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中英:月亮和六便士(5)

2006-08-22 21:04

    Chapter V

    During the summer I met Mrs. Strickland not infrequently. I went now and then to pleasant little luncheons at her flat, and to rather more formidable tea-parties. We took a fancy to one another. I was very young, and perhaps she liked the idea of guiding my virgin steps on the hard road of letters; while for me it was pleasant to have someone I could go to with my small troubles, certain of an attentive ear and reasonable counsel. Mrs. Strickland had the gift of sympathy. It is a charming faculty, but one often abused by those who are conscious of its possession: for there is something ghoulish in the avidity with which they will pounce upon the misfortune of their friends so that they may exercise their dexterity. It gushes forth like an oil-well, and the sympathetic pour out their sympathy with an abandon that is sometimes embarrassing to their victims. There are bosoms on which so many tears have been shed that I cannot bedew them with mine. Mrs. Strickland used her advantage with tact. You felt that you obliged her by accepting her sympathy. When, in the enthusiasm of my youth, I remarked on this to Rose Waterford, she said:

    "Milk is very nice, especially with a drop of brandy in it, but the domestic cow is only too glad to be rid of it. A swollen udder is very uncomfortable. "

    Rose Waterford had a blistering tongue. No one could say such bitter things; on the other hand, no one could do more charming ones.

    There was another thing I liked in Mrs. Strickland. She managed her surroundings with elegance. Her flat was always neat and cheerful, gay with flowers, and the chintzes in the drawing-room, notwithstanding their severe design, were bright and pretty. The meals in the artistic little dining-room were pleasant; the table looked nice, the two maids were trim and comely; the food was well cooked. It was impossible not to see that Mrs. Strickland was an excellent housekeeper. And you felt sure that she was an admirable mother. There were photographs in the drawing-room of her son and daughter. The son —— his name was Robert —— was a boy of sixteen at Rugby; and you saw him in flannels and a cricket cap, and again in a tail-coat and a stand-up collar. He had his mother's candid brow and fine, reflective eyes. He looked clean, healthy, and normal.

    "I don't know that he's very clever, " she said one day, when I was looking at the photograph, "but I know he's good. He has a charming character. "

    The daughter was fourteen. Her hair, thick and dark like her mother's, fell over her shoulders in fine profusion, and she had the same kindly expression and sedate, untroubled eyes.

    "They're both of them the image of you, " I said.

    "Yes; I think they are more like me than their father. "

    "Why have you never let me meet him?" I asked.

    "Would you like to?"

    She smiled, her smile was really very sweet, and she blushed a little; it was singular that a woman of that age should flush so readily. Perhaps her naivete was her greatest charm.

    "You know, he's not at all literary, " she said. "He's a perfect philistine. "

    She said this not disparagingly, but affectionately rather, as though, by acknowledging the worst about him, she wished to protect him from the aspersions of her friends.

    "He's on the Stock Exchange, and he's a typical broker. I think he'd bore you to death. "

    "Does he bore you?" I asked.

    "You see, I happen to be his wife. I'm very fond of him. "

    She smiled to cover her shyness, and I fancied she had a fear that I would make the sort of gibe that such a confession could hardly have failed to elicit from Rose Waterford. She hesitated a little. Her eyes grew tender.

    "He doesn't pretend to be a genius. He doesn't even make much money on the Stock Exchange. But he's awfully good and kind. "

    "I think I should like him very much. "

    "I'll ask you to dine with us quietly some time, but mind, you come at your own risk; don't blame me if you have a very dull evening. "

    夏天我同思特里克兰德太太见面的次数不算少。我时不时地到她家里去吃午饭,或是去参加茶会;午饭总是吃得很好,茶点更是非常丰盛。我同思特里克兰德太太很相投。我当时年纪很轻,或许她喜欢的是指引着我幼稚的脚步走上文坛的艰辛道路,而在我这一方面,遇到一些不如意的琐事也乐于找到一个人倾诉一番。我准知道她会专神倾听,也一定能给我一些合乎情理的劝告。思特里克兰德太太是很会同情人的。同情体贴本是一种很难得的本领,但是却常常被那些知道自己有这种本领的人滥用了。他们一看到自己的朋友有什么不幸就恶狠狠地扑到人们身上,把自己的全部才能施展出来,这就未免太可怕了。同情心应该象一口油井一样喷薄自出;惯爱表同情的人让它纵情奔放,反而使那些受难者非常困窘。有的人胸膛上已经沾了那么多泪水,我不忍再把我的洒上了。思特里克兰德太太对自己的长处运用很得体,她让你觉得你接受她的同情是对她作了一件好事。我年轻的时候在一阵热情冲动中,曾同柔斯。瓦特尔芙德谈论这件事,她说:

    “牛奶很好吃,特别是加上几滴白兰地。但是母牛却巴不得赶快让它淌出去。肿胀的乳头是很不舒服的。”

    柔斯。瓦特尔芙德的嘴非常刻薄。这种辛辣的话谁也说不出口,但是另一方面,哪个人做事也没有她漂亮。

    还有一件事叫我喜欢思特里克兰德太太。她的住所布置得非常优雅。房间总是干干净净,摆着花,叫人感到非常舒服。客厅里的印花布窗帘虽然图案比较古板,可是色彩光艳,淡雅宜人。在雅致的小餐厅里吃饭是一种享受;餐桌式样大方,两个侍女干净利落,菜肴烹调得非常精致。谁都看得出,思特里克兰德太太是一位能干的主妇,另外,毫无疑问她也是一位贤妻良母。客厅里摆着她儿女的照片。儿子——他名叫罗伯特——十六岁,正在罗格贝学校读书;你在照片上看到他穿着一套法兰绒衣服,戴着板球帽,另外一张照片穿的是燕尾服,系着直立的硬领。他同母亲一样,生着宽净的前额和沉思的漂亮的眼睛。他的样子干净整齐,看去又健康,又端正。

    “我想他不算太聪明,”有一天我正在看照片的时候,思特里克兰德太太说,“但是我知道他是个好孩子。性格很可爱。”

    女儿十四岁。头发同母亲一样,又粗又黑,浓密地披在肩膀上。温顺的脸相,端庄、明净的眼睛也同母亲活脱儿一样。

    “他们两个人长得都非常象你,”我说。

    “可不是,他们都更随我,不随他们的父亲。”

    “你为什么一直不让我同他见面?”

    “你愿意见他吗?”

    她笑了,她的笑容很甜,脸上微微泛起一层红晕;象她这样年纪的女人竟这么容易脸红,是很少有的。也许她最迷人之处就在于她的纯真。

    “你知道,他一点儿也没有文学修养,”她说,“他是个十足的小市民。”

    她用这个词一点儿也没有贬抑的意思,相反地,倒是怀着一股深情,好象由她自己说出他最大的缺点就可以保护他不受她朋友们的挖苦以的。

    “他在证券交易所干事儿,是一个典型的经纪人。我猜想,他一定会叫你觉得很厌烦的。”

    “你对他感到厌烦吗?”

    “你知道,我刚好是他的妻子。我很喜欢他。”

    她笑了一下,掩盖住自己的羞涩。我想她可能担心我会说一句什么打趣的话,换了柔斯。瓦特尔芙德,听见她这样坦白,肯定会挖苦讽刺几句的。她踌躇了一会儿,眼神变得更加温柔了。

    “他不想假充自己有什么才华。就是在证券交易所里他赚的钱也不多。但是他心地非常善良。”

    “我想我会非常喜欢他的。”

    “等哪天没有外人的时候,我请你来吃晚饭。但是我把话说在前头,你可是自愿冒这个风险;如果这天晚上你过得非常无聊,可千万不要怨我。”

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