid you might not come, which would be a shocking thing, as we go away again tomorrow. I am so sorry we cannot stay longer; however we shall meet again in town very soon, I hope."

 

They were obliged to put an end to such an expectation.

 

"Not go to town!" cried Mrs. Hawkins, with a laugh. "I shall be quite disappointed if you do not. I could get the nicest house in the world for you, next door to ours, in Hanover-square. You must come, indeed. I am sure I shall be very happy to chaperone you at any time till I am confined, if Mrs. Holmes should not like to go into public."

 

They thanked her; but were obliged to resist all her entreaties.

 

"Oh, my love," cried Mrs. Hawkins to her husband, who just then entered the room — "you must help me to persuade the Holmes brothers to go to town this winter."

 

Her love made no answer; and after slightly bowing to the young gentlemen, began complaining of the weather.

 

"How horrid all this is!" said he. "Such weather makes everything and everybody disgusting. Dullness is as much produced within doors as without, by rain. It makes one detest all one's acquaintance."

 

The rest of the company soon dropped in.

 

"I am afraid, Master Sherlock," said Sir Michael, "you have not been able to take your usual walk to Allenham today."

 

Sherlock looked very grave and said nothing.

 

"Oh, don't be so sly before us," said Mrs. Hawkins; "for we know all about it, I assure you; and I admire your taste very much, for I think he is extremely handsome. We do not live a great way from him in the country, you know. Not above ten miles, I dare say."

 

"Much nearer thirty," said her husband.

 

"Ah, well! There is not much difference. I never was at his house; but they say it is a sweet, pretty place."

 

"As vile a spot as I ever saw in my life," said Mr. Hawkins.

 

Sherlock remained perfectly silent, though his countenance betrayed his interest in what was said.

 

"Is it very ugly?" continued Mrs. Hawkins. "Then it must be some other place that is so pretty, I suppose."

 

When they were seated in the dining room, Sir Michael observed with regret that they were only eight all together.

 

"My dear," said he to his lady, "it is very provoking that we should be so few. Why did not you ask the Gilberts to come to us today?"

 

"Did not I tell you, Sir Michael, when you spoke to me about it before, that it could not be done? They dined with us last."

 

"You and I, Sir Michael," said Mrs. Hudson, "should not stand upon such ceremony."

 

"Then you would be very ill-bred," cried Mr. Hawkins.

 

"My love, you contradict everybody," said his wife, with her usual laugh. "Do you know that you are quite rude?"

 

"I did not know I contradicted anybody in calling your mother ill-bred."

 

"Aye, you may abuse me as you please," said the good-natured Mrs. Hudson. "You have taken Janine off my hands, and cannot give her back again. So there I have the whip hand of you."

 

Janine laughed heartily to think that her husband could not get rid of her; and exultingly said she did not care how cross he was to her, as they must live together. It was impossible for anyone to be more thoroughly good-natured, or more determined to be happy, than Mrs. Hawkins. The studied indifference, insolence, and discontent of her husband gave her no pain; and when he scolded her she was highly diverted.

 

"Mr. Hawkins is so droll!" said she, in a whisper, to Mycroft. "He is always out of humour."

 

Mycroft was not inclined, after a little observation, to give Mr. Hawkins credit for being so genuinely and unaffectedly ill-natured as he wished to appear. It was rather a wish of distinction, Mycroft believed, which produced Mr. Hawkins’ contemptuous treatment of everybody, and his general abuse of everything before him. It was the desire of appearing superior to other people. The motive was too common to be wondered at; but the means, however they might succeed by establishing his superiority in ill-breeding, were not likely to attach anyone to him except his wife.

 

"Oh, my dear Mr. Holmes," said Mrs. Hawkins to Mycroft soon afterwards, "I have got such a favour to ask of you and your brother. Will you come and spend some time at Cleveland this Christmas? Now, pray do. You cannot think how happy I shall be! — My love," applying to her husband, "don't you long to have the Holmes brothers come to Cleveland?"

 

"Certainly," he replied, with a sneer — "I came into Devonshire with no other view."

 

"There now," said his lady, "you see Mr. Hawkins expects you; so you cannot refuse to come."

 

They both eagerly and resolutely declined her invitation.

 

"But indeed you must and shall come. I am sure you will like it of all things. It will be quite delightful. You cannot think what a sweet place Cleveland is; and we are so gay now, for Mr. Hawkins is always going about the country canvassing for the election; and so many people came to dine with us that I never saw before, it is quite charming! But, poor fellow! It is very fatiguing to him! For he is forced to make everybody like him."

 

Mycroft could hardly keep his countenance as he assented to the hardship of such an obligation.

 

"How charming it will be," said Janine, "when he is in Parliament! Won't it? How I shall laugh! It will be so ridiculous to see all his letters directed to him with an M.P.”

 

Mrs. Hawkins surprised Mycroft very much as they returned into the drawing-room, by asking him whether he did not like her husband excessively.

 

"Certainly," said Mycroft. "He seems very agreeable."

 

"Well — I am so glad you do. I thought you would; he is so pleasant. And Mr. Hawkins is excessively pleased with you and your brother, I can tell you, and you can't think how disappointed he will be if you don't come to Cleveland. I can't imagine why you should object to it."

 

Mycroft was again obliged to decline her invitation; and by changing the subject, put a stop to her entreaties. He thought it probable that as they lived in the same county, Mrs. Hawkins might be able to give some more particular account of Victor Trevor's general character than could be gathered from the Stamfords' partial acquaintance with him; and he was eager to gain from anyone such a confirmation of his merits as might remove the possibility of fear from Sherlock. He began by inquiring if they saw much of Mr. Trevor at Cleveland, and whether they were intimately acquainted with him.

 

"Oh dear, yes; I know him extremely well," replied Mrs. Hawkins. "Not that I ever spoke to him, indeed; but I have seen him forever in town. Somehow or other I never happened to be staying at Baker while he was at Allenham. However, I dare say we should have seen a great deal of him in Somersetshire, if it had not happened very unluckily that we should never have been in the country together. He is very little at Combe, I believe. I know why you inquire about him, very well; your brother is to marry him. I am monstrous glad of it, for then I shall have him for a neighbour, you know."

 

"Upon my word," replied Mycroft, "you know much more of the matter than I do, if you have any reason to expect such a match."

 

"Don't pretend to deny it, because you know it is what everybody talks of. I assure you I heard of it in my way through town."

 

"My dear Mrs. Hawkins!"

 

"Upon my honour, I did. I met Captain Watson Monday morning in Bond Street, just before we left town, and he told me of it directly."

 

"You surprise me very much. Captain Watson tell you of it? Surely you must be mistaken. To give such intelligence to a person who could not be interested in it, even if it were true, is not what I should expect Captain Watson to do."

 

"But I do assure you it was so, for all that, and I will tell you how it happened. I said to him, 'So, Captain, there is a new family come to Baker Cottage, I hear, and Mama sends me word that one of them is going to be married to Mr. Victor Trevor of Combe Magna. Is it true, pray? For of course you must know, as you have been in Devonshire so lately.'"

 

"And what did the Captain say?"

 

"Oh — he did not say much. But he looked as if he knew it to be true, so from that moment I set it down as certain. It will be quite delightful, I declare! When is it to take place?"

 

"Captain Watson was very well, I hope?"

 

"Oh! Yes, quite well; and so full of your praises, he did nothing but say fine things of you."

 

"I am flattered by his commendation. He seems an excellent man; and I think him uncommonly pleasing."

 

"So do I. He is such a charming man, that it is quite a pity he should be so grave. Mama says he was in love with your brother, too. I assure you it was a great compliment if he was, for he hardly ever falls in love with anybody."

 

"Is Mr. Trevor much known in your part of Somersetshire?" asked Mycroft.

 

"Oh! Yes, extremely well. That is, I do not believe many people are acquainted with him, because Combe Magna is so far off; but they all think him extremely agreeable, I assure you. Nobody is more liked than Victor Trevor wherever he goes, and so you may tell your brother. He is a monstrous lucky young man to get him, upon my honour. 

 

“Not but that Mr. Trevor is much more lucky in getting your brother, because he is so very handsome and agreeable, that nothing can be good enough for him. However, I don't think him hardly at all handsomer than you, I assure you; for I think you both excessively good-looking, and so does Mr. Hawkins, too, I am sure, though we could not get him to own it last night."

 

Mrs. Hawkins' information respecting Victor Trevor was not very material; but any testimony in his favour, however small, was pleasing to Mycroft.

 

"I am so glad we have got acquainted at last," continued Janine. "And now I hope we shall always be great friends. You can't think how much I longed to see you! It is so delightful that you should live at the cottage! And I am so glad your brother is going to be well married! I hope you will be a great deal at Combe Magna. It is a sweet place, by all accounts."

 

Chapter Text

Mr. and Mrs. Hawkins returned to Cleveland the next day, and the two families at Baker were again left to entertain each other. But this did not last long; Mycroft and Sherlock had hardly got their last visitors out of their heads, had hardly done wondering at Janine's being so happy without a cause, at Mr. Hawkins' acting so continuously out-of-humour, and at the strange unsuitableness which often existed between husband and wife, before Sir Michael's and Mrs. Hudson's active zeal in the cause of society procured them some other new acquaintance to see and observe.

 

In a morning's excursion to Exeter, Sir Michael and his mother-in-law had met with two young ladies, whom Mrs. Hudson had the satisfaction of discovering to be her distant relations, and this was enough for Sir Michael to invite them directly to the manor, as soon as their present engagements at Exeter were over. Their engagements at Exeter instantly gave way before such an invitation, and Lady Stamford was thrown into no little alarm on the return of Sir Michael, by hearing that she was very soon to receive a visit from two girls whom she had never seen in her life, and of whose elegance — whose tolerable gentility even — she could have no proof; for the assurances of her husband and mother on that subject went for nothing at all. 

 

Their being her relations, too, made it so much the worse; and Mrs. Hudson's attempts at consolation were unfortunate when she advised her daughter not to care about their being so fashionable, because they were all cousins and must put up with one another. As it was impossible, however, now to prevent their coming, Lady Stamford resigned herself to the idea of it, with all the philosophy of a well-bred woman, contenting herself with merely giving her husband a gentle reprimand on the subject five or six times every day.

 

The young ladies arrived. Their appearance was by no means ungenteel or unfashionable. Their dress was very smart, their manners very civil, they were delighted with the house, and in raptures with the furniture, and they happened to be so dotingly fond of children that Lady Stamford's good opinion was engaged in their favour before they had been an hour at the manor. She declared them to be very agreeable girls indeed, which for her ladyship was enthusiastic admiration. 

 

Sir Michael's confidence in his own judgment rose with this animated praise, and he set off directly for the cottage to tell the Holmes family of Miss Hooper’s and Miss Donovan's arrival, and to assure them of their being the sweetest girls in the world. From such commendation as this, however, there was not much to be learned; Mycroft and Sherlock well knew that the sweetest girls in the world were to be met with in every part of England, under every possible variation of form, temper, and understanding. 

 

Sir Michael wanted the whole family to walk to the manor directly and look at his guests. Benevolent, philanthropic man! It was painful to him even to keep a third cousin to himself.

 

"Do come now," said he. "Pray come — you must come — I declare you shall come. You can't think how you will like them. They are so good-humoured and agreeable! And they both long to see you of all things, for they have heard at Exeter that you are the most handsome creatures in the world; and I have told them it is all very true, and a great deal more. You will be delighted with them, I am sure. How can you be so cross as not to come? Why, they are your cousins, you know, after a fashion. You are my cousins, and they are my wife's, so you must be related."

 

But Sir Michael could not prevail. He could only obtain a promise of their calling at the manor within a day or two, and then left them in amazement at their indifference, to walk home and boast anew of their attractions to Molly Hooper and Sally Donovan, as he had been already boasting of Miss Hooper and Miss Donovan to them.

 

When their promised visit to the manor and consequent introduction to these young ladies took place, they found the appearance of Miss Hooper, who was nearly thirty, very plain. Miss Donovan, however, who was not more than two or three and twenty, they acknowledged a considerable beauty. Her features were pretty, and she had a sharp quick eye, and a smartness of air, which, though it did not give actual elegance or grace, gave distinction to her person. 

 

Their manners were particularly civil, and Mycroft soon allowed them credit for some kind of sense, when he saw with what constant and judicious attention they were making themselves agreeable to Lady Stamford. With her children they were in continual raptures, extolling their beauty, courting their notice, and humouring their whims; and such of their time as could be spared from the importunate demands which this politeness made on it, was spent in admiration of whatever her ladyship was doing, if she happened to be doing anything, or in taking patterns of some elegant new dress, in which her appearance the day before had thrown them into unceasing delight. 

 

Fortunately for those who pay their court through such foibles, a fond mother in pursuit of praise for her children is at once the most rapacious and most credulous of human beings; her demands are exorbitant, but she will swallow anything; and the excessive affection and endurance of Molly Hooper and Sally Donovan towards her offspring were viewed therefore by Lady Stamford without the smallest surprise or distrust. She saw with maternal complacency all the impertinent encroachments and mischievous tricks to which her cousins submitted. She saw their sashes untied, their hair pulled about their ears, their work-bags searched, and their scissors stolen away, and felt no doubt of its being a reciprocal enjoyment. It suggested no other surprise than that Mycroft and Sherlock should sit so composedly by, without claiming a share in what was passing.

 

“Little Harry is in such spirits today!" said she, on his taking Miss Hooper’s pocket handkerchief, and throwing it out of the window. "He is full of monkey tricks."

 

And soon afterwards, on the second boy's violently pinching one of the same lady's fingers, she fondly observed, "How playful William is!"

 

"And here is my sweet little Anna Maria," she added, tenderly caressing a little girl of three years old, who had not made a noise for the last two minutes. "And she is always so gentle and quiet. Never was there such a quiet little thing!"

 

But, unfortunately, in bestowing these embraces, a pin in her ladyship's headdress slightly scratching the child's neck produced from this pattern of gentleness such violent screams as could hardly be outdone by any creature professedly noisy. The mother's consternation was excessive; but it could not surpass the alarm of Miss Hooper and Miss Donovan, and everything was done by all three, in so critical an emergency, which affection could suggest as likely to assuage the agonies of the little sufferer. 

 

She was seated in her mother's lap, covered with kisses, her wound bathed with lavender-water by Miss Hooper, who was on her knees to attend her, and her mouth stuffed with sugar plums by Miss Donovan. With such a reward for her tears, the child was too wise to cease crying. She still screamed and sobbed lustily, kicked her two brothers for offering to touch her, and all their united soothings were ineffectual, till she was carried out of the room, in her mother's arms, in quest of apricot marmalade. As the two boys chose to follow, the four young people were left in a quietness which the room had not known for many hours.

 

"Poor little creature!" said Miss Hooper, as soon as they were gone. "It might have been a very sad accident."

 

"Yet I hardly know how," cried Sherlock, "unless it had been under totally different circumstances. But this is the usual way of heightening alarm, where there is nothing to be alarmed at in reality."

 

"What a sweet woman Lady Stamford is!" said Miss Donovan.

 

Sherlock was silent; it was impossible for him to say what he did not feel, however trivial the occasion; and upon Mycroft, therefore, the whole task of telling lies when politeness required it always fell. He did his best when thus called on, by speaking of Lady Stamford with more warmth than he felt, though with far less than Miss Donovan.

 

"And Sir Michael, too," cried Miss Hooper. "What a charming man he is!"

 

Here too, Mycroft’s commendation, being only simple and just, came in without any eclat. He merely observed that Sir Michael was perfectly good-humoured and friendly.

 

"And what a charming little family they have! I never saw such fine children in my life. I declare I quite dote upon them already, and indeed I am always distractedly fond of children."

 

"I should guess so," said Mycroft, with a smile, "from what I have witnessed this morning."

 

"I have a notion," said Miss Donovan, "you think the little Stamfords rather too much indulged. Perhaps they may be the outside of enough; but it is so natural in Lady Stamford; and for my part, I love to see children full of life and spirits; I cannot bear them if they are tame and quiet."

 

"I confess," replied Mycroft, "that while I am at Baker Manor, I never think of tame and quiet children with any abhorrence."

 

A short pause succeeded this speech, which was first broken by Miss Hooper, who seemed very much disposed for conversation, and who now said rather abruptly, "And how do you like Devonshire, Mr. Holmes? I suppose you were very sorry to leave Sussex."

 

In some surprise at the familiarity of this question, or at least of the manner in which it was spoken, Mycroft replied that he was.

 

"Musgrave Hall is a prodigiously beautiful place, is not it?" added Miss Hooper.

 

"We have heard Sir Michael admire it excessively," said Miss Donovan, who seemed to think some apology necessary for the freedom of her cousin.

 

"I think everyone must admire it," replied Mycroft, "who ever saw the place; though it is not to be supposed that anyone can estimate its beauties as we do."

 

“I suppose,” said Miss Hooper, “Mr. Moriarty was quite a beau, before he married, as he was so rich?"

 

"Upon my word," replied Mycroft, "I cannot tell you, for I do not perfectly comprehend the meaning of the word. But this I can say, that if he ever was a beau before he married, he is one still, for there is not the smallest alteration in him."

 

"Oh dear! One never thinks of married men's being beaux — they have something else to do."

 

"Lord! Molly!” cried her cousin. "You can talk of nothing but beaux. You will make Mr. Holmes believe you think of nothing else." And then to turn the discourse, she began admiring the house and the furniture.

 

This specimen of Miss Hooper and Miss Donovan was enough. The overly familiar questions of Miss Hooper left her no recommendation, and as Mycroft was not blinded, by the beauty of Miss Donovan, to her lack of real elegance and artlessness, he left the house without any wish of knowing them better.

 

Not so Miss Hooper and Miss Donovan. They came well-provided with admiration for Sir Michael Stamford, his family, and all his relations, and a fair proportion was now dealt out to his cousins, whom they declared to be the most handsome, elegant, accomplished, and agreeable young men they had ever beheld, and with whom they were particularly anxious to be better acquainted. 

 

To be better acquainted, therefore, Mycroft soon found was their inevitable lot, for as Sir Michael was entirely on the side of Miss Hooper and Miss Donovan, their party would be too strong for opposition, and that kind of intimacy must be submitted to, which consists of sitting an hour or two together in the same room almost every day. Sir Michael could do no more; but he did not know that any more was required. To be together was, in his opinion, to be intimate; and while his continual schemes for their meeting were effectual, he had not a doubt of their being established friends.

 

To do him justice, he did everything in his power to promote their unreserve, by making Miss Hooper and Miss Donovan acquainted with whatever he knew or supposed of his cousins' situations in the most delicate particulars — and Mycroft had not seen them more than twice, before Miss Hooper wished him joy on his brother's having been so lucky as to make a conquest of a very smart beau since he came to Baker.

 

"'Twill be a fine thing to have him married so young, to be sure," said she. "And I hear he is quite a beau, and prodigious handsome. And I hope you may have as good luck yourself soon; but perhaps you may have a friend in the corner already."

 

Mycroft could not suppose that Sir Michael would be more discreet in proclaiming his suspicions of his regard for Greg, than he had been with respect to Sherlock; indeed, it was rather his favourite joke of the two, as being somewhat newer and more conjectural; and since Greg's visit, they had never dined together without his drinking to Mycroft’s best affections with so much significancy and so many nods and winks, as to excite general attention. The letter L had been likewise invariably brought forward, and found productive of such countless jokes, that its character as the wittiest letter in the alphabet had been long established.

 

Miss Hooper and Miss Donovan, as he expected, had now all the benefit of these jokes, and in Miss Hooper they raised a curiosity to know the name of the gentleman alluded to, which, though often impertinently expressed, was perfectly of a piece with her general inquisitiveness into the concerns of their family. But Sir Michael did not sport long with the curiosity which he delighted to raise, for he had at least as much pleasure in telling the name as Miss Hooper had in hearing it.

 

"His name is Lestrade," said he, in a very audible whisper; "but pray do not tell it, for it's a great secret."

 

"Lestrade!" repeated Miss Hooper. "Mr. Lestrade is the happy man, is he? Mrs. Moriarty’s brother? A very agreeable young man to be sure; I know him very well."

 

"How can you say so, Molly?" cried Sally, who generally made an amendment to all her cousin's assertions. "Though we have seen him once or twice at my uncle's, it is rather too much to pretend to know him very well."

 

Mycroft heard all this with attention and surprise. Who was this uncle? Where did he live? How came they acquainted? He wished very much to have the subject continued, though he did not choose to join in it himself; but nothing more of it was said, and for the first time in his life, he thought Mrs. Hudson deficient either in curiosity after petty information or in a disposition to communicate it. 

 

The manner in which Miss Hooper had spoken of Greg increased his curiosity; for it struck him as being rather ill-natured, and suggested the suspicion of that lady's knowing, or fancying herself to know something, to his disadvantage. But his curiosity was unavailing, for no farther notice was taken of Mr. Lestrade's name by Miss Hooper when alluded to, or even openly mentioned by Sir Michael. 

 

Chapter Text

Sherlock, who had never much toleration for anything like impertinence, inferiority of genius, or even difference of taste from himself, was at this time particularly ill-disposed, from the state of his spirits, to be pleased with Miss Hooper and Miss Donovan, or to encourage their advances; and to the invariable coldness of his behaviour towards them, which checked every endeavour at intimacy on their side, Mycroft principally attributed that preference of himself which soon became evident in the manners of both, but especially of Sally, who missed no opportunity of engaging him in conversation, or of striving to improve their acquaintance by an easy and frank communication of her sentiments.

 

Sally was naturally clever; her remarks were often just and amusing; and as a companion for half an hour Mycroft frequently found her agreeable; but her powers had received no aid from education: she was ignorant and illiterate; and her deficiency of all mental improvement, her lack of information in the most common particulars, could not be concealed, in spite of her constant endeavour to appear to advantage. Mycroft saw, and pitied her for, the neglect of abilities which education might have rendered so respectable; but he saw, with less tenderness of feeling, the thorough want of delicacy, of rectitude, and integrity of mind, which her attentions, her assiduities, her flatteries at the manor betrayed; and he could have no lasting satisfaction in the company of a person who joined insincerity with ignorance; whose want of instruction prevented their meeting in conversation on terms of equality, and whose conduct toward others made every show of attention and deference towards himself perfectly valueless.

 

"You will think my question an odd one, I dare say," said Sally to Mycroft one day, as they were walking together from the manor to the cottage, "but pray, are you personally acquainted with Mrs. Moriarty’s mother, Mrs. Lestrade?"

 

Mycroft did think the question a very odd one, and his countenance expressed it, as he answered that he had never seen Mrs. Lestrade.

 

"Indeed!" replied Sally. "I wonder at that, for I thought you must have seen her at Musgrave Hall sometimes. Then, perhaps, you cannot tell me what sort of a woman she is?"

 

"No," returned Mycroft, cautious of giving his real opinion of Greg's mother, and not very desirous of satisfying what seemed impertinent curiosity. "I know nothing of her."

 

"I am sure you think me very strange, for enquiring about her in such a way," said Sally, eyeing Mycroft attentively as she spoke; "but perhaps there may be reasons — I wish I might venture… But, however, I hope you will do me the justice of believing that I do not mean to be impertinent."

 

Mycroft made her a civil reply, and they walked on for a few minutes in silence. It was broken by Sally, who renewed the subject again by saying, with some hesitation,

 

"I cannot bear to have you think me impertinently curious. I am sure I would rather do anything in the world than be thought so by a person whose good opinion is so well worth having as yours. And I am sure I should not have the smallest fear of trusting you; indeed, I should be very glad of your advice how to manage in such an uncomfortable situation as I am; but, however, there is no occasion to trouble you. I am sorry you do not happen to know Mrs. Lestrade."

 

"I am sorry I do not," said Mycroft, in great astonishment, "if it could be of any use to you to know my opinion of her. But really, I never understood that you were at all connected with that family, and therefore I am a little surprised, I confess, at so serious an inquiry into her character."

 

"I dare say you are, and I am sure I do not at all wonder at it. But if I dared tell you all, you would not be so much surprised. Mrs. Lestrade is certainly nothing to me at present — but the time may come — how soon it will come must depend upon herself — when we may be very intimately connected."

 

She looked down as she said this, amiably bashful, with only one side glance at her companion to observe its effect on him.

 

"Good heavens!" cried Mycroft. "What do you mean? Are you connected with her younger son, Mr. Anderson Lestrade? Can you be?" 

 

He did not feel much delighted with the idea of such a sister-in-law.

 

"No," replied Sally, "not with Mr. Anderson Lestrade — I never saw him in my life; but," fixing her eyes upon Mycroft, "with his elder brother."

 

What felt Mycroft at that moment? Astonishment — which would have been as painful as it was strong, had not an immediate disbelief of the assertion attended it. He turned towards Sally in silent amazement, unable to divine the reason or object of such a declaration; and though his complexion varied, he stood firm in incredulity, and felt in no danger of an hysterical fit, or a swoon.

 

"You may well be surprised," continued Sally; "for to be sure you could have had no idea of it before; for I dare say he never dropped the smallest hint of it to you or any of your family; because it was always meant to be a great secret, and I am sure has been faithfully kept so by me to this hour. Not a soul of all my relations know of it but Molly, and I never should have mentioned it to you, if I had not felt the greatest dependence in the world upon your secrecy; and I really thought my behaviour in asking so many questions about Mrs. Lestrade must seem so odd, that it ought to be explained. And I do not think Mr. Lestrade can be displeased, when he knows I have trusted you, because I know he has the highest opinion in the world of all your family, and looks upon yourself quite as his own brother." — She paused.

 

Mycroft for a few moments remained silent. His astonishment at what he heard was at first too great for words; but at length, forcing himself to speak, and to speak cautiously, he said, with calmness of manner, which tolerably well concealed his surprise and solicitude, "May I ask if your engagement is of long standing?"

 

"We have been engaged these four years."

 

"Four years!"

 

"Yes."

 

Mycroft, though greatly shocked, still felt unable to believe it.

 

"I did not know," said he, "that you were even acquainted till the other day."

 

"Our acquaintance, however, is of many years date. He was under my uncle's tutelage, you know, a considerable while."

 

"Your uncle?”

 

"Yes; Mr. Gregson. Did you never hear him talk of Mr. Gregson?"

 

"I think I have," replied Mycroft, with an exertion of spirits, which increased with his increase of emotion.

 

"He was four years with my uncle, who lives at Longstaple, near Plymouth. It was there our acquaintance began, for Molly and I were often staying with my uncle, and it was there our engagement was formed, though not till a year after he had quitted as a pupil; but he was almost always with us afterwards. I was very unwilling to enter into it, as you may imagine, without the knowledge and approbation of his mother; but I was too young, and loved him too well, to be so prudent as I ought to have been. Though you do not know him so well as I do, Mr. Holmes, you must have seen enough of him to be sensible he is very capable of making someone sincerely attached to him."

 

"Certainly," answered Mycroft, without knowing what he said; but after a moment's reflection, he added, with revived security of Greg's honour and love, and his companion's falsehood — "Engaged to Mr. Greg Lestrade! I confess myself so totally surprised at what you tell me, that really — I beg your pardon; but surely there must be some mistake of person or name. We cannot mean the same Mr. Lestrade."

 

"We can mean no other," cried Sally, smiling. "Mr. Greg Lestrade, the eldest son of Mrs. Lestrade, of Park Street, and brother of your cousin’s wife, Irene Moriarty, is the person I mean; you must allow that I am not likely to be deceived as to the name of the man on who all my happiness depends."

 

"It is strange," replied Mycroft, in a most painful perplexity, "that I should never have heard him even mention your name."

 

"No; considering our situation, it was not strange. Our first care has been to keep the matter secret. You knew nothing of me, or my family, and, therefore, there could be no occasion for ever mentioning my name to you; and, as he was always particularly afraid of his sister's suspecting anything, that was reason enough for his not mentioning it."

 

She was silent. Mycroft's security sunk; but his self-command did not sink with it.

 

"Four years you have been engaged," said he with a firm voice.

 

"Yes; and heaven knows how much longer we may have to wait. Poor Greg! It puts him quite out of heart." Then, taking a small miniature from her pocket, she added, "To prevent the possibility of mistake, be so good as to look at this face. It does not do him justice, to be sure, but yet I think you cannot be deceived as to the person whose likeness it is. I have had it above these three years."

 

She put it into his hands as she spoke; and when Mycroft saw the painting, whatever other doubts his fear of a too hasty decision, or his wish of detecting falsehood might suffer to linger in his mind, he could have none of its being Greg's face. He returned it almost instantly, acknowledging the likeness.

 

"I have never been able," continued Sally, "to give him my picture in return, which I am very much vexed at, for he has been always so anxious to get it! But I am determined to sit for it the very first opportunity."

 

"You are quite in the right," replied Mycroft calmly. 

 

They then proceeded a few paces in silence. Sally spoke first.

 

"I am sure," said she, "I have no doubt in the world of your faithfully keeping this secret, because you must know of what importance it is to us, not to have it reach his mother; for she would never approve of it, I dare say. I shall have no fortune, and I fancy she is an exceedingly proud woman."

 

"I certainly did not seek your confidence," said Mycroft; "but you do me no more than justice in imagining that I may be depended on. Your secret is safe with me. But pardon me if I express some surprise at so unnecessary a communication. You must at least have felt that my being acquainted with it could not add to its safety."

 

As he said this, he looked earnestly at Sally, hoping to discover something in her countenance — perhaps the falsehood of the greatest part of what she had been saying — but Sally's countenance suffered no change.

 

"I was afraid you would think I was taking a great liberty with you," said she, "in telling you all this. I have not known you long, to be sure, personally at least, but I have known you and all your family by description a great while; and as soon as I saw you, I felt almost as if you were an old acquaintance. Besides, in the present case, I really thought some explanation was due to you after my making such particular inquiries about Greg's mother; and I am so unfortunate that I have not a creature whose advice I can ask. 

 

“Molly is the only person that knows of it, and she has no judgment at all; indeed, she does me a great deal more harm than good, for I am in constant fear of her betraying me. She does not know how to hold her tongue, as you must perceive, and I am sure I was in the greatest fright in the world the other day, when Greg's name was mentioned by Sir Michael, lest she should out with it all. You can't think how much I go through in my mind from it altogether. I only wonder that I am alive after what I have suffered for Greg's sake these last four years. Everything in such suspense and uncertainty; and seeing him so seldom — we can hardly meet above twice a year. I am sure I wonder how my heart is not quite broken."

 

Here she took out her handkerchief; but Mycroft did not feel very compassionate.

 

“Sometimes," continued Sally, after wiping her eyes, "I think whether it would not be better for us both to break off the matter entirely." As she said this, she looked directly at her companion. "But then at other times I have not resolution enough for it. I cannot bear the thoughts of making him so miserable, as I know the very mention of such a thing would do. And on my own account too — so dear as he is to me — I don't think I could be equal to it. What would you advise me to do in such a case, Mr. Holmes? What would you do yourself?"

 

"Pardon me," replied Mycroft, startled by the question; "but I can give you no advice under such circumstances. Your own judgment must direct you."

 

"To be sure," continued Sally, after a few minutes silence on both sides, "his mother must provide for him sometime or other; but poor Greg is so cast down by it! Did you not think him dreadfully low-spirited when he was at Baker? He was so miserable when he left us at Longstaple, to go to you, that I was afraid you would think him quite ill."

 

"Did he come from your uncle's, then, when he visited us?"

 

"Oh, yes; he had been staying a fortnight with us. Did you think he came directly from town?"

 

"No," replied Mycroft, most feelingly sensible of every fresh circumstance in favour of Sally's veracity. "I remember he told us that he had been staying a fortnight with some friends near Plymouth." 

 

He remembered, too, his own surprise at the time, at Greg’s mentioning nothing farther of those friends, at his total silence with respect even to their names.

 

"Did not you think him sadly out of spirits?" repeated Sally.

 

"We did, indeed, particularly so when he first arrived."

 

"I begged him to exert himself for fear you should suspect what was the matter; but it made him so melancholy, not being able to stay more than a fortnight with us, and seeing me so much affected. Poor fellow! I am afraid it is just the same with him now; for he writes in wretched spirits. I heard from him just before I left Exeter;" taking a letter from her pocket and carelessly showing the direction to Mycroft. "You know his hand, I dare say, a charming one it is; but that is not written so well as usual. He was tired, I dare say, for he had just filled the sheet to me as full as possible."

 

Mycroft saw that it was his handwriting, and he could doubt no longer. The picture, he had allowed himself to believe, might have been accidentally obtained; it might not have been Greg's gift; but a correspondence between them by letter could subsist only under a positive engagement, could be authorised by nothing else. For a few moments, he was almost overcome — his heart sunk within him, and he could hardly stand — but exertion was indispensably necessary; and he struggled so resolutely against the oppression of his feelings, that his success was speedy, and for the time complete.

 

"Writing to each other," said Sally, returning the letter into her pocket, "is the only comfort we have in such long separations. Yes, I have one other comfort in his picture, but poor Greg has not even that. If he had but my picture, he says he should be easy."

 

Fortunately for Mycroft, they had now reached the cottage, and the conversation could be continued no farther. After sitting with them a few minutes, Miss Donovan returned to the manor, and Mycroft was then at liberty to think and be wretched. 

Chapter Text

However small Mycroft's general dependence on Sally's veracity might be, it was impossible for him on serious reflection to suspect it in the present case, where no temptation could be answerable to the folly of inventing a falsehood of such a description. What Sally had asserted to be true, therefore, Mycroft could not, dared not longer doubt; supported as it was, too, on every side by such probabilities and proofs, and contradicted by nothing but his own wishes. Their opportunity of acquaintance in the house of Mr. Gregson was a foundation for the rest, at once indisputable and alarming; and Greg's visit near Plymouth, his melancholy state of mind, his dissatisfaction at his own prospects, his uncertain behaviour towards Mycroft, the intimate knowledge of Miss Hooper and Miss Donovan as to Musgrave Hall and their family connections, which had often surprised him, the picture, the letter, formed altogether such a body of evidence, as overcame every fear of condemning Greg unfairly, and established as a fact, which no partiality could set aside, Greg’s ill-treatment of himself. 

 

Mycroft's resentment of such behaviour, his indignation at having been its dupe, for a short time made him feel only for himself; but other ideas, other considerations, soon arose. Had Greg been intentionally deceiving him? Had he feigned a regard for him which he did not feel? Was his engagement to Sally an engagement of the heart? No; whatever it might once have been, Mycroft could not believe it such at present. 

 

Greg’s affection was all his own. Mycroft could not be deceived in that. His mother, brothers, Irene, all had been conscious of Greg’s regard for him at Musgrave Hall; it was not an illusion of his own vanity. Greg certainly loved him. 

 

What a softener of the heart was this persuasion! How much could it not tempt him to forgive! Greg had been blamable, highly blamable, in remaining at Musgrave Hall after he first felt Mycroft’s influence over him to be more than it ought to be. In that, he could not be defended. But if Greg had injured him, how much more had he injured himself. If Mycroft’s case were pitiable, his was hopeless. 

 

Greg’s imprudence had made Mycroft miserable for a while; but it seemed to have deprived himself of all chance of ever being otherwise. Mycroft might in time regain tranquillity; but Greg, what had he to look forward to? Could he ever be tolerably happy with Sally Donovan? Could he, even were his affection for Mycroft out of the question, with his integrity, his delicacy, and well-informed mind, be satisfied with a wife like her — illiterate, artful, and selfish?

 

The youthful infatuation of nineteen would naturally blind him to everything but her beauty and good nature; but the four succeeding years — years which, if rationally spent, give such improvement to the understanding, must have opened his eyes to her defects of education, while the same period of time, spent on her side in inferior society and more frivolous pursuits, had perhaps robbed her of that simplicity which might once have given an interesting character to her beauty.

 

If, in the supposition of Greg’s seeking to marry Mycroft, his difficulties from his mother had seemed great, how much greater were they now likely to be, when the object of his engagement was undoubtedly inferior in connections, and probably inferior in fortune to himself. These difficulties, indeed, with a heart so alienated from Sally, might not press very hard upon his patience; but melancholy was the state of the person by whom the expectation of family opposition and unkindness could be felt as a relief!

 

As these considerations occurred to him in painful succession, Mycroft wept for Greg, more than for himself. Supported by the conviction of having done nothing to merit his present unhappiness, and consoled by the belief that Greg had done nothing to forfeit his esteem, he thought he could even now, under the first smart of the heavy blow, command himself enough to guard every suspicion of the truth from his mother and brothers. 

 

So well was Mycroft able to answer his own expectations, that when he joined them at dinner only two hours after he had first suffered the extinction of all his dearest hopes, no one would have supposed, from the appearance of the brothers, that Mycroft was mourning in secret over obstacles which must divide him forever from the object of his love, and that Sherlock was internally dwelling on the perfections of a man, of whose whole heart he felt thoroughly possessed, and whom he expected to see in every carriage which drove near their house.

 

The necessity of concealing, from his mother and Sherlock, what had been entrusted in confidence to himself, though it obliged him to unceasing exertion, was no aggravation of Mycroft's distress. On the contrary, it was a relief to him, to be spared the communication of what would give such affliction to them, and to be saved likewise from hearing that condemnation of Greg, which would probably flow from the excess of their affection for himself, and which was more than he felt equal to support.

 

From their counsel, or their conversation, he knew he could receive no assistance. Their tenderness and sorrow must add to his distress, while his self-command would neither receive encouragement from their example nor from their praise. He was stronger alone, and his own good sense so well supported him, that his firmness was as unshaken, his appearance of cheerfulness as invariable, as with regrets so poignant and so fresh, it was possible for them to be.

 

Much as he had suffered from his first conversation with Sally on the subject, Mycroft soon felt an earnest wish of renewing it; and this for more reasons than one. He wanted to hear many particulars of their engagement repeated again, he wanted more clearly to understand what Sally really felt for Greg, whether there were any sincerity in her declaration of tender regard for him, and he particularly wanted to convince Sally, by his readiness to enter on the matter again, and his calmness in conversing on it, that he was no otherwise interested in it than as a friend, which he very much feared his involuntary agitation, in their morning discourse, must have left at least doubtful. 

 

That Sally was disposed to be jealous of him appeared very probable: it was plain that Greg had always spoken highly in his praise, not merely from Sally's assertion, but from her venturing to trust him on so short a personal acquaintance, with a secret so confessedly and evidently important. And even Sir Michael's joking intelligence must have had some weight. But indeed, while Mycroft remained so well assured within himself of being really beloved by Greg, it required no other consideration of probabilities to make it natural that Sally should be jealous; and that she was so, her very confidence was a proof. 

 

What other reason for the disclosure of the affair could there be, but that Mycroft might be informed by it of Sally's superior claims on Greg, and be taught to avoid him in future? He had little difficulty in understanding this much of his rival's intentions, and while he was firmly resolved to act by her as every principle of honour and honesty directed — to combat his own affection for Greg and to see him as little as possible — he could not deny himself the comfort of endeavouring to convince Sally that his heart was unwounded. As he could now have nothing more painful to hear on the subject than had already been told, he did not mistrust his own ability of going through a repetition of particulars with composure.

 

But it was not immediately that an opportunity of doing so could be commanded, though Sally was as well disposed as himself to take advantage of any that occurred; for the weather was not often fine enough to allow of their joining in a walk, where they might most easily separate themselves from the others; and though they met at least every other evening either at the manor or cottage, and chiefly at the former, they could not be supposed to meet for the sake of conversation. Such a thought would never enter either Sir Michael or Lady Stamford's head; and therefore very little leisure was ever given for a general chat, and none at all for particular discourse. They met for the sake of eating, drinking, and laughing together, playing at cards, or consequences, or any other game that was sufficiently noisy.

 

One or two meetings of this kind had taken place, without affording Mycroft any chance of engaging Sally in private, when Sir Michael called at the cottage one morning, to beg, in the name of charity, that they would all dine with Lady Stamford that day, as he was obliged to attend the club at Exeter, and she would otherwise be quite alone, except her mother and cousins. Mycroft, who foresaw a fairer opening for the point he had in view, in such a party as this was likely to be, more at liberty among themselves under the tranquil and well-bred direction of Lady Stamford than when her husband united them together in one noisy purpose, immediately accepted the invitation. Sherrinford, with their mother's permission, was equally compliant, and Sherlock, though always unwilling to join any of their parties, was persuaded by their mother, who could not bear to have him seclude himself from any chance of amusement, to go likewise.

 

The young gentlemen went, and Lady Stamford was happily preserved from the frightful solitude which had threatened her. The insipidity of the meeting was exactly such as Mycroft had expected; it produced not one novelty of thought or expression, and nothing could be less interesting than the whole of their discourse both in the dining parlour and drawing room. To the latter, the children accompanied them, and while they remained there, he was too well convinced of the impossibility of engaging Sally's attention to attempt it. They quitted it only with the removal of the tea-things. The card-table was then placed, and Mycroft began to wonder at himself for having ever entertained a hope of finding time for conversation at the manor. They all rose up in preparation for a round game.

 

"I am glad," said Lady Stamford to Sally, "you are not going to finish poor little Anna Maria's basket this evening; for I am sure it must hurt your eyes to work filigree by candlelight. And we will make the dear little love some amends for her disappointment tomorrow, and then I hope she will not much mind it."

 

This hint was enough; Sally recollected herself instantly and replied, "Indeed you are very much mistaken, Lady Stamford. I am only waiting to know whether you can make your party without me, or I should have been at my filigree already. I would not disappoint the little angel for all the world: and if you want me at the card-table now, I am resolved to finish the basket after supper."

 

"You are very good. I hope it won't hurt your eyes. Will you ring the bell for some working candles? My poor little girl would be sadly disappointed, I know, if the basket was not finished tomorrow."

 

Sally directly drew her work table near her and reseated herself with an alacrity and cheerfulness which seemed to imply that she could taste no greater delight than in making a filigree basket for a spoilt child.

 

Lady Stamford proposed a rubber of Casino to the others. 

 

No one made any objection but Sherlock, who, with his usual inattention to the forms of general civility, exclaimed, "Your Ladyship will have the goodness to excuse me. You know I detest cards. I shall go to the piano-forte; I have not touched it since it was tuned." And without farther ceremony, he turned away and walked to the instrument.

 

Lady Stamford looked as if she thanked heaven that she had never made so rude a speech.

 

"Sherlock can never keep long from that instrument, you know, ma'am," said Mycroft, endeavouring to smooth away the offence; "and I do not much wonder at it; for it is the very best toned piano-forte I ever heard."

 

The remaining five were now to draw their cards.

 

"Perhaps," continued Mycroft, "if I should happen to cut out, I may be of some use to Miss Donovan, in rolling her papers for her. There is so much still to be done to the basket, that it must be impossible, I think, for her labour alone to finish it this evening. I should like the work exceedingly, if she would allow me a share in it."

 

"Indeed I shall be very much obliged to you for your help," cried Sally, "for I find there is more to be done to it than I thought there was; and it would be a shocking thing to disappoint dear Anna Maria after all."

 

"Oh! That would be terrible, indeed," said Miss Hooper. "Dear little soul, how I do love her!"

 

"You are very kind," said Lady Stamford to Mycroft; "and as you really like the work, perhaps you will be as well pleased not to cut in till another rubber.”

 

Thus, by a little of that diplomacy which Sherlock could never condescend to practise, Mycroft gained his own end, and pleased Lady Stamford at the same time. 

 

Sally made room for him with ready attention, and the two fair rivals were thus seated side by side at the same table, and, with the utmost harmony, engaged in forwarding the same work. The pianoforte, at which Sherlock, wrapped up in his own music and his own thoughts, had by this time forgotten that anybody was in the room besides himself, was luckily so near them that Mycroft now judged he might safely, under the shelter of its noise, introduce the interesting subject, without any risk of being heard at the card-table. 

 

Chapter Text

In a firm though cautious tone, Mycroft thus began his conversation with Sally:

 

"I should be undeserving of the confidence you have honoured me with, if I felt no desire for its continuance, or no farther curiosity on its subject. I will not apologize therefore for bringing it forward again."

 

"Thank you," cried Sally warmly, "for breaking the ice; you have set my heart at ease by it; for I was somehow or other afraid I had offended you by what I told you that Monday."

 

"Offended me! How could you suppose so? Believe me," and Mycroft spoke it with the truest sincerity, "nothing could be farther from my intention than to give you such an idea. Could you have a motive for the trust, that was not honourable and flattering to me?"

 

"And yet I do assure you," replied Sally, her sharp eyes full of meaning, "there seemed to me to be a coldness and displeasure in your manner that made me quite uncomfortable. I felt sure that you were angry with me; and have been quarrelling with myself ever since, for having taken such a liberty as to trouble you with my affairs. But I am very glad to find it was only my own fancy, and that you really do not blame me. If you knew what a consolation it was to me to relieve my heart, speaking to you of what I am always thinking of every moment of my life, your compassion would make you overlook everything else, I am sure."

 

"Indeed, I can easily believe that it was a very great relief to you, to acknowledge your situation to me, and be assured that you shall never have reason to repent it. Your case is a very unfortunate one; you seem to me to be surrounded with difficulties, and you will have need of all your mutual affection to support you under them. Mr. Lestrade, I believe, is entirely dependent on his mother."

 

"He has only two thousand pounds of his own; it would be madness to marry upon that, though for my own part, I could give up every prospect of more without a sigh. I have been always used to a very small income, and could struggle with any poverty for him; but I love him too well to be the selfish means of robbing him of all that his mother might give him if he married to please her. We must wait; it may be for many years. With almost every other man in the world, it would be an alarming prospect; but Greg's affection and constancy nothing can deprive me of, I know."

 

"That conviction must be everything to you; and he is undoubtedly supported by the same trust in yours. If the strength of your reciprocal attachment had failed, as between many people, and under many circumstances, it naturally would during a four years' engagement, your situation would have been pitiable, indeed."

 

Sally here looked up; but Mycroft was careful in guarding his countenance from every expression that could give his words a suspicious tendency.

 

"Greg's love for me," said Sally, "has been pretty well put to the test, by our long, very long absence since we were first engaged, and it has stood the trial so well, that I should be unpardonable to doubt it now. I can safely say that he has never given me one moment's alarm on that account from the first."

 

Mycroft hardly knew whether to smile or sigh at this assertion.

 

Sally went on. "I am rather of a jealous temper, too, by nature, and from our different situations in life, from his being so much more in the world than me, and our continual separation, I was enough inclined for suspicion, to have found out the truth in an instant, if there had been the slightest alteration in his behaviour to me when we met, or any lowness of spirits that I could not account for, or if he had talked more of one acquaintance than another, or seemed in any respect less happy at Longstaple than he used to be. I do not mean to say that I am particularly observant or quick-sighted in general, but in such a case I am sure I could not be deceived."

 

All this, thought Mycroft, is very pretty; but it can impose upon neither of us.

 

"But what," said he, after a short silence, "are your views? Or have you none but that of waiting for Mrs. Lestrade's death, which is a melancholy and shocking extremity? Is her son determined to submit to this, and to all the tediousness of the many years of suspense in which it may involve you, rather than run the risk of her displeasure for a while by owning the truth?"

 

"If we could be certain that it would be only for a while! But Mrs. Lestrade is a very headstrong, proud woman, and in her first fit of anger upon hearing it, would very likely secure everything to her younger son, Anderson, and the idea of that, for Greg's sake, frightens away all my inclination for hasty measures."

 

"And for your own sake too, or you are carrying your disinterestedness beyond reason."

 

Sally looked at Mycroft again, and was silent.

 

"Do you know Mr. Anderson Lestrade?" asked Mycroft.

 

"Not at all — I never saw him; but I fancy he is very unlike his brother — silly and a great coxcomb."

 

"A great coxcomb!" repeated Molly, whose ear had caught those words by a sudden pause in Sherlock's music. "Oh, they are talking of their favourite beaux, I dare say."

 

“No, Molly," cried Sally, "you are mistaken there, our favourite beaux are NOT great coxcombs."

 

"I can answer for it that Mr. Holmes' is not," said Mrs. Hudson, laughing heartily; "for he is one of the modestest, prettiest behaved young men I ever saw; but as for Sally, she is such a sly little creature, there is no finding out who she likes."

 

"Oh," cried Molly, looking significantly round at them, "I dare say Sally's beau is quite as modest and pretty behaved as Mr. Holmes'."

 

Mycroft blushed in spite of himself. Sally bit her lip, and looked angrily at her cousin. 

 

A mutual silence took place for some time. Sally first put an end to it by saying in a lower tone, though Sherlock was then giving them the powerful protection of a very magnificent concerto — 

 

"I will honestly tell you of one scheme which has lately come into my head, for bringing matters to bear; indeed, I am bound to let you into the secret, for you are a party concerned. I dare say you have seen enough of Greg to know that he would prefer the church to every other profession. Now, my plan is that he should take orders as soon as he can, and then, through your interest, which I am sure you would be kind enough to use out of friendship for him, and I hope out of some regard to me, your cousin might be persuaded to give him Musgrave Hall living; which I understand is a very good one, and the present incumbent not likely to live a great while. That would be enough for us to marry upon, and we might trust to time and chance for the rest."

 

"I should always be happy," replied Mycroft, "to show any mark of my esteem and friendship for Mr. Lestrade. But do you not perceive that my interest on such an occasion would be perfectly unnecessary? He is brother to Irene Moriarty — that must be recommendation enough to her husband."

 

"But Mrs. Moriarty would not much approve of Greg's going into orders."

 

"Then I rather suspect that my interest would do very little."

 

They were again silent for many minutes. At length, Sally exclaimed with a deep sigh,

 

"I believe it would be the wisest way to put an end to the business at once by dissolving the engagement. We seem so beset with difficulties on every side, that though it would make us miserable for a time, we should be happier perhaps in the end. But you will not give me your advice, Mr. Holmes?"

 

"No," answered Mycroft, with a smile, which concealed very agitated feelings, "on such a subject I certainly will not. You know very well that my opinion would have no weight with you, unless it were on the side of your wishes."

 

“Indeed, you wrong me," replied Sally, with great solemnity. "I know nobody of whose judgment I think so highly as I do of yours; and I do really believe, that if you were to say to me, 'I advise you by all means to put an end to your engagement with Greg Lestrade, it will be more for the happiness of both of you,' I should resolve upon doing it immediately."

 

Mycroft blushed for the insincerity of Greg's future wife, and replied, "This compliment would effectually frighten me from giving any opinion on the subject, had I formed one. It raises my influence much too high. The power of dividing two people so tenderly attached is too much for an indifferent person."

 

"'Tis because you are an indifferent person," said Sally, with some pique, and laying a particular stress on those words, "that your judgment might justly have such weight with me. If you could be supposed to be biased in any respect by your own feelings, your opinion would not be worth having."

 

Mycroft thought it wisest to make no answer to this, lest they might provoke each other to an unsuitable increase of unreserve; and was even partly determined never to mention the subject again. Another pause, therefore, of many minutes' duration, succeeded this speech, and Sally was still the first to end it.

 

"Shall you be in town this winter, Mr. Holmes?" said she, with all her accustomary complacency.

 

"Certainly not."

 

"I am sorry for that," returned the other, while her eyes brightened at the information. "It would have given me such pleasure to meet you there! But I dare say you will go, for all that. To be sure, the Moriartys will ask you to come to them while they are in London."

 

"It will not be in my power to accept their invitation if they do."

 

"How unlucky that is! I had quite depended upon meeting you there. Molly and I are to go the latter end of January to some relations who have been wanting us to visit them these several years! But I only go for the sake of seeing Greg. He will be there in February. Otherwise, London would have no charms for me; I have not spirits for it."

 

Mycroft was soon called to the card-table by the conclusion of the first rubber, and the confidential discourse of the two young people was therefore at an end, to which both of them submitted without any reluctance, for nothing had been said on either side to make them dislike each other less than they had done before; and Mycroft sat down to the card table with the melancholy persuasion that Greg was not only without affection for the person who was to be his wife; but that he had not even the chance of being tolerably happy in marriage, which sincere affection on her side would have given — for self-interest alone could induce a woman to keep a man to an engagement of which she seemed so thoroughly aware that he was weary.

 

From this time, the subject was never revived by Mycroft, and when entered on by Sally — who seldom missed an opportunity of introducing it, and was particularly careful to inform her confidante of her happiness whenever she received a letter from Greg — it was treated by the former with calmness and caution, and dismissed as soon as civility would allow; for he felt such conversations to be an indulgence which Sally did not deserve, and which were dangerous to himself.

 

The visit of Miss Hooper and Miss Donovan at Baker Manor was lengthened far beyond what the first invitation implied. Their favour increased; they could not be spared; Sir Michael would not hear of their going; and in spite of their numerous and long arranged engagements in Exeter, in spite of the absolute necessity of returning to fulfill them immediately, which was in full force at the end of every week, they were prevailed on to stay nearly two months at the manor; two months which seemed like six to Mycroft. 

 

Chapter Text

Though Mrs. Hudson was in the habit of spending a large portion of the year at the houses of her children and friends, she was not without a settled habitation of her own. Since the death of her husband, who had traded with success in a less elegant part of the town, she had resided every winter in a house in one of the streets near Portman Square. Towards this home, she began, on the approach of January, to turn her thoughts, and thither she one day abruptly, and very unexpectedly by them, asked Mycroft and Sherlock to accompany her. 

 

Mycroft, without observing the varying complexion of his brother, and the animated look which spoke no indifference to the plan, immediately gave a grateful but absolute denial for both, in which he believed himself to be speaking their united inclinations. The reason alleged was their determined resolution of not leaving their mother at that time of the year. 

 

Mrs. Hudson received the refusal with some surprise, and repeated her invitation immediately.

 

"Oh, Lord! I am sure your mother can spare you very well, and I do beg you will favour me with your company, for I've quite set my heart upon it. Don't fancy that you will be any inconvenience to me, for I shan't put myself at all out of my way for you. We three shall be able to go very well in my chaise; and when we are in town, if you do not like to go wherever I do, well and good, you may always go with one of my daughters. I am sure your mother will not object to it; for I have had such good luck in getting my own children off my hands that she will think me a very fit person to have the charge of you; and if I don't get one of you at least well married before I have done with you, it shall not be my fault. I shall speak a good word for you to everyone eligible, you may depend upon it."

 

"I have a notion," said Sir Michael, "that Sherlock would not object to such a scheme, if his elder brother would come into it. It is very hard indeed that he should not have a little pleasure, because Mycroft does not wish it. So I would advise you two, to set off for town, when you are tired of Baker, without saying a word to Mycroft about it."

 

"Nay," cried Mrs. Hudson, "I am sure I shall be monstrous glad of Sherlock's company, whether Mycroft will go or not, only the more the merrier say I, and I thought it would be more comfortable for them to be together; because, if they got tired of me, they might talk to one another, and laugh at my old ways behind my back. But one or the other, if not both of them, I must have. Lord bless me! How do you think I can live, poking by myself, I who have been always used till this winter to have Janine with me. Come, Sherlock, let us strike hands upon the bargain, and if Mycroft will change his mind by and bye, why so much the better."

 

"I thank you, ma'am, sincerely thank you," said Sherlock, with warmth. "Your invitation has insured my gratitude forever, and it would give me such happiness, yes, almost the greatest happiness I am capable of, to be able to accept it. But my mother, my dearest, kindest mother… I feel the justice of what Mycroft has urged; and if she were to be made less happy, less comfortable by our absence… Oh! No, nothing should tempt me to leave her. It should not, must not be a struggle."

 

Mrs. Hudson repeated her assurance that Mrs. Holmes could spare them perfectly well; and Mycroft, who now understood his brother, and saw to what indifference to almost everything else he was carried by his eagerness to be with Victor Trevor again, made no farther direct opposition to the plan, and merely referred it to their mother's decision, from whom, however, he scarcely expected to receive any support in his endeavour to prevent a visit, which he could not approve of for Sherlock, and which on his own account he had particular reasons to avoid. 

 

Whatever Sherlock was desirous of, their mother would be eager to promote. Mycroft could not expect to influence the latter to cautiousness of conduct in an affair respecting which he had never been able to inspire her with distrust; and he dared not explain the motive of his own disinclination for going to London. That Sherlock, fastidious as he was — thoroughly acquainted with Mrs. Hudson' manners, and invariably dismissive of them — should overlook every inconvenience of that kind, should disregard whatever must be most wounding to his irritable feelings, in his pursuit of one object, was such a proof, so strong, so full, of the importance of that object to him, as Mycroft, in spite of all that had passed, was not prepared to witness.

 

On being informed of the invitation, Mrs. Holmes, persuaded that such an excursion would be productive of much amusement to both her sons, and perceiving through all his affectionate attention to herself, how much the heart of Sherlock was in it, would not hear of their declining the offer upon her account; insisted on their both accepting it directly; and then began to foresee, with her usual cheerfulness, a variety of advantages that would accrue to them all, from this separation.

 

"I am delighted with the plan," she cried. "It is exactly what I could wish. Sherrinford and I shall be as much benefited by it as yourselves. When you and the Stamfords are gone, we shall go on so quietly and happily together with our books and our music! You will find Sherrinford so improved when you come back again! 

 

“I have a little plan of alteration for your bedrooms too, which may now be performed without any inconvenience to anyone. It is very right that you should go to town. I would have every young person of your condition in life acquainted with the manners and amusements of London. You will be under the care of a motherly, good sort of woman, of whose kindness to you I can have no doubt. And in all probability you will see your cousin, and whatever may be his faults, or the faults of his wife, I cannot bear to have you so wholly estranged from each other."

 

"Though with your usual anxiety for our happiness," said Mycroft, "you have been obviating every impediment to the present scheme which occurred to you, there is still one objection which, in my opinion, cannot be so easily removed."

 

Sherlock's countenance sunk.

 

"And what," said Mrs. Holmes, "is my dear, prudent Mycroft going to suggest? What formidable obstacle is he now to bring forward? Do not let me hear a word about the expense of it."

 

"My objection is this: though I think very well of Mrs. Hudson's heart, she is not a woman whose society can afford us pleasure, or whose protection will give us consequence."

 

"That is very true," replied his mother. "But of her society, separately from that of other people, you will scarcely have anything at all, and you will almost always appear in public with Lady Stamford."

 

"If Mycroft is frightened away by his dislike of Mrs. Hudson’s attempts at wit," said Sherlock, "at least it need not prevent my accepting her invitation. I have no such scruples, and I am sure I could put up with every unpleasantness of that kind with very little effort."

 

Mycroft could not help smiling at this display of indifference towards the manners of a person to whom he had often had difficulty in persuading Sherlock to behave with tolerable politeness; and resolved within himself, that if his brother persisted in going, he would go likewise, as he did not think it proper that Sherlock should be left to the sole guidance of his own judgment, or that Mrs. Hudson should be abandoned to the mercy of Sherlock for all the comfort of her domestic hours. To this determination he was the more easily reconciled, by recollecting that Greg Lestrade, by Sally's account, was not to be in town before February; and that their visit, without any unreasonable abridgement, might be previously finished.

 

"I will have you both go," said Mrs. Holmes. "These objections are nonsensical. You will have much pleasure in being in London, and especially in being together; and if Mycroft would ever condescend to anticipate enjoyment, he would foresee it there from a variety of sources; he would, perhaps, expect some from improving his acquaintance with his cousin's extended family."

 

Mycroft had often wished for an opportunity of attempting to weaken his mother's dependence on the attachment of Greg and himself, that the shock might be less when the whole truth were revealed, and now on this attack, though almost hopeless of success, he forced himself to begin his design by saying, as calmly as he could, "I like Greg Lestrade very much, and shall always be glad to see him; but as to the rest of the family, it is a matter of perfect indifference to me, whether I am ever known to them or not."

 

Mrs. Holmes smiled, and said nothing. Sherlock lifted up his eyes in astonishment, and Mycroft conjectured that he might as well have held his tongue.

 

After very little farther discourse, it was finally settled that the invitation should be fully accepted. Mrs. Hudson received the information with a great deal of joy, and many assurances of kindness and care. Nor was it a matter of pleasure merely to her. Sir Michael was delighted; for to a man whose prevailing anxiety was the dread of being alone, the acquisition of two, to the number of inhabitants in London, was something. Even Lady Stamford took the trouble of being delighted, which was putting herself rather out of her way; and as for Miss Hooper and Miss Donovan, especially Sally, they had never been so happy in their lives as this intelligence made them.

 

Mycroft submitted to the arrangement, which counteracted his wishes, with less reluctance than he had expected to feel. With regard to himself, it was now a matter of unconcern whether he went to town or not, and when he saw his mother so thoroughly pleased with the plan, and his brother exhilarated by it in look, voice, and manner, restored to all his usual animation, and elevated to more than his usual gaiety, he could not be dissatisfied with the cause, and would hardly allow himself to distrust the consequence.

 

Sherlock's joy was almost a degree beyond happiness, so great was the perturbation of his spirits and his impatience to be gone. His unwillingness to leave his mother was his only restorative to calmness; and at the moment of parting his grief on that score was excessive. Their mother's affliction was hardly less, and Mycroft was the only one of the three who seemed to consider the separation as anything short of eternal.

 

Their departure took place in the first week in January. The Stamfords were to follow in about a week. Miss Hooper and Miss Donovan kept their station at the manor, and were to quit it only with the rest of the family.

Chapter Text

Mycroft could not find himself in the carriage with Mrs. Hudson, and beginning a journey to London as her guest, without wondering at his own situation, so short had their acquaintance with that lady been, so wholly unsuited were they in age and disposition, and so many had been his objections against such a measure only a few days before! But these objections had all, with that happy ardour of youth which Sherlock and their mother equally shared, been overcome or overlooked; and Mycroft, in spite of every occasional doubt of Victor Trevor's constancy, could not witness the rapture of delightful expectation which filled the whole soul and beamed in the eyes of Sherlock, without feeling how blank was his own prospect, how cheerless his own state of mind in the comparison, and how gladly he would engage in the solicitude of Sherlock's situation to have the same animating object in view, the same possibility of hope. 

 

A short, a very short time, however, must now decide what Victor Trevor's intentions were. In all probability he was already in town. Sherlock's eagerness to be gone declared his dependence on finding him there; and Mycroft was resolved not only upon gaining every new light as to his character which his own observation or the intelligence of others could give him, but likewise upon watching his behaviour to Sherlock, with such zealous attention as to ascertain what he was and what he meant, before many meetings had taken place. Should the result of his observations be unfavourable, Mycroft was determined at all events to open the eyes of his brother. Should it be otherwise, his exertions would be of a different nature: he must then learn to avoid every selfish comparison, and banish every regret which might lessen his satisfaction in Sherlock's happiness.

 

They were three days on their journey, and Sherlock's behaviour as they travelled was a happy specimen of what his future complaisance and companionableness to Mrs. Hudson might be expected to be. He sat in silence almost all the way, wrapped in his own meditations, and scarcely ever voluntarily speaking, except when any object of picturesque beauty within their view drew from him an exclamation of delight exclusively addressed to his brother. 

 

To atone for this conduct, therefore, Mycroft took immediate possession of the post of civility which he had assigned himself, behaved with the greatest attention to Mrs. Hudson, talked with her, laughed with her, and listened to her whenever he could; and Mrs. Hudson on her side treated them both with all possible kindness, and was solicitous on every occasion for their ease and enjoyment. 

 

They reached town by three o'clock the third day, glad to be released, after such a journey, from the confinement of a carriage, and ready to enjoy all the luxury of a good fire. The house was handsome, and handsomely fitted up, and the young gentlemen were immediately put in possession of a very comfortable apartment. It had formerly been Janine's, and over the mantelpiece still hung a landscape in coloured silks of her performance, in proof of her having spent seven years at a great school in town to some effect.

 

As dinner was not to be ready in less than two hours from their arrival, Mycroft determined to employ the interval in writing to his mother, and sat down for that purpose. In a few moments Sherlock did the same. 

 

"I am writing home, Sherlock," said Mycroft. "Had not you better defer your letter for a day or two?"

 

"I am not going to write to my mother," replied Sherlock, hastily, and as if wishing to avoid any farther inquiry. 

 

Mycroft said no more. It immediately struck him that Sherlock must then be writing to Victor Trevor; and the conclusion which as instantly followed was, that however mysteriously they might wish to conduct the affair, they must be engaged. This conviction, though not entirely satisfactory, gave him pleasure, and he continued his letter with greater alacrity. 

 

Sherlock's was finished in a very few minutes; in length it could be no more than a note. It was then folded up, sealed, and directed with eager rapidity. Mycroft thought he could distinguish a large T in the direction. No sooner was it complete than Sherlock, ringing the bell, requested the footman who answered it to get that letter conveyed for him to the two-penny post. This decided the matter at once.

 

Sherlock’s spirits still continued very high; but there was a flutter in them which prevented their giving much pleasure to his brother, and this agitation increased as the evening drew on. He could scarcely eat any dinner, and when they afterwards returned to the drawing room, seemed to be anxiously listening to the sound of every carriage.

 

It was a great satisfaction to Mycroft that Mrs. Hudson, by being much engaged in her own room, could see little of what was passing. The tea things were brought in, and already had Sherlock been disappointed more than once by a rap at a neighbouring door, when a loud one was suddenly heard which could not be mistaken for one at any other house. Mycroft felt secure of its announcing Victor Trevor's approach, and Sherlock, starting up, moved towards the door. 

 

Everything was silent; this could not be borne many seconds. He opened the door, advanced a few steps towards the stairs, and after listening half a minute, returned into the room in all the agitation which a conviction of having heard him would naturally produce. 

 

In the ecstasy of his feelings at that instant, Sherlock could not help exclaiming, "Oh, Mycroft, it is Victor Trevor, indeed it is!" and seemed almost ready to throw himself into his arms, when Captain Watson appeared.

 

It was too great a shock to be borne with calmness, and Sherlock immediately left the room. 

 

Mycroft was disappointed, too; but at the same time his regard for Captain Watson ensured his welcome; and he felt particularly hurt that a man so partial to his brother should perceive that Sherlock experienced nothing but grief and disappointment in seeing him. Mycroft instantly saw that it was not unnoticed by Captain Watson, that he even observed Sherlock as he quitted the room, with such astonishment and concern, as hardly left him the recollection of what civility demanded towards Mycroft himself.

 

"Is your brother ill?" said he.

 

Mycroft answered in some distress that he was, and then talked of head-aches, low spirits, and over fatigues; and of everything to which he could decently attribute his brother's behaviour.

 

Captain Watson heard him with the most earnest attention, but seeming to recollect himself, said no more on the subject, and began directly to speak of his pleasure at seeing them in London, making the usual inquiries about their journey, and the friends they had left behind.

 

In this calm kind of way, with very little interest on either side, they continued to talk, both of them out of spirits, and the thoughts of both engaged elsewhere. Mycroft wished very much to ask whether Victor Trevor were then in town, but he was afraid of giving Captain Watson pain by any enquiry after his rival; and at length, by way of saying something, he asked if he had been in London ever since they had seen him last. 

 

"Yes," he replied, with some embarrassment, "almost ever since. I have been once or twice at Delaford for a few days, but it has never been in my power to return to Baker."

 

This, and the manner in which it was said, immediately brought back to Mycroft’s remembrance all the circumstances of his quitting that place, with the uneasiness and suspicions they had caused to Mrs. Hudson, and he was fearful that his question had implied much more curiosity on the subject than he had ever felt.

 

Mrs. Hudson soon came in. "Oh! Captain," said she, with her usual noisy cheerfulness, "I am monstrous glad to see you — sorry I could not come before — beg your pardon, but I have been forced to look about me a little, and settle my matters; for it is a long while since I have been at home, and you know one has always a world of little odd things to do after one has been away for any time. Lord, I have been as busy as a bee ever since dinner! But pray, Captain, how came you to conjure out that I should be in town today?"

 

"I had the pleasure of hearing it at Mr. Hawkins', where I have been dining."

 

"Oh, you did. Well, and how do they all do at their house? How does Janine do? I warrant you she is a fine size by this time."

 

"Mrs. Hawkins appeared quite well, and I am commissioned to tell you that you will certainly see her tomorrow."

 

"Aye, to be sure, I thought as much. Well, Captain, I have brought two young gentlemen with me, you see — that is, you see but one of them now, but there is another somewhere. Your friend, Master Sherlock, too — which you will not be sorry to hear. I do not know what you and Mr. Trevor will do between you about him. Aye, it is a fine thing to be young and handsome.” 

 

“Well!” continued Mrs. Hudson. “I was young once, but I never was very handsome — worse luck for me. However, I got a very good husband, and I don't know what the greatest beauty can do more. Ah! Poor man! He has been dead these eight years and better. But Captain, where have you been to since we parted? And how does your business go on? Come, come, let's have no secrets among friends."

 

He replied with his accustomary mildness to all her inquiries, but without satisfying her in any. Mycroft now began to make the tea, and Sherlock was obliged to appear again.

 

After his entrance, Captain Watson became more thoughtful and silent than he had been before, and Mrs. Hudson could not prevail on him to stay long. No other visitor appeared that evening, and they were unanimous in agreeing to go early to bed.

 

Sherlock rose the next morning with recovered spirits and happy looks. The disappointment of the evening before seemed forgotten in the expectation of what was to happen that day. They had not long finished their breakfast before Mrs. Hawkins' barouche stopped at the door, and in a few minutes she came laughing into the room: so delighted to see them all, that it was hard to say whether she received most pleasure from meeting her mother or Mycroft and Sherlock again. So surprised at their coming to town, though it was what she had rather expected all along; so angry at their accepting her mother's invitation after having declined her own, though at the same time she would never have forgiven them if they had not come!

 

"Mr. Hawkins will be so happy to see you," said she. "What do you think he said when he heard of your coming with Mama? I forget what it was now, but it was something so droll!"

 

After an hour or two spent in what her mother called comfortable chat, or in other words, in every variety of inquiry concerning all their acquaintance on Mrs. Hudson's side, and in laughter without cause on Mrs. Hawkins', it was proposed by the latter that they should all accompany her to some shops where she had business that morning, to which Mrs. Hudson and Mycroft readily consented, as having likewise some purchases to make themselves; and Sherlock, though declining it at first, was induced to go likewise.

 

Wherever they went, Sherlock was evidently always on the watch. In Bond Street, especially, where much of their business lay, his eyes were in constant inquiry; and in whatever shop the party were engaged, his mind was equally abstracted from everything actually before them, from all that interested and occupied the others. Restless and dissatisfied everywhere, his brother could never obtain his opinion of any article of purchase, however it might equally concern them both. He received no pleasure from anything; was only impatient to be at home again, and could with difficulty govern his vexation at the tediousness of Mrs. Hawkins, whose eye was caught by everything pretty, expensive, or new; who was wild to buy all, could determine on none, and dawdled away her time in rapture and indecision.

 

It was late in the morning before they returned home; and no sooner had they entered the house than Sherlock flew eagerly upstairs, and when Mycroft followed, he found him turning from the table with a sorrowful countenance, which declared that no Victor Trevor had been there.

 

"Has no letter been left here for me since we went out?" said Sherlock to the footman, who then entered with the parcels. 

 

He was answered in the negative. 

 

"Are you quite sure of it?" he demanded. "Are you certain that no servant, no porter has left any letter or note?"

 

The man replied that none had.

 

"How very odd!" said Sherlock, in a low and disappointed voice, as he turned away to the window.

 

"How odd, indeed!" repeated Mycroft within himself, regarding his brother with uneasiness. "If he had not known Victor Trevor to be in town, Sherlock would not have written to him by the two-penny post, as he did; he would have written to Combe Magna; and if he is in town, how odd that he should neither come nor write! Oh! My dear mother, you must be wrong in permitting an engagement between a son so young, and a man so little known, to be carried on in so doubtful, so mysterious a manner! I long to inquire; but how will my interference be borne."

 

Mycroft determined, after some consideration, that if appearances continued many days longer as unpleasant as they now were, he would represent in the strongest manner to his mother the necessity of some serious enquiry into the affair.

 

Mrs. Hawkins and two elderly ladies of Mrs. Hudson's intimate acquaintance, whom she had met and invited in the morning, dined with them. The former left them soon after tea to fulfill her evening engagements; and Mycroft was obliged to assist in making a whist table for the others. 

 

Sherlock was of no use on these occasions, as he would never learn the game; but though his time was therefore at his own disposal, the evening was by no means more productive of pleasure to him than to Mycroft, for it was spent in all the anxiety of expectation and the pain of disappointment. Sherlock sometimes endeavoured for a few minutes to read; but the book was soon thrown aside, and he returned to the more interesting employment of walking backwards and forwards across the room, pausing for a moment whenever he came to the window, in hopes of distinguishing the long-expected rap. 

 

Chapter Text

"If this open weather holds much longer," said Mrs. Hudson, when they met at breakfast the following morning, "Sir Michael will not like leaving Baker next week; 'tis a sad thing for sportsmen to lose a day's pleasure. Poor souls! I always pity them when they do; they seem to take it so much to heart."

 

"That is true," cried Sherlock, in a cheerful voice, walking to the window as he spoke, to examine the day. "I had not thought of that. This weather will keep many sportsmen in the country."

 

It was a lucky recollection; all his good spirits were restored by it. 

 

"It is charming weather for them indeed," he continued, as he sat down to the breakfast table with a happy countenance. "How much they must enjoy it! But" (with a little return of anxiety) "it cannot be expected to last long. At this time of the year, and after such a series of rainy days, we shall certainly have very little more of it. Frosts will soon set in, and in all probability with severity, in another day or two perhaps. This extreme mildness can hardly last longer — nay, perhaps it may freeze tonight!"

 

"At any rate," said Mycroft, wishing to prevent Mrs. Hudson from seeing his brother's thoughts as clearly as he did, "I dare say we shall have Sir Michael and Lady Stamford in town by the end of next week."

 

"Aye, my dear, I'll warrant you we do. My daughter always has her own way."

 

"And now," silently conjectured Mycroft, "Sherlock will write to Combe by this day's post."

 

But if he did, the letter was written and sent away with a privacy which eluded all his watchfulness to ascertain the fact. Whatever the truth of it might be, and far as Mycroft was from feeling thorough contentment about it, yet while he saw Sherlock in spirits, he could not be very uncomfortable himself. And Sherlock was in spirits; happy in the mildness of the weather, and still happier in his expectation of a frost.

 

The morning was chiefly spent in leaving cards at the houses of Mrs. Hudson's acquaintances to inform them of her being in town; and Sherlock was all the time busy in observing the direction of the wind, watching the variations of the sky and imagining an alteration in the air.

 

"Don't you find it colder than it was in the morning, Mycroft? There seems to me a very decided difference. I can hardly keep my hands warm even in my gloves. It was not so yesterday, I think. The clouds seem parting too, the sun will be out in a moment, and we shall have a clear afternoon."

 

Mycroft was alternately diverted and pained; but Sherlock persevered, and saw every night in the brightness of the fire, and every morning in the appearance of the atmosphere, the certain symptoms of approaching frost.

 

Mycroft and Sherlock had no greater reason to be dissatisfied with Mrs. Hudson's style of living, and set of acquaintance, than with her behaviour to themselves, which was invariably kind. Everything in her household arrangements was conducted on the most liberal plan, and excepting a few old city friends, whom, to Lady Stamford's regret, she had never dropped, she visited no one to whom an introduction could at all discompose the feelings of her young companions. Pleased to find himself more comfortably situated in that particular than he had expected, Mycroft was very willing to excuse the lack of much real enjoyment from any of their evening parties, which, whether at home or abroad, formed only for cards, could have little to amuse him.

 

Captain Watson, who had a general invitation to the house, was with them almost every day; he came to look at Sherlock and talk to Mycroft, who often derived more satisfaction from conversing with him than from any other daily occurrence, but who saw at the same time with much concern the Captain’s continued regard for his brother. Mycroft feared it was a strengthening regard. It grieved him to see the earnestness with which Captain Watson often watched Sherlock, and his spirits were certainly worse than when at Baker.

 

About a week after their arrival, it became certain that Victor Trevor was also arrived. His card was on the table when they came in from the morning's drive.

 

"Good God!" cried Sherlock. "He has been here while we were out." 

 

Mycroft, rejoiced to be assured of his being in London, now ventured to say, "Depend upon it, he will call again tomorrow." 

 

But Sherlock seemed hardly to hear him, and on Mrs. Hudson's entrance, escaped with the precious card.

 

This event, while it raised the spirits of Mycroft, restored to those of his brother all, and more than all, their former agitation. From this moment his mind was never quiet; the expectation of seeing Victor Trevor every hour of the day made him unfit for anything. He insisted on being left behind, the next morning, when the others went out.

 

Mycroft's thoughts were full of what might be passing in Berkeley Street during their absence; but a moment's glance at his brother when they returned was enough to inform him that Victor Trevor had paid no second visit there. A note was just then brought in, and laid on the table.

 

"For me!" cried Sherlock, stepping hastily forward.

 

"No, sir, for my mistress."

 

But Sherlock, not convinced, took it instantly up.

 

"It is indeed for Mrs. Hudson; how provoking!"

 

"You are expecting a letter, then?" said Mycroft, unable to be longer silent.

 

"Yes, a little… Not much."

 

After a short pause. "You have no confidence in me, Sherlock."

 

"Nay, Mycroft, this reproach from you — you who have confidence in no one!"

 

"Me!" returned Mycroft in some confusion. "Indeed, Sherlock, I have nothing to tell."

 

"Nor I," answered Sherlock with energy. "Our situations then are alike. We have neither of us anything to tell — you, because you do not communicate, and I, because I conceal nothing."

 

Mycroft, distressed by this charge of reserve in himself, which he was not at liberty to do away, knew not how, under such circumstances, to press for greater openness in Sherlock.

 

Mrs. Hudson soon appeared, and the note being given her, she read it aloud. It was from Lady Stamford, announcing their arrival in Conduit Street the night before, and requesting the company of her mother and cousins the following evening. Business on Sir Michael's part, and a violent cold on her own, prevented their calling in Berkeley Street. The invitation was accepted; but when the hour of appointment drew near, necessary as it was in common civility to Mrs. Hudson that they should both attend her on such a visit, Mycroft had some difficulty in persuading his brother to go, for still Sherlock had seen nothing of Victor Trevor; and therefore was not more indisposed for amusement abroad, than unwilling to run the risk of his calling again in their absence.

 

Mycroft found, when the evening was over, that disposition is not materially altered by a change of abode, for although scarcely settled in town, Sir Michael had contrived to collect around him nearly twenty young people, and to amuse them with a ball. This was an affair, however, of which Lady Stamford did not approve. In the country, an unpremeditated dance was very allowable; but in London, where the reputation of elegance was more important and less easily attained, it was risking too much for the gratification of a few young people to have it known that Lady Stamford had given a small dance of eight or nine couples, with two violins, and a mere side-board collation.

 

Mr. and Mrs. Hawkins were of the party. From the former, whom they had not seen before since their arrival in town, as he was careful to avoid the appearance of any attention to his mother-in-law, and therefore never came near her, they received no mark of recognition on their entrance. He looked at them slightly, without seeming to know who they were, and merely nodded to Mrs. Hudson from the other side of the room. 

 

Sherlock gave one glance round the apartment as he entered: it was enough — Victor Trevor was not there — and he sat down, equally ill-disposed to receive or communicate pleasure. Never had Sherlock been so unwilling to dance in his life, as he was that evening, and never so much fatigued by the exercise. He complained of it as they returned to Berkeley Street.

 

"Aye, aye," said Mrs. Hudson. "We know the reason of all that very well. If a certain person, who shall be nameless, had been there, you would not have been a bit tired. And to say the truth, it was not very pretty of him not to give you the meeting when he was invited."

 

"Invited!" cried Sherlock.

 

"So my daughter told me, for it seems Sir Michael met him somewhere in the street this morning." 

 

Sherlock said no more, but looked exceedingly hurt. 

 

Impatient in this situation to be doing something that might lead to his brother's relief, Mycroft resolved to write the next morning to their mother, and hoped, by awakening her fears for the health of Sherlock, to procure those inquiries which had been so long delayed; and he was still more eagerly bent on this measure by perceiving, after breakfast on the morrow, that Sherlock was again writing to Victor Trevor, for he could not suppose it to be to any other person.

 

About the middle of the day, Mrs. Hudson went out by herself on business, and Mycroft began his letter directly, while Sherlock, too restless for employment, too anxious for conversation, walked from one window to the other, or sat down by the fire in melancholy meditation. Mycroft was very earnest in his application to their mother, relating all that had passed, his suspicions of Victor Trevor's inconstancy, and urging her by every plea of duty and affection to demand from Sherlock an account of his real situation with respect to him.

 

Mycroft’s letter was scarcely finished, when a rap foretold a visitor, and Captain Watson was announced. Sherlock, who had seen him from the window, and who hated company of any kind, left the room before he entered it. Captain Watson looked more than usually grave, and though expressing satisfaction at finding Mr. Holmes alone, as if he had something in particular to tell him, sat for some time without saying a word. 

 

Mycroft, persuaded that Captain Watson had some communication to make in which his brother was concerned, impatiently expected its opening. It was not the first time of his feeling the same kind of conviction; for, more than once before, beginning with the observation of "your brother looks unwell today," or "your brother seems out of spirits," he had appeared on the point, either of disclosing, or of inquiring, something particular about him. 

 

After a pause of several minutes, their silence was broken by Captain Watson’s asking, in a voice of some agitation, when he was to congratulate Mycroft on the acquisition of a brother-in-law. 

 

Mycroft was not prepared for such a question, and having no answer ready, was obliged to adopt the simple and common expedient, of asking what he meant.

 

Captain Watson tried to smile as he replied, "Your brother's engagement to Mr. Victor Trevor is very generally known."

 

"It cannot be generally known," returned Mycroft, "for his own family do not know it."

 

Captain Watson looked surprised and said, "I beg your pardon. I am afraid my inquiry has been impertinent; but I had not supposed any secrecy intended, as they openly correspond, and their marriage is universally talked of."

 

"How can that be? By whom can you have heard it mentioned?"

 

"By many. By some of whom you know nothing, by others with whom you are most intimate: Mrs. Hudson, Mrs. Hawkins, and the Stamfords. But still I might not have believed it, for where the mind is perhaps rather unwilling to be convinced, it will always find something to support its doubts, if I had not, when the servant let me in today, accidentally seen a letter in his hand, directed to Mr. Trevor in your brother's writing. I came to inquire, but I was convinced before I could ask the question. 

 

“Is everything finally settled? Is it impossible to—? But I have no right, and I could have no chance of succeeding. Excuse me, Mr. Holmes. I believe I have been wrong in saying so much, but I hardly know what to do, and on your prudence I have the strongest dependence. Tell me that it is all absolutely resolved on, that any attempt, that in short concealment, if concealment be possible, is all that remains."

 

These words, which conveyed to Mycroft a direct avowal of Captain Watson’s love for Sherlock, affected him very much. He was not immediately able to say anything, and even when his spirits were recovered, he debated for a short time, on the answer it would be most proper to give. The real state of things between Victor Trevor and his brother was so little known to himself, that in endeavouring to explain it, he might be as liable to say too much as too little. 

 

Yet, as he was convinced that Sherlock's affection for Victor Trevor could leave no hope of Captain Watson's success, whatever the event of that affection might be, and at the same time wished to shield his brother’s conduct from censure, he thought it most prudent and kind, after some consideration, to say more than he really knew or believed. He acknowledged, therefore, that though he had never been informed by themselves of the terms on which they stood with each other, of their mutual affection he had no doubt, and of their correspondence he was not astonished to hear.

 

Captain Watson listened to him with silent attention, and on his ceasing to speak, rose directly from his seat, and after saying in a voice of emotion, "To your brother I wish all imaginable happiness; to Victor Trevor that he may endeavour to deserve him," — took leave, and went away.

 

Mycroft derived no comfortable feelings from this conversation, to lessen the uneasiness of his mind on other points. He was left, on the contrary, with a melancholy impression of Captain Watson's unhappiness, and was prevented even from wishing it removed, by his anxiety for the very event that must confirm it.