next day he did not leave the house, and, indeed, spent most
of the time in his own room, sick with a wild terror of dying,
and yet indifferent to life itself. The consciousness of being
hunted, snared, tracked down, had begun to dominate him. If the
tapestry did but tremble in the wind, he shook. The dead leaves
that were blown against the leaded panes seemed to him like his
own wasted resolutions and wild regrets. When he closed his eyes,
he saw again the sailor's face peering through the mist-stained
glass, and horror seemed once more to lay its hand upon his heart.
But perhaps it had been only
his fancy that had called vengeance out of the night and set
the hideous shapes of punishment before him. Actual life was
chaos, but there was something terribly logical in the imagination.
It was the imagination that set remorse to dog the feet of sin.
It was the imagination that made each crime bear its misshapen
brood. In the common world of fact the wicked were not punished,
nor the good rewarded. Success was given to the strong, failure
thrust upon the weak. That was all. Besides, had any stranger
been prowling round the house, he would have been seen by the
servants or the keepers. Had any foot-marks been found on the
flower-beds, the gardeners would have reported it. Yes, it had
been merely fancy. Sibyl Vane's brother had not come back to
kill him. He had sailed away in his ship to founder in some winter
sea. From him, at any rate, he was safe. Why, the man did not
know who he was, could not know who he was. The mask of youth
had saved him.
And yet if it had been merely
an illusion, how terrible it was to think that conscience could
raise such fearful phantoms, and give them visible form, and
make them move before one! What sort of life would his be if,
day and night, shadows of his crime were to peer at him from
silent corners, to mock him from secret places, to whisper in
his ear as he sat at the feast, to wake him with icy fingers
as he lay asleep! As the thought crept through his brain, he
grew pale with terror, and the air seemed to him to have become
suddenly colder. Oh! in what a wild hour of madness he had killed
his friend! How ghastly the mere memory of the scene! He saw
it all again. Each hideous detail came back to him with added
horror. Out of the black cave of time, terrible and swathed in
scarlet, rose the image of his sin. When Lord Henry came in at
six o'clock, he found him crying as one whose heart will break.
It was not till the third day
that he ventured to go out. There was something in the clear,
pine-scented air of that winter morning that seemed to bring
him back his joyousness and his ardour for life. But it was not
merely the physical conditions of environment that had caused
the change. His own nature had revolted against the excess of
anguish that had sought to maim and mar the perfection of its
calm. With subtle and finely wrought temperaments it is always
so. Their strong passions must either bruise or bend. They either
slay the man, or themselves die. Shallow sorrows and shallow
loves live on. The loves and sorrows that are great are destroyed
by their own plenitude. Besides, he had convinced himself that
he had been the victim of a terror-stricken imagination, and
looked back now on his fears with something of pity and not a
little of contempt.
After breakfast, he walked with
the duchess for an hour in the garden and then drove across the
park to join the shooting-party. The crisp frost lay like salt
upon the grass. The sky was an inverted cup of blue metal. A
thin film of ice bordered the flat, reed-grown lake.
At the corner of the pine-wood
he caught sight of Sir Geoffrey Clouston, the duchess's brother,
jerking two spent cartridges out of his gun. He jumped from the
cart, and having told the groom to take the mare home, made his
way towards his guest through the withered bracken and rough
"Have you had good sport,
Geoffrey?" he asked.
"Not very good, Dorian.
I think most of the birds have gone to the open. I dare say it
will be better after lunch, when we get to new ground."
Dorian strolled along by his
side. The keen aromatic air, the brown and red lights that glimmered
in the wood, the hoarse cries of the beaters ringing out from
time to time, and the sharp snaps of the guns that followed,
fascinated him and filled him with a sense of delightful freedom.
He was dominated by the carelessness of happiness, by the high
indifference of joy.
Suddenly from a lumpy tussock
of old grass some twenty yards in front of them, with black-tipped
ears erect and long hinder limbs throwing it forward, started
a hare. It bolted for a thicket of alders. Sir Geoffrey put his
gun to his shoulder, but there was something in the animal's
grace of movement that strangely charmed Dorian Gray, and he
cried out at once, "Don't shoot it, Geoffrey. Let it live."
"What nonsense, Dorian!"
laughed his companion, and as the hare bounded into the thicket,
he fired. There were two cries heard, the cry of a hare in pain,
which is dreadful, the cry of a man in agony, which is worse.
"Good heavens! I have hit
a beater!" exclaimed Sir Geoffrey. "What an ass the
man was to get in front of the guns! Stop shooting there!"
he called out at the top of his voice. "A man is hurt."
The head-keeper came running
up with a stick in his hand.
"Where, sir? Where is he?"
he shouted. At the same time, the firing ceased along the line.
"Here," answered Sir
Geoffrey angrily, hurrying towards the thicket. "Why on
earth don't you keep your men back? Spoiled my shooting for the
Dorian watched them as they plunged
into the alder-clump, brushing the lithe swinging branches aside.
In a few moments they emerged, dragging a body after them into
the sunlight. He turned away in horror. It seemed to him that
misfortune followed wherever he went. He heard Sir Geoffrey ask
if the man was really dead, and the affirmative answer of the
keeper. The wood seemed to him to have become suddenly alive
with faces. There was the trampling of myriad feet and the low
buzz of voices. A great copper-breasted pheasant came beating
through the boughs overhead.
After a few moments
that were to him, in his perturbed state, like endless hours
of pain he felt a hand laid on his shoulder.
He started and looked round.
"Dorian," said Lord
Henry, "I had better tell them that the shooting is stopped
for to-day. It would not look well to go on."
"I wish it were stopped
for ever, Harry," he answered bitterly. "The whole
thing is hideous and cruel. Is the man...?"
He could not finish the sentence.
"I am afraid so," rejoined
Lord Henry. "He got the whole charge of shot in his chest.
He must have died almost instantaneously. Come; let us go home."
They walked side by side in the
direction of the avenue for nearly fifty yards without speaking.
Then Dorian looked at Lord Henry and said, with a heavy sigh,
"It is a bad omen, Harry, a very bad omen."
"What is?" asked Lord
Henry. "Oh! this accident, I suppose. My dear fellow, it
can't be helped. It was the man's own fault. Why did he get in
front of the guns? Besides, it is nothing to us. It is rather
awkward for Geoffrey, of course. It does not do to pepper beaters.
It makes people think that one is a wild shot. And Geoffrey is
not; he shoots very straight. But there is no use talking about
Dorian shook his head. "It
is a bad omen, Harry. I feel as if something horrible were going
to happen to some of us. To myself, perhaps," he added,
passing his hand over his eyes, with a gesture of pain.
The elder man laughed. "The
only horrible thing in the world is ennui, Dorian. That
is the one sin for which there is no forgiveness. But we are
not likely to suffer from it unless these fellows keep chattering
about this thing at dinner. I must tell them that the subject
is to be tabooed. As for omens, there is no such thing as an
omen. Destiny does not send us heralds. She is too wise or too
cruel for that. Besides, what on earth could happen to you, Dorian?
You have everything in the world that a man can want. There is
no one who would not be delighted to change places with you."
"There is no one with whom
I would not change places, Harry. Don't laugh like that. I am
telling you the truth. The wretched peasant who has just died
is better off than I am. I have no terror of death. It is the
coming of death that terrifies me. Its monstrous wings seem to
wheel in the leaden air around me. Good heavens! don't you see
a man moving behind the trees there, watching me, waiting for
Lord Henry looked in the direction
in which the trembling gloved hand was pointing. "Yes,"
he said, smiling, "I see the gardener waiting for you. I
suppose he wants to ask you what flowers you wish to have on
the table to-night. How absurdly nervous you are, my dear fellow!
You must come and see my doctor, when we get back to town."
Dorian heaved a sigh of relief
as he saw the gardener approaching. The man touched his hat,
glanced for a moment at Lord Henry in a hesitating manner, and
then produced a letter, which he handed to his master. "Her
Grace told me to wait for an answer," he murmured.
Dorian put the letter into his
pocket. "Tell her Grace that I am coming in," he said,
coldly. The man turned round and went rapidly in the direction
of the house.
"How fond women are of doing
dangerous things!" laughed Lord Henry. "It is one of
the qualities in them that I admire most. A woman will flirt
with anybody in the world as long as other people are looking
"How fond you are of saying
dangerous things, Harry! In the present instance, you are quite
astray. I like the duchess very much, but I don't love her."
"And the duchess loves you
very much, but she likes you less, so you are excellently matched."
"You are talking scandal,
Harry, and there is never any basis for scandal."
"The basis of every scandal
is an immoral certainty," said Lord Henry, lighting a cigarette.
"You would sacrifice anybody,
Harry, for the sake of an epigram."
"The world goes to the altar
of its own accord," was the answer.
"I wish I could love,"
cried Dorian Gray with a deep note of pathos in his voice. "But
I seem to have lost the passion and forgotten the desire. I am
too much concentrated on myself. My own personality has become
a burden to me. I want to escape, to go away, to forget. It was
silly of me to come down here at all. I think I shall send a
wire to Harvey to have the yacht got ready. On a yacht one is
"Safe from what, Dorian?
You are in some trouble. Why not tell me what it is? You know
I would help you."
"I can't tell you, Harry,"
he answered sadly. "And I dare say it is only a fancy of
mine. This unfortunate accident has upset me. I have a horrible
presentiment that something of the kind may happen to me."
"I hope it is, but I can't
help feeling it. Ah! here is the duchess, looking like Artemis
in a tailor-made gown. You see we have come back, Duchess."
"I have heard all about
it, Mr. Gray," she answered. "Poor Geoffrey is terribly
upset. And it seems that you asked him not to shoot the hare.
"Yes, it was very curious.
I don't know what made me say it. Some whim, I suppose. It looked
the loveliest of little live things. But I am sorry they told
you about the man. It is a hideous subject."
"It is an annoying subject,"
broke in Lord Henry. "It has no psychological value at all.
Now if Geoffrey had done the thing on purpose, how interesting
he would be! I should like to know some one who had committed
a real murder."
"How horrid of you, Harry!"
cried the duchess. "Isn't it, Mr. Gray? Harry, Mr. Gray
is ill again. He is going to faint."
Dorian drew himself up with an
effort and smiled. "It is nothing, Duchess," he murmured;
"my nerves are dreadfully out of order. That is all. I am
afraid I walked too far this morning. I didn't hear what Harry
said. Was it very bad? You must tell me some other time. I think
I must go and lie down. You will excuse me, won't you?"
They had reached the great flight
of steps that led from the conservatory on to the terrace. As
the glass door closed behind Dorian, Lord Henry turned and looked
at the duchess with his slumberous eyes. "Are you very much
in love with him?" he asked.
She did not answer for some time,
but stood gazing at the landscape. "I wish I knew,"
she said at last.
He shook his head. "Knowledge
would be fatal. It is the uncertainty that charms one. A mist
makes things wonderful."
"One may lose one's way."
"All ways end at the same
point, my dear Gladys."
"What is that?"
"It was my début
in life," she sighed.
"It came to you crowned."
"I am tired of strawberry
"They become you."
"Only in public."
"You would miss them,"
said Lord Henry.
"I will not part with a
"Monmouth has ears."
"Old age is dull of hearing."
"Has he never been jealous?"
"I wish he had been."
He glanced about as if in search
of something. "What are you looking for?" she inquired.
"The button from your foil,"
he answered. "You have dropped it."
She laughed. "I have still
"It makes your eyes lovelier,"
was his reply.
She laughed again. Her teeth
showed like white seeds in a scarlet fruit.
Upstairs, in his own room, Dorian
Gray was lying on a sofa, with terror in every tingling fibre
of his body. Life had suddenly become too hideous a burden for
him to bear. The dreadful death of the unlucky beater, shot in
the thicket like a wild animal, had seemed to him to pre-figure
death for himself also. He had nearly swooned at what Lord Henry
had said in a chance mood of cynical jesting.
At five o'clock he rang his bell
for his servant and gave him orders to pack his things for the
night-express to town, and to have the brougham at the door by
eight-thirty. He was determined not to sleep another night at
Selby Royal. It was an ill-omened place. Death walked there in
the sunlight. The grass of the forest had been spotted with blood.
Then he wrote a note to Lord
Henry, telling him that he was going up to town to consult his
doctor and asking him to entertain his guests in his absence.
As he was putting it into the envelope, a knock came to the door,
and his valet informed him that the head-keeper wished to see
him. He frowned and bit his lip. "Send him in," he
muttered, after some moments' hesitation.
As soon as the man entered, Dorian
pulled his chequebook out of a drawer and spread it out before
"I suppose you have come
about the unfortunate accident of this morning, Thornton?"
he said, taking up a pen.
"Yes, sir," answered
"Was the poor fellow married?
Had he any people dependent on him?" asked Dorian, looking
bored. "If so, I should not like them to be left in want,
and will send them any sum of money you may think necessary."
"We don't know who he is,
sir. That is what I took the liberty of coming to you about."
"Don't know who he is?"
said Dorian, listlessly. "What do you mean? Wasn't he one
of your men?"
"No, sir. Never saw him
before. Seems like a sailor, sir."
The pen dropped from Dorian Gray's
hand, and he felt as if his heart had suddenly stopped beating.
"A sailor?" he cried out. "Did you say a sailor?"
"Yes, sir. He looks as if
he had been a sort of sailor; tattooed on both arms, and that
kind of thing."
"Was there anything found
on him?" said Dorian, leaning forward and looking at the
man with startled eyes. "Anything that would tell his name?"
"Some money, sir
not much, and a six-shooter. There was no name of any kind. A
decent-looking man, sir, but rough-like. A sort of sailor we
Dorian started to his feet. A
terrible hope fluttered past him. He clutched at it madly. "Where
is the body?" he exclaimed. "Quick! I must see it at
"It is in an empty stable
in the Home Farm, sir. The folk don't like to have that sort
of thing in their houses. They say a corpse brings bad luck."
"The Home Farm! Go there
at once and meet me. Tell one of the grooms to bring my horse
round. No. Never mind. I'll go to the stables myself. It will
In less than a quarter of an
hour, Dorian Gray was galloping down the long avenue as hard
as he could go. The trees seemed to sweep past him in spectral
procession, and wild shadows to fling themselves across his path.
Once the mare swerved at a white gate-post and nearly threw him.
He lashed her across the neck with his crop. She cleft the dusky
air like an arrow. The stones flew from her hoofs.
At last he reached the Home Farm.
Two men were loitering in the yard. He leaped from the saddle
and threw the reins to one of them. In the farthest stable a
light was glimmering. Something seemed to tell him that the body
was there, and he hurried to the door and put his hand upon the
There he paused for a moment,
feeling that he was on the brink of a discovery that would either
make or mar his life. Then he thrust the door open and entered.
On a heap of sacking in the far
corner was lying the dead body of a man dressed in a coarse shirt
and a pair of blue trousers. A spotted handkerchief had been
placed over the face. A coarse candle, stuck in a bottle, sputtered
Dorian Gray shuddered. He felt
that his could not be the hand to take the handkerchief away,
and called out to one of the farm-servants to come to him.
"Take that thing off the
face. I wish to see it," he said, clutching at the door-post
When the farm-servant had done
so, he stepped forward. A cry of joy broke from his lips. The
man who had been shot in the thicket was James Vane.
He stood there for some minutes
looking at the dead body. As he rode home, his eyes were full
of tears, for he knew he was safe.
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Oscar Wilde Collection