"You needn't worry a thing about him, Mr. Holmes. We're in the business of making boys into fine, resourceful men."
They were standing in the junior boy's bedroom of Evenden Hall, where Sherlock was to sleep bunked together with seven other boys his age... or thereabouts, though he was going to be the youngest by several months. The original plan had been for Sherlock to be sent to boarding school at the age of eleven, as Mycroft had been; but Mycroft was away at university now. He had little time for his brother, and it was decided that it was better for all if he were sent into residential living now.
"I think you may find this one a challenge," Mycroft commented ruefully.
Sherlock was sitting on the bottom bunk of a bed near the window, a canvas bag in his lap and a suitcase resting next to his knees. The room was otherwise deserted. Term wouldn't go in for two weeks yet, so Sherlock had the room to himself for a while.
Charles Bishop, the headmaster, was viewing the seven-year-old with a critical eye. He'd seen hundreds of boys filter through Evenden Hall, but this boy, he saw immediately, was unusual. Weedy, pale, furtive. Odd, lamp-like grey eyes that seemed to suck in rather than see. He was reported to be rather brilliant intellectually, though Mycroft had mentioned he'd had some "problems fitting in" at his previous school. Hopefully, Bishop reflected, if he had to day-and-night with other boys his age he might learn some more solid social skills.
"We'll sort you out, won't we, Holmes?" he asked him, slapping him on the shoulder with all the fake bonhomie of a used car salesman.
"Oh, um. Yes," Sherlock returned, muttering into his chest.
Sherlock paused, looking at him for a few seconds, as if trying to work out if it were a trick question. "Yes, sir," he finally said quietly.
"That's better. Respect, Sherlock. Respect for your elders is the beginning of wisdom. One of the fine lessons you'll learn here, and thank me for one day, I hope."
"And so do I," Mycroft returned. "I also hope you won't break too many canes on him. I'm afraid he can be very stubborn and… intractable." But he was looking at Sherlock with something approaching paternal pride.
"Rulers, 'til he's ten. And hopefully none of those, either."
Mycroft shrugged. "This place was different in my day. Either way, you're to behave and bring neither rulers nor canes on yourself, Sherlock, is that clear?"
"Yes," Sherlock muttered.
"That mumbling is horrible," Bishop commented. "Lesson one will be how to answer questions promptly, fully and clearly. We'll begin on that so that when term goes in we'll have a boy who can speak properly. I imagine we'll have no difficulties in that department, will we, Holmes?"
Sherlock shook his head, dully. He was surveying the room around him. Sucking it in. Bare floorboards, though there were heavy-duty runners up and down the middle of the room. Rickety white-framed bunk beds; walls painted a rather nauseating shade of powder blue that, even at seven, Sherlock found babyish. The mattress he was sitting on was very thin. There was a blue comforter, also thin and a shade or two darker than the walls, and a single, rather flat pillow. All of the bedclothes smelled of must and, faintly, of mothballs. There were large dutch-style windows at intervals along the room, letting light and air in. From the one he was sitting by, Sherlock could see a vast expanse of rolling countryside, bordered with lines of trees and dotted with cattle; just at the horizon, he thought he could make out the dull, iron-grey hue of Greater London. Of home.
Sherlock tightened his clutch on his bag.
Bishop turned back to Mycroft. "I don't mean to hurry you away, Mr Holmes, but I always find that the younger ones do better if there isn't any fuss or anything drawn out, do you see?"
"I quite agree," Mycroft nodded, going over to his brother. "I'm going now, Sherlock. Mind you behave yourself, and try not to antagonise too many of the other children. I'll see you at Christmas."
At "Christmas"- more than three months away- Sherlock swallowed hard. Mycroft dug his heels in.
"Stand up, please. Adults stand up to shake hands."
Sherlock got reluctantly to his feet, though he was still clutching the handle of his bag in his left hand. Mycroft held his own hand out to shake, but found Sherlock's to be clammy and rather limp.
"What's the matter now?" he asked, eyeing him keenly.
Sherlock swallowed again. Mycroft rolled his eyes and sighed.
"Sherlock, no. You're far too old for this homesick nonsense, and I'm not going to have you start blubbering before I even leave. Don't be childish."
Sherlock was too young to notice the strain in Mycroft's voice, or to know what it meant.
"I don't want to stay here," he rasped, trying nobly not to cry. "Please."
"At nine thousand a term, you'd better be staying here," was the response. "And not just staying here, but making good use of the opportunities you're being given. I don't want to hear about any of your escape antics, either." Even at seven, Sherlock had already made several successful escapes from his previous day-school. He was a particularly talented and fearless climber. "Sherlock, everybody has to go to school, you know that. And you'll get settled in soon enough. Now we've said our goodbyes like gentlemen, and I'm going. And you'll unpack your things, do as your teachers tell you, and otherwise behave. Understood?"
Mycroft nodded to Bishop, and then turned and made for the door, gait firm and quick. He had already disappeared before Sherlock could register that he was gone.
No answer. Sherlock let go of his bag and ran to the doorway.
"Mycroft, come back…!"
"That will do." He felt Bishop's hand come to rest heavily on his shoulder. "There's no need-"
Sherlock tore off; Bishop restrained him with one arm.
"That will do, Holmes!"
But Sherlock, flailing desperately, sank his teeth into the arm that held him, drawing blood. Bishop swore and let him go, and he spilled into the corridor and thumped down the spiral staircase three at a time. He overbalanced and pitched headlong at the bottom, temporarily stunning himself and splitting his lip as he landed on the hardwood floor; he didn't notice the injury. He clambered to his feet and had limped out to the gravel drive just in time to see Mycroft get into the car he'd had waiting there.
The car door slammed shut like a slap to the face. Sherlock watched, tear-blinded and bleeding, as the car wheels crunched slowly across the white gravel, then onto the road and away down the tree-bordered lane.