‘Why Do You Look so Young?’
‘Don’t tell me that you are going to be good,’ cried Lord Henry. ‘You’re quite perfect. Don’t change.’
Dorian Gray shook his head. ‘No, Harry, I have done too many terrible things in my life. I am not going to do any more. But tell me, what is happening here in London? I have been out of the country for more than a month.’
‘People are still discussing poor Basil’s disappearance.’
‘Are they not bored with that yet?’ said Dorian, pouring out some wine and frowning.
‘My dear boy, they have only been talking about it for six weeks.
The British only need one subject of conversation every three months. They have been very lucky recently, though. First there was the scandal of my wife leaving me, and then Alan Campbell killed himself. Now there is the mysterious disappearance of an artist. The British police are saying that Basil did take the midnight train on the ninth of November, but the French police are sure that he never arrived in Paris at all.’
‘What do you think has happened to Basil?’ asked Dorian, holding up his wine against the light.
‘I have no idea. If Basil wants 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 frightens me. I hate it.’
‘Why?’ said the younger man, in a tired voice.
‘Because,’ said Lord Henry, ‘it is the only thing that is final. Let us have our coffee in the music room, Dorian. You must play Chopin to me. The man who ran away with my wife played Chopin beautifully. Poor Victoria! I was very fond of her. The house is quite lonely without her.’
Dorian said nothing, but went into the next room and sat at the piano. After the coffee had been brought in, he stopped playing.
‘Harry,’ he said, looking over at Lord Henry. ‘Do you think Basil was murdered?’
Lord Henry yawned. ‘Everyone liked Basil. Who would want to murder him? He was not clever enough to have enemies. Of course he was a wonderful painter. But a man can paint like Velasquez and yet still be rather boring. Basil was really rather boring. The only thing that interested me about him was that he worshipped you.’
‘I was very fond of Basil,’ said Dorian sadly. ‘But don’t people say he was murdered?’
‘Oh, some newspapers do. But I don’t think it is likely. I know there are awful places in Paris, but Basil was not the sort of man to go to them.’
‘What would you say, Harry, if I told you that I had murdered Basil?’ said the younger man. He watched him carefully after he had spoken.
‘No, Dorian, you would not murder anyone. It is ordinary people who murder. It is their way of finding the extraordinary pleasure that art gives us.’
‘A way of finding the extraordinary pleasure? Do you think that a man who has murdered could do it again. Don’t tell me that.’
‘Oh! Anything becomes a pleasure if you do it too often,’ cried Lord Henry, laughing. ‘That is one of the most important secrets of life. I believe, though, that murder is always a mistake. One should never do anything one cannot talk about after dinner. But let us pass from poor Basil. I wish I could believe that he has died some romantic death, but I can’t. He probably fell into the Seine off a bus. I can see him now lying on his back in the dirty green water. During the last ten years he had not been painting well.’
Lord Henry walked across the room and touched the head of a strange grey bird that he kept in the music room. Then he turned to face Dorian.
‘Yes,’ he continued, taking his handkerchief out of his pocket, ‘his painting seemed to me to have lost something. When you and he stopped being great friends, he stopped being a great artist. What was it that separated you? I suppose he bored you. If so, he never forgave you. By the way, what happened to that wonderful portrait he did of you? I don’t think I have ever seen it since he finished it.’
‘I told you years ago that it was stolen.’
‘Oh! I remember. You never got it back? What a shame! It really was wonderful. I remember I wanted to buy it. I wish I had it now.’
‘I never really liked it,’ said Dorian. ‘I am sorry I sat for it. The memory of the thing is hateful to me.’
‘How sad you look! Don’t be so serious. Play me some music, Dorian. And, as you play, tell me in a low voice why you still look so young. I am only ten years older than you are, and I have grey hair and yellow skin. You are really wonderful, Dorian.’
‘Harry, please -‘
‘You have never looked more charming than you do tonight. You remind me of the day I first saw you. You were very shy, and absolutely extraordinary. You have changed, of course, but not in appearance. You are still the same.’
‘I am not the same, Harry.’
‘Yes, you are the same. I wish I could change places with you, Dorian. The world has cried out against us both, but it has always worshipped you. It always will worship you. Life has been your art.’
Dorian got up from the piano, and passed his hand through his hair. ‘Yes, life has been beautiful,’ he said, quietly, ‘but I am not going to have the same life, Harry. And you must not say these things to me. You don’t know everything about me. I think that if you did, even you would turn away from me. You laugh. Don’t laugh.’
‘Why have you stopped playing, Dorian? Let us go to the club. It has been a charming evening, and we must end it charmingly. There is someone I want to introduce to you — young Lord Poole. He has already copied your ties and he very much wants to meet you. He is quite charming and he reminds me of you.’
‘I hope not,’ said Dorian, with a sad look in his eyes. ‘But I am tired tonight, Harry. I won’t go to the club. It is nearly eleven, and I want to go to bed early.’
‘Please stay. You have never played so well as tonight.’
‘It is because I am going to be good,’ he answered, smiling. ‘I am a little changed already.’
‘You can’t change to me, Dorian,’ said Lord Henry. ‘You and I will always be friends. Come round tomorrow. We shall go to lunch.’
‘Do you really want me to come, Harry?’
‘Certainly. The park is quite lovely now. I don’t think there have been such flowers since the year I met you.’
‘Very well. I shall be here at eleven,’ said Dorian. ‘Good-night, Harry.’