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中英:月亮和六便士(8)

2006-08-22 21:06

    Chapter VIII

    On reading over what I have written of the Stricklands, I am conscious that they must seem shadowy. I have been able to invest them with none of those characteristics which make the persons of a book exist with a real life of their own; and, wondering if the fault is mine, I rack my brains to remember idiosyncrasies which might lend them vividness. I feel that by dwelling on some trick of speech or some queer habit I should be able to give them a significance peculiar to themselves. As they stand they are like the figures in an old tapestry; they do not separate themselves from the background, and at a distance seem to lose their pattern, so that you have little but a pleasing piece of colour. My only excuse is that the impression they made on me was no other. There was just that shadowiness about them which you find in people whose lives are part of the social organism, so that they exist in it and by it only. They are like cells in the body, essential, but, so long as they remain healthy, engulfed in the momentous whole. The Stricklands were an average family in the middle class. A pleasant, hospitable woman, with a harmless craze for the small lions of literary society; a rather dull man, doing his duty in that state of life in which a merciful Providence had placed him; two nice-looking, healthy children. Nothing could be more ordinary. I do not know that there was anything about them to excite the attention of the curious.

    When I reflect on all that happened later, I ask myself if I was thick-witted not to see that there was in Charles Strickland at least something out of the common. Perhaps. I think that I have gathered in the years that intervene between then and now a fair knowledge of mankind, but even if when I first met the Stricklands I had the experience which I have now, I do not believe that I should have judged them differently. But because I have learnt that man is incalculable, I should not at this time of day be so surprised by the news that reached me when in the early autumn I returned to London.

    I had not been back twenty-four hours before I ran across Rose Waterford in Jermyn Street.

    "You look very gay and sprightly, " I said. "What's the matter with you?"

    She smiled, and her eyes shone with a malice I knew already. It meant that she had heard some scandal about one of her friends, and the instinct of the literary woman was all alert.

    "You did meet Charles Strickland, didn't you?"

    Not only her face, but her whole body, gave a sense of alacrity. I nodded. I wondered if the poor devil had been hammered on the Stock Exchange or run over by an omnibus.

    "Isn't it dreadful? He's run away from his wife. "

    Miss Waterford certainly felt that she could not do her subject justice on the curb of Jermyn Street, and so, like an artist, flung the bare fact at me and declared that she knew no details. I could not do her the injustice of supposing that so trifling a circumstance would have prevented her from giving them, but she was obstinate.

    "I tell you I know nothing, " she said, in reply to my agitated questions, and then, with an airy shrug of the shoulders: "I believe that a young person in a city tea-shop has left her situation. "

    She flashed a smile at me, and, protesting an engagement with her dentist, jauntily walked on. I was more interested than distressed. In those days my experience of life at first hand was small, and it excited me to come upon an incident among people I knew of the same sort as I had read in books. I confess that time has now accustomed me to incidents of this character among my acquaintance. But I was a little shocked. Strickland was certainly forty, and I thought it disgusting that a man of his age should concern himself with affairs of the heart. With the superciliousness of extreme youth, I put thirty-five as the utmost limit at which a man might fall in love without making a fool of himself. And this news was slightly disconcerting to me personally, because I had written from the country to Mrs. Strickland, announcing my return, and had added that unless I heard from her to the contrary, I would come on a certain day to drink a dish of tea with her. This was the very day, and I had received no word from Mrs. Strickland. Did she want to see me or did she not? It was likely enough that in the agitation of the moment my note had escaped her memory. Perhaps I should be wiser not to go. On the other hand, she might wish to keep the affair quiet, and it might be highly indiscreet on my part to give any sign that this strange news had reached me. I was torn between the fear of hurting a nice woman's feelings and the fear of being in the way. I felt she must be suffering, and I did not want to see a pain which I could not help; but in my heart was a desire, that I felt a little ashamed of, to see how she was taking it. I did not know what to do.

    Finally it occurred to me that I would call as though nothing had happened, and send a message in by the maid asking Mrs. Strickland if it was convenient for her to see me. This would give her the opportunity to send me away. But I was overwhelmed with embarrassment when I said to the maid the phrase I had prepared, and while I waited for the answer in a dark passage I had to call up all my strength of mind not to bolt. The maid came back. Her manner suggested to my excited fancy a complete knowledge of the domestic calamity.

    "Will you come this way, sir?" she said.

    I followed her into the drawing-room. The blinds were partly drawn to darken the room, and Mrs. Strickland was sitting with her back to the light. Her brother-in-law, Colonel MacAndrew, stood in front of the fireplace, warming his back at an unlit fire. To myself my entrance seemed excessively awkward. I imagined that my arrival had taken them by surprise, and Mrs. Strickland had let me come in only because she had forgotten to put me off. I fancied that the Colonel resented the interruption.

    "I wasn't quite sure if you expected me, " I said, trying to seem unconcerned.

    "Of course I did. Anne will bring the tea in a minute. "

    Even in the darkened room, I could not help seeing that Mrs. Strickland's face was all swollen with tears. Her skin, never very good, was earthy.

    "You remember my brother-in-law, don't you? You met at dinner, just before the holidays. "

    We shook hands. I felt so shy that I could think of nothing to say, but Mrs. Strickland came to my rescue. She asked me what I had been doing with myself during the summer, and with this help I managed to make some conversation till tea was brought in. The Colonel asked for a whisky-and-soda.

    "You'd better have one too, Amy, " he said.

    "No; I prefer tea. "

    This was the first suggestion that anything untoward had happened. I took no notice, and did my best to engage Mrs. Strickland in talk. The Colonel, still standing in front of the fireplace, uttered no word. I wondered how soon I could decently take my leave, and I asked myself why on earth Mrs. Strickland had allowed me to come. There were no flowers, and various knick-knacks, put away during the summer, had not been replaced; there was something cheerless and stiff about the room which had always seemed so friendly; it gave you an odd feeling, as though someone were lying dead on the other side of the wall. I finished tea.

    "Will you have a cigarette?" asked Mrs. Strickland.

    She looked about for the box, but it was not to be seen.

    "I'm afraid there are none. "

    Suddenly she burst into tears, and hurried from the room.

    I was startled. I suppose now that the lack of cigarettes, brought as a rule by her husband, forced him back upon her recollection, and the new feeling that the small comforts she was used to were missing gave her a sudden pang. She realised that the old life was gone and done with. It was impossible to keep up our social pretences any longer.

    "I dare say you'd like me to go, " I said to the Colonel, getting up.

    "I suppose you've heard that blackguard has deserted her, " he cried explosively.

    I hesitated.

    "You know how people gossip, " I answered. "I was vaguely told that something was wrong. "

    "He's bolted. He's gone off to Paris with a woman. He's left Amy without a penny. "

    "I'm awfully sorry, " I said, not knowing what else to say.

    The Colonel gulped down his whisky. He was a tall, lean man of fifty, with a drooping moustache and grey hair. He had pale blue eyes and a weak mouth. I remembered from my previous meeting with him that he had a foolish face, and was proud of the fact that for the ten years before he left the army he had played polo three days a week.

    "I don't suppose Mrs. Strickland wants to be bothered with me just now, " I said. "Will you tell her how sorry I am? If there's anything I can do. I shall be delighted to do it. "

    He took no notice of me.

    "I don't know what's to become of her. And then there are the children. Are they going to live on air? Seventeen years. "

    "What about seventeen years?"

    "They've been married, " he snapped. "I never liked him. Of course he was my brother-in-law, and I made the best of it. Did you think him a gentleman? She ought never to have married him. "

    "Is it absolutely final?"

    "There's only one thing for her to do, and that's to divorce him. That's what I was telling her when you came in. 'Fire in with your petition, my dear Amy, ' I said. `You owe it to yourself and you owe it to the children. ' He'd better not let me catch sight of him. I'd thrash him within an inch of his life. "

    I could not help thinking that Colonel MacAndrew might have some difficulty in doing this, since Strickland had struck me as a hefty fellow, but I did not say anything. It is always distressing when outraged morality does not possess the strength of arm to administer direct chastisement on the sinner. I was making up my mind to another attempt at going when Mrs. Strickland came back. She had dried her eyes and powdered her nose.

    "I'm sorry I broke down, " she said. "I'm glad you didn't go away. "

    She sat down. I did not at all know what to say. I felt a certain shyness at referring to matters which were no concern of mine. I did not then know the besetting sin of woman, the passion to discuss her private affairs with anyone who is willing to listen. Mrs. Strickland seemed to make an effort over herself.

    "Are people talking about it?" she asked.

    I was taken aback by her assumption that I knew all about her domestic misfortune.

    "I've only just come back. The only person I've seen is Rose Waterford. "

    Mrs. Strickland clasped her hands.

    "Tell me exactly what she said. " And when I hesitated, she insisted. "I particularly want to know. "

    "You know the way people talk. She's not very reliable, is she? She said your husband had left you. "

    "Is that all?"

    I did not choose to repeat Rose Waterford's parting reference to a girl from a tea-shop. I lied.

    "She didn't say anything about his going with anyone?"

    "No. "

    "That's all I wanted to know. "

    I was a little puzzled, but at all events I understood that I might now take my leave. When I shook hands with Mrs. Strickland I told her that if I could be of any use to her I should be very glad. She smiled wanly.

    "Thank you so much. I don't know that anybody can do anything for me. "

    Too shy to express my sympathy, I turned to say good-bye to the Colonel. He did not take my hand.

    "I'm just coming. If you're walking up Victoria Street, I'll come along with you. "

    "All right, " I said. "Come on. "

    回过头来读了读我写的思特里克兰德夫妇的故事,我感到这两个人被我写得太没有血肉了。要使书中人物真实动人,需要把他们的性格特征写出来,而我却没有赋予他们任何特色。我想知道这是不是我的过错,我苦思苦想,希望回忆起一些能使他们性格鲜明的特征。我觉得如果我能够详细写出他们说话的某些习惯或者他们的一些离奇的举止,或许就能够突出他们的特点了。象我现在这样写,这两个人好象是一幅古旧挂毯上的两个人形,同背景很难分辨出来;如果从远处看,那就连轮廓也辨别不出,只剩下一团花花绿绿的颜色了。我只有一种辩解:他们给我的就是这样一个印象。有些人的生活只是社会有机体的一部分,他们只能生活在这个有机体内,也只能依靠它而生活,这种人总是给人以虚幻的感觉;思特里克兰德夫妇正是这样的人。他们有如体内的细胞,是身体所决不能缺少的,但是只要他们健康存在一天,就被吞没在一个重大的整体里。思特里克兰德这家人是普普通通的一个中产阶级家庭。一个和蔼可亲、殷勤好客的妻子,有着喜欢结交文学界小名人的无害的癖好;一个并不很聪明的丈夫,在慈悲的上帝安排给他的那种生活中兢兢业业、恪尽职责:两个漂亮、健康的孩子。没有什么比这一家人更为平凡的了。我不知道这一家人有什么能够引起好奇的人注意的。

    当我想到后来发生的种种事情时,不禁自问:是不是当初我过于迟钝,没有看出查理斯。思特里克兰德身上与常人不同的地方啊?也许是这样的。从那个时候起到现在已经过了这么多年,在此期间我对人情世故知道了不少东西,但是即使当初我认识他们夫妇时就已经有了今天的阅历,我也不认为我对他们的判断就有所不同。只不过有一点会和当年不一样:在我了解到人是多么玄妙莫测之后,我今天决不会象那年初秋我刚刚回到伦敦时那样,在听到那个消息以后会那样大吃一惊了。

    回到伦敦还不到二十四小时,我就在杰尔敏大街上遇见了柔斯。瓦特尔芙德。

    “看你今天这么喜气洋洋的样子,”我说,“有什么开心的事啊?”

    她笑了起来,眼睛流露出一道我早已熟悉的幸灾乐祸的闪光。这意味着她又听到她的某个朋友的一件丑闻,这位女作家的直觉已经处于极度警觉状态。

    “你看见过查理斯。思特里克兰德,是不是?”

    不仅她的面孔,就连她的全身都变得非常紧张。我点了点头。我怀疑这个倒霉鬼是不是在证券交易所蚀了老本儿,要不就是让公共汽车轧伤了。

    “你说,是不是太可怕了?他把他老婆扔了,跑掉了。”

    瓦特尔芙德小姐肯定觉得,在杰尔敏大街马路边上讲这个故事大辱没这样一个好题目,所以她只是象个艺术家似地把主题抛出来,宣称她并不知道细节。而我却不能埋没她的口才,认为根本无需介意的环境竟会妨碍她给我讲述故事。但是她还是执拗地不肯讲。

    “我告诉你我什么也不知道,”她回答我激动的问题说,接着,很俏皮地耸了耸肩膀,又加了一句:“我相信伦敦哪家茶点店准有一位年轻姑娘把活儿辞了。”

    她朝我笑了一下,道歉说同牙医生约定了时间,便神气十足地扬长而去。这个消息与其说叫我难过,不如说使我很感兴趣。在那些日子里我的见闻还很少是亲身经历的第一手材料,因此在我碰到这样一件我在书本里阅读到的故事时,觉得非常兴奋。我承认,现在时间和阅历已经使我习惯于在我相识的人中遇到这类事情了。但是我当时还有一种惊骇的感觉。思特里克兰德那一年一定已经有四十岁了,我认为象他这样年纪的人再牵扯到这种爱情瓜葛中未免令人作呕。在我当时年幼无知,睥睨一切的目光中,一个人陷入爱情而又不使自己成为笑柄,三十五岁是最大的年限。除此以外,这个新闻也给我个人添了点儿小麻烦。原来我在乡下就给思特里克兰德太太写了信,通知她我回伦敦的日期,并且在信中说好如果她不回信另作安排的话,我将在某月某日到她家去吃茶。我遇见瓦特尔芙德小姐正是在这一天,可是思特里克兰德太太并没有给我捎什么信来。她到底想不想见我呢?非常可能,她在心绪烦乱中把我信里订的约会忘到脑后了。也许我应该有自知之明,不去打扰她。可是另一方面,她也可能想把这件事瞒着我,如果我叫她猜出来自己已经听到这件奇怪的消息,那就太不慎重了。我既怕伤害这位夫人的感情,又怕去她家作客惹她心烦,心里非常矛盾。我知道她这时一定痛苦不堪,我不愿意看到别人受苦,自己无力替她分忧;但另一方面我又很想看一看思特里克兰德太太对这件事有何反应,尽管我对这个想法自己也觉得不好意思。我真不知道该怎么办好了。

    最后我想了个主意:我应该象什么事也没发生那样到她家去,先叫使女进去问一声,思特里克兰德太太方便不方便会客。如果她不想见我,就可以把我打发走了。尽管如此,在我对使女讲起我事前准备的一套话时,我还是窘得要命。当我在幽暗的过道里等着回话的当儿,我不得不鼓起全部勇气才没有中途溜掉。使女从里面走出来。也可能是我过于激动,胡乱猜想,我觉得从那使女的神情看,好象她已经完全知道这家人遭遇的不幸了。

    “请您跟我来,先生,”她说。

    我跟在她后面走进客厅。为了使室内光线暗淡,窗帘没有完全拉开。思特里克兰德太太的姐夫麦克安德鲁上校正站在壁炉前面,在没有燃旺的火炉前边烤自己的脊背。我觉得我闯进来是一件极其尴尬的事。我猜想我到这里来一定很出他们意料之外,思特里克兰德太太只是忘记同我另外约会日子才不得不让我进来。我还想,上校一定为我打扰了他们非常生气。

    “我不太清楚,你是不是等着我来,”我说,故意装作一副若无其事的样子。

    “当然我在等着你。安妮马上就把茶拿来。”

    尽管屋子里光线很暗,我也看出来思特里克兰德太太的眼睛已经哭肿了。她的面色本来就不太好,现在更是变成土灰色了。

    “你还记得我的姐夫吧?度假以前,你在这里吃饭的那天和他见过面。”

    我们握了握手。我感到忐忑不安,想不出一句好说的话来。但是思特里克兰德太太解救了我;她问起我怎样消夏的事。有她提了这个头,我多少也找到些话说,直捱到使女端上茶点来。上校要了一杯苏打威士忌。

    “你最好也喝一杯,阿美,”他说。

    “不,我还是喝茶吧。”

    这是暗示发生了一件不幸事件的第一句话。我故意不作理会,尽量同思特里克兰德太太东拉西扯。上校仍然站在壁炉前面一句话也不说。我很想知道什么时候我才能不失礼仪地向主人告别,我奇怪地问我自己,思特里克兰德太太让我进来究竟是为了什么。屋子里没有摆花,度夏以前收拾起的一些摆设也没有重新摆上。一向舒适愉快的房间显得一片寂寥清冷,给人一种感觉,倒仿佛墙壁的另一边停着一个死人似的。我把茶喝完。

    “要不要吸一支烟?”思特里克兰德太太问我道。

    她四处看了看,要找烟盒,但是却没有找到。

    “我怕已经没有了。”

    一下子,她的眼泪扑簌簌地落下来,匆匆跑出了客厅。

    我吃了一惊。我想到纸烟过去一向是由她丈夫添置的,现在突然发现找不到纸烟,这件小事显然勾起了她的记忆,她伸手就能拿到的东西竟然丢三短四的这种新感觉仿佛在她胸口上突然刺了一刀,她意识到旧日的生活已经一去不复返了,过去那种光荣体面不可能再维持下去了。

    “我看我该走了吧,”我对上校说,站起身来。

    “我想你已经听说那个流氓把她甩了的事吧,”他一下子爆发出来。

    我踌躇了一会儿。

    “你知道人们怎样爱扯闲话,”我说,“有人闪烁其词地对我说,这里出了点儿事。”

    “他逃跑了。他同一个女人跑到巴黎去了。他把阿美扔了,一个便士也没留下。”

    “我感到很难过,”我说;我实在找不到别的什么话了。

    上校一口气把威士忌灌下去。他是一个五十岁左右的高大、削瘦的汉子,胡须向下垂着,头发已经灰白。他的眼睛是浅蓝色的,嘴唇的轮廓很不鲜明。我从上一次见到他就记得他长着一副傻里傻气的面孔,并且自夸他离开军队以前每星期打三次马球,十年没有间断过。

    “我想现在我不必再打搅思特里克兰德太太了,”我说,“好不好请你告诉她,我非常为她难过?如果有什么我能做的事,我很愿意为她效劳。”

    他没有理会我的话。

    “我不知道她以后怎么办。而且还有孩子。难道让他们靠空气过活?十六年啊!”

    “什么十六年?”

    “他们结婚十六年了,”他没好气儿地说。“我从来就不喜欢他。当然了,他是我的连襟,我尽量容忍着。你以为他是个绅士吗?她根本就不应该嫁给他。”

    “就没有挽回的余地了吗?”

    “她只有一件事好做:同他离婚。这就是你刚进来的时候我对她说的。‘把离婚申请书递上去,亲爱的阿美,’我说,‘为了你自己,为了你的孩子,你都该这么做。’他最好还是别叫我遇见。我不把他打得灵魂出窍才怪。”

    我禁不住想,麦克安德鲁上校做这件事并不很容易,因为思特里克兰德身强力壮,给我留下的印象很深,但是我并没有说什么。如果一个人受到侮辱损害而又没有力量对罪人直接施行惩罚,这实在是一件痛苦不堪的事。我正准备再作一次努力向他告辞,这时思特里克兰德太太又回到屋子里来了。她已经把眼泪揩干,在鼻子上扑了点儿粉。

    “真是对不起,我的感情太脆弱了,”她说,“我很高兴你没有走。”

    她坐了下来。我一点儿也不知道该说什么。我不太好意思谈论同自己毫不相干的事。那时候我还不懂女人的一种无法摆脱的恶习——热衷于同任何一个愿意倾听的人讨论自己的私事。思特里克兰德太太似乎在努力克制着自己。

    “人们是不是都在议论这件事啊?”她问。我非常吃惊,她竟认为我知道她家的这件不幸是想当然的事。

    “我刚刚回来。我就见到了柔斯。瓦特尔芙德一个人。”

    思特里克兰德太太拍了一下巴掌。

    “她是怎么说的,把她的原话一个字不差地告诉我。”我有点儿踌躇,她却坚持叫我讲。“我特别想知道她怎么谈论这件事。”

    “你知道别人怎么谈论。她这个人说话靠不住,对不对?她说你的丈夫把你丢开了。”

    “就说了这些吗?”

    我不想告诉她柔斯。瓦特尔芙德分手时讲到茶点店女侍的那句话。我对她扯了个谎。

    “她说没说他是跟一个什么人一块走的?”

    “没有。”

    “我想知道的就是这件事。”

    我有一些困惑莫解,但是不管怎么说我知道现在我可以告辞了。当我同思特里克兰德太太握手告别的时候我对她说,如果有什么事需要我做,我一定为她尽力。她的脸上掠过一丝笑影。

    “非常感谢你。我不知道有谁能替我做什么。”

    我不好意思向她表示我的同情,便转过身去同上校告别。上校并没有同我握手。

    “我也要走。如果你从维多利亚路走,我跟你同路。”

    “好吧,”我说,“咱们一起走。”

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