Ruminations of Mr. B: II

Corresponding to Letters IX-XXI of Pamela

I did protect Pamela. My sister, Lady Davers, wanted her, but her husband's nephew, who stays with them often, is a boar and a bore, and Pamela wouldn't have been safe. I suppose you'll say she wasn't safe with me—that's what my sister thought—but there are degrees and qualities of interference. If you're going to seduce a girl, you might as well do it intelligently.

I tracked Pamela down in the summer-house at the end of the garden.

"Don't run off," I said; she'd been skittish as a cat the last few days, and it was becoming tiresome. Servants should stand and submit when you walk into a room.

"My sister would have you live with her," I said. "But she would not do for you what I am resolved to do. Wouldn't you rather stay with me?"

She eyed me between half-closed lids and said carefully, "Your honor will forgive me, but you have no lady for me to wait upon. I had rather, if it will not displease you, wait upon Lady Davers because—"

"Because you are a little fool," I said, "and don't know what's good for yourself. I will make a gentlewoman of you."

Mistress, I meant. And, honestly, what else could Pamela do? She wasn't fit for hard housework; it would bore her to tears. It wouldn't be kind to throw her back into poverty—even genteel poverty. But to be a mistress—books to read and occasions to show off her figure—was immensely suitable. I would settle money on her; if she were wise, she would save enough to last until she found a new protector. Though there was no reason to suppose I would tire of her.

I kissed her there in the garden-house. And Pamela responded curiously—the faintest curling of her lips against mine—and then panicked. She would have bolted if I hadn't shut the door.

"I won't harm you," I said.

"I won't stay," she said and glared at me.

"You forget to whom you speak," I said.

"Yes, sir," she snapped. "Well, may I forget I am your servant when you forget how a master should act," which annoyed me, but she then started crying, which was a trifle disconcerting. Between sobs, she said, "You have taught me to forget myself. I am honest though poor; and if you were a prince, I would not be otherwise."

I rolled my eyes. All that "virtuous woman is above rubies" stuff is so much balderdash. People do what they need to do to survive.

At that point, I needed to look after my reputation. If Pamela had gone back to the house with a tale of humiliation and ripped bodices, I would have been a laughing stock. I told her to take a walk in the garden until she stopped blubbering and to keep the matter to herself. I did offer her money—why not?—which she refused. I watched her go into the garden and finally into the house. When I followed her a few minutes later, she was in my mother's sitting room, scribbling a letter.

I stole it. It wasn't hard to find Pamela's hiding place. She'd hid it behind the vanity in my mother's sitting room. The letter could not have been more ashamed or alarmed or abashed or contemptuous of my good self. Pamela can be quite incredibly articulate. I couldn’t allow the letter to leave the house—her parents could do nothing, but there was no reason my private affairs should be recounted across the countryside. I told Mrs. Jervis to give her something to do to keep her hands busy and instructed John Arnold, who delivered Pamela's letters on his errands, to show me Pamela's letters first.

I was still annoyed by Pamela's hysteria when I returned from visiting my sister and my estates. I questioned Mrs. Jervis about letting Pamela go. It was clear from our conversation that Pamela had told Mrs. Jervis about our encounter in the summer-house, painting herself in the light of victim. Artful, I called her to Mrs. Jervis, and artful I believed her. Pamela would never settle for a simple, country-life. When she married, if she married, she would use her wiles to marry up: a butler or steward.

I walked in on her scribbling again. She folded the letter up and tucked it in her dress. She didn't say anything or curtsy; she just watched me, remote and guarded. I accused her of making common talk of what happen in the garden-house.

"I have nobody to talk to, hardly," she said.

"You little equivocator," I said. "What do you mean by 'hardly'?" Mrs. Jervis was a great deal of very.

"Why should your honor be so angry what I tell Mrs. Jervis—if you intended no harm?"

Pamela could be a lawyer.

She continued: "I did tell her for my heart was almost broken, but I didn't open my mouth to anyone else."

"You wrote a letter, Pamela," I said.

"Did you take it?" 

"Am I supposed to let you expose me?"

"It isn't exposure if I say nothing but the truth. Who should I ask advice from except my mother and father?"

At that point, I realized I was exchanging extremely heated words with my mother's companion in the middle of the sitting room.

"Insolence," I said. "Am I to be questioned by such a one as you?"

Instant retreat. It's what Pamela does when she panics. She assumed the demure attitude she mistakenly thinks she adopts all the time. She pled for her job and when I pointed out that following my commands was part of her job, asked what she should do when my commands were contrary to her principles.

I grant her that point. But Pamela's idealism was false—I still believe that, mostly. Let us say, Pamela was unrealistic.

"You might as well have real cause against me," I said and took her on my knee. She sat like a statue, eyes slewed towards me.

"Be easy," I said. "Let the worst happen. You will have the merit, and I the blame, and then you can write a very interesting letter."

I swear I saw her lip twitch.

"Nobody blamed Lucretia," I pointed out and kissed her neck.

She turned and frowned at me, and I kissed her lips.

"Should I kill myself like Lucretia?" she said. Trust Pamela to start a literary argument in the middle of a seduction.

"We could create as pretty a romance," I said and cupped her breast.

She bolted, and this time, I wasn't in a state to do more than grab the tail of her dress. She got away.

I sat there awhile, considering the half-smile, and then I considered that Pamela was fairly young and given to hyperbole and could be imagining herself Lucretia at that moment; English woman supposedly know better than to commit suicide in the house of their employers, but Pamela is absurdly literal.

I told Mrs. Jervis to check on her but to ignore any hysterics, and for both of them to see me the next day. I then went riding.

They came up together after dinner. Pamela hung back by the door until I frowned at her. Mrs. Jervis stood before the desk, her honest face puzzled. She isn't used to so much drama.

I questioned Mrs. Jervis on what Pamela had told her.

"Only that you pulled her on your knee and kissed her," she said uneasily.

"Only!" Pamela said, stepping further into the room. "Was that not enough to show me what I had to fear? And your honor went further, so you did, and talked of Lucretia and her hard fate."

In retrospect, referencing Juliet might have been wiser.

Maybe not.

Mrs. Jervis began to make excuses for me and for Pamela.

We were getting nowhere. The gentlemanly thing to do was to smooth the matter over: "To be sure," I said, "I have demeaned myself to take notice of such a one as she, but I was bewitched. I had no intention of carrying the jest further," which, you'll grant, is a good piece of diplomacy, placing no blame and bringing the matter to a close.

Except Pamela hasn't a diplomatic bone in her body.

She said, "It is not an appropriate jest between a master and servant."

I gave Mrs. Jervis a "do you see what I put up with" look, and she appeared embarrassed.

"She is truly unnerved," she told me.

I groaned. So much for diplomacy. This was getting out of hand.

"Pamela should return home," I said.

Let Pamela say what she wants, that didn't please her. Home was distress and poverty—why should she wish to return there? But I couldn't have a servant spreading rumors, no matter how true, about my conduct.

I'll give Pamela this though: she has poise. She took a deep breath, then thanked me for my decision as well as for the opportunities and favors she'd received in my household.

"What is the parents' situation?" I asked Mrs. Jervis when Pamela left the room.

"They have a small cottage. He labors for the Mumfords. Her mother spins though her eyesight is failing."

"Pamela will be a burden to them."

She sighed. "She could do needlework," she said.

"She's an odd girl," I said, and Mrs. Jervis went away.

I knew that sending Pamela home was a death sentence. She would fade into one of those tired women who sat on their stoops, plaiting wool. She could hardly have arguments about Lucretia with the local goatherder.

But she couldn't stay. I was aware of her, sensitive to her every movement. And yet. I told Mrs. Jervis she should stay until she finished my waistcoat. It was a fairly hideous garment, but there was nothing else of mine Pamela was working on.

"You care for her, sir?" Mrs. Jervis said, and I shrugged agreement.

"She's fearfully religious," Mrs. Jervis added.

"People usually are until they want something," I said, and she clucked her tongue. But she didn't disagree.
Mrs. Jervis is a realist.

NOTE: I have used the American, rather than British spelling. I like British spelling, but my English Composition side prizes consistency over appeal. It is easier for me to stay consistent with American spelling.

No comments:

Post a Comment