11 December 2006

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

While the dancing continued, Mr. D’Arcy stood kicking himself for his failure to avail of the perfect opportunity to strike up conversation with Joe. He was so engrossed by his own thoughts that he didn’t observe Sue Narmi approach until it was too late to escape.

"What a pleasant evening this is, Mr. D’Arcy!” she began. “There is nothing like dancing, a charming amusement: I consider it one of the refinements of a civilized society."

"It has the advantage of being in vogue among less civilized societies of the world,” said D’Arcy. “Every savage can dance."

Sue Narmi forced a smile.

"Your friend Binglay performs delightfully," she continued after a pause, on seeing him join the group. " I have no doubt that you are quite a mover yourself, when the mood takes you, Mr. D’Arcy."

"You saw me dance at the club, I believe."

"With Mr Binglay’s younger brother, Anthony, yes indeed. I received no inconsiderable pleasure from the sight.”

D’Arcy resolved to excuse himself, fearing that he was about to be invited to step out with Sue Narmi, but before he managed to she continued.

“Do you often dance, Mr D’Arcy?"

"Hardly ever."

"Do you think it improper?”


“I think it is… if done properly. So why do you not dance, in that case? Do you not think it would be an appropriate compliment to a place such as this?"

"I happen to be a bad dancer. It is more of an insult than a compliment if I dance in any place, and if I can avoid it, then I do."

"You live in the country, I believe?"

D’Arcy nodded.

"I once considered moving away from the city myself, and getting back to nature. There are sheep roaming through the fields, and other innocent animals in the country… cute little puppies everywhere, are there not?”

D’Arcy hardly knew how to respond.

“In the end, I decided not to,” said Sue Narmi. “I have resolved never to change my ways, and besides I was not certain that the fresh air would agree with Ivana. That said, it would be a great pleasure to spend a little time relaxing in the country, and I’m sure that it would do wonders for her voice: she can’t belt out those high notes like she used to. Madonna has a country estate, you know.”

“Yes, she mentioned,” said Mr D’Arcy. “If you’ll excuse me, I really must-”

But Sue Narmi sank her talons into his wrist.

Mentioned? Are you quoting her from a magazine interview or do you mean to say that you know her?”

“Neither. She came to stay at Pemberley once, but I’d hardly calling that knowing her… although I certainly know as much of her as I want, after that weekend!”

Barely able to contain herself, Sue Narmi was no longer attended to his conversation; she was determined to do everything within her power to secure an invitation to Pemberley.

“How lucky you are!” she said sweetly. “Unlike some, we have no rich acquaintances with a country estate… until recently, that is. It must get lonely for you in the country, Mr D’Arcy, does it not?"

She paused in hope of at least a reply, but her companion was not disposed to make any answer.

“Have you been to see us perform since you’ve been in the city?”

“I’ve heard many people talk about your performance: it sounds… unique, to say the least, but I don’t think it’s my thing.”

“It’s best to keep an open mind, Mr D’Arcy. Why, when I first heard Madonna, I considered her a talentless and tuneless amateur performer, with exaggerated notions of her own greatness.”

“I am impressed by how accurate your first impressions are. Now, if you’ll excuse me please, I really must-”

Sue Narmi resisted his efforts to break free from her grip. After that remark, she was determined to inflict a painful wound before he slipped away, and at that instant Joe happened to move towards them. Immediately, she was struck with the notion of doing a very evil thing.

"My dear Joe, why are not you dancing?” she called out. “Mr. D’Arcy, allow me to present this young man to you as a very desirable partner. I am sure that you cannot refuse to dance, when so much beauty is before you."

Sue Narmi snatched at Joe’s hand, and would have given it to D’Arcy who, though extremely surprised, was not unwilling to receive it. But Joe instantly drew back, and said with some discomposure.

"I have no intention of dancing. I’m on my way to the bathroom."

With sincerity, D’Arcy asked him to dance on returning, but in vain. Confused by the tone in which he had been approached, Joe hesitated for a moment, but what Sue Narmi said next only strengthened his resolve.

“But you excel so much in the dance, Joe… almost as good as your singing. It is quite cruel to deny me the happiness of watching you make an exhibition of yourself, and though this gentleman dislikes amusement in general, even he can have no objection to oblige us, knowing that the sight will amuse the whole room."

"Mr. D’Arcy is all politeness, I am sure, just as you are," said Joe.

"He is indeed,” said Sue Narmi with glee. “But considering the inducement in this case, one cannot wonder at his complaisance. Who would object to dancing with such a partner? Why, I’ve heard you described as ‘okay’ and ‘tolerable’ by men standing in this room."

“What you say is true,” said Joe. “I hope neither of you think I moved this way in order to beg for a partner.”

He turned away and continued to the bathroom, briefly considering what had possessed Mr D’Arcy to ask at all, until it occurred to him that the invitation had been no more than an effort to escape Sue Narmi’s clutches.

Joe’s refusal had not injured the interest of Mr D’Arcy. From the drag queen’s remarks and Joe’s parting words, he realised that his previous comments had been overheard. He was still kicking himself, and trying to figure out how to undo the damage he had done, when accosted by Anthony Binglay.

"I can guess what you’re thinking about."

"I doubt it."

"You are imagining how insufferable it would be to pass many evenings in this manner -- in such society, and I am quite of your opinion. I was never more bored! The insipidity and yet the noise; the nothingness and yet the self-importance of all these people! What would I give to hear your thoughts on them!"

"You are wrong, I assure you. My mind was more agreeably engaged.”

“With what?”

“I have been considering the pleasure which a pair of fine eyes bestow on a man."

Anthony immediately fixed his eyes on Mr D’Arcy’s face, and desired him to confess what man had the credit of inspiring such reflections, to which replied with great intrepidity.

"That man, over there."

"You mean him? That friend of Dylan?" said Anthony. "I am astonished. How long has he been such a favourite? When are you going to introduce your new boyfriend?"

"That is exactly what I expected you to say, Anthony. A gay man's imagination jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony, quicker than a gay man jumps into bed."

"But I know that you are always so serious when it comes to such matters, so if you are seriously interested in Joe, I shall consider the matter absolutely settled. He’s not likely to refuse, is he?”

Mr D’Arcy enquired what was meant by that remark.

“I mean he’ll throw himself at you. What are the chances of his find another man as attractive as you, interested in him? All I can say is that if you are serious, you’d better get used to the present company. Just a few minutes ago, I approached him and mentioned how dreary I found drag queens, and would much rather be at a party with some decent men, to which he replied that some of his best friends are drag queens, and that as far as decency is concerned that drag queens are always on the front line when it comes to gay issues, whether it be standing up to discrimination and homophobia, or AIDS activism. Of course I told him that wasn’t what I meant at all, pointing that most drag queens were quite two-faced, always saying one thing but meaning something else and hiding behind a mask as it were, to which he said something about preferring honest and honourable duplicity, whatever that’s supposed to mean.”

“What did you say in response?”

“I couldn’t be bothered arguing with him, to be perfectly honest. Not only will you have conversations like that to put up with, and company like that, but you will also have to suffer his present charming social circle. Yesterday afternoon, when I was explaining how I had no intention of keeping in touch with those we knew in the north, he argued about the importance of loyalty to one’s friends.”

“You didn’t dispute that, Anthony?”

“Of course not… if you have worthwhile friends like you, D’Arcy. But you’ve met Craig and Colin, haven’t you? Not to mention that insufferable fool, Queenie? Those are quite the kind of people he considers himself loyal to! Just imagine how delighted they’ll be to have a rich friend whose rich boyfriend has a country estate. They’ll always be out to visit you…"

D’Arcy listened with perfect indifference while Anthony chose to entertain himself in this manner. His composure convinced Anthony that all was safe, and so his wit flowed long.

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