As Jim Halpert dug into the cake with a vigor that his mother, nurse, and all the rest who had a hand in raising him to be a proper, dignified man with society manners would have deplored, he was pleased to see from the corner of his eye (for this was all he felt it prudent to deputize to the task, much as the remainder of each eye strained to join the corner in its observation) that Pamela Beesly was as lost to decorum as he. Her face lit up with a sheer joy as she dug into the confection, the greatest efforts of the Florian Bakery, renowned confectioners of the aptly named Baker Street, with at least as much gusto as it deserved—a delight that was only the more impressive, to his mind, when he recalled that she was Colonel Scott’s social secretary, and therefore must be familiar with such delights on at least a weekly basis. He loved the simplicity and truth of expression that this little moment revealed, and tucked in behind his heart in what he had already come to realize upon such short acquaintance was destined to be a bottomless storeroom of such endearing observations as made him, if not already love her, tender a great and growing affection in her amiable direction. The way she attempted, despite constant and inevitable failure, to tuck a wayward strand of her enchanting curls behind her ear; the time, immediately after the first round of whist, when she confided intimately in his ear that she always chose to shuffle the deck—despite it not being, traditionally, a lady’s task—because she enjoyed the shuck-shuck-shuck sound that the cards made; the glow that lit up her eyes when she glanced over at the Gainsborough hanging on one wall of the ballroom and whispered that she wished she could paint so gloriously—each of these was now stored quietly away for him to recollect at leisure, and he had no doubt he would treasure them far into this night and well beyond.
Jim was roused from his enamoured examination of his oblivious hostess by the approach of a large gentleman in a blue jacket, red waistcoast, and starched shirtpoints, who, despite the evident effort that had gone into preparing his clothes and dressing him in them, managed to give the effect of total dissolution upon a closer examination: the starched points sadly drooping, the belly straining the waistcoast, a small stain of unidentified sauce upon the jacket. Yet in fairness Jim noticed none of these until a later—and more jaundiced—examination caused him to have reason to look for his new acquaintance’s flaws. On first notice, the dominant effect of the gentleman and his ensemble was of power confined by strength: an athlete’s body with the decisive motion of one who has honed his craft and is at great length fully comfortable within his own skin. Only a slight tension about the eyes revealed that all might not be well, and it would be many months before Jim could explain that particular feeling in any great detail.
At the instant moment his observation was cut short—or rather, intensified but irrevocably altered—by the athlete’s close approach to his companion, and his rather cavalier salutation to her, coupled with an intimate move inward for a kiss: “Hullo there, Pammy!”
To Jim’s shock and dismay—as carefully concealed as he could, though it was fortunate for him that at that moment no eyes were on him—his fair partner did not, as he might have hoped, rebuff this overt and scandalous familiarity, except to slightly turn her head, giving the newcomer her cheek to kiss, and saying mildly (and, to Jim’s horror, fondly and familiarly) “Oh, Roy! What have I told you about proper modes of address?”
“Yes, I know, Pammy, but you know I don’t give a toss about those things! Dash it all, you’re my Pammy, and I don’t see why it should matter two pins if I say so!”
At this Jim Halpert could keep quiet only with the greatest effort, and some sense of his disquiet must have made its way by some undefinable method to Pam Beesly, for she turned quickly towards him as if recalling his existent forcibly to mind. She shook her head prettily and turned back to the newcomer.
“But Roy, I know that, and you know that, but not everyone does, and those who do not are bound to be terribly shocked! And by slipping up on me in that detestable manner you rob me of the opportunity to make a more proper introduction of you to whomever you might meet. A difficulty which I will now undertake to overcome by introducing you properly.” She turned to Jim. “Allow me to introduce to you Mr. Roy Anderson, my fiancée. Roy, let me make you known to the Honourable Mr. James Halpert, second son of the Earl of Denbigh. Mr. Halpert is a guest of the Colonel’s. Or perhaps I should say a particular guest, as the Colonel is of course the general host.”
Jim and Roy exchanged a formal handshake, as that appeared to be the greatest degree of formality the latter was capable of—Jim certainly could not imagine him nodding his head to anyone, much less cutting a bow of any depth whatever. But if this was Pamela Beesly’s fiancée—and where, pray tell, had any mention of her intended been in the previous hour?—he was deuced if he would be anything but civil until his heart and mind had stopped their whirligig of sorrow and confusion.
It would perhaps be useful here to interpose a somewhat more complete description of Mr. Anderson, as the eyes Jim was using to evaluate him were if not uniquely, intensely biased to see in Roy Anderson the worst version of the latter possible. It was at this moment, for example, that he first registered the sauce stain on Roy’s jacket, and that his view of Roy’s movements changed from “athletic and vital” to “dangerous and unrestrained.” He noted the lack of any distinction given to “Mr. Anderson,” and wondered if Pam imagined—correctly, he was sad to admit—that “Pam’s fiancée” was sufficient distinction for any man, if—heaven forbid—it was some form of incognito for a higher-ranked gentleman that he had already proven himself a mere Welsh country bumpkin by failing to recognize, or if, as his jaundiced mind led him to believe most likely, Mr. Anderson was simply void of any further distinction whatever. He could admit that Roy Anderson would likely thrash him in a fight, but if his treatment of proper civility was indicative of his more general personality, Jim had no doubt that he himself was the more distinguished gentleman. He had no illusions whence came these unworthy thoughts into his head; he was not in the habit of comparing himself to every man of his acquaintance like a male lion sniffing a rival on the wind, and he was well aware that the source of his antipathy and sense of competition in this instance was currently engaged in straightening his rival’s—or imagined rival’s! One must not forget she was engaged!—shirt while whispering urgently about “dignified behavior and appearance.” He held Roy Anderson in near-instant contempt, and while he was too well-bred and self-aware not to recognize that this was not entirely Roy Anderson’s fault, it most certainly coloured his vision of whatever good qualities Roy might have had.
Pamela Beesly’s view of Roy was not quite opposite to Jim’s—though it would have been quite convenient to her if it had been. She was not insensible to his frequent—nigh-incessant—breaches of decorum, nor to his patent unconcern with the niceties of her own position as social secretary to a notorious would-be rake and raconteur. He was unsympathetic to a good deal of her own ambition, little as it was, and to her strong belief in the value of her own independence. But against these flaws—which in her mind she minimized, even if at times her heart might disagree—she could weigh a great deal more virtues than Jim Halpert could imagine for Roy even in his most generous moments. Some of this was of course his personal magnetism, for he was capable, when he placed his focus on her for any extensive period, of being almost alarmingly charming in a way that could chivvy her out of her worst moods and gain him unearned forgiveness for even the most troublesome scrapes. Some was the way he moved, almost pantherlike to her eye (though she had never seen a panther, she was certain Roy moved like one) and a constant thrill whenever she gave in to her inclination simply observe him in motion, or the way he filled out the coats and trousers she had pressed for him that morning and that he had managed, somehow, to distress despite her best efforts to render them proof against such difficulties. A large portion of it—how large she would not have guessed even to herself—was the familiarity and affection bred of long and easy use, for they had grown up together and pledged themselves to each other at a young age—though always with the caveat of “as soon as Roy was in a position to make a home for her.” Each year that happy event had not come about had been a sore trial to her, to be sure, and now at twenty-and-five she was nigh (she thought) to becoming the proverbial leader of apes, but he remained devoted even as each scheme to earn his fortune ran aground or adrift, and she counted herself therefore happy. She had been startled and overjoyed to learn that Roy Anderson had conceived a tender for her at 16; she was no less happy at 25, or at least so she believed, and indeed he remained very much the same Roy she had loved for nearly ten years. And so she loved, and believed, and trusted in Roy, and was only slightly put out when he appeared in public spouting that ridiculous nickname and failing to stand on the ceremony of which she was such an expert.
A more neutral observer than either of them might have said that Roy Anderson had the virtues of his faults and the faults of his virtues: that his early prowess in physical activities, from boxing and wrestling at school to hunting and shooting in the Cambridgeshire woods, had produced a man overly certain in his own desirability and general outstandingness, while his constant failures in the schoolroom had at the same time made him more humble than most when confronted with an academic question, and willing to rely for such concerns on his intended; that his inability to keep a shirtpoint stiff or a jacket unstained somehow lent him an air of the cavalier and dashing soldier (despite never having served) while his genius for setting other men at ease through manly jollity had led him to ignore the need of putting effort into making sure that his fiancée was equally happy with him. He was, on the balance, a good, blunt man, somewhat out of his depth in a brilliant ballroom but capable, when he exerted himself, of making a delightful impression on anyone he chose.
Anyone, that is, but Jim Halpert—and that was not his fault, but Pam’s, and she, poor soul, had no idea of it at all.