A week later Dorian Gray was having tea with the Duchess of Monmouth and other acquaintances.Her white hands were moving daintily among the cups, and her full red lips were smiling at something that Dorian had whispered to her.
“What are you two talking about?” said Lord Henry, strolling over to the table and putting his cup down. “I hope Dorian has told you about my plan for rechristening everything, Gladys. It is a delightful idea.”
“But I don’t want to be rechristened, Harry,” rejoined the duchess, looking up at him with her wonderful eyes. “I am quite satisfied with my own name, and I am sure Mr. Gray should be satisfied with his.”
“My dear Gladys, I would not alter either name for the world. They are both perfect. I was thinking chiefly of flowers. Yesterday I cut an orchid(1). I asked one of the gardeners what it was called. He told me it was a fine specimen of Robinsoniana, or something dreadful of that kind. It is a sad truth, but we have lost the faculty(2) of giving lovely names to things. Names are everything.”
“Then what should we call you, Harry?” she asked.
“His name is Prince Paradox(3),” said Dorian.
“I recognize him in a flash,” exclaimed the duchess.
“I won’t hear of it,” laughed Lord Henry, sinking into a chair. “I refuse the title.”
“Well then, let us talk of some one else.”
“Our host is a delightful topic. Years ago he was christened Prince Charming.”
“Ah! don’t remind me of that,” cried Dorian Gray.
“Our host is rather horrid this evening,” answered the duchess, colouring. “I believe he thinks that Monmouth married me on purely scientific principles as the best specimen(4) he could find of a modern butterfly.”
“Well, I hope he won’t stick pins into you, Duchess,” laughed Dorian.
“Oh! my maid does that already, Mr. Gray, when she is annoyed with me.”
“And what does she get annoyed with you about, Duchess?”
“For the most trivial things, Mr. Gray, I assure you. Usually because I come in at ten minutes to nine and tell her that I must be dressed by half-past eight.”
“How unreasonable of her! You should give her warning.”
“I daren’t, Mr. Gray. Why, she invents hats for me. You remember the one I wore at Lady Hilstone’s garden-party? You don’t, but it is nice of you to pretend that you do. Well, she made it out of nothing. All good hats are made out of nothing.”
“Like all good reputations, Gladys,” interrupted Lord Henry. “Every effect that one produces gives one an enemy. To be popular one must be a mediocrity(5).”
“Not with women,” said the duchess, shaking her head; “and women rule the world. I assure you we can’t bear mediocrities. We women, as some one says, love with our ears, just as you men love with your eyes, if you ever love at all.”
“It seems to me that we never do anything else,” murmured Dorian.
“Ah! then, you never really love, Mr. Gray,” answered the duchess with mock sadness.
“My dear Gladys!” cried Lord Henry. “How can you say that? Romance lives by repetition, and repetition converts an appetite into an art. Besides, each time that one loves is the only time one has ever loved.”
The duchess turned and looked at Dorian Gray with a curious expression in her eyes. “What do you say to that, Mr. Gray?” she inquired.
Dorian hesitated for a moment. Then he threw his head back and laughed. “I always agree with Harry, Duchess.”
“Even when he is wrong?”
“Harry is never wrong, Duchess.”
“And does his philosophy make you happy?”
“I have never searched for happiness. Who wants happiness? I have searched for pleasure.”
“And found it, Mr. Gray?”
“Often. Too often.”
The duchess sighed. “I am searching for peace,” she said, “and if I don’t go and dress, I shall have none this evening.”
“Let me get you some orchids, Duchess,” cried Dorian, starting to his feet and walking down the conservatory.
“You are flirting disgracefully with him,” said Lord Henry to his cousin. “You had better take care. He is very fascinating.”
“If he were not, there would be no battle.”
“Greek meets Greek, then?”
“I am on the side of the Trojans. They fought for a woman.”
“They were defeated.”
“There are worse things than capture,” she answered.
“You gallop with a loose rein(6).”
“Pace gives life,” was the answer.
“I shall write it in my diary to-night.”
“That a burnt child loves the fire.”
“I am not even singed. My wings are untouched.”
“You use them for everything, except flight.”
“Courage has passed from men to women. It is a new experience for us.”
“You have a rival.”
He laughed. “Lady Narborough,” he whispered. “She perfectly adores him.”
She looked at him, smiling. “How long Mr. Gray is!” she said. “Let us go and help him. I have not yet told him the colour of my frock.”
“Ah! you must suit your frock to his flowers, Gladys.”
“That would be a premature surrender.”
“Romantic art begins with its climax.”
“I must keep an opportunity for retreat.”
“Women are not always allowed a choice,” he answered, but hardly had he finished the sentence before from the far end of the conservatory(7) came a stifled groan, followed by the dull sound of a heavy fall. Everybody started up. The duchess stood motionless in horror. And with fear in his eyes, Lord Henry rushed through the flapping palms to find Dorian Gray lying face downwards on the floor.
He was carried at once into the blue drawing-room and laid upon one of the sofas. After a short time, he came to himself and looked round with a dazed expression.
“What has happened?” he asked. “Oh! I remember. Am I safe here, Harry?” He began to tremble.
“My dear Dorian,” answered Lord Henry, “you merely fainted. That was all. You must have overtired yourself. You had better not come down to dinner. I will take your place.”
“No, I will come down,” he said, struggling to his feet. “I would rather come down. I must not be alone.”
He went to his room and dressed. There was a wild recklessness of gaiety in his manner as he sat at table, but now and then a thrill of terror ran through him when he remembered that, pressed against the window of the conservatory, like a white handkerchief, he had seen the face of James Vane watching him.
3/paradox(n): a self-contradictory statement
4/specimen(n): a particular kind of something/ a sample
5/mediocrity(n): averageness/the state of having only moderate qualities
6/rein(n): a strap used to slow down a horse
7/conservatory(n): a greenhouse for growing and displaying plants