10 December 2006

Pride and Partiality - Chapter Six (Part 1) : A fundraising evening

The inhabitants of Longhorn soon waited on those of Netherfield, and the visit was returned in due form. Dylan’s pleasing nature and gentle manners grew on the good will of Anthony and Fredrick Binglay, and though Queenie was found to be intolerable and the younger men not worth speaking to, a desire to be ‘better acquainted with them’ was expressed towards both Dylan and Joe, who were the two eldest and by far the most mature. By Dylan, this attention was received with the greatest pleasure, but Joe saw superciliousness in their treatment of everybody, hardly excepting his good friend. He could not like Anthony and Fredrick, although their kindness to Dylan, such as it was, had a value, as arising in all probability from the influence of their brother's admiration.

It was generally evident whenever they met that Binglay did admire Dylan; and to Joe it was equally evident that Dylan was yielding to a preference that he had entertained from the first meeting, and was in a way to be very much in love. Joe considered with pleasure that this was unlikely to be discovered by the world in general, since Dylan united great strength of feeling with a composure of temper, not to mention a uniform cheerfulness of manner towards everyone in his acquaintance. This would guard him from suspicions of the impertinent, Joe assured himself, although the subject was mentioned by their mutual friend Charlie, who had regarded Dylan for a long time and knew his disposition better than many.

"It may be advantageous to keep what is happening from the gossip of those around Dylan, but it is sometimes disadvantageous to be so guarded," said Charlie. "If a man conceals affection with skill from the object of it, he may lose the opportunity of getting his attention. That will be a poor consolation for leaving the world in the dark.”

“What is wrong with allowing Binglay to appreciate and love our friend without receiving open displays of affection?”

“It is not safe to leave any positive feelings to grow strong in those circumstances. There is so much of gratitude or vanity in how attachments come about, especially in the gay world!”

“I agree about the importance of displaying affection in order for mutual feelings to grow, and what you say about gratitude and vanity influencing our feelings on receiving attention is also true… but there is time enough for all of that! At the beginning of a relationship, it is not important.”

“I don’t agree, Joe. We all begin freely, and a slight preference is often enough to begin something without any encouragement at all, but there are few men who have courage enough to truly love without encouragement. In all such cases, a man had better show more enthusiasm than he feels.”

“That would be insincere.”

“Perhaps I’ve been living with Sue Narmi for too long, because I almost replied that the end justifies the means. In my honest opinion, there is no doubt that Dylan likes Binglay, and Binglay likes our mutual friend as much as everyone else who knows him, but he may never do more than like if Dylan does not help him on. He treats Binglay with the same courtesy, no less and no more, that he shows towards anyone that he genuinely likes… exactly as he did with me, and I was misled. So I am speaking from experience of a sort: Dylan ought to make his true feelings known."

"But Dylan does encourage him as much as his nature will allow,” said Joe, no longer able to dispute what he heard. “If we can perceive his interest, the object of that interest must be an idiot not to notice… in which case, Binglay doesn’t deserve attention."

"Remember, Joe, that Binglay does not understand Dylan's disposition as you do.... and I speak my own mind after several months of observation, not to mention painful reflection."

"But if a gay man is partial to a man and does not endeavour to conceal it, he must find it out."

"Perhaps if they see enough of one another, but while Binglay and Dylan see each other quite often, it is never for many hours together. They always meet in large mixed parties, so it is impossible that every moment is spent together. Dylan should make the most of every minute when they are alone together, so he can be sure of Binglay's attention. When he’s secure of his interest, there will be time enough to get to know him... and fall in love as much as he chooses."

"Your plan is a good one where nothing is in question but the desire of getting a boyfriend," replied Joe, "and if I were determined to get one myself, I dare say I would adopt your method. But those are not Dylan's feelings; he is not acting by design. As yet, he can’t be certain of the degree of his own interest, or of its reasonableness. He has known Binglay a fortnight, dancing with him at the club, speaking to him one morning at his own house, and we have dined in company with him four times. This is not enough to enable anyone to understand Binglay’s character."

"Not as you represent it. If they had only dined in company, Dylan might only have discovered whether Binglay has a healthy appetite, but remember that four evenings have been also spent together, and four evenings do a great deal."

"Yes, four evenings have enabled them to ascertain that they both prefer cinema to theatre, and like Kylie Minogue better than Madonna, but with respect to any other leading characteristic-”

“Have they kissed?”

Joe knew that they had not, but he considered it was not his place to answer that question.

“Apart from light conversation on subjects of mutual interest, I do not imagine that much has been… well, laid bare," he said at length.

For a short while, they remained silent. It occurred to Joe that it might be appropriate to change the subject at this point, since there was every chance that it pained their mutual friend.

"I’ve spoken candidly because you’re one of the few men that I trust," said Charlie at length. "I'm no gossip: I know that you’ve got Dylan’s best interests at heart. Don’t for a minute suspect me of interfering because of my own attachments, or because I do not want their relationship to succeed. I wish Dylan all the best, with all my heart I do. If they get together, I think Binglay stands as good a chance of happiness as if he were to be studying our friend’s character for a year, and Dylan has such a perpetually happy disposition that it’s hard to imagine that he would not be content with someone who loves him.”

Joe was inclined to agree that if anyone was likely to find happiness in life, it was Dylan. But he believed that it would take more than simply someone who loved him unconditionally, and told Charlie so much.

“But who are we to know what more is necessary? Happiness in a relationship is entirely a matter of chance,” Charlie replied. “However well known to each other the characters of the men concerned, however similar their interests are before their relationship starts, it does not increase the chance of the relationship lasting or advance their happiness in the least. It is what experience they share in the course of the relationship, how they respect one another and how they grow together, that determine their future chances of remaining together. In all human relationships, whether gay or straight, people grow sufficiently unlike, so that in time everyone has a good share of vexation; some cope with this better than others, while it seems most gay men prefer to give up and walk away.”

“Not all gay men,” said Joe. “Look at Bennett and Queenie.”

“Are you suggesting they’re a model for a happy relationship?”

Joe's silence spoke multitudes.

“It might be better to know little as possible of the defects of the person with whom you are to pass your life," said Charlie at length.

"You make me laugh,” said Joe, giving him a playful nudge. “But you know that reasoning is unsound, and that if it came to committing to a relationship, you would never act that way yourself."

Occupied in observing Binglay's attentions to Dylan, Joe was far from suspecting that he was becoming an object of interest in the eyes of someone else. At first, Mr D’Arcy had scarcely considered Joe to be tolerably attractive; he had looked at him without admiration at the club, and when they next met he had looked only to criticise. But no sooner had he made it clear to himself and all of his friends that Joe had scarcely a good feature than he began to find that his face was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the expression of his eyes. To this discovery succeeded others, equally unsettling. Though D’Arcy detected more than one failure in Joe’s build, he was forced to acknowledge that Joe had an attractive and pleasing figure; a robust healthy body, although without the definition found in gay men who devote hours at a gym to making their own natural shape into an artificially constructed replica of the current model of male beauty. By contrast, Joe appeared to be fit because he used his body for physical work, or practiced a sport that he enjoyed.

It was not only in observing Joe’s physical appearance that his opinions started to shift. For in spite of Mr D’Arcy having dismissed Joe’s light conversation at first, he quickly appreciated that he heard no disparaging or offensive bitchiness in any of his remarks, as was so common among those of the gay world, and whatever fault might be found in Joe’s opinions, judging by how passionately they were argued, his opinions were genuinely held. So it was that Mr D’Arcy began to wish to know more of Joe, and as a step towards doing so, he began to listen to his conversation with others, and found himself caught by Joe’s easy playfulness and his sincerity.

At first, Joe was perfectly unaware of all this: to him, D’Arcy was only a man who made himself agreeable no where and who had not thought enough of him to spend five minutes dancing with. However, it became impossible not to notice that he was continually listened to, and it drew his notice at a party thrown by one of their neighbours, another drag queen called Annette Curtain.

"What does Mr D’Arcy think he’s doing?" said Joe to Charlie. "He’s been listening to my conversation with Colonel Forster!"

"That is a question which only Mr D’Arcy can answer."

"I have the distinct impression he’s making fun of me. He doesn’t think much of his new acquaintances in the city, of that I’m sure. He has a satirical eye, standing back to amuse himself, with notions of ridiculing us all to those that he considers better company. Well, if he does it again, I going to challenge him, and let him know that one of us can see what he’s about."

On D'Arcy approaching soon afterwards, though without seeming to have any intention of speaking, Charlie dared his friend to approach the subject, which immediately provoked Joe to do it. He turned at once.

"Did not you think that I expressed myself uncommonly well just now, when I was encouraging Colonel Forster to organise a party at the weekend?"

"You spoke with great enthusiasm and energy, but organising a party is one subject that makes all gay men eloquent,” said D’Arcy, who was a little surprised by this approach.

"Your tone suggests that this is not a good thing?”

“I intended my tone to suggest that it is nothing remarkable: all gay men are enthusiastic about sex, drugs, parties, Madonna, and any combination of the above, but little more,” said D’Arcy.

“You are severe, and quick to judge," said Joe with a challenging look, waiting to see if D'Arcy intended to continue in conversation.

For his part Mr D’Arcy stood looking at him intently, prepared to continue and yet finding that he was incapable of doing it.

"It’s my turn to be severe," said Charlie, breaking their awkward silence. "Joe, you’ve been avoiding this all night, but we promised Annette that we’d perform.”

Mr D’Arcy struggled to keep a straight face.

“Music,” said Charlie.

“Oh, there’s going to be… live music?” said Mr D’Arcy with mild distain. “Is that why the drag queen on the door wanted money?”

“Annette’s collecting because this is a charity fundraiser for the AIDS foundation,” said Joe coolly. “You’ve made a great contribution simply by coming, but you don’t have to stay and suffer company or entertainment if you’d rather not.”

With that, Joe left him standing alone, and went to sit alongside Charlie who was already tuning his guitar.

"So is that your idea of being a friend?” he hissed.

“I tried changing the subject!”

“That's not what I meant! You know perfectly well I told Annette there was no way in hell that I’d sing in front of this crowd! If you want to play guitar, that’s fine!”

“No problem, you don’t have to sing!”

“I wouldn’t, except that you’ve just told Mr D’Arcy that we’re performing! If I don’t, he’ll think I backed out.”

“What does it matter to you what Mr D’Arcy thinks?”

Joe didn’t have a ready answer, other than he was not comfortable at the thought of being considered a coward or someone who did not keep his word.

“If my vanity had taken a musical turn, you would be invaluable, Charlie!” he muttered. “But as it is I would really rather not do this! Have you seen who is here? Never mind the Netherfield crowd, half these people regularly attend Covent Garden, so they’re in the habit of hearing the very best performers, and the rest would rather be listening to a drag queen lip-synching. Besides, we haven’t rehearsed anything!"

On Charlie’s pointing out that they’d spoken often enough about their similar tastes in music, Joe agreed to accompany him for the first song. They chose one that both knew well, ‘Back back back’ by Ani DiFranco, taken from the album ‘To the teeth’.

Their performance was pleasing, though by no means capital. Before Joe could reply to the entreaties of some guests that he sing again, he was eagerly replaced by Mitchell, who in consequence of being plain was always impatient for display. Mitchell had neither talent nor taste in music, and had worked hard for knowledge and accomplishment: though vanity had given him application, it had also given him a pedantic air and conceited manner, which would have injured a higher degree of excellence than he had reached. Joe, easy and unaffected, had been listened to with much more pleasure, though not singing half so well.

At the end of a long Streisand number to which few applauded, Mitchell was glad to receive a little enthusiasm by performing a couple of Abba and Madonna ditties, at the request of Colin and Craig, who along with some of the drag queens and two or three of the other guests joined eagerly in dancing at one end of the room.

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