Mr. B's Testimony VII

NOTE: At Eugene's most excellent suggestion, I have changed the over story. Instead of Mr. B being interviewed by a grad student, he is giving testimony in a hearing. The hearing will determine whether or not he remains married to Pamela.

The over story, which has been massively fun to write, involves multiple interruptions. I begin the next section with one of them.

Interruption

The CFL [Committee for Fairness in Literature] chairperson rose. "The topic of marriage has been broached, Judge. If we may make our arguments?"

Mr. B said, "She didn't accept until the next day."

"She only accepted because she returned to the house under duress."

Mr. B set his jaw and stared fixedly out the courtroom windows. Mr. Shorter [Mr. B's attorney; he is mentioned in prior sections] coughed.

"We have the letters Mr. B sent to Mrs. B and Monsieur Colbrand," he said and pulled them from his briefcase. "They indicate Mr. B's willingness to accept Mrs. B's decision: whether to continue to her parents or return to his home."

"They indicate that he intended to pursue her to Bedfordshire."

"Is this true?"

"It is, your honor. If I may—" Judge Hardcastle waved a hand, and Mr. Shorter read: "'Spare me, my dearest girl, the confusion of following you to your father's which I must do if you persist in going on, for I find I cannot live a day without you.' Mr. B's affections and intentions are clear, Judge. Mrs. B was free to continue her journey—"

"Knowing she would be hunted," a CLF member said.

The judge waved a hand, and the clerk collected the letters from Mr. Shorter. The judge read them over, then glanced at Mr. B, silent for once, his lanky form unusually taut.

"The letter to your wife is quite eloquent. Was she appreciative?"

A faint look of amusement touched Mr. B's face. "I believe she was."

"She did return?"

"Yes."

"Against her better judgment," the CLF chairperson argued.

"No use of force is mentioned—"

The CLF psychologist stood. "If I may, Judge. Force is not stated directly, but it is implied. Pamela was clearly horrified at the thought of further pursuit. She felt she had no choice. Like many suffering from paradoxical identification shift, she did what she needed to survive."

"Her own record indicates a state of eagerness."

"After seven weeks imprisonment, she hardly knew her own mind. She was desperate to avoid more threats. Consider how radically her personality changed upon her return."

Mr. B swiveled. "How can you say that? Pamela's behavior was the one constant—"

"Her religious effusions increased. She was obviously clinging to useless platitudes in an effort to relieve her stress."

Mr. B's voice was steely. "My wife's religious beliefs are sincerely held. She does wax moralistic when in good humor, but you are wrong to suggest she doesn't believe in the Bible's doctrines, or to disparage her pleasure in those doctrines. She has never clung uselessly to anything except, possibly, my good self." He began to rise, but Mr. Shorter pressed his shoulder, and he sat, clenching his hands on the table. "Does this courtroom encourage the denigration of a woman's soul and values?"

The courtroom was very quiet. The RFA [Readers For Authenticity] representative grinned faintly, and the 18th century aficionado [one of the few attendees] made a note in a journal.

"I agree," the judge said. "We will continue without disparaging any religious beliefs, people."

"They should also call my wife by her proper name," Mr. B said, still steely. "They are neither her family nor her betters to be so familiar with her given name."

The judge raised an eyebrow. The chairperson said loftily, "We will refer to her as Miss Andrews."

Mr. B nodded curtly and slumped back in his chair. Mr. Shorter patted his arm.

"Please continue," said the judge.

After a deep breath, Mr. B complied.

Mr. B's Testimony Corresponding to Pamela and Mr. B's Engagement
 
The next morning, Pamela was wary again. She seemed to think she shouldn't go out in the carriage with me. She made excuses: she wasn't dressed properly; she was only a servant. I allayed her fears, and she was ready at noon. We settled in the carriage side by side. I put my arm around her. She leaned against me and even lifted her chin to receive a kiss on the mouth, which disarmed me.

I was a very reformed rake, as you'll see by what I said next. I warned Pamela that marrying me could possibly ostracize her from society. If my sister's letter was any indication of how Pamela would be received by our set, she would never be visited or invited to parties. I could always go hunting with my friends, but Pamela, as neither servant nor lady, would have no one.

"What will you do?" I said.

"I will take care of your accounts," she said, "and visit the poor and assist your housekeeper." She paused, considering. "And take out your carriage," she said, giving me one of her sideways glances. I smiled and slid my hand under her cap to rub her hair.

She went on: "Entertain your friends, play music." She paused again. "Wait for you and miss you when you are gone."

I bent and kiss her shoulder.

"Write," Pamela said.

I laughed.

"Pray for you," she said severely, "and myself," she added. "I shan't be at a loss for how to pass the time."

"We have sufficiently tortured one another," I said. "I hope we are now secure in each other's good opinion."

And she detached herself—not physically but in that slight, guarded way she has. We were no longer a happily engaged couple.

She said to her lap: "In the garden, I wanted to tell you about this—"

She pulled a letter from her pocket. It was from "Somebody" warning Pamela about the sham marriage I'd considered. I groaned. "How did you get this?"

From a gypsy, who told fortunes at the back gate and left the letter in a clump of dirt.

"A man who thinks a thousand dragons sufficient to watch a woman will find them all too little," I said.

But I told her the truth: I had planned the sham marriage but had given up the idea.

"You should have told me about this in the garden," I said, tapping the letter.

"You wouldn't listen."

"You could have written me," I pointed out, "and saved us all a lot of trouble."

Her lips twitched, and she agreed gravely.

"I came back very quickly," she pointed out, and I hugged her, and she was there again, present in my arms. "I could never hate you," she said to my shoulder.

I found that hard to believe, but who am I to argue with Providence?

The next morning, we discussed the wedding ceremony. I wanted a private service; I was getting tired of my neighbors' tittle-tattle. The Darnfords were already bothering me with messages about meeting Pamela (even Lincolnshire servants blab).

Pamela was agreeable but wanted a religious service.

"I will order my little chapel cleared," I said. "It has been used as a lumber-room for two generations."

Pamela fixed me with a stern eye: "I hope it will never be lumbered again," she said, "but instead kept to the use for which, I presume, it has been consecrated."

I grinned. "In my great great grandfather's time."

Thomas came in then. He'd gone on to the Andrews when Pamela turned back at the inn. He'd taken them a letter from Pamela which included her request for the first packet of letters.

They had refused to send them. Apparently, they believed their daughter had written under compulsion. From Thomas's expression, I gathered the interview had been rather trying. Apparently, Pamela's flair for dramatics is inherited.

Pamela was looking perturbed, so I quelled my annoyance. We would both write letters and send them to Mr. Atkins. He lived near Pamela's parents and would make a worthy representative for everyone's good intentions.

Later that day, Pamela brought me her latest batch of writing from when I left for the wedding to our walk in the garden. I took it with me to look over privately.

I drove out to the meadows and walked along the footway there. I was pulling out Pamela's writing when I saw Mr. Williams. He was strolling about with a book though he might have been reading upside down for all the attention he paid it. He was obviously hoping to meet me.

He was hoping I'd give him a living. I sighed and made myself stop.

"What are you reading?"

"Sir," he stammered, "it is the French Telemachus. I am perfecting myself in the French tongue."

I didn't roll my eyes. We made small-talk. When I got tired of comments about the weather, I said, "You should have approached me directly about Miss Andrews if you thought I was doing wrong." If I hadn't listened, I would have deserved his interference.

"Yes, yes, absolutely," he gabbled.

So much for Pamela's Galahad.

I dropped him at his lodgings and went home to tell Pamela about our meeting.

"Poor man," she said, and I gave her a narrow stare.

"I'd rather he was perfecting his French tongue with Telemachus than perfecting you with it," I said. Despite her bent head, I caught a glimmer of Pamela's smile, and I went out grinning to myself.

The next day the Darnfords came to visit plus Lady Jones and Mr. Peters with their respective families. They all gathered in the front room where they could watch Pamela walk in the garden. They exclaimed over her charm and sweetness and grace and discretion. I watched them fawn and reminded myself that I was wealthier than Sir Simon.

Pamela was nervous to meet them. She hardly glanced up when she entered the room. Sir Simon was boisterous, demanding a kiss. Pamela flinched but recovered nicely. I couldn't help her; if she was to be accepted by my peers, she had to withstand the initial run of introductions. Sir Simon was a flirt, but Lady Darnford had social clout. Besides, I liked her. I wanted her to like Pamela.

She appeared to. She didn't argue when Pamela went for a stroll with her daughters.

"They want us to hold a ball with the wedding," Pamela told me later when she'd agreed to perform on the spinet.

"Do you want one?"

"No," she said, running her fingers over the keys. "It's supposed to be a solemn occasion."

I agreed; I just hoped Pamela wouldn't be bringing solemnity into the bedroom on our wedding night.

Pamela retreated upstairs after the music, leaving the guests to me. I was chatting with the ladies, and Lady Darnford was assuring me that Pamela would have no trouble finding her way in society when Mrs. Jewkes sidled in and waved me over.

"There's an old man wants to see you on a business of life and death," she said. "He is very earnest."

I made my excuses and went into the little hall, and there was Mr. Andrews. He looked surprisingly presentable with a shaved chin and clean shirt, but he was weeping copiously.

"I must ask for my child," he cried.

Yes, Pamela comes naturally by her dramatic gestures.

In any case, it was a far more effective plea than Williams's meddling, however unnecessary.

I went forward and took his hand and got him to sit. "Don't be uneasy," I said. "She has written you that she is happy."

"Ah," he said, "but you once told me she was in London."

"Yes," I said, "but now I am her prisoner and about to put on the most agreeable fetters a man ever wore."

"May I not see her?"

"Presently," I said, "and hopefully she will convince you since I cannot."

"Is she virtuous?" he said and tears aside, if I'd answered no, I doubt I would be here telling this tale.

"Yes," I said, looking at him directly, "and in twelve days' time, she will be my wife."

I went out then, adjuring Mrs. Jewkes to explain the situation and to bring Mr. Andrews some wine.

I ran upstairs and told Pamela to come down for a man had come that I would allow her to love dearly, though not more than me. She frowned and tried to ask questions. "It could be Williams," I said and went out.

Downstairs, I persuaded Mr. Andrews to join the company. Pamela would go nowhere without her parents, I'd figured that out. If I wanted to ease her path into high society, I'd have to drag her parents there too. Not that I intended them to live with us. I had other plans for the good people.

Pamela came down, looking wary. I suppose she thought I was going to surprise her with Williams. I admit I was soothed by her reluctance. Not that Williams was a threat, but it still annoyed me that he had been her confidant. That should have been my role, if I'd been wise enough to accept it. We pay for our follies.

She saw her father and rushed to him, overturning a table. "Daddy," she cried, then sagged. The ladies got her water, and her father picked her up. I decided I'd given the Andrews family as much dramatic license as they could bear and escorted them to the back-parlor.

Back in the front-parlor, the ladies dabbed their eyes and even Sir Simon blew his nose. I smiled to myself. There's nothing like a reunion to overwhelm people's sensibilities.

The Andrews family was much calmer when I went to the back-parlor. They sat in the window seat, heads close together, and I felt a sudden pang for the parent I had lost not so long ago. I never cared for my father, but my mother was kind and patient. It's a pity her children are not more like her.

"Make this your home," I told the old man. "The longer you stay, the more welcome you'll be."

"You see what goodness there is in my once naughty master," Pamela said as I was leaving, and I winked at her.

Pamela and her father joined us later while the ladies and gentlemen were at cards. Pamela sat beside me with her father on her other side. Her father had brought her letters, and she handed them over to me with a pretty bow.

The company stayed for supper which went forward with only three or four scenes from Pamela and her father; in this case, however, I understood their anxieties. Lady Darnford wanted Pamela to take the wife's place at the upper end of the table. She wanted to sit near her father. Her father didn't think he should sit near the upper end. I finally arranged everyone and put Pamela's father near me.

The party broke up after supper. Pamela and I were invited to everyone's houses after the wedding. I spent a little time with Pamela and her father, then took her letters to bed.

It was not pleasant reading. These were the letters she had written immediately after arriving in Lincolnshire. She had turned down Williams' proposal, but she was obviously frightened, her parents were not averse to the match, and Mrs. Jewkes—by my encouragement—was pushing Pamela hard towards a decision of some kind.

"You would have been Williams's wife by now," I told her the next morning. I'd found Pamela with her father in the garden.

"I had no notion of being anybody's," she said.

"It would have been inevitable, and your father was for it."

"I little thought of the honor you would bring her," Mr. Andrews said. "When I discovered she didn't want to marry the parson, I resolved not to urge her."

"Yes, yes," I said shortly. "Everyone was sincere, honest, and open."

They gazed at me, and I realized—with some annoyance—that they were being sincere, honest, and open. I sighed.

"She is a witty and blameless writer," I said. "You are exceedingly blessed in your daughter."

I arranged to take them out later in the carriage. I went to check on the chapel which had been cleaned. It would be white-washed, painted, and lined. I intended to buy a new pulpit-cloth, cushion and desk. I wanted Peters to consecrate it with a sermon on Sunday—he'd stopped by to congratulate me on my coming nuptials—but he only laughed.

"Williams needs your patronage," he said. "It'll keep him out of trouble. Come on, man, he's not so bad."

"Fine," I said. "Tell him to meet me at the meadows this afternoon."

If the Andrews family could effect a dramatic scene of reconciliation, so could I.

It wasn't quite as dramatic as I'd anticipated. We all drove out to the meadows—Pamela, I, and her father. Williams was there, pretending to read again: Boileau's Lutrin, this time. Pamela and I addressed him—her father had stayed with the carriage—and Williams fawned. He showered praises on Pamela who behaved graciously though her eyes glazed a few times. We introduced Williams to her father and brought him home to dine.

After, we visited the cleaned-out chapel. I invited Williams to preach there the next day. He stammered and claimed he wasn't ready.

"I have a text," I said. "There is more joy in Heaven over one sinner that repenteth, than over ninety-nine just persons that need no repentance."

I kept a straight face, but Pamela, who'd just come back from praying, gave me a severe slant-eyed glance.

"The book of Ruth would afford a fine subject for a sermon," Mr. Andrews said.

I had to think that one over. Boaz rewards Ruth in the story, and I objected, partly for the sake of form but not entirely. I'm no King Cophetua.

"Pamela will confer as much honor to me as she receives," I said.

Pamela shook her head, and I grinned at her. "It will be best for me to think so," I said, "and kind of you to disagree, and then we shall always have an excellent rule to regulate our conduct."

She didn't roll her eyes since Williams was simpering at my shoulder, and her father was beaming.

"I am at a loss for words," she said.

Before Williams left, I forgave his bond of money.

Interruption

"I would like to add," said Mr. Shorter, "that this good man said many more fine things to Williams and to Mr. Andrews that are included in Mrs. B's account."

A CLF member said sullenly, "Mr. B has suggested that her account is inaccurate."

Mr. B objected, and Judge Hardcastle said, "I believe he commended her exactness with dialog."

Mr. B spoke up: "My wife is a faithful recorder and an excellent writer, but she recorded for posterity, not for her private amusement. She always had an audience—her mother in this case. When she flatters my conduct and intentions, she is only trying to impress a skeptical readership. Surely, you can understand."

"Yet you resist her portrayal," the RFA representative said, amused.

"The portrait was for outsiders."

"You don't seem to mind disparaging her religious beliefs," the CLF member said, still sullen.

Mr. B gazed at him with ill-veiled contempt. "There is a great difference between wit and disparagement. I said before, I am no cad. Besides, I understand my wife's beliefs."

"Pure hypocrisy. You were hardly a virtuous man."

"By the standards of his world, he was," the 18th century aficionado said. "He and Mrs. B would have shared a similar belief system. For example, he would not have been an atheist—"

"Certainly not." Mr. B was shocked.

"Or a secularist. Remember, he appointed vicars."

"I even went to church."

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