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中英:月亮和六便士(48)

2006-08-22 21:43

    Chapter XLVIII

    It is here that I purposed to end my book. My first idea was to begin it with the account of Strickland's last years in Tahiti and with his horrible death, and then to go back and relate what I knew of his beginnings. This I meant to do, not from wilfulness, but because I wished to leave Strickland setting out with I know not what fancies in his lonely soul for the unknown islands which fired his imagination. I liked the picture of him starting at the age of forty-seven, when most men have already settled comfortably in a groove, for a new world. I saw him, the sea gray under the mistral and foam-flecked, watching the vanishing coast of France, which he was destined never to see again; and I thought there was something gallant in his bearing and dauntless in his soul. I wished so to end on a note of hope. It seemed to emphasise the unconquerable spirit of man. But I could not manage it. Somehow I could not get into my story, and after trying once or twice I had to give it up; I started from the beginning in the usual way, and made up my mind I could only tell what I knew of Strickland's life in the order in which I learnt the facts.

    Those that I have now are fragmentary. I am in the position of a biologist who from a single bone must reconstruct not only the appearance of an extinct animal, but its habits. Strickland made no particular impression on the people who came in contact with him in Tahiti. To them he was no more than a beach-comber in constant need of money, remarkable only for the peculiarity that he painted pictures which seemed to them absurd; and it was not till he had been dead for some years and agents came from the dealers in Paris and Berlin to look for any pictures which might still remain on the island, that they had any idea that among them had dwelt a man of consequence. They remembered then that they could have bought for a song canvases which now were worth large sums, and they could not forgive themselves for the opportunity which had escaped them. There was a Jewish trader called Cohen, who had come by one of Strickland's pictures in a singular way. He was a little old Frenchman, with soft kind eyes and a pleasant smile, half trader and half seaman, who owned a cutter in which he wandered boldly among the Paumotus and the Marquesas, taking out trade goods and bringing back copra, shell, and pearls. I went to see him because I was told he had a large black pearl which he was willing to sell cheaply, and when I discovered that it was beyond my means I began to talk to him about Strickland. He had known him well.

    "You see, I was interested in him because he was a painter, " he told me. "We don't get many painters in the islands, and I was sorry for him because he was such a bad one. I gave him his first job. I had a plantation on the peninsula, and I wanted a white overseer. You never get any work out of the natives unless you have a white man over them. I said to him: `You'll have plenty of time for painting, and you can earn a bit of money. ' I knew he was starving, but I offered him good wages. "

    "I can't imagine that he was a very satisfactory overseer, " I said, smiling.

    "I made allowances. I have always had a sympathy for artists. It is in our blood, you know. But he only remained a few months. When he had enough money to buy paints and canvases he left me. The place had got hold of him by then, and he wanted to get away into the bush. But I continued to see him now and then. He would turn up in Papeete every few months and stay a little while; he'd get money out of someone or other and then disappear again. It was on one of these visits that he came to me and asked for the loan of two hundred francs. He looked as if he hadn't had a meal for a week, and I hadn't the heart to refuse him. Of course, I never expected to see my money again. Well, a year later he came to see me once more, and he brought a picture with him. He did not mention the money he owed me, but he said: `Here is a picture of your plantation that I've painted for you. ' I looked at it. I did not know what to say, but of course I thanked him, and when he had gone away I showed it to my wife. "

    "What was it like?" I asked.

    "Do not ask me. I could not make head or tail of it. I never saw such a thing in my life. `What shall we do with it?' I said to my wife. `We can never hang it up, ' she said. `People would laugh at us. ' So she took it into an attic and put it away with all sorts of rubbish, for my wife can never throw anything away. It is her mania. Then, imagine to yourself, just before the war my brother wrote to me from Paris, and said: `Do you know anything about an English painter who lived in Tahiti? It appears that he was a genius, and his pictures fetch large prices. See if you can lay your hands on anything and send it to me. There's money to be made. ' So I said to my wife. `What about that picture that Strickland gave me?' Is it possible that it is still in the attic?' `Without doubt, ' she answered, ` for you know that I never throw anything away. It is my mania. ' We went up to the attic, and there, among I know not what rubbish that had been gathered during the thirty years we have inhabited that house, was the picture. I looked at it again, and I said: `Who would have thought that the overseer of my plantation on the peninsula, to whom I lent two hundred francs, had genius? Do you see anything in the picture?' `No, ' she said, `it does not resemble the plantation and I have never seen cocoa-nuts with blue leaves; but they are mad in Paris, and it may be that your brother will be able to sell it for the two hundred francs you lent Strickland. ' Well, we packed it up and we sent it to my brother. And at last I received a letter from him. What do you think he said? `I received your picture, ' he said, `and I confess I thought it was a joke that you had played on me. I would not have given the cost of postage for the picture. I was half afraid to show it to the gentleman who had spoken to me about it. Imagine my surprise when he said it was a masterpiece, and offered me thirty thousand francs. I dare say he would have paid more, but frankly I was so taken aback that I lost my head; I accepted the offer before I was able to collect myself. '"

    Then Monsieur Cohen said an admirable thing.

    "I wish that poor Strickland had been still alive. I wonder what he would have said when I gave him twenty-nine thousand eight hundred francs for his picture. "

    这本书我本来准备就写到这里为止。我最初的计划是首先叙述一下思特里克兰德一生中最后几年是怎样在塔希提度过的,以及他悲惨的死亡,然后再回头来描写我所了解的他早年的生活。我预备这样做倒不是由于我的任性,而是因为想把思特里克兰德启程远航作为这本书的收尾;他那孤独的灵魂中怀着种种奇思遐想,终于向点燃起自己丰富想象的陌生的荒岛出发了。我喜欢这样一个画面:他活到四十七岁(到了这个年纪大多数人早已掉进舒适的生活沟槽里了)动身到天涯海角去寻找一个新世界;大海在凛冽的北风中一片灰蒙蒙,白沫四溅,他迷茫地盯视着逐渐消失、再也无法重见的法国海岸。我想他的这一行为含有某种豪迈的精神,他的灵魂里具有大无畏的勇气。我本来想让这本书结束的时候给人一线希望。我觉得这样也许能够突出思特里克兰德的不可征服的精神。但是我却写不好;不知为什么我不能把这些写下来,在试了一两次之后我还是放弃这样一个结构了。我走的还是老路子——从头儿开始。我决定按照我了解到的事实以先后顺序记叙我所知道的思特里克兰德的生平。

    我掌握的事实只是一些断简残篇。我的处境很象一个生物学家,根据一根骨骼不仅要重新塑造出一个早已灭绝的生物的外貌,还要推测出它的生活习惯。思特里克兰德没有给那些在塔希提同他有接触的人留下什么特别的印象。在这些人眼睛里,他只不过是一个永远缺钱花的流浪汉,唯一与众不同的地方是他爱画一些他们认为是莫名其妙的画。直到他死了多年以后,巴黎和柏林的画商陆续派来几个代理人搜寻思特里克兰德可能散失在岛上的遗作时,这些人才多少认识到在他们当中一度生活过一位了不起的人物。他们这时想起来,当时只要花一点点钱就能买到今天已经价值连城的名画,他们白白让机会从眼皮底下溜掉,真是追悔莫及。塔希提有一位姓寇汉的犹太商人,手里存着思特里克兰德的一幅画;他得到这幅画的情况有一点不寻常。寇汉是个法国小老头,生着一对温柔、善良的眼睛,脸上总是堆着笑容;他一半是商人,一半是水手,自己有一只快艇,常常勇敢地往来于包莫图斯群岛、马克萨斯和塔希提群岛之间,运去当地需要的商品,载回来椰子干、蚌壳和珍珠。我去看他是因为有人告诉我他有一颗大黑珍珠要廉价出售。后来我发现他的要价超过我的支付能力,我便同他谈起思特里克兰德来。他同思特里克兰德很熟。

    “你知道,我对他感兴趣是因为他是个画家,”他对我说,“很少有画家到我们这些岛上来,我很可怜他,因为我觉得他画的画很蹩脚。他的头一个工作就是我给他的。我在半岛上有一个种植园,需要一个白人监工。除非有个白人监督着他们,这些土人是绝不肯给你干活的。我对他说:”你有的是时间画画儿,你还可以挣点钱。‘我知道他正在挨饿,但是我给他的工资很高。“

    “我想他不是一个令人满意的监工。”我笑着说。

    “我对他的要求并不苛刻。我对艺术家总是同情的。我们一家人生来就是这样,你知道。但是他只干了几个月的活儿。等他攒够了钱,能够买油彩和画布的时候,他就想离开这地方,跑到荒林里去。但是我还是经常不断地能见到他。每过几个月他就到帕皮提来一次,待几天;他会从随便哪个人手里弄到点钱,于是又无影无踪了。正是在他这样一次访问时,他到我家里来,要向我借两百法郎。他的样子象是一个礼拜没吃一顿饱饭了,我不忍心拒绝他。当然了,我知道这笔钱我绝不会再要回来了。你猜怎么着,一年以后,他又来看我了,带着一幅画。他没提向我借钱的事,他只说:”这是一幅你那座种植园的画,是我给你画的。‘我看了看他的画。我不知道该说什么。当然了,我还是对他表示感谢。他走了以后,我把这幅画拿给我的妻子看。“

    “他画得怎么样?”我问。

    “别问我这个,我一点也看不懂。我活了一辈子也没见过这种画。‘这幅画咱们怎么办?’我问我的妻子说。‘什么时候也挂不出去,’她说,‘人家会笑掉大牙的,’就这样她把它拿到阁楼上,同各式各样的废物堆在一起。我的妻子什么东西也舍不得扔掉,这是她的习性。几年以后,你自己可以想象一下,正当大战爆发之前,我哥哥从巴黎给我写来一封信说:”你是否听说过一个在塔希提住过的英国人?看来这人是个天才,他的画现在能卖大钱。看看你有没有办法弄到他画的任何东西,给我寄来。这件事很能赚钱。‘于是我对我的妻子说:“思特里克兰德给我的那张画还有没有?会不会仍然在阁楼上放着呢?’‘没错儿,’她回答说,‘你也知道,我什么东西都不扔。这是我的毛病。’我们两人走到阁楼上,这里堆着自从我们住到这所房子的第一天起积攒了三十年的各式各样的破烂货。那幅画就在这些我也弄不清楚到底都是些什么的废物堆里面。我又仔细看了看。我说:”谁想得到,我的半岛上的种植园里的一个监工,一个向我借过两百法郎的人,居然是个伟大天才。你看得出这幅画哪点画得好吗?‘’看不出来,‘她说,’一点也不象咱们的种植园,再说我也从来没有见过椰子树长着蓝叶子。他们巴黎人简直发疯了,也说不定你哥哥能把那幅画卖两百法郎,正好能抵思特里克兰德欠我们的那笔债。‘不管怎么说。我们还是把画包装好,给我哥哥寄去了。最后我收到了他的回信。你猜他信里面怎么说?’画已收到,‘他说,’我必须承认,开始我还认为你在同我开玩笑。我真不应该出这笔寄费。我几乎没有胆量把它拿给同我谈过这件事的那位先生看。当他告诉我这是一件杰作,并出价三万法郎要购买它的时候,你可以想象到我是多么吃惊。我猜想他还肯出更多的钱。但是说老实话,这件事当时太出乎我的意料,弄得我简直晕头转向了。没等我脑子清醒过来以前,这笔生意已经拍板成交了。‘“

    接着,寇汉先生又说出几句着实令人起敬的话。

    “我希望可怜的思特里克兰德还活着,我真想知道,在我把两万九千八百法郎卖画的钱交到他手里的时候,他会说什么。”

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