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The Picture of Dorian Gray, Page 13

Oscar Wilde


  [94] "There is no good telling me you are going to be good, Dorian,"cried Lord Henry, dipping his white fingers into a red copper bowlfilled with rose-water. "You are quite perfect. Pray don't change."

  Dorian shook his head. "No, Harry, I have done too many dreadfulthings in my life. I am not going to do any more. I began my goodactions yesterday."

  "Where were you yesterday?"

  "In the country, Harry. I was staying at a little inn by myself."

  "My dear boy," said Lord Henry smiling, "anybody can be good in thecountry. There are no temptations there. That is the reason whypeople who live out of town are so uncivilized. There are only twoways, as you know, of becoming civilized. One is by being cultured,the other is by being corrupt. Country-people have no opportunity ofbeing either, so they stagnate."

  "Culture and corruption," murmured Dorian. "I have known something ofboth. It seems to me curious now that they should ever be foundtogether. For I have a new ideal, Harry. I am going to alter. Ithink I have altered."

  "You have not told me yet what your good action was. Or did you sayyou had done more than one?"

  "I can tell you, Harry. It is not a story I could tell to any oneelse. I spared somebody. It sounds vain, but you understand what Imean. She was quite beautiful, and wonderfully like Sibyl Vane. Ithink it was that which first attracted me to her. You remember Sibyl,don't you? How long ago that seems! Well, Hetty was not one of ourown class, of course. She was simply a girl in a village. But I reallyloved her. I am quite sure that I loved her. All during thiswonderful May that we have been having, I used to run down and see hertwo or three times a week. Yesterday she met me in a little orchard.The apple-blossoms kept tumbling down on her hair, and she waslaughing. We were to have gone away together this morning at dawn.Suddenly I determined to leave her as flower-like as I had found her."

  "I should think the novelty of the emotion must have given you a thrillof real pleasure, Dorian," interrupted Lord Henry. "But I can finishyour idyl for you. You gave her good advice, and broke her heart.That was the beginning of your reformation."

  "Harry, you are horrible! You mustn't say these dreadful things.Hetty's heart is not broken. Of course she cried, and all that. Butthere is no disgrace upon her. She can live, like Perdita, in hergarden."

  "And weep over a faithless Florizel," said Lord Henry, laughing. "Mydear Dorian, you have the most curious boyish moods. Do you think thisgirl will ever be really contented now with any one of her own rank? Isuppose she will be married some day to a rough carter or a grinningploughman. Well, having met you, and loved you, will teach her todespise her husband, and she will be wretched. From a moral point ofview I really don't think much of your great renunciation. [95] Even asa beginning, it is poor. Besides, how do you know that Hetty isn'tfloating at the present moment in some mill-pond, with water-liliesround her, like Ophelia?"

  "I can't bear this, Harry! You mock at everything, and then suggestthe most serious tragedies. I am sorry I told you now. I don't carewhat you say to me, I know I was right in acting as I did. Poor Hetty!As I rode past the farm this morning, I saw her white face at thewindow, like a spray of jasmine. Don't let me talk about it any more,and don't try to persuade me that the first good action I have done foryears, the first little bit of self-sacrifice I have ever known, isreally a sort of sin. I want to be better. I am going to be better.Tell me something about yourself. What is going on in town? I havenot been to the club for days."

  "The people are still discussing poor Basil's disappearance."

  "I should have thought they had got tired of that by this time," saidDorian, pouring himself out some wine, and frowning slightly.

  "My dear boy, they have only been talking about it for six weeks, andthe public are really not equal to the mental strain of having morethan one topic every three months. They have been very fortunatelately, however. They have had my own divorce-case, and AlanCampbell's suicide. Now they have got the mysterious disappearance ofan artist. Scotland Yard still insists that the man in the gray ulsterwho left Victoria by the midnight train on the 7th of November was poorBasil, and the French police declare that Basil never arrived in Parisat all. I suppose in about a fortnight we will be told that he hasbeen seen in San Francisco. It is an odd thing, but every one whodisappears is said to be seen at San Francisco. It must be adelightful city, and possess all the attractions of the next world."

  "What do you think has happened to Basil?" asked Dorian, holding up hisBurgundy against the light, and wondering how it was that he coulddiscuss the matter so calmly.

  "I have not the slightest idea. If Basil chooses to hide himself, itis no business of mine. If he is dead, I don't want to think abouthim. Death is the only thing that ever terrifies me. I hate it. Onecan survive everything nowadays except that. Death and vulgarity arethe only two facts in the nineteenth century that one cannot explainaway. Let us have our coffee in the music-room, Dorian. You must playChopin to me. The man with whom my wife ran away played Chopinexquisitely. Poor Victoria! I was very fond of her. The house israther lonely without her."

  Dorian said nothing, but rose from the table, and, passing into thenext room, sat down to the piano and let his fingers stray across thekeys. After the coffee had been brought in, he stopped, and, lookingover at Lord Henry, said, "Harry, did it ever occur to you that Basilwas murdered?"

  Lord Henry yawned. "Basil had no enemies, and always wore a Waterburywatch. Why should he be murdered? He was not clever enough to haveenemies. Of course he had a wonderful genius for painting. But a mancan paint like Velasquez and yet be as dull as possible. Basil wasreally rather dull. He only interested me once, [96] and that was whenhe told me, years ago, that he had a wild adoration for you."

  "I was very fond of Basil," said Dorian, with a sad look in his eyes."But don't people say that he was murdered?"

  "Oh, some of the papers do. It does not seem to be probable. I knowthere are dreadful places in Paris, but Basil was not the sort of manto have gone to them. He had no curiosity. It was his chief defect.Play me a nocturne, Dorian, and, as you play, tell me, in a low voice,how you have kept your youth. You must have some secret. I am onlyten years older than you are, and I am wrinkled, and bald, and yellow.You are really wonderful, Dorian. You have never looked more charmingthan you do to-night. You remind me of the day I saw you first. Youwere rather cheeky, very shy, and absolutely extraordinary. You havechanged, of course, but not in appearance. I wish you would tell meyour secret. To get back my youth I would do anything in the world,except take exercise, get up early, or be respectable. Youth! Thereis nothing like it. It's absurd to talk of the ignorance of youth.The only people whose opinions I listen to now with any respect arepeople much younger than myself. They seem in front of me. Life hasrevealed to them her last wonder. As for the aged, I always contradictthe aged. I do it on principle. If you ask them their opinion onsomething that happened yesterday, they solemnly give you the opinionscurrent in 1820, when people wore high stocks and knew absolutelynothing. How lovely that thing you are playing is! I wonder didChopin write it at Majorca, with the sea weeping round the villa, andthe salt spray dashing against the panes? It is marvelously romantic.What a blessing it is that there is one art left to us that is notimitative! Don't stop. I want music to-night. It seems to me thatyou are the young Apollo, and that I am Marsyas listening to you. Ihave sorrows, Dorian, of my own, that even you know nothing of. Thetragedy of old age is not that one is old, but that one is young. I amamazed sometimes at my own sincerity. Ah, Dorian, how happy you are!What an exquisite life you have had! You have drunk deeply ofeverything. You have crushed the grapes against your palate. Nothinghas been hidden from you. But it has all been to you no more than thesound of music. It has not marred you. You are still the same.

  "I wonder what the rest of your life will be. Don't spoil it byrenunciations. At present you are a perfect ty
pe. Don't make yourselfincomplete. You are quite flawless now. You need not shake your head:you know you are. Besides, Dorian, don't deceive yourself. Life isnot governed by will or intention. Life is a question of nerves, andfibres, and slowly-built-up cells in which thought hides itself andpassion has its dreams. You may fancy yourself safe, and thinkyourself strong. But a chance tone of color in a room or a morningsky, a particular perfume that you had once loved and that bringsstrange memories with it, a line from a forgotten poem that you hadcome across again, a cadence from a piece of music that you had ceasedto play,--I tell you, Dorian, that it is on things like these that ourlives depend. Browning writes about that somewhere; but our [97] ownsenses will imagine them for us. There are moments when the odor ofheliotrope passes suddenly across me, and I have to live the strangestyear of my life over again.

  "I wish I could change places with you, Dorian. The world has criedout against us both, but it has always worshipped you. It always willworship you. You are the type of what the age is searching for, andwhat it is afraid it has found. I am so glad that you have never doneanything, never carved a statue, or painted a picture, or producedanything outside of yourself! Life has been your art. You have setyourself to music. Your days have been your sonnets."

  Dorian rose up from the piano, and passed his hand through his hair."Yes, life has been exquisite," he murmured, "but I am not going tohave the same life, Harry. And you must not say these extravagantthings to me. You don't know everything about me. I think that if youdid, even you would turn from me. You laugh. Don't laugh."

  "Why have you stopped playing, Dorian? Go back and play the nocturneover again. Look at that great honey-colored moon that hangs in thedusky air. She is waiting for you to charm her, and if you play shewill come closer to the earth. You won't? Let us go to the club,then. It has been a charming evening, and we must end it charmingly.There is some one at the club who wants immensely to know you,--youngLord Poole, Bournmouth's eldest son. He has already copied yourneckties, and has begged me to introduce him to you. He is quitedelightful, and rather reminds me of you."

  "I hope not," said Dorian, with a touch of pathos in his voice. "But Iam tired to-night, Harry. I won't go to the club. It is nearlyeleven, and I want to go to bed early."

  "Do stay. You have never played so well as to-night. There wassomething in your touch that was wonderful. It had more expressionthan I had ever heard from it before."

  "It is because I am going to be good," he answered, smiling. "I am alittle changed already."

  "Don't change, Dorian; at any rate, don't change to me. We must alwaysbe friends."

  "Yet you poisoned me with a book once. I should not forgive that.Harry, promise me that you will never lend that book to any one. Itdoes harm."

  "My dear boy, you are really beginning to moralize. You will soon begoing about warning people against all the sins of which you have growntired. You are much too delightful to do that. Besides, it is no use.You and I are what we are, and will be what we will be. Come roundtomorrow. I am going to ride at eleven, and we might go together. ThePark is quite lovely now. I don't think there have been such lilacssince the year I met you."

  "Very well. I will be here at eleven," said Dorian. "Good-night,Harry." As he reached the door he hesitated for a moment, as if he hadsomething more to say. Then he sighed and went out.

  It was a lovely night, so warm that he threw his coat over his arm, anddid not even put his silk scarf round his throat. As he strolled [98]home, smoking his cigarette, two young men in evening dress passed him.He heard one of them whisper to the other, "That is Dorian Gray." Heremembered how pleased he used to be when he was pointed out, or staredat, or talked about. He was tired of hearing his own name now. Halfthe charm of the little village where he had been so often lately wasthat no one knew who he was. He had told the girl whom he had madelove him that he was poor, and she had believed him. He had told heronce that he was wicked, and she had laughed at him, and told him thatwicked people were always very old and very ugly. What a laugh shehad!--just like a thrush singing. And how pretty she had been in hercotton dresses and her large hats! She knew nothing, but she hadeverything that he had lost.

  When he reached home, he found his servant waiting up for him. He senthim to bed, and threw himself down on the sofa in the library, andbegan to think over some of the things that Lord Henry had said to him.

  Was it really true that one could never change? He felt a wild longingfor the unstained purity of his boyhood,--his rose-white boyhood, asLord Henry had once called it. He knew that he had tarnished himself,filled his mind with corruption, and given horror to his fancy; that hehad been an evil influence to others, and had experienced a terriblejoy in being so; and that of the lives that had crossed his own it hadbeen the fairest and the most full of promise that he had brought toshame. But was it all irretrievable? Was there no hope for him?

  It was better not to think of the past. Nothing could alter that. Itwas of himself, and of his own future, that he had to think. AlanCampbell had shot himself one night in his laboratory, but had notrevealed the secret that he had been forced to know. The excitement,such as it was, over Basil Hallward's disappearance would soon passaway. It was already waning. He was perfectly safe there. Nor,indeed, was it the death of Basil Hallward that weighed most upon hismind. It was the living death of his own soul that troubled him. Basilhad painted the portrait that had marred his life. He could notforgive him that. It was the portrait that had done everything. Basilhad said things to him that were unbearable, and that he had yet bornewith patience. The murder had been simply the madness of a moment. Asfor Alan Campbell, his suicide had been his own act. He had chosen todo it. It was nothing to him.

  A new life! That was what he wanted. That was what he was waitingfor. Surely he had begun it already. He had spared one innocentthing, at any rate. He would never again tempt innocence. He would begood.

  As he thought of Hetty Merton, he began to wonder if the portrait inthe locked room had changed. Surely it was not still so horrible as ithad been? Perhaps if his life became pure, he would be able to expelevery sign of evil passion from the face. Perhaps the signs of evilhad already gone away. He would go and look.

  He took the lamp from the table and crept up-stairs. As he unlockedthe door, a smile of joy flitted across his young face and [99]lingered for a moment about his lips. Yes, he would be good, and thehideous thing that he had hidden away would no longer be a terror tohim. He felt as if the load had been lifted from him already.

  He went in quietly, locking the door behind him, as was his custom, anddragged the purple hanging from the portrait. A cry of pain andindignation broke from him. He could see no change, unless that in theeyes there was a look of cunning, and in the mouth the curved wrinkleof the hypocrite. The thing was still loathsome,--more loathsome, ifpossible, than before,--and the scarlet dew that spotted the handseemed brighter, and more like blood newly spilt.

  Had it been merely vanity that had made him do his one good deed? Orthe desire of a new sensation, as Lord Henry had hinted, with hismocking laugh? Or that passion to act a part that sometimes makes usdo things finer than we are ourselves? Or, perhaps, all these?

  Why was the red stain larger than it had been? It seemed to have creptlike a horrible disease over the wrinkled fingers. There was blood onthe painted feet, as though the thing had dripped,--blood even on thehand that had not held the knife.

  Confess? Did it mean that he was to confess? To give himself up, andbe put to death? He laughed. He felt that the idea was monstrous.Besides, who would believe him, even if he did confess? There was notrace of the murdered man anywhere. Everything belonging to him hadbeen destroyed. He himself had burned what had been below-stairs. Theworld would simply say he was mad. They would shut him up if hepersisted in his story.

  Yet it was his duty to confess, to suffer public shame, and to makepublic atonement. There was a Go
d who called upon men to tell theirsins to earth as well as to heaven. Nothing that he could do wouldcleanse him till he had told his own sin. His sin? He shrugged hisshoulders. The death of Basil Hallward seemed very little to him. Hewas thinking of Hetty Merton.

  It was an unjust mirror, this mirror of his soul that he was lookingat. Vanity? Curiosity? Hypocrisy? Had there been nothing more inhis renunciation than that? There had been something more. At leasthe thought so. But who could tell?

  And this murder,--was it to dog him all his life? Was he never to getrid of the past? Was he really to confess? No. There was only onebit of evidence left against him. The picture itself,--that wasevidence.

  He would destroy it. Why had he kept it so long? It had given himpleasure once to watch it changing and growing old. Of late he hadfelt no such pleasure. It had kept him awake at night. When he hadbeen away, he had been filled with terror lest other eyes should lookupon it. It had brought melancholy across his passions. Its merememory had marred many moments of joy. It had been like conscience tohim. Yes, it had been conscience. He would destroy it.

  He looked round, and saw the knife that had stabbed Basil Hallward. Hehad cleaned it many times, till there was no stain left upon it. It wasbright, and glistened. As it had killed the painter, so it [100] wouldkill the painter's work, and all that that meant. It would kill thepast, and when that was dead he would be free. He seized it, andstabbed the canvas with it, ripping the thing right up from top tobottom.

  There was a cry heard, and a crash. The cry was so horrible in itsagony that the frightened servants woke, and crept out of their rooms.Two gentlemen, who were passing in the Square below, stopped, andlooked up at the great house. They walked on till they met apoliceman, and brought him back. The man rang the bell several times,but there was no answer. The house was all dark, except for a light inone of the top windows. After a time, he went away, and stood in theportico of the next house and watched.

  "Whose house is that, constable?" asked the elder of the two gentlemen.

  "Mr. Dorian Gray's, sir," answered the policeman.

  They looked at each other, as they walked away, and sneered. One ofthem was Sir Henry Ashton's uncle.

  Inside, in the servants' part of the house, the half-clad domesticswere talking in low whispers to each other. Old Mrs. Leaf was crying,and wringing her hands. Francis was as pale as death.

  After about a quarter of an hour, he got the coachman and one of thefootmen and crept up-stairs. They knocked, but there was no reply.They called out. Everything was still. Finally, after vainly tryingto force the door, they got on the roof, and dropped down on to thebalcony. The windows yielded easily: the bolts were old.

  When they entered, they found hanging upon the wall a splendid portraitof their master as they had last seen him, in all the wonder of hisexquisite youth and beauty. Lying on the floor was a dead man, inevening dress, with a knife in his heart. He was withered, wrinkled,and loathsome of visage. It was not till they had examined the ringsthat they recognized who it was.