Ruminations of Mr. B: III

Corresponding to Letters XXII-XXIV of Pamela

The servants began to question why Pamela was leaving. In truth, it was my fault. I ran into Pamela in the front hall and asked her why she hadn't finished my waistcoat yet.

"I have worked early and late upon it," she said with a scowl.

"You spend more time with your pen than your needle," I said. "I don't want such idle slackers in my house."

The butler overheard us. And that was that: Pamela would have to leave, or I would look a fool. I followed Pamela upstairs to Mrs. Jervis's parlor.

"How much longer is she going to be here?" I said, pointing at Pamela.

"I would have taken the waistcoat with me," Pamela said, "and removed this hated poor Pamela from this house and your sight forever."

"Listen to her," I said to Mrs. Jervis who was watching both us with wide eyes and pursed lips. "She has the power of witchcraft. She makes even you, who should know better, think she is an angel of light."

Mrs. Jervis looked skeptical, but I was admittedly fairly annoyed with myself at this point. Pamela tried to retreat, and I grabbed her hand. I wanted to tell her she was being an idiot: being my mistress was no hardship; she would have money to send back to her parents and plenty of books to read. Her supposed principles were only hampering her.

But that speech was too blunt even for Mrs. Jervis. I let Pamela go, and she bolted.

"I ticked her off in front of Mr. Jonathan," I told Mrs. Jervis, and she clucked.

Once Mr. Jonathan knew I was displeased with Pamela, my steward Longman learned of it, and after that, the entire countryside. I held a dinner the next evening, and the guests teased me about my pretty maid servant. I tried to play it down, but the ladies insisted on trooping upstairs to check out Pamela—to comfort themselves she wasn't a temptation to their husbands, I guess. Lady Brooks dropped numerous hints about my and Pamela's "relationship" on her way to the carriages, but Lady Towers stopped beside me to say quietly, "She's got a roguish air. Has she resisted you?"

"She wants to be Lucretia," I said, and Lady Towers laughed.

Pamela didn't want to leave—I knew that—but I found out she was preparing to return to her parents. I stopped by Mrs. Jervis' parlour to tell her my travel plans to Lincolnshire. She was interviewing a farmer's daughter, so I went to the back-parlor and rang for her.

She laughed when I asked if her visitor was Farmer Nichols or Farmer Brady's daughter. "If your honor won't be angry, I will introduce her for I think she outdoes our Pamela."

And she came back with Pamela dressed in plain muslin with a black silk kerchief and a straw hat on her head. A country miss, in fact. Pamela is no fool; she knows clothes are the station. She was getting ready for poverty.

She wouldn't look at me. I got up and came around the desk.

"You are far prettier than your sister Pamela," I said.

"I am Pamela," she told me.

"Impossible," I said, "you are much lovelier, and I can be free with you," and I kissed her lightly.

She bolted out of the room. Mrs. Jervis clucked.

"What's she up to?" I said.

"It's part of her new wardrobe. She's been collecting odds and ends over the last week or so."

Damn Pamela and her literalness.

"Get in here," I yelled towards the door, and Pamela sidled in, scowling.

"This is pure hypocrisy," I said, waving my hand at the dress. Pamela didn't want the life that dress represented.

"I've been in disguise ever since my good lady, your mother, took me from my poor parents. I have bought what will be more suitable to my degree when I get home."

I was leaning against the desk, so my face was almost level with hers. We studied each other, and I noted her set lips and dark, unhappy eyes.

"Oh, Pamela," I said and drew her into my arms.

She didn't struggle—not this time. "You have to leave," I said to her hair, "but I don't want that," and instantly, she tensed, but I strengthened my hold, and she relaxed again. Poor Pamela sent off in disgrace to a life that would sap her dry.

I let her go and looked at Mrs. Jervis. "I'll submit myself to this hussy for a fortnight and then send her to my sister. Do you hear what I say, statue?"

And then Pamela muttered, "I might be in danger from her ladyship's nephew."

Never imagine that Pamela's memory is bad.

"Damned impertinence," I said.

"What have I done that I must be used worse than if I robbed you?"

I almost laughed because whatever was between me and Pamela was very much like being robbed—of sense or self-preservation, I'm not sure which.

She wasn't done. "Why should you demean yourself to take notice of me? Why should I suffer more than others?"

"You have distinguished yourself above the common servant," I said. She couldn’t have it both ways—she couldn't write and read and befriend Mrs. Jervis and then argue want me to treat her like a scullery maid. "Didn't my good mother desire I take care of you?"

She muttered at the carpet. I took her chin and forced it up, and she said, nearly spitting, "My good lady did not desire your care to extend to the summer-house and dressing-room."

I nearly smacked her. She darted backwards and out of the room.

"Be careful, sir," Mrs. Jervis said, but I turned my back.

"By God, I'll have her," I said.


Corresponding to Letters XXV-XXXI of Pamela

I made the attempt that night. I will be the first to say, it went badly. I was not, shall we say, as suave as a gentleman of my station is supposed to be. I went into Mrs. Jervis' room while the servants were at dinner and hid in her closet. I had to wait awhile, so I read Robinson Crusoe—the ingenuity of the independent man, a very appropriate topic.

Pamela and Mrs. Jervis came in; Pamela was sleeping with Mrs. Jervis by then. They were arguing. Apparently, Pamela hadn't wanted me to see her in her peasant clothes. She thought Mrs. Jervis had set me up. The motherly woman was trying to soothe Pamela's feelings. Pamela wouldn't listen. So much wrath and self-pity over so much ordinary human fallibility: Pamela was quite young at the time.

"There's something in the closet," she said, and Mrs. Jervis said, "Perhaps the cat," but Pamela would have none of that and the next thing I knew, we were face to face.

My plan had been to corner Pamela when Mrs. Jervis went upstairs to check on the maids. As it was, Pamela ran for the bed in her petticoat and huddled under the covers while Mrs. Jervis lectured me until I got fed up.

"I can always dismiss you," I told her which was unworthy of me. She's a good housekeeper, Mrs. Jervis. She wasn't terribly impressed by my threats and told me to go to the other side of the room.

"She's fainted," Mrs. Jervis said then.

"Hell's bells," I said.

"The maids might come down," she pointed out. "You'd better go."

I went, feeling a fool.

I went hunting the next morning with Hargraves; I desperately wanted to shoot something. When I returned home, I found my entire household engaged in the conflict between Pamela and myself. It was intolerable. You cannot have servants marking bets over a maid's virtue. I threatened to turn Mrs. Jervis out, this time for real, but she seemed truly appalled at my behavior—so much for being a realist.

"I'm considering a match suitable to my position," I told Pamela, which was something of an exaggeration although my sister suggests matches to me all the time. It was a handy way to distance myself. "Let's say goodbye."

I took her hand; she wouldn’t look at me. Lucretia, indeed. My house had been turned into melodramatic theater. The sooner Pamela departed the better.
I didn't see Pamela again until I tried on my court dress and wanted her opinion. She came in hunched and shrinking, which annoyed me. I wasn't an ogre. I had done nothing to merit such coy victimhood.

"You're a fool to take my last freedom so much to heart," I told her. "You and Mrs. Jervis frightened me as much as I frightened you."

"Your honor ought to be more afraid of God Almighty," she said.

I grinned at her. "Well urged, my pretty preacher! When my Lincolnshire chaplain dies, I'll put thee in a gown and cassock and thou'lt make a good figure in his place."

She glowered. I shrugged and straightened my silver-laced waistcoat. She studied it, head tilted.

"You're free to stay," I said finally.

"I shall rejoice when I out of the house."

"You are an ungrateful baggage, but I'm thinking it would be a pity you should return again to hard work. Mrs. Jervis should take lodgings in London and fill it with such pretty daughters as yourself."

Yes, I was implying prostitution. I was tired of Pamela's missish ways. She seemed to stand in complete opposition to the world's faults and fallibilities, and she couldn't escape them. Poverty or wealth would do Pamela in. She might as well accept reality.

"Consider the tales you would write about." I said.

"I would stoop to scullery work sooner than bear such ungentlemanly imputations."

I looked straight at her, and her eyes flickered. She meant it; she just didn't want to test her words.

"You should put off your dismal grave looks," I told her, "or people will think you are sad to be leaving me."

"Then I will endeavor to be more cheerful."

"I'll make a note," I said. "This is the first time my advice had any weight with you."

"You should add it is the first advice that was fit to follow."

I laughed. "I wish you would get into my bed as quickly as you answer me back."

She blushed and bolted. Naturally.

The ructions continued. Longman got wind of my threat to let Mrs. Jervis go and cornered me with homages to her housekeeping. This led to another meeting between myself, Mrs. Jervis and Pamela, this time with Longman hovering in the background. I never intended to let Mrs. Jervis go, but I made a point of telling her she could stay. Pamela was doing her demure routine, and Longman, who is a bit of an old fool about girls, praised her delicate behavior. So I goaded Pamela until she snapped at me, sending Longman into a dither. Pamela instantly put on a performance worthy of the most honest of Roman matrons, declaiming her unworthiness: she had been "faulty and ungrateful to the very best of masters."

I seemed to be the only one who heard the sarcasm.

What a day.

"It's a hard thing you're doing," Mrs. Jervis told me when I stopped by her parlor afterwards. "The girl tried scouring a pewter plate this morning and made a mess of it. She's not made for hard-labor."

"She was never taught it," I said. "Pamela is quick. She'll learn."

But Mrs. Jervis hoped to soften my heart towards Pamela. She invited me to sit in her closet with some snacks while she and Pamela went over Pamela's wardrobe. Pamela planned to leave behind not only my gifts to her but my mother's gifts. She was also worried about the four guineas I gave her when my mother died. She had already sent them to her parents who had spent them. Pamela pointed out that she'd had no wages and although she couldn't repay my mother's kindness, the education she'd received from my mother would do her little good where she was going.

I put my head in my hands and listened to Pamela arguing, mostly with herself, that her work was worth four guineas, she shouldn't need to repay it, but perhaps . . . and I came up with a new plan.

The next day, I asked Pamela to come to my closet, which is also my library.

"I admire you," I said, "as well as your writing." She looked surprised; I suppose she honestly thought John wouldn't show me her letters. I sighed.

"Stay a fortnight longer while John carries word to your father that I wish to see him."

My idea was to employ her father or at least settle money on him to show Pamela the benefits of my patronage.

Pamela shook her head. "Please let me go tomorrow."

"I intend no injury," I told her. This was mostly true. Kindness was a better weapon with Pamela than harassment, and a promise to mitigate her worst fears would go a long way towards overcoming her scruples. I even promised to marry her to a clergyman.

I suppose it is no shock to you that she still turned me down.

NOTE: 18th century "closets" were not "closets" as we understand them. They were back rooms, studies, dens, offices (Mr. B has a library in one of his "closets"); any of those words would have worked fine as a substitute, but none of them would have been just right, so I kept the original term.

No comments:

Post a Comment