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Author's Chapter Notes:
Ah, angst!

It was with great reluctance, but a deep feeling of dignity, that Jim decided that it was his obligation to distance himself from the situation. If indeed this was Miss Beesly’s fiancée, it was clearly his right to claim her attention for himself, and the interloper—Jim—must cede the field to its possessor. He began to make his apologies and slide himself out of the conversation only for Miss Beesly to turn to him with a blinding smile and say “Nonsense! Colonel Scott put your entertainment in my hands, and I will most certainly not disappoint him. Roy doesn’t mind, do you Roy?” Here she squeezed her intended’s arm, which she had wound her hands around, and smiled up into his face. He looked down at her with an expression that she might be able, by virtue of what Jim could already tell on such short acquaintance, was a kind and generous nature, to imagine indicated happy acquiescence, but which even such a mildly experienced man of the world as Larissa Halpert’s younger son could tell was only a touch shy of a snarl. Jim had no imagination that the other man was happy, or indeed even willing, to continue his fiancé’s exposure to Jim Halpert, but he was well aware that neither of them was prepared to make a scene in front of Pam. Yet he had sufficient control of his own self-conceit to draw himself up properly and beg off. After all, no matter how much he might esteem Miss Beesly, Mr. Anderson clearly possessed a prior claim, and while she might not acknowledge the reality of Jim’s intention, he was not sufficiently unaware of his own mind to be able to ignore his own feelings in her regard. So acting in self-preservation as much as a sense of propriety, he bowed and expressed his intention to partake of the beverages set in another part of the room, smiling his insistence that Pam not concern herself further with his entertainment than to direct him on his way and advise which of the drinks she might most enthusiastically recommend.


He made his way across the crowded floor, reflecting as he did so that his initial reservations about this particular event had reversed themselves: where he once stood trembling in fear of knowing no one and having nothing to say, now he rejoiced that his relative unfamiliarity with the company made it mostly unnecessary for him to acknowledge or engage with any of the throng as he progressed across the room. He nodded to a few elderly ladies of his vague acquaintance, exchanged a glance with Lord Malone (currently engaged full-face with what Jim believed to be a pork pie), and busied himself with a pretended concern with the offerings at the beverage table. He passed by the fine wines, the hearty ales and beers, and the wide array of liquors for a simple squash, infused with soda water—now was not a time to get his head out of joint, a lesson he had learned at length in Vienna. Grape was his favourite, and grape they had, so grape it was. He sipped and found it, as with everything at the party, delightful.


That small consideration was enough to make him sad again, for what had been more delightful at this party than the exquisite Pamela Beesly? And what could be further from possibility than that he should find himself in her company again? For the Colonel was unlikely to assign her to dance attendance on him again, now that she had shepherded him through one such rout—even assuming he was invited again—and what were the chances he would find himself so fortunate as to encounter her in another venue? He did not know where she was lodged, nor was there any pretext, no matter how flimsy, to seek her out if he had.


So, trying despite the impossibility of it to push Pamela Beesly out of his mind, he sipped his seltzer and scanned the room, forcing his mind back to the circumstances that had called him there. He still stood as much in need of a social introduction as he had at the beginning of the night, and the one connexion he had hoped to have made being already dashed, he now found himself even further on the outs with life than he had imagined himself at the start of the night.


In these and similar forebodings he indulged himself, working himself into a brown study as he stared into the depths of his squash. At length a soft and kindly voice insinuated itself into his ears, in a manner that suggested strongly that the speaker had been attempting in a calm but now impatient manner to intrude upon his musings for some little while already.


“If I didn’t know better, James Halpert, I would say you were giving me the cut direct!”


The words themselves would have been enough to startle anyone of Jim’s breeding and character out of themselves, for such a social solecism was utterly unforgivable when it was not (of course) entirely intentional and calculated. But beyond that consideration, Jim found he recognized the voice as well, and looked up with an abashed smile on his face.


“Dear Miss Lapin, you wound me! I would not—no I could not so forget myself as to fail to cherish your acquaintance. You merely found me deep within my own thoughts, for which I must of course apologize.”


“Now that’s more like it. Now, don’t stand upon ceremony and try to fool me into thinking you were simply dozing off on your feet! Tell me, who is she?”


And with that Jim’s heart and smile both fell a little, because Phyllis Lapin (for so it was) was an old family friend, recently removed to London (on account of a sickly aunt) from Chester, where she had been for years the grande dame of the social scene. She knew Jim too well for him to dissemble to her, for all that it had been five years if it had been one since they last spoke—and she had seen him through enough boyhood infatuations to be able to clearly identify what, if not specifically who, had occupied his mind. Nevertheless, Jim felt the obligation to dissemble, if for no other reason than to avoid the revelation of how slight his acquaintance was with the object of his sudden affection.


“My dear Miss Lapin, I must beg of you not to press me, for my concerns were hardly so directed as you imagine! I simply found myself returned to London after a lengthy excursion on the Continent in service of His Majesty, and am at present overwhelmed with the beauty of the entire array of English flowers on display tonight—among which yourself of course numbers among the highest.”


Phyllis smiled a knowing smile at him but said nothing more to the point, allowing herself to be distracted into thanking him for the compliment—a fact which he was profoundly thankful for, but did not imagine for a moment would prevent her from returning to her prior line of questioning at whatever time she chose. He considered it a minor tactical victory however to have so delayed her, and continued sipping his drink in the knowledge that at least one friendly face had been vouchsafed him by chance, even if not one he felt he could be entirely honest with at the present moment.

Chapter End Notes:

I have put off the consideration Roy's state of mind for a little to revel in Jim's misery.

 Squash, for those not aware, is basically juice--not pumpkin. 

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