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The Picture of Dorian Gray, Page 7

Oscar Wilde


  [...52] As he was sitting at breakfast next morning, Basil Hallward wasshown into the room.

  "I am so glad I have found you, Dorian," he said, gravely. "I calledlast night, and they told me you were at the Opera. Of course I knewthat was impossible. But I wish you had left word where you had reallygone to. I passed a dreadful evening, half afraid that one tragedymight be followed by another. I think you might have telegraphed forme when you heard of it first. I read of it quite by chance in a lateedition of the Globe, that I picked up at the club. I came here atonce, and was miserable at not finding you. I can't tell you howheart-broken I am about the whole thing. I know what you must suffer.But where were you? Did you go down and see the girl's mother? For amoment I thought of following you there. They gave the address in thepaper. Somewhere in the Euston Road, isn't it? But I was afraid ofintruding upon a sorrow that I could not lighten. Poor woman! What astate she must be in! And her only child, too! What did she say aboutit all?"

  "My dear Basil, how do I know?" murmured Dorian, sipping somepale-yellow wine from a delicate gold-beaded bubble of Venetian glass,and looking dreadfully bored. "I was at the Opera. You should havecome on there. I met Lady Gwendolen, Harry's sister, for the firsttime. We were in her box. She is perfectly charming; and Patti sangdivinely. Don't talk about horrid subjects. If one doesn't [53] talkabout a thing, it has never happened. It is simply expression, asHarry says, that gives reality to things. Tell me about yourself andwhat you are painting."

  "You went to the Opera?" said Hallward, speaking very slowly, and witha strained touch of pain in his voice. "You went to the Opera whileSibyl Vane was lying dead in some sordid lodging? You can talk to meof other women being charming, and of Patti singing divinely, beforethe girl you loved has even the quiet of a grave to sleep in? Why, man,there are horrors in store for that little white body of hers!"

  "Stop, Basil! I won't hear it!" cried Dorian, leaping to his feet."You must not tell me about things. What is done is done. What ispast is past."

  "You call yesterday the past?"

  "What has the actual lapse of time got to do with it? It is onlyshallow people who require years to get rid of an emotion. A man whois master of himself can end a sorrow as easily as he can invent apleasure. I don't want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want touse them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them."

  "Dorian, this is horrible! Something has changed you completely. Youlook exactly the same wonderful boy who used to come down to my studio,day after day, to sit for his picture. But you were simple, natural,and affectionate then. You were the most unspoiled creature in thewhole world. Now, I don't know what has come over you. You talk as ifyou had no heart, no pity in you. It is all Harry's influence. I seethat."

  The lad flushed up, and, going to the window, looked out on the green,flickering garden for a few moments. "I owe a great deal to Harry,Basil," he said, at last,--"more than I owe to you. You only taught meto be vain."

  "Well, I am punished for that, Dorian,--or shall be some day."

  "I don't know what you mean, Basil," he exclaimed, turning round. "Idon't know what you want. What do you want?"

  "I want the Dorian Gray I used to know."

  "Basil," said the lad, going over to him, and putting his hand on hisshoulder, "you have come too late. Yesterday when I heard that SibylVane had killed herself--"

  "Killed herself! Good heavens! is there no doubt about that?" criedHallward, looking up at him with an expression of horror.

  "My dear Basil! Surely you don't think it was a vulgar accident? Ofcourse she killed herself It is one of the great romantic tragedies ofthe age. As a rule, people who act lead the most commonplace lives.They are good husbands, or faithful wives, or something tedious. Youknow what I mean,--middle-class virtue, and all that kind of thing.How different Sibyl was! She lived her finest tragedy. She was alwaysa heroine. The last night she played--the night you saw her--she actedbadly because she had known the reality of love. When she knew itsunreality, she died, as Juliet might have died. She passed again intothe sphere of art. There is something of the martyr about her. Herdeath has all the pathetic uselessness of [54] martyrdom, all itswasted beauty. But, as I was saying, you must not think I have notsuffered. If you had come in yesterday at a particular moment,--abouthalf-past five, perhaps, or a quarter to six,--you would have found mein tears. Even Harry, who was here, who brought me the news, in fact,had no idea what I was going through. I suffered immensely, then itpassed away. I cannot repeat an emotion. No one can, exceptsentimentalists. And you are awfully unjust, Basil. You come downhere to console me. That is charming of you. You find me consoled,and you are furious. How like a sympathetic person! You remind me ofa story Harry told me about a certain philanthropist who spent twentyyears of his life in trying to get some grievance redressed, or someunjust law altered,--I forget exactly what it was. Finally hesucceeded, and nothing could exceed his disappointment. He hadabsolutely nothing to do, almost died of ennui, and became a confirmedmisanthrope. And besides, my dear old Basil, if you really want toconsole me, teach me rather to forget what has happened, or to see itfrom a proper artistic point of view. Was it not Gautier who used towrite about la consolation des arts? I remember picking up a littlevellum-covered book in your studio one day and chancing on thatdelightful phrase. Well, I am not like that young man you told me ofwhen we were down at Marlowe together, the young man who used to saythat yellow satin could console one for all the miseries of life. Ilove beautiful things that one can touch and handle. Old brocades,green bronzes, lacquer-work, carved ivories, exquisite surroundings,luxury, pomp,--there is much to be got from all these. But theartistic temperament that they create, or at any rate reveal, is stillmore to me. To become the spectator of one's own life, as Harry says,is to escape the suffering of life. I know you are surprised at mytalking to you like this. You have not realized how I have developed.I was a school-boy when you knew me. I am a man now. I have newpassions, new thoughts, new ideas. I am different, but you must notlike me less. I am changed, but you must always be my friend. Ofcourse I am very fond of Harry. But I know that you are better than heis. You are not stronger,--you are too much afraid of life,--but youare better. And how happy we used to be together! Don't leave me,Basil, and don't quarrel with me. I am what I am. There is nothingmore to be said."

  Hallward felt strangely moved. Rugged and straightforward as he was,there was something in his nature that was purely feminine in itstenderness. The lad was infinitely dear to him, and his personalityhad been the great turning-point in his art. He could not bear theidea of reproaching him any more. After all, his indifference wasprobably merely a mood that would pass away. There was so much in himthat was good, so much in him that was noble.

  "Well, Dorian," he said, at length, with a sad smile, "I won't speak toyou again about this horrible thing, after to-day. I only trust yourname won't be mentioned in connection with it. The inquest is to takeplace this afternoon. Have they summoned you?"

  Dorian shook his head, and a look of annoyance passed over his face atthe mention of the word "inquest." There was something so [55] crudeand vulgar about everything of the kind. "They don't know my name," heanswered.

  "But surely she did?"

  "Only my Christian name, and that I am quite sure she never mentionedto any one. She told me once that they were all rather curious tolearn who I was, and that she invariably told them my name was PrinceCharming. It was pretty of her. You must do me a drawing of her,Basil. I should like to have something more of her than the memory ofa few kisses and some broken pathetic words."

  "I will try and do something, Dorian, if it would please you. But youmust come and sit to me yourself again. I can't get on without you."

  "I will never sit to you again, Basil. It is impossible!" heexclaimed, starting back.

  Hallward stared at him, "My dear boy, what nonsense!" he cried. "Doyo
u mean to say you don't like what I did of you? Where is it? Whyhave you pulled the screen in front of it? Let me look at it. It isthe best thing I have ever painted. Do take that screen away, Dorian.It is simply horrid of your servant hiding my work like that. I feltthe room looked different as I came in."

  "My servant has nothing to do with it, Basil. You don't imagine I lethim arrange my room for me? He settles my flowers for mesometimes,--that is all. No; I did it myself. The light was toostrong on the portrait."

  "Too strong! Impossible, my dear fellow! It is an admirable place forit. Let me see it." And Hallward walked towards the corner of theroom.

  A cry of terror broke from Dorian Gray's lips, and he rushed betweenHallward and the screen. "Basil," he said, looking very pale, "youmust not look at it. I don't wish you to."

  "Not look at my own work! you are not serious. Why shouldn't I look atit?" exclaimed Hallward, laughing.

  "If you try to look at it, Basil, on my word of honor I will neverspeak to you again as long as I live. I am quite serious. I don'toffer any explanation, and you are not to ask for any. But, remember,if you touch this screen, everything is over between us."

  Hallward was thunderstruck. He looked at Dorian Gray in absoluteamazement. He had never seen him like this before. The lad wasabsolutely pallid with rage. His hands were clinched, and the pupilsof his eyes were like disks of blue fire. He was trembling all over.


  "Don't speak!"

  "But what is the matter? Of course I won't look at it if you don'twant me to," he said, rather coldly, turning on his heel, and goingover towards the window. "But, really, it seems rather absurd that Ishouldn't see my own work, especially as I am going to exhibit it inParis in the autumn. I shall probably have to give it another coat ofvarnish before that, so I must see it some day, and why not to-day?"

  "To exhibit it! You want to exhibit it?" exclaimed Dorian Gray, astrange sense of terror creeping over him. Was the world going [56] tobe shown his secret? Were people to gape at the mystery of his life?That was impossible. Something--he did not know what--had to be doneat once.

  "Yes: I don't suppose you will object to that. Georges Petit is goingto collect all my best pictures for a special exhibition in the Rue deSeze, which will open the first week in October. The portrait willonly be away a month. I should think you could easily spare it forthat time. In fact, you are sure to be out of town. And if you hideit always behind a screen, you can't care much about it."

  Dorian Gray passed his hand over his forehead. There were beads ofperspiration there. He felt that he was on the brink of a horribledanger. "You told me a month ago that you would never exhibit it," hesaid. "Why have you changed your mind? You people who go in for beingconsistent have just as many moods as others. The only difference isthat your moods are rather meaningless. You can't have forgotten thatyou assured me most solemnly that nothing in the world would induce youto send it to any exhibition. You told Harry exactly the same thing."He stopped suddenly, and a gleam of light came into his eyes. Heremembered that Lord Henry had said to him once, half seriously andhalf in jest, "If you want to have an interesting quarter of an hour,get Basil to tell you why he won't exhibit your picture. He told mewhy he wouldn't, and it was a revelation to me." Yes, perhaps Basil,too, had his secret. He would ask him and try.

  "Basil," he said, coming over quite close, and looking him straight inthe face, "we have each of us a secret. Let me know yours, and I willtell you mine. What was your reason for refusing to exhibit mypicture?"

  Hallward shuddered in spite of himself. "Dorian, if I told you, youmight like me less than you do, and you would certainly laugh at me. Icould not bear your doing either of those two things. If you wish menever to look at your picture again, I am content. I have always youto look at. If you wish the best work I have ever done to be hiddenfrom the world, I am satisfied. Your friendship is dearer to me thanany fame or reputation."

  "No, Basil, you must tell me," murmured Dorian Gray. "I think I have aright to know." His feeling of terror had passed away, and curiosityhad taken its place. He was determined to find out Basil Hallward'smystery.

  "Let us sit down, Dorian," said Hallward, looking pale and pained. "Letus sit down. I will sit in the shadow, and you shall sit in thesunlight. Our lives are like that. Just answer me one question. Haveyou noticed in the picture something that you did not like?--somethingthat probably at first did not strike you, but that revealed itself toyou suddenly?"

  "Basil!" cried the lad, clutching the arms of his chair with tremblinghands, and gazing at him with wild, startled eyes.

  "I see you did. Don't speak. Wait till you hear what I have to say.It is quite true that I have worshipped you with far more romance offeeling than a man usually gives to a friend. Somehow, I had neverloved a woman. I suppose I never had time. Perhaps, as [57] Harrysays, a really 'grande passion' is the privilege of those who havenothing to do, and that is the use of the idle classes in a country.Well, from the moment I met you, your personality had the mostextraordinary influence over me. I quite admit that I adored youmadly, extravagantly, absurdly. I was jealous of every one to whom youspoke. I wanted to have you all to myself. I was only happy when Iwas with you. When I was away from you, you were still present in myart. It was all wrong and foolish. It is all wrong and foolish still.Of course I never let you know anything about this. It would have beenimpossible. You would not have understood it; I did not understand itmyself. One day I determined to paint a wonderful portrait of you. Itwas to have been my masterpiece. It is my masterpiece. But, as Iworked at it, every flake and film of color seemed to me to reveal mysecret. I grew afraid that the world would know of my idolatry. Ifelt, Dorian, that I had told too much. Then it was that I resolvednever to allow the picture to be exhibited. You were a little annoyed;but then you did not realize all that it meant to me. Harry, to whom Italked about it, laughed at me. But I did not mind that. When thepicture was finished, and I sat alone with it, I felt that I was right.Well, after a few days the portrait left my studio, and as soon as Ihad got rid of the intolerable fascination of its presence it seemed tome that I had been foolish in imagining that I had said anything in it,more than that you were extremely good-looking and that I could paint.Even now I cannot help feeling that it is a mistake to think that thepassion one feels in creation is ever really shown in the work onecreates. Art is more abstract than we fancy. Form and color tell usof form and color,--that is all. It often seems to me that artconceals the artist far more completely than it ever reveals him. Andso when I got this offer from Paris I determined to make your portraitthe principal thing in my exhibition. It never occurred to me that youwould refuse. I see now that you were right. The picture must not beshown. You must not be angry with me, Dorian, for what I have toldyou. As I said to Harry, once, you are made to be worshipped."

  Dorian Gray drew a long breath. The color came back to his cheeks, anda smile played about his lips. The peril was over. He was safe forthe time. Yet he could not help feeling infinite pity for the youngman who had just made this strange confession to him. He wondered ifhe would ever be so dominated by the personality of a friend. LordHarry had the charm of being very dangerous. But that was all. He wastoo clever and too cynical to be really fond of. Would there ever besome one who would fill him with a strange idolatry? Was that one ofthe things that life had in store?

  "It is extraordinary to me, Dorian," said Hallward, "that you shouldhave seen this in the picture. Did you really see it?"

  "Of course I did."

  "Well, you don't mind my looking at it now?"

  Dorian shook his head. "You must not ask me that, Basil. I could notpossibly let you stand in front of that picture."

  "You will some day, surely?"

  [58] "Never."

  "Well, perhaps you are right. And now good-by, Dorian. You have beenthe one person in my life of whom I have been really fond. I don'tsu
ppose I shall often see you again. You don't know what it cost me totell you all that I have told you."

  "My dear Basil," cried Dorian, "what have you told me? Simply that youfelt that you liked me too much. That is not even a compliment."

  "It was not intended as a compliment. It was a confession."

  "A very disappointing one."

  "Why, what did you expect, Dorian? You didn't see anything else in thepicture, did you? There was nothing else to see?"

  "No: there was nothing else to see. Why do you ask? But you mustn'ttalk about not meeting me again, or anything of that kind. You and Iare friends, Basil, and we must always remain so."

  "You have got Harry," said Hallward, sadly.

  "Oh, Harry!" cried the lad, with a ripple of laughter. "Harry spendshis days in saying what is incredible, and his evenings in doing whatis improbable. Just the sort of life I would like to lead. But stillI don't think I would go to Harry if I was in trouble. I would soonergo to you, Basil."

  "But you won't sit to me again?"


  "You spoil my life as an artist by refusing, Dorian. No man comesacross two ideal things. Few come across one."

  "I can't explain it to you, Basil, but I must never sit to you again. Iwill come and have tea with you. That will be just as pleasant."

  "Pleasanter for you, I am afraid," murmured Hallward, regretfully. "Andnow good-by. I am sorry you won't let me look at the picture onceagain. But that can't be helped. I quite understand what you feelabout it."

  As he left the room, Dorian Gray smiled to himself. Poor Basil! howlittle he knew of the true reason! And how strange it was that,instead of having been forced to reveal his own secret, he hadsucceeded, almost by chance, in wresting a secret from his friend! Howmuch that strange confession explained to him! Basil's absurd fits ofjealousy, his wild devotion, his extravagant panegyrics, his curiousreticences,--he understood them all now, and he felt sorry. There wassomething tragic in a friendship so colored by romance.

  He sighed, and touched the bell. The portrait must be hidden away atall costs. He could not run such a risk of discovery again. It hadbeen mad of him to have the thing remain, even for an hour, in a roomto which any of his friends had access.