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 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 house-keeper that he wanted to see her, and then
to go to the frame-maker and ask him to send two of his men round
at once. It seemed to him that as the man left the room his eyes
wandered in the direction of the screen. Or was that merely his
After a few moments, in her black
silk dress, with old-fashioned thread mittens on her wrinkled
hands, Mrs. Leaf bustled into the library. He asked her for the
key of the schoolroom.
"The old schoolroom, Mr.
Dorian?" she exclaimed. "Why, it is full of dust. I
must get it arranged and put straight before you go into it.
It is not fit for you to see, sir. It is not, indeed."
"I don't want it put straight,
Leaf. I only want the key."
"Well, sir, you'll be covered
with cobwebs if you go into it. Why, it hasn't been opened for
nearly five years not since his lordship died."
He winced at the mention of his
grandfather. He had hateful memories of him. "That does
not matter," he answered. "I simply want to see the
place that is all. Give me the key."
"And here is the key, sir,"
said the old lady, going over the contents of her bunch with
tremulously uncertain hands. "Here is the key. I'll have
it off the bunch in a moment. But you don't think of living up
there, sir, and you so comfortable here?"
"No, no," he cried
petulantly. "Thank you, Leaf. That will do."
She lingered for a few moments,
and was garrulous over some detail of the household. He sighed
and told her to manage things as she thought best. She left the
room, wreathed in smiles.
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 grandfather 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 nothing in it that was not noble and intellectual. 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
Michelangelo 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 judgement. 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. Hubbard himself, the celebrated frame-maker
of South Audley Street, came in with a somewhat rough-looking
young assistant. Mr. Hubbard was a florid, red-whiskered little
man, whose admiration for art was considerably 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 favour 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 honour 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 subject, Mr. Gray."
"I am so sorry you have
given yourself the trouble of coming round, Mr. Hubbard. I shall
certainly drop in and look at the frame though
I don't go in much at present 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 upstairs."
"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. Hubbard, 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.
Hubbard, who had the true tradesman's spirited 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.
"I am afraid it is rather
heavy," 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 Kelso for
the use of the little grandson whom, for his strange likeness
to his mother, and also for other reasons, he had always hated
and desired to keep at a distance. It appeared to Dorian to have
but little 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 the satinwood book-case filled with his dog-eared schoolbooks.
On the wall behind it was hanging the same 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 remembered it all! Every
moment of his lonely childhood came back to him as he looked
round. He recalled the stainless purity of his boyish life, and
it seemed horrible to him that it was here 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. Hour
by hour, and week by week, the thing upon the canvas was growing
old. It might escape the hideousness of sin, but 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 grandfather 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. Hubbard,
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. Hubbard," 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 shan'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.
Hubbard tramped downstairs, 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 the door and put the key in his
pocket. He felt safe now. No one would ever look upon 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 Lady Radley, his guardian's
wife, a pretty professional invalid 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 set back, and a blank space
was visible on the wall. Perhaps some night he might find him
creeping upstairs 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 shred 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. It drew
attention to 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, and tearing the paper
in two, went across the room and flung the pieces away. 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 report.
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-coloured octagonal stand that had always
looked to him like the work of some strange Egyptian bees that
wrought in silver, and taking up the volume, 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 that 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
Symbolistes. There were in it metaphors as monstrous as
orchids and as subtle in colour. 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 odour 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 reverie, a malady of dreaming, that made him unconscious of
the falling day and 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 much 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 how the time was going."
"Yes, 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, you have discovered
that?" murmured Lord Henry. And they passed into the dining-room.
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