Miss Scott’s presence in London did not go unnoticed by society—and despite the massive social solecism of the Colonel himself serving as her entrée into that society, it was generally agreed that Miss Scott’s own winning manners, undeniable beauty, and gentle spirit were sufficient guarantees of her quality to overlook this flaw. Indeed, Miss Scott was rapidly on her way to becoming a Success of the first water, to such a degree that her amiable cousin was simultaneously utterly unprepared for and quite willing to frequently take credit for. The Colonel was riding high on his younger relation’s triumph over good society, and Pam found it surprisingly easy to deal with him over the next few weeks as his good mood spread to a general easing of his crotchets and occasional cantankerousness.
This was, however, the only element in which Miss Scott’s appearance upon the scene represented an improvement in Pam Beesly’s life. Roy’s daily visits to the Colonel’s apartments, once at least seen as a source of relief from the stress and tribulation of the day were transformed into an exercise in attempting to ignore his blatant address towards the Incomparable. Pam was, she was beginning to realize, quite accomplished at cognitive dissonance; easily able to reconcile Roy’s inattentions and her dissatisfaction with them on the one hand and her extreme desire to become his wife on the other. But this proved a strain even for her, as Miss Scott was all too often at home when Roy arrived, and—being the accommodating soul she was—was quite willing to entertain the guest if Miss Beesly happened to be out or occupied.
Pam had no concern that Katy Scott intended to rob her of Roy, though, but the reason for that unconcern made it register less as a relief and more as an imposition of its own. This was because Miss Scott, though ardently pursued by all and sundry, including at least one duke and a rather wealthy marquis, had shown a firm interest in only one suitor: Jim Halpert. As such, while Pam could not count against her any intention to increase Roy’s interest in her, she found herself unable to obtain that free and easy conference with Jim that she had unwittingly become so used to. Whenever he called at the Colonel’s apartments she could not be sure if he wished to see her or merely Miss Scott, and as the servants were quite well aware of Miss Scott’s interest in his direction and could not think it possible that any man so graced would fail to reciprocate, it was much too frequent an occurrence that he would, upon arrival, simply be bowed into the lesser parlor where Miss Scott stood waiting. Not that Pam thought he had any other designs than to see Katy—but it certainly would have been nice, she thought, to have had the opportunity to at least pass words with him in the hall or as one of them ascended the stairs. As it was, she found that although they shared the same building quite frequently, they shared the same room much less often, and this caused an unpleasant feeling in her stomach that she could not quite explain.
It might have done much for Pam’s digestion to know that her feelings on this subject were, if anything, more sanguine than Mr. Halpert’s. While he did find Katy engaging, he had no intention to become engaged in that direction—not, at least, while she was still sharing a roof with Pamela Beesly. He did not dare to flatter himself that Pam shared the interest he had developed in her, but there was still something about wooing another woman under the same roof that felt ineffably wrong. He felt one the one had as if he were betraying Pam despite her own clear signal (by remaining engaged to Roy) that she was uninterested, and on the other that he was betraying Katy by inevitably wishing her to be more like Pam. He had almost found himself walking into the wrong room on one of his more recent calls, turning left towards where he knew Pam spent most of her time organizing the Colonel’s social schedule rather than right towards the parlor where Katy awaited, and only a small expression of surprise in the butler’s supercilious face had led him to retrace his steps. He could neither bring himself to declare a lodged interest where there was as yet none, nor to quit Miss Scott’s company entirely—not that an effort to do so would have been successful, given the Colonel’s doting attitude towards them both, or that that worthy would have understood at all why Jim might not be equally under the spell of his young cousin as everyone else—himself included. As such he enjoyed her company and established himself as a constant visitor to the house, but refrained from directly expressing anything beyond the customary intimacy of two young people often thrown together and not unappreciative of each other’s company. He made sure to face the doorway of the parlor when he sat down, and attempted as best he could to time his arrival or departure with some errand of Pam’s that might bring her by the door. In this he was mostly unsuccessful, the geography of the house not permitting him to monitor that effectively, but the occasional victory was sufficiently rewarding that he nevertheless continued to do so.
It was in many ways a relief for Jim to have been drawn in to l’affair Howard, as he and Mark privately described Ryan’s oft-interrupted wooing of Kelly Kapoor. In this they were required at various times to pretend to hold up Miss Kapoor’s carriage, so that Mr. Howard could appear valiant in repelling them (a ruse that resulted in Mark nursing a sore head for several days after Kelly, rather than cowering in fear, took up her heavy handbag and swung it at his head); to procure a band to play serenades at her window while Ryan was called back to Oxford for some business or other (a task Jim undermined by being unable to resist a prank—ladies generally not appreciating having a brass band play at their window late in the evening); and to arrange frequent parties and smaller get-togethers at their own lodgings to provide Ryan with a safe third space to invite Kelly without raising her parents’ suspicions of his intentions. It was to one of these that Jim eventually invited Pam Beesly on a night he was well aware Roy was otherwise spoken for, having spent the afternoon sparring at Jackson’s with Mr. Darryl Philbin, who boasted of the gaming he and Mr. Anderson were due to undertake that evening.
Miss Beesly arrived punctually at eight o’clock in the company of Miss Kapoor to find the party already underway, which allowed her, as she had hoped, to slip in almost unnoticed. Almost but not quite, for Jim Halpert suddenly detached himself from a wall as if he had stepped out of a secret passage upon her arrival and steered her conveniently towards the whist tables. She smiled up at him, he grinned down, and they might well have walked into a wall had Mark not come barreling down the hallway to claim them for a table he was forming with Ryan, Kelly having established herself as holding court among a large gaggle of females near the refreshments and left him to his own devices. A few hands of whist and a glass of champagne later, and Miss Beesly was feeling much better—even more so for she had not noted the presence (or rather, had noted the absence) of Miss Scott, though she would not have admitted that particular fact for all the world, even to herself. She listened carefully to the chatter between the old friends and held her tongue, partly because of the effects she knew drink often had on her and partly because their comfortable banter made her feel…cozy, and she did not want to spoil it by reminding them too actively of her presence. She thought briefly about how nice it would be to spend more of her evenings in this manner, with Jim and his friends acting like she belonged among them, and was not quite sure why the thought was so attractive to her—or why that realization made her sad.
Once more she would have been shocked but most likely pleased to have known how closely her own thoughts mirrored Mr. Halpert’s. He was giving as good as he got in the conversation, but for all Pam might feel herself inconspicuous next to the other two, he could not help but be intensely aware of her at all times, and wonder what she thought of the reminiscences of their younger days that he and Mark were comparing to Ryan’s present experience of Oxford. He was conscious of a deep wish to see her here always; to always sit down to whist with her, and stand up from the table together, go to parties together, enjoy themselves together—go home together. He too was saddened by this vision, not because it was unfelicitous, but because it seemed, at that moment, utterly impossible.