COLD rain began to fall, and the blurred street-lamps looked
ghastly in the dripping mist. The public-houses were just closing,
and dim men and women were clustering in broken groups round
their doors. From some of the bars came the sound of horrible
laughter. In others, drunkards brawled and screamed.
Lying back in the hansom, with
his hat pulled over his forehead, Dorian Gray watched with listless
eyes the sordid shame of the great city, and now and then he
repeated to himself the words that Lord Henry had said to him
on the first day they had met, "To cure the soul by means
of the senses, and the senses by means of the soul." Yes,
that was the secret. He had often tried it, and would try it
again now. There were opium dens where one could buy oblivion,
dens of horror where the memory of old sins could be destroyed
by the madness of sins that were new.
The moon hung low in the sky
like a yellow skull. From time to time a huge misshapen cloud
stretched a long arm across and hid it. The gas-lamps grew fewer,
and the streets more narrow and gloomy. Once the man lost his
way and had to drive back half a mile. A steam rose from the
horse as it splashed up the puddles. The sidewindows of the hansom
were clogged with a grey-flannel mist.
"To cure the soul by means
of the senses, and the senses by means of the soul!" How
the words rang in his ears! His soul, certainly, was sick to
death. Was it true that the senses could cure it? Innocent blood
had been spilled. What could atone for that? Ah! for that there
was no atonement; but though forgiveness was impossible, forgetfulness
was possible still, and he was determined to forget, to stamp
the thing out, to crush it as one would crush the adder that
had stung one. Indeed, what right had Basil to have spoken to
him as he had done? Who had made him a judge over others? He
had said things that were dreadful, horrible, not to be endured.
On and on plodded the hansom,
going slower, it seemed to him, at each step. He thrust up the
trap and called to the man to drive faster. The hideous hunger
for opium began to gnaw at him. His throat burned and his delicate
hands twitched nervously together. He struck at the horse madly
with his stick. The driver laughed and whipped up. He laughed
in answer, and the man was silent.
The way seemed interminable,
and the streets like the black web of some sprawling spider.
The monotony became unbearable, and as the mist thickened, he
Then they passed by lonely brickfields.
The fog was lighter here, and he could see the strange, bottle-shaped
kilns with their orange, fanlike tongues of fire. A dog barked
as they went by, and far away in the darkness some wandering
sea-gull screamed. The horse stumbled in a rut, then swerved
aside and broke into a gallop.
After some time they left the
clay road and rattled again over rough-paven streets. Most of
the windows were dark, but now and then fantastic shadows were
silhouetted against some lamplit blind. He watched them curiously.
They moved like monstrous marionettes and made gestures like
live things. He hated them. A dull rage was in his heart. As
they turned a corner, a woman yelled something at them from an
open door, and two men ran after the hansom for about a hundred
yards. The driver beat at them with his whip.
It is said that passion makes
one think in a circle. Certainly with hideous iteration the bitten
lips of Dorian Gray shaped and reshaped those subtle words that
dealt with soul and sense, till he had found in them the full
expression, as it were, of his mood, and justified, by intellectual
approval, passions that without such justification would still
have dominated his temper. From cell to cell of his brain crept
the one thought; and the wild desire to live, most terrible of
all man's appetites, quickened into force each trembling nerve
and fibre. Ugliness that had once been hateful to him because
it made things real, became dear to him now for that very reason.
Ugliness was the one reality. The coarse brawl, the loathsome
den, the crude violence of disordered life, the very vileness
of thief and outcast, were more vivid, in their intense actuality
of impression, than all the gracious shapes of art, the dreamy
shadows of song. They were what he needed for forgetfulness.
In three days he would be free.
Suddenly the man drew up with
a jerk at the top of a dark lane. Over the low roofs and jagged
chimney-stacks of the houses rose the black masts of ships. Wreaths
of white mist clung like ghostly sails to the yards.
"Somewhere about here, sir,
ain't it?" he asked huskily through the trap.
Dorian started and peered round.
"This will do," he answered, and having got out hastily
and given the driver the extra fare he had promised him, he walked
quickly in the direction of the quay. Here and there a lantern
gleamed at the stern of some huge merchantman. The light shook
and splintered in the puddles. A red glare came from an outward-bound
steamer that was coaling. The slimy pavement looked like a wet
He hurried on towards the left,
glancing back now and then to see if he was being followed. In
about seven or eight minutes he reached a small shabby house
that was wedged in between two gaunt factories. In one of the
top-windows stood a lamp. He stopped and gave a peculiar knock.
After a little time he heard
steps in the passage and the chain being unhooked. The door opened
quietly, and he went in without saying a word to the squat misshapen
figure that flattened itself into the shadow as he passed. At
the end of the hall hung a tattered green curtain that swayed
and shook in the gusty wind which had followed him in from the
street. He dragged it aside and entered a long low room which
looked as if it had once been a third-rate dancing-saloon. Shrill
flaring gas-jets, dulled and distorted in the fly-blown mirrors
that faced them, were ranged round the walls. Greasy reflectors
of ribbed tin backed them, making quivering disks of light. The
floor was covered with ochre-coloured sawdust, trampled here
and there into mud, and stained with dark rings of spilled liquor.
Some Malays were crouching by a little charcoal stove, playing
with bone counters and showing their white teeth as they chattered.
In one corner, with his head buried in his arms, a sailor sprawled
over a table, and by the tawdrily painted bar that ran across
one complete side stood two haggard women, mocking an old man
who was brushing the sleeves of his coat with an expression of
disgust. "He thinks he's got red ants on him," laughed
one of them, as Dorian passed by. The man looked at her in terror
and began to whimper.
At the end of the room there
was a little staircase, leading to a darkened chamber. As Dorian
hurried up its three rickety steps, the heavy odour of opium
met him. He heaved a deep breath, and his nostrils quivered with
pleasure. When he entered, a young man with smooth yellow hair,
who was bending over a lamp lighting a long thin pipe, looked
up at him and nodded in a hesitating manner.
"You here, Adrian?"
"Where else should I be?"
he answered, listlessly. "None of the chaps will speak to
"I thought you had left
"Darlington is not going
to do anything. My brother paid the bill at last. George doesn't
speak to me either.... I don't care," he added with a sigh.
"As long as one has this stuff, one doesn't want friends.
I think I have had too many friends."
Dorian winced and looked round
at the grotesque things that lay in such fantastic postures on
the ragged mattresses. The twisted limbs, the gaping mouths,
the staring lustreless eyes, fascinated him. He knew in what
strange heavens they were suffering, and what dull hells were
teaching them the secret of some new joy. They were better off
than he was. He was prisoned in thought. Memory, like a horrible
malady, was eating his soul away. From time to time he seemed
to see the eyes of Basil Hallward looking at him. Yet he felt
he could not stay. The presence of Adrian Singleton troubled
him. He wanted to be where no one would know who he was. He wanted
to escape from himself.
"I am going on to the other
place," he said after a pause.
"On the wharf?"
"That mad-cat is sure to
be there. They won't have her in this place now."
Dorian shrugged his shoulders.
"I am sick of women who love one. Women who hate one are
much more interesting. Besides, the stuff is better."
"Much the same."
"I like it better. Come
and have something to drink. I must have something."
"I don't want anything,"
murmured the young man.
Adrian Singleton rose up wearily
and followed Dorian to the bar. A half-caste, in a ragged turban
and a shabby ulster, grinned a hideous greeting as he thrust
a bottle of brandy and two tumblers in front of them. The women
sidled up and began to chatter. Dorian turned his back on them
and said something in a low voice to Adrian Singleton.
A crooked smile, like a Malay
crease, writhed across the face of one of the women. "We
are very proud to-night," she sneered.
"For God's sake don't talk
to me," cried Dorian, stamping his foot on the ground. "What
do you want? Money? Here it is. Don't ever talk to me again."
Two red sparks flashed for a
moment in the woman's sodden eyes, then flickered out and left
them dull and glazed. She tossed her head and raked the coins
off the counter with greedy fingers. Her companion watched her
"It's no use," sighed
Adrian Singleton. "I don't care to go back. What does it
matter? I am quite happy here."
"You will write to me if
you want anything, won't you?" said Dorian, after a pause.
"Good night, then."
"Good night," answered
the young man, passing up the steps and wiping his parched mouth
with a handkerchief.
Dorian walked to the door with
a look of pain in his face. As he drew the curtain aside, a hideous
laugh broke from the painted lips of the woman who had taken
his money. "There goes the devil's bargain!" she hiccoughed,
in a hoarse voice.
"Curse you!" he answered,
"don't call me that."
She snapped her fingers. "Prince
Charming is what you like to be called, ain't it?" she yelled
The drowsy sailor leaped to his
feet as she spoke, and looked wildly round. The sound of the
shutting of the hall door fell on his ear. He rushed out as if
Dorian Gray hurried along the
quay through the drizzling rain. His meeting with Adrian Singleton
had strangely moved him, and he wondered if the ruin of that
young life was really to be laid at his door, as Basil Hallward
had said to him with such infamy of insult. He bit his lip, and
for a few seconds his eyes grew sad. Yet, after all, what did
it matter to him? One's days were too brief to take the burden
of another's errors on one's shoulders. Each man lived his own
life and paid his own price for living it. The only pity was
one had to pay so often for a single fault. One had to pay over
and over again, indeed. In her dealings with man, destiny never
closed her accounts.
There are moments, psychologists
tell us, when the passion for sin, or for what the world calls
sin, so dominates a nature that every fibre of the body, as every
cell of the brain, seems to be instinct with fearful impulses.
Men and women at such moments lose the freedom of their will.
They move to their terrible end as automatons move. Choice is
taken from them, and conscience is either killed, or, if it lives
at all, lives but to give rebellion its fascination and disobedience
its charm. For all sins, as theologians weary not of reminding
us, are sins of disobedience. When that high spirit, that morning
star of evil, fell from heaven, it was as a rebel that he fell.
Callous, concentrated on evil,
with stained mind, and soul hungry for rebellion, Dorian Gray
hastened on, quickening his step as he went, but as he darted
aside into a dim archway, that had served him often as a short
cut to the ill-famed place where he was going, he felt himself
suddenly seized from behind, and before be had time to defend
himself, he was thrust back against the wall, with a brutal hand
round his throat.
He struggled madly for life,
and by a terrible effort wrenched the tightening fingers away.
In a second he heard the click of a revolver, and saw the gleam
of a polished barrel, pointing straight at his head, and the
dusky form of a short, thick-set man facing him.
"What do you want?"
"Keep quiet," said
the man. "If you stir, I shoot you."
"You are mad. What have
I done to you?"
"You wrecked the life of
Sibyl Vane," was the answer, "and Sibyl Vane was my
sister. She killed herself. I know it. Her death is at your door.
I swore I would kill you in return. For years I have sought you.
I had no clue, no trace. The two people who could have described
you were dead. I knew nothing of you but the pet name she used
to call you. I heard it to-night by chance. Make your peace with
God, for to-night you are going to die."
Dorian Gray grew sick with fear.
"I never knew her," he stammered. "I never heard
of her. You are mad."
"You had better confess
your sin, for as sure as I am James Vane, you are going to die."
There was a horrible moment. Dorian did not know what to say
or do. "Down on your knees!" growled the man. "I
give you one minute to make your peace no more.
I go on board to-night for India, and I must do my job first.
One minute. That's all."
Dorian's arms fell to his side.
Paralysed with terror, he did not know what to do. Suddenly a
wild hope flashed across his brain. "Stop," he cried.
"How long ago is it since your sister died? Quick, tell
"Eighteen years," said
the man. "Why do you ask me? What do years matter?"
"Eighteen years," laughed
Dorian Gray, with a touch of triumph in his voice. "Eighteen
years! Set me under the lamp and look at my face!"
James Vane hesitated for a moment,
not understanding what was meant. Then he seized Dorian Gray
and dragged him from the archway.
Dim and wavering as was the wind-blown
light, yet it served to show him the hideous error, as it seemed,
into which he had fallen, for the face of the man he had sought
to kill had all the bloom of boyhood, all the unstained purity
of youth. He seemed little more than a lad of twenty summers,
hardly older, if older indeed at all, than his sister had been
when they had parted so many years ago. It was obvious that this
was not the man who had destroyed her life.
He loosened his hold and reeled
back. "My God! my God!" he cried, "and I would
have murdered you!"
Dorian Gray drew a long breath.
"You have been on the brink of committing a terrible crime,
my man," he said, looking at him sternly. "Let this
be a warning to you not to take vengeance into your own hands."
"Forgive me, sir,"
muttered James Vane. "I was deceived. A chance word I heard
in that damned den set me on the wrong track."
"You had better go home
and put that pistol away, or you may get into trouble,"
said Dorian, turning on his heel and going slowly down the street.
James Vane stood on the pavement
in horror. He was trembling from head to foot. After a little
while, a black shadow that had been creeping along the dripping
wall moved out into the light and came close to him with stealthy
footsteps. He felt a hand laid on his arm and looked round with
a start. It was one of the women who had been drinking at the
"Why didn't you kill him?"
she hissed out, putting haggard face quite close to his. "I
knew you were following him when you rushed out from Daly's.
You fool! You should have killed him. He has lots of money, and
he's as bad as bad."
"He is not the man I am
looking for," he answered, "and I want no man's money.
I want a man's life. The man whose life I want must be nearly
forty now. This one is little more than a boy. Thank God, I have
not got his blood upon my hands."
The woman gave a bitter laugh.
"Little more than a boy!" she sneered. "Why, man,
it's nigh on eighteen years since Prince Charming made me what
"You lie!" cried James
She raised her hand up to heaven.
"Before God I am telling the truth," she cried.
"Strike me dumb if it ain't
so. He is the worst one that comes here. They say he has sold
himself to the devil for a pretty face. It's nigh on eighteen
years since I met him. He hasn't changed much since then. I have,
though," she added, with a sickly leer.
"You swear this?"
"I swear it," came
in hoarse echo from her flat mouth. "But don't give me away
to him," she whined; "I am afraid of him. Let me have
some money for my night's lodging."
He broke from her with an oath
and rushed to the corner of the street, but Dorian Gray had disappeared.
When he looked back, the woman had vanished also.
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Oscar Wilde Collection