11 January 2007

Pride and Partiality - Chapter Seven (Part 1) : An unexpected twist

Whenever asked to name her closest and dearest friends, Queenie spoke of a couple called the Gardiners who, having settled in a respectable line of trade outside of the city, she rarely saw. At great length she spoke of her affection for Mr Phillips, whose apartment in Maryton- arguably the most fashionable part of the city- was located only a short distance from Longhorn, a most convenient distance since Queenie, accompanied more often than not by Colin and Craig, were usually tempted to call several times a week.

So whenever there was nothing on television, which was often, a visit filled an afternoon, furnishing conversation long into the evening. They went not only to check out window displays at the neighbouring boutiques, and not only to visit; what Mr Phillips had to tell them about celebrities allegedly two-timing each other, and who was wearing what this season, was of much greater interest than whatever happened in the rest of the world. At present, a touring production of Swan Lake with an all-male cast, booked to play for the whole winter and with all of the dancers accommodated in the Maryton area, guaranteed that news and happiness were both well supplied.

Visits to Mr. Philips were productive of the most interesting new intelligence: every day added something to their general knowledge of the dancers’ names and where to find them: the location of their lodgings were not long a secret, and at length Queenie, Colin and Craig became acquainted with some of the dancers themselves, for Mr. Philips made a point of visiting them all, opening to his friends a source of felicity unknown before. In a short while, Mr. Binglay's large fortune, the mention of which still animated Queenie, was worthless in the eyes of Colin and Craig; it meant nothing compared with a finely toned physique of a professional dancer trained to perform spectacular gymnastic feats with ease. Adventures in Motion Pictures, Nederlands Dance Theatre, Mark Morris… they could talk of nothing but dancers.

After listening one morning to their effusions on this subject, Bennett coolly observed,

"From what I can collect by your manner of talking, you must be two of the silliest gay men in the city. I have suspected this for some time, but I am now quite convinced."

To this remark, Colin made no answer; he was disconcerted. However, Craig listened with perfect indifference, continuing to express his admiration of a performer named Matthew Bourne who he hoped to see in the course of the day.

"Bennett, if I wished to think slightingly of any gay men, it should not be our own," said Queenie indignantly. “I am astonished that you should be so ready to think our girls silly!”

"If gay men are silly, I must hope to be always sensible of it," Bennett returned.

"Yes, but as it happens, a lot of gay men are very clever… our girls in particular."

"Apart from the musical talents exemplified by Madonna, I flatter myself this is the only substantial point on which we do not agree,” Bennett sighed. “Until now, I had hoped our sentiments coincided in every other particular, but I must so far differ from you as to think a lot of gay men are not at all clever, and that Colin and Craig are uncommonly foolish."

"But darling, you must not expect young gay men to have our sense. When they get to our age, I dare say they will not think about dancers any more, but I can certainly still remember a time when those finely toned physiques set my own heart fluttering to distraction; indeed, they still do, if truth be told, and if a smart young fellow wanted to-”

“Please don’t finish that sentence, Queenie!”

“I quite insist upon finishing whatever it is I have started; if a smart young fellow should want to entertain one of the boys, I should be quite delighted. Why, I thought that Morris chap looked very becoming the other night at Ivana Hardman’s party."

Bennett did not have a chance to explain what he tried to say.

"Mr Phillips mentioned that Morris and Bourne do not go so often to visit Tanya Hide as they did when they first came,” said Craig. “He sees them now very often calling around to see Ida Slapper."

Queenie was prevented from replying by a sharp knock at the door: her eyes sparkled with pleasure upon Craig’s return, learning that it was a messenger that came from Netherfield with a note for Dylan. Before she gave full expression to her joy, Craig whispered something into her ear.

“…so I’ve told him to wait outside for a reply.”

“Naturally!” said Queenie, who looked a little ruffled.

“Since when does anyone send a messenger?” said Colin.

“Since mobile telephones went out of fashion!” Queenie snapped. “Every heterosexual in the world yapping and whining constantly to one another about absolutely nothing, sending silly little coded messages that often made no sense at all… of course, we started off that little fashion, but it was getting so out of hand that the gay league issued an Edict that we had to be different. You won’t find a gay man in the city with a mobile telephone this season: some have kept their internet connection hidden in a basement with their Dannii Minogue albums… rather be caught dead! But what is keeping Dylan? Doesn’t he want to read his message? Doesn’t he know that messenger is standing outside on the doorstep, waiting? Whatever will the neighbours think!”

“Shall I ask him to wait inside?” Colin suggested.

“Don’t you dare!” said Queenie and Craig in unison.

“Perhaps I ought to read this message for Dylan, because after all it might be urgent?”

“Queenie, since no one has told Dylan that there’s a message waiting for him, remains in his bedroom,” Bennett remarked. “Let him read his own mail… for once!”

“I’ll take it to him,” Colin suggested.

“Nonsense! Tell him to come here!” said Queenie, who kept a firm hold of the note.

Dylan appeared immediately, looking quite unflustered despite Queenie eagerly calling out while it was read:

"Well, who is it from? what is it about? what does he say? Well, Dylan, make haste and tell us; make haste!"

"It is from Anthony Binglay," said Dylan, who read it aloud.

My dear Friend,

If you are not so compassionate as to dine today with us, we shall be in danger of hating each other for the rest of our lives, for a whole day's tête-à-tête between three single gay men who are not attracted to one another can never end without a quarrel. Come as soon as you can on the receipt of this. Yours ever,

Anthony Binglay

P.S. We expect to be joined later in the evening by a few dancers.

"Dancers!" cried Craig. "I wonder Mr Phillips did not tell us of that."

“I haven’t been asked if there’s anyone I’d like to bring along,” said Dylan wistfully, setting the note aside.

“Who on earth would you want to invite?” cried Queenie, snatching the note back. “Isn’t it obvious that the reason you’ve been invited because you’re single… and wanted alone!”

“It wouldn’t be rude to enquire if I might bring a friend, would it? After all, I don’t know these people very well-”

“It would be unspeakably rude! Out of the question!” said Queenie. “Unless… were you going to invite me? Why, you little darling… perhaps it wouldn’t be so-”

“Er… I was thinking of inviting Joe.”

“Nonsense! Absolutely not! Besides, Joe has got plans for this evening, for once!” said Queenie. “That messenger is waiting outside, so quickly scribble a little reply-”

“But I haven’t yet decided whether or not to go!”

“Of course you’re going!”

“I don’t know if I should… it might be… Queenie, you know that it’s difficult for me to relax in the company of strangers-”

“Consider this good practice! Just like back and think of England, as they used to in the good old days.”

“Perhaps I shouldn’t… I really do have a lot of work on…”

Queenie became desperate to encourage him.

“You can borrow the Bentley… no, on second thoughts, better if you take public transport. But you simply must go!”

"I had much rather not go at all,” said Dylan perplexedly.

Knowing that he was quite serious, Queenie became agitated.

“Dylan, if you don’t go to this dinner, then I’ll… write a reply, telling Mr Binglay that you’re not interested in his company, but that Colin or Craig will attend in your place!”

“B-b-but the invitation isn’t for them!”

“That’s not the point! Clearly the Binglay’s are trying to make numbers for a small dinner party, and you’ll disrupt their seating arrangements if you refuse to co-operate.”

In this manner, Queenie extorted his consent. She hadn’t quite managed to dictate the wording of his acceptance note, because she was concentrating on how to prevent anyone but Craig taking the note back to the messenger. Fortunately, Joe’s arrival in the living room provided a perfect excuse to distract everyone.

“Dylan didn’t realise you had plans this evening!” she remarked.

“That’s because I didn’t mention having plans this evening… to anyone!” Joe returned.

There was an awkward moment.

“But your plans are… common knowledge,” Queenie shrugged.

“Common knowledge? That can only mean… what has Sue Narmi been saying?”

“That you have a date tonight with-”

“I most certainly do not!” said Joe angrily. “A date! What is she trying to make people think… and how can she possibly know?”

“She’s living in the same apartment as Charlie; surely you didn’t expect it to be secret?”

“Perhaps he talks in his sleep, or… of course, the telephone is bugged!”

“Sue Narmi kept a telephone?” said Craig and Colin at once.

“Telephones are not naff provided they’re used for business purposes,” Queenie explained.

“Since when do sex-lines and drug-deals come under the heading ‘business purposes’?” said Joe indignantly.

“I’ve often wondered if she claims those expenses back on her tax returns…” Queenie mused.

“Never mind that, I’d like to know how long has she been listening to Charlie’s calls?” said Joe anxiously, recalling a number of intimate discussions about unrequited feelings for Dylan.

“You’re meeting Charlie?” said Dylan with a note of surprise.

There was an awkward moment.

“We’re going to the cinema, that’s all,” said Joe. “I didn’t think you’d be interested in the film; it’s Lubitsch. It certainly isn’t a date: some of Charlie’s other friends are going to be there.”

“No they aren’t!” said Queenie, shaking her head.

“Yes – they - are!”

“Joe, it’s time you admitted the truth; you have a date tonight… finally. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, even if it’s with Charlie!”

“For the last time, it is not a date! Everyone knows perfectly well that we are just good friends.”

“Well, in that case, why didn’t you mention your plans to anyone?” Queenie retorted.

“Because when people constantly leap to the wrong conclusions, it’s best to keep your mouth shut… and I am sick and tired of being subjected to house gossip!”

“You trust Dylan, and yet you didn’t mention this to him!” Queenie returned.

Joe struggled to contain his exasperation. It was true that he hadn’t mentioned any of this to Dylan, but for a good reason; having spent months dissuading his best friend from spend so much time in Charlie’s company, since it only encouraged unreciprocated feelings and caused unnecessary anguish, it had seemed better to make no mention of plans for a mid-evening social event, object of which was to cheer Charlie up.

“It is certainly not a date,” he said, looking across at Dylan. “Believe me, Charlie has invited a few of his other friends.”

“But he doesn’t have any friends!” said Craig. “According to Sue Narmi, that is!”

“I happen to know no one’s coming,” said Queenie, with a knowing wink.

All sorts of possibilities occurred to Joe… most of them involving Sue Narmi’s intervention. What was she scheming?

“Perhaps Joe doesn’t want to consider that it’s a date,” said Queenie in a low tone. “But you mark my words, Charlie will have other ideas. Why, it’s probably the first time he’s ever met to engage in activity with a single gay man.”

Joe spluttered with incoherent rage.

“Dylan, you’re more than welcome to join us: as a matter of fact, I’d be very grateful if you’d come-”

“But I can’t, because I’ve just had a message from the Binglays, and they’ve invited me around for dinner… I do wish that you were coming too. Perhaps if I ask them to invite both you and Charlie?”

No one considered this to be a good idea.

“Joe, if there’s no one else that I know at dinner, I won’t be able to relax,” Dylan pleaded.

“You’ve met Mr Binglay on several occasions, and you like both of his brothers; that makes at least three people that you know.”

“In their note, it said dancers were invited… There are going to be other guests too, people that I’ve never met; that will make me really nervous.”

“If it’s a large party, that’s even better if you’re not feeling social,” said Joe reassuringly. “If you don’t want to be involved in the conversation, you don’t have to.”

“Do you think it will be a large dinner party?” said Dylan. “Because if it is, they won’t notice if I change my mind and don’t-”

“Please go, Dylan,” said Joe, who for his own part he had no desire to attend a dinner party at Netherfield, although he almost wished that he was able to go along in support of his friend. “Trust me, it’ll be a perfect chance to get better acquainted with Mr Binglay.”

“But that’s what I’m worried about! Since I hardly know any of the others, we might spend all evening in one another’s company; I don’t want him to… expect anything.”

“You aren’t responsible for what other people expect. Make it clear to Mr Binglay what you don’t want to… no, better not to think about it. Just be yourself, Dylan… there’s no reason why you won’t enjoy this evening!”

“Joe, I hardly know what I’ll do if he… but he wouldn’t try anything, would he? I mean, it’s not a date, is it?”

“Of course not,” said Joe reassuringly. “You don’t have to go if you’re going to feel uncomfortable, but it really will be good for you, trust me. Remember that you can leave at any time. You’ve nothing to worry about, and everything to look forward to: I am quite sure Mr Binglay will take good care of you.”

“He most certainly will!” Queenie chortled.

Joe gave her a silencing look; ineffective, but at least she lowered her voice when describing to Craig and Colin what pleasures she imagined Mr Binglay had in mind for Dylan.

What remained of the afternoon was spent advising Dylan what to wear. Everyone had an opinion; everyone was determined to be heard. On one point everyone agreed: if it was a dinner party arranged at the last minute, it would look foolish to appear to have taken a great deal of effort, and so in the end Dylan ended up wearing exactly what he had on at the beginning, when he received the invitation.

By pretending she had plans that might require her to use the Bentley, Queenie obliged him to set off to Netherfield on public transport. She attended him to the door.

“No late night service on a weekday,” she said smugly, watching him go. "He will have to stay all night."

"A good scheme, except I’ve advised him to take a cab if one of the other guests don’t offer to drive him home!” remarked Joe, passing on his own way out.

Queenie watched him depart with a scowl.

Much to Queenie’s delight, Joe and Dylan had not been gone long before it rained hard… when she recalled that Joe wore nothing no jacket, her smile broadened. All her hopes were answered when the rain continued heavily for the whole evening without intermission: all of the dinner guests would certainly be drinking, and Dylan would find it impossible to find a cab in this weather, and he certainly could not walk back.

"This was a lucky idea of mine, indeed!" she said more than once, as if the credit of making it rain were all her own.

No comments: