Chapter 6 A Step Upward

The next morning Georges Duroy arose, dressed himself, and determined to have money; he sought Forestier. His friend received him in his study.

“What made you rise so early?” he asked.

“A very serious matter. I have a debt of honor.”

“A gaming debt?”

He hesitated, then repeated: “A gaming debt.”

“Is it large?”

“Five hundred francs.” He only needed two hundred and eighty.

Forestier asked sceptically: “To whom do you owe that amount?”

Duroy did not reply at once. “To — to — a — M. de Carleville.”

“Ah, where does he live?”

“Rue — Rue —”

Forestier laughed. “I know the gentleman! If you want twenty francs you can have them, but no more.”

Duroy took the gold-piece, called upon more friends, and by five o’clock had collected eighty francs. As he required two hundred more, he kept what he had begged and muttered: “I shall not worry about it. I will pay it when I can.”

For two weeks he lived economically, but at the end of that time, the good resolutions he had formed vanished, and one evening he returned to the Folies Bergeres in search of Rachel; but the woman was implacable and heaped coarse insults upon him, until he felt his cheeks tingle and he left the hall.

Forestier, out of health and feeble, made Duroy’s existence at the office insupportable. The latter did not reply to his rude remarks, but determined to be avenged. He called upon Mme. Forestier. He found her reclining upon a couch, reading. She held out her hand without rising and said: “Good morning, Bel-Ami!”

“Why do you call me by that name?”

She replied with a smile: “I saw Mme. de Marelle last week and I know what they have christened you at her house.”

He took a seat near his hostess and glanced at her curiously; she was a charming blonde, fair and plump, made for caresses, and he thought: “She is certainly nicer than the other one.” He did not doubt that he would only have to extend his hand in order to gather the fruit. As he gazed upon her she chided him for his neglect of her.

He replied: “I did not come because it was for the best —”

“How? Why?”

“Why? Can you not guess?”

“No!”

“Because I loved you; a little, only a little, and I did not wish to love you any more.”

She did not seem surprised, nor flattered; she smiled indifferently and replied calmly: “Oh, you can come just the same; no one loves me long.”

“Why not?”

“Because it is useless, and I tell them so at once. If you had confessed your fears to me sooner, I would have reassured you. My dear friend, a man in love is not only foolish but dangerous. I cease all intercourse with people who love me or pretend to; firstly, because they bore me, and secondly, because I look upon them with dread, as I would upon a mad dog. I know that your love is only a kind of appetite; while with me it would be a communion of souls. Now, look me in the face —” she no longer smiled. “I will never be your sweetheart; it is therefore useless for you to persist in your efforts. And now that I have explained, shall we be friends?”

He knew that that sentence was irrevocable, and delighted to be able to form such an alliance as she proposed, he extended both hands, saying:

“I am yours, Madame, to do with as you will”

He kissed her hands and raising his head said: “If I had found a woman like you, how gladly would I have married her.”

She was touched by those words, and in a soft voice, placing her hand upon his arm, she said: “I am going to begin my offices at once. You are not diplomatic —” she hesitated. “May I speak freely?”

“Yes.”

“Call upon Mme. Walter who has taken a fancy to you. But be guarded as to your compliments, for she is virtuous. You will make a better impression there by being careful in your remarks. I know that your position at the office is unsatisfactory, but do not worry; all their employees are treated alike.”

He said: “Thanks; you are an angel — a guardian angel.”

As he took his leave, he asked again: “Are we friends — is it settled?”

“It is.”

Having observed the effect of his last compliment, he said: “If you ever become a widow, I have put in my application!” Then he left the room hastily in order not to allow her time to be angry.

Duroy did not like to call on Mme. Walter, for he had never been invited, and he did not wish to commit a breach of etiquette. The manager had been kind to him, appreciated his services, employed him to do difficult work, why should he not profit by that show of favor to call at his house? One day, therefore, he repaired to the market and bought twenty-five pears. Having carefully arranged them in a basket to make them appear as if they came from a distance he took them to Mme. Walter’s door with his card on which was inscribed:

“Georges Duroy begs Mme. Walter to accept the fruit which he

received this morning from Normandy.”

The following day he found in his letter-box at the office an envelope containing Mme, Walter’s card on which was written:

“Mme. Walter thanks M. Georges Duroy very much, and is at home

on Saturdays.”

The next Saturday he called. M. Walter lived on Boulevard Malesherbes in a double house which he owned. The reception-rooms were on the first floor. In the antechamber were two footmen; one took Duroy’s overcoat, the other his cane, put it aside, opened a door and announced the visitor’s name. In the large mirror in the apartment Duroy could see the reflection of people seated in another room. He passed through two drawing-rooms and entered a small boudoir in which four ladies were gathered around a tea-table. Notwithstanding the assurance he had gained during his life in Paris, and especially since he had been thrown in contact with so many noted personages, Duroy felt abashed. He stammered:

“Madame, I took the liberty.”

The mistress of the house extended her hand and said to him: “You are very kind, M. Duroy, to come to see me.” She pointed to a chair. The ladies chatted on. Visitors came and went. Mme. Walter noticed that Duroy said nothing, that no one addressed him, that he seemed disconcerted, and she drew him into the conversation which dealt with the admission of a certain M. Linet to the Academy. When Duroy had taken his leave, one of the ladies said: “How odd he is! Who is he?”

Mme. Walter replied: “One of our reporters; he only occupies a minor position, but I think he will advance rapidly.”

In the meantime, while he was being discussed, Duroy walked gaily down Boulevard Malesherbes.

The following week he was appointed editor of the “Echoes,” and invited to dine at Mme. Walter’s. The “Echoes” were, M. Walter said, the very pith of the paper. Everything and everybody should be remembered, all countries, all professions, Paris and the provinces, the army, the arts, the clergy, the schools, the rulers, and the courtiers. The man at the head of that department should be wide awake, always on his guard, quick to judge of what was best to be said and best to be omitted, to divine what would please the public and to present it well. Duroy was just the man for the place.

He was enjoying the fact of his promotion, when he received an engraved card which read:

“M. and Mme. Walter request the pleasure of M. Georges Duroy’s

company at dinner on Thursday, January 20.”

He was so delighted that he kissed the invitation as if it had been a love-letter.

Then he sought the cashier to settle the important question of his salary. At first twelve hundred francs were allowed Duroy, who intended to save a large share of the money. He was busy two days getting settled in his new position, in a large room, one end of which he occupied, and the other end of which was allotted to Boisrenard, who worked with him.

The day of the dinner-party he left the office in good season, in order to have time to dress, and was walking along Rue de Londres when he saw before him a form which resembled Mme. de Marelle’s. He felt his cheeks glow and his heart throb. He crossed the street in order to see the lady’s face; he was mistaken, and breathed more freely. He had often wondered what he should do if he met Clotilde face to face. Should he bow to her or pretend not to see her? “I should not see her,” thought he.

When Duroy entered his rooms he thought: “I must change my apartments; these will not do any longer.” He felt both nervous and gay, and said aloud to himself: “I must write to my father.” Occasionally he wrote home, and his letters always delighted his old parents. As he tied his cravat at the mirror he repeated: “I must write home to-morrow. If my father could see me this evening in the house to which I am going, he would be surprised. Sacristi, I shall soon give a dinner which has never been equaled!”

Then he recalled his old home, the faces of his father and mother. He saw them seated at their homely board, eating their soup. He remembered every wrinkle on their old faces, every movement of their hands and heads; he even knew what they said to each other every evening as they supped. He thought: “I will go to see them some day.” His toilette completed, he extinguished his light and descended the stairs.

On reaching his destination, he boldly entered the antechamber, lighted by bronze lamps, and gave his cane and his overcoat to the two lackeys who approached him. All the salons were lighted. Mme. Walter received in the second, the largest. She greeted Duroy with a charming smile, and he shook hands with two men who arrived after him, M. Firmin and M. Laroche-Mathieu; the latter had especial authority at the office on account of his influence in the chamber of deputies.

Then the Forestiers arrived, Madeleine looking charming in pink. Charles had become very much emaciated and coughed incessantly.

Norbert de Varenne and Jacques Rival came together. A door opened at the end of the room, and M. Walter entered with two tall young girls of sixteen and seventeen; one plain, the other pretty. Duroy knew that the manager was a paterfamilias, but he was astonished. He had thought of the manager’s daughters as one thinks of a distant country one will never see. Then, too, he had fancied them children, and he saw women. They shook hands upon being introduced and seated themselves at a table set apart for them. One of the guests had not arrived, and that embarrassing silence which precedes dinners in general reigned supreme.

Duroy happening to glance at the walls, M. Walter said: “You are looking at my pictures? I will show them all to you.” And he took a lamp that they might distinguish all the details. There were landscapes by Guillemet; “A Visit to the Hospital,” by Gervex; “A Widow,” by Bouguereau; “An Execution,” by Jean Paul Laurens, and many others.

Duroy exclaimed: “Charming, charming, char —” but stopped short on hearing behind him the voice of Mme. de Marelle who had just entered. M. Walter continued to exhibit and explain his pictures; but Duroy saw nothing — heard without comprehending. Mme. de Marelle was there, behind him. What should he do? If he greeted her, might she not turn her back upon him or utter some insulting remark? If he did not approach her, what would people think? He was so ill at ease that at one time he thought he should feign indisposition and return home.

The pictures had all been exhibited. M. Walter placed the lamp on the table and greeted the last arrival, while Duroy recommenced alone an examination of the canvas, as if he could not tear himself away. What should he do? He heard their voices and their conversation. Mme. Forestier called him; he hastened toward her. It was to introduce him to a friend who was on the point of giving a fete, and who wanted a description of it in “La Vie Francaise.”

He stammered: “Certainly, Madame, certainly.”

Madame de Marelle was very near him; he dared not turn to go away. Suddenly to his amazement, she exclaimed: “Good evening, Bel-Ami; do you not remember me?”

He turned upon his heel hastily; she stood before him smiling, her eyes overflowing with roguishness and affection. She offered him her hand; he took it doubtfully, fearing some perfidy. She continued calmly: “What has become of you? One never sees you!”

Not having regained his self-possession, he murmured: “I have had a great deal to do, Madame, a great deal to do. M. Walter has given me another position and the duties are very arduous.”

“I know, but that is no excuse for forgetting your friends.”

Their conversation was interrupted by the entrance of a large woman, decollette, with red arms, red cheeks, and attired in gay colors. As she was received with effusion, Duroy asked Mme. Forestier: “Who is that person?”

“Viscountess de Percemur, whose nom de plume is ‘Patte Blanche.’”

He was surprised and with difficulty restrained a burst of laughter.

“Patte Blanche? I fancied her a young woman like you. Is that Patte Blanche? Ah, she is handsome, very handsome!”

A servant appeared at the door and announced: “Madame is served.”

Duroy was placed between the manager’s plain daughter, Mlle. Rose, and Mme. de Marelle. The proximity of the latter embarrassed him somewhat, although she appeared at ease and conversed with her usual spirit. Gradually, however, his assurance returned, and before the meal was over, he knew that their relations would be renewed. Wishing, too, to be polite to his employer’s daughter, he addressed her from time to time. She responded as her mother would have done, without any hesitation as to what she should say. At M. Walter’s right sat Viscountess de Percemur, and Duroy, looking at her with a smile, asked Mme. de Marelle in a low voice: “Do you know the one who signs herself ‘Domino Rose’?”

“Yes, perfectly; Baroness de Livar.”

“Is she like the Countess?”

“No. But she is just as comical. She is sixty years old, has false curls and teeth, wit of the time of the Restoration, and toilettes of the same period.”

When the guests returned to the drawing-room, Duroy asked Mme. de Marelle: “May I escort you home?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because M. Laroche-Mathieu, who is my neighbor, leaves me at my door every time that I dine here.”

“When shall I see you again?”

“Lunch with me to-morrow.”

They parted without another word. Duroy did not remain late; as he descended the staircase, he met Norbert de Varenne, who was likewise going away. The old poet took his arm; fearing no rivalry on the newspaper, their work being essentially different, he was very friendly to the young man.

“Shall we walk along together?”

“I shall be pleased to,” replied Duroy.

The streets were almost deserted that night. At first the two men did not speak. Then Duroy, in order to make some remark, said: “That M. Laroche-Mathieu looks very intelligent.”

The old poet murmured: “Do you think so?”

The younger man hesitated in surprise: “Why, yes! Is he not considered one of the most capable men in the Chamber?”

“That may be. In a kingdom of blind men the blind are kings. All those people are divided between money and politics; they are pedants to whom it is impossible to speak of anything that is familiar to us. Ah, it is difficult to find a man who is liberal in his ideas! I have known several, they are dead. Still, what difference does a little more or a little less genius make, since all must come to an end?” He paused, and Duroy said with a smile:

“You are gloomy to-night, sir!”

The poet replied: “I always am, my child; you will be too in a few years. While one is climbing the ladder, one sees the top and feels hopeful; but when one has reached that summit, one sees the descent and the end which is death. It is slow work ascending, but one descends rapidly. At your age one is joyous; one hopes for many things which never come to pass. At mine, one expects nothing but death.”

Duroy laughed: “Egad, you make me shudder.”

Norbert de Varenne continued: “You do not understand me now, but later on you will remember what I have told you. We breathe, sleep, drink, eat, work, and then die! The end of life is death. What do you long for? Love? A few kisses and you will be powerless. Money? What for? To gratify your desires. Glory? What comes after it all? Death! Death alone is certain.”

He stopped, took Duroy by his coat collar and said slowly: “Ponder upon all that, young man; think it over for days, months, and years, and you will see life from a different standpoint. I am a lonely, old man. I have neither father, mother, brother, sister, wife, children, nor God. I have only poetry. Marry, my friend; you do not know what it is to live alone at my age. It is so lonesome. I seem to have no one upon earth. When one is old it is a comfort to have children.”

When they reached Rue de Bourgogne, the poet halted before a high house, rang the bell, pressed Duroy’s hand and said: “Forget what I have said to you, young man, and live according to your age. Adieu!” With those words he disappeared in the dark corridor.

Duroy felt somewhat depressed on leaving Varenne, but on his way a perfumed damsel passed by him and recalled to his mind his reconciliation with Mme. de Marelle. How delightful was the realization of one’s hopes!

The next morning he arrived at his lady-love’s door somewhat early; she welcomed him as if there had been no rupture, and said as she kissed him:

“You do not know how annoyed I am, my beloved; I anticipated a delightful honeymoon and now my husband has come home for six weeks. But I could not let so long a time go by without seeing you, especially after our little disagreement, and this is how I have arranged matters: Come to dinner Monday. I will introduce you to M. de Marelle, I have already spoken of you to him.”

Duroy hesitated in perplexity; he feared he might betray something by a word, a glance. He stammered:

“No, I would rather not meet your husband.”

“Why not? How absurd! Such things happen every day. I did not think you so foolish.”

“Very well, I will come to dinner Monday.”

“To make it more pleasant, I will have the Forestiers, though I do not like to receive company at home.”

On Monday as he ascended Mme. de Marelle’s staircase, he felt strangely troubled; not that he disliked to take her husband’s hand, drink his wine, and eat his bread, but he dreaded something, he knew not what. He was ushered into the salon and he waited as usual. Then the door opened, and a tall man with a white beard, grave and precise, advanced toward him and said courteously:

“My wife has often spoken of you, sir; I am charmed to make your acquaintance.”

Duroy tried to appear cordial and shook his host’s proffered hand with exaggerated energy. M. de Marelle put a log upon the fire and asked:

“Have you been engaged in journalism a long time?”

Duroy replied: “Only a few months.” His embarrassment wearing off, he began to consider the situation very amusing. He gazed at M. de Marelle, serious and dignified, and felt a desire to laugh aloud. At that moment Mme. de Marelle entered and approached Duroy, who in the presence of her husband dared not kiss her hand. Laurine entered next, and offered her brow to Georges. Her mother said to her:

“You do not call M. Duroy Bel-Ami to-day.”

The child blushed as if it were a gross indiscretion to reveal her secret.

When the Forestiers arrived, Duroy was startled at Charles’s appearance. He had grown thinner and paler in a week and coughed incessantly; he said they would leave for Cannes on the following Thursday at the doctor’s orders. They did not stay late; after they had left, Duroy said, with a shake of his head:

“He will not live long.”

Mme. de Marelle replied calmly: “No, he is doomed! He was a lucky man to obtain such a wife.”

Duroy asked: “Does she help him very much?”

“She does all the work; she is well posted on every subject, and she always gains her point, as she wants it, and when she wants it! Oh, she is as maneuvering as anyone! She is a treasure to a man who wishes to succeed.”

Georges replied: “She will marry very soon again, I have no doubt.”

“Yes! I should not even be surprised if she had some one in view — a deputy! but I do not know anything about it.”

M. de Marelle said impatiently: “You infer so many things that I do not like! We should never interfere in the affairs of others. Everyone should make that a rule.”

Duroy took his leave with a heavy heart. The next day he called on the Forestiers, and found them in the midst of packing. Charles lay upon a sofa and repeated: “I should have gone a month ago.” Then he proceeded to give Duroy innumerable orders, although everything had been arranged with M. Walter. When Georges left him, he pressed his comrade’s hand and said:

“Well, old fellow, we shall soon meet again.”

Mme. Forestier accompanied him to the door and he reminded her of their compact. “We are friends and allies, are we not? If you should require my services in any way, do not hesitate to call upon me. Send me a dispatch or a letter and I will obey.”

She murmured: “Thank you, I shall not forget.”

As Duroy descended the staircase, he met M. de Vaudrec ascending. The Count seemed sad — perhaps at the approaching departure.

The journalist bowed, the Count returned his salutation courteously but somewhat haughtily.

On Thursday evening the Forestiers left town.

  乔治·杜洛瓦第二天醒来,心里沉甸甸的。

  他慢腾腾地穿好衣服,在窗前坐了下来,不觉陷入沉思。

  他感到周身疼痛,仿佛头天挨了一顿棍棒。

  想来想去,他觉得,当务之急还是设法先弄点钱来还德·马莱尔夫人,于是到了弗雷斯蒂埃家。

  弗雷斯蒂埃正坐在书房的壁炉前烤火,见他进来,劈面向他问道:

  “今天为何起得这样早?”

  “有点急事儿。我欠了一笔债,这关系到我的名声。”

  “是吗?在赌场欠下的?”

  杜洛瓦犹豫了一下,最后答道:

  “是的。”

  “数目大吗?”

  “五百法郎!”

  实际上,他只欠德·马莱尔夫人二百八十法郎。

  弗雷斯蒂埃哪里相信?随即问道:

  “是欠了谁的呀?”

  杜洛瓦一时语塞,半晌回道:

  “……一位名叫……德·卡勒维尔的先生。”

  “是吗?他住在何处?”

  “住在……住在……”

  弗雷斯蒂埃哈哈大笑:

  “住在一条名叫‘胡编乱造’的街上吧,是不是?亲爱的,不要蒙我,我认识这位先生。你既然辛苦一趟,二十法郎倒还可以借给你,多了没有,你看行吗?”

  杜洛瓦只得收下他递过来的一枚金币。

  随后,他挨家挨户,到所有熟人家求了一遍,到下午五点,总算借到八十法郎。

  可是仍缺二百法郎。他一横心,决定还是把借来的钱姑且留下,一边喃喃自语道:

  “算了,我犯不着为还这臭婊子的钱而如此焦急,反正以后有钱还她就是了。”

  此后半个月,他省吃俭用,过着清心寡欲、很有规律的生活,坚定的决心始终未曾动摇。不想好景不长,很快便故态复萌,又对女人害起相思病来了。他觉得自己离了女人好似已有许多年,如今一见到女人就像在海上漂泊已久而重返陆地的水手一样,心潮澎湃,不能自己。

  这样,他在一天晚上,又到了“风流牧羊女娱乐场”,希望能在此见到拉歇尔。果然,他一进去,便瞥见了她。原因很简单,拉歇尔很少离开此地。

  他伸出手,微笑着向她走了过去。拉歇尔从头到脚打量了他一眼:

  “你还来找我干吗?”

  杜洛瓦脸上堆出笑来:

  “得了,别耍小孩脾气了。”

  拉歇尔转身就走,走前甩下一句:

  “像你这种厉害家伙,咱斗不起躲得起。”

  这句话说得毫不留情。杜洛瓦听了,脸上顿时红一阵白一阵,最后只得悻悻而归。

  这期间,病秧子弗雷斯蒂埃成天咳嗽不止,身体状况如今是越来越糟了。虽然如此,他对杜洛瓦却很苛刻,在报馆里天天给他支派烦人的差事,使他不得安闲。一天,他因心情烦躁,又刚狠狠地咳了一阵,见杜洛瓦未将他索要的消息弄来,顿时火冒三丈:

  “他妈的,没有想到你竟笨得出奇!”

  杜洛瓦真想走过去给他一耳光,但他还是压住胸中的怒火走开了,然而心里却嘀咕道:

  “别狂,我总有一天会爬到你头上去。”

  说着,他脑海中忽然闪过一个念头:

  “老兄,等着瞧吧,我可要让你戴上绿帽子。”

  他为自己能想出这个主意不禁有点洋洋自得,于是搓着手,往外走去。

  说干就干。第二天,他便行动了起来:特意去拜访了一下弗雷斯蒂埃夫人,先探听一下虚实。

  进入房间时,弗雷斯蒂埃夫人正半躺在一张长沙发上看书。

  她身子动也没动,只是侧过头,将手伸给他:

  “你好,漂亮朋友。”

  听到这个称呼,杜洛瓦觉着像是挨了一记耳光:

  “你为何这样叫我?”

  弗雷斯蒂埃夫人笑道:

  “前不久见到德·马莱尔夫人,才知道她家里都这样叫你。”

  一听到她谈起德·马莱尔夫人,杜洛瓦心头不觉一阵紧张。不过见她始终是一副和颜悦色的样子,他也就很快镇定了下来。再说,他又有什么可害怕的呢?

  弗雷斯蒂埃夫人这时又开口道:

  “你把她惯坏了。至于我,一年之中也难得有个人,会想来看看我。”

  杜洛瓦在她身旁坐了下来,带着一种新奇,将她仔细端详了一番,如同一位收藏家在鉴赏一件古玩。她生着一头柔软而又温馨的金发,肌肤洁白而又细腻,实在是一个难得的尤物。

  杜洛瓦心里想:

  “同那一位比起来,简直是一个天上,一个地下。”

  对于她,杜洛瓦认为自己必会成功,宛如摘树上的果子一样,不过是举手之劳。

  他于是毫不犹豫地说道:

  “我没来看你,是觉得这样会好些。”

  弗雷斯蒂埃夫人不解地看着他:

  “这是怎么说?为什么?”

  “为什么?你还看不出来吗?”

  “没有,我什么也没看出来。”

  “知道吗?我已经爱上了你……不过还不太深……我不想让自己完全坠入……”

  弗雷斯蒂埃夫人反应一般,既没有深深的惊异,也没有不悦之感,更没有芳心遂愿的得意媚态。她慢条斯理地说道:“啊,你要来看我,就尽管来好了。不过任何人对我的爱,都不会长久。”

  杜洛瓦怔怔地看着她,使他感到惊讶的与其说是这番话,不如说是那沉着的腔调,他随即问道:

  “何以见得?”

  “因为这完全是徒劳,其中道理,你很快就会明白。要是你早点说出自己的担心,我不但会打消你的顾虑,而且会让你放心大胆地常来。”

  杜洛瓦不禁伤感起来,叹道:

  “这样说来,感情难道可以随意控制?”

  弗雷斯蒂埃夫人转过身,向他说道:

  “亲爱的朋友,对我来说,一个钟情的男子将无异于行尸走肉。他会变得愚不可及,岂止愚蠢,甚至会非常危险。凡对我因萌发恋情而爱着我或有此表示的人,我同他们一律断绝密切往来。因为首先,我讨厌他们;其次,我觉得他们很像是随时会发作的疯狗而对他们心存疑虑。因此我在感情上同他们保持着一定的距离,直到他们彻底‘病愈’。此点请务必铭记于怀。我很清楚,爱情在你们男人看来不过是一种欲念的表现,而我却不这样看,我认为爱情是一种……心灵的结合,男人们是不信这一套的。对于爱情,你们男人的理解仅限于表面,而我看到的却是实质。请……把目光转过来对着我。”

  她脸上的笑容消失了,面色平静而冷漠。接着,她一字一顿地说道:

  “请听清楚,我永远不会做你的情妇。如果你死抱住自己的想法不放,到头来不仅是一场空,甚至会对你造成有害后果。好了……话既然已经说开……我们仍可成为两个好友,两个名副其实,没有任何杂念的好友,你觉得如何?”

  杜洛瓦意识到,话既已说到这个份上,毫无挽回的余地,任何努力都将劳而无功。他因而立即果断地拿定了主意,就按她的意思办。为自己能结交这样一位异性知己而感到由衷的高兴,他将双手向她伸了过去:

  “夫人,从今而后,我将一切按你的意愿行事。”

  弗雷斯蒂埃夫人从话音中感到,他这是由衷之言,于是将两手也向他伸了过去。

  杜洛瓦在她的两只手上分别吻了吻,然后抬起头,只是说了这么一句:

  “唉呀!我要是早结识一位像你这样的女人,我会多么高兴地娶她为妻!”

  这触动心扉的恭维话语是所有女人都爱听的,弗雷斯蒂埃夫人也不例外。这一回,她倒是感动了,因此迅速地向杜洛瓦瞥了一眼,这目光既充满感激,又令人魂不守舍。

  随后,见杜洛瓦未能接着刚才的话题说下去,她也就将一只手指放在他的胳臂上,十分温和地说道:

  “我可要马上就尽我这朋友的职责了。亲爱的,你也未免太粗心了……”

  说到这里,她犹豫了一下,接着问道:

  “我可以坦率直言吗”

  “当然可以。”

  “什么也不必顾忌?”

  “对。”

  “那好,瓦尔特夫人一直很看重你,你应当去看看她,设法博得她的欢心,她是个正派女人,听清楚没有?非常正派。不过你仍然可以因此而恭维她两句。啊!你可不要心存希望……想从她那里捞点什么。如果你能给她留下良好印象,将来的好处是少不了的。我知道,你在报馆里地位低下,至今毫无起色。不过这方面倒不必担心,报馆对所有编辑都一视同仁。因此请相信我的话,找个时间去看看瓦尔特夫人。”

  杜洛瓦微笑道:

  “谢谢你的关照……你已成为我的保护神。”

  接着,他们又谈了些别的事情。

  为了表明他很愿同她呆在一起,他坐了很久。临走之前,他又问了一句:

  “咱们已成为朋友,这可是说定了?”

  “当然。”

  见自己刚才的恭维话既然产生了效果,他又强调了一下,说道:

  “万一你在哪一天成了寡妇,我将前来顶替。”

  他说完便走了出来,免得同她又生龃龉。

  现在的问题是,他要去拜访瓦尔特夫人,却要费点周折,因为她的家还不是他轻易可去得的,再说他也不想贸然前往,以免闹出笑话。老板对他倒也不错,很是器重他的才干,遇有棘手事务,总是交他办理。既然如此,何不利用这层关系,进入他家呢?

  因此他在一天早上起了个大早,在市场开门后去那里花十个法郎买了二十来只上等的梨。他把梨装进筐内,用绳子捆好,使人感到是从远处带来的,然后亲自送到瓦尔特夫人寓所的门房处,并留下一张名片,在上面匆匆写了几个字:

  这筐梨是便人今晨由诺曼底捎来的,恳请瓦尔特夫人笑纳。

  乔治·杜洛瓦

  第二天,他在报馆归其名下的信箱里,发现一封瓦尔特夫人的回信,信中对他所送礼物深表谢意,并说她星期六在家,请他届时过去坐坐。

  这样到了星期六,杜洛瓦也就应邀前往了。

  瓦尔特先生在马勒泽布大街有两幢式样相同、连成一体的楼房,其中一部分租了出去——讲求实际者皆以节俭为乐——,所余部分由自己居住。两座楼只有一个门房,设在两个门洞之间。如有客人来访,只需按铃便可通知房主或房客。门房穿着类似教堂侍卫的华丽制服,粗壮的小腿上套着一双白色的长袜,外衣上的金色钮扣和大红衬里也分外耀眼,使两座大门一眼看去就显示出一种富家宅第的气派。

  会客室设在二楼,进入会客室之前是一间挂着壁毯和门帘的候见厅。两个听差正坐在椅子上打盹。其中一位接过杜洛瓦的大氅,另一位接过他的手杖,旋即推开一扇门,先行几步,随后便闪在一边,让客人进去,同时对着空无一人的客厅大声通报了一下来客的姓名。

  初次来到这种场合的杜洛瓦,未免有点局促不安。他向四周看了看,忽从一面镜子中发现远处似乎坐着一些人。由于镜子所造成的错觉,他起初走错了方向,随后穿过两个空无一人的房间,走进一间类似贵妇享用的那种高雅客厅里。客厅四周挂着蓝色的丝绒,上面点缀着一朵朵金黄色小花。四位女士正围坐在一张圆桌旁低声谈论着什么,每个人的面前都放了一杯茶。

  经过一个时期来巴黎生活的锤炼,特别是身为外勤记者而得以经常接触地位显赫的人士,杜洛瓦对于出入社交场合,可以说已相当干练了。不过话虽如此,鉴于刚才进门时见到的那种阵势,后来又穿过了几个没人的房间,他心中仍有点发虚。

  他一面用目光搜寻四位女士中哪一位是主人,一面怯生生地说道:

  “夫人,恕我冒昧……”

  瓦尔特夫人伸过一只手来,口中说道:

  “先生,您来看我,真是太好了。”

  杜洛瓦俯身在她的手上亲了亲,接着身子往下一沉,向她指给他的一张椅子上坐了下去,由于未认真看清椅子的高矮而差点摔倒。

  房间里出现一阵静默。一位女士又接着先前的话题谈了起来,说天气虽已开始冷起来,但也还不够冷,既难以阻止伤寒病的流行,又不足以溜冰。几位女士于是围绕巴黎最近出现的霜冻而发表了各自的看法。话题随后转到各人喜欢的季节上,所述理由同房内飘浮的灰尘一样,十分平淡无奇。

  门边传来一阵声响,杜洛瓦将头扭了过去,发现从两扇玻璃门之间走来一位胖胖的女人。她一进入房内,女客中便有一位站起身,同众人握握手走了。杜洛瓦目送她走过一间间房间,穿着黑衫的后背上,一串黑如墨玉的珠子闪闪发亮。

  因客人的一进一出而出现的骚动很快平息下来,大家不约而同地一下谈起了摩洛哥问题和东方的战争,此外还谈到了英国在非洲南部所遇到的麻烦。

  女士们谈论这些事情并无独到见解,而完全像是在背台词,这种合乎时尚的“文明戏”在社交界早已司空见惯。

  门边这时又走来一位金发卷曲的娇小丽人,她一到,在座的一位身子干瘦的高个子女客便起身告辞了。

  话题转到林内先生是否有可能进入法兰西学院①。新来的客人认为,他肯定争不过卡巴农·勒巴先生。因为卡巴农·勒巴用法语改编的诗剧《堂吉诃德》是那样出色。

  --------

  ①法兰西学院,法国最高学术机构,成立于一六三五年。学院有院士四十名,通过推荐和选举产生。

  “你们知道吗?这出诗剧今年冬天就要在奥德翁剧院上演。”

  “真的吗?这是一种很有文学价值的尝试,到时候,我一定要去看看。”

  瓦尔特夫人说话时,神态是那样文静,不慌不忙,使人备感亲近。由于对所谈的问题早已成竹在胸,她对自己要说的话没有显示出任何的犹豫不定。

  她发现天已黑下来了,于是按了一下铃,吩咐仆人点灯,同时十分注意地倾听着客人们东拉西扯的谈话,并想起忘记去一趟刻字店,订做几张下次晚宴的请帖。

  她的身体已稍稍发福,不过面庞依然俊秀。这也难怪,她的年龄已处于日益迫近人老珠黄的时刻,现在全靠精心的保养和良好的卫生习惯加以调理,经常以润肤膏保持皮肤的光洁。对于任何问题,她似乎都显得相当稳重,既不急不躁,又很有章法。她显然属于这样一类女人:她们的思绪酷似排列有序的法国花园,从无凌乱之感。此花园虽然没有什么奇花异草,但也不乏魅人之处。她注重现实,为人审慎,观察细微,一步一个脚印,而且心地善良,忠厚待人,对于任何人,任何事,都是那样地虚怀若谷,雍容大度。

  她发现,杜洛瓦进来后还一言未发,也没有人同他交谈,因而显得有点形影相吊。在座的女士不知哪儿来的浓厚兴致,仍在没完没了地谈论着谁会入选法兰西学院的问题,她因而向杜洛瓦问道:

  “杜洛瓦先生,您所了解的情况,一定胜过在座诸位。可否问问,您倾向于谁?

  杜洛瓦毫不犹豫地答道:

  “夫人,对于这个问题,我所考虑的,不是历来总会引起争议的候选人资格,而是他们的年龄和健康状况;不是他们有哪些发明或著作,而是他们患有何种疾病。他们是否用韵文翻译了洛卜·德·维加①的剧作,这我是不管的,我所关心的是他们的五脏六腑现状如何。因为我觉得,若能发现他们当中有人得了心脏肥大症、尿蛋白症,特别是初期脊髓痨,将比看到某人就柏柏尔人②诗歌中对‘祖国’一词的理解所写又臭又长的论文,要强似百倍。”

  --------

  ①洛卜,德·维加(一五六二—一六三五),西班牙剧作家。

  ②北非信仰伊斯兰教的居民。

  一言既出,举座皆惊。房间里一片静寂。

  瓦尔特夫人微笑着问道:

  “何以见得?”

  杜洛瓦答道:

  “对于任何事情,我所关注的是,它在哪一方面会激起女士们的兴趣。夫人,就法兰西学院而言,你们真正对它感兴趣,是在得悉一位院士命归黄泉的时候。院士死得越多,你们也就越是高兴。因此,为使他们快快死去,应将那些老态龙钟、百病缠身的人选进去。”

  看到大家依然有点惊愕不解,他又说道:

  “我也同你们一样,喜欢浏览巴黎各报本地新闻栏中有关院士去世的噩耗。一有此事发生,我马上想到的是,这个空缺将会由谁来填补。接着便是将可能入选者排个名单。每当这些名垂千古的人士有一个不幸亡故,这种很有意思的小游戏,在巴黎的各个沙龙都可见到。这也就是人们常说的“死神与这四十个老翁的游戏’。”

  听了他这篇高论,原先的惊愕虽然尚未完全散去,几位女士的脸上已开始浮出笑容,因为他的看法确有见地。

  杜洛瓦最后站起身说道:

  “女士们,候选者能否当选,就看你们了。既然你们挑选的标准,是希望他们快快死去,当选者应是越老越好。至于其他,就用不着你们去操心了。”

  说完之后,他非常潇洒地向众人欠了欠身,然后一转身,便扬长而去了。

  他一走,一位女士急忙问道:

  “这年轻人是谁?他可真有意思。”

  瓦尔特夫人说道:

  “他是我们报馆的一个编辑,目前只在报馆里做些不起眼的小事。但我相信,他很快就会青云直上的。”

  走在马勒泽布街上,杜洛瓦心里乐滋滋的,脚步也特别轻快。一想起刚才告别出来的一幕,他不禁满面春风,自言自语道:

  “这第一炮看来是打响了。”

  当天晚上,他又去找了拉歇尔,两人终于言归于好。

  此后一星期,他是双喜临门:先是被任命为社会新闻栏主编;尔后是收到瓦尔特夫人的请柬,邀他去她家作客。他一眼就看出,两件事有着密切的连带关系。

  毋庸讳言,《法兰西生活报》是为获得滚滚财源而创办的,因为报馆老板就是一位见钱眼开的人物。对他说来,办报和当众议院议员不过是一种谋财的手段。别看他满口仁义道德,成天笑咪咪的,一副正人君子的样子,但在用人问题上,无论哪一方面的工作,所用的人都必须是经过长期的观察和考验而看准了的,必须是胆大心细、深有谋略而又能随机应变者。在他看来,被任命为社会新闻栏主编的杜洛瓦,就是一个难得的人才。

  在此之前,此栏主编一职一直由编辑部主任布瓦勒纳先生兼任。这是一个老报人,其循规蹈矩,办事刻板和谨小慎微,同一般职员没有两样。三十都来,他相继当过十一家报馆的编辑部主任,但办事方式或思想方法却丝毫未变。他从一家报馆转到另一家报馆,仿佛是吃饭,今天在这家餐馆吃了,明天又转到另一家,但吃在嘴里的饭菜味道有何不同,他却几乎觉察不出来。无论是政治主张还是宗教方面的看法,他都一概不闻不问。不管在哪家报馆,他都表现出一片忠心,对份内工作更是熟谙无比,经验丰富,但办起事来却似是一个闭目塞听的聋哑人,一个不会说话的木头人。不过他的职业道德却令人钦佩,从不做那些从其职业这一特殊角度来看显得不够诚实,不够体面的事情。

  瓦尔特先生对他自然十分赏识,但仍常常希望另找个人来负责社会新闻。因为用他的话说,社会新闻是报馆的生命。通过它,可以发布消息,传播谣言,对公众心理和金融行情施加影响。因此该栏目在报道上流社会所举行的有关晚宴时,必须善于不动声色,通过暗示而不必明言,把重要消息捅出去。必须能够含而不露,稍稍一点便能让人猜出你的弦外之音,或是轻描淡写地否认两句而让谣言更形炽烈,再或是闪烁其辞地加以肯定,使已宣布的事情没有任何人相信。与此同时,这一栏还应办得人人爱看,不论什么人每天都能从中得到与己有关的消息。这样就必须考虑到各个方方面面及所有的人,考虑到各个阶层,各个行业;总之,无论是巴黎还是外省,军人还是艺术家,教会人士还是大学师生,各级官员还是身份特殊的高等妓女,都应包括进去。

  不言而喻,社会新闻栏和该栏的外勤记者应由这样一个人来负责掌管:此人应时时有着清醒的头脑,处处小心防备,对任何事都不轻易相信,同时又具有远见卓识,为人机警、狡黠、灵活,足智多谋,观察敏锐,一眼便能辨别所获消息的真伪,判断出什么该说,什么不该说,以及哪些事会对公众产生影响,并知道应如何报道方可产生事半功倍的效果。

  布瓦勒纳先生虽然从事报业多年,但仍不够老练,办法也少,特别是天生愚拙,不善透过老板的只言片语而揣度其内心想法。

  杜洛瓦担任此职,当会完美无缺,从而使这份用诺贝尔·德·瓦伦的话说,“以国家金融为依托而在政治暗礁间穿行”

  的报纸,在这方面的工作大大加强。

  《法兰西生活报》的“真正编辑”即幕后人物,是同报馆老板搞的那些投机事业直接相关的五六个众院议员,因此在众院被称为“瓦尔特帮”。他们由于同瓦尔特合伙或借助于他而财源广进,因而备受人们的羡慕。

  政治编辑弗雷斯蒂埃不过是这些实业家的傀儡。他们的意图就是通过他执行的。遇有重要文章要发表,他们便向他授意,由他执笔,而他总要把文章带回家去写,说是家里比较安静。

  为使报纸带有文学色彩和巴黎特色,报馆聘了两位各有特长的著名作家,一位是雅克·里瓦尔,负责时事专栏,另一位是诗人诺贝尔·德·瓦伦,负责文艺专栏,用新派的话说,也就是连载小说的负责人。

  此外,还在以笔杆为生、生活拮据的大批文人中,以低廉的工钱雇了几位艺术、绘画、音乐和戏剧方面的评论家,及一位负责刑事案件的编辑和一位负责赛马报道的编辑。最后,还有两位来自上流社会的女士,分别以“红裳女”和“素手夫人”的笔名,经常寄来一些稿件,介绍社交界的各类趣闻,探讨时装、礼节、高雅生活和处世之道等方面的问题,或是透露一些有关名媛闺秀的秘闻。

  因此,《法兰西生活报》这份“以国家金融为依托而在政治暗礁间穿行”的报纸,就是由上述来自各个方面的人士支撑的。

  正当杜洛瓦为自己被任命为社会新闻栏主编而感到喜出望外的时候,他收到了那印制精美的请柬。请柬上写道:“瓦尔特先生和夫人订于一月二十日星期四晚在寒舍略备薄酒,招待各方友好,恭请杜洛瓦先生届时光临。”

  老板在恩宠之外又加恩宠,杜洛瓦喜不自胜,不禁像是收到一封情书一样,对着请帖吻了又吻。接着,他去找了一下报馆财务,同他谈了谈经费大事。

  在通常情况下,社会新闻栏所配外勤记者的薪俸及这些记者所写稿件的酬金,皆由该栏主管以其所掌管的专项资金支付。稿件无论好坏,酬金一律照付,如同果农送给鲜果店的水果一样。

  归杜洛瓦掌管的这笔钱,在开始阶段为每月一千二百法郎。杜洛瓦觉得,这钱既然到了他手中,自己当可扣下一部分。

  经他再三要求,报馆财务终于同意先行预支四百法郎。拿到钱后,他脑海中萌生的第一个念头,是立刻将欠德·马莱尔夫人的二百八十法郎还掉,但旋即又想,这样一来,他手中便只剩下一百二十法郎了,靠这点钱显然难以将此栏目办好。因此只得打消此念,过些时候再说。

  此后,他一连两天,忙于操持办公事务。他所接管的,是一间供全组人员使用的大房间,房内放着一张长桌和一些存放信件的木格。他占了房间的一头,而年龄虽大仍整天伏案、胸前垂着乌黑长发的布瓦勒纳则占了另一头。

  放在房间中央的长桌,给了那些常年奔波在外的外勤记者。他们通常都是将它当作凳子使用,或是沿桌边坐下,任两腿垂下;或是盘起两腿,坐在桌子中央。最多时,往往有五六个人同时端坐在桌上,恰似一尊尊中国瓷娃娃放在那里。与此同时,他们还带着浓厚的兴致,手中玩着接木球游戏。

  杜洛瓦现在也迷上了这玩艺儿,并在圣波坦的带领和指导下,已玩得相当熟练。

  弗雷斯蒂埃的身体,如今是越来越糟了。他最后买的那只用安的列斯优质木料制做的小木球,虽然心爱无比,但玩起来已力不从心,只得送给了杜洛瓦。杜洛瓦则浑身是劲,一有空闲,便不知疲倦地抛起那系于绳子末端的小木球,同时低声数着数:“一——二——三——四——五——六。”

  功夫不负苦心人,就在他要去瓦尔特夫人家赴宴的那天,他终于已能一口气玩到二十。这在他可是从来没有过的,心中不觉一阵惊喜:“看来今天是我的好日子,真是事事如意。”他这样想倒也不无道理,因为实在说来,在《法兰西生活报》这间办公室里,一个人只要木球玩得好,就必会平步青云。

  为了有充裕时间好好修饰一番,他早早离开了报馆。走在“伦敦街”上,他忽见前方不远处有个身材不高的女人,正迈着小步,急匆匆地向前走着,样子很像德·马莱尔夫人。他顿时感到脸颊发烧,心房怦怦直跳,于是穿过马路,想从侧面再看一看。不想对方这时停下脚步,也要到马路这边来。他这才发现,自己原来看错了,不禁长长地舒了口气。

  他常常问自己,若是哪一天同她面对面地走到一起,自己该怎么办?是向她打招呼,还是装着没有看见?

  “我不会撞见她的,”他心里想。

  天气很冷。路旁的水沟已结上一层厚厚的冰。在昏黄的路灯下,人行道灰蒙蒙的,失去了往日的勃勃生机。

  回到住所,杜洛瓦向四周扫了一眼,心中想道:

  “我该换个地方了。对我来说,现在是再也不能住在这种房子里了。”

  他心潮澎湃,兴奋不已,简直想到房顶上去跑上两圈,渲泄一下心中的喜悦。他从床边踱到窗口,嘴里大声自言自语道:

  “这一天终于等到,运气真的来了!我要写封信告诉爸爸。”

  他给家里的信,常年不断。父亲在诺曼底一条山间公路旁开了一家小酒店,从陡峭的山坡向下望去,卢昂城和广阔的塞纳河河谷尽收眼底。每次接读儿子的来信,酒店里总沉浸在一片忘情的欢乐中。

  杜洛瓦也常收到父亲的来信。蓝色的信封上,是父亲以他那颤抖的手写下的粗大字体。每次来信,开头总是这样几句:

  亲爱的孩子,给你写这封信别无他事,只是想告诉你家中平安,我和你母亲都好。这里一切如旧,没有什么大的变化。不过,有件事仍想对你说一说……

  而杜洛瓦对村里的事情,邻里的变迁,地里的收成等等,也一直十分牵挂。

  现在,他一面对着那个小镜子系着白色的领带,一面在心里说道:

  “我明天就给父亲写信,告以一切。老人家做梦也不会想到,我今晚会到那样的地方去赴宴,他知道后将不知会怎样惊奇呢!说来惭愧,这样的饭菜,他一辈子也没尝过!”

  想到这里,他的眼前又蓦然浮现出酒店厅堂后面那黑咕隆咚的厨房,墙上挂着一排黄碜碜的铜锅。一只猫伏在壁炉前,头向着炉火,看去酷似传说中的狮头羊身、口中喷着火的怪兽。木质桌案因常年泼洒汤汤水水而在表面积了一层厚厚的油污。案子中央,一盆汤正冒着热气。一支点着的蜡烛,就放在两个菜盆之间。杜洛瓦仿佛看到,一对乡下装束、手脚已不太灵便的老人,即他的父亲和母亲,正坐在案边,小口小口地喝着汤。他们苍老脸庞上的每一道皱纹及他们的每一个细微动作,他是那样地熟悉,甚至他们每天面对面坐在案前吃晚饭时互相间会说些什么,他也可以猜到。

  因此他想:“看来我得找个时间回去看看他们了。”就在这时,他的修饰已经完毕,于是吹灭蜡烛,走下楼去。

  他沿着环城大街往前走着,几个妓女走过来和他搭讪,挽起了他的胳膊。他抽出胳膊,满脸鄙夷地叫她们滚开,好像她们小看了他,污辱了他……她们这是把他当作什么人了?这些骚娘儿们怎么竟连自己面前现在站的是什么人也分辨不出来?一套黑色的礼服穿在身上,而今又正要到一家富有、知名、地位显赫的人家去赴宴,他觉得自己已在陡然间变成另一个人,一个地地道道上流社会的绅士。

  他迈着沉着的步履,进了瓦尔特先生家的前厅,几个高高的铜烛台把整个大厅照得通明。然后,他将手杖和外氅交给迎上前来的两个仆人,神态是那样自然。

  所有厅堂都亮如白昼。瓦尔特夫人正站在第二间也即最大的一间客厅前迎接来宾。她笑容可掬,对杜洛瓦的到来深表欢迎。杜洛瓦接着和两个先他而到的人握了握手。这就是身为议员的《法兰西生活报》幕后编辑菲尔曼先生和拉罗舍—马蒂厄先生。拉罗舍—马蒂厄是一位在众议院很有影响的人物,因而在报馆内享有特殊的声望。谁都认为,他坐上部长的席位,不过是时间问题。

  不久,弗雷斯蒂埃夫妇也双双来到。弗雷斯蒂埃夫人今天穿了身粉红色衣服,显得格外端丽。杜洛瓦见她一来便与两位议员随便交谈,不禁暗暗吃惊。她站在壁炉旁,嘀嘀咕咕同拉罗舍—马蒂厄先生谈了足有五分多钟。她丈夫查理则是一副神虚体倦的样子,一个月来他又瘦了许多,且总是咳个不停,口中却不止一次地说道:

  “看来我得下定决心,今冬剩下的日子,非去南方度过不可。”

  这时,诺贝尔·德·瓦伦和雅克·里瓦尔两人,也一起来了。接着,客厅尽头的一扇门忽然打开,瓦尔特先生带着两个身材高俏、芳龄二八的少女走了进来,其中一个长得花容月貌,另一个却丑不堪言。

  杜洛瓦虽然知道老板是有儿女的,但此刻仍不免吃了一惊。他从未想到过老板的这两个女儿,是因为自己身份低下,没有机会见到她们。这正如遥远的国度,由于不可能去那边看看,所以也很少想到一样。再说他原来以为她们一定还小,不想今天一见,方知已长大成人。没有思想准备的他,不禁稍稍有点莫知所措。

  经过一番介绍,她们俩分别伸过手来,同他握了握,接着便在一张显然为她们准备的小桌旁坐了下来,开始摆弄放在柳条筐里的一大堆丝线轴。

  还有几位客人未到,大家都在默默地等待着,大厅里出现了这种类型的晚宴在开始之前所常有的拘束。客人们都来自不同的岗位,经过一天的忙碌,思想上尚未摆脱白天所处的不同氛围。

  坐得无聊的杜洛瓦,不禁抬起头来向墙上看了看。一见此情,站在远处的瓦尔特先生显然想显示一下他的富有,立刻不顾他们中间隔着的一段距离,对他说道:

  “您是在看我的这些油画吗?”他把“我的”两字说得很重。

  “我来给您说一说。”

  说着,为了让大家看得仔细,他端起一盏灯走了过来,一边说道:

  “这几幅是风景画。”

  墙壁中央是出自基耶梅之手的巨幅油画:《暴风雨前夕的诺曼底海滩》。此画下方又挂了两幅画,一幅为阿尔皮尼的《森林》,一幅为基耶梅的《阿尔及利亚平原》,天边画着一头身高腿长的骆驼,看去像是一座奇怪的古代建筑。

  接着转到另一面墙。瓦尔特先生像典礼官宣布什么似的,带着庄重的神态说道:

  “这些画可都是名家的杰作。”

  这里挂的是四幅画,即热尔韦斯的《医院探视》、巴斯蒂安—勒巴热的《收割的农妇》、布格罗的《孀妇》和让—保尔·洛朗的《行刑》。这最后一幅画,画的是旺代①的一名教士靠在教堂的墙上,一队穿着蓝军装的共和军正举枪行刑。

  --------

  ①旺代,法国旧省名。法国大革命时期,是保皇党勾结教会反对资产阶级革命政权,公开举行反叛的巢穴。

  客人们继续往前走去,只见老板庄重的脸上浮起了一丝笑容,他指着另一面墙说道:

  “这几幅画,主题就不那么严肃了。”

  众人首先看到的,是让·贝罗的一小幅油画,题为:《上身和下身》。画家画的是,在一辆正在行驶的双层有轨电车上,一漂亮的巴黎女人正沿着扶梯往上层走去。她的上身已到达上层,而下身仍停留在下层。坐在上层长凳上的男士,一见这张年轻而秀丽的脸庞正向他们迎面而来,不禁怦然心动,目光中透出一片贪婪;站在下层的男士则死死盯着这年轻女人的大腿,流露出既有垂涎之意而又无可奈何的复杂心情。

  瓦尔特先生把灯高高举起,脸上挂着淫荡的微笑,得意地向众人炫耀道:

  “怎么样?有意思吧?”

  轮到下一幅画时,他说这是朗贝尔的《搭救》。

  在一张已经撤去杯盘的桌子中央,蹲着一只小猫。它正带着吃惊和慌乱的神情注视着身旁一个水杯内掉进的一只苍蝇,一只爪子已经举起,就要突然伸将过去,救出苍蝇。但它尚未下定决心,仍在犹豫之中。它会救出小东西吗?

  此后是德塔伊的一幅画:《授课》。画的是兵营里的一个士兵,正在教一只卷毛狗学敲鼓。瓦尔特先生兴致勃勃地指着画说:

  “这幅画的构思实在奇巧!”

  杜洛瓦赞同地笑了笑,情不自禁地附和道:

  “不错,实在好!实在好!实在……”

  这第三个“好”尚未说出,他忽然听到身后传来德·马莱尔夫人的说话声,因此立刻打住了。德·马莱尔夫人显然刚刚走了进来。

  老板举着灯,仍在不厌其烦地向客人介绍其余的画。

  现在大家看到的是莫里斯·勒鲁瓦①的一幅水彩画:《障碍》。画面上,两个市井中的莽悍大汉正在一条街上扭打。双方都有着惊人的块头,因而力大无比。一顶轿子由此经过,见路已堵住,只得停下。轿内探出一妇人的清秀面庞,只见她目不转睛地在那里看着,并无着急之意,更无害怕之感,眼神中甚至带有几分赞叹。

  --------

  ①以上所列各画作者,皆为法国十九世纪画家。

  瓦尔特先生这时又说道:

  “其他房内还有些画,不过都是无名之辈的作品,同这些画相比就大相径庭了。因此可以说,这间客厅也就是我的藏画展厅。我现在正在收购一些年轻画家的作品,收来后就暂且存放于内室,待他们出了名,再拿出来展示。”

  说到这里,他突然压低嗓音,诡秘地说道:

  “现在正是收购的好时机。画家们都穷得要命,简直是上顿不接下顿……”

  然而眼前这些画,杜洛瓦此刻已是视而不见,连老板的热情话语他也听而不闻了。因为德·马莱尔夫人正站在他背后。他该怎么办?如果他去和她打招呼,她会不会根本不予理睬,或者不顾场合地给他两句?可是他若不过去同她寒暄几句,别人又会怎样想?

  想来想去,他决定还是等一等再说。不过这件事已弄得他六神无主,他甚至想假装身体突然不适,借口离去。

  墙上的画已经看完,老板走到一边,把手上的灯放了下来,同最后到来的女客寒暄了两句。杜洛瓦则独自一人,又对着墙上的画琢磨了起来,好像这些画他总也看不够。他心慌意乱,不知如何是好。大厅里,各人的说话声,他听得一清二楚,甚至能听出他们在谈些什么。弗雷斯蒂埃夫人这时喊了一声:

  “杜洛瓦先生,请过来一下。”

  他随即跑了过去,原来是弗雷斯蒂埃夫人要他同她的一位女友认识一下。此人要举行宴会,想在《法兰西生活报》的社会新闻栏登一条启事。

  杜洛瓦慌忙答道:

  “毫无问题,夫人,毫无问题……”

  德·马莱尔夫人此时就站在他身边,他不敢立即离去。

  忽然间,他觉得自己高兴得简直要疯了,因为他听到德·马莱尔夫人大声向他喊道:

  “您好,漂亮朋友,您不认识我啦?”

  他刷地转过身,德·马莱尔夫人正满面笑容地站在他面前,目光欣喜,含情脉脉,并将手向他伸了过来。

  他握着她的手,心里

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