‘Lord Henry Wotton, I must impress upon you the necessity for you to stay, if not only a few moments more?’
The hat and gloves returned to the divan. Dorian’s eyes were bright in satisfaction. ‘Thank-you, Lord Henry. Even a long discussion on philanthropy would be preferable to the endless strokes of a brush on canvas or taps on a wash-jar.’
Basil turned toward his brushes and paint-pots, mixing the next hue. ‘If that’s what it takes to ensure you stay put, I concede defeat.’
‘In the middle of this tug-of-war, I delay my departure but a few minutes.’ Basil looked caged and stared at the pots in front of him. LordHenry sat upright and turned to Dorian, who raised an eyebrow.
‘Oh, yes, philanthropy. The closing of the commons has left many in want, and industry favours those who already have wealth. London-town is filling up with the eager looking for work, and those looking for workers. There is not enough food in the town to support this influx, we lack the capacity. I should like to impress upon you the vital importance of a secure society, for without it, all of us from the pauper to the King shall lose. Were you, Mr Gray, to enter into philanthropy, knowing the fine balance of the haves and the have-nots should inform your every word, and inform your every action. Employing tactics would be the daily life you would lead. A great deal of time you may spend, not as muse to a painter, but as a painter of society.’
Basil paused a moment, brush hovering in place.
‘Lord Henry, you were much too accurate in your description of philanthropy. You’ve done me an injustice, and perhaps I ought have allowed your escape, after all.’ His lips bore a close resemblance to Basils, at that point, and his youth added weight to the pout.
‘Dear Mr Gray, did I not warn you of the tedium of the subject?’ A moment more passed and Lord Henry noted he had moved along the divan, closer to Dorian. He glanced over his shoulder at the wall-clock and stood.
‘You simply must forgive me, now, Mr Gray, my dear Basil, I must depart. The Orleans awaits with growing impatience.’ Dorian’s shoulders slumped somewhat, and Basil stood.
‘If you must, Harry. I should like to lunch with you to-morrow. The usual place?’ Relief and anxiety contorted Basil’s features, he wrung his fingers.
‘Indeed. Do please forgive me, Mr Gray. I expect your next appearance with Aunt Agatha will be a sensation.’ Lord Henry again took up his hat and gloves, and he replaced his pipe within its case. Making for the door, he said, ‘On the morrow, Basil.’
‘Yes, to-morrow, Harry.’
‘Anon, Lord Henry Wotton.’ Dorian had deflated on the stool, and Basil turned back to his painting.