"There is no use your telling me that you are going to be good," criedLord Henry, dipping his white fingers into a red copper bowl filledwith rose-water. "You are quite perfect. Pray, don't change."
Dorian Gray shook his head. "No, Harry, I have done too many dreadfulthings in my life. I am not going to do any more. I began my goodactions yesterday."
"Where were you yesterday?"
"In the country, Harry. I was staying at a little inn by myself."
"My dear boy," said Lord Henry, smiling, "anybody can be good in thecountry. There are no temptations there. That is the reason whypeople who live out of town are so absolutely uncivilized.Civilization is not by any means an easy thing to attain to. There areonly two ways by which man can reach it. One is by being cultured, theother by being corrupt. Country people have no opportunity of beingeither, so they stagnate."
"Culture and corruption," echoed Dorian. "I have known something ofboth. It seems terrible to me now that they should ever be foundtogether. For I have a new ideal, Harry. I am going to alter. Ithink I have altered."
"You have not yet told me what your good action was. Or did you sayyou had done more than one?" asked his companion as he spilled into hisplate a little crimson pyramid of seeded strawberries and, through aperforated, shell-shaped spoon, snowed white sugar upon them.
"I can tell you, Harry. It is not a story I could tell to any oneelse. I spared somebody. It sounds vain, but you understand what Imean. She was quite beautiful and wonderfully like Sibyl Vane. Ithink it was that which first attracted me to her. You remember Sibyl,don't you? How long ago that seems! Well, Hetty was not one of ourown class, of course. She was simply a girl in a village. But Ireally loved her. I am quite sure that I loved her. All during thiswonderful May that we have been having, I used to run down and see hertwo or three times a week. Yesterday she met me in a little orchard.The apple-blossoms kept tumbling down on her hair, and she waslaughing. We were to have gone away together this morning at dawn.Suddenly I determined to leave her as flowerlike as I had found her."
"I should think the novelty of the emotion must have given you a thrillof real pleasure, Dorian," interrupted Lord Henry. "But I can finishyour idyll for you. You gave her good advice and broke her heart.That was the beginning of your reformation."
"Harry, you are horrible! You mustn't say these dreadful things.Hetty's heart is not broken. Of course, she cried and all that. Butthere is no disgrace upon her. She can live, like Perdita, in hergarden of mint and marigold."
"And weep over a faithless Florizel," said Lord Henry, laughing, as heleaned back in his chair. "My dear Dorian, you have the most curiouslyboyish moods. Do you think this girl will ever be really content nowwith any one of her own rank? I suppose she will be married some dayto a rough carter or a grinning ploughman. Well, the fact of havingmet you, and loved you, will teach her to despise her husband, and shewill be wretched. From a moral point of view, I cannot say that Ithink much of your great renunciation. Even as a beginning, it ispoor. Besides, how do you know that Hetty isn't floating at thepresent moment in some starlit mill-pond, with lovely water-liliesround her, like Ophelia?"
"I can't bear this, Harry! You mock at everything, and then suggestthe most serious tragedies. I am sorry I told you now. I don't carewhat you say to me. I know I was right in acting as I did. PoorHetty! As I rode past the farm this morning, I saw her white face atthe window, like a spray of jasmine. Don't let us talk about it anymore, and don't try to persuade me that the first good action I havedone for years, the first little bit of self-sacrifice I have everknown, is really a sort of sin. I want to be better. I am going to bebetter. Tell me something about yourself. What is going on in town?I have not been to the club for days."
"The people are still discussing poor Basil's disappearance."
"I should have thought they had got tired of that by this time," saidDorian, pouring himself out some wine and frowning slightly.
"My dear boy, they have only been talking about it for six weeks, andthe British public are really not equal to the mental strain of havingmore than one topic every three months. They have been very fortunatelately, however. They have had my own divorce-case and Alan Campbell'ssuicide. Now they have got the mysterious disappearance of an artist.Scotland Yard still insists that the man in the grey ulster who leftfor Paris by the midnight train on the ninth of November was poorBasil, and the French police declare that Basil never arrived in Parisat all. I suppose in about a fortnight we shall be told that he hasbeen seen in San Francisco. It is an odd thing, but every one whodisappears is said to be seen at San Francisco. It must be adelightful city, and possess all the attractions of the next world."
"What do you think has happened to Basil?" asked Dorian, holding up hisBurgundy against the light and wondering how it was that he coulddiscuss the matter so calmly.
"I have not the slightest idea. If Basil chooses to hide himself, itis no business of mine. If he is dead, I don't want to think abouthim. Death is the only thing that ever terrifies me. I hate it."
"Why?" said the younger man wearily.
"Because," said Lord Henry, passing beneath his nostrils the gilttrellis of an open vinaigrette box, "one can survive everythingnowadays except that. Death and vulgarity are the only two facts inthe nineteenth century that one cannot explain away. Let us have ourcoffee in the music-room, Dorian. You must play Chopin to me. The manwith whom my wife ran away played Chopin exquisitely. Poor Victoria!I was very fond of her. The house is rather lonely without her. Ofcourse, married life is merely a habit, a bad habit. But then oneregrets the loss even of one's worst habits. Perhaps one regrets themthe most. They are such an essential part of one's personality."
Dorian said nothing, but rose from the table, and passing into the nextroom, sat down to the piano and let his fingers stray across the whiteand black ivory of the keys. After the coffee had been brought in, hestopped, and looking over at Lord Henry, said, "Harry, did it everoccur to you that Basil was murdered?"
Lord Henry yawned. "Basil was very popular, and always wore aWaterbury watch. Why should he have been murdered? He was not cleverenough to have enemies. Of course, he had a wonderful genius forpainting. But a man can paint like Velasquez and yet be as dull aspossible. Basil was really rather dull. He only interested me once,and that was when he told me, years ago, that he had a wild adorationfor you and that you were the dominant motive of his art."
"I was very fond of Basil," said Dorian with a note of sadness in hisvoice. "But don't people say that he was murdered?"
"Oh, some of the papers do. It does not seem to me to be at allprobable. I know there are dreadful places in Paris, but Basil was notthe sort of man to have gone to them. He had no curiosity. It was hischief defect."
"What would you say, Harry, if I told you that I had murdered Basil?"said the younger man. He watched him intently after he had spoken.
"I would say, my dear fellow, that you were posing for a character thatdoesn't suit you. All crime is vulgar, just as all vulgarity is crime.It is not in you, Dorian, to commit a murder. I am sorry if I hurtyour vanity by saying so, but I assure you it is true. Crime belongsexclusively to the lower orders. I don't blame them in the smallestdegree. I should fancy that crime was to them what art is to us,simply a method of procuring extraordinary sensations."
"A method of procuring sensations? Do you think, then, that a man whohas once committed a murder could possibly do the same crime again?Don't tell me that."
"Oh! anything becomes a pleasure if one does it too often," cried LordHenry, laughing. "That is one of the most important secrets of life.I should fancy, however, that murder is always a mistake. One shouldnever do anything that one cannot talk about after dinner. But let uspass from poor Basil. I wish I could believe that he had come to sucha really romantic end as you suggest, but I can't. I dare say he fellinto the Seine off an omnibus and that the conductor hushed up thescandal. Yes: I should fancy that was his end. I see him lying nowon his back under those dull-green waters, with the heavy bargesfloating over him and long weeds catching in his hair. Do you know, Idon't think he would have done much more good work. During the lastten years his painting had gone off very much."
Dorian heaved a sigh, and Lord Henry strolled across the room and beganto stroke the head of a curious Java parrot, a large, grey-plumagedbird with pink crest and tail, that was balancing itself upon a bambooperch. As his pointed fingers touched it, it dropped the white scurfof crinkled lids over black, glasslike eyes and began to sway backwardsand forwards.
"Yes," he continued, turning round and taking his handkerchief out ofhis pocket; "his painting had quite gone off. It seemed to me to havelost something. It had lost an ideal. When you and he ceased to begreat friends, he ceased to be a great artist. What was it separatedyou? I suppose he bored you. If so, he never forgave you. It's ahabit bores have. By the way, what has become of that wonderfulportrait he did of you? I don't think I have ever seen it since hefinished it. Oh! I remember your telling me years ago that you hadsent it down to Selby, and that it had got mislaid or stolen on theway. You never got it back? What a pity! it was really amasterpiece. I remember I wanted to buy it. I wish I had now. Itbelonged to Basil's best period. Since then, his work was that curiousmixture of bad painting and good intentions that always entitles a manto be called a representative British artist. Did you advertise forit? You should."
"I forget," said Dorian. "I suppose I did. But I never really likedit. I am sorry I sat for it. The memory of the thing is hateful tome. Why do you talk of it? It used to remind me of those curiouslines in some play—Hamlet, I think—how do they run?—
"Like the painting of a sorrow,
A face without a heart."
Yes: that is what it was like."
Lord Henry laughed. "If a man treats life artistically, his brain ishis heart," he answered, sinking into an arm-chair.
Dorian Gray shook his head and struck some soft chords on the piano."'Like the painting of a sorrow,'" he repeated, "'a face without aheart.'"
The elder man lay back and looked at him with half-closed eyes. "Bythe way, Dorian," he said after a pause, "'what does it profit a man ifhe gain the whole world and lose—how does the quotation run?—his ownsoul'?"
The music jarred, and Dorian Gray started and stared at his friend."Why do you ask me that, Harry?"
"My dear fellow," said Lord Henry, elevating his eyebrows in surprise,"I asked you because I thought you might be able to give me an answer.That is all. I was going through the park last Sunday, and close bythe Marble Arch there stood a little crowd of shabby-looking peoplelistening to some vulgar street-preacher. As I passed by, I heard theman yelling out that question to his audience. It struck me as beingrather dramatic. London is very rich in curious effects of that kind.A wet Sunday, an uncouth Christian in a mackintosh, a ring of sicklywhite faces under a broken roof of dripping umbrellas, and a wonderfulphrase flung into the air by shrill hysterical lips—it was really verygood in its way, quite a suggestion. I thought of telling the prophetthat art had a soul, but that man had not. I am afraid, however, hewould not have understood me."
"Don't, Harry. The soul is a terrible reality. It can be bought, andsold, and bartered away. It can be poisoned, or made perfect. Thereis a soul in each one of us. I know it."
"Do you feel quite sure of that, Dorian?"
"Ah! then it must be an illusion. The things one feels absolutelycertain about are never true. That is the fatality of faith, and thelesson of romance. How grave you are! Don't be so serious. What haveyou or I to do with the superstitions of our age? No: we have givenup our belief in the soul. Play me something. Play me a nocturne,Dorian, and, as you play, tell me, in a low voice, how you have keptyour youth. You must have some secret. I am only ten years older thanyou are, and I am wrinkled, and worn, and yellow. You are reallywonderful, Dorian. You have never looked more charming than you doto-night. You remind me of the day I saw you first. You were rathercheeky, very shy, and absolutely extraordinary. You have changed, ofcourse, but not in appearance. I wish you would tell me your secret.To get back my youth I would do anything in the world, except takeexercise, get up early, or be respectable. Youth! There is nothinglike it. It's absurd to talk of the ignorance of youth. The onlypeople to whose opinions I listen now with any respect are people muchyounger than myself. They seem in front of me. Life has revealed tothem her latest wonder. As for the aged, I always contradict the aged.I do it on principle. If you ask them their opinion on something thathappened yesterday, they solemnly give you the opinions current in1820, when people wore high stocks, believed in everything, and knewabsolutely nothing. How lovely that thing you are playing is! Iwonder, did Chopin write it at Majorca, with the sea weeping round thevilla and the salt spray dashing against the panes? It is marvellouslyromantic. What a blessing it is that there is one art left to us thatis not imitative! Don't stop. I want music to-night. It seems to methat you are the young Apollo and that I am Marsyas listening to you.I have sorrows, Dorian, of my own, that even you know nothing of. Thetragedy of old age is not that one is old, but that one is young. I amamazed sometimes at my own sincerity. Ah, Dorian, how happy you are!What an exquisite life you have had! You have drunk deeply ofeverything. You have crushed the grapes against your palate. Nothinghas been hidden from you. And it has all been to you no more than thesound of music. It has not marred you. You are still the same."
"I am not the same, Harry."
"Yes, you are the same. I wonder what the rest of your life will be.Don't spoil it by renunciations. At present you are a perfect type.Don't make yourself incomplete. You are quite flawless now. You neednot shake your head: you know you are. Besides, Dorian, don't deceiveyourself. Life is not governed by will or intention. Life is aquestion of nerves, and fibres, and slowly built-up cells in whichthought hides itself and passion has its dreams. You may fancyyourself safe and think yourself strong. But a chance tone of colourin a room or a morning sky, a particular perfume that you had onceloved and that brings subtle memories with it, a line from a forgottenpoem that you had come across again, a cadence from a piece of musicthat you had ceased to play—I tell you, Dorian, that it is on thingslike these that our lives depend. Browning writes about thatsomewhere; but our own senses will imagine them for us. There aremoments when the odour of lilas blanc passes suddenly across me, and Ihave to live the strangest month of my life over again. I wish I couldchange places with you, Dorian. The world has cried out against usboth, but it has always worshipped you. It always will worship you.You are the type of what the age is searching for, and what it isafraid it has found. I am so glad that you have never done anything,never carved a statue, or painted a picture, or produced anythingoutside of yourself! Life has been your art. You have set yourself tomusic. Your days are your sonnets."
Dorian rose up from the piano and passed his hand through his hair."Yes, life has been exquisite," he murmured, "but I am not going tohave the same life, Harry. And you must not say these extravagantthings to me. You don't know everything about me. I think that if youdid, even you would turn from me. You laugh. Don't laugh."
"Why have you stopped playing, Dorian? Go back and give me thenocturne over again. Look at that great, honey-coloured moon thathangs in the dusky air. She is waiting for you to charm her, and ifyou play she will come closer to the earth. You won't? Let us go tothe club, then. It has been a charming evening, and we must end itcharmingly. There is some one at White's who wants immensely to knowyou—young Lord Poole, Bournemouth's eldest son. He has already copiedyour neckties, and has begged me to introduce him to you. He is quitedelightful and rather reminds me of you."
"I hope not," said Dorian with a sad look in his eyes. "But I am tiredto-night, Harry. I shan't go to the club. It is nearly eleven, and Iwant to go to bed early."
"Do stay. You have never played so well as to-night. There wassomething in your touch that was wonderful. It had more expressionthan I had ever heard from it before."
"It is because I am going to be good," he answered, smiling. "I am alittle changed already."
"You cannot change to me, Dorian," said Lord Henry. "You and I willalways be friends."
"Yet you poisoned me with a book once. I should not forgive that.Harry, promise me that you will never lend that book to any one. Itdoes harm."
"My dear boy, you are really beginning to moralize. You will soon begoing about like the converted, and the revivalist, warning peopleagainst all the sins of which you have grown tired. You are much toodelightful to do that. Besides, it is no use. You and I are what weare, and will be what we will be. As for being poisoned by a book,there is no such thing as that. Art has no influence upon action. Itannihilates the desire to act. It is superbly sterile. The books thatthe world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.That is all. But we won't discuss literature. Come round to-morrow. Iam going to ride at eleven. We might go together, and I will take youto lunch afterwards with Lady Branksome. She is a charming woman, andwants to consult you about some tapestries she is thinking of buying.Mind you come. Or shall we lunch with our little duchess? She saysshe never sees you now. Perhaps you are tired of Gladys? I thoughtyou would be. Her clever tongue gets on one's nerves. Well, in anycase, be here at eleven."
"Must I really come, Harry?"
"Certainly. The park is quite lovely now. I don't think there havebeen such lilacs since the year I met you."
"Very well. I shall be here at eleven," said Dorian. "Good night,Harry." As he reached the door, he hesitated for a moment, as if hehad something more to say. Then he sighed and went out.