He passed out of the room and began the ascent, Basil Hallwardfollowing close behind. They walked softly, as men do instinctively atnight. The lamp cast fantastic shadows on the wall and staircase. Arising wind made some of the windows rattle.
When they reached the top landing, Dorian set the lamp down on thefloor, and taking out the key, turned it in the lock. "You insist onknowing, Basil?" he asked in a low voice.
"I am delighted," he answered, smiling. Then he added, somewhatharshly, "You are the one man in the world who is entitled to knoweverything about me. You have had more to do with my life than youthink"; and, taking up the lamp, he opened the door and went in. Acold current of air passed them, and the light shot up for a moment ina flame of murky orange. He shuddered. "Shut the door behind you," hewhispered, as he placed the lamp on the table.
Hallward glanced round him with a puzzled expression. The room lookedas if it had not been lived in for years. A faded Flemish tapestry, acurtained picture, an old Italian cassone, and an almost emptybook-case—that was all that it seemed to contain, besides a chair anda table. As Dorian Gray was lighting a half-burned candle that wasstanding on the mantelshelf, he saw that the whole place was coveredwith dust and that the carpet was in holes. A mouse ran scufflingbehind the wainscoting. There was a damp odour of mildew.
"So you think that it is only God who sees the soul, Basil? Draw thatcurtain back, and you will see mine."
The voice that spoke was cold and cruel. "You are mad, Dorian, orplaying a part," muttered Hallward, frowning.
"You won't? Then I must do it myself," said the young man, and he torethe curtain from its rod and flung it on the ground.
An exclamation of horror broke from the painter's lips as he saw in thedim light the hideous face on the canvas grinning at him. There wassomething in its expression that filled him with disgust and loathing.Good heavens! it was Dorian Gray's own face that he was looking at!The horror, whatever it was, had not yet entirely spoiled thatmarvellous beauty. There was still some gold in the thinning hair andsome scarlet on the sensual mouth. The sodden eyes had kept somethingof the loveliness of their blue, the noble curves had not yetcompletely passed away from chiselled nostrils and from plastic throat.Yes, it was Dorian himself. But who had done it? He seemed torecognize his own brushwork, and the frame was his own design. Theidea was monstrous, yet he felt afraid. He seized the lighted candle,and held it to the picture. In the left-hand corner was his own name,traced in long letters of bright vermilion.
It was some foul parody, some infamous ignoble satire. He had neverdone that. Still, it was his own picture. He knew it, and he felt asif his blood had changed in a moment from fire to sluggish ice. Hisown picture! What did it mean? Why had it altered? He turned andlooked at Dorian Gray with the eyes of a sick man. His mouth twitched,and his parched tongue seemed unable to articulate. He passed his handacross his forehead. It was dank with clammy sweat.
The young man was leaning against the mantelshelf, watching him withthat strange expression that one sees on the faces of those who areabsorbed in a play when some great artist is acting. There was neitherreal sorrow in it nor real joy. There was simply the passion of thespectator, with perhaps a flicker of triumph in his eyes. He had takenthe flower out of his coat, and was smelling it, or pretending to do so.
"What does this mean?" cried Hallward, at last. His own voice soundedshrill and curious in his ears.
"Years ago, when I was a boy," said Dorian Gray, crushing the flower inhis hand, "you met me, flattered me, and taught me to be vain of mygood looks. One day you introduced me to a friend of yours, whoexplained to me the wonder of youth, and you finished a portrait of methat revealed to me the wonder of beauty. In a mad moment that, evennow, I don't know whether I regret or not, I made a wish, perhaps youwould call it a prayer...."
"I remember it! Oh, how well I remember it! No! the thing isimpossible. The room is damp. Mildew has got into the canvas. Thepaints I used had some wretched mineral poison in them. I tell you thething is impossible."
"Ah, what is impossible?" murmured the young man, going over to thewindow and leaning his forehead against the cold, mist-stained glass.
"You told me you had destroyed it."
"I was wrong. It has destroyed me."
"I don't believe it is my picture."
"Can't you see your ideal in it?" said Dorian bitterly.
"My ideal, as you call it..."
"As you called it."
"There was nothing evil in it, nothing shameful. You were to me suchan ideal as I shall never meet again. This is the face of a satyr."
"It is the face of my soul."
"Christ! what a thing I must have worshipped! It has the eyes of adevil."
"Each of us has heaven and hell in him, Basil," cried Dorian with awild gesture of despair.
Hallward turned again to the portrait and gazed at it. "My God! If itis true," he exclaimed, "and this is what you have done with your life,why, you must be worse even than those who talk against you fancy youto be!" He held the light up again to the canvas and examined it. Thesurface seemed to be quite undisturbed and as he had left it. It wasfrom within, apparently, that the foulness and horror had come.Through some strange quickening of inner life the leprosies of sin wereslowly eating the thing away. The rotting of a corpse in a waterygrave was not so fearful.
His hand shook, and the candle fell from its socket on the floor andlay there sputtering. He placed his foot on it and put it out. Thenhe flung himself into the rickety chair that was standing by the tableand buried his face in his hands.
"Good God, Dorian, what a lesson! What an awful lesson!" There was noanswer, but he could hear the young man sobbing at the window. "Pray,Dorian, pray," he murmured. "What is it that one was taught to say inone's boyhood? 'Lead us not into temptation. Forgive us our sins.Wash away our iniquities.' Let us say that together. The prayer ofyour pride has been answered. The prayer of your repentance will beanswered also. I worshipped you too much. I am punished for it. Youworshipped yourself too much. We are both punished."
Dorian Gray turned slowly around and looked at him with tear-dimmedeyes. "It is too late, Basil," he faltered.
"It is never too late, Dorian. Let us kneel down and try if we cannotremember a prayer. Isn't there a verse somewhere, 'Though your sins beas scarlet, yet I will make them as white as snow'?"
"Those words mean nothing to me now."
"Hush! Don't say that. You have done enough evil in your life. MyGod! Don't you see that accursed thing leering at us?"
Dorian Gray glanced at the picture, and suddenly an uncontrollablefeeling of hatred for Basil Hallward came over him, as though it hadbeen suggested to him by the image on the canvas, whispered into hisear by those grinning lips. The mad passions of a hunted animalstirred within him, and he loathed the man who was seated at the table,more than in his whole life he had ever loathed anything. He glancedwildly around. Something glimmered on the top of the painted chestthat faced him. His eye fell on it. He knew what it was. It was aknife that he had brought up, some days before, to cut a piece of cord,and had forgotten to take away with him. He moved slowly towards it,passing Hallward as he did so. As soon as he got behind him, he seizedit and turned round. Hallward stirred in his chair as if he was goingto rise. He rushed at him and dug the knife into the great vein thatis behind the ear, crushing the man's head down on the table andstabbing again and again.
There was a stifled groan and the horrible sound of some one chokingwith blood. Three times the outstretched arms shot up convulsively,waving grotesque, stiff-fingered hands in the air. He stabbed himtwice more, but the man did not move. Something began to trickle onthe floor. He waited for a moment, still pressing the head down. Thenhe threw the knife on the table, and listened.
He could hear nothing, but the drip, drip on the threadbare carpet. Heopened the door and went out on the landing. The house was absolutelyquiet. No one was about. For a few seconds he stood bending over thebalustrade and peering down into the black seething well of darkness.Then he took out the key and returned to the room, locking himself inas he did so.
The thing was still seated in the chair, straining over the table withbowed head, and humped back, and long fantastic arms. Had it not beenfor the red jagged tear in the neck and the clotted black pool that wasslowly widening on the table, one would have said that the man wassimply asleep.
How quickly it had all been done! He felt strangely calm, and walkingover to the window, opened it and stepped out on the balcony. The windhad blown the fog away, and the sky was like a monstrous peacock'stail, starred with myriads of golden eyes. He looked down and saw thepoliceman going his rounds and flashing the long beam of his lantern onthe doors of the silent houses. The crimson spot of a prowling hansomgleamed at the corner and then vanished. A woman in a fluttering shawlwas creeping slowly by the railings, staggering as she went. Now andthen she stopped and peered back. Once, she began to sing in a hoarsevoice. The policeman strolled over and said something to her. Shestumbled away, laughing. A bitter blast swept across the square. Thegas-lamps flickered and became blue, and the leafless trees shook theirblack iron branches to and fro. He shivered and went back, closing thewindow behind him.
Having reached the door, he turned the key and opened it. He did noteven glance at the murdered man. He felt that the secret of the wholething was not to realize the situation. The friend who had painted thefatal portrait to which all his misery had been due had gone out of hislife. That was enough.
Then he remembered the lamp. It was a rather curious one of Moorishworkmanship, made of dull silver inlaid with arabesques of burnishedsteel, and studded with coarse turquoises. Perhaps it might be missedby his servant, and questions would be asked. He hesitated for amoment, then he turned back and took it from the table. He could nothelp seeing the dead thing. How still it was! How horribly white thelong hands looked! It was like a dreadful wax image.
Having locked the door behind him, he crept quietly downstairs. Thewoodwork creaked and seemed to cry out as if in pain. He stoppedseveral times and waited. No: everything was still. It was merelythe sound of his own footsteps.
When he reached the library, he saw the bag and coat in the corner.They must be hidden away somewhere. He unlocked a secret press thatwas in the wainscoting, a press in which he kept his own curiousdisguises, and put them into it. He could easily burn them afterwards.Then he pulled out his watch. It was twenty minutes to two.
He sat down and began to think. Every year—every month, almost—menwere strangled in England for what he had done. There had been amadness of murder in the air. Some red star had come too close to theearth.... And yet, what evidence was there against him? Basil Hallwardhad left the house at eleven. No one had seen him come in again. Mostof the servants were at Selby Royal. His valet had gone to bed....Paris! Yes. It was to Paris that Basil had gone, and by the midnighttrain, as he had intended. With his curious reserved habits, it wouldbe months before any suspicions would be roused. Months! Everythingcould be destroyed long before then.
A sudden thought struck him. He put on his fur coat and hat and wentout into the hall. There he paused, hearing the slow heavy tread ofthe policeman on the pavement outside and seeing the flash of thebull's-eye reflected in the window. He waited and held his breath.
After a few moments he drew back the latch and slipped out, shuttingthe door very gently behind him. Then he began ringing the bell. Inabout five minutes his valet appeared, half-dressed and looking verydrowsy.
"I am sorry to have had to wake you up, Francis," he said, stepping in;"but I had forgotten my latch-key. What time is it?"
"Ten minutes past two, sir," answered the man, looking at the clock andblinking.
"Ten minutes past two? How horribly late! You must wake me at nineto-morrow. I have some work to do."
"All right, sir."
"Did any one call this evening?"
"Mr. Hallward, sir. He stayed here till eleven, and then he went awayto catch his train."
"Oh! I am sorry I didn't see him. Did he leave any message?"
"No, sir, except that he would write to you from Paris, if he did notfind you at the club."
"That will do, Francis. Don't forget to call me at nine to-morrow."
The man shambled down the passage in his slippers.
Dorian Gray threw his hat and coat upon the table and passed into thelibrary. For a quarter of an hour he walked up and down the room,biting his lip and thinking. Then he took down the Blue Book from oneof the shelves and began to turn over the leaves. "Alan Campbell, 152,Hertford Street, Mayfair." Yes; that was the man he wanted.