The idea of this story was born from my current obsession with 'The Office' and Jam (I watched the show this autumn for the first time, and I couldn't believe I've never done it before), my undying love to Jane Austen's novels and my weird desire to mix up things I like. Also, I was inspired with 'Paying Court' by Comfect. It's such a lovely story!
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
1. Chapter 1 by Dernhelm
2. Chapter 2 by Dernhelm
3. Chapter 3 by Dernhelm
4. Chapter 4 by Dernhelm
5. Chapter 5 by Dernhelm
6. Chapter 6 by Dernhelm
7. Chapter 7 by Dernhelm
8. Chapter 8 by Dernhelm
9. Chapter 9 by Dernhelm
10. Chapter 10 by Dernhelm
11. Chapter 11 by Dernhelm
12. Chapter 12 by Dernhelm
13. Chapter 13 by Dernhelm
14. Chapter 14 by Dernhelm
15. Epilogue by Dernhelm
Dunder-Mifflin was a tiny village, lost in Yorkshire moorlands and known only by those who had had the pleasure to be born in it. The time was still there; the society remained constant, and everyone knew what to expect from each other. And some of the Dunder-Mifflin long-livers could predict the fate of locals even before they were born.
This state, however, had been altered after the new owner of Dunder Hall had taken ownership. Sir Michael Scott was a kind, amiable man, in whom the lack of manners and intelligence was offset by genuine cordiality. He had made a fortune on goods from West-Indies, had gotten a noble title, and had married a beautiful woman, who was sensible enough not to reject his hand and his four thousand pounds a year.
So, they had settled in Dunder Hall and had met local society. Sir Michael had found it charmingly earthy and lovely unpretentious. The society, in its turn, had found new landlord and his wife too fancy and fashionable for its taste. Although, since Lord and Lady Scott had invited respectable members of Dunder-Mifflin society to hunt or play cards and organized other unsophisticated entertainment, the opinion of commoners had changed from hostility to warmth.
Sir Michael had been basking in the glory of his status and respect from his tenants. Lady Scott, however, had not been as happy as her husband. The delight of the good fortune and the title had been replaced with boredom and yearning for intelligent discussions. She had found her only companion in Mrs. Beesly, a young wife of one of her husband’s tenants. A newlywed had suffered from similar ailment; she was a sister of a local clergyman and had had a misfortune to fall in love with an officer who had visited his relatives in Dunder-Mifflin. An elopement had been prevented. The officer had left without intention to return, and the young woman had been forced to marry a reasonable farmer ten years older than she, who had agreed to take her as his wife. For the sophisticated and romantic Mrs. Beesly, such a union had been barely bearable; and she had found solace in her flourishing friendship with Lady Scott. They had spent most of the time together, reading novels, making visits, or just gossiping or making fun of the faddinesses of their local society. No wonder that when Mrs. Beesly had given birth to a girl, she had named her after a heroine of their beloved novel. No wonder that Lady Scott had become a godmother of little miss Beesly. No wonder that when Mrs. Beesly had died three years later, Lady Scott had taken care of the girl and had raised her as her own daughter. She had shared with her goddaughter her opinion about this or that, had polished her manners, had shaped her tastes, and had encouraged her talents. To the local’s concern, Miss Beesly had been raising as a lady, whom a farmer’s daughter would have never become. And, when Lady Scott had passed away, someone had said, cautiously, that Lady Scott had been a peculiar woman indeed, though she would have been missed more if she hadn’t confused girls with fancy things and unrealistic fantasies. But the damage, at least for young Miss Beesly, had been done, though she could have hidden slightest glimpses of it.
Miss Pamela Beesly had been a quiet, lovely child and had become a pretty young woman with sweet wit and gentle manners. Her father had married the second time and, though he loved his eldest daughter dearly, he paid a little attention to her thoughts and needs. Sir Michael, partly because of memory of his wife, partly because of his own kindly heart, hadn’t forgotten to show her a small sight of attention, though his attempts to take care of Pamela rarely include anything but a new bonnet or a yard of colorful ribbons. Tiny lights of excitement that had been sparked by Lady Scott’s tutelage were almost hushed under the farm’s routine and the village monotony. Pamela had felt lonely without her dear godmother and had been growing with that feeling. Loneliness had become her second nature, despite her attempts to dispose off it - or humble with it. She knew, what the society expected from her, she was aware of her father’s plan about her future - a marriage with a well-respected farmer’s son from one or another family - and didn’t have any strength to change her own fate. So, when one of the Andersons’ boys, mumbling and shifting from one foot to the other, had asked for her hand, Pamela had felt a strange relief and simply answered ‘Yes.’
That had taken place five years ago, and she hadn’t had a name Anderson yet, though no one blamed her for it. The reason for such a long engagement was, as usual, in similar situations, money. Soon after Anderson’s proposal, old Mr. Martin - the clergyman and Pamela’s uncle - had died and left after himself only a few goods and chattels and a spinster daughter without a livelihood. Miss Martin had found a home under the Beeslys’ roof, but their earnings always were limited, and there was no money for a proper dowry for the eldest Miss Beesly. The Andersons had offered to wait with the wedding, the Beeslys had agreed; Pamela (as well as Mr. Anderson) might have had other thoughts about the subject, but they hadn’t shared them - not even with each other.
Five years had gone as one long and endless winter day. It would be an incorrect assumption that nothing in Dunder-Mifflin had happened at all. Their society had had a new member, Mr. Schrute, a strict German-born clergyman, who had derived pleasure in describing the torture of sinners in hell and praising the merits of Sir Michael. Mrs. Palmer had lost her husband, and miss Lapin had gotten one. And, after sir Michael had discovered the dishonest nature of his housekeeper and had dismissed her, he proposing Pamela to take her place. Almost without hesitation, she had agreed. She needed money for her wedding, after all.
Yet still, despite all changes - for better and for worse - these five years hadn’t brought much in a state of Pamela’s mind.
Not until Sir Michael had decided to buy a library.
What do you think? Should I continue or just drop it now?
Also, since I'm not an English speaker, I would like to find a beta.
First of all, thank you all for your comments and support - you inspire me to write and feel dizzy. And many thanks to wonderful JennaBennett who agreed to beta read it and make the story better.
One of the most remarkable, yet odd qualities of Sir Michael was his perpetual need for entertainment - both for himself and his circle of acquaintances. Ideas of what he could find amusing visited his mind constantly, but the lack of education and good taste made them either indelicate or unrealistic. Sir Michael presented his new ideas to Pamela, ignoring her gentle efforts to dissuade him, made a few attempts to gain what he wanted, and then, in most cases, quit his deal and complained about such injustice and ingratitude to his patient housekeeper. Pamela could only reassure him that each unsuccessful deed wasn’t worth his sorrows and pray to the Lord silently that she could prevent another thoughtless expenditure of his fortune.
But in exceptional cases, her soothing influence on Sir Michael was defeated with his conviction. He had received a letter from an old friend of his, who had written something about the royal library. Then he had had a conversation with Mr. Schrute, who had described flamingly the dangers of ignorance, which he had noticed so often among his parishioners. These two occasions had lead to the decision to purchase a proper amount of books which could be used both by Sir Michael and his acquaintance.
Pamela had never seen Sir Michael so passionate about anything before. He had decided to be a Maecenas; to enlighten the Dunder-Mifflin commoners and gain their endless gratitude. Neither lack of knowing what he should start with, nor the amount of expense did not bother him. Sir Michael radiated a cheerful mood; he recounted to everyone whom he could see about the benefits of his future library, leaving to Pamela deal with correspondence to bookstores and library owners. And Pamela found quite a joy in ordering tomes and dictionaries, works of historians and philosophers, novels and poetry; she even could allow herself to order a few novels she had wished to read herself.
A few weeks after Pamela had sent the first letters, the books started to arrive. Sir Michael was delighted, but this feeling was soon replaced with confusion and annoyance. He did not know how to arrange such a thing as the library; he had more critical deeds to be concerned about. Pamela should do it, he decided after short cogitation. The library was a part of the house; hence, it was her responsibility. And yet, after her gentle refusals and persuasions of searching the proper expert, Sir Michael wrote another letter to his old scholar friend and asked for someone to be sent who had dealt with arranging libraries previously.
‘Well, Pamela, I dare to say you should be proud of yourself. Some dull old scholar from Oxford will certainly be a charming addition to our circle, won’t he?’ Sir Michael said with a mocking grumble.
‘Not at all, Sir Michael,’ she replied. ‘And yet, if that means that you will have your library organized and fulfilled, I could endure any company you apply me for.’
Sir Michael laughed, and his spirits improved.
A week was followed by a week. Sir Michael expected the promised scholar every day, but neither the letters came, nor he. Sir Michael complained to Pamela constantly about his misfortune and the lack of responsibility that he found so often in others. She was patient with him, and yet she felt fatigued of his behavior, therefore when she gained an opportunity to spend some time out of the mansion, she would take it eagerly.
It was the end of November. Pamela had paid a call to her family and had no hurry in returning to the Dunder Hall. Instead, she was wandering among the hills, enjoying the fresh air and the last days of an unusually warm autumn. Pamela even allowed herself to loose the ribbons of her bonnet and take it off. She climbed on the Heather Hill and settled on a log, observing the scenery, wanting to capture this peaceful moment for an eternity both in her mind and on paper. Pamela was about to charcoal the landscape when she noticed a horseman in the distance. She watched him for some time; apparently, he saw her too as he changed his direction and rode to her. Pamela hastily put her bonnet back, hid her drawings, and stood up.
‘I am sorry to bother you, but could I ask you for help?’ the horseman said, raising his top hat. Even with disheveled hair and crooked cravat, he seemed to be a gentleman. ‘I am expected in Dunder-Mifflin, and I am terribly lost in these moorlands. I do not want to miss the unforgivable entertainment I was promised.’
‘You must have a foe somewhere,’ Pamela answered. ‘Only a truly wicked person could suggest you find any entertainment in Dunder-Mifflin.’
The horseman smiled light-heartedly.
‘Heavens, no. That thought had never occurred to me, though it explains a lot,’ he paused for a moment or two. ‘And yet again, I humbly ask you for help. Could you tell me, miss, where could I find Dunder-Mifflin, where I ought to spend my days in monotony and misery?’
Pamela gave him a small smile and pointed over the hills behind her.
‘You could find the village in that direction, though I hope misery remains unfound.’
‘Lord bless your kindness, miss,’ he raised his top hat again. ‘Have a good day.’
The man rode away, leaving Pamela alone to watch him until he reached the farther hill and disappeared. She returned to the log and prepared to charcoal again, but she realised very soon that the lighting worsened, and her absence for so long would be noticed. So she gathered her belongings and walked to the Dunder Hall.
When Pamela entered the hall, she heard the exaggeratedly gleeful voice of Sir Michael, which seemed to fill every chamber of the mansion. She took off her bonnet, her gloves, and her coat, and stepped timidly into the room where Sir Michael’s voice sounded the loudest.
‘Here she is!’ Sir Michael greeted her with raising a glass of Marsala in his hand. ‘I was worried about where you have gone. We have a guest, dear.’
Pamela sighted a man sitting in the armchair near the fireplace and immediately recognised the horseman from the moorlands. He stood up and smiled, obviously making a similar observation.
‘May I introduce to you Mr. Halpert,’ Sir Michael continued. ‘And this is Miss Beesly, my housekeeper.’
Pamela curtseyed, Mr. Halpert bowed. Sir Michael seemed to be entirely pleased with the gathering.
‘I have told you, dear, he would be an excellent addition to our modest society,’ he exclaimed with genuine delight. ‘We have known each other for less than an hour, and I could say certainly he is the nicest young man I have ever met.’
Pamela looked at Mr. Halpert briefly to see him hiding his embarrassment taking a sip of his wine.
‘I am glad, Sir Michael, that you made such a fascinating acquaintance,’ she said with a smile.
‘Acquaintance? I could name young James - you do not mind some familiarity, do you? - I could name him one of my dearest friends!’
‘I have no doubts, Sir Michael. But I should remind you that you could resume your conversation during dinner. You have some correspondence to reply, and Mr. Halpert must be tired after such a long journey. Besides, you have invited Mr. Schrute to dinner, haven’t you? You could discuss the matter of the library and the church school then.’
‘I suppose you are right,’ Sir Michael sighed, ‘though it does not bring me any joy. Could you show to our guest his chambers? And, James, I expected you to complete that story about Lord Wallace’s hunting.’
‘Certainly, Sir,’ Mr. Halpert answered politely.
‘Well, well, go have some rest,’ Sir Michael poured himself more wine when Pamela left the room, followed by Mr. Halpert.
‘To be honest,’ he said after a short silence, ‘I did not expect such a kindly greeting. But, without a doubt, it is something I cannot call unentertaining.’
‘It was improper for me to suggest something like that,’ she said. ‘I ask your forgiveness for my incorrect assumption.’
‘Well, you have it. Even more, I am certain I lost my chance to find misery there, so your wish accomplished.’
‘I would like to hear about it after you make an acquaintance with Mr. Schrute.’ Pamela answered. ‘I dare to say you could expect any kind of peculiar behavior from that man. He could be a prude, a flatterer, an oxhead and a reasonable man and I have not the slightest notion about which one of them he will decide to be at the dinner.’
Mr. Halpert laughed and said nothing. Pamela stopped near a guest room door and unlocked it with her key.
‘I leave you here and let you take some rest,’ she said, giving him the key. ‘The dinner will be at seven. As a rule, Sir Michael does not tolerate delays, but I assume he might make an exception for you,’ she lingered for a moment, adding ‘If you need something, ring a bell and let me know.’
‘Actually, I do need something,’ Mr. Halpert looked briefly at his room and locked the door. ‘May I ask you to show me the supposed library? I need to know how much work I ought to do.’
Pamela obeyed, leading him to the floor below and into the big dark room. She started to lit candles, and they cast light on the empty shelves, negligent piles of books, wrapped and unwrapped packages. Mr. Halpert looked around thoughtfully and picked up a tome of Wordsworth’s poetry.
‘Perhaps, I should start with this,’ he said lightly.
‘Actually, this is my book, and it does not belong to Sir Michael,’ Pamela said, reaching out to take her belonging back.
‘Do you like poetry, Miss Beesly?’ he asked, making no intention to return the book and leafed over the pages.
‘I am quite fond of poetry,’ Pamela replied, still holding a hand.
Mr. Halpert looked at a miniature pencil illustration on the second page and the letters ‘P. B.’ in the corner. He smiled briefly and gave the book to her.
‘I should say, Miss Beesly, I notice an injustice. You know my name, and I do not know yours.’
‘Oh, I assure you, Sir Michael will amend that fairly soon,’ she answered with a polite smile.
‘But may I guess?’ he begged, and, as she nodded, continued. ‘I presume it is Penelope.’
‘No, that is my sister’s name,’ Pamela found herself amused.
‘True. So, you have a younger sister. She is Miss Penelope Beesly, and you are just Miss Beesly.’
Mr. Halpert mused over another version.
‘I dare to suggest it is Philadelphia then.’
‘What?’ Pamela laughed. ‘Oh, no. I am not that kind of woman.’
‘And what kind of woman has the name Philadelphia?’ he asked teasingly.
‘Well, I cannot be sure, but it is a name for someone more elegant, more adventurous and, for sure, more wealthy. For someone from novels, not from Dunder-Mifflin.’
Mr. Halpert looked at her musingly.
‘Your name cannot be Polly or Peggy. They are too plain and do not suit you.’
Pamela felt herself blushing, hoping it was not noticeable in the dim light of candles.
‘Pamela, dear, where are you?’ they heard Sir Michael’s calling from upstairs. ‘I desperately need your opinion! Pamela!’
‘As I presumed before, Sir Michael has restored that unfortunate injustice,’ she said with a meek smile, and hastened to her master.
‘So it is Pamela then,’ Mr. Halpert said lightly, bowing at her leave. ‘Pleased to meet you, Miss Beesly.’
Philadelphia was the name of Jane Austen's aunt, who had a quite adventurous life. I couldn't resist the temptation to add something that relates both with Austen and 'The Office.'
I'll try my best to update once a week.
‘And then I served them biscuits, but only Sir Michael took one. That is so strange. I mean - who refuses biscuits?’
It was Saturday morning in the Dunder Hall. The servants had done their morning deeds and had morning tea before returning to their duties. Sir Michael’s household included a few people besides himself - Mr. Hudson, a butler; Mrs. Vance, a cook; Pamela, a housekeeper; a few maids and stable boys; and Kevin, a footman and Sir Michael’s valet. The latter had served during the gentlemen’s dinner and was describing in a slow and low voice how it had passed.
‘Oh, Kevin, as much I want to hear about the dinner, there are more important matters to know about,’ said Mrs. Vance, making a cup of tea and giving it to Kevin. ‘Tell us what they were talking about? Where did this Mr. Halpert come from? How long does he plan to stay? Is he married?’
Pamela was silent, mending one of Sir Michael’s shirts, though she caught every word.
‘In my opinion, it is not our business,’ Mr. Hudson interrupted, folding a newspaper that Sir Michael had given him previously. ‘Mind your pots and kettles, not gentlemen’s conversations.’
‘Oh, shush, Mr. Hudson. It is my business. What I am supposed to do if that new gentleman has a too delicate taste to like my concoction?’
‘Do not make a tasteless concoction then,’ the butler returned his attention to the newspaper before him.
‘Mr. Halpert ate a macedoine of fruits with jelly and said he liked it,’ said Kevin and sipped his tea. He supplemented nothing to his previous narrative and thus concluded Pamela’s opportunity to discover more about Mr. Halpert’s character.
She had an occasion, though, the very next day when Sir Michael and his household were preparing to go to the church. The church and the parsonage were just across the mansion's park; as Sir Michael lead his guest and his servants to the destination, Pamela almost immediately found Mr. Halpert walking by her side.
‘I have to say I am grateful to you for your caution about Mr. Schrute. Without it, I doubt I would have made a polite conversation with him. Though, I had an impression he had had all the intentions to despise me.’
‘I am sorry to hear that. The loss of good opinion of Mr. Schrute is the loss forever,’ she said. ‘Perhaps, you might be comforted with the thought that Mr. Schrute might mention you and your virtues in his sermon.’
‘Oh, that is too much honor for my humble person,’ Mr. Halpert smiled and added after a short pause. ‘You are quite familiar with Mr. Schrute’s temper, aren’t you?’
‘It is one of the few positive qualities of a small society. Your purposes of observations are limited. Hence you can explore them the best way.’
Shortly, they reached the church. Sir Michael, escorted by Mr. Halpert, took a seat on the front bench, a place reserved exclusively for the landlord, his relatives, and special guests. Pamela sat on one of the distant benches near the aisle, where her father, stepmother, sister, and cousin had already taken seats. She could see the back of Mr. Halpert’s head in a few rows down the aisle, though she tried not to watch him that much. The appearance of Sir Michael was a signal to Mr. Schrute to start the sermon. He planted himself behind his pulpit and opened the Bible.
Mr. Schrute of a kind was a remarkably successful preacher. His sermons were accomplished, he read them with a passion of a true believer, and his deeds in the parish always were reasonable and forehanded. And yet, Pamela could not make herself listen to his preaching too long. She had noticed once that Mr. Schrute either comminated his parishioners for their shallow sins, using the excerptions from the New Testament or adulated Sir Michael in an unsubtle manner, referring to the aforementioned book. Firstly, Pamela had found joy in the attempt to unriddle who or what had bothered Mr. Schrute that week, though his cues always were direct, and she had palled with her little entertainment quickly.
Meanwhile, Mr. Schrute read a piece from the Matthew, his voice loud and accusing, his gaze piercing the front row.
‘His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.’
Pamela followed Mr. Schrute’s gaze. That expatiation was obviously meant for Sir Michael, thought her master probably did not notice the hidden message behind it. She was wondering what had happened during the dinner if the central theme of this sermon, for sure, was the good and the bad servants.
Mr. Schrute shifted slightly and looked intently at Mr. Halpert.
‘Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
For sure, Mr. Halpert was right, and Mr. Schrute saw a foe in his person. Pamela wondered how such an amiable man as Mr. Halpert was could cause such a strong abhorrence in Mr. Schrute. That demeanour fueled her curiosity.
As the clergyman draw his attention to another subject, Mr. Halpert unexpectedly turned his head to Pamela, the amusement, and the broad smile spread on his face. She returned her own small and polite smile and cast her eyes down. Pamela felt quite ashamed with the fact she had been caught staring at the gentleman during the Sunday worship.
After the service was over, the members of Dunder-Mifflin parish started to leave the church, expecting all the pleasures that could provide the Sunday afternoon. For Pamela, that meant almost the whole day she could spend with her family instead of Sir Michael’s company, though, for the first time, she briefly might have chosen the latter.
As before, Mr. Halpert found a place near her. Nothing in his demeanor displayed that the visible cues of the sermon affected him.
‘That was quite impressive,’ he began with a pleased smile.
‘I hope you are not disappointed with this dedication in your honor, Mr. Halpert?’ she asked. ‘Today, Mr. Schrute was especially eloquent.’
‘Heavens, not at all,’ he chuckled. ‘I have never been praised more in my life before. I should return the favour, shouldn’t I. It would be polite.’
‘It would,’ Pamela agreed. ‘Have you already pondered something particularly?’
‘Perhaps. Perhaps, it would be entertaining to persuade Mr. Schrute to include a specific theme or phase in his next sermon. Something harmful and yet expressive. I was thinking about the false prophets' theme. You know the local rules and viewpoints, how it would be perceived?’
‘Well, I could tell you, though I do not want to deprive you of pleasure to make your own observations,’ she said with a small smile.
‘So true,’ Mr. Halpert laughed and lowered his voice. ‘And yet, I would appreciate some hints. Could I count on you as my ally?’
Before Pamela could answer, they heard an exclamation ‘Pam!’ and watched the approaching of a young farmer.
‘Mr. Halpert,’ Pamela said ‘may I present you Mr. Anderson, my fiance. Mr. Anderson, this is Mr. Halpert, a guest of Sir Michael.’
The men exchanged short bows, and Mr. Anderson proposed her his hand.
‘I shall see you tomorrow, I guess. Have a good day,’ she said to Mr. Halpert, as she took her fiance’s hand and went with him.
Pamela admitted, she was both relieved and awkward with the appearance of Mr. Anderson. She did not know how to react to Mr. Halpert's amicability. She told herself that it was nothing but a natural wish of every person who stayed at an unknown place to know as much about a new location as possible. And yet, Pamela could neither agree to provide that information to Mr. Halpert nor refuse. Something about being an ally to a barely known gentleman, almost stranger, seemed inappropriate. She would like to find that the first impression of Mr. Halpert was accurate, and he was genuine in his deeds and intentions. But after such a short acquaintance, she could not allow herself to be imprudent.
The second thought was dwelling in her mind while she listened half-heartedly to Mr. Anderson’s plans for the renovation of his father’s farm, while they met her family, as they were carting to the Beesly’s farm, during the Sunday dinner. Pamela always thought she was fortunate herself. Unlike many other young women, she had nothing to complain about. Surely, she had her chagrins and misfortunes, but who did not have? Pamela was quite satisfied with the position in the society she occupied and had never pretended to become someone more. And yet, a meeting with an educated person, a gentleman, stroke her with a realisation that she was nothing but a servant. She might have had a glimpse of good taste and manners, though they did not change the fact that her life belonged to Dunder-Mifflin. She felt ashamed that Mr. Halpert had witnessed a rusticity of her surroundings, even though she had no intention to impress him or hide her true origination. But somehow, the idea that Mr. Halpert thought low of her was insufferable.
'So, Sir Michael has a guest,' said Mr. Beesly. 'A young gentleman at the sermon, who is he?
'Mr. Halpert,' Pamela answered. 'He is from Oxford, I guess. Sir Michael hired him to arrange his library.'
'I know fellows like he,' Mr. Anderson snorted. 'Fancy lads, who care more about clothes than a real business. I bet he is a rake.’
‘Mr. Anderson!’ Miss Martin exclaimed. ‘How could you say that about a gentleman? Even if,’ she added with a brief smile, ‘that is true.’
‘I always say what I think,’ Mr. Anderson said, and Pamela knew he was genuinely proud of it. ‘I think that Sir Michael made a mistake. Why does he need a library anyway? He has plenty of books already, and buying more is just a waste of money. If you ask me, I could spend them more reasonable. And this Mr. Halpert, for sure, tries to milk Sir Michael as much as he can.’
‘Well, well, I think Sir Michael has his reasons to do it. Does he not, Pammy?’ Mr. Beesly said.
‘Yes, I guess,’ Pamela answered. She did not want to add more to the conversation, she did not want to participate.
The dinner was over, and Mr. Anderson said goodbye, asking Pamela to meet him somewhere during the following week; she agreed, though his doings today had slightly upset her. He shook her hand and went home; Pamela waited before he went out of sight and returned to her father’s home.
Miss Martin and Penelope cleaned up the table. Pamela joined them; she felt ashamed that she spent most of her days in the comfort of Dunder Hall while her relatives must spend all the time in the same old and cramped farm and tried to ease her guilt by helping her family on each occasion.
The rest of the evening went in quiet and comfortable silence. Mr. Beesly and Miss Martin read, Mrs. Beesly mended clothes, the Misses Beesly made embroidery, whispering about fiddle-faddle. Pamela felt so peaceful and contented that she barely wanted to return to the Dunder Hall.
She must do it, though. Before leaving, she gave her father two guineas - three-quarters of her monthly salary.
‘You are a good girl, Pammy,’ Mr. Beesly said and kissed her forehead. ‘God bless your heart. I think we could cut our costs a little. That saves us a few dozen of pounds, and with them, you could marry Mr. Anderson the very next year. What do you say, dear?’
If someone said I quoted the 17th century Bible in the story dedicated to the 21st century TV show, I would not believe it. But here I am... and it's feel good.
Your reviews inspire me!
As usual, Sir Michael spent his day in the way most people called idleness. His habitual companions were either Pamela or Mr. Schrute. The former served during the day, holding conversations, listening to his complaints, and running errands; the latter was the usual guest at dinners and afterward. The landlord and the clergyman spent evenings at the card table, and during the games, Mr. Schrute entertained Sir Michael, telling about the latest tidings at the parish, suggesting improvements both in the parsonage and in the mansion, or exposing the lacks of Sir Michael's servants. On rare occasions, when the game demanded a third player, they asked Pamela to join their circle. She quite enjoyed these times, noticing for herself the silliness of her companions’ worries, though she remained silent.
This routine had changed significantly with the arrival of Mr. Halpert. Sir Michael was delighted with his guest and declared that he could not get by without him. Mr. Halpert accompanied Sir Michael when he paid visits to Dunder-Mifflin or went hunting; he became a permanent member at the card games. Mr. Schrute was forgotten; he was rarely invited to the Dunder Hall, and his sermons were full of wrath against the sycophants, evil workers, and heathens.
Pamela had also been temporarily expelled from the inner circle of Sir Michael, though she suffered her expulsion with much less pain than Mr. Schute. She took her time, dedicating it to everyday deeds, her paintings, or observation. And the more Pamela observed, the more she realised she could not nurse a grievance against Mr. Halpert even if she had the intention to do that. Though her capabilities of observation were limited, Pamela made use of each of them; and after a few weeks of Mr. Halpert’s presence in the Dunder Hall, she perceived that she had never met a person like him before.
The constant demands of Sir Michael left Mr. Halpert very little time to his actual work. With that, Mr. Halpert spent in the library room less than a few hours a day. He said after his third week in the Dunder Hall he had thought he needed a month or two to complete his assignment, but with the new circumstances, he might have stayed more than he had expected. He shared that thought with Sir Michael and his housekeeper. Sir Michael refused to accept apologies and told him to take all the time he needed, proclaiming that he enjoyed Mr. Halpert’s company and had no hurry with the library. And Pamela added nothing to it but a small smile.
‘I’ve looked at the list of your books,’ he continued after a verbose expatiation of the master and gentle encouragement of his servant. ‘I must admit your collection shows your deep knowledge and sophisticated taste.’
Sir Michael took that with great pleasure. When he turned to take one or two of the most favourite tomes, Mr. Halpert nodded slightly to Pamela, giving her a knowing smile. He returned his attention to Sir Michael’s speechifying and left Pamela with the impression that his praise was meant to her.
‘I might recommend to include some more authors to your collection,’ said Mr. Halpert to Sir Michael, ‘if you would like it. Though I assume, your collection is quite complete. But you mentioned your library would be used by the dwellers of the parsonage, didn’t you? In that case, I should definitely suggest a few tomes to purchase.’
Pamela tilted her head down to hide a smile. The strife between Mr. Schrute and Mr. Halpert had appeared almost immediately, though it was not wholly the fault of the latter. He just had the misfortune of having Sir Michael’s fondness, having not enough reverence before the clergy to ask for forgiveness for nonexistent sins, and having that kind of temper that did not allow him to miss an opportunity to laugh at the foolishness. All these qualities made him the worst example of humankind in Mr. Schrute’s eyes, and he did not tire to say that aloud to anyone who agreed to listen. Mr. Halpert’s responses were much more subtle, and Pamela sincerely enjoyed that game.
‘Oh, yes, I think so,’ said Sir Michael. ‘Schrute complains about ignorance too often, and if he does not want to educate himself - I shall be the first to call him a hypocrite! What kind of literature do you suggest?’
‘As the preacher must be a paragon to his parishioners, I might recommend a few theological pens. Like ‘The Monk’ by Mr. Lewis.’
‘Eh! It sounds like something Schrute would like,’ Sir Michael grunted. ‘Very well, make a list and give it to Pamela, she will purchase all of that.’
With that, he left the library room.
‘I dare to say that book is anything but a theological tome,’ Pamela said, unable to hide her smile anymore.
‘I suppose so,’ Mr. Halpert shrugged. ‘Though I strongly do not recommend that kind of literature to the young ladies.’
‘You say so? But for the pious cleric, that kind of literature is quite appropriate, isn’t it?’
Mr. Halpert laughed.
‘Mr. Schrute is proud of his ability to finish every deed he had once started. I just would like to allow him to prove such an outstanding virtue. And now you are laughing, Miss Beesly. You can say nothing against my purpose, can you?’
‘Probably, not. If Sir Michael gives Mr. Schrute a gift, he certainly will accept it, and his gratitude will be beyond measure. Even if he gives him a lump of coal.'
'I shall be delighted to witness that! Perhaps, we can persuade Sir Michael to make such a gift, can't we?'
'Perhaps,' answered Pamela with a smile. After all, there was no harm in this kind of teasing.
After a more careful inspection of Sir Michael's gathering of books, Mr. Halpert had found several old tomes, which conditions left a lot to be desired. He could repair them, Mr. Halpert said to Sir Michael, he had all the necessary tools in Oxford. If Sir Michael allowed him, he went to bring them and returned in a week or two, because it would have been a shame if Sir Michael’s collection had lacks that might have been eliminated so easy. Sir Michael, pleased with such a delicacy and attention to his person and his demands, agreed. With it, Mr. Halpert departed, promising to return as soon as possible.
The first week had gone without a single piece of news. The next brought a letter from Mr. Halpert. He had sent his excuses; an unexpected business had kept him in the city. He had repented about that and asked if Sir Michael could have given him his forgiveness. Otherwise, Mr. Halpert felt he wasn’t worth his position at Sir Michael’s society and may have found another scholar, who would be blessed to take care of the Dunder Hall library. Sir Michael, after grumbling and pitying himself, send an answer, in which he had given him pardon and asked to keep him in touch. So correspondence between Sir Michael and Mr. Halpert ensued.
Pamela did not read the letters and did not write the answers. Her task was to pay for the delivery and bring the envelopes with sprawling handwriting ‘J.H.’ to Sir Michael. But she knew her master too well. Every time, after the correspondence was delivered, she found how to busy herself nearby Sir Michael’s cabinet; and he was more than glad to share his thoughts about Mr. Halpert’s letter with the nearest living soul.
In that way, Pamela discovered that Mr. Halpert was from a respected family from Hampshire; that he had two older brothers and a sister; that he was a fellow student of Mr. Howard - Sir Michael’s third cousin and the heir of the Dunder Hall; that he had been blessed with the patronage of Lord Wallace, who, according to Sir Michael, was one of the most remarkable people in the whole kingdom. She listened to Sir Michael’s exciting voice with a polite smile, nodding to his story and adding some meaningless remarks. Pamela wondered if a person with such excellent relations would have ever planned to return to their godforsaken village. And, during the Midnight Mass, listening to Mr. Schrute oration and singing along to the carols, she was wondering what Mr. Halpert would have said about the theme of disloyalty and faithfulness, that was shown through the whole sermon.
He returned in the middle of January, with tools for mending the books and the news from the outer world. Sir Michael greeted him as his own son; the discovered acquaintance with Mr. Howard had made Mr. Halpert an especially welcome guest. For many years, Sir Michael had wished to have his heir nearby, but every invitation had been followed by polite and courteous rejection. Sir Michael explained it proudly that it was the great ambitions that kept his heir in the city, though Pamela suspected that he simply had no desire to spend any time so far away from the high society. As before, the main reason for Mr. Halpert staying in the Dunder Hall was forgotten; Sir Michael craved for the news, and his guest had to oblige.
And yet, in some early hours, when Sir Michael was still resting, Mr. Halpert actually did his work. And in these hours, Pamela always found herself in the library room - replying to the correspondence, filling the account book, or doing her other everyday deeds. It was so easy to work together, in comfortable silence or with light conversation, and in these hours, she discovered a new side of his character. Pamela had known him as a witty collocutor and a well educated young man, but now she had found out that he was indeed a professional of his craft. She tried not to stare too much, though it was not easy, and each time, she involuntarily admitted his skillfulness and his humble pride of the work well done.
It was the beginning of February when the last book had been repaired, and Mr. Halpert had finally started to make a catalogue. He put aside a pile of poetry books and chose a tome of Wordsworth.
‘Have I told you about my experience with Lord Wallace's library?’ he asked Pamela curiously.
‘No, but I would like to hear that story,’ Pamela said.
‘Well, I have made a catalogue for him too. He has a very tasteful collection and had demanded to have his catalogue as much suitable as possible. He had even hired an illustrator to make decorations. Some Italian, I do not quite remember his name. So,’ he added after a short pause, ‘what do you think, Miss Beesly, would Sir Michael like to have illustrations on his catalogue as well?’
‘I think Sir Michael would be delighted to have his collection similar to the collection of Lord Wallace,’ she answered carefully. That was true, though she did not think Sir Michael could afford to hire an illustrator.
‘So do I,’ he agreed. ‘Well, in that case… I was wondering if you agreed to help me with the illustrations.’
‘What do you mean, Mr. Halpert?’ she asked. Did he want her to persuade Sir Michael to spend more money on an unnecessary garnishment?
He smiled and showed her an empty page in the tome he was holding.
‘That illustration in your book, you had made it, hadn’t you? It would be lovely if you made such a work for the whole catalogue.’
‘Oh,’ Pamela said. ‘Perhaps, it would, but I am not skillful enough to make it. I cannot compare with that Italian master, and Sir Michael, as you know, demands all the best.’
‘I think you are. And you can. Well, truth to be told, not now, but in a few years, that Italian might be defeated.’
Pamela blushed and said nothing. It was the first time since her godmother had passed that someone had praised her paintings; the only time when someone noticed her paintings at all.
‘You are too kind, Mr. Halpert,’ she said at last.
‘You are too modest, Miss Beesly,’ he answered. ‘And I take it as agreement. I shall talk to Sir Michael about illustrations. I suppose he will be thrilled to find an excellent illustrator right under his very nose.’
Sir Michael was thrilled indeed. Pamela showed him her pieces of work, and he found them delightful. He said he would pay her twenty pounds for her work - an enormous sum for Pamela. And, to everyone’s pleasure, the deal was made. Sir Michael would have the library worthy of Lord Wallace himself; Mr. Beesly was glad his daughter would make additional money which allowed to bring her wedding day a few months closer; Pamela relished the opportunity to work with Mr. Halpert without any ploys and excuses. As for Mr. Halpert, he also might have some gains from the arrangement, though they remained concealed.
As much as Pamela enjoyed Mr. Halpert’s company and her new assignment, her other concerns did not allow her to dedicate all of her time to her delight. The pantries had to be filled, the servants had to be paid, and the dozens of other errands had to be run. And, with the approaching of March, she had to take charge of another urgent deed.
Sir Michael rarely left his mansion and the boundaries of Dunder-Mifflin, though the outer world always kept his attention. In an attempt to reproduce the ton of London, he organised annual assemblies. The main event was the opening of Dunder-Mifflin season, which coincided with the season in the City, but more suited to rustic tastes of Sir Michael and the local society. As usual, it would take place at the village's only inn and included dancing, card playing, and plenty of treats to satisfy the most insatiable guests; every farmer and villager who was respected enough by his neighbors could expect an invitation. This year, though, Sir Michael demanded to make special efforts to the preparations; and Pamela noticed gladly that Mr. Halpert seemed to be interested in the following assembly.
The inn was a small, crowded, grimy place; like many other small, crowded, grimy inns all around the kingdom, it had a mannered and pompous name. There was a sign above the entrance reading ‘The Chivalrous Lion,’ though only half of the letters kept their bright red colour and the heraldic lion had been portrayed by a person who had never seen lions before. Despite these lacks, the inn was quite popular among the villagers and farmers; it was the place where they could rest after the long working day with a pint of ale or stronger beverages. The innkeeper, Mrs. Palmer, inherited it after her late husband. She was notorious for her affection to gin, but commoners forgave her addiction for her excellent temper and friendliness.
So, with the blessing of Sir Michael, the cheer of Mr. Halpert and all the assistance Mrs. Palmer could give, Pamela was puzzling over the problems of how to prepare the room for at least fifteen dancing pairs; how many card tables would be needed this year; the matter of treats, music, and invitations.
‘I have to say though I have visited plenty of balls, I have never witnessed the preparations to them,’ Mr. Halpert said to Pamela. They barely saw each other these days, and Pamela was pleased when he had decided that he would join her in her walk to the village instead of asking her to bring him his order from the haberdashery. ‘It looks quite agitating.’
‘It does, and it is. Though, I would rather prefer to be the one who does not know how the event is organised and sees the assembly room for the first time only on arrival.’
‘What a coincidence! And I would like to be the one who does all the things. I am sure I would arrange a lovely gathering.’
‘Oh, really? Well, since we cannot change our roles, I shall appreciate it if you share with me some of your ideas. Perhaps, I could steal them and use some of them as my own,’ Pamela said with an encouraging smile.
‘Hmm, let me think,’ he answered with the exaggerated muse. ‘Well, first of all, I would cut the time.’
‘Cut the time? What do you mean, Mr. Halpert?’
‘The assemblies last too long, in my opinion. Even the best ones. It is said the last thing is remembered the most, and I dare to say that it is very true. The assemblies in the city usually last until the middle of the night or the dawn. Every reasonable conversation is over, and guests are too tired to make a new one, so they are doomed to repeat again and again the same nonsense. Half of them has drunk more than enough and rests somewhere, the other half complains about tiredness, stuffiness, or sluggishness of the servants. The dancing court is almost empty; only the most eager or the most enamored pairs are continuing. And no one of them thinks about the poor musicians who play the same contredanses, minuets, and reels for hours. I have seen too many gatherings that had started as a promising event and ended that way. So, I presume it would be better if the assemblies closed by midnight. Guests would have had plenty of time to dance, to play, and to have a conversation, and they would have not had time to get tired. Perhaps, they even would have been sorry, but they would have felt it for the end of the lovely evening, not for attending the assembly in the first place.’
‘I am sorry to hear about your disappointment,’ Pamela said sympathetically. ‘And you should know that this event will for sure finish before midnight. The commoners have to wake up early, so…’
‘Good. I already love this assembly more than half of London’s,’ Mr. Halpert nodded in approval.
‘Would you like to change something more?’ she asked.
‘Certainly. I would make sure that every young lady has a partner for every dance she would like to dance. I have never witnessed the more sorrowful picture than a pretty young woman sitting alone at the wall while her friends and sisters are dancing. She dressed up the most elegant way and prepared herself to spend the evening with pleasure, and instead, she gains nothing but sadness. If I organise the ball, I shall make every gentleman dance to the ladies’ enjoyment.’
‘As a woman myself, I am pleased to hear that,’ Pamela said. ‘But I dare to say that this enjoyment will not be complete if only one partner takes pleasure from the dancing.’
‘Perhaps. But men could find amusement in more ways than women are allowed. We could hunt or travel or do many other deeds, and the women’s options are limited. And I presume that dancing is the action women may enjoy the most. So it would be cruel for the gentleman to deny them this opportunity.’
Pamela smiled and said nothing. They approached the first buildings of the village, and soon their paths would part.
‘Do you like dancing, Miss Beesly?’ he asked all of a sudden.
‘I suppose so,’ she answered. ‘But even the most biased of my friends cannot call me an accomplished dancer.’
‘I would like to see you dancing though,’ he said, raising his top-hat in goodbye. ‘Have a good day, Miss Beesly.’
He went to the haberdashery, and she stood a little before continuing her way to the inn. His last words made her think he was about to engage her for the first dance. She felt both relief and disappointment when he did not. Her two first dances were meant for Mr. Anderson, though he never asked her for them. But this was a tradition, and traditions were praised very high in Dunder-Mifflin. She was relieved she did not have to refuse a possible proposal from Mr. Halpert, though she might have been thrilled if he had asked her.
Little by little, the dim rooms of the inn had become quite suitable for the assembly. Sir Michael had looked at it a day before the ball and had been satisfied with the preparations.
‘I am so pleased you followed my lead and my instructions,’ he told Pamela when they had returned to the Dunder Hall. ‘It will be a delightful evening!’
‘Indeed,’ answered Pamela, smiling to herself. She went to her small room and opened a chest with almost all of her treasures. At the bottom was a neatly folded bundle. Pamela took it and unwrapped the paper.
Lady Scott had given it to her, shortly before her death, a few yards of the most luxurious fabric Pamela had ever seen. She had sewn a gown from this material, planning it to be her wedding dress. All these years of her wedding being postponed, this bundle remained untouched, and now Pamela decided that it was not fair. Her godmother had given her gift to make Pamela happy, and she would not have been pleased to discover that it was hidden and lied without use. She smoothed the sleek fabric of her gown and took from her chest a pair of ball shoes. They were old, but she wore them only four times - at the openings of the Dunder-Mifflin season, so they still looked quite presentable. Pamela wondered if her preparations would be noticed.
Her sister immediately noticed her ball gown. Pamela spent the day before the ball in her father’s house, and Misses Beesly helped each other to dress and adorn.
‘Why have you never worn this dress before?’ Penelope asked her sister. Her own attire also was pretty, but far simpler. ‘It suits you very well.’
‘I do not know, Penny,’ Pamela answered, fixing her sister’s curls into an elegant hairstyle. ‘Perhaps, I just forgot about it.’
‘Forgot! I wish I were as rich as you! I would never forget about such a dress!’
‘Oh, dear. Where do I wear it except this ball? And if I put it last year or the year before last, I cannot wear it now. What would society say if I wear the same dress for each ball?’
‘Oh, you are probably right,’ Penelope said. She looked at her reflection in the mirror and asked: ‘Shall we help our cousin with the preparations?’
‘I do not think so,’ Pamela answered. ‘I asked her before, and she refused. You know, she likes her hair done in the precise style.’
‘I know,’ Penelope giggled. ‘These ugly braids. I am sure she will not have any partners. And you will have them all! You look so lovely!’
Mr. Beesly complimented his daughters’ looks but said nothing about Pamela’s new gown; neither did Mr. Anderson. They carted to the inn, and Pamela felt unusual excitement about the assembly she had visited every year and about which she knew every possible detail.
Sir Michael welcomed each guest by himself. He was in the center of everyone’s attention and savored every moment of it. His eyes were shining, and he even seemed a little higher.
‘Welcome! Welcome! I am glad to welcome the very best people of Dunder-Mifflin!’ he said when all of the invitees arrived. ‘And that means - the best people in the whole kingdom!’
Pamela joined the clapping, though she felt a little uncomfortable. After such a greeting, she expected Sir Michael might add a thoughtless remark that might offend one or another guest. He had done it previously, and she prayed this year it would be different. Unfortunately, it would not be.
‘I mean… where else could you find the most gingerest girl other than in our village?’ he smiled broadly and raised his glass towards Miss Katy Moore, the youngest daughter of the local smith. She blushed fiercely, making her face the same colour as her hair.
‘And we all could agree that our Mr. Vance has the loudest cock in the whole country?’ he continued. Mrs. Vance patted her husband’s hand and whispered something reassuring in his ear.
‘Who has more cats than our beloved Miss Martin?’ Pamela almost heard as her cousin greeted her teeth. It was one of the most unbelievable things about Sir Michael’s character - his ability to make insults as harmless jokes.
‘And is there another couple in the kingdom whose engagement lasts longer, than Mr. Anderson and Miss Beesly’s?’
Pamela paled. She felt how Mr. Anderson tensed and put her hand onto his elbow. She felt how gazes of some people, including Mr. Halpert, pointed at her, and she cast her own gaze down. She could not bear the pity in these gazes. Sir Michael spoke more, but Pamela did not listen to him. Her anticipation and the cheerful mood was utterly ruined.
After Sir Michael finished his speech, he led Mrs. Palmer for the first dance. The rest followed him, and Pamela tried to distract herself with the merry music and the energetic movements. She danced two dances with Mr. Anderson and then he led her to the chair to engage Miss Penelope for the next dance. She expected he asked her again, but instead, he excused himself and joined his friends at the card table in the next room. With it, Pamela was left alone at the wall with other ladies without partners.
So all that remained for her was the observation. She watched with delight as her sister danced one dance after another, charming her partners with a radiate smile and genial manners. She noticed as Mr. Schrute approached the gathering of ladies and ask Miss Martin, accompanying it with a short bow. She refused as she did not like dancing at all; Mr. Schrute probably thought it was his duty to engage in dancing lonely ladies, but Pamela felt tenderness toward him nevertheless.
And then she found Mr. Halpert. He was dancing with Miss Katy Moore, who was giggling, blushing, and enjoying her partner. It was no wonder - Pamela could say she had never seen a man who moved so gracefully. And the way he was dancing confirmed what Pamela suspected long enough - he was most definitely the paragon of the gentleman both in his manners and in his attitude.
Pamela felt quite tired of sitting motionlessly; she needed refreshment. She went to the small room there the tables with treats were standing. Pamela made herself a cup of punch and was sipping it, listening to the snippets of conversations around.
‘I was wondering where were you hiding,’ she heard a familiar voice and turned around to find Mr. Halpert filling his cup.
‘I just decided to examine the quality of this punch,’ she answered with exaggerated seriousness. ‘As a person who made the most of the preparations, I feel like I had some obligations.’
‘Excellent,’ he nodded. ‘So, what is your verdict?’
‘Acceptable,’ Pamela said. They shared a smile.
‘To be honest, I am surprised,’ Mr. Halpert said, putting his cup at the table. ‘You look so stunning I was afraid I would have to wade through the hordes of cavaliers just to talk to you.’
‘You see,’ Pamela answered, her cheeks glowing from the compliment. ‘I might have scared them all away with my horrendous dancing skills. And I cannot blame them at all.’
‘I might be vain, but I dare to say I am quite brave,’ he said with a laugh. ‘And if you allow me, I would like to engage you for the next two dances.’
‘I would be glad. But prepare yourself for the disappointment.’
‘I doubt I shall have any regrets,’ Mr. Halpert said, taking Pamela’s hand.
And at that moment, being led to the ball hall by the man she greatly esteemed, Pamela felt utterly happy.
Firstly, thanks to everyone who read and comment on my story! It means a world to me and inspires me very much.
Secondly, JennaBennett - you are amazing. Just unbelievably amazing.
Thirdly. This chapter hates me, and it's mutual. So it'll be long and hard (TWSS!)
Hope you won't be disappointed, though.
A week or two after every gathering in Dunder-Mifflin was usually passed in nonchalant gossiping - everyone had been discussing attires and refreshments, the dancing partners, and who had had the misfortune to catch the attention of Sir Michael’s wittiness that time. This year, though, the commoners of Dunder-Mifflin had an opportunity to amuse themselves more appealing, scandalous rumor.
The next day after the ball, Mrs. Palmer had been carting past moorlands and had noticed two figures in the distance, a male silhouette in inappropriate proximity to a female. The innkeeper had had a few glasses of gin before her cart and a couple after, but she swore to Lord as she was retelling her observation to the inn servants that she had seen it indeed. And even though not all of them had believed her, they shared this news with their neighbors nevertheless. The public opinion proclaimed that the man from the moors must have been Mr. Halpert - who else could it have been? And the most emotive question was who had been his companion.
That rumor had reached the Dunder Hall by the morning of the following day, as Madge, a maid, had a sister who served at ‘The Chivalrous Lion.’ And as Mrs. Vance had heard it, she made a quick inference.
‘Have you enjoyed your walking, Miss Beesly?’ she asked Pamela as they conversed in the kitchen after breakfast.
‘I have,’ Pamela answered, slightly surprised with Mrs. Vance’s interest to her daily constitutional. ‘It was quite refreshing.’
‘Oh, I have no doubt it was,’ Mrs. Vance gave Pamela a meaningful smile. ‘But, as a friend of yours, I should warn you to keep discreteness. You have been seen by Mrs. Palmer, and very soon, every living soul in Dunder-Mifflin will know. If not already.’
‘I suppose I am allowed to have my constitutionals as much as they do not affect my duties,’ Pamela answered cautiously. ‘Why should I hide my deeds or be ashamed of them?’
‘I admire your courage,’ said Mrs. Vance, ‘though I advise you not to flaunt with your connection with Mr. Halpert so openly. Especially in your position.’
Pamela was astounded with Mrs. Vance’s assumption, her face blushed.
‘Good Lord, Mrs. Vance! What are you talking about?’ she said at last. ‘There is no connection! Assuredly, we spend some time in the same place, but that is all. Besides, I am engaged. I would never…’
‘I know that, dear, I know,’ Mrs. Vance patted Pamela’s hand. ‘And yet, there is a certain type of gentlemen that could make a woman forget about her vows. I hope you will forgive me for my friendly reminder. I wish you nothing but good.’
She left Pamela at a loss, but the appearance of Madge did not let that condition to last for too long. Pamela heard about Mrs. Palmer’s observation, and though her facial expression remained calm, she felt as consternation rose into her heart. She excused herself from the conversation and busied herself with the usual routine, but her thoughts were wandering.
She knew that rumor could not be true, at least the part about herself. She had never met with Mr. Halpert at the moorlands - except their first meeting when she had not even known his name. And before Mrs. Vance had told her about her suspicions, Pamela had never thought her companionship with Mr. Halpert might have been seen as improper. The easiness of his manners did not allow her to keep her demeanor cold and prudential as it might have been considered proper. Besides, Mr. Halpert showed the same amiability to everyone he spoke to, including even notorious Mr. Schrute. And then Pamela remembered how radiated Miss Moore had looked beside him. Had she displayed herself the same countenance as Miss Moore had? Perhaps, it might have given the observers the wrong impression.
Her thoughts wandered further. Was it possible that Mr. Halpert had intentions towards Miss Moore? For sure, she was the most beautiful girl in the whole village, with shining blue eyes, smooth red locks, vivacious manners, and a pretty smile. But her father was the smith - and gentlemen did not marry the smith’s daughters, as well as they did not marry the daughters of the farmers. Pamela was aware what kind of connection a man from the high society might have with a low-born woman. She might even dare to consider Miss Moore as a girl who was simple enough to be involved in a love affair, but she could not think of Mr. Halpert as a man who might do anything disgraceful to an innocent girl. Her mind, her heart, and her soul refused to connect his name with the mysterious man from the moorlands.
For sure, it must have been someone else. Pamela mused over that thought, though she could not think about anyone who might have met with such secrecy; Dunder-Mifflin definitely suffered from a lack of separated lovers and reckless admirers. Most likely, Mrs. Palmer had seen no one or had taken some snags for human silhouettes.
And yet, that ridiculous rumor caused her quite a distress; it felt like a pebble in a shoe, and Pamela prayed it would not bring more sorrows. The least she could do was an attempt to cut the spreading of that rumor, and that meant she should keep a proper distance from Mr. Halpert. That did not stay unnoticed.
‘Miss Beesly, you are so quiet today. Are you feeling well?’ Mr. Halpert asked when they spent almost the whole morning in the same room and barely exchanged a few phrases. Pamela heard a genuine concern in his tone and felt a stab of guilt for her ungrounded suspicions.
‘Oh, yes, I am feeling well, thank you. I just… there are those rumors that distress me a little. That is all.’
‘Rumors? Heavens, do they still exist? I was sure the humankind had already invented better ways to entertain itself.’
Pamela could say he tried to cheer her up; she always found his joviality and absence of gravity quite endearing. But now Pamela would prefer for him to be serious, just a little. Apparently, he had not heard any gossip about himself; otherwise, he would not jest about such an accusation. How to tell him about that delicately?
‘Perhaps, rumors are not noteworthy in London or other big cities,’ Pamela said carefully. ‘But in small villages and small communities like ours, they are still significant and could affect many lives.’
‘You mean to say - people allow hollow rumors to affect their lives!’ Mr. Halpert said with unexpected fervency. ‘I believe in deeds, not words. If someone’s opinion could be shattered with something so frothy, it was not important in the first place then. To be honest, I am a little surprised. I did not consider you as a person who listens to any kind of gossiping.’
The last part he added quietly, and Pamela felt an urge to defend herself.
‘I am sorry if I disappointed you, even a little,’ she said. And yet, I have to remind you about the difference between us. I truly believe you are able to do the most excellent deeds to prove yourself. You have a privilege to disregard the words, but for women, it is quite impracticable to act that way. Our lives are ruled by norms of society; we depend on it. And I, as well as every other woman in the kingdom, should maintain a particular reputation, and you probably aware of its fragility. One thoughtless deed or just one low word, and nothing can save a woman from public reprobation. She could not find herself a proper place to live; her family would suffer her disgrace with her or repudiate any connection with her. And all this misery might be caused by just one rumor. I wish I could allow myself to disdain gossiping, but I cannot.’
Mr. Halpert was silent for a while.
‘I understand your feelings and your concerns, Miss Beesly. And yet… If you had to make a choice between a blameless reputation and your own happiness, what would you choose?’
Pamela looked down at the illustration she was making to avoid Mr. Halpert’s gaze.
‘I wish I would not have to make such a decision,’ she said at last, and both of them were aware of her answer unsaid. The rest of the day went into disquieting silence.
Meanwhile, Sir Michael, oblivious to any rumors as well as to disturbance they caused to his housekeeper, prepared to visit his attorney in York. He insisted that he needed the company of Mr. Halpert, and he did not find an excuse to decline an offer made in such a peremptory manner. They went early in the morning, and as Sir Michael had said his farewell to Pamela verbose yet cordially, Mr. Halpert had barely acknowledged her with a curt nod.
They had been absent for ten days, and these days had given Pamela a glimpse of the nearest future when Mr. Halpert would return to Oxford. Pamela had known it, and she should have paid more attention to her everyday doings, but in truth, her days had been going in a haze, in a sentiment dangerously similar to yearning. Her mind told her not to build castles in the sky, but her heart counted days before his return.
The days without gentlemen in the mansion had seemed to be twice as long. The servants had taken absence of the master as a reason to loaf. Pamela herself had paid a little attention to the mansion’s routine, spending most of the time in the library and purposely avoiding the kitchen. But Mrs. Vance, dropping her innuendo once, had not returned to that matter; her attention had been caught with vivid, more recent news that a regiment of Colonel C. might have stayed for the winter in Dunder-Mifflin. Pamela had been both relieved that this rumor had lived so short and ashamed. If she had predicted that, she would have never even mentioned it to Mr. Halpert and had avoided that unpleasant discussion. The only person, who had continued to bring up the rumor about the mysterious pair from the moorlands, was Mr. Anderson. He had spent quite a time at dinner at Beesly’s, telling again and again about Mrs. Palmer’s observation and accusing Mr. Halpert in all assumptive sins he might have had as well. Pamela had been genuinely grateful to Miss Martin when she had told him to stop disseminating rumors in such a blunt and sharp expressions that she did not expect from her discreet cousin. Mr. Anderson had just smirked at that and had turned his attention to the meals. And Pamela had thought with sudden concern she could not have said for sure if Mr. Anderson himself had been able to do something improper like a secret meeting or not.
The day before the expected returning Pamela spent in a hectic state. She could not allow Sir Michael to find the mansion unprepared to his return nor could not wholly focus on the errands she should have run. She was torn between anticipation and anxiety; Pamela wanted to see Mr. Halpert again, and at the same time, she worried he would still be disappointed with her and would keep his restrained facade.
The gentlemen finally arrived. Pamela greeted them both kindly, Mr. Halpert met her with a genial smile. While Sir Michael went to his cabinet to take rest after such a journey, Mr. Halpert told Pamela with open enjoyment about all the little adventures he and Sir Michael had lived through, and he was rewarded with her laugh, a cup of tea and a retelling about the subject of the latest sermon of Mr. Schrute.
Mr. Halpert said he expected to complete his assignment by May.
It would have been wise of Pamela to keep the distance, to prepare herself for an unavoidable loss of Mr. Halpert’s company. Still, instead, she spent even more time with him, cherishing every moment, every pleasantry, every smile. And when he praised her illustrations once more, Pamela felt herself bold enough to suggest to him to draw his portrait. Her cheeks blushed when he smiled warmly and agreed.
And yet, despite all the happiness of these days, Pamela felt exhaustion and a bit of desperation. In the evenings, after she locked the doors and checked the windows, she sat quietly in the library, recalling the events and conversations of the previous day. She tried to imagine how it would be not to see Mr. Halpert again, not to talk to him; she could only pray silently that Sir Michael was fascinated with him enough to invite him once more, though she doubted that Mr. Halpert himself would accept that invitation. Once he left, he would disappear forever. And in the most unbearable moment, when she thought about it, she felt an urge to make something to postpone his departure. She should have ordered more books; perhaps she should even have ruined his catalogue in some way, though even thought of it seemed a sacrilege.
The last week of Mr. Halpert’s presence had arrived. The library was almost arranged, the catalogue was done, except for the few illustrations. Almost everything had been prepared for his departure. It had been agreed that Mr. Halpert would leave on Sunday after the sermon; he told Pamela he would not miss the farewell speech from Mr. Schrute for all the money in the world.
‘I suppose he will mention something about the impure spirit and the herd of pigs,’ he said to Pamela. She smiled in answer and thought that even Mr. Schrute’s sermons would be much duller without Mr. Halpert’s presence.
On Friday, Sir Michael decided to play cards; Mr. Halpert and Mr. Schrute joined him. Pamela finished her daily deeds and ensconced herself in the library. She ran her finger over the pages of the catalogue, filled with his sprawling handwriting. A day and a half and these pages would be the only things she would have of him.
Pamela startled when she heard a knock on the door, but it was just Mr. Halpert. She smiled and closed the catalogue.
‘I thought I would find you here,’ he said. ‘I am sorry if I scared you. Do you want to join the game? I noticed your presence affected positively on Sir Michael’s mood. Poor fellow just lost three pounds and cannot stop complaining and grumbling.’
‘Perhaps, it is true. But I think it is low of me to take the stakes away, and you know I do not have a habit of succumbing.’
‘So, you chose the best possible place to spend your evening then,’ he laughed. Pamela smiled but felt a tightness in her chest. She would miss this silliness and mocking so much.
Mr. Halpert went to the table, picked up the catalogue, and paged it mindlessly.
‘When I received a letter asking me to arrange a library for a gentleman from Yorkshire, I did not expect to have such a pleasant time,’ he said mostly to the pages. ‘I shall remember these months as one of the most peaceful and happy moments of my life.’
‘I am glad. You will always be a welcome guest here, and I am not afraid to speak for Sir Michael. He estimates you highly and thinks of you as a friend,’ she paused and added quietly, ‘and so do I.’
‘A friend?’ he asked with an almost imperceptible change of tone. ‘I do not think so.’
Pamela closed her eyes, defeated. What had she been thinking about when she had suggested she could be a friend to him?
‘I appreciate Sir Michael’s merits and hospitality,’ he continued, ‘but all this time I spent thinking of you and you alone.’
Pamela opened her eyes, not trusting her ears, and saw an expression on his face she had never seen before.
‘You fascinated me. You enchanted me. You must have noticed that I had brought an excuse by an excuse to be near you. To be honest, I should feel guilty for the overindulgence of Sir Michael’s kindness, but I do not. That little discourtesy was worth it.’
‘What are you talking about?’ Pamela’s voice dropped to a whisper. Mr. Halpert stepped to her and took her hand. They had worn gloves when they had been dancing at the ball; now, Pamela felt the warmth of his palm against her cold fingers.
‘I love you, Miss Beesly… Pamela. And I cannot leave without you. Allow me to care about you. Allow me to cherish and praise you the way you deserve it. Allow me to take you away from here and carry you to London or Gretna Green or any other place where you will be happy. Just say a word.’
Everything in his countenance spoke to his sincerity. And Pamela looked at him, unable to hide her own emotions. It would be so simple to accept; she felt as the word of the agreement formed on her tongue. But then a sudden thought shook her. What would her father feel when he discovered that his engaged daughter had broken her word and had eloped with another man? What shame would her family suffer for her decision? What ire would Mr. Anderson feel and from whom would he demand a satisfaction? And who would take Penelope or Miss Martin as wives if their kinswoman would make such a shameful deed?
‘I cannot,’ she said at last. The expression of his face changed from hopeful to crushed, and Pamela closed her eyes, unable to see his pain.
‘No?’ he asked.
She shook her head, tears rolling down her cheeks.
‘I am sorry, I am so sorry,’ she said again and again.
She felt as he freed one of his hands and gently wiped her tears away.
‘It is not your fault,’ he said, taking a step away. Pamela squeezed his fingers in a desperate gesture, but his hand slipped from hers. She heard as the door opened and closed; he went away.
She collapsed on the nearest chair, crying and having no notion about what to do next or what she should have done. She sat there until the candles burned down to the ground, and then she sat there in the darkness.
Pamela decided to talk to him in the morning, to explain herself, to find a solution that would please both of them. But when she came to the dining room, she found there only Sir Michael, having his breakfast in solitude.
‘It is a sad day, my dear,’ said Sir Michael. ‘We are left alone again. Mr. Halpert received an urgent note and left immediately after it. He has finished his assignment, hasn’t he? Even if he has not, I am sure you could accomplish it. Are you feeling well, my dear? You look so pale. I know, I know, you did not want to do it for the first time, but what can we do now? Such an affable young man… We should have invented some excuse to secure him for longer. Why did not you think about something, that could secure him for longer?’
Turn out, to write angst as hard as to read one. Who would guess?
Good news: the next update will be sooner than this one. Or, at least, that's my intention.
The next four years Sir Michael rarely spent his time in Dunder-Mifflin. Soon after Mr. Halpert’s departure, he had received a disturbing note about his business in West-Indies. The deal had demanded his immediate intervention, so he had left as soon as it could have been possible. His journey had taken about half of the year; the obstacles had been eliminated, and his income had even increased. Sir Michael had found a new steward, Mr. Martinez, a reasonable and dependable man, and had not had other reasons to stay there longer. But a man with genuine friendliness and naivete, and especially a vast fortune such as Sir Michael, had always been a welcomed guest in any society. The splendor of the high society had dazzled him; the enticements of Kingston, Ramsgate, London, and Bath had secured him away from the moorlands of Yorkshire.
Almost all his inhabitants had left the Dunder Hall. Some of them had accompanied Sir Michael, and others had returned to the village. Only a few servants remained in the mansion to keep it in proper condition before the master had been absent, and Pamela was one of them. For the first time in her life, she lived almost on her own and looking at the circumstances, she was grateful for the solitude.
Not a single tear had she shed since that night in May; her demeanor remained discreet, she was still a pleasant companion to Sir Michael, a diligent servant, a grateful daughter, and a good sister. No one had spotted changes in her; only Penelope had said once that her older sister had been quiet lately. In truth, Pamela had felt numbness in her feelings and her mind, eventuating as protection from her heartache; all the doings and the talk had been similar to her, and she had barely recognised the change of matter here or there. Pamela had still not recovered from the shock caused by Mr. Halpert’s intention and his early leaving; she had not entirely prepared to continue living without him nearby. She had accustomed thinking about him as an agreeable acquaintance, even as a dear friend - but his absence had made Pamela sense keenly that he had been more than that. Insensibly, he became a part of her own existence, and she had only realised that when he had already been gone and she would never see him again. Pamela had desired to fall asleep and never wake up if that might have helped her to ease the pain.
And yet, she had had to remain awake for the sake of her family and Sir Michael. Her master had prepared to go on a long trip - who if not Pamela had had to prepare all that was needed for him? So she had gathered his belongings and had made her farewells, being left in charge in the half-deserted mansion. Her family had needed her - so she had run her errands drudgingly. Her savings had completed her dowry; Mr. Beesly had had a talk with the old Mr. Anderson, and they had set a date for the wedding of their children. Pamela had listened to congratulations and chatters absentmindedly as if that deal had not regarded to her.
She had been snapped out of her condition one Sunday in June when Mr. Schrute had called the banns for the first time. Hearing her name along with Mr. Anderson’s, Pamela had been horrified with the realisation that after three weeks, she would have been a wife of a man she had barely known, she had not entirely understood, and toward whom she had not nourished any feelings. ‘This is the first time of asking. If any of you know the cause or just impediment why these two persons should not be joined together in Holy Matrimony, ye are to declare it,’ proclaimed Mr. Schrute, and it had given Pamela a little strength. When the Beeslys had returned home after the sermon, she had asked her father to have a word with her and had told him she had not wanted to marry Mr. Anderson.
The commoners of Dunder-Mifflin had not even finished the discussion about the sudden departure of Sir Michael and his supposed devastation when they had been gained with an even more interesting topic. Miss Beesly had broken her engagement! Miss Beesly, who had been known as a sweet, reasonable, and responsible girl all of a sudden, had displayed unexpected stubbornness and flippancy. Neither gentle words of persuasion from her father, nor a harsh accusation of ungratefulness from her cousin, nor even a long talk with Mr. and Mrs. Anderson had not changed her mind. The reasons she had given had been futile - something about she could not have made him happy and would not have been happy herself; all these reasons she had given three weeks before the wedding when all preparations had been made and all the neighbours had been notified. The local society had anticipated what decision would have been made and how that unpleasant situation would have ended. Most of the commoners had pitied both the Andersons and the Beeslys, though some of them had enjoyed gloatingly the embarrassment and confusion of both families.
The solution had been found by Mrs. Beesly. It had been proclaimed that Mr. Anderson would have married Miss Beesly, and there had been no impediment against it except the sudden whim of the bride-to-be. But there had been not one, but two Misses Beeslys, and the youngest had not been inferior to the eldest, and some of her merits such as obedience and a lack of cockiness had even exceeded her sister’s. Miss Penelope, after long talks about the responsibility and her benefits from the marriage, had agreed to it. With it, she had inherited her sister’s dowry of three hundred pounds, had been heightened in the eyes of her family and the local society, and had become Mrs. Anderson, being only a year older than Pamela had been when she had gotten engaged.
The big scandal had been prevented, but the rumors had been living for quite a long time, and all of them had been about the misbehavior of the eldest Miss Beesly. What had urged her to do such a thing? Some of the inhabitants of Dunder-Mifflin had slandered that Miss Beesly had been in charge of the manor while Sir Michael had been absent - and her new status had intoxicated her. They had accused her of being too arrogant, too fancy to become the wife of an ordinary farmer. Some of them had ever remembered her relationship with Lady Scott and had pointed out that this behavior had had deep roots. Only Mrs. Vance had thought that Pamela’s deed might have connected with a particular gentleman, but she had been wise enough not to speculate about it.
Pamela was grateful for her solace in the manor. The guilt and sorrows became a part of her existence, and she was glad she could have avoided the pitiful and scornful gazes of people. The worst of it was the loss of heartiness from her family. She still had the Sunday dinners with her relatives, still left part of her wage to their needs. But the conversation became brief and shallow, the pauses between the words were long and full of accusation. Only Penelope did not hold grudges against her sister. The newlywed Mrs. Anderson had found herself quite satisfied with her own house and her new position in the society, and, after a few years of her marriage, she learned to appreciate and love her husband. But Mrs. Anderson was not the same Penny Pamela used to share her thoughts and feelings. She could have counted on her support in her family, but that easiness they had shared before had gone.
A month went after a month; Pamela’s comportment remained the same amiability and helpfulness, and little by little, she was excused in the eyes of society. Only Miss Martin kept reminding her cousin about her disgrace, and Pamela often caught the gaze of Mr. Schrute addressed to the rows where she and her family sat, especially when he was talking about the matrimony. In those moments, she closed her eyes and vividly imagined the reaction of Mr. Halpert. Would he have teased her about such a dedication? Would he have elaborated some scheme to mock Mr. Schrute’s pompous behavior? She did not know, but it did not stop her thoughts.
Her seclusion kept her away from curious glares, but it did not secure her from speculating about what had happened, what would have been, and what might have been. During the long, endless nights in the mansion, when the whole world reduced to one room, lightening only with a single candle, Pamela involuntarily returned to that night in May. What might have been if she had said ‘yes’ and had left with Mr. Halpert? She might have been dishonored in the eyes of her family, the neighbours, and in her own, and yet she would have left Dunder-Mifflin and would have been cherished and loved. What might have been if he had given her a little bit more time to explain herself? What might have been if she had kept her lips shut and her eyes down and she had avoided Mr. Halpert and had talked to him only about weather and only when Sir Michael had made her? If they had not had a connection, it would have been simple for her to live her ordinary life, to be the wife of Mr. Anderson. Pamela might even have been happy, as much as it was possible. And yet, though she was yearning and lonely and sorrowful, she had no regrets.
For these four years, Sir Michael visited Dunder Hall just twice, soon after his return from West-Indies and the following year after the first visit. He had paid a little attention to the village’s news and had remarked once that he had been glad that Pamela had not gotten married; otherwise, he would have had to look for another housekeeper. No, all his attention had been dedicated to himself, his pleasures and misfortunes, to people he had met and people he would have liked to meet. Pamela had always been a patient listener, his favorite one. So, when the season in the City had called Sir Michael away, he had written to her, even if that had violated each rule of etiquette. Sir Michael had declared that he had known Pamela for so long, that he had considered her as a part of the family, like a spinster aunt or third niece - and what had been wrong with correspondence with a relative from provinces? He had decided that and had not taken any excuses from Pamela. With that, from time to time, he had sent letters to her. She might have even been pleased with that display of his goodwill if almost each of those letters had not caused her pain.
‘I have seen Mr. Flenderson at the soiree of Lady Levinson. Hideous man! I cannot believe that Lady Scott had such an awful brother. He said he was going to sail to Costa-Rica - I hope he will come down with yellow fever and die alone - as he deserves it.’
Pamela had vaguely recalled Mr. Flenderson as a calm and reflective man; the last time they had seen him had been at Lady Scott’s funeral. She had known no rational reason why Sir Michael had abhorred him so much. It had stung a little, the thought that two good gentlemen with a connection and a common loss had had such an enmity.
‘Lady Levinson is the most beautiful creature I have ever met. She is so elegant and smart. I have proposed to her, but she has not given an answer yet. You will be glad to have a mistress, won’t you?’
Pamela had thought before that Sir Michael might get married for the second time; perhaps, it even would have been expected from him due to his position on the society and his fortune. And yet, there had been something touching in his fidelity to his late spouse. He had changed his heart, and even Pamela could not have blamed him; he would have been happy once more, and the mansion had needed the mistress indeed. But that had meant changes; Pamela had not dared to confess even to herself that she had disliked them. Besides, changes had indicated that the rules, established by Lady Scott, would have gone; her memory would had faded even more.
‘Yesterday I attended the wedding of my cousin, Mr. Howard. He caught a lovely girl with ten thousand pounds. I said they were welcomed to spend their honeymoon in Dunder Hall, but they decided to travel to Europe, to pay attention to her relatives or something. I saw Mr. Halpert at the reception - do you remember him? An excellent young man. He inherited a small sum of one or two thousand from his uncle - enough to live like a gentleman, but not enough to settle. I told him he should find a wife himself - a fine lady from a good family with a proper dowry. I expect that he will follow my advice.’
That letter had hurt the most. Pamela had not expected anything from Mr. Halpert; no self-respecting man would have repeated an offer after such refusal. And yet, a tiny part of her had wished for a miracle, that he had discovered about the change of her state and had returned to her, for her. She had relied on Sir Michael, but she must have learned a long time ago that it had not been sensible. After that letter, Pamela had taken the unfinished portrait of Mr. Halpert from her chest, where it had been hidden with her best gown and the old ball shoes, and had looked at it, tracing lines of his face and hair with her finger. She had had no right to keep it, but she could not have made herself to ruin it. This portrait remained well hidden as well as her hopes and wishes.
One day in February, Pamela received one more letter from Sir Michael. She prepared herself for the inevitable pain that this note must bring. But it was short and matter-of-fact; Sir Michael asked her to prepare the manor for his return and had specified to put special effort.
He would bring guests with him.
And the new arc begins.
On the bright side - in 'Persuasion' it was eight years passed, not four.
By the way, in this chapter, I mentioned almost all 'The Office' characters that might appear in the following chapters. Only two left, but they'll come in flesh and blood in the next chapter. Guess who?
It's been a while since the last update, but I hope to catch up with the story.
Thank you for staying with me!
Sir Michael had arrived.
All the servants gathered in front of the main entrance of the mansion to welcome him. The carriage stopped, and one of the valets opened the door.
‘Lord, it is good to be at home at last,’ exclaimed Sir Michael, stepping out of the carriage with a smile. All the servants bowed, greeting their master, and he smiled even wider. ‘Hudson, my old friend, how is your back? Mrs. Vance, you are shining! Pamela, dear, I am glad to see you doing well. You have not changed at all!’
‘Sir Michael,’ a slightly disgruntled voice called him from inside the carriage. Sir Michael immediately turned to it.
‘I am so sorry,’ he said and gave a hand, helping another passenger to come out.
It was a woman, wearing a mourning yet still elegant gown. Pamela thought she might be beautiful if not the thin lines of her pursed lips and disdain, so openly displayed on her face and in her every move. Another woman, also in mourning, peeked out of the carriage; but Sir Michael looked only at the elegant lady.
‘My dearest Lady Levinson, I am honored to greet you at the Dunder Hall,’ he affectionately swayed his hand as he invited her to enjoy the view of the mansion.
‘Charming,’ Lady Levinson said, clearly unfazed with the sight before her.
‘And here are the best men in Yorkshire,’ Sir Michael continued, not disturbed with the lack of her enthusiasm. ‘They will do anything possible to make your stay here comfortable.’
He still held her hand as they approached Pamela.
‘Lady Levinson, may I introduce to you Pamela, my housekeeper…’ Sir Michael started.
‘Sir Michael, please,’ Pamela begged barely audible. She had gotten used to the familiarity of Sir Michael towards her, and yet the address by name in front of others was humiliating.
‘Oh, it is Miss Beesly, of course,’ he said as if nothing had happened and explained to Lady Levinson, ‘I have known her since she was a little girl and it is so strange to call her so formally and distant.’
‘Indeed,’ Lady Levinson looked at Pamela coldly.
‘I hope your journey was not tiresome,’ Pamela said, reminding Sir Michael about his duties. ‘Should I escort your guests to their chambers?’
‘Yes, yes, of course. Come inside, and I will show you the house and Pamela… Miss Beesly will take care of the luggage.’
They hid inside; most of the servants returned to their duties, and soon there were only Pamela, a coachman, a stable boy and the woman in the mourning dress (Pamela noted that her outfit was much more plain and simple than Lady Levinson’s) who unloaded bags and boxes from the carriage.
As all the turmoils were settled, guests were escorted to their chambers, and the luggage was carried away, Pamela brought a pile of letters to Sir Michael, who took rest in his cabinet.
‘Thank you,’ he said, waving his hand towards a table. Pamela put the letters where Sir Michael wanted them to be but did not hurry to leave.
‘I probably should congratulate you,’ she said.
‘Huh?’ Sir Michael was puzzled, so Pamela added, ‘Your engagement with Lady Levinson. I supposed…’
‘Oh, no, we are not engaged, not yet,’ Sir Michael smiled wearily. ‘Lady Levinson lost her husband just two years ago, and it is indecent to get engaged that soon. That is what she said.’
‘Are you not engaged?’ Pamela did not know if she was relieved or concerned. ‘Could not it be considered indecent to invite a lady in mourning if you have not exchanged the vows?’
‘Do not be a prude, Pamela!’ Sir Michael said. ‘She is a friend, and I am allowed to invite any friends of mine to my house! No one thinks low of it - well, except you, I guess.’
‘I do not want to distress you,’ Pamela said, casting her eyes down.
‘You did not,’ Sir Michael sighed and patted her hand. ‘You are a good girl, Pamela, but you are worrying too much.’
Perhaps, Sir Michael’s reproach about his housekeeper was right, one of a few of his accurate observations - worries became her second nature indeed. And yet, Pamela could not keep herself from watching. Sadly, the more she noted, the more concerns appeared in her mind.
The changes were subtle and intangible at first. Pamela did not even consider them as changes but as a natural sequel of blending the habits of people who stayed some time under the same roof. Mrs. Vance complained that her dishes had been returned untouched, and Sir Michael had asked her to improve a menu for the following meals; Pamela thought that nourishing and simple meals like Yorkshire pudding or lamb leg Sir Michael found delicious did not suit the delicate taste of Lady Levinson. Mr. Schrute was rarely invited to the mansion. Still, Pamela reminded herself that the previous time Sir Michael had had guests (she felt a pang of sorrow, remembering that time) he had also handled without the clergyman’s company. The commoners of Dunder-Mifflin gossiped that the outer world had a bad influence on Sir Michael, had made him proud and arrogant. Pamela watched her master and did not notice such drastic changes in him, reminding herself once again how cruel and groundless the rumors could be.
The first alarming sign of forthcoming changes that were able to shatter the established order in Dunder-Mifflin came in the form of the cancellation of the annual spring ball at ‘The Chivalrous Lion.’ The reasons Sir Michael had given were unconvincing and shallow. He said that he had witnessed the Season in the City and thus was convinced in the impossibility to recreate that event in Yorkshire in its splendor; he did not dare to give the wrong impression about the high society routine. Heated with his excuses, Mrs. Palmer told everyone, especially after a pint or two, that the ball had been canceled because of fine and fancy Lady Levinson who loathed spending her time among such plebs as the commoners of Dunder-Mifflin were. Pamela knew the innkeeper lost quite a sum because of the annulled event and might have been biased, but she had to admit that Mrs. Palmer’s ramble contained a grain of truth.
The partial confirmation of Lady Levinson’s influence on Sir Michael followed the very next week when Pamela received the correspondence. A few letters were addressed to Lady Levinson; Pamela brought them to her, but the lady dismissively waved her away.
‘I suppose Sir Michael is the one who should take care of them,’ she said, and Pamela had no choice but to go to Sir Michael. He took the letters, sighed, and rubbed his eyes. She watched him disquietingly but said nothing. In the following days, she received several more messages from the same correspondent, and with each of them, Sir Michael’s countenance grew more and more tired. At last, Pamela found her voice to ask.
‘These letters do not bring you joy, do they?’ she said with hesitation.
‘No,’ Sir Michael answered. ‘I do not know how letters discussing expense matters could make anyone happy.’
‘Expenses?’ Pamela repeated. ‘But those letters were sent to Lady Levinson. Why…’
‘How could I leave a friend in need?’ Sir Michael interrupted her. ‘There is nothing to talk about.’
‘But… but if these expenses are high, it will not be reasonable to spend...’ Pamela said cautiously, but Sir Michael did not allow her to say more.
‘I do not want to be rude,’ he said with a sudden irritation in his tone, ‘but I suppose the deal between Lady Levinson and me is not something you should be concerned about. Mind your own business, and do not let yourself be bothered with our arrangement. Otherwise, I have to recommend you to search for another place. I am sure I can find another housekeeper who will not be so nosy!’
Pamela paled. Sir Michael might have been ridiculous and vain, but he had a kind heart and would never be cruel intentionally. But now, when he said those words and emphasized for the first time her dependent position, she knew she should retreat. She apologized quietly and went away, leaving Sir Michael with his worries alone. She could neither follow his demand and forget about the burden laid on Sir Michael nor use her influence on him and persuade him not to pay for another person’s debts. Sir Michael forgot about his innuendo quite soon, and his amiability toward Pamela returned, but she could not erase from her memory his momentary disdain.
The only thing that made her days bearable was her pleasant yet unforeseen acquaintance with Lady Levinson’s companion, Miss Flax. Her story was common for many intelligent, well-educated women who have neither great fortune nor influential alliance that allowed them to take a rightful place in the society. She was a companion, though Lady Levinson treated her more like a servant than a friend; somehow Pamela saw her own future in Miss Flax’s fate. But all the injustices and deprivations had not exacerbated her good nature and cheerful spirit. So many months Pamela had been craving for witty conversations and thoughtful discussions, and she was glad to find a sensible interlocutor, though no one could compare to a friend she had had once. As for Miss Flax, she accepted Pamela’s friendship eagerly, yearning for equality she had seen so rarely. For hours they shared their thoughts and comments, stories about the City’s society and Yorkshire traditions that amused both women.
And yet, this friendship had its burdens. Miss Flax might not approve Lady Levinson’s behavior and attitude, but she was loyal to her patroness and old friend and depended on her goodwill. She might have felt ashamed with the fact that Lady Levinson used so openly Sir Michael’s favour, though she either could not change it or did nothing. Pamela fully understood the insecurity and uneasiness of Miss Flax’s position and thought about her own as well, but this tension between their masters did not allow them to become the allies they might have been otherwise.
Lady Levinson was visiting for four weeks when Sir Michael received a message that extremely pleased him. His heir and cousin, Mr. Howard, had returned from his travel to Europe and was willing to pay a visit to his relative in Yorkshire. Sir Michael was thrilled; he was not able to spend his time in the City and now he could gather proper company in his own mansion. It was even better as this gathering would be ruled with his conditions and formed by his tastes. He wrote back immediately, welcoming Mr.Howard’s decision and asking to bring his friends with him. Mr. Howard replied in a few days, telling him the date of arrival and the number of guests.
‘Pamela, dear, could we find enough places for all our guests to stay comfortable?’ Sir Michael worried. Despite his previous resentment against Pamela, she was still the only person he could share his delight and worries with.
‘I am sure all your guests will not be disappointed with their chambers,’ Pamela answered. ‘How many people do you expect?’
‘Four, including Mr.Howard and his wife. Or is it five? I don’t quite remember. Look by yourself.’
Sir Michael handed her a letter. She read it and gasped silently.
‘I took the liberty of inviting my friend from Oxford, Mr.Halpert. He mentioned his acquaintance with you and I considered it would be an appropriate occasion to renew it. He spoke of time spent under your hospitable roof with such feelings not all sons spoke about their fathers. And if you do not decide otherwise, the four of us will arrive on Friday afternoon.’
‘There will be four,’ she said quietly. ‘Have you written an answer yet?’
‘I have,’ Sir Michael nodded. ‘I would have a capital gathering!’
The preparations started immediately. Pamela gave Sir Michael not a slightest reason for disapproval or complaint, but her mind was filled with a single thought ‘in a few days he would be here.’ Elation and dread blended together in a peculiar mixture that made her heart swell and her feelings numb.
She expected nothing and did not allow any of the hopes she might have had to rise high. Even if Mr.Halpert had had feelings for her, the hurt she had caused as well as the following years had ceased them undoubtedly. He would return to spend some time with a pleasant company of friends; she would do her duty. Perhaps, he would mention his previous visit, perhaps he would not hold grudges against her. Perhaps, they could even laugh together at the silliness of his previous infatuation. But for now, the anticipation of the first meeting excruciated her and Pamela wished eagerly for it to pass.
Her own turmoil, however, did not conceal the fact that the only person who took pleasure from the visit of Mr.Howard and his entourage was Sir Michael himself. Lady Levinson did not say much about the expected visit; every time Sir Michael chatted about his ‘dearest cousin Howard’ she tried to hide her irritation but her attempts were poor. Pamela wondered if it was because Lady Levinson abhorred Mr.Howard or she simply did not want to share the attention of Sir Michael with anybody else. Pamela thought that Miss Flax might have known the reason, but the subject of Lady Levinson’s intentions was something they both mutely avoided.
At last, it was the day of the appointed arrival. Soon after the lunch, Sir Michael went impatient, pacing back and forth as if it could help his cousin to reach the manor sooner. Pamela remained visibly still, though her heart was racing frantically.
‘They are coming! They are coming!’ a stable boy yelled from the outside. Sir Michael flung his arms up and hurried to meet the guests. The servants, including Pamela, followed him to greet the mansion’s heir in a proper way.
Two horsemen escorted the carriage and Pamela recognised one of them immediately. He had not changed at all; the same posture, the same disheveled hair, the same easiness of manners and the same smile. The carriage stopped, the horsemen dismounted.
‘Sir Michael,’ Mr.Howard said. Pamela noticed the family resemblance in their height, lines of their noses and eyes. ‘I am so glad to finally visit your home.’
‘My dearest cousin,’ Sir Michael smiled widely. ‘Say no more. It is your home as well as mine.’
He said more and more about his delight from the meeting, but Pamela did not listen to him. She stood still and watched furtively as Mr.Halpert stepped to the carriage and opened the door, helping the passengers to get out.
‘Oh Lord, what a beautiful place! You were right, my love, I already adore it!’ a young lady exclaimed, leaving the carriage and coming toward Mr.Howard, taking his hand affectionately. For sure, it was the newlywed Mrs.Howard. ‘Sir Michael, I am so glad we arrived at last. The road was terrible, and I am sure a maid in the inn stole my new spencer...’
But Pamela’s attention already turned to the second lady, who was not as excited as Mrs.Howard. The way her hand lingered in Mr.Halpert’s did not hide from Pamela. The lady said something to Mr.Halpert in a language Pamela did not know. With a sudden pang of heartache, she heard his laugh and his whispering in return. That feeling returned with a double force when his gaze did not linger on Pamela not even for a moment as if he did not recognize her - or refused to recognize.
Sir Michael hurried his guests to come inside and take a rest after such an exhausting journey. They followed his lead, leaving the servants to deal with the luggage.
The first meeting had gone, but Pamela was mistaken to suggest that it would be the worst part. She prepared her heart for his indifference and even hostility, but she did not expect the pain that caused his béguin for somebody else.
I hope the quarantine increases the level of my productivity a little bit, and the next chapter will be written quickly.
Anyway, let me know what do you think about this one.
An unexpectedly quick update.
Thank you so much for your reviews and comments!
Pamela expected that after such an exhausting journey, the guests would have liked to rest and refresh before the dinner, but she was mistaken. Sir Michael insisted on showing the mansion, and his guests - or part of them, at least - did not mind to follow his lead. The echo of verbose explanations of Sir Michael and rapturous exclamations of Mrs. Howard filled the Dunder Hall. Shortly, another voice joined them - pompous praising of Mr.Schrute, who had come to show his respect to Sir Michael and almost asked for the invitation for dinner. Pamela busied herself, taking care of the luggage and making the last preparations. And yet, she involuntarily listened to that echo as if she was following the tour herself. She tried to recreate in her mind the reactions of Mr.Halpert on the visiting places where he had been once or the meeting with the old foe, but the image of the woman’s slim hand in his had quickly ceased her thoughts.
As the master and all of his guests settled in the dining room, Pamela finally found time to rest. She took a new novel and sat near a fireplace in the servant’s room, but she put the book aside soon as Miss Flax joined her with her needlework.
‘I do not remember when the last time it was so loud and crowded,’ Pamela said, inviting Miss Flax into the conversation. ‘But, for sure, it is a nice change. The mansion stayed abandoned for too long. ’
‘I am afraid this nice condition will not last for long,’ Miss Flax answered, starting to mend Lady Levinson’s laces. ‘After a week or two, you will beg for quietness and solitude again.’
‘Do you think so?’
‘I have visited too many routs, for my sins,’ Miss Flax said lightly, though Pamela noticed a hint of sadness in her tone. ‘People from high society are able to enjoy each other’s company for not too long. As soon as they discuss the latest rumors, the weather, the condition of roads, and the most fashionable style of sleeves, they will be bored. And, when they are tired of cards and hunting, they will demand entertainment from others, as they cannot find amusement by themselves. And I shall not be wrong if I suggest that some of the things the members of high society find amusing you might find otherwise.’
Pamela’s heart squeezed painfully at these words, but she kept her voice steady and curious.
‘You described such an unpleasant picture that I wonder why people are so craving to join that circle.’
Miss Flax laughed good-naturedly, and Pamela could not resist smiling.
‘I think someone might find that a large fortune is quite worth a risk of mild boredom.’
Pamela giggled, and for some time they were silent.
‘Besides,’ said Miss Flax, not interrupting her needlework, ‘we can gain some benefits from being so close to that society, and I am not talking about the matter of money. I might scandalize you, but I find great pleasure in observation of the ridiculousness of human nature. And somehow the money does not moderate those qualities but enhances them extremely. If only you knew how foolishly people with money and authority could behave!’
Pamela smiled and shook her head. She lived under the same roof with Sir Michael for so many years that she understood what Miss Flax meant, but she did not let that knowledge slip from her tongue.
They sat quietly; Pamela returned her attention to the novel, and Miss Flax was humming a song during her mending. They heard a distant noise that let them know that dinner was over. Soon after, the sounds of music appeared.
‘I do not remember when a human being touches that old spinet for other reasons than to wipe the dust,’ remarked Pamela. ‘And you claimed that people from high society cannot entertain themselves.’
‘I did, and I do not deny my words. I wonder how soon they will find that just playing music is unbearably tedious and decide to dance, for example.’
Pamela said nothing as the memory of the last ball she had attended came unbidden. How happy and carefree she had been; how soon her joy had faded. She made a few more meaningless remarks but did not listen for answers.
The music was hushed. And soon after that, a knock on the door startled them both.
‘Oh, here you are,’ Kevin said, opening the door and peeking inside. ‘Miss Flax, you are expected in the Blue Salon.’
Miss Flax threw a meaningful gaze to Pamela, put aside her housewife, and followed the valet. Pamela tried to read again but closed the book as soon as she heard the merry sounds of the reel.
So, Miss Flax was right; there was dancing, and this fact made her restless. All she could do was to remember the past and to compare it to the present. It was torture, but she had no intention to end it. She had to know.
Carefully, stealthily she left the servant's room and went to the Blue Salon. Its doors were open; Pamela found a secluded corner in shadows of the hall and remained still, watching and listening.
The company apparently had a good time. Two pairs were dancing; even in the small and crowded chamber Mr.Halpert moved graciously as well as his partner. Mr. Schrute sat near the tea-table with a plate of biscuits. She could not see Sir Michael from her point of view, but she heard him clapping cheerfully and exclaiming 'Capital! Capital!'
It was a picture of accomplished happiness, and the fact that she was excluded from it, even if she had to rights to be there, hurt so much. She should have gone away, but could not have mustered any strength to do it.
Finally, Miss Flax stopped the play, and the dancers returned to the table, laughing and talking quietly. Pamela noticed how Mr.Halpert offered a hand to his partner, how he led her to the ottoman, and made sure that she was comfortable. Pamela almost heard his soft voice.
They were so close and yet so far.
She was snapped from her state by a sudden change of light. It was Miss Flax, who left the room and closed the door. Pamela was ashamed to be caught in such an inappropriate situation, but Miss Flax smiled and went toward her as if she sought her.
'They asked to lit up more candles,' she said, and Pamela gladly led her to the pantry.
'To be honest, I am slightly terrified with your perspicacity. You said there would be dancing - and it was indeed. I am afraid to ask what will be your next prediction,' said Pamela at last, giving Miss Flax a bunch of candles.
Miss Flax shook her head.
'You flatter me, Miss Beesly. I am not a prophet, and all my skills were born out of the ability to see and to listen. But,' she lowered her voice. 'I am quite sure we are about to witness an engagement - and quite soon.'
'Oh.' It was all Pamela could say. 'Why do you think so?'
'Because I have seen it many times before,' Miss Flax answered. 'And it is always the same. She has money and he has a position in society, and then they agree to merge the gains to everyone's satisfaction. For sure, in most cases, this union turns into an unhappy marriage, but I suppose they take their risks.'
Pamela did not remember what she answered to Miss Flax. As soon as she went away, Pamela sat feebly on the stool in the pantry. The tears she had kept unshed for years were unleashed.
She did not cling to the hope that it was just a misunderstanding that Miss Flax meant someone else. No, it was Mr. Halpert who was going to marry indeed. She said herself it was expected, but just knowing about it was so much easier than witnessing it. And the worst part… Pamela pressed a palm to her mouth to stifle a sob. When had he become so calculating that he involved himself into a marriage of convenience? How could he, with all his excellent abilities, quick imagination, lively spirits, doom himself for unhappiness for the sake of cold money? She wept for the man he had been once; she wept for herself. She wished she had never met him, and at the same time, she could not imagine the world where she did not know about him and was able to be content.
The door of the pantry opened, and Pamela dreaded to lift her eyes, ashamed of her outburst. The person froze, but then made a tentative step to her. Pamela saw an offered handkerchief and looked up to see Mr.Schrute, visibly concerned and uncomfortable. She took the handkerchief and wiped her eyes; a feeling of appreciation and confusion overwhelmed her. Mr.Schrute cleared his throat.
'Your idea of duties and your loyalty to Sir Michael do you honor,' he said cautiously, yet solemnly. 'I realize how painful it could be to let the guests encounter regrettable imperfections, but I truly believe that the unbaked biscuits are not your fault.'
Pamela made a noise, equally similar to a laugh and a sob, and gave the handkerchief back.
‘Thank you, Mr. Schrute,’ she said quietly and with sincere gratitude. ‘You are very kind. I shall ask Kevin to serve some marzipan instead of biscuits.’
Mr. Schrute nodded and retreated. Pamela sat a little bit longer, but she had no time to pity herself if she could be useful instead.
Pamela spent a sleepless night, though it helped her to find a reasonable solution. She would do her duties as well as she could, and it actually would keep her presence and mind away from Mr.Halpert. After all, their doings now had so little in common they would barely meet in quite a large mansion.
Sadly, but her intention to keep the distance turned to be futile. As Sir Michael and Mr.Howard went to pay visits in the village, and Lady Levinson did not leave her chambers, suffering from migraine and occupying the attention of Miss Flax. Pamela found herself outside, planting the herbs in the small kitchen garden. It was a lovely spring day; Pamela should have predicted that the guests had thought of the same thing.
She heard the voices behind; they settled on the bench, not far away from her. The bushes of the genista did not hide her figure, but apparently, her presence did not bother them at all.
‘Lord, I am so bored,’ sighed Mrs.Howard. ‘You, cousin, could at least keep practicing, but what am I supposed to do?’
‘Practicing?’ the other lady asked, the irony tangible. ‘Have you heard that instrument yesterday? It is absolutely out of tune. I wonder if it was long forsaken or the tastes of the inhabitants are even worse than I expected.’
‘Do not judge too harshly, Miss Filippelli,’ said Mr.Halpert, and Pamela involuntarily dropped a parsley sprout she held in her hands. ‘Not everyone has such an exquisite taste as yours.’
‘You are quite a defender of country manners, aren’t you, Mr.Halpert?’ said Miss Filippelli.
‘My dearest Mr.Howard said that Mr.Halpert had been here before. He might have got used to it!’ said Mrs.Howard.
‘And I survived as you can see!’ he laughed, and Pamela dug the soil just to make enough rustle to save herself from the causticity of his laugh. ‘So, if you are willing to follow my lead, you will also find pleasure in staying here.’
‘I cannot imagine what could give me pleasure in the countryside!’ said Mrs.Howard, and Miss Filippelli added.
‘We do not hunt and find no amusement in the smiles of pretty country girls. So choose wisely what you are about to offer us, Mr. Halpert.’
‘I have no intentions to propose to you such things,’ he said. ‘But I know that the mansion’s library is remarkably good and its collection could satisfy your curiosity and give enough material for both thinking and feeling.’
‘You mean to say the only entertainment here is the books?’ asked Mrs.Howard incredulously. ‘Lord, I wish I could hunt instead!’
‘That might be interesting,’ said Miss Filippelli. ‘But I demand your advice. What might amuse me the most? Should I start with Coleridge? Or should it be Wordsworth?’
‘No. Not Wordsworth,’ he said, and even if Pamela was willing, she could not silence his words. ‘He is too sentimental and depressing for your taste. And I cannot call you a violet by a mossy stone. No, no, no, it must be Shakespeare with his passion and strength!’
He paused for a moment and started to declare:
‘Thine eyes I love, and they, as pitying me,
Knowing thy heart torments me with disdain,
Have put on black and loving mourners be,
Looking with pretty ruth upon my pain…’
Pamela could hear that no more. She needed to hide; she needed to escape that torture. But instead, she numbly planted the herbs under the accompaniment of the Dark Lady’s praising.
She heard neighing and lifted her head to see a stable boy, leading the horse to the stable. A gentleman followed him timidly; he noticed the company at the bench and changed the track of his steps towards them. Pamela stood up and wiped the dirt off her hand on her apron.
‘Can I help you, sir?’ she asked when the gentleman ended the exchanging pleasantries with Mr.Halpert and the ladies.
‘Oh, yes, I suppose. I came to visit Sir Michael,’ he said hesitantly.
‘Sir Michael is at the village now, but I expect him to return by noon. Would you like to wait for him in the guest room?’
The gentleman squinted his eyes and asked, unsure.
‘Miss… Miss Beesly, is that you?’
‘Yes, that is my name,’ she answered cautiously, but when his smile softened his exhausted expression, she gasped.
‘Oh, Lord… Mr.Flenderson! I am ashamed I did not recognize you!’
‘I do not judge you, Miss Beesly. The years were more benevolent to you than to me.’
‘Oh, I am so sorry,’ Pamela said and was stricken with her own clumsiness. ‘I completely forgot about hospitality. Please, allow me to take care of you. Where is your baggage?’
They went to the house, both surprised with an unexpected meeting of an old acquaintance. And Pamela did not notice that she was followed with Mr.Halpert’s gaze, in which mixed perplexity, confusion, and disbelief.
It might be corny, but I do associate Pam's story with a particular Wordsworth poem (https://poets.org/poem/she-dwelt-among-untrodden-ways) and Karen with the Shakespearean Dark Lady (https://allpoetry.com/The-Dark-Lady-Sonnets-(127---154)).
I hope more will be soon.
Sir Michael did not expect to see his brother-in-law in his mansion; truth be told, only the presence of Mr. Howard and Pamela at the first meeting did not allow him to require Mr. Flenderson to leave immediately. Somehow, every polite word of greeting and calm tone of Mr. Flenderson irked Sir Michael even more than his presence; in the end, he could barely manage himself to stay civil. But as soon as the maid led the guest to his chambers, Sir Michael’s patience came to an end.
‘How did he dare to show himself here?’ Sir Michael did not hide his irritation. ‘No one wants to see him, and yet he is here to ruin everybody’s good mood with his sullenness!’
‘Mr. Flenderson was invited,’ said Pamela. ‘Mr. Howard assumed…’
‘Yes, yes, I know!’ Sir Michael interrupted her. ‘What made him do that? Poor fellow, he must have been deceived. That Flenderson is able to do the most shameful things to gain an advantage.’
‘I need to remind you that you offered Mr. Howard to invite his friends,’ said Pamela carefully. ‘Perhaps, you do not know the extent of their acquaintance.’
‘I remember I said that,’ Sir Michael grumbled. ‘But I meant to invite his young friends, both gentlemen and pretty ladies, not that old shoe! Anyway, that blunder will not make me share any of my hospitality with him. He could stay, just keep him away from me!’
‘Certainly, sir,’ answered Pamela. She wanted to ask more about the reasons for his abhorrence toward Mr. Flenderson, but she still remembered the treatment she had gained before and remained silent.
For the rest of the day, Pamela kept herself busy with her daily routine and met neither with Sir Michael nor with his guests. And when Kevin asked Miss Flax to follow him into the Blue Salon again, Pamela just shook her head and entertained herself with the novel, which helped her in some measure to hush the aftersounds of voices and music and the feelings they caused.
The following day was Sunday, and Pamela intended to spend it with all the pleasure she could receive from her position and obstacles. She would spend the evening in her father’s house; and though Miss Martin still reminded her from time to time about her undignified deed, the happiness of Mrs. Anderson in her delicate state and the fact that Pamela shared her payment meekly with her family, the eldest daughter of Mr. Beesly had been long forgiven and remained the agreeable companion at Sunday’s dinners. Besides the comfort of the father’s hearth, Pamela expected to witness the meeting of the parishioners of Mr. Schrute with the new guests of Sir Michael. She wondered what would be the first impressions of both sides; she was curious about what Mr. Schrute had prepared for a greeting speech.
The first sign of that enjoyment Pamela gained when Sir Michael and his household went to the sermon. Sir Michael walked ahead of all, and Lady Levinson leaned on his right hand. Mr. Howard walked by his left side; apparently, both of his companions gave him that kind of attention the owner of Dunder Hall sought so much. Even from a distance, Pamela noticed how proudly he stepped; he even looked a little bit taller. She thought about Miss Flax’s opinion on such a change in Sir Michael’s demeanour, but they never discussed the lacks and eccentricities of their masters so that judgment would remain unspoken nevertheless. Besides, her interlocutor followed Lady Levinson, carrying her shawl and reticule, so their conversation had to wait.
Following the first group, Mr. Halpert escorted Mrs. Howard and her cousin. Pamela wondered briefly if Mrs. Howard felt comfortable to be left behind by her husband, but, for sure, the replacement of the companion was more than adequate, judging by her exclamations and giggling. That scene conjured the memory of the time when she had been the one who had enjoyed Mr. Halpert’s witty remarks. She quickly turned her gaze away, before the sorrows filled her mind again, and saw Mr. Flenderson, wandering aloof, alone. Pamela could not help but pity that man; she did not know for sure, but the master’s hostility had probably indisposed other guests from associating with him.
Mr. Flenderson might have sensed her gaze as he stumbled and turned around, noticing Pamela among the other servants. She greeted him, and he raised his top hat to greet her; he slowed the track of his steps, and soon he walked alongside Pamela, sharing with her a comfortable silence.
They parted at the entrance of the church. Pamela sat at her usual spot near her father and Miss Martin and watched as Mr. Schrute welcomed Sir Michael; it did not slip unnoticed that Mr. Flenderson was pointed at the secluded bench, as far from his brother-in-law as it was possible, where he found a place. She sighed, listening absentmindedly to the words of the sermon.
Pamela witnessed enough of the foolishness this morning, but her decision to find amusement in that ceased; she could not laugh at the folly of the honorable landlord, who treated poorly his own kin and thus made a fool of himself as well as she could not enjoy witnessing the misery of others. Indeed, she had no idea of what had been the object of the rivalry between the two gentlemen. Still, even if Mr. Flenderson had been guilty of the hideous iniquities, Sir Michael’s behavior should have been the paragon of dignity, if not mercy. But Pamela knew her master all too well to expect of him something like this.
The sermon had ended, and Pamela realized that she could barely recall the meaning of it; perhaps, she would receive the disapproval of Miss Martin later, but she could bear that. The parishioners gradually started to leave, and Pamela soon was outside the building. Her father stopped to have a word with a few respectable farmers, Mrs. Beesly joined the Andersons and left quickly, wanting to spend more time with her daughter, and Miss Martin was discussing with genuine seriousness the matter of the sermon with the fellow members of the charity group. Pamela stepped aside, waiting for her relatives to cart home.
‘It was nice to hear the word of the Lord today,’ Mr. Flenderson said, approaching her timidly as if he feared to interrupt her privacy. ‘I suppose Mr. Schrute was an excellent addition to the local society.’
‘He was, indeed,’ said Pamela. ‘Though we have disagreements sometimes, he serves to his parish diligently and with an outstanding passion.’
‘He reminds me of Mr. Martin a little,’ he said wistfully. ‘He was such a pleasant man and always had an opinion on every subject. I recalled as if it was just yesterday how he taught me how to choose good wine even though he prided himself as a man who had never had a drop of alcohol.’
‘Have you followed his advice, Mr. Flenderson?’ Pamela asked with a polite smile.
‘Yes, I have. And, to my surprise, his recommendations were quite helpful. I sometimes regret that I did not have an occasion to ask him about advocacy. Perhaps, my practice would have been better then.’
Pamela had no time to share her own memories about her late uncle as she heard a call ‘Pamela!’ and saw Sir Michael walking toward her. Mr. Flanderson excused himself quickly and went away.
‘Here you are! Pamela, be a dear and find someone who could fetch a carriage from Dunder Hall. Lady Levinson is tired of the sermon and does not feel well. I am afraid the way back might be exhausting for her.’
‘Of course, sir,’ she answered quietly, feeling sudden irritation and tiredness. She could not wait to be at her father’s home.
Pamela found a stable boy and passed him Sir Michael’s order. The boy ran to the mansion, and Pamela returned to her master only to find him having a conversation with Mr. Halpert and Miss Filippelli.
‘To be honest, I almost forgot how thoughtful and informative the sermons of Mr. Schrute could be. And using the story of the prodigal son as a metaphor for the reunion of your family — I cannot think of a better example. I beg you to use your authority and persuade him to collect his notes and send them to Oxford. I am more than sure that his notes will be published, and that will do the honor to both the author and his patron.’
If Pamela had not known Mr. Halpert previously, she would have had no doubts in his sincerity and his genuine interest; but she had known him and saw his intentions as clearly as if he spoke of them himself. She imagined what would happen next: the frustration Mr. Schrute would suffer when his notes would be declined; the displeasure of Sir Michael who would take that rejection as his own offense and who would accuse Mr. Schrute of his dissatisfaction; and the amusement Mr. Halpert would gain, watching the exchanges between the two gentlemen. For sure, he had done that before, and she had been a willing participant in some of his tricks; Pamela still considered that it did not harm to mock some of Mr. Schrute’s most obnoxious antics. But this prank, if she caught the idea right, might be not harmless, but cruel. Pamela remarked once more with a pang of regret how he had changed.
‘It would delight me!’ exclaimed Sir Michael. ‘For me all his sermons are alike, but if you think they are remarkable… I shall not let Mr. Schrute remain unknown. Ah! Pamela, here you are! Well?’
For the briefest moment, her gaze met Mr. Halpert’s; she saw a flicker of sadness in his countenance. But it was replaced with the mask of polite indifference almost immediately, and Pamela cast her eyes down, ashamed of imagining the things that she wanted to see.
‘I sent Luke to the mansion. I expect him to return with the carriage in a quarter of an hour.’
‘Capital!’ Sir Michael smiled. ‘Lady Levinson will be pleased to hear that!’
He went away, and Pamela followed him, but she heard the quiet remark of Miss Filippelli.
‘You do not stop to astonish me. That was the most boring lecture I suffered since I left school, and you proposed the notes of this preacher to be published?’
Pamela just smiled bitterly.
Mr. Beesly had finished his conversation and was ready to go home. Pamela and Miss Martin, talking about the supper and the charity donation for the poor, went after him. They almost reached the cart when they heard the distant call.
She turned around to see with great surprise that it was Mr. Howard who was coming after her.
‘Mr. Howard! Did something happen to Sir Michael?’ it was the only reasonable excuse why he would have called for her.
‘Oh, no, no, no, he is perfectly fine,’ Mr. Howard answered. ‘But… may I have a word with you?’
‘Well…’ Pamela said, unsure. She ignored the sight of Miss Martin’s pursed lips and looked at her father, who observed their exchange and nodded then. Mr. Howard smiled and bowed both to Mr. Beesly and Miss Martin; however, he did not ask Pamela to introduce him. ‘Yes, of course.’
They stepped aside, and Pamela was at a loss for the subject of this sudden conversation.
‘Miss Beesly, I have made an amazing discovery. Am I right to suppose that late Lady Scott was your godmother?’
‘Yes, sir,’ said Pamela, still understanding nothing. ‘She was.’
‘I know that these days that kind of connection is considered as nothing,’ he said, still smiling. ‘But I think of you as of a part of our family.’
‘You are very kind, sir,’ that was all she could say in answer.
‘I would like you to join our circle this evening, after dinner,’ he continued, and Pamela thought she misheard him for a moment. ‘It will be just a little family gathering, without ceremonies and formalities. Could I count on you?’
‘I would like to,’ she said carefully. ‘But I promised my father to visit him and spend the evening at his home.’
‘But you could change that arrangement, couldn’t you?’ Mr. Howard’s smile turned a little forced. ‘I am sure your honorable father would understand the natural interest of your, if I may say so, extended family to know you better.’
‘I guess so,’ Pamela said, knowing that the conversation came to its conclusion.
‘Excellent! I shall see you at Dunder Hall then. Mrs. Howard will be delighted to meet you.’
She curtsied, and he said his farewell almost familiarly. Pamela returned to her family, feeling slight anxiety.
‘He asked me to join them after dinner,’ she said to her father. ‘I do not know the reason, however.’
‘I do not think you should worry about it,’ Mr. Beesly answered. ‘They probably need someone to shuffle the cards or serve tea or something else that they could not do by themselves. It is a pity that you have to leave us, but, perhaps, it would pay off somehow.’
Pamela smiled at him gratefully, but his speech did not vanish her concern.
The next chapter - the evening. Or, rather, The Evening.
Thank you all who read and comment this story! Your responses inspire me and motivate to write (and be faster with updates). It means a lot to me.
So. The Evening.
Pamela returned to Dunder Hall while Sir Michael and his guests were still dining. It gave her time to prepare herself and change her usual simple dress for a little more presentable gown, the gift from her father that had been for her sister's wedding. Pamela fixed her hair and considered that she was ready, at least, in her appearance; the state of her mind was confusion for one half and fear for another.
She left her room and went to the Blue Salon, still half-light and empty. More to calm herself than out of the habit, Pamela started to light the candles, placing them on the tables and around the spinet. She was doing that when the doors opened, and the ladies entered the room.
'Miss Beesly,' said Lady Levinson, eyeing her briefly as if she was nothing. 'Do not let us bother you.'
The lady sat on the sofa graciously and straightened barely noticeable wrinkles of her elegant gown; it was a clear sign for Pamela to leave the salon. But before Pamela could say anything that explained her being here Mrs. Howard interfered.
'Ah! So you are Miss Beesly! I have met you at last!'
To her great surprise, Mrs. Howard stepped close and took Pamela's hand in hers.
'I am sure we shall be friends. You should tell me everything about you and this place!'
'As you wish, Mrs. Howard,' said Pamela, astonished with this greeting.
'But your dress! Did Mr. Howard not tell you to prepare for this evening? You have such a lovely face and figure, and you hide them behind such a plain gown! I have to do something about it!'
While Mrs. Howard was talking, Lady Levinson rang a bell, calling for a valet.
'Send for Miss Flax,' she said to the servant with a barely hidden disrelish. 'I might require her service.'
'Ah! And fetch my shawl from my chamber, the green one,' exclaimed Mrs. Howard as soon as the valet bowed and was about to go. 'It suits your eyes, Miss Beesly, and will decorate your outfit a little.'
'I cannot take it, Mrs. Howard,' Pamela said, embarrassed. 'Thank you so much for your concern, but…'
'Nonsense!' Mrs. Howard waved her excuses away. 'You can, and you will do. There is nothing to talk about. Besides, it is just an old shawl; it does not suit me at all.'
Miss Filippelli was watching this exchange with a smile. When Mrs. Howard started to explain to the servant where to find the required garment, she said to Pamela.
'You should forgive my cousin, Miss Beesly. She might be assertive and persistent, but she has only good intentions and does not mean to embarrass you.'
She made a gesture for her to sit near, and Pamela obeyed.
'To be honest, being in the countryside is something new for us both,' Miss Filippelli continued. 'We are accustomed to living in the city and to be so far from it puzzles me a little. I have no conception of the country's standards, or traditions, or the way things are done here. Could you do me a favour and tell me about the local society? What do you do to entertain yourself? I am sure I could rely on your opinion.'
She had asked Mr. Halpert almost the same question, Pamela recalled. Perhaps, his advice did not satisfy her interest.
'To be honest,' answered Pamela. 'I have little time that I could dedicate to entertaining. But I enjoy novels from the library that Sir Michael allows me to use. And, if the weather is good, I go for a walk or draw.'
'Oh, so you are an artist, aren't you?' Miss Filippelli smiled. 'So, what do you prefer - crayons, watercolour, oil? And you should show me the most pleasant scenery for me to paint. It would be nice to have a little reminder of the time spent in Yorkshire.'
'I could show you the park and the hills if you wish so, but we depend on the weather,' said Pamela. 'In this time of the year, the rains are often, so I am afraid walking would be a rare occasion.'
'I am sorry to hear that,' sighed Miss Filippelli. 'I suppose it means we ought to spend most of the time indoors then. What a pity that this spinet is in such a bad condition. I am quite fond of music and would be delighted if I could keep practicing. Do you play, Miss Beesly?'
‘Ah! Are you talking about playing again?’ Mrs. Howard finished her quite detailed instructions to the valet and joined the conversation. She sat on the sofa near Pamela, so the housekeeper found herself sitting between the cousins. ‘About your endless sonatas and suites? I think music without dancing is nothing! Tell me better, Miss Beesly, do you have assemblies here?’
‘Usually, we have some assemblies in the village, though this year, Sir Michael decided not to open the season,’ answered Pamela.
‘Oh, that is horrible!’ exclaimed Mrs. Howard with unfeigned agitation. ‘Poor Miss Beesly, that might have been a big disappointment for all the local ladies. I beg you, use all the influence you have to persuade Sir Michael to organize the ball!’
‘In my opinion, the public ball is that kind of gathering that is unworthy for every self-respected person,’ said Lady Levinson. Her seat was in front of the sofa three young ladies were sitting, and gazes of all of them turned to the older lady. ‘The people of lower classes, who have neither manners nor a conception of respect, are treated equally with the nobility. Besides, public balls encourage other forms of abominable and dissolute behaviour. I am glad that Sir Michael decided against the event that would be beneath his dignity.’
For a moment, the silence fell. And Pamela’s long-formed suspicion about Lady Levinson’s role in the cancellation of the Dunder-Mifflin assembly was confirmed.
‘The picture you described is horrifying,’ said Miss Filippelli. ‘But this ball does not mean to be public. I am sure the small gathering in the mansion, for four to six pairs, would be both buoyant and decorous. I cannot find any objections against that assembly.’
‘Yes, but what about the proper cavaliers?’ cried Mrs. Howard. ‘I shall dance with my dear Mr. Howard, and you, for sure, will keep Mr. Halpert, but what about Miss Beesly? There is no one for her!’
The doors opened, and Pamela turned her head, startled, but it was Miss Flax, with her housewife and the green shawl.
‘Ah, here it is!’ Mrs. Howard took the garment. ‘Thank you! Now, Miss Beesly, let me make you a little more pretty. These sleeves — you should hide them; they are horribly out of fashion. For five years, at least! What would the gentlemen say if they saw that?’
Miss Flax sat on the chair behind Lady Levinson and laid her needlework out. Her gaze met Pamela’s; the pity filled the former and the desperation the latter.
‘Thank you, Mrs. Howard,’ said Pamela, touched the fabric of the shawl. ‘You are very kind.’
‘Ah, you are so sweet! Do not mention it, I beg you. And now, tell me, where do you buy cloth and hats and ribbons and other little things. I do not believe there are no proper shops!’
They discussed the assortment of goods in the local store for a little. Pamela spoke quietly, while Mrs. Howard reacted animatedly to every new piece of information, and Miss Filippelli asked a few questions, sometimes puzzling Pamela and occasionally helping her to escape the awkwardness. Still, even her favour could not make Pamela feel free from tension and anxiety. Lady Levinson whispered something to Miss Flax once and remained silent and motionless, having no intention to join the conversation.
Finally, the doors opened again, and the gentlemen appeared. Pamela dreaded that moment; she had hoped that they would stay in the dining room for as long as it could be possible, but apparently, cognac and cigars were not as pleasing as the ladies’ company. Sir Michael walked first and beamed as Lady Levinson greeted him with a courteous smile. Mr. Howard and Mr. Halpert followed him; Mr. Flenderson was the last; his face was sad and bleak.
If Pamela had not wanted to cry, she would have laughed at the change of Mr. Halpert’s countenance as he saw her, sitting between Miss Filippelli and Mrs. Howard. The light smile froze on his lips, and his eyes widened, his whole figure tensed. Pamela suspected that for a moment or two, he fought an urge to turn around and leave the room; instead, however, he went to the fireplace with forced tranquility and paid his attention to flames and coals. The reaction of Mr. Flenderson was quite different. He smiled compassionately to Pamela and sat into the armchair across the room, away from the bright light and the main circle, but still observing it.
It seemed that no one else noticed those changes as their attention was kept with a verbose exchange between Sir Michael and Lady Levinson.
'Sir Michael! What kept you for so long? I was wondering if you forgot about us at all.'
'How could I, my dearest Lady Levinson!' exclaimed Sir Michael, almost falling into his armchair. 'You know how I like and appreciate your company, don't you? If I knew you needed me, we would not spend so much time with the meaningless talk in the dining room.'
He was rewarded with one more gracious smile. Mr. Howard, meanwhile, stood behind Sir Michael's armchair and spoke to his wife.
'I hope you did not miss us, my love? Have you had a good time?'
'Lord, of course!' Mrs. Howard said affectionately. 'Miss Beesly kept me entertained. You were right, she is the nicest young girl I have ever met!'
'Well, I do believe that Sir Michael and Lady Scott could not have found the more grateful person to show their generosity and benevolence,' he said meaningfully. 'I am glad that you are among us this evening, Miss Beesly.'
'And so am I,' Mrs. Howard continued. 'But we need to do something for her too.'
She grabbed Pamela's hand and said to her.
'We shall take you with us to London. I am sure, even if you did not have a great fortune, I could find you a husband or, at least, a lover!'
Pamela was mortified, unable to say anything. So, it was Sir Michael who decided to interrupt, and he made her feel even worse.
'Pamela is a good girl, indeed, but she does not need a husband. She was engaged once and did not marry; she is fine where she is now. Aren't you, Pamela?'
'Ah! How horrible! Poor Miss Beesly, it had to be a shock for you. But what happened? Why did you not get married?'
And everyone in the room stared at her; everyone, except one, though Pamela knew he was listening too. Out of idleness and inquisitiveness, she was forced to return into the worst time of her life to bring back the memories she desired to forget; and she had to do it in the presence of the only person who had a relation to her decision. The blush of humiliation coloured her cheeks; she mustered all of the strength that remained.
'There were a lot of reasons to call off my wedding,' she said, speaking to her hands rested on her knees. 'And I am glad I did that. Neither I would have been content in that marriage, nor the man I had been engaged to. Truth be told, he has a wife now; and any guilt I felt when my engagement had been broken vanished without a trace when I witnessed their happiness.'
'That is what I said,' Sir Michael said with delight. 'Pamela is happy in Dunder Hall. Besides, I cannot do without her. She runs the mansion so well. I cannot imagine what will happen if she has to leave me.'
'You are very kind, sir,' muttered Pamela, looking at him briefly and returning her gaze to her clasped hands.
After that, the conversation turned to the lacks and merits of the servants, which Pamela missed gladly. She instructed the valet when to serve the tea and returned to the observation and listening. The dull pain started to form in her temples, and every time Mrs. Howard made an especially loud remark Pamela tried not to wince.
The tea was served. Pamela filled the cups as the guests gathered near the little tea table and thought that maybe her father was right, and she was required only as the agreeable servant. She was ready to serve and knew her position well, though even her dependent position did not excuse the embarrassing way she had been interrogated.
Pamela gave a cup to Miss Flax and was rewarded with her friendly 'thank you,' and cold glare from Lady Levinson; the last person who did not have tea was Mr. Flenderson, who still sit far from the circle and did not dare to come closer in attempt to avoid Sir Michael's attention. Pamela took a full cup and made a few steps toward him when Sir Michael spoke to her.
'Pamela, dear, could you refill my cup, please?'
She obeyed and returned to the tea table, though she could not get rid of suspicion that Sir Michael's asking was nothing but a petty attempt to punish Mr. Flenderson.
Finally, when Sir Michael had a second cup of tea and enough biscuits and was involved in a conversation with Mr. Howard and Lady Levinson, Pamela made her way to Mr. Flenderson.
‘I am sorry you had to wait for so long,’ she said quietly.
‘Oh, you should not apologize, Miss Beesly,’ he answered with a weary smile. ‘I am glad that you maintain the order my sister had established.’
‘It was the least I could do to keep the memory of her alive. I loved Lady Scott as my own mother,’ Pamela said, recalling the image of her dear godmother. ‘And I still miss her.’
‘It is a tragedy that she could not be with us today. So many things would have been different, it would have been better,’ Mr. Flenderson shook his head.
Pamela agreed with him. She thought about the moments of hesitation and perplexity she had had and about the pieces of advice Lady Scott might have given her; she felt eternal sadness at these thoughts, watching as Miss Filippelli talked to Mr. Halpert out of the tail of her eye. And yet, Pamela found solace in the realization that she had done nothing that could have tarnished the memory of her godmother, nothing that could have ashamed her.
‘That is true,’ she said. ‘And yet, we cannot allow ourselves to live the reflection of the past. I think we should keep the memories, but at the same time, we have to find the beauty and the goodness in the ordinary things that create our lives. It is wrong to forget the past completely, but it is also pernicious to allow it to affect our present and the future.’
‘It is a good advice, Miss Beesly,’ Mr. Flenderson said sadly. ‘Though in some days, I find it impossible to follow it.’
‘Miss Beesly! Could you come over to us?’ Mr. Howard called her. ‘We need your opinion.’
Pamela sighed, and Mr. Flenderson gave her another tired smile.
‘Sir Michael said you were the one who mostly organized the assemblies in Dunder Hall, weren’t you,’ Mr. Howard said as soon as she approached them. ‘Mrs. Howard and I want to be introduced to the local society, and we cannot find a better option to do that than the ball. What do you think, could it be done while we are visiting Dunder Hall?’
‘But I beg you, Sir Michael, when thinking about the balls, do not forget about the unpleasantness they could cause,’ Lady Levinson said. ‘You should think of yourself; have not you complained to me about the ache in your back and your knees just yesterday? And being in the ball hall, especially if it is crowded or has a nasty draft, could be unsafe for you.’
‘Ah! What harm could do a ball? I have never heard about anyone who had gotten ill after a ball!’ exclaimed Mrs. Howard, clearly engaged with the desire to have a gathering in Dunder Hall. ‘Besides, you could always find a snug spot near a fireplace to everybody’s content.’
‘Have you suffered from your aches again, Sir Michael?’ Pamela was concerned. ‘I should probably send after Doctor Bratton before your condition worsens.’
‘Probably, yes,’ said Sir Michael with a sigh. His expression was filled with so much regret that Pamela added.
‘Sir Michael, the ball could be the next day if you wanted it to be, but I am sure you would not feel pleased just sitting in the chair and watching the dancers. You should open the assembly as you did it all these years, and if you do not feel well enough, we should postpone the gathering until you recover.’
‘Yes, you are right — as usual,’ Sir Michael seemed to be satisfied with this solution. ‘And when I feel better, I shall be pleased to greet everyone in Dunder Hall. And…’
He turned to Lady Levinson.
‘May I engage you for the first two dances?’
‘Perhaps,’ she said with a smile that did not reach her eyes.
‘Capital!’ Sir Michael said with a grin. ‘And now I would like to play whist. Pamela, say a word to set the table. Lady Levinson, Mr. Howard, would you join me?’
Pamela rang a bell and watched as valets prepared the card table. Lady Levinson insisted that the fourth player would be Miss Flax; Mr. Howard agreed with it and easily persuaded Mrs. Howard that she did not want to play cards. He was in a cheerful mood, and when the preparation had been done, he said to Pamela.
‘I am truly grateful to you for all you have done. I knew I could count on you.’
Pamela did not quite understand why Mr. Howard had been so insistent, why he had appealed to the matter of family if all he had been in need of was a person to serve. But perhaps, she thought as she threw a gaze at Mr. Halpert and Miss Filippelli, she had no idea about the way the gentlemen were thinking.
Pamela had an intention to join Mr. Flenderson; it seemed unfair that he was invited and treated with such coldness both by the master and the guests, who were supposed to be his friends. But Mrs. Howard had another plan. As soon as her husband settled at the card table, she asked Pamela to sit near her and started a long conversation — or, rather, a monologue, dedicated to balls and assemblies she had visited and would have liked to visit; she repeated her intention to do something for Pamela and recalled names of this or that gentleman who, in her opinion, would be a perfect match for her. In vain, Pamela tried to remind her that she could not follow them to London and had no intention to find a husband; Mrs. Howard just repeated that Pamela would change her mind as soon as she arrived in the City and met with a better society. Pamela’s headache became stronger, and she caught the glances of Mr. Halpert every time Mrs. Howard said one or another gentleman’s name; any enjoyment she might have had at this party ceased.
‘Miss Beesly, I decided to give a chance to this spinet,’ Miss Filippelli said to Pamela, interrupting the speech of her cousin. ‘Perhaps, you could find me some notes to play?’
‘I think, there were some in the library,’ she said, rising; Pamela could send someone to find notes, but she wanted to use an excuse to leave this room even for a moment.
‘Ah! The famous library you have been talking so much about,’ she looked at Mr. Halpert with a sly smile. ‘I have nothing to worry about then; if all I have heard is true, I could probably find a few miraculously rescued manuscripts from the Library of Alexandria.’
Pamela left for the library; even with the meticulously compiled catalogue, she spent more time than she expected to find the notes. The library room was lit only with a candle she brought with her; Pamela did not want to return into the brightly lit salon with the loud voices and indelicate questions. But she could only reassure herself that this evening eventually would come to an end.
When she returned into the salon, she noticed with pity that Mr. Flanderson was not there. And since Miss Flax was still engaged in the game, Pamela was deprived of a chance to have a pleasant talk for the rest of the evening. She gave the notes to Miss Filippelli and immediately saw the quick flash of disappointment on her face.
‘Thank you, Miss Beesly,’ she said, at last, flipping through the pages. ‘That is a pity I played all these concerts so many times I almost know them by heart.’
‘The last person who had used them was Lady Scott,’ said Pamela, feeling the urge to advocate the library. ‘I am sorry if these notes are obsolete a little.’
‘That is not your fault, I suppose,’ Miss Filippelli sighed. At the same time, Mr. Halpert took the music sheets and looked through them.
‘Is it not the concert you had performed at the Christmas assembly in Wallace Lodge? In my recollection it was magnificent. Perhaps, I could persuade you to play it for the audience who are not familiar with your talents?’
‘Perhaps, you could,’ Miss Filippelli smiled and sat at the spinet; Mr. Halpert stood near, diligently turning pages for her.
As the music started to sound, Pamela found herself listening to it with uncovered attention and sadness. The performance was excellent; Pamela had never heard such a skillful play, and even the poor state of the old spinet did not distort the melody. But it only accentuated the difference between exquisite Miss Filippelli and herself. And Mr. Halpert made quite clear what choice he had made.
Pamela’s only relief was that Mrs. Howard decided to watch the card game; she sat near her husband, commenting on the game with an affectionate smile, and though he told her again and again that it was against the rules, she did not stop. Sir Michael looked at them with fondness.
‘Ah, what could be more delightful than to witness the young love!’ he said and gained smiles both from Mr. and Mrs. Howard.
‘Thank you, sir,’ said Mr. Howard. ‘I cannot imagine my existence without my dear Mrs. Howard. And I am horrified with only the thought that our connection might tarnish, that we might lose each other.’
‘Ah, my dear Mr. Howard, you can never lose me!’ exclaimed Mrs. Howard, leaning to his arm.
‘I pray for it, my dear,’ Mr. Howard kissed her hand. ‘But life is so unpredictable; I might die the next day. And if this happens, promise me to keep the memory of our love and do not take another husband. I know I shall not take another woman as a wife, either. I believe the first connection is the true one, and I do not understand why people are so fond of the second connections. What good is it to get married if you lost your love?’
‘To save money on the warmers, I suppose,’ said Miss Flax.
For a moment, the silence fell; even the music seemed to get quieter. And then Sir Michael started to laugh, soon, Mrs. Howard joined him, covering her mouth and giggling. Even Pamela cast her eyes down and bit her lip to prevent the smile. Only Miss Flax could interrupt such a bombastic speech with something that silly. Immediately, she felt compassion towards Miss Flax. Lady Levinson was not happy with her remark; Pamela suspected that only the reaction of Sir Michael prevented her from scolding Miss Flax right at the table. Perhaps, the lady would show her dissatisfaction later this evening, when they would be away from prying eyes.
The conversation at the table continued; Pamela sat motionless at her place, too tired to do anything else. For a moment, she closed her eyes in an attempt to tame her headache.
Pamela opened her eyes and looked up to see Mr. Halpert standing before her with a glass of wine in his hand.
‘I suppose a little wine could help you to ease your headache,’ he said, and Pamela’s heart skipped a beat at the thought that he had noticed her distress and had not remained silent. Mr. Halpert threw a short gaze at the card table and said, lowering his voice, ‘And I persistently recommend you to take some rest. Sir Michael seems to be involved in the game, and he will not notice your absence.’
‘Thank you, Mr. Halpert,’ she said, not knowing what else to say. ‘But I cannot. My service might be required…’
‘You can, and you will,’ he almost forced her to take the glass. ‘And now go. I assure you, we can manage without your assistance.’
‘As you wish,’ Pamela said, squeezing the glass tightly with both hands. Mr. Halpert nodded and stepped aside, allowing her to go; his face was unreadable. As soon as Pamela closed the door behind her, she heard the laugh of Miss Filippelli.
Perhaps, she was sent away to avoid even more awkwardness. But even his harsh words did not obscure his unexpected kindness. And though Pamela did not allow her hopes to resurrect from the aches, she knew now that Mr. Halpert had not changed enough to watch her suffering and find pleasure in it.
This is the longest chapter (so far).
And I think things start to speed up...
In the morning, while Sir Michael and his guests were having breakfast, Miss Flax found Pamela in the servant’s room, compiling the list of goods she had to order from the village store.
‘How are you feeling today, Miss Beesly?’ she asked warm-heartedly. ‘I am afraid yesterday’s evening might have been exhausting for you.’
‘I am quite well, thank you,’ Pamela smiled at Miss Flax. ‘Besides, it was only my head and my pride that have been hurt. Nothing I have never dealt before.’
‘I am sorry to hear that,’ said Miss Flax. ‘I supposed that the newcomers might have gotten bored quickly and could have looked for questionable entertainment, but I did not think they would have found it in your person. But, at least, you caught the attention of ladies, not gentlemen; their interest might be annoying, yet it is harmless.’
Pamela laughed mirthlessly, imaging vividly what kind of attention she might have gained from a gentleman and the harm had been already done to her.
‘I shall consider myself blessed then. Besides, I am sure I could shield myself from the exceeding visibility. The ladies, even if they are dying with boredom, will barely follow me into the dairy or poultry.’
‘But they could always send for you,’ said Miss Flax.
‘That is true. Then my only hope is that the gentlemen would come to my rescue and distract the ladies from my humble person. I doubt that I am a more interesting subject than men’s attention or even the detuned piano.’
She first laughed at her own joke, and Miss Flax smiled in return. At least, thought Pamela, nothing could be hopeless if she retained the ability to laugh at the little silliness and follies — even if that laugh mixed with tears.
Miss Flax was right; Pamela was demanded almost at every next evening's gatherings to serve, give pieces of advice, and suffer from improper remarks of Sir Michael and Mrs. Howard. Pamela was silent for most of the time, but she was not blind, even if she was eager to blind herself with loyalty and affection. She would not admit to Miss Flax, though, but these gatherings gave her a lot of observations to reflect on.
The main wonder she pondered over was the interior reasons that motivated Mr. Howard to insist on her presence even if it was not, in fact, as necessary as he had told her. The suspicion appeared on the third evening when Mr. Howard asked Pamela to share her memories about the way late Lady Scott had ruled the mansion and threw a sideway glance at Lady Levinson while Pamela was speaking; this suspicion became stronger with every added word and action. And she would have genuinely enjoyed this more or less subtle game if it had not involved the people she cared about.
One of the grandest acts of this play concerned the choice of the doctor for Sir Michael. Dr. Bratton, who was healing the villagers of Dunder-Mifflin as well as the habitants of Dunder Hall and all surrounding farms for at least twenty years, arrived in time, examined Sir Michael and concluded that the landlord was healthy as a bull and prescripted to drink a pint of eggnog at least twice a day. But his heavy Yorkshire accent and the stains on his clothes remaining after a bloodletting made the ladies horrified. ‘Inconceivable! How could this man call himself a doctor?’ they said again and again. ‘He is a savage! He would probably heal Sir Michael to death!’ The idea to send for another doctor appeared immediately. But for whom to send?
Mr. Howard suggested writing to Dr. Underbridge, who had quite a prominent practice in London; Lady Levinson insisted on sending for Dr. Hunter, who was not as famous as Dr. Underbridge but had recently graduated from the University of Edinburgh and had terrific recommendations. The virtues and lacks of every candidate were discussed agitatedly; Sir Michael listened to the debates with great pleasure and even more considerable confusion. This attention to his well-being flattered his pride, but Sir Michael could not understand why the service of Dr. Bratton was not good enough; after some convincing, though, he agreed that the man with his position in the society should be examined by a doctor from the city indeed. But the winning candidate, despite the endless arguing and persuasions, remained undefined.
After the first week, Pamela changed her opinion. The scenes she was observing were not parts of the play — rather, the battles in the undeclared war between Mr. Howard and Lady Levinson for the favour of Sir Michael; or, to be precise, for Sir Michael’s title and money. Each side had its tactics and allies, small victories, and sacrifices for the more significant gain.
Mr. Howard, who intended to remain the only heir, with more or less subtlety, reminded Sir Michael constantly about the family values, the connection between generations, and the duties of the patriarch. That was why he had invited Mr. Flenderson to arrive at Dunder Hall, and then — had asked Pamela to join the gatherings; they ought to be the living reminder of the woman he had lost and to whom he had been faithful for so long.
But all the attention Mr. Howard gave to Sir Michael could not compare to that kind of care that a man in love desiderated; Sir Michael was sure he was in love with Lady Levinson, and she did not dissuade him. Her migraines she had suffered almost every day, had gone without a trace; her smiles were gracious, she kept a place near her for Sir Michael, asked his opinion and encouraged his courtship in a way only a true lady could do. She received even more letters though none of them were handed to Sir Michael as before. Sir Michael was delighted with such a change in her demeanor and could not stop telling Pamela how happy he was. But Pamela thought with sadness that in one way or another, he would be hurt.
For sure, Miss Flax was aware of Lady Levinson’s intentions; to her credit, she did nothing that could give benefit to Lady Levinson’s plan. Miss Flax became the constant fourth player at the card table, and, though, her presence should have secured Lady Levinson’s position, Miss Flax did not encourage her mistress’ innuendos and even made some waggish remarks — to Sir Michael’s delight and Lady Levinson’s annoyance.
Pamela wondered if the people who had come with Mr. Howard or had been invited by him knew about his plan — judging by the surprise of Mr. Flenderson, the complaints of Mrs. Howard and the disinterest of Miss Filippelli, she doubted it. Mr. Halpert knew, though, or, at least, had his suspicions; he was too smart to miss the apparent indications. He did not try to flatter Sir Michael or support Mr. Howard in his subtle antagonism with Lady Levinson; he spoke to Sir Michael and almost all his households with genuine friendliness, and Pamela almost saw the man she had known once. But then, Mr. Schrute appeared, to boast that he had compiled his lectures, that he had sent them as Sir Michael had suggested and expected for an answer soon; when Mr. Schrute appeared, the friendly smile on Mr. Halpert’s face turned into a malicious one, and Pamela just sighed at such an evolution of his character.
The day followed the day, the week followed the week, and the month, since Mr. Howard and his friends had arrived, had passed. At the end of this month, the tension and the mutual irritation of the habitants of Dunder Hall was palpable. Pamela surprisingly found herself a confidant for the guests of Sir Michael — and the master himself. It was Pamela who listened to Mrs. Howard’s complaints about the insufferable boredom and the delay of the promising ball; it was Pamela who provided entertainment to Miss Filippelli at her first request; it was Pamela who cheered Mr. Flenderson up every time he told her about sorrowful incidents in his life. And more than once, when Miss Filippelli made especially sarcastic girds to display her dissatisfaction with the weather, the routine in Dunder Hall or Yorkshire in general, Pamela caught the gaze of Mr. Halpert, seeking for compassion. And though Pamela appreciated the feeling of valuation she received, her soul was tired, and she desperately wanted for a change.
This change appeared sooner than she hoped and in a form that bewildered and shocked everyone. Mr. Schrute had received an answer from Oxford; the letter had said his manuscripts would have been published as a book, and the author would have gotten five hundred pounds as royalties. After the clergyman had read the letter, he, as his housekeeper recalled lately, had taken his hat and his cane and left his cabinet — only to walk three miles between the parsonage and Beesly’s farm where he, without further ado, had had a talk with Mr. Beesly and had asked for a hand of Miss Martin. She had agreed without hesitation.
‘Who could have guessed?’ exclaimed Sir Michael cheerfully as the news about the engagement of Mr. Schrute and Miss Martin reached Dunder Hall. ‘I was sure he would be celibate until the end of his days!’
The matter of marriage, as it happened often, was discussed vividly; and Pamela took great pleasure at the look of abashment painted across Mr. Halpert’s face. He had wanted to laugh at Mr. Schrute’s predicament but, for sure, did not expect that his trick would have had such unexpected consequences.
‘Well, a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife,’ said Mr. Halpert, trying to hide his feelings behind his usual good humor. ‘And he has a great bit of luck that he found a willing woman so quickly.’
Pamela bit her lip, smiling, and shook her head. She prided herself for her insight, and yet, she could not have been more blind when it was concerning the affection between the clergyman and her cousin. The way Mr. Schrute had always asked Miss Martin to dance even if she had consistently declined the offer, the way Miss Martin had discussed the sermons with the relatives, even if they had not shown much enthusiasm. And the way Mr. Schrute had glanced at Beesly’s bench when he had spoken about matrimony — Pamela had thought that he had scolded her for the broken engagement, but it had been his occasion to talk to Miss Martin about his intentions. How stupid Pamela was! Well, if it had been a lesson of humility, she would have deserved it.
‘You have another opinion, don’t you, Miss Beesly?’ Pamela raised her head, alarmed, to see as Mr. Halpert squinted his eyes at her.
‘Not at all,’ she said. ‘I did not expect that turn of events, though I am not surprised much. Mr. Schrute and Miss Martin knew each other for a long time, their characters are suited well, and they have not met any objections against the union. I am glad that this fortunate circumstance allows them to get married. I expect them to be as happy as they could be.’
It was her peace offering, her way to let him know that she was aware of his intervention and appreciated it. But somehow, her response irked him even more.
‘So, if Mr. Schrute did not receive some money, he would not marry the woman he loves? I am astonished by his patience then.’
‘Perhaps, they would have waited more, before they could have afforded the marriage. But I suppose the inability to get married immediately gave them enough time to test their feelings, and now they are quite confident in each other's attachments.’
‘I feel pity for Mr. Schrute if he had to wait for so long,’ Mr. Halpert said with a smirk. ‘But, probably, their feelings were not passionate enough if they were content with the waiting.’
‘I know nothing about the relationship between Mr. Schrute and my cousin,’ said Pamela, her voice shook with a fit of anger at Mr. Halpert’s mockery. ‘Perhaps, their feelings are not as ardent and fiery as other people want them to be, but it does not mean that their connection is lesser or weaker for that. It would have been much worse if they had taken an infatuation for the deep feeling, eloped, and then, when the feeling had faded, had been miserable together. Especially if they had met and loved other persons who could have made them much happier.’
‘Infatuation?’ repeated Mr. Halpert, and Pamela was horrified to recognize the hurt in his voice and his expression. ‘Is this what you believe in? Infatuation?’
‘I would be glad to be mistaken,’ said Pamela quietly, lowering her eyes to hide unwanted tears. She was grateful to Mrs. Howard, who chose that moment to declare.
‘I think time and the strength of love do not connect at all. How long had we known each other before you asked for my hand, my love? Two weeks and not a day longer! And I am sure I could not be happier with someone else!’
I just wanted Pam to snap. I hope she did it in style.
I hope I'll update at the weekend.
Writing this chapter was a great distraction from all the chaos, disasters and angst in my life right now. I hope it didn't affect the story though.
Thank you all who read and leave comments! It's hard to describe how much that means to me!
The wedding of Mr. Schrute and Miss Martin was planned for the fall, after Michaelmas. The date left enough time for Mr. Schrute to prepare everything required for the wedding and for Miss Martin — to enjoy every benefit of her newly engaged status. The smile never left her face, and though the sincerity of her attachment to Mr. Schrute was unquestionable, Pamela suspected that her unhidden joy might have been caused by another reason. Last nine years, Miss Martin was dependent on the grace of her kins; with the change of her name, she would leave Beesly’s farm and become the mistress of her own home — the home she had been born and had been raised in. This union could not be less perfect for both of them.
No one indeed was surprised when at the Sunday sermon, Mr. Schrute dedicated the whole lecture to the importance of marriage. He spoke with a passion Pamela had never seen before, even when he had been irked beyond measure; he remembered the stories of Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Rachel, and also used line or two from Song of Songs. Pamela wondered briefly if this sermon would become a chapter in his book; when this thought appeared, she threw a glance at Mr. Halpert, sitting in the front row. His posture was tense and motionless, and Pamela sighed quietly. She had not had an occasion to speak to him after their exchange one evening, though, even if she had what would she have said to him? Pamela was not going to apologise for her words, and she did not know what else he wanted to hear from her.
When the sermon was over, Mr. Schrute was surrounded by his parishioners, who wanted to congratulate him and show their respect. At the same time, their wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters gathered around Miss Martin to share their delight with such pleasant news and ask questions about the wedding, the parish school, and — in hushed voices — about the raise of Mr. Schrute’s income. Pamela knew how much her cousin despised the idle talk, though Miss Martin looked surprisingly pleased with this attention.
‘It seems that Mr. Schrute has made a perfect choice,’ Pamela heard a voice and turned around to see Mr. Flenderson, standing near her.
‘He has,’ said Pamela. ‘And I am genuinely glad for my cousin. She deserves happiness like no one else.’
‘Besides, it will be a blessing for the whole parish when the preacher is married,’ Mr. Flenderson continued, fumbling with his top hat. ‘A single man, even if he had friends and helpers, could not keep everything in order and the female presence would definitely make improvement both for the husband and the community, like running the school for the children of poor or… or…’
He stumbled, and Pamela said, wanting to avoid more awkwardness.
‘Perhaps, you are right. But, if you estimate the good opinion of Mr. Schrute, I beg you, do not mention the possible improvements in this parish. As much as he would like to hear the praising to virtues of Miss Martin, he would be insulted if someone supposed he did not do enough in his position.’
She gave him a small smile, and her companion chuckled in response.
Mr. and Mrs. Beesly left the church, ready to go home; Pamela noticed them and curtsied Mr. Flenderson goodbye.
‘I hope I could see at the evening’s gathering?’ he asked her.
‘Well, the only way you will not be able to see me there is if you will not come yourself,’ she smiled sadly to him; her smile faded as she noticed Mr. Halpert watching their conversation.
‘But… why should I miss the gathering?’ Mr. Flenderson furrowed his brows in confusion. Pamela just shook her head.
‘I am sorry it was a silly joke. Have a good day, Mr. Flenderson.’
And she went after her father, followed with two gazes — a warm and a steadfast one.
In the evening, the air in the Blue Salone felt even tenser than before. The engagement of the clergymen fueled the interest of Mrs. Howard — but, at the same time, it diverted everybody’s attention from her own marriage, what was unacceptable for her. So, Mrs. Howard asked question after question — about the dowry, the wedding gown, the bridesmaids, the honeymoon journey — and when Pamela struggled to give her comprehensive answers, she reminisced about her own wedding and all the pleasantries connected with it. But when her tirades were met not with excited and jealous questioning but with short, polite exclamations, Mrs. Howard’s mood started to worsen — as well as the sentiments of other ladies.
The gentlemen entered the salon soon, and all of them, except for Mr. Halpert, radiated cheerfulness.
'Ah! What are you talking about?' said Sir Michael as soon as he took his place and made a sign to set the table. 'But I know already! What ladies could talk about if not weddings?'
Mr. Howard laughed.
'That is true. Mrs. Howard knows everything there is to know about weddings. If she is to be believed, the sharpness of scissors used to cut the ribbons for the carriage decoration or the price of the rice could have a tremendous effect on the success of the whole enterprise. Couldn’t they, my dear?'
'Ah, Mr. Howard! How many times should I remind you that it was important!' exclaimed Mrs. Howard. 'If the edges of ribbons had been ragged, people might have thought that those ribbons had been used before! And if you had thrown cheap yellow rice, people would have thought that you had been poor or even worse — a miser. Could you have allowed it?'
'Of course not, my dear,' Mr. Howard said, kissing his wife's hand. 'I cannot stop to amaze with your ability to make sense of such tiny details.'
'Men know nothing about such things as weddings. Let the women organise it, pick flowers, dresses, and… and all the rest. The men's task is to make a proposal, and the women's — to take care of the rest,' Sir Michael said abstrusely.
'Ah! Then I dare to say the women do their task much better than the men,' said Mrs. Howard. 'I know so many fine young gentlemen with a fortune who just refuse to engage! What could you do about that?'
'Only to give the example of proper behavior,' said Sir Michael meaningfully. 'Have you ever heard this nice old song 'Going to One Wedding Brings on Another?' Lady Levinson, what do you think about its truth?'
Lady Levinson smiled tightly but said nothing. Mr. Howard forced a small laugh.
'Well, I think Mr. Schrute gave us all a great example indeed, didn't he, Halpert?'
Mr. Halpert met his question with clenched teeth and heavy silence, so Mr. Howard quickly changed the subject.
'And what about you, Flenderson?'
Mr. Flenderson was speaking quietly with Pamela about his practice and was caught off guard with this sudden question. He blinked perplexedly and tried to form a coherent response.
'Oh… I… well… I agree, though, I am not sure I could follow his example. I am afraid I forgot what little about ladies' preferences I had ever known.'
Sir Michael huffed loudly, but Mr. Howard's smile grew bigger.
'Oh, I do not think that it is possible to learn the women nature at all. They are such mysterious creatures that even if you think you know them, they will find a way to surprise you.'
Mr. Howard paused, and Pamela thought that she had never seen him so complacent before. When he caught everyone's attention, he continued.
'Today, I received a letter from a friend of mine, and he told me quite an interesting story concerning one lady from society. She was a well-respected woman, a widow who was mourning after her husband for a few years. You all know these prejudices against the widows, but this lady was still beautiful, had authoritative friends and, though her husband had left his business ruined, many supposed she would marry for the second time. This lady even had a suitor, a wealthy landlord from the North. As my friend said, the things were going towards an engagement.'
'This story sounds pleasing so far,' said Sir Michael with a smile. He did not notice the silence that fell in the room. 'Did she get married?'
'Ah, that is the most interesting part. This lord courted her for quite a long time, and she, though accepted his signs of affection gladly, did not agree to engage. Firstly, my friend wondered what she was waiting for? But then the most curious obstacle revealed. You see, this lady,' Mr. Howard said with unhidden delectation, 'was already engaged!'
Pamela, as well as Mr. Flenderson, Mr. Halpert, and Miss Filippelli, turned their heads to Lady Levinson, who froze on her seat with an arrogant smile on her lips. Miss Flax dropped cards she held in her hand. Mrs. Howard looked at her husband, covering her mouth and giggling. Sir Michael burst into a laugh.
'No way!' exclaimed Sir Michael. 'Poor fellow, that lord. What a sly thing was that lady! So, what happened next?'
‘To be honest, I do not know the end of this story,’ Mr. Howard shrugged. ‘But I expect my friend to write me more about that case.’
‘I would be delighted to hear more of this,’ Sir Michael said. ‘Indeed, women are hard to understand.’
‘I feel an urge to protect my sex,’ said Lady Levinson calmly. Pamela tensed, dreading that she was going to say. ‘We are not as mysterious and unreliable as the men want us to see. And, in some cases, our secrecy is nothing but the way to protect ourselves from misbehaviors of men.’
‘You speak so confidently as if you suffered from it before,’ said Mr. Howard cheerfully. ‘I beg you to reveal that sad story. I assure you, you are among friends, and no one thinks low about it.’
‘I was fortunate enough to avoid such a miserable experience,’ said Lady Levinson, studying her cards and picking one. ‘But it was my close friend who had the misfortune to meet that young gentleman. He was handsome, with charming manners, and was from a good family. She thought she was in love with him, and this was what he assured her of. And yet, she felt some confusion about the recklessness of his courtship, and she asked for my advice. I said to her to take her time with her answer, to look closer at his friends, and to send a servant to watch how he behaved out of her view. And who could have guessed? This young gentleman appeared to be a rake, who had more debts than pennies in his pocket and who, due to circumstances, was in a rush to find a fiancée with money. Of course, my friend declined his offer and thus caused the great incomprehension among her friends and relatives. But she saved herself, and the reputation of heartbreaker was the small price to pay.’
‘Oh, poor thing!’ exclaimed Mrs. Howard and gained a sideways glance from Miss Filippelli. ‘I hope that rake was punished for his deeds!’
‘I do not think so,’ Lady Levinson shook her head with mocking upset. ‘I heard a rumor that this gentleman when he did not get the goodwill of my friend, turned his attention to her sister — or a cousin, I do not know exactly. The other girl was quite a simpleton, so in the end, he reached his goal. Though, I would be delighted to witness what his honorable relatives would think about his intention, that he had stated once, to sell the mansion he was going to inherit.’
Mr. Howard met her words with a crooked grimace on his face. Mr. Halpert watched him with furrowed brows; Miss Filippelli without preamble started to play — Pamela flinched at the sudden sound. Miss Flax seemed to be uncomfortable, sitting at the card table between Lady Levinson and Sir Michael. The latter, though, as well as Mrs. Howard remained oblivious to all the innuendos filling the room.
‘That were quite the accusations, weren’t they, Miss Beesly?’ said Mr. Flenderson quietly.
‘They were. But, perhaps, we should not believe blindly every word that was spoken,’ answered Pamela. Mr. Flenderson agreed with her, and yet, that exchange between Mr. Howard and Lady Levinson kept bothering them both.
As soon as the first round of the game came to an end, Lady Levinson said that she was tired and went to her chambers. Miss Flax hurried to go with her, but was declined with a cold ‘I can do without your service.’
‘Pamela, dear, would you be the fourth?’ asked Sir Michael, and she reluctantly joined the game. The way Mr. Howard smiled encouragingly to her made the unpleasant feeling in her chest tightening. The way the rivals charged each other, without false subtlety and pretense, was evidence that this quiet war would be over soon, though Pamela doubted that it would have a winner.
The end of the war came the very next day when Miss Flax found Pamela.
‘I wanted to help Lady Levinson to get dressed,’ she said with high anxiety in her voice, ‘but she did not answer my call. I worried about her; may I borrow a spare key?’
‘Of course, of course,’ answered Pamela. She took the needed key, and both women hurried to Lady Levinson’s chambers — only to find them empty.
It was hard to describe the turmoil that appeared after the missing of Lady Levinson was discovered. Sir Michael refused to believe in it, repeating again and again that it was a misunderstanding, and Lady Levinson just went to the village or found a secluded corner in the mansion to avoid the nosy attention. But then Miss Flax took a look at the chambers and noticed that a small carpetbag also was missing — and with it Lady Levinson’s jewelry, letters, and some clothes. Each of these evidences pointed that Lady Levinson had left; the news from the village inn about a carriage that had stopped there last night, only proved that.
Then Sir Michael got furious. How did she dare to do such a thing, to make a fool of himself? After all the goodness he had given to her, after all the attention to her needs and compassion to her predicament! And Mr. Howard — had he known all of this and had not warned him — not in a way he could understand at least. If Pamela had not been there to calm him down a little, he would have expelled his own heir and all of his friends, not saying about poor Miss Flax.
It was Miss Flax's presence that made him had second thoughts about the situation. Even if Lady Levinson had run away, how could she have left behind her friend and companion? Inconceivable! She might return soon; she might have some business in the city that could be done only with her attention. Perhaps, she prepared a surprise for him and would not want to ruin it.
But in a few days, his faint hope was gone. Miss Flax was an old school-fellow of Lady Levinson, but they had not seen each other for many years before they met, and Miss Flax was proposed her current position; she knew nothing about how Lady Levinson had lived all these years. No news about the returning of Lady Levinson reached the mansion — only rumours that an elegant lady had been seen in Gretna Green in the company of young Scottish doctor. After Pamela tentatively had told him this news, he just nodded and locked inside his cabinet for three days — without speaking to anybody and barely eating.
Mr. Howard exulted; his victory was slightly tainted with the distress of Sir Michael and appeared coldness of his friends, but that did not seem to bother him. After breakfast, one day, when ladies idly wondered what they were going to do and gentlemen discussed quietly the continuance of Sir Michael's absence, Mr. Howard sent for Pamela.
'Well, Miss Beesly, what do you think about this unfortunate event?' he asked with a smile. 'I feel so much sorry for Sir Michael's disappointment.'
'I hope he will recover from the shock soon,' Pamela said politely, though it took her an effort. 'All of this would be forgotten and remained only as an unpleasant story or a lesson about quirks of human nature.'
'I hope so,' he agreed. 'But the damage had been done, and we need to make some restitution. Do you know how much money she took from Sir Michael?'
'I do not know,' Pamela said. 'And I doubt that she asked for money directly; she passed him some letters, though I do not know what they were about. And I doubt that Sir Michael saved them or has any other acknowledgment of their agreement.'
'Well, it was foolish of him,' he said harshly, but the smile quickly returned. 'I hope he would be more careful next time with the new acquaintances. And as soon as Miss Flax leaves, he will be surrounded only with the friends who will find a way to cheer him up.'
'I do not think that Miss Flax could leave soon,' Pamela said carefully. 'She has nowhere to go and a little support. She should stay at least for the time it takes to find another job.'
'That is insane,' Mr. Howard stated coldly. 'How could you protect the woman who was an accomplice of the person that was going to ruin Sir Michael? I instruct that she leave immediately.'
'I suppose that only Sir Michael could make such an order,' Pamela said, trembling with anger. 'Before he says his opinion about the presence of Miss Flax, she will stay in Dunder Hall.'
Mr. Howard narrowed his eyes.
'You forgot about your position here, Miss Beesly,' he said. 'It is not your place to share your opinion.'
'Isn’t it?' Pamela answered with a small smile. 'I recall you mentioned me as almost a relative, so, I suppose I have a voice here.'
'Miss Beesly! How dare you…'
'Howard,' he was cut off by Mr. Halpert's calm yet warning tone. 'I suppose Miss Beesly spent more time here, and her opinion does weigh more than yours.'
Pamela looked at Mr. Halpert, giving him her silent gratitude for his intrusion. He just nodded in response. At this moment, someone knocked on the door, and Miss Flax appeared in the room.
'Oh, I am glad I found you, Miss Beesly,' she said quietly. 'I gathered my belongings, and I am ready to leave.'
'But where are you going to go?' exclaimed Pamela.
'Well… I suppose I could look for a bit of luck in a workhouse,' she said with a faint smile. 'While I have a head on my shoulders, I shall not starve.'
'My mother, Mrs. Halpert, is patronising a school in Ramsgate,' said Mr. Halpert. 'She constantly complains about how it is difficult to find reliable and competent teachers. If you are not afraid of children, I can write her a letter and explain your difficulty. I am sure she would be glad to help you.'
‘You are very kind, sir,’ said Miss Flax. And Pamela felt overwhelming tenderness toward Mr. Halpert for his want to rescue a barely known woman.
‘Well, I have done nothing yet,’ Mr. Halpert shrugged as if his proposition was not worthy to be mentioned, and this sudden gesture almost brought tears to Pamela’s eyes.
Miss Beesly and Miss Flax excused themselves, and went outside, to the kitchen garden. Miss Flax insisted on doing something while she was waiting for the response, and Pamela did not mind the company — especially such a pleasant one.
‘I know that it is none of my business,’ Miss Flax started quietly, while they planted pole beans and scallions, ‘but I noticed that Mr. Flenderson is quite smitten with you.’
‘Is he?’ Pamela was surprised. ‘I assure you, you must be mistaken. He is an old acquaintance of mine, and he is not in favour of Sir Michael. Perhaps, you took his friendliness toward me for something more.’
‘Perhaps,’ Miss Flax said. ‘But I am sure, if you encourage him a little, he will propose to you instantly.’
‘Miss Flax! I would never…’
‘Please, Miss Beesly, let me finish, and then I would be silent about this subject till the rest of my days,’ Pamela nodded, and Miss Flax continued. ‘I know that you despise the arranged marriages and will not marry only for money. But I cannot stop comparing your fate with mine. Now you have a position and a stable income, but this could change, and sooner than you think. I am afraid you have gained a foe and an influential one. Who knows what damage to you he could make? And a marriage shields you; besides, the union with a friend would make the marriage much more agreeable. Think about it, Miss Beesly.’
Pamela was silent for a while.
‘I thank you for your advice, Miss Flax. It is sensible and shows you as a true friend of mine, and if circumstances were different, I would follow it. But I cannot. If I wanted only security from the marriage, I would be married for four years now. But I want so much more from the matrimony; I need to love and be loved. And since I had lost the only man I have ever loved, I would rather have remained alone than became Mrs. Anderson or Mrs. Flenderson or…’
They did not hear the soft rustle of gravel under the feet, did not notice the shadow behind the bushes of the genista. It was a quiet cough that interrupted their conversation.
‘Miss Beesly, Miss Flax,’ Pamela was mortified to hear Mr. Halpert’s voice. ‘Sir Michael left his cabinet and asked for you. I think he wants to speak to both of you.’
‘Thank you, sir,’ Pamela said, wiping her hands, not daring to lift her eyes. Sir Michael called for her, and it was a chance to persuade him to show mercy to Miss Flax, but all she could think about was how much of their conversation had Mr. Halpert overheard.
I supposed, Miss Filippelli might have played this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_4IRMYuE1hI
It's probably an anachronism, and usually I try to avoid them but not now.
My husband, though, suggested another tune for her to play: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X-KwYX2u8e4
‘I am just an old fool, aren’t I?’ said Sir Michael as soon as Pamela entered his cabinet. He was dressed in his nightcap and powdering gown and looked so devastated, that the sight squeezed Pamela’s heart painfully. ‘How could I have ever thought that such a woman would ever love me? That anybody would?’
‘Sir Michael, do not be so harsh on yourself,’ said Pamela reassuringly. ‘No one could have guessed that events would take such a turn. And, if you allow me to say that, you are loved among your tenants and villagers. Have you not heard how respectfully they talk about you?’
‘Respectfully? Hm.’ She thought for a moment that she had found the right words, but then he just shook his head. ‘Respect and love are not the same, but I do not expect that you understand my feelings. No, no, no…’
Pamela swallowed the words she was ready to say and sighed.
‘Perhaps. But that does not change the fact that people need you, your advice, your instructions, and your company. You cannot hide in your cabinet for so long.’
‘Cannot I?’ grumbled Sir Michael. ‘But I do not want to be where so much reminds me of her. The Blue Salon — you know, she said once she disliked the pattern of its wallpaper, and I was going to instruct you to make a renovation to that room.’
He shook his head again and then said unexpectedly.
‘You know what? I just cannot stay here at the moment. I need a change of place. Send for Kevin and tell him to pack for a journey. I am going to Bath.’
‘To Bath?’ asked Pamela, stunned with his determination. ‘Should I write and rent a place for you?’
‘No, no, no, it will take too much time. I want to leave as soon as I can. I think I could stay in the White Hart, you know that inn, right? They always keep the chambers for special visitors and such occasions.’
‘But what about your guests?’ asked Pamela. ‘You could not go away and leave them without your company. It would violate any rules of hospitality.’
‘Do you think so?’ Sir Michael furrowed his brows. ‘Yes, it would not be polite. Well, they could leave with me or stay as long as they want. Perhaps, I have to have a word with Mr. Howard. Could you ask him to come over here?’
‘Of course, sir,’ said Pamela quietly. ‘But before, may I ask you about Miss Flax? She is ready to leave at your first request, but in truth, she has no place to go. I beg you to allow her to stay in Dunder Hall until she finds another occupation.’
‘Miss Flax, er? Another poor soul, deceived by Lady Levinson’s false generosity. She could stay. Actually, I would like to talk to her. Where is she?’
‘She is expected in the waiting room. Should I call her?’
Pamela left the cabinet and closed the door behind her. Miss Flax turned at the sound.
‘Well?’ she asked, half-dreading, half-expecting.
‘Sir Michael wants to talk to you,’ Pamela said. ‘And I suppose he does not feel animosity towards you.’
‘I suppose it is your merit. I do not think I could ever pay you for your support and your concern about my person.’
‘If you know any other gossip about society, do tell me all of them. It would be your payment for my service.’
Miss Flax smiled, and Pamela returned the smile, but her heart was troubled with the suddenness of Sir Michael’s departure.
It was agreed that Sir Michael would leave tomorrow after breakfast; he expected to arrive at Bath almost a week later. His guests were surprised with Sir Michael’s impromptu plan, but — as Mr. Howard said for all — they would be delighted to accompany him in his journey. The ladies could barely hide their excitement about leaving the provincial mansion and anticipation of all the pleasures Bath could provide. They mentioned that they would miss Pamela’s company, though she was sure they would forget about her existence as soon as the carriage crossed the front gate of Dunder Hall. Mr. Flenderson was taken aback with the necessity of leaving the next day, but, after the short consideration, he confessed to Pamela that his visit, for sure, lingered more than he expected. He was not going to Bath with the rest and planned to return to London; Mr. Flenderson expressed the hope to return to Yorkshire soon, and Pamela could not help but remember Miss Flax’s observation. What Mr. Howard, as well as Mr. Halpert, thought about the sudden leaving, remained obscure for Pamela. They were busy with Sir Michael while she was engulfed with preparations; they, unlike the rest, did not seek her company or service.
The last evening in Dunder Hall went quietly. Pamela, as well as Miss Flax, was not invited to join the company, but they did not expect the invitation after all that had happened. Pamela excused herself, giving her headache as reason, and went to her chamber, where she spent the night sleepless and fighting tears.
She saw him and talked to him, witnessed his connection with another woman, and listened both to his quips and kind words. Pamela had buried her hopes years ago, and yet, the inevitability of their parting for the second time opened her old wounds and left her heart sore and bleeding. She wished he had never returned; Pamela had found the strength to live after being left alone once, and prayed to recover again, though she already knew it would be much harder than before.
In the morning, Pamela dressed and combed her hair; cold water washed away the stains of tears and gave her cheeks a little colour. She was ready to play the role of obedient housekeeper a bit more.
While Sir Michael and his guests had their breakfast, Pamela kept track of how luggage was loaded.
‘Where is Sir Michael’s writing box?’ Kevin asked.
‘It has to be in the library,’ said Pamela and, as the valet dropped a hatbox and turned to go inside, added, ‘I shall bring it. Finish with the rest meanwhile.’
Pamela went to the library and made a few steps inside the library room before realising she was not alone in there. Mr. Halpert was looking absentmindedly at the books; he turned to her as soon as doors were opened as if taken by surprise, and Pamela fought an urge to run away.
‘I am sorry if I bothered you, I shall take Sir Michael’s belongings and leave,’ she said, looking anywhere but at him and reaching for the package quickly.
‘No, please, wait,’ Mr. Halpert said. ‘You did not bother me at all. In fact, I hoped to talk to you.’
She froze in her tracks and raised her eyes to look at him; his gaze, though, traced the lines of the ornament on the carpet.
‘About three years ago,’ he started, ‘I met Sir Michael in the city when he returned from the West Indies. Truth be told, I was seeking this meeting. He was glad to see me, and we were talking about many and many trivial issues before I dared to ask about you.’
‘Oh,’ was the only thing Pamela could manage to say.
‘I asked him as if it was nothing instead of everything ‘How is Mrs. Anderson?’ and his answer,’ he stumbled for a moment as if the only memory of it caused him suffering, ‘and his answer was ‘I do not know for sure, but Pamela said she was happy.’'
Pamela gripped the writing box tighter.
‘She was,’ she said at last, and finally, Mr. Halpert looked at her incredulously. ‘My younger sister, Penelope, had married Mr. Anderson and when Sir Michael asked me about the news in the village, I told him about her happiness without hesitation and second thoughts.’
He looked at her now.
‘And you?’ Mr. Halpert asked. ‘Were you?..’
‘No,’ she shook her head. ‘I was not.’
They stood five steps apart, watching each other and unable to say anything. And, before one of them spoke, another voice appeared.
‘Pamela! Pamela, dear, where are you? I need your assistance.’
Pamela closed her eyes. As usual, Sir Michael chose the worst time for the intrusion.
‘You should probably go,’ Mr. Halpert said quietly. ‘Sir Michael does not like to wait.’
‘I should,’ Pamela agreed, resigning. ‘Goodbye, Mr. Halpert.’
She curtsied, he bowed, and she went away, trembling inside and barely keeping her body from shaking as well. Luckily, Sir Michael gave her enough distraction.
‘Ah, here you are! Is it my writing box? Capital! But I cannot find that walking stick with an elephant knob? Where could it be?’
She found the needed object, but when she did that, the time of departure came. She stood on the porch of the mansion with the rest of the servants while Sir Michael was saying his verbose farewells. His guests did not bother themselves with saying anything to domestics; only Mr. Flenderson gave Pamela a small smile, and Mr. Halpert looked at her wistfully before he mounted his horse. Finally, Sir Michael took his seat in the carriage; in a few minutes, they were gone.
Pamela felt numb; emptiness filled her chest, and she could equally burst into tears or spend the rest of the day doing her duties. But before she did one or another, she needed to return to the library; the unfinished conversation bothered her like a sore tooth. One way or another, coming into the library felt like ending it.
She stepped into the room quietly, as if she might bother the quietness of books and memories. Mr. Halpert had stood there, she recalled; she still had a vivid image of him before her eyes. What had he been going to say? Perhaps, she would never know. Pamela went to the table, where he had been less than half an hour ago; when she did that, her eyes fell on the small white envelope with her name on it.
Her fingers trembled so badly it took her two attempts to open it. But when she managed to do that, she clutched a piece of paper, scribbled with the familiar handwriting.
I have to go, but I cannot do that without speaking to you in the only possible way I have.
I love you, Miss Beesly; I had loved you since the day we met and never stopped even in the days when I cursed myself for visiting Yorkshire in the first place. I tried to forget you, telling myself you made your choice and nursing my own bleeding heart, but refusing you is the same as refusing breathing. You became my everything; you fill every moment of my existence.
I had no desire to return to Dunder Hall to watch your happiness without the slightest chance to be the man who shares it with you; I tried to harden my heart against you, reminding myself about all of your weaknesses, the real ones and those I have imagined. But since the first day, when I found out that you did not change your name, when I was watching the disregard you were treated with, my determination to ignore you turned into dust and became torture. I remember too well how distressed you were when I allowed myself to express my feelings the other time; for the sake of keeping your inner peace, I would remain silent. But that conversation I had overheard — I hope you will forgive me that my intrusion — resurrected the faint hope I had once.
I shall return — as soon as I shall be allowed — and I shall say these words in person. But if my hope was born out of misinterpretation and wishful thinking, I shall read the sign and bother you no more with my presence.
Pamela had to sit; her knees were so weak she would have fallen otherwise. She read the letter for the second, third time. Could it be possible that all she did not dare to think about might come true? Or was it just a cruel, merciless joke? But she read the letter again and again and believed every written word. And the meaning of it made her restless.
He would return! In a week, a month, or a year, but he would return! Just this morning, she had sought the strength to humble herself with his eternal loss; but now she needed that strength to remain patient. Pamela felt as the walls of the library room squeezed around her, and the air tasted stale in her mouth. She had to have a walk; the fresh air and movement might help her to place her thoughts in order.
The mansion was quiet and half-empty; the servants took the leaving of the master as an excuse to slack, and any other day Pamela would find each of them something to busy themselves with, but today she was the first one to leave, slipping through the garden gate and going toward the moorlands.
Pamela did not know how long she was wandering among the hills; she barely noticed the blooming of undemanding moorland flowers or the warm wind on her face. The whole her world narrowed to the letter she still held tightly in her hand; she climbed the Heather Hill while not realising what she was doing.
But then a little spot in the distance caught her attention. Her heart raced in her chest; could it be?.. She watched as it came closer, and she could recognise now the horse and the familiar stature of the rider. Her eyes widened in disbelief; she was unable to hide the genuine smile and had no intention to do that. Little by little, she went downhill to meet him.
Mr. Halpert’s face was pale and expressed disturbance. But as soon as he recognised Pamela, noticed the letter in her hand and the smile on her face, his countenance changed into the hopeful one. A grin appeared on his face — the one Pamela did not know she had missed so much.
‘Excuse me, miss,’ he said, ‘could you help me and show the way to Dunder Hall? I am afraid I am terribly late for meeting with my fiancée.’
‘I shall gladly show you the path, good sir,’ answered Pamela. ‘But are you sure you agreed to meet with her there? Not, say, in London or halfway to Bath?’
‘I am sure,’ he said as he dismounted his horse and took her hand in his. ‘I have never been more sure in my life.’
And a short epilogue will follow soon.
Mr. and Mrs. Halpert were not pleased when they discovered that their youngest son was engaged to a farmer’s daughter without a fortune and connections; her relation to Sir Michael was considered nonexistent and did not make her look more worthy in the eyes of his worried parents. They tried to speak to their son and explained the disadvantages he would receive from a union with a low-born woman, but he did not want to listen to their reasons; then they chose a different tactic and promised to deprive him of his part of the heritage as a threat if he would keep persisting on the unequal marriage. When it did not change his mind, they used as the last way to resolve the problem sending an attorney to Pamela to persuade her to break the engagement in exchange for a large sum of money. For sure, Pamela did not agree to it; and when Mr. Halpert found out about the purpose of the visit of his parent’s man, he bought a special license that allowed him to get married as soon as would be possible.
This decision only worsened the spat between him and his parents. In the end, though, they arranged to get together and meet Pamela. After the first meeting, Mr. and Mrs. Halpert reluctantly agreed that she seemed to be a nice girl and did not look like a golddigger. After the second they found out that Mr. Beesly gave after her three hundred pounds and that her connection with Dunder Hall allowed her to expect more benefits in the future; and after the third, they remembered that they had three other, more ambitious children, and let their youngest son ruin his life in the way he had chosen.
As opposed to Mr. and Mrs. Halpert, Sir Michael was thrilled. He concluded that being married to a gentleman — young, amiable, and with money — was as good for Pamela as being the housekeeper in Dunder Hall. The sureness that it was he who had contributed her happiness by inviting Mr. Halpert in the first place flattered him. When Mr. Halpert had informed about his intentions towards Pamela, Sir Michael interrupted his visit to Bath and returned to Yorkshire. He wanted to be involved in every part of the preparations for the wedding; strangely, but watching the young couple together was an excellent cure for a broken heart.
And when just after the month of engagement, Mr. Schrute pronounced James and Pamela as husband and wife before the faces of God and all Dunder Mifflin commoners, this event generated many speculations and rumors. Mrs. Vance was wondering what made the couple have such a rushed wedding (and mentioning that the cause might have been in the attempt to save the honor of Miss Beesly). Miss Martin was too polite to accuse or slander her cousin; she found solace in the realisation that her engagement and her wedding would follow all established rules and traditions. And when she and Mr. Schrute exchanged their vows, their union was perceived by members of Dunder Mifflin society more benevolent than the Halperts.
If Pamela even heard this or that rumor about herself, she was too happy to worry about it. The newlywed moved to Hampshire, where they found a home into a little country cottage with a rose garden. The first years were quite tough for them; but Pamela had gotten used to economizing, and her husband was content with a little as long as his wife was near him. Besides, he had many friends, who did not leave him in need; after all turmoils, he found a place with a stable income and the family — that had been doubled by that time — could enjoy the quiet happiness of their lives without worries about the future.
There was another person, who had received the benefit from the union of Mr. Halpert and Pamela, though his joy was short-lived. Mr. Howard was pleased that Pamela, who had a significant influence on Sir Michael, got out of his way. Besides, he used the engagement of Mr. Halpert as an excuse to interrupt the acquaintance with him; he explained this with his protectiveness of the feelings of Miss Filippelli, who had been deceived by Mr. Halpert — though Miss Filippelli herself had quickly recovered from her disappointment and had found enough more proper suitors in Bath. Truth be told, Mr. Howard had noticed the suspicions that Mr. Halpert had towards him and had shielded himself from unnecessary revelations that might have appeared.
And yet, Pamela's departure had played a cruel joke on Mr. Howard. Sir Michael, though he had let Pamela go gladly, had been in need of a reliable housekeeper; and in the end, he had offered that place to Miss Flax, who had been still staying in Dunder Hall, waiting for answers to her letters. She had agreed gladly, and, with Pamela's instructions, had quickly gotten familiar with the established rules of Dunder Hall. She did her job so well that Sir Michael quite soon quitted his complaining about Pamela's absence; and, unlike Pamela, Miss Flax was not afraid to speak her mind if Sir Michael had done something unreasonable, though more often than not she supported him in his deeds — and that Sir Michael found especially endearing. Just a year had passed since Pamela's wedding when Sir Michael decided that he wanted to marry again. And Miss Flax gracefully accepted his proposal.
Mr. Howard was barely hiding his disdain toward the newlywed Lady Scott and collected rumors of all kinds about her that could help him to set Sir Michael against his wife. But before he could do it, he received a verbose letter that announced the birth of Sir Michael's son and invited Mr. and Mrs. Howard to celebrate that grand affair in Dunder Hall. Mr. Howard never replied, as well as never answered the second letter that arrived a few years later and contained the same announcement; Lady Scott wisely decided not to send the third letter, taking pity on the rejected heir. His card debts and expensive tastes had made Mr. Howard dependent on money; and as hope to inherit and sell Dunder Hall had turned into ashes, as his debts had made him persona non grata among his friends, he could rely only on his wife's goodwill. His affection to her was counterfeit unlike hers, but, as it turned out, Mrs. Howard remained the only person who genuinely was glad to be in his company.
In a few years, Pamela received two letters from Mr. Flenderson. In first, he congratulated her on her engagement and wished her happiness; in the second, he told her about his moving to Costa Rica. She was quiet for a while after receiving the second one; she felt it was his farewell to her. Even if she could have never returned his feelings, he remained important to her. So, all Pamela could do was pray for his well-being.
What happened to Lady Levinson, no one knew for sure. But, in a few years, the arrival of a rich English widow, Mrs. Gould, traveling with a little daughter and an adult nephew, caused considerable turmoil in the salons of Boston and even caused a duel. No one, luckily, died, and Mrs. Gould left the city for Philadelphia and Atlanta, where her trace was lost.
Mr. Schrute kept preaching and found in the face of Mrs. Schrute a faithful follower — she was even more ardent than Miss Martin had been once. The church school was running exceptionally well, and though children complained about strict rules and a constant need for obedience, their parents decided that free lessons, meals once a day, and a few hours of being without their offsprings at home were a true blessing.
Once Mrs. Halpert went into her husband's cabinet with a small package in her hands and a glint in her eyes.
'I have something for you,' she said, smiling and giving him the package. He put his pen aside and unwrapped the paper, finding a little tome inside.
'A Tale of Patience and Persistence, or The Letters to All Young People with Admonition of How to Avoid Temptations and Live a Sinless Life,' he read aloud and gave his wife an incredulous look. 'May I ask why do you have this book?'
'Because you contributed to its existence and have not even read it. How could it be possible?' she grinned and added. 'Besides, I have a feeling that that trick of yours, or, to be precise, the consequence of it, allowed us to understand each other — or pushed us to that understanding. So having this book is the least that I can do to show my gratitude for our happiness.'
'I see your point and share your feelings,' he said, took her hand, and kissed it gently. 'What do you think, could we persuade Mr. Schrute to publish the second tome?'
I decided to send the Halperts to Hampshire because Jane Austen's House Museum is located there. I think it's an adequate replacement for their moving to Austin :)
And I want to say many-many thanks: to my husband, who supported me, listened patiently to my whining, and nagged me to write when I got distracted; to JennaBennett, without whom this story would have had so many mistakes and who lights my writer's way up with her enthusiasm; and many-many thanks to all who read this story and left reviews. I'm insecure as hell about my writing, language, and communication skills, so your encouragement means unbelievably much to me.