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The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

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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. When you see Sibyl Vane you will feel that the man who
could wrong her would be a beast without a heart. I cannot
understand how any one can wish to shame what he loves. I love Sibyl
Vane. I wish to place her on a pedestal of gold, and to see the
world worship the woman who is mine. What is marriage? An
irrevocable vow. And it is an irrevocable vow that I want to take.
Her trust makes me faithful, her belief makes me good. When I am
with her, I regret all that you have taught me. I become different
from what you have known me to be. I am changed, and the mere touch
of Sibyl Vane's hand makes me forget you and all your wrong,
fascinating, poisonous, delightful theories."

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

"What nonsense you talk, Harry!" cried Dorian Gray, lighting his
cigarette from a fire-breathing silver dragon that the waiter had
placed on the table. "Let us go down to the theatre. When you see
Sibyl you will have a new ideal of life. She will represent
something to you that you have never known."

"I have known everything," said Lord Henry, with a sad look in his
eyes, "but I am always ready for a new emotion. I am afraid that
there is no such thing, for me at any rate. Still, your wonderful
girl may thrill me. I love acting. It is so much more real than
life. Let us go. Dorian, you will come with me.--I am so sorry,
Basil, but there is only 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. He
could not bear this marriage, and yet it seemed to him to be better
than many other things that might have happened. After a few
moments, they all passed down-stairs. He drove off by himself, as
had been arranged, and watched the flashing lights of the little
brougham in front of him. A strange sense of loss came over him.
[36] He felt that Dorian Gray would never again be to him all that he
had been in the past. His eyes darkened, and the crowded flaring
streets became blurred to him. When the cab drew up at the doors of
the theatre, it seemed to him that he had grown years older.

CHAPTER V

[...36] For some reason or other, the house was crowded that night,
and the fat Jew manager who met them at the door was beaming from ear
to ear with an oily, tremulous smile. He escorted them to their box
with a sort of pompous humility, waving his fat jewelled hands, and
talking at the top of his voice. Dorian Gray loathed him more than
ever. He felt 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 he declared he did, and insisted on shaking him by the hand,
and assured him that he was proud to meet a man who had discovered a
real genius and gone bankrupt over Shakespeare. Hallward amused
himself with watching the faces in the pit. The heat was terribly
oppressive, and the huge sunlight flamed like a monstrous dahlia with
petals of fire. The youths in the gallery had taken off their coats
and waistcoats and hung 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 shrill and 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 is
divine beyond all living things. When she acts you will forget
everything. These common people here, with their coarse faces and
brutal gestures, become quite different when she is on the stage.
They sit silently and watch her. They weep and laugh as she wills
them to do. 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 occupants
of the gallery through his opera-glass.

"Don't pay any attention to him, Dorian," said Hallward. "I
understand what you mean, and I believe in this girl. Any one you
love must be marvellous, and any girl that has the effect you
describe must be fine and 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, if she can create the sense of beauty in
people whose lives have been sordid and ugly, if she can strip them
of their selfishness and lend them tears for sorrows that are not
their own, she is worthy of all your adoration, worthy of the
adoration of the world. This marriage is quite right. I did not
think so at first, but I admit it now. God made Sibyl Vane for you.
Without her you would have been incomplete."

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

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

The scene was the hall of Capulet's house, and Romeo in his pilgrim's
dress had entered with Mercutio and his friends. The band, such as
it was, struck up a few bars of music, and the dance began. Through
the crowd of ungainly, shabbily-dressed actors, Sibyl Vane moved like
a creature from a finer world. Her body swayed, as she danced, as a
plant sways in the water. The curves of her throat were like the
curves 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 her
eyes 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 thoroughly
artificial manner. The voice was exquisite, but from the point of
view of tone it was absolutely false. It was wrong in color. It
took away all the life from the verse. It made the passion unreal.

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

Yet they felt that the true test of any Juliet is the balcony scene
of the second act. They waited for that. If she failed there, there
was nothing in her.

She looked charming as she came out in the moonlight. That could not
be denied. But the staginess of her acting was unbearable, and grew
worse as she went on. Her gestures became absurdly artificial. She
over-emphasized everything that she had to say. The beautiful
passage,--

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
has been taught to recite by some second-rate professor of elocution.
When she 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
not nervousness. Indeed, so far from being nervous, she seemed
absolutely self-contained. It was simply bad art. She was a
complete failure.

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

When the second act was over there came a storm of hisses, and Lord
Henry got up from his chair and put on his coat. "She is quite
beautiful, 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 an
evening, Harry. I apologize to both of you."

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

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

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

"They are both simply forms of imitation," murmured Lord Henry. "But
do let us go. Dorian, you must not stay here any longer. It is not
good for one's morals to see bad acting. Besides, I don't suppose
you will want your wife to act. So what does it matter if she plays
Juliet like a wooden doll? She is very lovely, and if she knows as
little about life as she does about acting, she will be a delightful
experience. There are only two kinds of people who are really
fascinating,--people who know absolutely everything, and people who
know absolutely nothing. Good heavens, my dear boy, don't look so
tragic! The secret of remaining young is never to have an emotion
that is unbecoming. Come to the club with Basil and myself. We will
smoke cigarettes 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 be alone.-
-Basil, you don't mind my asking you to go? Ah! can't you see that
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 up
against the wall, hiding his face in his hands.

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

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

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

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

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

The girl smiled. "Dorian," she answered, lingering over his name
with long-drawn music in her voice, as though it were sweeter than
honey to the red petals of her lips,--"Dorian, you should have
understood. But you 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 shall
never act well again."

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

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

"Dorian, Dorian," she cried, "before I knew you, acting was the one
reality of my life. It was only in the theatre that I lived. I
thought that it was all true. I was Rosalind one night, and Portia
the other. The joy of Beatrice was my joy, and the sorrows of
Cordelia were mine also. I believed in everything. The common
people who acted with 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, my beautiful love!--and you freed my soul from
prison. You taught me what reality really is. To-night, for the
first time in my life, I saw through the hollowness, the sham, the
silliness, of the empty pageant in which I had always played. To-
night, for the first time, I became conscious that the Romeo was
hideous, and old, and painted, that the moonlight in the orchard was
false, that the scenery was vulgar, and that the words I had to speak
were unreal, were not my words, not what I wanted to say. You had
brought me something higher, something of which all art is but a
reflection. You have made me understand what love really is. My
love! my love! I am sick [40] of shadows. You are more to me than
all art can ever be. What have I to do with the puppets of a play?
When I came on to-night, I could not understand how it was that
everything had gone from me. Suddenly it dawned on my soul what it
all meant. The knowledge was exquisite to me. I heard them hissing,
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 the
stage. I might mimic a passion that I do not feel, but I cannot
mimic one that burns me like fire. Oh, Dorian, Dorian, you
understand now what it all means? Even if I could do it, it would be
profanation for me 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
have killed my love," he muttered.

She looked at him in wonder, and laughed. He made no answer. She
came across to him, and stroked his hair with her little fingers.
She knelt down and pressed his hands to her lips. He drew them away,
and a shudder ran through him.

Then he leaped up, and went to the door. "Yes," he cried, "you have
killed my love. You used to stir my imagination. Now you don't even
stir my curiosity. You simply produce no effect. I loved you
because you were wonderful, because you had genius and intellect,
because you realized the dreams of great poets and gave shape and
substance to the shadows of art. You have thrown it all away. You
are shallow and stupid. 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 never think of you. I will never mention your name.
You don't know what you were 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 of my 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 you would have belonged to me.
What are you now? A third-rate actress with a 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
her face, came across the room to him. She put her hand upon his
arm, and looked 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 lay
there like a trampled flower. "Dorian, Dorian, don't leave me!" she
whispered. "I am so sorry I didn't act well. I was thinking of you
all the time. But I will try,--indeed, I will try. It came so
suddenly across me, my love for you. I think I should never have
known it if you had not kissed me,--if we had not kissed each other.
Kiss me again, my love. Don't go away from me. I couldn't bear it.
Can't you forgive 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 the world. After all, it is only once that I have not
pleased you. But you are quite right, Dorian. I should have shown
myself more of an artist. It was foolish of me; and yet I couldn't
help it. Oh, don't leave me, don't leave me." A fit of passionate
sobbing choked her. She crouched on the floor like a wounded thing,
and Dorian Gray, with his beautiful eyes, looked down at her, and his
chiselled lips curled in exquisite disdain. There is always
something ridiculous about the passions of people whom one has ceased
to love. Sibyl Vane seemed to him 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
wish to 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. Her
little 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 out of the theatre.

Where he went to, he hardly knew. He remembered wandering through
dimly-lit streets with gaunt black-shadowed archways and evil-looking
houses. Women with hoarse voices and harsh laughter had called after
him. Drunkards had reeled by cursing, and chattering to themselves
like monstrous apes. He had seen grotesque children huddled upon
door-steps, and had heard shrieks and oaths from gloomy courts.

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

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

He winced, and, taking up from the table an oval glass framed in
ivory Cupids, 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 it
again. There were no signs of any change when he looked into the
actual painting, and yet there was no doubt that the whole expression
had altered. It was not a mere fancy of his own. The thing was
horribly apparent.

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

Cruelty! Had he been cruel? It was the girl's fault, not his. He
had dreamed of her as a great artist, had given his love to her
because he had thought her great. Then she had disappointed him.
She had been shallow and unworthy. And, yet, a feeling of infinite
regret came over him, as he thought of her lying at his feet sobbing
like a little child. He remembered with what callousness he had
watched her. Why had 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 the play had lasted, he had lived centuries of
pain, aeon upon aeon of torture. His life was well worth hers. She
had marred him for a moment, if he had wounded her for an age.
Besides, women were better suited to bear sorrow than men. They
lived on their emotions. They only thought of their emotions. When
they took lovers, it was merely to have some one with whom they could
have scenes. Lord Henry had told him that, and Lord Henry knew what
women were. Why should he trouble about Sibyl Vane? She was nothing
to him now.

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

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

Yet it was watching him, with its beautiful marred face and its cruel
smile. Its bright hair gleamed in the early sunlight. Its blue eyes
met his own. A sense of infinite pity, not for himself, but for the
painted image of himself, came over him. It had altered already, and
would alter more. Its gold would wither into gray. Its red and
white roses would die. For every sin that he committed, a stain
would fleck and wreck its fairness. But he would not sin. The
picture, changed or unchanged, would be to him the visible emblem of
conscience. He would resist temptation. He would not see Lord Henry
any more,--would not, at any rate, listen to those subtle poisonous
theories that in Basil Hallward's garden had first stirred within him
the passion for impossible 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. She must have suffered more than he had. Poor child!
He had been selfish and cruel to her. The fascination that she had
exercised over him would return. They would be happy together. His
life with her would be beautiful and pure.

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

CHAPTER VI

[...43] It was long past noon when he awoke. His valet had crept
several times into the room on tiptoe to see if he was stirring, and
had wondered what made his young master sleep so late. Finally his
bell sounded, and Victor came in softly with a cup of tea, and a pile
of letters, on a small tray of old Svres china, and drew back the
olive-satin curtains, with their shimmering blue lining, that hung in
front of the three tall windows.

"Monsieur has well slept this morning," he said, smiling.

"What o'clock is it, Victor?" asked Dorian Gray, sleepily.

"One hour and a quarter, monsieur."

How late it was! He sat up, and, having sipped some tea, turned over
his letters. One of them was from Lord Henry, and had been brought
by hand that morning. He hesitated for a moment, and then put it
aside. The others he opened listlessly. They contained the usual
collection of cards, invitations to dinner, tickets for private
views, programmes of charity concerts, and the like, that are
showered on fashionable young men every morning during the season.
There was a [44] rather heavy bill, for a chased silver Louis-Quinze
toilet-set, that he had not yet had the courage to send on to his
guardians, who were extremely old-fashioned people and did not
realize that we live in an age when only unnecessary things are
absolutely necessary to us; and there were several very courteously
worded communications from Jermyn Street money-lenders offering to
advance any sum of money at a moment's notice and at the most
reasonable rates of interest.

After about ten minutes he got up, and, throwing on an elaborate
dressing-gown, passed into the onyx-paved bath-room. The cool water
refreshed him after his long sleep. He seemed to have forgotten all
that he had gone through. A dim sense of having taken part in some
strange tragedy came to him once or twice, but there was the
unreality of a dream about it.

As soon as he was dressed, he went into the library and sat down to a
light French breakfast, that had been laid out for him on a small
round table close to an open window. It was an exquisite day. The
warm air seemed laden with spices. A bee flew in, and buzzed round
the blue-dragon bowl, filled with sulphur-yellow roses, that stood in
front of him. He felt perfectly happy.

Suddenly his eye fell on the screen that he had placed in front of
the portrait, and he started.

"Too cold for Monsieur?" asked his valet, putting an omelette on the
table. "I shut the window?"

Dorian shook his head. "I am not cold," he murmured.

Was it all true? Had the portrait really changed? Or had it been
simply his own imagination that had made him see a look of evil where
there had been a look of joy? Surely a painted canvas could not
alter? The thing was absurd. It would serve as a tale to tell Basil
some day. It would make him smile.

And, yet, how vivid was his recollection of the whole thing! First
in the dim twilight, and then in the bright dawn, he had seen the
touch of cruelty in the warped lips. He almost dreaded his valet
leaving the room. He knew that when he was alone he would have to
examine the portrait. He was afraid of certainty. When the coffee
and cigarettes had been brought and the man turned to go, he felt a
mad desire to tell him to remain. As the door closed behind him he
called him back. The man stood waiting for his orders. Dorian
looked at him for a moment. "I am not at home to any one, Victor,"
he said, with a sigh. The man bowed and retired.

He rose from the table, lit a cigarette, and flung himself down on a
luxuriously-cushioned couch that stood facing the screen. The screen
was an old one of gilt Spanish leather, stamped and wrought with a
rather florid Louis-Quatorze pattern. He scanned it curiously,
wondering if it had ever before concealed the secret of a man's life.

Should he move it aside, after all? Why not let it stay there? What
was the use of knowing? If the thing was true, it was terrible. If
it was not true, why trouble about it? But what if, by some fate or
deadlier chance, other eyes than his spied behind, and saw the
horrible change? What should he do if Basil Hallward came and asked
to look at his own picture? He would be sure to do that. No; the
[45] thing had to be examined, and at once. Anything would be better
than this dreadful state of doubt.

He got up, and locked both doors. At least he would be alone when he
looked upon the mask of his shame. Then he drew the screen aside,
and saw himself face to face. It was perfectly true. The portrait
had altered.

As he often remembered afterwards, and always with no small wonder,
he found himself at first gazing at the portrait with a feeling of
almost scientific interest. That such a change should have taken
place was incredible to him. And yet it was a fact. Was there some
subtle affinity between the chemical atoms, that shaped themselves
into form and color on the canvas, and the soul that was within him?
Could it be that what that soul thought, they realized?--that what it
dreamed, they made true? Or was there some other, more terrible
reason? He shuddered, and felt afraid, and, going back to the couch,
lay there, gazing at the picture in sickened horror.

One thing, however, he felt that it had done for him. It had made
him conscious how unjust, how cruel, he had been to Sibyl Vane. It
was not too late to make reparation for that. She could still be his
wife. His unreal and selfish love would yield to some higher
influence, would be transformed into some nobler passion, and the
portrait that Basil Hallward had painted of him would be a guide to
him through life, would be to him what holiness was to some, and
conscience to others, and the fear of God to us all. There were
opiates for remorse, drugs that could lull the moral sense to sleep.
But here was a visible symbol of the degradation of sin. Here was an
ever-present sign of the ruin men brought upon their souls.

Three o'clock struck, and four, and half-past four, but he did not
stir. He was trying to gather up the scarlet threads of life, and to
weave them into a pattern; to find his way through the sanguine
labyrinth of passion through which he was wandering. He did not know
what to do, or what to think. Finally, he went over to the table and
wrote a passionate letter to the girl he had loved, imploring her
forgiveness, and accusing himself of madness. He covered page after
page with wild words of sorrow, and wilder words of pain. There is a
luxury in self-reproach. When we blame ourselves we feel that no one
else has a right to blame us. It is the confession, not the priest,
that gives us absolution. When Dorian Gray had finished the letter,
he felt that he had been forgiven.

Suddenly there came a knock to the door, and he heard Lord Henry's
voice outside. "My dear Dorian, I must see you. Let me in at once.
I can't bear your shutting yourself up like this."

He made no answer at first, but remained quite still. The knocking
still continued, and grew louder. Yes, it was better to let Lord
Henry in, and to explain to him the new life he was going to lead, to
quarrel with him if it became necessary to quarrel, to part if
parting was inevitable. He jumped up, drew the screen hastily across
the picture, and unlocked the door.

"I am so sorry for it all, my dear boy," said Lord Henry, coming in.
"But you must not think about it too much."

[46] "Do you mean about Sibyl Vane?" asked Dorian.

"Yes, of course," answered Lord Henry, sinking into a chair, and
slowly pulling his gloves off. "It is dreadful, from one point of
view, but it was not your fault. Tell me, did you go behind and see
her after the play was over?"

"Yes."

"I felt sure you had. Did you make a scene with her?"

"I was brutal, Harry,--perfectly brutal. But it is all right now. I
am not sorry for anything that has happened. It has taught me to
know myself better."

"Ah, Dorian, I am so glad you take it in that way! I was afraid I
would find you plunged in remorse, and tearing your nice hair."

"I have got through all that," said Dorian, shaking his head, and
smiling. "I am perfectly happy now. I know what conscience is, to
begin with. It is not what you told me it was. It is the divinest
thing in us. Don't sneer at it, Harry, any more,--at least not
before me. I want to be good. I can't bear the idea of my soul
being hideous."

"A very charming artistic basis for ethics, Dorian! I congratulate
you on it. But how are you going to begin?"

"By marrying Sibyl Vane."

"Marrying Sibyl Vane!" cried Lord Henry, standing up, and looking at
him in perplexed amazement. "But, my dear Dorian--"

"Yes, Harry, I know what you are going to say. Something dreadful
about marriage. Don't say it. Don't ever say things of that kind to
me again. Two days ago I asked Sibyl to marry me. I am not going to
break my word to her. She is to be my wife."

"Your wife! Dorian! . . . Didn't you get my letter? I wrote to you
this morning, and sent the note down, by my own man."

"Your letter? Oh, yes, I remember. I have not read it yet, Harry.
I was afraid there might be something in it that I wouldn't like."

Lord Henry walked across the room, and, sitting down by Dorian Gray,
took both his hands in his, and held them tightly. "Dorian," he
said, "my letter--don't be frightened--was to tell you that Sibyl
Vane is dead."

A cry of pain rose from the lad's lips, and he leaped to his feet,
tearing his hands away from Lord Henry's grasp. "Dead! Sibyl dead!
It is not true! It is a horrible lie!"

"It is quite true, Dorian," said Lord Henry, gravely. "It is in all
the morning papers. I wrote down to you to ask you not to see any
one till I came. There will have to be an inquest, of course, and
you must not be mixed up in it. Things like that make a man
fashionable in Paris. But in London people are so prejudiced. Here,
one should never make one's dbut with a scandal. One should reserve
that to give an interest to one's old age. I don't suppose they know
your name at the theatre. If they don't, it is all right. Did any
one see you going round to her room? That is an important point."

Dorian did not answer for a few moments. He was dazed with horror.
Finally he murmured, in a stifled voice, "Harry, did you say an
inquest? What did you mean by that? Did Sibyl--? Oh, [47] Harry, I
can't bear it! But be quick. Tell me everything at once."

"I have no doubt it was not an accident, Dorian, though it must be
put in that way to the public. As she was leaving the theatre with
her mother, about half-past twelve or so, she said she had forgotten
something up-stairs. They waited some time for her, but she did not
come down again. They ultimately found her lying dead on the floor
of her dressing-room. She had swallowed something by mistake, some
dreadful thing they use at theatres. I don't know what it was, but
it had either prussic acid or white lead in it. I should fancy it
was prussic acid, as she seems to have died instantaneously. It is
very tragic, of course, but you must not get yourself mixed up in it.
I see by the Standard that she was seventeen. I should have thought
she was almost younger than that. She looked such a child, and
seemed to know so little about acting. Dorian, you mustn't let this
thing get on your nerves. You must come and dine with me, and
afterwards we will look in at the Opera. It is a Patti night, and
everybody will be there. You can come to my sister's box. She has
got some smart women with her."

"So I have murdered Sibyl Vane," said Dorian Gray, half to himself,--
"murdered her as certainly as if I had cut her little throat with a
knife. And the roses are not less lovely for all that. The birds
sing just as happily in my garden. And to-night I am to dine with
you, and then go on to the Opera, and sup somewhere, I suppose,
afterwards. How extraordinarily dramatic life is! If I had read all
this in a book, Harry, I think I would have wept over it. Somehow,
now that it has happened actually, and to me, it seems far too
wonderful for tears. Here is the first passionate love-letter I have
ever written in my life. Strange, that my first passionate love-
letter should have been addressed to a dead girl. Can they feel, I
wonder, those white silent people we call the dead? Sibyl! Can she
feel, or know, or listen? Oh, Harry, how I loved her once! It seems
years ago to me now. She was everything to me. Then came that
dreadful night--was it really only last night?--when she played so
badly, and my heart almost broke. She explained it all to me. It
was terribly pathetic. But I was not moved a bit. I thought her
shallow. Then something happened that made me afraid. I can't tell
you what it was, but it was awful. I said I would go back to her. I
felt I had done wrong. And now she is dead. My God! my God! Harry,
what shall I do? You don't know the danger I am in, and there is
nothing to keep me straight. She would have done that for me. She
had no right to kill herself. It was selfish of her."

"My dear Dorian, the only way a woman can ever reform a man is by
boring him so completely that he loses all possible interest in life.
If you had married this girl you would have been wretched. Of course
you would have treated her kindly. One can always be kind to people
about whom one cares nothing. But she would have soon found out that
you were absolutely indifferent to her. And when a woman finds that
out about her husband, she either becomes dreadfully dowdy, or wears
very smart bonnets that some other woman's husband has to [48] pay
for. I say nothing about the social mistake, but I assure you that
in any case the whole thing would have been an absolute failure."

"I suppose it would," muttered the lad, walking up and down the room,
and looking horribly pale. "But I thought it was my duty. It is not
my fault that this terrible tragedy has prevented my doing what was
right. I remember your saying once that there is a fatality about
good resolutions,--that they are always made too late. Mine
certainly were."

"Good resolutions are simply a useless attempt to interfere with
scientific laws. Their origin is pure vanity. Their result is
absolutely nil. They give us, now and then, some of those luxurious
sterile emotions that have a certain charm for us. That is all that
can be said for them."

"Harry," cried Dorian Gray, coming over and sitting down beside him,
"why is it that I cannot feel this tragedy as much as I want to? I
don't think I am heartless. Do you?"

"You have done too many foolish things in your life to be entitled to
give yourself that name, Dorian," answered Lord Henry, with his
sweet, melancholy smile.

The lad frowned. "I don't like that explanation, Harry," he
rejoined, "but I am glad you don't think I am heartless. I am
nothing of the kind. I know I am not. And yet I must admit that
this thing that has happened does not affect me as it should. It
seems to me to be simply like a wonderful ending to a wonderful play.
It has all the terrible beauty of a great tragedy, a tragedy in which
I took part, but by which I have not been wounded."

"It is an interesting question," said Lord Henry, who found an
exquisite pleasure in playing on the lad's unconscious egotism,--"an
extremely interesting question. I fancy that the explanation is
this. It often happens that the real tragedies of life occur in such
an inartistic manner that they hurt us by their crude violence, their
absolute incoherence, their absurd want of meaning, their entire lack
of style. They affect us just as vulgarity affects us. They give us
an impression of sheer brute force, and we revolt against that.
Sometimes, however, a tragedy that has artistic elements of beauty
crosses our lives. If these elements of beauty are real, the whole
thing simply appeals to our sense of dramatic effect. Suddenly we
find that we are no longer the actors, but the spectators of the
play. Or rather we are both. We watch ourselves, and the mere
wonder of the spectacle enthralls us. In the present case, what is
it that has really happened? Some one has killed herself for love of
you. I wish I had ever had such an experience. It would have made
me in love with love for the rest of my life. The people who have
adored me--there have not been very many, but there have been some--
have always insisted on living on, long after I had ceased to care
for them, or they to care for me. They have become stout and
tedious, and when I meet them they go in at once for reminiscences.
That awful memory of woman! What a fearful thing it is! And what an
utter intellectual stagnation it reveals! One should absorb the
color of life, but one should never remember its details. Details
are always vulgar.

[49] "Of course, now and then things linger. I once wore nothing but
violets all through one season, as mourning for a romance that would
not die. Ultimately, however, it did die. I forget what killed it.
I think it was her proposing to sacrifice the whole world for me.
That is always a dreadful moment. It fills one with the terror of
eternity. Well,--would you believe it?--a week ago, at Lady
Hampshire's, I found myself seated at dinner next the lady in
question, and she insisted on going over the whole thing again, and
digging up the past, and raking up the future. I had buried my
romance in a bed of poppies. She dragged it out again, and assured
me that I had spoiled her life. I am bound to state that she ate an
enormous dinner, so I did not feel any anxiety. But what a lack of
taste she showed! The one charm of the past is that it is the past.
But women never know when the curtain has fallen. They always want a
sixth act, and as soon as the interest of the play is entirely over
they propose to continue it. If they were allowed to have their way,
every comedy would have a tragic ending, and every tragedy would
culminate in a farce. They are charmingly artificial, but they have
no sense of art. You are more fortunate than I am. I assure you,
Dorian, that not one of the women I have known would have done for me
what Sibyl Vane did for you. Ordinary women always console
themselves. Some of them do it by going in for sentimental colors.
Never trust a woman who wears mauve, whatever her age may be, or a
woman over thirty-five who is fond of pink ribbons. It always means
that they have a history. Others find a great consolation in
suddenly discovering the good qualities of their husbands. They
flaunt their conjugal felicity in one's face, as if it was the most
fascinating of sins. Religion consoles some. Its mysteries have all
the charm of a flirtation, a woman once told me; and I can quite
understand it. Besides, nothing makes one so vain as being told that
one is a sinner. There is really no end to the consolations that
women find in modern life. Indeed, I have not mentioned the most
important one of all."

"What is that, Harry?" said Dorian Gray, listlessly.

"Oh, the obvious one. Taking some one else's admirer when one loses
one's own. In good society that always whitewashes a woman. But
really, Dorian, how different Sibyl Vane must have been from all the
women one meets! There is something to me quite beautiful about her
death. I am glad I am living in a century when such wonders happen.
They make one believe in the reality of the things that shallow,
fashionable people play with, such as romance, passion, and love."

"I was terribly cruel to her. You forget that."

"I believe that women appreciate cruelty more than anything else.
They have wonderfully primitive instincts. We have emancipated them,
but they remain slaves looking for their masters, all the same. They
love being dominated. I am sure you were splendid. I have never
seen you angry, but I can fancy how delightful you looked. And,
after all, you said something to me the day before yesterday that
seemed to me at the time to be merely fanciful, but that I see now
was absolutely true, and it explains everything."

[50] "What was that, Harry?"

"You said to me that Sibyl Vane represented to you all the heroines
of romance--that she was Desdemona one night, and Ophelia the other;
that if she died as Juliet, she came to life as Imogen."

"She will never come to life again now," murmured the lad, burying
his face in his hands.

"No, she will never come to life. She has played her last part. But
you must think of that lonely death in the tawdry dressing-room
simply as a strange lurid fragment from some Jacobean tragedy, as a
wonderful scene from Webster, or Ford, or Cyril Tourneur. The girl
never really lived, and so she has never really died. To you at
least she was always a dream, a phantom that flitted through
Shakespeare's plays and left them lovelier for its presence, a reed
through which Shakespeare's music sounded richer and more full of
joy. The moment she touched actual life, she marred it, and it
marred her, and so she passed away. Mourn for Ophelia, if you like.
Put ashes on your head because Cordelia was strangled. Cry out
against Heaven because the daughter of Brabantio died. But don't
waste your tears over Sibyl Vane. She was less real than they are."

There was a silence. The evening darkened in the room. Noiselessly,
and with silver feet, the shadows crept in from the garden. The
colors faded wearily out of things.

After some time Dorian Gray looked up. "You have explained me to
myself, Harry," he murmured, with something of a sigh of relief. "I
felt all that you have said, but somehow I was afraid of it, and I
could not express it to myself. How well you know me! But we will
not talk again of what has happened. It has been a marvellous
experience. That is all. I wonder if life has still in store for me
anything as marvellous."

"Life has everything in store for you, Dorian. There is nothing that
you, with your extraordinary good looks, will not be able to do."

"But suppose, Harry, I became haggard, and gray, and wrinkled? What
then?"

"Ah, then," said Lord Henry, rising to go,--"then, my dear Dorian,
you would have to fight for your victories. As it is, they are
brought to you. No, you must keep your good looks. We live in an
age that reads too much to be wise, and that thinks too much to be
beautiful. We cannot spare you. And now you had better dress, and
drive down to the club. We are rather late, as it is."

"I think I shall join you at the Opera, Harry. I feel too tired to
eat anything. What is the number of your sister's box?"

"Twenty-seven, I believe. It is on the grand tier. You will see her
name on the door. But I am sorry you won't come and dine."

"I don't feel up to it," said Dorian, wearily. "But I am awfully
obliged to you for all that you have said to me. You are certainly
my best friend. No one has ever understood me as you have."

"We are only at the beginning of our friendship, Dorian," answered
Lord Henry, shaking him by the hand. "Good-by. I shall see you
before nine-thirty, I hope. Remember, Patti is singing."

As he closed the door behind him, Dorian Gray touched the bell, [51]
and in a few minutes Victor appeared with the lamps and drew the
blinds down. He waited impatiently for him to go. The man seemed to
take an interminable time about everything.

As soon as he had left, he rushed to the screen, and drew it back.
No; there was no further change in the picture. It had received the
news of Sibyl Vane's death before he had known of it himself. It was
conscious of the events of life as they occurred. The vicious
cruelty that marred the fine lines of the mouth had, no doubt,
appeared at the very moment that the girl had drunk the poison,
whatever it was. Or was it indifferent to results? Did it merely
take cognizance of what passed within the soul? he wondered, and
hoped that some day he would see the change taking place before his
very eyes, shuddering as he hoped it.

Poor Sibyl! what a romance it had all been! She had often mimicked
death on the stage, and at last Death himself had touched her, and
brought her with him. How had she played that dreadful scene? Had
she cursed him, as she died? No; she had died for love of him, and
love would always be a sacrament to him now. She had atoned for
everything, by the sacrifice she had made of her life. He would not
think any more of what she had made him go through, that horrible
night at the theatre. When he thought of her, it would be as a
wonderful tragic figure to show Love had been a great reality. A
wonderful tragic figure? Tears came to his eyes as he remembered her
child-like look and winsome fanciful ways and shy tremulous grace.
He wiped them away hastily, and looked again at the picture.

He felt that the time had really come for making his choice. Or had
his choice already been made? Yes, life had decided that for him,--
life, and his own infinite curiosity about life. Eternal youth,
infinite passion, pleasures subtle and secret, wild joys and wilder
sins,--he was to have all these things. The portrait was to bear the
burden of his shame: that was all.

A feeling of pain came over him as he thought of the desecration that
was in store for the fair face on the canvas. Once, in boyish
mockery of Narcissus, he had kissed, or feigned to kiss, those
painted lips that now smiled so cruelly at him. Morning after
morning he had sat before the portrait wondering at its beauty,
almost enamoured of it, as it seemed to him at times. Was it to
alter now with every mood to which he yielded? Was it to become a
hideous and loathsome thing, to be hidden away in a locked room, to
be shut out from the sunlight that had so often touched to brighter
gold the waving wonder of the hair? The pity of it! the pity of it!

For a moment he thought of praying that the horrible sympathy that
existed between him and the picture might cease. It had changed in
answer to a prayer; perhaps in answer to a prayer it might remain
unchanged. And, yet, who, that knew anything about Life, would
surrender the chance of remaining always young, however fantastic
that chance might be, or with what fateful consequences it might be
fraught? Besides, was it really under his control? Had it indeed
been prayer that had produced the substitution? Might there not be
some curious scientific reason for it all? If thought could exercise
its [52] influence upon a living organism, might not thought exercise
an influence upon dead and inorganic things? Nay, without thought or
conscious desire, might not things external to ourselves vibrate in
unison with our moods and passions, atom calling to atom, in secret
love or strange affinity? But the reason was of no importance. He
would never again tempt by a prayer any terrible power. If the
picture was to alter, it was to alter. That was all. Why inquire
too closely into it?

For there would be a real pleasure in watching it. He would be able
to follow his mind into its secret places. This portrait would be to
him the most magical of mirrors. As it had revealed to him his own
body, so it would reveal to him his own soul. And when winter came
upon it, he would still be standing where spring trembles on the
verge of summer. When the blood crept from its face, and left behind
a pallid mask of chalk with leaden eyes, he would keep the glamour of
boyhood. Not one blossom of his loveliness would ever fade. Not one
pulse of his life would ever weaken. Like the gods of the Greeks, he
would be strong, and fleet, and joyous. What did it matter what
happened to the colored image on the canvas? He would be safe. That
was everything.

He drew the screen back into its former place in front of the
picture, smiling as he did so, and passed into his bedroom, where his
valet was already waiting for him. An hour later he was at the
Opera, and Lord Henry was leaning over his chair.

CHAPTER VII

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

"I am so glad I have found you, Dorian," he said, gravely. "I called
last night, and they told me you were at the Opera. Of course I knew
that was impossible. But I wish you had left word where you had
really gone to. I passed a dreadful evening, half afraid that one
tragedy might be followed by another. I think you might have
telegraphed for me when you heard of it first. I read of it quite by
chance in a late edition of the Globe, that I picked up at the club.
I came here at once, and was miserable at not finding you. I can't
tell you how heart-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 a moment I thought of following you there. They
gave the address in the paper. Somewhere in the Euston Road, isn't
it? But I was afraid of intruding upon a sorrow that I could not
lighten. Poor woman! What a state she must be in! And her only
child, too! What did she say about it all?"

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

"You went to the Opera?" said Hallward, speaking very slowly, and
with a strained touch of pain in his voice. "You went to the Opera
while Sibyl Vane was lying dead in some sordid lodging? You can talk
to me of other women being charming, and of Patti singing divinely,
before the 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 is
past is past."

"You call yesterday the past?"

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

"Dorian, this is horrible! Something has changed you completely.
You look 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 the whole world. Now, I don't know what has come over you. You
talk as if you had no heart, no pity in you. It is all Harry's
influence. I see that."

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 me to 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. "I
don'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 his
shoulder, "you have come too late. Yesterday when I heard that Sibyl
Vane had killed herself--"

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

"My dear Basil! Surely you don't think it was a vulgar accident? Of
course she killed herself It is one of the great romantic tragedies
of the age. As a rule, people who act lead the most commonplace
lives. They are good husbands, or faithful wives, or something
tedious. You know what I mean,--middle-class virtue, and all that
kind of thing. How different Sibyl was! She lived her finest
tragedy. She was always a heroine. The last night she played--the
night you saw her--she acted badly because she had known the reality
of love. When she knew its unreality, she died, as Juliet might have
died. She passed again into the sphere of art. There is something
of the martyr about her. Her death has all the pathetic uselessness
of [54] martyrdom, all its wasted beauty. But, as I was saying, you
must not think I have not suffered. If you had come in yesterday at
a particular moment,--about half-past five, perhaps, or a quarter to
six,--you would have found me in 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 it passed away. I cannot repeat
an emotion. No one can, except sentimentalists. And you are awfully
unjust, Basil. You come down here to console me. That is charming
of you. You find me consoled, and you are furious. How like a
sympathetic person! You remind me of a story Harry told me about a
certain philanthropist who spent twenty years of his life in trying
to get some grievance redressed, or some unjust law altered,--I
forget exactly what it was. Finally he succeeded, and nothing could
exceed his disappointment. He had absolutely nothing to do, almost
died of ennui, and became a confirmed misanthrope. And besides, my
dear old Basil, if you really want to console me, teach me rather to
forget what has happened, or to see it from a proper artistic point
of view. Was it not Gautier who used to write about la consolation
des arts? I remember picking up a little vellum-covered book in your
studio one day and chancing on that delightful phrase. Well, I am
not like that young man you told me of when we were down at Marlowe
together, the young man who used to say that yellow satin could
console one for all the miseries of life. I love 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 the artistic temperament that
they create, or at any rate reveal, is still more 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 my talking 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 new passions,
new thoughts, new ideas. I am different, but you must not like me
less. I am changed, but you must always be my friend. Of course I
am very fond of Harry. But I know that you are better than he is.
You are not stronger,--you are too much afraid of life,--but you are
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 nothing
more to be said."

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

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

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

"But surely she did?"

"Only my Christian name, and that I am quite sure she never mentioned
to any one. She told me once that they were all rather curious to
learn who I was, and that she invariably told them my name was Prince
Charming. 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
of a few kisses and some broken pathetic words."

"I will try and do something, Dorian, if it would please you. But
you must 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!" he
exclaimed, starting back.

Hallward stared at him, "My dear boy, what nonsense!" he cried. "Do
you mean to say you don't like what I did of you? Where is it? Why
have you pulled the screen in front of it? Let me look at it. It is
the 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 felt the room looked different as I came in."

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

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

A cry of terror broke from Dorian Gray's lips, and he rushed between
Hallward and the screen. "Basil," he said, looking very pale, "you
must 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
at it?" exclaimed Hallward, laughing.

"If you try to look at it, Basil, on my word of honor I will never
speak to you again as long as I live. I am quite serious. I don't
offer 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 absolute
amazement. He had never seen him like this before. The lad was
absolutely pallid with rage. His hands were clinched, and the pupils
of his eyes were like disks of blue fire. He was trembling all over.

"Dorian!"

"Don't speak!"

"But what is the matter? Of course I won't look at it if you don't
want me to," he said, rather coldly, turning on his heel, and going
over towards the window. "But, really, it seems rather absurd that I
shouldn't see my own work, especially as I am going to exhibit it in
Paris in the autumn. I shall probably have to give it another coat
of varnish 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, a
strange sense of terror creeping over him. Was the world going [56]
to be 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 done at once.

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

Dorian Gray passed his hand over his forehead. There were beads of
perspiration there. He felt that he was on the brink of a horrible
danger. "You told me a month ago that you would never exhibit it,"
he said. "Why have you changed your mind? You people who go in for
being consistent have just as many moods as others. The only
difference is that your moods are rather meaningless. You can't have
forgotten that you assured me most solemnly that nothing in the world
would induce you to send it to any exhibition. You told Harry
exactly the same thing." He stopped suddenly, and a gleam of light
came into his eyes. He remembered that Lord Henry had said to him
once, half seriously and half 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 me why 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
in the face, "we have each of us a secret. Let me know yours, and I
will tell you mine. What was your reason for refusing to exhibit my
picture?"

Hallward shuddered in spite of himself. "Dorian, if I told you, you
might like me less than you do, and you would certainly laugh at me.
I could not bear your doing either of those two things. If you wish
me never to look at your picture again, I am content. I have always
you to look at. If you wish the best work I have ever done to be
hidden from the world, I am satisfied. Your friendship is dearer to
me than any fame or reputation."

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

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

"Basil!" cried the lad, clutching the arms of his chair with
trembling hands, 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 of
feeling than a man usually gives to a friend. Somehow, I had never
loved a woman. I suppose I never had time. Perhaps, as [57] Harry
says, a really 'grande passion' is the privilege of those who have
nothing 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 most
extraordinary influence over me. I quite admit that I adored you
madly, extravagantly, absurdly. I was jealous of every one to whom
you spoke. I wanted to have you all to myself. I was only happy
when I was with you. When I was away from you, you were still
present in my art. 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 been impossible. You would not have understood
it; I did not understand it myself. One day I determined to paint a
wonderful portrait of you. It was to have been my masterpiece. It
is my masterpiece. But, as I worked at it, every flake and film of
color seemed to me to reveal my secret. I grew afraid that the world
would know of my idolatry. I felt, Dorian, that I had told too much.
Then it was that I resolved never 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 I talked about it, laughed
at me. But I did not mind that. When the picture 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 I had got rid of the
intolerable fascination of its presence it seemed to me 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 the
passion one feels in creation is ever really shown in the work one
creates. Art is more abstract than we fancy. Form and color tell us
of form and color,--that is all. It often seems to me that art
conceals the artist far more completely than it ever reveals him.
And so when I got this offer from Paris I determined to make your
portrait the principal thing in my exhibition. It never occurred to
me that you would refuse. I see now that you were right. The
picture must not be shown. You must not be angry with me, Dorian,
for what I have told you. 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,
and a smile played about his lips. The peril was over. He was safe
for the time. Yet he could not help feeling infinite pity for the
young man who had just made this strange confession to him. He
wondered if he would ever be so dominated by the personality of a
friend. Lord Harry had the charm of being very dangerous. But that
was all. He was too clever and too cynical to be really fond of.
Would there ever be some one who would fill him with a strange
idolatry? Was that one of the things that life had in store?

"It is extraordinary to me, Dorian," said Hallward, "that you should
have 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
not possibly 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
been the one person in my life of whom I have been really fond. I
don't suppose I shall often see you again. You don't know what it
cost me to tell you all that I have told you."

"My dear Basil," cried Dorian, "what have you told me? Simply that
you felt 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
the picture, did you? There was nothing else to see?"

"No: there was nothing else to see. Why do you ask? But you mustn't
talk about not meeting me again, or anything of that kind. You and I
are 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 spends
his days in saying what is incredible, and his evenings in doing what
is improbable. Just the sort of life I would like to lead. But
still I don't think I would go to Harry if I was in trouble. I would
sooner go to you, Basil."

"But you won't sit to me again?"

"Impossible!"

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

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

"Pleasanter for you, I am afraid," murmured Hallward, regretfully.
"And now good-by. I am sorry you won't let me look at the picture
once again. But that can't be helped. I quite understand what you
feel about it."

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

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

CHAPTER VIII

[...58] When his servant entered, he looked at him steadfastly, and
wondered if he had thought of peering behind the screen. The man was
quite impassive, and waited for his orders. Dorian lit a cigarette,
[59] and walked over to the glass and glanced into it. He could see
the reflection of Victor's face perfectly. It was like a placid mask
of servility. There was nothing to be afraid of, there. Yet he
thought it best to be on his guard.

Speaking very slowly, he told him to tell the housekeeper that he
wanted to see her, and then to go to the frame-maker's and ask him to
send two of his men round at once. It seemed to him that as the man
left the room he peered in the direction of the screen. Or was that
only his fancy?

After a few moments, Mrs. Leaf, a dear old lady in a black silk
dress, with a photograph of the late Mr. Leaf framed in a large gold
brooch at her neck, and old-fashioned thread mittens on her wrinkled
hands, bustled into the room.

"Well, Master Dorian," she said, "what can I do for you? I beg your
pardon, sir,"--here came a courtesy,--"I shouldn't call you Master
Dorian any more. But, Lord bless you, sir, I have known you since
you were a baby, and many's the trick you've played on poor old Leaf.
Not that you were not always a good boy, sir; but boys will be boys,
Master Dorian, and jam is a temptation to the young, isn't it, sir?"

He laughed. "You must always call me Master Dorian, Leaf. I will be
very angry with you if you don't. And I assure you I am quite as
fond of jam now as I used to be. Only when I am asked out to tea I
am never offered any. I want you to give me the key of the room at
the top of the house."

"The old school-room, Master Dorian? Why, it's full of dust. I must
get it arranged and put straight before you go into it. It's not fit
for you to see, Master Dorian. It is not, indeed."

"I don't want it put straight, Leaf. I only want the key."

"Well, Master Dorian, you'll be covered with cobwebs if you goes into
it. Why, it hasn't been opened for nearly five years,--not since his
lordship died."

He winced at the mention of his dead uncle's name. He had hateful
memories of him. "That does not matter, Leaf," he replied. "All I
want is the key."

"And here is the key, Master Dorian," said the old lady, after going
over the contents of her bunch with tremulously uncertain hands.
"Here is the key. I'll have it off the ring in a moment. But you
don't think of living up there, Master Dorian, and you so comfortable
here?"

"No, Leaf, I don't. I merely want to see the place, and perhaps
store something in it,--that is all. Thank you, Leaf. I hope your
rheumatism is better; and mind you send me up jam for breakfast."

Mrs. Leaf shook her head. "Them foreigners doesn't understand jam,
Master Dorian. They calls it 'compot.' But I'll bring it to you
myself some morning, if you lets me."

"That will be very kind of you, Leaf," he answered, looking at the
key; and, having made him an elaborate courtesy, the old lady left
the room, her face wreathed in smiles. She had a strong objection to
the French valet. It was a poor thing, she felt, for any one to be
born a foreigner.

[60] As the door closed, Dorian put the key in his pocket, and looked
round the room. His eye fell on a large purple satin coverlet
heavily embroidered with gold, a splendid piece of late seventeenth-
century Venetian work that his uncle had found in a convent near
Bologna. Yes, that would serve to wrap the dreadful thing in. It
had perhaps served often as a pall for the dead. Now it was to hide
something that had a corruption of its own, worse than the corruption
of death itself,--something that would breed horrors and yet would
never die. What the worm was to the corpse, his sins would be to the
painted image on the canvas. They would mar its beauty, and eat away
its grace. They would defile it, and make it shameful. And yet the
thing would still live on. It would be always alive.

He shuddered, and for a moment he regretted that he had not told
Basil the true reason why he had wished to hide the picture away.
Basil would have helped him to resist Lord Henry's influence, and the
still more poisonous influences that came from his own temperament.
The love that he bore him--for it was really love--had something
noble and intellectual in it. It was not that mere physical
admiration of beauty that is born of the senses, and that dies when
the senses tire. It was such love as Michael Angelo had known, and
Montaigne, and Winckelmann, and Shakespeare himself. Yes, Basil
could have saved him. But it was too late now. The past could
always be annihilated. Regret, denial, or forgetfulness could do
that. But the future was inevitable. There were passions in him
that would find their terrible outlet, dreams that would make the
shadow of their evil real.

He took up from the couch the great purple-and-gold texture that
covered it, and, holding it in his hands, passed behind the screen.
Was the face on the canvas viler than before? It seemed to him that
it was unchanged; and yet his loathing of it was intensified. Gold
hair, blue eyes, and rose-red lips,--they all were there. It was
simply the expression that had altered. That was horrible in its
cruelty. Compared to what he saw in it of censure or rebuke, how
shallow Basil's reproaches about Sibyl Vane had been!--how shallow,
and of what little account! His own soul was looking out at him from
the canvas and calling him to judgment. A look of pain came across
him, and he flung the rich pall over the picture. As he did so, a
knock came to the door. He passed out as his servant entered.

"The persons are here, monsieur."

He felt that the man must be got rid of at once. He must not be
allowed to know where the picture was being taken to. There was
something sly about him, and he had thoughtful, treacherous eyes.
Sitting down at the writing-table, he scribbled a note to Lord Henry,
asking him to send him round something to read, and reminding him
that they were to meet at eight-fifteen that evening.

"Wait for an answer," he said, handing it to him, "and show the men
in here."

In two or three minutes there was another knock, and Mr. Ashton
himself, the celebrated frame-maker of South Audley Street, came in
with a somewhat rough-looking young assistant. Mr. Ashton was a
florid, red-whiskered little man, whose admiration for art was
considerably [61] tempered by the inveterate impecuniosity of most of
the artists who dealt with him. As a rule, he never left his shop.
He waited for people to come to him. But he always made an exception
in favor of Dorian Gray. There was something about Dorian that
charmed everybody. It was a pleasure even to see him.

"What can I do for you, Mr. Gray?" he said, rubbing his fat freckled
hands. "I thought I would do myself the honor of coming round in
person. I have just got a beauty of a frame, sir. Picked it up at a
sale. Old Florentine. Came from Fonthill, I believe. Admirably
suited for a religious picture, Mr. Gray."

"I am so sorry you have given yourself the trouble of coming round,
Mr. Ashton. I will certainly drop in and look at the frame,--though
I don't go in much for religious art,--but to-day I only want a
picture carried to the top of the house for me. It is rather heavy,
so I thought I would ask you to lend me a couple of your men."

"No trouble at all, Mr. Gray. I am delighted to be of any service to
you. Which is the work of art, sir?"

"This," replied Dorian, moving the screen back. "Can you move it,
covering and all, just as it is? I don't want it to get scratched
going up-stairs."

"There will be no difficulty, sir," said the genial frame-maker,
beginning, with the aid of his assistant, to unhook the picture from
the long brass chains by which it was suspended. "And, now, where
shall we carry it to, Mr. Gray?"

"I will show you the way, Mr. Ashton, if you will kindly follow me.
Or perhaps you had better go in front. I am afraid it is right at
the top of the house. We will go up by the front staircase, as it is
wider."

He held the door open for them, and they passed out into the hall and
began the ascent. The elaborate character of the frame had made the
picture extremely bulky, and now and then, in spite of the obsequious
protests of Mr. Ashton, who had a true tradesman's dislike of seeing
a gentleman doing anything useful, Dorian put his hand to it so as to
help them.

"Something of a load to carry, sir," gasped the little man, when they
reached the top landing. And he wiped his shiny forehead.

"A terrible load to carry," murmured Dorian, as he unlocked the door
that opened into the room that was to keep for him the curious secret
of his life and hide his soul from the eyes of men.

He had not entered the place for more than four years,--not, indeed,
since he had used it first as a play-room when he was a child and
then as a study when he grew somewhat older. It was a large, well-
proportioned room, which had been specially built by the last Lord
Sherard for the use of the little nephew whom, being himself
childless, and perhaps for other reasons, he had always hated and
desired to keep at a distance. It did not appear to Dorian to have
much changed. There was the huge Italian cassone, with its
fantastically-painted panels and its tarnished gilt mouldings, in
which he had so often hidden himself as a boy. There was the
satinwood bookcase filled with his dog-eared school-books. On the
wall behind it was hanging the same [62] ragged Flemish tapestry
where a faded king and queen were playing chess in a garden, while a
company of hawkers rode by, carrying hooded birds on their gauntleted
wrists. How well he recalled it all! Every moment of his lonely
childhood came back to him, as he looked round. He remembered the
stainless purity of his boyish life, and it seemed horrible to him
that it was here that the fatal portrait was to be hidden away. How
little he had thought, in those dead days, of all that was in store
for him!

But there was no other place in the house so secure from prying eyes
as this. He had the key, and no one else could enter it. Beneath
its purple pall, the face painted on the canvas could grow bestial,
sodden, and unclean. What did it matter? No one could see it. He
himself would not see it. Why should he watch the hideous corruption
of his soul? He kept his youth,--that was enough. And, besides,
might not his nature grow finer, after all? There was no reason that
the future should be so full of shame. Some love might come across
his life, and purify him, and shield him from those sins that seemed
to be already stirring in spirit and in flesh,--those curious
unpictured sins whose very mystery lent them their subtlety and their
charm. Perhaps, some day, the cruel look would have passed away from
the scarlet sensitive mouth, and he might show to the world Basil
Hallward's masterpiece.

No; that was impossible. The thing upon the canvas was growing old,
hour by hour, and week by week. Even if it escaped the hideousness
of sin, the hideousness of age was in store for it. The cheeks would
become hollow or flaccid. Yellow crow's-feet would creep round the
fading eyes and make them horrible. The hair would lose its
brightness, the mouth would gape or droop, would be foolish or gross,
as the mouths of old men are. There would be the wrinkled throat,
the cold blue-veined hands, the twisted body, that he remembered in
the uncle who had been so stern to him in his boyhood. The picture
had to be concealed. There was no help for it.

"Bring it in, Mr. Ashton, please," he said, wearily, turning round.
"I am sorry I kept you so long. I was thinking of something else."

"Always glad to have a rest, Mr. Gray," answered the frame-maker, who
was still gasping for breath. "Where shall we put it, sir?"

"Oh, anywhere, Here, this will do. I don't want to have it hung up.
Just lean it against the wall. Thanks."

"Might one look at the work of art, sir?"

Dorian started. "It would not interest you, Mr. Ashton," he said,
keeping his eye on the man. He felt ready to leap upon him and fling
him to the ground if he dared to lift the gorgeous hanging that
concealed the secret of his life. "I won't trouble you any more now.
I am much obliged for your kindness in coming round."

"Not at all, not at all, Mr. Gray. Ever ready to do anything for
you, sir." And Mr. Ashton tramped down-stairs, followed by the
assistant, who glanced back at Dorian with a look of shy wonder in
his rough, uncomely face. He had never seen any one so marvellous.

When the sound of their footsteps had died away, Dorian locked [63]
the door, and put the key in his pocket. He felt safe now. No one
would ever look on the horrible thing. No eye but his would ever see
his shame.

On reaching the library he found that it was just after five o'clock,
and that the tea had been already brought up. On a little table of
dark perfumed wood thickly incrusted with nacre, a present from his
guardian's wife, Lady Radley, who had spent the preceding winter in
Cairo, was lying a note from Lord Henry, and beside it was a book
bound in yellow paper, the cover slightly torn and the edges soiled.
A copy of the third edition of the St. James's Gazette had been
placed on the tea-tray. It was evident that Victor had returned. He
wondered if he had met the men in the hall as they were leaving the
house and had wormed out of them what they had been doing. He would
be sure to miss the picture,--had no doubt missed it already, while
he had been laying the tea-things. The screen had not been replaced,
and the blank space on the wall was visible. Perhaps some night he
might find him creeping up-stairs and trying to force the door of the
room. It was a horrible thing to have a spy in one's house. He had
heard of rich men who had been blackmailed all their lives by some
servant who had read a letter, or overheard a conversation, or picked
up a card with an address, or found beneath a pillow a withered
flower or a bit of crumpled lace.

He sighed, and, having poured himself out some tea, opened Lord
Henry's note. It was simply to say that he sent him round the
evening paper, and a book that might interest him, and that he would
be at the club at eight-fifteen. He opened the St. James's
languidly, and looked through it. A red pencil-mark on the fifth
page caught his eye. He read the following paragraph:

"INQUEST ON AN ACTRESS.--An inquest was held this morning at the Bell
Tavern, Hoxton Road, by Mr. Danby, the District Coroner, on the body
of Sibyl Vane, a young actress recently engaged at the Royal Theatre,
Holborn. A verdict of death by misadventure was returned.
Considerable sympathy was expressed for the mother of the deceased,
who was greatly affected during the giving of her own evidence, and
that of Dr. Birrell, who had made the post-mortem examination of the
deceased."

He frowned slightly, and, tearing the paper in two, went across the
room and flung the pieces into a gilt basket. How ugly it all was!
And how horribly real ugliness made things! He felt a little annoyed
with Lord Henry for having sent him the account. And it was
certainly stupid of him to have marked it with red pencil. Victor
might have read it. The man knew more than enough English for that.

Perhaps he had read it, and had begun to suspect something. And,
yet, what did it matter? What had Dorian Gray to do with Sibyl
Vane's death? There was nothing to fear. Dorian Gray had not killed
her.

His eye fell on the yellow book that Lord Henry had sent him. What
was it, he wondered. He went towards the little pearl-colored
octagonal stand, that had always looked to him like the work of some
[64] strange Egyptian bees who wrought in silver, and took the volume
up. He flung himself into an arm-chair, and began to turn over the
leaves. After a few minutes, he became absorbed. It was the
strangest book he had ever read. It seemed to him that in exquisite
raiment, and to the delicate sound of flutes, the sins of the world
were passing in dumb show before him. Things that he had dimly
dreamed of were suddenly made real to him. Things of which he had
never dreamed were gradually revealed.

It was a novel without a plot, and with only one character, being,
indeed, simply a psychological study of a certain young Parisian, who
spent his life trying to realize in the nineteenth century all the
passions and modes of thought that belonged to every century except
his own, and to sum up, as it were, in himself the various moods
through which the world-spirit had ever passed, loving for their mere
artificiality those renunciations that men have unwisely called
virtue, as much as those natural rebellions that wise men still call
sin. The style in which it was written was that curious jewelled
style, vivid and obscure at once, full of argot and of archaisms, of
technical expressions and of elaborate paraphrases, that
characterizes the work of some of the finest artists of the French
school of Dcadents. There were in it metaphors as monstrous as
orchids, and as evil in color. The life of the senses was described
in the terms of mystical philosophy. One hardly knew at times
whether one was reading the spiritual ecstasies of some mediaeval
saint or the morbid confessions of a modern sinner. It was a
poisonous book. The heavy odor of incense seemed to cling about its
pages and to trouble the brain. The mere cadence of the sentences,
the subtle monotony of their music, so full as it was of complex
refrains and movements elaborately repeated, produced in the mind of
the lad, as he passed from chapter to chapter, a form of revery, a
malady of dreaming, that made him unconscious of the falling day and
the creeping shadows.

Cloudless, and pierced by one solitary star, a copper-green sky
gleamed through the windows. He read on by its wan light till he
could read no more. Then, after his valet had reminded him several
times of the lateness of the hour, he got up, and, going into the
next room, placed the book on the little Florentine table that always
stood at his bedside, and began to dress for dinner.

It was almost nine o'clock before he reached the club, where he found
Lord Henry sitting alone, in the morning-room, looking very bored.

"I am so sorry, Harry," he cried, "but really it is entirely your
fault. That book you sent me so fascinated me that I forgot what the
time was."

"I thought you would like it," replied his host, rising from his
chair.

"I didn't say I liked it, Harry. I said it fascinated me. There is
a great difference."

"Ah, if you have discovered that, you have discovered a great deal,"
murmured Lord Henry, with his curious smile. "Come, let us go in to
dinner. It is dreadfully late, and I am afraid the champagne will be
too much iced."

CHAPTER IX

[65] For years, Dorian Gray could not free himself from the memory of
this book. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he never
sought to free himself from it. He procured from Paris no less than
five large-paper copies of the first edition, and had them bound in
different colors, so that they might suit his various moods and the
changing fancies of a nature over which he seemed, at times, to have
almost entirely lost control. The hero, the wonderful young
Parisian, in whom the romantic temperament and the scientific
temperament were so strangely blended, became to him a kind of
prefiguring type of himself. And, indeed, the whole book seemed to
him to contain the story of his own life, written before he had lived
it.

In one point he was more fortunate than the book's fantastic hero.
He never knew--never, indeed, had any cause to know--that somewhat
grotesque dread of mirrors, and polished metal surfaces, and still
water, which came upon the young Parisian so early in his life, and
was occasioned by the sudden decay of a beauty that had once,
apparently, been so remarkable. It was with an almost cruel joy--and
perhaps in nearly every joy, as certainly in every pleasure, cruelty
has its place--that he used to read the latter part of the book, with
its really tragic, if somewhat over-emphasized, account of the sorrow
and despair of one who had himself lost what in others, and in the
world, he had most valued.

He, at any rate, had no cause to fear that. The boyish beauty that
had so fascinated Basil Hallward, and many others besides him, seemed
never to leave him. Even those who had heard the most evil things
against him (and from time to time strange rumors about his mode of
life crept through London and became the chatter of the clubs) could
not believe anything to his dishonor when they saw him. He had
always the look of one who had kept himself unspotted from the world.
Men who talked grossly became silent when Dorian Gray entered the
room. There was something in the purity of his face that rebuked
them. His mere presence seemed to recall to them the innocence that
they had tarnished. They wondered how one so charming and graceful
as he was could have escaped the stain of an age that was at once
sordid and sensuous.

He himself, on returning home from one of those mysterious and
prolonged absences that gave rise to such strange conjecture among
those who were his friends, or thought that they were so, would creep
up-stairs to the locked room, open the door with the key that never
left him, and stand, with a mirror, in front of the portrait that
Basil Hallward had painted of him, looking now at the evil and aging
face on the canvas, and now at the fair young face that laughed back
at him from the polished glass. The very sharpness of the contrast
used to quicken his sense of pleasure. He grew more and more
enamoured of his own beauty, more and more interested in the
corruption of his own soul. He would examine with minute care, and
often with a monstrous and terrible delight, the hideous lines that
seared the wrinkling forehead or crawled around the heavy sensual
mouth, [66] wondering sometimes which were the more horrible, the
signs of sin or the signs of age. He would place his white hands
beside the coarse bloated hands of the picture, and smile. He mocked
the misshapen body and the failing limbs.

There were moments, indeed, at night, when, lying sleepless in his
own delicately-scented chamber, or in the sordid room of the little
ill-famed tavern near the Docks, which, under an assumed name, and in
disguise, it was his habit to frequent, he would think of the ruin he
had brought upon his soul, with a pity that was all the more poignant
because it was purely selfish. But moments such as these were rare.
That curiosity about life that, many years before, Lord Henry had
first stirred in him, as they sat together in the garden of their
friend, seemed to increase with gratification. The more he knew, the
more he desired to know. He had mad hungers that grew more ravenous
as he fed them.

Yet he was not really reckless, at any rate in his relations to
society. Once or twice every month during the winter, and on each
Wednesday evening while the season lasted, he would throw open to the
world his beautiful house and have the most celebrated musicians of
the day to charm his guests with the wonders of their art. His
little dinners, in the settling of which Lord Henry always assisted
him, were noted as much for the careful selection and placing of
those invited, as for the exquisite taste shown in the decoration of
the table, with its subtle symphonic arrangements of exotic flowers,
and embroidered cloths, and antique plate of gold and silver.
Indeed, there were many, especially among the very young men, who
saw, or fancied that they saw, in Dorian Gray the true realization of
a type of which they had often dreamed in Eton or Oxford days, a type
that was to combine something of the real culture of the scholar with
all the grace and distinction and perfect manner of a citizen of the
world. To them he seemed to belong to those whom Dante describes as
having sought to "make themselves perfect by the worship of beauty."
Like Gautier, he was one for whom "the visible world existed."

And, certainly, to him life itself was the first, the greatest, of
the arts, and for it all the other arts seemed to be but a
preparation. Fashion, by which what is really fantastic becomes for
a moment universal, and Dandyism, which, in its own way, is an
attempt to assert the absolute modernity of beauty, had, of course,
their fascination for him. His mode of dressing, and the particular
styles that he affected from time to time, had their marked influence
on the young exquisites of the Mayfair balls and Pall Mall club
windows, who copied him in everything that he did, and tried to
reproduce the accidental charm of his graceful, though to him only
half-serious, fopperies.

For, while he was but too ready to accept the position that was
almost immediately offered to him on his coming of age, and found,
indeed, a subtle pleasure in the thought that he might really become
to the London of his own day what to imperial Neronian Rome the
author of the "Satyricon" had once been, yet in his inmost heart he
desired to be something more than a mere arbiter elegantiarum, to be
consulted on the wearing of a jewel, or the knotting of a necktie, or
[67] the conduct of a cane. He sought to elaborate some new scheme
of life that would have its reasoned philosophy and its ordered
principles and find in the spiritualizing of the senses its highest
realization.

The worship of the senses has often, and with much justice, been
decried, men feeling a natural instinct of terror about passions and
sensations that seem stronger than ourselves, and that we are
conscious of sharing with the less highly organized forms of
existence. But it appeared to Dorian Gray that the true nature of
the senses had never been understood, and that they had remained
savage and animal merely because the world had sought to starve them
into submission or to kill them by pain, instead of aiming at making
them elements of a new spirituality, of which a fine instinct for
beauty was to be the dominant characteristic. As he looked back upon
man moving through History, he was haunted by a feeling of loss. So
much had been surrendered! and to such little purpose! There had
been mad wilful rejections, monstrous forms of self-torture and self-
denial, whose origin was fear, and whose result was a degradation
infinitely more terrible than that fancied degradation from which, in
their ignorance, they had sought to escape, Nature in her wonderful
irony driving the anchorite out to herd with the wild animals of the
desert and giving to the hermit the beasts of the field as his
companions.

Yes, there was to be, as Lord Henry had prophesied, a new hedonism
that was to re-create life, and to save it from that harsh, uncomely
puritanism that is having, in our own day, its curious revival. It
was to have its service of the intellect, certainly; yet it was never
to accept any theory or system that would involve the sacrifice of
any mode of passionate experience. Its aim, indeed, was to be
experience itself, and not the fruits of experience, sweet or bitter
as they might be. Of the asceticism that deadens the senses, as of
the vulgar profligacy that dulls them, it was to know nothing. But
it was to teach man to concentrate himself upon the moments of a life
that is itself but a moment.

There are few of us who have not sometimes wakened before dawn,
either after one of those dreamless nights that make one almost
enamoured of death, or one of those nights of horror and misshapen
joy, when through the chambers of the brain sweep phantoms more
terrible than reality itself, and instinct with that vivid life that
lurks in all grotesques, and that lends to Gothic art its enduring
vitality, this art being, one might fancy, especially the art of
those whose minds have been troubled with the malady of revery.
Gradually white fingers creep through the curtains, and they appear
to tremble. Black fantastic shadows crawl into the corners of the
room, and crouch there. Outside, there is the stirring of birds
among the leaves, or the sound of men going forth to their work, or
the sigh and sob of the wind coming down from the hills, and
wandering round the silent house, as though it feared to wake the
sleepers. Veil after veil of thin dusky gauze is lifted, and by
degrees the forms and colors of things are restored to them, and we
watch the dawn remaking the world in its antique pattern. The wan
mirrors get back their mimic life. The flameless tapers stand where
we have left them, and beside them [68] lies the half-read book that
we had been studying, or the wired flower that we had worn at the
ball, or the letter that we had been afraid to read, or that we had
read too often. Nothing seems to us changed. Out of the unreal
shadows of the night comes back the real life that we had known. We
have to resume it where we had left off, and there steals over us a
terrible sense of the necessity for the continuance of energy in the
same wearisome round of stereotyped habits, or a wild longing, it may
be, that our eyelids might open some morning upon a world that had
been re-fashioned anew for our pleasure in the darkness, a world in
which things would have fresh shapes and colors, and be changed, or
have other secrets, a world in which the past would have little or no
place, or survive, at any rate, in no conscious form of obligation or
regret, the remembrance even of joy having its bitterness, and the
memories of pleasure their pain.

It was the creation of such worlds as these that seemed to Dorian
Gray to be the true object, or among the true objects, of life; and
in his search for sensations that would be at once new and
delightful, and possess that element of strangeness that is so
essential to romance, he would often adopt certain modes of thought
that he knew to be really alien to his nature, abandon himself to
their subtle influences, and then, having, as it were, caught their
color and satisfied his intellectual curiosity, leave them with that
curious indifference that is not incompatible with a real ardor of
temperament, and that indeed, according to certain modern
psychologists, is often a condition of it.

It was rumored of him once that he was about to join the Roman
Catholic communion; and certainly the Roman ritual had always a great
attraction for him. The daily sacrifice, more awful really than all
the sacrifices of the antique world, stirred him as much by its
superb rejection of the evidence of the senses as by the primitive
simplicity of its elements and the eternal pathos of the human
tragedy that it sought to symbolize. He loved to kneel down on the
cold marble pavement, and with the priest, in his stiff flowered
cope, slowly and with white hands moving aside the veil of the
tabernacle, and raising aloft the jewelled lantern-shaped monstrance
with that pallid wafer that at times, one would fain think, is indeed
the "panis caelestis," the bread of angels, or, robed in the garments
of the Passion of Christ, breaking the Host into the chalice, and
smiting his breast for his sins. The fuming censers, that the grave
boys, in their lace and scarlet, tossed into the air like great gilt
flowers, had their subtle fascination for him. As he passed out, he
used to look with wonder at the black confessionals, and long to sit
in the dim shadow of one of them and listen to men and women
whispering through the tarnished grating the true story of their
lives.

But he never fell into the error of arresting his intellectual
development by any formal acceptance of creed or system, or of
mistaking, for a house in which to live, an inn that is but suitable
for the sojourn of a night, or for a few hours of a night in which
there are no stars and the moon is in travail. Mysticism, with its
marvellous power of making common things strange to us, and the
subtle antinomianism that always seems to accompany it, moved him for
a season; and for a [69] season he inclined to the materialistic
doctrines of the Darwinismus movement in Germany, and found a curious
pleasure in tracing the thoughts and passions of men to some pearly
cell in the brain, or some white nerve in the body, delighting in the
conception of the absolute dependence of the spirit on certain
physical conditions, morbid or healthy, normal or diseased. Yet, as
has been said of him before, no theory of life seemed to him to be of
any importance compared with life itself. He felt keenly conscious
of how barren all intellectual speculation is when separated from
action and experiment. He knew that the senses, no less than the
soul, have their mysteries to reveal.

And so he would now study perfumes, and the secrets of their
manufacture, distilling heavily-scented oils, and burning odorous
gums from the East. He saw that there was no mood of the mind that
had not its counterpart in the sensuous life, and set himself to
discover their true relations, wondering what there was in
frankincense that made one mystical, and in ambergris that stirred
one's passions, and in violets that woke the memory of dead romances,
and in musk that troubled the brain, and in champak that stained the
imagination; and seeking often to elaborate a real psychology of
perfumes, and to estimate the several influences of sweet-smelling
roots, and scented pollen-laden flowers, of aromatic balms, and of
dark and fragrant woods, of spikenard that sickens, of hovenia that
makes men mad, and of aloes that are said to be able to expel
melancholy from the soul.

At another time he devoted himself entirely to music, and in a long
latticed room, with a vermilion-and-gold ceiling and walls of olive-
green lacquer, he used to give curious concerts in which mad gypsies
tore wild music from little zithers, or grave yellow-shawled
Tunisians plucked at the strained strings of monstrous lutes, while
grinning negroes beat monotonously upon copper drums, or turbaned
Indians, crouching upon scarlet mats, blew through long pipes of reed
or brass, and charmed, or feigned to charm, great hooded snakes and
horrible horned adders. The harsh intervals and shrill discords of
barbaric music stirred him at times when Schubert's grace, and

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