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Author's Chapter Notes:

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. 

Chapter End Notes:

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.  

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