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The Picture of Dorian Gray, Page 5

Oscar Wilde


  [...36] For some reason or other, the house was crowded that night, andthe fat Jew manager who met them at the door was beaming from ear toear with an oily, tremulous smile. He escorted them to their box witha sort of pompous humility, waving his fat jewelled hands, and talkingat the top of his voice. Dorian Gray loathed him more than ever. Hefelt as if he had come to look for Miranda and had been met by Caliban.Lord Henry, upon the other hand, rather liked him. At least hedeclared he did, and insisted on shaking him by the hand, and assuredhim that he was proud to meet a man who had discovered a real geniusand gone bankrupt over Shakespeare. Hallward amused himself withwatching the faces in the pit. The heat was terribly oppressive, andthe huge sunlight flamed like a monstrous dahlia with petals of fire.The youths in the gallery had taken off their coats and waistcoats andhung them over the side. They talked to each other across the theatre,and shared their oranges with the tawdry painted girls who sat by them.Some women were laughing in the pit; their voices were horribly shrilland discordant. The sound of the popping of corks came from the bar.

  "What a place to find one's divinity in!" said Lord Henry.

  "Yes!" answered Dorian Gray. "It was here I found her, and she isdivine beyond all living things. When she acts you will forgeteverything. These common people here, with their coarse faces andbrutal gestures, become quite different when she is on the stage. Theysit silently and watch her. They weep and laugh as she wills them todo. She makes them as responsive as a violin. She spiritualizes them,and one feels that they are of the same flesh and blood as one's self."

  "Oh, I hope not!" murmured Lord Henry, who was scanning the occupantsof the gallery through his opera-glass.

  "Don't pay any attention to him, Dorian," said Hallward. "I understandwhat you mean, and I believe in this girl. Any one you love must bemarvellous, and any girl that has the effect you describe must be fineand noble. To spiritualize one's age,--that is something worth doing.If this girl can give a soul to those who have lived without one, ifshe can create the sense of beauty in people whose lives have beensordid and ugly, if she can strip them of their selfishness and lendthem tears for sorrows that are not their own, she is worthy of allyour adoration, worthy of the adoration of the world. This marriage isquite right. I did not think so at first, but I admit it now. Godmade Sibyl Vane for you. Without her you would have been incomplete."

  "Thanks, Basil," answered Dorian Gray, pressing his hand. "I [37] knewthat you would understand me. Harry is so cynical, he terrifies me.But here is the orchestra. It is quite dreadful, but it only lasts forabout five minutes. Then the curtain rises, and you will see the girlto whom I am going to give all my life, to whom I have given everythingthat is good in me."

  A quarter of an hour afterwards, amidst an extraordinary turmoil ofapplause, Sibyl Vane stepped on to the stage. Yes, she was certainlylovely to look at,--one of the loveliest creatures, Lord Henry thought,that he had ever seen. There was something of the fawn in her shygrace and startled eyes. A faint blush, like the shadow of a rose in amirror of silver, came to her cheeks as she glanced at the crowded,enthusiastic house. She stepped back a few paces, and her lips seemedto tremble. Basil Hallward leaped to his feet and began to applaud.Dorian Gray sat motionless, gazing on her, like a man in a dream. LordHenry peered through his opera-glass, murmuring, "Charming! charming!"

  The scene was the hall of Capulet's house, and Romeo in his pilgrim'sdress had entered with Mercutio and his friends. The band, such as itwas, struck up a few bars of music, and the dance began. Through thecrowd of ungainly, shabbily-dressed actors, Sibyl Vane moved like acreature from a finer world. Her body swayed, as she danced, as aplant sways in the water. The curves of her throat were like thecurves of a white lily. Her hands seemed to be made of cool ivory.

  Yet she was curiously listless. She showed no sign of joy when hereyes rested on Romeo. The few lines she had to speak,--

  Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much, Which mannerly devotion shows in this; For saints have hands that pilgrims' hands do touch, And palm to palm is holy palmers' kiss,--

  with the brief dialogue that follows, were spoken in a thoroughlyartificial manner. The voice was exquisite, but from the point of viewof tone it was absolutely false. It was wrong in color. It took awayall the life from the verse. It made the passion unreal.

  Dorian Gray grew pale as he watched her. Neither of his friends daredto say anything to him. She seemed to them to be absolutelyincompetent. They were horribly disappointed.

  Yet they felt that the true test of any Juliet is the balcony scene ofthe second act. They waited for that. If she failed there, there wasnothing in her.

  She looked charming as she came out in the moonlight. That could notbe denied. But the staginess of her acting was unbearable, and grewworse as she went on. Her gestures became absurdly artificial. Sheover-emphasized everything that she had to say. The beautifulpassage,--

  Thou knowest the mask of night is on my face, Else would a maiden blush bepaint my cheek For that which thou hast heard me speak to-night,--

  [38] was declaimed with the painful precision of a school-girl who hasbeen taught to recite by some second-rate professor of elocution. Whenshe leaned over the balcony and came to those wonderful lines,--

  Although I joy in thee, I have no joy of this contract to-night: It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden; Too like the lightning, which doth cease to be Ere one can say, "It lightens." Sweet, good-night! This bud of love by summer's ripening breath May prove a beauteous flower when next we meet,--

  she spoke the words as if they conveyed no meaning to her. It was notnervousness. Indeed, so far from being nervous, she seemed absolutelyself-contained. It was simply bad art. She was a complete failure.

  Even the common uneducated audience of the pit and gallery lost theirinterest in the play. They got restless, and began to talk loudly andto whistle. The Jew manager, who was standing at the back of thedress-circle, stamped and swore with rage. The only person unmoved wasthe girl herself.

  When the second act was over there came a storm of hisses, and LordHenry got up from his chair and put on his coat. "She is quitebeautiful, Dorian," he said, "but she can't act. Let us go."

  "I am going to see the play through," answered the lad, in a hard,bitter voice. "I am awfully sorry that I have made you waste anevening, Harry. I apologize to both of you."

  "My dear Dorian, I should think Miss Vane was ill," interruptedHallward. "We will come some other night."

  "I wish she was ill," he rejoined. "But she seems to me to be simplycallous and cold. She has entirely altered. Last night she was agreat artist. To-night she is merely a commonplace, mediocre actress."

  "Don't talk like that about any one you love, Dorian. Love is a morewonderful thing than art."

  "They are both simply forms of imitation," murmured Lord Henry. "Butdo let us go. Dorian, you must not stay here any longer. It is notgood for one's morals to see bad acting. Besides, I don't suppose youwill want your wife to act. So what does it matter if she plays Julietlike a wooden doll? She is very lovely, and if she knows as littleabout life as she does about acting, she will be a delightfulexperience. There are only two kinds of people who are reallyfascinating,--people who know absolutely everything, and people whoknow absolutely nothing. Good heavens, my dear boy, don't look sotragic! The secret of remaining young is never to have an emotion thatis unbecoming. Come to the club with Basil and myself. We will smokecigarettes and drink to the beauty of Sibyl Vane. She is beautiful.What more can you want?"

  "Please go away, Harry," cried the lad. "I really want to bealone.--Basil, you don't mind my asking you to go? Ah! can't you seethat my heart is breaking?" The hot tears came to his eyes. His [39]lips trembled, and, rushing to the back of the box, he leaned upagainst the wall, hiding his face in his hands.

; "Let us go, Basil," said Lord Henry, with a strange tenderness in hisvoice; and the two young men passed out together.

  A few moments afterwards the footlights flared up, and the curtain roseon the third act. Dorian Gray went back to his seat. He looked pale,and proud, and indifferent. The play dragged on, and seemedinterminable. Half of the audience went out, tramping in heavy boots,and laughing. The whole thing was a fiasco. The last act was playedto almost empty benches.

  As soon as it was over, Dorian Gray rushed behind the scenes into thegreenroom. The girl was standing alone there, with a look of triumphon her face. Her eyes were lit with an exquisite fire. There was aradiance about her. Her parted lips were smiling over some secret oftheir own.

  When he entered, she looked at him, and an expression of infinite joycame over her. "How badly I acted to-night, Dorian!" she cried.

  "Horribly!" he answered, gazing at her in amazement,--"horribly! Itwas dreadful. Are you ill? You have no idea what it was. You have noidea what I suffered."

  The girl smiled. "Dorian," she answered, lingering over his name withlong-drawn music in her voice, as though it were sweeter than honey tothe red petals of her lips,--"Dorian, you should have understood. Butyou understand now, don't you?"

  "Understand what?" he asked, angrily.

  "Why I was so bad to-night. Why I shall always be bad. Why I shallnever act well again."

  He shrugged his shoulders. "You are ill, I suppose. When you are illyou shouldn't act. You make yourself ridiculous. My friends werebored. I was bored."

  She seemed not to listen to him. She was transfigured with joy. Anecstasy of happiness dominated her.

  "Dorian, Dorian," she cried, "before I knew you, acting was the onereality of my life. It was only in the theatre that I lived. Ithought that it was all true. I was Rosalind one night, and Portia theother. The joy of Beatrice was my joy, and the sorrows of Cordeliawere mine also. I believed in everything. The common people who actedwith me seemed to me to be godlike. The painted scenes were my world.I knew nothing but shadows, and I thought them real. You came,--oh, mybeautiful love!--and you freed my soul from prison. You taught me whatreality really is. To-night, for the first time in my life, I sawthrough the hollowness, the sham, the silliness, of the empty pageantin which I had always played. To-night, for the first time, I becameconscious that the Romeo was hideous, and old, and painted, that themoonlight in the orchard was false, that the scenery was vulgar, andthat the words I had to speak were unreal, were not my words, not whatI wanted to say. You had brought me something higher, something ofwhich all art is but a reflection. You have made me understand whatlove really is. My love! my love! I am sick [40] of shadows. You aremore to me than all art can ever be. What have I to do with thepuppets of a play? When I came on to-night, I could not understand howit was that everything had gone from me. Suddenly it dawned on my soulwhat it all meant. The knowledge was exquisite to me. I heard themhissing, and I smiled. What should they know of love? Take me away,Dorian--take me away with you, where we can be quite alone. I hate thestage. I might mimic a passion that I do not feel, but I cannot mimicone that burns me like fire. Oh, Dorian, Dorian, you understand nowwhat it all means? Even if I could do it, it would be profanation forme to play at being in love. You have made me see that."

  He flung himself down on the sofa, and turned away his face. "You havekilled my love," he muttered.

  She looked at him in wonder, and laughed. He made no answer. She cameacross to him, and stroked his hair with her little fingers. She kneltdown and pressed his hands to her lips. He drew them away, and ashudder ran through him.

  Then he leaped up, and went to the door. "Yes," he cried, "you havekilled my love. You used to stir my imagination. Now you don't evenstir my curiosity. You simply produce no effect. I loved you becauseyou were wonderful, because you had genius and intellect, because yourealized the dreams of great poets and gave shape and substance to theshadows of art. You have thrown it all away. You are shallow andstupid. My God! how mad I was to love you! What a fool I have been!You are nothing to me now. I will never see you again. I will neverthink of you. I will never mention your name. You don't know what youwere to me, once. Why, once . . . . Oh, I can't bear to think of it!I wish I had never laid eyes upon you! You have spoiled the romance ofmy life. How little you can know of love, if you say it mars your art!What are you without your art? Nothing. I would have made you famous,splendid, magnificent. The world would have worshipped you, and youwould have belonged to me. What are you now? A third-rate actress witha pretty face."

  The girl grew white, and trembled. She clinched her hands together,and her voice seemed to catch in her throat. "You are not serious,Dorian?" she murmured. "You are acting."

  "Acting! I leave that to you. You do it so well," he answered,bitterly.

  She rose from her knees, and, with a piteous expression of pain in herface, came across the room to him. She put her hand upon his arm, andlooked into his eyes. He thrust her back. "Don't touch me!" he cried.

  A low moan broke from her, and she flung herself at his feet, and laythere like a trampled flower. "Dorian, Dorian, don't leave me!" shewhispered. "I am so sorry I didn't act well. I was thinking of youall the time. But I will try,--indeed, I will try. It came sosuddenly across me, my love for you. I think I should never have knownit if you had not kissed me,--if we had not kissed each other. Kiss meagain, my love. Don't go away from me. I couldn't bear it. Can't youforgive me for to-night? I will work so hard, and try to [41] improve.Don't be cruel to me because I love you better than anything in theworld. After all, it is only once that I have not pleased you. Butyou are quite right, Dorian. I should have shown myself more of anartist. It was foolish of me; and yet I couldn't help it. Oh, don'tleave me, don't leave me." A fit of passionate sobbing choked her.She crouched on the floor like a wounded thing, and Dorian Gray, withhis beautiful eyes, looked down at her, and his chiselled lips curledin exquisite disdain. There is always something ridiculous about thepassions of people whom one has ceased to love. Sibyl Vane seemed tohim to be absurdly melodramatic. Her tears and sobs annoyed him.

  "I am going," he said at last, in his calm, clear voice. "I don't wishto be unkind, but I can't see you again. You have disappointed me."

  She wept silently, and made no answer, but crept nearer to him. Herlittle hands stretched blindly out, and appeared to be seeking for him.He turned on his heel, and left the room. In a few moments he was outof the theatre.

  Where he went to, he hardly knew. He remembered wandering throughdimly-lit streets with gaunt black-shadowed archways and evil-lookinghouses. Women with hoarse voices and harsh laughter had called afterhim. Drunkards had reeled by cursing, and chattering to themselveslike monstrous apes. He had seen grotesque children huddled upondoor-steps, and had heard shrieks and oaths from gloomy courts.

  When the dawn was just breaking he found himself at Covent Garden. Hugecarts filled with nodding lilies rumbled slowly down the polished emptystreet. The air was heavy with the perfume of the flowers, and theirbeauty seemed to bring him an anodyne for his pain. He followed intothe market, and watched the men unloading their wagons. Awhite-smocked carter offered him some cherries. He thanked him,wondered why he refused to accept any money for them, and began to eatthem listlessly. They had been plucked at midnight, and the coldnessof the moon had entered into them. A long line of boys carrying cratesof striped tulips, and of yellow and red roses, defiled in front ofhim, threading their way through the huge jade-green piles ofvegetables. Under the portico, with its gray sun-bleached pillars,loitered a troop of draggled bareheaded girls, waiting for the auctionto be over. After some time he hailed a hansom and drove home. Thesky was pure opal now, and the roofs of the houses glistened likesilver against it. As he was passing through the library towards thedoor of his bedroom, his eye fell upon the portrait Basil Hallward hadpainted of him. He started back in surprise, and then went
over to itand examined it. In the dim arrested light that struggled through thecream-colored silk blinds, the face seemed to him to be a littlechanged. The expression looked different. One would have said thatthere was a touch of cruelty in the mouth. It was certainly curious.

  He turned round, and, walking to the window, drew the blinds up. Thebright dawn flooded the room, and swept the fantastic shadows [42] intodusky corners, where they lay shuddering. But the strange expressionthat he had noticed in the face of the portrait seemed to linger there,to be more intensified even. The quivering, ardent sunlight showed himthe lines of cruelty round the mouth as clearly as if he had beenlooking into a mirror after he had done some dreadful thing.

  He winced, and, taking up from the table an oval glass framed in ivoryCupids, that Lord Henry had given him, he glanced hurriedly into it.No line like that warped his red lips. What did it mean?

  He rubbed his eyes, and came close to the picture, and examined itagain. There were no signs of any change when he looked into theactual painting, and yet there was no doubt that the whole expressionhad altered. It was not a mere fancy of his own. The thing washorribly apparent.

  He threw himself into a chair, and began to think. Suddenly thereflashed across his mind what he had said in Basil Hallward's studio theday the picture had been finished. Yes, he remembered it perfectly.He had uttered a mad wish that he himself might remain young, and theportrait grow old; that his own beauty might be untarnished, and theface on the canvas bear the burden of his passions and his sins; thatthe painted image might be seared with the lines of suffering andthought, and that he might keep all the delicate bloom and lovelinessof his then just conscious boyhood. Surely his prayer had not beenanswered? Such things were impossible. It seemed monstrous even tothink of them. And, yet, there was the picture before him, with thetouch of cruelty in the mouth.

  Cruelty! Had he been cruel? It was the girl's fault, not his. He haddreamed of her as a great artist, had given his love to her because hehad thought her great. Then she had disappointed him. She had beenshallow and unworthy. And, yet, a feeling of infinite regret came overhim, as he thought of her lying at his feet sobbing like a littlechild. He remembered with what callousness he had watched her. Whyhad he been made like that? Why had such a soul been given to him?But he had suffered also. During the three terrible hours that theplay had lasted, he had lived centuries of pain, aeon upon aeon oftorture. His life was well worth hers. She had marred him for amoment, if he had wounded her for an age. Besides, women were bettersuited to bear sorrow than men. They lived on their emotions. Theyonly thought of their emotions. When they took lovers, it was merelyto have some one with whom they could have scenes. Lord Henry had toldhim that, and Lord Henry knew what women were. Why should he troubleabout Sibyl Vane? She was nothing to him now.

  But the picture? What was he to say of that? It held the secret ofhis life, and told his story. It had taught him to love his ownbeauty. Would it teach him to loathe his own soul? Would he ever lookat it again?

  No; it was merely an illusion wrought on the troubled senses. Thehorrible night that he had passed had left phantoms behind it. Suddenlythere had fallen upon his brain that tiny scarlet speck that [43] makesmen mad. The picture had not changed. It was folly to think so.

  Yet it was watching him, with its beautiful marred face and its cruelsmile. Its bright hair gleamed in the early sunlight. Its blue eyesmet his own. A sense of infinite pity, not for himself, but for thepainted image of himself, came over him. It had altered already, andwould alter more. Its gold would wither into gray. Its red and whiteroses would die. For every sin that he committed, a stain would fleckand wreck its fairness. But he would not sin. The picture, changed orunchanged, would be to him the visible emblem of conscience. He wouldresist temptation. He would not see Lord Henry any more,--would not,at any rate, listen to those subtle poisonous theories that in BasilHallward's garden had first stirred within him the passion forimpossible things. He would go back to Sibyl Vane, make her amends,marry her, try to love her again. Yes, it was his duty to do so. Shemust have suffered more than he had. Poor child! He had been selfishand cruel to her. The fascination that she had exercised over himwould return. They would be happy together. His life with her wouldbe beautiful and pure.

  He got up from his chair, and drew a large screen right in front of theportrait, shuddering as he glanced at it. "How horrible!" he murmuredto himself, and he walked across to the window and opened it. When hestepped out on the grass, he drew a deep breath. The fresh morning airseemed to drive away all his sombre passions. He thought only of SibylVane. A faint echo of his love came back to him. He repeated her nameover and over again. The birds that were singing in the dew-drenchedgarden seemed to be telling the flowers about her.