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中英:月亮和六便士(20)

2006-08-22 21:21

    Chapter XX

    Dirk Stroeve agreed to fetch me on the following evening and take me to the cafe at which Strickland was most likely to be found. I was interested to learn that it was the same as that at which Strickland and I had drunk absinthe when I had gone over to Paris to see him. The fact that he had never changed suggested a sluggishness of habit which seemed to me characteristic.

    "There he is, " said Stroeve, as we reached the cafe.

    Though it was October, the evening was warm, and the tables on the pavement were crowded. I ran my eyes over them, but did not see Strickland.

    "Look. Over there, in the corner. He's playing chess. "

    I noticed a man bending over a chess-board, but could see only a large felt hat and a red beard. We threaded our way among the tables till we came to him.

    "Strickland. "

    He looked up.

    "Hulloa, fatty. What do you want?"

    "I've brought an old friend to see you. "

    Strickland gave me a glance, and evidently did not recognise me. He resumed his scrutiny of the chessboard.

    "Sit down, and don't make a noise, " he said.

    He moved a piece and straightway became absorbed in the game. Poor Stroeve gave me a troubled look, but I was not disconcerted by so little. I ordered something to drink, and waited quietly till Strickland had finished. I welcomed the opportunity to examine him at my ease. I certainly should never have known him. In the first place his red beard, ragged and untrimmed, hid much of his face, and his hair was long; but the most surprising change in him was his extreme thinness. It made his great nose protrude more arrogantly; it emphasized his cheekbones; it made his eyes seem larger. There were deep hollows at his temples. His body was cadaverous. He wore the same suit that I had seen him in five years before; it was torn and stained, threadbare, and it hung upon him loosely, as though it had been made for someone else. I noticed his hands, dirty, with long nails; they were merely bone and sinew, large and strong; but I had forgotten that they were so shapely. He gave me an extraordinary impression as he sat there, his attention riveted on his game —— an impression of great strength; and I could not understand why it was that his emaciation somehow made it more striking.

    Presently, after moving, he leaned back and gazed with a curious abstraction at his antagonist. This was a fat, bearded Frenchman. The Frenchman considered the position, then broke suddenly into jovial expletives, and with an impatient gesture, gathering up the pieces, flung them into their box. He cursed Strickland freely, then, calling for the waiter, paid for the drinks, and left. Stroeve drew his chair closer to the table.

    "Now I suppose we can talk, " he said.

    Strickland's eyes rested on him, and there was in them a malicious expression. I felt sure he was seeking for some gibe, could think of none, and so was forced to silence.

    "I've brought an old friend to see you, " repeated Stroeve, beaming cheerfully.

    Strickland looked at me thoughtfully for nearly a minute. I did not speak.

    "I've never seen him in my life, " he said.

    I do not know why he said this, for I felt certain I had caught a gleam of recognition in his eyes. I was not so easily abashed as I had been some years earlier.

    "I saw your wife the other day, " I said. "I felt sure you'd like to have the latest news of her. "

    He gave a short laugh. His eyes twinkled.

    "We had a jolly evening together, " he said. "How long ago is it?"

    "Five years. "

    He called for another absinthe. Stroeve, with voluble tongue, explained how he and I had met, and by what an accident we discovered that we both knew Strickland. I do not know if Strickland listened. He glanced at me once or twice reflectively, but for the most part seemed occupied with his own thoughts; and certainly without Stroeve's babble the conversation would have been difficult. In half an hour the Dutchman, looking at his watch, announced that he must go. He asked whether I would come too. I thought, alone, I might get something out of Strickland, and so answered that I would stay.

    When the fat man had left I said:

    "Dirk Stroeve thinks you're a great artist. "

    "What the hell do you suppose I care?"

    "Will you let me see your pictures?"

    "Why should I?"

    "I might feel inclined to buy one. "

    "I might not feel inclined to sell one. "

    "Are you making a good living?" I asked, smiling.

    He chuckled.

    "Do I look it?"

    "You look half starved. "

    "I am half starved. "

    "Then come and let's have a bit of dinner. "

    "Why do you ask me?"

    "Not out of charity, " I answered coolly. "I don't really care a twopenny damn if you starve or not. "

    His eyes lit up again.

    "Come on, then, " he said, getting up. "I'd like a decent meal. "

    戴尔克。施特略夫答应第二天晚上来找我,带我到一家多半会找到思特里克兰德的咖啡馆去。我觉得非常有趣,因为我发现这正是上次我来巴黎看思特里克兰德时我们一起在那里饮苦艾酒的地方。这么多年,他连晚上消闲的地方也没有更换,这说明他习性不易改变,据我看来,这也正是他的一种个性。

    “他就在那里,”当我们走到这家咖啡馆的时候,施特略夫说。

    虽然季节已是十月,晚饭后还很暖和,摆在人行道上的咖啡台子坐满了人。我在人群里张望了一会儿,并没有看到思特里克兰德。

    “看哪,他就坐在那边,在一个角落里。他在同人下棋呢。”

    我看见一个人俯身在棋盘上,我只能看到一顶大毡帽和一捧红胡须。我们从桌子中间穿过去,走到他跟前。

    “思特里克兰德。”

    他抬头看了看。

    “哈啰,胖子。你有什么事?”

    “我给你带来一位老朋友,他想见你。”

    思特里克兰德看了我一个眼,显然没有认出我是谁来。他的眼睛又回到棋盘上。

    “坐下,别出声音,”他说。

    他走了一步棋,马上就全神贯注到面前的一局棋上。可怜的施特略夫心怀焦虑地望了我一眼,但是我却没有觉得有任何不自在。我要了一点喝的东西,静静地坐在那里等着思特里克兰德下完棋。对于这样一个可以从容地观察他的机会,我毋宁说是欢迎的。如果是我一个人来,我肯定认不出他了。首先,我发觉他的大半张脸都遮在乱蓬蓬的胡须底下,他的头发也非常长;但是最令人吃惊的变化还是他的极度削瘦,这就使得他的大鼻子更加傲慢地翘起来,颧骨也更加突出,眼睛显得比从前更大了。在他的太阳穴下面出现了两个深坑。他的身体瘦得只剩了皮包骨头,穿的仍然是五年前我见到的那身衣服,只不过已经破破烂烂,油迹斑斑,而且穿在身上晃晃荡荡,仿佛原来是给别人做的似的。我注意到他的两只手不很干净,指甲很长,除了筋就是骨头,显得大而有力,但是我却不记得过去他的手形曾经这么完美过。他坐在那里专心致志地下棋,给我一种很奇特的印象——仿佛他身体里蕴藏着一股无比的力量。我不知道为什么,他的削瘦使这一点更加突出了。

    他走过一步棋后,马上把身体往后一靠,凝视着他的对手,目光里带着一种令人奇怪的心不在焉的神情。与他对棋的人是一个蓄着长胡须的肥胖的法国人。这个法国人察看了一下自己的棋势,突然笑呵呵地破口骂了几句,气恼地把棋子收在一起,扔到棋盒里去。他一点也不留情面地咒骂着思特里克兰德,接着就把侍者叫来,付了两人的酒账,离开了。施特略夫把椅子往桌边挪了挪。

    “我想现在咱们可以谈话了,”他说。

    思特里克兰德的目光落到他身上,那里面闪现着某种恶意的讥嘲。我敢说他正在寻找一句什么挖苦话,因为找不到合适的,所以只好不开口。

    “我给你带来一位老朋友,他要见你,”施特略夫满脸堆笑地又把见面时的话重复了一遍。

    思特里克兰德沉思地把我端详了几乎有一分钟。我始终没说话。

    “我一生中也没见过这个人,”他说。

    我不知道为什么他要这样说,因为从他眼神里我敢肯定他是认识我的。我不象几年以前那样动不动就感到难为情了。

    “我前几天见到你妻子了,”我说,“我想你一定愿意听听她最近的消息。”

    他干笑了一声,眼睛里闪着亮。

    “咱们曾一起度过一个快活的晚上,”他说,“那是多久以前了?”

    “五年了。”

    他又要了一杯苦艾酒。施特略夫滔滔不绝地解释,他和我如何会面,如何无意中发现都认识思特里克兰德的事。我不知道这些话思特里克兰德是否听进去了。因为除了有一两次他好象回忆起什么而看了我一眼以外,大部分时间他似乎都在沉思自己的事。如果不是施特略夫唠唠叨叨地说个没完没了,这场谈话肯定要冷场的。半个钟头以后这位荷兰人看了看表,声称他必须回去了。他问我要不要同他一起走。我想剩下我一个人也许还能从思特里克兰德嘴里打听到些什么,所以回答他说我还要坐一会儿。

    当这个胖子走了以后,我开口说:

    “戴尔克。施特略夫说你是个了不起的画家。”

    “我才他妈的不在乎他怎么说呢!”

    “你可以不可以让我看看你的画?”

    “为什么我要给你看?”

    “说不定我想买一两幅。”

    “说不定我还不想卖呢。”

    “你过得不错吧?”我笑着说。

    他咯咯地笑了两声。

    “我象过得不错的吗?”

    “你象连肚皮也吃不饱的样子。”

    “我就是连饭也吃不饱。”

    “那咱们去吃点什么吧。”

    “你干嘛请我吃饭?”

    “不是出于慈善心肠,”我冷冷地说,“你吃得饱吃不饱才不干我的事呢。”

    他的眼睛又闪起亮来。

    “那就走吧,”他说,站了起来,“我倒是想好好地吃它一顿。”

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