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Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime
and Other Stories

Oscar Wilde's signature

Oscar Wilde

1888

This is the Bookwise complete ebook of Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime and Other Stories by Oscar Wilde, available to read online as an alternative to epub, mobi, kindle, pdf or text only versions. For information about the status of this work, see Copyright Notice.



Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime
A Study of Duty


The Canterville Ghost
A Hylo-Idealistic Romance


The Sphinx Without a Secret
An Etching

One afternoon I was sitting outside the Café de la Paix, watching the splendour and shabbiness of Parisian life, and wondering over my vermouth at the strange panorama of pride and poverty that was passing before me, when I heard someone call my name. I turned round, and saw Lord Murchison. We had not met since we had been at college together, nearly ten years before, so I was delighted to come across him again, and we shook hands warmly. At Oxford we had been great friends. I had liked him immensely, he was so handsome, so high-spirited, and so honourable. We used to say of him that he would be the best of fellows, if he did not always speak the truth, but I think we really admired him all the more for his frankness. I found him a good deal changed. He looked anxious and puzzled, and seemed to be in doubt about something. I felt it could not be modern scepticism, for Murchison was the stoutest of Tories, and believed in the Pentateuch as firmly as he believed in the House of Peers; so I concluded that it was a woman, and asked him if he was married yet.

“I don’t understand women well enough,” he answered.

“My dear Gerald,” I said, “women are meant to be loved, not to be understood.”

“I cannot love where I cannot trust,” he replied.

“I believe you have a mystery in your life, Gerald,” I exclaimed; “tell me about it.”

“Let us go for a drive,” he answered, “it is too crowded here. No, not a yellow carriage, any other colour⁠—there, that dark green one will do,” and in a few moments we were trotting down the boulevard in the direction of the Madeleine.

“Where shall we go to?” I said.

“Oh, anywhere you like!” he answered⁠—“to the restaurant in the Bois; we will dine there, and you shall tell me all about yourself.”

“I want to hear about you first,” I said. “Tell me your mystery.”

He took from his pocket a little silver-clasped morocco case, and handed it to me. I opened it. Inside there was the photograph of a woman. She was tall and slight, and strangely picturesque with her large vague eyes and loosened hair. She looked like a clairvoyante, and was wrapped in rich furs.

“What do you think of that face?” he said; “is it truthful?”

I examined it carefully. It seemed to me the face of someone who had a secret, but whether that secret was good or evil I could not say. Its beauty was a beauty moulded out of many mysteries⁠—the beauty, in fact, which is psychological, not plastic⁠—and the faint smile that just played across the lips was far too subtle to be really sweet.

“Well,” he cried impatiently, “what do you say?”

“She is the Gioconda in sables,” I answered. “Let me know all about her.”

“Not now,” he said; “after dinner,” and began to talk of other things.

When the waiter brought us our coffee and cigarettes I reminded Gerald of his promise. He rose from his seat, walked two or three times up and down the room, and, sinking into an armchair, told me the following story:⁠—

“One evening,” he said, “I was walking down Bond Street about five o’clock. There was a terrific crush of carriages, and the traffic was almost stopped. Close to the pavement was standing a little yellow brougham, which, for some reason or other, attracted my attention. As I passed by there looked out from it the face I showed you this afternoon. It fascinated me immediately. All that night I kept thinking of it, and all the next day. I wandered up and down that wretched Row, peering into every carriage, and waiting for the yellow brougham; but I could not find ma belle inconnue, and at last I began to think she was merely a dream. About a week afterwards I was dining with Madame de Rastail. Dinner was for eight o’clock; but at half-past eight we were still waiting in the drawing-room. Finally the servant threw open the door, and announced Lady Alroy. It was the woman I had been looking for. She came in very slowly, looking like a moonbeam in grey lace, and, to my intense delight, I was asked to take her in to dinner. After we had sat down, I remarked quite innocently, ‘I think I caught sight of you in Bond Street some time ago, Lady Alroy.’ She grew very pale, and said to me in a low voice, ‘Pray do not talk so loud; you may be overheard.’ I felt miserable at having made such a bad beginning, and plunged recklessly into the subject of the French plays. She spoke very little, always in the same low musical voice, and seemed as if she was afraid of someone listening. I fell passionately, stupidly in love, and the indefinable atmosphere of mystery that surrounded her excited my most ardent curiosity. When she was going away, which she did very soon after dinner, I asked her if I might call and see her. She hesitated for a moment, glanced round to see if anyone was near us, and then said, ‘Yes; tomorrow at a quarter to five.’ I begged Madame de Rastail to tell me about her; but all that I could learn was that she was a widow with a beautiful house in Park Lane, and as some scientific bore began a dissertation on widows, as exemplifying the survival of the matrimonially fittest, I left and went home.

“The next day I arrived at Park Lane punctual to the moment, but was told by the butler that Lady Alroy had just gone out. I went down to the club quite unhappy and very much puzzled, and after long consideration wrote her a letter, asking if I might be allowed to try my chance some other afternoon. I had no answer for several days, but at last I got a little note saying she would be at home on Sunday at four and with this extraordinary postscript: ‘Please do not write to me here again; I will explain when I see you.’ On Sunday she received me, and was perfectly charming; but when I was going away she begged of me, if I ever had occasion to write to her again, to address my letter to ‘Mrs. Knox, care of Whittaker’s Library, Green Street.’ ‘There are reasons,’ she said, ‘why I cannot receive letters in my own house.’

“All through the season I saw a great deal of her, and the atmosphere of mystery never left her. Sometimes I thought that she was in the power of some man, but she looked so unapproachable, that I could not believe it. It was really very difficult for me to come to any conclusion, for she was like one of those strange crystals that one sees in museums, which are at one moment clear, and at another clouded. At last I determined to ask her to be my wife: I was sick and tired of the incessant secrecy that she imposed on all my visits, and on the few letters I sent her. I wrote to her at the library to ask her if she could see me the following Monday at six. She answered yes, and I was in the seventh heaven of delight. I was infatuated with her: in spite of the mystery, I thought then⁠—in consequence of it, I see now. No; it was the woman herself I loved. The mystery troubled me, maddened me. Why did chance put me in its track?”

“You discovered it, then?” I cried.

“I fear so,” he answered. “You can judge for yourself.”

“When Monday came round I went to lunch with my uncle, and about four o’clock found myself in the Marylebone Road. My uncle, you know, lives in Regent’s Park. I wanted to get to Piccadilly, and took a shortcut through a lot of shabby little streets. Suddenly I saw in front of me Lady Alroy, deeply veiled and walking very fast. On coming to the last house in the street, she went up the steps, took out a latchkey, and let herself in. ‘Here is the mystery,’ I said to myself; and I hurried on and examined the house. It seemed a sort of place for letting lodgings. On the doorstep lay her handkerchief, which she had dropped. I picked it up and put it in my pocket. Then I began to consider what I should do. I came to the conclusion that I had no right to spy on her, and I drove down to the club. At six I called to see her. She was lying on a sofa, in a tea-gown of silver tissue looped up by some strange moonstones that she always wore. She was looking quite lovely. ‘I am so glad to see you,’ she said; ‘I have not been out all day.’ I stared at her in amazement, and pulling the handkerchief out of my pocket, handed it to her. ‘You dropped this in Cumnor Street this afternoon, Lady Alroy,’ I said very calmly. She looked at me in terror but made no attempt to take the handkerchief. ‘What were you doing there?’ I asked. ‘What right have you to question me?’ she answered. ‘The right of a man who loves you,’ I replied; ‘I came here to ask you to be my wife.’ She hid her face in her hands, and burst into floods of tears. ‘You must tell me,’ I continued. She stood up, and, looking me straight in the face, said, ‘Lord Murchison, there is nothing to tell you.’⁠—‘You went to meet someone,’ I cried; ‘this is your mystery.’ She grew dreadfully white, and said, ‘I went to meet no one.’⁠—‘Can’t you tell the truth?’ I exclaimed. ‘I have told it,’ she replied. I was mad, frantic; I don’t know what I said, but I said terrible things to her. Finally I rushed out of the house. She wrote me a letter the next day; I sent it back unopened, and started for Norway with Alan Colville. After a month I came back, and the first thing I saw in the Morning Post was the death of Lady Alroy. She had caught a chill at the Opera, and had died in five days of congestion of the lungs. I shut myself up and saw no one. I had loved her so much, I had loved her so madly. Good God! how I had loved that woman!”

“You went to the street, to the house in it?” I said.

“Yes,” he answered.

“One day I went to Cumnor Street. I could not help it; I was tortured with doubt. I knocked at the door, and a respectable-looking woman opened it to me. I asked her if she had any rooms to let. ‘Well, sir,’ she replied, ‘the drawing-rooms are supposed to be let; but I have not seen the lady for three months, and as rent is owing on them, you can have them.’⁠—‘Is this the lady?’ I said, showing the photograph. ‘That’s her, sure enough,’ she exclaimed; ‘and when is she coming back, sir?’⁠—‘The lady is dead,’ I replied. ‘Oh sir, I hope not!’ said the woman; ‘she was my best lodger. She paid me three guineas a week merely to sit in my drawing-rooms now and then.’ ‘She met someone here?’ I said; but the woman assured me that it was not so, that she always came alone, and saw no one. ‘What on earth did she do here?’ I cried. ‘She simply sat in the drawing-room, sir, reading books, and sometimes had tea,’ the woman answered. I did not know what to say, so I gave her a sovereign and went away. Now, what do you think it all meant? You don’t believe the woman was telling the truth?”

“I do.”

“Then why did Lady Alroy go there?”

“My dear Gerald,” I answered, “Lady Alroy was simply a woman with a mania for mystery. She took these rooms for the pleasure of going there with her veil down, and imagining she was a heroine. She had a passion for secrecy, but she herself was merely a Sphinx without a secret.”

“Do you really think so?”

“I am sure of it,” I replied.

He took out the morocco case, opened it, and looked at the photograph. “I wonder?” he said at last.


The Model Millionaire
A Note of Admiration

Unless one is wealthy there is no use in being a charming fellow. Romance is the privilege of the rich, not the profession of the unemployed. The poor should be practical and prosaic. It is better to have a permanent income than to be fascinating. These are the great truths of modern life which Hughie Erskine never realised. Poor Hughie! Intellectually, we must admit, he was not of much importance. He never said a brilliant or even an ill-natured thing in his life. But then he was wonderfully good-looking, with his crisp brown hair, his clear-cut profile, and his grey eyes. He was as popular with men as he was with women and he had every accomplishment except that of making money. His father had bequeathed him his cavalry sword and a History of the Peninsular War in fifteen volumes. Hughie hung the first over his looking-glass, put the second on a shelf between Ruff’s Guide and Bailey’s Magazine, and lived on two hundred a year that an old aunt allowed him. He had tried everything. He had gone on the Stock Exchange for six months; but what was a butterfly to do among bulls and bears? He had been a tea-merchant for a little longer, but had soon tired of pekoe and souchong. Then he had tried selling dry sherry. That did not answer; the sherry was a little too dry. Ultimately he became nothing, a delightful, ineffectual young man with a perfect profile and no profession.

To make matters worse, he was in love. The girl he loved was Laura Merton, the daughter of a retired Colonel who had lost his temper and his digestion in India, and had never found either of them again. Laura adored him, and he was ready to kiss her shoestrings. They were the handsomest couple in London, and had not a penny-piece between them. The Colonel was very fond of Hughie, but would not hear of any engagement.

“Come to me, my boy, when you have got ten thousand pounds of your own, and we will see about it,” he used to say; and Hughie looked very glum in those days, and had to go to Laura for consolation.

One morning, as he was on his way to Holland Park, where the Mertons lived, he dropped in to see a great friend of his, Alan Trevor. Trevor was a painter. Indeed, few people escape that nowadays. But he was also an artist, and artists are rather rare. Personally he was a strange rough fellow, with a freckled face and a red ragged beard. However, when he took up the brush he was a real master, and his pictures were eagerly sought after. He had been very much attracted by Hughie at first, it must be acknowledged, entirely on account of his personal charm. “The only people a painter should know,” he used to say, “are people who are bête and beautiful, people who are an artistic pleasure to look at and an intellectual repose to talk to. Men who are dandies and women who are darlings rule the world, at least they should do so.” However, after he got to know Hughie better, he liked him quite as much for his bright, buoyant spirits and his generous, reckless nature, and had given him the permanent entrée to his studio.

When Hughie came in he found Trevor putting the finishing touches to a wonderful life-size picture of a beggar-man. The beggar himself was standing on a raised platform in a corner of the studio. He was a wizened old man, with a face like wrinkled parchment, and a most piteous expression. Over his shoulders was flung a coarse brown cloak, all tears and tatters; his thick boots were patched and cobbled, and with one hand he leant on a rough stick, while with the other he held out his battered hat for alms.

“What an amazing model!” whispered Hughie, as he shook hands with his friend.

“An amazing model?” shouted Trevor at the top of his voice; “I should think so! Such beggars as he are not to be met with every day. A trouvaille, mon cher; a living Velasquez! My stars! what an etching Rembrandt would have made of him!”

“Poor old chap!” said Hughie, “how miserable he looks! But I suppose, to you painters, his face is his fortune?”

“Certainly,” replied Trevor, “you don’t want a beggar to look happy, do you?”

“How much does a model get for sitting?” asked Hughie, as he found himself a comfortable seat on a divan.

“A shilling an hour.”

“And how much do you get for your picture, Alan?”

“Oh, for this I get two thousand!”

“Pounds?”

“Guineas. Painters, poets, and physicians always get guineas.”

“Well, I think the model should have a percentage,” cried Hughie, laughing; “they work quite as hard as you do.”

“Nonsense, nonsense! Why, look at the trouble of laying on the paint alone, and standing all day long at one’s easel! It’s all very well, Hughie, for you to talk, but I assure you that there are moments when Art almost attains to the dignity of manual labour. But you mustn’t chatter; I’m very busy. Smoke a cigarette, and keep quiet.”

After some time the servant came in, and told Trevor that the framemaker wanted to speak to him.

“Don’t run away, Hughie,” he said, as he went out, “I will be back in a moment.”

The old beggar-man took advantage of Trevor’s absence to rest for a moment on a wooden bench that was behind him. He looked so forlorn and wretched that Hughie could not help pitying him, and felt in his pockets to see what money he had. All he could find was a sovereign and some coppers. “Poor old fellow,” he thought to himself, “he wants it more than I do, but it means no hansoms for a fortnight,” and he walked across the studio and slipped the sovereign into the beggar’s hand.

The old man started, and a faint smile flitted across his withered lips. “Thank you, sir,” he said, “thank you.”

Then Trevor arrived, and Hughie took his leave, blushing a little at what he had done. He spent the day with Laura, got a charming scolding for his extravagance, and had to walk home.

That night he strolled into the Palette Club about eleven o’clock, and found Trevor sitting by himself in the smoking-room drinking hock and seltzer.

“Well, Alan, did you get the picture finished all right?” he said, as he lit his cigarette.

“Finished and framed, my boy!” answered Trevor; “and, by the by, you have made a conquest. That old model you saw is quite devoted to you. I had to tell him all about you⁠—who you are, where you live, what your income is, what prospects you have⁠—”

“My dear Alan,” cried Hughie, “I shall probably find him waiting for me when I go home. But of course you are only joking. Poor old wretch! I wish I could do something for him. I think it is dreadful that anyone should be so miserable. I have got heaps of old clothes at home⁠—do you think he would care for any of them? Why, his rags were falling to bits.”

“But he looks splendid in them,” said Trevor. “I wouldn’t paint him in a frock coat for anything. What you call rags I call romance. What seems poverty to you is picturesqueness to me. However, I’ll tell him of your offer.”

“Alan,” said Hughie seriously, “you painters are a heartless lot.”

“An artist’s heart is his head,” replied Trevor; “and besides, our business is to realise the world as we see it, not to reform it as we know it. À chacun son métier. And now tell me how Laura is. The old model was quite interested in her.”

“You don’t mean to say you talked to him about her?” said Hughie.

“Certainly I did. He knows all about the relentless colonel, the lovely Laura, and the £10,000.”

“You told that old beggar all my private affairs?” cried Hughie, looking very red and angry.

“My dear boy,” said Trevor, smiling, “that old beggar, as you call him, is one of the richest men in Europe. He could buy all London tomorrow without overdrawing his account. He has a house in every capital, dines off gold plate, and can prevent Russia going to war when he chooses.”

“What on earth do you mean?” exclaimed Hughie.

“What I say,” said Trevor. “The old man you saw today in the studio was Baron Hausberg. He is a great friend of mine, buys all my pictures and that sort of thing, and gave me a commission a month ago to paint him as a beggar. Que voulez-vous? La fantaisie d’un millionnaire! And I must say he made a magnificent figure in his rags, or perhaps I should say in my rags; they are an old suit I got in Spain.”

“Baron Hausberg!” cried Hughie. “Good heavens! I gave him a sovereign!” and he sank into an armchair the picture of dismay.

“Gave him a sovereign!” shouted Trevor, and he burst into a roar of laughter. “My dear boy, you’ll never see it again. Son affaire c’est l’argent des autres.

“I think you might have told me, Alan,” said Hughie sulkily, “and not have let me make such a fool of myself.”

“Well, to begin with, Hughie,” said Trevor, “it never entered my mind that you went about distributing alms in that reckless way. I can understand your kissing a pretty model, but your giving a sovereign to an ugly one⁠—by Jove, no! Besides, the fact is that I really was not at home today to anyone; and when you came in I didn’t know whether Hausberg would like his name mentioned. You know he wasn’t in full dress.”

“What a duffer he must think me!” said Hughie.

“Not at all. He was in the highest spirits after you left; kept chuckling to himself and rubbing his old wrinkled hands together. I couldn’t make out why he was so interested to know all about you; but I see it all now. He’ll invest your sovereign for you, Hughie, pay you the interest every six months, and have a capital story to tell after dinner.”

“I am an unlucky devil,” growled Hughie. “The best thing I can do is to go to bed; and, my dear Alan, you mustn’t tell anyone. I shouldn’t dare show my face in the Row.”

“Nonsense! It reflects the highest credit on your philanthropic spirit, Hughie. And don’t run away. Have another cigarette, and you can talk about Laura as much as you like.”

However, Hughie wouldn’t stop, but walked home, feeling very unhappy, and leaving Alan Trevor in fits of laughter.

The next morning, as he was at breakfast, the servant brought him up a card on which was written, “Monsieur Gustave Naudin, de la part de M. le Baron Hausberg.” “I suppose he has come for an apology,” said Hughie to himself; and he told the servant to show the visitor up.

An old gentleman with gold spectacles and grey hair came into the room, and said, in a slight French accent, “Have I the honour of addressing Monsieur Erskine?”

Hughie bowed.

“I have come from Baron Hausberg,” he continued. “The Baron⁠—”

“I beg, sir, that you will offer him my sincerest apologies,” stammered Hughie.

“The Baron,” said the old gentleman with a smile, “has commissioned me to bring you this letter,” and he extended a sealed envelope.

On the outside was written, “A wedding present to Hugh Erskine and Laura Merton, from an old beggar,” and inside was a cheque for £10,000.

When they were married Alan Trevor was the best man, and the Baron made a speech at the wedding breakfast.

“Millionaire models,” remarked Alan, “are rare enough; but, by Jove, model millionaires are rarer still!”


The Portrait of Mr. W. H.

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