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中英:月亮和六便士(53)

2006-08-22 21:47

    Chapter LIII

    Tenez, voila le Capitaine Brunot, " said Tiare, one day when I was fitting together what she could tell me of Strickland. "He knew Strickland well; he visited him at his house. "

    I saw a middle-aged Frenchman with a big black beard, streaked with gray, a sunburned face, and large, shining eyes. He was dressed in a neat suit of ducks. I had noticed him at luncheon, and Ah Lin, the Chinese boy, told me he had come from the Paumotus on the boat that had that day arrived. Tiare introduced me to him, and he handed me his card, a large card on which was printed Rene Brunot, and underneath, Capitaine au Long Cours. We were sitting on a little verandah outside the kitchen, and Tiare was cutting out a dress that she was making for one of the girls about the house. He sat down with us.

    "Yes; I knew Strickland well, " he said. "I am very fond of chess, and he was always glad of a game. I come to Tahiti three or four times a year for my business, and when he was at Papeete he would come here and we would play. When he married" —— Captain Brunot smiled and shrugged his shoulders —— " enfin, when he went to live with the girl that Tiare gave him, he asked me to go and see him. I was one of the guests at the wedding feast. " He looked at Tiare, and they both laughed. "He did not come much to Papeete after that, and about a year later it chanced that I had to go to that part of the island for I forgot what business, and when I had finished it I said to myself: ` Voyons, why should I not go and see that poor Strickland?' I asked one or two natives if they knew anything about him, and I discovered that he lived not more than five kilometres from where I was. So I went. I shall never forget the impression my visit made on me. I live on an atoll, a low island, it is a strip of land surrounding a lagoon, and its beauty is the beauty of the sea and sky and the varied colour of the lagoon and the grace of the cocoa-nut trees; but the place where Strickland lived had the beauty of the Garden of Eden. Ah, I wish I could make you see the enchantment of that spot, a corner hidden away from all the world, with the blue sky overhead and the rich, luxuriant trees. It was a feast of colour. And it was fragrant and cool. Words cannot describe that paradise. And here he lived, unmindful of the world and by the world forgotten. I suppose to European eyes it would have seemed astonishingly sordid. The house was dilapidated and none too clean. Three or four natives were lying on the verandah. You know how natives love to herd together. There was a young man lying full length, smoking a cigarette, and he wore nothing but a pareo"

    The pareo is a long strip of trade cotton, red or blue, stamped with a white pattern. It is worn round the waist and hangs to the knees.

    "A girl of fifteen, perhaps, was plaiting pandanus-leaf to make a hat, and an old woman was sitting on her haunches smoking a pipe. Then I saw Ata. She was suckling a new-born child, and another child, stark naked, was playing at her feet. When she saw me she called out to Strickland, and he came to the door. He, too, wore nothing but a pareo. He was an extraordinary figure, with his red beard and matted hair, and his great hairy chest. His feet were horny and scarred, so that I knew he went always bare foot. He had gone native with a vengeance. He seemed pleased to see me, and told Ata to kill a chicken for our dinner. He took me into the house to show me the picture he was at work on when I came in. In one corner of the room was the bed, and in the middle was an easel with the canvas upon it. Because I was sorry for him, I had bought a couple of his pictures for small sums, and I had sent others to friends of mine in France. And though I had bought them out of compassion, after living with them I began to like them. Indeed, I found a strange beauty in them. Everyone thought I was mad, but it turns out that I was right. I was his first admirer in the islands. "

    He smiled maliciously at Tiare, and with lamentations she told us again the story of how at the sale of Strickland's effects she had neglected the pictures, but bought an American stove for twenty-seven francs.

    "Have you the pictures still?" I asked.

    "Yes; I am keeping them till my daughter is of marriageable age, and then I shall sell them. They will be her dot. " Then he went on with the account of his visit to Strickland.

    "I shall never forget the evening I spent with him. I had not intended to stay more than an hour, but he insisted that I should spend the night. I hesitated, for I confess I did not much like the look of the mats on which he proposed that I should sleep; but I shrugged my shoulders. When I was building my house in the Paumotus I had slept out for weeks on a harder bed than that, with nothing to shelter me but wild shrubs; and as for vermin, my tough skin should be proof against their malice.

    "We went down to the stream to bathe while Ata was preparing the dinner, and after we had eaten it we sat on the verandah. We smoked and chatted. The young man had a concertina, and he played the tunes popular on the music-halls a dozen years before. They sounded strangely in the tropical night thousands of miles from civilisation. I asked Strickland if it did not irk him to live in that promiscuity. No, he said; he liked to have his models under his hand. Presently, after loud yawning, the natives went away to sleep, and Strickland and I were left alone. I cannot describe to you the intense silence of the night. On my island in the Paumotus there is never at night the complete stillness that there was here. There is the rustle of the myriad animals on the beach, all the little shelled things that crawl about ceaselessly, and there is the noisy scurrying of the land-crabs. Now and then in the lagoon you hear the leaping of a fish, and sometimes a hurried noisy splashing as a brown shark sends all the other fish scampering for their lives. And above all, ceaseless like time, is the dull roar of the breakers on the reef. But here there was not a sound, and the air was scented with the white flowers of the night. It was a night so beautiful that your soul seemed hardly able to bear the prison of the body. You felt that it was ready to be wafted away on the immaterial air, and death bore all the aspect of a beloved friend. "

    Tiare sighed.

    "Ah, I wish I were fifteen again. "

    Then she caught sight of a cat trying to get at a dish of prawns on the kitchen table, and with a dexterous gesture and a lively volley of abuse flung a book at its scampering tail.

    "I asked him if he was happy with Ata.

    "`She leaves me alone, ' he said. 'She cooks my food and looks after her babies. She does what I tell her. She gives me what I want from a woman. '

    "`And do you never regret Europe? Do you not yearn sometimes for the light of the streets in Paris or London, the companionship of your friends, and equals, que sais-je? for theatres and newspapers, and the rumble of omnibuses on the cobbled pavements?'

    "For a long time he was silent. Then he said:

    "`I shall stay here till I die. '

    "`But are you never bored or lonely?' I asked.

    "He chuckled.

    "` Mon pauvre ami, ' he said. `It is evident that you do not know what it is to be an artist. '"

    Capitaine Brunot turned to me with a gentle smile, and there was a wonderful look in his dark, kind eyes.

    "He did me an injustice, for I too know what it is to have dreams. I have my visions too. In my way I also am an artist. "

    We were all silent for a while, and Tiare fished out of her capacious pocket a handful of cigarettes. She handed one to each of us, and we all three smoked. At last she said:

    "Since ce monsieur is interested in Strickland, why do you not take him to see Dr. Coutras? He can tell him something about his illness and death. "

    " Volontiers, " said the Captain, looking at me.

    I thanked him, and he looked at his watch.

    "It is past six o'clock. We should find him at home if you care to come now. "

    I got up without further ado, and we walked along the road that led to the doctor's house. He lived out of the town, but the Hotel de la Fleur was on the edge of it, and we were quickly in the country. The broad road was shaded by pepper-trees, and on each side were the plantations, cocoa-nut and vanilla. The pirate birds were screeching among the leaves of the palms. We came to a stone bridge over a shallow river, and we stopped for a few minutes to see the native boys bathing. They chased one another with shrill cries and laughter, and their bodies, brown and wet, gleamed in the sunlight.

    “看啊,那就是布吕诺船长①,”有一天,我脑子里正在往一块拼缀蒂阿瑞给我讲的关于思特里克兰德的片片断断的故事时,她忽然喊叫起来。“这个人同思特里克兰德很熟。他到思特里克兰德住的地方去过。”

    ①原文为法语

    我看到的是一个已过中年的法国人,蓄着一大捧黑胡子,不少已经花白,一张晒得黝黑的面孔,一对闪闪发光的大眼睛。他身上穿着一套很整洁的帆布衣服。其实吃午饭的时候我已经注意到他了,旅馆的一个中国籍侍者阿林告诉我,他是从包莫图斯岛来的,他乘的船当天刚刚靠岸。蒂阿瑞把我引见给他;他递给我一张名片。名片很大,当中印着他的姓名——勒内。布吕诺,下面一行小字是“龙谷号船长”。我同蒂阿瑞当时正坐在厨房外面的一个小凉台上,蒂阿瑞在给她手下的一个女孩子裁衣服。布吕诺船长就和我们一起坐下了。

    “是的,我同思特里克兰德很熟,”他说。“我喜欢下棋,他也是只要找到个棋友就同人下。我每年为了生意上的事要到塔希提来三四回,如果他凑巧也在帕皮提,总要找我来一起玩几盘。后来,他结婚了,”——说到结婚两个字布吕诺船长笑了笑,耸了一下肩膀——“在同蒂阿瑞介绍给他的那个女孩子到乡下去住以前,他邀请我有机会去看看他。举行婚礼那天我也是贺客之一。”他看了蒂阿瑞一眼,两个人都笑了。“结婚以后,他就很少到帕皮提来了。大约一年以后,凑巧我到他居住的那一带去,我忘了是为办一件什么事了。事情办完以后,我对自己说:”嗳,我干嘛不去看看可怜的思特里克兰德呀?‘我向一两个本地的人打听,问他们知道不知道有这么一个人,结果我发现他住的地方离我那儿还不到五公里远。于是我就去了。我这次去的印象永远也不会忘记。我的住家是在珊瑚岛上,是环抱着咸水湖的一个低矮的环形小岛。那地方的美是海天茫茫的美。是湖水变幻不定的色彩和椰子树的摇曳多姿。而思特里克兰德住的地方却是另一种美,好象是生活在伊甸园里。哎呀,我真希望我能把那迷惑人的地方描摹给你们听。与人寰隔绝的一个幽僻的角落,头顶上是蔚蓝的天空,四围一片郁郁苍苍的树木。那里是观赏不尽的色彩,芬芳馥郁的香气,荫翳凉爽的空气。这个人世乐园是无法用言语形容的。他就住在那里,不关心世界上的事,世界也把他完全遗忘。我想,在欧洲人的眼睛里,那地方也许显得太肮脏了一些;房子破破烂烂,而且收拾得一点儿也不干净。我刚走近那幢房子,就看见凉台上躺着三四个当地人。你知道这里的人总爱凑在一起。我看见一个年轻人摊开了身体在地上躺着,抽着纸烟,身上除了一条帕利欧以外任什么也没有穿。“

    所谓帕利欧就是一长条印着白色图案的红色或蓝色的棉布,围在腰上,下面搭在膝盖上。

    “一个女孩子,大概有十五六岁吧,正在用凤梨树叶编草帽,一个老太婆蹲在地上抽烟袋。后来我才看到爱塔,她正在给一个刚出世不久的小孩喂奶,另外一个小孩,光着屁股,在她脚底下玩。爱塔看见我以后,就招呼思特里克兰德。思特里克兰德从屋子里走到门口。他身上同样也只围着一件帕利欧。他留着大红胡子,头发粘成一团,胸上长满了汗毛,样子真是古怪。他的两只脚磨得起了厚茧,还有许多疤痕,我一看就知道他从不穿鞋。说实在的,他简直比当地人更加土化。他看见我好象很高兴,吩咐爱塔杀一只鸡招待我。他把我领进屋子里,给我看我来的时候他正在画的一张画。屋子的一个角落里摆着一张床,当中是一个画架,画架上钉着一块画布。因为我觉得他挺可怜,所以花了不多钱买了他几张画。这些画大多数我都寄给法国的朋友了。虽然我当时买这些画是出于对他的同情,但是时间长了,我还是喜欢上它们了。我发现这些画有一种奇异的美。别人都说我发疯了,但事实证明我是正确的。我是这个地区第一个能鉴赏他的绘画的人。”

    他幸灾乐祸地向蒂阿瑞笑了笑。于是蒂阿瑞又一次后悔不迭地给我们讲起那个老故事来:在拍卖思特里克兰德遗产的时候,她怎样一点儿也没有注意他的画,只花了二十七个法郎买了一个美国的煤油炉子。

    “这些画你还保留着吗?”我问。

    “是的。我还留着。等我的女儿到了出嫁的年龄我再卖,给她做陪嫁。”

    他又接着给我们讲他去看思特里克兰德的事。

    “我永远也忘不了我同他一起度过的那个晚上。本来我想在他那里只待一个钟头,但是他执意留我住一夜。我犹豫了一会儿;说老实话,我真不喜欢他建议叫我在上面过夜的那张草席。但是最后我还是耸了耸肩膀,同意留下了。当我在包莫图斯岛给自己盖房子的时候,有好几个星期我睡在外面露天地里,我睡的床要比这张草席硬得多,盖的东西只有草叶子。讲到咬人的小虫,我的又硬又厚的皮肤实在是最好的防护物。

    “在爱塔给我们准备晚饭的时候,我同思特里克兰德到小河边上去洗了一个澡。吃过晚饭后,我们就坐在露台上乘凉。我们一边抽烟一边聊天。我来的时候看见的那个年轻人有一架手风琴,他演奏的都是十几年以前音乐厅里流行过的曲子。在热带的夜晚,在这样一个离开人类文明几千里以外的地方,这些曲调给人以一种奇异的感觉。我问思特里克兰德,他这样同各式各样的人胡乱住在一起,是否觉得厌恶。他回答说不;他喜欢他的模特儿就在眼前。过了不久,当地人都大声打着呵欠,各自去睡觉了,露台上只剩下我同思特里克兰德。我无法向你描写夜是多么寂静。在我们包莫图斯的岛上,夜晚从来没有这里这么悄无声息。海滨上有一千种小动物发出窸窸窣窣的声响。各式各样的带甲壳的小东西永远也不停息地到处爬动,另外还有生活在陆地上的螃蟹嚓嚓地横爬过去。有的时候你可以听到咸水湖里鱼儿跳跃的声音,另外的时候,一只棕色鲨鱼把别的鱼儿惊得乱窜,弄得湖里发出一片噼啪的泼溅声。但是压倒这一切嘈杂声响的还是海水拍打礁石的隆隆声,它象时间一样永远也不终止。但是这里却一点儿声音也没有,空气里充满了夜间开放的白花的香气。这里的夜这么美,你的灵魂好象都无法忍受肉体的桎梏了。你感觉到你的灵魂随时都可能飘升到缥缈的空际,死神的面貌就象你亲爱的朋友那样熟悉。”

    蒂阿瑞叹了口气。

    “啊,我真希望我再回到十五岁的年纪。”

    这时,她忽然看见一只猫正在厨房桌上偷对虾吃,随着连珠炮似的一串咒骂,她又麻利又准确地把一本书扔在仓皇逃跑的猫尾巴上。

    “我问他同爱塔一起生活幸福不幸福。”

    “‘她不打扰我,’他说。‘她给我做饭,照管孩子。我叫她做什么她就做什么。凡是我要求一个女人的,她都给我了。’”

    “‘你离开欧洲从来也没有后悔过吗?有的时候你是不是也怀念巴黎或伦敦街头的灯火?怀念你的朋友、伙伴?还有我不知道的一些东西,剧院呀、报纸呀、公共马车隆隆走过鹅卵石路的声响?’”

    很久,很久,他一句话也没有说。最后他开口道:

    “‘我愿意待在这里,一直到我死。’”

    “‘但是你就从来也不感到厌烦,不感到寂寞?’”我问道。

    他咯咯地笑了几声。

    “‘我可怜的朋友①,’他说,‘很清楚,你不懂作一个艺术家是怎么回事。’”

    ①原文为法语。

    布吕诺船长转过头来对我微微一笑,他的一双和蔼的黑眼睛里闪着奇妙的光辉。

    “他这样说对我可太不公平了,因为我也知道什么叫怀着梦想。我自己就也有幻想。从某一方面讲,我自己也是个艺术家。”

    半天我们都没有说话。蒂阿瑞从她的大口袋里拿出一把香烟来,递给我们每人一支。我们三个人都抽起烟来。最后她开口说:

    “既然这位先生②对思特里克兰德有兴趣,你为什么不带他去见一见库特拉斯医生啊?他可以告诉他一些事,思特里克兰德怎样生病,怎样死的,等等。”

    ②原文为法语。

    “我很愿意③。”船长看着我说。

    ③原文为法语。

    我谢了谢他。他看了看手表。

    “现在已经六点多钟了。如果你肯同我走一趟,我想这时候他是在家的。”

    我二话没说,马上站了起来;我俩立刻向医生家里走去。库特拉斯住在城外,而鲜花旅馆是在城市边缘上,所以没有几步路,我们就已经走到郊野上了。路很宽,一路上遮覆着胡椒树的浓荫。路两旁都是椰子和香子兰种植园。一种当地人叫海盗鸟的小鸟在棕榈树的叶子里吱吱喳喳地叫着。我们在路上经过一条浅溪,上面有一座石桥;我们在桥上站了一会儿,看着本地人的孩子在水里嬉戏。他们笑着、喊着,在水里互相追逐,棕色的小身体滴着水珠,在阳光下闪闪发光。

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