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Mary's Shame

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"Peter, I am ashamed of you," said Lady Mary. "I would have thought you'd do better by Bunter, after all he's done for you."

Lord Peter Wimsey was startled, not so much that someone was ashamed of him - it was Helen's natural state, after all - as that that someone was Lady Mary. In Peter's experience, Mary saved shame for specific actions.

"The gratitude of the dog puts to shame any man ungrateful of his benefactors, and all that, but I don't remember doing badly by Bunter in the last little while," protested Peter.

"What about when you told George Fentiman that you looked Bunter up after the war?" asked Mary.

"Well," stammered Peter, "It makes very little difference who looked up whom. Bunter knows I didn't mean it, and George didn't need all the horrid details."

"George is the one person who did need all the details, and it makes all the difference in the world, given that you were incapable of looking up anyone at the time," snapped Mary, to Peter's astonishment.

"Polly, you're really upset about this. Why?" He was flummoxed.

Mary sighed and put her thoughts together, then began. "Peter, you remember that when you first came back from France, I was still there, nursing?" Peter nodded. "I was good at it, Peter. I could see which men were getting infections and needed the doctor back in before anyone else in my unit. I toughened myself up until I could look at any wound. I could bear the smell of gangrene, the sounds of pain.I steeled myself to all of it, until it never touched me. There was just one kind of nursing our unit saw that I couldn't do. Psychiatric nursing. Something about toughening myself up had made absolutely useless with our shell-shock patients, even though all we did was hold on to them until the doctors said where to send them - back or home."

"But I'm lucky," interrupted Peter, "They sent me home."

"That's right," said Mary. "They sent you home, just when I'd seen enough to know that kind of illness takes a special touch. They sent you home to Denver when all the best doctors were in London. They sent you home, when I had friends who lost brothers or fiances after they got home.They sent you home, where nobody had ever seen a case like yours."

"When Mother wrote me to say you couldn't give orders and you weren't getting up in the mornings, do you know what I did, Peter?"

"What did you do, Polly?" asked Peter.

"I waited. I waited for the next letter, or really a telegram. The one to tell me to come home for your funeral."

Peter opened his mouth to say it wouldn't have come to that, and then shut it. He had been brought up too carefully to say a thing he didn't know to be true.

"Instead," Mary went on, "I got a different letter, one telling me that Bunter had come. Mother put it a little oddly 'He just showed up to be Peter's valet, but right now he's more like his nurse.' The letter after that said you were eating again. I was all right then. I could take care of the men it was my duty to take care of, because someone was taking care of you.

"Peter, I know you don't care what the idiots in the club think. You spoke up for George to them. I just wish you had spoken up to George, when he's so ill and in trouble. I wish you had the guts to say you'd been ill in the same way, and you're better now, because Bunter got you the help you needed. I wish you hadn't left him afraid to get help."

Peter nodded. He would look George up in a couple days.