It was on the ninth of November, the eve of his own thirty-eighthbirthday, as he often remembered afterwards.
He was walking home about eleven o'clock from Lord Henry's, where hehad been dining, and was wrapped in heavy furs, as the night was coldand foggy. At the corner of Grosvenor Square and South Audley Street,a man passed him in the mist, walking very fast and with the collar ofhis grey ulster turned up. He had a bag in his hand. Dorianrecognized him. It was Basil Hallward. A strange sense of fear, forwhich he could not account, came over him. He made no sign ofrecognition and went on quickly in the direction of his own house.
But Hallward had seen him. Dorian heard him first stopping on thepavement and then hurrying after him. In a few moments, his hand wason his arm.
"Dorian! What an extraordinary piece of luck! I have been waiting foryou in your library ever since nine o'clock. Finally I took pity onyour tired servant and told him to go to bed, as he let me out. I amoff to Paris by the midnight train, and I particularly wanted to seeyou before I left. I thought it was you, or rather your fur coat, asyou passed me. But I wasn't quite sure. Didn't you recognize me?"
"In this fog, my dear Basil? Why, I can't even recognize GrosvenorSquare. I believe my house is somewhere about here, but I don't feelat all certain about it. I am sorry you are going away, as I have notseen you for ages. But I suppose you will be back soon?"
"No: I am going to be out of England for six months. I intend to takea studio in Paris and shut myself up till I have finished a greatpicture I have in my head. However, it wasn't about myself I wanted totalk. Here we are at your door. Let me come in for a moment. I havesomething to say to you."
"I shall be charmed. But won't you miss your train?" said Dorian Graylanguidly as he passed up the steps and opened the door with hislatch-key.
The lamplight struggled out through the fog, and Hallward looked at hiswatch. "I have heaps of time," he answered. "The train doesn't gotill twelve-fifteen, and it is only just eleven. In fact, I was on myway to the club to look for you, when I met you. You see, I shan'thave any delay about luggage, as I have sent on my heavy things. All Ihave with me is in this bag, and I can easily get to Victoria in twentyminutes."
Dorian looked at him and smiled. "What a way for a fashionable painterto travel! A Gladstone bag and an ulster! Come in, or the fog willget into the house. And mind you don't talk about anything serious.Nothing is serious nowadays. At least nothing should be."
Hallward shook his head, as he entered, and followed Dorian into thelibrary. There was a bright wood fire blazing in the large openhearth. The lamps were lit, and an open Dutch silver spirit-casestood, with some siphons of soda-water and large cut-glass tumblers, ona little marqueterie table.
"You see your servant made me quite at home, Dorian. He gave meeverything I wanted, including your best gold-tipped cigarettes. He isa most hospitable creature. I like him much better than the Frenchmanyou used to have. What has become of the Frenchman, by the bye?"
Dorian shrugged his shoulders. "I believe he married Lady Radley'smaid, and has established her in Paris as an English dressmaker.Anglomania is very fashionable over there now, I hear. It seems sillyof the French, doesn't it? But—do you know?—he was not at all a badservant. I never liked him, but I had nothing to complain about. Oneoften imagines things that are quite absurd. He was really verydevoted to me and seemed quite sorry when he went away. Have anotherbrandy-and-soda? Or would you like hock-and-seltzer? I always takehock-and-seltzer myself. There is sure to be some in the next room."
"Thanks, I won't have anything more," said the painter, taking his capand coat off and throwing them on the bag that he had placed in thecorner. "And now, my dear fellow, I want to speak to you seriously.Don't frown like that. You make it so much more difficult for me."
"What is it all about?" cried Dorian in his petulant way, flinginghimself down on the sofa. "I hope it is not about myself. I am tiredof myself to-night. I should like to be somebody else."
"It is about yourself," answered Hallward in his grave deep voice, "andI must say it to you. I shall only keep you half an hour."
Dorian sighed and lit a cigarette. "Half an hour!" he murmured.
"It is not much to ask of you, Dorian, and it is entirely for your ownsake that I am speaking. I think it right that you should know thatthe most dreadful things are being said against you in London."
"I don't wish to know anything about them. I love scandals about otherpeople, but scandals about myself don't interest me. They have not gotthe charm of novelty."
"They must interest you, Dorian. Every gentleman is interested in hisgood name. You don't want people to talk of you as something vile anddegraded. Of course, you have your position, and your wealth, and allthat kind of thing. But position and wealth are not everything. Mindyou, I don't believe these rumours at all. At least, I can't believethem when I see you. Sin is a thing that writes itself across a man'sface. It cannot be concealed. People talk sometimes of secret vices.There are no such things. If a wretched man has a vice, it showsitself in the lines of his mouth, the droop of his eyelids, themoulding of his hands even. Somebody—I won't mention his name, butyou know him—came to me last year to have his portrait done. I hadnever seen him before, and had never heard anything about him at thetime, though I have heard a good deal since. He offered an extravagantprice. I refused him. There was something in the shape of his fingersthat I hated. I know now that I was quite right in what I fanciedabout him. His life is dreadful. But you, Dorian, with your pure,bright, innocent face, and your marvellous untroubled youth—I can'tbelieve anything against you. And yet I see you very seldom, and younever come down to the studio now, and when I am away from you, and Ihear all these hideous things that people are whispering about you, Idon't know what to say. Why is it, Dorian, that a man like the Duke ofBerwick leaves the room of a club when you enter it? Why is it that somany gentlemen in London will neither go to your house or invite you totheirs? You used to be a friend of Lord Staveley. I met him at dinnerlast week. Your name happened to come up in conversation, inconnection with the miniatures you have lent to the exhibition at theDudley. Staveley curled his lip and said that you might have the mostartistic tastes, but that you were a man whom no pure-minded girlshould be allowed to know, and whom no chaste woman should sit in thesame room with. I reminded him that I was a friend of yours, and askedhim what he meant. He told me. He told me right out before everybody.It was horrible! Why is your friendship so fatal to young men? Therewas that wretched boy in the Guards who committed suicide. You werehis great friend. There was Sir Henry Ashton, who had to leave Englandwith a tarnished name. You and he were inseparable. What about AdrianSingleton and his dreadful end? What about Lord Kent's only son andhis career? I met his father yesterday in St. James's Street. Heseemed broken with shame and sorrow. What about the young Duke ofPerth? What sort of life has he got now? What gentleman wouldassociate with him?"
"Stop, Basil. You are talking about things of which you know nothing,"said Dorian Gray, biting his lip, and with a note of infinite contemptin his voice. "You ask me why Berwick leaves a room when I enter it.It is because I know everything about his life, not because he knowsanything about mine. With such blood as he has in his veins, how couldhis record be clean? You ask me about Henry Ashton and young Perth.Did I teach the one his vices, and the other his debauchery? If Kent'ssilly son takes his wife from the streets, what is that to me? IfAdrian Singleton writes his friend's name across a bill, am I hiskeeper? I know how people chatter in England. The middle classes airtheir moral prejudices over their gross dinner-tables, and whisperabout what they call the profligacies of their betters in order to tryand pretend that they are in smart society and on intimate terms withthe people they slander. In this country, it is enough for a man tohave distinction and brains for every common tongue to wag against him.And what sort of lives do these people, who pose as being moral, leadthemselves? My dear fellow, you forget that we are in the native landof the hypocrite."
"Dorian," cried Hallward, "that is not the question. England is badenough I know, and English society is all wrong. That is the reasonwhy I want you to be fine. You have not been fine. One has a right tojudge of a man by the effect he has over his friends. Yours seem tolose all sense of honour, of goodness, of purity. You have filled themwith a madness for pleasure. They have gone down into the depths. Youled them there. Yes: you led them there, and yet you can smile, asyou are smiling now. And there is worse behind. I know you and Harryare inseparable. Surely for that reason, if for none other, you shouldnot have made his sister's name a by-word."
"Take care, Basil. You go too far."
"I must speak, and you must listen. You shall listen. When you metLady Gwendolen, not a breath of scandal had ever touched her. Is therea single decent woman in London now who would drive with her in thepark? Why, even her children are not allowed to live with her. Thenthere are other stories—stories that you have been seen creeping atdawn out of dreadful houses and slinking in disguise into the foulestdens in London. Are they true? Can they be true? When I first heardthem, I laughed. I hear them now, and they make me shudder. Whatabout your country-house and the life that is led there? Dorian, youdon't know what is said about you. I won't tell you that I don't wantto preach to you. I remember Harry saying once that every man whoturned himself into an amateur curate for the moment always began bysaying that, and then proceeded to break his word. I do want to preachto you. I want you to lead such a life as will make the world respectyou. I want you to have a clean name and a fair record. I want you toget rid of the dreadful people you associate with. Don't shrug yourshoulders like that. Don't be so indifferent. You have a wonderfulinfluence. Let it be for good, not for evil. They say that youcorrupt every one with whom you become intimate, and that it is quitesufficient for you to enter a house for shame of some kind to followafter. I don't know whether it is so or not. How should I know? Butit is said of you. I am told things that it seems impossible to doubt.Lord Gloucester was one of my greatest friends at Oxford. He showed mea letter that his wife had written to him when she was dying alone inher villa at Mentone. Your name was implicated in the most terribleconfession I ever read. I told him that it was absurd—that I knew youthoroughly and that you were incapable of anything of the kind. Knowyou? I wonder do I know you? Before I could answer that, I shouldhave to see your soul."
"To see my soul!" muttered Dorian Gray, starting up from the sofa andturning almost white from fear.
"Yes," answered Hallward gravely, and with deep-toned sorrow in hisvoice, "to see your soul. But only God can do that."
A bitter laugh of mockery broke from the lips of the younger man. "Youshall see it yourself, to-night!" he cried, seizing a lamp from thetable. "Come: it is your own handiwork. Why shouldn't you look atit? You can tell the world all about it afterwards, if you choose.Nobody would believe you. If they did believe you, they would like meall the better for it. I know the age better than you do, though youwill prate about it so tediously. Come, I tell you. You havechattered enough about corruption. Now you shall look on it face toface."
There was the madness of pride in every word he uttered. He stampedhis foot upon the ground in his boyish insolent manner. He felt aterrible joy at the thought that some one else was to share his secret,and that the man who had painted the portrait that was the origin ofall his shame was to be burdened for the rest of his life with thehideous memory of what he had done.
"Yes," he continued, coming closer to him and looking steadfastly intohis stern eyes, "I shall show you my soul. You shall see the thingthat you fancy only God can see."
Hallward started back. "This is blasphemy, Dorian!" he cried. "Youmust not say things like that. They are horrible, and they don't meananything."
"You think so?" He laughed again.
"I know so. As for what I said to you to-night, I said it for yourgood. You know I have been always a stanch friend to you."
"Don't touch me. Finish what you have to say."
A twisted flash of pain shot across the painter's face. He paused fora moment, and a wild feeling of pity came over him. After all, whatright had he to pry into the life of Dorian Gray? If he had done atithe of what was rumoured about him, how much he must have suffered!Then he straightened himself up, and walked over to the fire-place, andstood there, looking at the burning logs with their frostlike ashes andtheir throbbing cores of flame.
"I am waiting, Basil," said the young man in a hard clear voice.
He turned round. "What I have to say is this," he cried. "You mustgive me some answer to these horrible charges that are made againstyou. If you tell me that they are absolutely untrue from beginning toend, I shall believe you. Deny them, Dorian, deny them! Can't you seewhat I am going through? My God! don't tell me that you are bad, andcorrupt, and shameful."
Dorian Gray smiled. There was a curl of contempt in his lips. "Comeupstairs, Basil," he said quietly. "I keep a diary of my life from dayto day, and it never leaves the room in which it is written. I shallshow it to you if you come with me."
"I shall come with you, Dorian, if you wish it. I see I have missed mytrain. That makes no matter. I can go to-morrow. But don't ask me toread anything to-night. All I want is a plain answer to my question."
"That shall be given to you upstairs. I could not give it here. Youwill not have to read long."