Authors: Oscar Wilde
But now he was a murderer. And unlike the life of a sex maniac, he had no set of instructions on how to proceed, no nefarious yellow book prescribing his actions. Alphonse Gris had never murdered anyone. Well, no, he had murdered a ragged old gypsy who'd stolen money from him, but that was just a drunken incident in an abandoned alley. It was not a life-altering event.
Rosemary Hall was a person whose disappearance would provoke curiosity and questions. And her blood, Dorian realized as he undressed and washed himself, was all over his place. It had managed to soil his every article of clothing. He would have to do a thorough check of his path from the attic in the morning, before the servants awoke. He would burn the clothes then, too. But what would he do with the body? Something would come to him, he was sure. If necessary, he would ask Helen. She knew every type of criminal. Surely one of them would be willing to dispose of a body.
He dressed himself with more than his usual care, giving a good deal of attention to the choice of his necktie and scarf-pin and changing his rings more than once. Normalcy, or the semblance of such, had to be restored at once. He remembered the two bags of grocery items Rosemary had come in with and ran to the foyer to rid of them. Her gray wool coat hung on a hook above them. Dorian took it down and folded it up into as small as bundle as he could manage. As he did so, he felt as if he were folding up all of Rosemary Hall's lonely life. What was left of her was just evidence to be burned. He could do worse than to convert her to ash in the fireplace in the main dining hall, where twenty years ago, she'd fancied the hideous painting would hang in modest glory. It would be fitting if she were laid to rest there. Sort of sweet. Anyway, whatever deviant he hired to remove her corpse would probably turn to fire, too. As he lifted the grocery bags, a lone radish rolled out and rested soundlessly against his shoe. When he saw it, a heaviness lurched in his stomach and knocked against his heart, smacking it into a fit of palpitations. He forced himself to sit and collect himself before carrying on.
When he regained composure he unlocked a secret panel in the stairs' wainscotingâa press in which he kept his own curious disguises, among them a leather loincloth and matching whip, and stashed the bags and the crumpled coat there. He could easily burn them afterward. Then he pulled out his watch. It was two o'clock in the morning. He thought to call on Helen, who slept very little. He believed he could confide in her the night's gruesome event, but when he imagined her mocking voice he got dizzy.
To cure the soul by means of the senses, and the senses by means of the soul!
” How Helen's words rang in his ears! His soul, certainly, was sick to death. Was it true that the senses could cure it? Innocent blood had been spilled. What could atone for that? Ah! For that there was no atonement, but though forgiveness was impossible, forgetfulness was possible stillâand he was determined to forget, to stamp the thing out, to crush it as one would crush the adder that had stung him.
Every yearâevery month, almostâmen were hanged in England for what he had done. There had been a madness of murder in the air. Some red star had come too close to the earth. . . . And yet what evidence was there against him? No one had seen Rosemary come in. The servants had left for the night. The only other person in the house was Victor, and he was half-blind and three-quarters deaf. It would be months before any suspicions would be roused. Months!
He felt that if he brooded on what he had done, he would sicken or grow mad. There were sins whose fascination was more in the memory than in the doing of them, strange triumphs that gratified the pride more than the passions and gave to the intellect a quickened sense of joy, greater than any joy they brought, or could ever bring, to the senses. But this was not one of them. It was a thing to be driven out of the mind, to be drugged with poppies, to be strangled lest it might strangle one itself.
He went into the library and poured himself another brandy and soda. Every second, he glanced at the clock. As the minutes went by, he became horribly agitated. At last he got up and began to pace up and down the room in long, stealthy strides. His hands were curiously cold in his pockets.
The suspense became unbearable. Time seemed to him to be crawling with feet of lead, while he was being swept by monstrous winds toward the jagged edge of some black cleft of precipice. He knew what was waiting for him thereâ saw it, indeed, and, shuddering, crushed with dank hands his burning lids as if he would have robbed the very brain of sight and driven the eyeballs back into their cave. It was useless. The brain had its own food on which it fattened, and the imagination, made grotesque by terror, twisted and distorted as a living thing by pain, danced like some foul puppet on a stand and grinned through moving masks.
He had to destroy the evidence. He had to destroy the painting.
Why had he kept it so long? For a time it had given him pleasure to watch it changing and growing old. Now, thinking of Rosemary dead in the attic, he knew it would only keep him awake at night. It was like a conscience to him. It was what stood before him and true . . . happiness? No, he wasn't pursuing happinessâonly pleasure: the very thing a conscience was designed to prey upon.
He took the lamp from the table and crept back upstairs and toward the attic. The woodwork creaked and seemed to cry out as if in pain. He stopped several times and waited, thinking he heard Victor who had a kind of sixth sense for his master and often knew when he was in distress. No, everything was still. It was merely the sound of his own footsteps. He tried to be quiet when he released the attic stairs, but they groaned and squealed as they came tumbling down. He climbed them quickly and then pulled them up behind him as was his custom.
A misty blue dawn was seeping through the little window behind the shelf, illuminating the ghastly pools of blood. The events of the night crept with silent, bloodstained feet into his brain and reconstructed themselves there with terrible distinctness. He winced at the memory of all that he had suffered, and for a moment the same curious feeling of loathing for Rosemary that had made him kill her came back to him, and he was disgusted all over again. She was still sitting there, unveiled by the light. How horrible that was! Such hideous things were for the darkness, not for the day. As soon as he destroyed the painting, he would have to do something with the bodyâat least hide it until he had a better plan. The thought of lugging a corpse around left him cold. No matter how evil his soul, a necrophiliac it was not.
He dragged the purple hanging once more from the portrait. A cry of pain and indignation broke from him. The figure in the painting was doused in blood. It was there on the painted feet, as if the thing had dripped, on the hand that had stabbed Rosemary as well as on the hand that had held her in place. There was even blood gurgling from the wicked smile. Reflexively, Dorian spat.
He ran to the table and took up the knife. As it had killed the painter, so it would kill the painter's work, and all that it had meant. It would kill the past, and when that was dead, Dorian would be free. It would kill this monstrous soul-life and he would be at peace.
He aimed right for the horrible grin and plunged the knife in. He stabbed it again and again, cursing it. Strips of the cloth ripped down as the canvas caved. He was on his third strike when he suddenly lost all strength in his arms. His legs buckled, and he fell backward onto the floor. His muscles were weak and degraded. It was as if they hadn't mustered a movement in years. He wheezed, his lungs failing to inflate. Everything in his body ached. Time slowed like a dying engine, then stopped with a sickly lurch. Dorian caught a glimpse of his own hand waving for something to grasp ontoâit was frail and liver-spotted and the skin hung. The stench of a rotting corpse made him gag and up sputtered a globule of blood. He coughed up more. Unable to move his head, the blood rolled back down his face and into his eyes.
here was a cry heard, and a crash. The cry was so horrible in its agony that Victor woke and crept out of his room, shaking and pale as bone, but that was rather usual for the old man. Two policemen, who were passing in the square below, stopped and looked up at the great house.
“Whose house is that, constable?” asked the elder of the two.
“Mr. Dorian Gray's, sir.”
They looked at each other and sneered.
“Maniac,” said one.
“Of the most perverted degree,” said the other.
After about a quarter of an hour of searching the grounds for his master, Victor remembered the attic. Though he had never been told so, he had intuited that he was not allowed to go up there. He pretended to know nothing of its existence, for though his master spent more and more time up there, he was mysterious about it and it seemed to contain some unpleasantries. Every time he came down from a visit there, he was pale and uneasy, and his mood was especially foul. It was haunted by some evil memory, thought Victor.
He lowered the staircase down, hoping the sound of him breaking an unspoken rule would send his master running out to stop him. But everything was still. Victor sensed something terrible had occurred up there and did not proceed up. He would wait for the other servants to arrive. Or he would go outside and flag a policeman. The local police hated Dorian, and often hung around waiting for a crime of some sort or at least a bit of criminal gossip. The latter they almost always got hold of, for it was nearly every morning some woman was flying out in tears or being carried out unconscious by one of the servants and swiftly deposited into a hansom.
Victor found the two policemen outside and flagged them in.
When the men entered the attic, they found propped against the wall a splendid portrait of Dorian Gray as they had last seen him, in all the wonder of his exquisite youth and beauty. In the corner, propped on a chair, head down, mouth agape, was a middle-aged woman, stabbed to death. Lying on the floor was a dead man, in evening dress, with a knife in his face. He was withered, wrinkled, and loathsome of visage. He was so thin and shriveled that his pants had fallen down. Whoever the man was, his time had comeâthat much was certain. But the cock's time had not. It stood, full-fleshed, erect as a sword. It was quite a marvelous cock, dead or alive. The policemen were too embarrassed to remark upon it aloud, but each gasped his surprise and swore to himself that he would never think of it again and certainly never utter a word to his wife, who was home safe in bed.
is a writer and editor who lives in Brooklyn with her dog, Netta, and her cat, Fellow. She contributes weekly to the
's nightlife section, among other publications, and co-runs the Guerilla Lit Reading Series in Manhattan.