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The next day he did not leave the house, and, indeed, spent most of
the time in his own room, sick with a wild terror of dying, and yet
indifferent to life itself.
The consciousness of being hunted, snared, tracked down, had
begun to dominate him. If the tapestry did but tremble in the wind,
he shook. The dead leaves that were blown against the leaded
panes seemed to him like his own wasted resolutions and wild
regrets. When he closed his eyes, he saw again the sailor’s face
peering through the mist-stained glass, and horror seemed once
more to lay its hand upon his heart.
But perhaps it had been only his fancy that had called vengeance
out of the night, and set the hideous shapes of punishment before
him. Actual life was chaos, but there was something terribly logical
in the imagination. It was the imagination that set remorse to dog
the feet of sin. It was the imagination that made each crime bear its
misshapen brood. In the common world of fact the wicked were
not punished, nor the good rewarded. Success was given to the
strong, failure thrust upon the weak. That was all. Besides, had any
stranger been prowling round the house he would have been seen
by the servants or the keepers. Had any footmarks been found on
the flower-beds, the gardeners would have reported it. Yes: it had
been merely fancy. Sibyl Vane’s brother had not come back to kill
him. He had sailed away in his ship to founder in some winter sea.
From him, at any rate, he was safe. Why, the man did not know
who he was, could not know who he was. The mask of youth had
And yet if it had been merely an illusion, how terrible it was to
think that conscience could raise such fearful phantoms, and give
them visible form, and make them move before one! What sort of
life would his be if, day and night, shadows of his crime were to
peer at him from silent corners, to mock him from secret places, to
whisper in his ear as he sat at the feast, to wake him with icy
fingers as he lay asleep! As the thought crept through his brain, he
grew pale with terror, and the air seemed to him to have become
suddenly colder. Oh! in what a wild hour of madness he had killed
his friend! How ghastly the mere memory of the scene! He saw it
all again. Each hideous detail came back to him with added horror.
Out of the black cave of Time, terrible and swathed in scarlet, rose
the image of his sin. When Lord Henry came in at six o’clock, he
found him crying as one whose heart will break.