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中英:月亮和六便士(21)

2006-08-22 21:22

    Chapter XXI

    I let him take me to a restaurant of his choice, but on the way I bought a paper. When we had ordered our dinner, I propped it against a bottle of St. Galmier and began to read. We ate in silence. I felt him looking at me now and again, but I took no notice. I meant to force him to conversation.

    "Is there anything in the paper?" he said, as we approached the end of our silent meal.

    I fancied there was in his tone a slight note of exasperation.

    "I always like to read the feuilleton on the drama, " I said.

    I folded the paper and put it down beside me.

    "I've enjoyed my dinner, " he remarked.

    "I think we might have our coffee here, don't you?"

    "Yes. "

    We lit our cigars. I smoked in silence. I noticed that now and then his eyes rested on me with a faint smile of amusement. I waited patiently.

    "What have you been up to since I saw you last?" he asked at length.

    I had not very much to say. It was a record of hard work and of little adventure; of experiments in this direction and in that; of the gradual acquisition of the knowledge of books and of men. I took care to ask Strickland nothing about his own doings. I showed not the least interest in him, and at last I was rewarded. He began to talk of himself. But with his poor gift of expression he gave but indications of what he had gone through, and I had to fill up the gaps with my own imagination. It was tantalising to get no more than hints into a character that interested me so much. It was like making one's way through a mutilated manuscript. I received the impression of a life which was a bitter struggle against every sort of difficulty; but I realised that much which would have seemed horrible to most people did not in the least affect him. Strickland was distinguished from most Englishmen by his perfect indifference to comfort; it did not irk him to live always in one shabby room; he had no need to be surrounded by beautiful things. I do not suppose he had ever noticed how dingy was the paper on the wall of the room in which on my first visit I found him. He did not want arm-chairs to sit in; he really felt more at his ease on a kitchen chair. He ate with appetite, but was indifferent to what he ate; to him it was only food that he devoured to still the pangs of hunger; and when no food was to be had he seemed capable of doing without. I learned that for six months he had lived on a loaf of bread and a bottle of milk a day. He was a sensual man, and yet was indifferent to sensual things. He looked upon privation as no hardship. There was something impressive in the manner in which he lived a life wholly of the spirit.

    When the small sum of money which he brought with him from London came to an end he suffered from no dismay. He sold no pictures; I think he made little attempt to sell any; he set about finding some way to make a bit of money. He told me with grim humour of the time he had spent acting as guide to Cockneys who wanted to see the night side of life in Paris; it was an occupation that appealed to his sardonic temper and somehow or other he had acquired a wide acquaintance with the more disreputable quarters of the city. He told me of the long hours he spent walking about the Boulevard de la Madeleine on the look-out for Englishmen, preferably the worse for liquor, who desired to see things which the law forbade. When in luck he was able to make a tidy sum; but the shabbiness of his clothes at last frightened the sight-seers, and he could not find people adventurous enough to trust themselves to him. Then he happened on a job to translate the advertisements of patent medicines which were sent broadcast to the medical profession in England. During a strike he had been employed as a house-painter.

    Meanwhile he had never ceased to work at his art; but, soon tiring of the studios, entirely by himself. He had never been so poor that he could not buy canvas and paint, and really he needed nothing else. So far as I could make out, he painted with great difficulty, and in his unwillingness to accept help from anyone lost much time in finding out for himself the solution of technical problems which preceding generations had already worked out one by one. He was aiming at something, I knew not what, and perhaps he hardly knew himself; and I got again more strongly the impression of a man possessed. He did not seem quite sane. It seemed to me that he would not show his pictures because he was really not interested in them. He lived in a dream, and the reality meant nothing to him. I had the feeling that he worked on a canvas with all the force of his violent personality, oblivious of everything in his effort to get what he saw with the mind's eye; and then, having finished, not the picture perhaps, for I had an idea that he seldom brought anything to completion, but the passion that fired him, he lost all care for it. He was never satisfied with what he had done; it seemed to him of no consequence compared with the vision that obsessed his mind.

    "Why don't you ever send your work to exhibitions?" I asked. "I should have thought you'd like to know what people thought about it. "

    "Would you?"

    I cannot describe the unmeasurable contempt he put into the two words.

    "Don't you want fame? It's something that most artists haven't been indifferent to. "

    "Children. How can you care for the opinion of the crowd, when you don't care twopence for the opinion of the individual?"

    "We're not all reasonable beings, " I laughed.

    "Who makes fame? Critics, writers, stockbrokers, women. "

    "Wouldn't it give you a rather pleasing sensation to think of people you didn't know and had never seen receiving emotions, subtle and passionate, from the work of your hands? Everyone likes power. I can't imagine a more wonderful exercise of it than to move the souls of men to pity or terror. "

    "Melodrama. "

    "Why do you mind if you paint well or badly?"

    "I don't. I only want to paint what I see. "

    "I wonder if I could write on a desert island, with the certainty that no eyes but mine would ever see what I had written. "

    Strickland did not speak for a long time, but his eyes shone strangely, as though he saw something that kindled his soul to ecstasy.

    "Sometimes I've thought of an island lost in a boundless sea, where I could live in some hidden valley, among strange trees, in silence. There I think I could find what I want. "

    He did not express himself quite like this. He used gestures instead of adjectives, and he halted. I have put into my own words what I think he wanted to say.

    "Looking back on the last five years, do you think it was worth it?" I asked.

    He looked at me, and I saw that he did not know what I meant. I explained.

    "You gave up a comfortable home and a life as happy as the average. You were fairly prosperous. You seem to have had a rotten time in Paris. If you had your time over again would you do what you did?"

    "Rather. "

    "Do you know that you haven't asked anything about your wife and children? Do you never think of them?"

    "No. "

    "I wish you weren't so damned monosyllabic. Have you never had a moment's regret for all the unhappiness you caused them?"

    His lips broke into a smile, and he shook his head.

    "I should have thought sometimes you couldn't help thinking of the past. I don't mean the past of seven or eight years ago, but further back still, when you first met your wife, and loved her, and married her. Don't you remember the joy with which you first took her in your arms?"

    "I don't think of the past. The only thing that matters is the everlasting present. "

    I thought for a moment over this reply. It was obscure, perhaps, but I thought that I saw dimly his meaning.

    "Are you happy?" I asked.

    "Yes. "

    I was silent. I looked at him reflectively. He held my stare, and presently a sardonic twinkle lit up his eyes.

    "I'm afraid you disapprove of me?"

    "Nonsense, " I answered promptly; "I don't disapprove of the boa-constrictor; on the contrary, I'm interested in his mental processes. "

    "It's a purely professional interest you take in me?"

    "Purely. "

    "It's only right that you shouldn't disapprove of me. You have a despicable character. "

    "Perhaps that's why you feel at home with me, " I retorted.

    He smiled dryly, but said nothing. I wish I knew how to describe his smile. I do not know that it was attractive, but it lit up his face, changing the expression, which was generally sombre, and gave it a look of not ill-natured malice. It was a slow smile, starting and sometimes ending in the eyes; it was very sensual, neither cruel nor kindly, but suggested rather the inhuman glee of the satyr. It was his smile that made me ask him:

    "Haven't you been in love since you came to Paris?"

    "I haven't got time for that sort of nonsense. Life isn't long enough for love and art. "

    "Your appearance doesn't suggest the anchorite. "

    "All that business fills me with disgust. "

    "Human nature is a nuisance, isn't it?" I said.

    "Why are you sniggering at me?"

    "Because I don't believe you. "

    "Then you're a damned fool. "

    I paused, and I looked at him searchingly.

    "What's the good of trying to humbug me?" I said.

    "I don't know what you mean. "

    I smiled.

    "Let me tell you. I imagine that for months the matter never comes into your head, and you're able to persuade yourself that you've finished with it for good and all. You rejoice in your freedom, and you feel that at last you can call your soul your own. You seem to walk with your head among the stars. And then, all of a sudden you can't stand it any more, and you notice that all the time your feet have been walking in the mud. And you want to roll yourself in it. And you find some woman, coarse and low and vulgar, some beastly creature in whom all the horror of sex is blatant, and you fall upon her like a wild animal. You drink till you're blind with rage. "

    He stared at me without the slightest movement. I held his eyes with mine. I spoke very slowly.

    "I'll tell you what must seem strange, that when it's over you feel so extraordinarily pure. You feel like a disembodied spirit, immaterial; and you seem to be able to touch beauty as though it were a palpable thing; and you feel an intimate communion with the breeze, and with the trees breaking into leaf, and with the iridescence of the river. You feel like God. Can you explain that to me?"

    He kept his eyes fixed on mine till I had finished, and then he turned away. There was on his face a strange look, and I thought that so might a man look when he had died under the torture. He was silent. I knew that our conversation was ended.

    我让他带我到一家他选定的餐馆,但是在路上走的时候我买了一份报纸。叫了菜以后,我就把报纸支在一瓶圣。卡尔密酒上,开始读报。我们一言不发地吃着饭。我发现他不时地看我一眼,但是我根本不理睬他。我准备逼着他自己讲话。

    “报纸上有什么消息?”在我们这顿沉默无语的晚餐将近尾声时,他开口说。

    也许这只是我的幻觉吧,从他的声音里我好象听出来他已经有些沉不住气了。

    “我喜欢读评论戏剧的杂文,”我说。

    我把报纸叠起来,放在一边。

    “这顿饭吃得很不错,”他说。

    “我看咱们就在这里喝咖啡好不好?”

    “好吧。”

    我们点起了雪茄。我一言不发地抽着烟。我发现他的目光时不时地停在我身上,隐约闪现着笑意。我耐心地等待着。

    “从上次见面以后你都做什么了?”最后他开口说。

    我没有太多的事好说。我的生活只不过是每日辛勤工作,没有什么奇闻艳遇。我在不同方向进行了摸索试验;我逐渐积累了不少书本知识和人情世故。在谈话中,对他这几年的生活我有意闭口不问,装作丝毫也不感兴趣的样子。最后,我的这个策略生效了。他主动谈起他的生活来。但是由于他太无口才,对他自己这一段时间的经历讲得支离破碎,许多空白都需要我用自己的想象去填补。对于这样一个我深感兴趣的人只能了解个大概,这真是一件吊人胃口的事,简直象读一部残缺不全的稿本。我的总印象是,这个人一直在同各式各样的困难艰苦斗争;但是我发现对于大多数人说来似乎是根本无法忍受的事,他却丝毫不以为苦。思特里克兰德与多数英国人不同的地方在于他完全不关心生活上的安乐舒适。叫他一辈子住在一间破破烂烂的屋子里他也不会感到不舒服,他不需要身边有什么漂亮的陈设。我猜想他从来没有注意到我第一次拜访他时屋子的糊墙纸是多么肮脏。他不需要有一张安乐椅,坐在硬靠背椅上他倒觉得更舒服自在。他的胃口很好,但对于究竟吃什么却漠不关心。对他说来他吞咽下去的只是为了解饥果腹的食物,有的时候断了顿儿,他好象还有挨饿的本领。从他的谈话中我知道他有六个月之久每天只靠一顿面包、一瓶牛奶过活。他是一个耽于饮食声色的人,但对这些事物又毫不在意。他不把忍饥受冻当作什么苦难。他这样完完全全地过着一种精神生活,不由你不被感动。

    当他把从伦敦带来的一点钱花完以后,他也没有沮丧气馁。他没有出卖自己的画作,我想他在这方面并没有怎么努力。他开始寻找一些挣钱的门径。他用自我解嘲的语气告诉我,有一段日子他曾经给那些想领略巴黎夜生活的伦敦人当向导。由于他惯爱嘲讽挖苦,这倒是一个投合他脾气的职业。他对这座城市的那些不体面的地区逐渐都熟悉起来。他告诉我他如何在马德莲大马路走来走去,希望遇到个想看看法律所不允许的事物的英国老乡,最好是个带有几分醉意的人。如果运气好他就能赚一笔钱。但是后来他那身破烂衣服把想观光的人都吓跑了,他找不到敢于把自己交到他手里的冒险家了。这时由于偶然的机会他找到了一个翻译专卖药广告的工作,这些药要在英国医药界推销,需要英语说明。有一次赶上罢工,他甚至还当过粉刷房屋的油漆匠。

    在所有这些日子里,他的艺术活动一直没有停止过。但是不久他就没有兴致到画室去了;他只关在屋子里一个人埋头苦干。因为一文不名,有时他连画布和颜料都买不起,而这两样东西恰好是他最需要的。从他的谈话里我了解到,他在绘画上遇到的困难很大,因为他不愿意接受别人指点,不得不浪费许多时间摸索一些技巧上的问题,其实这些问题过去的画家早已逐一解决了。他在追求一种我不太清楚的东西,或许连他自己也知道得并不清楚。过去我有过的那种印象这一次变得更加强烈了:他象是一个被什么迷住了的人,他的心智好象不很正常。他不肯把自己的画拿给别人看,我觉得这是因为他对这些画实在不感兴趣。他生活在幻梦里,现实对他一点儿意义也没有。我有一种感觉,他好象把自己的强烈个性全部倾注在一张画布上,在奋力创造自己心灵所见到的景象时,他把周围的一切事物全都忘记了。而一旦绘画的过程结束——或许并不是画幅本身,因为据我猜想,他是很少把一张画画完的,我是说他把一阵燃烧着他心灵的激情发泄完毕以后,他对自己画出来的东西就再也不关心了。他对自己的画儿从来也不满意;同缠住他心灵的幻景相比,他觉得这些画实在太没有意义了。

    “为什么你不把自己的画送到展览会上去呢?”我问他说,“我想你会愿意听听别人的意见的。”

    “你愿意听吗?”

    他说这句话时那种鄙夷不屑劲儿我简直无法形容。

    “你不想成名吗?大多数画家对这一点还是不能无动于衷的。”

    “真幼稚。如果你不在乎某一个人对你的看法,一群人对你有什么意见又有什么关系?”

    “我们并不是人人都是理性动物啊!”我笑着说。

    “成名的是哪些人?是评论家、作家、证券经纪人、女人。”

    “想到那些你从来不认识、从来没见过的人被你的画笔打动,或者泛起种种遐思,或者感情激荡,难道你不感到欣慰吗?每个人都喜爱权力。如果你能打动人们的灵魂,或者叫他们凄怆哀悯,或者叫他们惊惧恐慌,这不也是一种奇妙的行使权力的方法吗?”

    “滑稽戏。”

    “那么你为什么对于画得好或不好还是很介意呢?”

    “我并不介意。我只不过想把我所见到的画下来。”

    “如果我置身于一个荒岛上,确切地知道除了我自己的眼睛以外再没有别人能看到我写出来的东西,我很怀疑我还能不能写作下去。”

    思特里克兰德很久很久没有作声。但是他的眼睛却闪着一种奇异的光辉,仿佛看到了某种点燃起他的灵魂、使他心醉神驰的东西。

    “有些时候我就想到一个包围在无边无际的大海中的小岛,我可以住在岛上一个幽僻的山谷里,四周都是不知名的树木,我寂静安闲地生活在那里。我想在那样一个地方,我就能找到我需要的东西了。”

    这不是他的原话。他用的是手势而不是形容的词藻,而且结结巴巴没有一句话说得完整。我现在是用自己的话把我认为他想要表达的重新说出来。

    “回顾一下过去的五年,你认为你这样做值得吗?”我问他道。

    他看着我,我知道他没有明白我的意思,就解释说:“你丢掉了舒适的家庭,放弃一般人过的那种幸福生活。你本来过得很不错。可是你现在在巴黎大概连饭都吃不饱。再叫你从头儿选择,你还愿意走这条路吗?”

    “还是这样。”

    “你知道,你根本没有打听过你的老婆和孩子。难道你从来没有想过他们吗?”

    “没有。”

    “我希望你别他妈的老说一个字。你给他们带来这么多不幸,难道你就一分钟也没有后悔过?”

    他咧开嘴笑了,摇了摇头。

    “我能想象得出,有时候你还是会不由自主地想起过去的。我不是说想起六七年以前的事,我是说更早以前,你和你妻子刚刚认识的时候,你爱她,同她结了婚。你难道就忘了第一次把她抱在怀里的时候你感到的喜悦?”

    “我不想过去。对我说来,最重要的是永恒的现在。”

    我想了想他这句答话的意思。也许他的语义很隐晦,但是我想我还是懂得他大概指的是什么了。

    “你快活吗?”我问。

    “当然了。”

    我没有说什么。我沉思地凝视着他。他也目不转睛地望着我,没过一会儿他的眼睛又闪烁起讥笑的光芒。

    “我想你对我有点儿意见吧?”

    “你这话问得没意义,”我马上接口说,“我对蟒蛇的习性并不反对,相反地我对它的心理活动倒很感兴趣。”

    “这么说来,你纯粹是从职业的角度对我发生兴趣啰?”

    “纯粹是这样。”

    “你不反对我是理所当然的,你的性格也实在讨厌。”

    “也许这正是你同我在一起感到很自然的原故,”我反唇相讥说。

    他只干笑了一下,没说什么。我真希望我能形容一下儿他笑的样子。我不敢说他的笑容多么好看,但是他一笑起来,脸就泛起光彩,使他平时总是阴沉着的面容改了样子,平添了某种刁钻刻薄的神情。他的笑容来得很慢,常常是从眼睛开始也就消失在眼梢上。另外,他的微笑给人以一种色欲感,既不是残忍的,也不是仁慈的,令人想到森林之神的那种兽性的喜悦。正是他的这种笑容使我提出一个问题。

    “从你到巴黎以后闹过恋爱吗?”

    “我没有时间干这种无聊的事。生命太短促了,没有时间既闹恋爱又搞艺术。”

    “你可不象过隐士生活的样子。”

    “这种事叫我作呕。”

    “人性是个讨厌的累赘,对不对?”我说。

    “你为什么对我傻笑?”

    “因为我不相信你。”

    “那你就是个大傻瓜。”

    我没有马上答话;我用探索的目光盯着他。

    “你骗我有什么用?”我说。

    “我不知道你是什么意思。”

    我笑了。

    “叫我来说吧。我猜想你是这样一种情况。一连几个月你脑子里一直不想这件事,你甚至可以使自己相信,你同这件事已经彻底绝缘了。你为自己获得了自由而高兴,你觉得终于成为自己灵魂的主人了。你好象昂首于星斗中漫步。但是突然间,你忍受不住了。你发觉你的双脚从来就没有从污泥里拔出过。你现在想索性全身躺在烂泥塘里翻滚。于是你就去找一个女人,一个粗野、低贱、俗不可耐的女人,一个性感毕露令人嫌恶的畜类般的女人。你象一个野兽似地扑到她身上。你拼命往肚里灌酒,你憎恨自己,简直快要发疯了。”

    他凝视着我,身子一动也不动。我也目不转睛地盯着他的眼睛。我说得很慢。

    “我现在要告诉你一件看来一定是很奇怪的事:等到那件事过去以后,你会感到自己出奇地洁净。你有一种灵魂把肉体甩脱掉的感觉,一种脱离形体的感觉。你好象一伸手就能触摸到美,倒仿佛‘美’是一件抚摸得到的实体一样。你好象同飒飒的微风、同绽露嫩叶的树木、同波光变幻的流水息息相通。你觉得自己就是上帝。你能够给我解释这是怎么回事吗?”

    他一直盯着我的眼睛,直到我把话讲完。这以后他才转过脸去。他的脸上有一种奇怪的神情,我觉得一个死于酷刑折磨下的人可能会有这种神情的。他沉默不语。我知道我们这次谈话已经结束了。

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