The picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. - HTML preview

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‘It is an interesting question,’ said Lord Henry, who found an exquisite pleasure in playing on the lad’s unconscious egotism,—‘an extremely interesting question.

I fancy that the explanation is this. It often happens that the real tragedies of life occur in such an inartistic manner that they hurt us by their crude violence, their absolute incoherence, their absurd want of meaning, their entire lack of style. They affect us just as vulgarity affects us.

They give us an impression of sheer brute force, and we revolt against that. Sometimes, however, a tragedy that has artistic elements of beauty crosses our lives. If these elements of beauty are real, the whole thing simply appeals to our sense of dramatic effect. Suddenly we find that we are no longer the actors, but the spectators of the play. Or rather we are both. We watch ourselves, and the mere wonder of the spectacle enthralls us. In the present case, what is it that has really happened? Some one has killed herself for love of you. I wish I had ever had such an experience. It would have made me in love with love for the rest of my life. The people who have adored me—

there have not been very many, but there have been some— have always insisted on living on, long after I had 115 of 250

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ceased to care for them, or they to care for me. They have become stout and tedious, and when I meet them they go in at once for reminiscences. That awful memory of woman! What a fearful thing it is! And what an utter intellectual stagnation it reveals! One should absorb the color of life, but one should never remember its details.

Details are always vulgar.

‘Of course, now and then things linger. I once wore nothing but violets all through one season, as mourning for a romance that would not die. Ultimately, however, it did die. I forget what killed it. I think it was her proposing to sacrifice the whole world for me. That is always a dreadful moment. It fills one with the terror of eternity.

Well,—would you believe it?—a week ago, at Lady Hampshire’s, I found myself seated at dinner next the lady in question, and she insisted on going over the whole thing again, and digging up the past, and raking up the future. I had buried my romance in a bed of poppies. She dragged it out again, and assured me that I had spoiled her life. I am bound to state that she ate an enormous dinner, so I did not feel any anxiety. But what a lack of 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 a sixth act, and as soon as the interest of the 116 of 250

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play is entirely over they propose to continue it. If they were allowed to have their way, every comedy would have a tragic ending, and every tragedy would culminate in a farce. They are charmingly artificial, but they have no sense of art. You are more fortunate than I am. I assure you, Dorian, that not one of the women I have known would have done for me what Sibyl Vane did for you.

Ordinary women always console themselves. Some of them do it by going in for sentimental colors. Never trust a woman who wears mauve, whatever her age may be, or a woman over thirty-five who is fond of pink ribbons. It always means that they have a history. Others find a great consolation in suddenly discovering the good qualities of their husbands. They flaunt their conjugal felicity in one’s face, as if it was the most fascinating of sins. Religion consoles some. Its mysteries have all the charm of a flirtation, a woman once told me; and I can quite understand it. Besides, nothing makes one so vain as being told that one is a sinner. There is really no end to the consolations that women find in modern life. Indeed, I have not mentioned the most important one of all.’

‘What is that, Harry?’ said Dorian Gray, listlessly.

‘Oh, the obvious one. Taking some one else’s admirer when one loses one’s own. In good society that always 117 of 250

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whitewashes a woman. But really, Dorian, how different Sibyl Vane must have been from all the women one meets! There is something to me quite beautiful about her death. I am glad I am living in a century when such wonders happen. They make one believe in the reality of the things that shallow, fashionable people play with, such as romance, passion, and love.’

‘I was terribly cruel to her. You forget that.’

‘I believe that women appreciate cruelty more than anything else. They have wonderfully primitive instincts.

We have emancipated them, but they remain slaves looking for their masters, all the same. They love being dominated. I am sure you were splendid. I have never seen you angry, but I can fancy how delightful you looked. And, after all, you said something to me the day before yesterday that seemed to me at the time to be merely fanciful, but that I see now was absolutely true, and it explains everything.’

‘What was that, Harry?’

‘You said to me that Sibyl Vane represented to you all the heroines of romance—that she was Desdemona one night, and Ophelia the other; that if she died as Juliet, she came to life as Imogen.’

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‘She will never come to life again now,’ murmured the lad, burying his face in his hands.

‘No, she will never come to life. She has played her last part. But you must think of that lonely death in the tawdry dressing-room simply as a strange lurid fragment from some Jacobean tragedy, as a wonderful scene from Webster, or Ford, or Cyril Tourneur. The girl never really lived, and so she has never really died. To you at least she was always a dream, a phantom that flitted through Shakespeare’s plays and left them lovelier for its presence, a reed through which Shakespeare’s music sounded richer and more full of joy. The moment she touched actual life, she marred it, and it marred her, and so she passed away.

Mourn for Ophelia, if you like. Put ashes on your head because Cordelia was strangled. Cry out against Heaven because the daughter of Brabantio died. But don’t waste your tears over Sibyl Vane. She was less 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. The colors faded wearily out of things.

After some time Dorian Gray looked up. ‘You have explained me to myself, Harry,’ he murmured, with something of a sigh of relief. ‘I felt all that you have said, 119 of 250

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but somehow I was afraid of it, and I could not express it to myself. How well you know me! But we will not talk 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 as marvellous.’

‘Life has everything in store for you, Dorian. There is nothing that you, with your extraordinary good looks, will not be able to do.’

‘But suppose, Harry, I became haggard, and gray, and wrinkled? What then?’

‘Ah, then,’ said Lord Henry, rising to go,—‘then, my dear Dorian, you would have to fight for your victories.

As it is, they are brought to you. No, you must keep your good looks. We live in an age that reads too much to be wise, and that thinks too much to be beautiful. We cannot spare you. And now you had better dress, and drive down to the club. We are rather late, as it is.’

‘I think I shall join you at the Opera, Harry. I feel too tired to eat anything. What is the number of your sister’s box?’

‘Twenty-seven, I believe. It is on the grand tier. You will see her name on the door. But I am sorry you won’t come and dine.’

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‘I don’t feel up to it,’ said Dorian, wearily. ‘But I am awfully obliged to you for all that you have said to me.

You are certainly my best friend. No one has ever understood me as you have.’

‘We are only at the beginning of our friendship, Dorian,’ answered Lord Henry, shaking him by the hand.

‘Good-by. I shall see you before nine-thirty, I hope.

Remember, Patti is singing.’

As he closed the door behind him, Dorian Gray touched the bell, and in a few minutes Victor appeared with the lamps and drew the blinds down. He waited impatiently for him to go. The man seemed to take an interminable time about 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 news of Sibyl Vane’s death before he had known of it himself. It was conscious of the events of life as they occurred. The vicious cruelty that marred the fine lines of the mouth had, no doubt, appeared at the very moment that the girl had drunk the poison, whatever it was. Or was it indifferent to results?

Did it merely take cognizance of what passed within the soul? he wondered, and hoped that some day he would 121 of 250

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see the change taking place before his very eyes, shuddering as he hoped it.

Poor Sibyl! what a romance it had all been! She had often mimicked death on the stage, and at last Death himself had touched her, and brought her with him. How had she played that dreadful scene? Had she cursed him, as she died? No; she had died for love of him, and love would always be a sacrament to him now. She had atoned for everything, by the sacrifice she had made of her life.

He would not think any more of what she had made him go through, that horrible night at the theatre. When he thought of her, it would be as a wonderful tragic figure to show Love had been a great reality. A wonderful tragic figure? Tears came to his eyes as he remembered her child-like look and winsome fanciful ways and shy tremulous grace. He wiped them away hastily, and looked again at the picture.

He felt that the time had really come for making his choice. Or had his choice already been made? Yes, life had decided that for him,— life, and his own infinite curiosity about life. Eternal youth, infinite passion, pleasures subtle and secret, wild joys and wilder sins,—he was to have all these things. The portrait was to bear the burden of his shame: that was all.

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A feeling of pain came over him as he thought of the desecration that was in store for the fair face on the canvas.

Once, in boyish mockery of Narcissus, he had kissed, or feigned to kiss, those painted lips that now smiled so cruelly at him. Morning after morning he had sat before the portrait wondering at its beauty, almost enamoured of it, as it seemed to him at times. Was it to alter now with every mood to which he yielded? Was it to become a hideous and loathsome thing, to be hidden away in a locked room, to be shut out from the sunlight that had so often touched to brighter gold the waving wonder of the hair? The pity of it! the pity of it!

For a moment he thought of praying that the horrible sympathy that existed between him and the picture might cease. It had changed in answer to a prayer; perhaps in answer to a prayer it might remain unchanged. And, yet, who, that knew anything about Life, would surrender the chance of remaining always young, however fantastic that chance might be, or with what fateful consequences it might be fraught? Besides, was it really under his control?

Had it indeed been prayer that had produced the substitution? Might there not be some curious scientific reason for it all? If thought could exercise its influence upon a living organism, might not thought exercise an 123 of 250

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influence upon dead and inorganic things? Nay, without thought or conscious desire, might not things external to ourselves vibrate in unison with our moods and passions, atom calling to atom, in secret love or strange affinity? But the reason was of no importance. He would never again tempt by a prayer any terrible power. If the picture was to alter, it was to alter. That was all. Why inquire too closely into it?

For there would be a real pleasure in watching it. He would be able to follow his mind into its secret places.

This portrait would be to him the 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 of summer. When the blood crept from its face, and left behind a pallid mask of chalk with leaden eyes, he would keep the glamour of boyhood. Not one blossom of his loveliness would ever fade. Not one pulse of his life would ever weaken. Like the gods of the Greeks, he would be strong, and fleet, and joyous. What did it matter what happened to the colored 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 124 of 250

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bedroom, where his valet was already waiting for him. An hour later he was at the Opera, and Lord Henry was leaning over his chair.

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Chapter VII

As he was sitting at breakfast next morning, Basil Hallward was shown into the room.

‘I am so glad I have found you, Dorian,’ he said, gravely. ‘I called last night, and they told me you were at the Opera. Of course I knew that was impossible. But I wish you had left word where you had really gone to. I passed a dreadful evening, half afraid that one tragedy might be followed by another. I think you might have telegraphed for me when you heard of it first. I read of it quite by chance in a late edition of the Globe, that I picked up at the club. I came here at once, and was miserable at not finding you. I can’t tell you how heart-broken I am about the whole thing. I know what you must suffer. But where were you? Did you go down and see the girl’s mother? For a moment I thought of following you there. They gave the address in the paper.

Somewhere in the Euston Road, isn’t it? But I was afraid of intruding upon a sorrow that I could not lighten. Poor woman! What a state she must be in! And her only child, too! What did she say about it all?’

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‘My dear Basil, how do I know?’ murmured Dorian, sipping some pale- yellow wine from a delicate gold-beaded bubble of Venetian glass, and looking dreadfully bored. ‘I was at the Opera. You should have come on there. I met Lady Gwendolen, Harry’s sister, for the first time. We were in her box. She is perfectly charming; and Patti sang divinely. Don’t talk about horrid subjects. If one doesn’t talk about a thing, it has never happened. It is simply expression, as Harry says, that gives reality to things. Tell me about yourself and what you are painting.’

‘You went to the Opera?’ said Hallward, speaking very slowly, and with a strained touch of pain in his voice.

‘You went to the Opera while Sibyl Vane was lying dead in some sordid lodging? You can talk to me of other women being charming, and of Patti singing divinely, before the girl you loved has even the quiet of a grave to sleep in? Why, man, there are horrors in store for that little white body of hers!’

‘Stop, Basil! I won’t hear it!’ cried Dorian, leaping to his feet. ‘You must not tell me about things. What is done is done. What is past is past.’

‘You call yesterday the past?’

‘What has the actual lapse of time got to do with it? It is only shallow people who require years to get rid of an 127 of 250

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emotion. A man who is master of himself can end a sorrow as easily as he can invent a pleasure. I don’t want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them.’

‘Dorian, this is horrible! Something has changed you completely. You look exactly the same wonderful boy who used to come down to my studio, day after day, to sit for his picture. But you were simple, natural, and affectionate then. You were the most unspoiled creature in the whole world. Now, I don’t know what has come over you. You talk as if you had no heart, no pity in you. It is all Harry’s influence. I see that.’

The lad flushed up, and, going to the window, looked out on the green, flickering garden for a few moments. ‘I owe a great deal to Harry, Basil,’ he said, at last,—‘more than I owe to you. You only taught me to be vain.’

‘Well, I am punished for that, Dorian,—or shall be some day.’

‘I don’t know what you mean, Basil,’ he exclaimed, turning round. ‘I don’t know what you want. What do you want?’

‘I want the Dorian Gray I used to know.’

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‘Basil,’ said the lad, going over to him, and putting his hand on his shoulder, ‘you have come too late. Yesterday when I heard that Sibyl Vane had killed herself—‘

‘Killed herself! Good heavens! is there no doubt about that?’ cried Hallward, looking up at him with an expression of horror.

‘My dear Basil! Surely you don’t think it was a vulgar accident? Of course she killed herself It is one of the great romantic tragedies of the age. As a rule, people who act lead the most commonplace lives. They are good husbands, or faithful wives, or something tedious. You know what I mean,—middle-class virtue, and all that kind of thing. How different Sibyl was! She lived her finest tragedy. She was always a heroine. The last night she played—the night you saw her—she acted badly because she had known the reality of love. When she knew its unreality, she died, as Juliet might have died. She passed again into the sphere of art. There is something of the martyr about her. Her death has all the pathetic uselessness of martyrdom, all its wasted beauty. But, as I was saying, you must not think I have not suffered. If you had come in yesterday at a particular moment,—about half-past five, perhaps, or a quarter to six,—you would have found me in tears. Even Harry, who was here, who brought me the 129 of 250

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news, in fact, had no idea what I was going through. I suffered immensely, then it passed away. I cannot repeat an emotion. No one can, except sentimentalists. And you are awfully unjust, Basil. You come down here to console me. That is charming of you. You find me consoled, and you are furious. How like a sympathetic person! You remind me of a story Harry told me about a certain philanthropist who spent twenty years of his life in trying to get some grievance redressed, or some unjust law altered,—I forget exactly what it was. Finally he succeeded, and nothing could exceed his disappointment.

He had absolutely nothing to do, almost died of ennui, and became a confirmed misanthrope. And besides, my dear old Basil, if you really want to console me, teach me rather to forget what has happened, or to see it from a proper artistic point of view. Was it not Gautier who used to write about la consolation des arts? I remember picking up a little vellum-covered book in your studio one day and chancing on that delightful phrase. Well, I am not like that young man you told me of when we were down at Marlowe together, the young man who used to say that yellow satin could console one for all the miseries of life. I love beautiful things that one can touch and handle. Old brocades, green bronzes, lacquer- work, carved ivories, 130 of 250

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exquisite surroundings, luxury, pomp,—there is much to be got from all these. But the artistic temperament that they create, or at any rate reveal, is still more to me. To become the spectator of one’s own life, as Harry says, is to escape the suffering of life. I know you are surprised at my talking to you like this. You have not realized how I have developed. I was a school-boy when you knew me. I am a man now. I have new passions, new thoughts, new ideas. I am different, but you must not like me less. I am changed, but you must always be my friend. Of course I am very fond of Harry. But I know that you are better than he is.

You are not stronger,—you are too much afraid of life,—

but you are better. And how happy we used to be together! Don’t leave me, Basil, and don’t quarrel with me. I am what I am. There is nothing more to be said.’

Hallward felt strangely moved. Rugged and straightforward as he was, there was something in his nature that was purely feminine in its tenderness. The lad was infinitely dear to him, and his personality had been the great turning-point in his art. He could not bear the idea of reproaching him any more. After all, his indifference was probably merely a mood that would pass away. There was so much in him that was good, so much in him that was noble.

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‘Well, Dorian,’ he said, at length, with a sad smile, ‘I won’t speak to you again about this horrible thing, after to-day. I only trust your name won’t be mentioned in connection with it. The inquest is to take place this afternoon. Have they summoned you?’

Dorian shook his head, and a look of annoyance passed over his face at the mention of the word ‘inquest.’ There was something so crude and vulgar about everything of the kind. ‘They don’t know my name,’ he answered.

‘But surely she did?’

‘Only my Christian name, and that I am quite sure she never mentioned to any one. She told me once that they were all rather curious to learn who I was, and that she invariably told them my name was Prince Charming. It was pretty of her. You must do me a drawing of her, Basil. I should like to have something more of her than the memory of a few kisses and some broken pathetic words.’

‘I will try and do something, Dorian, if it would please you. But you must come and sit to me yourself again. I can’t get on without you.’

‘I will never sit to you again, Basil. It is impossible!’ he exclaimed, starting back.

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Hallward stared at him, ‘My dear boy, what nonsense!’

he cried. ‘Do you mean to say you don’t like what I did of you? Where is it? Why have you pulled the screen in front of it? Let me look at it. It is the best thing I have ever painted. Do take that screen away, Dorian. It is simply horrid of your servant hiding my work like that. I felt the room looked different as I came in.’

‘My servant has nothing to do with it, Basil. You don’t imagine I let him arrange my room for me? He settles my flowers for me sometimes,—that is all. No; I did it myself.

The light was too strong on the portrait.’

‘Too strong! Impossible, my dear fellow! It is an admirable place for it. Let me see it.’ And Hallward walked towards the corner of the room.

A cry of terror broke from Dorian Gray’s lips, and he rushed between Hallward and the screen. ‘Basil,’ he said, looking very pale, ‘you must not look at it. I don’t wish you to.’

‘Not look at my own work! you are not serious. Why shouldn’t I look at it?’ exclaimed Hallward, laughing.

‘If you try to look at it, Basil, on my word of honor I will never speak to you again as long as I live. I am quite serious. I don’t offer any explanation, and you are not to 133 of 250

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ask for any. But, remember, if you touch this screen, everything is over between us.’

Hallward was thunderstruck. He looked at Dorian Gray in absolute amazement. He had never seen him like this before. The lad was absolutely pallid with rage. His hands were clinched, and the pupils of his eyes were like disks of blue fire. He was trembling all over.

‘Dorian!’

‘Don’t speak!’

‘But what is the matter? Of course I won’t look at it if you don’t want me to,’ he said, rather coldly, turning on his heel, and going over towards the window. ‘But, really, it seems rather absurd that I shouldn’t see my own work, especially as I am going to exhibit it in Paris in the autumn. I shall probably have to give it another coat of varnish before that, so I must see it some day, and why not to- day?’

‘To exhibit it! You want to exhibit it?’ exclaimed Dorian Gray, a strange sense of terror creeping over him.

Was the world going to be shown his secret? Were people to gape at the mystery of his life? That was impossible.

Something—he did not know what—had to be done at once.

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‘Yes: I don’t suppose you will object to that. Georges Petit is going to collect all my best pictures for a special exhibition in the Rue de Sèze, which will open the first week in October. The portrait will only be away a month.

I should think you could easily spare it for that time. In fact, you are sure to be out of town. And if you hide it always behind a screen, you can’t care much abut it.’

Dorian Gray passed his hand over his forehead. There were beads of perspiration there. He felt that he was on the brink of a horrible danger. ‘You told me a month ago that you would never exhibit it,’ he said. ‘Why have you changed your mind? You people who go in for being consistent have just as many moods as others. The only difference is that your moods are rather meaningless. You can’t have forgotten that you assured me most solemnly that nothing in the world would induce you to send it to any exhibition. You told Harry exactly the same thing.’

He stopped suddenly, and a gleam of light came into his eyes. He remembered that Lord Henry had said to him once, half seriously and half in jest, ‘If you want to have an interesting quarter of an hour, get Basil to tell you why he won’t exhibit your picture. He told me why he wouldn’t, and it was a revelation to me.’ Yes, perhaps Basil, too, had his secret. He would ask him and try.

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‘Basil,’ he said, coming over quite close, and looking him straight in the face, ‘we have each of us a secret. Let me know yours, and I will tell you mine. What was your reason for refusing to exhibit my picture?’

Hallward shuddered in spite of himself. ‘Dorian, if I told you, you might like me less than you do, and you would certainly laugh at me. I could not bear your doing either of those two things. If you wish me never to look at your picture again, I am content. I have always you to look at. If you wish the best work I have ever done to be hidden from the world, I am satisfied. Your friendship is dearer to me than any fame or reputation.’

‘No, Basil, you must tell me,’ murmured Dorian Gray.

‘I think I have a right to know.’ His feeling of terror had passed away, and curiosity had taken its place. He was determined to find out Basil Hallward’s mystery.

‘Let us sit down, Dorian,’ said Hallward, looking pale and pained. ‘Let us sit down. I will sit in the shadow, and you shall sit in the sunlight. Our lives are like that. Just answer me one question. Have you noticed in the picture something that you did not like?— something that probably at first did not strike you, but that revealed itself to you suddenly?’

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‘Basil!’ cried the lad, clutching the arms of his chair with trembling hands, and gazing at him with wild, startled eyes.

‘I see you did. Don’t speak. Wait till you hear what I have to say. It is quite true that I have worshipped you with far more romance of feeling than a man usually gives to a friend. Somehow, I had never loved a woman. I suppose I never had time. Perhaps, as Harry says, a really

‘grande passion’ is the privilege of those who have nothing to do, and that is the use of the idle classes in a country.

Well, from the moment I met you, your personality had the most extraordinary influence over me. I quite admit that I adored you madly, extravagantly, absurdly. I was jealous of every one to whom you spoke. I wanted to have you all to myself. I was only happy when I was with you. When I was away from you, you were still present in my art. It was all wrong and foolish. It is all wrong and foolish still. Of course I never let you know anything about this. It would have been impossible. You would not have understood it; I did not understand it myself. One day I determined to paint a wonderful portrait of you. It was to have been my masterpiece. It is my masterpiece.

But, as I worked at it, every flake and film of color seemed to me to reveal my secret. I grew afraid that the world 137 of 250

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would know of my idolatry. I felt, Dorian, that I had told too much. Then it was that I resolved never to allow the picture to be exhibited. You were a little annoyed; but then you did not realize all that it meant to me. Harry, to whom I talked about it, laughed at me. But I did not mind that. When the picture was finished, and I sat alone with it, I felt that I was right. Well, after a few days the portrait left my studio, and as soon as I had got rid of the intolerable fascination of its presence it seemed to me that I had been foolish in imagining that I had said anything in it, more than that you were extremely good-looking and that I could paint. Even now I cannot help feeling that it is a mistake to think that the passion one feels in creation is ever really shown in the work one creates. Art is more abstract than we fancy. Form and color tell us of form and color,—that is all. It often seems to me that art conceals the artist far more completely than it ever reveals him.

And so when I got this offer from Paris I determined to make your portrait the principal thing in my exhibition. It never occurred to me that you would refuse. I see now that you were right. The picture must not be shown. You must not be angry with me, Dorian, for what I have told you. As I said to Harry, once, you are made to be worshipped.’

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Dorian Gray drew a long breath. The color came back to his cheeks, and a smile played about his lips. The peril was over. He was safe for the time. Yet he could not help feeling infinite pity for the young man who had just made this strange confession to him. He wondered if he would ever be so dominated by the personality of a friend. Lord Harry had the charm of being very dangerous. But that was all. He was too clever and too cynical to be really fond of. Would there ever be some one who would fill him with a strange idolatry? Was that one of the things that life had in store?

‘It is extraordinary to me, Dorian,’ said Hallward, ‘that you should have seen this in the picture. Did you really see it?’

‘Of course I did.’

‘Well, you don’t mind my looking at it now?’

Dorian shook his head. ‘You must not ask me that, Basil. I could not possibly let you stand in front of that picture.’

‘You will some day, surely?’

‘Never.’

‘Well, perhaps you are right. And now good-by, Dorian. You have been the one person in my life of whom I have been really fond. I don’t suppose I shall 139 of 250

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often see you again. You don’t know what it cost me to tell you all that I have told you.’

‘My dear Basil,’ cried Dorian, ‘what have you told me?

Simply that you felt that you liked me too much. That is not even a compliment.’

‘It was not intended as a compliment. It was a confession.’

‘A very disappointing one.’

‘Why, what did you expect, Dorian? You didn’t see anything else in the picture, did you? There was nothing else to see?’

‘No: there was nothing else to see. Why do you ask?

But you mustn’t talk about not meeting me again, or anything of that kind. You and I are friends, Basil, and we must always remain so.’

‘You have got Harry,’ said Hallward, sadly.

‘Oh, Harry!’ cried the lad, with a ripple of laughter.

‘Harry spends his days in saying what is incredible, and his evenings in doing what is improbable. Just the sort of life I would like to lead. But still I don’t think I would go to Harry if I was in trouble. I would sooner go to you, Basil.’

‘But you won’t sit to me again?’

‘Impossible!’

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‘You spoil my life as an artist by refusing, Dorian. No man comes across two ideal things. Few come across one.’

‘I can’t explain it to you, Basil, but I must never sit to you again. I will come and have tea with you. That will be just as pleasant.’

‘Pleasanter for you, I am afraid,’ murmured Hallward, regretfully. ‘And now good-by. I am sorry you won’t let me look at the picture once again. But that can’t be helped. I quite understand what you feel about it.’

As he left the room, Dorian Gray smiled to himself.

Poor Basil! how little he knew of the true reason! And how strange it was that, instead of having been forced to reveal his own secret, he had succeeded, almost by chance, in wresting a secret from his friend! How much that strange confession explained to him! Basil’s absurd fits of jealousy, his wild devotion, his extravagant panegyrics, his curious reticences,—he understood them all now, and he felt sorry. There was something tragic in a friendship so colored by romance.

He sighed, and touched the bell. The portrait must be hidden away at all costs. He could not run such a risk of discovery again. It had been mad of him to have the thing remain, even for an hour, in a room to which any of his friends had access.

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Chapter VIII

When his servant entered, he looked at him steadfastly, and wondered if he had thought of peering behind the screen. The man was quite impassive, and waited for his orders. Dorian lit a cigarette, and walked over to the glass and glanced into it. He could see the reflection of Victor’s face perfectly. It was like a placid mask of servility. There was nothing to be afraid of, there. Yet he thought it best to be on his guard.

Speaking very slowly, he told him to tell the housekeeper that he wanted to see her, and then to go to the frame-maker’s and ask him to send two of his men round at once. It seemed to him that as the man left the room he peered in the direction of the screen. Or was that only his fancy?

After a few moments, Mrs. Leaf, a dear old lady in a black silk dress, with a photograph of the late Mr. Leaf framed in a large gold brooch at her neck, and old-fashioned thread mittens on her wrinkled hands, bustled into the room.

‘Well, Master Dorian,’ she said, ‘what can I do for you?

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shouldn’t call you Master Dorian any more. But, Lord bless you, sir, I have known you since you were a baby, and many’s the trick you’ve played on poor old Leaf. Not that you were not always a good boy, sir; but boys will be boys, Master Dorian, and jam is a temptation to the young, isn’t it, sir?’

He laughed. ‘You must always call me Master Dorian, Leaf. I will be very angry with you if you don’t. And I assure you I am quite as fond of jam now as I used to be.

Only when I am asked out to tea I am never offered any. I want you to give me the key of the room at the top of the house.’

‘The old school-room, Master Dorian? Why, it’s full of dust. I must get it arranged and put straight before you go into it. It’s not fit for you to see, Master Dorian. It is not, indeed.’

‘I don’t want it put straight, Leaf. I only want the key.’

‘Well, Master Dorian, you’ll be covered with cobwebs if you goes into it. Why, it hasn’t been opened for nearly five years,—not since his lordship died.’

He winced at the mention of his dead uncle’s name.

He had hateful memories of him. ‘That does not matter, Leaf,’ he replied. ‘All I want is the key.’

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‘And here is the key, Master Dorian,’ said the old lady, after going over the contents of her bunch with tremulously uncertain hands. ‘Here is the key. I’ll have it off the ring in a moment. But you don’t think of living up there, Master Dorian, and you so comfortable here?’

‘No, Leaf, I don’t. I merely want to see the place, and perhaps store something in it,—that is all. Thank you, Leaf. I hope your rheumatism is better; and mind you send me up jam for breakfast.’

Mrs. Leaf shook her head. ‘Them foreigners doesn’t understand jam, Master Dorian. They calls it ‘compot.’

But I’ll bring it to you myself some morning, if you lets me.’

‘That will be very kind of you, Leaf,’ he answered, looking at the key; and, having made him an elaborate courtesy, the old lady left the room, her face wreathed in smiles. She had a strong objection to the French valet. It was a poor thing, she felt, for any one to be born a foreigner.

As the door closed, Dorian put the key in his pocket, and looked round the room. His eye fell on a large purple satin coverlet heavily embroidered with gold, a splendid piece of late seventeenth- century Venetian work that his uncle had found in a convent near Bologna. Yes, that 144 of 250

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would serve to wrap the dreadful thing in. It had perhaps served often as a pall for the dead. Now it was to hide something that had a corruption of its own, worse than the corruption of death itself,—something that would breed horrors and yet would never die. What the worm was to the corpse, his sins would be to the painted image on the canvas. They would mar its beauty, and eat away its grace. They would defile it, and make it shameful. And yet the thing would still live on. It would be always alive.

He shuddered, and for a moment he regretted that he had not told Basil the true reason why he had wished to hide the picture away. Basil would have helped him to resist Lord Henry’s influence, and the still more poisonous influences that came from his own temperament. The love that he bore him—for it was really love—had something noble and intellectual in it. It was not that mere physical admiration of beauty that is born of the senses, and that dies when the senses tire. It was such love as Michael Angelo had known, and Montaigne, and Winckelmann, and Shakespeare himself. Yes, Basil could have saved him.

But it was too late now. The past could always be annihilated. Regret, denial, or forgetfulness could do that.

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that would find their terrible outlet, dreams that would make the shadow of their evil real.

He took up from the couch the great purple-and-gold texture that covered it, and, holding it in his hands, passed behind the screen. Was the face on the canvas viler than before? It seemed to him that it was unchanged; and yet his loathing of it was intensified. Gold hair, blue eyes, and rose-red lips,—they all were there. It was simply the expression that had altered. That was horrible in its cruelty. Compared to what he saw in it of censure or rebuke, how shallow Basil’s reproaches about Sibyl Vane had been!—how shallow, and of what little account! His own soul was looking out at him from the canvas and calling him to judgment. A look of pain came across him, and he flung the rich pall over the picture. As he did so, a knock came to the door. He passed out as his servant entered.

‘The persons are here, monsieur.’

He felt that the man must be got rid of at once. He must not be allowed to know where the picture was being taken to. There was something sly about him, and he had thoughtful, treacherous eyes. Sitting down at the writing-table, he scribbled a note to Lord Henry, asking him to 146 of 250

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