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中英:月亮和六便士(17)

2006-08-22 21:19

    Chapter XVII

    It was about five years after this that I decided to live in Paris for a while. I was growing stale in London. I was tired of doing much the same thing every day. My friends pursued their course with uneventfulness; they had no longer any surprises for me, and when I met them I knew pretty well what they would say; even their love-affairs had a tedious banality. We were like tram-cars running on their lines from terminus to terminus, and it was possible to calculate within small limits the number of passengers they would carry. Life was ordered too pleasantly. I was seized with panic. I gave up my small apartment, sold my few belongings, and resolved to start afresh.

    I called on Mrs. Strickland before I left. I had not seen her for some time, and I noticed changes in her; it was not only that she was older, thinner, and more lined; I think her character had altered. She had made a success of her business, and now had an office in Chancery Lane; she did little typing herself, but spent her time correcting the work of the four girls she employed. She had had the idea of giving it a certain daintiness, and she made much use of blue and red inks; she bound the copy in coarse paper, that looked vaguely like watered silk, in various pale colours; and she had acquired a reputation for neatness and accuracy. She was making money. But she could not get over the idea that to earn her living was somewhat undignified, and she was inclined to remind you that she was a lady by birth. She could not help bringing into her conversation the names of people she knew which would satisfy you that she had not sunk in the social scale. She was a little ashamed of her courage and business capacity, but delighted that she was going to dine the next night with a K. C. who lived in South Kensington. She was pleased to be able to tell you that her son was at Cambridge, and it was with a little laugh that she spoke of the rush of dances to which her daughter, just out, was invited. I suppose I said a very stupid thing.

    "Is she going into your business?" I asked.

    "Oh no; I wouldn't let her do that, " Mrs. Strickland answered. "She's so pretty. I'm sure she'll marry well. "

    "I should have thought it would be a help to you. "

    "Several people have suggested that she should go on the stage, but of course I couldn't consent to that, I know all the chief dramatists, and I could get her a part to-morrow, but I shouldn't like her to mix with all sorts of people. "

    I was a little chilled by Mrs. Strickland's exclusiveness.

    "Do you ever hear of your husband?"

    "No; I haven't heard a word. He may be dead for all I know. "

    "I may run across him in Paris. Would you like me to let you know about him?"

    She hesitated a minute.

    "If he's in any real want I'm prepared to help him a little. I'd send you a certain sum of money, and you could give it him gradually, as he needed it. "

    "That's very good of you, " I said.

    But I knew it was not kindness that prompted the offer. It is not true that suffering ennobles the character; happiness does that sometimes, but suffering, for the most part, makes men petty and vindictive.

    这件事过去大约五年之后,我决定到巴黎去住一个时期。伦敦我实在待腻了;天天做的事几乎一模一样,使我感到厌烦得要命。我的朋友们过着老一套的生活,平淡无奇,再也引不起我的好奇心了。有时候我们见了面,不待他们开口,我就知道他们要说什么话。就连他们的桃色事件也都是枯燥乏味的老一套。我们这些人就象从终点站到终点站往返行驶的有轨电车,连乘客的数目也能估计个八九不离十。生活被安排得太有秩序了。我觉得简直太可怕了。我退掉了我的小住房,卖掉为数不多的几件家具,决定开始另外一种生活。

    临行以前我到思特里克兰德太太家去辞行。我有不少日子没同她见面了,我发现她有不少的变化,不仅人变得老了、瘦了,皱纹比以前多了,就连性格我觉得都有些改变。她的事业很兴旺,这时在昌塞里街开了一个事务所。她自己打字不多,时间主要用在校改她雇用的四名女打字员的打字稿上。她想尽办法把稿件打得非常讲究,很多地方使用蓝色和红色的字带,打好的稿件用各种浅颜色的粗纸装订起来,乍一看仿佛是带波纹的绸子。她给人打的稿件以整齐精确闻名,生意很能赚钱。但是尽管如此,她却认为自己谋生糊口有失身份,总有些抬不起头来。同别人谈话的时候,她忘不了向对方表白自己的高贵出身,动不动就提到她认识的一些人物,叫你知道她的社会地位一点儿没有降低。对自已经营打字行业的胆略和见识她不好意思多谈,但是一说起第二天晚上要在一位家住南肯星顿的皇家法律顾问那里吃晚饭,却总是眉飞色舞。她很愿意告诉你她儿子在剑桥大学读书的事;讲起她女儿刚刚步入社交界,一参加舞会就应接不暇时,她总是得意地笑了起来。我觉得我在和她聊天的时候问了一句蠢话。

    “她要不要到你开的这个打字所里做点儿事?”

    “啊,不,我不让她做这个,”思特里克兰德太太回答,“她长得很漂亮,我认为她一定能结一门好亲事。”

    “那对你将会有很大的帮助,我早该想到的。”

    “有人建议叫她上舞台,但是我当然不会同意。所有有名的戏剧家我都认识,只要我肯张嘴,马上就能给她在戏里派个角色,但是我不愿意她同杂七杂八的人混在一起。”

    思特里克兰德太太这种孤芳自赏的态度叫我心里有点儿发凉。

    “你听到过你丈夫的什么消息吗?”

    “没有,什么也没有听到过。说不定他已经死了。”

    “我在巴黎可能遇见他。如果我知道他什么消息,你要不要我告诉你。”

    她犹豫了一会儿。

    “如果他的生活真的贫困不堪,我还是准备帮助帮助他。我会给你寄一笔钱去,在他需要的时候,你可以一点一点地给他。”

    但是我知道她答应做这件事并不是出于仁慈的心肠。有人说灾难不幸可以使人性高贵,这句话并不对;叫人做出高尚行动的有时候反而是幸福得意,灾难不幸在大多数情况下只能使人们变得心胸狭小、报复心更强。

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