It was long past noon when he awoke. His valet had crept several timeson tiptoe into the room to see if he was stirring, and had wonderedwhat made his young master sleep so late. Finally his bell sounded,and Victor came in softly with a cup of tea, and a pile of letters, ona small tray of old Sevres china, and drew back the olive-satincurtains, with their shimmering blue lining, that hung in front of thethree tall windows.
"Monsieur has well slept this morning," he said, smiling.
"What o'clock is it, Victor?" asked Dorian Gray drowsily.
"One hour and a quarter, Monsieur."
How late it was! He sat up, and having sipped some tea, turned overhis letters. One of them was from Lord Henry, and had been brought byhand that morning. He hesitated for a moment, and then put it aside.The others he opened listlessly. They contained the usual collectionof cards, invitations to dinner, tickets for private views, programmesof charity concerts, and the like that are showered on fashionableyoung men every morning during the season. There was a rather heavybill for a chased silver Louis-Quinze toilet-set that he had not yethad the courage to send on to his guardians, who were extremelyold-fashioned people and did not realize that we live in an age whenunnecessary things are our only necessities; and there were severalvery courteously worded communications from Jermyn Street money-lendersoffering to advance any sum of money at a moment's notice and at themost reasonable rates of interest.
After about ten minutes he got up, and throwing on an elaboratedressing-gown of silk-embroidered cashmere wool, passed into theonyx-paved bathroom. The cool water refreshed him after his longsleep. He seemed to have forgotten all that he had gone through. Adim sense of having taken part in some strange tragedy came to him onceor twice, but there was the unreality of a dream about it.
As soon as he was dressed, he went into the library and sat down to alight French breakfast that had been laid out for him on a small roundtable close to the open window. It was an exquisite day. The warm airseemed laden with spices. A bee flew in and buzzed round theblue-dragon bowl that, filled with sulphur-yellow roses, stood beforehim. He felt perfectly happy.
Suddenly his eye fell on the screen that he had placed in front of theportrait, and he started.
"Too cold for Monsieur?" asked his valet, putting an omelette on thetable. "I shut the window?"
Dorian shook his head. "I am not cold," he murmured.
Was it all true? Had the portrait really changed? Or had it beensimply his own imagination that had made him see a look of evil wherethere had been a look of joy? Surely a painted canvas could not alter?The thing was absurd. It would serve as a tale to tell Basil some day.It would make him smile.
And, yet, how vivid was his recollection of the whole thing! First inthe dim twilight, and then in the bright dawn, he had seen the touch ofcruelty round the warped lips. He almost dreaded his valet leaving theroom. He knew that when he was alone he would have to examine theportrait. He was afraid of certainty. When the coffee and cigaretteshad been brought and the man turned to go, he felt a wild desire totell him to remain. As the door was closing behind him, he called himback. The man stood waiting for his orders. Dorian looked at him fora moment. "I am not at home to any one, Victor," he said with a sigh.The man bowed and retired.
Then he rose from the table, lit a cigarette, and flung himself down ona luxuriously cushioned couch that stood facing the screen. The screenwas an old one, of gilt Spanish leather, stamped and wrought with arather florid Louis-Quatorze pattern. He scanned it curiously,wondering if ever before it had concealed the secret of a man's life.
Should he move it aside, after all? Why not let it stay there? Whatwas the use of knowing? If the thing was true, it was terrible. If itwas not true, why trouble about it? But what if, by some fate ordeadlier chance, eyes other than his spied behind and saw the horriblechange? What should he do if Basil Hallward came and asked to look athis own picture? Basil would be sure to do that. No; the thing had tobe examined, and at once. Anything would be better than this dreadfulstate of doubt.
He got up and locked both doors. At least he would be alone when helooked upon the mask of his shame. Then he drew the screen aside andsaw himself face to face. It was perfectly true. The portrait hadaltered.
As he often remembered afterwards, and always with no small wonder, hefound himself at first gazing at the portrait with a feeling of almostscientific interest. That such a change should have taken place wasincredible to him. And yet it was a fact. Was there some subtleaffinity between the chemical atoms that shaped themselves into formand colour on the canvas and the soul that was within him? Could it bethat what that soul thought, they realized?—that what it dreamed, theymade true? Or was there some other, more terrible reason? Heshuddered, and felt afraid, and, going back to the couch, lay there,gazing at the picture in sickened horror.
One thing, however, he felt that it had done for him. It had made himconscious how unjust, how cruel, he had been to Sibyl Vane. It was nottoo late to make reparation for that. She could still be his wife.His unreal and selfish love would yield to some higher influence, wouldbe transformed into some nobler passion, and the portrait that BasilHallward had painted of him would be a guide to him through life, wouldbe to him what holiness is to some, and conscience to others, and thefear of God to us all. There were opiates for remorse, drugs thatcould lull the moral sense to sleep. But here was a visible symbol ofthe degradation of sin. Here was an ever-present sign of the ruin menbrought upon their souls.
Three o'clock struck, and four, and the half-hour rang its doublechime, but Dorian Gray did not stir. He was trying to gather up thescarlet threads of life and to weave them into a pattern; to find hisway through the sanguine labyrinth of passion through which he waswandering. He did not know what to do, or what to think. Finally, hewent over to the table and wrote a passionate letter to the girl he hadloved, imploring her forgiveness and accusing himself of madness. Hecovered page after page with wild words of sorrow and wilder words ofpain. There is a luxury in self-reproach. When we blame ourselves, wefeel that no one else has a right to blame us. It is the confession,not the priest, that gives us absolution. When Dorian had finished theletter, he felt that he had been forgiven.
Suddenly there came a knock to the door, and he heard Lord Henry'svoice outside. "My dear boy, I must see you. Let me in at once. Ican't bear your shutting yourself up like this."
He made no answer at first, but remained quite still. The knockingstill continued and grew louder. Yes, it was better to let Lord Henryin, and to explain to him the new life he was going to lead, to quarrelwith him if it became necessary to quarrel, to part if parting wasinevitable. He jumped up, drew the screen hastily across the picture,and unlocked the door.
"I am so sorry for it all, Dorian," said Lord Henry as he entered."But you must not think too much about it."
"Do you mean about Sibyl Vane?" asked the lad.
"Yes, of course," answered Lord Henry, sinking into a chair and slowlypulling off his yellow gloves. "It is dreadful, from one point ofview, but it was not your fault. Tell me, did you go behind and seeher, after the play was over?"
"I felt sure you had. Did you make a scene with her?"
"I was brutal, Harry—perfectly brutal. But it is all right now. I amnot sorry for anything that has happened. It has taught me to knowmyself better."
"Ah, Dorian, I am so glad you take it in that way! I was afraid Iwould find you plunged in remorse and tearing that nice curly hair ofyours."
"I have got through all that," said Dorian, shaking his head andsmiling. "I am perfectly happy now. I know what conscience is, tobegin with. It is not what you told me it was. It is the divinestthing in us. Don't sneer at it, Harry, any more—at least not beforeme. I want to be good. I can't bear the idea of my soul beinghideous."
"A very charming artistic basis for ethics, Dorian! I congratulate youon it. But how are you going to begin?"
"By marrying Sibyl Vane."
"Marrying Sibyl Vane!" cried Lord Henry, standing up and looking at himin perplexed amazement. "But, my dear Dorian—"
"Yes, Harry, I know what you are going to say. Something dreadfulabout marriage. Don't say it. Don't ever say things of that kind tome again. Two days ago I asked Sibyl to marry me. I am not going tobreak my word to her. She is to be my wife."
"Your wife! Dorian! ... Didn't you get my letter? I wrote to you thismorning, and sent the note down by my own man."
"Your letter? Oh, yes, I remember. I have not read it yet, Harry. Iwas afraid there might be something in it that I wouldn't like. Youcut life to pieces with your epigrams."
"You know nothing then?"
"What do you mean?"
Lord Henry walked across the room, and sitting down by Dorian Gray,took both his hands in his own and held them tightly. "Dorian," hesaid, "my letter—don't be frightened—was to tell you that Sibyl Vaneis dead."
A cry of pain broke from the lad's lips, and he leaped to his feet,tearing his hands away from Lord Henry's grasp. "Dead! Sibyl dead!It is not true! It is a horrible lie! How dare you say it?"
"It is quite true, Dorian," said Lord Henry, gravely. "It is in allthe morning papers. I wrote down to you to ask you not to see any onetill I came. There will have to be an inquest, of course, and you mustnot be mixed up in it. Things like that make a man fashionable inParis. But in London people are so prejudiced. Here, one should nevermake one's debut with a scandal. One should reserve that to give aninterest to one's old age. I suppose they don't know your name at thetheatre? If they don't, it is all right. Did any one see you goinground to her room? That is an important point."
Dorian did not answer for a few moments. He was dazed with horror.Finally he stammered, in a stifled voice, "Harry, did you say aninquest? What did you mean by that? Did Sibyl—? Oh, Harry, I can'tbear it! But be quick. Tell me everything at once."
"I have no doubt it was not an accident, Dorian, though it must be putin that way to the public. It seems that as she was leaving thetheatre with her mother, about half-past twelve or so, she said she hadforgotten something upstairs. They waited some time for her, but shedid not come down again. They ultimately found her lying dead on thefloor of her dressing-room. She had swallowed something by mistake,some dreadful thing they use at theatres. I don't know what it was,but it had either prussic acid or white lead in it. I should fancy itwas prussic acid, as she seems to have died instantaneously."
"Harry, Harry, it is terrible!" cried the lad.
"Yes; it is very tragic, of course, but you must not get yourself mixedup in it. I see by The Standard that she was seventeen. I should havethought she was almost younger than that. She looked such a child, andseemed to know so little about acting. Dorian, you mustn't let thisthing get on your nerves. You must come and dine with me, andafterwards we will look in at the opera. It is a Patti night, andeverybody will be there. You can come to my sister's box. She has gotsome smart women with her."
"So I have murdered Sibyl Vane," said Dorian Gray, half to himself,"murdered her as surely as if I had cut her little throat with a knife.Yet the roses are not less lovely for all that. The birds sing just ashappily in my garden. And to-night I am to dine with you, and then goon to the opera, and sup somewhere, I suppose, afterwards. Howextraordinarily dramatic life is! If I had read all this in a book,Harry, I think I would have wept over it. Somehow, now that it hashappened actually, and to me, it seems far too wonderful for tears.Here is the first passionate love-letter I have ever written in mylife. Strange, that my first passionate love-letter should have beenaddressed to a dead girl. Can they feel, I wonder, those white silentpeople we call the dead? Sibyl! Can she feel, or know, or listen?Oh, Harry, how I loved her once! It seems years ago to me now. Shewas everything to me. Then came that dreadful night—was it reallyonly last night?—when she played so badly, and my heart almost broke.She explained it all to me. It was terribly pathetic. But I was notmoved a bit. I thought her shallow. Suddenly something happened thatmade me afraid. I can't tell you what it was, but it was terrible. Isaid I would go back to her. I felt I had done wrong. And now she isdead. My God! My God! Harry, what shall I do? You don't know thedanger I am in, and there is nothing to keep me straight. She wouldhave done that for me. She had no right to kill herself. It wasselfish of her."
"My dear Dorian," answered Lord Henry, taking a cigarette from his caseand producing a gold-latten matchbox, "the only way a woman can everreform a man is by boring him so completely that he loses all possibleinterest in life. If you had married this girl, you would have beenwretched. Of course, you would have treated her kindly. One canalways be kind to people about whom one cares nothing. But she wouldhave soon found out that you were absolutely indifferent to her. Andwhen a woman finds that out about her husband, she either becomesdreadfully dowdy, or wears very smart bonnets that some other woman'shusband has to pay for. I say nothing about the social mistake, whichwould have been abject—which, of course, I would not have allowed—butI assure you that in any case the whole thing would have been anabsolute failure."
"I suppose it would," muttered the lad, walking up and down the roomand looking horribly pale. "But I thought it was my duty. It is notmy fault that this terrible tragedy has prevented my doing what wasright. I remember your saying once that there is a fatality about goodresolutions—that they are always made too late. Mine certainly were."
"Good resolutions are useless attempts to interfere with scientificlaws. Their origin is pure vanity. Their result is absolutely nil.They give us, now and then, some of those luxurious sterile emotionsthat have a certain charm for the weak. That is all that can be saidfor them. They are simply cheques that men draw on a bank where theyhave no account."
"Harry," cried Dorian Gray, coming over and sitting down beside him,"why is it that I cannot feel this tragedy as much as I want to? Idon't think I am heartless. Do you?"
"You have done too many foolish things during the last fortnight to beentitled to give yourself that name, Dorian," answered Lord Henry withhis sweet melancholy smile.
The lad frowned. "I don't like that explanation, Harry," he rejoined,"but I am glad you don't think I am heartless. I am nothing of thekind. I know I am not. And yet I must admit that this thing that hashappened does not affect me as it should. It seems to me to be simplylike a wonderful ending to a wonderful play. It has all the terriblebeauty of a Greek tragedy, a tragedy in which I took a great part, butby which I have not been wounded."
"It is an interesting question," said Lord Henry, who found anexquisite pleasure in playing on the lad's unconscious egotism, "anextremely interesting question. I fancy that the true explanation isthis: It often happens that the real tragedies of life occur in suchan inartistic manner that they hurt us by their crude violence, theirabsolute incoherence, their absurd want of meaning, their entire lackof style. They affect us just as vulgarity affects us. They give usan impression of sheer brute force, and we revolt against that.Sometimes, however, a tragedy that possesses artistic elements ofbeauty crosses our lives. If these elements of beauty are real, thewhole thing simply appeals to our sense of dramatic effect. Suddenlywe find that we are no longer the actors, but the spectators of theplay. Or rather we are both. We watch ourselves, and the mere wonderof the spectacle enthralls us. In the present case, what is it thathas really happened? Some one has killed herself for love of you. Iwish that I had ever had such an experience. It would have made me inlove with love for the rest of my life. The people who have adoredme—there have not been very many, but there have been some—havealways insisted on living on, long after I had ceased to care for them,or they to care for me. They have become stout and tedious, and when Imeet them, they go in at once for reminiscences. That awful memory ofwoman! What a fearful thing it is! And what an utter intellectualstagnation it reveals! One should absorb the colour of life, but oneshould never remember its details. Details are always vulgar."
"I must sow poppies in my garden," sighed Dorian.
"There is no necessity," rejoined his companion. "Life has alwayspoppies in her hands. Of course, now and then things linger. I oncewore nothing but violets all through one season, as a form of artisticmourning for a romance that would not die. Ultimately, however, it diddie. I forget what killed it. I think it was her proposing tosacrifice the whole world for me. That is always a dreadful moment.It fills one with the terror of eternity. Well—would you believeit?—a week ago, at Lady Hampshire's, I found myself seated at dinnernext the lady in question, and she insisted on going over the wholething again, and digging up the past, and raking up the future. I hadburied my romance in a bed of asphodel. She dragged it out again andassured me that I had spoiled her life. I am bound to state that sheate an enormous dinner, so I did not feel any anxiety. But what a lackof taste she showed! The one charm of the past is that it is the past.But women never know when the curtain has fallen. They always want asixth act, and as soon as the interest of the play is entirely over,they propose to continue it. If they were allowed their own way, everycomedy would have a tragic ending, and every tragedy would culminate ina farce. They are charmingly artificial, but they have no sense ofart. You are more fortunate than I am. I assure you, Dorian, that notone of the women I have known would have done for me what Sibyl Vanedid for you. Ordinary women always console themselves. Some of themdo it by going in for sentimental colours. Never trust a woman whowears mauve, whatever her age may be, or a woman over thirty-five whois fond of pink ribbons. It always means that they have a history.Others find a great consolation in suddenly discovering the goodqualities of their husbands. They flaunt their conjugal felicity inone's face, as if it were the most fascinating of sins. Religionconsoles some. Its mysteries have all the charm of a flirtation, awoman once told me, and I can quite understand it. Besides, nothingmakes one so vain as being told that one is a sinner. Conscience makesegotists of us all. Yes; there is really no end to the consolationsthat women find in modern life. Indeed, I have not mentioned the mostimportant one."
"What is that, Harry?" said the lad listlessly.
"Oh, the obvious consolation. Taking some one else's admirer when oneloses one's own. In good society that always whitewashes a woman. Butreally, Dorian, how different Sibyl Vane must have been from all thewomen one meets! There is something to me quite beautiful about herdeath. I am glad I am living in a century when such wonders happen.They make one believe in the reality of the things we all play with,such as romance, passion, and love."
"I was terribly cruel to her. You forget that."
"I am afraid that women appreciate cruelty, downright cruelty, morethan anything else. They have wonderfully primitive instincts. Wehave emancipated them, but they remain slaves looking for theirmasters, all the same. They love being dominated. I am sure you weresplendid. I have never seen you really and absolutely angry, but I canfancy how delightful you looked. And, after all, you said something tome the day before yesterday that seemed to me at the time to be merelyfanciful, but that I see now was absolutely true, and it holds the keyto everything."
"What was that, Harry?"
"You said to me that Sibyl Vane represented to you all the heroines ofromance—that she was Desdemona one night, and Ophelia the other; thatif she died as Juliet, she came to life as Imogen."
"She will never come to life again now," muttered the lad, burying hisface in his hands.
"No, she will never come to life. She has played her last part. Butyou must think of that lonely death in the tawdry dressing-room simplyas a strange lurid fragment from some Jacobean tragedy, as a wonderfulscene from Webster, or Ford, or Cyril Tourneur. The girl never reallylived, and so she has never really died. To you at least she wasalways a dream, a phantom that flitted through Shakespeare's plays andleft them lovelier for its presence, a reed through which Shakespeare'smusic sounded richer and more full of joy. The moment she touchedactual life, she marred it, and it marred her, and so she passed away.Mourn for Ophelia, if you like. Put ashes on your head becauseCordelia was strangled. Cry out against Heaven because the daughter ofBrabantio died. But don't waste your tears over Sibyl Vane. She wasless real than they are."
There was a silence. The evening darkened in the room. Noiselessly,and with silver feet, the shadows crept in from the garden. Thecolours faded wearily out of things.
After some time Dorian Gray looked up. "You have explained me tomyself, Harry," he murmured with something of a sigh of relief. "Ifelt all that you have said, but somehow I was afraid of it, and Icould not express it to myself. How well you know me! But we will nottalk again of what has happened. It has been a marvellous experience.That is all. I wonder if life has still in store for me anything asmarvellous."
"Life has everything in store for you, Dorian. There is nothing thatyou, with your extraordinary good looks, will not be able to do."
"But suppose, Harry, I became haggard, and old, and wrinkled? Whatthen?"
"Ah, then," said Lord Henry, rising to go, "then, my dear Dorian, youwould have to fight for your victories. As it is, they are brought toyou. No, you must keep your good looks. We live in an age that readstoo much to be wise, and that thinks too much to be beautiful. Wecannot spare you. And now you had better dress and drive down to theclub. We are rather late, as it is."
"I think I shall join you at the opera, Harry. I feel too tired to eatanything. What is the number of your sister's box?"
"Twenty-seven, I believe. It is on the grand tier. You will see hername on the door. But I am sorry you won't come and dine."
"I don't feel up to it," said Dorian listlessly. "But I am awfullyobliged to you for all that you have said to me. You are certainly mybest friend. No one has ever understood me as you have."
"We are only at the beginning of our friendship, Dorian," answered LordHenry, shaking him by the hand. "Good-bye. I shall see you beforenine-thirty, I hope. Remember, Patti is singing."
As he closed the door behind him, Dorian Gray touched the bell, and ina few minutes Victor appeared with the lamps and drew the blinds down.He waited impatiently for him to go. The man seemed to take aninterminable time over everything.
As soon as he had left, he rushed to the screen and drew it back. No;there was no further change in the picture. It had received the newsof Sibyl Vane's death before he had known of it himself. It wasconscious of the events of life as they occurred. The vicious crueltythat marred the fine lines of the mouth had, no doubt, appeared at thevery moment that the girl had drunk the poison, whatever it was. Orwas it indifferent to results? Did it merely take cognizance of whatpassed within the soul? He wondered, and hoped that some day he wouldsee the change taking place before his very eyes, shuddering as hehoped it.
Poor Sibyl! What a romance it had all been! She had often mimickeddeath on the stage. Then Death himself had touched her and taken herwith him. How had she played that dreadful last scene? Had she cursedhim, as she died? No; she had died for love of him, and love wouldalways be a sacrament to him now. She had atoned for everything by thesacrifice she had made of her life. He would not think any more ofwhat she had made him go through, on that horrible night at thetheatre. When he thought of her, it would be as a wonderful tragicfigure sent on to the world's stage to show the supreme reality oflove. A wonderful tragic figure? Tears came to his eyes as heremembered her childlike look, and winsome fanciful ways, and shytremulous grace. He brushed them away hastily and looked again at thepicture.
He felt that the time had really come for making his choice. Or hadhis choice already been made? Yes, life had decided that forhim—life, and his own infinite curiosity about life. Eternal youth,infinite passion, pleasures subtle and secret, wild joys and wildersins—he was to have all these things. The portrait was to bear theburden of his shame: that was all.
A feeling of pain crept over him as he thought of the desecration thatwas in store for the fair face on the canvas. Once, in boyish mockeryof Narcissus, he had kissed, or feigned to kiss, those painted lipsthat now smiled so cruelly at him. Morning after morning he had satbefore the portrait wondering at its beauty, almost enamoured of it, asit seemed to him at times. Was it to alter now with every mood towhich he yielded? Was it to become a monstrous and loathsome thing, tobe hidden away in a locked room, to be shut out from the sunlight thathad so often touched to brighter gold the waving wonder of its hair?The pity of it! the pity of it!
For a moment, he thought of praying that the horrible sympathy thatexisted between him and the picture might cease. It had changed inanswer to a prayer; perhaps in answer to a prayer it might remainunchanged. And yet, who, that knew anything about life, wouldsurrender the chance of remaining always young, however fantastic thatchance might be, or with what fateful consequences it might be fraught?Besides, was it really under his control? Had it indeed been prayerthat had produced the substitution? Might there not be some curiousscientific reason for it all? If thought could exercise its influenceupon a living organism, might not thought exercise an influence upondead and inorganic things? Nay, without thought or conscious desire,might not things external to ourselves vibrate in unison with our moodsand passions, atom calling to atom in secret love or strange affinity?But the reason was of no importance. He would never again tempt by aprayer any terrible power. If the picture was to alter, it was toalter. That was all. Why inquire too closely into it?
For there would be a real pleasure in watching it. He would be able tofollow his mind into its secret places. This portrait would be to himthe most magical of mirrors. As it had revealed to him his own body,so it would reveal to him his own soul. And when winter came upon it,he would still be standing where spring trembles on the verge ofsummer. When the blood crept from its face, and left behind a pallidmask of chalk with leaden eyes, he would keep the glamour of boyhood.Not one blossom of his loveliness would ever fade. Not one pulse ofhis life would ever weaken. Like the gods of the Greeks, he would bestrong, and fleet, and joyous. What did it matter what happened to thecoloured image on the canvas? He would be safe. That was everything.
He drew the screen back into its former place in front of the picture,smiling as he did so, and passed into his bedroom, where his valet wasalready waiting for him. An hour later he was at the opera, and LordHenry was leaning over his chair.