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The Picture of Dorian Gray, Page 4

Oscar Wilde


  [...32] "I suppose you have heard the news, Basil?" said Lord Henry onthe following evening, as Hallward was shown into a little private roomat the Bristol where dinner had been laid for three.

  "No, Harry," answered Hallward, giving his hat and coat to the bowingwaiter. "What is it? Nothing about politics, I hope? They don'tinterest me. There is hardly a single person in the House of Commonsworth painting; though many of them would be the better for a littlewhitewashing."

  "Dorian Gray is engaged to be married," said Lord Henry, watching himas he spoke.

  Hallward turned perfectly pale, and a curious look flashed for a momentinto his eyes, and then passed away, leaving them dull. "Dorian engagedto be married!" he cried. "Impossible!"

  "It is perfectly true."

  "To whom?"

  "To some little actress or other."

  "I can't believe it. Dorian is far too sensible."

  "Dorian is far too wise not to do foolish things now and then, my dearBasil."

  "Marriage is hardly a thing that one can do now and then, Harry," saidHallward, smiling.

  "Except in America. But I didn't say he was married. I said he wasengaged to be married. There is a great difference. I have a distinctremembrance of being married, but I have no recollection at all ofbeing engaged. I am inclined to think that I never was engaged."

  "But think of Dorian's birth, and position, and wealth. It would beabsurd for him to marry so much beneath him."

  "If you want him to marry this girl, tell him that, Basil. He is sureto do it then. Whenever a man does a thoroughly stupid thing, it isalways from the noblest motives."

  "I hope the girl is good, Harry. I don't want to see Dorian tied tosome vile creature, who might degrade his nature and ruin hisintellect."

  "Oh, she is more than good--she is beautiful," murmured Lord Henry,sipping a glass of vermouth and orange-bitters. "Dorian says she isbeautiful; and he is not often wrong about things of that kind. [33]Your portrait of him has quickened his appreciation of the personalappearance of other people. It has had that excellent effect, amongothers. We are to see her to-night, if that boy doesn't forget hisappointment."

  "But do you approve of it, Harry?" asked Hallward, walking up and downthe room, and biting his lip. "You can't approve of it, really. It issome silly infatuation."

  "I never approve, or disapprove, of anything now. It is an absurdattitude to take towards life. We are not sent into the world to airour moral prejudices. I never take any notice of what common peoplesay, and I never interfere with what charming people do. If apersonality fascinates me, whatever the personality chooses to do isabsolutely delightful to me. Dorian Gray falls in love with abeautiful girl who acts Shakespeare, and proposes to marry her. Whynot? If he wedded Messalina he would be none the less interesting. Youknow I am not a champion of marriage. The real drawback to marriage isthat it makes one unselfish. And unselfish people are colorless. Theylack individuality. Still, there are certain temperaments thatmarriage makes more complex. They retain their egotism, and add to itmany other egos. They are forced to have more than one life. Theybecome more highly organized. Besides, every experience is of value,and, whatever one may say against marriage, it is certainly anexperience. I hope that Dorian Gray will make this girl his wife,passionately adore her for six months, and then suddenly becomefascinated by some one else. He would be a wonderful study."

  "You don't mean all that, Harry; you know you don't. If Dorian Gray'slife were spoiled, no one would be sorrier than yourself. You are muchbetter than you pretend to be."

  Lord Henry laughed. "The reason we all like to think so well of othersis that we are all afraid for ourselves. The basis of optimism issheer terror. We think that we are generous because we credit ourneighbor with those virtues that are likely to benefit ourselves. Wepraise the banker that we may overdraw our account, and find goodqualities in the highwayman in the hope that he may spare our pockets.I mean everything that I have said. I have the greatest contempt foroptimism. And as for a spoiled life, no life is spoiled but one whosegrowth is arrested. If you want to mar a nature, you have merely toreform it. But here is Dorian himself. He will tell you more than Ican."

  "My dear Harry, my dear Basil, you must both congratulate me!" said theboy, throwing off his evening cape with its satin-lined wings, andshaking each of his friends by the hand in turn. "I have never been sohappy. Of course it is sudden: all really delightful things are. Andyet it seems to me to be the one thing I have been looking for all mylife." He was flushed with excitement and pleasure, and lookedextraordinarily handsome.

  "I hope you will always be very happy, Dorian," said Hallward, "but Idon't quite forgive you for not having let me know of your engagement.You let Harry know."

  "And I don't forgive you for being late for dinner," broke in Lord [34]Henry, putting his hand on the lad's shoulder, and smiling as he spoke."Come, let us sit down and try what the new chef here is like, and thenyou will tell us how it all came about."

  "There is really not much to tell," cried Dorian, as they took theirseats at the small round table. "What happened was simply this. AfterI left you yesterday evening, Harry, I had some dinner at that curiouslittle Italian restaurant in Rupert Street, you introduced me to, andwent down afterwards to the theatre. Sibyl was playing Rosalind. Ofcourse the scenery was dreadful, and the Orlando absurd. But Sibyl!You should have seen her! When she came on in her boy's dress she wasperfectly wonderful. She wore a moss-colored velvet jerkin withcinnamon sleeves, slim brown cross-gartered hose, a dainty little greencap with a hawk's feather caught in a jewel, and a hooded cloak linedwith dull red. She had never seemed to me more exquisite. She had allthe delicate grace of that Tanagra figurine that you have in yourstudio, Basil. Her hair clustered round her face like dark leavesround a pale rose. As for her acting--well, you will see her to-night.She is simply a born artist. I sat in the dingy box absolutelyenthralled. I forgot that I was in London and in the nineteenthcentury. I was away with my love in a forest that no man had everseen. After the performance was over I went behind, and spoke to her.As we were sitting together, suddenly there came a look into her eyesthat I had never seen there before. My lips moved towards hers. Wekissed each other. I can't describe to you what I felt at that moment.It seemed to me that all my life had been narrowed to one perfect pointof rose-colored joy. She trembled all over, and shook like a whitenarcissus. Then she flung herself on her knees and kissed my hands. Ifeel that I should not tell you all this, but I can't help it. Ofcourse our engagement is a dead secret. She has not even told her ownmother. I don't know what my guardians will say. Lord Radley is sureto be furious. I don't care. I shall be of age in less than a year,and then I can do what I like. I have been right, Basil, haven't I, totake my love out of poetry, and to find my wife in Shakespeare's plays?Lips that Shakespeare taught to speak have whispered their secret in myear. I have had the arms of Rosalind around me, and kissed Juliet onthe mouth."

  "Yes, Dorian, I suppose you were right," said Hallward, slowly.

  "Have you seen her to-day?" asked Lord Henry.

  Dorian Gray shook his head. "I left her in the forest of Arden, Ishall find her in an orchard in Verona."

  Lord Henry sipped his champagne in a meditative manner. "At whatparticular point did you mention the word marriage, Dorian? and whatdid she say in answer? Perhaps you forgot all about it."

  "My dear Harry, I did not treat it as a business transaction, and I didnot make any formal proposal. I told her that I loved her, and shesaid she was not worthy to be my wife. Not worthy! Why, the wholeworld is nothing to me compared to her."

  "Women are wonderfully practical," murmured Lord Henry,--"much morepractical than we are. In situations of that kind we often forget tosay anything about marriage, and they always remind us."

  [35] Hallward laid his hand upon his arm. "Don't, Harry. You haveannoyed Dorian. He is not like other men. He wou
ld never bring miseryupon any one. His nature is too fine for that."

  Lord Henry looked across the table. "Dorian is never annoyed with me,"he answered. "I asked the question for the best reason possible, forthe only reason, indeed, that excuses one for asking anyquestion,--simple curiosity. I have a theory that it is always thewomen who propose to us, and not we who propose to the women, except,of course, in middle-class life. But then the middle classes are notmodern."

  Dorian Gray laughed, and tossed his head. "You are quite incorrigible,Harry; but I don't mind. It is impossible to be angry with you. Whenyou see Sibyl Vane you will feel that the man who could wrong her wouldbe a beast without a heart. I cannot understand how any one can wishto shame what he loves. I love Sibyl Vane. I wish to place her on apedestal of gold, and to see the world worship the woman who is mine.What is marriage? An irrevocable vow. And it is an irrevocable vowthat I want to take. Her trust makes me faithful, her belief makes megood. When I am with her, I regret all that you have taught me. Ibecome different from what you have known me to be. I am changed, andthe mere touch of Sibyl Vane's hand makes me forget you and all yourwrong, fascinating, poisonous, delightful theories."

  "You will always like me, Dorian," said Lord Henry. "Will you havesome coffee, you fellows?--Waiter, bring coffee, and fine-champagne,and some cigarettes. No: don't mind the cigarettes; I havesome.--Basil, I can't allow you to smoke cigars. You must have acigarette. A cigarette is the perfect type of a perfect pleasure. Itis exquisite, and it leaves one unsatisfied. What more can youwant?--Yes, Dorian, you will always be fond of me. I represent to youall the sins you have never had the courage to commit."

  "What nonsense you talk, Harry!" cried Dorian Gray, lighting hiscigarette from a fire-breathing silver dragon that the waiter hadplaced on the table. "Let us go down to the theatre. When you seeSibyl you will have a new ideal of life. She will represent somethingto you that you have never known."

  "I have known everything," said Lord Henry, with a sad look in hiseyes, "but I am always ready for a new emotion. I am afraid that thereis no such thing, for me at any rate. Still, your wonderful girl maythrill me. I love acting. It is so much more real than life. Let usgo. Dorian, you will come with me.--I am so sorry, Basil, but there isonly room for two in the brougham. You must follow us in a hansom."

  They got up and put on their coats, sipping their coffee standing.Hallward was silent and preoccupied. There was a gloom over him. Hecould not bear this marriage, and yet it seemed to him to be betterthan many other things that might have happened. After a few moments,they all passed down-stairs. He drove off by himself, as had beenarranged, and watched the flashing lights of the little brougham infront of him. A strange sense of loss came over him. [36] He felt thatDorian Gray would never again be to him all that he had been in thepast. His eyes darkened, and the crowded flaring streets becameblurred to him. When the cab drew up at the doors of the theatre, itseemed to him that he had grown years older.