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中英:月亮和六便士(47)

2006-08-22 21:42

    Chapter XLVII

    I have tried to put some connection into the various things Captain Nichols told me about Strickland, and I here set them down in the best order I can. They made one another's acquaintance during the latter part of the winter following my last meeting with Strickland in Paris. How he had passed the intervening months I do not know, but life must have been very hard, for Captain Nichols saw him first in the Asile de Nuit. There was a strike at Marseilles at the time, and Strickland, having come to the end of his resources, had apparently found it impossible to earn the small sum he needed to keep body and soul together.

    The Asile de Nuit is a large stone building where pauper and vagabond may get a bed for a week, provided their papers are in order and they can persuade the friars in charge that they are workingmen. Captain Nichols noticed Strickland for his size and his singular appearance among the crowd that waited for the doors to open; they waited listlessly, some walking to and fro, some leaning against the wall, and others seated on the curb with their feet in the gutter; and when they filed into the office he heard the monk who read his papers address him in English. But he did not have a chance to speak to him, since, as he entered the common-room, a monk came in with a huge Bible in his arms, mounted a pulpit which was at the end of the room, and began the service which the wretched outcasts had to endure as the price of their lodging. He and Strickland were assigned to different rooms, and when, thrown out of bed at five in the morning by a stalwart monk, he had made his bed and washed his face, Strickland had already disappeared. Captain Nichols wandered about the streets for an hour of bitter cold, and then made his way to the Place Victor Gelu, where the sailor-men are wont to congregate. Dozing against the pedestal of a statue, he saw Strickland again. He gave him a kick to awaken him.

    "Come and have breakfast, mate, " he said.

    "Go to hell, " answered Strickland.

    I recognised my friend's limited vocabulary, and I prepared to regard Captain Nichols as a trustworthy witness.

    "Busted?" asked the Captain.

    "Blast you, " answered Strickland.

    "Come along with me. I'll get you some breakfast. "

    After a moment's hesitation, Strickland scrambled to his feet, and together they went to the Bouchee de Pain, where the hungry are given a wedge of bread, which they must eat there and then, for it is forbidden to take it away; and then to the Cuillere de Soupe, where for a week, at eleven and four, you may get a bowl of thin, salt soup. The two buildings are placed far apart, so that only the starving should be tempted to make use of them. So they had breakfast, and so began the queer companionship of Charles Strickland and Captain Nichols.

    They must have spent something like four months at Marseilles in one another's society. Their career was devoid of adventure, if by adventure you mean unexpected or thrilling incident, for their days were occupied in the pursuit of enough money to get a night's lodging and such food as would stay the pangs of hunger. But I wish I could give here the pictures, coloured and racy, which Captain Nichols' vivid narrative offered to the imagination. His account of their discoveries in the low life of a seaport town would have made a charming book, and in the various characters that came their way the student might easily have found matter for a very complete dictionary of rogues. But I must content myself with a few paragraphs. I received the impression of a life intense and brutal, savage, multicoloured, and vivacious. It made the Marseilles that I knew, gesticulating and sunny, with its comfortable hotels and its restaurants crowded with the well-to-do, tame and commonplace. I envied men who had seen with their own eyes the sights that Captain Nichols described.

    When the doors of the Asile de Nuit were closed to them, Strickland and Captain Nichols sought the hospitality of Tough Bill. This was the master of a sailors' boarding-house, a huge mulatto with a heavy fist, who gave the stranded mariner food and shelter till he found him a berth. They lived with him a month, sleeping with a dozen others, Swedes, negroes, Brazilians, on the floor of the two bare rooms in his house which he assigned to his charges; and every day they went with him to the Place Victor Gelu, whither came ships' captains in search of a man. He was married to an American woman, obese and slatternly, fallen to this pass by Heaven knows what process of degradation, and every day the boarders took it in turns to help her with the housework. Captain Nichols looked upon it as a smart piece of work on Strickland's part that he had got out of this by painting a portrait of Tough Bill. Tough Bill not only paid for the canvas, colours, and brushes, but gave Strickland a pound of smuggled tobacco into the bargain. For all I know, this picture may still adorn the parlour of the tumbledown little house somewhere near the Quai de la Joliette, and I suppose it could now be sold for fifteen hundred pounds. Strickland's idea was to ship on some vessel bound for Australia or New Zealand, and from there make his way to Samoa or Tahiti. I do not know how he had come upon the notion of going to the South Seas, though I remember that his imagination had long been haunted by an island, all green and sunny, encircled by a sea more blue than is found in Northern latitudes. I suppose that he clung to Captain Nichols because he was acquainted with those parts, and it was Captain Nichols who persuaded him that he would be more comfortable in Tahiti.

    "You see, Tahiti's French, " he explained to me. "And the French aren't so damned technical. "

    I thought I saw his point.

    Strickland had no papers, but that was not a matter to disconcert Tough Bill when he saw a profit (he took the first month's wages of the sailor for whom he found a berth), and he provided Strickland with those of an English stoker who had providentially died on his hands. But both Captain Nichols and Strickland were bound East, and it chanced that the only opportunities for signing on were with ships sailing West. Twice Strickland refused a berth on tramps sailing for the United States, and once on a collier going to Newcastle. Tough Bill had no patience with an obstinacy which could only result in loss to himself, and on the last occasion he flung both Strickland and Captain Nichols out of his house without more ado. They found themselves once more adrift.

    Tough Bill's fare was seldom extravagant, and you rose from his table almost as hungry as you sat down, but for some days they had good reason to regret it. They learned what hunger was. The Cuillere de Soupe and the Asile de Nuit were both closed to them, and their only sustenance was the wedge of bread which the Bouchee de Pain provided. They slept where they could, sometimes in an empty truck on a siding near the station, sometimes in a cart behind a warehouse; but it was bitterly cold, and after an hour or two of uneasy dozing they would tramp the streets again. What they felt the lack of most bitterly was tobacco, and Captain Nichols, for his part, could not do without it; he took to hunting the "Can o' Beer, " for cigarette-ends and the butt-end of cigars which the promenaders of the night before had thrown away.

    "I've tasted worse smoking mixtures in a pipe, " he added, with a philosophic shrug of his shoulders, as he took a couple of cigars from the case I offered him, putting one in his mouth and the other in his pocket.

    Now and then they made a bit of money. Sometimes a mail steamer would come in, and Captain Nichols, having scraped acquaintance with the timekeeper, would succeed in getting the pair of them a job as stevedores. When it was an English boat, they would dodge into the forecastle and get a hearty breakfast from the crew. They took the risk of running against one of the ship's officers and being hustled down the gangway with the toe of a boot to speed their going.

    "There's no harm in a kick in the hindquarters when your belly's full, " said Captain Nichols, "and personally I never take it in bad part. An officer's got to think about discipline. "

    I had a lively picture of Captain Nichols flying headlong down a narrow gangway before the uplifted foot of an angry mate, and, like a true Englishman, rejoicing in the spirit of the Mercantile Marine.

    There were often odd jobs to be got about the fish-market. Once they each of them earned a franc by loading trucks with innumerable boxes of oranges that had been dumped down on the quay. One day they had a stroke of luck: one of the boarding-masters got a contract to paint a tramp that had come in from Madagascar round the Cape of Good Hope, and they spent several days on a plank hanging over the side, covering the rusty hull with paint. It was a situation that must have appealed to Strickland's sardonic humour. I asked Captain Nichols how he bore himself during these hardships.

    "Never knew him say a cross word, " answered the Captain. "He'd be a bit surly sometimes, but when we hadn't had a bite since morning, and we hadn't even got the price of a lie down at the Chink's, he'd be as lively as a cricket. "

    I was not surprised at this. Strickland was just the man to rise superior to circumstances, when they were such as to occasion despondency in most; but whether this was due to equanimity of soul or to contradictoriness it would be difficult to say.

    The Chink's Head was a name the beach-combers gave to a wretched inn off the Rue Bouterie, kept by a one-eyed Chinaman, where for six sous you could sleep in a cot and for three on the floor. Here they made friends with others in as desperate condition as themselves, and when they were penniless and the night was bitter cold, they were glad to borrow from anyone who had earned a stray franc during the day the price of a roof over their heads. They were not niggardly, these tramps, and he who had money did not hesitate to share it among the rest. They belonged to all the countries in the world, but this was no bar to good-fellowship; for they felt themselves freemen of a country whose frontiers include them all, the great country of Cockaine.

    "But I guess Strickland was an ugly customer when he was roused, " said Captain Nichols, reflectively. "One day we ran into Tough Bill in the Place, and he asked Charlie for the papers he'd given him. "

    "`You'd better come and take them if you want them, ' says Charlie.

    "He was a powerful fellow, Tough Bill, but he didn't quite like the look of Charlie, so he began cursing him. He called him pretty near every name he could lay hands on, and when Tough Bill began cursing it was worth listening to him. Well, Charlie stuck it for a bit, then he stepped forward and he just said: `Get out, you bloody swine. ' It wasn't so much what he said, but the way he said it. Tough Bill never spoke another word; you could see him go yellow, and he walked away as if he'd remembered he had a date. "

    Strickland, according to Captain Nichols, did not use exactly the words I have given, but since this book is meant for family reading I have thought it better, at the expense of truth, to put into his mouth expressions familiar to the domestic circle.

    Now, Tough Bill was not the man to put up with humiliation at the hands of a common sailor. His power depended on his prestige, and first one, then another, of the sailors who lived in his house told them that he had sworn to do Strickland in.

    One night Captain Nichols and Strickland were sitting in one of the bars of the Rue Bouterie. The Rue Bouterie is a narrow street of one-storeyed houses, each house consisting of but one room; they are like the booths in a crowded fair or the cages of animals in a circus. At every door you see a woman. Some lean lazily against the side-posts, humming to themselves or calling to the passer-by in a raucous voice, and some listlessly read. They are French. Italian, Spanish, Japanese, coloured; some are fat and some are thin; and under the thick paint on their faces, the heavy smears on their eyebrows, and the scarlet of their lips, you see the lines of age and the scars of dissipation. Some wear black shifts and flesh-coloured stockings; some with curly hair, dyed yellow, are dressed like little girls in short muslin frocks. Through the open door you see a red-tiled floor, a large wooden bed, and on a deal table a ewer and a basin. A motley crowd saunters along the streets —— Lascars off a P. and O. , blond Northmen from a Swedish barque, Japanese from a man-of-war, English sailors, Spaniards, pleasant-looking fellows from a French cruiser, negroes off an American tramp. By day it is merely sordid, but at night, lit only by the lamps in the little huts, the street has a sinister beauty. The hideous lust that pervades the air is oppressive and horrible, and yet there is something mysterious in the sight which haunts and troubles you. You feel I know not what primitive force which repels and yet fascinates you. Here all the decencies of civilisation are swept away, and you feel that men are face to face with a sombre reality. There is an atmosphere that is at once intense and tragic.

    In the bar in which Strickland and Nichols sat a mechanical piano was loudly grinding out dance music. Round the room people were sitting at table, here half a dozen sailors uproariously drunk, there a group of soldiers; and in the middle, crowded together, couples were dancing. Bearded sailors with brown faces and large horny hands clasped their partners in a tight embrace. The women wore nothing but a shift. Now and then two sailors would get up and dance together. The noise was deafening. People were singing, shouting, laughing; and when a man gave a long kiss to the girl sitting on his knees, cat-calls from the English sailors increased the din. The air was heavy with the dust beaten up by the heavy boots of the men, and gray with smoke. It was very hot. Behind the bar was seated a woman nursing her baby. The waiter, an undersized youth with a flat, spotty face, hurried to and fro carrying a tray laden with glasses of beer.

    In a little while Tough Bill, accompanied by two huge negroes, came in, and it was easy to see that he was already three parts drunk. He was looking for trouble. He lurched against a table at which three soldiers were sitting and knocked over a glass of beer. There was an angry altercation, and the owner of the bar stepped forward and ordered Tough Bill to go. He was a hefty fellow, in the habit of standing no nonsense from his customers, and Tough Bill hesitated. The landlord was not a man he cared to tackle, for the police were on his side, and with an oath he turned on his heel. Suddenly he caught sight of Strickland. He rolled up to him. He did not speak. He gathered the spittle in his mouth and spat full in Strickland's face. Strickland seized his glass and flung it at him. The dancers stopped suddenly still. There was an instant of complete silence, but when Tough Bill threw himself on Strickland the lust of battle seized them all, and in a moment there was a confused scrimmage. Tables were overturned, glasses crashed to the ground. There was a hellish row. The women scattered to the door and behind the bar. Passers-by surged in from the street. You heard curses in every tongue the sound of blows, cries; and in the middle of the room a dozen men were fighting with all their might. On a sudden the police rushed in, and everyone who could made for the door. When the bar was more or less cleared, Tough Bill was lying insensible on the floor with a great gash in his head. Captain Nichols dragged Strickland, bleeding from a wound in his arm, his clothes in rags, into the street. His own face was covered with blood from a blow on the nose.

    "I guess you'd better get out of Marseilles before Tough Bill comes out of hospital, " he said to Strickland, when they had got back to the Chink's Head and were cleaning themselves.

    "This beats cock-fighting, " said Strickland.

    I could see his sardonic smile.

    Captain Nichols was anxious. He knew Tough Bill's vindictiveness. Strickland had downed the mulatto twice, and the mulatto, sober, was a man to be reckoned with. He would bide his time stealthily. He would be in no hurry, but one night Strickland would get a knife-thrust in his back, and in a day or two the corpse of a nameless beach-comber would be fished out of the dirty water of the harbour. Nichols went next evening to Tough Bill's house and made enquiries. He was in hospital still, but his wife, who had been to see him, said he was swearing hard to kill Strickland when they let him out.

    A week passed.

    "That's what I always say, " reflected Captain Nichols, "when you hurt a man, hurt him bad. It gives you a bit of time to look about and think what you'll do next. "

    Then Strickland had a bit of luck. A ship bound for Australia had sent to the Sailors' Home for a stoker in place of one who had thrown himself overboard off Gibraltar in an attack of delirium tremens.

    "You double down to the harbour, my lad, " said the Captain to Strickland, "and sign on. You've got your papers. "

    Strickland set off at once, and that was the last Captain Nichols saw of him. The ship was only in port for six hours, and in the evening Captain Nichols watched the vanishing smoke from her funnels as she ploughed East through the wintry sea.

    I have narrated all this as best I could, because I like the contrast of these episodes with the life that I had seen Strickland live in Ashley Gardens when he was occupied with stocks and shares; but I am aware that Captain Nichols was an outrageous liar, and I dare say there is not a word of truth in anything he told me. I should not be surprised to learn that he had never seen Strickland in his life, and owed his knowledge of Marseilles to the pages of a magazine.

    我试图把尼柯尔斯船长给我讲的一些有关思特里克兰德的事连贯起来,下面我将尽量按照事情发生的先后次序记载。他们两人是我同思特里克兰德在巴黎最后会面的那年冬末认识的。思特里克兰德和尼柯尔斯船长相遇以前的一段日子是怎么过的,我一点也不清楚;但是他的生活肯定非常潦倒,因为尼柯尔斯船长第一次看到他是在夜宿店里。当时马赛正发生一场罢工,思特里克兰德已经到了山穷水尽的地步,显然连勉强赖以糊口的一点钱也挣不到了。

    夜宿店是一幢庞大的石头建筑物,穷人和流浪汉,凡是持有齐全的身份证明并能让负责这一机构的修道士相信他本是干活吃饭的人,都能在这里寄宿一个星期。尼柯尔斯在等着寄宿舍开门的一群人里面注意到思特里克兰德,因为斯特里克兰德身躯高大样子又非常古怪,非常引人注目。这些人没精打采地在门外等候着,有的来回踱步,有的懒洋洋地靠着墙,也有的坐在马路牙子上,两脚伸在水沟里。最后,当所有的人们排着队走进了办公室,尼柯尔斯船长听见检查证件的修道士同思特里克兰德谈话用的是英语。但是他并没有机会同思特里克兰德说话,因为人们刚一走进公共休息室,马上就走来一位捧着一本大《圣经》的传教士,登上屋子一头的讲台,布起道来;作为住宿的代价,这些可怜的流浪者必须耐心地忍受着。尼柯尔斯船长和思特里克兰德没有分配在同一间屋子里,第二天清晨五点钟,一个高大粗壮的教士把投宿的人们从床上赶下来,等到尼柯尔斯整理好床铺、洗过脸以后,思特里克兰德已经没影了。尼柯尔斯船长在寒冷刺骨的街头徘徊了一个钟头,最后走到一个水手们经常聚会的地方——维克多。耶鲁广场。他在广场上又看见了思特里克兰德,思特里克兰德正靠着一座石雕像的底座打盹。他踢了思特里克兰德一脚,把他从梦中踢醒。

    “来跟我吃早饭去,朋友。”他说。

    “去你妈的。”思特里克兰德说。

    我一听就是我那位老朋友的语气,这时我决定把尼柯尔斯船长看作是一位可以信任的证人了。

    “一个子儿也没有了吧?”船长又问。

    “滚你的蛋。”思特里克兰德说。

    “跟我来。我给你弄顿早饭吃。”

    犹豫了一会儿,思特里克兰德从地上爬起来,两个人向一处施舍面包的救济所走去。饿饭的人可以在那里得到一块面包,但是必须当时吃掉,不准拿走。吃完面包,他们又到一个施舍汤的救济所,每天十一点到四点可以在那里得到一碗盐水稀汤,但不能连续领取一个星期。这两个机构中间隔着一大段路,除非实在饿得要命,谁也懒得跑两个地方。他们就这样吃了早饭,查理斯。思特里克兰德同尼柯尔斯船长也就这样交上了朋友。

    这两个人大概在马赛一起度过四个月。他俩的生活没有什么奇遇——如果奇遇意味着一件意料之外或者令人激动的事;因为他们的时间完全用在为了生活四处奔波上,他们要想弄到些钱晚间找个寻宿的地方,更要买些吃的东西对付辘辘饥肠。我真希望我能画出几幅绚丽多彩的图画,把尼柯尔斯船长的生动叙述在我想象中唤起的一幅幅画面也让读者看到。他叙述他们两人在这个海港的下层生活中的种种冒险完全可以写成一本极有趣味的书,从他们遇到的形形色色的人物身上,一个研究民俗学的人也可以找到足够的材料编纂一本有关流浪汉的大辞典。但是在这本书里我却只能用不多几段文字描写他们这一段生活。我从他的谈话得到的印象是:马赛的生活既紧张又粗野,丰富多采,鲜明生动。相形之下,我所了解的马赛——人群杂沓、阳光灿烂,到处是舒适的旅馆和挤满了有钱人的餐馆——简直变得平淡无奇、索然寡味了。那些亲眼见过尼柯尔斯船长描绘给我听的景象的人真是值得羡慕啊。

    当夜宿店对他们下了逐客令以后,思特里克兰德同尼柯尔斯船长就在硬汉子彼尔那里找到另外一处歇夜的地方。硬汉子彼尔是一家水手寄宿舍的老板,是一个身躯高大、生着一对硬拳头的黑白混血儿。他给暂时失业的水手们提供食宿,直到在船上给他们找到工作为止。思特里克兰德同尼柯尔斯船长在他这里住了一个月,同十来个别的人,瑞典人、黑人、巴西人,一起睡在寄宿舍两间屋子的地板上。这两间屋子什么家具也没有,彼尔就分配他们住在这里。每天他都带着这些人到维克多。耶鲁广场去,轮船的船长需要雇用什么人都到这个地方来。这个混血儿的老婆是一个非常邋遢的美国胖女人,谁也不知道这个美国人怎么会堕落到这一地步。寄宿的人每天轮流帮助她做家务事。思特里克兰德给硬汉子彼尔画了一张肖像作为食宿的报酬,尼柯尔斯船长认为这对思特里克兰德来讲是一件占了大便宜的事。彼尔不但出钱给他买了画布、油彩和画笔,而且还给了他一磅偷运上岸的烟草。据我所知,这幅画今天可能还挂在拉。柔那特码头附近一所破旧房子的客厅里,我估计现在可能值一千五百英镑了。思特里克兰德的计划是先搭一条去澳大利亚或新西兰的轮船,然后再转途去萨摩亚或者塔希提。我不知道他怎么会动念要到南太平洋去,虽然我还记得他早就幻想到一个充满阳光的绿色小岛,到一个四围一片碧波、海水比北半球任何海洋更蓝的地方去。我想他所以攀住尼柯尔斯船长不放也是因为尼柯尔斯熟悉这一地区,最后劝他到塔希提,认为这个地方比其他任何地方都更舒服,也完全是尼柯尔斯的主意。

    “你知道,塔希提是法国领土,”尼柯尔斯对我解释说,“法国人办事不他妈的那么机械。”

    我想我明白他说这句话的意思。

    思特里克兰德没有证件,但是硬汉子彼尔只要有利可图(他替哪个水手介绍工作都要把人家第一个月的工资扣去),对这一点是不以为意的。凑巧有一个英国籍的司炉住在他这里的时候死掉了,他就把这个人的证明文件给了思特里克兰德。但是尼柯尔斯船长同思特里克兰德两个人都要往东走,而当时需要雇用水手的船恰好都是西行的。有两次驶往美国的货轮上需要人干活都被思特里克兰德拒绝了,另外还有一艘到纽卡斯尔的煤船他也不肯去。思特里克兰德这种拗脾气结果只能叫硬汉子彼尔吃亏,最后他失去了耐性,一脚把思特里克兰德同尼柯尔斯船长两个人一起踢出了大门。这两个人又一次流落到街头。

    硬汉子彼尔寄宿舍的饭菜从来也称不上丰盛,吃过饭从餐桌旁站起来跟刚坐下一样饿得慌,但是尽管如此,有好几天两个人对那里的伙食还是怀念不已。他们这次真正尝到挨饿是什么滋味了。施舍菜汤的地方同夜宿舍都已经对他们关了门,现在他们赖以果腹的只剩下面包施舍处给的一小片面包了。夜里,他们能在哪儿睡觉就在哪儿睡觉,有时候在火车站岔道上一个空车皮里,有时候在货站后面一辆卡车里。但是天气冷得要命,常常是迷迷糊糊地打一两个钟头的盹儿就得到街上走一阵暖和暖和身体。他们最难受的是没有烟抽,尼柯尔斯船长没有烟简直活不下去,于是他就开始到小啤酒馆去捡那些头天晚上夜游的人扔的烟屁股和雪茄头。

    “我的烟斗就是比这更不是味儿的杂八凑烟也抽过,”他加添了一句,自我解嘲地耸了耸肩膀。在他说这句话的时候又从我递过去的烟盒里拿了两支雪茄,一支衔在嘴上,一支揣在口袋里。

    偶然他们也有机会挣到一点儿钱。有时候一艘邮轮开进港,尼柯尔斯船长同雇用计时员攀上交情,会给两人找个临时装卸工的活儿。如果是一艘英国船,他们会溜进前甲板下面的舱房里,在水手那里饱餐一顿。当然,这样做要冒一定的风险,如果遇见船上的高级船员,他们就要从跳板上被赶下来,为了催他们动作快一些,屁股后面还要挨一靴子。

    “一个人只要肚子吃饱,屁股叫人踢一脚算不得什么,”尼柯尔斯船长说,“拿我个人说,我是从来不生气的。高级船员理应考虑船上的风纪的。”

    我的脑子里活生生地出现一幅图画:一个气冲冲的大副飞起一脚,尼柯尔斯船长脑袋朝下地从窄窄的跳板上滚下来;象一个真正的英国人那样,他对英国商船队的这种纪律严明的精神非常高兴。

    在鱼市场里也不时能够找点零活儿干。还有一次,卡车要把堆在码头上的许多筐桔子运走,思特里克兰德同尼柯尔斯船长帮助装车,每人挣了一法郎。有一天两人很走运:一条从马达加斯加绕过好望角开来的货轮需要上油漆,一个开寄宿店的老板弄到包工合同,他们两个人一连几天站在悬在船帮旁边的一条木板上,往锈迹斑斑的船壳上涂油漆。这件差事肯定很投合思特里克兰德的惯受讽嘲的脾气。我向尼柯尔斯船长打听,在那困顿的日子里,思特里克兰德有什么反应。

    “从来没听他说过一句丧气话,”船长回答说,“有时候他有点儿闷闷不乐,但是就是在我们整天吃不到一口饭,连在中国佬那里歇宿的房钱都弄不到手的时候,他仍然象蛐蛐一样欢蹦乱跳。”

    我对此并不觉得惊奇。思特里克兰德正是超然于周围环境之外的人,就是在最沮丧的情况下也是如此。这到底是由于心灵的宁静还是矛盾对立,那是难以说清的。

    “中国茅房”,这是一个流浪汉给一个独眼的中国人在布特里路附近开的一家鸡毛店起的名字。六个铜子可以睡在一张小床上,三个铜子儿可以打一宵地铺。他们在这里认识了不少同他们一样穷困潦倒的朋友,遇到他们分文不名、而夜里又天气奇冷的时候,他们会毫不犹豫地同哪个白天凑巧挣到一法郎的人借几文宿费。这些流浪汉并不吝啬,谁手头有钱都乐于同别人分享。他们来自世界各个地方,但是大家都很讲交情,并不因国籍不同而彼此见外,因为他们都觉得自己是一个国家——安乐乡的自由臣民;这个国家领土辽阔,把他们这些人全部囊括在自己的领域里。

    “可是思特里克兰德要是生起气来,我看可不是好惹的,”尼柯尔斯船长回忆当时的情况说,“有一天我们在广场上碰见了硬汉子彼尔,彼尔想讨回他给查理斯的身份证明。”

    “‘你要是想要,就自己来拿吧,’查理斯说。”

    “彼尔是个身强力壮的大汉,但是被查理斯的样子给镇住了,他只是不住口地咒骂,所有能够用上的脏字眼儿都用到了。硬汉子彼尔开口骂人是很值得一听的事。开始的时候,查理斯不动声色地听着,过了一会儿,他往前迈了一步,只说了一句:”滚蛋,你他妈的这只猪猡。‘他骂的这句话倒没什么,重要的是他骂人的样子。硬汉子彼尔马上住了口,你可以看出来他胆怯了。他连忙转身走开,好象突然记起自己还有个约会似的。“

    按照尼柯尔斯船长的叙述,思特里克兰德当时骂人的话同我写的并不一样,但既然这是一本供家庭阅读消遣的书,我觉得不妨违反一些真实性,还是改换几个雅俗共赏的字眼儿为好。

    且说硬汉子彼尔并不是个受了普通水手侮辱而隐忍不发的人。他的权势完全靠着他的威信;一个住在他开的寄宿舍的水手对他俩说,彼尔发誓要把思特里克兰德干掉,后来又有另外一个人告诉他们同样的消息。

    一天晚上,尼柯尔斯船长和思特里克兰德正坐在布特里路的一家酒吧间里。布特里路是一条狭窄的街道,两旁都是一间间的平房,每所房子只有一间小屋,就象拥挤的集市棚子或者马戏团的兽笼。每间屋子门口都可以看到一个女人。有的懒洋洋地靠着门框,或者哼着小曲,或者用沙哑的嗓子向过路人打招呼,也有的无精打采地看一本书。她们有的是法国人,有的是意大利人,有的是西班牙人,有的是日本人,也有的是黑人;有的胖,有的瘦;在厚厚的脂粉、乌黑的眼眉和猩红的唇脂下面,你可以看到岁月在她们脸上刻下的痕迹和堕落放荡留下的伤疤。她们有的人穿着黑色内衫和肉色长袜,有的头发卷曲、染成金黄颜色,穿着纱衣,打扮得象小女孩。从敞开的门外边,可以看到屋子里的红砖地,一张大木床,牌桌上摆着一只大口水罐和一个面盆。街头上形形色色的人踱来踱去——邮轮上的印度水手,瑞典三桅帆船上的金发的北欧人,军舰上的日本兵,英国水手,西班牙人,法国巡洋舰上英俊的水兵,美国货轮上的黑人。白天,这里污秽肮脏,但是到了夜里,在小屋子的灯光照耀下,这条街就有一种罪恶的魅力。弥漫在空中的丑恶的淫欲使人感到窒息,简直是可怕的,但是在这一切缠绕着你、激动着你的景象里却有某种神秘的东西。你觉得有一种人们并不了解的原始力量又让你厌恶,又深深地把你迷住。在这里,一切文明、体面都已荡然无存,人们面对的只是阴郁的现实,一种既热烈又悲哀的气氛笼罩着一切。

    在思特里克兰德和尼柯尔斯坐的酒吧间里摆着一架自动钢琴,机械地演奏着喧噪聒耳的舞曲。屋子四周人们围坐在小桌旁边,这边六七个水手已经喝得半醉,吵吵嚷嚷,那边坐着的是一群士兵。屋子中央人们正一对对地挤在一起跳舞。留着大胡子、面色黝黑的水手用粗硬的大手使劲搂着自己的舞伴。女人们身上只穿着内衫。不时地也有两个水手站起来互相搂着跳舞。喧闹的声音震耳欲聋。没有一个人不在喝,不在叫,不在高声大笑;当一个人使劲吻了一下坐在他膝头上的女人时,英国的水手中就有人嘘叫,更增加了屋子的嘈杂。男人们的大靴子扬起的尘土和口里喷出的烟雾弄得屋子乌烟瘴气。空气又闷又热。卖酒的柜台后面坐着一个女人在给孩子喂奶。一个身材矮小、生着一张长满雀斑的扁脸年轻侍者,托着摆满啤酒杯子的托盘不住脚地走来走去。

    过了不大一会儿工夫,硬汉子彼尔在两个高大黑人的陪同下走了进来。一眼就可以看出,他已经有七八分醉意了。他正在故意寻衅闹事。一进门彼尔就东倒西歪地撞在一张台子上,把一杯啤酒打翻了。坐在这张桌子边上的是三个士兵,双方马上争吵起来。酒吧间老板走出来,叫硬汉子彼尔走出去。老板脾气暴烈,从来不容顾客在他的酒馆闹事。硬汉子彼尔气焰有些收敛,他不太敢同酒吧间老板冲突,因为老板有警察作后盾。彼尔骂了一句,掉转了身躯。忽然,他一眼看见了思特里克兰德。他摇摇晃晃地走到思特里克兰德前边,一句话不说,嘬了一口唾沫,直啐到思特里克兰德脸上。思特里克兰德抄起酒杯,向他扔去。跳舞的人都停了下来。有那么一分钟,整个酒吧间变得非常安静,一点声音也没有。但是等硬汉子彼尔扑到思特里克兰德身上的时候,所有的人的斗志都变得激昂起来。刹那间,酒吧间开始了一场混战。啤酒台子打翻了,玻璃杯在地上摔得粉碎。双方厮打得越来越厉害。女人们躲到门边和柜台后面去,过路的行人从街头涌进来。只听见到处一片咒骂声、拳击声、喊叫声,屋子中间,一打左右的人打得难解难分。突然间,警察冲了进来,所有的人都争先恐后地往门外窜。当酒吧间里多少清静下来以后,只见硬汉子彼尔人事不醒地躺在地上,头上裂了个大口子。尼柯尔斯船长拽着思特里克兰德逃到外面街上,思特里克兰德的胳臂淌着血,衣服撕得一条一条的。尼柯尔斯船长也是满脸血污;他的鼻子挨了一拳。

    “我看在硬汉子彼尔出院以前,你还是离开马赛吧,”当他俩回到“中国茅房”开始清洗的时候,他对思特里克兰德说。

    “真比斗鸡还热闹,”思特里克兰德说。

    我仿佛看到了他脸上讥嘲的笑容。

    尼柯尔斯船长非常担心。他知道硬汉子彼尔是睚眦必报的。思特里克兰德叫这个混血儿丢了大脸,彼尔头脑清醒的时候,是要小心提防的。他不会马上就动手,他会暗中等待一个适宜时机。早晚有一天夜里,思特里克兰德的脊背上会叫人捅上一刀,一两天以后,从港口的污水里会捞上一具无名流浪汉的尸体。第二天晚上尼柯尔斯到硬汉子彼尔家里去打听了一下。彼尔仍然住在医院里,但是他妻子已经去看过他。据他妻子说,彼尔赌天誓日说,他一出院就要结果思特里克兰德的性命。

    又过了一个星期。

    “我总是说,”尼柯尔斯船长继续回忆当时的情况,“要打人就把他打得厉厉害害的。这会给你一点时间,思考一下下一步该怎么办。”

    这以后思特里克兰德交了一步好运。一艘开往澳大利亚的轮船到水手之家去要一名司炉,原来的司炉因为神经错乱在直布罗陀附近投海自杀了。

    “你一分钟也别耽误,伙计,立刻到码头去,”船长对思特里克兰德说,“赶快签上你的名字。你是有证明文件的。”

    思特里克兰德马上就出发了。尼柯尔斯船长从此再也没有同他见面。这艘轮船在码头只停泊了六小时,傍晚时分,尼柯尔斯船长看着轮船烟囱冒出的黑烟逐渐稀薄,轮船正在寒冬的海面上乘风破浪向东驶去。

    我尽量把这些故事叙述得生动一些,因为我喜欢拿这一段经历同他住在伦敦阿施里花园时的生活进行对比,当时他忙着做股票生意,那时的生活我是亲眼见过的。但是我也非常清楚,尼柯尔斯船长是个大言不惭的牛皮大王,他告诉我的这些事也有可能没有一句是真话。今后我如果发现思特里克兰德在世的时候根本不认识他,他对马赛的知识完全来自一本杂志,我是一点也不会感到吃惊的。

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