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.