For proper fic on the DTI I once again recommend executrix’s Maiden Overs.
Thomas Berrow was not having a good week and it was all William’s fault. Unfortunately he was unable to follow his usual remedy and take out his temper on the second footman, as William was no longer at Downton. William was in Northampton, preparing to sail for Australia from whence his long-lost uncle had suddenly return to reveal himself not lost at all, but a wealthy sheep rancher inviting his sister and her family to come and share in his good fortune. William, who was that sort of person, had expressed his regret to Carson and worked his week’s notice, but he had gone without a backward glance nonetheless.
And then the agency had sent Mervyn Bunter. Thomas had quite looked forward to asserting himself over an agency chap, but Mervyn wasn’t like that. Carson had proposed that he stay on his second day in the house, surely some sort of miracle, only to be told that, “with regret, Mr Carson, I must decline. I have been offered a post in Sir John Sanderton’s household from the next quarter.” Sanderton! Thomas would have given his right arm to work in a place like that. It wasn’t the largest house, nor the oldest family, but everyone visited. There was a place that a man could make connections that lead places, and Mervyn Bunter was taking Thomas’s rightful place in it. Then there was the rest of the man, who was not only a dab hand with a pair of boots, but appeared to be doing a very good impression of the Ideal Footman, when he was not holding forth with his impressions of music hall artists and chatting up the maids. Thomas had had to raise his game and regarded the man with an intense dislike that was the more fuelled by the fact that Mervyn didn’t seem to notice him at all.
Thomas would have been surprised, therefore, to learn that on the night he was escorting Kemal Pamuk along the hallway to her ladyship’s bedroom, he was not unobserved. Bunter had had no difficulty in identifying the first footman with the dark young man who rumour had it had been rather indiscreet in company with the Duke of Crowborough the previous year, and had stationed himself in the shadows at the top of a small staircase leading up to the attics in expectation of possible events. Mr Pamuk was not himself unknown in London servant circles, and Lady Mary might be a singularly unendearing young woman, but Bunter held firm opinions on blackmail. The footsteps passed to the end of the hall, and then Thomas came back alone. Bunter left him to deal with later, and settled down to await events. On balance, he was inclined to think that Pamuk’s advances might not be unwelcome to the young woman, Lady Mary appearing to have an opinion of her own worldliness and unshockability possible only in someone extremely naïve. Even so, initial negotiations might take a little time. Bunter adopted a comfortable corner dozed off.
He was woken by footsteps hurrying along the carpet, and reached the bottom of his staircase just in time to see the hem of a long nightdress whisk around the corner in the direction of the maid’s quarters. He caught the scent of candlewax. The Turk? No, he had worn a dressing-gown and silk pyjameas. Lady Mary then, heading for the maid’s quarters where even Mervyn Bunter considered that he would be ill-advised to follow. The bedroom door was closed, but not locked. Bunter slipped inside.
In later years, in the course of what would become a rather more famous case, Bunter would remark he had seen diamond necklaces that would have been called “Wages if Sin” if their stories were known. A healthy young man laid out far too literally on a young woman’s bed was surprising, but not beyond his capabilities. A brief examination showed that he was beyond all doubt deceased, the manner of his passing all too obvious. It was not, perhaps, the moment to be discovered in her ladyship’s bedroom, but there was always the window, thoughtfully hung with heavy curtains and, a swift test revealed, a well-oiled sash. Bunter applied himself to wait once more.
He had not long to wait. He had thought Lady Mary might return with one of her sisters, probably the youngest, a specimen of the romantic idealist type. Instead, and with unexpected judgement, she was accompanied by Anna, the head housemaid, a girl tolerably proficient in her role if sadly misguided in her passion for the Earl’s limping valet. Unfortunately she could hardly be considered capable of either raising the dead or of carrying her end of a twelve stone six-footer through the hallways. Nor, judging by the panicked conversation, did she or her mistress appear much of her hand at dealing with an undoubted crisis.
Bunter cleared his throat decorously and stepped out from his hiding place.
‘If her ladyship will permit me to contradict her, I do not advise that the Countess be disturbed. Lady Grantham is, after all, an American, and it has been my experience that the United States, whilst an admirable nation, has inherited a rather Puritan view upon certain subjects that might render the present situation a little difficult. If I may be so bold, I suggest that if Anna will assist I deal with Mr Pamuk myself.’
‘How dare you enter my room? Get out at once!’ Lady Mary, recovering her composure rapidly in the face of a wrong that she had not herself committed, brandished an arm in the direction of the door. ‘I suppose you mean blackmail? You wouldn’t get aware with it. You might ruin me, but you’d never work again. Mr Carson would see you in the workhouse first, if not in prison.’
Bunter raised a placating hand. ‘I am very sorry, my lady. When I took the liberty of entering the room, seeing the door open as I was passing with the intention of obtaining a glass of milk to help me sleep, and concerned that perhaps your ladyship was in need of assistance, I was naturally surprised to find the young gentleman here and in this condition. But shocked as I must confess myself that a guest of your father’s should so far forget himself as to cross the threshold of a young lady’s bedroom in her absence with the intention of waylaying her upon her return, I cannot imagine that any man of honour would cast aspersions upon the lady. Naturally your ladyship was shocked upon the discovery, and sought the assistance of your maid to eject intruder. I can only suppose that Mr Pamuk’s exertions in the hunt, combined with rich food and an excess of drink, proved too much for his heart. I have known of it before, and I believe that Oriental gentlemen are particularly prone to the condition.’
Lady Mary, rapidly assimilating a narrative that it was evident she wished she had thought of first, looked at Bunter through narrowed-eyes.
‘That’s right,’ said Anna. ‘Her ladyship was dreadfully shocked. He had no clothes on.’ The latter remark being accurate but unnecessary.
‘Well you’re here, what are you going to do about it?’
Bunter assessed the corpse. Pamuk had been a strapping young man, too strapping too be carried single-handedly back to the distant bachelors’ quarters. Mary wouldn’t, Anna couldn’t, and the Countess undoubtedly mustn’t be co-opted in the venture, and the male staff were variously unsuitable.
‘I think, my lady, it would be best if I were to dress Mr Pamuk and carry him to the nearest lavatory.’
‘Yes, my lady. It is only a short distance, and if Anna were so good as to act as herald, there would be little risk of the transition being discovered.’
‘But you can’t intend to leave him there all night, surely!’
Bunter, uncertain as to whether the remark displayed an unexpectedly sentimental side or mere concern for propriety, decided not to consider further.
‘Certainly not, my lady. I shall then proceed to discover Mr Pamuk in the lavatory, where I had noticed the light burning. No doubt being unfamiliar with the house he became lost in pursuit of his goal and missed the facilities of the gentleman’s wing. Upon discovering him, I shall wake Mr Carson and request his assistant to remove the unfortunate gentleman to his own room before summoning the doctor. It can make little difference to him, and men of his religious persuasion have a great respect for, ahem, cleanliness. Mr Carson will doubtless agree that it would not do for the cheaper newspapers to report on the death of a man in a lavatory when he might be respectfully laid in his own bed.’
‘Why Carson? Wouldn’t Thomas be better?’
Bunter adopted a deprecating air. ‘Mr Carson will expect to be told first, my lady. I expect he may ask Thomas to assist in Mr Pamuk’s removal, but it would hardly be my place to require it myself.’
If Mary was less than convinced by this sudden show of deference, she did not say so.
‘Well, all right, then. You’d better get his clothes on.’
‘Very good, my lady. It would be as well to proceed before rigour sets in.’