Authors: Oscar Wilde
“Are you all right?” asked Helen, who was fumbling with her pocket watch.
“Yes, sorry, I've just got so much on my mind. I so appreciate your company, but I'm afraid I'm just not myself lately.”
“I wonder why that is,” said Helen, smirking.
“Just not getting out enough, I suppose,” said Rosemary, wishing Helen could just be a supportive friend for a moment and not such a dubious critic.
“I'm afraid I must be going,” said Helen, as if to say such a friend she could not be. “But before I go, I insist you answer my question.”
“What is that?” asked Rosemary, eyes fixed safely on the ground. There was no Dorian Gray there.
“You know quite well,” said Helen.
“Helen, I really do not,” Rosemary said.
“I want you to tell me why you will not exhibit Dorian Gray's picture. I want the real reason.”
“I told you the real reason.”
“No, you did not. You told me it was because there was too much of yourself in it. Now that is childish. Why won't you admit that you're in love, and that since you can't have Dorian Gray himself, you will have the next best thingâthe splendid paintingâwhere he will forever be in his prime years?”
Helen's words caused Rosemary's heart to quicken. Was it true? She'd not really investigated why she was so unwilling to part with the painting. But now she understood that Helen was rightâor halfway right. The situation was more complex. It was not simply that she wouldn't let go of Dorian Grayâthough the thought was fearsomeâit was that Dorian Gray wouldn't let go of her. Whether he'd meant to or notâand she rather thought he'd meant toâ he'd slipped into her subconscious and unlocked a secret attic door, and only he had the key.
The wind shook some blossoms from the trees, and the heavy lilac blooms with their clustering stars moved to and fro in the languid air. A grasshopper began to chirrup by the wall and, like a blue thread, a long, thin dragonfly floated past on its brown gauze wings.
“Let me see you out,” offered Rosemary.
“Before I go, will you at least tell me how you met this Dorian Gray?”
“You are such a pain,” said Rosemary, feigning annoyance before acquiescing with concealed pleasure. She'd re-created the first moment she saw Dorian Gray dozens of times. It was a thrill to finally share the story with someone, and she could not help but feel giddy.
“Two months ago, I went to a party at Lady Brandon's. Of course, she had prospective suitors she wanted to introduce me toâall of them as dull as the last bunch she picked. Well, I had been in the room about ten minutes, already desperate for escape from the tedious academicians surrounding me, when I became conscious that someone was looking at me. I turned halfway around and saw Dorian Gray for the first time. When our eyes met, I felt I was growing pale. A curious sensation of terror came over me. I knew that I had come face to face with someone whose mere personality was so fascinating that, had I allowed it, it would absorb my whole nature, my whole soul, my very art itself. I did not want any external influence in my life. You know, Helen, how independent I am by nature. I have always been my own master, had at least always been so, till I met Dorian Gray. Thenâbut I don't know how to explain it to you. Something seemed to tell me that I was on the verge of a terrible crisis in my life. I had a strange feeling that Fate had in store for me exquisite joys and exquisite sorrows. I grew afraid, and turned to quit the room. It was not coincidence that made me do so; it was a sort of cowardice. I take no credit myself for trying to escape.”
“Conscience and cowardice are really the same things, Rosemary. Conscience is the trade name of the firm. That is all.”
“I don't believe that, Helen, and I don't believe you do either. However, whatever my motiveâand it may have been pride, for I used to be very proudâI certainly struggled to the door. There, of course, I stumbled against Lady Brandon. âYou are going to run away so soon, Miss Hall?' she screamed out. You know her curiously shrill voice?”
“Yes. She is a peacock in everything but beauty,” said Helen.
“I could not get rid of her. She brought me into the circle of dreadful young men she was positive contained my future husbandâand you know I'd really rather die than end up a wife to any of those bores. She spoke of me as her dearest friend. I had only met her once before, but she took it into her head to act as matchmaker. I was writhing to get out when I found myself face-to-face with Dorian Gray. We were quite close, almost touching. Our eyes met again. It was reckless of me, but I asked Lady Brandon to introduce me to him. Perhaps it was not so reckless, after all. It was simply inevitable. We would have spoken to each other without any introduction. I am sure of that. Dorian told me so afterward. He, too, felt that we were destined to know each other.”
Helen nodded with interestâthese were clearly the details she'd been waiting for Rosemary to divulge. “And how did Lady Brandon introduce this wonderful young man?”
“Oh, she bumbled something like, âCharming boyâ poor dear mother and I absolutely inseparable. Quite forgot what he doesâafraid he doesn't do anythingâor, yes, plays the pianoâor is it the violin, dear Mr. Gray?' Neither of us could help laughing, and we became friends at once.”
“Laughter is not at all a bad beginning for a romance, and it is by far the best ending for one,” said Helen, who now seemed content to pass the rest of the day in the garden, gabbing about Dorian Gray. The same could be said for Rosemary, but she worried that as she had with the painting, she was putting too much of herself into this conversation. No subject, no matter how provocative, ever transcended idle chatter for Helen, and while she was evidently fascinated by Rosemary's new friend, they could just as easily be talking about actors in a play. For Rosemary, there was much more at stake. To talk of him only magnified his importance to her, and that was a dangerous undertaking.
“I wish you'd stop referring to it as a romance,” said Rosemary, who was now tired of sitting in the sun and said so. She declared that they go back into the studio, stood up before Helen could voice her opinion, and went inside.
“Are you upset with me?” asked Helen, as she joined Rosemary on the divan.
“No, I'm just tired,” said Rosemary. “I haven't been sleeping well.”
“You do know that I consider you like a sister, Rosemaryâone I can tolerate unlike my true sisters. You can always talk to me about what's distressing you.”
“I see Dorian every day,” began Rosemary.
“Well, it is an especially giant canvas,” said Helen, elbowing Rosemary's thigh in jocularity. “I'm enveloped in its great shade!”
“No,” said Rosemary with a laugh. “I mean I see him daily in the flesh. He sits for me every afternoonâhas been for months.”
“That seems appropriate,” said Helen “You must immerse yourself in the work and not let a day go by.”
“Yes, but it's more than that. He makes me happy, Helen. I'm not happy until I see him, and I'm in agony as soon as he leaves. Even now, knowing I will see him soon, my heart is racing with suspense. I need him. I can't live without him.”
“How extraordinary!” said Helen, embracing Rosemary as if to congratulate her. “I thought you would never care for anything but your art.”
“He is all my art to me now,” said Rosemary, her eyes welling. “What oil painting was to the Venetians, the face of Antinous to late-Greek sculptureâthat is what Dorian Gray is to me. It is not merely that I paint from him, draw from him, sketch from him. He's my inspiration. You remember that landscape of mine, for which I was offered such a huge price but which I would not part with? It is one of the best things I have ever done because Dorian was sitting beside me while I painted it, just watching me with those mysterious eyes of his. For the first time in my life, I saw in the plain woodland the wonder I had always looked for and always missed.”
Helen clapped in excitement. “Extraordinary! I must see this man! How old is he? He looks very young.”
“He's actually two years younger than me!”
“And, I assume, unspoken for?”
Rosemary blushed. “We don't talk about such things.”
“Oh, innocent little sister,” said Helen, coiling a strand of Rosemary's chestnut hair around her finger. “And you're so beautiful. Tell me, is he very fond of you?”
Rosemary squirmed, the all too familiar sensation of desire coursing through her. She crossed and uncrossed her legs.
“He likes me,” she said after a pause in which she fought down the swarm of butterflies in her stomach. “I know he likes me. But he seems to take a real delight in giving me pain. The things he says sometimes. He's got . . .” and she paused again, the butterflies in her stomach now fluttering out of fear. She sought the right words, ones that wouldn't provoke Helen. If she told the truth, even jaded Helen would reel with shock. “He just has a very different approach to the world than me.”
To Rosemary's relief, Helen didn't inquire further. “You're under the spell of his beauty, certainly. And your art will last longer than his beauty. You will probably tire of him before he tires of you. It's summer now, the days are apt to linger. But soon it will be fall and then winter and the infatuation will die out.”
“Helen, don't talk like that,” scolded Rosemary. “As long as I live, Dorian Gray will dominate me. You can't feel what I feel. You change too often.”
“Ah, Rosemary,” said Helen, lighting yet another cigarette. “That is exactly why I can feel it. Those who are faithful know only the trivial side of love; it is the faithless who know love's tragedies.”
They sat quietly, with Helen smoking in her self-satisfied way, when suddenly she grabbed Rosemary's arm, her eyes huge with revelation.
“I just remembered!” she cried. “I've heard the name Dorian Gray before!”
Rosemary's heart stammered and plunged. “What? Where?”
“At my aunt's house. She told me she had discovered a wonderful young man who was going to help her in East End, and that his name was Dorian Gray. She didn't mention how good-looking he wasâthough she did mention that he was earnest and had a beautiful nature. I at once pictured to myself a creature with spectacles and lank hair, horribly freckled, and tramping about on huge feet. I wish I had known it was him!”
Rosemary was nervous thinking of Dorian out on the town. There she was being foolish again. What did it matter to her what he did or who he was with? She couldn't be with him at all timesâone could even say she shouldn't be with him in the first place.
“Why ever are you so pale, Rosemary? You look like you may faint.”
“I don't want to talk about Dorian Gray anymore,” snapped Rosemary. “And I don't want you to meet him and dissect him and inject your poison into his veins.”
Just then, the butler tapped on the door, clearing his throat as he readied his announcement.
“Yes, Parker?” said Rosemary.
“Pardon me, Miss,” he said, glancing hesitantly at Helen, who smiled curtly in response.
“Dorian Gray is in the sitting room, Miss,” said Parker.
If Rosemary was pale before, she was white as a sheet now. Helen jumped up, grabbing Rosemary's hand.
“You must introduce me now!”
Rosemary ignored Helen and looked at Parker. “Please tell Mr. Gray I will be with him in a few minutes,” she said. Parker bowed and went up the walk.
“Rosemary!” Helen shrieked.
Rosemary leaped up and grabbed Helen by the shoulders, looking straight at her.
“Please don't seduce him!” she begged. “Don't take away the one person who gives to my art the charm it possesses. My life as an artist depends on him. I'm trusting you, Helen.”
“What nonsense you talk!” cried Helen, smiling mischievously and, taking Rosemary by the arm, leading her down the hall toward the sitting room.
osemary could hear her heart pounding in the throes of anticipation. He was
. Every day for weeks she'd had the pleasure, pained though it could be, of seeing
âthis ecstatic creature who so beguiled and bewitched her. The thrill never dulled. As soon as Parker announced the arrival of Mr. Gray, Rosemary's hands tingled, her breath became a heated pant, and the slow walk down the hall behind the rickety butler became like a walk upon a teetering bridge, every step leaden with anticipation. She could not get to the end of it quickly enough. When she finally reached the door to the sitting room, she was famished for the sight of him.
Helen was determined to be literally one step ahead of Rosemary. Her broad hips were in full, seductive swing, satin skirts thrashing against her surprisingly elegant ankles. She wore the smuggest expression, and her eyes were ablaze with an unfathomable confidence. Rosemary wondered, digging her teeth into her lower lip, how Dorian would respond to a woman so strong and entitled.
He was seated at the piano with his back to them, turning over the pages to a volume of Schumann's “Forest Scenes.” Seeing him at last, Rosemary's heart fluttered with such fury she felt in danger of fainting.
That would make for quite a scene
, she thought. Perhaps he would leap up to catch her and carry her away to bed where he'd restore her with a passionate kiss. She forgot all about Helen. There was no one in the world but Dorian Gray, and here he was, just feet away.
When he turned around, he appeared surprised by Helen. He raised a brow inquisitively at Rosemary.
Just one of our many private communications
, she thought. Not even the devilishly observant Helen would catch the secret exchange of their expressions, their dancing eyes. Rosemary went in for a curtsey that, with her trembling knees, was a near-disaster. Helen arched and dipped like a pro, raising her bundle of fine skirts a little too high above the ankle for Rosemary's taste. She winced as she noticed a faint blush color Dorian's cheeks. He stood to greet them.