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中英:月亮和六便士(54)

2006-08-22 21:48

    Chapter LIV

    As we walked along I reflected on a circumstance which all that I had lately heard about Strickland forced on my attention. Here, on this remote island, he seemed to have aroused none of the detestation with which he was regarded at home, but compassion rather; and his vagaries were accepted with tolerance. To these people, native and European, he was a queer fish, but they were used to queer fish, and they took him for granted; the world was full of odd persons, who did odd things; and perhaps they knew that a man is not what he wants to be, but what he must be. In England and France he was the square peg in the round hole, but here the holes were any sort of shape, and no sort of peg was quite amiss. I do not think he was any gentler here, less selfish or less brutal, but the circumstances were more favourable. If he had spent his life amid these surroundings he might have passed for no worse a man than another. He received here what he neither expected nor wanted among his own people —— sympathy.

    I tried to tell Captain Brunot something of the astonishment with which this filled me, and for a little while he did not answer.

    "It is not strange that I, at all events, should have had sympathy for him, " he said at last, "for, though perhaps neither of us knew it, we were both aiming at the same thing. "

    "What on earth can it be that two people so dissimilar as you and Strickland could aim at?" I asked, smiling.

    "Beauty. "

    "A large order, " I murmured.

    "Do you know how men can be so obsessed by love that they are deaf and blind to everything else in the world? They are as little their own masters as the slaves chained to the benches of a galley. The passion that held Strickland in bondage was no less tyrannical than love. "

    "How strange that you should say that!" I answered. "For long ago I had the idea that he was possessed of a devil. "

    "And the passion that held Strickland was a passion to create beauty. It gave him no peace. It urged him hither and thither. He was eternally a pilgrim, haunted by a divine nostalgia, and the demon within him was ruthless. There are men whose desire for truth is so great that to attain it they will shatter the very foundation of their world. Of such was Strickland, only beauty with him took the place of truth. I could only feel for him a profound compassion. "

    "That is strange also. A man whom he had deeply wronged told me that he felt a great pity for him. " I was silent for a moment. "I wonder if there you have found the explanation of a character which has always seemed to me inexplicable. How did you hit on it?"

    He turned to me with a smile.

    "Did I not tell you that I, too, in my way was an artist? I realised in myself the same desire as animated him. But whereas his medium was paint, mine has been life. "

    Then Captain Brunot told me a story which I must repeat, since, if only by way of contrast, it adds something to my impression of Strickland. It has also to my mind a beauty of its own.

    Captain Brunot was a Breton, and had been in the French Navy. He left it on his marriage, and settled down on a small property he had near Quimper to live for the rest of his days in peace; but the failure of an attorney left him suddenly penniless, and neither he nor his wife was willing to live in penury where they had enjoyed consideration. During his sea faring days he had cruised the South Seas, and he determined now to seek his fortune there. He spent some months in Papeete to make his plans and gain experience; then, on money borrowed from a friend in France, he bought an island in the Paumotus. It was a ring of land round a deep lagoon, uninhabited, and covered only with scrub and wild guava. With the intrepid woman who was his wife, and a few natives, he landed there, and set about building a house, and clearing the scrub so that he could plant cocoa-nuts. That was twenty years before, and now what had been a barren island was a garden.

    "It was hard and anxious work at first, and we worked strenuously, both of us. Every day I was up at dawn, clearing, planting, working on my house, and at night when I threw myself on my bed it was to sleep like a log till morning. My wife worked as hard as I did. Then children were born to us, first a son and then a daughter. My wife and I have taught them all they know. We had a piano sent out from France, and she has taught them to play and to speak English, and I have taught them Latin and mathematics, and we read history together. They can sail a boat. They can swim as well as the natives. There is nothing about the land of which they are ignorant. Our trees have prospered, and there is shell on my reef. I have come to Tahiti now to buy a schooner. I can get enough shell to make it worth while to fish for it, and, who knows? I may find pearls. I have made something where there was nothing. I too have made beauty. Ah, you do not know what it is to look at those tall, healthy trees and think that every one I planted myself. "

    "Let me ask you the question that you asked Strickland. Do you never regret France and your old home in Brittany?"

    "Some day, when my daughter is married and my son has a wife and is able to take my place on the island, we shall go back and finish our days in the old house in which I was born. "

    "You will look back on a happy life, " I said.

    " Evidemment, it is not exciting on my island, and we are very far from the world —— imagine, it takes me four days to come to Tahiti —— but we are happy there. It is given to few men to attempt a work and to achieve it. Our life is simple and innocent. We are untouched by ambition, and what pride we have is due only to our contemplation of the work of our hands. Malice cannot touch us, nor envy attack. Ah, mon cher monsieur, they talk of the blessedness of labour, and it is a meaningless phrase, but to me it has the most intense significance. I am a happy man. "

    "I am sure you deserve to be, " I smiled.

    "I wish I could think so. I do not know how I have deserved to have a wife who was the perfect friend and helpmate, the perfect mistress and the perfect mother. "

    I reflected for a while on the life that the Captain suggested to my imagination.

    "It is obvious that to lead such an existence and make so great a success of it, you must both have needed a strong will and a determined character. "

    "Perhaps; but without one other factor we could have achieved nothing. "

    "And what was that?"

    He stopped, somewhat dramatically, and stretched out his arm.

    "Belief in God. Without that we should have been lost. "

    Then we arrived at the house of Dr. Coutras.

    我一面走路一面思索着他到这里以后的景况。最近一些日子我听到思特里克兰德不少轶事,不能不认真思考一下这里的环境。他在这个遥远的海岛上似乎同在欧洲不一样,一点儿也没有引起别人的厌嫌;相反地,人们对他都很同情,他的奇行怪癖也没有人感到诧异。在这里的人们——不论是欧洲人或当地土著——眼里,他当然是个怪人,但是这里的人对于所谓怪人已经习以为常,因此对他从不另眼相看。世界上有的是怪人,他们的举止离奇古怪;也许这里的居民更能理解,一般人都不是他们想要做的那种人,而是他们不得不做的那种人。在英国或法国,思特里克兰德可以说是个不合时宜的人,“圆孔里插了个方塞子”,而在这里却有各种形式的孔,什么样子的塞子都能各得其所。我并不认为他到这里以后脾气比过去变好了,不那么自私了,或者更富于人情味儿了;而是这里的环境对他比以前适合了。假如他过去就在这里生活,人们就不会注意到他的那些劣点了。他在这里所经历到的是他在本乡本土不敢希冀、从未要求的——他在这里得到的是同情。

    这一切我感到非常惊奇;我把我的想法试着同布吕诺船长谈了一些。他并没有立刻回答我什么。

    “我对他感到同情其实也没有什么奇怪的,”最后他说,“因为,尽管我们两人可能谁也不知道,我们寻求的却是同一件东西。”

    “你同思特里克兰德完全是不同类型的人,有什么东西会是你们俩共同寻求的呢?”

    “美。”

    “你们寻求的东西太高了,”我咕噜了一句。

    “你知道不知道,一个人要是坠入情网,就可能对世界上一切事物都听而不闻、视而不见了?那时候他就会象古代锁在木船里摇桨的奴隶一样,身心都不是自己所有了。把思特里克兰德俘获住的热情正同爱情一样,一点自由也不给他。”

    “真奇怪,你怎么会也这么说?”我回答道。“很久以前,我正是也有这种想法。我觉得他这个人是被魔鬼抓住了。”

    “使思特里克兰德着了迷的是一种创作欲,他热切地想创造出美来。这种激情叫他一刻也不能宁静。逼着他东奔西走。他好象是一个终生跋涉的朝香者,永远思慕着一块圣地。盘踞在他心头的魔鬼对他毫无怜悯之情。世上有些人渴望寻获真理,他们的要求非常强烈,为了达到这个目的,就是叫他们把生活的基础完全打翻,也在所不惜。思特里克兰德就是这样一个人;只不过他追求的是美,而不是真理。对于象他这样的人,我从心眼里感到怜悯。”

    “你说的这一点也很奇怪。有一个他曾经伤害过的人也这样对我说,说他非常可怜思特里克兰德。”我沉默了一会儿。“我很想知道,对于一种我一直感到迷惑不解的性格,你是不是已经找到了答案。你怎么会想到这个道理的?”

    他对我笑了笑。

    “我不是告诉你了,从某一个角度讲,我也是个艺术家吗?我在自己身上也深深感到激励着他的那种热望。但是他的手段是绘画,我的却是生活。”

    布吕诺船长这时给我讲了一个故事,我想我应该在这里说一说。因为即使作为对比,这个故事对我记叙思特里克兰德的生平也能说明一些问题。再说,我认为这个故事本身就是非常美的。

    布吕诺船长是法国布列塔尼地方的人,年轻时在法国海军里服过役。结婚以后,他退了役,在坎佩尔附近一小份产业上定居下来,准备在恬静的乡居生活中过自己的后半生。但是由于替他料理财务的一位代理人出了差错,一夜之间,他发现自己已经一文不名了。他和他的妻子在当地人们眼目中本来享有一定的地位,他俩绝对不愿意仍然捱在原来的地方过苦日子。早年他在远涉重洋时,曾经到过南太平洋群岛;这时他就打定主意再到南海去闯一条路子。他先在帕皮提住了几个月,一方面规划一下自己的未来,一方面积累一些经验。几个月以后,他从法国一位朋友手里借了一笔钱,在包莫图斯群岛里买下一个很小的岛屿。这是一个环形小岛,中间围着一个咸水湖;岛上长满了灌木和野生的香石榴,从来没有人居住过。他的老婆是个很勇敢的女人,他就带着自己的老婆和几个土人登上这个小岛。他们首先着手盖房子,清理灌木丛,准备种植椰子。这是在我遇到他二十年以前的事,现在这个荒岛已经成了一座整饬的种植园了。

    “开始一段日子工作非常艰苦。我们两个人拚死拚活地干活儿。每天天一亮我就起来,除草、种树、盖房子,晚上一倒在床上,我总是象条死狗似地一觉睡到天亮。我的妻子同我一样毫不吝惜自己的力气。后来我们有了孩子,先是一个男孩儿,后来又生了个女儿。我和我的妻子教他们读书。他们知道的一点儿知识都是我俩教的。我们托人从国内运来一架钢琴。我妻子教他们弹琴、说英语,我教他们拉丁文和数学;我们一起读历史。两个孩子还学会了驾船,游泳的本领也一点儿不比土人差。岛上的事儿他们样样都很精通。我们的椰子林长得很好,此外,我们那里的珊瑚礁上还盛产珠蚌。我这次到塔希提来是为了买一艘双桅帆船。我想用这艘船打捞蚌壳,准能把买船的钱赚回来。谁能说准,我也许真会捞获一些珍珠呢。我干的每一件事都是白手起家的。我也创造了美。在我瞧着那些高大、挺拔的椰子树,心里想到每一棵都是自己亲手培植出米的,你真不知道我那时是什么心情啊。”

    “让我问你一个问题:这个问题你过去也问过思特里克兰德。你离开了法国,把布列塔尼的老家抛在脑后,从来也没有后悔过吗?”

    “将来有一天,等我女儿结了婚,我儿子娶了妻子,能够把我在岛上的一番事业接过去以后,我就和我妻子回去,在我出生的那所老房子里度过我们的残年。”

    “你那时回顾过去,会感到这一辈子是过得很幸福的。”

    “当然了①,在我们那个小岛上,日子可以说比较平淡,我们离开文明社会非常遥远——你可以想象一下,就是到塔希提来一趟,在路上也要走四天,但是我们过得很幸福。世界上只有少数人能够最终达到自己的理想。我们的生活很单纯、很简朴。我们并不野心勃勃,如果说我们也有骄傲的话,那是因为在想到通过双手获得的劳动成果时的骄傲。我们对别人既不嫉妒,更不怀恨。唉,我亲爱的先生②,有人认为劳动的幸福是句空话,对我说来可不是这样。我深深感到这句话的重要意义。我是个很幸福的人。”

    ①原文为法语

    ②原文为法语。

    “我相信你是有资格这样说的。”

    “我也希望我能这样想。我的妻子不只是我贴心的朋友,还是我的好助手;不只是贤妻,还是良母,我真是配不上她。”

    船长的这番话在我的脑子里描绘了别样一种生活,使我思索了好大一会儿。

    “你过着这样的生活,而且取得很大成功,显然这不只需要坚强的意志,而且要有坚毅的性格。”我说。

    “也许你说得对。但是如果没有另外一个因素,我们是什么也做不成的。”

    “那是什么呢?”

    他站住了,有些象演戏似地抬起了两只胳臂。

    “对上帝的信仰。要是不相信上帝我们早就迷途了。”

    话说到这里,我们已经走到库特拉斯医生的门口。

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