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.