An Extraordinarily Beautiful Young Man
The room was filled with the smell of roses. Sitting on a sofa, smoking a cigarette, was Lord Henry Wotton. Through the open door came the distant sounds of the London streets.
In the centre of the room stood a portrait of an extraordinarily beautiful young man. Sitting a little distance in front of it was the artist himself, Basil Hallward. As the painter looked at the portrait, he smiled.
'It is your best work, Basil, the best thing you have ever done,' said Lord Henry, slowly. 'You really must send it next year to the Grosvenor. The Grosvenor is really the only place to exhibit a painting like that.'
'I don't think I shall send it anywhere,' the painter answered, moving his head in that odd way that used to make his friends laugh at him at Oxford University. 'No: I won't send it anywhere.'
Lord Henry looked at him in surprise through the thin blue smoke of his cigarette. 'Not send it anywhere? My dear man, why not? What odd people you painters are!'
'I know you will laugh at me,' Basil replied, 'but I really can't exhibit it. I have put too much of myself into it.'
Lord Henry stretched himself out on the sofa and laughed. 'Too much of yourself in it! Basil, this man is truly beautiful. He does not look like you.'
'You don't understand me, Harry,' answered the artist. 'Of course I am not like him. I would be sorry to look like him. It is better not to be different from other people. The stupid and ugly have the best of this world. Dorian Gray -'
'Dorian Gray? Is that his name?' asked Lord Henry, walking across the room towards Basil Hallward.
'Yes, that is his name. I wasn't going to tell you.'
'But why not?'
'Oh, I can't explain. When I like people enormously I never tell their names to anyone. I suppose you think that's very foolish?'
'Not at all,' answered Lord Henry, 'not at all, my dear Basil. You forget that I am married, so my life is full of secrets. I never know where my wife is, and my wife never knows what I am doing. When we meet we tell each other lies with the most serious faces.'
'I hate the way you talk about your married life, Harry,' said Basil Hallward, walking towards the door that led into the garden. 'I believe you are really a very good husband, but that you are ashamed of it. You never say a good thing, and you never do a wrong thing.'
Lord Henry laughed and the two men went out into the garden together. After a pause, Lord Henry pulled out his watch. 'I am afraid I have to go, Basil,' he said in a quiet voice. 'But before I go I want you to explain to me why you won't exhibit Dorian Grays picture. I want the real reason.'
'I told you the real reason.'
'No, you did not. You said that it was because there was too much of yourself in it. Now, that is childish.'
'Harry,' said Basil Hallward, looking him straight in the face, 'every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not the sitter. I will not exhibit this picture because I am afraid that I have shown in it the secret of my own soul.'
Lord Henry laughed. 'And what is that?' he asked.
'Oh, there is really very little to tell, Harry,' answered the painter, 'and I don't think you will understand. Perhaps you won't believe it.'
Lord Henry smiled and picked a flower from the grass. 'I am quite sure I'll understand it,' he replied, staring at the flower,' and I can believe anything.'
'The story is simply this,' said the painter. 'Two months ago I went to a party at Lady Brandon's. After I had been in the room for about ten minutes, I suddenly realized that someone was looking at me. I turned around and saw Dorian Gray for the first time. When our eyes met, I felt the blood leaving my face. I knew that this boy would become my whole soul, my whole art itself.'
'What did you do?'
'We were quite close, almost touching. Our eyes met again. I asked Lady Brandon to introduce me to him.'
'What did Lady Brandon say about Mr Dorian Gray?'
'Oh, something like "Charming boy. I don't know what he does - I think he doesn't do anything. Oh, yes, he plays the piano - or is it the violin, dear Mr Gray?" Dorian and I both laughed and we became friends at once.'
'Laughter is not at all a bad beginning for a friendship,' said the young lord, picking another flower, 'and it is the best ending for one.'
Hallward shook his head. 'You don't understand what friendship is, Harry. Everyone is the same to you.'
'That's not true!' cried Lord Henry, pushing his hat back, and looking at the summer sky. 'I choose my friends for their beauty and my enemies for their intelligence. A man cannot be too careful in choosing his enemies. Of course, I hate my relations. And I hate poor people because they are ugly, stupid and drunk -'
'I don't agree with a word you have said. And I feel sure that you don't agree either.'
Lord Henry touched his pointed brown beard with his finger, and the toe of his boot with his stick. 'How English you are, Basil! An Englishman is only interested in whether he agrees with an idea, not whether it is right or wrong. But tell me more about Mr Dorian Gray. How often do you see him?'
'Every day. I couldn't be happy if I didn't see him every day.'
'How extraordinary! I thought you only cared about your art.'
'He is all my art to me now,' said the painter. 'I know that the work I have done since I met Dorian Gray is the best work of my life. In some strange way his personality has shown me a new kind of art. He seems like a little boy - though he is really more than twenty - and when he is with me I see the world differently.'
'Basil, this is extraordinary! I must see Dorian Gray.'
Hallward got up from his seat and walked up and down the garden. After some time he came back. 'Harry,' he said. 'Dorian Gray is the reason for my art. You might see nothing in him. I see everything in him.'
'Then why won't you exhibit his portrait?' asked Lord Henry.
'An artist should paint beautiful things, but he should put nothing of his own life into them. Some day I will show the world what that beauty is. For that reason the world will never see my portrait of Dorian Gray.'
'I think you are wrong, Basil, but I won't argue with you. Tell me, is Dorian Gray very fond of you?'
The painter thought for a few moments. 'He likes me,' he answered, after a pause. 'I know he likes me. Of course I flatter him too much and tell him things that I should not. He is usually very charming to me, and we spend thousands of wonderful hours together. But sometimes he can be horribly thoughtless and seems to enjoy causing me pain. Then I feel, Harry, that I have given my whole soul to someone who uses it like a flower to put in his coat on a summer's day.'
'Summer days are long, Basil,' said Lord Henry in a quiet voice. 'Perhaps you will get bored before he will. Intelligence lives longer than beauty. One day you will look at your friend and you won't like his colour or something. And then you will begin to think that he has behaved badly towards you -'
'Harry, don't talk like that. As long as I live, Dorian Gray will be everything to me. You can't feel what I feel. You change too often.'
'My dear Basil, that is exactly why I can feel it.' Lord Henry took a cigarette from his pretty silver box and lit it. Then he turned to Hallward and said, 'I have just remembered.'
'Remembered what, Harry?'
'Where I heard the name of Dorian Gray.'
'Where was it?' asked Hallward with a frown.
'Don't look so angry, Basil. It was at my aunt's, Lady Agatha's. She told me that she had discovered this wonderful young man. He was going to help her work with the poor people in the East End of London, and his name was Dorian Gray. Of course I didn't know it was your friend.'
'I am very glad you didn't, Harry.'
'I don't want you to meet him.'
A servant came into the garden. 'Mr Dorian Gray is waiting in the house, sir,' he said.
'You must introduce me now,' cried Lord Henry, laughing.
The painter turned to his servant. 'Ask Mr Gray to wait, Parker. I will come in in a few moments.'
Then he looked at Lord Henry. 'Dorian Gray is my dearest friend,' he said. 'He is a beautiful person. Don't spoil him. Don't try and influence him. Your influence would be bad. Don't take away from me the one person who makes me a true artist.'
'What silly things you say!' said Lord Henry. Smiling, he took Hallward by the arm and almost led him into the house.
Share with your friends: