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中英:月亮和六便士(15)

2006-08-22 21:17

    Chapter XV

    When I reached London I found waiting for me an urgent request that I should go to Mrs. Strickland's as soon after dinner as I could. I found her with Colonel MacAndrew and his wife. Mrs. Strickland's sister was older than she, not unlike her, but more faded; and she had the efficient air, as though she carried the British Empire in her pocket, which the wives of senior officers acquire from the consciousness of belonging to a superior caste. Her manner was brisk, and her good-breeding scarcely concealed her conviction that if you were not a soldier you might as well be a counter-jumper. She hated the Guards, whom she thought conceited, and she could not trust herself to speak of their ladies, who were so remiss in calling. Her gown was dowdy and expensive.

    Mrs. Strickland was plainly nervous.

    "Well, tell us your news, " she said.

    "I saw your husband. I'm afraid he's quite made up his mind not to return. " I paused a little. "He wants to paint. "

    "What do you mean?" cried Mrs. Strickland, with the utmost astonishment.

    "Did you never know that he was keen on that sort of thing. "

    "He must be as mad as a hatter, " exclaimed the Colonel.

    Mrs. Strickland frowned a little. She was searching among her recollections.

    "I remember before we were married he used to potter about with a paint-box. But you never saw such daubs. We used to chaff him. He had absolutely no gift for anything like that. "

    "Of course it's only an excuse, " said Mrs. MacAndrew.

    Mrs. Strickland pondered deeply for some time. It was quite clear that she could not make head or tail of my announcement. She had put some order into the drawing-room by now, her housewifely instincts having got the better of her dismay; and it no longer bore that deserted look, like a furnished house long to let, which I had noticed on my first visit after the catastrophe. But now that I had seen Strickland in Paris it was difficult to imagine him in those surroundings. I thought it could hardly have failed to strike them that there was something incongruous in him.

    "But if he wanted to be an artist, why didn't he say so?" asked Mrs. Strickland at last. "I should have thought I was the last person to be unsympathetic to —— to aspirations of that kind. "

    Mrs. MacAndrew tightened her lips. I imagine that she had never looked with approval on her sister's leaning towards persons who cultivated the arts. She spoke of "culchaw" derisively.

    Mrs. Strickland continued:

    "After all, if he had any talent I should be the first to encourage it. I wouldn't have minded sacrifices. I'd much rather be married to a painter than to a stockbroker. If it weren't for the children, I wouldn't mind anything. I could be just as happy in a shabby studio in Chelsea as in this flat. "

    "My dear, I have no patience with you, " cried Mrs. MacAndrew. "You don't mean to say you believe a word of this nonsense?"

    "But I think it's true, " I put in mildly.

    She looked at me with good-humoured contempt.

    "A man doesn't throw up his business and leave his wife and children at the age of forty to become a painter unless there's a woman in it. I suppose he met one of your —— artistic friends, and she's turned his head. "

    A spot of colour rose suddenly to Mrs. Strickland's pale cheeks.

    "What is she like?"

    I hesitated a little. I knew that I had a bombshell.

    "There isn't a woman. "

    Colonel MacAndrew and his wife uttered expressions of incredulity, and Mrs. Strickland sprang to her feet.

    "Do you mean to say you never saw her?"

    "There's no one to see. He's quite alone. "

    "That's preposterous, " cried Mrs. MacAndrew.

    "I knew I ought to have gone over myself, " said the Colonel. "You can bet your boots I'd have routed her out fast enough. "

    "I wish you had gone over, " I replied, somewhat tartly. "You'd have seen that every one of your suppositions was wrong. He's not at a smart hotel. He's living in one tiny room in the most squalid way. If he's left his home, it's not to live a gay life. He's got hardly any money. "

    "Do you think he's done something that we don't know about, and is lying doggo on account of the police?"

    The suggestion sent a ray of hope in all their breasts, but I would have nothing to do with it.

    "If that were so, he would hardly have been such a fool as to give his partner his address, " I retorted acidly. "Anyhow, there's one thing I'm positive of, he didn't go away with anyone. He's not in love. Nothing is farther from his thoughts. "

    There was a pause while they reflected over my words.

    "Well, if what you say is true, " said Mrs. MacAndrew at last, "things aren't so bad as I thought. "

    Mrs. Strickland glanced at her, but said nothing.

    She was very pale now, and her fine brow was dark and lowering. I could not understand the expression of her face. Mrs. MacAndrew continued:

    "If it's just a whim, he'll get over it. "

    "Why don't you go over to him, Amy?" hazarded the Colonel. "There's no reason why you shouldn't live with him in Paris for a year. We'll look after the children. I dare say he'd got stale. Sooner or later he'll be quite ready to come back to London, and no great harm will have been done. "

    "I wouldn't do that, " said Mrs. MacAndrew. "I'd give him all the rope he wants. He'll come back with his tail between his legs and settle down again quite comfortably. " Mrs. MacAndrew looked at her sister coolly. "Perhaps you weren't very wise with him sometimes. Men are queer creatures, and one has to know how to manage them. "

    Mrs. MacAndrew shared the common opinion of her sex that a man is always a brute to leave a woman who is attached to him, but that a woman is much to blame if he does. Le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connait pas.

    Mrs. Strickland looked slowly from one to another of us.

    "He'll never come back, " she said.

    "Oh, my dear, remember what we've just heard. He's been used to comfort and to having someone to look after him. How long do you think it'll be before he gets tired of a scrubby room in a scrubby hotel? Besides, he hasn't any money. He must come back. "

    "As long as I thought he'd run away with some woman I thought there was a chance. I don't believe that sort of thing ever answers. He'd have got sick to death of her in three months. But if he hasn't gone because he's in love, then it's finished. "

    "Oh, I think that's awfully subtle, " said the Colonel, putting into the word all the contempt he felt for a quality so alien to the traditions of his calling. "Don't you believe it. He'll come back, and, as Dorothy says, I dare say he'll be none the worse for having had a bit of a fling. "

    "But I don't want him back, " she said.

    "Amy!"

    It was anger that had seized Mrs. Strickland, and her pallor was the pallor of a cold and sudden rage. She spoke quickly now, with little gasps.

    "I could have forgiven it if he'd fallen desperately in love with someone and gone off with her. I should have thought that natural. I shouldn't really have blamed him. I should have thought he was led away. Men are so weak, and women are so unscrupulous. But this is different. I hate him. I'll never forgive him now. "

    Colonel MacAndrew and his wife began to talk to her together. They were astonished. They told her she was mad. They could not understand. Mrs. Strickland turned desperately to me.

    "Don't you see?" she cried.

    "I'm not sure. Do you mean that you could have forgiven him if he'd left you for a woman, but not if he's left you for an idea? You think you're a match for the one, but against the other you're helpless?"

    Mrs. Strickland gave mt a look in which I read no great friendliness, but did not answer. Perhaps I had struck home. She went on in a low and trembling voice:

    "I never knew it was possible to hate anyone as much as I hate him. Do you know, I've been comforting myself by thinking that however long it lasted he'd want me at the end? I knew when he was dying he'd send for me, and I was ready to go; I'd have nursed him like a mother, and at the last I'd have told him that it didn't matter, I'd loved him always, and I forgave him everything. "

    I have always been a little disconcerted by the passion women have for behaving beautifully at the death-bed of those they love. Sometimes it seems as if they grudge the longevity which postpones their chance of an effective scene.

    "But now —— now it's finished. I'm as indifferent to him as if he were a stranger. I should like him to die miserable, poor, and starving, without a friend. I hope he'll rot with some loathsome disease. I've done with him. "

    I thought it as well then to say what Strickland had suggested.

    "If you want to divorce him, he's quite willing to do whatever is necessary to make it possible. "

    "Why should I give him his freedom?"

    "I don't think he wants it. He merely thought it might be more convenient to you. "

    Mrs. Strickland shrugged her shoulders impatiently. I think I was a little disappointed in her. I expected then people to be more of a piece than I do now, and I was distressed to find so much vindictiveness in so charming a creature. I did not realise how motley are the qualities that go to make up a human being. Now I am well aware that pettiness and grandeur, malice and charity, hatred and love, can find place side by side in the same human heart.

    I wondered if there was anything I could say that would ease the sense of bitter humiliation which at present tormented Mrs. Strickland. I thought I would try.

    "You know, I'm not sure that your husband is quite responsible for his actions. I do not think he is himself. He seems to me to be possessed by some power which is using him for its own ends, and in whose hold he is as helpless as a fly in a spider's web. It's as though someone had cast a spell over him. I'm reminded of those strange stories one sometimes hears of another personality entering into a man and driving out the old one. The soul lives unstably in the body, and is capable of mysterious transformations. In the old days they would say Charles Strickland had a devil. "

    Mrs. MacAndrew smoothed down the lap of her gown, and gold bangles fell over her wrists.

    "All that seems to me very far-fetched, " she said acidly. "I don't deny that perhaps Amy took her husband a little too much for granted. If she hadn't been so busy with her own affairs, I can't believe that she wouldn't have suspected something was the matter. I don't think that Alec could have something on his mind for a year or more without my having a pretty shrewd idea of it. "

    The Colonel stared into vacancy, and I wondered whether anyone could be quite so innocent of guile as he looked.

    "But that doesn't prevent the fact that Charles Strickland is a heartless beast. " She looked at me severely. "I can tell you why he left his wife —— from pure selfishness and nothing else whatever. "

    "That is certainly the simplest explanation, " I said. But I thought it explained nothing. When, saying I was tired, I rose to go, Mrs. Strickland made no attempt to detain me.

    我回到伦敦家里,发现有一封急信在等着我,叫我一吃过晚饭就到思特里克兰德太太那里去。我在她家里也看到了麦克安德鲁上校同他的妻子。思特里克兰德太太的姐姐比思特里克兰德太太年纪大几岁,样子同她差不多,只是更衰老一些。这个女人显出一副精明能干的样子,仿佛整个大英帝国都揣在她口袋里似的;一些高级官员的太太深知自己属于优越的阶层,总是带着这种神气的。麦克安德鲁太太精神抖擞,言谈举止表现得很有教养,但却很难掩饰她那根深蒂固的偏见:如果你不是军人,就连站柜台的小职员还不如。她讨厌近卫队军官,认为这些人傲气;不屑于谈论这些官员的老婆,认为她们出身低微。麦克安德鲁上校太太的衣服不是时兴的样式,价钱却很昂贵。

    思特里克兰德太太显然十分紧张。

    “好了,给我们讲讲你的新闻吧,”她说。

    “我见到你丈夫了。我担心他已经拿定主意不再回来了。”我停了一会儿。“他想画画儿。”

    “你说什么?”思特里克兰德太太喊叫起来,惊奇得不知所以。

    “你一点儿也不知道他喜欢画画儿?”

    “这人简直神经失常了,”上校大声说。

    思特里克兰德太太皱了皱眉头。她苦苦地搜索她的记忆。

    “我记得在我们结婚以前他常常带着个颜料盒到处跑。可是他画的画儿要多难看有多难看。我们常常打趣他。他对这种事可以说一点才能也没有。”

    “当然没有,这只不过是个借口,”麦克安德鲁太太说。

    思特里克兰德太太又仔细思索了一会儿。非常清楚,她对我带来的这个消息完全不理解。这次她已经把客厅略微收拾了一下,不象出了事以后我第一次到这里来时那样冷冷清清、仿佛等待出租的带家具的房间那样了。但是在我同思特里克兰德在巴黎会过面以后,却很难想象他是属于这种环境的人了。我觉得他们这些人也不会没有觉察思特里克兰德有一些怪异的地方。

    “但是如果他想当画家,为什么不告诉我呢?”思特里克兰德太太最后开口说。“我想,对于他这种——这种志趣我是绝不会不同情支持的。”

    麦克安德鲁太太的嘴唇咬紧了。我猜想,她妹妹喜好结交文人艺术家的脾气,她从来就不赞成。她一说到“文艺”这个词,就露出满脸鄙夷不屑的神情。

    思特里克兰德太太又接着说:

    “不管怎么说,要是他有才能,我会第一个出头鼓励他。什么牺牲我都不会计较的。同证券经纪人比起来,我还更愿意嫁给一个画家呢。如果不是为了孩子,我什么也不在乎。住在柴尔西一间破旧的画室里我会象住在这所房子里同样快乐。”

    “亲爱的,我可真要生你的气了,”麦克安德鲁太太叫喊起来,“看你的意思,这些鬼话你真相信了?”

    “可我认为这是真实情况,”我婉转地表示自己的意见说。

    她又好气又好笑地看了我一眼。

    “一个四十岁的人是不会为了要当画家而丢弃了工作、扔掉了妻子儿女的,除非这里面搀和着一个女人。我猜想他一定是遇见了你的哪个——艺术界的朋友,被她迷上了。”

    思特里克兰德太太苍白的面颊上突然泛上一层红晕。

    “她是怎样一个人?”

    我没有立刻回答。我知道我给他们准备了一颗炸弹。

    “没有女人。”

    麦克安德鲁上校和他的妻子部表示不能相信地喊叫起来;思特里克兰德太太甚至从椅子上跳起来。

    “你是说你一次也没有看见她?”

    “根本就没有人,叫我去看谁?他只有一个人。”

    “这是世界上没有的事,”麦克安德鲁太太喊道。

    “我早就知道得我自己跑一趟,”上校说,“我敢和你们打赌,我一定能马上就把那个女人搜寻出来。”

    “我也希望你自己去,”我不很客气地回答,“你就会看到你的那些猜想没有一点是对的。他并没有住在时髦的旅馆里。他住的是一间极其寒酸的小房间。他离开家绝不是去过花天酒地的生活。他简直没有什么钱。”

    “你想他会不会做了什么我们都不知道的事,怕警察找他的麻烦,所以躲起来避避风?”

    这个提示使每个人心头闪现了一线希望,但是我却认为这纯粹是想入非非。

    “如果是这种情况,他就不会做出那种傻事来,把自己的地址告诉他的伙友,”我以尖酸的口吻驳斥说,“不管怎么说,有一件事我绝对敢保证,他并不是同别人一块走的。他没有爱上谁。他的脑子里一点儿也没想到这种事。”

    谈话中断了一会儿,他们在思索我这一番话。

    “好吧,如果你说的是真的,”麦克安德鲁太太最后开口说,“事情倒不象我想的那么糟。”

    思特里克兰德太太看了她一眼,没有吭声。她的脸色这时变得非常苍白,秀丽的眉毛显得很黑,向下低垂着。我不能理解她脸上的这种神情。

    “你为什么不找他去啊,阿美?”上校出了个主意,“你完全可以同他一起在巴黎住一年。孩子由我们照管。我敢说他不久就会厌倦了。早晚有一天他会回心转意,准备回伦敦来。一场风波就算过去了。”

    “要是我就不那么做,”麦克安德鲁太太说,“他爱怎么样我就让他怎么样。有一天他会夹着尾巴回家来,老老实实地过他的舒服日子。”说到这里,麦克安德鲁太太冷冷地看了她妹妹一眼。“你同他一起生活,也许有些时候太不聪明了。男人都是些奇怪的动物,你该知道怎样驾御他们。”

    麦克安德鲁太太和大多数女性的见解相同,认为男人们都是一些没有心肝的畜类,总想丢开倾心爱着他们的女人,但是一旦他真的做出这种事来,更多的过错是在女人这一方面。感情有理智所根本不能理解的理由①。

    ①原文为法语

    思特里克兰德太太的眼睛痴痴呆呆地从一个人的脸上移到另一个人脸上。

    “他永远也不会回来了。”她说。

    “啊,亲爱的,你要记住刚才咱们听到的那些话。他已经过惯了舒适生活,过惯了有人照料他的日子。你想他在那种破烂的小旅馆里,破烂的房间里能待得了多久吗?再说,他没有什么钱。他一定会回来的。”

    “只要他是同一个女人跑掉的,我总认为他还有回来的可能。我不相信这类事能闹出什么名堂来的。不出三个月他对她就会讨厌死了。但是如果他不是因为恋爱跑掉的,一切就都完了。”

    “哎,我认为你说的这些太玄虚了,”上校说,这种人性是他的职业传统所不能理解的,他把自己对这种特性的全部蔑视都用“玄虚”这个词表现出来,“别相信这一套。他会回来的,而且象陶乐赛说的,让他在外头胡闹一阵子我想也不会有什么坏处的。”

    “但是我不要他回来了。”她说。

    “阿美!”

    一阵狂怒这时突然把思特里克兰德太太攫住,她的一张脸气得煞白,一点血色也没有。下面的话她说得很快,每说几个字就喘一口气。

    “他要是发疯地爱上一个人,同她逃跑,我是能够原谅他的。我会认为这种事是很自然的。我不会太责备他。我会想他是被拐骗走的。男人心肠很软,女人又什么手段都使得出来。但是现在却不是这么回事。我恨他。我现在永远也不会原谅他了。”

    麦克安德鲁上校和他的妻子一起劝解她。他们感到很吃惊。他们说她发疯了。他们不理解她。思特里克兰德太太在一阵绝望中向我求援。

    “你明白我的意思吗?”她喊道。

    “我不敢说。你的意思是:如果他为了一个女人离开你,你是可以宽恕他的;如果他为了一个理想离开你,你就不能了,对不对?你认为你是前者的对手,可是同后者较量起来,就无能为力了,是不是这样?”

    思特里克兰德太太狠狠地盯了我一眼,没有说什么。也许我的话说中了她的要害。她继续用低沉的、颤抖的声音说:

    “我还从来没有象恨他这样恨过一个人呢。你知道,我一直宽慰自己说,不管这件事继续多久,最终他还是要我的。我想在他临终的时候他会叫我去,我也准备去。我会象一个母亲那样看护他,最后我还会告诉他,过去的事我不记在心里,我一直爱他,他做的任何事我都原谅他。”

    女人们总是喜欢在她们所爱的人临终前表现得宽宏大量,她们的这种偏好叫我实在难以忍受。有时候我甚至觉得她们不愿意男人寿命太长,就是怕把演出这幕好戏的机会拖得太晚。

    “但是现在——现在什么都完了。我对他就象对一个路人似的什么感情也没有了。我真希望他死的时候贫困潦倒、饥寒交迫,一个亲人也不在身边。我真希望他染上恶疮,浑身腐烂。我同他的关系算完了。”

    我想我不妨趁这个时候把思特里克兰德的建议说出来。

    “如果你想同他离婚,他很愿意给你制造任何离婚所需要的口实。”

    “为什么我要给他自由呢?”

    “我认为他不需要这种自由。他不过想这样做可能对你更方便一些。”

    思特里克兰德太太不耐烦地耸了耸肩膀。我觉得我对她有些失望。当时我还同今天不一样,总认为人的性格是单纯统一的;当我发现这样一个温柔可爱的女性报复心居然这么重的时候,我感到很丧气。那时我还没认识到一个人的性格是极其复杂的。今天我已经认识到这一点了:卑鄙与伟大、恶毒与善良、仇恨与热爱是可以互不排斥地并存在同一颗心里的。

    我不知道我能否说几句什么,减轻一些当时正在折磨着思特里克兰德太太的屈辱。我想我还是该试一试。

    “你知道,我不敢肯定你丈夫的行动是不是要由他自己负责。我觉得他已经不是他自己了。他好象被一种什么力量抓住了,正在被利用来完成这种势力所追逐的目标。他象是被捕捉到蛛网里的一只苍蝇,已经失去挣扎的能力。他象被符咒逮住了一样。这使我想起人们常常说的那种奇怪的故事:另一个人的精神走进一个人的躯体里,把他自己的赶了出去。人的灵魂在躯体内很不稳定,常常会发生神秘的变化。如果在过去,人们就会说查理斯。思特里克兰德是魔鬼附体了。

    麦克安德鲁太太把她衣服的下摆理平,臂上的金钏滑落到手腕上。

    “你说的这些话我觉得太离奇了点儿,”她尖酸地说,“我不否认,也许阿美对她丈夫过于放任了。如果她不是只顾埋头于自己的事,我想她一定会发觉思特里克兰德的行为有些异样的。如果阿莱克有什么心事,我不相信事过一年多还不被我看得清清楚楚的。”

    上校眼睛茫然望着空中,我很想知道有谁的样子能象他这样胸襟坦荡、心地清白。

    “但这丝毫也改变不了查理斯。思特里克兰德心肠冷酷的事实。”她面孔板得紧紧的,看了我一眼。“我可以告诉你为什么他抛弃了自己的妻子——纯粹是出于自私,再也没有其他理由了。”

    “这肯定是最易于为人们接受的解释了,”我说。但是我心里却想:这等于什么也没有解释。最后我说身体有些劳累,便起身告辞了。思特里克兰德太太并没有留我多坐一会儿的意思。

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