‘To Kill the Past’
It was a lovely night. He walked home, with his coat on his arm, smoking his cigarette. Two young men in evening dress passed him. He heard one of them whisper to the other, ‘That is Dorian Gray’. He remembered how pleased he used to be when he was stared at, or talked about. He was tired of hearing his own name now.
When he reached home, he found his servant waiting up for him. He sent him to bed, and threw himself down on the sofa in the library. He began to think about some of the things that Lord Henry had said to him.
Was it really true that one could never change? There had been a time when he had been good and innocent. He had corrupted himself, and become a terrible influence on others. He had even got pleasure from this corruption. Yet his soul had once been the purest of all. Was all that gone? Was there no hope for him?
In one terrible moment of passion, he had asked to stay young for all time. All his failure had been because of that. He had not been punished, but perhaps punishment was what he had needed. Punishment cleaned the soul.
The mirror that Lord Henry had given to him, so many years ago now, was standing on the table. He picked it up, remembering that horrible night when he had first noticed the change in the picture. Once, someone who had loved him passionately had written him a mad letter. It had ended with these words: ‘The world is changed because you are made of gold.’ He repeated them to himself and suddenly realized that he hated his own beauty. Throwing the mirror on the floor, he broke the glass into little pieces with his foot. It was his beauty that had spoiled him.
It was better not to think of the past. Nothing could change that. He had to think of his future. Alan Campbell had shot himself one night, and his terrible secret had died with him. The interest in Basil Hallward’s disappearance would soon pass away. He was perfectly safe there.
What worried him was the death of his own soul. Basil had painted the portrait that had destroyed his life. He could not forgive him that. It was the portrait that had done everything. The murder had just been the madness of the moment. As for Alan Campbell, he had killed himself. It was nothing to do with Dorian Gray.
A new life! That was what he wanted. That was what he was waiting for. Perhaps it had begun already. He would never again spoil innocence. He would be good.
He began to wonder if the portrait in the locked room had changed. Was it still as horrible as it had been? Perhaps if his life became pure, the face in the portrait would become beautiful again. He would go and look.
He took the lamp from the table and went upstairs. As he opened the door, a smile of happiness passed across his young face. Yes, he would be good, and the ugly thing he had locked away would not frighten him any more. He felt happier already.
He went in quietly, locking the door behind him. Walking straight over to the portrait, he took off the purple curtain that was covering it. An angry cry of pain came from him. He could see no change. The thing was still hateful — more hateful, even, than before. The red mark on the hand seemed brighter and more like new blood. And why was the red mark larger than it had been? It was all over the fingers now. There was blood on the painted feet, and blood on the hand that had not held the knife.
What did it all mean? That he should go to the police? That he should tell the whole story, and be put to death? He laughed. He felt the idea was absurd. If he did tell them now, who would believe him? There was nothing left of the murdered man anywhere. He had destroyed everything belonging to Basil Hallward. He himself had burned the bag and the coat. They would simply say he was mad.
Was this murder to follow him all his life? Was he always going to suffer because of his past? Yet what could he do? Go to the police? Never.
There was only one thing they could use against him and that was the picture itself. He would destroy it. Why had he kept it so long? Once it had given him pleasure to watch it changing and growing old. Recently he had felt no such pleasure. It had kept him awake at night. When he had been away, he had been frightened that another person would see it. Just the memory of it spoiled many moments of happiness. He would destroy it.
He looked around and saw the knife that had killed Basil Hallward. He had cleaned it many times until there was no mark left on it. It was bright, and it shone. It had killed the painter. Now it would kill the painter’s work, and all that it meant. It would kill the past. When that was dead he would be free. He picked up the knife and pushed it into the picture.
There was a cry, and a crash. The cry was so horrible that frightened servants woke and came out of their rooms. Two gentlemen, who were passing in the Square below, stopped, and looked up at the great house. They hurried on until they met a policeman, and brought him back. The policeman rang the bell several times, but there was no answer. Except for a light in one of the top windows, the house was all dark. After a time, he went away and stood in the garden of the next house and watched.
‘Whose house is that?’ asked the older of the two gentlemen.
‘Mr Dorian Gray’s, sir,’ answered the policeman.
They looked at each other as they walked away, and laughed cruelly. They knew who Dorian Gray was.
Inside the house the servants were talking in low whispers to each other. Old Mrs Leaf was crying. Francis was as white as death.
After about a quarter of an hour, they went fearfully upstairs. They knocked, but there was no reply. They called out. Everything was still. They tried the door. It was locked. Finally, they got on the roof and came into the room through the window.
When they entered the room they found a portrait hanging on the wall. It showed Mr Dorian Gray as they had last seen him, young and beautiful. Lying on the floor was a dead man in evening dress. He had a knife in his heart. He was old and horribly ugly. It was not until they saw his rings that they recognized who the man was.