It was a lovely night, and he loved the soft touch of his silk scarf around his throat. As he strolled home, smoking his cigarette, two young men in evening dress passed him. He heard one of them whisper to the other, “That is Dorian Gray.” It reminded him how pleasing it was to be pointed out, stared at, talked about, being the centerpiece of everyone’s attention and desires. He was contented again, hearing his own name emitted from strangers’ gullet with a timbre of envy and awe. After his last conversation with Lord Henry, he had had to return for the girl; he couldn’t let such a satisfying opportunity slip. He could feel his undying youth in her laughter, his unfading beauty in her unsuspecting admiring gaze. There was a brief moment of weakness in which he considered relinquishing any further seduction; luckily, however, that moment of doubt quickly passed.
When he reached home, he found his servant waiting up for him. He sent him to bed, but not before he had served him his late gourmet dinner. On the wine glass, he observed the reflection of his face. Something suddenly startled him – a peculiar shape beneath his right eye. It was his greatest latent fear; he shuddered. It was a wrinkle.
He did not want to change. He did not want to part with his outer boyhood. How did it happen? How could it happen? Was it all irretrievable? Was there any hope for him? And then, a swift realization crept into his mind – he knew, without knowing how exactly, what prompted this hideous alteration in his physiognomy. When he had been with her earlier, he had allowed doubt to slink in, to permeate, invade and begin despoiling his unsullied splendor of eternal youth slowly. Even if just shortly and momentarily, he had doubted his manners and comportment; he had doubted his ways and habits; he had doubted his own self, and now he was being punished for it.
The curiously carved mirror that Lord Henry had given to him so many years ago was standing on the table, and the white-limbed Cupids laughed around it as of old. He took it up, as he had done on that night of horror when he had first noted the change in the fatal picture, and with wild, tear-dimmed eyes, looked into its polished shield. Yes, he could see it very clearly now – it was there, mocking him, ridiculing him, ruining him. His beauty and youth were everything to him, and he was losing them both.
He realized that he had to think of the past and confront his doubts before he would be desolated completely by the natural progress of age, to which he was now dismally susceptible. James Vane was in his due place in a nameless grave in Selby churchyard. Alan Campbell had shot himself one night in his laboratory, deservingly perishing with the secret he had no right knowing. Basil Hallward had given him the gift of perdurable bloom but had endeavored to take it away from him. He could not forgive him for that. The murder was simply the judicious eventuality of Hallward’s depreciation of youthful beauty.
A renewed life! That was what he wanted. He would never again be tempted to demurral and misgiving, not even for a short, transient instant. He would be loyal to what he was always destined to be. No hesitations, no regrets, no repentance – there would be no room in his life for those. But what about the portrait? What if it still remained as horrible as it had been? Perhaps if his true self prevailed, he would be able to expel every sign of deformed compunction from the face. He acknowledged the poor prospect of such an option, but he had to go and look.
He took the lamp from the table and crept upstairs. As he unbarred the door, an abrupt twist of angst on his upper lip flitted across his normally and appallingly maturing face. Maybe his penalty was already irreversible, maybe it was already too late, maybe now it was his final and ultimate undoing. He felt as if a giant mass of horrid normality had fallen on his shoulders.
He went in quietly, locking the door behind him, as was his custom, and dragged the purple hanging from the portrait. A cry of elation and delight broke from him. The portrait had undergone an exhaustive alteration, and for an instant, he had been certain that he was gazing at a completely different picture. In the eyes, there was a look of truthfulness and sincerity, and a genuine natural smile adorned the bottom part of the face. The thing was spectacular – more spectacular, if possible, than Lord Henry’s most extolling praises – and the scarlet dew that had spotted the hand now seemed to blend in perfectly with the body complexion as if it were an organic part of the skin all along. Then he smiled.
Had it been merely a fictitious social construct such as conscience that had made him hesitate with the girl? Or a grotesque gentlemanly predisposition to propriety? Or that self-righteous ‘love thy neighbor’ Christian indoctrination that sometimes makes us do things more moralistic than we are ourselves? Or, perhaps, all these? And why was the red stain coalescing more integrally into the picture than it had been? It seemed to have spread all over the body and bestowed upon it an almost humane hue. The possibility of confession never appeared farther than it now was. There never was any true duty to confess, nor to suffer public shame, nor to make public atonement. There was no absurd omniscient deity who called upon men to tell their sins to earth as well as to heaven. There was no God, no sin, and thus no necessity for cleansing. There was just now, just the moment, just the present. His smile widened. He gazed into his soul, and for the first time, he truly accepted it and loved it. And as he beamed at the picture, he felt the wrinkle vanishing, dissipating, disappearing into his forever young and beautiful immortal soul, alongside all his doubts. Tears of joy poured on his smooth scarlet cheeks.
Dorian Gray was finally happy.