There was a silence
. The evening
darkened in the room.
Noiselessly, and with silver feet, the shadow
s crept in from
the garden. The colours 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, 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 old, and wrinkled?
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."
"I don't feel up to it,"
said Dorian listlessly.
"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-bye. 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 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 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 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. Then Death himself had touched her and taken
her with him. How had she played that dreadful last 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,
on that horrible night at the theatre.
When he thought of her, it would be as a wonderful tragic figure sent on to the world's stage to show the supreme reality of love. A wonderful tragic figure? Tears came to his eyes as he remembered her childlike look, and winsome fanciful ways, and shy tremulous grace. He brushed 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.
A feeling of pain crept 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 monstrous 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 its 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 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
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 coloured 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 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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