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中英:月亮和六便士(6)

2006-08-22 21:04

    Chapter VI

    But when at last I met Charles Strickland, it was under circumstances which allowed me to do no more than just make his acquaintance. One morning Mrs. Strickland sent me round a note to say that she was giving a dinner-party that evening, and one of her guests had failed her. She asked me to stop the gap. She wrote:

    "It's only decent to warn you that you will be bored to extinction. It was a thoroughly dull party from the beginning, but if you will come I shall be uncommonly grateful. And you and I can have a little chat by ourselves. "

    It was only neighbourly to accept.

    When Mrs. Strickland introduced me to her husband, he gave me a rather indifferent hand to shake. Turning to him gaily, she attempted a small jest.

    "I asked him to show him that I really had a husband. I think he was beginning to doubt it. "

    Strickland gave the polite little laugh with which people acknowledge a facetiousness in which they see nothing funny, but did not speak. New arrivals claimed my host's attention, and I was left to myself. When at last we were all assembled, waiting for dinner to be announced, I reflected, while I chatted with the woman I had been asked to "take in, " that civilised man practises a strange ingenuity in wasting on tedious exercises the brief span of his life. It was the kind of party which makes you wonder why the hostess has troubled to bid her guests, and why the guests have troubled to come. There were ten people. They met with indifference, and would part with relief. It was, of course, a purely social function. The Stricklands "owed" dinners to a number of persons, whom they took no interest in, and so had asked them; these persons had accepted. Why? To avoid the tedium of dining tete-a-tete, to give their servants a rest, because there was no reason to refuse, because they were "owed" a dinner.

    The dining-room was inconveniently crowded. There was a K. C. and his wife, a Government official and his wife, Mrs. Strickland's sister and her husband, Colonel MacAndrew, and the wife of a Member of Parliament. It was because the Member of Parliament found that he could not leave the House that I had been invited. The respectability of the party was portentous. The women were too nice to be well dressed, and too sure of their position to be amusing. The men were solid. There was about all of them an air of well-satisfied prosperity.

    Everyone talked a little louder than natural in an instinctive desire to make the party go, and there was a great deal of noise in the room. But there was no general conversation. Each one talked to his neighbour; to his neighbour on the right during the soup, fish, and entree; to his neighbour on the left during the roast, sweet, and savoury. They talked of the political situation and of golf, of their children and the latest play, of the pictures at the Royal Academy, of the weather and their plans for the holidays. There was never a pause, and the noise grew louder. Mrs. Strickland might congratulate herself that her party was a success. Her husband played his part with decorum. Perhaps he did not talk very much, and I fancied there was towards the end a look of fatigue in the faces of the women on either side of him. They were finding him heavy. Once or twice Mrs. Strickland's eyes rested on him somewhat anxiously.

    At last she rose and shepherded the ladies out of one room. Strickland shut the door behind her, and, moving to the other end of the table, took his place between the K. C. and the Government official. He passed round the port again and handed us cigars. The K. C. remarked on the excellence of the wine, and Strickland told us where he got it. We began to chat about vintages and tobacco. The K. C. told us of a case he was engaged in, and the Colonel talked about polo. I had nothing to say and so sat silent, trying politely to show interest in the conversation; and because I thought no one was in the least concerned with me, examined Strickland at my ease. He was bigger than I expected: I do not know why I had imagined him slender and of insignificant appearance; in point of fact he was broad and heavy, with large hands and feet, and he wore his evening clothes clumsily. He gave you somewhat the idea of a coachman dressed up for the occasion. He was a man of forty, not good-looking, and yet not ugly, for his features were rather good; but they were all a little larger than life-size, and the effect was ungainly. He was clean shaven, and his large face looked uncomfortably naked. His hair was reddish, cut very short, and his eyes were small, blue or grey. He looked commonplace. I no longer wondered that Mrs. Strickland felt a certain embarrassment about him; he was scarcely a credit to a woman who wanted to make herself a position in the world of art and letters. It was obvious that he had no social gifts, but these a man can do without; he had no eccentricity even, to take him out of the common run; he was just a good, dull, honest, plain man. One would admire his excellent qualities, but avoid his company. He was null. He was probably a worthy member of society, a good husband and father, an honest broker; but there was no reason to waste one's time over him.

    但是最后我同查理斯。思特里克兰德见面,并不是在思特里克兰德太太说的那种情况下。她请我吃饭的那天晚上,除了她丈夫以外,我还结识了另外几个人。这天早上,思特里克兰德太太派人给我送来一张条子,告诉我她当天晚上要请客,有一个客人临时有事不能出席。她请我填补这个空缺。条子是这么写的:

    我要预先声明,你将会厌烦得要命。从一开始我就知道这是一次枯燥乏味的宴客。但是如果你能来的话,我是非常感激的。咱们两个人总还可以谈一谈。

    我不能不帮她这个忙;我接受了她的邀请。

    当思特里克兰德太太把我介绍给她丈夫的时候,他不冷不热地同我握了握手。思特里克兰德太太的情绪很高,转身对他说了一句开玩笑的话。

    “我请他来是要叫他看看我真的是有丈夫的。我想他已经开始怀疑了。”

    思特里克兰德很有礼貌地笑了笑,就象那些承认你说了一个笑话而又不觉得有什么可笑的人一样,他并没有说什么。又来了别的客人,需要主人去周旋,我被丢在一边。当最后客人都已到齐,只等着宣布开饭的时候,我一边和一位叫我“陪同”的女客随便闲谈,一边思忖:文明社会这样消磨自己的心智,把短促的生命浪费在无聊的应酬上实在令人莫解。拿这一天的宴会来说,你不能不感到奇怪为什么女主人要请这些客人来,而为什么这些客人也会不嫌麻烦,接受邀请。当天一共有十位宾客。这些人见面时冷冷淡淡,分手时更有一种如释重负的感觉。当然了,这只是完成一次社交义务。思特里克兰德夫妇在人家吃过饭,“欠下”许多人情,对这些人他们本来是丝毫不感兴趣的。但是他们还是不得不回请这些人,而这些人也都应邀而来了。为什么这样做?是为了避免吃饭时总是夫妻对坐的厌烦,为了让仆人休息半天,还是因为没有理由谢绝,因为该着吃别人一顿饭?谁也说不清。

    餐厅非常拥挤,让人感到很不舒服。这些人中有一位皇家法律顾问和夫人,一位政府官员和夫人,思特里克兰德太太的姐姐和姐夫麦克安德鲁上校,还有一位议员的妻子。正是因为议员发现自己不能离开议院我才临时被请来补缺。这些客人的身份都非常高贵。女太太们因为知道自己的气派,所以并不太讲究衣着,而且因为知道自己的地位,也不想去讨人高兴。男人们个个雍容华贵。总之,所有这里的人都带着一种殷实富足、踌躇满志的神色。

    每个人都想叫宴会热闹一些,所以谈话的嗓门都比平常高了许多,屋子里一片喧哗。但是从来没有大家共同谈一件事的时候,每个人都在同他的邻座谈话,吃汤、鱼和小菜的当儿同右边的人谈,吃烤肉、甜食和开胃小吃的当儿同左边的人谈。他们谈政治形势,谈高尔夫球,谈孩子和新上演的戏,谈皇家艺术学院展出的绘画,谈天气,谈度假的计划。谈话一刻也没有中断过,声音也越来越响。思特里克兰德太太的宴会非常成功,她可以感到庆幸。她的丈夫举止非常得体。也许他没有谈很多话,我觉得饭快吃完的时候,坐在他两边的女客脸容都有些疲惫。她们肯定认为很难同他谈什么。有一两次思特里克兰德太太的目光带着些焦虑地落在他身上。

    最后,她站起来,带着一群女客离开屋子。在她们走出去以后,思特里克兰德把门关上,走到桌子的另一头,在皇家法律顾问和那位政府官员中间坐下来。他又一次把红葡萄酒传过来,给客人递雪茄。皇家法律顾问称赞酒很好,思特里克兰德告诉我们他是从什么地方买来的。我们开始谈论起酿酒同烟草来。皇家法律顾问给大家说了他正在审理的一个案件,上校谈起打马球的事。我没有什么事好说,所以只是坐在那里,装作很有礼貌地津津有味地听着别人谈话的样子。因为我知道这些人谁都和我无关,所以就从从容容地仔细打量起思特里克兰德来。他比我想象中的要高大一些;我不知道为什么我以前会认为他比较纤弱,貌不出众。实际上他生得魁梧壮实,大手大脚,晚礼服穿在身上有些笨拙,给人的印象多少同一个装扮起来参加宴会的马车夫差不多。他年纪约四十岁,相貌谈不上漂亮,但也不难看,因为他的五官都很端正,只不过都比一般人大了一号,所以显得有些粗笨。他的胡须刮得很干净,一张大脸光秃秃的让人看着很不舒服。他的头发颜色发红,剪得很短,眼睛比较小,是蓝色或者灰色的。他的相貌很平凡。我不再奇怪为什么思特里克兰德太太谈起他来总是有些不好意思了;对于一个想在文学艺术界取得一个位置的女人来说,他是很难给她增加光彩的。很清楚,他一点儿也没有社交的本领,但这也不一定人人都要有的。他甚至没有什么奇行怪癖,使他免于平凡庸俗之嫌。他只不过是一个忠厚老实、索然无味的普通人。一个人可以钦佩他的为人,却不愿意同他待在一起。他是一个毫不引人注意的人。他可能是一个令人起敬的社会成员,一个诚实的经纪人,一个恪尽职责的丈夫和父亲,但是在他身上你没有任何必要浪费时间。

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