Here is a short story, ‘The mystery of Dorian Gray’, from my collection The remains of Sherlock Holmes (2012).
The Mystery of Dorian Gray
For several years after my marriage in 1887, and my departure from the rooms of Sherlock Holmes in Baker Street, I saw my old friend only intermittently, being much occupied with the novelties of married life, the material concerns of buying and equipping a new home and the demands of my medical practice. From time to time I accompanied Holmes in one of his cases, or had from him a fascinating report of an adventure which he had successfully concluded. Some of these have already been presented to the public under such titles as ‘The Adventure of the Red-Headed League’ and ‘The Engineer’s Thumb’, while others remain unpublished for a variety of reasons. The stories of the Scarlet Thorn, the Professor’s Assistant, and the Giant Rat of Sumatra are, perhaps, a little too outré for contemporary taste, while the Adventure of the Silent Valet, the Killing of Lady Grace Everley and the story I am about to tell, the Mystery of Dorian Gray involved individuals whose social or political positions imposed a duty of secrecy. In due time, however, when a century and more has passed, these tales may be told.
It was a warm and drowsy afternoon in the summer of 1890 when I received a note from Holmes inviting me to accompany him to the Albert Hall, where Patti was giving one of her regular performances. Knowing my friend’s keen appreciation of the soprano, and delighted by the unexpected invitation, I accepted without hesitation and met Holmes as agreed at Hyde Park Corner. He seemed, if anything, to have grown a little thinner, his cheeks a little more sallow in the months since I had seen him last, but his eyes were bright with expectation and, I suspected, the mental stimulation of an engaging problem. The music was exquisite, despite the notorious echo of the Hall, and Holmes attended with that look of dreamy abstraction which, I knew, betrayed the highest level of mental activity. His eyelids drooped, his head was bent forward and a little to one side, while his thin hands moved almost imperceptibly in time to the music. When it was over, and Patti had accepted her third curtain-call, we walked in silence to the corner of Exhibition Road and caught a cab to Baker Street. Holmes was still sunk in the reverie induced by the soprano, and once we had settled ourselves in the familiar sitting room and lit our pipes, he sat for many minutes without moving or speaking. At length I asked if he had any interesting cases on hand.
‘Oh, nothing much,’ he replied casually. ‘Though there is one small problem which it might amuse you to hear of. Indeed, I should value your opinion upon it, as a friend and as a medical man. You have heard of the peculiar death of Dorian Gray?’
I nodded. No one living in England who read a newspaper or heard the chattering of porters and cabmen could have failed to know something of this extraordinary case. The reader may remember that Gray’s body was found in a locked attic room at his house in Grosvenor Square, before a portrait of himself as a young man. He had been stabbed to the heart. The murder of so well-known a socialite would have caused comment under any circumstances, but this case was rendered more remarkable by certain wild conjectures and superstitious stories which had appeared in the newspapers. Although not yet forty, it was generally believed that Gray’s body was horribly afflicted with age and disease, while in life he had been renowned for his beauty and vigour. It was said that he had left a journal, in which he recorded a pact with the forces of darkness which guaranteed his continued youth, while his portrait had assumed the marks of time and dissolution. In the journal Gray confessed to a life of pleasure and crime, including the murder of the artist Basil Hallward, who had painted the portrait in 1870, when Gray was eighteen. The final result of his life of excess was, it was said, an outburst of self-loathing, and the final entry in the journal recorded Gray’s intention to destroy the painting with a knife and break the unholy pact. The more extravagant newspapers had made much of the fancy of a handsome youth stabbing a painting of himself as a hideous old man and, by some supernatural means, plunging the knife into his own breast and assuming all the corruption of the life he had led, while the portrait was returned to its original state. The Times and the Pall Mall Gazette had reported only that the Metropolitan Police had found a body which was believed to be Gray’s and that they were attempting to establish the circumstances of his death and the whereabouts of Hallward. The body had been discovered some eight weeks before the evening on which I had joined Holmes at the Albert Hall, and even then the subject was far from dead in the pages of the popular papers.
I told Holmes what I knew of the case.
‘Then you have heard,’ said he ‘of the journal which Gray is said to have kept?’ I nodded. ‘It is here.’ He indicated two morocco-bound volumes which lay on the table. ‘Inspector Gregson was assigned the case, but has been able to pursue it only so far.’ Holmes tapped his pipe on the edge of the grate and began to refill it abstractedly from the Persian slipper. ‘It is a most engaging mystery,’ he continued, ‘and I have already made some progress in the case. The police were first alerted by two gentlemen who were walking in Grosvenor Square shortly after midnight and heard a terrible scream. They found a constable, who knocked at Gray’s door. There was no answer, however, and we have only the word of Gray’s manservant, Francis Triphook, for how the body was found. Triphook says he was woken by the scream and, after some hesitation, he and two other servants tried to force the door of the attic whence the sound had apparently come. The door could not be opened. There is, however, a small balcony outside the garret and they were able to gain entry at last by climbing out of another attic window and across the roof to that balcony. Triphook was obliged to force the window there to gain admittance to the garret, which Gray had used as a schoolroom in his childhood. Upon entering, Triphook found a most curious scene. One wall was occupied by a large portrait of his master as a young man, a portrait which Triphook had never seen before. Apart from this, the chamber was meanly furnished with an old table, three kitchen chairs, a bookcase containing schoolbooks and an old painted Italian chest. The room had not been aired or cleaned for many years, and the place was hung with cobwebs and exceedingly musty. The carpet was patterned with footprints, some themselves half covered with dust – Triphook was quite certain on this point – showing that the room had not been completely deserted in recent years. What drew his attention, however, was the body of a man which lay upon the floor beneath the portrait with a knife buried in its breast.
‘For a moment Triphook believed he had found his master. But when he lit a candle and examined the face, he changed his opinion. This was a much older man, lined and emaciated, with wispy grey hair and claw-like fingers. Yet he was wearing Gray’s clothes and, it was discovered, his jewellery and rings. Among the latter was a gold signet ring, a gift from Lord Radley on Gray’s coming of age, which, Triphook had been told, could not now be removed from his master’s finger. Upon closer examination, a similarity was perceived between the features of the dead man and those of Gray, and the servants began to mutter that this was indeed their master, somehow transformed. Upon the table were the two volumes which you see here, and Triphook glanced at the text and read enough to understand that this was his master’s testament and confession. The police constable was admitted at last, and he called upon Gregson to investigate the case. He read the journal and found it a most remarkable document, written, it would seem, over the course of nearly twenty years and containing all the particulars you have mentioned, and more besides. There was talk of a pact with some unnamed power, there was the corruption of the painting while Gray himself remained young, there was the malign influence of a particular book, and there was a confession of the murder of Basil Hallward. Here, read for yourself the closing words.’
Holmes rose, gathered one of the books from the table and handed it to me. It was a small folio, the size of a ledger, but richly bound in deep red morocco and tooled with a crest which I took to be that of Gray’s family. I turned the pages, which were closely covered with ink manuscript, until I reached the final entry. Here I read ‘Monday, April 18th. Enough. My picture mocks me. I have a knife and will end my torment and destroy the unspeakable thing.’
‘Surely,’ I said, ‘this is a forgery, manufactured to cover the murder of this man, whoever he is, and give the impression that he was Dorian Gray.’
‘That was Gregson’s first thought, and the most obvious conclusion. However, there is evidence to the contrary. Gregson brought the journal to me and I was able, through an analysis of the handwriting, ink and paper, to say with some certainty that this document was written by Gray over a period of many years. His hand changes perceptibly, as a man’s will as the seasons pass, and the inks used represent perfectly the periods at which the various entries are alleged to have been made. If this is a forgery, it is an extremely clever and accomplished one. I am inclined to believe it genuine, at least as to authorship and approximate period of composition.’
‘Even so, Gray could have written it over a period of years, with this deception in mind.’
‘Indeed. This may yet prove to be the truth. But there is one still more compelling reason to think that the dead man was, after all, Dorian Gray. Leaving aside the question of the clothes and jewellery, and the passing resemblance of the features, a very remarkable abnormality was discovered when the body was examined. I have seen the corpse myself, in the mortuary at Saint Mary’s, and can confirm that the dead man has six toes on each of his feet. After some investigation, Dorian Gray’s physician, Dr Joseph Basalgette of Harley Street, was identified and confirmed that his patient had suffered from this particular malformation. I was able to obtain confirmation from a lady in Whitechapel, who had chanced to see Mr Gray in a state of undress. She remembered the business with unusual clarity, as the gentleman had attempted to conceal his feet and flew into a rage when he realised she had perceived his condition. This is one matter on which I should value your medical opinion. How common is such a deformity?’
‘Extremely uncommon,’ I replied. ‘I have never seen a case myself, though I have read accounts of infants born with additional toes or digits. A sixth finger is generally removed by a surgeon, but toes are a different matter, and since the condition is harmless many doctors prefer to leave them intact.’
‘Quite so. You see then that the case for this dead man being Gray is in fact very strong. Yet what are we to make of the physical change in his appearance? And who, or what, was responsible for his murder?’ I confessed myself baffled. ‘Tomorrow at nine, if you are at liberty to accompany me, we will visit Grosvenor Square and see if we cannot cast a little light into the darkness.’
‘I would not miss it for the world,’ I said.
‘In the meantime, Watson, I would ask you only to consider one page of the journal, which bears a curious anomaly.’ The volume was still in my lap, and at Holmes’s direction I turned to a particular page. ‘Please be so kind as to read the first sentence of the second paragraph.’ It ran as follows:
I procured from Paris no less than 8 large-paper copies of the first edition, and had them bound in different colours, so that they might suit my various moods and the changing fancies of a nature over which I seem, at times, to have almost entirely lost control.
‘Do you notice anything unusual in the writing? Not in the words, which certainly have some grammatical peculiarities, but in the writing itself?’
‘It is a refined hand,’ I said. ‘Educated, a little cramped, written with a fine-nibbed pen.’
‘Look closely at the figure eight.’
I tilted the page to catch the light and peered at the character. ‘It has been altered,’ I said at last.
‘Indeed. The lower left-hand curve of the figure has been added later, in blue-black ink, while the remainder of the character has a distinct brownish tint. Perhaps it is of no matter, and represents merely the correction of an error, but I choose to see more and shall be most interested to see how many copies of this unnamed book, which appears to have had such an influence upon our hero, may be found in his library.’
The next morning at the appointed hour I met Holmes at Baker Street and we made the short walk to Grosvenor Square. The houses there are, as the reader may know, of a luxurious character, and as we approached the scene of the tragedy I saw two men waiting for us on the doorstep. One I recognised as Gregson of Scotland Yard, while the other was a taller, leaner figure in a bowler hat and long brown coat, with a greying moustache and an unusually fine Roman nose. This, Holmes informed me, was the valet Triphook.
Gregson greeted us with a nod and we entered the house. The ground floor was dominated by a large drawing room or saloon which had served as Gray’s library and study, and was lined with brightly-bound books. There was a large desk covered with papers, two divans, several small tables bearing statuettes and vases and, facing us, a pair of French doors giving access to a terrace where more statuary was visible. A vivid yellow tapestry depicting some classical scene covered the wall between the French doors. Holmes asked us to remain in the hall while he made his initial search of the room. He crept slowly, on all fours, across the rich carpet, examining it with his glass. At length he straightened up and beckoned us to join him. Then he began a minute study of the papers on the desk, and the books and artworks with which the room was ornamented. At one bookshelf he paused and chuckled to himself.
‘Look here, Watson,’ he said. ‘This is evidently the poisonous work of which our Mr Gray was so fond.’
The shelf bore an array of rich volumes, including a series of eight of precisely the same proportions, bound in leather of different colours. I picked one up, read the spine and made out:
The title was tooled in silver on the pale blue morocco, save for the letters ‘E’ in the second word and ‘A’ in the fourth, which were both in gold. I opened the volume and cast my eye over the text. It was in French, but there were etchings which gave a sense of the subject matter and suggested a tale of crime and pleasure in the Paris of the recent past.
‘What do you notice, Watson, about these volumes, taken as a series?’
I considered for a moment and reported, ‘There are eight identical copies, bound in scarlet, orange, green, pale blue, dark blue, violet, black and white morocco, and tooled in such a way that when placed in this sequence the gold letters on all the spines spell out the same title and author’s name that appear in silver and gold on each spine.’
‘Capital Watson! Now, what is missing from the sequence?’
‘Well, nothing, so far as I can see.’
‘What about the spaces? You see, the orange copy has the “A” of “LA” and the full stop of “N.” in gold, and the green copy has the “R” and “S” of “REGRET” and “SAURET” similarly emboldened, but there is no copy to represent the spaces between the words. What colour is missing from the spectrum, at just the point where these spaces should fall?’
I looked again at the row of books. ‘Yellow,’ I said.
‘Quite so. Where is the yellow copy?’
‘Perhaps Mr Gray had an aversion to the colour,’ I suggested.
‘Come, come,’ said Holmes. ‘Look at that tapestry, and the other books here. I would say he had a positive love of that colour. When we find a yellow-bound copy of Monsieur Sauret’s infamous work, bearing Dorian Gray’s ex libris, we will be a great deal closer to solving this mystery.’
I took up the pale blue copy and opened it again, to examine Gray’s curious book-plate and fix it in my mind. Holmes, reading my intention, said ‘No need to memorise it, Watson. I took a few unused examples from the bureau.’ He handed me a copy of the book-plate, which I placed inside my pocket-book (it is reproduced below).
‘Now, Mr Triphook,’ said Holmes. ‘Do you know the location of the secret press in this room, which your late master refers to in his diary?’
‘Yes, sir,’ replied the valet. ‘I chanced to see it open once, when I thought Mr Gray absent and entered the room without knocking to search for a missing hairbrush. It is here.’ He moved to the panelling beside one of the French doors and rapped upon it. A few seconds were sufficient to reveal the secret of the catch to Holmes’s glass, and he had the panel open almost at once. He asked Triphook to light a lamp and bring it over, and by its light we all peered into the cavity. It was empty save for a parcel of black fabric stuffed into the bottom. This Holmes carefully extracted and unpacked on the floor. It consisted of a black cape lined with green satin, which had formed the wrap-ping, and several further garments within. There was an opera-hat, a rough corduroy coat and trousers, a brown cloth cap, a new and well-polished pair of boots, a green silk cravat, a dress shirt and three pairs of kid gloves. Holmes hummed to himself as he laid these garments out, examining each one with his glass before placing it on the carpet. On the collar of the cape he detected some pinkish powder, which he first sniffed and then tasted, before scraping a few grains into an envelope with his pocket-knife. At length he expressed himself satisfied, bundled the clothes up again and returned them to the press.
Next Holmes asked to see the room in which the body had been found, and Triphook led the way up two flights of stairs, along a passage past the servants’ quarters, and up another staircase to the attics, where he indicated a small door, which Holmes opened. Again he asked us all to wait outside while he examined the floor. The morning light was striking in through the windows, illuminating a ragged carpet covered with dust and grimy footmarks. It was clear that some heavy object had been dragged from one corner to the doorway, pulling up the carpet in several places and exposing the bare boards beneath. In that corner where the trail began, a tall painting hung on the wall, shrouded with a purple cloth embroidered in gold. The room answered the description I had heard, being occupied only by a fireplace, a simple wooden table, three chairs, a book-case and a painted chest. Holmes examined the floor with close attention, making all the while a sequence of joyous and despairing noises; I could guess much of what he was thinking, how he cursed the heavy-footed policemen who had thundered in and out, dragging the body away in such a manner as to obliterate any clues which lay in its path. Yet, at the same time, there was evidently something to be gathered from the seeming chaos of trails and footmarks. Twice he stopped and scratched with his pocket-knife at what looked like patches of dirt, scraping specimens into envelopes, and at one point he opened the window and examined the balcony beyond.
At last he beckoned us to join him. With a flourish he pulled the cover from the painting to reveal a full-length portrait of a remarkably handsome young man in a richly-decorated gilded frame. The canvas was damaged however, there being a short gash upon the breast of the subject’s shirt. I looked more closely and saw that it was fringed with a dark brown stain of what appeared to be blood. I stood back and regarded the picture again. I am no expert on the fine arts, but the quality of the painting and the good looks of the subject were clear even to me. Gregson too seemed to regard the picture with reserved appreciation, while Triphook gazed at it with frank devotion.
‘A pretty fellow, is he not?’ said Holmes. Gregson and I agreed, while Triphook nodded dumbly. ‘Would you say, Mr Triphook, that this is a good likeness of your master?’
‘I would, sir,’ he replied emphatically.
‘Even now, twenty years after the portrait was painted?’
‘Indeed. I can see little difference in his face and figure, though his hair and clothes are naturally those of a very young man.’
‘Before you discovered the body, had you ever seen inside this room?’
‘No, sir. It was always locked.’
‘And when you found the body, the door was still locked?’
‘Yes, from the inside.’
‘You came in by the window, from the balcony? Was the window also locked?’
‘Yes, sir. It was necessary for me, Hollis and Jenks to force the bolts. I do not believe anyone could have got in or out after Mr Gray entered and locked the door.’
‘Then you are convinced that the body you found was that of your master?’
Triphook hesitated. ‘I think, sir, that it must have been. Yet I am at a loss to explain how he died, or how he came to be so transformed.’
‘You give no credit, then, to the story of a pact with the devil, or to the transformation of the portrait during a kind of suicide?’
‘I confess ... I am at a loss.’
‘One last question. Was the key to the window found upon the body?’
‘The key to this room,’ he replied, ‘which was found in the door, was on a ring with one other, which fitted the window.’
Holmes said nothing for some minutes. He was lost in thought, staring at the picture of Dorian Gray. At last he drew in his breath, and announced that we should leave at once. He thanked Gregson and Triphook and hurried me from the house. Outside we caught a cab, and Holmes gave the driver an address in Soho and an injunction to make haste. For some minutes we drove in silence, Holmes sitting with his head sunk forward on his breast and his eyes half-closed.
At length he spoke. ‘Would that I had seen that room before the constables tramped in and out and swept the floor with the body. I might then have been sure of my conclusions.’
‘You have made conclusions, then?’
‘Putative conclusions, Watson.’
‘And what are your putative conclusions?’
‘You will admit that there are, on the face of it, four possible explanations. The first is that we take as true this story of a pact with the devil, the ageing of the portrait and the death of Dorian Gray at his own hands. Certainly it fits all the facts before us, but may be objected to because it would require the acceptance of magical, or satanic, influences of which we have no evidence. It is also, perhaps, a little too neat, in having been presented to us in the form of a written narrative which agrees with almost all the facts in our hands. The second explanation is that Gray was a clever lunatic, believing himself invulnerable to the attacks of time while he seemed to see his youthful picture age. If this were the case it would explain the journal, and some of Gray’s behaviour, but it would also mean that he was deluded about his own continued beauty; we would have to conclude that he was the old and shrunken man who died in that attic room, at his own hand. We know, however, that he was not deceived about his appearance, as an examination of the columns of any newspaper will show. I have myself seen Mr Gray within the last year, and Triphook has confirmed his youthful looks. Nevertheless, we cannot be certain that Gray was sane, and that he was not deluded about the changes in the portrait and the reasons for them. The third possible explanation is that he was being deceived by someone else into believing the portrait to be changing to reflect his dissolution, while he retained his good looks. This seems, at first, rather unlikely. However, I found some suggestive evidence. Before the painting I discovered spots of what look to be oil paint, in at least two different shades. Someone could have entered the attic unknown to Gray and cleverly altered the painting, adding lines, grey hair, and later a red stain to his hand. It would have taken a skilled artist, one who knew his subject well and had been following the course of his life. This would explain the journal, and Gray’s declining mastery over his will. But the apparent transformation of a living young man into a dead old one remains unexplained, as do the motives for such an elaborate deception. The fourth solution is that the journal is, as you suggested, a clever construction, designed to lead us away from the truth. In this case, the dead man found in the attic cannot be Gray, who is living now under an assumed identity. I found some evidence to support this theory too. In the attic, despite the best efforts of her Majesty’s constables, there were footprints to suggest that two men had entered that room eight weeks ago, and that one had killed the other before departing by the balcony. If only I could be sure of those footprints.’
‘But the window was locked, with the key in the inner door.’
‘Easily dealt with. A duplicate key could have been used to lock the window from the outside – you will have noticed that the lock has keyholes both within and without.’
I had not noticed this, but nodded in agreement. As I did so, Holmes rapped with his cane on the hatch above us and shouted ‘Can you go no faster, man?’ The driver grunted and whipped up his horse. In a few minutes we arrived in a narrow street and jumped out before a small barber’s shop. The name ‘PIRANESI’ appeared above the window, but the glass was dark and a notice hanging inside read:
Mr Piranesi begs to inform his friends and customers that he is in holiday in Roma and his shop is in charge of only a watchman
Holmes drew in his breath and his brow darkened. ‘I very much fear we are too late,’ said he. ‘It was a long shot, Watson, but we might have saved him.’
‘Piranesi, of course. A descendant of the famous engraver and, in his own field, an equally brilliant artist.’
‘I take it you are not referring to his skill as a barber?’
Holmes produced a bunch of skeleton keys and soon opened the shop door. Inside we passed through the dusty barber’s shop and into an inner room. Here Holmes lit a candle and opened another door which led to a flight of cellar stairs. As soon as he did so a horrible odour rose towards us, and I began to understand what we might find in the room beneath. We descended the stairs into a large cellar where a barber’s chair occupied the centre of the floor. Seated in it, facing us, was the body of a man, in a state of early decomposition, exacerbated by the recent hot weather. I came forward and examined the corpse by the light of the candle which Holmes held up. He was a small man in late middle age, with dark hair flecked with grey and an unnaturally black moustache. His throat had been cut, and the front of his barber’s pinafore was black with dried blood. Holmes began to search the room. There were several small side tables, piled with bottles, vials, cardboard boxes and tubes of what looked like paint. When I moved to examine them, Holmes waved me away and pointed to a door on the far side of the cellar.
‘Have a look in there, would you,’ he said. ‘It is something in your line, and I should be glad to know what you make of it.’ I lit another candle and opened the door upon a familiar scene. It was a small operating-theatre, neat and clean, with an array of twinkling instruments laid out beside a modern cutting-table and chloroform equipment.
‘We are dealing with a very ruthless and cunning criminal,’ said Holmes from the doorway. ‘I knew Piranesi, and guessed at once he was not the author of that notice in the window. It was a clever attempt to imitate the English of an Italian-speaker, using “in holiday” to suggest “in vacanza” and the Italian form of Rome, but Piranesi had thoroughly mastered the English tongue and would not have made such an error. How long would you say he has been dead, Watson?’
‘Some weeks,’ I replied. ‘What did he do, this great artist?’
‘He transformed men, Watson, and women too on occasion. He was the greatest master I have ever known of the art of make-up. He could make a common porter pass for a Persian Prince, or a Chinaman for a Portuguese. I have consulted Piranesi myself, and have bought some of the best theatrical paints the world has to offer through him. It was the paint that led me here. That powder on Gray’s collar was supplied by our late friend; it has a most distinctive composition and can only be acquired from one place in London.’
‘But what of all this medical equipment?’
‘His work sometimes went beyond the superficial, Watson. He was experimenting with certain surgical techniques to alter the physical characteristics of his clients. These, combined with a careful use of paint and costume, could alter the appearance of an individual utterly.’
‘I see. And did he use these skills to help criminals?’
‘Anyone who would pay. I am sure the Police will say there were a great many who would wish to silence him. But I believe I know the name of his murderer. Come, Piranesi cannot help us, nor we him. Let us visit someone who may be more forth-coming about Mr Dorian Gray. We can call in at Scotland Yard on the way and inform Gregson of the Italian’s passing.’
We took another cab and, having done our duty by London’s official force, Holmes instructed the driver to take us to Hanover Square. We drew up at one of the many imposing houses there. But this one was decked out in funeral colours. Black crêpe upon the front door and black hangings at the windows informed us that the household was in mourning. Our knock was answered by a liveried footman who glanced at my friend’s card without betraying emotion and presently informed us that her Grace would meet us in the yellow drawing room. We were shown into a spacious chamber decorated with unforced elegance, in a style I took to be the latest fashion, though Holmes, who fancied himself an expert in such matters, whispered ‘Very 1870s!’ as we entered.
‘Let me express my condolences on the loss of your late husband, the Duke,’ he said to the widow who greeted us. She was a dainty woman of middle years with remarkably fine features and, despite her sombre dress, a cheerful and vigorous appearance. Holmes took her hand and introduced me to the Duchess of Monmouth. I knew, of course, of the elderly Duke’s passing and also of the renowned youth and beauty of his widow.
After those pleasantries which Holmes could conjure with extraordinary ease when the situation required them, the Duchess said, ‘I suppose you have come to ask me about my poor friend Mr Gray?’ Holmes nodded. ‘A Police Inspector was here only yesterday, and asked me many questions. But he refused to tell me anything. Can you tell me what has become of Dorian? I have been in turmoil since the news of his disappearance reached me. I suppose you will not mind if I speak plainly?’ Again my friend nodded. ‘Is he dead, Mr Holmes, is he dead?’
‘I fear so, your Grace.’
‘Then it is true?’ She raised a handkerchief to her face and her voice wavered. ‘I heard they had found a body in his house. Poor Dorian. And is it true also that he was ... transformed?’
‘I regret I am not at liberty to say.’
‘I understand. I have suffered much lately; first my dear husband, and now Mr Gray. It is too much to bear.’ She covered her eyes with her handkerchief. I found myself affected by her display of feminine feeling and wished to say something comforting, yet was at a loss to find the right words.
‘Take comfort,’ said Holmes. ‘A lady in your position has many good friends, and, at such times, good friends count for a good deal. Young Lord Reekie is a most upright man on whom you can lean, and I gather you are close to that remarkable nobleman the Graf von Schön-Graustein.’
She shot him a glance of surprise, perhaps of anger, but said in a perfectly level tone, ‘You are right, Mr Holmes, and most kind, most kind. But please, ask me your questions. I am not strong at present.’
‘I have but two questions, your Grace. Perhaps, in the first instance, you might describe for me the Police Inspector you spoke to yesterday?’
She frowned and said ‘I did not pay much attention to such a person, Mr Holmes. But I recall that he was tall with greying hair, and looked rather pale and ill.’
‘Very good. And my second question is to ask where the Graf von Schön-Graustein may be found?’
Her frown deepened. ‘Why, at Mr D’Oyly Carte’s hotel at the Savoy Theatre. But do you not wish to ask me about Mr Gray?’
‘You have already been most helpful on that score, and we will detain you no longer at this difficult time.’
With a curious glance at my friend she bade us farewell. As the footman showed us out, I noticed another servant hurrying into the drawing room in answer to the bell which we could just hear ringing furiously in the servants’ quarters below. Holmes had asked our cabman to wait and now promised him a guinea if he would convey us to the Savoy in less than ten minutes.
‘I fear I may have overplayed my hand,’ he said when we were settled in the cab, ‘but I could not resist.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘It was a good performance, but not good enough to deceive me, not by a long measure, and I am afraid I let her know that I had seen through her deception. She is even now sending a message to the Count to warn him of my understanding of the case. It is vitally important that we arrive before the messenger.’
The Graf von Schön-Graustein was a figure known to me from the newspaper columns. He had recently arrived from Prussia and made an impact in society. He was said to be a small man with fierce, ugly features and an unruly moustache, but a soldier of considerable bravery and a frequent dualist who had been wounded more than once while protecting the honour of a lady. The cabman, keen to earn his screw, made the wheels of the hansom sing and the brake squeal as we pulled up at the Savoy well within the stipulated time. Holmes threw him a sovereign before we hurried into the foyer and asked to be announced to the Count. The name of Sherlock Holmes had a pleasing effect on the hotel manager, who took us to the room himself and knocked upon the door. There was silence. After a second knock he took out a bunch of keys and opened the door before us.
Not for the first time that day I was confronted by a corpse. Lying just inside the door, his feet towards us, was the body of a small man in late middle age, his face contorted with astonishment and pain, and a red-brown stain upon the bib of his dress-shirt. I examined the body. If this was indeed the Graf von Schön-Graustein, the papers had been merciful when describing him. His face was that of a wild boar, with thick reddish side-whiskers and moustache. His bared teeth were yellow and black and his cheeks and brow were marked with scars, some clearly of recent date. A deep sword-wound in his breast was the cause of his death.
‘Again we are too late,’ said Holmes. ‘But this time, I confess, my remorse is tempered by the knowledge that before us lie the ruins of one of the most hated and dishonourable men in London.’
‘Surely,’ said the hotel manager, his face dead white, ‘we must afford the dead some respect, sir. He was, after all, a man of noble blood and a soldier of honour.’
‘Of noble blood,’ said Holmes. ‘But far from noble of heart and certainly not a man of honour.’
‘But he is the Graf von Schön-Graustein!’ said the manager.
‘No,’ said Holmes. ‘He is Dorian Gray.’
‘Good Lord,’ I said. ‘Are you sure?’
‘Quite. Doctor, if you would oblige me by removing one of his boots – yes, and the sock also – and tell me what you see.’
‘There is a fresh scar here, beside the smallest toe.’
‘Indeed. Where the tell-tale extra toe has been removed. You will find the same is true of the other foot.’ He walked to the nightstand and picked up a book which lay there. ‘And here is the missing yellow copy of that curious French work which meant so much to our late friend.’ He flapped the volume open and shut, then handed it to me as I rose. It was a copy of M. Sauret’s La Regret, richly bound in crushed yellow morocco and titled in silver. I opened the front cover, looking for Gray’s book-plate, and found a rectangular scar where something had been scraped away from the leather doublure. I took out the plate which Holmes had given me and held it against the scar. The two were precisely the same shape and size.
Inspector Gregson was summoned and Holmes gave him the outline of our morning’s adventure. Once the body of the Count, or Gray as we should properly call him, had been removed from the scene, Holmes pocketed the yellow-bound book and invited Gregson to return with us to Baker Street where he promised luncheon and a full explanation. On the way we stopped at a telegraph office and Gregson and I waited in the cab while Holmes sent several telegrams. By this stage I was fairly itching for an explanation but, knowing my friend’s inclinations of old, forbore to press him on the matter until we were comfortably seated at Baker Street, smoking after the excellent meal which Mrs Hudson had prepared for us. At last Holmes refilled his pipe and assumed the familiar bearing of the storyteller who knows he has an eager audience and a leading part in the story he is about to tell.
‘You are insufferable, Holmes,’ I said. ‘We have been waiting long enough. Tell us what you know.’
‘I dare say I am a little irritating at times, old friend, and for that I am sorry. But I needed time to think and, even now, though I have the threads in my hands I cannot see all their knots and convolutions clearly. But I will lay before you what I know. You will remember, Watson, my four potential explanations for the story of Gray and his ageing portrait. You will admit that all had possibilities, and problems, but as I thought the matter over I grew convinced that the body found before the painting could not be that of Mr Gray, and that his diary and the pattern of the last twenty years of his life had been, at least in part, a subtle preparation. Our discovery of the unfortunate Piranesi tended to confirm me in this opinion.
‘Let me say that I knew Gray personally, not well, but more than by reputation alone, and he was the most ruthless and amoral pleasure-seeker in London. Indeed, he was more than a pleasure-seeker. He was hungry for experience, for personal indulgence and experiment, and sought to satisfy these desires in high and low society without the least trace of conscience. I have seen him myself, thinly disguised, in some opium den or other ill-favoured house. The diary is accurate in this respect, as it is in many others, though it mentions but a fraction of his crimes. In the course of twenty years of licentious living he succeeded in outraging almost every friend he had known. He disgraced and ruined more than one lady and several gentlemen also. I knew Sir Henry Ashton slightly, before he came under Gray’s influence and fell from his high place. I have spoken with the father of young Adrian Singleton, who has very good cause to blame Gray for the destruction of his son. Even Gray’s closest friend and partner in hedonism, Lord Henry Wotton, whose love survived even the ruin of his sister, became a bitter enemy when he discovered that the failure of his own marriage was the direct result of Gray’s interference with Lady Wotton’s feelings.
‘Our friend knew that he could sustain such a life of ruthless pleasure only for a limited period, and so prepared, almost from the first, an extremely ingenious means to escape the growing multitude of his enemies. He wrote a personal diary in which he recorded some of the truths of his debauchery, along with the untruth of a pact with dark forces and the changing of Basil Hallward’s portrait. Then, when he felt his life threatened on all sides, he executed his stratagem. He found a man who had some passing resemblance to himself, but an older man with a corrupt appearance, and he murdered him. He dressed the corpse in his own clothes ...’
‘But wait, Holmes,’ I said. ‘What about the man’s deformed feet?’
My friend smiled ruefully. ‘That skein is still tangled in this mystery, I fear. But I will unpick it, Watson, I will. In the mean time, be so good as to allow me to continue. Gray dressed the corpse in his own evening clothes and jewels and laid it before the painting. Then he took up the knife he had used upon his victim and stabbed the heart of his painted self with it, before returning the blade to the wound in the corpse’s breast. Grey had already completed his diary in such a way as to suggest he had himself died and been stricken with all the corruption which he claimed had formerly afflicted his picture. He let out a powerful scream and left via the balcony, locking the window behind him. He crossed the roofs and escaped into the city. I do not know precisely how he climbed down from the roof, but it would have been easy enough to use a rope – either carried with him or left in place beforehand – to lower himself into the mews behind the house. Gregson, I suggest you might look for such a rope, if you find yourself with a minute or two to spare tomorrow.
‘Gray then made his way to Piranesi’s shop where he had arranged to be transformed. This would be no common disguise, but the Italian’s masterpiece. Gray was a customer of long-standing, having used Piranesi’s skill to preserve his youthful appearance since the early 1870s, and Gray had no doubt promised a very large sum for the final transformation. Piranesi operated upon his face to turn him from the handsome English gentleman we all knew into his opposite, a coarse-featured, war-scarred Prussian. The extra toes were also carefully removed by Piranesi, who was rewarded not with gold but with a mortal wound beneath his chin.
‘I deduced, as the case progressed, that Gray could not have worked entirely alone. He must have needed shelter during the healing of his surgery and help to procure food, medicines and an entrée into Society for his new character. There was, so far as I knew, but one person whose proximity to our quarry had not proved destructive, and that was Gladys, the Duchess of Monmouth. Her love for Gray was undimmed and when her husband died she was in the perfect position to shelter her old friend in his new guise. I had read in the newspapers of the recent arrival in London of a scarred Prussian nobleman, and of his immediate friendship with the Duchess. It was elementary to conclude that the so-called Graf von Schön-Graustein was, in fact, Dorian Gray. You will observe that his name might be translated as the Count of Beau Graystone – a rather suggestive invention on Gray’s part.’
Holmes’s pipe had gone out while he was talking, and he paused to relight it with a coal from the fire. ‘We must now,’ he said, sending up a plume of blue-grey smoke, ‘address a greater question. Who killed Dorian Gray? As soon as I began to study his life I detected another hand at the same task, another foot pursuing the same quarry. You will remember, Watson, the tall Police Inspector her Grace described – certainly not our friend Gregson here. Indeed, if he will forgive me, I doubted at once that this visitor was a genuine policeman since he seemed to be so very close upon the scent.’ Gregson made a face but said nothing. ‘He might have been any one of Gray’s enemies, of course, but I deduced that he was probably someone whom Gray did not fear. My reasoning was that Gray would have covered his tracks very carefully, and have been convinced that his complex ploy would shake off all those enemies he believed he had reason to flee. Otherwise, why engage in such a complicated and costly charade? I deduced that – well, you shall see for yourselves. Unless I am much mistaken, one who can answer these questions better than I is at the door.’
There was a faint noise in the hall and then a sharp knock. Mrs Hudson entered, followed by a tall gentleman in a long black coat and muffler who aroused my immediate concern. He had the dead white skin and hollow cheeks of a very sick man, yet his expression was one of calm amusement.
Holmes extended his hand. ‘Mr Basil Hallward?’ he said. The sick man nodded, and lowered himself into the chair which I indicated.
‘But surely, Holmes, Dorian Gray confessed to murdering Mr Hallward?’
‘Indeed he did. He believed he had done so. But, happily, in this one venture, he failed. Perhaps, if he feels equal to the task, we might ask Mr Hallward to tell his own story.’
I poured our guest a large brandy and, after tossing it off, he began. ‘You seem to know all, Mr Holmes. I came in answer to the telegram which you contrived to send to my mother, the only living soul who knew where to find me. To my shame I once loved Dorian Gray, and painted a portrait of him; it was a remarkable likeness and the greatest work of my life, but he hid it away and would not let me see it for twenty years. As time passed, I became aware of Dorian’s nature, and I sought at first to save him and then to keep myself completely apart from him. Last autumn, however, he summoned me, with a promise of renewed friendship and a sight of the portrait. I was tempted, and fancied I might, perhaps, still bring some good influence to bear upon him. But I was mistaken. With little show of politeness he took me to an attic room where he unveiled the picture. I confess I was delighted to see it. I knew I would never paint such a portrait again and, while I admired it by the light of a lamp, Dorian locked the door and said quite calmly that he intended to kill me. At first I though this a joke, but quickly learned that he was in earnest. I asked him why, and he said he was curious to know what it would be like to take a life, whether he might enjoy the act, how he might feel during the killing and afterwards. I asked why he had chosen me, and again he had his reasons. I had failed as an artist. I had painted a portrait of him as a saint, which mocked his true nature. I had patronised and tried to change him, when his nature was infinitely superior to mine. And I had once broken a marble statuette of a faun which had been very dear to him. This last astonished me, for I hardly recalled the incident. But to Dorian it was most significant. I had clumsily destroyed a thing of beauty, an exquisite possession and a symbol of his own youth and loveliness, and so my life was forfeit. This seemed to be his chief reason for choosing me. I was so astonished that I hardly resisted when he drew a knife and struck at my neck.
‘I remember no more until I woke in great pain to see a man’s face before me. It was not a face I knew, but he whispered that he was a medical man and would save me if he could. His name was Alan Campbell and Gray had engaged him, under considerable duress, to dispose of my corpse. However, when he had entered the attic with a chest of chemicals and apparatus he had found not a dead man but one on the threshold of death. He injected me with morphine and then with some rapid and, I dare say, rather makeshift surgery repaired my wounds. By this stage I was again unconscious, but he later told me how he had crept onto the balcony and climbed across to the next house, and the next. There he found the equivalent attic occupied by a young man, a student, whom he easily induced to help him. Between them they carried me across the balconies, into the student’s room and down to the street, where the student accompanied me to Campbell’s house. Campbell then returned to the attic and tried to erase all signs that I had been there. He scrubbed the table and floor, and burned chemicals in the grate to give the impression that my remains had been destroyed with acid. Gray was very ignorant of chemistry and biology, so it was not difficult to fool him, and Campbell felt he had done well by saving me under the nose of the man who had intended me such evil. Indeed, he had done very well, and he nursed me over the following weeks, until I was well enough to visit my mother and find new lodgings. Everyone believed I was in Paris, and later I was spoken of as having disappeared. Only Campbell, the student who had aided us and my mother knew the truth.’
The artist paused and I poured him another brandy which he drank, more slowly this time. He was sweating profusely. ‘I regret to say that Campbell too is dead. It was generally held to be suicide, for he was found in his laboratory with his own revolver at his side. But I believe Gray murdered him, to silence him about my fate. When I learned this, I determined to pursue Gray to his end. I was in the fortunate position of being dead, in his eyes, so could follow him as only a ghost may. I planned my revenge – not just for his murderous assault on me, but for Campbell and all the others whom Gray had destroyed. I quickly realised that my victim was working towards some imminent end. I witnessed his visits to Piranesi and his preparations for departure. I learned that he had transferred a great sum of money to a bank account in the name of a Prussian nobleman. Then suddenly the papers were full of the story of his death. I had not foreseen this, but guessed what was afoot and continued my pursuit. At last it occurred to me that the Duchess of Monmouth might know the truth and, assuming the guise of a Scot-land Yard detective, I visited and questioned her closely. She gave little away, but at one moment during our interview her valet arrived with a letter; she read it at once, in my presence, and her face betrayed something of pleasure, perhaps even love. I contrived to see the letter and noted that it was written on the paper of the Savoy Hotel and signed “Schön-Graustein”. I guessed immediately the significance of the name and, excusing myself from the Duchess, hurried to the Savoy.
‘You may imagine the surprise on the face of the Count when he saw me. It gives me pleasure still to think of it. The man he thought he had murdered had returned as a ghost to take revenge. I allowed him half a minute to consider this, before I drew my sword-stick and ran him through. There is no more to add.’
‘You realise,’ said Gregson, ‘that you have just confessed to murder, and I am duty-bound to arrest you.’
‘I think it highly unlikely,’ said Holmes, ‘that Mr Hallward will see trial.’
‘You are right, I fear,’ said the artist. ‘But I am content all the same.’
‘Would you be so kind, Watson, as to examine the gentleman?’
Hallward peeled away the muffler he wore and I saw at once that his throat was not only horribly scarred with several knife-wounds but was swollen and purplish, with the distinctive odour of gangrene.
‘You may arrest him if you wish,’ said Holmes to Gregson. ‘But a greater judge has already decreed his fate. I suggest it would be a kindness to a man who has suffered much to allow him to spend his last days in the care of his mother. He will hardly commit another crime.’
‘But the law, Mr Holmes.’
‘Law be hanged – consider justice, Gregson. Almost everyone who came close to Mr Dorian Gray has suffered. Many have died. This man’s death will be, it must be hoped, the last we can blame upon that singular monster.’
‘For myself, I do not care,’ said Hallward. ‘Since 1870 I have struggled to recapture the skill I had when I painted Dorian. But I knew, even then, that I would never paint another picture half so fine.’
Gregson, to his credit, saw the force of Holmes’s words and left us that night without reporting the matter to his superiors. Holmes took up one of the volumes of Gray’s diary and leafed through it. ‘It is a remarkable work of fiction,’ he said. ‘Perhaps it should be published as such – with suitable editorial intervention – and attributed to some literary lion. But there is, I fear, no one whose imagination is half so fervid, half so outlandish, as that of the late Mr Gray.’
That was not quite the end of the mystery of Dorian Gray. The following day Gregson found a rope tied, as Holmes had predicted, to one of the chimneys of Gray’s house and depending into the mews beneath. In due time there came an answer too to the questions of the identity of the man found dead in the attic at Grosvenor Square, and of his close resemblance to Gray, even to the possession of an extra toe on each foot. The poor man’s name is not important, but Holmes established that he was the illegitimate son of Lord Kelso, Gray’s grandfather, and therefore his blood-relation. Kelso had been a rough, brutish man who had frequented low places and consorted with drabs. It was rumoured that more than one child had been born in Soho with his fiery temper and the familial trait of an extra toe on each foot. Gray may have known of the existence of these relatives and sought one out to meet his ends. Or perhaps he chanced upon his unfortunate kinsman in some house of sin, and seized the terrible opportunity.