was long past noon when he awoke. His valet had crept several
times on tiptoe into the room 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 Sevres 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 drowsily.
"One hour and a quarter,
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 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 unnecessary things are our only necessities;
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
After about ten minutes he got
up, and throwing on an elaborate dressing-gown of silk-embroidered
cashmere wool, passed into the onyx-paved bathroom. 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
the 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 that, filled with sulphur-yellow roses, stood before 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
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
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 round 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 wild desire to tell
him to remain. As the door was closing 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.
Then 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
ever before it had 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,
eyes other 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? Basil would be sure to do that. No; the 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 colour
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 is 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 the half-hour rang its double chime, but Dorian Gray 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 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
boy, 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,
Dorian," said Lord Henry as he entered. "But you must
not think too much about it."
"Do you mean about Sibyl
Vane?" asked the lad.
"Yes, of course," answered
Lord Henry, sinking into a chair and slowly pulling off his yellow
gloves. "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?"
"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 that nice curly hair of yours."
"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. You cut life to pieces
with your epigrams."
"You know nothing then?"
"What do you mean?"
Lord Henry walked across the
room, and sitting down by Dorian Gray, took both his hands in
his own 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 broke 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! How dare you say it?"
"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 début with a scandal. One should
reserve that to give an interest to one's old age. I suppose
they don't 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 stammered, in a
stifled voice, "Harry, did you say an inquest? What did
you mean by that? Did Sibyl ? Oh, 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. It seems that as she was leaving the theatre with
her mother, about half-past twelve or so, she said she had forgotten
something upstairs. 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
"Harry, Harry, it is terrible!"
cried the lad.
"Yes; 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 surely as if I had cut her little throat with a knife.
Yet 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. Suddenly
something happened that made me afraid. I can't tell you what
it was, but it was terrible. 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," answered
Lord Henry, taking a cigarette from his case and producing a
gold-latten matchbox, "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 pay for. I say nothing
about the social mistake, which would have been abject
which, of course, I would not have allowed 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 useless
attempts 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 the weak. That is all that can be said for them. They
are simply cheques that men draw on a bank where they have no
"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 during the last fortnight 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 Greek tragedy, a tragedy in which I
took a great 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 true 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 possesses 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 that 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 colour of life, but one should never remember its details.
Details are always vulgar."
"I must sow poppies in my
garden," sighed Dorian.
"There is no necessity,"
rejoined his companion. "Life has always poppies in her
hands. Of course, now and then things linger. I once wore nothing
but violets all through one season, as a form of artistic 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 asphodel. 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 their own 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 colours. 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 were 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. Conscience makes egotists of us all.
Yes; there is really no end to the consolations that women find
in modern life. Indeed, I have not mentioned the most important
"What is that, Harry?"
said the lad listlessly.
"Oh, the obvious consolation.
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 we all play
with, such as romance, passion, and love."
"I was terribly cruel to
her. You forget that."
"I am afraid that women
appreciate cruelty, downright 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 really and absolutely 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 holds the key to everything."
"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," muttered the lad, burying his face in his
"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
There was a silence. The evening
darkened in the room. Noiselessly, and with silver feet, the
shadows crept in from the garden. The colours faded wearily out
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
"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 old, 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 listlessly. "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-bye. 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, 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 over
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. Then
Death himself had touched her and taken her with him. How had
she played that dreadful last 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, on that horrible night at
the theatre. When he thought of her, it would be as a wonderful
tragic figure sent on to the world's stage to show the supreme
reality of love. A wonderful tragic figure? Tears came to his
eyes as he remembered her childlike look, and winsome fanciful
ways, and shy tremulous grace. He brushed 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 crept 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 monstrous 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 its 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 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 coloured 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.
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