The guide, who had introduced herself as Madame Blanchard, was visibly annoyed now, but she tried to keep her cool to continue the visit and avoid a scandal. She could lose her job. John was annoyed too, and wouldn’t hesitate to let it be known if the freaking moron didn’t stop making derogatory remarks to every word that the guide pronounced. The worst he risked was being thrown out of the castle, nothing too serious, even if it would be deeply irksome.
John Watson, medical student, came straight from London to visit the castles of the Loire Valley, and Cheverny is among his top 3 of those to visit.
Cheverny is the castle that inspired Moulinsart (or Marlinspike Hall), Captain Haddock’s country house and family estate in The Adventures of Tintin, a famous Belgian comic created by cartoonist Georges Remi. The series was one of the most popular European comics of the 20th century, and John was very much fond of it, and now that he was there, in the castle, he would not let his visit be wasted by an ungrateful jerk who didn’t appreciate anything.
“We are now entering a tiny portion of the private part of the castle, starting on your right with the bride's room where we can admire the wedding dress of the current owner, La Marquise Adler-Holmes de Vibraye.”
“Dress in outdated style and of very bad taste for a wedding, which was probably arranged. The dress, although tailored, did not flatter the Marquise at all. The designer could have done much better if he had wanted to.”
It was too much. Losing the little patience he had left, John planted himself angrily in front of the young man, who recoiled, surprised, and said in a low, irritated voice that he struggled to control.
“If it’s so boring for you to be here and follow the visit, I suggest you to leave and let us enjoy the visit.”
Silence fell on the visiting group, everyone seeming to hold their breath. The young man, surprised at first, let a mischievous smile crack his face and said, looking pleased with himself.
“You look very upset, we can go outside if you want. Here is not really a place for that, it would be a shame to spoil this beautiful wedding dress. Unless you're too scared…”
The guide tried to intervene, but John cut her off.
“No problem, why would I be afraid of a pretentious arsehole.”
With a sharp movement of the shoulder, the young man moved away from the wall on which he was leaning, staring intently at John who didn’t look down, and descended the stairs leading to the ground floor, John on his heels.
When they arrived outside, John clenched his fists, ready to defend himself. The other was walking quietly in front of him, his hands in the pockets of his suit trousers. He was dressed very elegantly, his clothes seemed rather expensive and to have been tailored to fit him perfectly.
“My name is Sherlock. Madame Blanchard is charming, but I can give you a better visit. You did not come from very far away, you have an English accent, but I doubt that a student can afford to spoil a visit.”
“I doubt you could give me a better time, Sherlock. And how do you know I’m a student?”
Sherlock turned to him, and, ignoring the question, pulled a bunch of keys out of his pocket, smirking.
“I can, and I will do it. Do you want to see private gardens?”
John's eyes widened in astonishment.
“Where did you get these keys?”
The young man shrugged nonchalantly.
“Do you want to see the gardens, yes or no? This is something they do not show in the visit, hence the name of "private gardens". I can show them to you, if you’d like. Take it as a privilege.”
He put the keys back in his pocket and started walking again. John hesitated between calling security and following him. With a groan, he chose to follow him.
“I know you're a student because, although you could pay for a flight here, your clothes are all second hand, and are not in the codes of nowadays’ fashion, which means that you prefer to save for things you deeply want, even if it means you have to neglect yourself.”
He turned to John, who was staring in amazement, and continued with a small smile.
“Besides, you seem too young to already be a doctor.”
John clenched his jaw, hesitating between admiring Sherlock's deductive power, or insulting him.
Sherlock opened the gate leading to the private gardens and let his companion pass in front of him. He checked that nobody was following them, or watching them from a distance, before closing the gate.
He then engaged in a detailed account of the history of the castle and the family that lives there, leaving John stunned and envious of knowing more. How did Sherlock know all this? These are not things that can be found in specialized books or on the internet, for sure. The two young men were walking down an alley of roses and yews when the castle’s kennel appeared on the horizon.
“I'll show you the dogs if you want, there are more than a hundred, it is quite impressive for some people to see them all during their feeding.”, Sherlock said, excitedly.
John was impressed. All the dogs where barking at them, and wagging their tail with enthusiasm. Sherlock started to name them one after the other and John sneered, incredulous. Sherlock turned his head to look at him, frowning.
“What's so funny?”
“You’re making up the names. It's literally impossible that you know them.”
Sherlock huffed, turned back to the dogs, and called in perfect French.
The biggest dog of all raised his head towards them, before shaking his tail in excitement and moving towards them to lick the hand Sherlock stretched through the fence.
John's eyes widened, his mouth open in shock.
“Okay, tell me your secret.”
Sherlock ignored the request and just started walking again, asking with a smile.
“Do you want to see the private wing of the castle?”
“Sherlock! It's crazy, and I can’t risk being arrested!”
“No risk, I know the schedules of the rounds of the security agents, as well as that of the surveillance cameras. We will not be caught.”
“But you're insane!”
Sherlock turned to him, smirking.
A few minutes later, they were in the castle.
John kept mumbling that it was madness, that he didn’t understand what he was doing there, that this situation was completely insane, and yet it didn’t occur to him to turn back. Not once has this possibility crossed his mind.
The biggest question, the one that made a red flag flutter before John's eyes, was: who is this Sherlock really, and how did he know so much about the castle?
This guy was clearly insane, something was obviously wrong with him. But John stayed close to him, eager to learn more and see more, eager for adventure and risk taking.
While he was lost in thought, Sherlock suddenly pressed a hand to his head to make him crouch.
“Come on, John! Stop thinking and concentrate!”
John silenced himself. The irritation was obvious in Sherlock's behaviour, and John had no desire to be the person he would let off steam.
“Do you see the man over there?”
John looked and saw a man in a three-piece suit, an umbrella hanging from his arm. He was quite tall and appeared to be quite posh. He was elegant too, and held his chin high. The student nodded and Sherlock explained, a certain disdain in his voice.
“It's Mycroft Holmes de Vibraye. The owner of the castle. He has been married to Irene Adler-Holmes de Vibraye since 1994, but it is an arranged marriage, even if he refuses to admit it.
“This man is the Marquis?”
Repeated John, stunned. He did not expect to see him, and he considers himself lucky. Very lucky. And he was even more terrified of being caught. But the disdain in Sherlock's voice made him frown. What if the young man was a bloody psychopath with the aim of murdering the Marquis? John became pale at the thought of living in a cell in a French prison for complicity in murder. He swallowed his anxiety and asked, looking for a way out of there before it was too late. He needed to call security, but didn’t want to be caught in the private part of the castle.
Oh god, what am I gonna do?
“What makes you say it's an arranged marriage? Arranged marriages haven’t been done in a long time, especially in Europe.”
Sherlock took his eyes off Mycroft, who was talking to the security chief, and turned to John, frowning. He could feel the anxiety of his companion from miles away, but refrained from saying anything and declared flatly.
“Oh John, how wrong. Of course we still have arranged marriages. Especially if it is to hide the homosexuality of a powerful man. The security chief he is talking to is Lestrade. His lover. Obvious.”
John opened his mouth in shock at this revelation.
“Have I ever lied to you? I know the dogs.”
“Yes, well, about that-
“Ah, they're finally leaving, we will be able to move forward.”
Sherlock cut him off quickly and headed for a staircase to the upper floor. John followed him, frustrated at not having answers to his questions, and deeply anxious.
They walked in silence in a long corridor, Sherlock a few steps ahead of John who was wondering where they were going so quickly. Maybe Sherlock didn’t want to kill the Marquis, maybe he just wanted to steal from him. This thought hardly reassured the medical student who glanced behind him, checking that no one saw them. His anxiety grew and he didn’t know how long he could go like this before having an anxiety attack. He didn’t even appreciate the fact that he was inside the private aisle of the castle. He saw a few painted portraits, mainly of the Marquis and his wife, but nothing really stroked him. Everything seemed outrageously expensive in here, more so than in the public area where the guided tours took place.
Sherlock suddenly stopped, causing John to almost bump into him, and opened a door. He then waited for his companion to enter the room before he followed him. It was a bedroom. A large bedroom with a large bed. The curtains were closed but left a slight trickle of sunlight to dimly light the room. John looked everywhere around him. This room was sadly impersonal, yet it was clear that someone was sleeping in here because the bed was undone.
Sherlock looked at John carefully, his gray eyes piercing through him.
After long seconds of uncertain contemplation, John asked with a vague sense of unease flooding through him.
“Where are we?”
“What do you think?”
“Well, this is a very impersonal room, there are no photos, no decorations, in fact, there’s nothing on the walls except for the periodic table of the elements, which is…kinda odd. Whose room is this?”
Sherlock frowned, sitting on the bed while John, after looking quickly at his watch, became really pale.
“The castle has been closed to the public for over an hour… What are we doing here, Sherlock?”
The young man smiled and slumped on the bed, arms outstretched, before exclaiming.
“We are exploring, of course! Well, you explore, I know the place.”
“Are you a kind of burglar? Are you here to assassinate the Marquis? Sherlock, what are we doing here?!”
Sherlock looked up, surprised at his companion’s loss of composure. John was now holding his head in his hands, trembling, trying to calm down. After a few seconds of silence, Sherlock said flatly, as though exasperated.
“I'm not here to kill Mycroft. If I could do it, I would have done it a long time ago. But prison and confinement are not my forte. Also, I’m not a burglar. It's true that I sometimes pickpocket Lestrade when he is being annoying, but that's all.”
John was yelling now, angry and scared and really anxious, and Sherlock straightened, eyes wide, genuinely confused. He tilted his head to the side, watching the young man carefully and, as he opened his mouth to say something, John asked in a difficultly controlled voice.
“Why am I here, why did you bring me here?”
Sherlock sighed but didn’t dare break eye contact with the young man.
“You wanted to see the castle. I offered you a thorough visit, that's all. I thought people liked when I became interested in what interests them. I will never understand the human race, it's beyond me. Everything is so…boring, I'm killing myself intellectually. If you knew how it is here. Every day is the same, I cannot stand it. I brought you here because you stood up to me. It never happened before, people are scared of me.”
“No wonder, you behave like a fucking psychopath!”
Sherlock quickly got up from the bed and planted himself in front of John, his eyes diving into the student's, who swallowed hard, before saying in a dangerously low voice.
“I am not a psychopath, I am a high-functioning sociopath, there is a difference.”
It was this moment that the Marquis chose to enter the room, and Sherlock rolled his eyes, exasperated, while John almost fainted.
"Mycroft, combien de fois t’ai-je dit de frapper avant d’entrer ? Serais-tu sourd en plus d’être imbu de ta personne?”*
The face of the Marquis twisted into a smile that wasn’t a happy kind of smile. He didn’t even look at John, who only wanted to die at that moment.
“J’ai décidé de ne pas en prendre compte car vois-tu, cela fait des heures que Gregory te cherche. Il est parvenu à mes oreilles que tu as encore une fois importuné cette pauvre Madame Blanchard et que tu as ensuite disparu des heures durant avec ce jeune homme ici présent.”**
They both spoke perfect French, and John couldn’t understand a word. Was he going to prison? What exactly was happening? Why didn’t the Marquis call for security? Totally still, John was shaking, his nerves raw. He didn’t understand what was going on, and that made him terribly anxious.
“Madame Blanchard, comme à son habitude, ne dit que des conneries. Elle ne connaît pas l’histoire du château et John n’est pas venu d’Angleterre pour qu’on lui donne un récit faussé de l’histoire de Cheverny!”***
The Marquis and Sherlock looked into each other's eyes for a moment during which John had stopped breathing, then the owner of the castle turned to the young man, who swallowed hard, a polite smile, that seemed fake, on his face. Then, in perfect English, he said.
“John, it's nice to meet you. I doubt there are still shuttle buses available to take you back to your hotel. Would you be so kind as to join us for dinner, while we wait for a taxi?”
Eyes wide, John stared at the marquis in silence, opening and closing his mouth several times before asking in a breath.
Mycroft turned to Sherlock, rolling his eyes. John felt like passing out.
“I understand that my dear brother did not tell you his identity. I present to you Sherlock Holmes de Vibraye, my younger brother. Sherlock, would you kindly tell Grace that we have a guest for dinner tonight?”
Sherlock didn’t answer, arms crossed on his chest, glaring at Mycroft who smiled again before leaving the room.
Silence fell on the two young men, and John turned to Sherlock, his eyes still wide, his heart pounding. He blinked slowly, and murmured.
“Are you the little brother of the Marquis Mycroft Holmes de Vibraye?”
Sherlock sighed in annoyance.
“John, that’s literally what Mycroft said, would you please keep up?”
John blinked again, and Sherlock sighed again, falling back on the bed.
“That's why I did not say anything. People get anxious when I tell them who I am. It's terribly boring. Then they are envious to stay close to me to try to manipulate me into giving them what they want. Which is even more boring. And Predictable.”
The tension left John's body as he seated himself carefully next to Sherlock who straightened to look at his companion.
“John, I do not want your pity.”
“I was going ask “why me then?”, but I guess you only wanted someone to defy you one way or another. As you said, people are scared of you, no wonder, you’re a spoiled brat. But I’m not. You’re just a jerk looking for some fun because you find life boring as it is.”
Sherlock’s eyes widened. Then a laugh formed in his throat, and John laughed too, incredulous.
“I came this afternoon to follow a guided tour of the castle and here I am, invited for diner by the Marquis!”
“I would not be so happy, John. Mycroft is an arsehole full of himself and unable to assume his sexuality for fear of what the newspapers might say. I'll tell Grace you're here for dinner. Oh, and my life is boring. You would not like living here, trust me.”
He got up and went to the door before stopping and turning back to John, who was looking at him with big eyes full of stars.
"If it does not seem too presumptuous, would it be possible for you not to return to your hotel tonight?”
John’s lips parted, his cheeks reddening, and Sherlock hastened to add.
“I mean, you could spend the night here for me to tell you other stories about the castle. We could go into the archives and uncover the secrets of the property too, if you’d like.”
John gave him a small smile and nodded.
“It’d be my pleasure, Sherlock.”
The young man smiled back and disappeared from the room, leaving John to reckon the remaining days he had in France before having to take the plane home. Five whole days. And he was counting on getting the best out of it.