Actions

Work Header

Traces

Work Text:

Mr Bunter has seen things. There is no doubt of that.

Sometimes, the subject arising in conversation, those beyond his Lordship’s service question how Mr Bunter can bear to have seen such things. To do more than see.

Sometimes, Mr Bunter himself has cause to reflect thereupon, and to wonder at himself.

Item: the saliva-stains on the rigid, bared, cyanosed lips of a woman murdered by her sister – as his Lordship will shortly demonstrate to a rapt courtroom – on account of an incident regarding a pet rabbit, in the halcyon, antediluvian days of Before The War. These, Mr Bunter has recovered, and tested, and remembered.

Item: the leg-bone, shattered and mouldering, of a roughhewn youth, unwanted and unrecognised, deposited by his father – if that is quite the noun one should use to refer to such a stain upon humanity’s bosom, as His Lordship was heard to repeat during the case. This, Mr Bunter has examined, and demonstrated by its multiple breakages that the final death-blow and precipitation into a dung-heap for concealment was merely the pitiful end of a young man’s life much beleaguered by older man’s cruelty.

Item: the noxious voidings, from orifices maltreated to extremity, of the great Admiral cut down by arsenic in mistake for the First Lord, by a poisoner whose plotting lacked much in accuracy of direction. These, Mr Bunter had collected, analysed and preserved, until such time as the police examiner felt able to recognise His Lordship’s view that the case was murder.

Item: the intimate, ravaged, unmentionable interior of the woman caught in an alley by a madman who wanted nothing but his own selfish power-lust satisfied, and who had not understood the fragility of the hyoid bone, whose fracturing ended her suffering at his hands. A mercy, said Inspector Parker. Of a sort, said His Lordship, vowing to avenge her. Righteousness be his shield, but she was one whose fixed, milky-glazed gaze Mr Bunter had nonetheless felt compelled to avoid for the duration of his gleaning work.

Item: the hanging chamber at Holloway, to which his Lordship has directly consigned four women in his distinguished career, and to which, at last, he had felt compelled to come, to see for himself the walk from the condemned cell, the bag for the head, the hoist for the noose, the trapdoor below which oblivion beckoned. All clean, all bleached of humanity. A full stop to existence, to which His Lordship led the guilty as if by the hand. And with Mr Bunter playing guide.

Item: the kidney from the flat of the man who wanted the Ripper to live again. Item: the fingerprints in bloody glass, clawing for release which never came. Item: the eyeball-

Sometimes, Mr Bunter wonders at himself, indeed.

But Mr Bunter was not always Mr Bunter. Once, he was Sergeant Bunter, and the things that Sergeant Bunter saw were of an order to make Mr Bunter’s travails in the cause of justice into the merest of trifling unpleasantnesses.

It was three days into his time at the Front that Rifleman Bunter – as he then was – received some substantial portion of the brain matter of his erstwhile platoon-mate Jenkins (was it Jenkins? Jennings? Jenkinson? The first, but not the last such). Rifleman Bunter had been consuming an unsatisfactory meal of bully-beef at the time, and the intermingling of Jenkiss – for such he may have been – and other meat products had struck the young Bunter most forcibly at the time. And subsequently.

(Sometimes, he still tastes Jennison in his dreams.)

It was as Sergeant Bunter that he had seen his own good officers mown down, as by a biblical plague, in the hellpits of Passchendaele, and there that he had first encountered a nervy young officer, pointed of nose and affected of tongue, who – looking around and finding he and Bunter the sole standing representatives of the cut above Poor Bloody Infantry - had faced the bog of screaming, sinking bloody-shredded injured men whom they were ordered to abandon, the advance having failed, head-on for mere moments, then nodded, and said, “Carry on, Sergeant. Sound the retreat,” with such unswerving confidence in Bunter’s capacity to do his duty that he had, from somewhere, found the strength to do what must be done, and to save at least the lives of those who could be saved.

(Sometimes, he dreams of mud-drowning men still.)

It was Sergeant Bunter too who had led that party digging hopelessly in the mud at Caudry in ‘18, finding pulped shreds of former comrades, a foot here, some inner part there, a half-head, eyelessly screaming next, until they reached the shellhole in which were three men. His Lordship, the rat Evans, and the good man Hayman, under whose flayed corpse the two survivors had sheltered and breathed for hour upon hour and where they had expected death to find them.

Sergeant Bunter it was who saw his good officer, his Major, his Lordship, reduced to a screaming skeleton in the aftermath of this horror, and who fought, silent and losing, with the ghosts of his mind.

(Sometimes, they are his ghosts too, in the dead hours of the night.)

The things that Sergeant Bunter saw are so much more terrible than Mr Bunter’s interlocutors could ever imagine. Mr Bunter himself keeps them well locked-up, insofar as he may. The business of criminality is somehow more humane.