It is the summer of 1868, and Sherlock Holmes is fourteen. On break from boarding school, he is staying with eccentric strangers—his uncle and aunt—in their vast house in Hampshire. When two local people die from symptoms that resemble the plague, Holmes begins to investigate what really killed them, helped by his new tutor, an American named Amyus Crowe. So begins Sherlock’s true education in detection, as he discovers the dastardly crimes of a brilliantly sinister villain of exquisitely malign intent.
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Andrew Lane is the author of the Young Sherlock Holmes series of young adult novels. He has also written numerous spin-off novels based on the BBC sci-fi television series Doctor Who, as well as definitive guides to Babylon 5 and the Wallace and Grommit films, and is the author of The Bond Files: An Unofficial Guide to the World's Greatest Secret Agent. He lives in Dorset, England.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
“You there! Come here!”
Sherlock Holmes turned to see who was being called and who was doing the calling. There were hundreds of pupils standing in the bright sunlight outside Deepdene School for Boys that morning, each dressed in immaculate school uniform and each with a leather-strapped wooden chest or an overstuffed pile of luggage sitting in front of him like a loyal dog. Any one of them might have been the target. The masters at Deepdene made a habit of never referring to the pupils by name—it was always “You!” or “Boy!” or “Child!” It made life difficult and kept the boys on their toes, which was probably the reason why they did it. Either that or the masters had given up trying to remember the names of their pupils long ago; Sherlock wasn’t sure which explanation was the most likely. Perhaps both.
None of the other pupils were paying attention. They were either gossiping with the family members who had turned up to collect them or they were eagerly watching the school gates for first sight of the carriage that was going to take them home. Reluctantly, Sherlock swung round to see if the malign finger of fate was pointing his way.
It was. The finger in question belonged in this instance to Mr. Tulley, the Latin master. He had just come round the corner of the school, where Sherlock was standing apart from the other boys. His suit, which was usually covered in chalk dust, had been specially cleaned for the end of term and the inevitable meetings with the fathers who were paying for their boys to be educated, and his mortarboard sat straight on his head as if glued there by the headmaster.
“Yes, sir. You, sir,” Mr. Tulley snapped. “Get yourself to the headmaster’s study quam celerrime. Do you remember enough of your Latin to know what that means?”
“It means ‘straightaway,’ sir.”
“Then move yourself.”
Sherlock cast a glance at the school gate. “But, sir—I’m waiting for my father to pick me up.”
“I’m sure he won’t leave without you, boy.”
Sherlock made one last, defiant attempt. “My luggage…”
Mr. Tulley glanced disparagingly at Sherlock’s battered wooden trunk—a hand-me-down from his father’s military travels, stained with old dirt and scuffed by the passing years. “I can’t see anyone wanting to steal it,” he said, “except perhaps for its historical value. I’ll get a prefect to watch it for you. Now cut along.”
Reluctantly, Sherlock abandoned his belongings—the spare shirts and underclothes, the books of poetry and the notebooks in which he had taken to jotting down ideas, thoughts, speculations, and the occasional tune that came into his head—and walked off towards the columned portico at the front of the school building, pushing through the crowd of pupils, parents, and siblings while still keeping an eye on the gateway, where a scrum of horses and carriages were all trying to get in and out of the narrow gate at the same time.
The main entrance hall was lined with oak panelling and encircled by marble busts of previous headmasters and patrons, each on its own separate plinth. Shafts of sunlight crossed diagonally from the high windows to the black-and-white tiled floor, picked out by swirling motes of chalk dust. It smelt of the carbolic that the maids used to clean the tiles every morning. The press of bodies in the hall made it likely that at least one of the busts would be toppled over before long. Some of them already had large cracks marring their pure marble, suggesting that every term saw at least one of them smashed on the floor and subsequently repaired.
He wove in and out of the people, ignored by everyone, and eventually found himself exiting the throng and entering a corridor that led off the entrance hall. The headmaster’s study was a few yards down. He paused on the threshold, drew a breath, dusted down his lapels, and knocked on the door.
“Enter!” boomed a theatrically loud voice.
Sherlock twisted the doorknob and pushed the door open, trying to quell the spasm of nervousness that shot through his body like lightning. He had only been in the headmaster’s study twice before—once with his father, when he first arrived at Deepdene, and once again a year later with a group of other pupils who had been accused of cheating in an examination. The three ringleaders had been caned and expelled; the four or five followers had been caned until their buttocks bled and allowed to stay. Sherlock—whose essays had been the ones copied by the group—had escaped a caning by claiming that he knew nothing about it. In fact, he had known all along, but he had always been something of an outsider at the school, and if letting the other pupils copy his work got him tolerated, if not accepted, then he wasn’t going to raise any ethical objections. On the other hand, he wasn’t going to tell on the copiers either—that would have got him beaten and, perhaps, held in front of one of the roaring fires that dominated the dormitories until his skin began to blister and his clothes to smoke. School life was like that—a perpetual balancing act between the masters and the other pupils. And he hated it.
The headmaster’s study was just the way he remembered it—vast, dim, and smelling of a combination of leather and pipe tobacco. Mr. Tomblinson was sitting behind a desk large enough to play bowls on. He was a portly man in a suit that was slightly too small for him, chosen presumably on the basis that it helped him believe he wasn’t quite as large as he obviously was.
“Ah, Holmes, is it? In, lad, in. Close the door behind you.”
Sherlock did as he was told, but as he pushed the door shut he caught sight of another figure in the room: a man standing in front of the window with a glass of sherry in his hand. The sunlight refracted in rainbow shards from the cut glass of the schooner.
“Mycroft?” Sherlock said, amazed.
His elder brother turned towards him, and a smile flickered across his face so rapidly that if Sherlock had blinked at the wrong moment then he might have missed it. “Sherlock. You’ve grown.”
“So have you,” Sherlock said. Indeed, his brother had put on weight. He was nearly as plump as the headmaster, but his suit was tailored to hide it rather than accentuate it. “You came in Father’s carriage.”
Mycroft raised an eyebrow. “How on earth did you deduce that, young man?”
Sherlock shrugged. “I noticed the parallel creases in your trousers where the upholstery pressed them, and I remember that Father’s carriage has a tear in the upholstery that was repaired rather clumsily a few years ago. The impression of that repair is pressed into your trousers, next to the creases.” He paused. “Mycroft, where’s Father?”
The headmaster harrumphed to attract attention back to him. “Your father is—”
“Father won’t be coming,” Mycroft interrupted smoothly. “His regiment was sent out to India to strengthen the existing military force. There has been some unrest in the North West Frontier region. You know where that is?”
“Yes. We’ve studied India in geography lessons and in history.”
“I didn’t realize the natives there were causing problems again,” the headmaster rumbled. “Not been in The Times, that’s for sure.”
“It’s not the Indians,” Mycroft confided. “When we took the country back from the East India Company, the soldiers out there transferred back under Army control. They’ve found the new regime to be a lot … stricter … than the one they were used to. There’s been a great deal of bad feeling, and the government has decided to drastically increase the size of the force in India to give them an example of what real soldiers are like. It’s bad enough to have the Indians rebelling; a mutiny inside the British Army is unthinkable.”
“And will there be a mutiny?” Sherlock asked, feeling his heart sinking like a stone dropped into a pond. “Will Father be safe?”
Mycroft shrugged his massive shoulders. “I don’t know,” he said simply. That was one of the things that Sherlock respected about his brother. He always gave a straight response to a straight question. No honeying the pill. “Sadly, I don’t know everything. Not yet, anyway.”
“But you work for the government,” Sherlock pressed. “You must have some idea of what might happen. Can’t you send a different regiment? Keep Father here in England?”
“I’ve only been with the Foreign Office for a few months,” Mycroft replied, “and although I am flattered that you think I have the power to alter such important things, I’m afraid I don’t. I’m an advisor. Just a clerk, really.”
“How long will Father be gone?” Sherlock asked, remembering the large man dressed in a scarlet serge jacket with white belts crossing his chest, who laughed easily and lost his temper rarely. He could feel a pressure in his chest but he held his feelings in check. If there was one lesson he had learned from his time at Deepdene School, it was that you never showed any emotion. If you did, it would be used against you.
“Six weeks for the ship to reach port, six months in the country, I would estimate, and then another six weeks returning. Nine months in all.”
“Nearly a year.” He bowed his head for a moment, composing himself, then nodded. “Can we go home now?”
“You’re not going home,” Mycroft said.
Sherlock just stood there, letting the words sink into him, not saying anything.
“He can’t stay here,” the headmaster muttered. “The place is being cleaned.”
Mycroft moved his calm gaze away from Sherlock and on to the headmaster. “Our mother is … unwell,” he said. “Her constitution is delicate at the best of times, and this business with our father has distressed her greatly. She needs peace and quiet, and Sherlock needs someone older to look after him.”
“But I’ve got you!” Sherlock protested.
Mycroft shook his large head sadly. “I live in London now, and my job requires me to work many hours each day. I would not, I’m afraid, be a fit guardian for a boy, especially an inquisitive one such as you.” He turned towards the headmaster, almost as if it was easier to give him the next piece of information than to tell Sherlock. “Although the family house is in Horsham we have relatives in Farnham, not too far from here. An uncle and aunt. Sherlock will be staying with them over the school holidays.”
“No!” Sherlock exploded.
“Yes,” Mycroft said gently. “It is arranged. Uncle Sherrinford and Aunt Anna have agreed to take you in for the summer.”
“But I’ve never even met them!”
“Nevertheless, they are family.”
Mycroft bade farewell to the headmaster while Sherlock stood there blankly, trying to take in the enormity of what had just happened. No going home. No seeing his father and his mother. No exploring in the fields and woods around the manor house that had been home to him for fourteen years. No sleeping in his old bed in the room under the eaves of the house where he kept all of his books. No sneaking into the kitchens where Cook would give him a slice of bread and jam if he smiled at her. Instead, weeks of staying with people he didn’t know, being on his best behaviour in a town, in a county that he didn’t know anything about. Alone, until he returned to school.
How was he going to manage?
Sherlock followed Mycroft out of the headmaster’s study and along the corridor to the entrance hall. An enclosed brougham carriage sat outside the doors, its wheels muddy and its sides dusty from the journey that Mycroft had already undertaken to the school. The crest of the Holmes family had been painted on the door. Sherlock’s trunk had already been loaded on the back. A gaunt driver whom Sherlock did not recognize sat in the dicky box at the front, the reins that linked him to the two horses resting limply in his hands.
“How did he know that was my trunk?”
Mycroft gestured with his hand to indicate that it was nothing special. “I could see it from the window of the headmaster’s study. The trunk was the only one sitting unattended. And besides, it was the one Father used to have. The headmaster was kind enough to send a boy out to tell him to load the trunk onto the carriage.” He opened the door of the carriage and gestured to Sherlock to enter. Instead, Sherlock glanced around at his school and at his fellow pupils.
“You look as if you think you’ll never see them again,” Mycroft said.
“It’s not that,” Sherlock replied. “It’s just that I thought I was leaving here for something better. Now I know I’m leaving here for something worse. As bad as this place is, this is as good as it gets.”
“It won’t be like that. Uncle Sherrinford and Aunt Anna are good people. Sherrinford is Father’s brother.”
“Then why have I never heard about them?” Sherlock asked. “Why has Father never mentioned having a brother?”
Mycroft winced almost imperceptibly. “I fear that there was a falling-out in the family. Relations were strained for a while. Mother reinitiated contact via letter some months ago. I’m not even sure Father knows.”
“And that’s where you’re sending me?”
Mycroft patted Sherlock on the shoulder. “If there was an alternative I would take it, believe me. Now, do you need to say goodbye to any friends?”
Sherlock looked around. There were boys he knew, but were any of them really friends?
“No,” he said. “Let’s go.”
The journey to Farnham took several hours. After passing through the town of Dorking, which was the closest group of houses to Deepdene School, the carriage clattered along country lanes, beneath spreading trees, past the occasional thatched cottage or larger house, and alongside fields that were ripe with barley. The sun shone from a cloudless sky, turning the carriage into an oven despite the breeze blowing in. Insects buzzed lazily at the windows. Sherlock watched for a while as the world went past. They stopped for lunch at an inn, where Mycroft bought some ham and cheese and half a loaf of bread. At some stage Sherlock fell asleep. When he woke up, minutes or hours later, the brougham was still moving through the same landscape. For a while he chatted with Mycroft about what was happening at home, about their sister, about Mother’s fragile health. Mycroft asked after Sherlock’s studies, and Sherlock told him something about the various lessons that he had sat through and more about the teachers who had taught them. He imitated their voices and their mannerisms, and reduced Mycroft to helpless laughter by the cruelty and humour of his impersonations.
After a while there were more houses lining the road and soon they were heading through a large town, the horses’ hoofs clattering on cobbles. Leaning out of the carriage window, Sherlock saw what looked like a guildhall—a three-storey building, all white plaster and black beams, with a large clock hanging from a bracket outside the double doors.
“Farnham?” he guessed.
“Guildford,” Mycroft answered. “Farnham is not too far away now.”
The road out of Guildford led along a ridge from which the land fell away on both sides, fields and woods scattered about like toys, with patches of yellow flowers spreading across them.
“This ridge is called the Hog’s Back,” Mycroft remarked. “There’s a semaphore station along here, on Pewley Hill, part of a chain that stretches from the Admiralty Building in London all the way to Portsmouth Harbour. Have they taught you about semaphores at school?”
Sherlock shook his head.
“Typical,” Mycroft murmured. “All the Latin a boy can cram into his skull, but nothing of any practical use.” He sighed heavily. “A semaphore is a method for passing messages quickly and over long distance that would take days by horse. Semaphore stations hav...
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