It was on the ninth of November, the eve of his own thirty-eighth birthday, as he often remembered afterwards.
He was walking home about eleven o’clock from Lord Henry’s, where he had been dining, and was wrapped in heavy furs, as the night was cold and foggy. At the corner of Grosvenor Square and South Audley Street, a man passed him in the mist, walking very fast. He had a bag in his hand. Dorian recognized him. It was Basil Hallward. A strange sense of fear, for which he could not account, came over him. He made no sign of recognition and went on quickly in the direction of his own house.
But Hallward had seen him. Dorian heard him first stopping on the pavement and then hurrying after him. In a few moments, his hand was on his arm.
“Dorian! What an extraordinary piece of luck! I have been waiting for you in your library ever since nine o’clock. Finally I took pity on your tired servant and told him to go to bed, as he let me out. I am off to Paris by the midnight train, and I particularly wanted to see you before I left. I thought it was you, or rather your fur coat, as you passed me. But I wasn’t quite sure. Didn’t you recognize me?”
“In this fog, my dear Basil? Why, I can’t even recognize Grosvenor Square. I believe my house is somewhere about here, but I don’t feel at all certain about it. I am sorry you are going away, as I have not seen you for ages. But I suppose you will be back soon?”
“No: I am going to be out of England for six months. I intend to take a studio in Paris and shut myself up till I have finished a great picture I have in my head. However, it wasn’t about myself I wanted to talk. Here we are at your door. Let me come in for a moment. I have something to say to you.”
Dorian looked at him and smiled. “Come in, or the fog will get into the house. And mind you don’t talk about anything serious. Nothing is serious nowadays. At least nothing should be.”
Hallward shook his head, as he entered, and followed Dorian into the library. There was a bright wood fire blazing in the large open hearth(1).
“You see your servant made me quite at home, Dorian. He gave me everything I wanted.He is a most hospitable creature. I like him much better than the Frenchman you used to have. What has become of the Frenchman, by the bye?”
Dorian shrugged his shoulders. “I believe he married Lady Radley’s maid, and has established her in Paris as an English dressmaker. Anglomania(2) is very fashionable over there now, I hear. It seems silly of the French, doesn’t it? But—do you know?—he was not at all a bad servant. I never liked him, but I had nothing to complain about. One often imagines things that are quite absurd. He was really very devoted to me and seemed quite sorry when he went away. Have another brandy-and-soda? Or would you like hock-and-seltzer(3)? I always take hock-and-seltzer myself. There is sure to be some in the next room.”
“Thanks, I won’t have anything more. My dear fellow, I want to speak to you seriously. Don’t frown like that. You make it so much more difficult for me.”
“What is it all about?” cried Dorian in his petulant way, flinging himself down on the sofa. “I hope it is not about myself. I am tired of myself to-night. I should like to be somebody else.”
“It is about yourself,” answered Hallward in his grave deep voice, “and I must say it to you. I shall only keep you half an hour.”
Dorian sighed and lit a cigarette. “Half an hour!” he murmured.
“It is not much to ask of you, Dorian, and it is entirely for your own sake that I am speaking. I think it right that you should know that the most dreadful things are being said against you in London.”
“I don’t wish to know anything about them. I love scandals about other people, but scandals about myself don’t interest me. They have not got the charm of novelty.”
“They must interest you, Dorian. Of course, you have your position, and your wealth, and all that kind of thing. But position and wealth are not everything. Mind you, I don’t believe these rumours at all. At least, I can’t believe them when I see you, Dorian, with your pure, bright, innocent face, and your marvellous untroubled youth. And yet why is it that so many gentlemen in London will neither go to your house or invite you to theirs? You used to be a friend of Lord Staveley. I met him at dinner last week. Your name happened to come up in conversation, in connection with the miniatures(4) you have lent to the exhibition at the Dudley. Staveley curled his lip and said that you might have the most artistic tastes, but that you were a man whom no pure-minded girl should be allowed to know, and whom no chaste(5) woman should sit in the same room with. I reminded him that I was a friend of yours, and asked him what he meant. He told me right out before everybody. It was horrible! Why is your friendship so fatal to young men? There was that wretched boy in the Guards who committed suicide. You were his great friend. There was Sir Henry Ashton, who had to leave England with a tarnished name. You and he were inseparable. What about Adrian Singleton and his dreadful end? What about Lord Kent’s only son and his career? I met his father yesterday in St. James’s Street. He seemed broken with shame and sorrow. What about the young Duke of Perth? What sort of life has he got now? What gentleman would associate with him?”
“Stop, Basil. You are talking about things of which you know nothing,” said Dorian Gray, biting his lip, and with a note of infinite contempt in his voice. “You ask me about Henry Ashton and young Perth. Did I teach the one his vices, and the other his debauchery(6)? I know how people chatter in England. The middle classes air their moral prejudices over their gross dinner-tables, and whisper about what they call the profligacies(7) of their betters in order to try and pretend that they are in smart society and on intimate terms with the people they slander(8).My dear fellow, you forget that we are in the native land of the hypocrite(9).”
“Dorian,” cried Hallward, “that is not the question. England is bad enough I know, and English society is all wrong. That is the reason why I want you to be fine. There are other stories—stories that you have been seen creeping at dawn out of dreadful houses and slinking in disguise into the foulest(10) dens in London. Are they true? Can they be true? I won’t tell you that I don’t want to preach(11) to you. I remember Harry saying once that every man who turned himself into an amateur curate(12) for the moment always began by saying that, and then proceeded to break his word. I do want to preach to you. I want you to lead such a life as will make the world respect you. Is such a life possible for you? Before I could answer that, I should have to see your soul.”
“To see my soul!” muttered Dorian Gray, turning almost white from fear.
“Yes, to see your soul. But only God can do that.”
A bitter laugh of mockery(13) broke from the lips of the younger man. “You shall see it yourself, to-night!” he cried, seizing a lamp from the table. “Come: it is your own handiwork. Why shouldn’t you look at it? You can tell the world all about it afterwards, if you choose. Nobody would believe you. If they did believe you, they would like me all the better for it. I know society better than you do, though you will prate(14) about it so tediously. Come, I tell you. You have chattered enough about corruption. Now you shall look on it face to face.”
There was the madness of pride in every word he uttered. He stamped his foot upon the ground in his boyish insolent(15) manner. He felt a terrible joy at the thought that some one else was to share his secret, and that the man who had painted the portrait that was the origin of all his shame was to be burdened for the rest of his life with the hideous memory of what he had done.
“Yes,” he continued, coming closer to him and looking steadfastly into his stern eyes, “I shall show you my soul. You shall see the thing that you fancy only God can see.”
Hallward started back. “This is blasphemy(16), Dorian!” he cried. “You must not say things like that. They are horrible, and they don’t mean anything.”
“You think so?” He laughed again.
“What I have to say is this,” Basil cried. “You must give me some answer to these horrible charges that are made against you. If you tell me that they are absolutely untrue from beginning to end, I shall believe you. Deny them, Dorian, deny them! Can’t you see what I am going through? My God! don’t tell me that you are bad, and corrupt, and shameful.”
Dorian Gray smiled. There was a curl of contempt in his lips. “Come upstairs, Basil,” he said quietly. “I keep a diary of my life from day to day, and it never leaves the room in which it is written. I shall show it to you if you come with me.”
“I shall come with you, Dorian, if you wish it. I see I have missed my train. That makes no matter. I can go to-morrow. But don’t ask me to read anything to-night. All I want is a plain answer to my question.”
“That shall be given to you upstairs. I could not give it here. You will not have to read long.”
2/Anglomania(n): anglo + mania : excessive devotion for anything English
3/hock-and-seltzer (n): white German wine and soda water
4/miniature(n): A copy or model that represents or reproduces something in a greatly reduced size
5/chaste(Adj): virginal, pure, simple
6/debauchery(n): moral corruption
7/profligacy(n): shameless debauchery, reckless extravagance
8/slander(v): make a false spoken statement that causes people to have a bad opinion of someone
9/hypocrite(n): a person who doesn’t practise what he/she preaches
10/foul(Adj): disgusting, offensive to the senses, revolting
11/preach(v): give religious or moral instruction, especially in a tedious manner
12/curate(n): a cleric, especially one who has charge of a parish
13/m0ckery(n): ridicule, derision
15/insolence(Adj): imbecility, naughtiness
16/blasphemy(n): disrespectful or impious action or expression in regard to something holy