“There is no use your telling me that you are going to be good. You are quite perfect. Pray, don’t change.” said Lord Henry.
Dorian Gray shook his head. “No, Harry, I have done too many dreadful things in my life. I am not going to do any more. I began my good actions yesterday.”
“Where were you yesterday?”
“In the country, Harry. I was staying at a little inn by myself.”
“My dear boy,” said Lord Henry, smiling, “anybody can be good in the country. There are no temptations there. That is the reason why people who live out of town are so absolutely uncivilized.You have not yet told me what your good action was. Or did you say you had done more than one?” asked his companion as he spilled into his plate a little crimson pyramid of seeded strawberries and, through a perforated(1), shell-shaped spoon, snowed white sugar upon them.
“I can tell you, Harry. It is not a story I could tell to any one else. I spared somebody. It sounds vain, but you understand what I mean. She was quite beautiful and wonderfully like Sibyl Vane. I think it was that which first attracted me to her. You remember Sibyl, don’t you? How long ago that seems! Well, Hetty was not one of our own class, of course. She was simply a girl in a village. But I really loved her. I am quite sure that I loved her. All during this wonderful May that we have been having, I used to run down and see her two or three times a week. Yesterday she met me in a little orchard. The apple-blossoms kept tumbling down on her hair, and she was laughing. We were to have gone away together this morning at dawn. Suddenly I determined to leave her as flowerlike as I had found her.”
“I should think the novelty(2) of the emotion must have given you a thrill of real pleasure, Dorian,” interrupted Lord Henry. “But I can finish your idyll(3) for you. You gave her good advice and broke her heart. That was the beginning of your reformation(4).”
“Harry, you are horrible! You mustn’t say these dreadful things. Hetty’s heart is not broken. Of course, she cried and all that. But there is no disgrace upon her.”
“My dear Dorian, you have the most curiously boyish moods. Do you think this girl will ever be really content now with any one of her own rank? I suppose she will be married some day to a rough carter(5) or a grinning ploughman(6). Well, the fact of having met you, and loved you, will teach her to despise(7) her husband, and she will be wretched. From a moral point of view, I cannot say that I think much of your great renunciation(8). Even as a beginning, it is poor.”
“I can’t bear this, Harry! I am sorry I told you now. I don’t care what you say to me. I know I was right in acting as I did. Poor Hetty! . Don’t let us talk about it any more, and don’t try to persuade me that the first good action I have done for years, the first little bit of self-sacrifice I have ever known, is really a sort of sin. I want to be better. I am going to be better. Tell me something about yourself. What is going on in town? I have not been to the club for days.”
“The people are still discussing poor Basil’s disappearance.”
“I should have thought they had got tired of that by this time,” said Dorian, pouring himself out some wine and frowning slightly.
“My dear boy, they have only been talking about it for six weeks. Scotland Yard(9) still insists that the man in the grey ulster(10) who left for Paris by the midnight train on the ninth of November was poor Basil, and the French police declare that Basil never arrived in Paris at all.”
“What do you think has happened to Basil?” asked Dorian.
“I have not the slightest idea. If Basil chooses to hide himself, it is no business of mine. If he is dead, I don’t want to think about him. Death is the only thing that ever terrifies me. I hate it.”
“Why?” said the younger man wearily.
“Because,one can survive everything nowadays except that”
Dorian said nothing, but rose from the table, and passing into the next room, sat down to the piano and let his fingers stray across the white and black ivory(11) of the keys. After the coffee had been brought in, he stopped, and looking over at Lord Henry, said, “Harry, did it ever occur to you that Basil was murdered?”
Lord Henry yawned. ” Why should he have been murdered? He was not clever enough to have enemies. Of course, he had a wonderful genius for painting, but he was really rather dull. He only interested me once, and that was when he told me, years ago, that he had a wild adoration for you and that you were the dominant motive of his art.”
“I was very fond of Basil,” said Dorian with a note of sadness in his voice. “But don’t people say that he was murdered?”
“Oh, some of the papers do. It does not seem to me to be at all probable. I know there are dreadful places in Paris, but Basil was not the sort of man to have gone to them. He had no curiosity. It was his chief defect(12).”
“What would you say, Harry, if I told you that I had murdered Basil?” said the younger man. He watched him intently after he had spoken.
“I would say, my dear fellow, that you were posing for a character that doesn’t suit you. All crime is vulgar. It is not in you, Dorian, to commit a murder. I am sorry if I hurt your vanity by saying so, but I assure you it is true. Crime belongs exclusively to the lower orders. I don’t blame them in the smallest degree. I should fancy that crime was to them what art is to us, simply a method of procuring(13) extraordinary sensations.”
“A method of procuring sensations? Do you think, then, that a man who has once committed a murder could possibly do the same crime again? Don’t tell me that.”
“Oh! anything becomes a pleasure if one does it too often,” cried Lord Henry, laughing. “That is one of the most important secrets of life.Anyway, his paintings have gone off lately. It seemed to me to have lost something. It had lost an ideal. When you and he ceased to be great friends, he ceased to be a great artist. By the way, what has become of that wonderful portrait he did of you? I don’t think I have ever seen it since he finished it.”
“I forget,” said Dorian. “But I never really liked it. I am sorry I sat for it. The memory of the thing is hateful to me. Why do you talk of it?”
The elder man lay back and looked at him with half-closed eyes. “By the way, Dorian,” he said after a pause, “‘what does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul’?”
The music jarred, and Dorian Gray started and stared at his friend. “Why do you ask me that, Harry?”
“My dear fellow,” said Lord Henry, elevating his eyebrows in surprise, “I asked you because I thought you might be able to give me an answer. That is all.”
“The soul is a terrible reality. It can be bought, and sold. It can be poisoned, or made perfect. There is a soul in each one of us. I know it.”
“Do you feel quite sure of that, Dorian?”
“Ah! then it must be an illusion. The things one feels absolutely certain about are never true. Don’t stop. I want music to-night. I have sorrows, Dorian, of my own, that even you know nothing of. The tragedy of old age is not that one is old, but that one is young. I am amazed sometimes at my own sincerity. Ah, Dorian, how happy you are! What an exquisite life you have had! You have drunk deeply of everything.Nothing has been hidden from you. And it has all been to you no more than the sound of music. It has not marred you. You are still the same.”
“I am not the same, Harry.”
“Yes, you are the same. I wonder what the rest of your life will be. Don’t spoil it by renunciations. At present you are a perfect type. Don’t make yourself incomplete. You are quite flawless now. You need not shake your head: you know you are.”
Dorian rose up from the piano and passed his hand through his hair. “Yes, life has been exquisite,” he murmured, “but I am not going to have the same life, Harry. And you must not say these extravagant(14) things to me. You don’t know everything about me. I think that if you did, even you would turn from me. You laugh. Don’t laugh.”
“Why have you stopped playing, Dorian? Go back and give me the nocturne(15) over again. You won’t? Let us go to the club, then. It has been a charming evening, and we must end it charmingly. There is some one at White’s who wants immensely to know you—young Lord Poole, Bournemouth’s eldest son. He has already copied your neckties, and has begged me to introduce him to you. He is quite delightful and rather reminds me of you.”
“I hope not,” said Dorian with a sad look in his eyes. “But I am tired to-night, Harry. I shan’t go to the club. It is nearly eleven, and I want to go to bed early.”
“Do stay. You have never played so well as to-night. There was something in your touch that was wonderful. It had more expression than I had ever heard from it before.”
“It is because I am going to be good,” he answered, smiling. “I am a little changed already.”
“You cannot change to me, Dorian,” said Lord Henry. “You and I will always be friends.”
“Yet you poisoned me with a book once. I should not forgive that. Harry, promise me that you will never lend that book to any one. It does harm.”
“My dear boy, you are really beginning to moralize.It is no use. You and I are what we are, and will be what we will be. As for being poisoned by a book, there is no such thing as that. Art has no influence upon action.”
“Anyway, good night, Harry.” As he reached the door, he hesitated for a moment, as if he had something more to say. Then he sighed and went out.
- perforated(Adj): pierced
- novelty(n): something new
- idyll(adj):charming in a rustic way; naturally peaceful
- reformation(n): the act of reforming; state of being reformed
- carter(n):person who pushes a small wheeled vehicle typically pushed by hand
- ploughman(n):any farm labourer
- despise(v): to regard with contempt or scorn
- renunciation(n): rejection; refusal to acknowledge
- Scotland Yard (n): headquarters of the Metropolitan London police
- ulster(n): a long, loose, heavy overcoat
- ivory(n):the hard yellowish-white substance that forms the tusks of some animals such as elephants, used especially in the past to make decorative objects
- defect(n):an imperfection, flaw, or blemish of some kind; (v.) to desert a cause or organization
- nocturne(adj):a romantic melody or composition dealing with evening or night; a reverie