The next day he did not leave the house, and, indeed, spent most of thetime in his own room, sick with a wild terror of dying, and yetindifferent to life itself. The consciousness of being hunted, snared,tracked down, had begun to dominate him. If the tapestry did buttremble in the wind, he shook. The dead leaves that were blown againstthe leaded panes seemed to him like his own wasted resolutions and wildregrets. When he closed his eyes, he saw again the sailor's facepeering through the mist-stained glass, and horror seemed once more tolay its hand upon his heart.
But perhaps it had been only his fancy that had called vengeance out ofthe night and set the hideous shapes of punishment before him. Actuallife was chaos, but there was something terribly logical in theimagination. It was the imagination that set remorse to dog the feetof sin. It was the imagination that made each crime bear its misshapenbrood. In the common world of fact the wicked were not punished, northe good rewarded. Success was given to the strong, failure thrustupon the weak. That was all. Besides, had any stranger been prowlinground the house, he would have been seen by the servants or thekeepers. Had any foot-marks been found on the flower-beds, thegardeners would have reported it. Yes, it had been merely fancy.Sibyl Vane's brother had not come back to kill him. He had sailed awayin his ship to founder in some winter sea. From him, at any rate, hewas safe. Why, the man did not know who he was, could not know who hewas. The mask of youth had saved him.
And yet if it had been merely an illusion, how terrible it was to thinkthat conscience could raise such fearful phantoms, and give themvisible form, and make them move before one! What sort of life wouldhis be if, day and night, shadows of his crime were to peer at him fromsilent corners, to mock him from secret places, to whisper in his earas 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, andthe air seemed to him to have become suddenly colder. Oh! in what awild hour of madness he had killed his friend! How ghastly the merememory of the scene! He saw it all again. Each hideous detail cameback to him with added horror. Out of the black cave of time, terribleand swathed in scarlet, rose the image of his sin. When Lord Henrycame in at six o'clock, he found him crying as one whose heart willbreak.
It was not till the third day that he ventured to go out. There wassomething in the clear, pine-scented air of that winter morning thatseemed to bring him back his joyousness and his ardour for life. Butit was not merely the physical conditions of environment that hadcaused the change. His own nature had revolted against the excess ofanguish that had sought to maim and mar the perfection of its calm.With subtle and finely wrought temperaments it is always so. Theirstrong passions must either bruise or bend. They either slay the man,or themselves die. Shallow sorrows and shallow loves live on. Theloves and sorrows that are great are destroyed by their own plenitude.Besides, he had convinced himself that he had been the victim of aterror-stricken imagination, and looked back now on his fears withsomething of pity and not a little of contempt.
After breakfast, he walked with the duchess for an hour in the gardenand then drove across the park to join the shooting-party. The crispfrost lay like salt upon the grass. The sky was an inverted cup ofblue metal. A thin film of ice bordered the flat, reed-grown lake.
At the corner of the pine-wood he caught sight of Sir GeoffreyClouston, the duchess's brother, jerking two spent cartridges out ofhis gun. He jumped from the cart, and having told the groom to takethe mare home, made his way towards his guest through the witheredbracken and rough undergrowth.
"Have you had good sport, Geoffrey?" he asked.
"Not very good, Dorian. I think most of the birds have gone to theopen. I dare say it will be better after lunch, when we get to newground."
Dorian strolled along by his side. The keen aromatic air, the brownand red lights that glimmered in the wood, the hoarse cries of thebeaters ringing out from time to time, and the sharp snaps of the gunsthat followed, fascinated him and filled him with a sense of delightfulfreedom. He was dominated by the carelessness of happiness, by thehigh indifference of joy.
Suddenly from a lumpy tussock of old grass some twenty yards in frontof them, with black-tipped ears erect and long hinder limbs throwing itforward, started a hare. It bolted for a thicket of alders. SirGeoffrey put his gun to his shoulder, but there was something in theanimal's grace of movement that strangely charmed Dorian Gray, and hecried out at once, "Don't shoot it, Geoffrey. Let it live."
"What nonsense, Dorian!" laughed his companion, and as the hare boundedinto the thicket, he fired. There were two cries heard, the cry of ahare in pain, which is dreadful, the cry of a man in agony, which isworse.
"Good heavens! I have hit a beater!" exclaimed Sir Geoffrey. "What anass the man was to get in front of the guns! Stop shooting there!" hecalled 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 firingceased 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 forthe day."
Dorian watched them as they plunged into the alder-clump, brushing thelithe swinging branches aside. In a few moments they emerged, dragginga body after them into the sunlight. He turned away in horror. Itseemed to him that misfortune followed wherever he went. He heard SirGeoffrey ask if the man was really dead, and the affirmative answer ofthe keeper. The wood seemed to him to have become suddenly alive withfaces. There was the trampling of myriad feet and the low buzz ofvoices. A great copper-breasted pheasant came beating through theboughs overhead.
After a few moments—that were to him, in his perturbed state, likeendless hours of pain—he felt a hand laid on his shoulder. He startedand looked round.
"Dorian," said Lord Henry, "I had better tell them that the shooting isstopped for to-day. It would not look well to go on."
"I wish it were stopped for ever, Harry," he answered bitterly. "Thewhole 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 ofshot 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 nearlyfifty yards without speaking. Then Dorian looked at Lord Henry andsaid, 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 dearfellow, it can't be helped. It was the man's own fault. Why did heget in front of the guns? Besides, it is nothing to us. It is ratherawkward for Geoffrey, of course. It does not do to pepper beaters. Itmakes people think that one is a wild shot. And Geoffrey is not; heshoots very straight. But there is no use talking about the matter."
Dorian shook his head. "It is a bad omen, Harry. I feel as ifsomething horrible were going to happen to some of us. To myself,perhaps," he added, passing his hand over his eyes, with a gesture ofpain.
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 weare not likely to suffer from it unless these fellows keep chatteringabout this thing at dinner. I must tell them that the subject is to betabooed. As for omens, there is no such thing as an omen. Destinydoes not send us heralds. She is too wise or too cruel for that.Besides, what on earth could happen to you, Dorian? You haveeverything in the world that a man can want. There is no one who wouldnot be delighted to change places with you."
"There is no one with whom I would not change places, Harry. Don'tlaugh like that. I am telling you the truth. The wretched peasant whohas just died is better off than I am. I have no terror of death. Itis the coming of death that terrifies me. Its monstrous wings seem towheel in the leaden air around me. Good heavens! don't you see a manmoving behind the trees there, watching me, waiting for me?"
Lord Henry looked in the direction in which the trembling gloved handwas pointing. "Yes," he said, smiling, "I see the gardener waiting foryou. I suppose he wants to ask you what flowers you wish to have onthe table to-night. How absurdly nervous you are, my dear fellow! Youmust come and see my doctor, when we get back to town."
Dorian heaved a sigh of relief as he saw the gardener approaching. Theman touched his hat, glanced for a moment at Lord Henry in a hesitatingmanner, 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 amcoming in," he said, coldly. The man turned round and went rapidly inthe 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 willflirt with anybody in the world as long as other people are looking on."
"How fond you are of saying dangerous things, Harry! In the presentinstance, you are quite astray. I like the duchess very much, but Idon't love her."
"And the duchess loves you very much, but she likes you less, so youare excellently matched."
"You are talking scandal, Harry, and there is never any basis forscandal."
"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 inhis voice. "But I seem to have lost the passion and forgotten thedesire. I am too much concentrated on myself. My own personality hasbecome a burden to me. I want to escape, to go away, to forget. Itwas silly of me to come down here at all. I think I shall send a wireto Harvey to have the yacht got ready. On a yacht one is safe."
"Safe from what, Dorian? You are in some trouble. Why not tell mewhat it is? You know I would help you."
"I can't tell you, Harry," he answered sadly. "And I dare say it isonly a fancy of mine. This unfortunate accident has upset me. I havea 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 isterribly upset. And it seems that you asked him not to shoot the hare.How curious!"
"Yes, it was very curious. I don't know what made me say it. Somewhim, I suppose. It looked the loveliest of little live things. But Iam sorry they told you about the man. It is a hideous subject."
"It is an annoying subject," broke in Lord Henry. "It has nopsychological value at all. Now if Geoffrey had done the thing onpurpose, how interesting he would be! I should like to know some onewho 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 isall. I am afraid I walked too far this morning. I didn't hear whatHarry said. Was it very bad? You must tell me some other time. Ithink I must go and lie down. You will excuse me, won't you?"
They had reached the great flight of steps that led from theconservatory on to the terrace. As the glass door closed behindDorian, Lord Henry turned and looked at the duchess with his slumberouseyes. "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 uncertaintythat 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 debut in life," she sighed.
"It came to you crowned."
"I am tired of strawberry leaves."
"They become you."
"Only in public."
"You would miss them," said Lord Henry.
"I will not part with a petal."
"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 lookingfor?" she inquired.
"The button from your foil," he answered. "You have dropped it."
She laughed. "I have still the mask."
"It makes your eyes lovelier," was his reply.
She laughed again. Her teeth showed like white seeds in a scarletfruit.
Upstairs, in his own room, Dorian Gray was lying on a sofa, with terrorin every tingling fibre of his body. Life had suddenly become toohideous a burden for him to bear. The dreadful death of the unluckybeater, shot in the thicket like a wild animal, had seemed to him topre-figure death for himself also. He had nearly swooned at what LordHenry had said in a chance mood of cynical jesting.
At five o'clock he rang his bell for his servant and gave him orders topack his things for the night-express to town, and to have the broughamat the door by eight-thirty. He was determined not to sleep anothernight at Selby Royal. It was an ill-omened place. Death walked therein 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 totown to consult his doctor and asking him to entertain his guests inhis absence. As he was putting it into the envelope, a knock came tothe door, and his valet informed him that the head-keeper wished to seehim. He frowned and bit his lip. "Send him in," he muttered, aftersome moments' hesitation.
As soon as the man entered, Dorian pulled his chequebook out of adrawer and spread it out before him.
"I suppose you have come about the unfortunate accident of thismorning, Thornton?" he said, taking up a pen.
"Yes, sir," answered the gamekeeper.
"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 leftin 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 ofcoming 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 hearthad suddenly stopped beating. "A sailor?" he cried out. "Did you saya sailor?"
"Yes, sir. He looks as if he had been a sort of sailor; tattooed onboth arms, and that kind of thing."
"Was there anything found on him?" said Dorian, leaning forward andlooking at the man with startled eyes. "Anything that would tell hisname?"
"Some money, sir—not much, and a six-shooter. There was no name of anykind. A decent-looking man, sir, but rough-like. A sort of sailor wethink."
Dorian started to his feet. A terrible hope fluttered past him. Heclutched at it madly. "Where is the body?" he exclaimed. "Quick! Imust see it at once."
"It is in an empty stable in the Home Farm, sir. The folk don't liketo have that sort of thing in their houses. They say a corpse bringsbad luck."
"The Home Farm! Go there at once and meet me. Tell one of the groomsto bring my horse round. No. Never mind. I'll go to the stablesmyself. It will save time."
In less than a quarter of an hour, Dorian Gray was galloping down thelong avenue as hard as he could go. The trees seemed to sweep past himin spectral procession, and wild shadows to fling themselves across hispath. 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 airlike 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 thefarthest stable a light was glimmering. Something seemed to tell himthat the body was there, and he hurried to the door and put his handupon the latch.
There he paused for a moment, feeling that he was on the brink of adiscovery that would either make or mar his life. Then he thrust thedoor open and entered.
On a heap of sacking in the far corner was lying the dead body of a mandressed in a coarse shirt and a pair of blue trousers. A spottedhandkerchief had been placed over the face. A coarse candle, stuck ina bottle, sputtered beside it.
Dorian Gray shuddered. He felt that his could not be the hand to takethe handkerchief away, and called out to one of the farm-servants tocome to him.
"Take that thing off the face. I wish to see it," he said, clutchingat the door-post for support.
When the farm-servant had done so, he stepped forward. A cry of joybroke from his lips. The man who had been shot in the thicket wasJames Vane.
He stood there for some minutes looking at the dead body. As he rodehome, his eyes were full of tears, for he knew he was safe.