evening, at eight-thirty, exquisitely dressed and wearing a large
button-hole of Parma violets, Dorian Gray was ushered into Lady
Narborough's drawing-room by bowing servants. His forehead was
throbbing with maddened nerves, and he felt wildly excited, but
his manner as he bent over his hostess's hand was as easy and
graceful as ever. Perhaps one never seems so much at one's ease
as when one has to play a part. Certainly no one looking at Dorian
Gray that night could have believed that he had passed through
a tragedy as horrible as any tragedy of our age. Those finely
shaped fingers could never have clutched a knife for sin, nor
those smiling lips have cried out on God and goodness. He himself
could not help wondering at the calm of his demeanour, and for
a moment felt keenly the terrible pleasure of a double life.
It was a small party, got up
rather in a hurry by Lady Narborough, who was a very clever woman
with what Lord Henry used to describe as the remains of really
remarkable ugliness. She had proved an excellent wife to one
of our most tedious ambassadors, and having buried her husband
properly in a marble mausoleum, which she had herself designed,
and married off her daughters to some rich, rather elderly men,
she devoted herself now to the pleasures of French fiction, French
cookery, and French esprit when she could get it.
Dorian was one of her especial
favourites, and she always told him that she was extremely glad
she had not met him in early life. "I know, my dear, I should
have fallen madly in love with you," she used to say, "and
thrown my bonnet right over the mills for your sake. It is most
fortunate that you were not thought of at the time. As it was,
our bonnets were so unbecoming, and the mills were so occupied
in trying to raise the wind, that I never had even a flirtation
with anybody. However, that was all Narborough's fault. He was
dreadfully short-sighted, and there is no pleasure in taking
in a husband who never sees anything."
Her guests this evening were
rather tedious. The fact was, as she explained to Dorian, behind
a very shabby fan, one of her married daughters had come up quite
suddenly to stay with her, and, to make matters worse, had actually
brought her husband with her. "I think it is most unkind
of her, my dear," she whispered. "Of course I go and
stay with them every summer after I come from Homburg, but then
an old woman like me must have fresh air sometimes, and besides,
I really wake them up. You don't know what an existence they
lead down there. It is pure unadulterated country life. They
get up early, because they have so much to do, and go to bed
early, because they have so little to think about. There has
not been a scandal in the neighbourhood since the time of Queen
Elizabeth, and consequently they all fall asleep after dinner.
You shan't sit next either of them. You shall sit by me and amuse
Dorian murmured a graceful compliment
and looked round the room. Yes: it was certainly a tedious party.
Two of the people he had never seen before, and the others consisted
of Ernest Harrowden, one of those middle-aged mediocrities so
common in London clubs who have no enemies, but are thoroughly
disliked by their friends; Lady Ruxton, an overdressed woman
of forty-seven, with a hooked nose, who was always trying to
get herself compromised, but was so peculiarly plain that to
her great disappointment no one would ever believe anything against
her; Mrs. Erlynne, a pushing nobody, with a delightful lisp and
Venetian-red hair; Lady Alice Chapman, his hostess's daughter,
a dowdy dull girl, with one of those characteristic British faces
that, once seen, are never remembered; and her husband, a red-cheeked,
white-whiskered creature who, like so many of his class, was
under the impression that inordinate joviality can atone for
an entire lack of ideas.
He was rather sorry he had come,
till Lady Narborough, looking at the great ormolu gilt clock
that sprawled in gaudy curves on the mauve-draped mantelshelf,
exclaimed: "How horrid of Henry Wotton to be so late! I
sent round to him this morning on chance and he promised faithfully
not to disappoint me."
It was some consolation that
Harry was to be there, and when the door opened and he heard
his slow musical voice lending charm to some insincere apology,
he ceased to feel bored.
But at dinner he could not eat
anything. Plate after plate went away untasted. Lady Narborough
kept scolding him for what she called "an insult to poor
Adolphe, who invented the menu specially for you," and now
and then Lord Henry looked across at him, wondering at his silence
and abstracted manner. From time to time the butler filled his
glass with champagne. He drank eagerly, and his thirst seemed
"Dorian," said Lord
Henry at last, as the chaudfroid was being handed round,
"what is the matter with you to-night? You are quite out
"I believe he is in love,"
cried Lady Narborough, and that he is afraid to tell me for fear
I should be jealous. He is quite right. I certainly should."
"Dear Lady Narborough,"
murmured Dorian, smiling, "I have not been in love for a
whole week not, in fact, since Madame de Ferrol
"How you men can fall in
love with that woman!" exclaimed the old lady. "I really
cannot understand it."
"It is simply because she
remembers you when you were a little girl, Lady Narborough,"
said Lord Henry. "She is the one link between us and your
"She does not remember my
short frocks at all, Lord Henry. But I remember her very well
at Vienna thirty years ago, and how decolletee she was
"She is still decolletee,"
he answered, taking an olive in his long fingers; "and when
she is in a very smart gown she looks like an édition
de luxe of a bad French novel. She is really wonderful, and
full of surprises. Her capacity for family affection is extraordinary.
When her third husband died, her hair turned quite gold from
"How can you, Harry!"
"It is a most romantic explanation,"
laughed the hostess. "But her third husband, Lord Henry!
You don't mean to say Ferrol is the fourth?"
"Certainly, Lady Narborough."
"I don't believe a word
"Well, ask Mr. Gray. He
is one of her most intimate friends."
"Is it true, Mr. Gray?"
"She assures me so, Lady
Narborough," said Dorian. "I asked her whether, like
Marguerite de Navarre, she had their hearts embalmed and hung
at her girdle. She told me she didn't, because none of them had
had any hearts at all."
"Four husbands! Upon my
word that is trop de zele."
"Trop d'audace, I
tell her," said Dorian.
"Oh! she is audacious enough
for anything, my dear. And what is Ferrol like? I don't know
"The husbands of very beautiful
women belong to the criminal classes," said Lord Henry,
sipping his wine.
Lady Narborough hit him with
her fan. "Lord Henry, I am not at all surprised that the
world says that you are extremely wicked."
"But what world says that?"
asked Lord Henry, elevating his eyebrows. "It can only be
the next world. This world and I are on excellent terms."
"Everybody I know says you
are very wicked," cried the old lady, shaking her head.
Lord Henry looked serious for
some moments. "It is perfectly monstrous," he said,
at last, "the way people go about nowadays saying things
against one behind one's back that are absolutely and entirely
"Isn't he incorrigible?"
cried Dorian, leaning forward in his chair.
"I hope so," said his
hostess, laughing. "But really, if you all worship Madame
de Ferrol in this ridiculous way, I shall have to marry again
so as to be in the fashion."
"You will never marry again,
Lady Narborough," broke in Lord Henry. "You were far
too happy. When a woman marries again, it is because she detested
her first husband. When a man marries again, it is because he
adored his first wife. Women try their luck; men risk theirs."
"Narborough wasn't perfect,"
cried the old lady.
"If he had been, you would
not have loved him, my dear lady," was the rejoinder. "Women
love us for our defects. If we have enough of them, they will
forgive us everything, even our intellects. You will never ask
me to dinner again after saying this, I am afraid, Lady Narborough,
but it is quite true."
"Of course it is true, Lord
Henry. If we women did not love you for your defects, where would
you all be? Not one of you would ever be married. You would be
a set of unfortunate bachelors. Not, however, that that would
alter you much. Nowadays all the married men live like bachelors,
and all the bachelors like married men."
"Fin de siècle,"
murmured Lord Henry.
"Fin du globe,"
answered his hostess.
"I wish it were fin du
globe," said Dorian with a sigh. "Life is a great
"Ah, my dear," cried
Lady Narborough, putting on her gloves, "don't tell me that
you have exhausted life. When a man says that one knows that
life has exhausted him. Lord Henry is very wicked, and I sometimes
wish that I had been; but you are made to be good
you look so good. I must find you a nice wife. Lord Henry, don't
you think that Mr. Gray should get married?"
"I am always telling him
so, Lady Narborough," said Lord Henry with a bow.
"Well, we must look out
for a suitable match for him. I shall go through Debrett carefully
to-night and draw out a list of all the eligible young ladies."
"With their ages, Lady Narborough?"
"Of course, with their ages,
slightly edited. But nothing must be done in a hurry. I want
it to be what The Morning Post calls a suitable alliance,
and I want you both to be happy."
"What nonsense people talk
about happy marriages!" exclaimed Lord Henry. "A man
can be happy with any woman, as long as he does not love her."
"Ah! what a cynic you are!"
cried the old lady, pushing back her chair and nodding to Lady
Ruxton. "You must come and dine with me soon again. You
are really an admirable tonic, much better than what Sir Andrew
prescribes for me. You must tell me what people you would like
to meet, though. I want it to be a delightful gathering."
"I like men who have a future
and women who have a past," he answered. "Or do you
think that would make it a petticoat party?"
"I fear so," she said,
laughing, as she stood up. "A thousand pardons, my dear
Lady Ruxton," she added, "I didn't see you hadn't finished
"Never mind, Lady Narborough.
I smoke a great deal too much. I am going to limit myself, for
"Pray don't, Lady Ruxton,"
said Lord Henry. "Moderation is a fatal thing. Enough is
as bad as a meal. More than enough is as good as a feast."
Lady Ruxton glanced at him curiously.
"You must come and explain that to me some afternoon, Lord
Henry. It sounds a fascinating theory," she murmured, as
she swept out of the room.
"Now, mind you don't stay
too long over your politics and scandal," cried Lady Narborough
from the door. "If you do, we are sure to squabble upstairs."
The men laughed, and Mr. Chapman
got up solemnly from the foot of the table and came up to the
top. Dorian Gray changed his seat and went and sat by Lord Henry.
Mr. Chapman began to talk in a loud voice about the situation
in the House of Commons. He guffawed at his adversaries. The
word doctrinaire word full of terror to
the British mind reappeared from time to time
between his explosions. An alliterative prefix served as an ornament
of oratory. He hoisted the Union Jack on the pinnacles of thought.
The inherited stupidity of the race sound English
common sense he jovially termed it was shown
to be the proper bulwark for society.
A smile curved Lord Henry's lips,
and he turned round and looked at Dorian.
"Are you better, my dear
fellow?" he asked. "You seemed rather out of sorts
"I am quite well, Harry.
I am tired. That is all."
"You were charming last
night. The little duchess is quite devoted to you. She tells
me she is going down to Selby."
"She has promised to come
on the twentieth."
"Is Monmouth to be there,
"Oh, yes, Harry."
"He bores me dreadfully,
almost as much as he bores her. She is very clever, too clever
for a woman. She lacks the indefinable charm of weakness. It
is the feet of clay that make the gold of the image precious.
Her feet are very pretty, but they are not feet of clay. White
porcelain feet, if you like. They have been through the fire,
and what fire does not destroy, it hardens. She has had experiences."
"How long has she been married?"
"An eternity, she tells
me. I believe, according to the peerage, it is ten years, but
ten years with Monmouth must have been like eternity, with time
thrown in. Who else is coming?"
"Oh, the Willoughbys, Lord
Rugby and his wife, our hostess, Geoffrey Clouston, the usual
set. I have asked Lord Grotrian."
"I like him," said
Lord Henry. "A great many people don't, but I find him charming.
He atones for being occasionally somewhat overdressed by being
always absolutely over-educated. He is a very modern type."
"I don't know if he will
be able to come, Harry. He may have to go to Monte Carlo with
"Ah! what a nuisance people's
people are! Try and make him come. By the way, Dorian, you ran
off very early last night. You left before eleven. What did you
do afterwards? Did you go straight home?"
Dorian glanced at him hurriedly
"No, Harry," he said
at last, "I did not get home till nearly three."
"Did you go to the club?"
"Yes," he answered.
Then he bit his lip. "No, I don't mean that. I didn't go
to the club. I walked about. I forget what I did.... How inquisitive
you are, Harry! You always want to know what one has been doing.
I always want to forget what I have been doing. I came in at
half-past two, if you wish to know the exact time. I had left
my latch-key at home, and my servant had to let me in. If you
want any corroborative evidence on the subject, you can ask him."
Lord Henry shrugged his shoulders.
"My dear fellow, as if I cared! Let us go up to the drawing-room.
No sherry, thank you, Mr. Chapman. Something has happened to
you, Dorian. Tell me what it is. You are not yourself to-night."
"Don't mind me, Harry. I
am irritable, and out of temper. I shall come round and see you
to-morrow, or next day. Make my excuses to Lady Narborough. I
shan't go upstairs. I shall go home. I must go home."
"All right, Dorian. I dare
say I shall see you to-morrow at tea-time. The duchess is coming."
"I will try to be there,
Harry," he said, leaving the room. As he drove back to his
own house, he was conscious that the sense of terror he thought
he had strangled had come back to him. Lord Henry's casual questioning
had made him lose his nerves for the moment, and he wanted his
nerve still. Things that were dangerous had to be destroyed.
He winced. He hated the idea of even touching them.
Yet it had to be done. He realized
that, and when he had locked the door of his library, he opened
the secret press into which he had thrust Basil Hallward's coat
and bag. A huge fire was blazing. He piled another log on it.
The smell of the singeing clothes and burning leather was horrible.
It took him three-quarters of an hour to consume everything.
At the end he felt faint and sick, and having lit some Algerian
pastilles in a pierced copper brazier, he bathed his hands and
forehead with a cool musk-scented vinegar.
Suddenly he started. His eyes
grew strangely bright, and he gnawed nervously at his underlip.
Between two of the windows stood a large Florentine cabinet,
made out of ebony and inlaid with ivory and blue lapis. He watched
it as though it were a thing that could fascinate and make afraid,
as though it held something that he longed for and yet almost
loathed. His breath quickened. A mad craving came over him. He
lit a cigarette and then threw it away. His eyelids drooped till
the long fringed lashes almost touched his cheek. But he still
watched the cabinet. At last he got up from the sofa on which
he had been lying, went over to it, and having unlocked it, touched
some hidden spring. A triangular drawer passed slowly out. His
fingers moved instinctively towards it, dipped in, and closed
on something. It was a small Chinese box of black and gold-dust
lacquer, elaborately wrought, the sides patterned with curved
waves, and the silken cords hung with round crystals and tasselled
in plaited metal threads. He opened it. Inside was a green paste,
waxy in lustre, the odour curiously heavy and persistent.
He hesitated for some moments,
with a strangely immobile smile upon his face. Then shivering,
though the atmosphere of the room was terribly hot, he drew himself
up and glanced at the clock. It was twenty minutes to twelve.
He put the box back, shutting the cabinet doors as he did so,
and went into his bedroom.
As midnight was striking bronze
blows upon the dusky air, Dorian Gray, dressed commonly, and
with a muffler wrapped round his throat, crept quietly out of
his house. In Bond Street he found a hansom with a good horse.
He hailed it and in a low voice gave the driver an address.
The man shook his head. "It
is too far for me," he muttered.
"Here is a sovereign for
you," said Dorian. "You shall have another if you drive
"All right, sir," answered
the man, "you will be there in an hour," and after
his fare had got in he turned his horse round and drove rapidly
towards the river.
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Oscar Wilde Collection