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中英:月亮和六便士(38)

2006-08-22 21:35

    Chapter XXXVIII

    I did not see him again for nearly a week. Then he fetched me soon after seven one evening and took me out to dinner. He was dressed in the deepest mourning, and on his bowler was a broad black band. He had even a black border to his handkerchief. His garb of woe suggested that he had lost in one catastrophe every relation he had in the world, even to cousins by marriage twice removed. His plumpness and his red, fat cheeks made his mourning not a little incongruous. It was cruel that his extreme unhappiness should have in it something of buffoonery.

    He told me he had made up his mind to go away, though not to Italy, as I had suggested, but to Holland.

    "I'm starting to-morrow. This is perhaps the last time we shall ever meet. "

    I made an appropriate rejoinder, and he smiled wanly.

    "I haven't been home for five years. I think I'd forgotten it all; I seemed to have come so far away from my father's house that I was shy at the idea of revisiting it; but now I feel it's my only refuge. "

    He was sore and bruised, and his thoughts went back to the tenderness of his mother's love. The ridicule he had endured for years seemed now to weigh him down, and the final blow of Blanche's treachery had robbed him of the resiliency which had made him take it so gaily. He could no longer laugh with those who laughed at him. He was an outcast. He told me of his childhood in the tidy brick house, and of his mother's passionate orderliness. Her kitchen was a miracle of clean brightness. Everything was always in its place, and no where could you see a speck of dust. Cleanliness, indeed, was a mania with her. I saw a neat little old woman, with cheeks like apples, toiling away from morning to night, through the long years, to keep her house trim and spruce. His father was a spare old man, his hands gnarled after the work of a lifetime, silent and upright; in the evening he read the paper aloud, while his wife and daughter (now married to the captain of a fishing smack), unwilling to lose a moment, bent over their sewing. Nothing ever happened in that little town, left behind by the advance of civilisation, and one year followed the next till death came, like a friend, to give rest to those who had laboured so diligently.

    "My father wished me to become a carpenter like himself. For five generations we've carried on the same trade, from father to son. Perhaps that is the wisdom of life, to tread in your father's steps, and look neither to the right nor to the left. When I was a little boy I said I would marry the daughter of the harness-maker who lived next door. She was a little girl with blue eyes and a flaxen pigtail. She would have kept my house like a new pin, and I should have had a son to carry on the business after me. "

    Stroeve sighed a little and was silent. His thoughts dwelt among pictures of what might have been, and the safety of the life he had refused filled him with longing.

    "The world is hard and cruel. We are here none knows why, and we go none knows whither. We must be very humble. We must see the beauty of quietness. We must go through life so inconspicuously that Fate does not notice us. And let us seek the love of simple, ignorant people. Their ignorance is better than all our knowledge. Let us be silent, content in our little corner, meek and gentle like them. That is the wisdom of life. "

    To me it was his broken spirit that expressed itself, and I rebelled against his renunciation. But I kept my own counsel.

    "What made you think of being a painter?" I asked.

    He shrugged his shoulders.

    "It happened that I had a knack for drawing. I got prizes for it at school. My poor mother was very proud of my gift, and she gave me a box of water-colours as a present. She showed my sketches to the pastor and the doctor and the judge. And they sent me to Amsterdam to try for a scholarship, and I won it. Poor soul, she was so proud; and though it nearly broke her heart to part from me, she smiled, and would not show me her grief. She was pleased that her son should be an artist. They pinched and saved so that I should have enough to live on, and when my first picture was exhibited they came to Amsterdam to see it, my father and mother and my sister, and my mother cried when she looked at it. " His kind eyes glistened. "And now on every wall of the old house there is one of my pictures in a beautiful gold frame. "

    He glowed with happy pride. I thought of those cold scenes of his, with their picturesque peasants and cypresses and olive-trees. They must look queer in their garish frames on the walls of the peasant house.

    "The dear soul thought she was doing a wonderful thing for me when she made me an artist, but perhaps, after all, it would have been better for me if my father's will had prevailed and I were now but an honest carpenter. "

    "Now that you know what art can offer, would you change your life? Would you have missed all the delight it has given you?"

    "Art is the greatest thing in the world, " he answered, after a pause.

    He looked at me for a minute reflectively; he seemed to hesitate; then he said:

    "Did you know that I had been to see Strickland?"

    "You?"

    I was astonished. I should have thought he could not bear to set eyes on him. Stroeve smiled faintly.

    "You know already that I have no proper pride. "

    "What do you mean by that?"

    He told me a singular story.

    又有将近一个星期我没有再看到他。一天晚上刚过七点他来找我,约我出去吃晚饭。他身服重孝,圆顶硬礼帽上系着一条很宽的黑带子,连使用的手帕也镶着黑边。他的这身丧服说明在一次灾祸中他已经失去了世界上的一切亲属,甚至连姨表远亲也没有了。他的肥胖的身躯、又红又胖的面颊同身上的孝服很不协调。老天也真是残忍,竟让他这种无限凄怆悲惨带上某种滑稽可笑的成分。

    他告诉我他已打定主意要到外国去,但并不是去我所建议的意大利,而是荷兰。

    “我明天就动身。这也许是我们最后一次见面了。”

    我说了一句适当的答话,他勉强地笑了笑。

    “我已经有五年没回老家了。我想家里的情况我都忘记了。我好象离开祖传的老屋那么遥远,甚至都不好意思再回去探望它了。但是现在我觉得这是我唯一的栖身之地。”

    施特略夫现在遍体鳞伤,他的思想又让他回去寻找慈母的温情慰抚。多少年来他忍受的挪揄嘲笑现在好象已经把他压倒,勃朗什对他的背叛给他带来了最后一次打击,使他失去了以笑脸承受讥嘲的韧性。他不能再同那些嘲笑他的人一起放声大笑了。他已经成了一个摈弃于社会之外的人。他对我讲他在一所整洁有序的砖房子里消磨掉的童年。他的母亲生性爱好整洁,厨房收拾得干干净净、锃光瓦亮,简直是个奇迹。锅碗瓢盆都放得有条不紊,任何地方也找不出一星灰尘。说实在的,他母亲爱好清洁简直有些过头了。我仿佛看到了一个干净利落的小老太太,生着红里透白的面颊,从早到晚手脚不停闲,终生劬劳,把屋子收拾得井井有条,一尘不染。施特略夫的父亲是个瘦削的老人,因为终生劳动,两手骨节扭结,不言不语,诚实耿直。晚饭后他大声读着报纸,妻子和女儿(现在已经嫁给一个小渔船船长了)珍惜时间,埋头做针线活。文明日新月异,这个小城却好象被抛在后面,永远也不会发生什么事情,如此年复一年,直到死亡最后来临,象个老友似地给那些勤苦劳动一生的人带来永久的安息。

    “我父亲希望我象他一样做个木匠。我们家五代人都是干的这个行业,总是父一代子一代地传下去。也许这就是生活的智慧——永远踩着父亲的脚印走下去,既不左顾也不右盼。小的时候我对别人说我要同隔壁一家做马具人家的女儿结婚。她是一个蓝眼睛的小女孩,亚麻色的头发梳着一根小辫。要是同这个人结了婚,她也会把我的家收拾得井井有条,还会给我生个孩子接替我的行业。”

    施特略夫轻轻叹了一口气,沉默了一会儿。他的思想萦回在可能发生的这些图景上,他自动放弃的这种安全稳定的生活使他无限眷恋。

    “世界是无情的、残酷的。我们生到人世间没有人知道为了什么,我们死后没有人知道到何处去。我们必须自甘卑屈。我们必须看到冷清寂寥的美妙。在生活中我们一定不要出风头、露头角,惹起命运对我们注目。让我们去寻求那些淳朴、敦厚的人的爱情吧。他们的愚昧远比我们的知识更为可贵。让我们保持着沉默,满足于自己小小的天地,象他们一样平易温顺吧。这就是生活的智慧。”

    这一番话我听着象是他意志消沉的自白,我不同意他这种自暴自弃的态度。但是我也不想同他争辩,宣讲我的处世方针。

    “是什么使你想起当画家来呢?”我问他道。

    他耸了耸肩膀。

    “我凑巧有点儿绘画的才能。在学校读书的时候画图画得过奖。我的可怜的母亲很为我这种本领感到自豪,买了一盒水彩送给我。她还把我的图画拿给牧师、医生和法官去看。后来这些人把我送到阿姆斯特丹,让我试一试能不能考取奖学金入大学。我考取了。可怜的母亲,她骄傲得了不得。尽管同我分开使她非常难过,她还是强颜欢笑,不叫我看出她的伤心来。她非常高兴,自己的儿子能成为个艺术家。他们老两口省吃俭用,好叫我能够维持生活。当我的第一幅绘画参加展出的时候,他们到阿姆斯特丹看来了,我的父亲、母亲和妹妹都来了。我的母亲看见我的图画,眼泪都流出来了。”说到这里,施特略夫自己的眼睛也挂上了泪花。“现在老家的屋子四壁都挂着我的一张张画,镶在漂亮的金框子里。”

    他的一张脸因为幸福的骄傲而闪闪发亮。我又想起来他画的那些毫无生气的景物,穿得花花绿绿的农民啊、丝柏树啊、橄榄树啊什么的。这些画镶着很讲究的金框子,挂在一家村舍的墙上是多么不伦不类呀!

    “我那可怜的母亲认为她把我培养成一个艺术家是干了一件了不起的事,但是说不定要是父亲的想法得以实现,我如今只不过是个老老实实的木匠,对我说来倒更好一些。”

    “现在你已经了解了艺术会给人们带来些什么。你还愿意改变你的生活吗?你肯放弃艺术给与你的所有那些快感吗?”

    “艺术是世界上最伟大的东西。”他沉吟了片刻说。

    他沉思地看了我一会儿,好象对一件什么事拿不定主意。最后,他开口说:

    “你知道我去看思特里克兰德了吗?”

    “你?”

    我吃了一惊。我本来以为他非常恨他,决不会同他见面的。施特略夫的脸浮起一丝笑容。

    “你已经知道我这人是没有自尊心的。”

    “这话是什么意思?”

    他给我说了一个奇异的故事。

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