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The Picture of Dorian Gray

Oscar Wilde

Chapter 20

Full text Chapter 20

Chapter 20

It was a lovely night, so warm that he threw his coat over his arm anddid not even put his silk scarf round his throat. As he strolled home,smoking his cigarette, two young men in evening dress passed him. Heheard one of them whisper to the other, "That is Dorian Gray." Heremembered how pleased he used to be when he was pointed out, or staredat, or talked about. He was tired of hearing his own name now. Halfthe charm of the little village where he had been so often lately wasthat no one knew who he was. He had often told the girl whom he hadlured to love him that he was poor, and she had believed him. He hadtold her once that he was wicked, and she had laughed at him andanswered that wicked people were always very old and very ugly. What alaugh she had!—just like a thrush singing. And how pretty she hadbeen in her cotton dresses and her large hats! She knew nothing, butshe had everything that he had lost.

When he reached home, he found his servant waiting up for him. He senthim to bed, and threw himself down on the sofa in the library, andbegan 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 longingfor the unstained purity of his boyhood—his rose-white boyhood, asLord Henry had once called it. He knew that he had tarnished himself,filled his mind with corruption and given horror to his fancy; that hehad been an evil influence to others, and had experienced a terriblejoy in being so; and that of the lives that had crossed his own, it hadbeen the fairest and the most full of promise that he had brought toshame. But was it all irretrievable? Was there no hope for him?

Ah! in what a monstrous moment of pride and passion he had prayed thatthe portrait should bear the burden of his days, and he keep theunsullied splendour of eternal youth! All his failure had been due tothat. Better for him that each sin of his life had brought its sureswift penalty along with it. There was purification in punishment.Not "Forgive us our sins" but "Smite us for our iniquities" should bethe prayer of man to a most just God.

The curiously carved mirror that Lord Henry had given to him, so manyyears ago now, was standing on the table, and the white-limbed Cupidslaughed round it as of old. He took it up, as he had done on thatnight of horror when he had first noted the change in the fatalpicture, and with wild, tear-dimmed eyes looked into its polishedshield. Once, some one who had terribly loved him had written to him amad letter, ending with these idolatrous words: "The world is changedbecause you are made of ivory and gold. The curves of your lipsrewrite history." The phrases came back to his memory, and he repeatedthem over and over to himself. Then he loathed his own beauty, andflinging the mirror on the floor, crushed it into silver splintersbeneath his heel. It was his beauty that had ruined him, his beautyand the youth that he had prayed for. But for those two things, hislife might have been free from stain. His beauty had been to him but amask, his youth but a mockery. What was youth at best? A green, anunripe time, a time of shallow moods, and sickly thoughts. Why had heworn its livery? Youth had spoiled him.

It was better not to think of the past. Nothing could alter that. Itwas of himself, and of his own future, that he had to think. JamesVane was hidden in a nameless grave in Selby churchyard. Alan Campbellhad shot himself one night in his laboratory, but had not revealed thesecret that he had been forced to know. The excitement, such as itwas, over Basil Hallward's disappearance would soon pass away. It wasalready waning. He was perfectly safe there. Nor, indeed, was it thedeath of Basil Hallward that weighed most upon his mind. It was theliving death of his own soul that troubled him. Basil had painted theportrait that had marred his life. He could not forgive him that. Itwas the portrait that had done everything. Basil had said things tohim that were unbearable, and that he had yet borne with patience. Themurder 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 wasnothing to him.

A new life! That was what he wanted. That was what he was waitingfor. Surely he had begun it already. He had spared one innocentthing, at any rate. He would never again tempt innocence. He would begood.

As he thought of Hetty Merton, he began to wonder if the portrait inthe locked room had changed. Surely it was not still so horrible as ithad been? Perhaps if his life became pure, he would be able to expelevery sign of evil passion from the face. Perhaps the signs of evilhad already gone away. He would go and look.

He took the lamp from the table and crept upstairs. As he unbarred thedoor, a smile of joy flitted across his strangely young-looking faceand lingered for a moment about his lips. Yes, he would be good, andthe hideous thing that he had hidden away would no longer be a terrorto 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, anddragged the purple hanging from the portrait. A cry of pain andindignation broke from him. He could see no change, save that in theeyes there was a look of cunning and in the mouth the curved wrinkle ofthe hypocrite. The thing was still loathsome—more loathsome, ifpossible, than before—and the scarlet dew that spotted the hand seemedbrighter, and more like blood newly spilled. Then he trembled. Had itbeen merely vanity that had made him do his one good deed? Or thedesire for a new sensation, as Lord Henry had hinted, with his mockinglaugh? Or that passion to act a part that sometimes makes us do thingsfiner than we are ourselves? Or, perhaps, all these? And why was thered stain larger than it had been? It seemed to have crept like ahorrible disease over the wrinkled fingers. There was blood on thepainted feet, as though the thing had dripped—blood even on the handthat had not held the knife. Confess? Did it mean that he was toconfess? To give himself up and be put to death? He laughed. He feltthat the idea was monstrous. Besides, even if he did confess, whowould believe him? There was no trace of the murdered man anywhere.Everything belonging to him had been destroyed. He himself had burnedwhat 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 washis duty to confess, to suffer public shame, and to make publicatonement. There was a God who called upon men to tell their sins toearth as well as to heaven. Nothing that he could do would cleanse himtill he had told his own sin. His sin? He shrugged his shoulders.The death of Basil Hallward seemed very little to him. He was thinkingof Hetty Merton. For it was an unjust mirror, this mirror of his soulthat he was looking at. Vanity? Curiosity? Hypocrisy? Had therebeen nothing more in his renunciation than that? There had beensomething more. At least he thought so. But who could tell? ... No.There had been nothing more. Through vanity he had spared her. Inhypocrisy he had worn the mask of goodness. For curiosity's sake hehad tried the denial of self. He recognized that now.

But this murder—was it to dog him all his life? Was he always to beburdened by his past? Was he really to confess? Never. There wasonly one bit of evidence left against him. The picture itself—thatwas evidence. He would destroy it. Why had he kept it so long? Onceit had given him pleasure to watch it changing and growing old. Oflate 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 eyesshould look upon it. It had brought melancholy across his passions.Its mere memory had marred many moments of joy. It had been likeconscience to him. Yes, it had been conscience. He would destroy it.

He looked round and saw the knife that had stabbed Basil Hallward. Hehad cleaned it many times, till there was no stain left upon it. Itwas bright, and glistened. As it had killed the painter, so it wouldkill the painter's work, and all that that meant. It would kill thepast, and when that was dead, he would be free. It would kill thismonstrous soul-life, and without its hideous warnings, he would be atpeace. He seized the thing, and stabbed the picture with it.

There was a cry heard, and a crash. The cry was so horrible in itsagony that the frightened servants woke and crept out of their rooms.Two gentlemen, who were passing in the square below, stopped and lookedup at the great house. They walked on till they met a policeman andbrought him back. The man rang the bell several times, but there wasno answer. Except for a light in one of the top windows, the house wasall dark. After a time, he went away and stood in an adjoining porticoand 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 ofthem was Sir Henry Ashton's uncle.

Inside, in the servants' part of the house, the half-clad domesticswere talking in low whispers to each other. Old Mrs. Leaf was cryingand wringing her hands. Francis was as pale as death.

After about a quarter of an hour, he got the coachman and one of thefootmen and crept upstairs. They knocked, but there was no reply.They called out. Everything was still. Finally, after vainly tryingto force the door, they got on the roof and dropped down on to thebalcony. The windows yielded easily—their bolts were old.

When they entered, they found hanging upon the wall a splendid portraitof their master as they had last seen him, in all the wonder of hisexquisite youth and beauty. Lying on the floor was a dead man, inevening dress, with a knife in his heart. He was withered, wrinkled,and loathsome of visage. It was not till they had examined the ringsthat they recognized who it was.