Mycroft shakes his head. “Not at all, I assure you,” he says, marvelling at Lestrade’s ability to tease him without making him uncomfortable. “It appears I have heard and read only horror stories of the sea. The way you describe it makes it sound much more bearable.”
“Bearable?” laughs Lestrade. “Then I have not described it properly at all…there is nothing like watching the dawn break from the deck of the ship…nothing like climbing the rigging and feeling oneself part of the air, part of the rush and swell of the waves, part of the vessel itself…” his voice is full of excitement, of enthusiasm and joy. “Oh Mycroft! If only I could show you –”
Seeing Mycroft’s blush, he stops, and clears his throat. “Oh – my apologies, Mr Holmes –”
Mycroft glances at him, a brief meeting of their gazes. “No – please –” he stammers. He does not know how to continue.
Lestrade bites his lip. “Perhaps – when we are together – alone, we might…” his thumb tucks nervously into the belt of his uniform. “You could call me – Gregory. If you wish.”
“Yes,” says Mycroft, hastily. “And please – do address me as Mycroft.”
Lestrade gives him the sort of smile that could stop his heart. They stand looking at one another for a few moments, before Mycroft turns to continue their walk.
“We even have music, sometimes,” says Gregory, a little teasingly. “Dances, when we put into port.” He glances at Mycroft. “Nothing like your playing, though.”
“Truly, I do not play particularly well,” says Mycroft, looking quickly away. “Compared to some of the concerts I have seen in London – and my brother’s mastery of the violin – he could be a true musician, if he would practice with diligence.”
“Nevertheless, I believe your playing gives me the most pleasure of all,” says Gregory, and Mycroft’s quick glance confirms that the other boy’s dark eyes are warm, and full of sincerity. He blushes, deeply.
They walk in silence for a few moments.
“I had assumed there must be entertainments,” says Mycroft quietly, to break the silence. “In reading the newspaper, it is easy to discover that Navy ships often carry the officers’ families, too. It seemed strange to me though; does that not endanger the lives of civilians?”
“No ship bound for war would carry them; but the officers’ husbands and wives have the right to be taken to where they are, once the danger is past.”
“But – surely there are unforeseen occasions –”
“Yes,” says Gregory, as they come to a halt at the prospect point, looking out over the vast green beauty of the park. “There are times when privateers attack, or a skirmish happens without preparation. The families are protected, of course, by every effort of the officers and crew.”
Mycroft nods, observing sidelong Lestrade’s handsome profile. The other man bites his lip as he looks into the distance.
“You have been to war,” says Mycroft.
Lestrade hesitates for a moment. “Yes,” is all he says, at last.
Mycroft does not know what to ask.
“It is an unholy mess,” says Gregory, at last, glancing back to Mycroft with an apologetic half-smile. “There is no use in pretending otherwise. But it is my profession, after all.”
Mycroft nods, and surveys the land before him. How small, how restricted, how provincial his life must seem, by comparison: lived largely within the boundaries of the estate and its local neighbourhood, and ruled by their immediate concerns. Not an adventurous life, and yet Kellynch feels as integral to him as the very blood in his veins.
“Are you tired?” asks Gregory.
Mycroft glances up from his musings, a little startled. “Oh – no,” he says, shaking his head.
“Let us walk a little farther together,” smiles Gregory. “The weather is most pleasant today.”
“You see?” whispers Jane fretfully. “You see how she spoils them? Little wonder that they are so hard to manage when she insists on feeding them sweets without any reason. They are positively clamorous for more when I am alone with them, or they return sick and I am obliged to cope with their illness.”
Mycroft attempts to remain impassive, and not to give away with the direction of his gaze the import of his sister’s peevish whispers. “They have had only one sweet each, Jane,” he murmurs. “Try to enjoy the evening. Henrietta plays the harp with great accomplishment, does she not?”
“Well, I cannot see what is so wonderful about it,” whispers Jane in return. “Mr and Mrs Musgrove are always exclaiming over Louisa and Henrietta’s musical talents, but they do not seem anything out of the ordinary to me, for all they spent so long at finishing school.”
Mycroft stifles a sigh. “I think I shall have another glass of wine. Should I fetch some for you?”
“Yes, please, for I am so tired I can hardly keep my eyes open.”
Moving to the side of the room, Mycroft finds himself gestured over by Mrs Musgrove. “Now, come and sit a while with me, Mr Mycroft! So Kellynch is let, and your father and brother gone away to Bath. Who did you say has taken the Hall?”
“Admiral Croft and her wife. They must still be moving in, but I am sure we shall hear of them soon.”
“Ah, yes, yes, they will do the round of visits, I am sure. And won’t it be interesting to hear more of a seafaring family? Oh, no, here come little Charles and Walter for more sweets. I suppose I shall have to give them some, for really they are so badly behaved that I know no other way to keep them tolerably quiet! Really, Mycroft, can you not persuade Jane to occupy herself with their manners a little more? They are so loud and unruly I hardly know how to invite them here in company.” Mrs Musgrove gestures to where Henrietta is getting up from the harp. “For you know, we have the Hayters here a good deal of an evening, to discuss the day’s news and to dance; the girls are wild for dancing. There, see now, dear Henrietta and Louisa are discussing what kind of dance we shall have –”
Mycroft bends his head. Unwilling to dance, he offers instead, “I can play the piano, if they wish.”
The Musgrove sisters seem so happy in one another’s company, thinks Mycroft sadly, as he plays a country dance. He had soon been separated from Jane by both temperament and her schooling, conducted at a Paris establishment for ladies; but Sherlock, so alike in mind and interests to himself, had been his young friend until they lost their mother. After that, grief had numbed him for a while to the needs of a young and sensitive sibling.
He had realised too late that Sherlock was lost to him.
Just two days later, Admiral and Mrs Croft visit Uppercross Cottage, having called first at Uppercross Hall.
The Admiral occupies herself quickly with making herself agreeable to Jane, and to little Charles and Walter. Therefore, with some hesitation, Mycroft seats himself on the sofa next to Mrs Croft, the sister of Captain Gregory Lestrade.
His cheeks flush with painful consciousness. Anxiously, he examines her manner for any signs of constraint or unfriendliness, any sign that she might know the history of his engagement to her brother; but there are none. She is a calm, confident woman, quite decided in her manner. She smiles most readily when engaged in conversation by her wife, who occasionally teases her, or refers to her for small details of news and gossip.
Mycroft examines, in glances, her resemblance to her brother. There are hints of it in the cheekbones and jaw; but it is her eyes which provide the uncanny reminder of Gregory, the same soft, deep brown.
“Well, we are very sorry to have turned you out of it, Mr Holmes; but I must say that the Admiral and I are quite devoted to Kellynch Hall.”
Mycroft smiles, a little tightly. “I am glad,” he returns, as sincerely as he can.
Mrs Croft lays a hand on his arm, just for a moment. “You must come, whenever you wish,” she says, gently. “You must miss it.”
Mycroft looks down at his tea, then takes a sip. “Thank you,” is all he can say.
His stomach turns somersaults when, quite out of nowhere, she changes the topic. “I understand it is you, and not your sister, who was acquainted with my brother when he was here. I had heard the name of Holmes repeated often, but had not realised that it was of you my brother spoke.”
Mycroft’s heart squeezes tight, and for a moment he cannot speak. “I – yes – some years ago –” He can feel himself turning red.
“Then perhaps you have not heard that he is married?” asks Mrs Croft, with a warm smile. “That is our recent good news.”
And now, Mycroft feels the blood drain from his face. All seems silent and grey for a moment. He takes a deep breath, and only then can he reply with a tolerable semblance of politeness: “Ah, yes. A marriage is good news indeed.”
He is married. He is married. Mycroft thanks all that is good that he is sitting down; for his legs feel numb and powerless.
“And of course he has a permanent post, now, as rector in Shropshire. It is quite perfect for them.”
A moment’s pause, and Mycroft’s faculties of thought and understanding seem to return; his lungs fill with air as though rising, gasping, from beneath dark, cold waves. Edward. She is speaking about Edward. Edward is married. Not Gregory.
Voice a little strangled, he finds it in himself to ask, “Shropshire? How interesting. And near which town?”
He does not hear the answer. He watches her, merely, for cues on how to react. Perhaps Gregory is married, too, and I simply do not hear news of it because she does not think I know him. Or perhaps he is still at sea, wounded before the peace; I know he is not dead, or at least the newspaper has not reported it so. His chest feels tight, his heart cold and bloodless.
As the Crofts leave, Mycroft thinks he hears the Admiral say to Jane, “you know, we expect a brother of Sophy’s here soon; I expect you know him by name, in any case,” but he cannot be sure.
It must be Edward, again, who will visit. Gregory is not in England.
Only when Louisa and Henrietta arrive, ostensibly on a walk, but in fact to discuss all the news and gossip brought by the Admiral and Mrs Croft, does Mycroft hear the truth.
“Apparently, Mrs Croft’s brother is coming to stay,” says Louisa, leaning forward to discuss it more cosily.
“Oh, yes, the Admiral told me so,” says Jane, slightingly. “We were quite in confidence, you know, by the time she left; but I do not know why we should all be in a frenzy about some country curate and his wife.”
“Oh, no, Jane,” says Louisa impatiently. “It is not Edward Lestrade who comes! It is Captain Gregory Lestrade, of the Navy! He is just returned to England, or paid off, or something, and has made a vast fortune; he is coming to see them almost directly.”
Charles, cleaning his gun in the corner, gives a laugh. “Well, girls, you must one of you have him as a husband; for a vast fortune will help us all exceedingly.”
Both Henrietta and Louisa laugh at their brother, while Jane pretends disgust at his vulgarity.
Mycroft slips away for a long walk, needing fresh air, solitude, and silence.
Sherlock has returned to school, eyes full of dark, furious unhappiness.
Mycroft, tired and concerned about his brother, plays the pianoforte after dinner. His head aches abominably, but he had rather play than be engaged in conversation.
When Gregory takes a seat beside him on the piano stool, his whole body lights with consciousness of his presence, with yearning to draw closer still. Their elbows brush as Mycroft plays, and his blood rushes with the feeling.
“You seem sad tonight.” Gregory speaks under his breath, and in the firelight, covered by the piano, their conversation is a quiet, protected bubble.
“Sherlock has returned to school,” murmurs Mycroft. He is ashamed to find that his unhappiness would rise, if he let it, as hot tears; he bites his lip, hard, to stop them.
“He wasn’t happy?” asks Gregory, sympathetically.
“No.” For a few moments, the piano is the only sound. “He would not confide in me, though.” Mycroft’s voice is weak, raw, and he hates himself for it. He frowns, concentrating angrily upon the music.
“Does he attend the same school you did?”
“Yes.” Perhaps Mycroft’s small grimace is enough to convey a sense of the place.
From the corner of his eye, he sees Gregory nod. “Mine was awful too.”
“I have tried to tell him – he has a first-class mind. I hope that perhaps, for him, university may be possible – if I can make the estate profitable in time – but he must work hard before that. And the school seems to do everything calculated to alienate him.” His eyes skim blankly across the music before him; he has lost his place, playing from memory alone. “Turn the page, please,” he requests quietly, when he finds it.
Gregory leans across to do so, the warmth and closeness of his body stealing Mycroft’s breath.
“Didn’t you want university?” asks Gregory, in a whisper. “You’re clever.”
Mycroft hesitates. “I should perhaps have enjoyed – in other circumstances,” he murmurs. “But my Father – I must learn the running of the estate and Hall. Without my Mother –” he bites his lip.
“You are but nineteen,” whispers Gregory. “There would still be time for you to attend university, and learn the estate business alongside. Why, when you marry, your father will have to manage it alone in any case.”
Mycroft gives a quick half-smile. “I doubt that such an eventuality will arise,” he says.
“Why?” asks Gregory, and his voice sounds a little strange, a little breathless.
I am no catch. Mycroft shakes his head slightly, in lieu of an answer.
“Well I mean to marry,” whispers Gregory, with fierce determination. “Why not be happy, build a life and a family?” After a moment of silence between them, he adds, a little sadly, “still. I am a few years older than you.”
Mycroft’s heart beats wildly in his chest. Is this –? He takes a breath, attempting to forestall a mortifying blush. He speaks only in the abstract. Do not be so presumptuous as to suppose…ludicrous.
“Will you take your family everywhere with you?” he asks, as calmly as he can.
Gregory puts his head on one side for a moment, as though considering. “I suppose that will depend upon their preference,” he murmurs, at last. “The thought of them being caught up in the dangers of the sea –” he swallows, and looks away, to the fire. “But then, the thought of being separated for so long at a time –”
Mycroft tries to concentrate on the music, but it has lost meaning for him. He falls back on memorised phrases, hoping that his inattention is not too obvious to the company.
“What do you think they would prefer?” asks Gregory, in a murmur, long eyelashes sweeping his cheeks. His voice is a little constrained.
“I have no way of…” falters Mycroft.
Gregory turns to him, eyes deep and full of firelight. “If it were you,” he whispers.
Mycroft’s heart throws itself against his ribs. For a long moment, he feels caught in Gregory’s gaze.
“I am sure they would prefer never to be parted from you,” he murmurs, cheeks flushed.
The day that Captain Lestrade is due to arrive in the neighbourhood, the Musgroves of both Uppercross Hall and the Cottage are invited to Kellynch Hall for dinner, to welcome him.
A few hours before the dinner, little Charles takes a fall from the pony on which his father is teaching him to ride. The doctor, summoned amid great panic and faintings from Jane, has little anxiety except about the danger of concussion.
As soon as the doctor has left, Jane begins to exclaim loudly, “well, such a thing was bound to happen! Any pleasing entertainment there is, I must always be excluded because something goes wrong with either little Charles or Walter! I am never to be allowed an evening to myself, and Charles does not volunteer to stay behind with the child, though he is his father!”
Mycroft eagerly seizes the opportunity. “I shall remain, Jane, and watch for any signs of concussion in the boy. It is of no consequence to me.”
“Are you sure? Well, to be sure, it is just as well, for he obeys you far better than he does me! And I will be of far more use at the dinner, in talking and keeping the conversation alive, than you should be, for you are grown quite taciturn, you know.”
The whole household being abed by the time Jane and Charles return, Mycroft does not hear until breakfast that the party was a success. Charles pronounces Lestrade “a fine man, and a good fellow.” Gulping down the rest of his tea, he departs to spend the day shooting.
Jane gives a more detailed account of the evening. “He enquired after you slightly, you know,” she says, buttering her toast. Some part of Mycroft’s startled brain notes that she has left crumbs in the butter. “When everyone asked after where you were, he looked quite surprised, and said that he had met you when he visited his brother at Monkford, years ago.”
Mycroft curses the unruly heart lurching within his chest. After a moment, he is calm enough to say, “ah yes. He visited Kellynch a few times.” Jane was away at school. She can have no idea of what passed between Lestrade and I, he reminds himself soothingly. Certainly neither Father nor Lady Russell would have told her, out of concern for my own reputation and for that of the family; and Sherlock does not know. I am fairly sure he does not.
“Well, he is a very handsome, well put-together man, I must say, with charming manners! He must be about thirty, I suppose, and seems well-pleased by the idea of marriage, having made his fortune. Certainly Louisa and Henrietta are quite silly over him already, and behaving in a scandalous manner.”
Mycroft, mouth dry, feigns interest in the morning newspaper.
“And he is out now, you know, shooting with Charles; that is why he was in such haste to leave this morning. I do not suppose we shall see him, though,” she says, resentfully. “He will not come here, when he is invited to Uppercross at all hours.”
By the afternoon, Mycroft has managed to lose himself in correspondence regarding the Kellynch estate, which must after all still be administered, even though the family are not in residence. Certainly his father, busy carving out his social circle in Bath, has no interest in doing so.
Mycroft sits, therefore, quietly at the writing-desk in the parlour. He is engaged in composing a missive to one of the tenant farmers when there is a sudden commotion at the door.
“Jane!” calls Henrietta, from the passage. “Jane! We are come to call, and Charles and Captain Lestrade follow – Captain Lestrade would have nothing but that we warn you of his coming, in case little Charles has taken a turn for the worse, or the time is not convenient.”
“Oh, he is quite well, quite well,” scoffs Jane. “Sleeping, just now. It is certainly convenient.”
Mycroft stands, with some thought of going up to his room; but just as he makes to excuse himself little Walter, only two years old, takes a tumble at the threshold. Jane is already accompanying the Miss Musgroves outside to greet Captain Lestrade, so Mycroft bends down to console the boy, lifting him up to forestall the yell of pain and frustrated annoyance he is about to unleash.
By hoisting the boy up, smiling at him, and patting his fat little knee to show that no damage has been done, Mycroft averts the tantrum that might otherwise have ensued; the little boy, finding himself so tall, even starts to smile.
Mycroft’s opportunity to flee, however, is gone. The guest has been invited to sit in the parlour; the only way out, through the passage, is blocked. Mycroft hears Charles order tea from the servant, and his heart sinks, knowing that the visit is not to be a short one.
As the door opens, he busies himself with giving little Walter a last cheering talking-to.
“– and you know my brother Mycroft, I believe,” says Jane, mid-sentence.
Mycroft bows his head, giving Captain Lestrade the barest smile and glance that politeness allows. Then, putting Walter into his mother’s arms, he takes up the letters on which he had been working.
“My apologies, Jane,” he murmurs, keeping his gaze low. “These are urgent. I must make the post.” With all expedition, he escapes to his room.
His hair. He looks the same – his jaw, oh that clean-cut jaw – those eyes – but his hair has turned silver.
He is beautiful.
Mycroft drops the letters onto the small desk in his room, and sits on the edge of the bed. Hands together, between his knees, he stares absently out of the window.
Mycroft misses dinner, pleading a headache; he had hoped to be late enough to breakfast the next morning not to encounter anyone, but Charles and Captain Lestrade have once again gone out to shoot, so Jane is peevish and ready to talk.
As Mycroft takes his first sip of tea, Jane begins to cut up an apple. “You know, Captain Lestrade was exceedingly kind and attentive to me, yesterday, but he was not so gallant to you, Mycroft.”
Mycroft does not want to know, and yet part of him is desperate to hear what she might say, no matter how bad. Before he can make any reply, however, Jane continues.
“As they went away, Henrietta asked him what he thought of you, although we had only seen you so briefly; and he said that he thought you so altered he should not have known you again.”
Mycroft can eat no more breakfast. Humiliation flushes his cheeks. The eight years between then and now have destroyed in me whatever he once found attractive. And in that time he has only become handsomer, richer, more decided and confident.
He has not forgiven me, then, for deserting him.
His eyes feel heavy, hot with unshed tears. Hating his own weakness, he tries, unsuccessfully, to fasten his attention on the newspaper.
A few minutes later, Louisa and Henrietta arrive, and Louisa exclaims loudly when she sees him. “Why, Mycroft, you look wretchedly pale! Come out with us. We are going to take a long walk, and the air will do you good. There is no use staying in the house; come and take the exercise.”
Henrietta presses him, too, and Mycroft has to admit that he would appreciate the fresh air. Privately, he cannot help wishing for his own silent walks at Kellynch, the well-remembered ways and quiet solitude.
Jane immediately takes offence at not having been asked first, and Louisa and Henrietta make up their mistake by, rather impatiently, inviting her to walk too; and the four of them set out along a way that, Mycroft soon realises, is designed to bring them out near Charles and Captain Lestrade’s sporting endeavours.
Mycroft is on the point of excusing himself to go back to the house, when Charles hails them.
“Girls! Jane! Mycroft! Over here!” He and Captain Lestrade come up on the party, glowing with their exercise.
“That blasted new young dog,” says Charles, with exasperation. “Not ready yet. Should never’ve been brought out. Spoiled our sport.”
“Would you like to join us?” asks Louisa. “We are setting out for a walk.”
“Oh, certainly,” smiles Lestrade. “I am perfectly ready for a walk, if you are, Musgrove.”
Louisa and Henrietta lose no time in claiming him, taking his arm on either side; and they walk faster than Jane, so that two distinct parties develop. Charles and Jane are not in good temper with one another today, having quarrelled the night before over the best treatment for little Charles’ malady; Mycroft does his best to fall behind somewhat, and to gain thus some of the peace, quiet and fresh air for which he had longed.
Cresting a hill, they look down to find Winthrop, the Hayters’ home, not far ahead; and Louisa looks pointedly at her sister. As Charles, Jane and Mycroft catch up to them, the sisters talk apart in animated whispers.
Charles declares his firm intention to go down to the house and visit his aunt and his cousin Charles Hayter. Mycroft observes, with a sense of impending trouble, Jane’s stubborn lift of the chin and flare of the eyes. Many a time has she expressed her annoyance that, in marrying Charles, she should have found herself so closely allied to such an inferior family.
Mrs Hayter is Mrs Musgrove’s sister, but the Hayters are neither so well off, nor so well-educated, as the Musgroves.
The eldest son, Charles Hayter, it is true, chose a profession in the Church; even Jane counts him a scholar and a gentleman, though despising him for his lack of fortune or connections. Mycroft has witnessed a number of marital skirmishes between Jane and Charles on the subject of Charles Hayter.
In Jane’s professed view, the arrival of Captain Lestrade is certainly a good thing; Henrietta being the much more comely girl, he will certainly like her better. There had been some talk of a match between Henrietta and Charles Hayter, with seeming liking for the idea on both sides.
Jane had told Mycroft crossly the week before that the idea was not to be borne. To tie the two families closer together, when it is already insupportable that she, a Holmes, should be forced into such close relation with them?
Mycroft, unwilling to witness the argument certainly brewing between Jane and Charles, and painfully aware that his society cannot be acceptable to Captain Lestrade, strolls some way further along the ridge, next to the hedge. There is peace, here; the light and the landscape across which it washes almost emulate an autumn walk around his beloved Kellynch.
Around a turn in the hedge, he pauses, standing still, and looks out across the countryside. Eventually, he finds a seat on a dry tree-stump, and allows the soft golden sun to play on his skin.
Hungry. I should not have skipped both dinner and breakfast. Nevertheless, he is calm, now, and the fresh air has been beneficial. In a moment, he will have to go and find Jane; she will be cross, after Charles’ insistence on courting the Hayters. In a moment. For now, he sits quietly in the sunshine.
Only when Louisa and Captain Lestrade are quite close does he hear them, talking and laughing as they pick blackberries on the other side of the tall hedge. For a moment, he considers simply getting up and walking away; but then their conversation freezes him in place.
“I am glad Henrietta at last decided to go down to Winthrop; goodness, but I had to speak to her strongly to convince her! And she was so decided, before we left, that she would go there and see Charles. But all in a moment, she changed her mind, and would not!” says Louisa.
“Well, from what you have said, there is much more dependent on their meeting than I had realised,” says Lestrade. He obviously finds a blackberry, for he follows it with, “oh, look at this one! Here – would you like it? Or shall I keep it for myself?” His tone is rather teasing.
Mycroft almost doubles over in pain, so well does he remember that tone of voice. The warmth in his eyes as he teased me thus. Eight years – eight years – and never again –
“Well, Charles is a very good fellow, and our cousin, you know; and they have been quite wild for one another until now. She ought not to change her mind so.”
“You have a character of decision and firmness.” Lestrade’s voice is warm, full of praise. “I hope that your sister can learn it; for she and Charles will need it in their lives together, if they are to marry.” His voice becomes more serious still. “To be a yielding, indecisive person is a terrible failing; you can never tell whether a good impression will last, or whether that person will be persuaded to abandon their decided course. Let those who would be happy, be firm.”
Their voices are fading a little, but a rich crop of blackberries detains them.
“Here – if I pull it down for you, can you –” Lestrade murmurs.
Louisa, not knowing, it seems, how to reply to the sincerity of Captain Lestrade’s remarks on decided action, exclaims instead: “oh, Jane does vex me exceedingly! She will be cross, now, all the way home, because Charles and Henrietta went to Winthrop. How we all wish Charles had married Mycroft, instead!”
“Mycroft?” asks Captain Lestrade, with a sharp surprise that causes fresh pain to Mycroft. Seeing me in my altered state, he does not believe that anyone else could have solicited my hand.
“Yes. Oh – I suppose you would not know, unless Mama had talked of it – Charles, being like you, asked for Mycroft’s hand first. But then when Mycroft would not have him, he proposed to Jane.”
There is a short silence, during which Mycroft does not breathe. “I beg your pardon – like me?” asks Lestrade, at last.
“Enamoured of all genders. Your sister told me.”
“Ah – I see.” Lestrade’s voice is rather constrained. After a moment: “Mycroft – refused him, then.”
“Oh, yes, and we are all so unhappy about it still! Mycroft is so much better-tempered than Jane. We cannot understand why he should have refused Charles, anyway; for as you see, he is now getting quite old, and unlikely to be married. But Mama thinks that Charles was not bookish enough, in Lady Russell’s eyes, and that she persuaded Mycroft not to have him.”
Mycroft does not hear Lestrade’s reply, for his mind is reeling with the injustice of this report. He already believes me to have no opinions of my own. Now he will judge me more harshly still. A kind of chilly lassitude steals over him. Any remaining good opinion he had of me is now certainly gone. I can be peaceful now.
His heart twists with almost-physical pain. He stands, and finds Jane, who is indeed in an extremely black mood. When Charles and Henrietta join them, Charles Hayter accompanies them; Henrietta has slipped her arm through his. As they begin the walk back, Mycroft again attempts to separate himself, as if by chance of walking speed. He is tired, hungry, and almost numb with emotional toil.
“I declare, Mycroft,” exclaims Louisa, looking back at him with concern, “the fresh air and exercise have done you no good at all! You are paler than before. I should not have pressed you to come, had I known you were really ill.”
Mycroft shakes his head and musters a small smile. The party is interrupted by the advancing noise of a carriage; coming closer, it proves to be Admiral Croft’s gig. Mrs Croft takes the reins as they approach, pulling the horses to a stop next to the party.
“We have room for one,” calls the Admiral, kindly. “If anyone should be tired. It will save you quite a little walk.”
Jane regards the small one-horse chaise with disdain, but almost steps forward; Captain Lestrade, however, forestalls her.
“Mr Holmes is not well, Sophy,” he says, firmly. “He could certainly make use of the lift home.”
Before he knows what is happening, Mycroft finds his hand in Lestrade’s, and the Admiral reaching down to pull him up; and then the gig moves away, a little too fast with the reins in the Admiral’s hands.
Mycroft looks down at his own long fingers in his lap. He does not think well of me, but he is kind, all the same. He has not forgiven me, but still he cares for my welfare. A good man.
A good man, lost to me forever.
In front, the Admiral and Mrs Croft steer the gig together, happily and haphazardly; occasionally, when the Admiral’s style of driving puts them in danger, Mrs Croft calmly takes the reins.
“Well, he certainly means to have one of them, Sophy,” says the Admiral. “He should hurry and make his choice, then bring her home to Kellynch, for she should always have a home with us there. I do not know why he is dilly-dallying in this manner. Shall we tell Mr Holmes how quickly we were married, after we met?”
“Perhaps we had better not, my dear,” laughs Mrs Croft. “For then he will never believe that we can be happy together. But that was in war; and you had to return to sea. Gregory has more time, in this peace. He can make his choice at leisure.”
“Well, they are both fine girls; indeed, I can hardly tell them apart in looks or in manners. I am sure either of them would make him a good wife.”
“Indeed, indeed,” says Mrs Croft, with what sounds to Mycroft like slightly less enthusiasm. “They are both very good-humoured girls. But allow Gregory to choose which he likes, at his own pace. Oh – be careful, my love! Give me the reins!”