Stage 4(Sage): The picture of Dorian Gray, chapter 18

CHAPTER 18

The next day he did not leave the house, and, indeed, spent most of the time in his own room, sick with a wild terror of dying, and yet indifferent(1) to life itself. The consciousness of being hunted had begun to dominate(2) him.When he closed his eyes, he saw again the sailor’s face peering through the glass, and horror seemed once more to lay its hand upon his heart.

He calmed himself with the thought that had any stranger been prowling(3) round the house, he would have been seen by the servants or the keepers. Had any foot-marks been found on the flower-beds, the gardeners would have reported it. Yes, it had been merely fancy. Sibyl Vane’s brother had not come back to kill him. From him, at any rate, he was safe.

But then he had done more terrible things. Oh! in what a wild hour of madness he had killed his friend! How ghastly the mere memory of the scene! He saw it all again. Each hideous detail came back to him with added horror. Out of the black cave of time, terrible and swathed(4) in scarlet, rose the image of his sin. When Lord Henry came in at six o’clock, he found him crying as one whose heart will break.

It was not till the third day that he ventured(5) to go out. There was something in the clear, pine-scented air of that winter morning that seemed to bring him back his joyousness and his ardour(6) for life. Besides, he had convinced himself that he had been the victim of a terror-stricken imagination, and looked back now on his fears with something of pity and not a little of contempt(7).

After breakfast, he walked with the duchess for an hour in the garden and then drove across the park.

At the corner of the pine-wood he caught sight of Sir Geoffrey Clouston, the duchess’s brother, jerking two spent cartridges(8) out of his gun. He jumped from the cart, and having told the groom to take the mare home, made his way towards his guest.

“Have you had good sport, Geoffrey?” he asked.

“Not very good, Dorian. I think most of the birds have gone to the open. I dare say it will be better after lunch, when we get to new ground.”

Dorian strolled along by his side. The keen aromatic(9) air, the brown and red lights that glimmered in the wood, and the sharp snaps of the guns that followed, fascinated him and filled him with a sense of delightful freedom.

Suddenly from a lumpy tussock(10) of old grass some twenty yards in front of them started a hare. It bolted for a thicket(11) of alders(12). Sir Geoffrey put his gun to his shoulder, but there was something in the animal’s grace of movement that strangely charmed Dorian Gray, and he cried out at once, “Don’t shoot it, Geoffrey. Let it live.”

“What nonsense, Dorian!” laughed his companion, and as the hare bounded into the thicket, he fired. There were two cries heard, the cry of a hare in pain, which is dreadful, the cry of a man in agony(13), which is worse.

“Good heavens! ” exclaimed Sir Geoffrey. “What an ass the man was to get in front of the guns! Stop shooting there!” he called out at the top of his voice. “A man is hurt.”

The head-keeper came running up with a stick in his hand.

“Where, sir? Where is he?” he shouted. At the same time, the firing ceased along the line.

“Here,” answered Sir Geoffrey angrily, hurrying towards the thicket. “Why on earth don’t you keep your men back? Spoiled my shooting for the day.”

Dorian watched them as they plunged into the alder-clump and dragged a body after them into the sunlight. He turned away in horror. It seemed to him that misfortune followed wherever he went.

After a few moments—that were to him, in his perturbed(14) state, like endless hours of pain—he felt a hand laid on his shoulder. He started and looked round.

“Dorian,” said Lord Henry, “I had better tell them that the shooting is stopped for to-day. It would not look well to go on.”

“I wish it were stopped for ever, Harry,” he answered bitterly. “The whole thing is hideous and cruel. Is the man …?”

He could not finish the sentence.

“I am afraid so,” rejoined Lord Henry. “He got the whole charge of shot in his chest. He must have died almost instantaneously. Come; let us go home.”

“It is a bad omen, Harry, a very bad omen.”

“What is?” asked Lord Henry. “Oh! this accident, I suppose. My dear fellow, it can’t be helped. It was the man’s own fault. Why did he get in front of the guns? Besides, it is nothing to us. It is rather awkward for Geoffrey, of course.”

Dorian shook his head. “It is a bad omen, Harry. I feel as if something horrible were going to happen to some of us. To myself, perhaps,” he added, passing his hand over his eyes, with a gesture of pain.

The elder man laughed and walked on.

“My own personality has become a burden to me. I want to escape, to go away, to forget. It was silly of me to come down here at all. I think I shall send a wire to Harvey to have the yacht got ready. On a yacht one is safe.”

“Safe from what, Dorian? You are in some trouble. Why not tell me what it is? You know I would help you.”

“I can’t tell you, Harry,” he answered sadly. “And I dare say it is only a fancy of mine. This unfortunate accident has upset me. I have a horrible presentiment(15) that something of the kind may happen to me.”

“What nonsense!”

“I hope it is, but I can’t help feeling it. Ah! here is the duchess, looking like Artemis in a tailor-made gown. You see we have come back, Duchess.”

“I have heard all about it, Mr. Gray,” she answered. “Poor Geoffrey is terribly upset. And it seems that you asked him not to shoot the hare. How curious!”

“Yes, it was very curious. I don’t know what made me say it. Some whim, I suppose. It looked the loveliest of little live things. But I am sorry they told you about the man. It is a hideous subject.”

“It is an annoying subject,” broke in Lord Henry. “It has no psychological value at all. Now if Geoffrey had done the thing on purpose, how interesting he would be! I should like to know some one who had committed a real murder.”

“How horrid of you, Harry!” cried the duchess. “Isn’t it, Mr. Gray? Harry, Mr. Gray is ill again. He is going to faint.”

Dorian drew himself up with an effort and smiled. “It is nothing, Duchess,” he murmured; “my nerves are dreadfully out of order. That is all. I am afraid I walked too far this morning. I didn’t hear what Harry said. Was it very bad? You must tell me some other time. I think I must go and lie down. You will excuse me, won’t you?”

As the glass door closed behind Dorian, Lord Henry turned and looked at the duchess with his slumberous(16) eyes. “Are you very much in love with him?” he asked.

She did not answer for some time, but stood gazing at the landscape. “I wish I knew,” she said at last.

 

Upstairs, in his own room, Dorian Gray was lying on a sofa, with terror in every tingling fibre(17) of his body. Life had suddenly become too hideous a burden for him to bear.

A knock came to the door, and his valet informed him that the head-keeper wished to see him. He frowned and bit his lip. “Send him in,” he muttered, after some moments’ hesitation.

As soon as the man entered, Dorian pulled his chequebook out of a drawer and spread it out before him.

“I suppose you have come about the unfortunate accident of this morning, Thornton?” he said, taking up a pen.

“Yes, sir,” answered the gamekeeper.

“Was the poor fellow married? Had he any people dependent on him?” asked Dorian, looking bored. “If so, I should not like them to be left in want, and will send them any sum of money you may think necessary.”

“We don’t know who he is, sir. That is what I took the liberty of coming to you about.”

“Don’t know who he is?” said Dorian, listlessly. “What do you mean? Wasn’t he one of your men?”

“No, sir. Never saw him before. Seems like a sailor, sir.”

The pen dropped from Dorian Gray’s hand, and he felt as if his heart had suddenly stopped beating. “A sailor?” he cried out. “Did you say a sailor?”

“Yes, sir. He looks as if he had been a sort of sailor; tattooed on both arms, and that kind of thing.”

“Was there anything found on him?” said Dorian, leaning forward and looking at the man with startled eyes. “Anything that would tell his name?”

“Some money, sir—not much. There was no name of any kind. A decent-looking man, sir, but rough-like. A sort of sailor we think.”

Dorian started to his feet. A terrible hope fluttered past him. He clutched at it madly. “Where is the body?” he exclaimed. “Quick! I must see it at once.”

“It is in an empty stable in the Home Farm, sir. The folk don’t like to have that sort of thing in their houses. They say a corpse brings bad luck.”

“The Home Farm! Go there at once and meet me. Tell one of the grooms to bring my horse round. No. Never mind. I’ll go to the stables myself. It will save time.”

In less than a quarter of an hour, Dorian Gray was galloping(18) down the long avenue as hard as he could go.

At last he reached the Home Farm.He paused for a moment, feeling that he was on the brink of a discovery that would either make or mar his life. Then he thrust the door open and entered.

On a heap of sacking(19) in the far corner was lying the dead body of a man dressed in a coarse shirt and a pair of blue trousers. A spotted handkerchief had been placed over the face.

Dorian Gray shuddered. He felt that his could not be the hand to take the handkerchief away, and called out to one of the farm-servants to come to him.

“Take that thing off the face. I wish to see it,” he said, clutching at the door-post for support.

When the farm-servant had done so, he stepped forward. A cry of joy broke from his lips. The man who had been shot in the thicket was James Vane.

He stood there for some minutes looking at the dead body. As he rode home, his eyes were full of tears, for he knew he was safe.


+ GLOSSARY

  1. indifferent(adj):not caring, having no interest; unbiased, impartial
  2. dominate(v):to have command or control over
  3. prowling(adj):moving about in a sneaky fashion as if hunting prey
  4. swath(v):a strip, belt, or long and relatively narrow extent of anything.
  5. venture(v): a risky or daring undertaking; to expose to danger; to dare
  6. ardour(n):passion
  7. contempt(n):hatred
  8. cartridge(n):A charge for a firearm, or for blasting.
  9. aromatic(adj): fragrant
  10. tussock(n):a small tuft of grass
  11. thicket(n): very close growth of shrubs or bushes
  12. alder(n):any shrub or small tree of the genus Alumnus, of the oak family.
  13. agony(n): pain
  14. perturbed(adj): upset
  15. presentiment(n):a vague sense of approaching misfortune
  16. slumberous(adj): lethargic
  17. fibre(n):matter or material composed of filaments
  18. galloping(adj):forward directional movement; as the lead foot steps forward, the back foot steps up to meet the lead foot
  19. sacking(n): stout, coarse woven material of hemp, jute, or the like, chiefly for sacks

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