Now that she knows that Merton Densher is back, Milly can't help but feel like she's not in control of her life, but that she's caught in a river's current and can't alter her course. It's unclear whether this is related to her illness or her interest in Merton—or both.
At the party, Milly sits down to talk with Kate. Kate might have had a few drinks, because she suddenly spills the beans about everything that's going on at Aunt Maud's house. She talks about being financially dependent on Aunt Maud, about Aunt Maud's big plans for her and how she must follow along with them. She mentions how Lord Mark fits into the picture. Milly says that she understands.
Kate feels completely objectified as Aunt Maud's possession, and says that the funny thing is that Lord Mark actually likes Milly instead of her.
Cue Milly's spit take.
Milly says there's no way she'd ever be with Lord Mark, so she's not at risk of foiling Aunt Maud's plans. Kate says that's great, but it doesn't help her situation at all.
Kate then tells Milly that she's too good for all of them, that the people around her want to use her even though there's very little they can give her in return. In short, Kate tells Milly to get away from all the people who are clinging to her.
Kate even tells Milly that Susan Stringham parades her around like a social trophy. Milly asks Kate why she's saying these things to her. Kate replies that it's because she (Milly) is a "dove." Ahhh, the title!
Basically, Kate suggests that Milly is a peacemaker, a beautiful creature that would never bring harm to anyone and exists only to be beautiful. The problem, though, is that people also keep doves in cages to possess their beauty, and this seems to be what older women want to do with Milly.
Milly agrees with this, realizing that her delicacy is exactly her biggest flaw. She's lovely, but she's also a pushover.
When Aunt Maud returns, Milly decides to lie and say that she doesn't think Merton Densher is in London, even though she knows he is. Aunt Maud thanks her, not suspecting that Milly could ever be capable of deception.
Milly also decides that when Luke Strett comes to see her at home, she'll pretend to be in the house, but will send Susan out to talk to him and to hear his news. Meanwhile, Milly decides to be out of the house when he comes.
When Strett comes, Milly heads out to an art museum called the National Gallery. She's starting to shed her goody two-shoes attitude and get some edge.