Saturday, January 5, 2013

Violets and Violins revised

I've been working on Chapter 1 of my novel, and I added a scene at the end between Mycroft and Sherlock about the death of their grandmother. I think it's a stronger ending, and brings the issue back to the violets and violin of the title. As I said in the previous version, this chapter takes place in summer 1861.

Fandom: Sherlock Holmes
Story: Chapter 1 of Deeper in Memory
Pairing: none
Warnings: original character deaths. Rated G

Mycroft cleared his throat as he came into the room. "Sherlock, come along now. Pack up so that we may go."

The seven year old boy glanced at the clock in a panic, and he held his little violin and bow anxiously. "I haven't had enough practice yet!"

His brother replied, "Well it's your own fault for breaking your arm six weeks ago, and needing that cast. You wasted all the lessons that grand-mère bought for you."

He pouted. "George dared me to climb to the top of the tree. I had to prove to him that I was not afraid."

Mycroft scoffed. "You have no need to prove yourself to our cousin. He was just as afraid as you."

Sherlock smirked with confidence now. "He was more afraid! He couldn't get any higher than two branches below me."

"And then you carelessly got distracted by a moth and fell off."

"I wanted to see it better! I am going to study bugs when I grow up."

"Oh, an entomologist now, are we? Very well, I will get you some books on natural history." He reached for the violin case and opened it. "Come along now."

Sherlock reluctantly laid his violin and bow into the case. Mycroft closed it and handed it to his brother before straightening his coat.

They walked downstairs together, and Sherlock remained anxious. He did want to see their maternal grandmother, and yet he still felt bad for not having sufficiently learned the song for her birthday. Mycroft no doubt had perfectly learned to recite the French poem for her, even if he would deliver it in a kind of detached monotone. He often seemed to be daydreaming or sleepwalking his way through life.

As they got into the cab, their cousin George joined them, carrying violets as always. He had fashioned a sort of crown this time and would give it to grand-mère, or Mamie, as they called her. George always gave her violets, even for no occasion at all, for it gave him an excuse to collect as many violets as he could. Whenever he had too good a time playing with Sherlock, George would feel sad and guilty for not missing his twin sister enough. So he would gather the flowers in remembrance of Violet, who had died of scarlet fever two years back. "Mamie will like this," he said proudly as he hopped into his seat.

Sherlock clutched his violin case and said spitefully, "She loves me more."

"Sherlock," Mycroft admonished, and then told the driver to go.

The rest of the Verners rode in the carriage ahead of them. Mycroft was meant to watch over his excitable little brother and their young cousin. The lads were natural playmates, since George's surviving siblings were so much older than he.

For a moment Mycroft just stared out the window, and then in his odd way, he read his younger brother's mind again. Not that it was a challenge. He said with some attempt at gentleness, "She will understand that you have not practised enough, and will enjoy your performance all the same."

Sherlock smiled in relief at this reassurance, for Mycroft was always right. He happily kicked his feet with George as the carriage rattled on.

They soon arrived at Mamie's house, and disembarked to rejoin the other Verners. The house was full of new watercolours that the old matriarch had painted recently, though not in a style like her famous brother. She greeted everyone with kisses, and she even let George sit on her lap to place the crown on her head. "Oh thank you, dear one. It is lovely beyond compare."

Sherlock pouted with his usual insecurity, so she gave him a cuddle too, rubbing his now healed arm. "Don't go breaking your precious little wing anymore."

"Yes, Mamie."

When the young boys left her arms, she looked at Mycroft, patiently standing tall and silent beside her. He bent down to kiss her cheek, and he wished her a happy birthday.

"Ah, Mycroft, I have not seen you since your last holiday from school. You have grown so much that you are like a young man already. Like your father."

Mycroft smiled at her and nodded his head only slightly, with a proud reserve. He preferred to be English in his aloofness, rather than French in displaying emotion. He then pulled up a chair nearby, for he was easily tired lately.

"Tell me about father," Sherlock interjected curiously. Having been orphaned five years ago, he had no memory of either of his parents, and could only look at old photographs of them without recognition.

Mamie smiled wistfully. "M. Sherrinford Holmes was a sort of stoic clergyman, the younger son of a country squire. I suppose my daughter disliked my passionate nature and in rebellion she adored his understated English way. They were quite happy while they lived."

"Come now," said Mr. Verner, Mamie's son. He brought the violin case over to Sherlock, who had set it down. "Let us begin the performances."

"Yes, uncle." So Sherlock took out his violin and bow, and he played his song for Mamie. His skill may not have been great at the moment, but his emotion was more than sufficient. Even as young as he was, his artistic soul was evident, which pleased her and reminded her of her lost daughter Beatrice. When the boy finished, she clapped for him and said, "Beautiful!"

He rushed to her for a hug, and promised, "I shall be better next time."

"I shall be even happier then." She kissed him, before reminding him to put his instrument back in its case.

Then Mycroft rose and recited her favourite poem. His accent was flawless, if stilted. He faced her, but Mamie could tell that he was daydreaming and staring at some point beyond her. Beyond the room and the house and the earth itself. It was not that he lacked love for her; he felt as much familial fondness and affection for her as he was capable.

But Mycroft was always a strange child, even before losing his parents, and he only grew stranger with time. Art in the blood had taken a definite, unexpected turn in him. His mind seemed far too active and startling to have come from the ordinary Vicar and Mrs. Holmes, and Mycroft quickly perceived how he disconcerted people. So he learned over the years to hide his agile brain and behave in a civil, expected manner even with people that he regarded as idiots.

Mamie only wished that she could provide for Mycroft better than placing him in a boarding school so below his capabilities. He had taken to only half listening to his instructors while privately doing unrelated mental exercises for his own amusement. Hopefully, Mycroft's high marks would earn him a better education at Oxford, and then perhaps being among intellects closer to his own would awaken in him some competitive spirit and sense of ambition.

Finishing his recitation, Mycroft bowed his head slightly and concluded, "For you, grand-mère."

"Thank you, Mycroft." She squeezed his hand when he resumed his seat near her.

George had already given her his present, but the older Verner children performed, with young Geoff singing and Alice accompanying him on piano. It was lovely.

There was singing again when the birthday cake was brought out, and everyone joined in. As the tune ended, Mamie blew out the candles, then the maid began to cut the cake. The family each kissed or embraced her again as they came up to the table. The cake was served with a light lemonade, and everyone took their seats to eat.

As they sat together, Mamie turned to Mycroft and asked how he was doing in his studies.

Seeing that his other relatives could not hear him over their own chatter, he replied bluntly that his maths teacher was still a stupid bore, but that he had lately read a most interesting paper on the Binomial Theorem that was "elegant in its genius."

So Mycroft was reading more advanced papers from university again. She did not understand the abstruse maths that he described, but she encouraged him to tell her about them anyway. Apparently the author was a Wunderkind of only 21, and had won a mathematics chair because of his theorem.

Mycroft expressed interest in attending Moriarty's university instead of Oxford when the time came, and she considered it, since Mycroft seemed so excited by the man. She even suggested, "You should become a professor like him."

"Then I should have to go to the trouble of proving things, and teaching lesser minds." Despite his incredible facility with mathematics, his indolence currently only made him aspire to be a clerk in some accounting office.

"But it would be a challenge, and it would satisfy you."

Mycroft merely shrugged and glanced at her fondly over his cake. He knew already that she looked at him with pity and concern, trying to figure out how to make him happy. She was like his mother that way, and he showed her his respect by dropping his pretences when speaking to her.

At the same time, his mind raced on, recalling his memories of his mother, the late Beatrice Vernet Holmes. She had been an affectionate and emotional woman, willing to tolerate the odd behaviour of her son until he ceased to be an only child. Thence she tried to foster some kind of bond between the boys, hoping that it would make Mycroft more human. Sadly, she was not to live long enough to carry on her efforts.

Their uncle, Geoffrey Verner, had tried to be paternal to his nephews ever since they came to live with his family. However, he was hindered by Mycroft's aloofness, and he guessed that Mycroft resented someone trying to replace his late father. So Uncle Geoffrey did not press too hard with him, and neither did Aunt Elaine. They allowed him independence and solitude when asked.

Mycroft did fondly remember his father for being a good English role model of stoicism. However, the late Mr. Holmes had been a clergyman, and as he grew older Mycroft wondered sometimes if they would have had serious disagreements over religion had the vicar lived. Or perhaps instead Mycroft would have chosen to not cause trouble and keep to himself his opinions about irrational superstitions. There were many possibilities and probabilities to weigh, which was a good use of his mathematical and analytical skill. At the very least, it kept him from being bored. He imagined he would never be bored in the class of Professor Moriarty.

Mamie observed Mycroft's dreamy and distant expression while he ate, and she noted once more the sharp contrast with his younger brother. Sherlock, at least, seemed like a perfectly normal, loving boy, if a touch too competitive with his cousin George. Mycroft was like another being altogether.

Her thoughts were interrupted when Aunt Elaine asked about her latest paintings, so Mamie answered and offered her one to take home. Sherlock instantly said he wanted it for his room, but then relented, since he could not decide between his two maternal figures. Aunt Elaine had her own children to be mother to, so Sherlock frequently decided that Mamie should be all his, or his and Mycroft's. But then again, Mycroft could rely also on his own memories of Beatrice Holmes.

Aunt Elaine laughed over Sherlock's possessiveness, then asked if they could have two paintings, one for herself, and one for Sherlock. Mamie agreed, adding that George could enjoy it too, since he shared a bedroom with Sherlock.

Since Mamie needed her rest, the party soon ended, and everyone kissed her goodbye as they rose to go. The paintings were loaded into the carriage with Mycroft and the boys, since they had more room, and both carriages headed home. George felt tired and overstuffed with cake so he lay down in the seat to nap. Feeling wakeful himself, Sherlock held his violin case in his lap and watched Mycroft staring out the window again. He often wondered what Mycroft thought about when he was silent. Was it always maths, or was it ever bugs and trees? Or maybe chess. Mycroft was always playing that game with uncle Geoffrey, and he frequently won. Uncle said it was because Mycroft planned his moves so far in advance.

Sherlock stared at his brother's head and wondered if his own head would ever grow as large. Mycroft's big brain must be why he was always right about things. He was certainly right today!

Sherlock grinned to know that he still was Mamie's favourite. George tried his best, but after all, his gifts were really second-hand for his sister. Plus, he had no talent.

Over the next few days, Sherlock studied the scientific books that Mycroft had given him. Although he could not understand all of the advanced words, he enjoyed the many diagrams of insects and other animals. Inspired, he went out with George to catch specimens to study themselves. Other than lightning bugs, it was easiest to catch amphibians and small reptiles, though their nanny did not allow them to keep the animals for longer than a few days. To Sherlock's dismay, George discovered a talent for drawing, as he tried to accurately record the animals that they found.

Meanwhile, Mycroft spent his holiday from school reading newspapers and debating with the adult Verners about the progress of the American Civil War. How many more states would secede, and would Britain have to intervene? Or give diplomatic recognition to the Confederacy? Mycroft seemed to enjoy politics, and would speculate on various scenarios in great detail, as if he were considering a chess game. He even calculated the probabilities on likely events, with his usual mathematical skill. Only time could prove him wrong or right.

Mycroft also sometimes brought Sherlock and George to visit Mamie again. Mamie liked George's nature drawings and offered to teach him how to paint as well. Soon he was painting innumerable violets in watercolours.

To keep Sherlock from pouting in jealousy, Mycroft sat with him and told him stories of their departed parents again. Sherlock was especially fascinated with the idea that their parents had been travelling in America at the time of their death. In June 1856, they had gone to visit other clergymen who supported abolition, leaving their children with Mamie for the time being. Mycroft remained vague as to the event that killed them, feeling that his brother was still too young to understand it. Sherlock often wondered if it was some horrific disease like scarlet fever, only more exotic. America was an exotic place, after all.

Whatever tragedy occurred, the Vicar and Mrs. Holmes were never to return home, and after the funeral, Mamie agreed that it was best for the boys to live with a family with other young children. She insisted on helping with the boys' education, though, and showered them with the love she could no longer give to her lost daughter.

Still insecure, Sherlock practised his violin diligently so that he could play his song perfectly for Mamie and best George once again before they went away to boarding school in September. He practised and practised, even forgetting about bugs for the moment, and he always looked at Mamie's watercolour in his room as he played. However, it was not meant to be.

In late July, the Verners gathered their children and nephews together to share the sad news. Mycroft could deduce it already from their solemn, pinched faces, but said nothing and lowered his head. The Verners quietly told everyone that Mamie had passed away at her home. The children murmured in shock and grief, but George sobbed first. "Not like Violet!" His little mind wondered guiltily if his gifts of violets had somehow caused it.

For a moment, Sherlock watched Aunt Elaine embrace and comfort his heartbroken cousin, then without warning he stepped close and shoved him. He quickly ducked and stormed out before anyone could catch him, running up the stairs to his room.

Uncle Geoffrey rose to follow, but Mycroft stopped him. "I'll go."

"Are you sure?" What puzzling behaviour from both Holmes boys today.

Mycroft nodded and glanced at George, now retreating to his mother's lap. "Keep him here for now." Then he turned and walked upstairs at a laboured pace. The weight he'd put on in the last few years hampered him, but he knew he must make an effort.

When he arrived at the boys' room, Mycroft knocked, but ignored Sherlock's "Go away!" He entered and shut the door.

His brother was crying on the bed, and he tried to hide beneath the covers, but Mycroft merely sat down and rather effectively trapped the covers under his weight so that Sherlock could not escape. "Go away!" His brother kicked futilely.

Mycroft leaned over to put one arm around him. He was not surprised at all when Sherlock fought and began beating on his chest. "It's not fair!"

"I know." The fat on his body at least provided some cushioning against the tiny fists.

"It's not fair! I was going to play for her. Better. I learned it!" His words become more indecipherable through his choked tears. "She's not his. Loves her secondhand. She's mine!"

Mycroft nodded, thinking how childish and small his brother's mind was, with its predictably petty jealousy. He wondered if he had ever been that young, and he let Sherlock keep crying to exhaust himself.

After a moment, Mycroft said calmly, "I know it's not fair, Sherlock. Life is seldom fair. After all, Violet died and yet her twin lived to feel the void every day. Was that fair? And how do you think our grand-mère felt when she learned that her daughter had died suddenly in America? Outliving her own child probably did not feel fair to her at all."

Sherlock thought over these words and quieted a little. He pouted. "But I wanted to play for her."

"I know. Perhaps you can play the song at her funeral."

Sherlock considered that with wide eyes and anxiety. Playing before family was one thing, but in public, with strangers from around the estate and village? "I-I don't--"

Mycroft took the pressure off him. "That's all right." He gestured to the painting. "Perhaps you can just do it here, in front of her painting."

Sherlock looked at the watercolour, then at the photo of Mamie on the wall. He felt a little better and he nodded, whispering, "Do you think she can hear me in heaven?"

Mycroft sighed as he considered whether to humour his brother about heaven and ghosts and everything that church put into his head on Sundays.

Sherlock looked up at his brother, then protested, "You're not even crying!"

Mycroft frowned and glared with offended dignity, "If you are accusing me of not mourning her, you are mistaken. I will cry in my own time in private. I am not a boy like you, but almost a man. You cannot understand how dear she was to me, how good a confidante. She was the only one I could talk with as my own self. The only one who saw me like my--our mother." He paused to regain a grip on his emotions.

Sherlock didn't mind the slip of the tongue, for in a way he thought it was true. He could not feel that Beatrice Holmes belonged to him if he could not remember her. "You remember her." He closed his eyes to picture one of the many photographs he had seen in the house. "I wish I could." Now he felt guilty, wondering if he didn't love his mother enough, if he could not keep her memory.

Mycroft said comfortingly, "You could not help it. You were too young. She and Father are but shadows to you, but it does not matter. I remember for both of us." He touched Sherlock's hand. "But you will remember Mamie."

"I won't forget her?" He worried that his memory might fade into another shadow.

"No. George hasn't forgotten Violet, has he, and he was younger than you are now. He remembers her with violets, and you shall remember Mamie whenever you play."

"How will you remember her?" Sherlock asked. "How do you remember mother and father?"

Mycroft shrugged. "Scents, sounds, images... it comes to you when you learn to observe and focus your attention on details. You will learn it in time. It is something scientists do." Sherlock had trouble saying entomology so Mycroft had referred to it as simply "insect science" lately.

"Will you be a scientist too?" Sherlock asked. "Or do more maths? Is math a science?"

Mycroft smiled and thought of Professor Moriarty's binomial theorem. "Yes indeed." He decided that he would honour grand-mère's memory by studying with the professor and challenging himself mentally. He would declare his intentions to his Uncle Geoffrey in a few days, after Mamie's will was read, and he learned what provisions she had made for his and Sherlock's higher education. The Verners had to reserve their resources for their own children.

Sherlock was calmer now, and he tried to get out of bed to reach his violin.

Mycroft deduced his intention, so he got up and allowed his brother out of bed. He said, "Now behave yourself and do not fight with our cousin George anymore. He cannot help loving grand-mère any more than we do, or the others."

Sherlock looked petulant, but agreed and looked down at his violin.

"Remember, you shall only have each other when you start school this September. There is no use in starting endless quarrels over jealousy, when you are living with strangers who will not understand. They will think you are a difficult child, and possibly stupid."

Sherlock gasped at that, for certainly he did not want to be treated as stupid. "All right." So he decided he would make up with George and tolerate his cousin's grief over Mamie's death, even if it was secondhand for Violet. He would follow Mycroft's advice, for Mycroft was always right. It must be his big brain, exercised with maths and chess.

The references to Mycroft's big brain are meant to echo "The Blue Carbuncle" where Holmes claims that a man with a large head must be intelligent.

Fortunately, Professor Moriarty will be forced to resign from his university before Mycroft can enroll and take his class. He might end up at Oxford instead, but Charles Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll might be there. Should I avoid namedropping famous Victorians, and instead send Mycroft to Cambridge? Either way he'll start out as a government clerk auditing books, but eventually create his indispensable and unique position due to his love of politics.

Anyway Mycroft always being a "strange child" is not meant to be an insult so much as a sign that some people are simply born different from other people, and it does not need to be the result of some childhood trauma or neglect. He had a loving normal family but was eccentric and almost terrifyingly brilliant from the start. Similarly, while Sherlock has his share of sorrows, mysteries, and neuroses, he's a fairly happy child day to day. Later chapters will show Sherlock becoming more aloof and eccentric, following his brother's influence, and his desire to become an objective scientist (and later detective).

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