Chapter 15 Suzanne

Morocco had been conquered; France, the mistress of Tangiers, had guaranteed the debt of the annexed country. It was rumored that two ministers, Laroche-Mathieu being one of them, had made twenty millions.

As for Walter, in a few days he had become one of the masters of the world — a financier more omnipotent than a king. He was no longer the Jew, Walter, the director of a bank, the proprietor of a yellow newspaper; he was M. Walter the wealthy Israelite, and he wished to prove it.

Knowing the straitened circumstances of the Prince de Carlsbourg who owned one of the fairest mansions on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore, he proposed to buy it. He offered three million francs for it. The prince, tempted by the sum, accepted his offer; the next day, Walter took possession of his new dwelling. Then another idea occurred to him — an idea of conquering all Paris — an idea a la Bonaparte.

At that time everyone was raving over a painting by the Hungarian, Karl Marcovitch, exhibited by Jacques Lenoble and representing “Christ Walking on the Water.” Art critics enthusiastically declared it to be the most magnificent painting of the age. Walter bought it, thereby causing entire Paris to talk of him, to envy him, to censure or approve his action. He issued an announcement in the papers that everyone was invited to come on a certain evening to see it.

Du Roy was jealous of M. Walter’s success. He had thought himself wealthy with the five hundred thousand francs extorted from his wife, and now he felt poor as he compared his paltry fortune with the shower of millions around him. His envious rage increased daily. He cherished ill will toward everyone — toward the Walters, even toward his wife, and above all toward the man who had deceived him, made use of him, and who dined twice a week at his house. Georges acted as his secretary, agent, mouthpiece, and when he wrote at his dictation, he felt a mad desire to strangle him. Laroche reigned supreme in the Du Roy household, having taken the place of Count de Vaudrec; he spoke to the servants as if he were their master. Georges submitted to it all, like a dog which wishes to bite and dares not. But he was often harsh and brutal to Madeleine, who merely shrugged her shoulders and treated him as one would a fretful child. She was surprised, too, at his constant ill humor, and said: “I do not understand you. You are always complaining. Your position is excellent.”

His only reply was to turn his back upon her. He declared that he would not attend M. Walter’s fete — that he would not cross the miserable Jew’s threshold. For two months Mme. Walter had written to him daily, beseeching him to come to see her, to appoint a meeting where he would, in order that she might give him the seventy thousand francs she had made for him. He did not reply and threw her letters into the fire. Not that he would have refused to accept his share of the profits, but he enjoyed treating her scornfully, trampling her under foot; she was too wealthy; he would be inflexible.

The day of the exhibition of the picture, as Madeleine chided him for not going, he replied: “Leave me in peace. I shall remain at home.”

After they had dined, he said suddenly, “I suppose I shall have to go through with it. Get ready quickly.”

“I shall be ready in fifteen minutes,” she said.

As they entered the courtyard of the Hotel de Carlsbourg it was one blaze of light. A magnificent carpet was spread upon the steps leading to the entrance, and upon each one stood a man in livery, as rigid as marble.

Du Roy’s heart was torn with jealousy. He and his wife ascended the steps and gave their wraps to the footmen who approached them.

At the entrance to the drawing-room, two children, one in pink, the other in blue, handed bouquets to the ladies.

The rooms were already well filled. The majority of the ladies were in street costumes, a proof that they came thither as they would go to any exhibition. The few who intended to remain to the ball which was to follow wore evening dress.

Mme. Walter, surrounded by friends, stood in the second salon and received the visitors. Many did not know her, and walked through the rooms as if in a museum — without paying any heed to the host and hostess.

When Virginie perceived Du Roy, she grew livid and made a movement toward him; then she paused and waited for him to advance. He bowed ceremoniously, while Madeleine greeted her effusively. Georges left his wife near Mme. Walter and mingled with the guests. Five drawing- rooms opened one into the other; they were carpeted with rich, oriental rugs, and upon their walls hung paintings by the old masters. As he made his way through the throng, some one seized his arm, and a fresh, youthful voice whispered in his ear: “Ah, here you are at last, naughty Bel-Ami! Why do we never see you any more?”

It was Suzanne Walter, with her azure eyes and wealth of golden hair. He was delighted to see her, and apologized as they shook hands.

“I have been so busy for two months that I have been nowhere.”

She replied gravely: “That is too bad. You have grieved us deeply, for mamma and I adore you. As for myself, I cannot do without you. If you are not here, I am bored to death. You see I tell you so frankly, that you will not remain away like that any more. Give me your arm; I will show you ‘Christ Walking on the Water’ myself; it is at the very end, behind the conservatory. Papa put it back there so that everyone would be obliged to go through the rooms. It is astonishing how proud papa is of this house.”

As they walked through the rooms, all turned to look at that handsome man and that bewitching girl. A well-known painter said: “There is a fine couple.” Georges thought: “If my position had been made, I would have married her. Why did I never think of it? How could I have taken the other one? What folly! One always acts too hastily — one never reflects sufficiently.” And longing, bitter longing possessed him, corrupting all his pleasure, rendering life odious.

Suzanne said: “You must come often, Bel-Ami; we can do anything we like now papa is rich.”

He replied: “Oh, you will soon marry — some prince, perhaps, and we shall never meet any more.”

She cried frankly: “Oh, oh, I shall not! I shall choose some one I love very dearly. I am rich enough for two.”

He smiled ironically and said: “I give you six months. By that time you will be Madame la Marquise, Madame la Duchesse, or Madame la Princesse, and you will look down upon me, Mademoiselle.”

She pretended to be angry, patted his arm with her fan, and vowed that she would marry according to the dictates of her heart.

He replied: “We shall see; you are too wealthy.”

“You, too, have inherited some money.”

“Barely twenty thousand livres a year. It is a mere pittance nowadays.”

“But your wife has the same.”

“Yes, we have a million together; forty thousand a year. We cannot even keep a carriage on that.”

They had, in the meantime, reached the last drawing-room, and before them lay the conservatory with its rare shrubs and plants. To their left, under a dome of palms, was a marble basin, on the edges of which four large swans of delftware emitted the water from their beaks.

The journalist stopped and said to himself: “This is luxury; this is the kind of house in which to live. Why can I not have one?”

His companion did not speak. He looked at her and thought once more: “If I only had taken her!”

Suddenly Suzanne seemed to awaken from her reverie. “Come,” said she, dragging Georges through a group which barred their way, and turning him to the right. Before him, surrounded by verdure on all sides, was the picture. One had to look closely at it in order to understand it. It was a grand work — the work of a master — one of those triumphs of art which furnishes one for years with food for thought.

Du Roy gazed at it for some time, and then turned away, to make room for others. Suzanne’s tiny hand still rested upon his arm. She asked:

“Would you like a glass of champagne? We will go to the buffet; we shall find papa there.”

Slowly they traversed the crowded rooms. Suddenly Georges heard a voice say: “That is Laroche and Mme. du Roy.”

He turned and saw his wife passing upon the minister’s arm. They were talking in low tones and smiling into each other’s eyes. He fancied he saw some people whisper, as they gazed at them, and he felt a desire to fall upon those two beings and smite them to the earth. His wife was making a laughing-stock of him. Who was she? A shrewd little parvenue, that was all. He could never make his way with a wife who compromised him. She would be a stumbling-block in his path. Ah, if he had foreseen, if he had known. He would have played for higher stakes. What a brilliant match he might have made with little Suzanne! How could he have been so blind?

They reached the dining-room with its marble columns and walls hung with old Gobelins tapestry. Walter spied his editor, and hastened to shake hands. He was beside himself with joy. “Have you seen everything? Say, Suzanne, have you shown him everything? What a lot of people, eh? Have you seen Prince de Guerche? he just drank a glass of punch.” Then he pounced upon Senator Rissolin and his wife.

A gentleman greeted Suzanne — a tall, slender man with fair whiskers and a worldly air. Georges heard her call him Marquis de Cazolles, and he was suddenly inspired with jealousy. How long had she known him? Since she had become wealthy no doubt. He saw in him a possible suitor. Some one seized his arm. It was Norbert de Varenne. The old poet said: “This is what they call amusing themselves. After a while they will dance, then they will retire, and the young girls will be satisfied. Take some champagne; it is excellent.”

Georges scarcely heard his words. He was looking for Suzanne, who had gone off with the Marquis de Cazolles; he left Norbert de Varenne abruptly and went in pursuit of the young girl. The thirsty crowd stopped him; when he had made his way through it, he found himself face to face with M. and Mme. de Marelle. He had often met the wife, but he had not met the husband for some time; the latter grasped both of his hands and thanked him for the message he had sent him by Clotilde relative to the stocks.

Du Roy replied: “In exchange for that service I shall take your wife, or rather offer her my arm. Husband and wife should always be separated.”

M. de Marelle bowed. “Very well. If I lose you we can meet here again in an hour.”

The two young people disappeared in the crowd, followed by the husband. Mme. de Marelle said: “There are two girls who will have twenty or thirty millions each, and Suzanne is pretty in the bargain.”

He made no reply; his own thought coming from the lips of another irritated him. He took Clotilde to see the painting. As they crossed the conservatory he saw his wife seated near Laroche-Mathieu, both of them almost hidden behind a group of plants. They seemed to say: “We are having a meeting in public, for we do not care for the world’s opinion.”

Mme. de Marelle admired Karl Marcovitch’s painting, and they turned to repair to the other rooms. They were separated from M. de Marelle. He asked: “Is Laurine still vexed with me?”

“Yes. She refuses to see you and goes away when you are mentioned.”

He did not reply. The child’s sudden enmity grieved and annoyed him.

Suzanne met them at a door and cried: “Oh, here you are! Now, Bel- Ami, you are going to be left alone, for I shall take Clotilde to see my room.” And the two women glided through the throng. At that moment a voice at his side murmured: “Georges!”

It was Mme. Walter. She continued in a low voice: “How cruel you are! How needlessly you inflict suffering upon me. I bade Suzanne take that woman away that I might have a word with you. Listen: I must speak to you this evening — or — or — you do not know what I shall do. Go into the conservatory. You will find a door to the left through which you can reach the garden. Follow the walk directly in front of you. At the end of it you will see an arbor. Expect me in ten minutes. If you do not meet me, I swear I will cause a scandal here at once!”

He replied haughtily: “Very well, I shall be at the place you named in ten minutes.”

But Jacques Rival detained him. When he reached the alley, he saw Mme. Walter in front of him; she cried: “Ah, here you are! Do you wish to kill me?”

He replied calmly: “I beseech you, none of that, or I shall leave you at once.”

Throwing her arms around his neck, she exclaimed: “What have I done to you that you should treat me so?”

He tried to push her away: “You twisted your hair around my coat buttons the last time we met, and it caused trouble between my wife and myself.”

She shook her head: “Ah, your wife would not care. It was one of your mistresses who made a scene.”

“I have none.”

“Indeed! Why do you never come to see me? Why do you refuse to dine with me even once a week? I have no other thoughts than of you. I suffer terribly. You cannot understand that your image, always present, closes my throat, stifles me, and leaves me scarcely strength enough to move my limbs in order to walk. So I remain all day in my chair thinking of you.”

He looked at her in astonishment. These were the words of a desperate woman, capable of anything. He, however, cherished a vague project and replied: “My dear, love is not eternal. One loves and one ceases to love. When it lasts it becomes a drawback. I want none of it! However, if you will be reasonable, and will receive and treat me as a friend, I will come to see you as formerly. Can you do that?”

She murmured: “I can do anything in order to see you.”

“Then it is agreed that we are to be friends, nothing more.”

She gasped: “It is agreed”; offering him her lips she cried in her despair: “One more kiss — one last kiss!”

He gently drew back. “No, we must adhere to our rules.”

She turned her head and wiped away two tears, then drawing from her bosom a package of notes tied with pink ribbon, she held it toward Du Roy: “Here is your share of the profits in that Moroccan affair. I was so glad to make it for you. Here, take it.”

He refused: “No, I cannot accept that money.”

She became excited: “Oh, you will not refuse it now! It is yours, yours alone. If you do not take it, I will throw it in the sewer. You will not refuse it, Georges!”

He took the package and slipped it into his pocket “We must return to the house; you will take cold.”

“So much the better; if I could but die!”

She seized his hand, kissed it passionately, and fled toward the house. He returned more leisurely, and entered the conservatory with head erect and smiling lips. His wife and Laroche were no longer there. The crowd had grown thinner. Suzanne, leaning on her sister’s arm, advanced toward him. In a few moments, Rose, whom they teased about a certain Count, turned upon her heel and left them.

Du Roy, finding himself alone with Suzanne, said in a caressing voice: “Listen, my dear little one; do you really consider me a friend?”

“Why, yes, Bel-Ami.”

“You have faith in me?”

“Perfect faith.”

“Do you remember what I said to you a while since?”

“About what?”

“About your, marriage, or rather the man you would marry.”

“Yes.”

“Well, will you promise me one thing?”

“Yes; what is it?”

“To consult me when you receive a proposal and to accept no one without asking my advice.”

“Yes, I will gladly.”

“And it is to be a secret between us — not a word to your father or mother.”

“Not a word.”

Rival approached them saying: “Mademoiselle, your father wants you in the ballroom.”

She said: “Come, Bel-Ami,” but he refused, for he had decided to leave at once, wishing to be alone with his thoughts. He went in search of his wife, and found her drinking chocolate at the buffet with two strange men. She introduced her husband without naming them.

In a short while, he asked: “Shall we go?”

“Whenever you like.”

She took his arm and they passed through the almost deserted rooms.

Madeleine asked: “Where is Mme. Walter; I should like to bid her good-bye.”

“It is unnecessary. She would try to keep us in the ballroom, and I have had enough.”

“You are right.”

On the way home they did not speak. But when they had entered their room, Madeleine, without even taking off her veil, said to him with a smile: “I have a surprise for you.”

He growled ill-naturedly: “What is it?”

“Guess.”

“I cannot make the effort.”

“The day after to-morrow is the first of January.”

“Yes.”

“It is the season for New Year’s gifts.”

“Yes.”

“Here is yours, which Laroche handed me just now.” She gave him a small black box which resembled a jewel-casket.

He opened it indifferently and saw the cross of the Legion of Honor. He turned a trifle pale, then smiled, and said: “I should have preferred ten millions. That did not cost him much.”

She had expected a transport of delight and was irritated by his indifference.

“You are incomprehensible. Nothing seems to satisfy you.”

He replied calmly: “That man is only paying his debts; he owes me a great deal more.”

She was astonished at his tone, and said: “It is very nice, however, at your age.”

He replied: “I should have much more.”

He took the casket, placed it on the mantelpiece, and looked for some minutes at the brilliant star within it, then he closed it with a shrug of his shoulders and began to prepare to retire.

“L’Officiel” of January 1 announced that M. Prosper Georges du Roy had been decorated with the Legion of Honor for exceptional services. The name was written in two words, and that afforded Georges more pleasure than the decoration itself.

An hour after having read that notice, he received a note from Mme. Walter, inviting him to come and bring his wife to dine with them that evening, to celebrate his distinction.

At first he hesitated, then throwing the letter in the fire, he said to Madeleine: “We shall dine at the Walters’ this evening.”

In her surprise she exclaimed: “Why, I thought you would never set your foot in their house again.”

His sole reply was: “I have changed my mind.”

When they arrived at Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore, they found Mme. Walter alone in the dainty boudoir in which she received her intimate friends. She was dressed in black and her hair was powdered. At a distance she appeared like an old lady, in proximity, like a youthful one.

“Are you in mourning?” asked, Madeleine.

She replied sadly: “Yes and no. I have lost none of my relatives, but I have arrived at an age when one should wear somber colors. I wear it to-day to inaugurate it; hitherto I have worn it in my heart.”

The dinner was somewhat tedious. Suzanne alone talked incessantly. Rose seemed preoccupied. The journalist was overwhelmed with congratulations, after the meal, when all repaired to the drawing- rooms. Mme. Walter detained him as they were about to enter the salon, saying: “I will never speak of anything to you again, only come to see me, Georges. It is impossible for me to live without you. I see you, I feel you, in my heart all day and all night. It is as if I had drunk a poison which preyed upon me. I cannot bear it. I would rather be as an old woman to you. I powdered my hair for that reason to-night; but come here — come from time to time as a friend.”

He replied calmly: “Very well. It is unnecessary to speak of it again. You see I came to-day on receipt of your letter.”

Walter, who had preceded them, with his two daughters and Madeleine, awaited Du Roy near the picture of “Christ Walking on the Water.”

“Only think,” said he, “I found my wife yesterday kneeling before that painting as if in a chapel. She was praying!”

Mme. Walter replied in a firm voice, in a voice in which vibrated a secret exaltation: “That Christ will save my soul. He gives me fresh courage and strength every time that I look at Him.” And pausing before the picture, she murmured: “How beautiful He is! How frightened those men are, and how they love Him! Look at His head, His eyes, how simple and supernatural He is at the same time!”

Suzanne cried: “Why, He looks like you, Bel-Ami! I am sure He looks like you. The resemblance is striking.”

She made him stand beside the painting and everyone recognized the likeness. Du Roy was embarrassed. Walter thought it very singular; Madeleine, with a smile, remarked that Jesus looked more manly. Mme. Walter stood by motionless, staring fixedly at her lover’s face, her cheeks as white as her hair.

  对摩洛哥的远征,已于两个月前结束。法国在夺取丹吉尔后,直达的黎波里的非洲地中海沿岸地区已全在她的占领之下。此外,这又一个被吞并的国家所欠债务,已由法国政府提供担保。

  据说有两位部长借此机会赚了两千来万,其中就有人们常常直言不讳提到的拉罗舍—马蒂厄。

  至于瓦尔特,巴黎谁人不知,仅股票一项,他就赚了三四千万,此外还在铜矿、铁矿和地产经营上赚了八百至一千万,真是财源广进。法国占领前,他以极低的价格购进了大片土地,占领后很快便卖给了各殖民开发公司,因此赚了大钱。

  短短几天工夫,他便成了世界上屈指可数的富翁和实力雄厚的金融巨头,远远胜过一些国家的国王。谁见到他,都是一副敛声静气、低头哈腰的奴才相。同时他的发迹,也使许多人羡慕不已,内心深处卑鄙龌龊的想法,因而暴露于光天化日之下。

  对他来说,“犹太人瓦尔特”、“来历不明的银行老板”、“行迹可疑的报馆经理”、“靠贿赂当选的众院议员”,所有这些带有贬损的称呼已统统成为过去。人们现在知道的他,是以色列人富翁瓦尔特先生。

  对于自己的富有,他也确实想显示一下。

  在圣奥诺雷关厢街拥有一幢豪华宅第,且宅第内的花园与香榭丽舍大街相通的卡尔斯堡亲王,当时在生活上相当拮据。瓦尔特得悉后,即向亲王提出由他买下这幢宅第,并要亲王在二十四小时内迁出,所有陈设均保持原样,连一把扶手椅也不用移动。他出的价钱是三百万。亲王拗不过这诱人的数额,终于拍板成交。

  第二天,瓦尔特便在此新居安顿了下来。

  不久,他又忽发奇想,产生了一个与波拿巴①媲美的念头,想征服整个巴黎。

  --------

  ①波拿巴,即拿破仑。

  匈牙利画家卡尔·马科维奇的巨幅油画《基督凌波图》,当时正在著名鉴赏家雅克·勒诺布的陈列室展出,很快引起轰动,人人竞相前往观看。

  艺术评论家们也是交口称誉,说这幅画是本世纪最为杰出的一幅作品。

  不想瓦尔特忽然以五十万法郎将画买了去,从而使满心欢喜的观众大失所望,同时瓦尔特也在一夜之间成了全城的议论中心。对于他的这一做法,有的羡慕,有的谩骂,有的叫好。

  随后,他又在各报登出一则消息,邀请巴黎各界名流在一天晚上前往他家欣赏这幅出自外国名家之手的杰作,免得人们说他把画藏了起来。

  他家将因而大门洞开,凡愿前往一睹为快者,只须在门前出示请柬,便可进入。请柬是这样写的:

  十二月三十日晚九时,卡尔·马科维奇的《基督凌波图》将在寒舍展出,届时有电灯照明。阁下若能大驾光临,将不胜荣幸。

  瓦尔特先生和夫人

  请柬下方附有一行小字:午夜过后将举行舞会。

  因此,凡愿留下者届时尽可留下。瓦尔特夫妇将在他们当中结交新友。

  其他人在欣赏名画的同时,还可在宅第内随便走走,见见男女主人,而不管这些来自上流社会的人士是怎样傲慢或态度冷漠。这之后,他们便可趁兴而去。但瓦尔特老头深信,过一阵子,他们还会来的。因为他们对他的那些同他一样发迹的以色列兄弟常去造访。

  当务之急是让报上经常提到的那些拥有贵族头衔但已家道中落的人士,前来看看。这样做,一来是让他们看看一个在一个半月内便赚了五千万的人,是怎样一副模样;二来是让他们亲眼目睹,来他家的人是如何地似潮水一般。除此之外,还想让他们看出,他这个以色列子弟把他们请到家里来欣赏一幅描绘基督的油画,是有着怎样的雅兴,处事是怎样地灵活。

  他的意思不言自明:“你们看,马科维奇这幅有关宗教题材的《基督凌波图》,我是花了五十万法郎才买下来的。我虽是犹太人,但这幅画将永远放在家里,天天在眼皮底下。”

  此邀请在社交界,特别是在众多贵妇和绔绔子弟中,引起了热烈议论,虽然它并未提出任何要求。去看这幅画,也就同到帕蒂先生的画室去看一些水彩画一样。瓦尔特得了一幅名画,他要在一天晚上敞开大门,让大家都去看看,这岂不是一件时下难遇的美事?

  半个月来,《法兰西生活报》每天都对十二月三十日晚的这场盛会作了大量报道,想方设法把公众的兴趣激发起来。

  见老板忽然变得如此富有,杜·洛瓦恨得咬牙切齿。

  他费尽心机,从妻子手中强夺了五十万法郎后,本以为自己已经相当富有,现在却觉得还是很穷。周围有钱的人比比皆是,而他却一个子儿也挣不到。同他们的巨万家资相比,自己这点钱又算得了什么?

  他的心被忌妒啮咬着,无名火与日俱增。他恨所有的人,恨瓦尔特一家,因此现已不去他家。他恨自己的妻子,因为她上了拉罗舍的当,不让他购买摩洛哥股票。他更恨这位外交部长,因为他骗了他,利用了他,竟有脸每星期两次来他家吃晚饭。他成了他的秘书,办事员和笔杆子,每当他在他面前为他捉刀时,他真想将这自命不凡处处得意的家伙活活掐死。作为一名部长,拉罗舍其实并无多少政绩。为了保住这个职位,他处心积虑地不让人看出他捞了许多。但这一点,他杜·洛瓦却看得清清楚楚,因为这陡然发迹的区区律师,一言一行是那样大胆,狂妄,那样目空一切,自以为是。

  在杜·洛瓦家,拉罗舍现在是随意进出,完全取代了德·沃德雷克伯爵的位置,一如这位伯爵在世时的样子,且对仆人说话,俨然是一副家中主人的神气。

  杜·洛瓦对此虽然气得浑身发抖,但不敢发作,如同一条狗,虽想咬人,但不敢张口。因此他只得迁怒玛德莱娜,动辄对她恶言恶语。每当此时,玛德莱娜总是耸耸肩,把他当作不懂事的孩子。再说他的这种喜怒无常,她也实在无法理解,常常说道:

  “我真弄不明白,你为何总这样牢骚满腹,其实你现在的处境已经够好的了。”

  每听到这种责问,杜·洛瓦总是转过身去,低头不语。

  至于老板家即将举行的晚会,他早已申言自己是绝不会去的。这可恶的犹太人家,他不想再踏进一步。

  两个月来,瓦尔特夫人是天天给他写信,求他去她家,或是约个地方,同她见上一面。她说,她要把自己为他赚的七万法郎交给他。

  这些情急辞迫的来信,都被杜·洛瓦随手扔到了壁炉里,他一个字也没有回。他这样做,倒不是因为不想要自己应得的一份,而是有意怠慢她,鄙视她,折磨她。她是那样有钱,他不愿对她有求必应。

  晚会举行那天,玛德莱娜对他说,他不去看看是不对的,他却答道:

  “请别管我的事好不好,我就是不去。”

  可是吃过晚饭之后,他又突然说道:

  “这个罪看来还得去受,你去快点准备。”

  玛德莱娜料定他会去的,因此说道:

  “我只需一刻钟便可动身。”

  他一边穿礼服,一边嘟嘟囔囔,甚至上了车也还在骂骂咧咧。

  原属卡尔斯堡亲王的那幢宅第内,前院四角各挂了一盏电灯,恰如四个发出淡蓝色光芒的小月亮,把整个院子照得通明。正房门前的高高台阶上铺着一块华丽的地毯。每一级台阶旁都直挺挺地站着一个身穿制服的听差,看去恰似一尊尊石雕。

  “嚯,他们可真会装腔作势!”杜·洛瓦耸了耸肩骂道,心里因嫉妒而老大不快。

  “住嘴,”他妻子向他说道,“你也暂且装装样子吧。”

  他们走了进去,脱下出门穿的沉重外衣,交给迎上前来的仆人。

  好几位女士已随同丈夫前来,现也正忙着脱去身上的裘皮大衣,“这房子真气派!”的赞叹声不绝于耳。

  宽大的前厅,四壁挂着壁毯,壁毯上绣的是马尔斯战神和维纳斯女神的恋爱故事。左右两边是气势雄伟的楼梯,拾级而上,可达二楼。用铸铁制成的栏杆,因年代久远,外表镀金已不太耀眼,但在红色大理石阶梯的衬托下,其淡淡的光芒仍隐约可见。

  客厅门前站着两个小姑娘,其中一个穿着粉红色衣裙,另一个穿着蓝色衣裙。每有客人到来,她们便向女士们献上一束鲜花。大家都觉得这一安排别有情趣。

  各个客厅都已是宾客满堂。

  女士们大都服饰一般,以表明她们今晚来此同平素参观其他私人画展,并无多大不同。打算留下来参加舞会的女士,则全都是袒胸露背。

  瓦尔特夫人在第二个客厅接待来客,身边围着一群女友。许多人因不认识她,像在博物馆参观一样,并未注意谁是此房屋的主人。

  看到杜·洛瓦到来,她的脸色刷的一下一片苍白,且身子动了一下,想迎上前去。但她终于还是站着未动,等着他过来。杜·洛瓦彬彬有礼地向她欠了欠身,玛德莱娜则同她亲热无比,恭维的话语没完没了。杜·洛瓦于是让妻子陪同这位老板夫人,自己很快钻入人群,想去听听肯定可听到的尖锐议论。

  五间客厅一个连着一个,全都挂着名贵的帷幔或意大利刺绣及色彩和风格迥异的东方壁毯。古代画家的名画点缀其间。一间仍保留着路易十六时代式样的小客厅,特别引人注目。客厅内的座椅全都放着丝质软垫,淡蓝色底衬上绣着一朵朵玫瑰。低矮的木质家具,漆得一片金黄,上面所罩饰物同墙上所挂帷幔一样,做工精美绝伦。

  一些著名人士,杜·洛瓦一眼便认了出来。其中有德·黛拉希娜公爵夫人、德·拉弗内尔伯爵夫妇、德·安德勒蒙亲王将军、美若天仙的德·迪纳侯爵夫人,以及在各重要场合常可见到的男男女女。

  有人这时拉了一下他的胳臂,同时耳际传来一阵银铃般的娇滴滴声音:

  “啊!漂亮朋友,你这个死鬼,今天总算来了。这些日子为什么总也见不到你?”

  披着一头金色鬈发的苏珊·瓦尔特正站在他面前,以其清澈的明眸看着他。

  杜·洛瓦没有想到是她,心中很是高兴,遂同她握了握手,解释道:

  “我何尝不想来?可是最近两个月,实在忙得不可开交,一直分不开身。”

  “这可不好,”苏珊的神情非常严肃,“很不好。你让我们太伤心了,因为妈妈和我,现在都很喜欢你。特别是我,已经离不开你。你要不来,我简直闷死了。你看,我已将心里话对你说了,你要是再不来就太不应该了。现在让我挽上你的胳臂,由我带你去看《基督凌波图》。这幅画在顶里边的花房后部。我爸爸把它放在那儿,无非是想让大家在这里多走一走,炫耀一下他这幢房子。他这样做实在让人难以理解。”

  他们在人群中慢慢地走着。这英俊潇洒的少年和这楚楚动人的姑娘,立即引起了众人的注意。

  “瞧,”一位知名画家说道,“这可是无与伦比的一对,两个人无论在哪一方面都很般配。”

  杜·洛瓦听了,心中不禁思忖道:

  “我要是真有能耐,当初本应娶的是这一位。这其实不难办到,我怎么就没有想到呢?相反,我糊里糊涂娶了那一个,真是昏了头!可见一个人在作出一项决定时常常显得过于匆忙而考虑不周。”

  想到这里,他像是心里流进了滴滴苦酒,感到分外苦涩,顿时万念俱灰,觉得自己这一生也太没意思了。

  “漂亮朋友,”苏珊这时向他说道,“你可要常来。爸爸现在是这样富有,我们什么也不用担忧,可以痛痛快快地尽情玩乐。”

  “唉!”仍沉浸于其思绪中的杜·洛瓦说道,“你很快就要结婚的,你会嫁给一个家势煊赫但已有点败落的贵族。这样,我们以后见面的机会不会太多的。”

  “你在说些什么!”苏珊不假思索地说,“我马上还不会结婚。我要找个我所喜欢,非常喜欢,完全喜欢的人。家里有的是钱,我要将这一生当作两个人生来度过。”

  杜·洛瓦笑了笑,神情中带着讥讽和傲慢。接着,他指着身边来来往往的人,将他们的境遇向她一一作了介绍,说他们都出身高贵,但家道已远不如当年,靠着那依然保存的空爵位而娶了个像她这样的金融家女儿。现在,他们有的还同妻子保持着一定的关系,有的则早已离开妻子。但不论属何情况,皆自由自在,生活放荡,为众人所熟悉且备受尊敬。

  “我敢担保,”他最后说道,“不出半年,你也会经不住这方面的诱惑而嫁给一位侯爵、公爵或亲王的。到那时,你便会高高在上,看不起我的,小姐。”

  苏珊气愤不已,用手上的扇子在他的胳臂上打了一下,说她一定要找个自己所满意的人。

  杜·洛瓦发出一声冷笑:“不信咱们就等着瞧,因为你们家太有钱了。”

  “你不是也得了一笔遗产吗?”苏珊问道。

  “唉!”杜·洛瓦难为情地叹息一声,“这笔遗产带给我的,不过是一年两万法郎的年金。在现在这种时候,这点钱又算得了什么?”

  “你妻子不也得了一笔遗产吗?”

  “是的,两人加在一起是一百万,每年可得年金四万。靠这点收入,连一辆像样的马车也买不了。”

  不知不觉中,他们已来到最里边的那间客厅里,一间巨大的温室蓦然展现在眼前。虽是隆冬时节,温室里高大的热带树木却郁郁葱葱。树下种着大片大片的奇花异草。走进这深绿色的天地中,湿润泥土的清新气息和花草所发出的浓郁芳香,顿时扑鼻而来。灯光从顶部照射下来,好似飘落下一阵阵银白的雨丝。这令人振奋的柔和人造氛围,非平时所常见,其引人入胜给人以一种甜美的异样感觉。两排茂密的灌木丛之间,是一条条长满藓苔的小径,好像铺着绿色的地毯。杜·洛瓦倏地发现,左边一颗枝繁叶茂的棕榈树下,有一个大得可以沐浴的大理石水池。池边放着四个代尔夫特①所产大型瓷塑天鹅,一股股清泉从其微微张开的嘴内不断喷出。

  --------

  ①代尔夫特,荷兰瓷都。

  水池底部铺了一层金黄色细沙,几条来自中国的金鱼正在水中嬉戏。这些外形奇特、体大腰圆的金鱼,不仅眼球凸出,而且每块鳞片的边缘都呈蓝色,是养于水中,用于观赏的。看到这些时而到处游弋、时而一动不动的小东西,不禁使人想起中国巧夺天工的刺绣。

  杜·洛瓦停下脚步,不觉怦然心动,心中嘀咕道:“要说富有,这才是名副其实。只有住在这样的地方,才算不枉度此生。

  问题是别人能够做到,而我为何不能?”

  他想了想,看自己有何办法可以施展,但这种办法岂能立时想出?他因此为自己的无能而深感懊恼。

  他身边的苏珊这时一言未语,似乎在想着什么。他侧过眼向她看了看,刚才的想法再次涌现于脑际:

  “我当初要是娶了这没有头脑的姑娘,也就好了。”

  “当心!”苏珊好像突然从其悠悠遐思中惊醒过来,向他喊了一声,推着他穿过面前的人群,向右拐了过去。

  这时,只见一簇奇异的树木,其叶片像张开五指的手掌,颤悠悠地伸向天空。就在这树丛的中央,一个人正动也不动地立于海面上。

  别具匠心的布置,确实产生了意想不到的效果。油画的四周完全淹没于摇曳不定的绿叶丛中,使得整个画面看去像是一个深不可测、如梦如幻的黑洞。

  观众必须仔细观看,方可看清画上原来画着一条小船。由于布置巧妙,船体部分已尽皆隐去。其实船舷上正坐着一位圣徒,手上举着一盏灯。明亮的灯光全都照在翩翩而来的基督身上。不过,在昏暗的灯影里,船上的其他圣徒仍依稀可辨。

  基督踏着波浪往前走着,脚下的波涛立时顺从地退去,让出了一条道。圣人周围一片黑暗,只有点点繁星在夜空中闪烁。

  提灯的信徒照着慢慢走来的基督,明灭不定的灯光中显现出圣徒们一张张惊喜的脸庞。

  这确是一幅气魄宏大、匠心独运的名家之作。谁看了都会产生强烈的印象,令你梦牵魂萦,久久不能忘怀。

  因此今日来此观看的人,起先都敛声静气,默然无语,过了一会儿也就若有所思地走开了,随后才会谈起这幅画的价值。

  杜·洛瓦看了片刻,心下想道:

  “能够买下这样的东西,确实非同小可。”

  见不大的场地前,现在已是挤挤撞撞,他也就紧紧地夹着依然挽着他的苏珊那只纤纤细手,立即退了出来。

  “要不要喝杯香槟?”,苏珊问他。“我们现在不妨去餐厅坐坐,或许能在那儿见到我爸爸。”

  他们于是慢慢地往回走着,各个客厅里都挤着满满的宾客,衣香鬓影,人声鼎沸。

  “那是拉罗舍和杜·洛瓦夫人,”杜·洛瓦忽然听到好像有人在说。话音从他耳边轻轻掠过,似乎来自很远的地方。是从哪儿传来的呢?

  他往四下看了看,果然看到他妻子正挎着这位部长走了过来。两个人笑容满面,在低声说着什么悄悄话,不时对视的目光,柔情依依。

  他感到,旁人好像在一边看着他们,一边发出低声议论。他真想冲过去,不管三七二十一,给这两个鬼男女狠狠几拳。

  玛德莱娜这样做,真让他丢尽了脸。他不由地想起弗雷斯蒂埃,人们现在谈到他杜·洛瓦时,可能也在称他为“龟公”。她有什么了不起?不过是个发迹小人,表面上确有几分机灵,实际上并无多大能耐。人们所以常来他家作客,是因为不敢得罪他,知道他并非等闲之辈。不过,人们在私下议论他俩时,一定无所顾忌。这也难怪,这个女人一举一动都像在玩弄心术,名声越来越糟,因此已将他这个家弄得流言四起。同她在一起,他杜·洛瓦绝不会有什么作为的。她已成为他的绊脚石。啊,早知今日,他定使出浑身解数,好好作弄她一番!比如眼前这位可人的苏珊,他便可大加利用,使她无地自容。他怎么就瞎了眼,没有看到这一点呢?

  他和苏珊此时已来到餐厅。餐厅很大,一排排大理石柱子,气势宏伟。墙上挂着年代久远的戈柏兰①珍贵壁毯。

  瓦尔特一眼瞥见他这位专栏编辑,急忙走来同他握了握手,心中的喜悦显而易见:

  --------

  ①戈柏兰,巴黎旧时著名壁毯作坊。

  “各处都看了吗?苏珊,你是否领着他,将应走的地方都走到了?漂亮朋友,今天到的人真多,你说是不是?盖尔什亲王也来了,你见到没有?他刚才在这儿喝了杯五味子酒。”

  说罢,他又向参议员黎梭兰迎了上去。参议员身后跟着他的妻子。这没有头脑的女人,把自己打扮得像杂货铺一样花哨。

  一位男士这时走来向苏珊打了个招呼。此人瘦高个儿,脸上蓄着金色的络腮胡子。头已有点秃,一副社交场合到处可见的潇洒神气。杜·洛瓦已听人称呼他为德·卡佐勒侯爵。他此时忽然对这位侯爵产生了嫉妒。他是什么时候同苏珊认识的?无疑是在她家发了财之后。不用说,此人现在一定在追求苏珊。

  有人碰了一下他的胳臂,杜·洛瓦回过头,原来是诺贝尔·德·瓦伦。老诗人头发梳得油光可鉴,身上的礼服却是皱巴巴的,一脸漠然而又疲惫的神情。

  “今日这种场合,就是我们常说的及时行乐,”他说,“一会儿还有舞会,跳完舞便回去睡觉。这难得的机会,女孩子定会高兴异常。你何不喝杯香槟?这酒好极了。”

  他让人将自己手上的酒杯倒满,举起杯,向此时已拿起一杯酒的杜·洛瓦敬酒道:

  “愿头脑精明者,能战胜百万富翁。”

  接着,他又温和地说道:

  “倒不是因为我对他人有钱感到不舒服,或者嫉恨他们,这是我的原则立场。”

  杜·洛瓦没有再听他说下去,因为苏珊已随着德·卡佐纳侯爵走了。他撇下诺贝尔·德·瓦伦,立刻追了上去。

  可是恰在这时,一群人乱哄哄地涌来,想喝点什么。他因而被挡住了去路。待他好不容易挤出来时,不想却与德·马莱尔夫妇撞个满怀。

  德·马莱尔夫人他常可见到,但她丈夫他却很久未见了。

  德·马莱尔先生走上来紧紧握着他的双手说道:

  “亲爱的,您上次让克洛蒂尔德捎给我的话,令我不胜感激。我因购买摩洛哥债券而赚了差不多十万法郎。没有您,这钱是赚不到的。您真是一位很重情谊的朋友。”

  几位男士不时回转身来看着这妖娆而俏丽的褐发女人,杜·洛瓦随即说道:

  “亲爱的,作为回报,请允许我带走您的妻子,或者说,允许我挽上她的胳膊,去走一走。一对夫妇不应总在一起,您说是吗?”

  “完全对,”德·马莱尔先生欠了欠身。“要是我们走散了,便一小时后在此会面。”

  “好的。”

  两个年轻人说着挤进人群,后面跟着这位丈夫。克洛蒂尔德感慨万千,不停地说道:

  “瓦尔特这一家真是走运。不过归根结蒂,还是因为人家有生意头脑。”

  “瞧你说的,”杜·洛瓦反驳道,“一个人只要有能耐,便总会成功的。总之是各有各的办法。”

  “两个女孩每人将有两三千万法郎,”克洛蒂尔德又说,“且不说苏珊长得那样漂亮。”

  杜·洛瓦没有接茬。见他的心事被人道破,他很是不快。

  克洛蒂尔德尚未去看《基督凌波图》,杜·洛瓦说他愿为引路。一路上,他们说说笑笑,以糟践他人为乐,对陌生人更是品头论足,无所顾忌。圣波坦这时走了过来,上衣的翻领上挂满各种勋章。他们一见,不禁开怀大笑。走在他后面的一位前任驻外大使,胸前也挂着勋章,但数目远不如圣波坦多。

  “这个社会真是无奇不有,”杜·洛瓦忽然大发感慨。

  布瓦勒纳也走来同他握了握手,胸前也挂了根决斗那天带过的黄绿两色绶带。

  佩尔斯缪子爵夫人虽然身躯肥胖,但也精心打扮了一番。她此刻正在路易十六时代式样的那间小客厅里,同一位公爵说着什么。

  “一对情人在窃窃私语,”杜·洛瓦调侃道。进入花房后,他又看到自己的妻子正坐在一簇花丛后面,身旁是拉罗舍—马蒂厄。他们这样做,分明带有这样的意思:“我们就要在这大庭广众之下幽会,别人怎样说,我们毫不在乎。”

  德·马莱尔夫人在看了卡尔·马科维奇所绘基督后,也认为这幅画确实非同一般。此后,他们开始往回走,但她丈夫已不知往哪里去了。

  “洛琳娜还在恨我吗?”杜·洛瓦突然问道。

  “这还用说?她根本不想见你,别人一谈起你,她便走开。”

  杜·洛瓦没再说什么。小家伙突然对他如此反感,真让他不知如何是好,心里备觉沉重。

  走到一扇门边,苏珊蓦地出现在他们面前,大声喊道:“啊!你们在这儿。这样吧,漂亮朋友,你姑且独自呆一会儿。我要带克洛蒂尔德去我房间看看。”

  两个女人匆匆走了。人群虽然密集,但她们扭动灵活的身腰,竟然顺利穿了过去。这是她们在此场合的拿手好戏。

  “乔治!”有人这时轻轻喊了一声。杜·洛瓦回转身,原来是瓦尔特夫人。她接着压低嗓音说道:“你这个人心也太狠了,这样折磨我,对你有什么好处?我让小苏珊把你身边的那个女人带走,就是要同你谈一谈。听着,我今晚无论如何……无论如何要同你谈谈……否则……否则……我不知会做出什么事来的。你马上到花房去。花房的左边有一扇门,出了门便是花园。你沿着对面的小路一直往前走,很快可看到一个葡萄架。我们十分钟后就在那儿见面。你若不去,我马上就会撕破脸大闹起来,这绝不是戏言!”

  “好吧,”杜·洛瓦高傲地答道,“我十分钟后一定到达你刚才说的那个地方。”

  他们随即分了手。不过杜·洛瓦却差点因雅克·里瓦尔的纠缠,而未能准时到达。因为后者忽然走来挽上他的胳膊,神采飞扬地同他说得没完没了。他显然是从餐厅喝了酒来的。后来,杜·洛瓦在一间客厅里又遇到了德·马莱尔先生,总算把雅克·里瓦尔交给了他,自己才脱了身。他现在需要做的是,决不能让妻子或拉罗舍看到自己。所幸这一方面倒还顺利。因为他们此刻好像仍在那里热烈地谈着什么。这样,他终于到了花园里。

  不想外面的阵阵寒气,冻得他像是掉进了冰窟窿,心中不由地想道:“他妈的,这样下去非感冒不可。”他于是将一方手帕,像领带一样系在脖颈上,沿着小径慢慢地往前走去。由于刚刚走出灯火辉煌的客厅,脚下的路一时看不太清。

  左右两边的灌木丛,树叶早已脱落,细小的枝条在寒风中抖动。房内射出的灯光照在上面,灰蒙蒙一片。他依稀看到前边的路中央仿佛有个白晃晃的东西,原来是瓦尔特夫人正袒胸露背地站在那里。她颓丧地说道:

  “啊,你总算来了!你难道要逼我去死?”

  “又来了,”杜·洛瓦不慌不忙地说道,“别这样好不好?你若不听,我马上就走。”

  瓦尔特夫人钩住他的脖颈,嘴对着嘴向他说道:

  “我哪一点对不起你?为何总这样躲着我?说,我在哪儿得罪了你?”

  杜·洛瓦试图将她推开,一边说道:

  “上次见面,你将头发绕在我上衣的扣子上,弄得我妻子差点同我闹翻。”

  瓦尔特夫人听了一怔,但很快便使劲摇着头:

  “胡说!你妻子才不管这些呢,一定是你的哪个情妇因此同你闹了一场。”

  “我没有情妇。”

  “住嘴!你为何总也不来看我?为何连一星期一次同我一起吃餐晚饭也不愿?我受的苦三天三夜也说不完。我是这样地爱你,无时无刻不想的是你,你的身影总在我眼前晃动,每说一句话,总担心会带出你的名字来。这一切,你知道吗?我感到自己像是被什么东西紧紧地束缚住,像是陷入了罗网,究竟是什么,自己也说不清楚。我什么时候都在想着你,结果是喉头发紧,胸部像撕裂了似的,两腿瘫软如绵,连路也走不了。这样,我整天呆呆地僵坐在椅子上,心里却仍旧想的是你。”

  杜·洛瓦惊异地看着她,发现他所熟悉、身体微胖、一脸调皮孩子气的她,已经是一点影子也见不到了。现在出现在他面前的,是一个烦躁不安、绝望之极,什么都能做得出来的女人。

  一个模糊的想法开始在他的脑海中形成,只见他说道:“亲爱的,爱情并不是永恒之物。有聚有散,才是正理。像我们这样下去,必会弄得对双方都非常不利。与其这样,还不如早日分手。我说的这些,全是实情。不过,你若能表现得理智一点,把我当作你的一个朋友来接待我,对待我,我定会像往常一样,来看你的。这一点,不知你能否做到?”

  瓦尔特夫人将她那裸露的双臂压在他穿着黑色礼服的胸前,说道:

  “只要能见到你,让我做什么都可以。”

  “可是说定了,”杜·洛瓦说,“我们只是普通朋友,没有其他任何关系。”

  “当然说定了,”瓦尔特夫人嘟哝道,但紧接着便将嘴唇向他凑了过来,说道:“吻我一下……最后一次。”

  “不行,”杜·洛瓦和蔼地拒绝道,“刚定下的规矩,岂能马上就推翻?”

  她转过身,擦了擦夺眶而出的泪水,然后从胸衣内抽出一个用粉红色丝带捆着的纸包,递给杜·洛瓦:

  “给,这是购买摩洛哥股票赚的钱中你所应得的一份。能为你弄点外快,我很高兴。喏,拿去吧……”

  “不,”杜·洛瓦不想要,“这钱我不能收。”

  “什么?”瓦尔特夫人勃然大怒,“你今天可别给我来这一套。这钱明明是你的,除了你,谁也不能要。你如不要,我就把它扔到阴沟里去。乔治,你这人怎么这样?”

  杜·洛瓦于是接过小纸包,随即放到了口袋里。

  “现在该回去了,”他说,“否则你会得肺炎的。”

  “这样岂不更好?我真希望能快快死掉。”瓦尔特夫人说,同时一下拿起他的一只手,带着疯狂和绝望,没命地在上面亲了又亲。随后便恋恋不舍地跑到楼里去了。

  杜·洛瓦于是慢条斯理地往回走着,心里打着如意算盘。

  接着也就昂首挺胸,满面笑容地到了花房里。

  他妻子和拉罗舍已不知哪里去了。人群已逐渐散去,留下来跳舞的人显然没有多少。她见苏珊挽着她姐姐的胳膊,双双向他走了过来。她们要他待会儿和德·拉图尔—伊夫林伯爵一起,同她们跳第一个四人舞。

  “你们说的这位伯爵是谁?”杜·洛瓦不解地问。

  “我姐姐新交的一个朋友,”苏珊做了个鬼脸。

  “你真坏,苏珊,”罗莎满脸羞红,“你明明清楚,他既不是你的朋友,也不是我的朋友。”

  “这我知道。”苏珊笑了笑。

  罗莎一赌气,扭头走了。

  杜·洛瓦亲热地挽起苏珊的胳膊,温和地说道:

  “听我说,亲爱的小苏珊,你真把我当朋友看吗?”

  “当然啦,漂亮朋友。”

  “对我绝对信任?”

  “绝对信任。”

  “你刚才说的话还记得吗?”

  “关于哪一方面?”

  “关于你的婚事,也就是说,你将嫁给什么样的人。”

  “记得。”

  “很好,你可否答应我一件事?”

  “可以。什么事?”

  “每当有人向你求婚时,你都要同我商量,在征求我的意见之前,决不答应任何人。”

  “好的,我一定照办。”

  “这可是我们两人间的秘密,不可告诉你父亲和母亲。”

  “我不会对他们说的。”

  “你发誓?”

  “我发誓。”

  里瓦尔这时匆匆跑了来:

  “小姐,你父亲叫你去跳舞。”

  “走,漂亮朋友,”苏珊说。

  杜·洛瓦谢绝了。脑海中忽然涌进了许多新的东西,他想马上就离去,以便冷静地考虑一下。他找了找玛德莱娜,不一会儿,发现她在餐厅里正与两位他所不认识的男士一起喝可可饮料。她把他向他们作了介绍,但没有告诉他这两人是谁。

  过了片刻,他说道:

  “咱们走吧。”

  “随你的便。”

  玛德莱娜挽上他的胳膊,穿过各间客厅,往外走去。客厅里的人已经不多了。

  “老板的夫人在哪儿?我想同她打个招呼。”

  “我看不必,她会挽留我们参加舞会,而我对此已无兴趣。”

  “这倒是,你说的很对。”

  归途中,两个人都默然无语。然而一进入房内,玛德莱娜面纱还未摘去,便笑嘻嘻地向他说道:

  “知道吗?我有一件你意想不到的东西给你。”

  杜·洛瓦气哼哼地嘟哝了一句:

  “什么东西?”

  “你猜。”

  “我不想费这个劲儿。”

  “你说,后天可是元旦?”

  “是呀。”

  “大家又该送新年礼物了。”

  “对。”

  “这是拉罗舍给你的新年礼物,他刚才交给我的。”

  说着,玛德莱娜递给他一个类似首饰盒的黑色小盒。

  杜·洛瓦漫不经心地打了开来,发现里面放着一枚荣誉团十字勋章①。

  --------

  ①一八○二年由拿破仑设立的国家勋章,用以表彰有功之臣。

  他的脸色顿时变得有点苍白。随后,他笑了笑,说道:

  “我倒希望他能给我送上一千万。这玩意儿对他根本不值什么。”

  玛德莱娜本来以为他会高兴得跳起来,不想他却如此看不上眼,因而气愤异常:

  “你这个人实在越来越不像话了,现在已没有一件东西能使你感到满意。”

  “这家伙不过是在还债,”杜·洛瓦不慌不忙地说道,“他欠我的可多着哩。”

  玛德莱娜不明白他今日为何这样阴阳怪气,说道:

  “你今年才有多大?能得到这样的勋章,已经很不错了。”

  “什么都是相对而言,”杜·洛瓦说,“我今天得到的,本来应当更多。”

  他拿起敞开的盒子放在壁炉上,对着那闪闪发光的勋章看了良久。然后盖上盒盖,耸了耸肩,开始宽衣上床。

  元月一日的政府公报果然宣布,新闻记者普罗斯佩—乔治·杜·洛瓦因功勋卓越,而被授予荣誉团骑士勋章一枚。杜·洛瓦见自己的这个姓在公报上是分开写的,因而比得到勋章更感到高兴。

  看到此消息一小时后,他收到老板夫人一封简函,求他当天和他妻子一起去她家吃晚饭,大家好好庆贺一下。去还是不去?他拿不定主意。但过了一会儿,也就将这措辞暧昧的信扔进壁炉,向玛德莱娜说道:

  “我们今晚去瓦尔特家吃晚饭。”

  “什么?”玛德莱娜听了一惊,“我还以为你是再也不会踏进他们家一步的。”

  “我已改变主意,”杜·洛瓦淡淡地说了一句。

  他们到达时,老板夫人正一个人呆在那间仍保持着路易十六时代风格的小客厅里。此客厅现已成为她专门接待好友的地方。她通身素黑,头上扑着香粉,样子十分迷人。她这个人远看像个老妇,近看却在妙龄。即使仔细观看,也让人难以分辨。

  “你们是不是有什么人亡故了?”玛德莱娜问。

  “可以说是,也可以说不是,”瓦尔特夫人答道,声音十分凄凉。“说不是,是因为我们并没有任何亲人故去。说是,是因为我已到达这样的年龄,距离告别此生的日子已为期不远了。今天穿上这套丧服,是想为此志哀。不管怎样,从今而后,我是心如死灰了。”

  “决心虽然下了,”呆在一旁的杜·洛瓦心想,“但能保持下去吗?”

  晚饭的气氛相当沉闷,只有苏珊说个不停。罗莎似乎心事重重。大家一再为杜·洛瓦举杯祝贺。

  饭后,大家离开餐厅,在各个客厅和花房里走了走,互相间随便聊着。杜·洛瓦同老板夫人走在最后,老板夫人拉了一下他的胳臂,低声向他说道:

  “听我说……从今而后,我是什么也不会对您说了……不过乔治,您可要常来看我。您看,我已不再对您以‘你’相称了。没有您,我是活不下去的,情况绝对如此。因此而造成的痛苦,将是任何人所难以想象的。不论白天还是黑夜,我的心灵及我身上的每一个毛孔,都感到您就在我身旁。总之,您的身影无时无刻不在我眼前晃动。这情景就好像您让我喝了一杯毒汁,这毒汁如今正在我的体内肆虐。我已经不行了,是的,我是不行了。我现在唯一的希望,就是在您面前显出一点老态来。我对头上的白发毫无掩饰,为的就是给您看的。不过,您可要以朋友的身份常来看我。”

  她一把抓住杜·洛瓦的手,使劲捏着,揉着,指甲深深地陷进肉里。

  “这绝无问题,不用再说了,”杜·洛瓦冷冷地说道,“您看,我今天一接到您的信,不是马上就来了嘛。”

  同两个女儿及玛德莱娜走在前边的瓦尔特,已在《基督凌波图》旁等着杜·洛瓦。他这时笑着向杜·洛瓦说道:

  “知道吗?我昨天见我妻子曾跪在这幅画前祷告,其一片虔诚同在教堂里一样。那样子可真把我乐坏了。”

  “这是因为只有这位基督能拯救我的灵魂,”瓦尔特夫人解释道,其坚定的语气显示出内心的无比激动。“每次见到他,心里便感到勇气倍增,浑身充满力量。”

  说着,她走到这立于海面的神明前,不禁连声感慨起来:

  “他是多么地非同一般!这些人是多么地怕他,又是多么地爱他!你们看,他的头颅和眼神是多么自然而又饱含灵性!”

  “他很像你,漂亮朋友,”苏珊突然喊道,“我对此确信无疑。你若蓄上络腮胡子,或者他将络腮胡子刮掉,就不会有什么不同了。啊,你们俩是如此相像!”

  说着,她让杜·洛瓦站到了油画旁。众人一看,果然觉得极其相像。

  人人都惊讶不已。瓦尔特说他简直不敢相信,玛德莱娜则笑着说,基督的神采要更为雄劲。

  瓦尔特夫人动也不动,死死地盯着基督像旁她那情人的面

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