It was a lovely night, so warm that he threw his coat over his arm and
did not even put his silk scarf round his throat. As he strolled home,
smoking his cigarette, two young men in evening dress passed him. He
heard one of them whisper to the other, "That is Dorian Gray." He
remembered how pleased he used to be when he was pointed out, or stared
at, or talked about. He was tired of hearing his own name now. Half
the charm of the little village where he had been so often lately was
that no one knew who he was. He had often told the girl whom he had
lured to love him that he was poor, and she had believed him. He had
told her once that he was wicked, and she had laughed at him and
answered that wicked people were always very old and very ugly. What a
laugh she had!--just like a thrush singing. And how pretty she had
been in her cotton dresses and her large hats! She knew nothing, but
she had everything that he had lost.
When he reached home, he found his servant waiting up for him. He sent
him to bed, and threw himself down on the sofa in the library, and
began 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 longing
for the unstained purity of his boyhood--his rose-white boyhood, as
Lord Henry had once called it. He knew that he had tarnished himself,
filled his mind with corruption and given horror to his fancy; that he
had been an evil influence to others, and had experienced a terrible
joy in being so; and that of the lives that had crossed his own, it had
been the fairest and the most full of promise that he had brought to
shame. But was it all irretrievable? Was there no hope for him?
Ah! in what a monstrous moment of pride and passion he had prayed that
the portrait should bear the burden of his days, and he keep the
unsullied splendour of eternal youth! All his failure had been due to
that. Better for him that each sin of his life had brought its sure
swift penalty along with it. There was purification in punishment.
Not "Forgive us our sins" but "Smite us for our iniquities" should be
the prayer of man to a most just God.
The curiously carved mirror that Lord Henry had given to him, so many
years ago now, was standing on the table, and the white-limbed Cupids
laughed round it as of old. He took it up, as he had done on that
night of horror when he had first noted the change in the fatal
picture, and with wild, tear-dimmed eyes looked into its polished
shield. Once, some one who had terribly loved him had written to him a
mad letter, ending with these idolatrous words: "The world is changed
because you are made of ivory and gold. The curves of your lips
rewrite history." The phrases came back to his memory, and he repeated
them over and over to himself. Then he loathed his own beauty, and
flinging the mirror on the floor, crushed it into silver splinters
beneath his heel. It was his beauty that had ruined him, his beauty
and the youth that he had prayed for. But for those two things, his
life might have been free from stain. His beauty had been to him but a
mask, his youth but a mockery. What was youth at best? A green, an
unripe time, a time of shallow moods, and sickly thoughts. Why had he
worn its livery? Youth had spoiled him.
It was better not to think of the past. Nothing could alter that. It
was of himself, and of his own future, that he had to think. James
Vane was hidden in a nameless grave in Selby churchyard. Alan Campbell
had shot himself one night in his laboratory, but had not revealed the
secret that he had been forced to know. The excitement, such as it
was, over Basil Hallward's disappearance would soon pass away. It was
already waning. He was perfectly safe there. Nor, indeed, was it the
death of Basil Hallward that weighed most upon his mind. It was the
living death of his own soul that troubled him. Basil had painted the
portrait that had marred his life. He could not forgive him that. It
was the portrait that had done everything. Basil had said things to
him that were unbearable, and that he had yet borne with patience. The
murder 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 was
nothing to him.
A new life! That was what he wanted. That was what he was waiting
for. Surely he had begun it already. He had spared one innocent
thing, at any rate. He would never again tempt innocence. He would be
As he thought of Hetty Merton, he began to wonder if the portrait in
the locked room had changed. Surely it was not still so horrible as it
had been? Perhaps if his life became pure, he would be able to expel
every sign of evil passion from the face. Perhaps the signs of evil
had already gone away. He would go and look.
He took the lamp from the table and crept upstairs. As he unbarred the
door, a smile of joy flitted across his strangely young-looking face
and lingered for a moment about his lips. Yes, he would be good, and
the hideous thing that he had hidden away would no longer be a terror
to 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, and
dragged the purple hanging from the portrait. A cry of pain and
indignation broke from him. He could see no change, save that in the
eyes there was a look of cunning and in the mouth the curved wrinkle of
the hypocrite. The thing was still loathsome--more loathsome, if
possible, than before--and the scarlet dew that spotted the hand seemed
brighter, and more like blood newly spilled. Then he trembled. Had it
been merely vanity that had made him do his one good deed? Or the
desire for a new sensation, as Lord Henry had hinted, with his mocking
laugh? Or that passion to act a part that sometimes makes us do things
finer than we are ourselves? Or, perhaps, all these? And why was the
red stain larger than it had been? It seemed to have crept like a
horrible disease over the wrinkled fingers. There was blood on the
painted feet, as though the thing had dripped--blood even on the hand
that had not held the knife. Confess? Did it mean that he was to
confess? To give himself up and be put to death? He laughed. He felt
that the idea was monstrous. Besides, even if he did confess, who
would believe him? There was no trace of the murdered man anywhere.
Everything belonging to him had been destroyed. He himself had burned
what 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 was
his duty to confess, to suffer public shame, and to make public
atonement. There was a God who called upon men to tell their sins to
earth as well as to heaven. Nothing that he could do would cleanse him
till he had told his own sin. His sin? He shrugged his shoulders.
The death of Basil Hallward seemed very little to him. He was thinking
of Hetty Merton. For it was an unjust mirror, this mirror of his soul
that he was looking at. Vanity? Curiosity? Hypocrisy? Had there
been nothing more in his renunciation than that? There had been
something more. At least he thought so. But who could tell? ... No.
There had been nothing more. Through vanity he had spared her. In
hypocrisy he had worn the mask of goodness. For curiosity's sake he
had tried the denial of self. He recognized that now.
But this murder--was it to dog him all his life? Was he always to be
burdened by his past? Was he really to confess? Never. There was
only one bit of evidence left against him. The picture itself--that
was evidence. He would destroy it. Why had he kept it so long? Once
it had given him pleasure to watch it changing and growing old. Of
late 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 eyes
should look upon it. It had brought melancholy across his passions.
Its mere memory had marred many moments of joy. It had been like
conscience to him. Yes, it had been conscience. He would destroy it.
He looked round and saw the knife that had stabbed Basil Hallward. He
had cleaned it many times, till there was no stain left upon it. It
was bright, and glistened. As it had killed the painter, so it would
kill the painter's work, and all that that meant. It would kill the
past, and when that was dead, he would be free. It would kill this
monstrous soul-life, and without its hideous warnings, he would be at
peace. He seized the thing, and stabbed the picture with it.
There was a cry heard, and a crash. The cry was so horrible in its
agony that the frightened servants woke and crept out of their rooms.
Two gentlemen, who were passing in the square below, stopped and looked
up at the great house. They walked on till they met a policeman and
brought him back. The man rang the bell several times, but there was
no answer. Except for a light in one of the top windows, the house was
all dark. After a time, he went away and stood in an adjoining portico
"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 of
them was Sir Henry Ashton's uncle.
Inside, in the servants' part of the house, the half-clad domestics
were talking in low whispers to each other. Old Mrs. Leaf was crying
and wringing her hands. Francis was as pale as death.
After about a quarter of an hour, he got the coachman and one of the
footmen and crept upstairs. They knocked, but there was no reply.
They called out. Everything was still. Finally, after vainly trying
to force the door, they got on the roof and dropped down on to the
balcony. The windows yielded easily--their bolts were old.
When they entered, they found hanging upon the wall a splendid portrait
of their master as they had last seen him, in all the wonder of his
exquisite youth and beauty. Lying on the floor was a dead man, in
evening dress, with a knife in his heart. He was withered, wrinkled,
and loathsome of visage. It was not till they had examined the rings
that they recognized who it was.
End of Project Gutenberg's The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde