was a lovely night, so warm that he threw his coat over his arm
and did not even put his silk scarf round his throat. As he strolled
home, smoking his cigarette, two young men in evening dress passed
him. He heard one of them whisper to the other, "That is
Dorian Gray." He remembered how pleased he used to be when
he was pointed out, or stared at, or talked about. He was tired
of hearing his own name now. Half the charm of the little village
where he had been so often lately was that no one knew who he
was. He had often told the girl whom he had lured to love him
that he was poor, and she had believed him. He had told her once
that he was wicked, and she had laughed at him and answered that
wicked people were always very old and very ugly. What a laugh
she had! just like a thrush singing. And how
pretty she had been in her cotton dresses and her large hats!
She knew nothing, but she had everything that he had lost.
When he reached home, he found
his servant waiting up for him. He sent him to bed, and threw
himself down on the sofa in the library, and began to think over
some of the things that Lord Henry had said to him.
Was it really true that one could
never change? He felt a wild longing for the unstained purity
of his boyhood his rose-white boyhood, as Lord
Henry had once called it. He knew that he had tarnished himself,
filled his mind with corruption and given horror to his fancy;
that he had been an evil influence to others, and had experienced
a terrible joy in being so; and that of the lives that had crossed
his own, it had been the fairest and the most full of promise
that he had brought to shame. But was it all irretrievable? Was
there no hope for him?
Ah! in what a monstrous moment
of pride and passion he had prayed that the portrait should bear
the burden of his days, and he keep the unsullied splendour of
eternal youth! All his failure had been due to that. Better for
him that each sin of his life had brought its sure swift penalty
along with it. There was purification in punishment. Not "Forgive
us our sins" but "Smite us for our iniquities"
should be the prayer of man to a most just God.
The curiously carved mirror that
Lord Henry had given to him, so many years ago now, was standing
on the table, and the white-limbed Cupids laughed round it as
of old. He took it up, as he had done on that night of horror
when be had first noted the change in the fatal picture, and
with wild, tear-dimmed eyes looked into its polished shield.
Once, some one who had terribly loved him had written to him
a mad letter, ending with these idolatrous words: "The world
is changed because you are made of ivory and gold. The curves
of your lips rewrite history." The phrases came back to
his memory, and he repeated them over and over to himself. Then
he loathed his own beauty, and flinging the mirror on the floor,
crushed it into silver splinters beneath his heel. It was his
beauty that had ruined him, his beauty and the youth that he
had prayed for. But for those two things, his life might have
been free from stain. His beauty had been to him but a mask,
his youth but a mockery. What was youth at best? A green, an
unripe time, a time of shallow moods, and sickly thoughts. Why
had he worn its livery? Youth had spoiled him.
It was better not to think of
the past. Nothing could alter that. It was of himself, and of
his own future, that he had to think. James Vane was hidden in
a nameless grave in Selby churchyard. Alan Campbell had shot
himself one night in his laboratory, but had not revealed the
secret that he had been forced to know. The excitement, such
as it was, over Basil Hallward's disappearance would soon pass
away. It was already waning. He was perfectly safe there. Nor,
indeed, was it the death of Basil Hallward that weighed most
upon his mind. It was the living death of his own soul that troubled
him. Basil had painted the portrait that had marred his life.
He could not forgive him that. It was the portrait that had done
everything. Basil had said things to him that were unbearable,
and that he had yet borne with patience. The murder had been
simply the madness of a moment. As for Alan Campbell, his suicide
had been his own act. He had chosen to do it. It was nothing
A new life! That was what he
wanted. That was what he was waiting for. Surely he had begun
it already. He had spared one innocent thing, at any rate. He
would never again tempt innocence. He would be good.
As he thought of Hetty Merton,
he began to wonder if the portrait in the locked room had changed.
Surely it was not still so horrible as it had been? Perhaps if
his life became pure, he would be able to expel every sign of
evil passion from the face. Perhaps the signs of evil had already
gone away. He would go and look.
He took the lamp from the table
and crept upstairs. As he unbarred the door, a smile of joy flitted
across his strangely young-looking face and lingered for a moment
about his lips. Yes, he would be good, and the hideous thing
that he had hidden away would no longer be a terror to him. He
felt as if the load had been lifted from him already.
He went in quietly, locking the
door behind him, as was his custom, and dragged the purple hanging
from the portrait. A cry of pain and indignation broke from him.
He could see no change, save that in the eyes there was a look
of cunning and in the mouth the curved wrinkle of the hypocrite.
The thing was still loathsome more loathsome,
if possible, than before and the scarlet dew
that spotted the hand seemed brighter, and more like blood newly
spilled. Then he trembled. Had it been merely vanity that had
made him do his one good deed? Or the desire for a new sensation,
as Lord Henry had hinted, with his mocking laugh? Or that passion
to act a part that sometimes makes us do things finer than we
are ourselves? Or, perhaps, all these? And why was the red stain
larger than it had been? It seemed to have crept like a horrible
disease over the wrinkled fingers. There was blood on the painted
feet, as though the thing had dripped blood even
on the hand that had not held the knife. Confess? Did it mean
that he was to confess? To give himself up and be put to death?
He laughed. He felt that the idea was monstrous. Besides, even
if he did confess, who would believe him? There was no trace
of the murdered man anywhere. Everything belonging to him had
been destroyed. He himself had burned what had been below-stairs.
The world would simply say that he was mad. They would shut him
up if he persisted in his story.... Yet it was his duty to confess,
to suffer public shame, and to make public atonement. There was
a God who called upon men to tell their sins to earth as well
as to heaven. Nothing that he could do would cleanse him till
he had told his own sin. His sin? He shrugged his shoulders.
The death of Basil Hallward seemed very little to him. He was
thinking of Hetty Merton. For it was an unjust mirror, this mirror
of his soul that he was looking at. Vanity? Curiosity? Hypocrisy?
Had there been nothing more in his renunciation than that? There
had been something more. At least he thought so. But who could
tell?... No. There had been nothing more. Through vanity he had
spared her. In hypocrisy he had worn the mask of goodness. For
curiosity's sake he had tried the denial of self. He recognized
But this murder
was it to dog him all his life? Was he always to be burdened
by his past? Was he really to confess? Never. There was only
one bit of evidence left against him. The picture itself
that was evidence. He would destroy it. Why had he kept it so
long? Once it had given him pleasure to watch it changing and
growing old. Of late he had felt no such pleasure. It had kept
him awake at night. When he had been away, he had been filled
with terror lest other eyes should look upon it. It had brought
melancholy across his passions. Its mere memory had marred many
moments of joy. It had been like conscience to him. Yes, it had
been conscience. He would destroy it.
He looked round and saw the knife
that had stabbed Basil Hallward. He had cleaned it many times,
till there was no stain left upon it. It was bright, and glistened.
As it had killed the painter, so it would kill the painter's
work, and all that that meant. It would kill the past, and when
that was dead, he would be free. It would kill this monstrous
soul-life, and without its hideous warnings, he would be at peace.
He seized the thing, and stabbed the picture with it.
There was a cry heard, and a
crash. The cry was so horrible in its agony that the frightened
servants woke and crept out of their rooms. Two gentlemen, who
were passing in the square below, stopped and looked up at the
great house. They walked on till they met a policeman and brought
him back. The man rang the bell several times, but there was
no answer. Except for a light in one of the top windows, the
house was all dark. After a time, he went away and stood in an
adjoining portico and watched.
"Whose house is that, Constable?"
asked the elder of the two gentlemen.
"Mr. Dorian Gray's, sir,"
answered the policeman.
They looked at each other, as
they walked away, and sneered. One of them was Sir Henry Ashton's
Inside, in the servants' part
of the house, the half-clad domestics were talking in low whispers
to each other. Old Mrs. Leaf was crying and wringing her hands.
Francis was as pale as death.
After about a quarter of an hour,
he got the coachman and one of the footmen and crept upstairs.
They knocked, but there was no reply. They called out. Everything
was still. Finally, after vainly trying to force the door, they
got on the roof and dropped down on to the balcony. The windows
yielded easily their bolts were old.
When they entered, they found
hanging upon the wall a splendid portrait of their master as
they had last seen him, in all the wonder of his exquisite youth
and beauty. Lying on the floor was a dead man, in evening dress,
with a knife in his heart. He was withered, wrinkled, and loathsome
of visage. It was not till they had examined the rings that they
recognized who it was.
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Oscar Wilde Collection